Part 6: Sparks and Sparkles

Touma stepped forward like a Death God about to throw judgment on a hapless soul, or a bar keeper ready to throw out the drunkard who turned out to have no money to pay with.

In other words, he looked dangerous.

"Constantine, you bastard…" He seethed as he faced the glorious man standing some twenty meters above him. The man was perched on top of one of the metal beams leaping over the bridge that connected one part of District 18 to the other. Touma was unable to reach him from this distance. He chose high ground again… He frowned; no matter how annoying it was, it sure was an effective defensive strategy. If Touma had some way of shooting him down it would be much easier, but since he had no such ability, he couldn't do something like that.

"Oh my, what an ugly sight." Constantine smirked. "How about you try smiling, little boy? I'm sure the ladies would come flocking your way!"

Ignoring his useless comments, Touma looked around for a ladder or anything that could take him to the top of the bridge. He spotted one on the right side facing outward, but the bottom half was missing. Even if he'd been able to climb it though, there was a risk he'd be attacked on the way up, and he'd be completely exposed. Furthermore, there was no doubt his adversary would merely change his location if he did reach him.

It seemed like he'd have to rely on that.

Constantine smirked. A spray of twinkling glitters erupted from his hat as he adjusted it. "I'm sure you know why I'm here?"

Touma looked at him determinedly. If he couldn't reach the magician, making the magician come to him was the only option.

"You want this." He pulled out an item from his pocket using his left hand, and held it up. Dangling from a golden chain, was a golden cross. It was pretty simple looking for being such a sought-after powerful magical item.

Constantine looked at the jewelry for a moment, and then started laughing.

Touma frowned.

"Hahaha! Well, aren't you the valiant one." Constantine praised, putting a hand to his forehead and shaking his head as if unable to believe what he was seeing. "Putting yourself in danger to confront the opponent with an irresistible bait. Exactly the type I love playing with. However that piece of jewelry is no more than an insult to me." He grinned. "Did you think I would not recognize a fake? The Exterminating Cross is a simple item to copy. The one right there does not hold a trace of magic."

Touma gritted his teeth. He saw right through it. This made things a lot harder, since he had no other tricks to get the man into his range.

Constantine made a half-bow with his upper body; Touma didn't understand his strange gestures any more than he understood his motives. "It seems like you have misunderstood something; allow me to correct you." Constantine said. "I do not desire the Exterminating Cross. I only chase after such a glorified item on behalf of my client."

Touma frowned, and let his hand with the cross fall. Using a trick Cross had been an idea of Tsuchimikado to compel the magician to stay around. If they could make him believe Touma had the cross after all, his senseless destruction would probably halt… was their thought.

But… even though it seemed not to work, the man still didn't give any indication to be leaving.

Touma put the fake cross into his pocket again. I need to keep him here until Tsuchimikado and Stiyl finish with the limiting space. After that… Well, how to deal with the man after that would be an issue he would think about when the time came.

"This is no more than a job to you, is it?" He asked, looking up at the man. "Is the job so important to you you'd destroy an entire city to accomplish it?"

Constantine sighed. "You make it sound so boring. I only wish to have fun!" He spread his arms out, glitters of different colors spraying through the air like fireworks. "This city has definitely proven its worth in that regard; much thanks to you and your little friends of course. But it seems the entertainment has reached its peak." He smiled. "I will have to make use of what's left."

Touma gritted his teeth and fisted his hands. "I won't let you do anymore damage to the city and the ones living here!"

"Really?" Constantine smirked. "Are you saying you have the means to stop me?"

Touma raised his right fist. "I have everything needed to stop you right here!"

Constantine observed him for a moment. Then he sighed, as if dejected. "You know, boy, just because I praised you it doesn't mean I consider you my equal." He raised a hand, and a glowing light started growing in his palm, "…However, while destroying the entirety of this city would be an amusing past time in itself, I cannot take the time to do so. The oh-so-boring adults would try and stop me; it's a bother to deal with those. As such, it seems testing the limits of you dedication – excuse me, I should say endurance – will be the last thing I do before I bid my farewell."

Touma crouched slightly, sensing the change in the atmosphere as hostility filled the space between them. "You wouldn't be able to destroy this city even if I weren't here." He said. Remembering what he had witnessed of the different students in Academy City, he was positive Constantine would be beaten down before long. But the damage he could cause before that was not worth the risk. That's why: "Even so, I'm going to stop you right now!"

"That's the attitude I like!" Constantine laughed. The wind was fluttering around him, the light spiraling in his hand sparkling with magical power. "Let's see how long you can keep that conviction!"

Touma gripped his right wrist with his left hand to support it, readying himself.

"Please, a hero needs more than one pose." Constantine grinned, and pointed his hand in Touma's direction with fingers spread out. "Let me see if I can coerce you! Candeo Fulgeo!"

The next second, a massive light engulfed the street.

XXX

"There's one more over there, Saten-san!"

"Aah, right. I'm ready!" The longhaired girl put a hand out aiming for the flaming, screeching bird swooping down at them from above. The four girls had been running along the street when they were suddenly ambushed by a whole flock of these strange creatures that looked like lab experiments gone wrong more than anything else.

Luckily, it turned out they weren't very tough.

"Take this!" With help from Mikoto, Ruiko fired a stream of electricity at the flaming bird. It exploded into fire and vanished in the air as embers, like the others.

Kuroko observed the phenomena with raised eyebrows. "Whoever created those cannot possibly have been meaning to use them for combat."

"They're not that great for spying either though; it's not like they're hard to see." Mikoto added dryly.

"Maybe they were mutated crows…"

"…"

Ruiko bent over, trying to catch her breath. "Ah, I'm tired…" Continued use of this ability was quite the strain, even though feeling the rush of power inside was refreshing. Hopefully the two would balance out. "I really hope nothing crazy happens next…"

"Next?" Kuroko asked, frowning.

"Well, first you two changed bodies, then we changed abilities… ah, I bet the next thing is changing gender!" Ruiko sounded ecstatic and horrified at once.

"We'll stop that guy before he can do anything else." Mikoto said, hands on her hips.

"Right..."

"Where to now, Uiharu?" Kuroko asked of Kazari.

The flowery-headed girl looked into her PDA, then up ahead. "Ah, in that direction –" She pointed, and at that moment a loud explosive sound sounded.

"What was that?" Ruiko asked, startled. As they watched, smoke started drifting slowly to the sky from someplace further into the town, roughly in the direction where Kazari was pointing.

"A bomb?" Kuroko suggested, though it sounded like she doubted that herself. Ruiko was suddenly feeling less eager on continuing in that direction, and Kazari nervously said; "Aaah, there aren't any residents in that direction, so it's unlikely there'd be any victims…" She may be trying to find an excuse for taking another route, even though her Judgment senses would want her to search the area for casualties.

"Let's go!" In either case, Mikoto was already off.

"Ah, Onee-sama, wait up!"

XXX

"Tch." A young man with fiery red hair stumped his cigarette into a nearby lamppost. "Damn that spiky-haired kid, putting me in a situation like this…" The man was dressed in a black monk habit, and his face sported a mark that looked like a barcode below his right eye. In his left hand he held a bunch of papers that were flapping in the wind, with a strange design on them. There were several silver rings on his fingers with different gemstones inlayed.

He did not look like a student of this city.

Rather than that, he looked like someone who belonged in a satanic gathering.

His cell phone gave a whistling sound.

"Yeah, yeah…" He pulled it out with another sigh and put it to his multiple-pierced ear. "I'm on it, why don't you bother someone else?"

In the other end, a cheerful voice came. "Aaah, Stiyl-kun, you know how Kami-yan is trying his best to keep that man busy so we can put up the limiting space… how come is your tone so sour?"

"Tsk. I don't approve of relying on that kid to take care of everything." Stiyl Magnus supported the phone with his shoulder and started picking out rune cards from his left hand with his right.

"You call him a 'kid' even though you're younger than him?" The voice in the other end had a slightly amused tone.

Stiyl huffed. "Say something useful or I'll hang up."

There was a grin in the other voice. "We're good to go over here. How's your progress?"

"If you'd stop bothering me I'd be done ages ago. I have two spots left. The bastard won't be able to move outside this barrier without breaking it first. Let's hope Kamijou is able to stop him before he notices." Though he had his doubts, with who they were facing. Then again, that kid had proven his worth several times already. In all honesty, a confrontation could go in any direction. As long as he can hit him, I suppose.

"Ah, we better." The other voice said. "Kami-yan has the work cut out for him, eh? Then, give us the signal once you're ready, Stiyl-kun." Click, the other person hung up.

Stiyl made a displeased face as he stuck the phone back into his robes and started marking his surroundings with the rune cards. If that guy can keep things in check down there, we'll be able to stop that man before he destroys the entire city. It wasn't like Stiyl cared much for the city itself, but someone he cared for was currently living happily here. Even though he wouldn't admit it out loud, he felt it necessary to protect it for that reason alone.

XXX

There it is! Mikoto could see a T-junction up ahead: flashes of light were erupting from it, and loud noises like explosions. Gritting her teeth, she dashed towards it with increased speed. She reached the T-junction in question just in time to see Touma bashing his fist into a huge sparkling light, which exploded to all sides in a harmless blast. All around him, the ground was littered with craters, and the buildings beside the road sported huge damages, to the brink of being demolished. It seemed most of them were empty at this time of night; like Uiharu had said, these were not residents of any of the citizens.

