And here we go!
The start of a new arc…but it has no character name?! What the hell does "Intermission" mean?! I hope you can look forward to this 'arc' in a way as while a lot of different things happen, there is no one focus on any character. However, it leads up to one!
I'll leave that there and hope that where things head now is something you can all enjoy.
Before we begin though; some bad (?) news. I know that I've tried to make chapters come out as regularly (ha!) as possible with once a month, but with the current state of many things for me, I'm finding it hard to juggle writing with proof reading the chapters that are in back log with many other things I have going on. Generally, I like to be at least 20 chapters ahead of when I post, but I'm finding that difficult to balance right now. It's not to say that I won't TRY to have the usual monthly releases, but there may be a few months (maybe even consecutive ones) where I won't post. Just thought I would give that message loud and clear for those expecting things.
Firstly, the Q & A:
Cyber dragonarmy: I'm glad that you feel the progression of Mikoto's character has been one where you can see the struggles she is going through now as being ones that could happen in canon – that has been something I've been aiming for quite a lot. I hope you can also look forward to what happens with Touma as well!
ShadowBloodedge9396: Okaeri! Otohime certainly did 'yeet' herself off the edge of a cliff, didn't she? I hope you can sort of enjoy the madness that Otohime is going to put herself through and hope that she can recover and regain her sense of mind afterwards. Orion isn't doing himself any favours but I hope you don't feel sympathy for him; he doesn't deserve it. I'd say you wanting to hug Mikoto is the right thing to do though; she's not really a bad person, but has just lost her way a little bit. There's definitely always room for more Arisa! You're definitely busy but I'm glad that you're doing OK, among everything else that you read! Thanks so much for your constant support.
Nanayalucas: I'm glad you understand the hate for Orion; if there was anything that I wanted to do with him, I wanted to create this edgy character that low key makes you want to cringe…he's hard to write in that sense. But I'd agree in that he's an anti-Touma so I hope you can see how the two bounce off each other.
franciscocebrero1: I'd have to say that 'not liking where Otohime is going' is definitely the right answer. She's losing her way and that in itself is a very dangerous thing so let's see where things go from here. I'd say that there are two schools of thought for Mikoto which sort of show themselves this chapter: there is what Touma says and does with the trust he places in her…and then there's Orion's school of thought who basically puts her down. It's sort of ironic that many people hate Orion (rightfully so) even though he calls out these characters for being (somewhat) pieces of shit despite being the biggest piece of shit. I hope you can enjoy where things go from here, especially with how the characters will evolve.
whwsms: Otohime is rolling down that slope with no brakes!
EternalPanties: …Love the username. Also love what you said because you're absolutely right; Orion has no place in this story and I really wanted to use him to basically do a bunch of edgy and cringe stuff, only for everything to later on blow up in his face. I hope you can look forward to the consequences of whatever Orion has done, because they are definitely coming.
DNWorks: There have been times when it has been hard to write, especially recently, but as of hen I write this, I do intend to finish the story. The ENTIRE story has had its outline done…but it's about reaching there now. As for the status of the story, we're more than half way done. The remaining arcs are going to be long because of all the characters and the events, but the remaining arcs are only single digits now. But yeah…10 years…
craytherlay: I guess last last chapter, I should have been more clear who was speaking so that's entirely my fault there – as a side story volume, it makes sense that it's not well remembered. I'm glad you found that Orion is a bit like an anti-Touma in the way his darkness twists and hurts others so I hope you can watch as Otohime evolves (or devolves). I love the onslaught of Metal Gear references now with the nanomachines. I'm also happy that you're enjoying what I've been doing with Mikoto and how, in essence, she's inseparable from her power right now. You'll have to see where I can take her, but I hope I can do her justice. And yep, the dream team of Logic and Deduction are back…I can't wait for them to do exactly as you said and screw everything up. We need more of Othinus…
5queso: 10 years really crept up on me… Thanks so much for the kind words though. If last chapter was on the shorter side then I've really destroyed your understanding of 'short'… But yes, bringing in Orion is pushing things into that dark territory which is really pushing me in terms of writing but I hope you can enjoy where things head all the same.
patiphat1998: He doesn't really deserve one in my view…
xellos540: Thanks so much for the congratulations! Otohime isn't becoming a Saint, but her ideals are on the same lines of Kanzaki's. Otohime's senses are enhanced due to her magic is all. Otohime isn't really thinking straight though… And yes you'd be correct: without a client, Orion is really 'nothing'. I'd say that, given the height of a wind turbine in real life, during OT 3, Touma fell around 4 stories? As for Mikoto; she's going off the rails as well – her choices are all coming back to bite her so let's see where things head from here! We need more Arisa this time!
Guest: This story will definitely end.
TheDarkPublisher: Thanks so much for your kind words – if there's one thing I hate, it's how a story can sometimes just stop despite others enjoying it so I've always tried to emulate that as much as I could. Both Misaki and Mikoto are going off the rails a bit thanks to Orion… Let's see what happens with the future of the Kamijou Faction and the harem, shall we?
K: I think others don't really use this route with Mikoto due to her popularity and also, if you did things this way, you'd be accused of being a Mikoto hater. I think the advantage of a longer story is that you can do things like this and it sort of gets buried under the events of the entire story. I hope you can look forward to how Mikoto separates herself from her power now and how she learns to be more comfortable with herself. I think the reason the canon doesn't explore this with Mikoto is because of how popular she is: shitting on her character is a very dangerous exercise and can lead to a lot of problems. I hope you can look out for how she descend into madness a bit more. There's a lot of pressure to get this 'right' for me, but I think using Orion as a way to challenge her has both good and bad points.
Purifies Miracles: Nope – Orion doesn't have anything he cherishes: he wouldn't be a cringe edgelord if he did! I can't believe that I'm not the only person who has ACTUALLY played Uchikoshi's Zero Escape series (his other works, especially the recent AI games are pretty good too) – I'd say that, as a twist writer, he has a big influence on me so you'll definitely see more of Phi so I hope I can continue to have that excitement! As for Orion, while I feel like is just a tiny bit edgy (but not enough to suggest he embodies it), I hope you can look forward to future clash of ideals with him and Touma – I don't want you to feel as though Orion deserves sympathy; he's definitely not a good enough person to deserve that. You'll have to see the reveal on Eiyuu though… Otohime though, as an OC, has sort of evolved since her first appearance so I've played around with her character a lot. Mari is going to have her time, just you wait. I'm glad you liked the arc overall though! But yes, Orion is basically an anti-Touma with how he pushes characters into the darkness, although I have no idea how I made you love him… As for Arisa, she'll definitely appear more because, like you, a chapter with no Arisa isn't worth reading at all. I have to agree; I want to use her more, but let's see if the story allows it (now that Shutaura is a named character she's here to stay!). 4 arcs though…you're close: you go the number of digits right!
rcz906: While I agree with him being the most important character last chapter, I definitely DON'T want to give the impression that Orion is going to be the most important going forward. In the end, this is Touma's story and Orion will never be more than an OC who represents the darker side of the world. I wouldn't say that he has the moral high ground though; he's not that type of character to do 'good' things for the sake of them being good. While future arc (only one in particular) might have Orion overshadow the other characters, that's more due to the events of that arc and not because of a trend going forward – like I said, I believe OCs are there to push the characters but never to overshadow them so thank you for the feedback. Orion being edgy though is the entirety of his character; if I had him more mellowed out, I get the feeling I'd be inclined to write him more and he would appear more sympathetic which isn't what I want with him. What I meant by Mikoto having to 'comply with' the pedestal Touma puts her on is that she wants to meet his expectations, but, as you said, doing so doesn't consider Mikoto's feelings on the matter nor how irresponsible those expectations are. The consequences Touma will face of the decision and expectations he's made of her are ones where he'll have to face the person Mikoto has now become as she is now being crushed by the weight of those expectations he placed on her. I hope that's clear but sorry for the confusion there!
Commander Lance: I'm glad you hate Orion and Otohime for what they are and what they are becoming. For the former, that's something that is intentional given how he is written, but for the latter, I hope you can wait patiently as you see how her small wish grows out of proportion and changes because she now has the power to turn it into reality. I think it's because she now has power that things are changing for her.
elementalgaming30: No, Otohime does not kiss her idol with that mouth.
Axknikai: Thanks so much for your kind words! Although we don't speak about Season 3, I'm glad that you've found yourself here and reading this fic of mine. I would suggest reading the novels first though; if any, my fanfic is based on the novels so you will likely spoil yourself if you read my work before the actual novels. As for Komoe, unfortunately, while she might not get an arc, she will be getting some interactions with Touma so I hope that will provide enough of a bridge for what I can offer you.
Red Glasses: Jesus, if ACUL0 was an anime… I wouldn't said that her ability is like Brain Blast per se but that does bring me back to good old Nickelodeon days… But I can't believe you're re-reading my works?! You have no idea how happy that makes me so thank you so much for that. As for the Decibeffect esper, Uiharu, Aiho and Yukiji were on a rooftop when they received the effects of that ability. …But reading what you gave me makes me realise how horrifying that esper really would be, especially if it's like a bomb!
DhakaGrayMan: Thanks so much!
Guest (another one): Thanks so much for your kind words – hopefully I can keep on giving more and more!
Darkrai Mier: It's coming your way!
Agent Nine: To be honest, the only thing that really made me come up with Touma's left arm power was that he had a right one…so why not have it extended to both arms?! Sorry for the disappointing backstory, LOL. But I hope you can see where I take this new ability of his!
ENDUMAKYR: I definitely think Index was a bit of a sloth when she started…
And the thanks, to you, the reader. A lot has happened for you as well, right?! And yet, you're still here. From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you for your contribution as well! There are so many things I could say as well, but I will leave them here as this to avoid you getting overwhelmed!
But enough of this! A new arc is beginning and with it, new chaos! Don't worry though; this one will definitely have a lot more slice of life scenes in it!
And from me, I hope you do what you always do with these chapters:
Mr Question Mark.
"…You know, come to think of it, a lot of stuff has happened to me over the last few days, hasn't it?"
"The fact you only realise this now human is rather pitiful."
Kamijou Touma stared blankly at the small form that insisted on sitting within his scarf. While it seemed his shoulder was a place she had claimed as her own, whenever they were in public, creating a hiding place was necessary given the glances that would naturally be directed at the small figure because of what she was wearing.
No, in a way, it was what she was not wearing which was the problem and was sure to create multiple misunderstandings that Kamijou did not want degrading what little image he had in the eyes of others. Although such an image was already tarnished because of the things he got up to daily, the high school boy still wanted to keep some fraction of the dignity he could hang on to at all costs.
Thus, sitting within his scarf with her legs huddled inside and her blonde hair poking out such it could be mistaken for part of the wool inside, palm-sized Othinus stared at Kamijou with a somewhat resigned gaze within her eye.
"What have you been doing all this time? Running around without thinking about what is ahead of you and doing what you can? Then again, knowing you as well as I do, it's probably the case you've been so caught up in things that you haven't realised what's been happening to you until this moment of relaxation."
"H-Having a former god as an Understander is a truly terrifying thing. I get the feeling that one of these days, all someone will need to do a psychological profile on me is your testimony." Kamijou shuddered at that whereas Othinus shook her head and shuffled inside the scarf.
"Even if that was the case, the only word they'd use to describe you is 'idiot'."
With a 'hmph' and a crossing of her arms while pouting, Othinus turned her head away from the spiky haired boy who suddenly felt a drop of sweat roll down his cheek as he looked at the small form within his scarf.
"Um, Othinus-sama? What, pray tell, has this mortal done in the past few hours that has resulted in this rather bad mood? I'm not even sure whether you have the normal girl problems given your state, so I'm unsure whether I can use that as an excuse for your behaviour." Kamijou had had enough experience with the girl to know when she was truly in a bad mood and the childlike behaviour, which would have made any god faint, was once more indicative of the former Magic God's irritation.
However, in the boy' idiocy, it was clear he failed to realise he was just another part of the problem.
"Wh-Where do you get saying things like that out of the blue, human!? I've put up with it for a while, but there is a limit to what you can say to me! Need you forget I am a God!?"
"Were. Past tense, Othi-chan. You're sort of a midget now."
"I'll give you a one-way trip to Valhalla with that kind of attitude, humaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn!"
Othinus screamed within the scarf and started striking with all her might against the boy's collar bone. Yet, with the injuries Kamijou had been through over the past days, receiving such light wounds despite the obvious killing intent made him smile softly and stare into the horizon with a look of satisfaction on his face.
"Ah, that feels nice, Othinus. A bit to the right, a little bit to the right."
"And why do you look so satisfied with what I'm doing?! Do I need to unleash my hidden technique?"
"Hidden technique? Hah! Don't make me laugh, Othinus! You already used up all your cards when you unleashed that hidden crossbow! Come to think of it, that just wasn't fair! I can't believe we were fighting for ages and you never thought to unleash it until the eleventh hour. I-Is it possible that with that kind of patience there really is a hidden weapon you hold?!"
Kamijou's eye went wide in surprise and perhaps some fear given the experiences he had had with the small girl in his scarf, but she responded viciously. She leapt out of the scarf, fist clenched and slammed it right into the open eye of the spiky haired idiot. He let out a scream, falling to the ground and rolling around. Even without anyone noticing the small form now hidden within the boy's scarf, it seemed Kamijou Touma's life was made to be hectic from the beginning.
Drawing a scene, two other pairs of eyes which had been walking in front of Kamijou turned around, looking in surprise at the way the boy was acting.
"T-Touma!? What happened?"
Two voices approached, Kamijou still rolling around and holding the eye Othinus had poked. However, instead of Othinus's mood improving, it only soured even more, especially when she saw the people approaching.
Index, the nun wearing a white habit with golden threads in it such that it made her look like a teacup, stared down in concern at the boy on the ground. While there was a calico cat in her arms which Othinus saw as her archnemesis, there was something else about Index which had changed since the last time many had seen her.
The piece of cloth wrapped around her left eye.
