A lot of things were lost last chapter.

But now as we enter a new chapter, I guess the gain you guys get is the chapter below. If anything, I hope the chapter is one you have been looking forward to, if only because of how the world introduced is one that Touma should never be a part of…yet finds himself in and finds himself unable to bear the weight of the world pressing down on him.

Whether this turns out to be a good or a bad thing given the choice of action he has decided to take in tearing it all down, I hope you can come to really read this chapter with a note of the monster that has taken onto the battlefield.

One thing that I want to note given the length of the last chapter though. While long chapters aren't entirely new to me, I do think I should warn you guys that future chapters in future arcs start to get really massive. While this is partly because of the billions of characters within each chapter, another reason is that because of the long updates between chapters, I don't want you guys thinking that nothing happens in them so I try and justify it with a large number of events per chapter. You'll see what I mean in future chapters, but I do think it's something I need to note given the length of last chapter; they will get longer, but hopefully there's enough content in them that it's worth it.

But enough of that. Here's the Q & A:

PHAZE1NE: Let's see how the chapter turns out, shall we? I don't know if I want to release the dragons as fast as you do!

whwsms: I do have to agree with you in that the 'fights' last chapters were more frays…with the final boss being revealed in this chapter. I hope you can look forward to what happens and where this is going to go.

DNWorks: Hahahaha; thank you so much for your kind words; they are really appreciated! I hope that this chapter is much the same for you! As you said, the stakes are as high as they can be this time around so you'll have to see where things end up!

craytherlay: Interesting that you thought Othinus wouldn't put Touma on a pedestal; part of me has felt that Othinus WOULD do that because he is the only person in the entire world to have done something for her. While not the extent of Mikoto and Accelerator, I would think that Othinus holds Touma in an extremely high regard. I did think you would like Index's choice given how you wrote her in LoCG but I hope you can appreciate how our stories will differ in the way things are dealt with – although I do hope you enjoy Demon Lord Touma as he is slowly turning into. I did also really love the body horror with Louis: instead of Dead Space, I was thinking more of the Exorcist and Resident Evil as my sources and really wanted to go down the route of 'creepy demon possession'. I hope that you can look forward to where things head with Touma, especially with his relationship with his 'pillars' of Index and Othinus: with his PTSD and everything that has been happening, there is a lot that is weighing down on his mind right now that makes things extremely close for him mentally.

ShadowBloodedge9396: Okaeri! I'm glad that you liked the Shokuhou vs Hayashida fight; it was one that I was really on the fence about given how it was entirely dialogue driven and felt like one of those 'deduction sequences' between Shokuhou and Hayashida so it was really fun to write. While Aneri (she is basically Jarvis, isn't she?) managed to hack into the mobile suit weapon and have Hamazura use it, the railguns he took out weren't attached to FIVE_Object so there's barely any damage to that project of his unfortunately… I hope you can look forward to Owari's backstory, although we'll have to see if anything surprises you! As for Otohime, I like to think that the saying 'absolute power corrupts absolutely' as being applicable to her and what she is currently going through. I'm glad someone else is going down the Touma sadism route!

WwEpsilonwW: I'm glad that someone else would recommend an Index lap pillow. I hope you can look forward to what this chapter delivers!

Zatil Hidayah Spensa: I have to agree with your alternate title: everyone chose violence last chapter, didn't they!? Interesting that you think Orion's plot armour is too thick given that he's never won any fight he's been in and always ends up beaten to a pulp in some way – I'll have to kill him soon I guess? I would have thought you would have thought Faith was the one with the plot armour! I'm glad that you enjoyed the fights, but your way of putting Shokuhou's fight had me in stitches!

5had0wHand: Man, the ideas that you're giving me with an older Touma have no bounds…but it would feel really weird having an adult as the protagonist in Index, you know? Still, I can see the novelty of an older Touma being the main character and going through the motions to protect these kids from both the Magic and the Science side. Part of me feels like unless Touma struggles through his fights then they're not worth it…which is why he struggles a LOT during my works. But I also think that Touma's power as a high schooler really shows his weakness when he faces against someone with training and physical powers. You better get that platypus ready though, LOL… I like to think that Hamazura really has what he needs when he needs it, you know? As for Touma touching Louis's possessed form, he would have been exorcised immediately, which sort of shows how OP of a power Imagine Breaker can be! I hope you can look forward to what happens with Index and Otohime from here on out though! I'm also glad that you note the cruelty in telling Touma to stop saving people – I've really wanted to create a situation where Touma has NO CHOICE but to do that, so I hope you can read where the story goes from here and how events develop overtime, especially given the cruel ultimatum that is given.

Komigakuo: I hope you can enjoy this chapter and what is to come!

xrct44: Y-You re-read it?! You have no idea how happy this makes me that you've gone through this journey twice. Honestly, from the bottom of my heart, you have my utmost thanks for your time and your words. We will be getting an Othinus arc…although I'm not going to comment about her body…

xellos540: Yeah, I think my story is, like, the definition of insanity when it comes to Index fanfics… But for the fact that you read this far, you have my utmost thanks, even if you skipped some parts (at least you have the honesty to say this)! I'm glad that the payoff was finally worth it for you! I like to think that the peace moments in Touma's life in this fic are overshadowed by all the shit he goes through, LOL. I also hope you enjoy where I end up going with the romance side of things. I have to say though, I'll be responding to some of the things you've noted haphazardly, so I hope you can enjoy what I write in response to your no context thoughts. I'm really glad that someone picked up on the Index and Touma talk before the cathedral: the fact that you picked up on it really made my heart soar. I can't believe you don't like the misfortune aspect when it's basically Touma's character in a way… Was Lessar not a virgin? Dude though, I really liked the Thor fights: especially when they were on the Science side so I'm glad you liked it too! I've come to really like the idea of someone screaming in despair from the depths of their hear, so having a lot of "screamiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing" lines really gets that across for me so it's just sort of my style? Your reaction to Uiharu falling for the Kami-yan Disease was gold. Regon though doesn't restore lost memories, only memories that Touma SHOULD be MAKING if that makes sense. I've always liked saving Imagine Breaker for the VERY last moment of the fight…although I like to think that the difference in the Mugino fights between Touma and Hamazura come down to the weapons used. Maybe making people stupid is Imagine Breaker's greatest misfortune?! Othinus doesn't know of the memory loss issue before Touma raises it and she accidentally hears him. You're absolutely right in that Touma is being stubborn in romance…although this also stems from the fact that he thinks he's living a 'borrowed' life, although that in itself is only his perspective and doesn't take into account others'. 'm gradually fixing my way of taking forever to explain things… I'm glad that you also like the "Do I need a reason to hurt somebody?" line – I'm surprised it has never come up before! I hope you can look forward to what happens with Phi… Aneri is the AI in Hamazura's phone: more details can be found in NT 12. And I can't believe you only noticed that the spacecraft and the mercenary have the same name: are you sure Imagine Breaker's stupidity inducement isn't affecting you too?! And no, Orion's not a cyborg – he's never going to be that cool! I hope you can look forward to this chapter and everything that happens from now!

Dredon: Thanks!

zarydy07: Oh God, I hope that by the time you reach here that you are equally as hooked on ACUL0 given how the story bounces around. But thank you so much for giving me a go! I hope that the overall story engages you and that you find it enjoyable for the long haul.

And the thanks, to you, the reader. This chapter is going to be shorter for sure. But at the same time, for having stuck with me even with monstrous chapters like last time and this one, you have my utmost thanks. I want you to know those words hold more weight to them than I can possibly portray through a single message but truly: thank you.

And finally, before we begin, I hope you do what you always do when reading these chapters.

Enjoy.

Mr Question Mark.


He had not broken yet.

That was perfectly clear.

But the fact he had not done so and could rationally explain the anger and the desire to rip this battlefield and this hell apart was what made Kamijou Touma so fearsome in this single moment.

His right fist was clenched so tight it drew blood as he ran through the hallways located in the 30th basement floor of the underground space beneath the experimental Tree Diagram Communications Facility in District 15. Not even caring about the fact his head was throbbing in pain or that no one had spoken to him ever since he had let the anger boiling within him unleash, Kamijou only focused on heading down the barely lit halls beneath District 15.

Too many had been lost already tonight.

This had all started with an incident with Shutaura Sequenzia. This had all started with her own personal battle against those who had attacked her and stolen her comrade, Crow 1, and her mission to ensure they did not attack anyone else again.

And while MINUS, who had attacked Shutaura, had captured Last Order and Takitsubo Rikou for their own goals, even if he and everyone else with him were here to save them, it felt as though they had lost far too much.

There had been deaths. There had been people Kamijou had trusted with his life teaching him that he had expected too much of them and that perhaps he had thought too highly of them when they were completely different people. There had been people who had been willing to cast themselves on the edges of a dangerous path for his sake.

Accepting all of that was hard, practically impossible. But Kamijou had learned that forgoing himself to grief and losing himself in that would mean no one was saved.

Dealing with one thing at a time was what he needed to do if he wanted to save anyone.

But still, the brooding issues and the pain associated with them stabbed into his heart even as he desperately tried to focus on the goals in front of him and what he had to do.

Misaka Mikoto had shown herself to be someone, when pushed, Kamijou had not expected. The active role she had played in the torture of the mercenary Orion Phoenix, while justifiable, he could not ignore. No matter the reason, losing herself to her emotions and being able to justify torture had pushed her, along with Accelerator and Hamazura Shiage, away from that spiky haired boy even if it was slightly.

Kamijou knew it was selfish to think of her as conforming to his every whim but even so, the image he had had of her when she had been willing to engage in torture for the 'right' reason had tainted that image of her Kamijou had wanted to preserve. The type of person she was had seemed to be unable to conduct such an action but when all was said and done, Kamijou had truly known nothing about her when she was on the edge of a knife.

And because of that, even if he knew he could not expect everything from her, the fact she had let him down was eternally painful. He knew it was unfair to place such childish expectations on her…but even so, the fact she had disappointed him was a pain he had never expected to feel when that girl was so righteous.

The same was said for Accelerator and Hamazura. Even though they had reasons for undertaking such an action, the fact the image Kamijou had had of them was so different to what they had actually done had pushed them away from him, even if it was slightly.

But more importantly than that, more importantly than those issues that could be resolved, was the issue of Index.

And the magic circle contained within her left eye.

Kamijou had been in danger, almost captured by Harmonia's Cradle's Saint, Batya Sitara, and to protect him from that fate, Index had given herself willingly to the sentient grimoire that had previously taken over her mind. And because of that, even if she had previously had a resistance to such, she had given that grimoire a grip on her mind, even if it was weak.

The magic circle in her left eye was a testament to that. A representation of the issue of Index losing control to the grimoire taking control of her mind. An issue that had previously been lingering had now come full force and revealed to Kamijou that at any time, that control the grimoire had over Index could explode outwards.

And potentially place her on a dangerous path.

Index was at a crossroads, one where she had no control over what path she would take. Would she have the strength of mind to fight back the sentient grimoire that had a small hold on her mind she had willing given to save him? Or would she lose control and her own self as the grimoire took over her mind completely?

In the latter case, she would become a Magic God.

A Magic God who would have no sense of self and only be controlled by the grimoire that had possessed her.

The brokenness of the path she was walking was Kamijou's fault. The danger of her losing her mind was because she had decided to save him.

Itsuwa of the Amakusa Church had told him it was because he would choose to save someone and Index choosing to help that he would place that nun in danger of losing herself to that grimoire.

And it had happened and the grip that grimoire had on Index's mind had grown ever stronger, to the extent that such control was having physical effects on her body.

Index's path had not broken yet.

But the fact she was standing on a precipice told of how broken her choices had been up until then.

The same was said of Tatsugami Otohime: her taking control of Magic through the spiritual item of the Dragon Tooth and taking a Magic Name was such that it was entirely possible she would lose herself to a dangerous path as well, having a power she did not entirely know how to control. Sure, Index and Othinus were assisting her with that, but the choice and the transformation that power would have on Otohime was entirely up to her.

Which only meant that, even if Kamijou did not know it, his cousin was on the verge of breaking too.

Kamijou had promised the Anglican Church he would be there to recover both Index and Otohime's paths if they went astray but the urgency and the weight of those words hit him head on with the magic circle in Index's left eye. The constant reminder he had screwed up and how dangerous a path Index was walking on made him tremble and grit his teeth in frustration as he continued to run down the hallways.

He passed things he never wanted to consider and trampled all over his wish for everyone to go home smiling. Each step was one of pain and each step was such that he felt it crushing down on his heart.

But no matter how much he wanted to stop and let it all out, he knew he could not. Just as he knew that grieving for the bodies he passed, whether they were lightly breathing or not, was for an appropriate time, that time was not now. The carnage and the reflection upon it was for a time when the people being held captive by MINUS were safe.

They were the priority.

Even if that meant Kamijou had to walk past people either dead or dying as to save them.

The choice to do so hurt more than he could say. He knew he could not check up on everyone here to see if they were alright: doing so would take too much time and place those were in danger even more so.

Each step was harder than the last and made his teeth grit and his fist clench even harder.

This world of conflict, death, blood and violence could no longer be allowed to stand.

Kamijou had said that to the boy who had seemingly brought all that pain with him into Kamijou's life. Even if this conflict was nothing more than a skirmish when it came to the underground war between Magic and Science, it was the mercenary Orion who had lived his life in this world of war. And for the normal high school boy Kamijou Touma, that world was so alien and foreign to him he could not allow it to stand anymore.

Orion had clearly been dying when Kamijou had said those words to him. He was likely dead by now given his injuries and while that was yet another death in this war, the fact Kamijou could have done nothing for the boy mercenary was a pain that seemingly did not go away.

He was being crushed from all sides.

From the world he was moving through, from the people around him, even from the issue of his mind with his PTSD and desensitisation to his own death he was dealing with now.

And amid all of that, there was a single thought he could not put to the side.

That this pain of his had once been predicted.

He had barely understood what had been said at the time, but words from someone who was not even here swarmed through his head. Words that, given its content, seemed to torment and laugh at him for how he had not noticed this before now.

He had been told once by Leivinia Birdway that he had the seeds for something great. And that if he did not hold onto those seeds and make use of them that the end result would be disastrous for him.

It had meant nothing to him at the time.

But seeing this death, violence and blood around him, Kamijou realised what those words meant if only in part.

