Three million words.
I thought I would have something to say or some kind of remark, but this sort of crept up on me without me realising it. As a result, I can't really say anything except that I really want to thank everyone who has been on this journey with me thus far. I know I'll give the usual thanks at the bottom, but I really wanted to especially thank everyone who has made it this far.
But, even if this is a milestone, with this chapter name, I think you can tell how for those who suddenly start reading the three million words, that this would be a massive spoiler.
Whatever the case, just from the character 'focus' of this chapter, I hope, if anything, it blurs the lines a bit. Sort of like "Who is the focus for this character arc supposed to be? Shutaura or Arisa?". Because if you sort of had that idea, then I think you've touched a bit on the internal identity struggles Shutaura and Arisa are having this arc and also, in part, the struggles of Touma too.
But that's enough from me for that! We'll get into the Q & A:
LoneVirgo98: thanks for reading the chapter! I'm glad that I managed to evoke some sort of emotion from you with the chapter; that in itself makes me day! I hope this chapter excites you in the same way.
Kamijou Touma1: At this stage in the game, it's going to be a long journey. However, I've finally managed to write down the draft storyboard for the entire rest of the story, so we're going to reach there somehow! Man, I wonder if I would ever write a scene of Touma getting laid?
GG Vegito: One of these days, I'll end a chapter without a cliffhanger… I hope you can look forward to what the rest of the arc will provide you!
Guest: I'm glad that you enjoyed how Arisa ended up appearing!
whwsms: Life can be like that sometimes, huh? No matter, as long as you're OK, then that's all I need to know.
ShadowBloodedge9396: Okaeri! …Your description of how Touma is a tank and Hamazura is squishy is so accurate that I can't help but tremble. Man, if it means waiting another couple of years, then I'd gladly take an NT anime that isn't rushed. Hell, if it means having Railgun levels of animation style, I'd also take an OT anime remake too. I don't think that you're wrong for thinking logically instead of emotionally; it's only what you think and even Othinus's thought processes are my own interpretation. I'm glad someone realises that you can't beat a God – welcome to the OTP (Othinus Touma Pairing)! Hayashida and her crew weren't watching Shutaura in Touma's dorm; they were elsewhere. Because Faith and Orion face off against Touma so many times, who is the one with the real misfortune? Hope you can look forward to what this chapter offers you.
comrade-elmo1: Glad you enjoyed the chapter! If you want to see more and more people trying to help Touma, I hope you can stick around for what is to come! I also hope that you can come to enjoy what this chapter has yet to offer; there's still a lot more to come!
craytherlay: Hey, thanks so much for the review! I think Touma has moments where his brain shuts off every now and then, but I didn't want the scene where Touma sticks his head into Shutaura's breasts as being a scene that requires a lot of thought from the reader; it's just something fun I wrote. As for your nitpick, I sort of have to agree that Othinus, by all rights, should have stuck with Touma, but my only defence (a poor one though) is that there is precedence for Touma getting caught in trouble without Othinus during NT 16 and NT 17. Again though, that's just my defence but in retrospect, I agree with your nitpick, although having Othinus there would certainly have been jarring. But thanks also for shooting your own opinions there; maybe I took Othinus's role a bit too seriously in the novel, hence my complaints? I'm not going to stop reading Kamachi stuff though so I can only hope that future novels will give us more Othinus and Touma fluff!
onilink500: Hombre, no eres el único que piensa que Misaki y Touma deberían estar saliendo ... Aunque a tu comentario de que Touma es un pervertido de los olores, recuerdo que hubo algunas ocasiones en las novelas en las que definitivamente se describía mucho el olor ... ¡asegúrate de que los cuervos paguen por los daños!
WwEpsilonwW: You're the one who did Shutaura/Arisa first technically so I was fangirling in your story too! But thanks for noting how Touma's own issue allowed him to connect with Shutaura; that was really something I wanted to show in the last chapter so I'm glad it came across well. It is sort of weird for Touma to be saying 'Shokuhou', although I'll know I've actually lost it when Mikoto says "Touma".
tommthecommie: When will Touma ever get his moment?
INEEDPRAISE: Haven't done it yet.
Guest (another one): Haven't done this either…
Agent Nine: One of the things that I actually liked about Arisa was that she didn't attack Touma because of some misunderstanding. Even if Index attacked Touma after he saw the two of them naked, she seems like such a calm character that I can't help but feel that she would just allow Touma to explain himself if it ever came down to it…which was shown in this chapter.
Dryad: I can confirm that Sogiita will get his own arc. As for Kakine and Aihana though; while they are set to make an appearance, they will not be getting their own character arc and focus. In terms of the timeline, this entire story takes place after NT 17.
RUiN The Extinct: Thank you so much! Hopefully I can continue to please…
And the thanks. Firstly, to my beta reader PokeRescue18. While he hasn't had the chance to look at this chapter as he is taking a bit of a break, I want to take the chance here to thank him for the things he's done for me. Seriously man, you're a miracle to me. Just having you on board with the stuff I do means a lot and I hope that while I can give you nothing but words that you still find yourself accepting them and realising their worth.
And to you, the reader. I receive miracles from you as well and again, while I can give you nothing but words, I hope you realise the worth you have to me as well. Seriously, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.
Also, before we begin, a little disclaimer for stuff appearing in this chapter and also to the fanfiction as a whole…
Disclaimer: I do not own the songs and the lyrics mentioned in this fanfiction. They are owned by the singer Sachika Misawa, the writer, composer and arranger Iuchi Maiko, the staff that produced the movie A Certain Magical Index – The Miracle of Endymion (an excellent movie) and the producer of the album featuring the songs, Warner Home Video, as well as other related parties. Overall, I own nothing mentioned in this fanfiction, just to ensure everyone knows that.
And from me, I hope you all do what you always do:
Mr Question Mark.
"Is it…really you, Arisa?"
"Even though this is a different body, I think your heart tells you who I am, am I right?"
"That sounds like a song lyric."
"…Do you think I should write that down?"
It was surreal but on the ground, Kamijou Touma felt his eyes locked onto the girl in front of him. She smiled at him and while the face was Shutaura Sequenzia's, the way she smiled and the look in her eyes told Kamijou it was the girl who had fused with Shutaura: Meigo Arisa. There was no doubting and even beyond her words, the change in her aura and the look in her eyes as she walked forward towards Kamijou on the ground and squatted, it was clear to Kamijou that the personality change between Shutaura and the girl in front of him was not a mere mood swing.
It was as if she had changed person entirely.
And although that was ridiculous to think about someone in real life, for the girl in front of Kamijou, he knew it was a perfectly reasonable thing to think. Only moments ago, Shutaura, trying to stand up and unable to do so properly because of the gunshot wound to the chest, had passed out from the pain.
And now that the 'main' personality occupying the body of Shutaura had been cast to the side as a result of her falling unconscious, there had been room for the other personality and person in Shutaura to take hold and occupy her body.
Such a person now sitting in front of the stunned Kamijou who stared up at her, unable to think or even know what to say.
Shutaura, no, it was merely her body, smiled and tilted her head. Her black locks of hair went down her face as a result and the smile she was giving Kamijou was so kind that Kamijou had a hard time associating it with the soldier Shutaura was…but finding it perfect on the face of the girl sitting in front of the stunned Kamijou now.
The person who was in front of him was no longer Shutaura Sequenzia.
But rather Meigo Arisa.
The streetlights of Academy City's District 7 shone down on them both, casting a new light onto Arisa's hair, in Shutaura's body. Kamijou caught sight of pink streaks running through it he was certain had not been there before but even so, they were hard to see without the light shining down on him. Furthermore, there was something else about her eyes: instead of the black eyes looking coldly at him, there were intermittent flashes of pink within them looking at him fondly.
Kamijou was unsure to think or even say, slowly reaching out with a hand towards the girl in front of him, his right hand. He reached for her face, touching it slightly but pulling away from the warmth from it. But even that was not enough to make him stop the action, slowly moving his hand towards the face of the girl and feeling the warmth from the contact.
"It…It really is…you…"
Arisa smiled, reaching with both hands and grabbing the right hand of Kamijou, closing her eyes and pressing it against her face softly, as if it were a treasured item she could not afford to let go no matter what happened to her.
"It really has…been a while, Touma-kun. I've wanted to meet you so many times. I've wanted to talk with you and have fun with you once more, but with the issue of my body and Shutaura's... I was uncertain how you would respond. I was…scared. Scared that now I had something different that you would no longer think of me as the girl I once was. I was scared that everything I had built up with you would come crashing down the moment we met again…"
Kamijou felt something tighten on his right hand, seeing Arisa's lip tremble as she still held her eyes closed, silently pressing Kamijou's hand against her face. It was strange to say the least, seeing the action Arisa was doing being done in Shutaura's body but for Kamijou staring at what was happening in front of him, any discomfort he felt was replaced with an inexplicable relief at the person in front of him and the knowledge she was most definitely alive.
This was not a vague hint of her existence. It was not a rumour or a voice heard on the wind that gave him the hint she was alive. It was a physical existence, a warmth only given through touch and the completely human presence of someone he had thought he had lost; a dear friend.
There was something powerful in the presence and the touch of the girl who had appeared in front of Kamijou. For that alone and for the words coming from her, there was nothing else he could do for the wave of emotions swirling inside him.
But more than anything, a raw desire to know with his own two hands that the girl was real and not an illusion, his dear friend who he had lost and had been unsure where she had gone.
Kamijou moved his right hand, moving it from Arisa's face and circling it around her back, pulling her closer to him and wrapping his left arm around her as well. The warmth from the interconnected bodies transferred to him and the sensation of it told Kamijou that this was no dream, this was real and that the girl in front of him was really here and really Meigo Arisa.
He had so many things he wanted to say, so many things he had to tell her but instead, as he held her in his arms, the only thing that ended up coming out was a small voice.
"Did you…really think so little of me?" he whispered and the feeling of shoulders jumping in his grasp told him how much his words had frightened Arisa. There was a slight trembling in the girl he was holding, feeling hands rising up to his own back. They pulled him closer, the trembling softening slightly from the contact.
There was movement as Kamijou and Arisa sat there in the middle of the night in silence, Arisa shaking her head such that her hair moved up against Kamijou's.
"No." she said, her body still shaking. "Not at all. But I was still scared. Scared of how you would look at me. Scared of how you would react and whether you would accept me or not. I've…changed. As you can see. And like Shutaura said, there are times where I'm not even sure who is who and what emotions are mine. Even though, right now, Shutaura is unconscious, there are still remnants of her heart playing with mine. Even now, like this, I have feelings telling me I need to separate us as well as a part of me that says I want to stay like this forever because it makes me realise you are here, right in front of me. I don't… I just don't know what to believe anymore."
Arisa's voice was soft and she tightened her grip even further, Kamijou doing the same.
"I'm not Meigo Arisa anymore. I'm not just me. I don't know anymore and that truly terrified me to the core. I…I wasn't just scared of what you and Index-chan would think. But also what I would think and how I would treat you two now I've changed as well. I wanted to have what we had before but at the same time, the thought I would tear it apart because of how different I am terrified me. I'm not the girl who performed at the Endymion anymore, Touma-kun. I'm…I don't even know who I am anymore either. And how that would play into what we had made me keep my distance. I can say any number of excuses to that extent, but it will not hide what is in my heart! I was scared… Just scared and that was enough to make me never see you and Index-chan again. It was enough to make me turn away from the two people who protected me and thought of me more than anyone else!"
Arisa spoke, moving her head so it was leaning against Kamijou's, as if pushing into him and trying to be as close to him as possible. The boy held her tight, slightly stroking her head in a comforting fashion, a slight smile on his own face as he held her.
Shutaura Sequenzia and Meigo Arisa.
Just what type of existence were they anyway?