Index had yet to find a proper eyepatch to cover the eye which had a magic circle imprinted on the iris. That magic circle, which was Thelemic in origin and thus deeply related to the worst magician in history, Aleister Crowley, was representative of the contract Index had forged with one of the sentient grimoires in her mind, a grimoire which threatened to take over her mind entirely.
With there being a threat of the grimoire observing the world or even collecting information on the world through the eye its magic circle was imprinted on, there had been a necessity to prevent Index from seeing anything through that eye for the sake of the safety of the world. Should that grimoire which was slowly sinking its claws into the mind of Index take control of her completely, the remaining 103,000 grimoires it could access would be enough power to make it ascend to Magic Godhood and Index with it.
Yes, there was the threat associated with that grimoire and hence why Index was wearing something over her left eye. Othinus understood more than anyone the need to prevent that eye from seeing anything and that some unknown individuals had been sent by the Anglican Church into Academy City to deal with Index in whatever way they saw fit for the circumstances. However, that was a bridge to cross later for the small group surrounding Kamijou, although Othinus's irritation at Index (even if she knew it was childish) was one she could not repress.
After all, Othinus did not think she could accept having someone else with an eyepatch standing by Kamijou Touma's side.
That role was one specifically reserved for her, Kamijou's Understander. Index had her own unique traits that separated her from everyone else that surrounded Kamijou, which meant there were some things that separated Othinus from everyone else as well. Sure, there were more things that separated Othinus from the others around that boy given her unique stature, as there were more things that separated Index from the others given her connection with Kamijou, but seeing that nun step into the territory Othinus had claimed as her own by wearing an eyepatch bothered her more than she could say.
Even if Index wore her eyepatch on her left eye and Othinus wore hers on her right, the one who was supposed to have that eyepatch was Othinus and Othinus alone. There was no room for anyone else by Kamijou's side to have that trait which belonged to her.
Othinus knew it was unfair, but the bitterness that ran through her as she looked at Index gave her more pain she thought she would feel. In truth, that eyepatch meant nothing and was a way to prevent the grimoire inside Index's mind from taking over but the small girl could not innocently look at it like that.
After all, there was one thing Index had that Othinus did not.
Her full size.
The 15 centimetre form of the former Magic God could not stand a chance against the full 148 centimetres of Index.
Seeing Index standing by that boy's side with the eyepatch reminded Othinus of what could have been, when she had never really thought about it before. Sure, while Othinus could not really explain it, her size now was one that allowed her to maintain her current life. It had given her the chance to be with the one she wanted to be more than anything and her size meant it was possible for her to be closer to Kamijou than anyone else.
But at the same time, even if Othinus was satisfied with what she had, even the gods had wishes. Even the gods saw things they could not help but feel jealous about given it applied to others and not them.
Right now, as Index was, did she see herself and the types of interactions she had with Kamijou as ones Othinus could never have? Likely not; the thought process Othinus had was hers alone and one she was not willing to divulge to anyone but one. But even then, this was the dark part of her own heart she did not want Kamijou to see, even as her Understander.
She was petty for feeling irritated and jealous at Index for having an eyepatch, a role suited only for Othinus, yet having her full size while standing by Kamijou. Othinus knew that full well and felt some shame within herself for how she had could not abandon these dark feelings or how she took them out on Kamijou with the feelings having nowhere to go.
But despite knowing full well her faults, it still hurt.
It hurt seeing someone potentially be by Kamijou's side in a capacity that Othinus could have had had she had not been shrunk.
Those were her own thoughts on the matter though.
Nor was it the only problem with the girls in front of them that Othinus had.
Yes, this second girl.
Othinus knew her as Shutaura Sequenzia and anyone looking at the girl would come at the same conclusion. However, with the streaks of pink in the girl's hair and occasional flash of pink within the girl's eyes, it was apparent to those who knew her well that this girl in front of them now was not Shutaura at all, but another person altogether.
The name Meigo Arisa meant nothing to Othinus, but apparently, that was the name of the girl standing in front of them now in Shutaura's body.
While the group was walking through District 18, the District to the west of District 23 where they had just been, explanations had been given more to Index than anyone else who was apparently a deep friend of Arisa before she had merged into Shutaura by way of a miracle.
Their meeting and the chance to begin their friendship again was one that needed explaining why Arisa had been so distant for so long. It had seemed as though Kamijou knew a lot about what had happened with Shutaura and Arisa but even he had felt it necessary to ask the occasional question here and there when it came to the state of Arisa now.
As far as Othinus could tell and determine, Arisa had come from Shutaura and had returned to her, while also keeping her personality as one entirely different from Shutaura. Similar but not the same as multiple personality disorder, Arisa and Shutaura were two people in the same body and there were cases where Arisa could 'override' Shutaura when it came to control over the body in question, such a case being now.
When questioned about it, Arisa said herself that she did not understand most of the 'tricks' behind it but placed it as more of a 'feeling'; the type of things she had to do to take control from Shutaura being different each time. Whatever the reality was, it seemed like Arisa had control of Shutaura in this case, although given the things Shutaura had left to group to do, there were questions about that as well.
The questions were answered fairly easily by Arisa as well given she apparently was aware of everything Shutaura did and vice versa despite having no memory of it. According to Arisa, the girl the Black Crow Unit had captured and was using to get into the good books of Anti-Skill who they had been assimilated into, Hayashida Mari, had been successfully delivered to that peacekeeping force and the recognition that the Black Crows had been seeking all this time properly delivered to them.
It seemed like there was a lot of red tape to come for the future of the Black Crows such as how they were going to co-ordinate with Anti-Skill despite also being a private security force, but Arisa had said nothing nor any further information had been asked for about the intricacies of her future.
After all, no matter what was said and done, the theories and the questions about it, Shutaura had delivered Hayashida to Anti-Skill and with it, had done what she had needed to do for the day.
Thus leaving Arisa to take control and fulfil what she had needed to do today. The meeting she had made with Kamijou and Index in District 23 had been her new beginning, the way she had carved herself forward and tried to start things over where she was not afraid of herself and how others around her would react to her unique 'condition'.
The meeting and the miracle that had happened in District 23 was evident. The first friends Meigo Arisa had ever made were ones she now had by her side once again and the way they walked together through Academy City made it seem like Arisa had never merged with Shutaura or had never taken a 'quiet' period adjusting to herself and her 'condition'.
No, the way Arisa smiled while walking with Index with Kamijou behind them, and how Index smiled in turn, made it look like they had never lost their friendship and they had picked off right where they had left off. Taking the present as the most vital time, Kamijou and the others had not even thought twice about it, deciding to hang out once more as friends that had been apart for so long and wanting to merely lose themselves in the presence of the others.
This was exactly what Meigo Arisa had wanted all this time and despite being an idol, it seemed like the smile on her face was one she had been hiding for so long. Even if you did not understand the theories behind why they had joined, you had to understand the pure joy found in that smile Arisa was making, even if she was in Shutaura's body.
Because to her and her precious friends, none of that had mattered. The only thing they had needed was each other and that was more than enough to make them all smile in the way they had wanted to for so long after having been reunited.
Othinus had no problem with that. None whatsoever and she could even say she was satisfied with the fact that amidst the hell of yesterday, there was a happy ending somewhere.
(But why does this human know so many girls?! Not to mention a two-for-one deal! Even as a god, this human's ability to gather people around him is something for me to fear. Especially given how they all seem to lean on one end of the spectrum of gender!)
In a way, this was also the jealousy of a god, although of a completely different nature than that directed towards Index.
And given the types of things gods tended to do when it came to their jealousy, it was clear Kamijou Touma had gotten off easy. Although whether that was a good thing or not given his misfortune was naturally unclear.
"Th-That's no hidden technique! You do that all the time!" Kamijou complained on the ground as he held a hand up to the eye Othinus had ruthlessly poked. She responded by raising the same arm she had used and forming a tiny fist with it.
"Then you should be used to it by now. Or do you need another one so you can adjust and learn the respect owed to me?"
"Seriously, what did I do?! Explain it to me so I can have a better sense of the transgressions I have made against your greatness."
Again, Othinus, knowing that even if she explained it Kamijou would never change, turned her head to the side, crossing her arms and giving a 'hmph' of displeasure. Kamijou, at the mercy of a god, was left trembling, but given Othinus also did not want Kamijou to change, the only thing she could do was pout.
Kamijou tilted his head in turn whereas Index and Arisa stared at the boy who had being rolling on the ground and, from an outside perspective, had been talking to himself. Only those close to him could see the small figure still in his scarf looking awfully displeased. Arisa, still not having an idea of what Othinus truly was, smiled lightly while looking at the small doll in the boy's scarf.
The black bodysuit she was wearing even now caused her large breasts, which had had an upgrade because of the merging of the two girls, to jiggle as she tilted her head.
"U-Um, Touma-kun… I realise it's been a while and we have a lot to catch up on, but I'm really interested to hear the story behind that doll of yours. And since when did you get so good at ventriloquism?"
"Please, no! I can't stand this pity from you, Arisa! There are several reasons for this, so don't look at me with the eyes of someone who has given up on me and only has to go with the flow! That terrifies me more than anything!"
"A-Alright then! S-Say, where do you want to go? We've been apart for so long and there are so many things I want to tell you that I've been up to lately. I want to take the time to really do the things I've wanted to do with you now I have the chance. Index-chan, where do you want to go? Everything is on me today! Forget all your troubles and let's make today fun!"
"W-We can go anywhere?!" Index's eyes (well, it was technically only the one) seemed to brighten up immediately. Kamijou, sitting on the ground, stared at the strange duo; one having an eyepatch over her eye and the other being a personality within another body, yet the smiles they were making were the genuine thing. Kamijou could only find himself smiling in turn at the happy ending reached through the efforts of Arisa overcoming her fear of the reactions of others, also finding his own heart was warming at the sight itself.
"Yes! Anywhere! I've got to make it up to you. The both of you." Arisa said as she turned to Kamijou on the ground with a small smile on her face. "After everything the two of you did for me during the Endymion incident, I've never had the chance to repay you back for what you did. But now that we're together again, I'm not going to let anything stop me from repaying my debts."
Index and Kamijou blinked once before smiling slightly. Index crossed her arms, puffing out her small chest with a twinkle in her eye, but the atmosphere that came over her was one that was oddly irritated. Arisa frowned at that, but before she could say anything the nun had already spoken.
"Arisa, you don't need to thank us or think you have to do anything for us because of what we did. The Endymion incident was a really big thing that happened, but even if it was bigger or smaller, you were still in trouble at the very centre of it. As your friend, there was no way we could just leave you there by yourself! A friend in need is a friend indeed, as they say. We've already received our thanks, by having you back together with us! So instead of thinking today is about repaying some debt, think of today as a day to have fun! Because we want to have fun with you!"
Index smiled and nodded with that same twinkle in her eye, Arisa staring at the girl. Given who she was, Arisa immediately felt the need to try and say something, but the way Index was looking at her made her realise any insistence on this would not be seen as modesty, but instead give off the feeling the only reason Arisa was here was to pay off a debt.
But that was not the case. It would never be the case.
Today and being with these two was not about that at all. It was about Meigo Arisa finally having the chance to do what she had finally wanted to do; merely spend time with the two people in her life who had stood by her side no matter what had happened to her or what she had been caught up in.
Saying anything to the contrary would be stepping on that, on their friendship and everything Arisa had wanted to grasp within her own hands.
Although she was said to give you miracles, there was one thing Meigo Arisa knew as she looked at the two people in front of her now.
She had truly been blessed with the greatest miracle of all by being gifted these two dear friends.
Arisa turned to Kamijou, finding he was looking at Index with a faint smile on his face. Realising Arisa was staring at him, he grinned, winked once before nodding.
"Index's right. If there were conditions attached, then maybe there is something to be said about repaying a debt. But we never considered you having to pay anything back, Arisa. You are here, right here and right now. That…is more than enough for me. For us."
Kamijou turned to Index and gave a small nod. The nun smiled back in the same way, turning and facing Arisa with the same exact smile. The idol stared at the two of them before finding herself being infected with that same smile. Something rose in her heart; a single question. But instead of questioning it, she accepted it, finding her lip quiver a bit as gratitude surged through her and filled her entire being.
"Honestly…what did I do…to deserve you?"
Meigo Arisa was nothing more than a simple girl. That was more than evident in the small smile she directed at the two dear friends who smiled all the same and responded at the exact same time and the exact same way.
"We could ask you the exact same thing."
"We could ask you the exact same thing."
Friendship was never a one-way street.
That obvious thing was thrown back at Arisa as Index grabbed her hand and pulled.
"You want somewhere to go though, Arisa? A few days ago, they were showing there was a new store opening up in District 17 that has the combination of wasabi and ice cream! They were saying it was a new flavour that combines the heart burn you get from wasabi with the brain freeze you get with ice cream to create an entirely new sensation! It was on the news!" Index said as she dragged along the idol, the girl going wide eyed herself at the concept.
"Index, wasn't it on the news because foreigners who were trying it were passing out from the overload of wasabi?"
"Touma, as a member of this Eastern nation, shouldn't you be accustomed to such? Or are you saying a connoisseur such as yourself can't handle the spice of wasabi? I'm sure Arisa can handle it just fine!" Index stared at Arisa, while holding Sphynx. Arisa sweatdropped slightly, scratching her cheek that seemed to fit her character perfectly although would have seemed so at odds with Shutaura's.
"W-Well, I'm OK with it but I can't really handle spicy things that well."
"Don't worry! We can do it together! As a connoisseur of the Eastern nation's cuisine, surely you can handle it, right?!"
"Th-This gluttonous nun. I-I'm not going to fall for that obvious taunt. As the only one cooking for you, Index, you know perfectly well the amount of knowledge I have over food. And besides, what idiot came up with the idea of combining a brain freeze and a heart burn? Were they trying to see which would explode first?!"
"Ohohohoho? Touma, are you saying you can't handle it?"
"…I-I'm still not letting that get to me! Besides, District 17 is on the entire other side of Academy City. I'm not going there for a mere ice cream that's probably going to make an amateur with Eastern flavours collapse on the spot!" Kamijou replied with that, although given how Index had been banned from all the free food samples at the supermarkets he went to, he was unsure whether Index would be treated as a demon lord if she showed up at this ice cream stand asking for a free sample.
