AUTHOR PREAMBLE: Advance advisory; if any characters appear to be OOC with respect to their depictions here as compared to either novels, manga or anime to date, it's because, to put it simply, and in my humble opinion, for some of them (if not all), it's time to grow up, even a little bit (more on that later). Also, I don't intend to re-write or re-invent all the events from NT Volumes 18 to 22R respectively, but I will seek to touch on some (not necessarily all) plot points that, in my opinion, were glossed over as the NT 22R story concluded, relative to this AU setting, of course.

Just like before, except for any original characters and situations introduced within this story, all characters and situations depicted herein are © KAZUMA KAMACHI/ASCII MEDIA WORKS/PROJECT-INDEX.

Chapter 1 – An Awakening to the Dawning of A New and Peaceful Day.

It is December 31 of the current year; essentially the day after the climactic battle against Great Demon Coronzon. Up to a few moments ago, Kamijou Touma was, literally, fast asleep. Curiously, this was his first session of deep (and one might even say, sound) sleep since the hurried departure from Academy City by himself and others just over a week ago. Despite being sound asleep, it should come as little or no surprise that the events of the last five to six days played themselves before Touma's inner eye, as if he was seated before a television, or a cinema screen.

As time passed, the panorama gradually faded as Touma slowly awakened to find himself lying on a cot, cordoned off by movable curtains. As his vision became clear again, and sensation returned to his body, Touma saw Othinus seated cross-legged upon his chest, eyes closed, seemingly in meditation, with A Certain Calico Cat seemingly reclining upon his lower abdomen, generally immobile, except for an occasional twitching of his tail.

"Welcome back to the land of the living, human." Othinus remarked in a seemingly nonchalant tone, as she opened her eyes and shifted her body to stand beside him.

"Hey, Othi-chan … I take it that the fighting is all over." was Touma's reply, even as he began propping himself up to rest on his elbows, noticing that he was wearing what appeared to be a hospital patient's gown.

Turning to Sphynx, Othinus spoke: "Oi, cat … how about going to find your mistress. She'll be glad to know he's awake at last."

Sphynx seemed to hesitate for a second or two, before rising up, stretching its body as if to shake off any lingering vestiges of sleep, as well as yawning.

"Cat, if you start extending claws during your wake-up routine, things might get ugly." mumbled Touma. Sphynx seemed to pay his words little mind, but at least Touma felt no claws poking his body, as Sphynx eventually leaped to the floor, before sauntering off.

"Uh, is he really going to look for Index?" Touma asked, raising his upper body to a more upright position.

"I believe so. That darn cat and I have an understanding ….. sometimes." replied the former Magic God. "Should I recap what has taken place recently for you?"

"Sure, … another point of view just might help clear my head right now." was Touma's response, all the while stretching his arms to relieve them of the stiffness that comes with long sleep.

"Alright, then." continued Othinus, "We're currently located within a makeshift hospital, set up just on the coastline of the Irish Sea. You've been asleep for almost 24 hours, since your body was sighted collapsed upon the battlefield by Index and Karasuma Fran from above, riding one of Fran's balloons. The official position adopted by the British Government, though not necessarily stated in full detail to the public and the rest of the world, is that Great Demon Coronzon had been defeated and her plan to disperse all that exists had been thwarted. Aleister Crowley's, or rather Aleis' lifeless body had been discovered upon the wreck of the 'Queen Britannia' ship, and therefore, Crowley has been officially declared dead by the British authorities. The world and mankind are still around, notwithstanding the devastation both in England and its territories overseas, mostly at the hands of Crowley's Hazards, as well as England's use of those Divine Mixtures, seemingly put in place by Coronzon, during her masquerade as Archbishop Lola Stuart. In the end, and to make an otherwise long story short, a last-ditch combined effort of yourself plus some of your fellow Espers from Academy City, working directly or indirectly with Necessarius, the Amakusa Catholics and the British forces led by the Royal Family managed to turn the tide."