Kamijou could not say but the issue of them fusing together was such that their state of being was one of the foremost things on their mind. Just who exactly were they and what exactly was each feeling? It was hard to say and the only thing they knew was that they were both confused but managing to force their way through their confusion by losing themselves in other things.
Or, to put it another way, they were forcing themselves to run away from their issues without once looking at the issue at hand.
Shutaura was also worried about this. She had felt as though she and Arisa were two puzzle pieces forced to join together and were not compatible because of how different they were and how they thought. And because of that, she was also having a hard time isolating who she was and where she stood on the fusion between the two.
But in a way, Shutaura was lucky.
Arisa had been born from Shutaura, not the other way around so it was clear who would have the easier time maintaining what they once had. The fact the Black Crows still existed was proof of this: Shutaura was managing to keep together her own life after she had fused because it was her who was in control.
But what about Arisa? What about the life she had led after she was born? For all intents and purposes, she had been systematically erased as an existence, living as something else because of the uncertainty she had about the type of being she was now. And the thing she was living as was a shadow of someone else.
While Shutaura was able to maintain what she had once held, the same was not said for Arisa. The things she had done, the people she had met and even the fans of her music, they were things she could no longer hold because of how she was not the principal being behind who she was. Shutaura was and while she had managed to hold herself and her previous life together, Arisa had been forced to bid hers 'adieu'.
Did Arisa have anything anymore? When all was said and done, could she afford to have anything to call her own? If she did decide to grasp something, the chances were high that Shutaura's dominant personality would take over and return to the Black Crows.
The things Arisa would want were not the same things Shutaura would want. And because of that, she was scared. Utterly terrified to the bone because she did not know what she could hold onto and when Shutaura, of no fault of her own, would take that from her by reverting into Shutaura once again and moving away from what Arisa wanted because of how different they were.
She could not handle it.
The things Arisa liked, she would like and continue to like. But when it came to the connection between her, Kamijou and Index, could she maintain that as friends? Just as she had said right now, part of her wanted to separate from this embrace while Arisa wanted to hold it. If she was feeling that when she was Arisa, what about when she reverted to Shutaura?
It was clear she would be pushing away what she wanted to hold onto and because of that, Arisa was scared. Scared she would not be able to hold onto the things she loved and hurt them by pushing them away as Shutaura. What she loved, she would inevitably hurt and the fear of that, as well as approaching the friends she had made when she no longer had the physical body of Arisa anymore, meant she had to keep her distance, no matter how much she wanted to enter the lives of those people who meant so much to her once more.
What she wanted, she could not have. What she wanted to reconnect with, she had to push away because of who she was and how she was balancing who she was with someone else entirely.
Who wouldn't be scared in the face of that? Who wouldn't be scared of pushing what they loved away and of their reaction? It was easier to stay away despite not wanting to at all and despite knowing that was the case, Arisa had still despaired in knowing she could not reconnect with what she wanted to for fear of hurting it and breaking it apart.
"You and Index-chan did so much for me and yet, the only thing I could do to thank you for it was push you away and never see you again! After everything you did for me and after everything I put you through, I couldn't in good conscious think I could just walk in on your lives and think everything was going to be the same again! I just couldn't!"
"Arisa… It's OK." Kamijou said soothing words, pressing Arisa's head closer against his so she could feel his warmth a bit more.
"Touma-kun, I pushed you away! Despite the kindness you showed me when I had my original body, despite the kindness Index-chan showed me too, I – "
"Arisa." Kamijou cut in, pushing her away slightly and staring right into her eyes. They turned away slightly in shame, but Kamijou only smiled in response. "It's OK. I understand why you did what you did. And I'm sure Index does too. The both of us…have already come across something like this in the first place. When it came to facing the truth and the possible fears there, we did. And when we did, we came out of it exactly the same. Just with some new knowledge within our heads. So, there's nothing to be ashamed of, Arisa."
"You've…come across something like this before?" Arisa's eyes, frantically looking for anywhere to look apart from Kamijou, now turned towards him slightly. He smiled a little bit but even then, held his tongue on what exactly the issue he was talking about was.
After all, he had faced the same fears Arisa had about coming clean.
When he had lost his memories.
He had been scared. The very first time he had met Index and her reaction to who he was and his memory destruction, the thought and desire to ensure Index was not sad was the only thing that possessed him to play the fool and act as if nothing was wrong. And the only reason he had done that was because he had feared what she would do when she learned the truth.
The person she had confessed to way back then had not been him but rather the previous 'Kamijou Touma'. The person she had had her eyes on had been who he had once been and fearing breaking that apart, fearing what she would say and how the current him was different from his previous self, he had pretended as if nothing was wrong and had failed to come clean about his memory loss until it was too late.
Wasn't that the exact same fear Arisa had had about coming forward? Kamijou knew exactly what was going through her mind, understood each and every point she was raising but because he had taken it himself, not coming clean with the truth and confronting Index with reality, he could not judge her for what she did, instead, only being able to relate to her pain.
The only one who had the right to judge Arisa in this instance was Index.
But given how she had accepted Kamijou for his memory loss, something as small as having a different physical body was nothing to that kind nun who had so readily accepted, and saved, Kamijou.
"Yeah, we have. So I can tell you, without a doubt, that no matter what changes are within you Arisa, you are still the same girl I knew. You're still the same girl with her dreams and that voice. But more importantly, you're still Index's and my friend. Nothing will change that."
Arisa stared at Kamijou, the boy grinning and lightly chopping her head with a hand.
"Have a little faith in us. Index and I understand what you went through. Especially me. And neither of us will blame you for it. The only thing you need to do is come back to us. We've missed you."
Kamijou grinned, Arisa staring at him and feeling something within her mouth choke. She caught herself before it was let out, hanging her head and trying her best to not let herself be seen.
"After all I did… You and Index-chan…"
"Do you even need to say it? We're friends after all. So of course we'll still accept you."
Kamijou saw Arisa rise her head, her eyes staring at him and wavering slightly before that trembling lip slowly edged into the curve of a smile.
"I…" Arisa faltered for only a moment before finding the courage to speak properly. "I'm back, Touma-kun."
"Welcome home, Arisa."
"I've missed you."
There were no tears. That was not the type of reunion this was.
Instead, there were only the two people who had been separated for so long finally being reunited. So, instead of the tears and snot that usually came with such a scene, the only thing that appropriately matched what the situation called for was simple and shown on the faces of both Kamijou Touma and Meigo Arisa.
And in truth, the only thing they needed was the smile of the other on their faces.
Although the reunion between two friends which had been put off as a result of the inherent fear Arisa had had of not being accepted and the fear of slowly pushing away what she had left behind, it was not the issue at hand for either of them. Even though Arisa was the one in front of Kamijou now, the issue and the reason Arisa was with him in the first place was because of an issue around Shutaura Sequenzia and her rashness when it came to the new task given to her.
"It's this way. Are you going to be OK?"
"…As long as I'm like this, I'm sure I'll be fine, Touma-kun."
Kamijou was unsure where the confidence in Arisa's voice was coming from but he did not have time to think about it too much, instead looking at the smartphone in his hand, which belonged to Shutaura. On it was a map of District 7 and two dots: both moving rather slowly. While one of them was Kamijou and Arisa, the other was something else entirely: the tracking device within the bodysuit of Crow 1 who had been captured by MINUS.
Shutaura, before she had fallen unconscious, had had a desire to immediately head over to where the tracking device was, even if it was a trap. The main reason for this was that even if it was, there would be two things there: the bodysuit belonging to Crow 1 and the person who intended to spring to trap on Shutaura assuming the sudden reactivation of the tracking device was a lure to bring Shutaura out. In either case, no matter which was gained in the natural course of things: there was one certainty.
That the hideout of MINUS would be unveiled at the same time.
Even if Crow 1 was successfully recaptured and safe, Kamijou imagined Shutaura and the Black Crows would want to ensure they learned the location of the MINUS hideout for the sake of their own attack against it. Kamijou himself had the same desire, the issue of both MINUS and Kihara Kamui being one he could not ignore and put to the side any longer.
But gaining either the bodysuit of Crow 1, Crow 1 himself or even a member of MINUS would all have the same results; the unveiling of the location of MINUS.
And that was because of the power of the Level 5 on their side.
Using Shokuhou Misaki's Mental Out, whether it be reading the residual memories of the bodysuit or the mind of the MINUS member who would be captured, unveiling the location of the hideout would be easier than ever. Having a Level 5 on their side was something Kamijou was grateful to have, even if, in the process, it would mean he was placing Shokuhou's life, as well as Index's, Othinus's and Tatsugami Otohime's lives in danger. The possibilities this could be solved easily appealed to him and made him more determined than ever to reach the destination marked on Shutaura's smartphone.
But he had to get there first and with the weight of the girl he was carrying as well, having her arm around him to support her weight while he moved, the speed at which he was moving to make sure she was as comfortable and safe as could be meant it was barely enough to match the speed of Crow 1's bodysuit tracking device.
Meigo Arisa leaned against Kamijou, wincing with small movements given she also had a hole in her chest but it seemed the pain was subsiding for her. Whether that was because the wound was healing or because of whatever medications given to her while Shutaura had been patched up in his apartment, the effect was clear as the pain filled expression of Arisa was slowly dying, even if she was unused to it and the sweat from the pain was rolling down her face.
Using the knowledge of District 7 and what he could tell of the movement of Crow 1's tracking device, Kamijou moved slowly for the purposes of intercepting the moving dot but slowly turned to Arisa beside him.
"Tell me when you want me to slow down if you think you need it. I'm fine but I'm more worried about you. If you can hold out for a little while, Crow 2 said he informed the others of what Shutaura had planned and are probably going to come soon to help in their own way." Kamijou said, his tone concerned as he stared at the girl next to him. In the corner of his eye, he noted that other dots on the smartphone app were moving just like he was to the location indicated by Crow 1's tracking device.
Despite that though, while embarrassing, he had stuck his face in her breasts to see if he could smell any blood suggesting the wound on her chest had opened but luckily, he had smelt nothing but the scent of Arisa (or was it Shutaura's scent?). While that suggested the wound had not opened, the pained expression of Arisa was one he could not simply deny.
Arisa smiled a tiny bit, leaning further into Kamijou as she spoke.
"I'll keep that in mind, Touma-kun. But I'm fine. We need to focus on what is happening with Shutaura right now."
"…How exactly does that work anyway? Shutaura didn't say much apart from that you can take over like you are now. Is that basically how it works? Shutaura sleeps for the night and then you take over her body and do as you like?" Kamijou asked, curious as he looked both ways before crossing an empty road.
"Sort of. I'm not entirely sure myself how it works. There are times when the emotions of Shutaura overlap with mine and my emotions overlap with hers when she is in control. But when Shutaura is 'out', that's when I take control. It's not exactly the best of arrangements I have to say," Arisa said with a small solemn smile. "But as the person who was born from Shutaura, I can't say much on the status of my living conditions, Touma-kun."
"Hmm…?" Kamijou said to himself. He was still unsure of the specifics of what had caused Shutaura and Arisa to fuse together but as he had suspected, Arisa was born from Shutaura and not the other way around. Still, there was something he noted in what had been said he could not ignore. "Your emotions overlap with Shutaura's? That explains a lot actually. From the last time we met, she's a lot less wound up."
"…Touma-kun?" Arisa said hesitantly, turning her head away slightly.
"…I'm not exactly sure this is something you want to hear, but to ensure you don't say anything else that gets you into any more trouble, I think it is best to tell you this as soon as possible. Even though Shutaura is currently 'unconscious', she and I still share the same body and the same brain."
"I'm not so sure how it works myself but the things Shutaura sees and hears, while I can't specifically remember those events happening, I am aware of them. For example, I can tell you I was shot in the chest and can describe the person who shot me; I am aware of the event although I can't remember it per se." Arisa slowly explained, the words causing pain to cross her expressions for a moment and making Kamijou pause. She waved her forward with that same expression but continued. "And I imagine that Shutaura is the same. That she, although she does not remember the event, is aware of what happens to me when it happens."