Besides, for a new flavour, they were still having free samples? It seemed like the business owners realised they had a sinking ship and didn't know what to do with it except for tearfully ask others to get rid of a product no one wanted.
Arisa tilted her head with a smile on her face all the same.
"I-I'm OK with going to District 17. Although I'm pretty sure I know some good places that Shutaura went to with the Black Crows located around here and on the way there as well."
"Y-You do?! Touma, is this that amazing thing you were talking about where you go to a new restaurant after eating at one already?"
"Huh?" Kamijou frowned and tilted his head. "I'm not too sure whether it can apply to restaurants per se, but you mean a pub crawl?"
"Yes! That was what the Black Crows called it! A pub crawl!" Arisa said with a smile on her face as she turned and looked back at Kamijou while still being dragged by Index. "Although I've never done it with restaurants before, I've been eager to try things for myself!"
"Well then Arisa, as your friends, it's our job to make sure we make up for lost time as you said! We shall be the first people on earth to initiate this restaurant crawl! A-Ah! I-I can already smell the scent of our first restaurant; a yakisoba stand! Arisa, come on!"
Index laughed, Arisa staring at her friend and the expression she was making. Within it, there was no apprehension to spending time with Arisa because of what she was. There was only honesty, a true desire to spend time with a friend she had missed for so long and wanted to be with once more.
No debts were needed.
Only smiles and the knowledge they could spend time together after being separated for so long.
In the face of that, in the face of that purity, there was only one thing Meigo Arisa could say.
Breaking out into a run, Kamijou watched the two girls running towards the first item on their list, a yakisoba stand based on what Index had smelt. He trusted her completely on that; her odd ability to pick out food scents and the ingredients within them had boggled his mind more often than not. Her perfect memory was used for the strangest things and Kamijou truly felt she could sniff out food in a wasteland if she needed to.
Still, staring at the two girls racing into the distance, side by side, he still felt himself smiling at the sight.
Arisa had been waiting so long for this.
Index had been waiting so long for this too.
And seeing the two of them like this seemed like the greatest gift on earth to him.
"Human?" Othinus asked within the boy's scarf. She, as the stranger to the relationship between Kamijou and Arisa as she had not been involved in the Endymion incident, had said nothing while Index and Arisa had been talking. In that way, she was more considerate than others gave her credit for. Smiling himself at the way she had been acting, he rose his hand and lightly stroked her head through her hat within his scarf.
"Yes?" he asked at the same time.
"…I was going to say something else first, but what do you think you're doing?"
"Sorry." Kamijou, remembering Othinus was in a bad mood, pulled away slightly. However, that in itself made Othinus frown. She turned back up to Kamijou, clearly more displeased than before, but spoke all the same.
"Did I say you could stop?"
Kamijou blinked once, before smiling and returning his hand to where it was stroking Othinus's head. Her small head moved with his finger as it stroked her hair, but the way she sat in his scarf without complaining said more than anything.
"Yes though? What did you want to say before?"
"The nun and your friend are going to be doing a restaurant crawl, correct?"
"Although I am no stranger to bar crawls, assuming the principle behind what those two are doing is the same, then shouldn't you hurry after them?"
"Huh? Why?" Kamijou tilted his head in genuine confusion. Those two were finally making up for lost time. Who was he to intrude on that?
"Why?" Othinus asked herself with a raised eyebrow "Given you yourself said you were the only chef in the house, are you sure you want that nun going to every single establishment under the sun? You've been kicked out of more restaurants than I can remember so – "
Kamijou made a falsetto scream at the realisation that belatedly came him. Sure, he had almost been killed, had his arm crushed, seen a man die in front of his eyes, but was that any excuse to ignore the potential horror to come? Worse than a splatter film, the endless black hole of Index's stomach scared him more than anything else and now it was going to be unleashed onto the world.
No, it was worse than that.
Meigo Arisa was with her.
More than just the idol and the poster girl for the Endymion, when those two had been together when they had first met and ate at that family restaurant it had not only been Index who had scarfed down food endlessly.
Arisa had done the same.
Even Kamijou was unsure where she ranked on his list of bottomless pits which was currently made up of Index and Fräulein Kreutune, an experience that he did not want to exactly remember.
But did he want to make the same mistake again in another form!?
Wasn't he on the verge of another incident altogether now!? Even if this was a heart warming scene that Index and Arisa had been waiting for, there was still a limit to what they could eat.
"N-No. I thought that the last time with Index and Fräulein Kreutune! And even if Arisa said she's paying, isn't that still technically Shutaura's money!? Arisa?! Index?! You two slow dooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn!"
"Next time Misaka sees that bitch, Misaka is going to make her realise the power of the element of surprise."
"What are you talking about asks Misaka as Misaka silently mocks you for losing to another girl. You weren't so tough, were you?"
"This brat! Misaka doesn't want to hear that from the person who spent the entire of last night and what happened asleep!"
There was a scream as Last Order ran away from the furious form of Misaka Worst who, despite what had happened to her last night, seemed awfully energetic. While Last Order herself was more energetic and cheerful than ever, the one person watching the two of them with an annoyed glance knew that peace had been on the verge of collapse mere hours ago.
Accelerator could not forget after all.
He could not forget that last night this apartment had been broken into, Misaka Worst had been defeated and Last Order had been taken away. He could not forget that while everything was alright now, there had been something that had threatened to steal everything he wanted away from him after he had spent so much time building it up.
His face stung at the memory of what had happened to him last night and he gingerly rose his hand up to the choker on the side of his neck. Using a jamming signal, Hayashida Mari had managed to bypass his ability and make him entirely useless last night. While he had managed to get back into the game though, he had still failed to properly protect what he treasured so dearly.
He had not failed as a whole; such was clear given Last Order was with him now. What Kihara Kamui wanted Last Order for had not been put into effect given how fast Accelerator had found Kamui after he had kidnapped her. While there were going to be no negative lasting effects of what had happened last night, there was still something in the back of his mind he could not get rid of.
His opponent last night had been Kihara Kamui. Just the name of that man sent a wave of disgust coming through him and although Accelerator was glad the man was dead, the information provided to him by Kamijou Touma earlier today and what he already knew suggested the Original Kamui had yet to be dealt with.
Kamui was still out there and Accelerator's enemy had not changed. There was not going to be a reality that would so easily overturn that, but at the same time, last night, Accelerator had failed to recognise that obvious reality.
The one who had woken him up from that had been the person he had been so intent on defeating even though she was not his true enemy; Faith Townsend.
The girl had some power within her. Accelerator did not know what it was or how it worked and he felt ridiculous that the only term he could think of to describe her came out of fiction. The immortal girl had come back from every single blow Accelerator had sent her way, healing and recovering no matter how many times he killed her or she killed herself to heal her own wounds.
But while he had fought her with the intention of dealing with her to clear the way to get to Kamui, simply by focusing on her as an enemy, he had already failed to protect what he had wanted to protect.
After all, defeating the girl called Faith would not have meant Last Order would be saved.
Accelerator had failed to realise that and yet had still engaged in a long battle with Faith. While nothing had happened to Last Order during the time they had been fighting, if things had been different, it was entirely possible that by being distracted, something could have happened to Last Order. It was pointless thinking of hypotheticals, but Accelerator could not tear his thoughts away from that idea.
His hands had been focused on protecting, but the reality was that he had been intent on destroying things to achieve that. It might have felt that those were the same; you had to defeat your enemy to save someone, but the decisive difference between the two and how they applied to the white haired boy made him scowl.
What had he been doing last night in the first place? After everything he had learned in his life and everything he had been through since meeting Last Order, his one priority should have been saving her.
But instead, the #1 had lost himself in his talent for causing destruction and done nothing but focus on destroying the enemy.
Faith had said that in doing so, she had defeated him.
The thought was ridiculous given Accelerator had killed her many times over, but the bitterness coursing through Accelerator taunted him with a single idea.
That she was right.
That by focusing entirely on doing things himself and by focusing on destroying the enemy, he had lost to Faith when his initial goal should have been saving Last Order.
The punches she had given him last night stung despite the wounds having healed as if the girl's attacks were ones that had left more than just physical wounds. Accelerator clicked his tongue and rolled over on the couch, eyeing the television which was currently out of power.
As Misaka Worst had sent a massive electrical wave from her body to overload the device Hayashida had used to scramble Accelerator's choker signal, the same thing had happened to every single device inside the apartment they lived in. The television, most of the occupant's phones and (most importantly) Yomikawa Aiho's rice cookers were now shadows of their former selves. It was surprising to see an adult being brought to the edge of tears but given every single electrical appliance had been overloaded, Yomikawa and Yoshikawa Kikyou had gone out to purchase more appliances to replace the destroyed ones.
Those Science side focused people were what Accelerator had based his life around and even in this incident, it had been the Science side which had threatened everything he loved despite creating what he loved as well.
But the darkness within that was once more on the rise.
Just seeing this incident and learning of what Kamijou Touma had learned about the four major projects Kamui was up to made that clear. Even if Accelerator had managed to save Last Order and also participated in making sure the alive soldiers from last night were saved, something was bubbling underneath the surface.
Yet, his time in the Darkness meant Accelerator saw more than just that.
He knew that Last Order and Takitsubo Rikou had been captured for something. The Science side did not bother to challenge the likes of the #1 without a proper reason, but just because some Kihara wanted to have his curiosity sated did not feel like a proper reason to the #1. Even if it was the true reason, that Kihara would have had to justify that attacking the #1 and stealing Last Order from him had a purpose that would be acknowledged by the higher ups.
And getting that approval when it risked angering Accelerator was not going to be easy to obtain.
Simply thinking it through that far meant Accelerator had reached a conclusion he did not know what to do with.
Something was going on in Academy City.
Which meant this was far from over.
Why had Kamui even been given approval for his plan to use Last Order? Had he been acting alone? That seemed unlikely given the soldiers he had been using and the access to the underground facility he had. Someone on the higher ups had given the motherfucker approval for what he had done with the ultimate objective realised meaning it was worth angering Accelerator.
What would be worth that?
What would make even the higher ups think that Accelerator's anger would pale when it came to what Kamui's project would achieve?
"(…What the hell is going on in this City?)"
He did not know.
But if there was one thing he knew, it was that Kamijou Touma was the one who was forming an idea of how to strike against it. Being the one who was going to update Accelerator on what was going on with the Science side's counterplan for Kamui, it seemed like all information was going to filter itself through that spiky haired boy to reach everyone else.
Just like always, that boy was at the centre of the chaos happening right now. Even if he was not the cause and even if he was not directly responsible for any of this, he had placed himself in a position where he stood at the front lines of what was going on.
Kamijou had said something about a group formed to fight against the Science side. Accelerator had thought nothing of it, he would deal with things himself, but thinking far enough and realising there was something bubbling underneath the surface made Accelerator realise there was the chance this was bigger than him.
If he wanted to deal with this and protect what he had to instead of focusing on destroying, he had to be more than just a boy here. He could not do this alone given how it was clear he would not be able to do anything meaningful by himself. He needed to move beyond that.
Kamijou Touma had said some kind of task force was being made to deal with this issue. Accelerator had said nothing on the matter of even joining such, but the small voice within his head and his analytical mind knew there was no way he could pass up what that boy had said to him.
A side to deal with the Science side of things.
If Accelerator were to join that, if he were to be fully involved in that, then the abilities of that side and the chances they had against what was to come would increase dramatically.
And if that was the case, then the chances he would be properly able to protect what he loved this time instead of focusing entirely on destroying would be…
"I-It seems the time has come for Misaka to unleash Misaka's hidden technique says Misaka as Misaka engages in Protocol One! Take this!"
The voice came from nowhere but before Accelerator could turn and respond to it, there was a sudden pressure on his back as he lay on the couch. With a cry in pain at the surprise of the sudden attack, the extra weight meant Accelerator fell off the couch, landing on his back.
He growled, displeasure coming from every orifice in his body, but the strange thing about when he had landed on his back was that instead of feeling the flat surface of the ground, there was something sticking into it, something with an oddly light weight. The thing on his back right now grabbed his torso with its arms and his waist with legs, attaching itself to him like a backpack of sorts.
"Now engage Protocol One says Misaka as Misakaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa?!"
Last Order screamed as Accelerator stood up and frantically reached around for the girl on his back, grabbing the ahoge on the top of her head. That in itself brought back bad memories of the girl who had beaten him who also had one of those, but as he pulled roughly on it, the words he spoke held an obvious venom within them.
"D-Direct your attacks in the proper direction orders Misaka as Misaka fights back the tears making their way to Misaka's eyes! The cursor has been laid on the opponent so unleash the special move you have underneath your belt!"
"I want nothing to do with your games. Whatever fantasy you think I am a part of, I want no part of it. You shitty brat, don't hold onto me tighter as soon as I say that! Are you even listening to me?!"
Accelerator roared and grabbed at the figure on his back, but there was something in the way Last Order was grabbing him that even he sensed. The small trembling that came through him was something that made him pause, the boy freezing as he grabbed Last Order's body behind him and was preparing to throw her off him.
He felt a pressure on the centre of his back as Last Order, who was holding onto him tightly, rested her head on his back. The way she did so felt extremely fragile, as if clutching onto him in this way was the only way she knew how to make sure the grip she had would never be lost.
The #1 Level 5 of Academy City paused, not saying anything and staring at Misaka Worst in front of him. The usual nasty look in her eyes was still there, but with the way she looked at how Last Order was now, it was clear any intentions she had previously were now lost. She clicked her tongue as soon as she met eyes with the #1, turning her head to the side and sitting on the couch Accelerator had just vacated.
Accelerator stared from Misaka Worst and turned back to Last Order who was clutching onto his back, feeling something rising within him.
Last Order, while she understood what had happened to her, had been unconscious for most of the events of last night. She had been asleep when she had been in trouble and unconscious when she had been saved so what had happened to her had mostly been told in the form of a report post what had happened. The details were never given, just the basics; that she had been captured and the guys who had done it were basically all dead.
Accelerator had never thought anything of it, but how was it for that girl?
