Author's Note: Here we are. This is the longest chapter so far, and the halfway point of the series. It has barely any humor in it, but that was an unfortunate necessity.
The Anti-Skill headquarters looked like a war zone. The building looked like it was about to collapse with everything from broken windows to literal holes in the wall all over it. Not a single part of it was unscathed in any way.
In front of the building three powered suits were fighting a single Anti-Skill member who was controlling the wind. Or to be more accurate the three powered suits were attempting to stop the man while he threw them around like they were toys. Earlier Touma had seen a cursed Anti-Skill member create a tornado but this was more like something Accelerator would do. It was direct control of the wind.
As Touma watched one of the powered suits was lifted into the air and collided with another in a loud crash. Both of them were broken by the impact and ended up in a heap on the floor. There were several other broken powered suits lying around and even some of Academy City's unmanned helicopters. All of them had been reduced to rubble by the wind of this cursed Anti-Skill agent.
Finally the third and final powered suit was caught up in a gust of wind, lifted fifteen stories into the air and dropped. Touma had no way of knowing if the man inside was alive or not.
Even now that all of the threats were eliminates the cursed Anti-Skill agent did not stop controlling the wind. It looked like he had not even been attempting to fight the powered suits or the helicopters. He had destroyed them all accidentally. They had been nothing but bugs he had crushed underfoot without even noticing.
Touma raised his right hand in front of him and charged into the area being controlled by the cursed Anti-Skill officer. Almost immediately a huge gust of wind sprung into life and was negated by his right hand. It was like he had been targeted specifically but it was more likely his misfortune acting up. He didn't even break stride as he negated the magical wind and continued to run at the man at the centre of this magical phenomenon.
The second gust of wind hit him from behind. With Imagine Breaker out in front of him he was completely unable to negate it. In the air he was flipped around like a leaf floating in the wind and when he hit the ground ten meters in front of himself he landed on his back. It left him dizzy and he barely saw what was coming in time to get away.
Touma let out an involuntary scream as he threw himself to the side. A split second later a broken powered suit hit the ground beside him. If he had been the slightest bit slower he would have been crushed to death by the giant hunk of metal.
The Anti-Skill agent in the centre hadn't even noticed that he had almost killed Touma. Now that Touma was closer he could see the man looked oddly annoyed. He was so out of touch with what was actually going on that it was frightening. That wasn't all Touma noticed. He could also see the air shifting around the man. It looked like a distortion in reality.
Before anything else could get to him and crush him to death Touma picked himself off the ground and charged at the cursed Anti-Skill agent while holding up his right fist. The odd wind surrounding the man was shattered instantly and Touma unhesitatingly punched at the man.
He was only a few inches away from connecting when he was shoved aside like a piece of trash. Without even looking at him the cursed Anti-Skill agent had defended himself. Touma negated the gust of wind mid-air but by that point it was already too late. This time he hit the ground and rolled up without even a pause.
When he turned around to face the Anti-Skill agent again the air movement that looked like a distortion was back. Of course as an amateur Touma had no way of knowing what exactly the air movement was or why it was happening but it obviously wasn't good. He spat blood onto the ground and charged at the Anti-Skill officer once again.
The air around the cursed Anti-Skill officer exploded. That was the only term Touma could think of to describe it. It was like the Anti-Skill officer was the eye of a massive hurricane. The ridiculously powerful winds tore at Touma even though his right hand was raised and actively negating the magic. The spell was just too strong for him to negate instantly.
Eventually Touma lost his footing and was sent flying for the third time. He landed about fifteen meters away, directly in front of the Anti-Skill headquarters building. His clothing had been ripped to shreds so that he was practically shirtless. "Damnit." He cursed to himself.
The explosion of wind finally died down and the cursed Anti-Skill member still stood exactly where he had before, without so much as a hair out of place.
"I'm sorry." Touma told the man although he knew he couldn't hear him. "I'll save you when I destroy the source of this magic."
With another curse he turned around and entered the Anti-Skill headquarters.
The first thing he heard upon entering the building was gunfire. A lot of gunfire. Touma flinched when he heard some directly above him which ended with a loud scream. He could also hear a constant screeching alarm that just wouldn't stop.
Touma looked around the Anti-Skill headquarters entrance, desperately seeking any source of magic that he could find. Now that he was here he didn't know what exactly he should be doing. If he tried to look throughout the entire building by hand it could take him hours to find the cause of the problem and he would be too late for the duel to save Fukiyose. Not to mention that he might look right past the source of the magic without even knowing what it was if it wasn't an obvious setup. His phone was broken too, so he couldn't even call Index for help.