Pausing as he assimilated what was stated, Touma responded: "Well, guess the fact that we're still alive might just make up a little for what Crowley put us all through in hauling us all the way here."

"Looking back at it now, perhaps it was a good thing we undertook that excursion to your family home earlier." remarked Othinus. "On the one hand, it might have worked out even if things had remained as they were. On the other, whether you did so consciously or subconsciously, this time you actually summoned and directed the power of the Invisible Thing, without having to sever your right hand or arm. In my opinion, it was likely that plus Imagine Breaker which helped to secure mankind's victory."

Before anything further could be said, a male voice called out: "Excuse the intrusion.", before one of the curtains was pulled to one side, revealing Index, carrying Sphynx and accompanied by Heaven Canceller. By all indications, he had been treating the British Forces struck down in the final battle. Even as Touma raised a hand in greeting, the doctor spoke as he and Index stepped inside: "It appears my prognosis was correct that 24 hours of complete bed-rest would see Kamijou-kun awake again and in effectively sound condition … although given your history of visits to my hospital back in Academy City, this will take getting used to."

"Oh no, no, no ... this Kamijou-san approves of this new outcome very much." Touma replied quickly, only for a grumbling of his stomach to interrupt any further comment.

"Hmmm, … seriously, when last did you have a full meal, Kamijou-kun?" inquired Heaven Canceller, apparently nonplussed by that involuntary outburst.

"If I recall correctly, it's been at least four days, … maybe even five." was Touma's reply after a few seconds, shifting so that he sat on his cot, facing the doctor, "what with all the moving around and especially when we approached England, I don't recall Crowley letting any of us pause for a stationary meal. Chew something here, nibble something there ... that was his, or rather her answer to that."

"Er, … actually," interjected Index, raising one hand with a slightly sheepish look on her face, "just after you were cut loose and dropped into London, Aleis had the rest of us pause for a meal … she figured it would take a few hours before you would eventually disable the barrier that was blocking the rest of us from freely entering the city."

Sighing after taking in that revelation, Touma stated: "According to Othi-chan, Crowley is gone … literally, so it's probably for the best that we drop the matter. Granted if he, or rather she, was still around, I might have something to say to her, about that."

"I for one agree with the position you've taken, Kamijou-kun." remarked the doctor, "but for now, I volunteer the best thing for you would be to get some food inside of you. I believe Index knows where food can be found here. That said, I'll leave you to deal with that, while I resume my rounds."

After Heaven Canceller took his leave, Touma said: "Well, I see my regular clothes nearby … guess I'll change back into them, then we can seek out the food."

"I know where the canteen is, Touma." volunteered Index, "so I'll go on ahead to order some food, then come back for you two."

Index then rushed forward to hug Touma, saying with a smile: "By the way, welcome back, Touma.", before departing swiftly with Sphynx.

As Touma changed back into his regular clothes, which somehow have survived the trip to England, and all the fighting. Othinus remarked snidely: "I'm surprised you didn't ask me to turn away while you changed, human."

Touma replied nonchalantly: "Chances are you'll say you've seen such things and more many times before I was even born, Othi-chan."

To which Othinus replied in turn: "Could be, could be ... now that I think about it, during your hospital stay in Academy City, after your retrieval from Denmark, some of those nurses seemed to barely restrain themselves when giving you a sponge-bath while you were effectively comatose."

"Er, … this Kamijou-san's not sure whether he should be thrilled or scared at that revelation." was Touma's reply, after a few seconds.

Othinus carried on, seemingly without skipping a beat: "And curiously enough, it wasn't only the nurses who saw you in such a vulnerable position back then." Touma did a double-take on that.

Before anything further was said, Index returned, stating that she has requested some food at the canteen and they can sit at one of the long tables set up in the nearby dining area. With that, the Kamijou Household left the patients' rest area and are led by Index to the canteen and dining area, where Touma sat at one such long table. Index proceeded to the canteen station, and soon returned, carrying a tray bearing two platters heaped full of food, some cutlery (curiously, two sets), two plates and two cups containing some beverage.