Being told she had been kidnapped and saved, especially when she thought she was safe, would have made any child tremble in fear. While she put on a brave face now everything was over, given she was hiding her face now, it seemed Last Order found no reason whatsoever to hide the trembling and the fear she had within her upon learning of what had happened to her in the first place.
He had never considered she would have been scared after learning of what had happened. During the entire incident last night, Accelerator had been more focused on stopping things before they happened instead of thinking about what would happen if they did. As a result, any feelings Last Order might have had in the event she was saved were ones never considered by that boy.
But with the clutching that she was giving him, it was clear to the #1 he had been naïve in that thinking.
Even now, Last Order was scared of what had happened to her, even if she was now safe.
"…Did Misaka cause trouble last night?"
Accelerator could find no answer to that question. He could easily lie, but instead of the words of comfort anyone would think to give her, something else came to his mind.
"Who the hell do you think I am? Do you think some small fry darkness is going to stop me from getting to you when you need it?"
Last Order tightened her grip on the boy's back, the emotions contained within being communicated within that grip itself. There were so many things that Last Order clearly wanted to say, but the only thing that came out of that trembling mouth of hers was the effects of her fear.
"What happened this time…was different. This time…they managed to get me even though you were there. Are you going to go after them now? asks Misaka as Misaka tightens her grip ever so slightly."
The meaning behind her grip was clear; she did not want him to go. Knowing how Accelerator worked, he would not rest until he had thoroughly destroyed the opponent in his eyes. But also, given how he worked, there was generally never a need to work with others.
After all, why would someone want to team up with someone who was weaker than them? The analytical battle logic of someone who held the title of the strongest was along those lines and the fears of Last Order were ones that knew those were the #1's thoughts.
Indeed, if things had been different, Accelerator would have replied in the affirmative and reprimanded her for thinking such things about him. But with the reality of the situation now, Accelerator could not carelessly say such things.
The enemy knew and had calculated out the impact of anything Accelerator did.
Which meant that if the #1 truly wanted to make sure he could go after the people who had done this and crush this weed where it had sprouted, he needed to do things entirely differently.
"…Not right now."
Accelerator's words elicited surprise from the others. Misaka Worst's eyes seemed to sharpen at the way he said them and the grip around him loosened. The pressure on his back seemed to lighten as Last Order lifted her head from his back and although he could not see her eyes, he could tell she was looking up at him.
"There is something going on in Academy City right now. But my job isn't going to be the one gathering information but rather the one receiving it. As much as it pisses me off, doing anything now is going to have no effect. Which means the greater the force I work with, the greater the effect I will have. And the greater damage I can cause to those shitholes pulling the strings at the top."
"You aren't…going to be fighting alone? asks Misaka as Misaka stares at you. You aren't going to be holding things to yourself any longer?"
"I can't." Accelerator spat out. "Not this time, as annoying as that is. The only thing I can do is wait."
Accelerator stared down at the phone on the table with sharp red eyes.
Kamijou had said he would keep Accelerator updated on what was happening with the task force set up to deal with Kamui. Knowing that spiky haired boy, he was likely going to keep that end of the deal, but what exactly Accelerator would do with that information and how he would work with the group that then formed to fight Kamui was going to be a bridge he had to cross at some point.
But not at this time.
It seemed like a small thing; willing to wait for the information of others and acting on it even as it ate you to shreds. While Accelerator had no choice in the matter given the higher ups had predicted his rage and manipulated things such they had no effect, it was with reluctance that he accepted what reality was now.
Yet, at the same time, also a mark of the strength he had gained.
If this had been him of the past, he would have immaturely thrown a fit and chased after whoever had harmed what he treasured and loved. Doing so would have released some chemicals in his head, but would ultimately lead to nothing actually happening.
If Accelerator wanted to do something that would have an impact, it would be through waiting until he learned of something he could do.
Something he would do where he would not be alone.
However, as was said, the only thing that he could do for now was wait until Kamijou updated him with what was happening so he could choose how to act based on that information.
Wait and relax in the peace he had built up with both hands.
Wasn't this what he had been fighting for all this time? Was waiting so bad when he could do nothing? it might drive him round the bend knowing something was going on even now, but when waiting would produce results and acting now would do nothing, was there any shame in pausing for the moment to catch his breath and lose himself in the things he had wanted to protect this entire time?
Accelerator had grown as soon as he reached his answer.
"I'm not going anywhere. You're stuck with me for a little while longer. So keep it down, you shitty brat."
Accelerator managed to turn his head as he spoke, spotting the smile that came over the face of Last Order. Her eyes were slightly puffy given she had thought Accelerator was leaving to fight once more so seeing her expectations had been betrayed and the smile on her face was one of the purest things Accelerator knew existed in this world.
Nothing was fine in the long run. The Original Kamui was still out there but even as he was now, nothing Accelerator could do would have any impact or even put a dent in the plans of that mad scientist. Waiting for the opportune moment was what he had to do now, the moment when Kamijou called him and relayed what was happening with the forces created to deal with Kamui.
Until then, Accelerator could do as he wanted.
A thought came to his head as he stared at the smile being given to him.
As long as he managed to protect that smile with his words, then he knew he would do anything as the strongest in that girl's eyes.
"So basically, we were gassed, Takitsubo was super kidnapped, you managed to get her back, you saved some people in the process and now that everything has calmed down, you super think everything is OK? I mean, there's a little to how Hamazura-y you can be, Hamazura!"
"Where are the little shits who thought they could gas us in the first place? I think I'm going to have a niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiice long talk with them."
Hamazura Shiage, despite what he had been through, felt tears running down his eyes as he sat seiza style in the middle of the ITEM apartment with Kinuhata Saiai and Mugino Shizuri staring down at him with their arms crossed and their expressions livid. It wasn't surprising given what had happened to them last night and how MINUS had used LV-Drop in gaseous form against them, but now that everything was over, hearing the voices of the Level 4 and Level 5 hanging like a guillotine over him made the thug tremble.
Even despite what he had been through, this was the scariest thing that could have happened to him! He had been a fool for thinking he would be able to control these girls!
"W-Well, the ones who gassed us are probably dead. E-Even if the one of the few who survived are part of the party who gassed us, they've apparently decided that turning their lives around is a good – M-Mugino!? Why are you standing up and approaching me?! I swear I know very little; the only thing I was focused on was Takitsubo and practically no one else!"
"…Yes, I imagine you have the brain capacity to handle just that. No, that might be pushing it a bit slightly."
Hamazura was slightly hurt given the comments Mugino made. No matter what anyone said, he could multitask and it wasn't impossible for his head to be thinking of multiple things at once! Still, the way Mugino had gotten up from the sofa within the apartment and approached Hamazura on the ground, he wasn't going to be mouthing off to her any time soon.
Mugino stared down at the boy, her eyes narrowed but the displeasure and the suspicion within them was clear. She turned her eyes to Takitsubo who was sitting on the sofa with the other girls, looking rather restlessly between them and Hamazura.
"Takitsubo, how much of this can you confirm?"
"V-Very little, Mugino. I was gassed as well but the only thing I know was what I was told by Hamazura just now." The girl who it seemed would wear a tracksuit even when it came to the end of the world replied cautiously. Mugino narrowed her eyes at that, staring back and looking at Hamazura.
"Are you telling me that you, by yourself, managed to do all the shit you just told me?" Mugino's gaze was the only thing Hamazura needed to know to know that he was up shit creek without a paddle. He stared to the side, sweat covering his entire body as he cleared his throat.
Sure, he had never said anything about anyone else while he had been giving his report on what had happened (more it had been forced out of him), but the over the top assumption Mugino and everyone else had created made him realise in this case that less was definitely not more. No, in this case, it was more that less was going to result in a lot of pain for him if he did not properly answer the question given to him.
"W-Well, no – "
"So, are you going to grace us with who exactly was involved in this as well?"
Takitsubo, as the calm girl she was such that she would rarely change expression, did not even blink at the mention of the person who had been within Hamazura during the chaos of last night. Kinuhata on the other hand went wide eyed whereas Mugino's entire body twitched, the annoyance she was feeling evident on her face and entering the atmosphere.
"Oh? And you thought to neglect that little detail, did you? Instead of waking us up, you decided to go off on your own and do whatever the hell you felt like with the #1 like some gay couple?!"
"H-Hey! I wasn't! And Takitsubo, why is that that is the only time you have reacted this entire time I was talking? It just so happened we were after the same guy as well! The Boss was there too! Why are you so mad about this anyway?"
Kinuhata and Takitsubo tilted their head at that, the confusion at the new character mentioned evident on their faces. Takitsubo seemed to be on the verge of recognising the name. After all, she and Kamijou had met before. Mugino on the other hand only seemed to grow even more pissed at that, flashes of red entering her eyes as something came from her mouth that should have been carbon dioxide, but with the way it glowed red, it was clear it was some other gas entirely.
"Kamijou, huh? Why am I not surprised to find he is involved in this little incident in some respect? While we were knocked out, you and your little groupies decide to get most of the fun out of the way without consulting us. While I'm mad about that, Hamazura, in that you didn't bother to try and get me in on the action so that I could give those assholes a piece of my mind, I have a question for you."
"Y-Yes?" Hamazura, upon learning the meathead Mugino was only mad because her pride as a Level 5 had been disrespected and she did not have the chance to fight back against those who had disrespected her, did not feel any relief at that. While Kinuhata was the same in that she was slightly pissed she had missed out on the action while the #1 and some no-name did, Hamazura knew trying to piss her off any further by giving her sass was not the best idea. Obediently, he sat up straight and felt sweat roll down his entire body, waiting for the Level 5's response.
And she gave it, something nasty flashing in her eyes.
"Do you really think whatever you were involved in is truly over?"
Mugino Shizuri, within an instant, sent the thoughts of the thug Hamazura Shiage spiralling in a direction he knew he had to face at some point but did not really want to do it now.
Last night, the incident had ended with Kihara Kamui dying and Takitsubo Rikou being saved. Yes, even though it was still the morning, Hamazura had still managed to learn a lot from Kamijou Touma who had called with an update on what he had found out on the Science side of things, offering to update Hamazura further on any other developments that happened as well.
Naturally, the thug had agreed to that and roughly hung up, but the question of Mugino was one that bit into him now.
Was everything truly over?
Hamazura was not naïve enough to turn away from reality when he knew the answer to that question.
After all, from what Kamijou had told him earlier and what Hamazura already knew, there were four projects being run by Kihara Kamui within Academy City right now. Not only that, but the Kamui who had died in this incident was nothing more than a copy of the Original's personality.
Those mere facts were all the thug needed to know that the hell caused by Kamui was barely over. There was the risk that whatever had happened was going to happen again to the people around Hamazura. The mere thought of that pressed down on Hamazura like a physical weight and he glanced slightly at Takitsubo.
She had been saved.
But while that reality was the case, the boyfriend's heart lurched at the mere thought of what would have happened had it not been the case.
From what Hamazura could see, Takitsubo had received no wounds in her time in Kamui's care. There were no puncture marks suggested she had been infected with anything or anything Hamazura would have expected from the Dark Side. From that alone, he knew Takitsubo was safe.
Those two words sent shivers racing down the spine of Hamazura and he grit his teeth, trying to hold back the shivering that came from them.
Was everything over? Could he say that definitely when Kamui was still out there and he was spreading his madness using other projects he had?
There was only one answer Hamazura had to that.
"What the hell do you think, Mugino? I've spent enough time in the Darkness to know when something is really solved or not. Whatever happened last night only touched the tip of the iceberg. I realise that…but I'm working things out. I haven't been idle and even I realise that if those bastards can come in here and take Takitsubo, then there is a lot worse they could have done last night but chose not to. But not because they were kind. But because they were doing what they were told. The threat from last night is not something I have forgotten and put to the side."
Kinuhata leaned forward in her knit dress (so much so that she was on the verge of showing what lay beneath and showing Hamazura the truth of whether she was wearing pants or not), her eyes having a shade of darkness come over them.
"Is that so? And how do you plan on doing that, Hamazura?"
Hamazura thought to hold back his words, but within his own mind, realised how foolish that would have been. This was not an issue of pride where he wanted to hold back his words because he thought he would look cool or anything like that. Doing so, when he knew what he was up against, would be the same as suicide and even that former thug knew that holding back on information here would do nothing but hinder him in the long run.
These people in front of him he wanted to protect.
He knew that beyond anything else.
But he also knew he was not the only one who wanted to protect the small scene and people gathered here right now.
No matter what anyone said and no matter what anyone thought of them or their past, the people here also wanted to protect the small peace they had as well. Just like Hamazura.
So, when it came to telling them the way he was going to protect what they also wanted to protect, there was no other obvious choice in the mind of Hamazura.
"…Something is happening behind the scenes. I don't know what it is just yet, but a task force is being set up to deal with this. I realise it might not seem like much when we know how shitty they can be, but the adults are driving things in the background for now. They will do something about the issues the Science side has. And I intend to join them in that effort. After what happened last night, I'm not going to bother hiding behind whatever shield I can. I'm going to step out and sick these bastards with everything I have."
Hamazura did not know the precise details.
But he knew that whatever the adults were doing behind the scenes, they were sure to set up something to fight against Kamui and his madness. Kamijou was going to call Hamazura with updates on the matter and Hamazura had no doubt it was the case. But no matter what Kamijou told him, Hamazura had already made his decision on what he was going to do and what side he was going to stand and fight on.
While he was waiting for the phone call to come from Kamijou that would determine who Hamazura would side against for the sake of protecting what he loved, that boy had already determined where his allegiances would lie. Even if he did not know how that task force was being created or what form it would take, he knew in his heart there were good people seeing this through and wanting to create a world of smiles that lay beyond.
If Kamijou Touma was involved in this and overseeing, in some part, the creation of that task force, then that was the least Hamazura would have expected from that spiky haired boy. He had seen Kamijou in action enough times to know Kamijou would expect nothing less.
However, the desire to protect was not only felt by that former member of Skill-Out.
"Is that so?" said Mugino with a sneer, which gradually turned into a grin. "Well, I'm not going to let a Level 0 show me up. Whatever this task force is, Hamazura, the moment you get wind of it and what they are going to be fighting against, I want in as well."