"What the hell are you doing here!?" A voice yelled at him. Two female Anti-Skills had just opened a door from a stairway into the building entrance that Touma was standing in. "This place is off limits!" She looked exhausted and her left leg was bleeding. The other woman with her didn't look that much better overall, although she only had a few scratches on her. Both of them regarded him with a mix of fear and suspicion.
"He might be one of them! He might be one of the traitors!"
"He's just a student!"
"Then what is he doing here huh!? Why would he be here if he wasn't one of them!?
"Damn it! So those bastards have even got students working for them!?"
"Wait a minute!" Touma interrupted. "I'm not one of them! I'm just a student. I'm here to fix this problem."
"Fix this problem?" The woman with the bleeding leg said. "Don't be ridiculous. Even if you are an esper there's no way you're going to be able to take out all of these people on your own."
"I don't need to take them out. I just have to destroy the source of the problem."
"These people are cursed. I need to find the source of the curse and destroy it. Then everything will go back to normal."
For a few seconds the two woman just stared at him in a shocked silence. Then they started laughing like madwomen, as if all of the stress of the last few hours had finally made them snap.
When it was over they started loading their guns with insane smiles still on their faces. "What the hell kind of a lie is that!? What a joke!"
"Did you really expect us to believe in a curse!? You're obviously working for the bad guys here!"
"No wait!" Touma tried yelling but it was too late. The Anti-Skill officers pointed their guns towards him and fired. He dived behind a nearby metal scanner and just barely avoided being turned into Swiss cheese. "Listen to me damn it!"
"Who the hell would!?"
The gunfire finally stopped and Touma sprinted at the only other stairway in panic. In a normal situation he would have been killed. In a battle between an unarmed amateur and two highly trained Anti-Skill officers with guns it would be impossible for him to win. However this was not a normal situation. The Anti-Skill officers had been running around all day fighting things that they couldn't understand and not knowing who would suddenly start to attack them. Not only were they tired, they didn't trust one another. An easy strategy to pick Touma off would be for only one of them to fire at a time, leaving no room for him to escape. However these two had been betrayed by people they trusted so much already that they subconsciously avoided relying on each other for help.
Touma ran up the stairs, paying close attention to the sound of the two Anti-Skill officers following him. Every now and then one of them would take a shot at him from below and he would throw himself against the wall. The two were constantly shouting insults at him as well.
When he got to the third floor he threw open the door and ran into the new hallway, slamming the door shut behind him. It wouldn't slow them down for more than a few seconds but he was so terrified he did it anyways.
He ran down the hallway he was in, taking random turns and generally doing everything he could to lose the two chasing him. It was just like escaping that Islamic cabal and Misaka had been earlier, although a building was obviously very different from a bunch of alleyways.
The place looked like even more of a mess from inside then it did from outside. Unconscious or occasionally even dead Anti-Skills were laying around everywhere. Bullet holes covered the walls and parts of them had been torn down entirely. Blood was everywhere. The stench was so bad Touma would have vomited if he hadn't been running desperately for his life.
Eventually Touma made a bad turn. He saw Anti-Skill officers, both of which were ignoring the destruction around them and casting magic. He skidded to a halt as fast as he could before he ran directly into them without being prepared and lost his life.
One of them, an old man, was gesturing with his hands like he was conducting a classical band. With each flick of his hands an odd green light shot out that was cutting through the floor. The strips of light were so thin that the cuts in the floor were only about as thick as a blade of grass.
The woman farther away was freezing things. Everything in a radius of five meters around her suddenly became coated in ice only to instantly melt when she walked past it. The temperature around her had to be far below freezing.
"At least they aren't flat out attacking me." Touma said. Compared to the woman who had made a tornado, the man outside who was controlling the wind, and the man who had turned the park into a jungle these two were basically harmless.
He tapped the old man on the face. That was all it took to save him.
Before the old man could compose himself Touma ran over to the woman. The freezing temperature was so bad that he nearly got frost burn. With his shirt reduced to a couple strips of cloth he was practically naked against the cold. He tapped the woman on the face as well and instantly all of the ice and cold vanished like it had never been there.
"What is going on?" The woman demanded.
Then Touma heard the old man scream.
He turned in time to see the old man collapse with several spikes of pure darkness sticking out of him. Even though he had been completely impaled there was no blood.