Kamijou went white in the face, twitching slightly and a sweat came down him all the same as he stared at the girl who had flashes of pink residing in her eyes and small streams of pink in her hair which had not been there before. He trembled slightly, Arisa looking at him with a somewhat strained smile before speaking once more.
"Meaning you might want to watch what you say. Because chances are that Shutaura will remember it. S-Sorry for telling you so late." Arisa apologised from the bottom of her heart, Kamijou had no doubts about that but even so, he found himself shaking like a leaf in the wind. He struggled to find the words but managed to find them.
"Y-Yes? What is it, Touma-kun?"
"If what you're telling me is right, then do you think she'll remember…that?" Kamijou went slightly red faced himself and turned his head to the side, Arisa frowning slightly as she heard the vague word.
Kamijou felt himself digging a hole he was about to crawl into but for the sake of his own safety, he knew he had to ask this vital question! For the sake of his survival, he had to know the truth behind what was going to happen once Arisa left his side!
"T-The thing that happened when you took over from Shutaura. Y-You know, the misunderstanding thing…"
Arisa blinked once before her face went so red the heat from the blush passed through the Kamijou. She trembled, something wanting to come from her mouth but she hung her head, steam seeming to come from it.
But the nod she did was unmistakeable.
Kamijou Touma felt something snap within his mind and whatever illusion of safety he had felt he had built up around himself was destroyed just by that one action. He stood stock still for a second, feeling a wave of doom race over him, not saying anything but realising a very basic fact that echoed within his soul and spelled certain doom for him that he had set up for himself.
He had pressed his head into a girl's chest on purpose. Now, while that was a wondrous sensation and Arisa had been angelic enough to not strike or hit him for that, the person with that plentiful chest was a soldier who carried a gun and had an esper power related to blowing stuff up. For such a person, even if there was an explanation for it, what would be the natural reaction to such an event?
Kamijou felt himself go cold, a weak voice coming from his mouth.
"…I'm dead, aren't I?"
The silence spoke louder than words but Kamijou never noticed it was mainly because Arisa herself was still trying to handle the fact she had had a boy press himself into her chest on purpose, even if for a valid (but stupid) reason.
"(Such misfortune.)" Kamijou whispered underneath his breath before his eyes shot forward, bloodshot and looking extremely desperate. "W-Wait though. I-If we can get results with what is going to happen now, doesn't that mean Shutaura isn't going to have time to react to what happened and instead focus entirely on what has to be done next!?"
"E-Eh?" Arisa asked, vaguely aware that Kamijou had said something and only now coming out of her embarrassment and replying. "I-I guess?"
"Arisa." Kamijou stepped forward, letting Arisa from his shoulder and stepping in front of her. He placed both hands on her shoulders, the girl jumping slightly from the contact and staring at the boy who was now staring right into her eyes in a level stare, his gaze serious even though he had a vicious sweat coming from his forehead.
Now that Kamijou was not next to her, he could not feel the heat from her skin but if he could, he certainly would have felt the warmth from her body be greater than that when she had been embarrassed. The blush on her face as she stared at the boy made her turn to the side slightly if only because the gaze he was giving her was mesmerising. She knew glancing into it too long would cause her to be lost within it and never want to hand over control of the body to Shutaura.
Her heart thumped within her chest, her emotions going out of control and even if Shutaura's part of the heart told Arisa she had to avert her gaze and maintain some level of stoicism, the overwhelming emotions of Arisa's heart overpowered that sensation, causing the girl to lose herself in the gaze of Kamijou as soon as she glanced into it briefly.
He held her eyes and shoulders, not even bothering to lay out the severe request he had to make of her.
"W-When Shutaura wants to take over…do you think you could hold her back for a bit? At least for a tiny bit until we produce results that will occupy her mind instead of the fact that I put my face in her chest!"
"E-Eh?!" Arisa basically yelled into the air, unsure of what to say at that given how serious he was looking. But even so, she found the words to say, glancing to the side with some apprehension. "I-I'm not so sure whether I can. Shutaura has some resilience within her so unless something happens soon, I'm not so sure I can perform the kind of mental mutiny you're suggesting I do."
"I'm begging you here, Arisa! I-If Shutaura even tries to react to what happens, it's not going to go well for this Kamijou-san! Especially in this crisis! I'll be lucky to get a bullet to the leg with how Shutaura is! I need you!"
Those three words made Arisa jump, the girl mentally saving them to memory and hearing them echo in her mind over and over again. She stammered, finding her heart once more going out of control before she turned her head to the side, trying desperately to control her racing heart and the new emotions coming through her heart but slowly managing to respond.
"…I-I'll see what I can do."
"N-No promises though! Besides, I think Shutaura isn't going to go as far as you think! E-Ever since we fused together, she has been a lot more open and compassionate about a lot of things!" Arisa said, trying her best to maintain her cool as Kamijou stared at her.
"Even if it was for a good reason and had nothing to do with the inner dark side of this Kamijou-san, is me putting my head into her breasts one of them!?"
"…Good point. But Touma-kun, don't you think there were other ways to check whether I had reopened the wound in my chest?" Arisa asked, finding it a lot easier to speak now she had gotten used to the odd pain racing through her chest whereas when Shutaura had pushed herself too far, it had been overwhelming.
"The only other way would have been to place my hand right into the uniform to feel for some dampness! And I'm not putting my hand down a girl's uniform to check her chest! This Kamijou-san has some lines he is not willing to cross!"
"And putting your head in a girl's chest isn't one of them!?"
"There was a lot of inner turmoil on that decision!" Kamijou's own face was red as he replied back, tightening his grip on Arisa's shoulders to emphasise how innocent he was. Arisa was going to retort back but thought better of it, moving her hair and putting some of it behind her ear with some apprehension, but her head shaking at the same time.
"…I-I suppose you're not that type of boy, so I can believe you on that. But I do think that maybe you could apply some common sense to the things you do, even if you were doing it to look out for me!" Arisa frowned, entering lecture mode and Kamijou seemed to stiffen at those words, nodding frantically.
"Y-Yes, this Kamijou-san will desperately work on curing his own stupidity so until we manage to get Crow 1's bodysuit, it would be much appreciated if you were the one I spent time with Arisa-sama!"
Again, the blushing of Arisa was not felt by Kamijou, the girl nodding slowly. She coughed once though, trying her best to get herself composed before speaking again.
"A-As long as you understand. But don't you think we should be making our way to where Crow 1 is instead of hanging around here and talking?"
Kamijou seemed to go wide eyed at that, having been distracted and staring down at the phone in his hand. He looked back up after checking the map, seeming to look through the buildings for the target before turning back to Arisa. Seeming to realise the urgency of what he needed to do and also preventing any further issues when it came to Shutaura applying murderous and belated tsukkomi at a later date, he rose Arisa's arm over his shoulder and continued moving, making sure to do it at a reasonably slow pace.
"…Are things complicated between you and Shutaura given how you are?" Kamijou asked carefully, coming to his original point he had before he had gotten side-tracked. "I mean, if the both of you are switching bodies constantly…"
"It's not as bad as you might think." Arisa said with a light smile. "Despite the issues we have with it, I think we make it work somewhat. What about you? I thought the Endymion incident was just a one off with you when it came to trouble you were caught up in…but that's far from the truth, isn't it?"
"…Something like that."
"Oh? The way you say that suggests there is a lot we have to catch up on. You've been busy though; to think there was a Level 5 within your apartment. And who was that other girl?"
Arisa's voice was not harsh, only calm and inquisitive but Kamijou still flinched at the words. He glanced to the side as if to avoid the question but still managed to answer all the same.
"Yeah, having Shokuhou there. …That's a long story. And the other girl was my cousin; Tatsugami Otohime. She's here on cultural exchange from the outside, but it seems more like she's getting more into trouble than any work she has to do for the exchange."
"…And that half naked doll?"
"Th-There's a reason for that too but if I had to explain it, it would take a novel's worth of commentary so can you trust me when I say it's not an issue for the faint hearted?!"
"Hmm…? You certainly do get around, Touma-kun."
"I'm not too sure what you're referring to when you say something like that: are you talking girls or trouble? In either case, I'd prefer it if I had less of both, just to make my life easier."
"I fit into that category then, don't I? As both girls and trouble." Arisa pouted but replied with a witty remark, Kamijou jumping slightly as he seemed to realise he had put his foot into it. He seemed to want to say something, but the only thing Arisa did was lean into him a bit further with a soft, yet melancholic smile on her lips. "But I guess that's what I get for losing to my fear."
"That's nothing to be ashamed of, Arisa."
"Nor is it something to be proud of either, I would think Touma-kun. Like I said, we really do have a lot to catch up on."
"Yeah…" Kamijou said that softly, turning into an alleyway and moving through the darkness of it to reach the other side. "Although, I do have to say I know a bit about what you've been up to in Academy City. Even if I wasn't sure how you were doing it, I knew you were still here."
It was this that made Arisa frown, tilting her head as she looked at the boy next to her.
Kamijou replied with a smile, moving out of the alley and casting the smile in a light Arisa could see it in. Arisa blinked, staring at Kamijou for a bit, an opportunity he used to answer her unasked question.
"I didn't know how it was done before, but you've been switching with Shutaura and singing out in the City, haven't you? I've heard you a few times."
Arisa went wide eyed, blushing slightly given how someone close to her had heard her when she did not think she would have been heard.
Just as Kamijou had said, even after she and Shutaura had fused, there had been some things she had been unable to let go so easily: her singing being the primary one of those. The skills and the voice she held had captivated so many and had been her reason for living when she was merely the girl Meigo Arisa.
And so, on the nights when she had managed to take over for the sleeping Shutaura, she had gone into the City and lost herself in how she had once been; singing and reaffirming who she was and what she had the talent for. While this had attracted the attention of others, it was not something she had expected Kamijou to experience and hear for himself.
Her voice and her songs were something she could not afford to lose. So, on clear nights and when the mood suited her, she took over for Shutaura and sang if only to remember who she was and what was her life, even if she had fused with another. The action was more calming than anything else Arisa had ever felt. But now Kamijou had told her he had heard her, she felt a frown come onto her face.
"H-How did you know that though? I purposefully avoided District 7 because I was scared to meet you…"
"Let's just say that various late night activities involving unsavoury company has me running around Academy City quite a lot. If you've kept your songs, I've still kept my tendency for misfortune. And there were some nights where I passed by District 9, catching you singing. I could never place where you were singing from but I could hear it. And even sometimes, on the wind, Index and I hear it. We've never forgotten you, Arisa. Although not always, we've heard you sing and never forgotten your songs."
Arisa stared at Kamijou, surprised but smiling all the same. Given that District 9 was right next to District 7, it was not surprising he had managed to run there to run away from delinquents but the fact he had heard her while doing that made something lurch within her soul.
Kamijou smiled next to her. Probably because District 9 was a district well-known for its fine arts and industry schools, it was not rare to hear music there every now and then and hence, Arisa's singing on those late nights tended to blend in. But even though that was the case, whenever she sang, it always felt as though everything else playing in that quiet District would fall silent if only so her voice could reign supreme.
It was unknown what nights she would perform and where she would perform as well but if you were lucky enough to hear her voice while you were passing through, one would always stop and close their eyes, listening to a perfect, live performance of the idol who had taken Academy City by storm during September and the Endymion.
A few weeks ago, during the attacks on MINUS, Konori Mii had once asked Kamijou where she felt a good place for a date was. And Kamijou had answered District 9, mainly because of what he knew would be the perfect mood setter for a date if it made an appearance.