Mugino Shizuri showed her canines as she cracked her neck, opening and closing a fist with a fire burning in her eyes that sent a shiver down the spine of the Level 0. He had seen that fire within her eyes many times before and while he was not on the receiving ends of it, he knew in his heart there was going to be nothing but destruction waiting on the other side of those who decided to fight Mugino.
But again, it was not just Mugino who had that desire.
ITEM was not a group that had such fragile bonds.
"Oh? Seriously Hamazura, you were sitting on this barrel of fun for this entire time? And you thought you would super hide it from us? Whatever is going to happen, I can sense some fun!"
Kinuhata Saiai cracked her knuckles while sitting on the sofa, licking her lips in a seductive way. However, to Hamazura, there was nothing erotic about the way her eyes were blazing with an inferno that would not be put out. Kinuhata's energy to strike back at the people who had harmed her was the same as Mugino's but although the basic emotion of revenge was fuelling their actions, it did not make them any less terrifying.
Naturally though, simply because of the people who had spoken previously, Hamazura turned his head to the person in the room he wanted to protect the most.
The girl in the pink track suit turned her head to face Hamazura. There was little emotion in that action to suggest anything, but Hamazura knew that even though he was saying he would fight, for that girl, the threat was much more obvious than to Mugino and Kinuhata who had been gassed.
That was obviously the case given Takitsubo had been the one kidnapped.
Even if Mugino and Kinuhata could throw around their desire to strike back against the people who had gassed them, Takitsubo had been the one thrown into the fire. She had been the one who was placed in immediate danger and if there was anyone who understood the danger Kamui faced, even if she had been unconscious the entire time things had happened, it was that blank faced girl.
If anything, her words were the ones that held the greatest impact for that Level 0. No matter what she said, he would move mountains for her given the emotions she had created in his heart and, if Hamazura was honest, revenge was also behind his desire to fight.
Even if Kihara Kamui was dead, that was only one Kamui.
The man who had the personality to kidnap and use Hamazura's girlfriend was still out there. If Personality Swipe meant the Kamui Hamazura had seen yesterday was a copy, then the Original was still out there and could do as he liked.
Hamazura had met two different versions of Kihara Kamui; the old man during the incident with Mugino and the young man he had seen yesterday. And so, he knew and understood the threat the Original posed when it came to infecting others with his personality especially well.
After all, Hamazura and those he wanted to protect had already been a victim to Kamui's machinations more than once.
But that was plenty enough.
The desire to fight the bastard who had even thought of kidnapping Takitsubo filled Hamazura's heart with an endless rage and desire for revenge that was only calmed by seeing his girlfriend in front of him. But even that did not stop his knowledge that he could not leave this aside and ignore the threat Kamui posed not only to Hamazura but to those he wanted to protect as well.
He had already decided what to do.
But what about Takitsubo who had been unfairly thrown into this?
The girl blinked once, staring at Hamazura with expressionless eyes before nodding.
"…I'm in as well."
And she let known her resolve.
"I don't know what happened to me yesterday. But I can't ignore it either. Hamazura, you're not in this alone. I…We are all beside you in this."
"…This will be dangerous."
"Ha!" Kinuhata let that out with her hands on her hips and a gleam in her eye that would not fade. "I wouldn't expect anything else! They gassed us and kidnapped Takitsubo after all. I have no idea what you're going to learn about this task force, Hamazura, but I can tell that things are going to get super exciting from here on out!"
Kinuhata laughed at the challenge ahead of her, Takitsubo and Hamazura looking at her with surprise, before the boy felt his own expression soften a little bit.
This was what he had wanted to protect.
This small scene and the small people in front of him.
Even if they knew the danger in front of them, for the sake of themselves and their own reasons, they wanted to protect this scene as well. Even if they had been through a lot, Hamazura knew that within his heart.
And even if the motivations he had surrounding his reasoning for joining this task force were the same or different for anyone else who was going to be in it, it did not change the things that Hamazura wanted to protect either. For the sake of his own selfish reasons, he was willing to face the danger ahead, merely because those selfish things he was fighting for were something he wanted to protect with everything he had.
No one could laugh at that or mock him for it.
Those were merely the things moving Hamazura Shiage's heart to act after all.
"So, what happens now, Hamazura?" asked Takitsubo. "With this task force we are going to be helping dealing with this issue surrounding Kihara Kamui."
Whether it be from previous experience or merely because the name brought her disgust, Mugino seemed to twitch at the mere mention of Kamui. Given what Hamazura had been through with the man who had managed to infect others with his personality, he understood that reaction perfectly and knew better than the piss around and beat around the bush.
"Like I said, I'm waiting for information. I have someone who is going to call me for updates. I imagine he will want to make sure whatever he learns is communicated to me as soon as possible. Until then though, it's going to be a waiting game."
"Eh?! Waiting?! Are you super kidding me?!" Kinuhata yelled out, although Takitsubo seemed to take it more seriously, nodding once. Even if Hamazura was just as frustrated as Kinuhata was when it came to what was going to come next, there was just nothing he could do about the fact he was waiting for an update from Kamijou. With a sigh, he started to stand up from his seiza position on the ground, however, found Mugino staring at him intently.
"So the only thing we can do is wait?" Mugino spat out. "Wait while the people who managed to barge in here with weapons are doing their own thing in the meantime? We may as well have a fucking target on our backs. I have no idea how long this is going to take Hamazura, but whoever is going to call you, make sure they do it fast. Because in the time we wait, we're going to have to be looking over our shoulder the entire time."
Hamazura had no reply to that.
No matter what anyone else said, that was entirely true. No matter how much he wanted to deny it, the fact he felt a chill down his spine at the idea something was coming while he was waiting for Kamijou's update felt like it was shaving his lifespan away. He knew there would be a waiting game but the silent pressure Mugino reminded him of was something he did not want have to be wary of, even though he knew he could not ignore it.
He gulped, realising it was a single phone call that was going to determine what ITEM did from here on out.
ITEM was once more beginning to move and everything they were going to do hung on a single phone call while those they were fighting could strike at any moment. Hamazura was unsure whether he should feel excited or just tremble at the prospect, but in the back of his mind he knew he would not give up or cower away from this.
There was something even he had to protect after all.
And his resolve was not so weak he was going to let merely waiting crush him from all sides.
Realising the truth behind Mugino's words and the allies he had when it came to fighting against Kamui, the boy slowly nodded. Even if he had the assistance of two Level 4s on his side and a Level 5, Kamui had been able to take them all out previously so that certainty was not something he could rely on forever.
(Come on, Boss. Hurry up and fucking call already…)
It was a bit immature that he directed his thoughts to someone who was also waiting, but that was just how his thug like mind worked at times.
"By the way, Hamazura."
Tearing his thoughts away from his anxiety as he waited for that single phone call, Kinuhata attracted the attention of the Level 0. The boy rose his head, noticing the uncomfortable sweat rolling down his back but paid attention to the Level 4 all the same.
Her eyes burned with interest and there was clearly a question she had been meaning to ask for some time but only now found the time to ask it.
"You keep on saying you're waiting for a call from your source. Who is that exactly? Because, knowing you, it seems unlikely you've got someone that important in the back of your pocket."
"…I'm interested in that too."
Hamazura blinked once, glancing at Mugino but finding that her expression changed as soon as he glanced at her. Going from one of interest to one of annoyance, it seemed the Level 5 had put two and two together when it came to who Hamazura's contact was given what she knew of Kamui and who seemed to naturally have a tendency to have the misfortune to end up in terrible situations such as the ones Kamui created. She turned her head with a click of her tongue, however, the way she rubbed the back of her neck suggested part of her had also relaxed at the knowledge of who Hamazura's contact was.
Whether that was a good or bad thing in that Mugino trusted Kamijou Touma to some extent was unknown to Hamazura, but he found himself managing weak words all the same.
"Y-you guys wouldn't know him."
Kinuhata frowned at that.
"How can you say that if you don't even name him? You never know, we might super know him from the supermarket or the movie theatre."
"No, I'm fairly sure you don't."
"How can you be so sure?" Takitsubo asked.
Although they had all met during the incident with the Dianoid and St. Germain, Hamazura felt he was speaking the truth in that Kinuhata and Takitsubo did not 'know' Kamijou. Even if Takitsubo had met Kamijou in the hours before Hamazura's own incident with MINUS, the Level 0 knew in his heart there was no way anything good would come of that Level 0 meeting with the remaining members of ITEM properly.
For the sake of the misfortune that would surely arise from those girls properly meeting Kamijou Touma, or A Certain Unknown Level 0, Hamazura wanted to make sure those girls were kept in the dark as much as possible when it came to that boy. Mugino seemed to share the same sentiment in the way she said nothing and also the way she had refused to allow Kinuhata and Takitsubo be present whenever Kamijou had come over to help her cook.
For those reasons alone and the knowledge that Kamijou meeting Kinuhata Saiai and Takitsubo Rikou properly would be nothing but trouble, Hamazura and Mugino did not say anything on the nature of Hamazura's 'contact'.
But whether that was for their sake or for Kamijou's, not even Hamazura or Mugino were sure.
Now, some of you have probably forgotten, but today was a big day for someone else.
So much so that Uiharu Kazari and Saten Ruiko had barely gotten any sleep because of it.
Uiharu sat at her dining table in her room with as much energy as she could muster, but despite it still being morning, the usual optimism she had when it came to facing the day ahead of her was lost. Instead of her usual cheery self, her entire body felt sticky with sweat and she shifted uncomfortably on her seat. Her back felt itchy, the irritation and the knowledge of what was going to happen to her today weighing down on her mind heavily.
Today was the day where her future in Judgment would be decided.
During the chaos with MINUS a few weeks ago, a lot had been lost. Not only lives, but also the position Uiharu had held within Judgment. Having sacrificed it so she could be the scapegoat for false accusations being sent Shirai Kuroko's way, the meeting she was going to have to determine whether her temporary suspension would be permanent or not was one she both did and did not want.
Of course she wanted it in the sense she wanted to once more use her skills in the field of peacekeeping.
But she also did not want it in the sense that it would mean having to sit in front of the two bastards who had kicked her out of Judgment in the first place and explain to them why she deserved to stay.
During the chaos with MINUS, a lot had been placed on the line and Uiharu herself had been pushed more than she ever felt she could have been. Her ideals when it came to saving others and the failings of the system she sought to protect had hammered into her mind and soul so much it had felt like she was fighting something formless. Yet, she had still pushed through with her life, even if her position and source of strength was gone.
No, that was not it any longer.
Of the things Uiharu had learned in her time during the chaos of MINUS, it was that she was her own source of strength. Being labelled a 'Judgment member' was a secondary thing. The primary label of 'Uiharu Kazari' was what gave her actions and life meaning. However, like a label she could not escape, Uiharu still wanted nothing more than to once more sit in her chair in the 177th Judgment branch and know she was doing something good in this City she had come to love.
Because right now, it was definitely needed.
There was a darkness bubbling underneath the surface after all.
"Stop focusing on other things for now. The meeting you have with Logic and Deduction is at 4 pm, right? Focus on that."
"I don't even know what they're going to say, Konori-senpai! I mean, looking back on why I was suspended in the first place, it was because Logic and Deduction thought that Shirai-san played on Hagino-senpai's desire to get revenge on Hayashida for killing Endo which ended up throwing the surprise attack in District 9 into the air. While I took the blame for that, they did say that if I was found out to be lying, the punishment would be just as severe. And since Hagino-senpai has finally come out of hospital from his wounds, he's going to have had to tell them everything…including how he took action himself and that it had nothing to do with Shirai-san or me."
Konori Mii smiled faintly at the hurried words of her junior, words that showed her nervousness was getting to her.
During the chaos of District 9, there had been one person who had set off the entire chain of events that had led to where they were now. Hagino Yoritomo, the branch head of the 74th Judgment branch, had entered the District 9 hideout where MINUS had been holding up in during that chaos because of his desire to bring justice to Hayashida Mari who had killed his junior, Endo Hanshiro.
Uiharu remembered the sight of that boy's blown open throat with too much clarity but while that had been a horrible sight, she had used that to motivate herself to be better at what she did and push herself forward to save others. For Hagino though, the memory of his dead junior had been too much to bear and he had prematurely run into the District 9 hideout, setting off an explosion which had engulfed most of his body.
The lump of flesh he had become had barely been human, but the fact he had managed to stay alive and had made a full recovery showed the medical advances capable within Academy City. While that was a good thing, the fact remained that Hagino would likely be questioned about what had made him act prematurely and whether it had been Uiharu or Shirai's fault.
And with that, the truth would come out and it would be revealed he acted alone and that neither Judgment girl was to blame. While that would lift things off the shoulders of everyone involved, the repercussions of what Uiharu had done by lying were just not that simple.
She had lied to the two boys who had the power to strip her of her Judgment status. They had warned her of what would happen if she did so, but she had done it anyway and the truth was just around the corner now Hagino had recovered.
It wasn't so much a case of thinking optimistically as it was a case of realising what punishment was going to be heading Uiharu's way. Because one way or another, she was going to be punished for what she had done and the lies she had told.
If anything, it was that realisation that worried her the most. She shifted in her chair uncomfortably and felt the casual clothes she was wearing were far too tight, loosening them and fanning her chest despite the cool weather.
"…If those two have any sense at all, they'll realise that kicking you out of Judgment is the same as letting us fall. Do you know how many cyber attacks have managed to get through the firewalls of other Judgment branches in the mere time you have been away, Uiharu? All those other branches have been consulting our branch for assistance on such, but since none of us know the techno-garble that comes out of their mouths, we can't help them. Kicking you out is the same as allowing those cyber criminals to get into our databases."
Shirai Kuroko, Uiharu's partner, used logic to reason why Uiharu would not be kicked out to lessen the burden on the small girl's mind, but it felt more like she was trying to convince herself than Uiharu. Even if Uiharu did not think she was as great as Shirai seemed to think, from what she had heard, the technological side of things within Judgment were suffering greatly without her input. Just sitting here in her room when she knew she could be doing something was like an itch she could not scratch; an irritation that would never go away.