"What the hell!?" The woman Touma had just saved cried out.
One of the woman who had been chasing Touma stood at the other end of the hallway. A curious look was in her eye and a black orb was covering her right hand.
"She's been taken too!" Touma yelled out. "Damn it! What happened to your partner!?"
The newly cursed Anti-Skill officer didn't respond. She just raised her hand and pointed it at Touma.
"Like I'd let you hurt a student!" The woman who Touma had just saved screamed as she jumped in front of him.
A hundred black spikes shot out of the black orb. Most of them dissipated in midair without doing anything but six of them stabbed into the Anti-Skill officer and she let out a cry of pain as she collapsed to the floor. Touma had no way of knowing if she was alive or dead.
Now nothing stood between Touma and the cursed Anti-Skill officer. There was no cover he could hide behind and no doorways he could run through. "I can't block it." He admitted to himself. Even if he were to block one of those spikes he would still be skewered by the others.
"Wait!" He yelled in desperation. "I can-"
Three distinct gunshots cut him off. The cursed Anti-Skill officer collapsed forwards.
Standing behind her, with an automatic rifle held up, was Yomikawa Aiho his PE teacher and a member of Anti-Skill.
"Are you alright?" She asked him.
Touma just stared at the body. "Did you…?"
"Kill her? No. These uniforms are bullet proof, she's just unconscious."
Touma sagged a little in relief. "What are you doing here?" He asked.
"I'm a trained Anti-Skill officer, is it strange for me to be in the headquarters? What the heck is a student doing here? How did you get caught up in all of this?"
"That's a long story." Touma sighed. "Hey have you noticed anything… strange around here?"
"You mean like how half of the force have suddenly turned into insane espers?" Yomikawa deadpanned.
"I mean have you noticed any… symbols. Or a magic circle, something like what you would see in a videogame."
"I don't know. I was really only here to write a report. Why does that matter?"
"If I can find that I'll be able to put an end to this curse."
Yomikawa just stared at him for a moment before finally coming to a conclusion. "There's a security room here. If we get there we can look all over this place through the cameras."
"What if the cameras are broken?" Touma asked.
"Some of them will be… but no matter how I look at it, it will be too late if we have to search through the whole building. It's huge just from what can be seen on the outside, and it actually goes on underground for twice as long."
"Damnit." Touma cursed. "Where is the security room?"
Yomikawa pointed straight up. "Floor twelve. Let's go."
"Wait." Touma told her. He looked at the woman who had saved him by sacrificing herself and reached out his right hand to shatter the spikes of darkness sticking out of her. All of them broke apart at a mere touch but she did not get up. Thankfully she was still breathing so he doubted she was dead. Then he negated the spikes that were in the old man and nodded to Yomikawa.
Yomikawa led him to a staircase that was on fire. Without any fuel the fire covered about two levels of the stairs and for some reason didn't spread any farther than that. There was no smoke. Yomikawa cursed and started to turn away but Touma didn't hesitate to push his right hand onto it.
All at once the fire vanished and left behind no burn marks or scorched areas. "An illusion?" Yomikawa questioned out loud.
They continued up the staircase for a while until without warning the illusion of fire suddenly appeared beneath their feet again. Touma cried and tripped in surprise. His face hit the hard stone floor of the staircase and his eyes started to water. The illusion shattered again when his right hand touched it but he didn't even notice.
"Are you alright?" Yomikawa asked him.
Touma nodded and she pulled him to his feet. "Who did that?" He asked.
"Him." Yomikawa said with a gesture. A man stood in the doorway to the fifth floor. He was wearing full Anti-Skill equipment and staring at the ground with pure delight on his face. While Touma and Yomikawa watched he made an odd gesture with his hands and the illusion of fire again spread about across the staircase.
"Look out." Yomikawa said. She pointed her gun at the man.
Touma pushed it away before she could fire. "Wait." He told her again. He carefully stalked over to the man and put his hand on his face. At his touch the illusion of fire and the delighted expression of the man both disappeared at once.
"Where am I?" The man questioned. For a second he glared at Touma but as soon as he saw Yomikawa his expression lightened up. "What's happening here?"
"We're going to the security room." Yomikawa said. "We need to find the source of the problem on those cameras."
The man nodded without needing any more explanation, apparently having a lot of trust in Yomikawa. Their force of two had grown to a group of three.
When they got to the twelfth floor Touma found himself cursing his misfortune for the thousandth time that day. The place was a battlefield. The entrance floor and the third floor had only had a couple of people still standing, but here there were dozens of them. Gunfire was a constant noise, so loud it blocked out the alarm and the screaming.