He had been surrounded by amazing people…and he had nothing about it. Why would he? He did not love conflict, he did not care for it and only stupidly ran into things as he pleased and did as he wanted. There was nothing noble about what he did; the only thing he did was move in line with the desires within his heart and nothing more. There was nothing amazing or noble about that and because of it, because of the desire to only do as he pleased and when, he had never thought about the power he had in a simple phone call.

He had the numbers of 4 Level 5s within Academy City. That in itself suggested the power at his fingertips and yet, he had done nothing about it.

So when it came to conflict, because he had not bothered to manage that massive force, because he had not done anything about it and let everyone do as they wanted, when it come to this war, his failure to manage that great power had proved disastrous.

There had been a term thrown around like it was nobody's business and something Kamijou had not cared for.

The 'Kamijou Faction'.

What the hell was that?

A faction built around him as the centre? He wasn't Kamisato Kakeru who had girls around him who lived to serve him. The people around him had their own lives and could live without him. There was no point in pretending he controlled them in a faction nor did he want to. The only thing he had around him were people with power and who, in their kindness, had helped him from time to time to deal with things.

But even if that power had meant nothing to him, it had indeed existed.

The connections built around him had meant something and when he lost control of them, they had given him great pain. People who he thought he knew he realised he didn't and people he wanted to protect had sacrificed some part of themselves for his sake.

He didn't want any of that.

But that was what had come as a result of not managing that small power he had.

If he had managed that, maybe the inner darkness within others he would not have had been so surprised about or even seen. If he had managed the people around him, maybe he would have had others protect each other and himself instead of others having to throw part of themselves away for his sake.

But because of Kamijou's failure to do that, it had all come tumbling down around him. Because of his failure to grasp those relationships and bring them closer to him, he had entered this incident and had lost far too much.

Even if he was lost in the world of 'maybe', in that maybe this all could have been prevented, there was no point. The reality was what it was and Kamijou's failure to grasp that 'Kamijou Faction' had resulted in this terrible change.

Could this have all been avoided? This pain, this death and this torment within his soul?

Perhaps.

But because Kamijou Touma had never bothered to grasp that power within his hand tight and manage it, it had all fallen apart around him and had proven to be disastrous until he had learned his mistake.

Kamijou did not want to be a leader. He was fine being a follower and had only taken charge when he saw something he could not accept. Fighting for things such as 'right', 'wrong', 'justice' or even 'righteousness' had not been what he considered: only stopping what he wanted to stop in his own drive of selfishness. So he had not bothered doing anything about that power.

Which had led to this.

Kamijou sped forward once more, using his legs to pound as fast as he could through this painful world he was determined to crush with his own hands. If this world was determined to crush him, then he wasn't going to take that lying down. He would show the world exactly who he was and what it meant when you tried to take something precious from him.

People surrounded him as he ran down those small and dimly lit hallways. Given how they were connected with him, you could think of them as being members of the 'Kamijou Faction', but Kamijou refused to think of them as such. Like he had said and always thought, they had their own lives and chose things of their own accord so arrogantly saying they did things because of him was an insult to their own choices and their inner kindness.

The one closest to him was Shutaura Sequenzia, basically running by his side. Was she hurting more than Kamijou was in this incident? Of the people who had died already, some of them were her comrades. Her face betrayed nothing, stoic and focused and it was that face she was making that Kamijou realised was what made her a great leader: focused and never letting her drive to do what needed to be done falter.

She knew there was a time to grieve which was not now. Having her next to him in this quest to destroy this world and the foundations of pain it was built on was a godsend and Kamijou knew he could rely on her with everything he had.

Others with him included Itsuwa. What exactly she was doing here was unknown but given how she had been tasked by the Anglican Church to intercept Harmonia's Cradle and how their Saint had appeared, it was clear her presence here was related to that, as well as other tasks she had been given by that Church.

Among her tasks, aside from watching over that magic cabal, was the observation of the progress of Index and Otohime and their paths. And while the path of Otohime was unknown, it was the look at Index and the magic circle in her left eye that confirmed the fears Itsuwa had had on the threat lingering within Index's mind.

Index, Otohime and Mikoto were running through the halls behind Kamijou as well. Othinus was in Index's arms, as well as that calico cat who seemed awfully relaxed among all of them but that former Magic God was the only one who stared at the bodies with indifference, narrowing her eye as they passed them. The others seemed to have pained faces as they passed those bodies but otherwise said nothing, unable to given the pace at which they were moving.

Shokuhou Misaki, trailing behind them, had fallen behind. But as much as Kamijou wanted to make sure she travelled with them, the priority was not keeping an eye on the unathletic Level 5 but saving those who were in danger here meaning that if Shokuhou fell behind, then she fell behind: Kamijou could not monitor her every step.

Such might have seemed cruel, but that was merely the spiky haired boy's reaction to the pain of this world and the determination he had to rip it all apart.

Those who had wanted to save those kidnapped people had already moved on ahead. Accelerator, Hamazura Shiage and the rest of the Black Crows had powered on ahead and the destruction could be seen in the chaos around the hallways everyone passed through: the bodies and blood lining the walls, some of the bodies barely breathing and others not.

If they were alive or not, it was unknown but again, no one could check on them without forgoing the people in danger.

Bullet holes and impact craters filled the walls as did the smell of burning flesh. Smoke from previous explosions filled the air along with the faint smell of rust, the smell of the battlefield as putrid as ever to Kamijou. Bullet casings lay on the ground with their cold indifference as the group moved through the remnants of what the others had caused when proceeding. Echoes of screams and gunfire bounced off the walls of the hallways, making it unclear where exactly everyone was to go, but following the trail of destruction like bread crumbs was more than enough to provide direction.

(It's getting closer. The world Orion belongs to that I can't accept. Getting so close to it like this again is enough to make me sick but I can't afford to let it take from anyone else any longer. I'll tear this world down with my own hands if I have to!)

Kamijou had that ferocious thought in his head as he turned the corner, realising it was another sharp turn to his left directly in front of him, otherwise there was just a dead end. It was clear where he had to go and Kamijou followed the route, not even bothering consulting with everyone else what he was about to do.

He stopped.

Shutaura did the same by his side, the suddenness of their stop making everyone else who turned the corner ram into their backs.

Both stumbled forward, not even bothering to turn around in surprise as the girls who had run into their backs stared in surprise.

"Wh-What are you – "

"Touma, that – "

Itsuwa and Index started to speak up, but stopped short. Instead, they went wide eyed as they stared at what was in front of them and the space beyond, everyone else with them likewise having gone silent upon the sight.

It was a massive gate.

Like it had come from a science laboratory, the arch set into the concrete looked extremely sci-fi like. However, unlike the pristine condition it was meant to be in, it had been ruthlessly smashed in, the remnants of what looked to be Accelerator's power in play being obvious.

Beyond that space was what made everyone stop.

The room beyond looked as though it could hold an entire stadium of people. As the group walked in and beheld the sight in front of them in awe, it was made clear just how much unused space there was around them. Only the floor was bare, the walls being lined with endless cables and where the walls were not being used as cables, there were balconies that overlooked the entire underground stadium.

(Were there other entrances here?)

Kamijou thought but given he had followed the trail of destruction, he could not say. Just looking at where he was, other walls around the stadium had other entrances leading to other parts.

The far wall was filled with 16 television screens, arranged in a 4x4, and giving the far wall the sense it was more of a workspace than part of a stadium. There was a console right in front of it, a metal box filled with keyboards and other electronics that were probably used to control the machine on the wall.

But in front of that console was what grabbed Kamijou's interest the most.

"!"

His entire body lurched as soon as he saw the figures hunched unconscious over the wooden chairs sitting in front of that console. The others jumped at the sight as well and in front of them were the people who had gone on ahead and wiped out the forces opposing them almost too easily. The fact they had stopped only indicated the terrifying nature of the hunched over figures located in front of the console.

Last Order and Takitsubo Rikou.

They were breathing, but the gaps in between each breath were scarily long, even though they seemed relaxed. Wires were attached to their head for whatever purpose and those wires receded back into the numerous cables that ran along the wall that seemed to originate from further within the facility. However, some of the cables ran right to the 4x4 collection of television screens attached to the far wall.

They did nothing and neither did everyone else. The Black Crows had their assault rifles raised, the tension in the air obvious but it was more coming off the boys who were directly facing the two hunched over figures but had not approached.

Accelerator was radiating a hate that Kamijou did not know he was capable of whereas Hamazura Shiage was in a mobile weapon although what had led to that was unknown. Both boys were standing stock still and it was the shift of movement behind them that led to some of the Black Crows turning and going wide eyed as soon as they saw the person next to Kamijou.

"Crow Leader!"

"Captain!"

The bodies of those who called out to Shutaura relaxed but the bodies of those holding the assault rifles up tensed, as if realising the pressure of authority right behind them. The ones who had called out to Shutaura seemed surprised at the injuries of the others but that did not stop Shutaura from walking forward, waving a hand.

"What are all of you doing? Why are you not advancing?!" Shutaura's tone was on the verge of rising into anger but the Black Crows merely parted, giving Kamijou and the others a clear view of the person on the other side of the bodies blocking their view.

And within an instant, the change over the group was obvious.

Shutaura, Otohime, Index and Mikoto all tensed. Itsuwa did the same but more as a reaction to the others and it was likely that upon seeing the man, everyone else had tensed with the same anger within them.

Only Kamijou stared at the man with pity although the anger bubbling away within him, fuelled by adrenaline, filled his veins with energy although he knew that pouncing right now would mean nothing given the gap in between him and the man.

He only smiled, sitting on a chair directly in between the unconscious forms of Last Order and Takitsubo.

Young and with clothes that matched that impression, his blond hair was tied into a ponytail and his red eyes burning with an interest that was not irritation but amusement. His lab coat worn over the clothes gave him the impression of being smarter than he looked, but that was nothing more than an impression.

Kamijou, like everyone else, knew this man. He had spoken to them before they had plunged into this hell and had stated he wanted things on this battlefield to be decided by his own terms. Given the number of people in front of him, he had no chance of winning but the air of confidence he gave off suggested he had already won.

It was unknown if this man was smarter than he looked.

He was definitely more twisted though.

"…You."

Even if that was not his fault.

The man waved at Shutaura's words, smiling but the red eyes only gave that a horrible imagery. It was only when they approached that Kamijou saw there was a small device attached to each of the unconscious girl's necks, much as there was one to the man's, but what exactly it was meant to do was unknown.

The man did not care whatsoever as he tilted his head, staring at the new arrivals.

They all knew who he was. He had appeared before them previously and so, the malice they directed at him was because they knew that defeating him would end this all before it began.

No one dared to say his name however. Was that because it was too twisted to do so or because of the fear that saying his name would cause him to respond?

Someone called it out though. Did that make them the bravest or the weakest of them all? It did not matter either way as Shutaura spat out the man's name with malice.

As if identifying the enemy they were all here to defeat.

"Kihara…Kamui."


Who had he been originally?

It was unknown but likely it did not matter to everyone else.

But within this madness, Kamijou Touma still felt as though if he abandoned the idea he had to save this man, then he would already have been dyed in the colours of this tragic world.

The man in front of everyone was nothing more than a victim. At the hands of the real Kihara Kamui, this man had had his own personality overwritten through whatever twisted methods the real Kamui employed and replaced with the personality of the Original: a some thirty-year-old man whose current focus was breaking the minds of others.

Even if he was just another piece on the board when it came to the underground war of Magic and Science, he was an essential piece of the Science side. The Personality Swipe project he had conducted for who knew how long had already managed to capture the minds of its intended targets; men, and transformed them into 'copies' of Kamui.

All so they could engage in going ahead with the other twisted projects of that mad scientist.

Kamijou only knew of a few; the FIVE_Object and some cyborg project as well but how twisted and how far those went not even Kamijou knew. The only thing he did know was that it was not impossible to save this man and restore who he had once been.

Personality was not just something switched over easily. You could have two people being raised in the exact same conditions and yet have entirely different personalities: they were moulded by experiences and events and swapping them out entirely was something Kamui had not yet mastered.

Such was obvious in how the man in front of them could speak perfectly normal. The real Kamui was unable to do that, a personality quirk he had which distinguished the Original from the cheap copies. When it came to speaking Kamui, when his mind was already so far ahead of the conversation he was going to have, would skip words such that whenever you spoke with him, it was barely a conversation.

But the fact the man who Kamui had implanted his personality into was not doing that suggested he was subconsciously fighting back against the personality overtaking him. Much like personalities were a collection of memories and experiences, there were things this man was doing that went against his own personality even if they were completely normal following Kamui's.

That conflict between the man's original personality and Kamui's meant the man had yet to entirely become Kamui.

And because of that, he could be saved.

If he could remember who he once was, he could be saved.

Kamijou Touma knew in his mind he would never forget that, no matter how far he was pushed or how far he was taken.

Kihara Kamui, or the man who had been implanted with his personality, stared at the group in front of him with a keen interest. Shutaura, staring at the people around her, went wide eyed as everyone else did nothing.

"What are you all doing? Our enemy is right there. The one who killed… He's right there and you're all doing nothing!?"

Shutaura rose her handgun, taking a step forward, however, to her surprise, the one who stopped her was not Kamui.

Instead, it was the men by her side.

Many of them reached out suddenly and grabbed her by the hand, preventing her from moving forward. In her shock, she stared down at the hands grabbing her, unable to say anything. Silence resounded through the air as a result, only broken by the sound of a scoff.

"I knew you were coming. I had all this time to prepare, so did you really think I would just let you do as you want as soon as you got here? You came into my realm, which means you play by my rules. I haven't been idle while you and everyone else were going around doing everything. I have been making my own preparations. Such as a safety to prevent myself from becoming a stain on the wall."

Kamui, calm and collected, reached up and tapped the device attached to his neck.

"If this device registers any significant rise in my heart rate, it sets off an explosive contained within the devices in the necks of my two lovely guests here. So if, for example, any of you were thinking about racing towards me with the intent of striking me down or freeing my hostages, I imagine the anger and rising of my heart rate would successfully trample upon any attempt you have of getting them home safely."

Shutaura, Kamijou and the others who had not heard this before went wide eyed.

"Did you really think I would let you do as you please as soon as you reached this stage? I'm a Kihara. Of course I'm going to have plans to fight against people such as yourselves."