"Shirai-san, Logic and Deduction are going to do what is best for Judgment in this meeting. I'm sure any input I have made into the field of cyber security will be considered when it comes to my future in Judgment." Uiharu said calmly, although could not help but overthink her words.
What if what she had done in Judgment was not enough? What if those bastards felt she was too much of a lone wolf to act within the team of Judgment? What if she said the wrong thing and they pounced on her, tearing her apart with their words?
Uiharu did not know how the meeting would go, but she suddenly felt a lot like she was taking a job interview with how her future was on the line just by talking with a few people.
"B-But enough about this," said Uiharu as she rose her head from the table. Talking about this, while refreshing in how others were trying to calm her, made her more stressed about it. She wanted to get rid of the topic altogether. "Saten-san and I have been thinking about this all night and now you two are here, I don't want to think about it anymore."
A voice came from the stove. Heads turned to see Saten Ruiko waving a spatula in her hand while wearing an apron, her gaze intense and stern as she spoke.
"Even though Uiharu's panties were on full display the entire night, I didn't get any enjoyment out of it! I don't want to have to think about this anymore. It ruins my enjoyment of all that is sacred in this world!"
"Saten-san, I can't take you seriously when you make a face like that and say those things. Not to mention my panties are hardly what you would call sacred!"
"…Uiharu-san, why exactly were your panties on display for the entire night?"
"K-Konori-senpai, it's not what you're thinking, and I don't have those types of sleeping habits! I-I was just sweating so much last night that wearing pants was too uncomfortable! Nothing more and nothing less so don't think too much into it!"
"I'm more interested in why Saten-san was looking at them the entire night."
"Shirai-san, although you might like Misaka-san's panties, Uiharu's are just too pure for this world. There are just some things you have to protect and constantly looking at them reinforces that!"
"W-Well, I never! As for Onee-sama's panties, I would never – "
Shirai stopped despite Saten's remark, which was said with a grin, before going wide eyed and biting the corner of her lip. She turned her head away and for an instant, Uiharu saw there was a flash of uncertainty within her eyes before it was forcibly pushed down.
Uiharu fell silent as she stared at her partner, feeling something rising within her chest. Even though she had three of her friends by her side in her time of need, when you got down to it, these girls were also rivals in their own way. No matter what Uiharu might think or say of their friendship, it was undeniable that Uiharu saw something more in her friends than just simple friendship.
Because they too had fallen for Kamijou Touma in the same way she had.
Although she put up a brave front in front of her friends, internally, now her thoughts had been directed towards that, Uiharu knew her internal battle had yet to even start when it came to threatening the bonds she had with her friends. Each of her friends who had fallen for that boy all had their own issues to deal with when it came to confronting that boy in question; Konori Mii knew suddenly confessing would only give him confusion given he did not know her that well, Saten Ruiko was chasing after him in her own way, Misaka Mikoto could not handle the frustration of how he undervalued himself and wanted to deal with that before anything else while Shirai Kuroko was balancing the attraction she held for that boy against the one she had for Mikoto.
Those issues the other girls were facing were nothing to laugh at. Looking at Shirai's reaction to what Saten had said was proof enough of that; she was still trying to figure out her stance on how to deal with the internal conflict within herself when it came to her feelings for Mikoto and Kamijou.
However, much like the connection they had liking the same boy, Uiharu also found connection with her friends in that she was struggling to come to terms with those feelings as well.
Simply because she knew liking Kamijou was the same as driving a wedge in between her and her precious friends. If she came out and said she liked that spiky haired boy, her friendship with everyone else would never be the same. They would not stop being friends, their bonds were not that weak, but the way they looked at each other and what they thought of the others would definitely change.
And Uiharu Kazari was not sure she wanted anything about her friendship with those other girls to change.
The issue she had dealt with when it came to accepting and facing the feelings she had developed for Kamijou had been another issue she had tried to escape from in the past few days. While she had grown in strength of character, like any human, she avoided things she did not want to deal with, although in this case, it was more because she feared the conclusion of these events than anything else.
Thinking back to the things she had purposefully tried to avoid because she already had a lot on her plate made her thoughts race with extra anxiety. Whether that was weakness or just her humanity, looking at Shirai and how she was slightly biting her lip as she too faced the internal conflict arising from liking Kamijou, she brought the topic back to where it had once been.
"Panties aside – "
"H-How can you just brush off the Eden that are your panties, Uiharu?!"
"Saten-san, I realise you're trying to help, but flashing my panties to Logic and Deduction is not going to stop this meeting from going ahead! It might give a conclusion on my future in Judgment!"
"(Yeah, you might be known as something other than the Goalkeeper if you did that…)"
Konori muttered something underneath her breath, but the maturity of a high school girl showed in how she was not even blushing at the thought Saten had put forward to Uiharu, who was as red as a tomato. Shirai was not red, mainly because she had had her thoughts dragged from her internal conflict. Saten's face was not red either but that was because she had suggested the idea in the first place. Whatever the case, despite having to deal with her best friend, Uiharu turned to Konori.
"Like I was saying, panties aside – Saten-san, I know what you're thinking with that pout on your face even if you don't say anything – what about what happened last night? It's been all over the news."
Konori rose an eyebrow at that, Shirai doing the same and straightening her back as she leaned in the chair at the dining room table of Uiharu's apartment. The tension in the air immediately rose and despite how constricting the air suddenly felt, Uiharu did not bother turning away from either member of Judgment.
Konori said nothing, silent for a moment before she took off her glasses and stared at them for a moment. Her gaze seemed distant, but soon, words came from her mouth.
"Uiharu-san, you've been suspended from Judgment. Although it is unlikely Logic and Deduction have bugged your room, sharing information about what we do to civilians is not exactly Judgment policy."
"Shirai-san was perfectly fine sharing the fact you're investigating someone who has been weaponising antimatter within Academy City. Besides, what happened last night was on the news! …Off the record, what exactly can you tell us?"
There was a shine within Uiharu's eyes, although Konori's eyes directed themselves to Shirai given the information the girl had shared to someone who was supposed to be suspended from Judgment. The Teleporter flinched once before turning her gaze to the side, giving a cough.
"K-Konori-senpai, given Uiharu was close to the antimatter bomb during the MINUS incident and also given how antimatter grenades were used during the Unergy Massacre in District 10, I felt she had a right to know such details. Given we know very little about the case ourselves, I felt having the input of someone I trust is – "
"An action that is out of line and irresponsible." Konori butt in and even without her glasses, still seemed as strict as ever. She sighed once. "I realise Uiharu-san has not been officially removed from Judgment, but being discrete with the information we have at hand is something we as Judgment members have to do. This type of thing is exactly why Uiharu has been suspended in the first place! You need approval before you can just say that type of stuff!"
Irritation came into the senior's voice before she rubbed the bridge of her nose. She was silent for a moment before shaking her head.
"…Uiharu-san, how much do you know about either of the incidents that happened last night? As well as the fact antimatter is being weaponised within Academy City."
"Eh?" Uiharu, stunned to see her senior acting so strict, flinched even though she was not a Judgment member at the moment. She paused for an instant, but it was that instant that someone else used to speak.
"Nothing much," Saten, turning over what she was cooking on the stove, spoke. "Only that someone is doing it within Academy City and that some of the people in the Unergy Massacre where Kamijou-san was… Well, they had it." Saten seemed reluctant to speak of the fact that during said massacre, Kamijou had been tortured and had his left arm brutally cut into, but the point got across just fine.
Uiharu said nothing on the matter herself, losing herself in her own thoughts. By her own investigation, she had deduced there was some higher element she could not see within all of this, one that likely had to do with the Board of Directors given how she could not unveil the identity of the Outsourcer who had sent 11 Judgment members to their deaths. The thought someone was looking down on them even now gave her the chills but she said nothing, listening to what others were saying.
Konori breathed on her glasses lenses and rubbed them, looking down the entire time.
"As for the incidents of last night, just what was on the news. There was a bombing in District 7, wasn't there? Not to mention there was that collapse in District 15 with that underground facility and the murder in the Underground Shopping Mall."
Saten spoke again, checking on what was cooking before going wide eyed and hurriedly turning off the stove. Konori seemed to roll on something in her mouth before donning her glasses once more.
"And what else?"
Konori was looking at Uiharu instead of Saten. The flower headband girl seemed to flinch once, trying to avert her gaze, but Konori beat her to the punch with her words.
"Uiharu-san, after coming out of the incident with MINUS, you've changed. I can say that positively and there is nothing negative about that in any way as far as I can see. As a person, as a potential Judgment member, that hell transformed a small part of you into something you should be proud of. However, while that is something you can be proud of, I know the Uiharu Kazari sitting in front of me now would not just be satisfied with what was on the news. What else do you have?"
Konori did not say her words in an accusatory fashion, but Uiharu still felt the piercing nature of her words strike her heart. Saten and Shirai looked at the girl with confused gazes, something Uiharu wanted to turn away from but could not until she let off the pressure rising in her chest.
"…I have the reports from last night as filed by Anti-Skill after I hacked into their database."
"Y-You did what?!"
"Y-You did what?!"
"I-It's not my fault! They should blame their poor security! I was barely even noticed after I slipped through the firewalls."
Shirai and Saten looked about ready to faint while Konori was eyeing her handcuffs rather eerily. Uiharu, who felt she had done nothing wrong and had just tried to sate her curiosity, tilted her head despite not realising that if someone in Anti-Skill had heard what she had said, they would have started frothing at the mouth.
"And? What did you find?" asked Konori, rubbing her temples as if she felt a headache coming.
"W-Well, for the bombing, it seemed as though the suspect was arrested…only to be supposedly murdered in the Underground Shopping Mall."
"Wait, the bomber…was murdered?" asked Saten. She turned to Shirai who seemed to click her tongue, obviously not surprised. "And what do you mean by supposedly?"
"Well, there was no body, Saten-san."
"Huh!? How is that a murder, then?" Saten realised how dark the question was, but it was with a shaking head that Konori answered.
"So, you just wanted to ask us as an excuse for where you got the information from, Uiharu-san? I'm not too sure what I think of this change within you for various reasons now…" Uiharu stuck out her tongue at that in a cheerful way, but Konori said nothing on the matter.
There was something bubbling underneath this City. Over the past few days, such was obvious with MINUS, the weaponisation of antimatter and so many other things so despite what Konori thought about the illegality of Uiharu's actions, at the same time, she felt that during this time, it was exactly what one might have to turn to as to save someone. That troubling thought entered the Judgment branch head's mind as she turned to her friends and spoke.
"As for your question, Saten-san, the reason why the event in the Underground Mall is considered a murder has to do with the amount of blood spilled. Simply put, in the crime scene, it was everywhere. Not only that but within a few metres of the crime scene was a truckload of unidentified bodies which had been burned to a crisp after said truck had exploded and two arms belonging to the Underground Mall victim. Just from that alone, despite the absence of a body, whoever underwent whatever happened down there could not have survived."
"How do you know whoever was killed was the bomber in District 7?"
"The suspect of the bombing was arrested by Anti-Skill successfully," said Shirai now. "However, they managed to escape custody by breaking their wrist out of the handcuffs holding them. Blood samples matched the blood in the Underground Mall…as well as unidentified blood found during the Unergy Massacre in District 10."
"W-Wait, are you saying that – "
"Yes. The same person who was involved in what happened last night was connected to the Unergy Massacre. Although it doesn't matter anymore now that said person is dead." Konori said. "But whoever they were, there is a strong link connecting the Unergy Massacre and what happened last night in some way. The two, in some fashion, are not to be treated as separate incidents, but rather to be connected and considered a part of some larger event happening within Academy City."
"A…larger event?" asked Saten.
"This was not covered in the news, but there was an attack on a facility that had Anti-Skill ties in District 14 last night as well that has been explained through other means via the news. The same blood found in the Underground Mall and the Unergy Massacre was found there as well." said Konori as she tapped the table in front of her. "As of right now, although nothing has been confirmed, Judgment and Anti-Skill are treating what happened in District 15 with the building collapse to be linked as well. This information is being kept under tight wraps, Saten-san. Well, as tight as can be given our security."
Konori glanced at Uiharu who seemed to smile again, this time with less tension in it.
"Although the one person who tied all these events is now dead, the connection cannot be denied. As far as we know, something is moving in the shadows of Academy City. So much so that each day that passes and we miss updates, we fall behind. In the past three hours or so, a major development could have happened and we would know nothing about it. With what's going on right now, it's…frustrating."
"Frustrating?" asked Saten.
"Judgment and Anti-Skill are tied up in a lot of red tape. Someone could die right this instant and getting the information to us could take up to two hours, Saten-san." said Shirai. "And with everything that seems to be connected; the Unergy Massacre and most of the incidents last night, we need to be knowing things in real time instead of reacting every single second. Even though this system has been set up to assist the peace keeping of Academy City, it's frustrating it works in this way in that we don't know everything that happens when it happens and have to be constrained within the system. After all, you saw what happened when you try and break free of that and do your own thing in a time of proper crisis, right?"
Saten stared at Uiharu who had gone silent.
"Something is happening underneath Academy City. That cannot be denied. But the fact we have to move within the system to fight an enemy who has no system to follow? At times despite knowing it has to be protected and we have to follow it, it can be…frustrating. So much so that actions like breaking out of that system seem to be the only thing we can do to make sure we can protect that same system. Even though that is not the case."
Shirai meant nothing by it and Uiharu knew it was not a personal attack against her, but those words bit into her deeper than she thought they would have. After all, having been thrown out by that system, hadn't Uiharu chosen to illegally hack into the Anti-Skill database, effectively breaking free of that system she had once followed, for the greater good?
How far would that go?
How far would people be pushed when they could do nothing in the system around them before they succumbed to the temptation of breaking free from that system?
Breaking free from that system, at times like as seen with Uiharu, had good results.
But that was not a rule and thinking it was held a real danger to anyone who felt the joy of realising what they could do by breaking free of that system.
Uiharu had broken free of that system by hacking into Anti-Skill, but what would happen if she took that too far? She did not know what she would become if that was the case and merely thinking of going too far terrified her to the core even though she had pulled herself back from doing such.