"Stay close to us!" Yomikawa shouted at Touma.
The three of them managed to get about ten steps before they got caught up in one of the many conflicts on the floor. The wall directly in front of Touma burst open in a shower of dust and a very young looking female Anti-Skill member walked out of it. She pressed her palm outwards and a wall of force struck Yomikawa and the male Anti-Skill member who had moved in front of Touma. Touma held out his right hand and the wall of force broke apart.
Without looking to see if Yomikawa and the other Anti-Skill member were alright Touma charged at the girl in front of him with a clenched fist. Like all the others she made no move to defend herself and let Touma's hand collide with her face without any protest.
The girl skidded a few steps backwards at the force of the punch and tripped over some of the rubble she had created. Yomikawa and the other male Anti-Skill agent ran over to her before Touma could.
"Are you alright?" Yomikawa asked. "How much do you remember?"
"I was… in the communications room." She said. "We were trying to figure out what the problems were with our communication devices and other things."
"There's something wrong with our communication devices?" Yomikawa asked.
"You didn't notice?" The male Anti-Skill said.
Yomikawa pulled something out of her pocket that had been reduced to scrap metal. "Mine was broken almost immediately. I wondered why we weren't getting any reinforcements."
"There are no reinforcements." Touma told them. "This is happening all over the city."
Yomikawa grimaced. "What 'other things'? What else is wrong?" She asked the woman.
"We can't get out any of our unmanned vehicles to work other than the ones that were already out when this whole mess started. They just won't launch. If we had them working we could control some of the chaos but…"
"If all of the unmanned vehicles are shut down… could this be an attack on Academy City?" The male Anti-Skill member asked. "If all of the robots patrolling the walls are shut down then any invasion force could just walk right in."
"No." The woman denied. "Only vehicles belonging to Anti-Skill are affected. Everything related to security hasn't been touched at all. Whatever this is, it's an attack on Anti-Skill not any other members of the city."
The three Anti-Skill members stewed over that for a second until Touma said "That doesn't matter right now. All we need to worry about now is finding the source of the curse and destroying it. We can figure out who the magician is and what their goal is after that."
"Magician?" The woman questioned, but Touma had already started running down the halls and following the signs that pointed to the security room.
This time Yomikawa and the others let Touma run in the front. With his right hand he was able to stop any harmful magic that came their way. While he acted as a shield Yomikawa and the other two members of Anti-Skill shot any and all cursed Anti-Skill members that showed up. Although they were in an incredibly stressful situation those two Anti-Skill members were able to shoot with enough accuracy to only harm and not to kill.
Even with that system they still almost died several times. A few times they were mistaken for enemies by other non-cursed Anti-Skill agents and barely managed to avoid getting shot to death. Once a cursed Anti-Skill officer used some magic to choke Yomikawa and the others and Touma was barely able to save them all in time. Another time the floor in front of them partly collapsed and they barely managed to skid to a stop and avoid falling into the hole. Touma's misfortune meant that every single problem they could have run into, they did.
When they arrived at the security room Yomikawa punched in the security code to get in and they shut the heavy metal door behind them. Even though they were now in an area devoid of enemies and protected by a locked door none of them relaxed. They had just seen the floor collapse only moments ago after all and they all knew that the door wouldn't be that much of a threat if any of the really strong cursed Anti-Skill agents tried to take it down.
There were a hundred different screens set up in the security room. Every hallway, room, closet, and stairway had more than one camera in it. A lot of them were taken down by the fighting but there was enough left to allow them to see almost the entire building.
"What exactly are we looking for?" The male Anti-Skill officer asked.
"There." Touma pointed. The answer stuck out like a sore thumb. In one closet there was a magic circle painted on the wall that was glowing and filled with strange symbols that Touma had no idea how to read. That was the source of the curse. "Do you know where that is?"
"It's a janitor's closet." The woman said. "In the third basement level."
"Such misfortune." Touma sighed. He had been hoping that it would be close by but he should have figured that his misfortune wouldn't allow such a convenient solution.
"Discordianism." The male Anti-Skill said.
Then he held both hands above his head and several beams of a strange energy shot out in all directions.
Touma stuck out his right hand and he managed to negate one of the beams. The other two weren't so lucky. He was the only one who knew what that word signified and so he was the only one who had been prepared.