"Then…the people we fought? The ones who stood in our way were – "

"Distractions so I could prepare? You're surprising sharp for a soldier, Shutaura. Or is that someone else thinking for you?"

Kamui worded it in such a way it would have meant nothing to anyone else but for Shutaura and Kamijou, the words stabbed deep. While they had deduced Orion had known about her dual identity as Shutaura Sequenzia and Meigo Arisa, the source of that information was unknown until now. But even as Kamijou went wide eyed and gritted his teeth, it was Shutaura who responded differently.

"You mean to say…that all the deaths of my comrades thus far have been…"

"Pointless?" Kamui seemed in thought for a moment before cruelling laughing. "Well, there wasn't much point to your lives anyway. But if that is the way you want to think about it, then sure. Your friends? They died for nothing."

The bluntness of the statement made Shutaura raise her arm holding the gun and it took the men holding it all they could spare to prevent Shutaura from rising it and shooting Kamui, causing his heart rate to rise and kill Last Order and Takitsubo. Burning with anger, she stared at the man sitting down, spitting out the words like ice.

"If I killed you where you sit, your heart rate won't rise at all, will it? Because you'll be dead. How does that fit into your calculations, asshole?"

Kamijou stared at the girl in surprise, feeling something within him rise. Was this the world of the battlefield transforming everyone around him and tapping into their inner darkness? Was this hell going to grasp everyone, turn them into monsters and make them fall into the depths of their own abyss?

Kamui spoke before Kamijou could even say anything.

"It fits into my calculations mainly through the fact that if this device registers that my heart has stopped, then it will also have the same effect and kill those two. Don't underestimate how much time I've had to plan this, Shutaura. By the time I sought you out, I'd already gotten far in my projects. You, or at least these two beside me, are a key component of merely one of them. So no matter what I have to do, as long as it is for Science, I will do it. Whether I have to sacrifice a few lives to ensure that is a no-brainer for me."

Shutaura bit down on her teeth, Accelerator staring ahead and looking directly at Last Order.

"…I'm only going to ask once motherfucker."

"Oh?" Kamui asked, smiling from ear to ear as he leaned forward, his red eyes meeting that of Accelerator's and speaking with an overwhelming arrogance. "Is the #1 going to ask me to let his precious host computer go? Now this is a rare occasion."

"Do you have any last words?"

Accelerator asked once, just as he said, opening and closing his fist in rage. His expression was borderline murderous and the tone suggested that if words would kill, he would have already plunged them into the heart of the bastard in front of him. Kamui grinned, licking his lips.

"Are you going to be the one to rip them from my throat?" Kamui asked, tapping the device on his neck again. "I'm unsure if you heard me but if my heart rate ceases, then 'boom'. It's goodbye Vienna. Unless you intend to become entirely obsessed and recreate these two using the spare pieces, then feel free. Take my life."

It was entirely possible it was a bluff.

But from the way Accelerator trembled in raw anger, it was clear he was taking this incredibly seriously. And whether it was because he recognised that or because he knew that anything that would stop the #1 was more than enough of a threat, Hamazura in his mobile weapon did nothing either, not bothering to move even though it was clear he along with everyone else wanted to rip Kamui apart limb from limb.

The atmosphere was stifling and Kamijou felt as though he could barely breathe. His own mind was roaring with anger at the world but punching the shit out of Kamui was not an option here; not when Last Order and Takitsubo were at stake.

Which meant there was only one way to deal with this.

Ironically, such a method did involve 'killing' Kamui.

Or at least, killing the 'Kamui' inside the man in front of everyone.

"We won't."

Everyone turned to look at the person who had spoken but he ignored them all, stepping forward slowly and never letting his gaze off the man.

"It doesn't have to be like this."

"Ah… I was wondering if you were still here. After everything that happened outside, I was wondering if you had been killed by the large scale railguns. …You have no idea how pleased I am to see you, Kamijou Touma. How very…very pleased."

It was the first time since coming here that Kamui stood up but as Kamijou spoke, the man rose, as if in a gesture of respect. His lab coat swayed as he did so and he licked his lips, his eyes watching Kamijou a predator might watch prey. A chill ran down Kamijou's spine as he felt the red eyes upon him.

"But I'm surprised. I thought with all the death outside you would surely have been pressured from all sides. With the mentality you have of wanting to ensure everyone can get home smiling, there are certainly a lot of smiles out there that are never going home. And although that isn't strange…what is strange is seeing you here instead of by their side and lamenting." Kamui tilted his head as he spoke, staring at Kamijou.

"…"

"If that's your response, then you certainly have grown. Is it maturity that you realise you can't save those people? Or is it giving in to reality and thus falling a tiny bit? You see, breaking people isn't just about torturing them. No, that's a savage's way of doing it. It's by systematically taking the things they treasure and taking them apart in front of their eyes until they realise the foundations of the world they stand upon are amazingly fragile. If you can make anyone believe something where they would originally say 'No', then that is the first step. But you…you've already had the pain of futility pressed upon you, haven't you?"

"Let Last Order and Takitsubo go."

Kamui said nothing, staring at Kamijou and the boy staring back. Even though the man who Kamui had infected with his personality was not really Kihara Kamui, it felt to Kamijou that he was staring at the real deal. Each said nothing as they stared at each other before Kamui backed away, sitting back into his chair and leaning forward.

"What kind of face will you make if I don't?"

"!"

Hamazura next to Kamijou, who had walked forward such that he was in between Accelerator and Hamazura, stiffened at those words within the mobile weapon. Given Kamijou had moved forward, the others who were behind him came in close such that they were close enough to whisper.

"(…If you can distract Kamui long enough, I might be able to interfere with his device. By reaching out with electromagnetic waves, I could short circuit it.)" Mikoto spoke slowly, Kamijou weighing the words of Mikoto in the back of his mind but managing to shake his head a tiny bit.

"(My right hand is in the way of the straight path to them meaning your power won't be able to work properly. Kamui…at this rate, he's more interested in me. If I can get him to focus on me, then something might change. I'm not sure what it is but right now, Last Order and Takitsubo are safe. And that's all that matters.)" Kamijou responded, feeling the tension of the situation roll off him like no tomorrow.

"(I can help. I can do something. Let me do something!)" Mikoto's words held the edge of desperation in them but instead of giving them urgency, there was something else contained within them that made Kamijou feel anger build inside of him.

"(Don't you give a damn about their lives? Kamui isn't bluffing. A Kihara…isn't going to bluff when it comes to lives being taken. Even if this doesn't solve anything, it doesn't escalate things either and that's the best we have. I'm not going to risk any more lives than I already have Misaka. Unless you want this to become exactly what happened with Orion, you keep your mouth shut.)"

The words came out harsher than he thought they would.

But that was merely the extent Mikoto had fallen in his eyes. Having lost herself in this battlefield and hell, there was no telling what she would do if push came to shove. It was entirely possible that, even if she succeeded, Kamui had a counterplan in place that would end the lives of both hostages.

Kamijou was not going to lose anyone else today.

And the uncertainty of what Mikoto was planning simply had too many factors within it that could go wrong.

The stiffening of Mikoto suggested Kamijou had gone a bit too far with his words. He felt some regret at that given how his own issues with Mikoto were his own and no one else's and not something he should take out on her, but could not spare any time to put too much thought into it.

He focused, putting his gaze back on Kamui despite the face Hamazura was making.

"…You won't kill them. After the trouble you went to so you could have them in the first place, you won't throw that all away. You'll keep them alive." Thinking this through, that seemed like the most logical option but Kamui only grinned, tapping the device on his neck once.

"Is that what you hope? People are surprising. I might just choose to throw this all away. I might just choose to end this all here by killing these two. Do you really think you know me?" Kamui asked, leaning forward as he spoke. Kamijou felt a chill down his spine as he realised the game he was playing with Kamui but forced himself to stay calm.

After everything Kamui had done thus far, would he really choose to throw it all away at this point just to break Kamijou?

But before he could think things through any further, it was someone else who spoke.

"Why did you do this?" Otohime was the one who asked, all heads turning to her and suddenly making her cower down from the gazes. Still, even though her words were shut down after what she had said, the validity of them could not be denied.

Shutaura narrowed her eyes and turned back to Kamui, speaking up.

"She's right. …You've gone too far. Trying to kidnap me, capturing these two: you've gone too far. Why?"

Kamui was silent, tilting his head to the side and staring at the people in front of him with a gaze that seemed as though it was obvious.

"Why would I bother telling you?" His reply held scorn within it, as if he were looking down upon them all with his words. "It's not like you would understand what I was trying to do or anything. Wasting my breath on pointless tasks such as explaining things is not what I endeavour to do nor is it something I strive to make my life doing either. If you don't get it, then you don't get it. There's no point trying to explain things to an idiot."

Kamui rose, spreading out his arms and smiling.

"Does it depress you then that you do not know the reason for your suffering? Then let me provide you with a calming thought: this is progress. All of this is for the sake of Science…for the sake of something better. Your pointless lives will all finally have meaning in the gigantic cog that is reality. You will finally manage to achieve something better and greater than yourself. No, it is because you don't understand it that it makes it all the better."

"Are you saying I won't understand. Me?" Accelerator, the smartest esper in Academy City and certainly among the group there, spat out the words. "This is why there's nothing good about a Kihara. The only thing you seek is your own self-satisfaction. You're not looking for someone to understand you, the only thing you're seeking is self-validation. If that was all you were looking for, go and do whatever masturbatory fantasy you want instead of fucking around and taking things from others. Let. Last Order. Go."

"Did you listen to what I said about progress you fucking brat?" Kamui shot back with an irritated look upon his face, pointing at the two hostages by his side. "These two…if there was ever a reason for their existence, it is for this moment in time. If there was meaning at all in their existences, it was to live for this exact moment. I am giving them something you could never give them. You should be happy."

"Take that device off and I'll show you how happy I am." Hamazura spat out in response, Kamui staring at him and blinking once. He sighed, rising a hand to his head and shaking it, clearly in disappointment.

"This is why I can't handle others. Do you have any idea the amount of knowledge that goes into a project like this? The amount of time? Do you even know who I am?"

Kamui's words were clearly meant to be for the sake of mockery but instead, they were responded to awfully seriously.

"No."

Kamui paused, staring at Kamijou in surprise, much as everyone else.

"I'm sorry?"

"I don't know who you are." Kamijou said seriously. "Do you?"

"Of course I do. Jesus, are you seriously that re – "

"Then who are you? That is, who were you before you were implanted with Kihara Kamui's personality?"

Kamijou's question hovered in the air, Kamui's eyes going wide as he stared at Kamijou. There was nothing between them, nobody saying anything to break the silence as Kamui just stared at Kamijou, unwilling to say or do anything.

But it was broken by a single sound.

"Ha…"

Kamui grinned, the sound of something manic escaping from his lips.

"Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!"

Laughter erupted from his mouth, causing him to fall to the ground. However, because such would cause his heart rate to rise a bit, he slammed a fist into the concrete below him so hard blood was drawn from it. He was forced to bite back the pain that suddenly came from the blow he himself had conducted but as he stood, anyone could see that he was trembling.

"You… You really are incorrigible, aren't you? After everything you've seen thus far, after everything you know I caused, you still want to save me? You think you can restore me back to who I was? That you can return my former personality back to me? It's beyond idiocy at this point. It's beyond not seeing a curse upon the world and ignoring it and beyond understanding you can't do anything. It's just…"

Kamui trembled, wrapping his arms around himself as he fell to his knees, a grin plastered onto his face that spread from cheek to cheek.

"It's perfect…"

Kamui whispered the words to himself once before screaming.

"IT'S PERFECT! You… Goddamn it, I want to see you break. I want to see the look on that face of yours when, after preaching and practicing those ideals of yours, you smash into tiny pieces. I want to see it, I want to see it, I WANT TO SEE IT!" Kamui screamed out the words but again, because of the threat of his increase in his own heart rate, he was forced to calm himself down using the same method he had before.

However, he did not do so by slamming his fist into the concrete.

This time, he used his forehead.

It was a sickening sight, one that radiated pure madness and something no one wanted to understand the thought processes behind. Blood was drawn from his forehead as he beat into the ground and it was only after that that Kamui rose his head, his balance dazed as he hastily grabbed at the chair he had been sitting on and rose.

Blood fell down his forehead and into his mouth as he grinned, the blood staining his teeth into a disgusting colour. But even then, he never let his gaze off Kamijou, staring straight at the boy as if gazing into his very soul.

"Kamijou Touma. You really are perfect for me. I have broken so many…but someone like you is really the best. There are people out there who speak of saving yet don't mind killing. There are those who say they will never kill but when pushed do so as easily as if breathing. Everyone, as long as they have a mind, has a breaking point. Those who don't are empty shells. But that's what makes things fun. Me, who has broken so many and you, who seems unbreakable. You and me…we're going to have a lot of fun together."

There was something within those words.

Something mad and indistinguishable from insanity but they felt like a curse, driving into Kamijou's very soul. He found himself frozen where he stood, staring at Kamui, the girls behind him edging forward slowly as if in anticipation of something. He slowly stood up again, wiping the blood from his forehead and licking his lips as if in anticipation.

"But you're operating on the wrong assumption. You asked before and I'll respond in the same way. Why would I want to be saved?"

"Wh…at?"

"Who was I before I was Kihara Kamui? I was trash. Nothing. Did nothing, accomplished nothing and felt as though each day where I was myself I was a part of something bigger, but I wasn't. I was just the dust in the air, spinning my wheels and easily replaced. Why would I want to return to that? Why would I want to become nothing again when I am something now?" Kamui's tone was perfectly level, not a lie in sight as he spoke, but that in itself was the most terrifying thing of all.

He was stating, without lying, that he did not want to be saved.

Kamijou had met many people like that but in the end, when shown the illusion of their actions, they had realised the folly of their ways and changed.

But with Kamui, it felt like something more. Like there was a desire in there, a true desire to not be saved. It felt like if there was a hand extended out to this man that he would never take it no matter how much Kamijou reached or how much he begged the man to take it.

Kamijou, with every fibre of his being, could not accept that.

"How were you nothing before? You were someone. Everyone is someone! You don't have to do anything major such as achieve world peace or anything else like that. The only thing you need to do is exist! There's no such thing as 'nobody'; there is only 'somebody'! Whoever you were before you were Kihara Kamui…that person surely had worth. They surely had values and surely had someone who noticed they were gone. And yet…how can you just think you don't want to return to that? What about your past? Your regrets!? Are you really satisfied leaving things in the hands of someone who took all that away from you!?"