Saten Ruiko said nothing to the silence that resounded within the room. Although it was obvious everyone there knew they had to stay within the system Judgment and Anti-Skill had devised, the temptation of breaking free of that system, as seen with how Uiharu had generated results by doing so, was one they could not deny.
Saten's mind turned to the one person who had broken free of that system and had paid the price for it. If anything, that one person represented what could become of her friends if they decided to break free of that system and lost themselves within it.
"The guy who was a part of the Unergy Massacre…the guy who bombed that building in District 7 and was later murdered…"
"What was his name?"
The question hung in the air, met with silence before Uiharu answered.
Saten nodded once, remembering the name. If ever she felt her friends were going down that dangerous rabbit hole of losing themselves by breaking free of the system that constrained them, she knew there was one name she would have to use to bring them back on track and put them back on the correct rails.
It was also a name she would have to use herself if she felt she ran the danger of doing the same thing.
"W-Well, I've made everyone some breakfast. There's a lot of time to kill until Uiharu has to be where she has to be, so let's make the most of it! Besides, even if there is something going on underneath Academy City, I'm sure they can be without Shirai Kuroko and Konori Mii for a few hours, right? Let's have some fun! There are other people on the case handling that type of thing too, you know!"
Saten grinned as she pulled what she had been cooking on the frypan; small pieces of fried fish. The rice cooker was also done and it was with a small cheer that Saten moved and collected some bowls, Shirai teleporting over and assisting by teleporting the bowls and cutlery where it needed to be for the people to eat.
"Speaking of people on the case though, what's the juice you guys have on that Eiyuu character? You know, the one going around and beating up bad guys in the middle of the night?" asked Saten with her eyes gleaming. The Academy City internet had been abuzz with theories trying to deduce their identity based upon reports of their powers, but every single lead had come up a complete dud in this City filled with esper powers.
The allure of an urban rumour, which was also real, seemed to be more powerful than ever as it sucked in Saten given the way her eyes were gleaming.
Despite being a Level 0, it seemed the entirety of Academy City had succumbed to the allure of their very own hero hiding in the shadows…even if very few knew of the silent hero who had gone unnoticed this entire time.
Even if Saten felt her own heart prickle at the unfairness of how Kamijou Touma's actions this entire time had gone unnoticed, she could not help herself but be fascinated by the small person calling themselves Eiyuu and trying to clean up Academy City bit by bit.
Everyone had wanted to do it, in their own way.
But it was someone acting in the full view of Academy City who was trying to do it now with the power they had been given.
How could she not be fascinated? Saten's eyes gleamed with that inherent curiosity, but the reaction of Shirai and Konori was not what she was expecting.
They both groaned, putting their heads in their hands and slumping on the table.
"E-Eh? Wh-What's wrong?"
"D-Don't talk about Eiyuu right now, Saten-san. We've got enough headaches as it is."
"That ape is one thing. At least he doesn't make a spectacle of himself…at least, not all the time and when he does, he's just a figure that rarely gives his name. Eiyuu? Do you know how much trouble we've been in because of the things he's done?! Apparently, the higher ups breath down the necks of those in Anti-Skill and Judgment who then feed that back to us! If that little hero knew how much paperwork I had to fill out because of their heroics…"
"H-Hehehehe…paperwork… J-Just one more page…"
"I even had to fill out a form determining my competence when Eiyuu is doing my job for me. Ehehehehehe…"
The sudden change in atmosphere that overcame both made it clear Saten had it easier where she was on the side of just overlooking Eiyuu's actions and not being on their receiving end of their repercussions. There were a few worrying things said on the side of Shirai. Even Uiharu was surprised, but it was now two of the group of friends had been taken out with nothing but words, Saten realised something she had not before.
"Where is Misaka-san anyway?"
No one answered, mainly because they did not know (Uiharu) or they were lost in their own depression (Shirai and Konori) but it was more than just curiosity that Saten had asked.
After all, given the talk they just had, Mikoto had not yet seen how Shirai and Konori were struggling with the system they followed but still decided to follow, not giving in to the temptation of breaking free. Even though Saten knew in her mind Mikoto would not so easily break, she still felt some concern given Mikoto had not been here to hear the struggles of Shirai and Konori and how they were dealing with it despite how frustrating it was.
Despite realising how constricting it was, they had still decided to protect the system.
Despite being pushed, they had still decided to not go over the line and break the system despite saying they would protect it. Even if they did, they would pull themselves back because of their desire to protect that very same system.
Saten felt it was important for all of them to hear those words and the struggles Shirai and Konori were facing. It gave perspective on the strength of those two and the strength of the system they had desired to protect.
Even if Uiharu had slightly off rails and broken that system by hacking into Anti-Skill, she had pulled herself back because of that system. Despite how restrictive that system was, she had not gone too far.
If she broke the system she wanted to protect because she realised how restrictive it was and got lost while doing that, what would that look like?
Saten Ruiko did not even consider it.
But was that because she did not want to or because she knew Misaka Mikoto would never break and go off the rails because of how restrictive the system was?
Not even she was sure of that.
Thinking about it, if you looked at how much food Index ate, Kamijou Touma wondered if his expenses on that alone was enough to power the Academy City economy, even in part. Being a part of the machine was a very Japanese mindset but even the thought he was contributing to something larger meant nothing when it came from his own pocket.
He trembled at the mere thought.
To say the restaurant crawling had been cut short was the understatement of the year. Using whatever energy he could, the spiky haired boy had literally been forced to tackle Index to the ground. Given she had been given the motivation of food to push her forward, getting her to calm down and trying to reason with her that going from restaurant to restaurant was not going to allow her to spend time getting to know Arisa, but instead was going to result in only her stomach being happy, had been akin to fighting a Siberian tiger with nothing but his bare hands.
He had made it out alive with all ten fingers, but it was clear in the small bite marks across his body he had still taken damage all the same. However, while that was the bad side, the good side of what had come of Kamijou's and Index's small brawl was that she had seen sense and decided that walking and talking with Arisa was good enough when it came to their friendship.
It had been hard getting to think about that though when she had been offered food and Arisa had been more than willing to pay. Yes, Arisa had wanted to have a good time with Index, but Kamijou had wished she had read the mood while he was being viciously attacked to stop offering again and again and saying everything was fine.
Because it wasn't!
These hole in his clothes weren't going to fix themselves!
Kamijou grumbled underneath his breath, looking ahead and looking at the backs of the two girls chatting away with an eagerness that told of how long they had spent apart. Mainly because he needed a watchful eye on that ravenous nun, Othinus was standing watch on the nun's head, while constantly moving her slender legs up and down to avoid the calico cat trying to reach for her legs and grab its favourite toy.
Although the sight of a strange doll brought many stares to Index, to Kamijou, the important sight was not the one of Othinus on Index's head, but rather the mere fact she and Arisa were finally having the chance to speak as friends. Even if eating was one way of connecting, talking was too and that connection shared between the two girls was one that made Kamijou smile slightly.
Wasn't that simple scene something he had been fighting for all this time?
A lot had happened leading up to it, but it was surely worth it, just seeing the smile on those faces.
Despite the small wounds covering him, Kamijou found himself stopping, staring at the two girls with that same smile on his face and sighing. Although he himself was a part of what Arisa wanted as part of her happiness, the way she was smiling with Index now was something he did not want to intrude on, satisfied with just looking at the two of them at a distance and knowing they had finally gotten what they had wanted this entire time.
There was something that had tried to step on what they had wanted, something that had tried to take their smiles away from them.
The Magic side issue and Harmonia's Cradle, as well as how Index was potentially on the wrong path because of the growing influence the sentient grimoire in her mind was having, were not problems that would go away. The people who were going to be observing Index, or whatever they were going to do with her, were going to be coming soon and nothing Kamijou could do would change those facts.
Nor could he change the fact the Science side itself was just as dangerous.
Kihara Kamui and his Personality Swipe project had already infected more than Kamijou had wanted. The fact that any had been infected in the first place was troubling, but that one project was not the only problem.
The FIVE_Object, the massive weapon Kamui was building and the Break Queen Package, a cyborg that could freely change its form and was awaiting a human consciousness to be uploaded into it were also problems.
And then there was the project that had already failed; the ZERO_OVER Modelcase_"IMAGINE_BREAKER", the nanomachines within Kamijou Touma's brain that had the intent of trying to understand how he made Imagine Breaker work. Given he had been born with that power and there were no 'calculations' underlying its use, that project was harmless, but to that boy, the fact it had reached so close to him, despite being harmless, gave him no cause for comfort.
If something had been different, if something had changed even slightly, everything could have ended entirely differently.
Kamijou was forced to face that and felt himself shift uncomfortably. Even if they were harmless, the knowledge there were nanomachines inside his head trying to get calculations for Imagine Breaker that did not exist made him feel paranoid.
Not to mention he had enough problems with his mind he was sorting through.
While those issues were being solved with the assistance of Yume was also helping him form a force to deal with the Science side of things, the stack of problems against him were just one thing after another.
"Hah… When exactly did things get this crazy?"
Kamijou asked himself, noticing that Arisa, who was in Shutaura's body but still had some pink running through her black hair, Index and Othinus were almost out of sight. Not wanting to lose them in the crowd, he tried to move past the small crowd of people moving on the sidewalk.
The noise of Academy City, a nostalgic noise to that spiky haired boy, reached his ears. That was the noise of the innocent people within this City who had nothing to do with Kamui whatsoever but also people that mad scientist had no problem bringing into his experiments. The idea even these people were considered as guinea pigs to that man made Kamijou twitch with anger.
(…How far does Kamui and his reach go? Basically, one hundred people I know of have already fallen to Personality Swipe. And most of them are dead.)
Kamijou felt something bitter rise within his throat, before he found himself stopping when he was walking, frowning slightly.
That was not it.
(That's right. Not most of them. All the people I know who have been infected by Kamui's Personality Swipe are dead. The one behind Mugino's incident, Aaron Gracestone and his security forces, even the one from last night. They're all…dead.)
There was nothing Kamijou could do about any of that.
But that did not mean it did not affect him.
The Kamui from last night had been an inexplicable creature. The man had recognised the fact he could be saved but when the only person who wanted to save him reached their hand, he had laughed and said that if he was saved by Kamijou Touma, that would only result in him becoming unsavable.
The man who knew he was not the Original did not want to be saved when faced with Kamijou. No, he wanted to see Kamijou try to save him, only to see his face when he knew he had failed trying to save Kamui.
Kamijou did not care who saved Kamui, in truth. If he was not fit for the role, that was fine by him. He would put it off onto someone else if need be and that was that.
But the problem was that last night, no one had wanted to save Kamui.
And when Kamijou had tried to do so, the madness within that copy had longed to see Kamijou's despair that he had been willing to throw his one life away for the sake of allowing the Original to see Kamijou's despaired face.
The Kamui last night had said he did not care about others and that he did not need a reason to hurt someone. Such thinking was beyond Kamijou's thoughts and while what Kamui had said bothered him endlessly, the fact of the matter was that the man had died last night right in front of Kamijou.
When Kamui had been crushed by a falling block of concrete, he had been holding Kamijou's left arm. While that had been crushed with the man, the impact of the block of concrete falling onto Kamui had been an instant death, splattering the man's blood onto Kamijou's face.
Even if the man had been a bastard, he didn't deserve what had happened to him. There was no way in hell Kamijou would accept that, but the reality was he did not have a choice in the matter.
Last night, right in front of Kamijou Touma, Kihara Kamui had died.
Just like everyone single other one he had come into contact with.
(How many, Kamui? How many have to die before you're satisfied?)
Kamijou gripped his fists tight as he felt something within him boiling.
(That man from last night… I didn't even get his name. You took who he was, replaced him with yourself and never even gave him a chance to live as he was. He spoke like normal, talked like normal and bled like normal. He was a human being too, and you denied him that with your sick trick of taking over his mind. That…That goes beyond just desecrating that man's memory. It's taking that memory and twisting it into an impossible shape.)
He remembered the blood splattering on him. He remembered the feeling of that man losing his life within his arms and he remembered the laughter that had echoed from the man even in his last moments.
(He…didn't deserve that. He didn't deserve to be crushed or killed at all.)
But most of all…
The cracking of his ribs resounded through his body, splintering and sending sharp fragments of his broken bones into the closely packed organs within his body.
Kamijou Touma remembered it happening to him.
Kamijou felt his entire body lurch, something wanting to rise in his throat and erupt out. He felt something cold race through him, sapping him of all his energy. If he had been walking, he would have just collapsed but given he was standing still, it took everything he had to just stay standing and not show any sign of a change in his body.
Vomit wanted to come from his mouth and Kamijou just wanted to collapse on the spot, crawl into a foetal position and scream but the reality coursing through his head made him freeze up, unable to do anything but face it.
Kamijou screamed in pain, blood coming from his mouth now his lungs had been pierced. But the pressure covering his entire body and squashing it down did not kindly release itself to his screams, continuing to press down even harder onto the body beneath.
Even if he didn't remember it, he was remembering it now.
Because when facing Othinus in those infinite hells, there was no way she would have not tried to break him by crushing him.
The escape to the side was obvious to see. Kamijou's body was lying on the cold ground and creating a gap between whatever was crushing him and the surface he was being crushed against but no matter how much Kamijou reached for that gap, the pressure on him was just too heavy to move.
Salvation was just a few centimetres away, but Kamijou Touma could not even reach that far.
He screamed as the pressure pushing down on him crushed his ribs even more, squashing them and splintering them such that they pierced through his insides even more grotesquely. Kamijou always knew there were organs within him, but the reality of their existence was made clear as he felt the broken bones of his crushed ribs slowly pierce those organs with squelching sounds.
(Sh-Shit! Not here… Not here!)
Kamijou stumbled, grabbing the railing by his side and gripping it tightly with both hands. Sweat poured from his entire body and he felt a trembling within his core, a trembling that made him want to crawl down to the ground and just hug himself in the hopes the pain would go away.
But it already had.