After all, Kamijou had yet to find a more beautiful voice than that of Meigo Arisa's. Simply hearing it live if you were on a date would be miraculous in itself and on the chance that Konori would be able to hear it and experience the best date possible, he had given that location to her, even if he had no idea what had come of it afterwards. After all, he had the sense to not ask such a personal question to Konori.
"Did you still have them?" The sudden question from Arisa made Kamijou frown and tilt his head in confusion. "My songs."
"Of course. I downloaded all of them, like I said. Even now, they are the only music on my phone apart from the alarms and the ringtones."
"Play one for me. I think the songs I have came with the instrumentals too so play that instead of the ones with lyrics."
Kamijou asked, slightly frowning as he held the girl by his side. Despite the lessening pain from her chest, Arisa smiled.
"I think it's time you once more had a live performance, don't you? For the things I did wrong and for the things you've had to endure… I think right now, although it is not much, this is the break you deserve Touma-kun. So, let me sing for you."
Kamijou Touma said nothing, staring at the girl before responding with actions rather than words. Reaching into his back pocket and bringing out his phone, he moved into the music he had downloaded, showing the only folder he had bothered downloading, perfectly labelled.
Meigo Arisa smiled and Kamijou opened it, showing the list of the music Arisa had downloaded and put on her website. After she had disappeared, the entire thing had been put into an album that she, as Shutaura, had ordered online and signed with her name as a joke, something that would have surely sold for a couple of million yen among the right people. But among the music Kamijou had downloaded, while it listed all of Arisa's songs and their instrumentals, there was only one that had no lyrics.
Before Kamijou, who was flicking through randomly, could pass it, Arisa reached over and smiled, operating with her hand the choice she had made in an instant. She clicked the button on it, the music coming from the phone being one Kamijou knew and had heard before.
"Hmm? Wasn't this the one you said didn't have lyrics to it when you met Index and I?" Kamijou was about to say more but felt something soft touch his lips. Arisa, smiling all the while, stared at the boy who she had pressed her index finger against, winking slightly in the process.
"Shh. It's rude to speak when an idol is performing just for you, Touma-kun. I found the lyrics, in the Endymion, and I know Index-chan remembers them too. But I think it's time I sang them, just for you, and for your ears only."
Kamijou said nothing, Arisa smiling as she listened to the tune, feeling the uplifting emotion that came with the music and the elation she felt whenever she was about to begin.
But right now, more than anything, it felt as though the happiness within her now was such that she would never forget this moment for the rest of her life.
This was the song she had sung when she had fused with Shutaura Sequenzia in the Endymion and she found it surprising it was only now that she had decided to sing it again since she had joined together.
But then again, with what she was feeling now, that perhaps made the most sense as it was exactly this feeling pulsing through her chest now that made her feel as though it was perfect for her to sing this song once more.
The music continued, Arisa knowing exactly when she had to sing and unleashing the melody from her mouth, filling the air with a tune that made Kamijou fall silent.
Destiny's symphony (Unmei no Koukyoukyoku (Shinfonii))
The warmth that spread through her now was one captivating her, much like she was doing with Kamijou with her voice. But if there was anything she noted, even with the emotions of Shutaura, it was the feeling of warmth that came with her being by the side of this boy right now.
I can see the fates (Ikue mo no kizuato no)
She had noted something long ago. Something very simple but now that, after so long, she found herself once more standing with Kamijou, she could not simply ignore the emotions coursing through the depth of her heart.
Of a myriad of scars... (Saigo o mitorukara...)
Shutaura had noted it too: the safety and security that had come with this boy by her side. But it was more than that, something Arisa knew. The things Kamijou had given her were so much more than just safety and security that she could feel within an Anti-Skill station.
And so I sing (Watashi wa utaou)
He had given her hope when she had felt as though throwing away everything for the sake of everyone else was the right thing to do. During the Endymion incident, when she had felt she had to throw away her singing for the safety of others, it had been Kamijou who had encouraged her and told her they would find a way to help her to sing. He had told her he would find a way to allow her to perform and live as she so desperately wanted to do as an idol. In a way, by giving her that, he had given her the chance to spread her wings and fly like she had always wanted.
Gathering light to myself (Ima hikari o atsumete)
He had also given her the encouragement to continue even when she felt lost. When she had told him about her memory loss, something she had never told anyone else, she had confided in him about the joy of her singing and how it would give her the chance to find herself. The sense of identity she found in singing she could not dent and in the face of it, in the face of her confessing her memory loss, Kamijou did not turn away. He did not cast her aside. Instead, he said he understood her problems and that he hoped she would find herself through her own way.
To grant peaceful rest (Mugen e kaetta ai o)
But more importantly, he had given her her life. Not only by saving her multiple times and being there when she needed it the most and was standing at a crossroads, he had given her the chance to sing. That was all she needed to become eternally thankful for Kamijou and his mere existence but right now, the things she was feeling in her heart she knew were not limited to just thanks.
To the love returned to eternity (Shizuka ni nemura sete)
There were sometimes things that could be perfectly expressed in songs, at least, for Arisa. Kamijou had given her, the girl who had yet to become an idol, preferential treatment but not because she was an idol to be or that she was someone special.
I sing to you (Anata e utaou)
But merely because she was a girl who had a dream that he wanted to support. It was nothing more than that and for that alone, without knowing it, Kamijou Touma had given Meigo Arisa the chance to live as the person she always wanted to be and the chance to spread her wings in the way she truly wanted.
So that nothing will be lost (Mou nani mo ushinawazu)
He gained nothing from it apart from the happiness of Arisa. And for that happiness, he had fought and stayed by her side. Whether it be protecting her in the finale of the Endymion or merely giving her a place to stay when she did not have anybody with her, Kamijou had given her everything and received nothing in return. He had given her the dream she had always wanted and silently stood to the side, waiting for the smile of the girl who had achieved everything.
So that everyone can smile (Daremoga egao ni nareru)
In the moments when Ladylee Tangleroad had asked her for her miracle song, in her isolation, the only thing Arisa had wanted to know was what the boy next to her would have said and done for her during the crisis she had faced. When threatened with the lives of those watching her in the Endymion, her mind had turned to the most perfect representation for safety and security in her mind for an answer.
So that we can live our lives (Tashikana hibi ga)
It was more than just because he had been there and saved her. Kamijou Touma had given Meigo Arisa her smile and the chance to live, the chance to be who she desperately wanted to be and that was it. In essence, he had given her everything.
Without worry forever (Zutto tsudzuku you ni...)
And in the face if it, Arisa had felt a change come within her, a change she had heard of so many times before in the medium of song but had been unsure whether she would experience it herself. But now that she had, there was only one thing she knew.
Get over again (Get over again)
She would never wish she would be rid of this emotion.
Look to the sky (Tenkuue (Sora) to mukatte)
Even with the terror that had come with the prospects of meeting Kamijou Touma again, this emotion now she was standing next to him and leaning by his side was the only thing Arisa felt she ever needed. The warmth given to her through Kamijou's body and the warmth she felt on her cheeks were all powerful things she could not deny, nor did she want to. The emotion in her heart was simply too powerful for her to think it would be overridden with the emotions of Shutaura or anything else.
Get over again (Get over again)
And it was with this emotion in her heart, an emotion Arisa knew, recognised and had heard so many times before in song, that she sang to the boy next to her, the boy who treated her not as a superstar but as nothing more than the girl, Meigo Arisa. Even if it was not clear why she was singing for him privately or if he didn't think twice about whether it was for something else, Arisa did not mind. The only thing Meigo Arisa needed in this moment was her song, this boy and the emotion within her heart to truly know it was right now, in this moment, that she could never find a greater happiness in a performance.
And beat your wings (Habata kou)
But no matter why she was singing and the overwhelming emotion within her that made itself known within the presence of the boy known as Kamijou Touma, the expression of that emotion she was making in this song had to end.
The lingering silence of her words hung in the air, Arisa taking a deep breath and letting the wash of the performance come over her the moment it finished. She turned to Kamijou next to her, finding he was silent, the silence continuing before she realised something she had not before.
They had stopped walking.
"Arisa. …Thank you for that. It means more to me than I can possibly say and hearing you sing like that makes me realise once more the pure talent you had when you performed in the Endymion. Even now, listening to you, I will never think I will find another voice so beautiful than what I just heard. Thank you."
Kamijou smiled at her. Arisa felt her face go red at the truly honest words but before she could say the words that wanted to come from her heart, Kamijou moved. He stepped in front of her, slowly letting the weight go from his side to his back and used his left hand to hold Arisa's tightly.
"But I'm sorry to say that while there are others things I want to say to you and catch up on, this is just not the time."
She felt the strong but urgent grip within his hand and words, something that alarmed her and it was only now that she took the time to look where she was.
The street was as empty as always but it was the sight of two figures on the park bench underneath a streetlight that caught her attention, the park bench being slightly in front of her and Kamijou. Her eyes went wide as she recognised both figures.
The first being the limp figure of Crow 1 in his bodysuit, his eyes closed and his expression filled with the contradictory emotions of pain and restfulness. Sweat ran down his face and while it was clear he was alive, he was hardly in any shape to be up and about. Whether he had been treated for whatever injuries he had Arisa did not know but the fact he was alive sent waves of relief coming through her, both from Arisa and Shutaura.
But the sight of the person sitting next to him sent waves of both caution and rage coursing through Arisa, her eyes going wide as she stared the person underneath the streetlight on the empty District 7 street.
"Mr. Kamijou. Ms. Sequenzia. Good evening."
The mercenary who was responsible for the hole in Shutaura and Arisa's chest sat calmly but now he spotted the two of them, he stood up. Given he had said nothing before, it was likely that Kamijou had only just spotted the mercenary after Arisa had stopped her song and while it was not focusing on the issue at hand, Arisa found a relief in knowing it had been only Kamijou who had heard the song that had only been meant for him.
Still though, in front of the presence in front of them now, Meigo Arisa hid herself behind the back of Kamijou who stood in front of her protectively. His broad back gave her the strength to not tremble but even so, she could not help but feel waves of caution coming through her, an emotion she felt from both her and Shutaura.
Orion Phoenix stood fully now, but what Meigo Arisa looked at was not his face.
It was the handgun he held by his side.
"It's been twenty minutes. …Are you sure we need to attack simultaneously?"
The voice through the phone came out irritated and Hayashida Mari responded with a sharp, hissing voice of her own.
"Attack then. I assume you're the one who is going to be explaining things to Kamui?"
"I wanted your target. If you had listened to what I had to say in the first place, maybe you wouldn't have this problem in the first place."
"You didn't want the target, you self-important bastard. You just wanted their guardian. And getting distracted is only going to get you killed. The target you are after needs less…finesse. Less planning. So just stick to what we have now and get off my back."
Hayashida roughly hung up on the General of MINUS, passing a hand through her hair before staring at her person who had been assigned to her. Faith Townsend held up the machine made up of nothing but spare parts and spoke, although the sparkle in her eyes made Hayashida feel a shiver up her spine.
"Do we get into position now?"
Hayashida was hesitant for only an instant before she nodded.
"Yes. …I only hope I don't live to regret this."
"Well, if it ever comes to that, I'll make sure to remember you. Besides, you're going to have a swift death if the files on our target's guardian are right."
"I have no idea if that even applies to you, you monster. But you've suddenly given me new insight into something I've already realised for both targets."
"And that is?"
"This is suicide."
"Yeah. Just the way I like it. Steaming hot and ready to serve."
She wasted no time bursting from the doors of the van the two of them were hiding in and carelessly crossing the street with the hastily constructed machine in her hand, Hayashida following behind and noting one thing.
They had yet to even start.
But her heart was pounding faster than it had ever done in her entire life, staring down her phone and gulping.
Their two targets.
Two girls known as Last Order and Takitsubo Rikou.
Who had the protectors of the #1 Accelerator and Anti-Skill Lieutenant Yomikawa Aiho for Last Order and Hamazura Shiage, the #4 Meltdowner and a Level 4 Offence Armour for Takitsubo.