"Absolutely."

Kamui didn't even hesitate. Kamijou was lost for words as the man stared back, all traces of joviality gone from him.

"Kamui gave me something. There is something given to me Kamui managed to show me I was lacking this entire time. Your pretty words are just the words of you yourself. If I returned to the world, no matter how hopeful your words are, they would not give me the chance to become what you think. I would devolve. I would choose to having something to having nothing. What idiot does that? What idiot, after seeing the light, chooses to sin out of a desire to return to it? You've probably saved a lot of people, Kamijou Touma. But you know what? I'm OK with not being saved."

"You – "

Kamijou instantly felt the rejection of such an idea rising within him.

The idea someone was OK not being saved? This was essential the essence of self, the essence of who they were. If the man in front of Kamijou was not saved, then in all seriousness, the man would lose his 'life'. His personality, everything that made him him would be lost to Kamui and the infectious personality.

And this man…was OK with that!?

He was OK giving his life to someone else who had invaded his life, taken everything and was more than happy to kill him as nothing more than an experiment and victim of Personality Swipe?

The idea seemed outrageous and if there was a word for it, that word was simply madness.

Rejection at the idea, raw rejection flooded Kamijou like never before. It possessed him, causing him to take a step forward and speaking from the very depths of his heart.

"I can't accept that."

"But that decision is a decision I have made. If you return me to who I was previously, aren't you essentially removing who I am right now? Aren't you essentially…killing the person I am right now?" Kamui spoke, a grin on his face at the challenge he had given Kamijou.

"The person who is making the decision already exists! They are invading you and your mind to make you think you are someone else. You're…You're not Kihara Kamui, you're just a terminal for their thoughts like a virus overtaking a main computer. The person who you were is still alive, I know it! Don't you see that Kamui is the one who is making you think you are someone else?! There was worth in you being you! There is worth!"

"But the self I am now is still a living self. You're satisfied with removing who I am now because of your own definitions and what you think? That's not heroism. Or justice. That's just overbearing and your own thoughts."

"If being a hero or fighting for justice means I have to forsake who you once were and leave you as you are, as Kamui who stole the personality and mind of another, then those things can eat shit."

Kamijou spat out without even a second's hesitation, making Kamui go wide eyed.

Justice?

Heroism?

Right or wrong?

Sure, those were convenient labels.

But when had Kamijou fought for any of those?

Kamijou Touma always maintained he was not a hero. But not because he was modest. But because he did not fight for convenient things such as justice or the aspect of right or wrong.

He fought merely because he saw something he could not accept. What he did was primarily selfish in saving others and nothing else. The labels that came after meant little to him so why would they apply now? Why would he fight for them now? Why would he fight for the 'right' thing to do when he could not accept it? That was never how he worked and never how he did things.

He just saved people because he could not bear to see them cry anymore. Because he could not bear the situation they were in and decided to rise his fists against it. That was it and nothing else so if the labels of what a hero were stood in his way and pressed down on him, then they could all go to hell.

If it meant saving someone…then all cards were off the table and Kamijou would do whatever it took to make sure they were saved.

Kamui said nothing, opening his mouth as he managed to get together whatever thoughts he had but there was something that prevented him from doing so.

A noise from one of the other entrances to the stadium like space they were in.

All heads turned, some going wide eyed as they spotted the girl who walked in as if she owned the place. The entrance she walked in from was not the one everyone else had walked in from but was one closer to where Kamui was. The steps they made when they walked into the space echoed around but as the girl attracted stares, Kamijou felt the tense nature of the people around him.

He didn't understand it however.

But that was mainly because he did not know the girl who walked in.

The yellow eyes, the brown hair in a ponytail and the Magical Powered Kanamin shirt; the girl who walked in seemed carefree although as she stared at the people in the stadium like space and Kamui, her eyes narrowed.

"You're still dealing with these people?" she asked Kamui. "What happened to furthering the project you were working on?"

"I can't fucking do it when I have these people who want to take my life as soon as I turn my back on them. Although I'm more surprised you are here, Hayashida. The lack of stars in your eyes tells me exactly who won in that battle of yours." Kamui spoke carefree as well, his body relaxing as soon as he managed to see the girl come closer, many of the people there going even further tense at Kamui's words.

A lack of stars in her eyes?

That made no sense.

From Kamui's words, it was clear he thought this girl had beaten Shokuhou Misaki.

But for the group there, they knew the truth: Shokuhou had beaten her opponent and met them on the final floor before heading into this space behind them, although had no athletic ability to manage to do so. She had fallen behind but she had won the fight.

So who the hell was this girl? And how had she gotten to the entrance she had gotten to?

Her name seemed familiar; Kamijou feeling as though he had heard it before, but his mind was more focused on the fact there was someone else he had to deal with, even if he was confused about it. He felt his body tense the same as the others but as the girl walked closer towards Kamui, she got a good look at everyone who was standing before the man.

She took one look at Kamijou and froze on the spot.

She stood stock still, unable to move and barely breathing, wide eyed and pale, Kamijou unsure why she was staring at him so intently. Only Mikoto seemed to shift, the closeness at which they were standing meaning she bumped into his shoulder. The movement of both Kamijou and Mikoto though seemed to snap the girl out of her momentous trance as she focused on Kamui.

"Who do you think I am? I planned for every single eventuality. She didn't even realise I was bluffing. She gave herself up after looking too much into things and I dealt with her afterwards." The girl spoke and removed something attached to her neck, dropping it to her side with a groan and moving her stiff neck.

"Is that so?" Kamui asked, rising from his chair and stepping backwards. "Well now that you're here, this makes things easier. I can finally get to work." He reached into his lab coat pocket and brought out another neck device much like his own and threw it to the girl. She caught it and examined it before Kamui gave her his instructions.

"Put it on. It's identical to the one I'm wearing so as long as you keep your heart rate in check, then nothing bad will happen." Kamui explained although it seemed like the explanation was more for the others than for her; meaning that when she put on her device, any change in her heart rate would cause the explosives in the devices of Last Order and Takitsubo to go off.

The girl said nothing as she eyed the device.

"What are you doing? Hurry up and put it on. I can't take mine off otherwise." Kamui said in a hurried tone, approaching the girl and clearly eager to begin his 'work' on the project the others had no explanation for. After a brief pause, the girl nodded and placed the device around her neck just as Kamui reached her, clamping it together and moving her finger to a button on its side.

There was a small 'beep'.

Only for Kihara Kamui to punch her in the face.

She cried out and fell to the floor, Kamui not even looking her way before leaning down and grabbing her hair, thrusting his face into hers and spitting out the words at close range.

"Don't give me that shit. You? Beating the #5? That's a laugh if I ever heard one." He pushed her away roughly, standing back up again and shouting into the air with an expression calm but his eyes burning with anger.

"MENTAL OUT! I know you're listening. There's no way Quotient Extreme would be able to outwit you in a battle of wits. The device your colleague so willingly placed on her neck is identical, like I said. However, not to mine but the ones of the necks of the hostages. Anything that increases my heart rate, such as fucking brats messing about and not listening to the words of the adults, is sure to make it race. To unless you want to be responsible for not just one but three lives, then you better come out of your hiding place noooooooooooooooooooooooow~!"

Kamui's words, even though they were serious, held the tone of someone who knew they had won. There was silence for a single moment before the sound of footsteps once more echoed throughout the stadium, coming from the entrance the other girl had come from. Eyes turned to see the sight of Shokuhou Misaki, panting heavily and sweat running down her entire form such that it made her clothes stick to her skin.

This was no time for such a sight or thinking of such however, so the only thing everyone saw was the expression of frustration on her face. She wiped her forehead and leaned against the wall, the running it had taken to get where she was given she had not come out of the entrance everyone else had clearly having a toll on her.

She stared at the man, refusing to speak before managing to let words out where she leaned against the wall. Shokuhou glanced over at Kamijou but perhaps out of shame, cast her gaze back to Kamui.

"How did you know?"

"There's a good girl." Kamui spat out. "If you were controlling Hayashida, that would have made sense. But that would have left the 'marks' on her which she did not have. But Hayashida has been no stranger to voicing her objections to what I do. If there was any time to act against me, it would have been now. Which I see she took by allying with you. After you took what you wanted from her, did she offer her assistance or did you control her into changing her mind?"

Shokuhou said nothing, trying to catch her breath, but answering all the same.

"I looked into her mind and saw her conflict ability when it came to working for you. So pressing the right buttons afterwards was easy although what she later did was all her. She changed her mind. Hayashida Mari has had enough of the things you are pulling. She did the right thing by giving herself up. Much as you should do the same."

"Mmmm… Not happening." Kamui replied, pointing to his temple with a finger. "Your exhaustion happens to be the only thing preventing you from doing the calculations to take control of my mind. Otherwise you would have done that in a heartbeat when you appeared. Which is lucky for me. But…it does place me in a bit of a predicament. Your exhaustion will run out soon meaning that as soon as it does, this battle is finished. I can't have that."

Kamui stared right at the girl, not even blinking.

"I can't have that at all."

He stepped forward, but that was enough to suggest what he was going to do to her.

What did the life of Shokuhou Misaki mean to Kihara Kamui? If she was a hindrance to her plan and only had to recover to win this battle, what would do to prevent that from happening?

That single step forward was the only thing that suggested exactly what was going to happen.

"Shokuhou!"

Kamijou yelled out at the top of his lungs, but was grabbed by Itsuwa. He turned back to her with eyes wide in surprise but the pain within them was obvious as she stared at him.

Itsuwa barely got out the words she had to say to get the message across, forcing them from her throat.

"If you approach and his heart rate goes up, then - !"

Kamijou eyes went wide, turning his head back to Kamui and fighting back the scream that wanted to come from his mouth.

If he approached Kamui, his increase in heart rate would set off the explosives in the necks of Last Order, Takitsubo Rikou and Hayashida Mari.

If he did not, then Kihara Kamui would take the life of Shokuhou Misaki in a heartbeat. He would probably feel nothing while doing it, not even reacting as he crushed a life within his own hands.

It was a balance of lives. Something Kamijou was forced to do in this world that he wanted to tear down at all costs. The fact he had to just stand there and watch what was about to happen play out only reinforced the decision he had to tear this world apart. But in his pain and being unable to do anything, he still felt the desire to scream being too strong to withhold, something the others around him did as well although not as loud as him.

"SHOKUHOU!"

He had just gained the ability to remember her. The only reason she was here was because she and him had wanted to take the time to reconnect and yet, this was what such an event had led to!?

It was too cruel and Kamijou was forced to watch it happen lest three lives were to be taken. He could feel his heart tearing itself apart and something wet came to the corners of his eyes as he stared at what was about to happen, unable to do anything.

There had to be something he could do.

Anything.

ANYTHING!

Shokuhou Misaki, with frustration and sweat covering her face, turned to face the others who were yelling at her. And on her face came a small smile as she looked at them, Kamijou especially.

"Oh…"

And she did the impossible.

She giggled.

"My Prince…did you really think I would be so careless?"

"…Eh?"

Kamijou stared at her blankly, everyone else doing the same, Kamui having stopped in his tracks as he advanced towards her. He stared at her, his red eyes narrowing.

"Oh yes." Shokuhou said, her eyes sparkling as she stared at the man who had stopped in front of her. "I do love seeing a Kihara squirm. I'm glad this time it's a young man such as yourself instead of that old man Gensei. This isn't my first time tangling with you, so I know exactly what to expect. The question ability I have for you is…do you?"

Kamui said nothing, the fact he was barely letting off any sweat suggesting even he had doubts as to the validity of the claim being made. Shokuhou was clearly too exhausted to be making calculations which meant he was essentially safe for now.

Meaning the only other element there that could face him was –

He turned, looking at the collapsed figure of Hayashida Mari on the ground and staring at the activated device on her neck. No, that device was definitely activated; identical to the one on Last Order and Takitsubo Rikou's neck. Any change in his heart rate, whether it go faster or just stop would set it off, but Hayashida had not done some trick and swapped the neck device in her hand for the one previously on her neck: the device Kamui had given her was the one on her neck right now.

There was nothing.

It was just a cheap bluff.

Kamui turned to face Shokuhou, his eyes flashing with irritation.

"Oh, very good. But once I see through the bluff, there is nothing to it. You bought yourself five seconds. That's not enough time for you to catch your breath, you fucking brat. Learn when to respect your elders. Reflect on that in the next life." Kamui spoke easily, taking a step forward, however, Shokuhou had already moved, raising her finger in the position of a finger gun and pointing it right at the man's neck.

"That device…is the only thing preventing my Prince from doing what he does best, is it not? Our plan to get you to lower your guard and focus entirely on Hayashida-san was perfectly suggested by her so she gets all the credit ability. It allowed us knowledge of our target, your device, and moved you closer to me such there was a better vantage point for you to be dealt with."

Shokuhou Misaki paused for a single moment before she narrowed her eyes.

"As much as I dislike doing this and working with you, the necessity of the situation ability means I'm willing to put my pride to the side to see this situation resolved. As such, I order you to fire. Take out the device on Kihara Kamui's neck. Without killing him, of course~!"

Shokuhou let out those words, smiling as she did so and pretending to fire the finger gun in her hand. Kamui blinked, saying nothing, nor did anyone else.

The silence resounded in the area for a few seconds, Shokuhou going wide eyed as she stared at Kamui and how nothing was happening. Sweat came off her body in greater amounts, the girl turning her head to face somewhere else in the stadium and paling as she yelled at the top of her lungs.

"D-Did you hear me!? I said fire! Fire!"

All heads turned to where she was speaking.

And all eyes went wide.

There were two figures standing on one of the balconies jutting out from the wall, a sniper rifle in one figure's hands and balanced on the railing. It was pointed right at Kamui but while the sight of that was surprising in itself, it was the sight of the boy holding it that made everyone else go wide eyed.

Orion Phoenix, who should have been dead once more, had seemingly risen from it like his namesake. It was not a clone or a twin brother; the blood dripping down from him suggested the boy standing there was the same one who had been tortured to death and also had dropped so far his body had been nothing more than a broken mess.

But here he was.

Alive and pointing a sniper rifle at Kihara Kamui with his handler, Faith Townsend, by his side.