This was just him reliving it due to the cruelty of the world. The experimental drug Regon that had reconnected pathways in his brain allowing him to remember things he should not have allowed him to remember Shokuhou Misaki but, like equivalent exchange, the negative side of that made itself clear to that boy in a terrifying way.
His PTSD after dying so many times at the hands of Othinus had been unwanted and the desensitisation to his own death that had followed had been the same. While he was working to overcome both with Yume, who had told him to remember what he wanted to hold onto so he did not forget those things, the truth was this was not an issue that could be overcome with cheap words.
This was his pain and suffering to endure after having died so many times.
No, in a way, this was his connection with the Kihara Kamui who had die last night.
After failing to save him, it was only natural for Kamijou to receive the same pain that man had as punishment.
Was this memory triggered because of the way Kamui had died last night? While Kamijou did not know, Kamijou felt shame and terror run through him.
This was the second time he had had a PTSD attack in a crowded place, the first being when he had been on a dinner date with Kongou Mitsuko.
And just like last time, Kamijou did not know he could feel this much terror.
The crushing force continued to press down, the cold surface of what was crushing him breaking his bones slowly.
Kamijou screamed the entire time, letting loose the pain from his mouth as he desperately tried to move to the side, to escape whatever was crushing him, but the force on top of him was just too strong. He heard something snap within him, feeling something in his side pierce through his skin. Blood began to slowly ooze out but Kamijou could not even turn to look at what had pierced through his side and to what part of his body it belonged to.
The pressing force trapping his skull meant he could not move it a single millimetre.
The pressure was moving slowly, but with each moment it pressed down on his skull, he could feel the very structure of his cranium protest and wish to be freed. He screamed, fighting and twisting his body as much as he could to escape but the pressure on him was just too strong.
He was going to die here.
His body was going to be crushed and with the pressure coming down on his skull, Kamijou knew he had mere moments before whatever was crushing him would break his cranium. The small bits of it would break apart and enter his brain. If he was lucky, that would kill him instantly, but that spiky haired boy knew better than to rely on luck in this hell.
Things never went his way here.
Not when he was on the losing side.
Kamijou screamed as he desperately tried whatever he could to survive, but no matter how much he urged his body, pushed himself and let out all the chemicals in his brain to will himself to move, nothing came of it. The only thing he felt was a crushing pain as his head was sandwiched between whatever was crushing him on the ground, his ribs and chest already having broken.
He could barely breathe.
As if he was being crushed right now, Kamijou found his breathing laboured and found himself struggling for breath.
The sensation and the image passing through his mind was so real. That was, of course, the fact that it was, but the vivid nature of the memory passing through Kamijou tormented him, assaulting his mind with a psychological attack like he never knew. The fear of death he had felt when he was being crushed by Othinus so long ago coursed through him once more, but instead of finding somewhere to run or something to do against that fear, Kamijou knew there was nothing he could do.
He had already faced this.
This was just in his mind.
So there was no escaping this whatsoever.
(This is not real…. This is not real… This is not real…)
Sweat poured from every orifice as Kamijou desperately tried to force out the memory, the iciness that had taken hold of his body never letting go.
With everything he had, he tried to push off the ground, but there was so little movement of his arms he could not get the leverage. Spitting and cursing, his heart racing as he realised what was to come, Kamijou screamed once more, moving his legs to try and catch on anything on the ground that would help him move, help him es –
The sickening cracking sound that came from his skull stopped every single movement his body was trying to make.
(This. Is. Not. Real. This. Is. Not. Real. This. Is. Not. Real. This. Is. Not. Real. This. Is. Not. Real. This. Is. Not. Real. This. Is. Not. Real. This. Is. Not. Real. This. Is. Not. Real. This. Is. Not. Real. This. Is. Not. Real. This. Is. Not. Real. This. Is. Not. Real. This. Is. Not. Real. This! Is! Not! Real!)
Gripping the handrail tighter, despite knowing it was nothing but a memory, the fear of death that had coursed through him back then came back to Kamijou right now. Feeling as though he wanted to burn all energy but with nowhere to put it, it built up within Kamijou, desperately trying to be released.
But he could not release this energy within him that just wanted to scream and weep.
Not in this public place.
He could not afford to let anyone else know of the condition afflicting him right now.
Others around him had almost discovered his condition after he had a PTSD attack in the incident with Kongou Mitsuko, but given he had lost his arm in said incident, he was thankful his PTS attack had been buried in the hell of injuries he had faced then.
But it was not the case now.
If he showed even the slightest bit of weakness, then this dark secret would get out.
And Kamijou Touma could not afford that in the slightest, for the sake of those who would feel their hearts crushed by the news of the mental pain he was facing.
Even if it meant he had to bear this pain all by himself.
Kamijou's entire body went limp, the limbs that had previously been kicking around furiously falling to the ground in a useless heap.
Pain rocketed through Kamijou's body as the pressure crushing Kamijou's skull continued.
Laughably, he had been unlucky.
Instead of the crushing pressure on his skull cracking it and sending the fragmented pieces of his skull into his brain, killing him instantly, it appeared the pieces had broken off and pierced the parts of his brain that allowed for signals to be sent to other parts of his body. His broken skull had prevented his frantic brain from ordering his body to move.
It did not, however, stop the pain associated with the pressure coming down and slowly crushing his skull and his entire body.
Kamijou screamed, feeling something wet run down his face, but whether that was tears or blood, he did not know. He felt the crushing pressure continued to snap and break the once sturdy bones in his body, Kamijou feeling those bones snap and pierce his insides. His own body was being used as the weapon against him. His skull cried out in protest as more and more of it was pressed down upon, but with no movement in the rest of his body, Kamijou could literally do nothing.
(THIS IS NOT REAL! THIS IS NOT REAL! THIS IS NOT REAL! THIS. IS. NOT. REAL!)
Kamijou fought the urge to throw up but found himself bending over the railing in case he did so. Were people staring at him? Did he look weak and pathetic or did he appear to be some random kid who was bored while waiting for someone against the railing?
He did not know or care, closing his eyes and forcing himself to push this memory from his mind.
"You lose once again."
A familiar voice came into Kamijou's ears from somewhere.
He did not see who said given they were behind him and he could not move his head.
But he knew that voice.
The bored tone, the arrogant way it spoke and the fact it had appeared now of all times.
Pain continued to crush down on his skull, squeezing it into a shape it was never supposed to be, yet as Kamijou realised what was going to happen to him now, he forced the words from his throat despite his lungs having been pierced and blood coming from his mouth with every breath he took.
"Well, at least you broke this time. Not in the way I wanted though. Let's try this again, shall we?"
(Oh god. Ohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgod!)
It came in droves, pressing down on Kamijou as he screamed that one name, crushing his skull past the final line that had held his thoughts together.
There was a cracking sound.
At least, Kamijou thought there had been.
No, that was inaccurate.
Because he neither heard nor thought anything past that.
The breath of air Kamijou drew into his lungs had never felt sweeter, but at the same time, felt like a poison he was drawing into his own body of his own accord.
Freed from the prison of his own mind, Kamijou panted heavily, trying to focus his eyes but finding they would not catch onto anything. His vision was blurry and watery. While Kamijou realised that water was forming on the edges of his eyes, there was something else he felt himself wanting to do despite trying to hold back with everything he had.
He could no longer hold back the urge to unleash the contents of his stomach any longer.
The feeling of being crushed, the feeling of his insides being pierced by his own broken bones, his skull being trapped as pain had filled it, unable to be released…even though he had once lived out those things, reliving them and facing what he had once felt was a feeling he never once wanted to have.
The pressure of being killed once more and then being thrown back into reality proved to be too much for the mind of the high school boy who had simply been through too much.
All alone, Kamijou Touma could no longer hold back the instinctive reaction to the hell he had just relived.
Bending over the railing, Kamijou felt something rise in his throat –
Only to feel something grab onto his leg.
"It's going to be OK. You're…not alone."
They were simple words.
But the reassuring effect they had on the boy's state of mind was immense. As if he had been crushed by the weight of his own mind, those words and that presence on him felt as though he was being physically freed from the prison of his own mind. As if those simple words, no matter who had said them, would have been enough to save Kamijou Touma.
Kamijou, still trembling from the effects of his PTSD attack in the middle of the street in broad daylight, turned his head to the form clinging onto his leg. The moment he saw the figure, his eyes went wide. Through shaking words, because he had just barely avoided throwing up because of this form, he managed to say something that was just barely coherent despite his pale face and racing heart.
"Y-You're – "
Kamijou Touma did not know this girl was. She was an inexplicable existence that made no sense to him, someone he had met just yesterday, but did not know a thing about. She felt otherworldly, but that was just an impression Kamijou had of her given what he had seen her do just in the events of last night.
He had seen her in the form of a baby, seen her accelerate when it came to age and turn from being that baby into a three year old girl.
But right now, it seemed she had aged once more since he had seen her last night.
She looked barely above five or six, taller than Kamijou had seen her yesterday but still with the same childlike innocence in her small features. The small form of the girl had clearly grown since last night, but the confusion that filled Kamijou's mind upon seeing her did not clear when he saw her again. In fact, given she had aged seemingly two years only added more confusion to his already shaky mind…
But even through that, looking at the form clinging to his leg, a name came to mind that, after everything that had happened after last night, he had almost forgotten.
And there we have it!
What did you think?
This chapter was very much another aftermath type of chapter but also has the purpose of revealing the cast of characters to take place in future arcs is also going to be increasing. Keep in mind, however, that the core of what this story is, a journey of discovery, is going to be at its core, so it won't be losing that. The major difference is that there will be a lot more focus upon the story element to this, as you can see from the fact that an arc such as this can even exist.
While last arc ended with Arisa's part, I wanted to sort of use the beginning of this Intermission Arc as a way to bounce off where we should have left off with Arisa (who was surprisingly lacking in a chapter with her name). Last chapter ended with Arisa finally being able to shed herself of her fears for meeting with Index and Touma, but the friendship and connection she forms as a result, while it could have been covered on the underside of things, was covered here. Given everything that happened last arc, having this small moment where we can just look at a girl who wants to spend time with her friends is the type of relaxing nature I wanted to give to this type of arc.
However, while there is that, there are a lot of characters looking at their inner selves and also choosing how to best progress from here when it comes to the world around them. For the former point, I think I really wanted to capture this in Othinus in how she looked at Index who has seemingly 'taken her role' in her own way.
While in the novels, Index's explanation role has seemed to be taken by Othinus, part of me has really wondered where Othinus stands on her size. Of course, this has meant she has been able to stand by Touma's side in her own way, but on the reverse side, it also means she has not been able to hold the type of position others have with Touma. There are good and bad sides to both, yes, but I wanted to just have Othinus look at Index and feel even the slightest bit of jealousy at where that nun stands and how Othinus could have been the one standing there. It was a bittersweet moment, but I hope you found yourself feeling somewhat bad for the small god who laments on the place she cannot have, but wonders what it would be like to have all the same. There was nothing to it really given the larger picture and how Othinus is stuck at her size, but I hope you still felt yourself feeling something for that small god.
Accelerator's and Hamazura's thoughts on what to do from here on out reflect more of the latter point in how to best progress. I think the scenes where I have them both consider their options and how they realise they cannot charge into this world just doing as they have done before because of the hell covered everything I needed to, but did you notice? While Accelerator questions bringing in others, Hamazura immediately jumps into that. I think this mindset between them indicates how one with power can rely on himself whereas one without cannot do so so easily when it comes to a threat of this size. It was subtle, but even if they both reached the same conclusion (and with some extra power behind them to boot!), I hope you felt I did both characters justice with their thoughts here. It's not always about Touma, you know!
Then there was Uiharu's part. Be honest, in the timeline, who forgot that her meeting with Logic and Deduction was today? I had it introduced heaps of chapters ago, but it has finally taken form and sort of gives a reason why I have this Intermission Arc. A lot of things are going to happen, but they are going to focus on characters already introduced instead of focusing on a new perspective, so I hope you can enjoy where this goes from here.
But even if those Judgment members and that Level 0 do not know of what happened last night, it is clear that even they are aware of what is moving underneath the surface. Where this is taken is something I hope you can enjoy, but at the same time, to think that Orion's presence and his 'deaths' seemed to be the linking chain with everything!
If there was a really big takeaway from that small part where things we already knew were explained from a different mindset, it really has to be the focus of the system that restricts despite being protected. Just seeing Shirai and Konori's reaction to Eiyuu who moves outside the system to protect it should indicate this in how despite the good intentions, sometimes the best of intentions within the limits of 'good' cannot be enough. If that is the case then, does moving outside the system and breaking it in the effort to protect it do the same even if it is with good intentions?
Even if Uiharu broke the system to protect it but pulled back, Saten herself has realised that doing so and going down that path too far will turn them into characters like Orion who can do nothing but break that system. She has a word that can potentially bring everyone back from going down that path, simply because they know of how Orion 'died' in doing so, but the most important person who had to hear that was not there.
Since that is the case, what exactly is the path ahead of Mikoto now?
Finally, we had the PTSD return. No, perhaps that would be the wrong way to put it. We had it take the centre stage despite being in the background for so long. The issue within Touma's mind is one not covered much but in its own way, it is still really important, just seen in how crippling it is to Touma who wishes to live out his normal life. I generally avoided having it manifest in a public place, but this is the second time I'm doing it, so in a way, you can think of this as being a "sanctuary" broken. However, at the eleventh hour, the person to save him is the one we know nothing about.
If you can recall back that far, Phi has made a previous appearance…but her role in this story has yet to be fully expanded upon. Whatever the case, now she has returned and now you have the chance to refresh your memory (or maybe you remember her really well! After all, she was a strange character when it came to how she appeared), I hope you can look forward to where this goes and the larger issues at hand within this new arc.
A lot of different things are going to happen here, make no mistake. It's just that there is also time to have a calm before the storm. For that alone, I hope you looked at Arisa's scene and how she merely looked at her friends and wondered how she could have been blessed with such good ones and merely smiled at the warmth such a scene provided. As long as you did that, I ask for nothing more.
And as always,
Review if you please.
And I'll see you when I see you and I wont if I don't.
We had something fluffiness and PTSD in a single chapter. I swear I want more of the former! I swear it!