The fact Kamui had even suggested to her she had to capture both targets without failure and keeping her life was an impossible task. But if she screwed up, Kamui was going to have her life ended without hesitation.
Forward was suicide.
Backwards was suicide.
And with each step forward as Hayashida Mari stared up at the building where Last Order was held (with the General of MINUS going after Takitsubo), the only thing she felt was the impeding dread of a noose tightening around her neck.
Kamijou Touma stared at the young mercenary in front of him, standing in front of Meigo Arisa and holding her hand protectively. Orion Phoenix stood calmly but the presence he had was powerful given the handgun in his hand.
Looking as if he was just out of high school, his long black bang over his left eye covered it from view, leaving only the right blue eye staring back at the two people in front of him. Looking like a cosplayer, the black and white Western suit, black trench coat and broadsword with green hilt and red scabbard he sported made it questionable if he had to be taken seriously but Kamijou's knowledge of his no-nonsense personality suggested to him that if Orion needed to fire that gun, he would.
Even if he was mocked for being an edgelord because of his personality by his handler, Faith, the gun prevented anything from being said. Only the skin of his face was visible, the other parts of his body such as his hands and ankles covered in white bandages.
It was surprising to see the mercenary standing in front of them so calmly given he had also been shot in the chest like Shutaura, although that was because it was Shutaura who had shot him. But the fact it was him here next to the wounded Crow 1 made Kamijou narrow his eyes and stare at him.
"So, you go from harassing one girl to another? From Kongou to Shutaura? Is that how it is with you, Orion?" Kamijou spat out, staring at the mercenary, or more accurately, his gun. If there was going to be a fight, it would have to be that which Kamijou had to get rid of first and hope that Orion did not reach for the many in his trench coat before Kamijou landed a punch.
"Gender doesn't mean much when you're staring down a barrel of a gun, Mr. Kamijou. Although I am surprised to see you wrapped up in this. This is the…third job I've had since entering Academy City? And I've met you on all three, even if on the first we were technically enemies of the same enemy."
"Your supposed ally, Batya, attacked me back then. And you shot at Hamazura too."
"And both are doing fine in the aftermath of such events. You too, I see your arm is doing better than I last saw. Academy City technology really is as amazing. But then again, that's no surprise."
Arisa spoke up, Kamijou holding up his hand to protect her but twitching in the process. The last time Orion had seen him, he had had his left arm amputated and while he had managed to hide it from people who did not need to know about it, any unnecessary worry he did not want to deal with right now. He felt soft hands touching his arm in response to the worry Arisa was feeling, frowning as he heard the voice from behind him.
"Touma-kun? What happened to your arm?"
"Arisa…" Kamijou began but it was the person in front of him who butt in before he had the chance to say anything on the matter.
"Although we can discuss previous events in great detail, I do believe it is the more pressing matters we have to deal with that need our immediate attention?" Orion butt in, immediately changing the topic but with it, Kamijou was unsure whether it was because he felt the need to recorrect what he had said when he had said something he should not have or because his business like mind had to focus on the issue at hand. Unsure if the 'save' was intentional or not, Kamijou frowned.
"…What do you want Orion? Are you planning on taking Ar – I mean, Shutaura? And you used her comrade to lure her out? Because I can tell you it's going to be over my dead body I let you take her." Kamijou didn't even hesitate with the words he was saying, feeling a pressure on the hand wrapped around Arisa's. She did not say a word, however, she did not have to, her feelings on what Kamijou had said basically audible in that touch.
Orion on the other hand did something surprising.
He shook his head.
"I could care less what you think about me, Mr. Kamijou. However, my intentions now are not of such a nature." Kamijou winced at the jab Orion had given him; while he wanted to believe that Orion was a good person, the situation and the fact he held a handgun by his side prevented him from doing so readily, even if the conversations he had had previously with the mercenary had rubbed him the wrong way.
Had the conversations Kamijou had had with him really made a bad impression of Orion stick? Not only that but his actions had been far from honourable in the time Kamijou had known him so it was understandable for such an impression to stick. But being presented with the fact Kamijou had assumed Orion was the bad guy when Kamijou had even protected the world's biggest villain in Othinus made him wince slightly given how much he believed in the goodness of people and how little he actually knew of Orion.
Whatever the case though and whatever he felt of Orion, the only thing Kamijou felt now was confusion as he stared at the mercenary.
"What…do you mean?"
"Ms. Sequenzia is no longer of concern to my client. Which means that, while a useful piece in getting her attention, there is no longer any requirement for this man to be held captive at the hands of said client. As per the request of such, against my better judgment, my intentions here are strictly ones of the peace."
"Tell that to the handgun."
"A handgun which is only held in the event of something unsavoury happening. And also a handgun I have not once pointed in your direction despite knowing Ms. Sequenzia is equally as armed as I am and despite the possibility of me being surrounded. Don't think I'm the bad guy here, Mr. Kamijou. We're all equally evil here."
Kamijou frowned at the true comments of the mercenary before speaking up once again.
"You said this is at the request of your client? They go to the trouble of capturing Crow 1 and then…what? They're just letting him go? Just like that?"
"Just like that." echoed Orion back, leaving Kamijou rather stunned at how blunt he was being about it. Still…Kamijou turned his head around to view the surrounding area and its darkness carefully, speaking slowly but at the same time watching the wounded form of Crow 1 on the bench.
"…How do I know you're not lying to me and this isn't a trap of some sort to capture Shutaura? Because I'm not the only one who noticed the tracking signal, Orion. Not to mention Shutaura has her own tracking signal in her bodysuit as well. You can't possibly think you can take her away unnoticed, especially with me in the way."
Orion stared at Kamijou before sighing.
"For fuck's sake. Mr. Kamijou, let me summarise what you just said: I can't do anything because of you in the way and the Black Crows after me. Not to mention the slow pace I would have to take her meaning there is no way I can reach a position of safety without being caught."
"Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees?" Kamijou drew it out, unsure where this was going but nodding all the same.
"Meaning that if I intended to capture her, we wouldn't be having this conversation. If I wanted to capture the person behind you, you would already be dead. And because you're alive, we can both safely say the only thing that I want to do," Orion took a step back. "Is return what was taken from you."
Kamijou paused, not saying anything but frowning. Everything Orion had said was on point and the gaze in his eye did not seem as though he was lying. Kamijou narrowed his own eyes but something inside of him spoke to him, urging him to act.
He did not know the true nature of the mercenary except he was a boy who looked a fraction older than he did. He had assumed based past experiences that Orion was here to do something nasty but that was merely because of the one path he had set himself to solve any problem before him: following the word of his client. Each decision he made and action he took was for the benefit of that one person and just as Orion had said, if he had other goals, Kamijou would already be dead for standing in his way.
The only thing that would make him act in this situation would be, just as Orion had said, a request from his client to do this. But that reflected more on the type of person Orion's client was: not on the mercenary himself.
Kamijou had a hard time getting a read on the boy given how he chopped and changed whatever he felt and did to match the client. Ally today and enemy tomorrow; there was nothing saying Orion, out of some whim, would shoot them on the spot and leave them to die.
But even so…just as Orion had said, Kamijou had assumed he was the bad guy despite usually giving people the benefit of the doubt.
So wasn't this the occasion for a leap of faith in the hope that Orion Phoenix, despite his past actions, had the capability to do something good?
Kamijou stared at Orion before taking a step forward, something Orion reacted to.
By stepping back and giving Kamijou room to move towards Crow 1.
Kamijou's eyes went wide as he moved with Arisa to the side of the man leaning against the bench, straining with his injuries but with his eyes closed, it was hard to tell the nature of them. A mere touch from Kamijou made the man wince in response, Arisa going wide eyed and turning to the mercenary.
"What…did you do to him?" Arisa's hand in Kamijou's trembled and Kamijou hoped the girl could hold back Shutaura taking over. What the hard headed leader would do the moment she saw her wounded comrade and the person who had shot her in the chest was obvious and Kamijou wished Orion would leave to avoid unnecessary bloodshed on his part.
"Nothing." Kamijou turned at that, however, Orion held up his other hand not holding a gun. "From the injuries I noted, the gunshot wound to the side of the stomach was the worst of it. Blood loss was the biggest concern, but we managed to stitch up the wound. However, hastily doing such using inadequate tools are not good for his state of health."
"…You stitched him up?" asked Kamijou.
"I did. Although roughly. Leaving him to die would have been the better option, it would prevent me dragging his heavy ass all the way here. But my client decided otherwise. And, if my client wishes something, then I'm willing to put my own personal thoughts to the side."
"We need an ambulance." Arisa said that as she touched Crow 1, unsure of the true nature of the injuries the man had sustained. Kamijou nodded, bringing the phone he held in his hand up to call such a service but was interrupted.
"No need. Already done."
Both Kamijou and Arisa turned now to the mercenary who stood silently, Arisa taking the time to speak.
"Why?" asked Kamijou, cringing at how pointed the question he had asked was. "You just said that he was better off dead. And what happened to the whole 'doing the wrong things for the right reason' and 'you can't save people in war' things you told me?"
"Firstly," Orion's expression soured. "In this case, no, in any case, Mr. Kamijou, my client's wishes to let this man live took priority to any annoyance I felt at keeping him alive. Secondly, I said you can't save everyone in war. Those who you can save, if you even get the opportunity, are a different matter. Obviously." The last word was spat out.
Kamijou frowned at the boy, speaking the first words that came to mind but not applying the filter that usually came over such honest opinions.
"You're…a hard person to read, Orion."
"And there's nothing saying you have to read me or I have to explain myself to you." Orion's words were sharp and blunt, but the expression on his face suggested he was not bothered at all by what Kamijou had said. "Now, if you'll excuse me, Mr. Kamijou. Miss." Orion said with a nod of the head towards Arisa. "Now I have returned Crow 1, I have no reason to stay here. My work is done and I have some other business to attend to."
Orion turned and started walking into the distance, Arisa rising and speaking, although she did so with a wince on her face.
"H-Hey! Orion…kun?" Arisa's voice was hesitant, not only in how to refer to the mercenary but also in what she was going to say. He stopped, turning so the only visible eye faced both parties standing by the wounded Crow 1.
"If this is about the physical health of your teammate, I can assure you he will live. The job we did patching him up was amateurish and stopgap but it did the job it needed to. The ambulance, given it is late into the night, will arrive here shortly." Orion nodded at the man everyone now looked at. Arisa reached out and laid a protective hand on the man whose pained filled expression clearly stung at her heart, but she shook her head.
"That's…not my immediate concern."
"Orion-kun, you said that your client did something that you didn't totally agree with." Arisa's words were careful and Kamijou felt something rise within him, caution entering his gaze as he stared at the mercenary, looking for any type of reaction. Orion's eye flashed with the same caution and he was silent for a moment before nodding.
"I said that, yes. Although, that was to your benefit I believe."
"…Are the actions you did today ones you can fully agree with as well?"
"Might I remind you, Miss, that you shot me first?"
"Th-That's not what I'm talking about." Arisa replied, although with a small cringe, hiding one of her hands behind her back perhaps out of shame for Shutaura's actions. "I'm talking about the things you've done. Kidnapping Crow 1. The bombing you did and participated in earlier in the day. Are those things you can fully agree with as well?"
Kamijou turned from Arisa to Orion. The high schooler wanted to say something in regard to what Arisa was mentioning but as far as he knew, the bombing had only had the worst injuries being broken bones. While that was a miracle in itself, it did not exactly lift the guilt and the severity of Orion's actions.
Kamijou wanted to believe there was a goodness and the chance for peace inside everyone. But while this was the first time he had actually seen Orion doing something good for a good reason, Kamijou felt himself staring at the boy, hoping in his heart the answer he would give to Arisa's question was one that suggested a small fraction of light existed within that mercenary.