Kamijou felt himself stop breathing. Again, this boy had seemingly risen from the dead, even though Kamijou himself had seen him on the verge of death. Was it magic? Kamijou had no idea but the sight of the boy himself was something he had not expected.

Tatsugami Otohime behind Kamijou, he saw in his peripheral vision, had gone as pale as a sheet and was shaking as though she had seen the most traumatising thing in her life. That made him question things but as all eyes stared at the mercenary on the balcony, Kamui narrowed his eyes as Orion watched him through the scope.

"And here I thought you were dead. Are you not going to fire just as Shokuhou-chan says?"

"No."

The response came through the air without hesitation. Shokuhou frantically turned her head and screamed.

"Why?! We agreed to this plan when we met up in the hallway, did we not!? Are you seriously that much of a bastard you would leave me to die!? You think I wanted to pair up with you?!" Shokuhou screamed at him but he said nothing, holding the rifle in the same position, pointed right at Kamui. It was clear the mercenary was hostile to the scientist but his reluctance to move when Shokuhou had ordered him only added confusion.

Kamui stepped forward, the rifle following the scientist. Was he going to shoot or not?

As much as everyone hated it, the only thing that could allow this incident to progress any further was the bastard they had all faced or killed themselves. Whether they lost everything or left with smiles on their faces was to be determined by a single lump of metal fired by the boy everyone had abandoned when it came down to it.

The only thing that would allow anyone to progress was a single finger on the trigger.

It was the ultimate power and it would allow this incident to move on the rails provided to it.

It was just misfortune it was placed in the hands of the boy no one cared for.

"Answer me! Why are you not firing!? Answer me! I'm going to die. Are you seriously going to sit and watch that because of a simple grudge?!" Shokuhou, perhaps because she also hated relying on this boy to do something when she had done something against him, let her screams rip through the air. All stares were directed at him, wondering the same thing.

For the things they had done to him, was Orion really that petty to watch others suffer because of how they had made him suffer before? Was he really that type of person? Was that the darkness he held inside of him? A pettiness that revealed itself when he had the chance to get revenge on those who had harmed him?

Orion said nothing for a small while before he opened his mouth and responded.

"Ms. Shokuhou, just as much as you don't want to work with me, the feeling is mutual. Even though you agreed with my client to use me in this situation, you are not my client. So anything you say literally does not mean shit to me."

Orion's very mercenary-like response filled the air of the stadium, seeming to echo. But the words and the knowledge that came with them immediately made heads turn frantically.

But by then, it was already too late.

"I order you! Orion Phoenix, shoot the device off Kamui's neck while not killing him at the same time!"

"Yes, Ma'am."

Hayashida Mari screamed into the air as she lay on the ground and Orion Phoenix answered with both words and a single action.

He pulled the trigger.

Kamui recoiled before the gunshot was heard and his screams overlapped it. There was the sound of cracking metal coming from his neck as the device, just as he had been ordered, was blown off the man's neck before he had the time to have his heart rate increase or stop. The only blood that flew through the air was not from the bullet passing through Kamui's neck but instead of the sharper bits of the destroyed neck device biting into his skin.

Everyone moved at once.

Accelerator and Hamazura Shiage did not waste time, immediately racing towards their respective hostages, tearing them from their chairs and ripping the devices attached to their necks off.

Kamijou Touma on the other hand only had one opponent in mind.

"KAMUIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!"

He screamed and ran forward faster than anyone else and slammed his right fist into the man's face, sending both him and Kamui to the ground. Kamijou grabbed the man by the collar and slammed his right fist into his face again, the man recoiling as blood came running down his nose, his face distorted in a mixture of pain yet his expression was frustrated and held in an expression of glee.

"Do you really think this will be enough to sto – Befhbdfhvdjb!?"

He didn't get to finish, Kamijou slamming his fist into the man's face again. He grabbed the lab coat's collar and thrust his forehead into the man's, yelling at the top of his lungs.

"Remember, damn it! Remember who you were and who you want to return to before Kamui took over. I'm not going to abandon you to the mindset of a madman: there was worth in who you were before you became him! Wasn't there anything you saw in yourself and anything you regret that you want to grasp with your hands? I refuse to accept there was nothing, that there was nothing you left behind you don't want to return to no matter what. Remember that one thing or so help me, whatever it takes, I will drag you out of the depths of hell the Original Kamui has put you in myself!"

Kamijou's words held the same core behind them they always did: the desire to save the person in front of him. If the world Kamijou wanted to tear down was built on the foundations of this madman's mind, then he was going to rip this man from that mindset no matter what it would take.

Kamijou would free this man from Kihara Kamui's personality.

He would save him!

"H-Hahahaha! How far are you going to go for someone like me!? Even after the evil I've done to others, you still think I am in a position to be saved? I want to see the face you make when you break. I want to see that more than anything else in the world so you just being here is enough to make me reject salvation! You want me to be saved? Then you can't be the one to do it. But can you trust everyone else here to seek the same salvation you want? Do you really think that after the things I've done, the others are going to attempt to restore who I originally was?!"

Yet Kamui's words struck deep at Kamijou's core.

Originally, Kamijou would have trusted the people around him to do just that. He would have trusted in everyone to try and restore who Kamui originally was without even a second's hesitation.

But he had seen the darkness within the souls of others and the lengths they would go to when they were pushed. Even against someone who was just a pawn in this man's game, Kamijou had seen what they had done to that boy. So against the man who was the mastermind, who said they would even try to save him?

Kamijou did not think of this man as evil.

But that was just him.

And because of that, he did not know whether the others around him would even try to save this man and restore who he had once been.

The fact he had not grasped the people and the relationships forming the Kamijou Faction had sowed the seeds of the greatest disaster for Kamijou; the distrust and the fact he did not know whether anyone else would bother to save this man.

If it was someone in trouble, someone innocent who had nothing to do with anything, Kamijou did not distrust his allies. He knew they would go to the same lengths as him to save the victims and those with tears in their eyes.

But what about the villains of their respective incidents? This man was not someone who had a tragic backstory: he was a man who had his mind replaced with someone else's but had done the things he had done all the same. To others, he was an evil that had to be disposed of, even if Kamijou did not feel the same.

Who else would reach out to this man and try to save him? Kamijou could not say and while that fact burned a deep pain into his heart, there was something else he felt edging closer towards the edges of his mind and wearing them away.

Just by being here, Kamijou Touma was not going to save anyone.

Kamijou was fine with that normally. He was fine with that. He wasn't a hero so he didn't have to burden everything himself and try to save everyone so leaving a job to others he had no problem with.

The only problem arose when it was related to this man, the man infected with the personality of Kihara Kamui.

Would anyone here really be trying to save him for the things he had done? Would anyone apart from Kamijou see the light beneath the darkness here and even attempt to give him the benefit of the doubt?

Kamijou could not say.

And because of that, he felt a deep pain within himself as he asked himself one question.

A question that was spat out by the man who tormented him all the same.

"Who is going to save Kihara Kamui? It can't be you, but it has to be you. Because no one else wants to take on the dirty job of plunging their hands into the filth of my mind and trying to extract what lies beneath. The personality overwriting my original one is such a deep bog of putrid filth that no one but you wants to put their hands into it! Hahahahahahahaha! But at the same time, seeing you try makes the Kihara inside of me burn as I want to see you break all the more! You want to push the Kihara inside of me away, but the more you do that, the more it grows in its desire to break the hero you are!"

Kamui's eyes had lost all sense of rationality as they stared deep into Kamijou's. The blood running down his face made his teeth and expression seem crazed and the words he let out only added to that impression.

"Save me."

"!"

"And relish in the fact you will never be able to."

The words Kamui spoke seemed to stab into Kamijou more than he thought possible. His voice caught inside of his throat, staring down at the man he knew no one else would try to save. He felt his body go weak, uncertainty and other factors swimming in his mind as he desperately tried to figure out some compromise, some way out of this.

(I won't break… Othinus has done much worse to me, so I won't break! But there must be a way to make sure everyone can get out of this without the blood of someone else on their hands. I refuse to abandon you, but how do I save you?! There must be something I can do that can stop this madness from escalating anymore than it has! Think! Think, damn it, think!)

Kamijou's mind worked in overdrive, his right fist clenched tight as he stared at the red eyes of Kihara Kamui. There was a madness within them, the madness at seeing the expression he was making now, one Kamijou could not see but could tell what it looked like.

He was lost.

How exactly was he to save someone no one else wanted to save but who would only become further and further from salvation the more Kamijou tried to save him?!

A sound broke through his thoughts, tearing Kamijou from where he was looking at Kamui and staring at the screens attached to the far wall of the stadium like space they were in.

And he felt his blood go cold.

They were red.

Which was never a good sign.

The others, who had been either watching for Kamui to make some move or helping Accelerator and Hamazura get their hostages free, paled as soon as they saw the red lights of the screens. Kamijou turned back to the man beneath him, only seeing the madness within his eyes had barely even changed.

"Time's up. Looks like you never got the answer to the questions you were asking yourself." Kamui taunted. "Did you really think I would not put in a counterplan in the event I was defeated? Whether it be the fact that Last Order and AIM Stalker were ripped from their bonds forcibly or because of the device around my neck being destroyed, I can't let anything here remain."

"What did you do!? What's going on!?"

"What do you think? This isn't exactly legal, what's going on here. Fire has a very wonderful thing attached to it, you know. The way it destroys everything in its path without discrimination…there is a certain romance to that, don't you think?"

Kamijou's eyes went wide.

Fire wasn't going to destroy everything within this facility. It was too deep and there were too many floors for it to be the case.

An explosion, one which caused everything to be destroyed and would allow flames to engulf everything in its path, on the other hand was a perfect tool for this man who seemed intent on destroying everything precious to Kamijou.

"You – !"

"You son of a bitch!"

Kamijou felt a hand on his shoulder throw him off Kamui. He collapsed to the floor as Shutaura grabbed the man by the collar and shook him with her eyes frantically searching for an answer to the madness she had been thrown into.

"How many of there are you? Why did you attack me and my comrades? I have no certainties we are safe. Tell me, why did you go after us!? For what possible reason were you after me!? Does this have to do with Arisa?!" Shutaura screamed, her mind trying to isolate the cause behind this. The mention of the name Arisa made Index and Mikoto stiffen, both of whom looked at Shutaura with an expression that was a mixture of uncertainty but also interest.

Kamui on the other hand stared at Shutaura, that same sick grin on his face.

"Wouldn't you like to know?"

"!"

Shutaura went wide eyed, trembling before she slammed her fist into Kamui's face. There was a cracking noise as the man collapsed, holding his nose in pain and screaming. Shutaura didn't even look at him as she stood up and stared at everyone around her.

"Everyone, out. Now!"

Shutaura yelled out those words to those in front of her, the Black Crows nodding. Accelerator holding Last Order in his arms and Hamazura in his mobile weapon, who had managed to get Takitsubo into the cockpit with him, had already started to move towards the entrance, not even listening to the commands being given.

Kamijou on the other hand stared at the soldier with a conflicted expression on his face.

"Shutaura!"

Shutaura stared at him, knowing exactly what he was thinking. No, she did not know Kamijou that well so the thoughts racing through her head that related to him were most likely coming from Arisa within her. So she knew the expression of conflict on his face was because she knew there was something she had failed to say that Kamijou would do himself if she did not order it done.

Even now, even in this situation, he did not change.

Something within her heart seemed to escalate at that but she forced it down. She knew what she was about to say was unrealistic but knowing Kamijou and with the expression he was making, she knew there was no way she could not say this.

No matter how foolish it was.

"Get everybody who is still alive to the surface! Double check their pulses if you have to but ensure that if they are still breathing they get top side!"

"What!?"

The Black Crows stared in surprise at Shutaura, stunned at her commands in this vital situation. Whatever was going to happen was going to happen soon but if they took the time to check on everyone who they had shot to see if they were alive or not potentially put themselves in danger. Not to mention the amount of people who had been shot was simply not a number that would easily be carried by the remaining Black Crows if all of them were alive. Even considering the reality they weren't all alive, the extra weight to be carried to the surface was not a task that would be beneficial to them at all.

In fact, given the unknown time to detonation and the destruction of this facility, it would threaten all their lives.

Shutaura, realising the foolishness of her command in this situation but also driven by the overwhelming feeling within her heart, yelled out all the same.

"That is an order! Enemies or not, if we leave these men who fought against us to die, then we are no better than them who kill for the sake of the darkness within Academy City. Fighting back against that by choosing to save them proves we are better than them. That we fight for something better and that we can choose to live our lives with pride! Is that something you want to protect? Isn't that why the Black Crows exist? So that we can fight the fights nobody else wants to while also never straying from the goodness within ourselves?! That we can plunge our hands into the darkness and still hold onto the light we have within ourselves?!"

"…"

"Are we going to let our own emotions of hate towards them for killing our comrades control our actions?! Then how are we better than children for that? For the fact we can be better than that, despite the hate we have for them for killing our comrades, we owe it to our fallen comrades to make their legacy something more than blood and violence. We owe it to them to make our actions after their death not ones of vengeance but ones of kindness and goodness! Do you want to let those who have fallen be remembered because we ended up killing those who killed them? Do we want to stoop down to their level!?"

Shutaura's words echoed through the stadium like space, the Black Crows staring at her. Their expressions showed their answer and how conflicted they were with it. But amidst it all, as they listened to her words, their expressions changed and it was again their professionalism that made itself know in their response and how quickly it came.

"Roger, Captain!"

The Black Crows lowered their weapons and saluted, racing back where they had come along with the other members in their mobile weapons. They left Shutaura standing there watching them go. She held a fist by her side as it trembled turning back to face Kamijou.

How hard was that choice? The people who had killed her comrades, no, her family were ones she was saving by her own choice. To disregard the emotions within her so easily was not an easy thing to do despite what she had said and as she stared at Kamijou, the pain behind that choice and the words she had spoken was made clear to him.

Just because he wanted to make sure everyone who could be was saved, he had forced his selfishness on her and made her make the hard choice to cast aside her lingering dark feelings for those who had killed her comrades and choose to save them.

Even if it was a noble thing, the difficulty of that decision and to throw her hatred away was not as easy as she made it look. Nor was it easy for her to forget her comrades who had fallen because of those very men she was saving.