"There you are!" With a pleased, yet pissed off exclaim, Mikoto strode forward.

Touma turned around; "Misaka!" Then, after reconsidering for a moment; "Err, that is, are you still…?"

"You've got a serious explanation job coming!" The girl said, stopping in front of him and jabbing a finger into his chest. "Just running off like that – who would do that in that situation? And what's up with this scene!" She gestured to the damages around them, as if they were his responsibility.

Touma scratched his head. His face was dusty, and he had several bleeding scratches all over. "Aaah, there were more important things to do back there than to explain things… In fact, there still is…"

"You're not escaping again!"

Booom! The ground beside them suddenly exploded; Mikoto looked sideways and raised her arm to shield her face from the debris coming their way. It seemed like a sparkling beam of light had hit the road and was now tearing through it like a laser cutting steel.

Touma turned around to block another beam coming their way, and the blast of air hit them with the force of an explosion, but harmless now that the beam itself was dispelled.

"What the heck?" Mikoto said from behind her arms.

"Onee-sama!" Kuroko and the other girls came around the corner, and stopped abruptly when seeing the damage to the area. The first beam was tearing though the ground between them, sending gravel and asphalt flying.

"Kuroko!" Mikoto was about to move towards them, but what was she supposed to do…?

"Haah!" Without a moment's hesitation Touma ran forward, and punched his hand into the sparkling beam, which burst into nothing at the touch.

"Watch out!" Mikoto reached out a hand and grabbed Touma's collar, then pulled him backwards just as a piece of asphalt hit the ground where his head had been a moment before.

"Oh, what great teamwork!" An amused voice sounded behind them; Mikoto turned around and saw the man they had encountered earlier in the evening standing on top of the bridge. There were glitters floating in the air around him.

She made a face. "Ugh, it's that guy again… What's up with him appearing on top of bridges like that?"

Touma looked up at Constantine and sighed. "By keeping himself to heights where it's difficult to reach him, he can create havoc without worrying about a close-range attack…" He clenched his fist. "Stay back, Misaka!" And he took off down the street, towards the bridge. If nothing else, he had to lead his attacks away from the others. If he fired more beams at once, there would be trouble defending them all.

"Hahahah!" The man in the purple suit laughed heartily. "I'd love to see how you're planning to fight me! Candeo Fulgeo!" More beams of light erupted from his fingertips and crashed into the street around Touma, sending debris flying everywhere. It didn't seem like he was trying to hit Touma head on with the beams, but rather wear him out with damage from the pieces of asphalt and gravel hitting his body.

"You idiot!" Mikoto yelled, dashing off after him. "What are you doing, charging ahead like that?"

"Onee-sama!" Kuroko ran after her, and Kazari and Ruiko hesitated only slightly before following the two of them.

"Why are we running right towards that man?" Kazari wailed.

"We have to take him out of course!" Ruiko claimed, clenching a fist in the air. "Since we're the ones with any useful abilities right now, everything relies on us!"

XXX

"Haaah!" Touma cried out as he punched out another sparkling beam, and winced as something sharp flew by and scratched his cheek. They were already on the bridge, but there didn't seem to be an easy way of getting to the top of the structure – and definitely not without being blasted off in the process.

"How are you planning to get to him?" Mikoto, who was following right behind him, shielded her face with her arm when another spray of debris came their way. There was smoke and dust flying all over now, making it hard to see their target, but no doubt he still stood somewhere above them.

"If we can shoot down his footing like last time…" Touma turned around to look at her. "Sorry to be asking this, but can you do it, Misaka?" Though they may have to use continuous fire to destroy all his possible peaks, it was either that or get blasted away. He just hoped Stiyl and Tsuchimikado were able to finish the spell in time.

Mikoto instantly reddened. "Y-you don't have to apologize to ask me, idiot – uwah!"

She jumped backwards just in time to avoid a new beam of light; it tore through the air between them and destroyed a portion of the railing of the bridge. Touma determinedly jumped forward and dispelled it with his right hand, and then turned around just in time to catch another beam coming at him; it hit the side of his hand, which he swung out desperately, and exploded to all sides. Mikoto closed her eyes in reflex as the light flashed at her.

"Onee-sama!"

"Kuroko!" Mikoto turned around as they caught up to them; at that moment someone laughed up above. She looked up, seeing Constantine revealed as the dust thinned above them. "There he is!"

"Misaka, use your railgun!" Touma stood facing the man, ready to handle any attack he may throw at them.

"Nh – that's…" She hesitated, watching the man above them.

The man grinned, adjusting his top hat with one gloved hand. "My, is there a problem?" His smile showed off so many glittering teeth Mikoto was wondering if he had more of them than a normal human. Standing there so calmly after firing attack after attack, it looked like he was just waiting for them to do something.

Mikoto gritted her teeth. Maybe it would be just walking right into his plans, but it seemed they had no choice. "Saten-san!"

"H-hai!" Ruiko came up beside her.

Mikoto pulled a coin out of her pocket and turned towards the other girl. "You need to fire at him." From her tone, there was absolutely no room to think it was meant as a joke.

"Eh – ah – haaah!" Ruiko's eyes widened, and she clumsily accepted the coin that was offered to her, staring at it like it was a bomb. "B-but how!"

"Just flick the coin away while firing all the electricity at it."

"Will that work…?" Sure, she could flick the coin, and she was able to produce electricity at will now, but still…

"We'll never know if we don't try!" Mikoto glared up at the man above them. "I'll do the calculations; just concentrate on the direction of the shot and try to focus the electricity into your thumb." Rather than try to explain the mechanics behind it, this was an easier approach to the situation. Most of the actual calculations were still done using Mikoto's brain after all; all Ruiko had to do was use it as she saw fit.

"Aaaah, hai…" Hesitating slightly, Ruiko put out her arm with the coin poised ready in front of her thumb, and concentrated. Her mind was swirling; What the heck am I doing?

"What the heck are you doing?" Touma asked, still standing with his hand stretched out in front of them, like a bodyguard ready to stop any fans from coming too close. As he looked back at them over his shoulder, electric charges started spitting from Ruiko's bangs, and Touma's eyes widened. "That's…"

Ruiko frowned in concentration as she tried to follow the lead of the power flowing within her, to focus them at one point. The charges started erupting from her shoulder, then her arm, and her outstretched hand. She felt incredibly hot as the amount of volts inside her body increased at amazing speed; it was incredible, but also unsettling. How strong will it become if I just keep on—?

"Fire it, Saten-san!" Mikoto yelled, interrupting her thoughts.

"Wha – um – o-okay! Here I go! F-FIRE!" She imagined the electricity charging from her hand into the coin, and flicked her thumb at it, just like she'd seen Misaka-san do. She felt the rush of power within her flow down her arm and out of her fingertips, like a drain pulling all of her strength out of her – the next moment, a spear of orange light left her hand like a laser beam; the shockwaves nearly knocked everyone else over, and Kazari slapped her hands over her ears at the thunderous sound splitting the air. The railgun hit the metal bridge above them and tore right through the material like it was butter, and the entire structure shook from the impact.

"Wha…" Ruiko's legs gave out like jelly; she felt both scared and amazed at once. "I – I did it…?" She could hardly believe it. The feeling when that charge went off had been incredible – and totally freaky. "I fired a railgun!"

Kazari blinked, obviously stunned. "Amazing…"

"But the target is gone." Kuroko noted, watching the empty spot where the railgun had torn through the metal and left melted ends sticking weirdly into the air.

"We used too much time to charge up…" Mikoto reasoned. Still, it was the best she could with this round-about method of using her ability. She gritted her teeth. "Damn."

Touma seemed easily able to accept the situation, but he was looking at Ruiko seriously as he asked: "Can you fire more of them?"

She blinked, and reddened. "Eh? I-I don't know, I'm still a bit shook up…"

"Seems like our gallant duel has been invaded by some troublesome outsiders." Constantine's voice suddenly sounded; he was high up in the air beside the bridge, falling slowly like a feather with sparkles all over his feet.

"There he is!"

Constantine grinned, and swung his arm out towards the bridge. "Candeo persevero!" A barrage of sparkles shot forth – exploding with ridiculous force against the bridge. Though they looked like fireworks, they were far from that friendly. It was like the continuous barrage of rockets fighting jets can fire against a target – and just as merciless.

Touma gritted his teeth and flung his hand out to dispel the sparkles that came towards them between the frameworks of the bridge, but he couldn't do anything about the ones that hit the bridge on spots beyond his reach. The entire structure was rumbling, and the shockwaves blasted them with powerful gusts of wind and heat, and sprays of debris. Kuroko grabbed onto the railing with her arms after one such blast, and Ruiko fell to all fours, clenching her eyes shut. "What the heck is this!"

"Uwaah, it's like carpet bombing!" Kazari stumbled forward when she tried to evade one sparkle flying towards her, and tripped into Mikoto when the structure shook from the impact.

"Uiharu-san!" Mikoto grabbed her hand to hold her steady, and saw from the corner of her eyes another sparkle that had sped past Touma as he tried to defend Kuroko and Ruiko – it was already too late to avoid it. The sparkle struck the ground in front of them, and they were both knocked off their feet by the explosion. "Uwaah!"

"Onee-sama!" "Uiharu!"