"My client was the one who asked for those actions. I merely carried them out."
"That's…not an answer, Orion." Kamijou replied. The mercenary said nothing, his right eye narrowing before he turned and fully faced the duo now.
"If it's honesty you're looking for, then the answer is no. I did not agree to what my client asked for. There were better ways, more efficient ways to get what we wanted. But I am not paid to disagree. I am paid to complete a job set to me. I am paid to act. It might be against some of my personal convictions and thoughts, but my convictions are ones that I am willing to bend for the sake of someone else."
Kamijou stared at Orion, unsure of what to say but finding weak words leaving his mouth.
"You're fine with…betraying yourself? Betraying what you believe for the sake of…someone who is asking you to do something you are against?"
"B-But…!" Kamijou felt the words leave his mouth, but he shut them, unsure of what to say. He knew that Orion's path in life was dictated by the person he was working for and, right now, that placed him right in the way of Shutaura Sequenzia and the peace she had earned.
Yet, among the people Kamijou had faced, he could not help but feel the discord with the person in front of him. Numerous times he had faced people who had fought for something they believed in but, at the same time, were unknowing betraying some part of themselves they did not realise. Although Kamijou did not fully understand and break down people when he faced them, his 'breaking of illusions' focused on that aspect of them: looking at people and what they were betraying and breaking their illusions of the reasoning they held within their actions.
Someone did something bad for a reason. But sometimes, that reason was misguided and the person behind it confused. So many times Kamijou had seen people like that, people who only saw two paths and did not consider a third path that solved whatever problem they were faced with without betraying themselves in some way. And it was because those people realised they had betrayed themselves and become lost with their emotions that Kamijou was able to look into their hearts and pull them out of the abyss they had found themselves in, even at the cost of himself.
He was fine with betraying himself. He was fine bending the rules he had built himself on and destroying whatever foundation he lived on, all for the sake of a client.
What type of reasoning and illusions did such a person live under to be like that? If they sacrificed whatever they felt for whatever cause, how exactly could such an illusion be broken…when it had been smashed to pieces anyway? Instead of Kamijou breaking the illusion and making Orion realise he was betraying himself, Orion had almost snatched the hammer out of Kamijou's hand and destroyed any chance of Kamijou being able to change Orion's mind.
After all, he had already smashed everything he possibly could about himself to pieces.
A terrible thought entered Kamijou mind that he did not really want to consider and he felt a chill run down his spine.
Could a person like that…really be saved?
Could he be freed from the constraining illusions he held and put on a third path that satisfied him when he only saw what was in front of him, a path created by someone else?
"Orion-kun?" Arisa, not finding the same problem with Orion as Kamijou did, spoke up. "You say that…but sometimes the words we say and what we mean are two different things. You are a mercenary. You serve others. But…if the people you serve are making you do things you don't like, then are you really being allowed to be the person you want to be?"
"Get to the fucking point."
The sharp words came from Orion's mouth as something flared in his one visible eye. Arisa flinched at before speaking again.
"Come and work for us." The words were unleashed and Kamijou went wide eyed at them, staring at Arisa and finding her gaze was level, even if she held the aura of someone who was unsure of what she was saying. "W-Whatever was paid to you, we can offer you more, I am sure. If you don't like your client, their decisions and the work you are doing right now, then we can offer you something else, something better. A chance to do something good instead of kidnapping others and blowing buildings apart."
"Not a chance."
There was no hesitation, not even the chance to consider the thought or even for Kamijou to register surprise at how Orion would respond. The words were immediate and without pause, Arisa staring stunned he had replied so easily. Kamijou, now overcome with surprise of his own, went wide eyed.
"B-But we can offer you more than your client! To you it would be – "
"I said no. And I meant it."
There was no avenue for change.
That was what the brief words he said indicated to everyone there.
"Why?! Are you really…really that set on working for your client!? Even though you are doing things you don't agree with?! Are you really that set on betraying yourself and being satisfied with that!? I-If you stay like this then you won't be…you can't be…!" Kamijou yelled, stepping forward and finding a hand grabbing his arm.
Orion stared at Kamijou without changing expression.
"You're mistaking something very basic here, Mr. Kamijou. I have nothing against you. Nor did I have anything against Ms. Kongou or Ms. Sequenzia or anyone else my work places me against. But for your suggestion to switch sides, the answer is no."
"Because I owe a duty to my client."
The response was blunt but behind Orion's eye was a flash of emotion that Kamijou did not think he could show: deep loyalty towards the stranger who had hired him.
"I will not bend on that. I won't betray my client without good reason. And even then, it has to be a fucking world changing reason. More money? The chances for me to for better things and better people? Fuck off. Why would that be good enough of a reason?"
"But - !"
"If I was working for you," Orion said sharply. "And someone came to me with the same offer, would you rather I go with it? Or stick with you?"
There was silence, the answer obvious to everyone there and Orion slowly rose a hand.
"There we have it. Besides, I don't think my client and their associates see Ms. Sequenzia as a viable or profitable target anymore. This is the last you will see of me. In your life hopefully. We will leave you alone and we won't be bothering you anymore."
Both Arisa and Kamijou went wide eye at that, glancing at each other in surprise.
"J-Just like that?" asked Arisa.
"Just like that. So go home. Have a rest. Take a break. It's late so get ready for tomorrow and live out the peaceful day you deserve. Especially you, Mr. Kamijou." Orion stared at Kamijou with a level gaze. "Three times I've seen you on the three jobs I've been on. To be honest, I'd rather not see you again, if only because you don't belong in this world. Go home. Live out your fucking life doing what you want and how you want it."
There was silence for a small moment before Orion turned. But even so, Kamijou grit his teeth, yelling out before he could even have the chance to think about what he was saying.
"Mr. Kamijou," Orion's words were sharp and pointed, as if he was planning to strike Kamijou with them. "I have been patient. And I have answered your questions. I have returned the person who was kidnapped, told you truthfully that the people I work for will not harm Ms. Sequenzia any further and that you are not a priority. I have placed myself at risk in doing so and dragged a fucking wounded man throughout this godforsaken City for the chance to know he has been collected safely with no benefit to myself. What possible thing could you have to say to me? Usually, people who are given the OK to piss off from me either do so or shoot me in the back. What do you want?"
Orion hissed out the words, Kamijou opening his mouth to say something but only closing it.
Why did it bother him so much the way this mercenary lived out his life? Whether it was the things he said, the way he handled things and the overall presence he gave, something within Kamijou felt that no matter the case or what happened, Orion Phoenix would always rub him the wrong way. It was more than just being unlikeable but the unknown reason why Kamijou had called out truly bothered him to his core.
Unsure of what to say, Kamijou felt shaky words leave his mouth.
"…Why do you do it? Why do you live out your life in this way? You don't like it, you've said so yourself. But you do things and work with people you don't like. Can you really…afford to betray yourself like that constantly? Why do you constantly throw yourself into harm's way when the only thing that is going to come out of it is you getting hurt when you don't need to be? A life like that…isn't one I can save you from."
Kamijou gritted his teeth but felt the stare of surprise from Arisa.
Orion Phoenix had nothing to do with Kamijou Touma.
No matter how much they disagreed, no matter how much they pissed each other off, they did not have to matter to the other.
However, Kamijou could not merely look at this boy in front of him and not think he needed saving in some way. The way he was satisfied with betraying himself, the fact he threw himself into worthless conflict for no reason, the things he did were things that stabbed at Kamijou harder than he thought as he stared at the mercenary.
Would he endlessly face conflict after conflict, be beaten down and then take up his gun for another fight, even if it was against the person he had previously been working for? A person with little convictions, with each job he took, it felt more like to Kamijou that the mercenary was selling off his soul one part at a time, only waiting for himself to break in the process.
How could he save someone from a life like that? Even if they had their disagreements, Orion was not a person in Kamijou's eyes who did not deserve the chance for his own peace. Even if he was a twisted human being in his own right…even this mercenary deserved the chance to be happy.
But if he continued to betray himself without caring about it, continued to enter conflict after conflict, he would never find that.
There was silence for a moment, Orion staring at Kamijou for a tiny bit. It was for nothing but a moment but the words that came out of his mouth stabbed into Kamijou all the same.
"I wouldn't be talking you hypocrite."
Kamijou stared at Orion, the boy staring back.
"Why do you throw yourself into things that need not concern you when it's obvious there is the chance you are going to get hurt? Even now, Ms. Sequenzia has a bullet hole in her chest. I don't see you as someone who denies reality so easily. You accompanied her, wherever you met, with the knowledge there is the risk you would be shot."
"This and that are different! The reason I'm doing this is because I can't just leave Shutaura on her own with something like this! And I'm not betraying myself when I do what I do, I do it because I want to, because there is something in front of me I can't afford to ignore!"
"What, do you think I just pick up my gun for anyone who waves some cash in my fucking face?" Orion spat out. "I can pick and choose my clients. Just like you, I do what I do because there is something I can't afford to ignore. And in this case, my client, like every other, provided pressing reasons behind why I was to work for them."
"Is that it then? You do what you do simply because someone asks you to and can provide a reason? Because you have a service to offer?"
"Aren't you the same?"
Kamijou felt a chill down his spine, staring at Orion with wide eyes.
"Our battlefields are different. But you come across someone in trouble and offer your services, for your own selfishness and benefit. Much the same as me. You throw yourself into battle after battle for the sake of someone else despite the risk of you being hurt but not because it's a question of the risk. But because you owe a sense of duty to the person you 'serve'. The person who 'hired' you. Which in this case, given what you've told me, would be her." Orion pointed at Arisa, the girl paling as she stood there in silence.
"In a way, Mr. Kamijou, you are just another type of mercenary. But what I find interesting is the anger you have directed at me. Are you angry at me because you are fighting someone just like you who should be serving the same side as you…or because you can't stand the thought of someone living a life like ours?"
There had once been a boy called Kamisato Kakeru. With a similar stance on life as Kamijou Touma, Kamijou had found it hard to get along with him, simply because while they had been so similar (as much as Kamijou wanted to deny that), they were just so different. The way they did things in particular and the power in their right hands for another, Kamijou had found Kamisato a person both admirable but also insufferable in his own right.
While he had mellowed out and had some sense smacked into him, thus turning into a somewhat better person who wasn't so concerned with compromises and whatever stupid problems he had with that stupid harem of his, Kamisato Kakeru was just a person that Kamijou found himself accepting…but at the same time keeping at an arm's length.
And Orion Phoenix was the same.
There were differences and similarities. But with the way he lived his life, Kamijou only turned back on himself and gritted his teeth.
He did not enter fights just to get hurt. But over the past few days, with the incidents that he had been through, what was at risk and what Kamijou subsequently lost only pushed down on him more than he could ever think.
With the incident with MINUS, before they had been pushed down to two people, eleven people had died, countless had suffered and Academy City had been turned into a warzone.
With the incident with Mugino, Kihara Kamui had infected someone who had nothing to do with anything and tried to bring out the darkness within Mugino for his own ends.
With the incident with Kongou, numerous men had been massacred, Index had almost lost her life, Otohime was running the risk of losing her way and Kamijou had even lost his left arm.
And even with this incident now, Shutaura had almost died after being shot in the chest.
The scale of what was happening was so great…but so was the risk of something being lost. Kamui was building the FIVE_Object, a weapon so large it could destroy an entire city as an example and had already developed Personality Swipe which had already meant numerous men had had their personalities overwritten and replaced with Kamui's.
So, if Kamijou kept on throwing himself into the conflicts before him…
When would he be made to lose something he could not afford to lose?
And with his mentality right now with his PTSD and his desensitisation of death, when he lost something he could not afford to lose, would he even care?
Was he angry at Orion because they were so similar yet on different sides of the battlefield?
Or because Orion's, and thus Kamijou's, way of life was running the risk of crushing them from all sides with what was happening within Academy City right now?