She had cast aside the emotions that had fuelled her actions up until this very point. She had said things that made her one of the worst hypocrites there was.

All because of something Kamijou had said.

"…Sorry. And thank you."

"…"

Shutaura said nothing, turning back and staring up towards Kamui but instead, stopped. She rose her handgun suddenly, pointing it at the far console and yelling at the top of her lungs.

"Stop! What do you think you're doing!?"

Kamijou turned, never having noticed the girl with the Magical Powered Kanamin shirt had gotten up from the floor and raced over to the console. Instead of red filling the screens, numerous images and data flowed across it in droves as she rapidly allowed her fingers to dance along the keyboard.

What was her name again…Hayashida or something like that?

She never answered but the urgency in that this place was going to blow meant Kamijou knew he did not have time to waste asking the girl questions that would require explanations.

"We've got to get out of here! We need to go right now!" Kamijou yelled over to her, standing up and watching the others who had come with him looking back and forth to the exit and the console on the far end of the room as if reminding themselves of the urgency of what needed to be done.

The girl did not move, staring at the screens entirely focused and watching the data flowing past. She shook her head, sweat running down her as she stared intently at the screen.

"No…I have to know. I have to know what Kamui was doing. Sure, I didn't understand it but if I can get a proper understanding of the things he has done so far and how far he has gone, I won't have done nothing all this time. I was scared of doing anything but now I've gone against him, I can't use that as an excuse for letting this go. If I can understand everything within this console then…!"

"There's too much information in there!" Mikoto yelled out to Hayashida as she typed rapidly on the screen, glancing back to the entrance where everyone had already gone through. "Even with your ability, trying to retain everything on the screen you're seeing on a frame by frame basis is humanly impossible!"

"I refuse to accept Kamui is going to get away with everything he has done so far without anyone having a proper fighting chance against him! I absolutely refuse! I did not look past this for this entire time only to come out with nothing I can use against him, damn it!" Hayashida didn't even bother turning back as she focused her eyes on the screens, only for them to go black.

"Wh-What happened?!" asked Itsuwa, only for Hayashida to curse and slam her fingers on the keyboard.

"I accessed all the data and made it spontaneously appear on the screen. But I'm unsure whether I managed to get it all in my head, so I can remember it for later. I-I need to run it through again!"

"We don't have time, Hayashida!" Shokuhou yelled, trying to get herself from the wall and managing to do so as she got together her strength. Hayashida ignored her completely, typing rapidly on the keyboard but there was someone else who spoke up amidst it all.

"You don't need to do that."

Hayashida stopped, turning to who had spoken and finding it was the girl who had said nothing this entire time, Index. She pointed to her head and then back on the screens on the far wall.

"I don't really understand what you said, but all the data you needed was on that screen just now, right? I got it all so there's nothing you need to worry about. The only thing you need to focus on is getting out of here alive, just like the rest of us." Index said those words easily, but the sweat on her face and the way she grabbed at Othinus and Sphynx in her arms made it clear she was focused more on escaping than anything else. Her frequent glances to Touma made that perfectly obvious, Hayashida staring at her stunned.

"…There's no way that's possible. Looking at the flow of data all at once on sixteen different screens, each of them showing different data; there's no way you managed to absorb all of that in a single go. The amount of mental processing and compartmentalisation for that to occur would be – "

"No."

Kamijou didn't even bother giving Hayashida another word in as he stared at Index. Her eyes, even if the left one with the magic circle in it shone dangerously (at least to him), held a sharpness Kamijou had seen very few times but knew he could count on in this situation.

"If Index said she managed to get it all, then she did. Her perfect memory gives her that ability."

"E-Even so!" Hayashida, who had jumped when Kamijou had spoken still looked at the small girl with scepticism in her eyes. "Managing to simultaneously view all those screens at once and absorb everything there… Are you telling me this girl, on sixteen different screens, instantly memorised 30 frames per second for each one and analysed them all!? That's…!"

"If Index said she did it…"

Kamijou knew how ridiculous what Hayashida was saying was. Suggesting someone could register that many frames each second and analyse them all was ridiculous let alone do so for many screens simultaneously. The others in the room who stared at Index did so with shock or suspicion but there was only a few in the stadium who truly knew the worth and the fearsome ability of that girl.

But even if it was so, Kamijou Touma knew one thing within his heart in this situation when it came to the girl who was always by his side.

"Then she did."

He didn't even give hesitation to his words, nodding at Index. She nodded back after some time, before Kamijou turned back to Hayashida and spoke.

"We've never met and I realise this is hard, but you need to trust us! We've got all the information we need on what Kamui was doing; the only thing we need to do now is escape! And I'm not leaving anyone behind, even you!" Kamijou reached out a hand even though the distance from where he was and where Hayashida was was a few metres. "Please, come with us!"

Hayashida stared at the proffered hand, rising her hands to grab at something underneath her clothes. She trembled at the words of Kamijou and looked up at his face. She stared into his eyes, as if searching for something there, but her hesitation cost her vital time.

The screens behind her, previously black and blank, flashed red with an ominous light that made her turn around in fright. Everyone else felt themselves freeze up at the sudden flash of red, before Kamijou in his mind knew exactly what was about to happen and when.

"No!"

He screamed and started to race forward but by then, his own second of hesitation and his late reaction time to the red light flashing was more than enough for the effects of what was going to happen to occur. It was to be expected; even though Kamijou had been through many things, dealing with explosives when he was used to magic and human reliant esper powers meant this was not something he was used to. Accelerator and Hamazura Shiage would have been more suited for this situation but they were not here.

Which meant the only thing Kamijou could do as a result of his late timing was watch as the girl in the Magical Powered Kanamin shirt stood stock still as the screens behind her flashed red –

Just as a flash of black appeared, coming out from one of the other entrances closer to where she was and covered her entire body.

The explosion that ripped apart the console behind her was more than enough to blast her forward towards everyone. The shockwave struck everyone and caused the closest to be blasted back, Kamijou flying backwards into the others. He cried out and knocked everyone over, his eyes fighting through dust and rubble to see what was on the other side, but the remnants of rubble stung at his eyes.

However, he could smell the scent of burnt flesh and that was enough to make his heart race in fear.

Without even realising what he was doing, Kamijou thrust himself forward. He stumbled once, falling onto the ground but finding himself pouncing forward with more energy than he thought his tired body could muster.

He had said he would not anyone else die today and he had meant it.

So the reality of the painful scene in front of his eyes was more than he thought he could bear. It crushed at his heart and he felt as though his chest was going to contract on it and destroy it, the boy waving his arms to try and part the hot air that came into his lungs. There was the danger of the boy's lungs frying from the hot air but in his mind, he barely cared.

The only thing he wanted to do was reject the scene in front of him and try to find some way in which he did not have to lose anyone else.

Salvation came to him through one of his senses, a cough from right in front of him. Barely able to open his eyes wide due to the rubble and dust, Kamijou pounded forward, diving into the dust and grabbing at a form on the ground. It was barely visible but the colour black and the wet sensation of something with a rusty scent made his heart race out of control.

What exactly was he going to see when he pulled this form from the dust and rubble? Not even he was sure, but he knew that as long as he was pulling out a life, then there was a way to save it.

He wasn't going to lose anyone else today!

"H-Hang on! Hold on, you hear me!? You better get out of this otherwise, so help me, I'll - !"

"Don't pull on his arm!"

A voice from beyond the form within Kamijou's arms made him look up, only for his body to freeze as he saw the person in front of him, something he had barely been able to see before.

It was the girl, Hayashida, entirely unharmed apart from a small cut on her forehead and some dust and rubble on her face. The fact she was in front of him instead of being the person on the ground added confusion to his mind but that did not change the fact there was someone in front of him Kamijou could save right now.

And by the gods, he was going to do it and destroy this shitty world filled to the brim with darkness.

"Wh-What do we do!?" Kamijou asked, realising he knew very little about his options if he could not pull on this form's arm. He coughed and realised this was hardly the time to be focusing on too many things at once: he had to focus on surviving and getting out of this facility before the entire thing was destroyed and caved in on itself.

"The shoulders! You push and I'll pull. Avoid his chest and try to touch the sturdier parts of his body that are less likely to move. The more you pull on his body like the arms and the legs, it's only going to make things worse! Have you got it?" Hayashida's voice was frantic, almost the same as Kamijou's as he replied.

"I've got his shoulders!"

"Then what are you waiting for!? Pull!"

Kamijou did as he was told, lifting the body in his arms slightly despite the awkward position and pulling the form from within the rubble and dust, Hayashida behind him. The moment he cleared it though, his eyes which had not been wide shot open in surprise and he dropped the body in his hands from it.

There was a thump but the reaction that produced was not as kind.

Orion Phoenix's left arm had been all but severed, a trail of blood on the ground of the stadium showing just where Kamijou and Hayashida has dragged him. Small bits of glass and metal were imbedded in his left side and the moment he was dropped on the ground, his right eye went wide and he coughed violently, spraying blood into the air. Dust covered him, more visible due to his dark clothing, and the sight of the mercenary who was once more in front of him made Kamijou react in the only way he knew how.

He stumbled backwards in surprise, tripping and landing on his butt, going wide eyed at the mercenary who was clearly not an illusion. The boy had appeared before when he had shot Kamui but it had happened so fast, it had felt like a dream.

But the blood and the feeling of the boy in Kamijou's arms had been far from such.

"Wha – "

The others behind Kamijou seemed just as surprised at seeing the mercenary up close, especially Otohime. She trembled, having said nothing this entire time when she had first seen Orion, but it was only Hayashida who spoke taking one look at him and paling.

"Holy shit..." Hayashida's expression said it all as everyone stared down at the mercenary, the boy trembling as he desperately tried to roll onto his front. The stump of his left arm moved helplessly and the scraping of his sword and guns filled the air as he moved his right hand covered with bandages onto the ground and tried to lift himself up.

"You… You shielded me from the blast…with your own body? Are you…insane?! I gave you the order and used the phrasing you told me… That should have ended our contract, so why did you - ?!" Hayashida's voice was quiet, Orion struggling to stand despite the shrapnel in his left side and his left arm having been torn off in the explosion. His voice was barely even there as he spoke, forcing out the words despite the blood coming from his mouth.

"You…are still…my client…Ma'am. It's my job…to keep you…alive." His voice came out pained as he barely managed to get himself up, slumping once more onto the ground. Whatever pain he was feeling, it was clear too much for his body to handle as the blood flowing from his body increased.

Still, the mercenary spat out those words in sheer determination, trying with every fibre of his body to rise despite his pathetic trembling. Hayashida stared at him, her breathing escalating before she turned and faced the people in front of her, turning especially to Kamijou.

"You said we're all getting out of here, right? All of us?! That also includes Orion, doesn't it?!" Kamijou flinched at her words, realising they were true and ones he did not intend to back down on. But even if Orion had seemingly come back from the dead twice now, his state was…

"He took an explosion at point blank range." Shutaura was the one who spoke for him before he said anything. "I'm more surprised he's alive with a lost arm and shrapnel as external wounds. But on the inside, he's… The shrapnel would have gone right through him if not already pierced his internal organs. The shockwave would have broken most of his bones and sent his internal organs into so much shock that if they haven't stopped, they won't be working anytime soon. Not to mention the heated air he breathed in fried his lungs. If…If he's not dead within the next few seconds, then…"

Shutaura did not need to finish the thought, staring down at the mercenary. There was silence as everyone else did the same, the fragile form of the bleeding human being giving the others a sense of amazement at the sight in front of them and how brittle human beings were.

This was the bastard who had allowed this to happen.

This was the bastard who had willingly threatened the smiles and peace of others to the extent that they had suffered.

This was the bastard who truly deserved this and everything he had coming to him for the things he had done.

This was the bastard who lived in the darkness and made it his job to go from person to person and twist them while also bringing them into this twisted world filled with blood, death and violence.

This was the bastard who only had a single path, decided for him by someone else instead of something he chose himself.

This was the bastard who was Kamijou Touma's Bad End, who constantly betrayed himself and was fine with not following his heart in what he did and fine with going with the flow of things no matter how twisted they were.

Just like the clothes he wore, Orion Phoenix was a matter of black and white. What you saw was what you got and what everyone had seen was nothing short of a bastard who relied on guns to do his work.

And yet…

This was the boy who had suddenly become grey by doing something noble for someone else despite knowing it would likely result in his death. This was the bastard who instead of remaining the mercenary who Kamijou could accept as being a generally bad person had suddenly decided to do something noble and throw all thoughts and assumptions Kamijou had had of him into the wind.

The mercenary who had destroyed so many lives…had finally decided to protect one.

But not because he had had a sudden epiphany but because he was acting in line with how he always was: acting in the name of his client. Kamijou had assumed that had made him a Bad End for doing bad things willingly and not considering his own heart but here he had decided to do something kind for that same person he was willing to work for and do bad things for.

He had been so black and white that Kamijou had been fine thinking him of that. While it was naïve, thinking of Orion as his Bad End was something Kamijou had been fine thinking.

But now…

"(…You goddamn idiot. You just…You just had to do something that means I can't look at you in the same way. Why couldn't you have just stayed a bastard instead of doing something so noble, you son of a bitch!? How…How am I supposed to ignore you when you're like this?!)"

Kamijou had never once had any thoughts of abandoning this boy.

But now he had decided to do something Kamijou had not thought him capable of when all he had done so far was hurt, Kamijou could not exactly rely on the assumptions he had formed of him thus far.

Sure, he was Kamijou Touma's Bad End: that had not changed.

But was there more to that Bad End that Kamijou had not seen before?

"Shutaura."

Kamijou turned to face the soldier, the girl going wide eyed as he stared at her. She opened her mouth to speak, closing it upon realising she did not have the time to say anything or to have an argument about this.

"He's going to die."

Kamijou nodded in response.

"So are we all. One day. So that's not excuse to leave anyone behind."

Shutaura twitched at that remark and hesitated for a moment.

But it was only a moment.

She moved towards the body of the mercenary on the ground and looked down at him. Hayashida moved away as the soldier leaned down, flipped Orion over and lifted him princess style, blood dripping down from his clothes as she did so. Hayashida stared at the soldier before casting her head down and speaking softly.

"…Thank you."

Shutaura said nothing in response, Kamijou standing and facing everyone else who was just staring at the mercenary's limp form in shock. Perhaps because they had just assumed he was just a bastard who had not cared for others, they had been surprised by his action of choosing to shield Hayashida from the explosion but they knew they did not have the time to say anything.