The next moment –

"Eh?" Mikoto's eyes widened. She was facing the bridge, where the railing had been torn away earlier, and felt the wind tug at her clothes. Ah – I was blasted off? The thought went through her head as levelheaded as if she was just observing the weather. The framework of the bridge was made of metal –

—and then the terror tore through her. I can't–!

She was falling – and she couldn't do anything about it. She could only see the bridge disappear from her grasp. How far was it to the ground? Ten meters, thirty? Her chest tightened, panic surging through her veins.

"EEEEEEEEEEEH!" Kazari was falling with her, eyes wide as she stared right down at the ground below them.

"Misaka-san! Uiharu!" Ruiko cried out in terror, seeing her two friends falling towards the ground, still on all fours on the bridge that was being continuingly assaulted by explosions. Touma was in front of her, dispelling any sparkles coming too close.

"ONEE-SAMA!" Kuroko nearly jumped off the bridge after them, only held back when Touma leapt forward and grabbed her shirt. Instead of throwing herself off the bridge, she cried: "UIHARU! TELEPORT!"

"H-How!" Kazari shouted, tears running from her eyes in fear.

"Uiharu-san!" Mikoto shot a hand out and grabbed her wrist. "Kuroko will help you!" She had no idea how many meters were left before they hit the ground; she had no time to think about that. "You can do it!"

"I – I –!" Kazari had never done this before; had never teleported another human, and barely herself. Where would they appear? Would they be okay? They were falling towards the street underneath with terrifying speed – how could she do it in time? She clenched her eyes shut, feeling the winds tear past her body. I can't think like that! Imagine it to be like parachute training! They actually did that kind of training with Judgment; though she had no parachute on her back right now, if she imagined it so, she could be able to concentrate. She opened her eyes again, and saw a container by the side of the road, just a few meters deviating from their fall. It was filled with garbage bags and wooden planks. It was their only hope. She concentrated on that spot, and felt a surge of alien power run through her veins. There was no way she could do the necessary calculations of 11 dimensions needed to utilize Kuroko's ability. All she could do was imagine the result, and hope that it would work.

Please!

The next moment she found herself three meters above the container. Feeling a rush of sudden relief, she then hit the garbage bags and her fall was halted when she hit something hard below them. "Ow!" Her elbow smacked into something hard at her side; apparently they didn't throw clothes and mattresses into this container. The road below the bridge was currently being reconstructed, and the disposal mostly consisted of old building materials and leftovers from the new ones. But a jolt through her body was a small price to pay when she had just avoided crashing flat into the hard ground. Kazari flailed her arms and emerged from the sacks, and saw Misaka-san just in front of her.

"Misaka-san!" A rush of relief flooded through her, making all scratches and injuries seem irrelevant. They were still alive. Her limbs trembled from excess adrenaline; it felt like she could collapse any moment.

Mikoto looked over at her with a nervous smile, sweat shining on her forehead. She was sitting in the garbage bags like they were a sofa, right beside the planks Kazari had seen from above. "Aaah, that was close…"

"Are you all right?" Kazari took herself forwards and looked over the other girl; she seemed okay, but… her eyes widened.

"Ah, I'm fine…" Mikoto breathed, the panic still swirling in her chest and her head still a bit woozy. To be honest, she'd never been so terrified in her whole life. "I think there's something hard in one of these bags though; I feel a little jarred…"

"Misaka-san…" Kazari vaguely uttered her name, and Mikoto looked at her; she was watching something at the end of the container. Looking over, Mikoto couldn't really comprehend what she was looking at at first. Mainly because there wasn't much to see. Rather, what should have been at the end of her leg wasn't.

Her foot was missing. Her ankle ended in the metal surface of the container.

It felt like someone had just hit the power switch in her brain and turned the entire thing off.

"M-Misaka-san…" Kazari was stunned, pale-faced. She had no idea what to do. She stared at the scenario in front of her without knowing what action to take.

"Wh-wha… ah, aha…" Mikoto nervously laughed, and tried moving her leg, to pull it out – and the pain tore through her system like a spear. "G-guaaah!"

XXX

"I'm ready." Stiyl held the phone to his ear while lighting another cigarette with a flame on his thumb. "It looks like the damage is quite severe down there." From his position, he could see the bridge as blasts of explosions were rattling the structure mercilessly, and was barely able to make out the forms of human beings on top of it. It looked like more people had been involved.

"This man is a tough opponent," said Tsuchimikado's voice from the other end. "But at least he has nowhere to run now (as long as the magic holds…). Now everything is up to Kami-yan."

"Tsk." Stiyl didn't approve. "I'll be on standby to pick up the pieces of his sorry ass afterwards."

"Haha, I bet you're looking forward to that the most. Anyway, we're activating the limited space now." With no further ado, he hung up.

Stiyl took a drag from his cigarette and blew it out into the air. "Let's see you handle this, spiky-haired kid."

XXX

Touma's cell phone made a beep. There was only one reason someone would message him right now, and his heart lifted somewhat. They're done! With the limited space in place, Constantine would have no means of continuing the destruction of Academy City. He knew this meant he had to stop Constantine before he noticed and tried to break the spell. As of right now, all effects from his magic would not reach beyond the limits, and he would not be able to leave the area as long as the limited space was in effect.

There was another problem though.

The bridge was collapsing. Though the barrage of sparkles had let up, the surface they were standing on seemed to tremble, the entire bridge creaking from the damage it had suffered. Most likely several of the supporting beams had already been destroyed from the explosions that had struck it; it felt like it was slowly sinking. If they stood on it when it collapsed…

"We need to get down!" Touma turned towards the two girls still with him. Kuroko was still staring down at the ground below, seeing Uiharu and her Onee-sama hit the garbage bags in the container with her heart in her throat.

"Ah – here's a staircase!" Ruiko called; she had moved to the other side of the bridge, and waved at them. There was a spiral staircase attached to the side of the bridge, leading downwards along one the supporting legs. It was probably their best shot.

"Come on!" Touma grabbed hold of Kuroko's shirt and pulled her with him over to the staircase. He then shoved her down in front of him, and waited for Ruiko to join them before running down the spiraling stairs himself.

"Watch out for the debris!" Touma called. The stairs weren't located directly below the bridge, but they still weren't safe from bits and pieces falling from above.

"Iyah!" Ruiko raised her arms when a piece of asphalt suddenly razed down right beside her.

They had just come some twenty steps down when they suddenly heard another sound – like a half-choked scream.

"Onee-sama!" Kuroko suddenly sped up her descent, and Ruiko moved to follow when a strange sensation flowed through her being all of the sudden.

"What—?" She stopped, and Touma halted behind her. The next moment, lightning tore into the air, uncontrolled, spitting and raging; Ruiko panicked, and Touma flung his hand out in instinct, dispelling the charges that would have hit him otherwise.

"Why are you suddenly spitting lightning!" He yelled, and Ruiko answered, just as terrified:

"I don't know! Something must have happened to Misaka-san – I can't control it!" She desperately tried to hold it in, but somehow she couldn't remember what it had felt like when it was calm.

Touma gritted his teeth and moved forward, grabbing her shoulder with his hand – instantly, the lightning cut off, and Ruiko felt the turmoil inside calm down. Before she had the chance to wonder how he did that though;

"Oh my, your predicament is getting worse and worse."

Constantine was suddenly hovering in the air beside them, a golden sparkle growing in his hand. He was grinning contently. "At this rate, I wonder if I need to do anything at all."

Touma turned his head to look at him, and the magician laughed: "I am joking, of course. Candeo 5!" He tossed his glowing sparkle towards them, and it suddenly split into many.

I can't let go of this girl and I can't block the attack! Touma did the only thing he could at the moment; kicked off from the staircase and pushed Ruiko down with him, stumbling down several steps before the sparkles hit the staircase and exploded. The stair rattled and swayed slightly; Ruiko, now panicking for other reasons, ran on downwards, and Touma lost the grip on her shoulder. Electric charges spat out and were dispelled against his hand. With the staircase and bridge razing behind and above him and a girl unable to control the lightning spitting from her in front, he was trapped in a rather unfavorable situation.

Ruiko ran down the stairs as fast as she could, feeling the turmoil of power inside lash out as if it was living its own life. Myriads of shining waves were cluttering in front of her eyes, and she was starting to feel dizzy, stumbling forward clumsily. The metal railing beside her suddenly twisted weirdly, as if pulled towards her by an invisible force – yet she had no idea how to stop it.

"My oh my, how the small fries are running! Candeo 10!" Constantine was grinning widely as he threw his hand out, tossing another cluster of sparkles their way. Touma gritted his teeth and turned around to block them, and instantly, charges of electricity zapped past his shoulder and struck at his skin, stinging him. The sparkles about to hit them directly were dispelled by his hand, but the others hit the metal staircase above and below them, and the entire thing screeched, swayed, and fell – Ruiko cried out, holding onto the railing for dear life; Touma leapt forward and grabbed her shoulder, once more cutting off the violent electricity (which thankfully hadn't been strong enough to kill him).

"Sorry!" He put his other arm around her midriff and tried to position them so they would suffer the least possible damage from the fall. There were only a few meters down now, but they were joined by the entire metal staircase and a whole load of rubble, and it all hit the ground in a mighty crash.