Yomikawa was hit just below the knees and fell over so that her head smacked the floor. The woman whose name Touma did not know was hit in the head. She screamed in pain as her head snapped backwards. The security room was torn apart as the beams of energy cut through the machinery.
"Damn it!" Touma screamed. He had never thought the man would be affected twice by the same curse. He ran towards the Anti-Skill woman expecting her to be dead. Instead he found her hair burned off with her completely unharmed. Yomikawa was pulling herself to her feet and he could see that where the beam had hit her shins her pants had been disintegrated too. "It doesn't hurt skin?" He reasoned out loud.
The man raised his hand above his head again and Touma charged at him. With his right fist clenched he swung it at the man to break the curse.
However before he could touch the man the floor fell out from under him.
He hit the ground on the floor below him with a cry of pain. It wasn't a life threatening fall but it was extremely painful.
He jumped to his feet expecting some sort of attack but none came. The only person in the hallway with him was a male Anti-Skill who was looking up and down with a wide smile on his face and walking around randomly. Touma had no doubt he was the one who had caused the fall.
"Are you okay!?" Yomikawa shouted from the hole above him.
"I'm fine. What about that man!?"
"Sorry. My gun got disintegrated. This might take a while."
"I'll go to the janitor's closet on my own." Touma promised. "I'll see you later."
Whatever Yomikawa was about to say was cut off by another shower of light and another cry of pain from the Anti-Skill officer with her.
Then the floor fell out from under him yet again. He realized the mistake it had been not to free the cursed Anti-Skill agent when he hit the floor below himself and screamed in pain.
This time he landed in an office. It wasn't that large but whoever worked here was obviously very highly valued judging from the amount of awards that were hung up on the walls. Touma opened the door to the hallway with trepidation but thankfully nobody was outside.
He sprinted for the staircase with all his might. Now that he didn't have three Anti-Skill officers to back him up he was twice as worried whenever he saw an enemy. One person deciding to shoot at him could be the end of him.
The stair case was for once empty of threats when Touma got to it. He jumped down stairs two steps at a time and almost tripped several times at his own enthusiasm. The floor signs zipped past him as he ran.
When at last he got down to the third basement level he had to stop for a minute to catch his breath. He had been running so much recently that he was surprised he hadn't collapsed of exhaustion.
The third basement level had nobody left standing. The only thing there was a pile of bodies, some unconscious and some dead. Touma guessed that being so close to the source of the problem had made much more people get cursed here then had elsewhere.
The janitor's closet was tucked away in a corner and empty of anything but the magic circle. It was the perfect place to put a curse, somewhere that nobody would look.
Touma punched the magic circle with a yell that expressed all the frustration he had built up over the day.
At his touch the magic circle exploded with energy. This was a spell that was so powerful it was able to affect every single Anti-Skill member in Academy City. It wasn't something that Touma could destroy with a touch.
"As if that matters!" Touma screamed at no one in particular.
The magic circle vanished with one final burst of energy and the nightmare that was affecting all of Academy City was over.
Touma panted his way up the stairs this time. He had no intention of sticking around here and getting arrested.
The female Anti-Skill agent whose hair had been burned off met him at the entrance. "Is it over?" She asked. She was holding something in each of her hands.
"For now." He told her. Even if he had destroyed the curse he still had no idea who had set it up or why.
She smiled at him in relief and held out a shirt to him.
"What's this for?" He asked.
"Yomikawa was stripped naked by the fight so she had to grab some new clothing and I decided to get this for you while we were there. I don't mind the sight of you shirtless but I thought you might want it."
Touma blushed as he realized that the remains of his shirt had been blown off at some point while he had been blocking attacks from the cursed Anti-Skill officers. He pulled on the plain white shirt with a grateful smile.
"Also… take this." The woman said. She handed him bowl of rice and meat she had been holding in her other hands. "I know it's not much of a thank you, but I heard your stomach growling and this is all I had."
With surprise Touma realized that he was starving. He had been so caught up in one thing after another that he hadn't even noticed that he hadn't eaten since before noon. He took the food and scarfed it down like a wild dog without even saying thank you.
"I'll see you later." The woman said with a smile. Then she kissed him on the cheek and left.
Touma mused over that as he left the building, barely even noticing the Anti-Skill agent who had been controlling the wind and was now digging people out of the collapsed powered suits. She hadn't been that much older than him. Anti-Skill was made up of teachers and it was common for genius students who finished college early to come here. She could have been only seventeen or eighteen. Could it have been that she was-
The time changed to 18:00.