Otohime was the only one who seemed to have a different response from everyone else, staring at the mercenary with a clenched fist and biting her lip so hard it drew blood.

Kamijou did not have time to think about it any more than he had to as he did the one thing he knew he had to in this madness.

He moved over towards Kihara Kamui and looked down at him.

The man stared back at Kamijou and his face broke out into a massive grin.

"You can't be serious…"

"Oh, I am." Kamijou Touma responded in kind, lifting up his right fist as he stared down at the man. "But since you seem so adamant that me saving you is going to put you further into that mental prison of yours, then I've got to do something about that. I'm sorry to say this…but I've gotten a lot of things pent up inside of me right now."

He smiled.

And even Kihara Kamui felt a chill down his spine as soon as he saw it.

"So I apologise…but I'm going to be using you as the venting point for that. All so I can save you."


Only Kamijou Touma and Shutaura Sequenzia were falling behind despite running as fast as they could. Carrying over their shoulder or in their arms were the wounded figures of Kihara Kamui or Orion Phoenix respectively, the former having numerous bruises across his face while the latter still bleeding.

The others, including Shokuhou, had raced on ahead, mainly to clear the way for the two of them holding their respective people to save and also to make sure they could bring anyone who was still alive back to the surface. Indeed, just looking down the hallway Kamijou and Shutaura were running down, the fewer bodies lining the hallways gave optimism to Kamijou but the fact there were any bodies at all seemed to step on that sentiment all the same.

But even so, it meant there were some people out there who had not died and could be saved.

That in itself was something to rejoice about.

Kamijou didn't bother giving voice to the feelings in his heart, dragging Kihara Kamui's body as fast as he could manage. It was clear the others had been averse to leaving Kamijou alone with Kamui even if he was unconscious but the faces they had made when he had moved to bringing the man along had clearly shown their thoughts on bringing him in the first place.

Kamijou did not expect them to agree with everything he did.

But even so, he was not going to leave this man to die when he was just a victim in all of this.

In a way, that was very much like that spiky haired boy so there was not much to question, but the bitter faces many had made when it came to escaping and bringing Kamui along with them made it clear what they felt even if they said nothing on the matter.

Had Kamui seemed that evil that leaving him to die was the better option? Perhaps for those who had suffered by his hand, it was the case. Indeed, the way the man had tormented Kamijou made it clear that if he survived, Kamijou was not going to be any safer. For that alone, there was reason enough to leave him; for the safety of his own normal life.

But if that normal life was something he had to maintain on the bodies of the innocent and the victims of the crimes of others, then that was surely not the normal life Kamijou Touma had been fighting to protect this entire time.

So he would save this man. And he would bring who he originally was back to the world so he could resolve the things left unfinished before the Original Kamui had plagued him with his mind.

"We're almost at the entrance to the large cylindrical pit!"

Shutaura, in front of him, yelled out. Given she was holding Orion in a princess carry and her own strength, it seemed she was the faster of the two, even if they were moving slowly. No explosions apart from the one that had ripped through the console beforehand had gone off so was that because the self-destruction of this facility aimed to destroy the console with the information in it before giving time for everyone else to leave the facility before it caved in on itself?

Whatever the case, it had given Kamijou and Shutaura, with their slow pace, the chance to catch up to where they had once been before. The exit where the large scale railguns had once been opened up a few metres in front of them, their escape being the ascension of the numerous levels of the pit until they hit the District 15 ground level.

"Do you see anyone else there?" asked Kamijou behind Shutaura. She squinted before shaking her head.

"No, they're all probably evacuating who they can. Knowing the Black Crows, they took priority of everyone else leaving given their orders and accompanied the others who were holding the injured to the surface. By force if they had to."

If that was the case, then the only people left within the underground space were the dead and Kamijou, Shutaura, Orion and Kamui. Everyone else who had been in here who were carrying the wounded or not, would have been taken up to the District 15 ground level whether they liked it or not. Even if it was rough, the fact gave Kamijou a sense of relief that it was only them who had to reach the surface.

"We've got to speed up. If we're caught up in the cave in of this facility, then we're done for!" Kamijou called back to her, Shutaura nodding and turning back to face him.

She never got the chance to respond though as the time finally reached the end of its finely stretched limit.

The explosions that resounded through the hallway blew hot air against the back of Kamijou as he was holding Kamui over his shoulder. Having been running this entire time, the force of the blow almost threw him off his feet as well as because of the extra weight he was carrying, the boy stumbling and catching himself. He turned around, going wide eyed as he saw explosion after explosion go off down the hallway, heading right towards him.

Were the explosives lined in the ceiling? Kamijou did not know but the only thing he saw as the explosives in the ceiling went off again and again, heading right for him was a chain of death that would engulf him and Shutaura if they stood there doing nothing.

"Go!"

Kamijou screamed, heaving Kamui forward as fast as he could, Shutaura already having moved forward as fast as she could for the entrance to the cylindrical pit. But thinking that just because these hallways were now detonating made them safe had been naïve.

A massive explosion came from in front of the duo, Kamijou flinching and go wide eyed as, through the archway leading into the cylindrical hole, he saw a massive piece of concrete fall and slam into the floor where the collapsed large scale railguns lay. The slab, larger than a bus, shattered and spread dust and rubble in all directions, plunging the hallway into darkness and causing Kamijou to cough violently.

(Shit. It's not just coming from behind us but in front of us as well!? We were too slow!)

Kamijou didn't let that pessimistic thought get to him as he pushed his body through the rubble and smoke, feeling the hot air of the explosions coming behind him press against his skin. He ran as fast as he could, body pounding with sweat and his mind panicking as he desperately made each step towards where the entrance to the cylindrical hole had been.

The heat behind him was basically a wall pressing up against his back, Kamijou shooting through the archway while carrying Kamui and feeling the cool air of the pit race against him.

Just as the final explosive in the hallway he had just been in went off, sealing it off.

The shockwave blasted Kamijou forward and he collided with the ground painfully, scraping his body roughly on the concrete. He felt like he had been punched in the back and his lungs could barely scrape together the air from around him. He forced himself to slow his breathing, to try and take more meaningful breaths and managed it, grabbing at the concrete and lifting himself up, using his hands to grab the fallen figure of Kamui near him.

He rose his head, seeing the broken slab of concrete in front of him. The area around him had all been sealed off with explosions and was covered with more dust and rubble. He looked up, barely able to see through the smoke but the flashes of red and orange told him explosions were happening on the upper floors now, ready to collapse every single part of the Darkness here and seal it off forever.

It was ironic.

Kamijou had said he was going to destroy this world of darkness.

But now it was going to be destroyed, it threatened to take him with it too.

"Shutaura!" Kamijou called out amidst the smoke and dust, trying his best to yell over the sound of the explosions around him. If one of those explosions caused another piece of concrete like the one before to fall on him, there would be no survival: it was likely he would die before he even registered what had happened.

"Over here!" He heard a call to his right, Kamijou forcing himself to drag himself and Kamui over to where he heard the voice.

"Where are you?!"

Barely able to see, he saw a vague figure in front of him, only for a flash of red and orange light to rip through the air in front of the figure he saw, enveloping it in more dust and smoke. His eyes went wide and he felt his heart contract within his chest, tears coming to his eyes from being exposed to the smoke and dust and feeling the pressure in his chest basically crush him where he stood.

Yet, it was not what he thought it was.

"Follow my voice!"

Shutaura's voice came through despite the explosions, the worry Kamijou had dissipating into nothing even if confusion remained. He forced himself forward, searching for the answer and hitting the wall of the cylindrical pit, seeing in the corner of his eye one of the entrances of the stairs that led higher into the facility. Something black was there, staring out into the pit through the smoke and dust to try and see if there was anyone there she knew, the concern on her face clear.

"Shutaura?" Kamijou yelled out to her amid the chaos surrounding him, the girl turning her head from the staircase and looking visibly relieved. "What was that explosion!? Is the stairway blocked?"

"It was!" Shutaura replied, moving closer to Kamijou so he could see her better. "But using my esper power, I managed to blow apart the rubble covering the entrance. We're cutting it too fine and we need to get out of here now! Getting up thirty flights of stairs when this is all happening is going to be cutting it fine so we can't waste time!"

The mentality of the soldier, focused on the task at hand, made Kamijou nod as Shutaura took control. She pulled him through the staircase which had the remains of rubble dotted throughout the stairs leading up, indicating Shutaura had indeed blasted away any rubble blocking the stairs to give them a way out.

Shutaura climbed first, Orion grunting in her arms as Kamijou followed. Shutaura turned, her face intense with focus but also worry for what was happening and the explosions that ripped through the facility around them.

"That was the last of my discs which hold the medium for using my power. If we run across another obstacle, we won't be able to break through it as easily as just now!"

Kamijou went wide eyed, coughing through his teary eyes and noting Shutaura's eyes were tearing up from the same as well.

"Why are you telling me this now!?"

"It's incentive to move your ass!"

"It's not my ass I'm worried about!"

"Wh-What are you implying about my ass?!"

Shutaura's face, even though this was going on around them seemed to contort in restrained anger, Kamijou's eyes naturally moving towards her shapely butt in front of him. …They were going up the stairs and she was in front of him, so it was only natural for his eye level to meet her butt, so he had nothing to feel guilty about! Nothing at all!

"I'm not implying anything, I'm just – Ah, such misfortune! Why are you doing this now?! Are you trying to start something!?"

Shutaura seemed to want to say something to Kamijou's retort as they moved up the stairs but her eyes went wide as she spotted something else that caught her attention. The way her face twisted told Kamijou exactly the seriousness he needed to treat this new threat Shutaura had identified and began to turn around to face it.

And surprisingly, it was much close than he thought.

"I told you."

Kamijou felt his eyes go wide, even in the smoke and dust.

"If you're the one trying to save me, Kamijou Touma, then you're only going to make me move further from salvation! Even if you are the only one who desires to see me saved!"

When had he regained consciousness? When he had hit the ground before? Or shortly after that?

Kamijou did not know but he knew the madness in the voice that came directly into his ear as he carried the owner on his back. He began to turn, to tense to take whatever was coming but he never even got the chance to do so as the man struck at one place Kamijou could never protect no matter how many times he trained.

Kihara Kamui sank his teeth into Kamijou Touma's neck.

He bit down as hard as he could from the side and Kamijou yelled out in pain and surprise, feeling Kamui press against his back and push. Kamijou was thrust forward, Kamui backwards…ready to fall right down the stairs and past the entranceway Shutaura and he had just come from.

A maddened smile was on his face as he stared at Kamijou, the boy who had been pushed forward gritting his teeth in frustration and feeling a burning within his soul as he stared at the man who had pushed him. Was he that intent on refusing to be saved? Kamijou refused to accept that and with everything single fibre in his body, he screamed at the top of his lungs.

"Kamuiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!"

He threw out his left hand, trying to grab the man before he could fall, to save this life of an innocent man who had been turned into something else by the Original Kamui. But with the man's greater weight and the fact he was already falling, Kamijou grabbing his hand meant he could not get enough grip to pull him back.

Too much had already been wasted.

And it was once more wasted as both Kamijou and Kamui tumbled down the stairs where they had come from.

Pain raced through Kamijou's body as he fell down the stairs, forcing his mind to focus on where he was and to rise when he stopped. He hit each step painfully given the fighting he had already done today and hit the base of the staircase, sliding a bit against it as he once more came onto the 30th floor of the cylindrical hole.

He wasted no time standing up as soon as he stopped, racing forward and slamming his right fist into Kamui's face who clearly was not as adjusted to pain as Kamijou. The man's head recoiled as soon as the blow was struck and Kamijou grabbed him by the shirt collar and slammed his head into the man's forehead.

"Give it a damn rest already!"

Stars spun within Kamijou's eyes from the impact, but it had to have been worse for Kamui. The man's head recoiled backwards and Kamijou dragged him back towards the staircase, more than ready to beat him into unconsciousness like he had before if need be.

"Are you that intent on not being saved?! Your death would mean nothing. Nothing at all! Are you satisfied with trying to die just because it would add nothing but despair to me?! Are you really that intent on sacrificing your life just so you can see me suffer!?"

"Yes."

Kamijou felt himself pause for the slightest of moments at the response that came without hesitation. But it was that pause that was all that was needed for Kamui to grab a piece of rubble and slam it into Kamijou's left hand. Pain flared within the boy's left hand but instead of letting go, he held on tight, turning around and slamming his right fist into the man's face.

"For what reason?! For what reason do you want to me to suffer?! For what reason do you think that giving up your life just to see me despair is worth it for you? If you die, you'll never see it. You'll never see the look on my face. Are you satisfied with that? You say you want to see me suffer but if you die, you'll never be able to do it. Are you OK with that backwards thinking? Are you OK with never knowing!? Even if you are Kihara Kamui's personality, that illogical thinking doesn't suit a Kihara! So for what possible reason do you have for wanting to see me in despair!?"

"A reason?"

Kamui managed to spit out the words even as Kamijou dragged the man back towards the staircase. He managed to reach the base and was about to drag the man who was fighting him this entire time up it before Kamui responded with a sick smile upon his face.

"Do I need a reason to hurt someone?"

Kamijou felt his heart stop, unable to say anything to Kamui who stared back at him with madness in his eyes.

"You want to restore me back to who I once was? When I can live my life seeing the look on your face as it is right now, there is nothing else I need. There is no need for me to return to who I once was: that trash of a person. I've managed to have my eyes opened, Kamijou Touma. Opened to the idea of seeing good people such as yourself break. You have no idea what is coming for you. I told you. You and me…we're perfect for each other. But you see…it's Kihara Kamui who is perfect for you. I'm just one person with his personality. You know what that means?"

Kamui grinned, his eyes wide and filled with glee.

"It means that even if I die, Kihara Kamui will still be able to see your face! Kamui will still be able to break you! Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!"

Kihara Kamui, or the innocent man filled with his personality and was nothing more than a victim, grabbed Kamijou's hand which was attached to his collar and used his feet to stop Kamijou's advance up the stairs.

Kamui laughed.

The twisted nature of the man in front of him and the apparent obsession he had with wanting to see Kamijou break made revulsion spread through Kamijou, but that revulsion was not enough to put an end to the desire to save him. This man was innocent, a pawn in someone else's game and Kamijou refused with everything he had to let this man go.