XXX

The road below the bridge was in the middle of being rebuilt as part of a project to make parts of Academy City look greener. This involved trading the old layer of asphalt for a new, more environmentally friendly variant, and plant trees and greeneries by the edges for scenery. It also involved having a lot of people work at the site during daytime, so there were several barracks and containers for trash and leftover materials along the road on both sides.

Kuroko climbed into one of the containers and jumped into the mountain of garbage, calling desperately: "Onee-sama!"

"Shirai-san!" Kazari cried, turning towards the longhaired girl desperately. "Misaka-san is – I don't know what happened, but – her foot—!"

Mikoto was clenching her teeth and eyes shut, doing her best to withstand the soaring pain burning from her ankle up, even if it was like trying to ignore a thousand needles in her brain.

Kuroko fought her way through the garbage bags, cursing her lack of ability, threw one look at Mikoto's leg, and gritted her teeth. "A split…"

"Split?" Kazari asked, eying the damage warily.

"Think of it as teleporting one object into another without meaning to. It's the most dangerous aspect of teleportation." Kuroko's feelings were swirling strangely. She was relieved they were still alive, but seeing Onee-sama in such pain was heart-wrenching. Though part of her wanted to blame Kazari, that feeling was quickly stomped down. If anything, she should blame herself. In the end though, blaming anyone was wholly uninteresting. That would not solve the situation.

"W-what do we do?" Kazari asked.

"We need to get her out. At this rate…" She paused, watching the foot which disappeared into the container. She didn't want to say it, but these kinds of splits, if not dealt with in time, could end up damaging the limb severely.

"How do we get her out!"

"In this situation, teleport is our only choice." Kuroko stayed level-headed, and looked over at Kazari. "You have to move her away, Uiharu."

"N-no way! How can I – what if I mess up even more?" She was appalled just at the thought.

"Ah…" Mikoto bit back a wince through the thick layer of pain clouding her head. Her forehead was slick with sweat, face pale. "It can't really be more messed up…"

Kuroko put a hand on her back as if to reassure her. "Onee-sama, please don't move." She looked over at Kazari again. "Uiharu…"

Kazari hesitated, feeling her throat constrict – Misaka-san's painful expression, the knowledge that it was she who had put her into this situation… and Shirai-san's pleading look – they all burned into her chest. She knew that, if Shirai-san still had her ability she would have moved Misaka-san without a moment of hesitation – she stayed level-headed even in a situation like this.

She gulped slowly. I can – I can also… Slowly, she put a hand out and placed it on Mikoto's shoulder. "I-I'm sorry, Misaka-san… if I mess up…"

Mikoto gave a half-hearted smile. "No worries…"

Kuroko huffed, and then sighed. "Do not worry, Uiharu. I will help you relocate her to a safe spot." She felt it was part of her responsibility for not having been able to avoid this damage when they fell. But back then she had been too terrified to actually use her ability properly. It was somewhat surprising, though she would not stop to question it, that Uiharu had been able to use it at all.

Pursing her lips tightly, Kazari gazed at Mikoto's shoulder intently, deeply concentrated. Please… please!

There was a strange sensation in her body, which she recognized as the sensation of using Shirai-san's ability. The next moment, Mikoto was gone. She hit the ground outside the container with a thump, and immediately pulled her foot up, clamping her hands around the ankle. A cut was sporting the skin all the way round, blood flowing down her ripped up sock and defiling her shoe.

"Onee-sama!" Kuroko climbed over to the edge of the container, and upon seeing Mikoto sitting on the ground still in one piece, relief flooded her chest. She was bleeding, but that was a minor thing compared to what could have happened. "Onee-sama!" She climbed out of the container, and Kazari followed, too wound up to try and teleport herself. She didn't feel like risking anymore injuries to anyone.

Mikoto was once more able to breathe now that the immense pain from having her foot crushed by the container was gone. In its place was a mere dull throb, which she could live with. The wound wasn't serious, luckily; it could probably have ended worse. A lot worse.

"I guess I should count myself as lucky…"

"Onee-sama!" Kuroko threw herself around her neck with a sob, burying her face into her shoulder.

Mikoto winced as the pain racked her leg again, but Kuroko's sobbing form forced out a gentle smile on her face. "…We're okay, Kuroko. Thanks."

A loud rumbling penetrated their ears then; like an awakening back into the real world.

"Aaah, Saten-san!" Kazari looked over at what had been a spiraling staircase just moments before, but was now mere rubble of metal and blocks of cement on the ground.

Kuroko raised her head, tears streaming down her cheeks still.

"What happened?" Mikoto asked.

"The entire bridge—!" Kazari looked up, seeing most of the bridge gone or collapsing, pieces falling to the ground or dangling from their connections high above.

With a puff of purple smoke the man called Constantine appeared on the edge of the container they had just been in.

"You-!"

"That was over faster than expected." He said, giving a small sigh, as if let down. "Is there any reason for me to stay around and play with you, now I wonder?" He raised a gloved hand to adjust the hat on his head, giving them an amused look.

"You monster!" Kazari cried, tears running down her cheeks. "Why are you doing this? Why are you even in Academy City?"

Constantine smiled at her. "Why, hm… I wonder if you'd understand. Well, it does not matter. This city provided me with an excellent opportunity; I have not had this much fun in many years. I must say it is a most delightful place!"

"…fun?" Kuroko's voice was so low it was hard to hear she had talked at all, first. Mikoto and Kazari looked over at her in wonder. Her head was bent, as if she couldn't bear to look at the man before them. "You think this is fun? You regard creating havoc in the city and injuring civilians as entertainment?"

She was shaking all over from suppressed rage, her fists trembling.

"Kuroko…"

"I will tell you one thing, Mister Vandal!" Kuroko suddenly pointed at Constantine with an accusing finger, glaring up at him. "For creating such a disturbance in Academy City, you will answer to justice! Judgment is hereby arresting you!"

Kazari stared at her in awe, before suddenly getting a determined look on her face and nodding in agreement. "That's right!" She looked over at Constantine. "We're arresting you!"

"Oh my, how dreadful." Constantine put a hand to his forehead in a dramatic posture. "Whatever shall I do?"

"You have only one choice!" Kazari shouted, fired up. "Give yourself up peacefully!"

The two Judgment members were glaring at the man lividly. In combination, they gave a rather intimidating presence. Well, except for the flowers in Uiharu's hair, maybe.

Constantine put a hand on his hat again, pulling the brim slightly down over his face. The huge grin on his face weren't lessening.

"This city…"

Kuroko gritted her teeth. "Uiharu! Take him out from above!"

"Ah, hai!" Kazari stared intently at a spot above his head and concentrated. Then she suddenly realized: "Wait, take him out with what?"But the next moment, she found herself right above the man's head. "Eeeeh, I wasn't going to—!" The short-haired Judgment member cried out in terror as she fell towards the man below.

Constantine merely grinned even wider. "…is so much fun!" He then disappeared in a puff of smoke, only to reappear on top of a nearby lamppost, red scarf draped around his body like a cape. Kazari hit the garbage sacks in the container with a dull sound.

"I never imagined I would get the chance to use my full power on mere kids." Constantine the purple-dressed man pulled something out of an inner pocket in his jacket. It looked like a handful of playing cards. "But it seems like the kids in this city is as hardheaded as they come. Then, allow me..."

"Nh – now what…?" Mikoto got up to her feet, favoring her unhurt leg.

"…to show you how the adults fight!" Constantine flung his hand out, as if to throw the cards into the air – and at that moment, a sudden streak of bluish light tore past his body with a dangerous crackling sound. He pulled back in surprise. "What—?"

"Don't think we'll let you do any more damage to our city!" Standing on the ground below the lamppost, just outside the rubble of metal stairs (which had somehow shifted their position from just a while ago), was a long-haired girl with a determined look on her face. She was dirty and scraped, and had a blue mark on her left arm, but looked like she was otherwise alright.

"Saten-san!" Kazari cried out in relief.

"How—?" Constantine sounded shocked, which in turn made Ruiko grin even wider.

"Electricity can be used for a lot of things," she said, "including magnetism! I guess knowing it was possible made it easier to use… in any case, there's no way a metal staircase is going to stop me!"

Kuroko had a heavy look on her face; "She sounds just like Onee-sama…"

Behind Ruiko, breathing heavily and seeming even more battered than her, Touma crawled out of the rubble.

"I'm glad she did figure out how to control it…" he sighed deeply. They had been lucky not to be crushed underneath the building mass, but it seemed like the electricity emitting from Ruiko had started living its own life by then, and possibly had helped them out. "Wait, am I starting to think of it as a living thing…?"

"Hahaha!" Constantine laughed merrily. "The way you struggle so cutely is highly amusing! But it is now over; with these—!" His words stopped dead midway. He had just thrust his hand out to show off his cards; however his eyes had caught onto something disturbing.

In his white glove, he held ten smoking pieces of paper. They were scorched from the top down, black edges sticking up weirdly. What looked like blue smoke was leaking out of them, twirling lazily into the air.

"WHAAA?" Suddenly, he seemed to be having some sort of breakdown on top of the lamppost. "My cards, you – you burned my cards!"

"Hehe." Ruiko put her hands on her hips proudly. "That's what you get for messing with us! (Though I wasaiming for you…)"

"But how? How could – the protection – it failed?" Constantine was obviously talking to himself, as no-one else understood a word of what he was saying.