Touma asked, looking at the tray: "Granted I'm hungry enough right now to eat just about anything put before me, but what did you bring us, Index?"

Index replied smoothly: "Toasted and un-toasted bread, butter, cheese, assorted sauteed vegetables, baked beans, eggs (scrambled, fried or boiled), sausage, bacon and some kind of sliced meat."

Othinus whispered to Touma: "That's surely not all for you, is it?"

"Perish the thought that this Kamijou-san could ever hope to consume so much in one sitting." Touma whispered back. Evidently, Index loaded up enough for both Touma (hopefully) and herself, and it just so happens that Othinus and Sphynx might have some as well.

As they proceeded to dine together, Othinus expounded further, while not chewing on a piece of sausage herself: "Like I said earlier, I believe the power of the Invisible Thing, whether it was used consciously or unconsciously, likely had a hand in securing victory for the British Forces, and by extension, mankind in general."

"Perhaps it did." replied Touma. "However, in light of what you, Index and I discussed among ourselves on the way from Japan to Egypt, this Kamijou-san can only hope that those actions were generally un-noticed by everyone else." Briefly, Othinus had cautioned Touma against openly flaunting the fact that his misfortune had been effectively eliminated, or of his recently-established status with respect to Imagine Breaker or the Invisible Thing.

It was probably best described as very fortunate, that with the help of others besides Index and Othinus, certain things had been dealt with in certain ways before all this madness began. And when the madness did begin, things happened, figuratively speaking at a break-neck pace: starting with a curse being imposed upon Tsuchimikado Maika, Tsuchimikado Motoharu's abrupt return to Academy City apparently upon learning of Maika being cursed, the invasion of the Windowless Building and the confrontation with Aleister Crowley, Academy City being invaded and Crowley being killed by Archbishop Lola Stuart, who was then revealed to be a demon called Coronzon, Crowley splitting himself into a billion possible selves upon his "death", the shut-down of the City to keep it out of Coronzon's hands, Touma, Index (with Sphynx), Othinus, the mysterious Mina Mathers, Tsuchimikado, Hamazura Shiage, Takitsubo Rikou and Accelerator, as well as a newborn baby girl later identified as Lilith Crowley, departing hastily from Japan with a now young, very female, and rather perverted Aleister Crowley (or as he/she seemed quite comfortable referring herself as, Aleis), making their way to invade England, et cetera.

"Um, it might not have been seen directly, Touma." Index interjected briefly, "but it is possible that the momentary presence of the Invisible Thing might have been sensed by magic-users among the British forces, even if they could not tell exactly what it was."

"Hmm, … well if so, that can't be helped, but I agree with Othi-chan; unless or until we know more about Dragon-san and its power, it's probably safer to limit the number of people who know it exists as far as possible." remarked Touma, before setting to his portion of food.

Eventually, Touma had filled himself up (food-wise) for the first time in days. Even as Index effortlessly finished off what was left (possibly a calculated move on her part), the question was raised: "So, does anyone know what's the immediate plan for us folks from Academy City?"

"We could probably seek out Kanzaki-san or Orsola-san on that later," Index replied, pausing between finishing up, "but I understand I'll be stationed at Necessarius' headquarters by St. George's Cathedral in London, while the others from Academy City are located."

Further talk is momentarily interrupted when a voice called out, in rather regal tones: "Ah, I was told I'd find you here, Touma Kamijou." In this instance, the voice was that of Third Princess Villian, accompanied by two knights, who has apparently come seeking out Touma.

"Oh, … no need to stand or any formalities," Villian stated, even as Touma and Index prepared to at least stand up in the presence of royalty, "the doctor told me you had only got back on your feet as of today."