Even if he did not want to be saved, that meant nothing.

Kamijou Touma could not just abandon this man!

Kamui laughed.

Kamijou tried to pull Kamui towards him but the man and the force of gravity proved to be stronger as Kamui pulled Kamijou backwards down the stairs they had been ascending.

Kamui laughed.

Kamijou pitched forward, Kamui falling backwards while holding Kamijou's left arm as the man hit the very base of the stairs, body and Kamijou's left arm just on the edge of the cylindrical hole while Kamijou and the rest of his body were within the staircase within its edge.

Kamui laughed.

It didn't stop until the piece of concrete from a few floors above slammed down onto him and crushed him into a pulp.

Blood sprayed everywhere from the impact of concrete onto flesh, a cracking sound coming from Kamijou's left arm as Kamui held it. Kamijou's eyes went wide as blood sprayed onto him from the man's body, feeling the warmth of it against his skin and letting loose the only expression of emotion he could in this one moment that captured his pain perfectly.

He screamed.

"TOUMA-KUN!"

He heard a scream from behind him, Kamijou not even being able to respond as he let loose a sound from his throat that made it sore. His left arm was trapped and even though he had had it fixed and repaired by having nanomachines assimilate into his lost blood vessels, bones and muscles, the pain he felt was more than he felt he could handle.

He tried to tear his left arm from his socket, but it was physically impossible in the position he was in, lying on the stairs and his left arm trapped. He screamed, Shutaura Sequenzia appearing by his side and basically throwing the limp form of Orion to the side as she grabbed the concrete that crushed Kamijou's arm.

She grunted with everything she had as she tried to lift it, but it barely even budged, sweat coming down her face as she stared at the screaming boy and the blood on his terrified face.

She didn't have time for this.

If she stayed here with Kamijou, then she was surely going to die.

But no matter how much she rationalised the decision in her mind to flee, something in her heart refused to allow herself to do just that. Something unbelievably powerful raced through her heart, pinning her to the spot and making her unable to leave, trying her best to grab the concrete that had smashed onto Kamijou's left arm and lift it.

It barely moved, Shutaura's face sweating profusely as she stared at Kamijou, her heart racing as she desperately tried to figure out how to move the concrete block. Kamijou was far too weak to provide any movement and the pain racing through his mind was more than enough to make her realise asking anything of him was too cruel.

But she could not do this by herself.

It was with that knowledge that she justified the next cruel action she made, turning to the boy she had carried all this way and grabbing him by the left shoulder. She dug her hand into his left stump of an arm, his right eye going wide in pain and gaining some clarity. Orion Phoenix let out a choked gasp, blood coming from his mouth as he stared at the soldier grasping him by the wounded arm.

"Orion, Hayashida said her contract with you ended. Was that true?" There was no answer, the lack of response giving Shutaura a sense of worry before she grabbed the wound once more and screamed at him. "Was that true?!"

Orion said nothing, although the way he stared at her made it clear the gears of his mind were turning. He slowly nodded all the same, Shutaura spitting out the words.

"Then I'm hiring you. I realise you can barely move but so help me, because I'm hiring you, you better find out a way to do what I ask. And my task, my order for you is to get this boy out from underneath this piece of rubble. That…That is the only thing I will ever ask from you…!"

Shutaura released what she was asking was cruel.

Orion was basically dead.

Left arm blown off, shrapnel in his side and likely his body, internal organs likely ruptured and burnt lungs: he did not have long. And yet, she was forsaking him and telling him to give what last dredges of life he had for the sake of someone else. She was telling him, no, ordering him to abandon himself for the sake of someone else.

But the truth of the matter was that right now, none of that mattered to Shutaura Sequenzia,

Within her heart was a desire.

She had no idea whether it belonged to her or Meigo Arisa. She just knew she could not ignore and abandon this. Something wet came to the edges of her eyes as she stared at the mercenary, the only one who could help as she let out a single word.

"…Please."

Orion said nothing for a single moment before he rose his right arm, pushing Shutaura away. She stared at him in shock and anger rose within her but it soon subsided as she saw him reach into his battered trench coat and bring out, shakily, the sniper rifle he had used to shoot Kamui with.

"What are you – "

"Ful…crum…"

That was the only thing Orion managed to let out, however, Shutaura managed to get the idea instantly. She grabbed the sniper rifle, jamming it underneath the gap between the concrete and the ground, likely created by Kamui's body, before grabbing Orion by the shoulders and lifting him onto the sniper rifle, now held at an angle.

She went to the other side, grabbing underneath the concrete block and turning to Orion who looked on the verge of passing out. She was unsure whether he would have enough energy to push down on the sniper rifle to lift up the concrete block or whether it would give enough on a gap for Kamijou to pull his arm out, but it was the only thing she had in the moment.

"Ready?"

"…"

Was that pause because he was ready or the movements he had just done enough to make him pass out? Shutaura did not know but she had already given her countdown.

"Three, two, one, lift!"

Shutaura grabbed the concrete block and lifted, hearing a grunt as she saw Orion push down with everything he had onto the sniper rifle. There was a creak of metal bending but Shutaura could feel the concrete block moving higher than before, the girl turning to Kamijou and yelling at him.

"Touma-kun! Pull out your arm. Pull it out!"

Kamijou, white in the face and barely looking alive, managed to slowly pull his arm out from the concrete, no one managing to see the body of Kamui underneath the rubble. Not that they needed to: the sight of Kamijou's arm when he removed it was more than enough to indicate what Kamui must have looked like.

Like a pimple bursting, all the liquids inside Kamijou's arm leaked out grotesquely. His skin had split to allow the blood to leak out but along with it, muscles and yellow fat oozed out of the wound in a horrific way. The bone had clearly snapped and within the cut on his arm caused from the concrete crushing it, one could see the inside of his arm.

Shutaura felt something within her rise at the sight of it but she forced her stomach to hold whatever it wanted to leak out in. She grabbed Kamijou by the arm and forcibly pushed him further out, dropping the concrete block back where it had once been without any warning to the mercenary lifting the other side. He was lifted up given the fulcrum and lever he was using in the sniper rifle pushed him upwards only for him to lose all energy and collapse to the side of the rifle.

He did not move, but the way his right eye stared at Shutaura with a hazy gaze made her feel a shiver up her spine.

It was clear what was going to happen now she had Kamijou and he knew it.

Kihara Kamui was dead and the time limit for when they would be trapped within this place was fast approaching, tightening like an invisible noose around their necks. Given they could not see such a noose, fleeing this place and making the most of the time they had was what would ensure their survival.

Kamijou Touma was still alive and would remain so.

Orion Phoenix on the other hand was on the verge of death.

It was clear who one would choose to leave behind.

"I'm sorry."

That was all Shutaura said. No, was it Shutaura who said it? She did not know. As a soldier, she and Orion would have known who would have been left behind and who would not have been so there was no need to apologise; it was an issue of survival and not something to be sorry for.

Yet, she still apologised. Was that because of how she had changed after Meigo Arisa had come into her or was the one speaking Arisa herself?

Shutaura was unsure but as she grabbed Kamijou in a princess carry, cradling him to her chest, she stared at the boy mercenary.

"I'm so sorry."

Shutaura had hired Orion who was on the verge of death. She had done so knowingly that it was probably going to be his very last action and when all was said and done, after he had helped save someone, she was leaving him to die.

She felt disgusted with herself for that and the eye staring back at her betrayed no emotion, watching her as she ascended the stairs as fast as she could and leaving him behind. Orion said nothing, watching them go as Shutaura went up the stairs as fast as she could, as if escaping from the gaze piercing her back.

She stared down at the form in her arms, Kamijou's eyes barely being able to keep open. The pale nature of his face and the suddenness of having his arm crushed without warning seemed to have taken more out of him than Shutaura would have thought. The accumulation of everything that had happened to him thus far was clearly taking its toll and the glazed over look in his eyes suggested he was barely hanging on to the thin threads of consciousness.

Shutaura Sequenzia said nothing to that, pressing the boy closer to her chest and finding her heart beating so frantically that each beat was more painful than the last.

She had to get Kamijou Touma out here.

She had to make sure he was safe.

She had to make sure his smile was –

The explosion that ripped through the staircase right in front of her threw her backwards with so much force she rolled down the staircase violently, smashing her head on each alternate step.

She felt her back slam into the same concrete slab she had just run from. Blood rolled down from her forehead and she felt a throbbing in the back of her head, her vision blurring in and out. She felt something slam to her right, turning and going wide eyed at the boy having rolled down the stairs with her.

Kamijou Touma had lost all forms of consciousness. With his arm being in the state it was and the impact he now took to the back of the head, there was no question that he would lose consciousness. Shutaura felt herself stare at him in fright for the possibility it was more than unconsciousness but the light rising and falling of his chest prevented that from being anything more than a fear.

Even so though, with things as they currently were, that would soon no longer been an issue.

They were trapped in this staircase: unable to go up because of the rubble there or backwards because of the concrete block in the way.

There was someone else next to Kamijou, staring at both Shutaura and Kamijou with that same eye that did not seem surprised at their entrance, did not register hate for them having left him or amusement they were stuck like him. There was nothing there, as if his life were fading away with his emotions.

Shutaura said nothing to Orion nor did she show any shame whatsoever as she used what failing strength she had to crawl over to Kamijou and cradle his head in her arms. She could feel the realms of consciousness leaving her and as she leaned against the concrete block and felt blackness start to take her, she focused with everything on the boy in her arms and the bracelet on her wrist.

The bracelet had been with her once before when there had been a miracle and was with her now when she wanted so desperately another one.

"Please…"

Shutaura had lost all hope by this stage.

But even so, she let out the small words from her throat while trembling and holding that precious life within her arms, clutched to her chest.

"Give me another one. Give me just one…more…miracle…"

She felt her vision fading as she spoke, her head hanging down as she did so, feeling the blackness come around her and grasp her tight, never letting go. It began to overwhelm her, her fear of not knowing what was coming next filling her more than ever before but even that fear did not allow her to hold onto the consciousness fading from her.

Shutaura Sequenzia slumped, holding the unconscious Kamijou Touma in her arms as the air around her began a symphony of explosions, falling rubble and the sound of rubble smashing against each other. There were no voices in the air, only the sounds of destruction as the last of the trio, Orion Phoenix, felt his own vision fading, unable to even move, let alone speak.

And…

And…

And…


And there we have it!

So, what did you think?

In numerous ways, this chapter was a really hard one to do because of how in the battle against Kamui, there are victories but also losses. The fact Kamui dies literally while holding onto Touma's hand is a big part of those failures but among the failures, the successes are the fact that so many people who should have died did not. Shutaura giving in to the pressure of Touma staring at her when she knows what he is silently asking for and the resulting sight of so many people having been saved is one of the biggest victories in this shitty world so although Kamui died, I really want you to focus on how it was not giving in to his taunts and choosing to save that Touma got the one-up on him.

Yet, nothing was actually explained!

I was really debating this, whether Kamui in his apparent victory would give the usual speech but given his madness, I felt that NOT having that explanation added more intimidation to him. There was a reason for what he was doing but the lack of understanding and knowledge of that reasons among the others gives a sense of fear I think in that even though there is some rationale behind his actions, we can really only think of them as madness because we don't know what he was up to.

For this chapter, although it was a Shutaura arc, I felt this chapter was more the beginning of Touma's struggles against Kamui as a character. Shutaura has been the main driver of this arc with everything happening as a result of a failure of what happened with her potential capture, but this chapter was really the ideals of Touma against the madness of Kamui. The idea no one would want to save Kamui was something I was really pushing if only because the madness he shows is so threatening most anyone would kill him for the things he has done and the threat he poses. Yet within it all, Touma seeks to ensure he can save the man who has been turned into Kamui and restore his original personality. The fact said Kamui dies is really a massive blow for Touma in that someone, manipulated by someone else, chooses to end their life when they were essentially an innocent all alone. The victim here was not saved even though a lot of others were and that sort of twisted thing happening in front of Touma was a really big decision to make.

Not only that but the idea Touma is the only one who wants to save Kamui but doing so would only result in said Kamui descending further into madness has a twisted sense of opposition to it. Kamui laughing in how he accepts his death knowing it will only cause pain to Touma is another part of that, so I hope you can look forward to where Touma and Kamui battle it out from here on out.

Various other things happened this chapter as well that will have an influence on the story and the characters. Hayashida managing to change sides is a big one of this so I hope you can look forward to having Quotient Extreme FINALLY being on the side of the heroes for the coming chapters given how tough she has been as an enemy. Index being badass in her own way: I hope the scene where it was revealed Index can analyse instantly 30fps simultaneously on sixteen different screens has been something I have wanted to use for a looooooooooooooong time so I'm glad I managed to put it in…as well as revealing how awesome Index can be sometimes. Orion coming back although not on any side but his client's (and then practically dying again) having that impact upon Otohime. Given what she did to him last chapter, I hope you can enjoy how Otohime is going to react to the 'evil' she supposedly killed. This chapter really allowed me to take this arc and drive it towards its conclusion although you have to remember the theme introduced the beginning of this arc.

Miracles were always going to be at the heart of this arc and now it is being relied upon at the end, I hope you can see how the circle sort of closes.

But at the same time, there were a lot of mistakes this time around. The reference to what Birdway says in NT 6 and how Touma now realises he has not grabbed what was around him and has fallen into a state of distrust was a bit of a gamechanger. I think most of us WANT to believe the Kamijou Faction are always going to be friends and have their bonds tight, but in reality, that isn't the case. Bonds are always challenged and this time, they were challenged because of Touma realising he has thought too highly of others and now he realises how people can be different has begun to question whether actions of others will align with his own at times. Where this goes in the future and where Mikoto's mistake will push her is something I hope you can enjoy.

I'd make a further detailed note about Hayashida and Orion and how the both of them seemed to 'redeem' themselves but I think I'll leave it. After all, this story isn't about OCs although they drive the story: it's about discovery. So I hope that while those OCs will drive the theme of discovery forward you can come to like/hate them in their own way. Although in this arc alone, Orion has suffered more than Touma… I'm worried what that says about the future of Touma…

And as always,
Review if you please.

And I'll see you when I see you and I won't if I don't.

I actually hate that cliffhanger at the end because of how the beginning of the next chapter would open perfectly for it at the expense of the wait.