Except: "I don't know what kind of protection you put on those cards, Constantine…" Touma stood up behind Ruiko. "But these powers you're facing here, are not magic! Your fancy defenses may just not work!" He clenched his fist and glared at the man above them.

"Magic?" Kuroko said dryly. "Even if there are such rumors circulating in the outside world, something like that is way too stupid. Of course it's not magic."

Constantine smiled, though it seemed rather strained compared to earlier. "Haha, how fascinating! Though I find it a shame to say so, it seems this is where the fun ends for now!" He pulled his red scarf around himself, which was when he realized something else. What! Limited space? It was like a cage around his mind; like spider web woven into his veins, trapping him inside a bubble. Unable to target an outside location, he would not be able to escape using magic. Who could have…? No, it doesn't matter. At this rate, I cannot retreat! Limited space was used for more than merely preventing magical activity outside an area. It also trapped the targeted magician inside, preventing them from physically leaving the border in any way as long as the magic was active. How did I not notice this being set up!

"Indeed, it ends now." Kuroko huffed, flicking one of her pigtails gracefully behind her shoulder. "You are facing a charge of assault, destruction, thievery and resistance against the authorities. You will be lucky to be sentenced to anything less than eighty years!"

"Well, what are you waiting for?" Mikoto asked, looking over at Kuroko. She was able to stand somewhat steady now, only a dull throbbing from her foot. "You just have to arrest him, right?"

"You're… right…" The flowery-headed Judgment member said, trying to regain her breath after climbing out of the container again; "Shirai-san!" She suddenly sounded very fierce.

"Yes, we will now arrest him. As Judgment members, this is our duty!" Kuroko swiftly pulled out her Judgment armband (from where!) and pinned it to her shirt. Once Kazari had done the same, they both stood proudly, facing Constantine.

"You are under arrest! Cease all resistance at once!"

Constantine stared at them. His lips slowly formed into a grin. "Heh…" A small laugh left his throat. He calmly gazed at the cards in his hand, using his magic to mend the rifts enough to stop the leaking of power. Then he stuffed them back into his suit. "I am indeed impressed." He looked down at them, a disturbing light in his eyes. "Very well. I will now proceed to exterminate you. Candeo fulgeo plures!" And then, from his raised hands with the fingers spread, another ten beams of sparkling light shot into the air and crashed into the ground around them.

Touma ran forward to dispel what he could, while the girls tried to avoid the beams to their best extent. Kazari was nearly hit by one charging at her, but managed to teleport out of harm's way; Kuroko sought cover behind the container that was outside the scope of the attack; Mikoto dashed off towards a nearby barracks for the same reason. Feeling dizzy from the pain in her foot, she leaned her back into the provisional building, and slid down to a sitting position, breathing heavily.

Ruiko, while running around in-between the beams, called out: "You're not the only one who can do fancy tricks!" And a barrage of lightning spat into the air, striking anything and everything and not even close to hitting the actual target.

Touma used his right hand to defend himself from the new assault, sweat-dropping.

"Uwaaah, Saten-san!" Kazari cried out and teleported away when the lightning strikes hit the ground close to her.

Constantine answered the counter-attack by flinging a set of sparkling balls towards Ruiko, but the lightning she emitted tore through them and made them blow up before it was intended.

Kazari covered her ears. "Saten-san!" And then her eyes widened as she felt the strange sensation inside her body surge – "Eh? What? S-Shirai-san!" The next moment, she was no longer at that spot.

"If that's how it's going to be, I'll do this!" Ruiko put a hand out towards the lamppost the purple-clad man was standing on and tried to imagine it bending downwards. As if applying itself to her imagination, the electricity became magnetism and started pulling at the metal lamp, slowly bending it sideways. Constantine hardly even noticed, too busy trying to blast Kazari, who were now repeatedly appearing and reappearing in the air around him like a bothersome fly.

"Shirai-san!" Kazari cried out in-between teleports. "Let me do it, please!"

"Above his head, Uiharu! Hit his neck!" Kuroko pointed, and Kazari appeared at the spot in question, whining in fear. It seemed like Kuroko was able to use Kazari as live ammo for her ability, though she was unable to do much besides having her appear at different locations.

Apparently growing tired of this game, Constantine pulled his scarf up and disappeared from his spot. Kazari barely managed to teleport away before hitting the electrified lamppost, and landed on the ground beside it with her back first. "Oww…"

Ruiko was gasping heavily, small charges leaving her bangs. "Man, this is exhausting…" She wiped her forehead. "I can't even imagine how Misaka-san manages to do half of the things she does…" Firing that railgun earlier had been more than enough for her. If she were to do it again, she would probably collapse.

Constantine appeared on top of the barracks nearby. "I am thrilled to see such great endeavor in such small, fragile minds." He said. "It is time, I think, to end this!"

And he thrust his hands into his suit, pulling out a bunch of cards in each hand. His laugh was insane as he held them up, some cards even fluttering from his grasp to the ground like they were insignificant in the total amount. "Let us see how much damage your wonderful city can take before –"

"SHUT – UP!" Thump! His speech was interrupted when a large rock hit the side of his head with deadly perfection. He was knocked sideways off his feet, cards fluttering everywhere.

Down at the ground, Mikoto stood breathing heavily, glaring up. "Stop showing off, you bastard."

"Misaka!" Touma came sprinting at her, legs working relentlessly. "We'll take him out before he recovers!"

"Wha – don't think I'm doing this to help you look cool or something!" Mikoto reddened, running forward to meet him head on and cupping her hands to make a makeshift ladder.

"Thanks!" Touma leapt onto the support and then sprang upwards, getting a grab on the edge of the barracks and climbing up. "Constantine!" He raged – but realized the man was already gone. "Ah – damn!" But his cards lay spread over the roof – this was the chance to cut off his powerful magic. He bent down and started smacking his hand onto all the cards in his proximity. They crumbled at his touch, like leaves drying and shriveling up, but there were so many! He called down while working: "Don't let him escape!"

"Easier said than done when dealing with someone who can turn into a puff of smoke…" Mikoto muttered. "Eh?" Her eyes widened as she felt someone behind her. She hadn't noticed like she usually would with her ability, it was more like his presence just radiated of animosity that prickled her skin and told her he was there. Looming at her from above, the bleeding, enraged face of Constantine sneered at her.

"Nh—!" She turned around, just to look right into his hand, which met her forehead.

Her eyes widened. Crap—!

"Cor vicissitudo."

It felt like a switch was flipped inside her head. Mikoto winced and pulled away from him, feeling dizzy. A cold sensation spread from the point his hand had touched, soon enveloping her entire head.

"Onee-sama!"

"Misaka-san!" Kazari teleported over before she could think, and appeared above the man's head again. Just as she was about to hit his neck however, a blast of air hit her full-force, like he suddenly emitted the same amount of energy as a flight engine. Kazari was flung backwards, but somehow managed to grab onto the man's flowing red scarf in the process. The garment was pulled off his form, and she rolled over the ground with the scarf in her hand.

As if he didn't even care anymore, the man breathed deeply for a couple of moments, and then grinned. "Damn… This is just too much fun…" He looked up at Mikoto, who was holding her head and grimacing as strange feelings flowed through her entire body, trying to back off from him at the same time. Constantine gave a small chuckle. "This is way too much fun!"

"You bastard!" Ruiko cried out, running towards them; blue charges spitting from her bangs as she prepared to fire a lightning strike.

Constantine just laughed even louder.

"Take this!" Ruiko stopped and fired the electricity; like a spear, it tore through the air – but instead of hitting her intended target, Mikoto suddenly stood in the way, taking the attack head on.

"Gah –!" Ruiko blanched and paled. "M-Misaka-san!" It had happened too quick, but... All of the sudden, she'd blasted the wrong person-?

But even after taking the hit head on like that, Mikoto seemed unhurt. Ruiko was relieved. "I guess hurting you with your own ability would be kind of weird…"

"O-Onee-sama! Why are you suddenly defending that man!" Kuroko came up beside Ruiko, looking shocked.

Mikoto laughed weirdly. "I-I don't know. Haha, I'm not feeling that great..."

"We have to stop that man, not play around!"

At that moment, Touma's hand met with the last bunch of cards; they erupted into blue flames that soon vanished at contact with his skin. Wiping his brow, he stood up on the roof.

"That should do it…" He looked down and noticed Mikoto facing the other girls with Constantine at her back. "Now what…?"

"Ah –" Ruiko suddenly felt something drain out of her; the pressure in her head and the strange sensations from the air around her suddenly disappeared, leaving her feeling lighter than before. She breathed out, feeling relieved and strangely empty, yet comfortable, all at once. "Finally…"

Beside her, Kuroko's eyes widened as a familiar sensation filled her insides – "Is this…?" She looked over at Kazari, as if for confirmation.

Kazari, standing some ways off clutching the red scarf, looked up nervously. "Our abilities changed back…" She was suddenly awfully aware of how vulnerable she was, standing in the open like this.

Mikoto let out a breath as the senses she was so used to returned to her once more. It felt like a missing piece of her was replaced, a hole in her chest filled in. Despite the strange sensation still lingering in her body, it definitely felt better.