As the Kamijou Household settled down, Villian continued: "Now that Mister Kamijou is able to move again, a guest-house has been located in close proximity to St. George's Cathedral, where you will reside until arrangements are worked out for your return to Japan. Interestingly, the proprietor, although a resident of England, had spent some time in Japan, and has a working knowledge of the language, so communication should not be a problem. The Royal Family will handle any & all expenses related to your stay."

"I guess that can work." replied Touma. "Is there any word on the others who came with me (even if he didn't refer to them by name, he was specifically referring to Hamazura Shiage, Takitsubo Rikou and Accelerator)?"

To that, Villian responded: "Regarding the others who came with you to England, so far as it is known, they're still here, although their exact whereabouts are unknown up to now. The Amakusa are to be dispatched, if not already done, to locate your companions. I should perhaps also make mention of two young girls spotted at both Edinburgh Castle and during the final battle on the 'Queen Britannia', riding a strange machine."

Touma spoke up: "I volunteer a bit of advice … one of those to be sought; the one known as Accelerator, is not only Academy City's most powerful Esper, but he can be … how else can I put it … a bit trigger-happy, so anyone seeking him out would do well to exercise a good deal of caution when approaching him. Also, regarding two girls and a machine, you're referring to two others from Academy City (Misaka Mikoto and Shokuhou Misaki), and the machine was something I believe Crowley called the A.A.A. (Anti-Art-Attachment)."

Index interjected at that point via a raised hand: "Perhaps I can shed some light on that last point, Princess. Actually, 'Short Hair' and Misaki-san had dropped by while Touma was still unconscious, with Misaka disclosing that she originally came to England to search for her father who had last been sighted in London, and Misaki had accompanied her. Both were involved in the fighting at Edinburgh Castle, as well as the final clash aboard the 'Queen Britannia". In fact, at Edinburgh, Coronzon used her prehensile hair to toss Misaki down a flight of stairs within the castle. She was hurt, but her injuries were not permanent, and she got treated by Touma's doctor, enough to restore a measure of mobility. Misaka said she planned to resume the search to ensure her father's safety, but noted that, once that was done, they had to return to Tokiwadai's current location, before a certain dorm-manager from hell made a move."

Except for Othinus, heads turned in strange ways towards Index at her describing someone as 'a certain dorm-manager from hell'.

"It was rather interesting that both girls seemed to turn ghostly white at the mention of this 'dorm manager'." remarked Othinus.

"I can't say I've met the person, but I've heard stories … simply put, anyone who's name can invoke fear into two Level 5 Espers is likely not someone to be trifled with." was Touma's response. "Anyway, as long as that machine doesn't break down or anything like that, Misaka and Shokuhou will probably make their way back home similar to how they came."

After thanking Villian for her advisory, and later on, having secured all of his personal effects, Touma, together with Index, Othinus and Sphynx, was ready to depart for London. Considering that they were capable of accommodating mass transit to and fro, the British authorities prioritized getting its railway transport system back into action as soon as possible, following the end of the fighting. Accordingly, and with a Royal Knight as their guide, the Kamijou Household were soon on their way back to London via train.

During the train ride, the devastation witnessed in London and even in Edinburgh apparently did not appear to spread to the outer countryside, so that, from all appearances, it could be considered just another day in the United Kingdom. During the train ride, Othinus, occupying her usual perch atop Touma's shoulder, noticing him to be in a somewhat pensive mood, spoke up: "Is something troubling you, human?"

Touma turned away from gazing out of the window of their cabin, to reply: "I was thinking about two things. One: I recall being told that, back in the Windowless Building, Crowley supposedly split himself into a billion separate beings, each being a possibility of himself; whatever that's supposed to mean. What happened to those billion or so beings, since it's unlikely that they can simply be hidden away?"

Index chipped in a reply: "Apparently most were transformed into the Crowley Hazards, sent to cause chaos in England and its territories during the invasion. Plus there were a few occasions where Crowley … or to be more precise, Aleis ... wielded magic against her opponents, and she apparently absorbed some of those beings to use them as fuel for those magic assaults. While I did not see Aleis' final moments even from on-board Fran's balloon, it's likely that she absorbed those which remained for her final attacks on Coronzon, as there are no reports of the Hazards being seen anywhere, since the battle concluded."