(Calm down. Don't let him get to you.)
Kamijou closed his eyes, taking a deep breath and opening them, sorting through his mind to try and say the words he needed to say. Although Orion was nothing more than a mercenary, the words he had said had touched a chord.
But Kamijou Touma had not faced an infinite hell spanning over billions of years just to be bested in a battle of words by nothing than a lowly mercenary.
"My life…isn't like yours."
"Because I will never betray myself. I'll never do anything I regret and I move forward because I do things I know I will regret if I don't do them. You might be right. I might be another type of mercenary. In fact, I've had someone tell me something along those lines before." Kamijou remembered vaguely that Third Princess Villian had said something to him along those lines once. "But even if I have to look at something and not agree with it fully, I'll never do anything I don't want to do. While I might work with people I might not like, I'll never do something I know I will regret in the future."
It wasn't that Kamijou Touma was like Orion Phoenix.
It was the other way around.
And that was the source of his anger.
"Our lives might be similar. But I can't stand the fact you are willing to betray yourself for someone else. That isn't saving someone, even if they are in trouble. It's nothing more than being a puppet to their whims and being unable to back up your honest words with your actions. Because you're willing to betray yourself, the illusion you're living under is that you can serve someone unconditionally, without question. That's not…living, Orion. Because you think you can betray yourself, you're trapped within a shell of your own making. Who is Orion Phoenix? Who is the person who's playing mercenary for some reason or another? Have you ever shed the clothes you're wearing and taken a good long look at yourself?"
Orion Phoenix was like Kamijou Touma.
Except he had already thrown himself away and decided to betray himself for the sake of someone else.
Kamijou had once said that Orion was not a hero.
Because if he did nothing but serve, then he was nothing but a puppet with no soul of his own. He would do nothing but follow the path given to him by his client and never taken independent action of his own.
"Are you proud of what you see in there? I might not be perfect. There are things I can think about myself as being flawed but while I know that, I also know I will never do anything I will later be ashamed of. I never betray myself and while, like you, I act selfishly, I'll never turn my back from someone needing help. It might be selfish, but I do so because of my own beliefs, my own ideals. And I keep to them. There's no such thing as a conviction that can be bent. It wouldn't be a conviction otherwise. It's something you hold to yourself and never let go. They are the rules you set yourself so you can operate without shame and without regret. Throwing those away and thinking you can change them…means you're not being yourself. And that is the one fault within you, Orion Phoenix, that you cannot escape from."
"You've thrown yourself away. You've betrayed yourself and not stayed true to who you are. You're a kid wearing the clothes of a mercenary because you've recognised you've thrown yourself away. You are…"
Kamijou stared at Orion, trying to find the words.
He had once met empty people known as the Sisters. They had been doomed to die but even when they had had that fate cast upon them, they had still kept themselves. They had never thrown away what they believed and they had undeniably been themselves even when they did what they did. Those girls who, even when they had faced death, stayed to themselves were more human than the mercenary standing in front of Kamijou.
Both served another whenever they fought. Both took on the mantle as someone who was fighting another.
Kamijou Touma stayed true to himself, even as he was thrust into conflict after conflict.
Orion Phoenix betrayed himself time and time again, even as he was thrust into conflict after conflict.
Both would never give up or betray the person they had decided to fight for if the circumstances allowed it.
But only one could truly say he saved another person. Only one could hold his head up high and say, without question, he was proud for what he had done and achieved for another person because of how he had stuck and stayed true to himself.
Only one could say he was truly a hero.
Who was Orion Phoenix?
For Kamijou Touma, there was only one thing he could say that truly captured the essence of the boy.
"You are my Bad End."
"If I ever lose sight of who I am, if I ever think of betraying myself, you are who I will turn into. If I ever let the conflicts I go into control me, if I ever lose sight of the peace I have in my hands, you are who I will become. There's nothing wrong with being a mercenary. But if I let the fighting control me, if I let myself lose sight of the precious things I have, I may as well no longer be Kamijou Touma."
Kamijou stared ahead, never letting himself lose sight of the things most precious to him.
(And if I let myself become desensitised to death, if I let my PTSD win, if I fail to keep in sight what would be lost if I keep on fighting pointlessly and what I want to return back to, if I fail to keep in mind that I want to be Kamijou Touma, then I will turn into him. Who am I? All that will be lost…if I ever betray myself. I may as well throw myself away if I ever turn into that.)
With Kamisato, the issue had not been Kamijou feared turning into him. The issue had been how they had been so similar yet so different and the anger of their differences despite their similarities.
With Orion though, while they were similar but different, the issue Kamijou had with Orion was how one small change in the things Kamijou could do could turn him into Orion. How it could turn him into a hunter instead of a saver. It was an issue of anger at their similarities despite their similarities.
Orion had said nothing the entire time, just standing there and staring Kamijou while he had spoken. It was the silence that followed between the two, the success and his failure, that seemed to cut through the tension, but it was only with brief words that Orion spoke up now.
"Good night Mr. Kamijou. Miss."
A nod at Arisa.
And with that, he left.
Kamijou stared, stunned, before yelling out.
"Don't you have anything to say?!"
"What?" Orion asked as he turned back. "Did you think your words would touch a chord? Fuck off. I could care less about what you think, Mr. Kamijou. My way of life isn't dictated by you. I live my life in my own way. That's why it's called my life. And I don't have to feel anything when you say shit you think sounds cool. Good night."
Kamijou stared after Orion, watching him disappear into the darkness of the night and out of view, only left standing there with Arisa in silence.
"Touma…kun?" Arisa asked by Kamijou's side, the boy only staring at the back of Orion Phoenix…no, Kamijou Touma's Bad End.
"…It's nothing. We need to make sure Crow 1 really is OK." Kamijou didn't waste time thinking about it any further, moving towards Crow 1 on the seat and checking to see if the wound Orion had noted before, a shot to the side of the stomach, was indeed the worst of the injuries the man had received.
When Kamijou touched it, Crow 1 winced, his expression turning into one of pain. Whether he was sleeping or merely unconscious was unknown but Kamijou, the amateur, could only look at the wound and make an assessment that was barely professional.
"I think he's OK. We need to wait for that ambulance though. I don't want to have to place someone's life on an amateur's opinion alone." Kamijou rose his head and stared out into the darkness of District 7, trying to see for himself if there were any lights from an ambulance in the distance.
"Do you think Orion-kun really called the ambulance?" asked Arisa sceptically. She rose a valid point, making Kamijou pause for a moment before shaking his head.
"There'd be no reason for him to do that. He could have let Crow 1 bleed out if that was the case or merely ignore his client's wishes when bringing them here. Not to mention I think he would find it rather distasteful to drop a dying man into our hands. So I think he did call the ambulance."
"He was certainly…" Arisa paused trying to find the words. Kamijou only smiled at it.
"He's an odd one. But I think he's honest. I don't think you are going to be in any more danger Arisa. Shutaura either. You can rest easy."
"…Until Mental Out comes and we read the residual memories from the bodysuit to tell us where MINUS's hideout is." Noted Arisa. Kamijou paused, nodding at that and once more looking forward to where Orion had gone into the darkness. Even though he had told them both to go home, it was likely Kamijou and Orion would once more find themselves on the opposite sides of the battlefield.
A success and a failure.
Even though their paths in life could be summed up in that way, their raw skill when it came to fighting was the opposite: with the projectile weaponry Orion sported, Kamijou had no doubt who would win in a straight fight.
But even so, he was not going to let something like that stop him if he needed to take Orion on himself for the sake of someone else's smiles.
"How are you holding up though Arisa?" asked Kamijou. The girl seemed stunned for a moment and put a hand to her chest, as if feeling for a wound there. She winced lightly but it seemed to not be as profound as the wound Shutaura had indicated was there when she had passed out.
"The wound… It's getting better. I think the treatment given to me is making things a whole lot better." Kamijou nodded, taking her by the hand and letting her sit on the seat next to Crow 1. His gaze at her was concerned even though she said she was fine.
"I'm not going to risk it any more than I need to though. You've been walking a lot, so rest now."
Arisa smiled and nodded, tightening her grip on the hand holding hers for a tiny bit before she slowly let go. Kamijou stared at her, something clearly on his mind that related to Arisa but she only tilted her head at it.
"Is something wrong, Touma-kun? I said I was fine."
"No, it's just… I was wondering how much time you had left before Shutaura took over." His voice was concerned and the grip in his hand felt as though, with time, it would merely fade and be replaced with something else, an entirely new girl. Even though she was in Shutaura's body, with the way she was acting, Kamijou could not help but think of the girl in front of him as having the body she had originally had before she had fused with Shutaura.
Arisa slightly blushed and smiled at the sentiment. She was silent for a tiny bit before she spoke again.
"I… I don't think I have long. But Touma-kun, I'm not going to disappear entirely. We will meet again. And like I said, I think we have a lot to catch up on. Even if Shutaura might not want to say anything, I think that in the times she cannot, it's my will over hers. So, we shall meet again. And I hope Index-chan will be with us too in that time."
"Yeah, I do have to explain to her what happened with the both of you." said Kamijou sheepishly. "Although knowing what happened with Kazakiri, I'm sure that telling her one of her friends has fused with another person will be normal for her."
Arisa giggled, raising an eyebrow at that. She softly narrowed her eyes at Kamijou, fully taking in his features before her and smiling, feeling and remembering the racing heartbeat within her chest that she did not mind at all.
"Oh, we do need to catch up. I'm sure the stories you have to tell me are ones I'll love."
Kamijou grinned back at that.
"You won't believe most of them."
"I'm sure I won't."
The smiles held by both friends, now reunited were held in that small moment, staring at each other and losing each other in the smiles of the other before it was broken. Kamijou turned his head and looked down at the phone in his hand, Shutaura's, to determine the location of the other Crows heading their way.
"The others are closer now. I think they'll be here within a few seconds, likely before the ambulance. We still have to get Shokuhou here too to allow her to use her power." Arisa pouted as Kamijou spoke, the small moment between the two of them one broken by a larger and more important issue (as well as the mention of another girl, but then again, that was very Kamijou-like). She knew that but the small pout on her lips was one she could not withhold. Kamijou, noting her silence looked up to see her turning away, his own expression frowning.
"Aris – " He started before his eyes went wide. He turned franticly, looking down the street where Orion had once gone, a sudden cold sweat having come over his body.
The change within him was evident, even to Arisa and she frowned, turning and facing Kamijou with a concerned look of her own.
"…There's no way. …But at the same time…!" Kamijou's entire body jolted, the boy standing up roughly and looking down at Shutaura's phone before handing it roughly to Arisa. She cried out in surprise, Kamijou letting go of her hand and putting it on her shoulder. "Arisa, I need you to stay here. Wait for the others and keep an eye on them on the trackers they have. Do you think you can do that for me?"
"T-Touma-kun?!" Arisa tried to stand up but Kamijou had already placed a little bit of force to make her sit down on the chair, racing off into the night.
"I'm sorry!" Kamijou called out. "I'll come back! And no matter if you are Arisa or Shutaura when I do, I'll never turn you away! Just stay there and wait for the others!" He turned back around, never once seeing the sudden flush of red that came onto Arisa's face as he raced through the darkness, reaching where he had last seen Orion and gritting his teeth upon seeing he could not see the mercenary, his Bad End, in either direction.
There were odd things, things Kamijou had now only realised.
The first: the lack of injuries Orion had.
Shutaura had been shot in the chest, much like Orion and she had passed out as a result of her injuries. And yet, that mercenary had not only managed to recover from his wound but recover from them to the extent he had been able to carry a grown man through District 7 and not collapse? Not only that, but Shutaura had said he had broken his wrist to escape from the Anti-Skill van he had been kept prisoner in and yet, when Orion had appeared before them, there had been no such injury on him.
How had he managed to recover from those injuries in such a short amount of time?