"Well, well," a voice behind her sounded, and she stiffened abruptly, the hairs in her neck standing on end. "So you've destroyed my cards. I wouldn't have expected that from mere kids." Constantine's grin was close to splitting his skull in half. "Sorry to say, this just makes the current situation more favorable to me." He raised a hand to adjust his hat. A drop of blood ran down his temple, from where the rock had hit him, like an eerie picture. "Did you know soul manipulation can be used for other means than trapping souls in cards?" He grinned at Mikoto, who shuddered, feeling his hand touching her head again like a lingering illusion.

Touma gritted his teeth. "Give it up, Constantine! You've nothing left to fight with!" Or so he hoped.

"Oh, how naïve!" The man sounded exceptionally gleeful. He threw a hand out, like a majestic pharaoh addressing his kingdom. "I have more than enough options left to me; now let's see you destroy each other!"

"Gah!" Mikoto stiffened as a strange sensation settled in her body – like a pull on her mind, impossible to avoid. "N-no way—!" Against her will, her arm raised and pointed at Kuroko and Ruiko. She tried to fight it with her entire being, but it was like her body acted on a subconscious level.

"Onee-sama!"

"G-ge – get out of the way!" Mikoto panicked as the sparks leapt from her skin without her consent, and suddenly exploded forth in a lightning strike aimed right at the two girls.

Her warning had not been taken lightly however; Kuroko had already grabbed Ruiko and teleported away before the lightning struck through the air. Kazari, standing off to the side with the red scarf in her hands, stared with huge eyes when the two of them appeared beside her.

"What's going on?" Ruiko asked, heart beating harshly. "Did you do something to piss her off, Shirai-san!"

"How rude." Kuroko huffed.

"What – what's happening?" Mikoto muttered, trying to focus. It was like her mind was given different commands at rapid intervals – to fight and hurt– "N-no way! That's insane!" She put her hands to her head, as if to squeeze out the strange impulses that filled her insides like slow spreading poison.

Constantine sighed. "Seems like the power has been weakened due to the damage earlier. Well, no matter. You'll do good as my new toy either way!" Laughing, he put an arm out. "Now, let's put on a marvelous show!"

"Guah—!" Like a needle, something pierced Mikoto's mind.

"The hell!" Touma charged ahead, after climbing down from the barracks. "You've caused enough trouble, Constantine!" He knew the magician's source of power lay in his cards; if he still had the means to do anything magical, he must still have some cards left. Maybe those burnt-out cards were still usable – they hadn't been part of the ones he'd destroyed up there. He raised his fist with a roar; but Constantine, seeing him coming, just smirked.

"HAAA-Eh?" As if he could sense trouble, Touma looked sideways, and noticed just in time the unmistakable glimmer of a coin flicked into the air. His temples suddenly dripped with sweat. "Wait a—"

KA-BOOOM! The supersonic weapon was fired before he could finish the sentence. It hit home with deadly perfection; luckily for Touma, his right hand was right in the trajectory, and he had thrust it out on reflex the moment he realized what would happen, which turned out to be not a moment too late. Instead of piercing his body, the railgun hit his hand; the blast of electric heat exploded to all sides, while the half-burned coin span into the air. The force of the impact knocked him backwards off his feet, and he hit the ground harshly and slid several meters; there he lay for a moment, gasping for breath, his insides frayed with terror, his limbs hurting from sliding over the asphalt, and ears ringing from the explosive noise. "Guh-" He sluggishly sat up. His arm ached and throbbed, as if he'd just tried to catch the pitch of a professional baseball player barehanded. "T-that was dangerous…" There was a bleeding mark in his palm where the coin had hit. He wasn't too keen on trying that again if the power was upped.

Kuroko gaped; the other two couldn't believe their eyes. Not only had Mikoto just fired a railgun directly at another person, for no apparent reason – but that person was getting to his feet, scratched, bleeding and dusty, but seemingly otherwise okay.

"Aaaah, what's Misaka-san doing?" Kazari asked, blinking.

Mikoto breathed in and out harshly, her heart thumping against her chest. She watched that idiot as he got to his feet, her insides swirling in chaos. There was no clear thought pattern to follow; she had no reason to do what she did, yet stopping to ask questions was not possible.

"Misaka…" Touma started addressing her; she gritted her teeth, sparks of electricity leaving her bangs. He faltered. "Eh… it would be better if we worked together to take out that guy… kind of…" Seeing her expression, his face paled slightly. Somehow, it didn't bode well.

"I don't know who that moron is or what he can do…" Mikoto started, fingers twitching as the currents started spitting from her entire body, "but right now, I…" she gritted her teeth even tighter, "I'll beat you once and for all!"

Touma threw his hand out as a lightning strike charged his way; it hit him and dissolved into the air with a blast. Apparently, his immunity to her ability was as strong as always.

"Damn you irritating moron!" Mikoto fired another lightning strike, and another, and a third – a row of flashes shot through the air towards Touma, all aimed at different parts of his body, like an attempt to overwhelm him – he staggered backwards while trying to block them all, but when he blocked to the right, one zapped past his left shoulder and rifted the shirt, and another struck his left knee, momentarily paralyzing his leg.

"Ugh-!"

"Hahaha!" Constantine laughed heartily. "This is first-class entertainment!"

"Onee-sama!" Kuroko cried out. "What are you doing! Oneee-samaa!"

Mikoto paid her no mind, too focused on the jackass in front of her to care about their surroundings. With the voltage around her growing steadily, she gathered electricity in her hand like a grenade, and then thrust it towards the spiky-haired guy in one devastating finish to follow-up the barrage of smaller shots – Touma raised his hand again, and the intense electricity crashed with his skin, scattering in all directions. He gritted his teeth and supported his right hand with his left as the force against him increased – the heat from the electric currents burning against his fingers.

"Gah-!" His eyes squinted at the brightness, his leg shook.

All the while, Constantine laughed heartily.

Kuroko had no idea what to do. This was completely beyond her. "Of all times, to be fighting him now…" And with such ferocity too; it reminded her of a certain duel that had taken place this summer, when an entire park had suffered damage from the clashing of powers. Sometimes it was hard to tell what went through her Onee-sama's head.

"Aah, Misaka-san is acting a bit strange, isn't she…?" Ruiko looked at the laughing man standing outside the danger zone of the violent electricity. "You think that guy is behind this?"

"Aaah!" Kazari gasped. "Maybe he's mind controlling Misaka-san!"

"That is ridiculous…" Kuroko started, but when the other two gave her deadpan stares, she trailed off; "Eh…"

"If he's the one who made you guys change bodies and switched our abilities around, why can't he make Misaka-san do strange things as well?" Kazari asked critically.

"Oh!" Ruiko perked up. "Perhaps it's another switchover! You know, like a change of sides!"

"That is…" Kuroko stopped before even saying the next word this time. Scratching her head, she sighed. "Indeed, while Onee-sama is not unlikely to act this way, it seems highly untimely for it to happen right now…"

"Then that means we need to stop him!" Ruiko exclaimed, clenching her fist. "If he's the one controlling this, if we knock him out it should stop!"

"You sound a little too sure of that…"

"Just listen up; I've got a plan!"

XXX

When the electric genocide finally ended, Touma was heaving for breath; his fingers twitched, feeling like they were burned to the bone. Luckily, it didn't look to be worse than a normal burn. It would still hurt for days though. He slowly tried flexing his fingers, and hissed at the pain. "Misfortune." He sighed. He then looked up at the girl in front of him. "Aaah, are we done now…?"

Mikoto was glaring at him like a wrestling champion about to defend her title from a nobody challenger, sparks leaving her fingers. "You're still standing." She said, as if this answered his question perfectly well.

Maybe it did.

The electric currents emitting from her hands struck into the earth; black dust swirled up, in a recognizable pattern.

Touma pulled back. "Um, are you sure this is completely necessary…?"

Mikoto didn't bother to answer; she merely let the iron sand form into two swords in her hands, and swung them with unsettling familiarity.

"Ooooh!" Constantine cheered.

"I really don't think this is necessary!" Touma shared his opinion, but it obviously wasn't paid any attention to. Mikoto charged forward, eyes locked onto Touma as her target. It seemed her wound was far from her mind at the moment.

"You better fight me seriously this time!"

"I don't really want to find out how well you fight with those!" Touma crouched, and barely dodged the first swipe when it came for him; he felt the air blast past his skin, making his hairs stand on end. The next swing came from the other side; he raised his hand on instinct, and the iron sand exploded on contact, disintegrating into black dust. He didn't have time to be relieved before the other sword struck at him again though; he dodged backwards, and the weapon grazed his shirt and left a rift the length of his hand near his midriff. "Ack—!"

Mikoto advanced, the sword he'd disintegrated forming back into her hand. "Don't think you'll beat me that easily!" She grinned and attacked again. Touma kept dodging the strikes, and countered with his right hand whenever he could – with two of them however, he was outnumbered, and they kept regenerating every time he dispelled them. His shirt took more damage as he barely escaped the frightful swipes, the skin on his left arm was grazed, and blood dripped to the ground – and suddenly, his back hit the wall of the barracks.

He looked up, seeing her triumphant grin, and realized he was in a very bad position.

"Got you!" Mikoto struck down with the sword in her right hand, and Touma did the only thing he could think of – leapt forward, hand upraised, catching the blade head-on. While the sword exploded in a myriad of dust, Mikoto swung the other one at him, and Touma pulled sideways, throwing himself to the ground to her empty right side. His shirt was torn again by the sword, but he escaped being grazed any worse. Rolling over the hard ground, he got to his feet and gasped for air, turning around to face his opponent, hand hurting, but ready. He saw movement in the corner of his eye, and suddenly feared Constantine had decided to join in –

"I'm not done!" Mikoto, looking like she was having the time of her life, was already following up with another attack; the sword in her left hand split into several chains of iron sand, joined with the dust from the first sword, and charged at Touma from five different directions. He watched as the dangerous things closed in on him, his mind filling with thousand instances of 'MISFORTUNE!'