"Well, that still seems to be a stretch that a living being … even if it's a part of you … could be present one moment, and gone the next, but as we three know, I know practically nothing about magic, so perhaps I'm over-thinking the matter somehow." remarked Touma.

"Yes, you do tend to over-think things a lot, human." Othinus interjected. "If I were to hazard a guess, some of that might be a by-product of some sort of conditioning Crowley imposed on you for the nine or so years you've been a resident of Academy City."

After a few seconds, Touma spoke again: "And right there, that's probably the tip of the iceberg on the other thing that's bugging me. Now that the fighting's over, and we now have a free moment to reflect on certain things that have come to light, I'm still wrestling in my mind with the revelation that the establishment of Academy City ... the development of its Esper Power Curriculum ... the seemingly collecting of close to two million people into the City … all of it was part of some grandiose scheme for this Kamijou-san to grow and develop in some way that suited Crowley's own plans. It's almost as if everyone else … my classmates, those girls I know from Tokiwadai, Misaka's Sisters, even ordinary people living and working there … their lives, their dreams, their desires didn't seem to matter a bit to Crowley."

"It's a trait all-too-common among humankind that probably won't go away anytime soon." replied Othinus, "when someone initiates a plan like he did, it shouldn't be expected that any sort of detailed survey was taken to determine who would agree and who would disagree to its execution. Aleister Crowley was not the first to act in that manner, nor will he likely be the last."

"Maybe what might be buzzing around my head right now," Touma came back, "are questions like: What happens to those people and their lives, now that Crowley is gone? Should it even be revealed to them what Crowley's plans and intentions were? What if, just like you hinted just now, Othi-chan, they've also been conditioned, if not manipulated like I might have been to lead a life that they would otherwise not want? Would anyone, or should anyone answer for all that time, effort and energy expended in just existing like some cog in a huge machine? ..."

If Touma was going to say anything further, it was halted by the former Magic God poking him a few times with one finger in his cheek. Turning to Index, Othinus spoke in a deadpan tone: "He was about to do it again, Index."

Index sighed before saying: "You're probably right about that, Othinus." Even Sphynx seemed to glance at Touma with a look that, if it could be translated into human speech, might have said: "Stop Right There."

Silence reigned in the cabin for a few seconds before Touma spoke up: "Ah, … now that you seem to have gotten my attention, how about cluing this Kamijou-san in on whatever I seem to have missed?"

"All right, then, and I'll put this in rather simple terms." responded Othinus. "Point One: you will recall that, while confronting Crowley in the Windowless Building, it was revealed that, many years ago, he had used his so-called Archetype Controller to effectively create the division between Science and Magic, right?"

"Sure, I recall that." replied Touma.

"In which case," Othinus came back, "revealing to the majority of Academy City that they were nothing more than pawns in the plans of a magic-user, even one who supposedly abandoned Magic, would likely be met with scorn and derision at the least … even if that turned out to be the actual truth of the matter."

Touma mulled on the former Magic God's reply for a moment, before responding himself: "Can't argue with that explanation, so I've no choice but to accept it."

"Good – one down." Othinus continued. "Point Two: take your time if need be, but answer me this … at any moment did Crowley divulge his plans or intentions to you during the time you were in his City, and did he invite your consent to be a part of his schemes?"

Once again, after a moment or two, Touma replied: "No such thing comes to mind, so I'll have to say no."