Faith Townsend, his hander, had said he could not have his heart destroyed. Did it have something to do with that? Some magical concept?
(She said he was human though…)
Kamijou shook his head, realising he could not entirely place faith in Faith, as ironic as that was. While Orion had been honest, the same was not said for his handler. But while the issue of his injuries was something that tugged at the mind of Kamijou, it was something else that bothered him more.
The sudden change in how Orion had referred to Arisa.
When they had first met, he had called her 'Ms. Sequenzia'. While he felt the need to address someone in that way, Kamijou did not know or care, but in the aftermath of them appearing, Orion had not called Arisa that name.
Instead, he had called her 'Miss'.
As if he knew the person in front of him was not Shutaura Sequenzia.
Indeed, while parts of her hair and eyes had changed, as well as her voice, when faced with something like that, would the first instinct of someone be to think that Shutaura had switched to another personality entirely? The thought was ridiculous and yet, Orion had distinctively called Shutaura something else instead of how he usually referred to her.
It was impossible. There was no way he could have possibly known.
(Did he know about Shutaura's condition? Did he know she was both herself and Arisa?! There's no way but assuming it was the case, it makes a lot of stuff clear! Why did MINUS want Shutaura in the first place? We had nothing on the reasoning but if they knew she was two people at once, that changes things! What type of existence is Shutaura Sequenzia anyway?! She's neither herself or Arisa but both. Was that why they were after her?!)
Kamijou skid to a stop, gritting his teeth and cursing Orion for choosing to embrace that stupid inner edgelord within himself and choose to wear black. Then again, perhaps Kamijou was the idiot for wanting to chase him through the City at night even though he knew that Orion wore that colour. He turned his head back and forth frantically and ran down the street he assumed Orion had gone down, sweat coursing from his face.
(Yes, he said he didn't need Shutaura or Arisa anymore. But that view is probably only from his client rather than who they are working for. I have to know what he knows about Shutaura and Arisa. Only then can I determine if they are safe in the future from anyone else who wants to study them!)
But that was not the only point on Kamijou's mind.
There was one more point he only now considered and realised.
(Not only that… But Orion said he had business elsewhere! Who…Who else is MINUS after!?)
Kamijou Touma had no idea where his feet were taking him as he ran through the late night streets of Academy City.
The only thing he knew was that he was chasing after his Bad End to see who else was going to get caught in that bastard's path…and to prevent it from happening.
And there was a cruel irony in seeing how the success was so frantically chasing after his failure.
Shutaura Sequenzia felt her eyes slowly open as she felt a shaking on her shoulder. Opening them, the sight of one of the Black Crows came into view, Crow 7. With him was the person he had been tasked to escort to District 14; the nun known as Index. In her hands she held a calico cat and a barely dressed doll, but upon opening her eyes, a flood of information entered her mind.
Even though she was not 'present' whenever Meigo Arisa took over, the awareness she had of what that girl had done in her body was an aftereffect that took over whenever they swapped bodies. Even if there were no memories in such, Shutaura grunted and tried to raise her body, feeling the pain in her chest lesser than it was before.
(Because of Arisa taking over?)
Shutaura rose a hand to her head, trying to sort through the new information that came with her, but it was the one thing she knew she had to focus on more than anything that made her turn to her side quickly.
The sight of the limp form of Crow 1 almost made her heart jump out of her chest and it was nothing more than instinct that made her call out.
"H-He's fine, Captain!" called Crow 7 in response, reaching out and grabbing the shoulders of the Crow Leader. "What happened? We found you here, on the bench with Crow 1."
"What…happened?" Shutaura asked, raising a hand to her head and trying to sort through the knowledge she had been given. "I-I came here and found Crow 1 on the bench. But…he wasn't alone! The-The bastard who shot me?!"
Shutaura stood up frantically, desperately searching for Orion Phoenix, the boy she was aware had been here, next to Crow 1. They had chatted but what about, Shutaura did not know, the only thing in her mind being an awareness that the boy had given her Crow 1…and then left without a bullet in the back for having caused all the trouble he had for her.
What had Arisa been thinking?!
It was with great frustration that Shutaura could not give that girl a lecture, but it was the nun with Crow 7 who spoke up. For some reason, the anxiety she had previously had when facing that nun seemed to have disappeared.
"Wh-Where's Touma!? He was with you, wasn't he?"
Shutaura frowned, sorting through her mind for the first thing that would come up when it came to what Arisa was 'aware' about when it came to Kamijou.
But what came to her mind was not a location.
But rather an event that made Shutaura Sequenzia, soldier and leader of the Black Crows, go red in the face and fury enter her expression along with embarrassment.
She looked down at her chest, suddenly being aware of the bastard who had decided to stick his face there for the stupid reason of checking if she was fine. She trembled in response to the question, trying to form words with her mouth, but looking up at the surprised people in front of her, only to see the eyes of both Index and the doll in her hands go cold and dead.
"…I had a feeling this would happen."
"Somehow, I should be surprised at what that human manages to pull off. But as a God, even I feel somewhat terrified that I can think of this as nothing but a normal occurrence."
Shutaura Sequenzia had surely seen a lot of battles.
But it was clear that both Index and that doll had a lot to say about what they had seen before too.
And there we have it!
So, what did you think?
I was surprised this chapter with the number of character insights but there we go! I hope that even though this was mostly a character focused chapter that you found yourself engaged with it given this chapter was mostly about Arisa and the failure that is Orion. As well as the targets MINUS have in their sights!
Firstly, I think it's wise to once more separate this into its respective sections. So we'll begin with the part about Arisa's fear and the reason why she justifies hiding from Touma and Index.
One of the things I've had with Arisa and Shutaura are their parallels with their situation to what Touma faces with his memory loss. Namely, the issue of identity that arises with not knowing who they are and also with the lack of solidarity in the connections they had hold. Much like Touma and his original fear of losing Index with the new person he becomes, Arisa has a similar fear in that she is LITERALLY two people at once and because of it, is scared of how that will translate into her relationship with Touma. In very much the same way Touma felt fear in opening up to Index because he was a new person, Arisa feels the same here too in that she is quite literally also a new person. Her fear then being expressed in that opening part really shows the fragility not only of herself but also the connection she has with Shutaura in how she also has the same fear Arisa has. However, as was noted, I think this fear within Arisa is much stronger given how Shutaura is the dominant of the two.
Not only scared of pushing her friends away but also of herself in part, I hope the pain I wanted to show there was properly showed. However, in the same way, I also hope the parallels Arisa was having there with Touma and the issue of his own memory loss were evident, especially in the resolution. Here, Touma 'saves' someone who was having much the same problems as him when he was facing the issue of his own memory loss. But the way he saves them was the same way Index saved him, by telling Arisa that no matter how she changes, she is still her.
And more importantly, that she is still his friend. Naturally, this is something said for both him and Index as being people who would be more than willing to accept Arisa for her faults and her problems but I think it was somewhat ironic that Touma saves Arisa in the same way he was once saved by Index. As a result, I definitely think that small scene there, while showing the core of the problems with Arisa, resolved them in a resolution that left neither Touma or Arisa with tears.
As was said, they are finally reunited and that is not an event I felt was sad in any way. And hence, there were no tears.
But the following scene I think was part of what this chapter was all about. While this is the story of characters discovering or re-discovering Touma, it is also about enforcing what he means to them. And I felt as though doing so with Arisa meant there was nothing that would do it but a small insert song. Somehow, while dividing her thoughts on Touma and also having the lyrics at the same time, there was sort of an animated feel to it for me but at the same time, was only something I could get across with words.
If anything, as Arisa was singing, I hope you smiled or tried to look up the song and listen to it yourself. The fact it would be the only Arisa song Touma has that does not have lyrics and she is singing those lyrics has a bit of a poetic feel given the emotions she is feeling at that time. Once more, the Kami-yan Disease strikes again but given it was expressed with song this time, there is something of a poetic feel in that her feelings were communicated through song: in which love or themes of such is mostly communicated. Through various ways, that scene just felt right to me and only something I could have achieved with Arisa.
But the next scene, with Hayashida and Faith? I finally unveiled the targets…and I hope from this you can only see how much total chaos is going to be unleashed. I introduced Accelerator and Hamazura in the second chapter but did you think they would reappear?! I hope you can look forward to the chapter and also realise how the extended cast is very much going to have larger role.
But while the VERY last part was just something I had to put in for the sake of tying up something that happened at the beginning of the chapter (did you think Shutaura's reaction was very soldier like – I originally had her scream but given how she is, I figured that her reacting with anger and not hiding her chest or anything, just looking down at it, captured her image while Arisa outright screamed), the second to last bit I think introduces a rather interesting concept in terms of character.
Very rarely within Raildex does Touma ever face the same enemy twice, unless they are faced over a number of volumes like Fiamma or Othinus. But at the same time, the anger that Touma shows to Orion is something I hope you sometimes felt was a bit over the top given how he usually is and the reason for that was shown in this chapter. As an enemy, while there have been numerous opposites to Touma and while there have been different heroes as well in the series who are a bit like Touma or a bit different, I don't think we've come across the concept of a Bad End in the canon apart from Aureolus. Part of me really felt like the concept that could be used there was really interesting and is part of the base of what created Orion: a potential failure of Touma if he threw out his convictions and focused only on defeating his enemy and felt as though the rules he followed could be bent.
Touma is sort of a mercenary in his own right. The way he is willing to enter any fight is reminiscent of that and even Villian mentions Touma's similarities to Acqua in this sense in OT 18. But at the same time, the one thing he does and follows is his own convictions: he rarely does something he doesn't want to and doesn't accept anything he can't. While idealistic, Touma is that type of character and follows it very strictly. It's made him a type of a static character, very much like Imagine Breaker, as it serves as a 'reference' point: he'll never change because of how much he values his convictions and the desire to see someone smile.
Orion on the other hand is that taken to the extreme. He is a mercenary by trade but instead of following his convictions, he changes them for the sake of someone else and can bend them. Although he has some, he is essentially rule-less and while he enters fights much like Touma for the sake of someone else, the only thing he sees is the person he is helping and is guided along the rails by that person. Instead of actively involving himself, he passively does so, acting as nothing but a puppet for the sake of the whims of others and fights on their behalf and, unlike Touma, he thinks very little of desiring to 'save' others, only going so far as to 'solve' the problem.
How he is a failed Touma in this sense is obvious. He's not concerned with saving, or at least, the way he does it does not achieve such. Naturally, if he was asked to save by a client, then that was what he would do, such as in this case, but only because it aligns with the task of the client itself. By betraying himself, he has become nothing but a puppet in the hands of whoever was facing a problem instead of Touma who, by following his ideals, attempts to save people and ensure they can smile.
By betraying himself while doing something similar to Touma has, he has essentially failed not only himself but also the people he serves on a greater level when compared to Touma who tries to find the best solution for all parties and ensures no one is sad. He does not compromise like Kamisato but neither does he seek a third path like Touma; he merely is stuck on the one path he is given by his client. And it is this way that he is a Bad End: something Touma could become if he went down the wrong road (although there are different interpretations of this in various ways).
And for that alone, he is a Bad End Touma in his own way. I really felt that instead of having an opposite, Orion sits on neither end of the scale. He is not an enemy: given his way of working, he is nothing but a puppet. Neither is he a hero because of how he betrays himself and rarely takes his own course of action, only following the one given to him. He sits as a neutral, much like Touma and offers his services to others but not to save, but serve and, as a result, has become a Bad End. Seeing this type of character, acting not as a foil or a mirror but instead as a darkened side of the same coin is something I find really interesting in its own way. Where you think this is going to go is something I hope you can look forward to.
And that is where I will leave it. For the characters introduced and the themes, I hope you can look forward to the future of this arc.
And as always,
Review if you please.
And I'll see you when I see you and I won't if I don't.
Various things are happening right now…