And then someone appeared right above Mikoto, arms outstretched and a brilliant smile on her face: "Oneeee-samaaa!"

Kuroko crashed into Mikoto's back and wound her arms around her neck, like a girlfriend throwing herself at her lover after not seeing them for weeks.

"Gah-!" Mikoto, surprised by the sudden assault, fell forward and lost concentration on the iron sand; it deviated into completely different directions, striking into the ground and disintegrating, and Touma was able to dispel the one that came too close for comfort.

"Woooh, excellent!" The voice of Constantine sounded gleeful, clapping his hands in approval. Apparently he was most content with being entertained for now. His arrogance and self-assurance was making Touma feel sick.

"Onee-sama, surely you realize this is meaningless." Kuroko purred, sitting atop Mikoto on the ground. "You can have your fun later with Kuroko…" She looked up at Touma and smirked. "I'll take care of this; you go deal with that gentleman over there."

Touma hesitated only for a second before taking her offer; while he wouldn't want anyone else to get hurt, the teleporter would be able to hold off the Level 5 at least for a while. "Thanks, Shirai!" He then ran off, straight towards the magician. "Time to beat you down, Constantine!"

"Wait, damn you!" Mikoto yelled, moving to get up; but a handful of spikes settled into the ground around her, trapping her shirt and blazer down. "Wha—" Her eyes widened.

"I would be insulted were you to ignore me even now, Onee-sama." Kuroko smirked, still sitting on her back. "If you continue to be naughty, the punishment will get much worse, no?" She held up a spike, as if foreshadowing something grim.

Mikoto, still on her stomach, clenched her hands into fists and gritted her teeth. "I won't…"

"What?"

"I won't let you get away that easily, damn yooou!" Electricity struck out; Kuroko was effectively rattled and fell to the ground in a heap. The spikes were pulled out of the ground by magnetic force, and Mikoto got to her feet again, breathing was feeling dizzy and confused, and was suddenly unable to tell what she had planned to do next. Had there been a plan?

"O-Onee-sama…" Kuroko gargled, sluggishly sitting up on the ground. "Even if you are naturally hotheaded, this is a bit on the excessive side…"

"S-shut up!" Mikoto cried; her thoughts tumbling all over. "I can't think when you're talking!"

"My, it seems Onee-sama has fallen to the level of mindless destruction." Kuroko smirked.

Mikoto slowly shook her head. "I don't… I…" But it was hard to focus her thoughts; they were all in shambles, telling her to do all kinds of things. "Just – just shut up!" She yelled, not even sure who she was talking to anymore. "You're so annoying!" Her power struck out, a lightning strike sent in Kuroko's direction. Kuroko teleported out of its trajectory and appeared right behind her.

Mikoto, surprised at her own actions, hurriedly turned around; "Ah – I –" but before she could say anything sensible, Kuroko put a hand on her shoulder.

The next moment, Mikoto found herself on the ground at least ten meters away from the teleporter, nearly losing her balance from the surprise – and someone moved in from behind. "Sorry, Misaka-san!"

"Huh?" Before she knew it, something red and soft covered her eyes up, and was wrapped around her head like a turban. "What the—?" She could see nothing but red cloth, and it smelled of men's perfume, making her dizzy.

Then someone else stood beside her, and her hands were grabbed and quickly cuffed at her back. Her initial reaction was to let out electricity and defend herself – but she pulled it back, refusing to do it – and that gave Kuroko the leeway needed to finish the job and teleport her into a nearby container.

"Gwah!" She hit the garbage bags that were all but feather-soft with her back first.

"I am sorry, Onee-sama, but at this point in time there is no other solution." Kuroko said, though Kazari thought she looked awfully pleased nonetheless.

Mikoto cursed. She tried to pull her hands free, but there was no use; Kuroko's handcuffs weren't toys that could be destroyed by human strength alone.

"N-now what?" Kazari asked. She felt slightly troubled that they had just thrown away their own friend, but there was no arguing that as long as Mikoto tried to fight them and not help out, it was safer to get her out of the way.

The way they had done so still baffled her however. Leave it to Saten-san to come up with something like that…

"Over here!" Ruiko called for them from another container, where she was hauling garbage bags over the edge to drop them on the ground. "There's lots of stuff in these bags!"

"Excellent, Saten-san." Kuroko grabbed Kazari's arm and teleported them both over before the other girl had a chance to prepare herself. While the flowery girl stumbled forward at their new position, Kuroko stood with hands on her hips and inspected the goods. "This will certainly do. Let us proceed with the plan."

XXX

"Raaaah!" While the girls pulled off their bravado plan of isolating the stray Level 5, Touma charged at Constantine, fist raised and ready to punch the living daylights out of him. The magician grinned at him even as he advanced, making no indication to try and run off.

"You still insist on challenging me? Aren't you biting off more than you can chew, BOY!" He pulled his purple top hat off and put his hand inside, pulling out what looked like a hand grenade. He tossed it in Touma's direction, and it exploded in the air between them. Touma winced and slowed his approach, using his hand to block the explosion before him.

Constantine's voice sounded content. "I would love to exchange a gentleman's blows with you; however…"

"Yaaah!" Touma burst through the smoke and dust with his arm raised and fist pulled back, dirt and grime covering his skin, scratches all over his face and his shirt in laces, but fire burning in his eyes –

"…sadly, I don't see the need to." Constantine lightly tapped his foot to the ground, and a sparkling blast erupted below his shoe; he shot forward with inhuman speed, crashing right into Touma in his charge. Their collision sparked a shattering sound as Touma's right hand came in contact with the air around Constantine, before he was knocked off his feet from the impact.

While he stood on all fours coughing, Constantine slid to a halt behind him.

"Seems like you're strong enough to break through my barrier." The magician said, dusting off his sleeve. "As if it matters!" And he kicked off from the ground again, another blast of sparkles shooting him forward. Touma gritted his teeth and threw himself out of the way, getting to his feet once more, and charging towards the magician.

"CONSTANTIIINE!"

XXX

"What the hell is going on down there?" Stiyl sat on the curb of the street, looking down at the scene inside the imaginary bubble they had created – the limited space that covered roughly 400 meters in all directions. He watched the fight unfolding below while lighting his tenth cigarette. Though he may be inclined to help out, he had a feeling adding more people to the fray would only deepen the chaos. Besides, it took most of his power to keep this barrier up.

Giving a sigh, he looked up into the sky. "God, why am I helping this guy again…?"

XXX

Mikoto lay surrounded by garbage bags, concentrating intently on her ability; she was using it to melt through the handcuffs keeping her hands trapped at her back. She had for a moment considered burning away the scarf on her face to be able to see, but she didn't want to risk it catching on fire while she had her hands bound. Melting the handcuffs weren't an easy task either though; she had to avoid setting fire to her clothes or anything near her hands.

Her insides throbbed from chaotic feelings and thoughts, and she gritted her teeth against them. Damn that idiot... Damn them… She drew a sharp breath and closed her eyes, but the thoughts that troubled her had already moved on when she tried to focus. Rather than try to sort through the chaos rampaging her head, it was easier to hang onto something familiar, and the urge to fight that spiky-haired boy qualified perfectly for that. Damn him! The handcuffs were weakening; soon it'd be possible to break them apart. I'll beat him up for good!

XXX

Touma charged forward for the umpteenth time, still as furious, despite his damages. Constantine smirked and swung his hat in his direction; from its deep inside, beams of sparkles shot forth and crashed into the ground between them. Touma crossed his arms in front of his face as the debris sprayed over him. His skin already carried numerous bleeding scratches and burns, his shirt had definitely seen better days, and his energy was starting to run out from days with little sleep and much activity, not to mention this non-stop beating he'd taken. Yet he wasn't about to give up.

"Are we having fun yet?" Constantine yelled, sounding like he was having a very good time. Through the dust the form of the magician came charging towards him again, blasted forward by another burst of sparkling magic behind his feet.

Touma raised his fist and leapt forward to meet the man head on. Constantine smirked and pulled sideways mid-charge, Touma's knuckles merely grazing his long hair as he flew past him – Touma stumbled forward, cursing his bad luck.

"Don't be getting desperate now!" Constantine turned around and helped Touma on the way to his ground with a kick to his back.

"Dah—!" Touma hit the ground and lay gasping for air for a moment. His insides hurt, and his arm was aching like it had been twisted in a torture machine. He gritted his teeth and clenched his fist; the fingers were trembling. I can't let him go! He must have some more cards left – if I don't stop him, he may— He put his hands below him and started getting up – but Constantine put a foot on his back and pushed him back down.

"Now now, don't be so hasty." The man grinned. "If you're not feeling too good you should lie down and rest for a bit, no? It would be terrible if you were too exhausted to entertain your girlfriend later on." He grinded his foot into Touma's back, laughing.

Touma flung his hand out and grabbed Constantine's ankle.