"Very good, human." declared Othinus smugly. "To sum it all up concisely, you were as much an unwitting pawn as anyone else in Crowley's plans, so, even if it has been recently revealed that you were a key component in those plans, that does not make you an accomplice to them, or a willing participant in them. In addition, Crowley in all likelihood had no interest in a human being named Kamijou Touma, so much as his interest was more on this generation's wielder of the Imagine Breaker, so that, if someone else had Imagine Breaker instead of you, Crowley would have likely acted exactly as he did towards them, as he did towards you. Therefore, dismiss from your mind right now any notion that you have to somehow take on any responsibility for what happened. The only one who should have to answer or account for that is Aleister Crowley, and, to put it bluntly, he is no longer in this world. My status as a former Magic God notwithstanding, necromancy is not a specialty of mine, so I cannot say for certain whether it is possible to bring him back from wherever men's souls go when they die to face up to any consequences of his actions, or even if any attempt should be made to do so. As I said, he is dead and gone, and, so far as we know, he has not passed on his plans or intentions to anyone else to continue them, so it's better to let those plans pass away with him."

"'Vengeance is mine; I will repay.' saith the LORD." intoned Index in a rather solemn tone, before switching back to her more normal voice. "Othinus is right on that, Touma … Aleister Crowley may no longer be in this world to answer or account for all that he did while he was alive, but it's my belief that he will answer or account for it, wherever his soul may be; even if you or I are not there to witness how that takes place. We'd all do better to let the whole thing go and move on with our lives from this point on."

After a period of silence, during which he seemed to process the words of his companions in his mind, Touma finally took a deep breath and then slowly exhaled, before speaking to both Othinus and Index: "You two could probably make an excellent debating team … once more, this Kamijou-san must concede defeat regarding any argument on that point."

"It's a sure sign of wisdom when a person realizes that he or she is up against a battle that they simply cannot win." remarked Othinus.

"And by some sort of extension, should the same approach apply to Coronzon, and, as I understand it, her declaration that her ultimate purpose was supposedly to disperse or destroy all that exists … including herself as likely being the last thing to be destroyed." inquired Touma.

"Short, simple and to-the-point, yes." Othinus came back without any pause. "A more lengthy exposition can take place at another time, but for now, aside from her being an entity not of this world, Coronzon was simply operating according to her nature. Even if details of any earlier appearances in this world are likely unknown, Mankind should consider itself fortunate that enough information had been collected about her to highlight the danger involved in summoning her to this world; let alone forming a contract with her."

Silence reigned for a while before, after taking another breath and exhaling, Touma declared: "This reminds me of at least part of a conversation I had long ago with Kumokawa-sempai … I may just have to resign myself to a simple fact; namely that not everyone can be saved by my own hand or power, and once in a while, the person is the only one that can save themselves, or else be lost."

Othinus replied: "That's indeed a sign that you're growing up, human, and at the least you're starting to shake off some if not all of the conditioning I spoke about earlier."

Index, taking hold of Touma's hand with her own, spoke up at that point: "In the end, after he has done all that he can do for someone, sometimes even Touma just has to let go … plus, after all that has happened recently, I hope you're aware that it's futile to strive to save others by putting your own life or well-being at risk, and that to act in that manner would cause those who care about you … not only Othinus and myself … to worry needlessly about you."

In the moment of silence which followed, Touma's thoughts shifted to their present position. Now that he could look back, it was sheer madness on Crowley's part to drag him and the others over to England as he did, and even though they survived and managed to prevail in the end, they and the others from Academy City were effectively stranded in England, with virtually no money, no passports or travel documents, little means to contact Academy City or what was left of it, or even anyone in Japan. Then in the silence, a little voice in his own mind seemed to ring out: "It's all right … something will work out on that point. Even now, we've not been totally abandoned by England, now that the fighting is over, so don't worry much about it."

Putting that train of thought aside, Touma spoke up: "All right then … this heavy reflection session is over. Unless any of us feel uncomfortable about eating on a moving vehicle, I say we find us some food."

"Good call there, human." was the former Magic God's response.

"Mmm!" exclaimed Index, accompanied by a 'meow' from her calico cat.

With that, the Kamijou Household continued on the return trip to London.

Well, that's one chapter down ... and there will be no rush to publish the next chapter; when it's done to my satisfaction, it will show up.