"Hm?" The magician looked at him sourly. "What are you doing, rubbing your dirty hands off on my suit?" He raised a hand towards Touma. "I believe it is due time I wipe your face off the surface of the Earth."

Touma saw the sparkles gathering in his palm and felt his insides coil up. This guy weren't the same as Mikoto or the other esper's – his power originated not from his brain, but from his soul cards. It didn't matter if Touma's hand touched him directly; unless he could destroy the source of his power, it wouldn't make a difference.

"Damn it!"

"Hahaha!" Constantine laughed, "Don't start crying now – gah-?" His surprised outburst came not from some sudden action Touma made. It stemmed from the sudden assault of stone and wooden planks that struck his body after appearing from thin air right above his head. As they crashed onto him, the hat on his head was knocked off, and he received more than one strike to his face and shoulders. Constantine raised his arms in reflex to shield his head, backing off of Touma.

"It is time we finish this, no?" Kuroko suddenly stood right beside Constantine.

The man turned towards her, but before he could do anything she had kicked his knee with an elegant, yet obviously hurtful precision.

"Ack-!" His leg failed him, and the next second he was gone, as the teleporter used her ability on him.

Touma blinked; Kuroko then disappeared as well. He sat up, and saw that the magician now was sitting below a nearby container, and the two other girls were standing above him, attacking with trash bags and loose debris. As the magician tried to cover his head with his arms in the face of this onslaught, Kuroko appeared in front of him and pulled out her spikes. Next moment, the magician was secured to the container by the shining metal projectiles. He looked less magnificent with his hair a mess, covered in dust and grime, bleeding wound on his head openly showing without his hat to hide it, and suit in disarray.

"Well, Mister Vandal." Kuroko stood before him, looking exceptionally pleased. "Seems like your entertainment is over."

"Incredible! Marvelous!" Constantine laughed, and pulled at his arms without luck – then he opened his hands, and a glowing ball of sparkling light started growing in both of them. "But I will not be beaten by mere kids!" An insane grin on his face.

"Here you go!" Ruiko and Kazari dropped another present down at his head – the large piece of asphalt hit his skull with a daunting sound, and broke into two pieces. The sparkles vanished in the air as the man was promptly knocked out.

Touma breathed out, "Finally…"

– right when another daunting noise reached his ears. He looked up just to have a streak of lightning shoot past his neck – he froze up like a rock, sensing his life force sighing in relief.

"Don't think I'm letting you go just yet, jerk!" Mikoto had barely climbed out of the container before launching the first attack. Her hands were free once more, the destroyed pieces of the handcuffs left behind in the container behind her, as well as the scarf that had covered her eyes – in other words, she was able to fight once more.

Touma sweat-dropped. Though she had a tendency to challenge him to pointless duels at seemingly random points in time, he had a feeling this wasn't perfectly natural. He got to his feet, and swayed on the spot. Cursing his lack of energy, he called for the teleporter. "Shirai-san!"

"What?" Kuroko, who were watching as the other Judgment member used her handcuffs to secure the vandal, looked over at him; and saw him blocking another lightning strike. "Onee-sama!" Her surprise was perfectly genuine. She hadn't thought their strategy would permanently disable her roommate, but she would have thought it'd knock some sense back into her.

"Shirai-san, the cards! He's got to have some still – destroy them!"

"Eh?" Kuroko blinked.

"You mean these?" Ruiko reached into Constantine's suit and pulled out a bunch of burned, damaged cards that smelled lightly of perfume. "Hey, isn't these the ones I hit earlier?"

"Destroy them!" Touma yelled again, running towards them; he was stopped by the blast of electricity charging past his nose, and raised his hand again to block the next attack, even fiercer.

"Onee-sama, what are you doing!" Kuroko cried out over the sound of high voltage. "Stop it, Onee-sama!" It didn't seem like her voice reached the other girl at all however.

Mikoto utilized her magnetism on the container behind her while Touma was still blocking the electricity she shot at him. The metal container slowly rose from the ground like an ominous giant waking from its slumber. Touma gulped. If he was hit by that thing, there was no doubt his Imagine Breaker wouldn't help much.

Blinking, Kazari was the first to resume useful thought. "Aah, Saten-san! The cards! We need to destroy them!" She had no idea why, but if that man really was the reason for Misaka-san's strange decision to fight them rather than help them, it seemed like knocking him out wasn't enough to stop it.

"Ah, hah? Well – like this?" Ruiko used both her hands and started tearing one of the cards. It was tough, as if it was made of something other than paper – but at last she managed to make a rift along the burnt edge, and pulled the card apart down the middle.

It instantly burst into blue flames, and she dropped it in surprise. "Uwah!"

"Saten-san!" Kazari gasped. They watched as the card burnt itself up into ash, the blue flames vanishing into the air.

Constantine blinked, his eyes opening.

The first thing he saw was Kazari and Ruiko working on tearing up more cards with their hands.

"Wha – hahaha!" He laughed loudly, as if the sight was hilarious. "This is incredible! Genius!"

"And – there!" Kazari tore the last card into two, and the pieces fluttered to the ground engulfed by blue flames.

A sudden dizziness struck Mikoto, as if something pulled itself out of her brain. "Uh – what was that…?" She looked ahead, and saw the beaten, bleeding form of Touma – and suddenly realized what was going on. Her surprise cut off her electric ability, and the container that had been hovering behind her fell back to the ground with a bang. "Wha – what?" She stared at the guy who stood breathing heavily and looking like he'd crawled through a war territory. She blinked, and then reddened. "W-wh-what the heck was I –!"

"Aaah, you finally came back…" Touma sighed, wiping his brow. Every joint in his body ached and cried out for rest.

"Onee-sama!" Kuroko cried out in relief.

"Kuroko – damn, that moron made me – where is he!" Looking over, she noticed the purple-clad man sitting behind the other girls, hands cuffed at his back and apparently busy laughing his heart out. Mikoto's face fell. "What's with this guy?"

"Hahaha!" Constantine cried and laughed at the same time. "Hahaha! This is priceless! Twenty years of collecting destroyed just like that! Hahaha!"

Touma came over, looking down at him. "This sure is a weird one…"

"I can't believe I was this careless!" Constantine continued to laugh. Tears ran down his face, but it was hard to tell whether he was really upset, or if it was due to him laughing so hard. "To think a bunch of kids – no, this is too much! I can't take it! Hahaha!"

"Err…" Ruiko and Kazari's faces told of complete confusion.

"Is he delirious?" Kuroko asked of no-one.

Mikoto, coming over to them, put her hands on her hips. "He's crazy, that's what. I wouldn't be surprised if he's been drugged beyond reason."

Touma rubbed his neck, looking at the laughing and crying man, and then sighed. "I don't even know what to say to this one... such misfortune." He muttered. "In that case," he raised his bleeding, damaged fist, almost apologetically, "I guess I'll just skip right to the punch."

WHACK!


Note:

So after finishing the story once, and then adding another half a chapter, it is finished once more.

We even got a real fight scene at the end, sort of.

Regarding Touma: In the novels, he's always referred to as Kamijou. Not only when characters talk about him, but also from his and the narrator's point of view – even inside his own head. I have no idea why this is the case, and since it feels unnatural to copy the novel in this regard, I call him Touma. Actually, this has conflicted me greatly. I'm sad for Kazuma Kamachi for not indulging deeper into the characters and explain stuff like that. Maybe Touma has some sort of complex about his first name? Or is it normal for Japanese to think of themselves referring to their last name? (Though Mikoto doesn't…) Of course, I realize the novels aren't exactly directed at my age and/or mental-state group, so I'll just have to live with it. As long as the characters and the setting continue to amuse me though, I find it enjoyable to write fan fics about it.

Regarding Touma blocking the railgun: I know there's a lot of discussion around this subject. Some say 'of course he can, the railgun is a result of Mikoto's ability after all! If he cancels the electricity powering it, the coin will stop! Besides, the novels says he can!' and others say 'once it's fired the railgun is no longer part of her ability – besides, the coin itself is still dangerous even if he cancels the power shooting it forth, since it's already gained that much speed! If she used magnetism to throw a container at him, would he be able to block the entire container by dispelling the magnetism used to toss it? Think not!' To be honest, I find myself agreeing more to the last one in terms of logic – destroying the gun won't stop the bullet that's already fired, and we are talking about a coin travelling at three times the speed of sound, which would hurt a little if it hit you – but since him blocking it is canon (he does so in the Railgun manga after all), I compromised. I feel it worked out pretty well.

I had no time to read through the chapter once it got onto FF, so any swallowed words and oddities have been blissfully ignored. If you see any, please tell me. I also forgot to run spell check =S

Words and terms

Persevero (Latin) = Continue steadfastly

Fulgeo (Latin) = Beam

Candeo (Latin) = Sparkle

Cor (Latin) = Heart, soul

Vicissitudo (Latin) = Alteration, change

Stay tuned for boring epilogue. (How can epilogues be anything but? Sometimes they foreshadow coming events in a sequel, sometimes they make no sense, and sometimes there is no epilogue and everything ends in loose threads. In either case, it always means the end of the story, and everything cool and amazing has probably already happened. Of course, I will do my best to make it as boring as possible.)

Merry christmas!

PS: I've started writing the sequel to ACDI. New bad guys, new plot twists, new headaches. If you have anything you want to see (or rather read), feel free to message me with your ideas. No promises on what will be included or when it's finished or anything of the sort: I have no idea.