And here we are once again!
One of the main things with Index I have found with a series, at least in its novel form, is that it's not always about the fights scenes but how the novel constantly explores and uses characters as the basis of everything instead of only being about the story. Characters are explored, developed and we're on a journey just as much as the rest of them throughout it and for that reason, I think that making the characters a big focus is perhaps more important than a lot of other things going on in this story.
For this alone, I hope that this chapter also then makes the characters the focus given what I hope is going to happen.
Before we begin though, I'd like to start with the Q & A:
Guest: Thanks so much for your kind words. And I do give Touma breaks…it's just that the gaps in between the breaks and bits like these make the breaks seem so far gone…
whwsms: I'm glad that you noted that last chapter wasn't just a straight fight but also a fight with ideologies at play, in between Touma and his enemies but also his allies. We'll have to see where things go from here though… I'm also glad that you noted Shutaura having a small fight with Index as well!
TheDarkPublisher: I'm glad that you noted that Touma's actions are finally getting some traction and changing people's lives – he deserves all the praise he is given after all. But I think that part of me may have also been inspired by the Dark Knight trilogy when this chapter and arc was in the works: Shutaura sort of has a vigilante vibe to her at times.
DNWorks: I've also liked how Touma has survived almost everything he has been through, but that also has a dark side to it which I've really played upon at times. I haven't seen What If personally, but I hope you can look forward to what this chapter holds and accept whatever is to come, both the good and the bad. Even if they aren't evil, sometimes for the people we love, we do the wrong things, so it's really up to these characters to see where things take them from here on.
craytherlay: I've really liked working with Orion given how he brings out the darkness in people – it's a really interesting parallel in a series which has its themes being around kindness and salvation, only for me to put Orion in there who kills for money and brings out evil in others. In this sense, he's not suited for the world of Index at all. So you think Eiyuu is Otohime!? Everyone needs to listen to Othinus though!
Dancouga01-23: Touma really needs a break after everything I've put him through… but I hope the mystery of the baby keeps you guessing! Part of me feels though, that just because Last Order is Accelerator's responsibility that if she could do something to help that she would instead of just letting 'Accelerator handle everything' if you know what I mean. I hope you look forward to what happens in between Mikoto and Touma at this stage though. I have a really hard time thinking about how Touma would react to a character who is like talking to a wall – I get the feeling that Touma might end up going down a dark path in that world, or the character he's talking to would have his words really affect them eventually is the way I think about it.
Komigakuo: You shall see where things head! I hope that for whatever happens you look forward to where things inevitably head from here. And I'm glad someone has the same love for Arisa as I do!
Chroma: Hahahaha – well, the chapter is here so you'll have to see what happens! Part of me, on the back of your comment, wants me to have a scene where Touma, fed up with it all, goes on a massive rant BECAUSE off the weight of everything he has been through. We're not at that stage yet, but when it happens, I hope you can really enjoy where it goes. Your 2 cents have been received gladly.
LoneVirgo98: Hahahahahaha, I get your anger and I know exactly where you're coming from. While it seems as though the other characters are throwing away everything Touma has done for them, at the same time, they're doing everything they can do to protect what Touma gave them. Because Touma wasn't there when Accelerator saved Last Order or when Hamazura saved Takitsubo, I do feel as though those characters have pride in what they reclaimed on their own and hence, despite the respect they would have for Touma, can't accept things when he's trying to protect someone who took from them – much like Hamazura did during NT 12. But for those characters, in the moment, they CAN'T wait and see what happens – the only thing they can do is push forward even if it means Touma is going to bring that burden onto himself. We'll have to see where things go from here but your honest thoughts are really appreciated. Also, DON'T feel sorry for Orion – he totally had it coming. Touma's biting is next level, let me tell you that. Chapters nowadays are getting pretty heavy, aren't they?
PHAZE1NE: I MIGHT. I'm not going to say more than that.
Kami: I hope this chapter manages to deliver and that you feel better! I totally agree with you though: fuck Covid and we need more Arisa!
Kurt930: Yeah, Touma needs a break. I know this is me saying this, but he really needs a break.
WwEpsilonwW: I'm glad someone remembers the ass fetish (although, you've been reading BTL so I think that you remember more than others). Hahahahaha, I've gone through so many mental images of Orion that I can barely keep count. And thank you so much for your kind words – I hope you look forward to where things eventually head.
Agent Nine: I re-read the chapter with your comment in mind…and it REALLY makes me think that there were a lot of headbutts last chapter. I'll try and be a bit more consistent with knocking people out there: in real life, it can be both really hard and really easy to do that! But you'll have to see where things go from here…
ShadowBloodedge9396: Okaeri! I'm glad you've noticed how I've shifted towards torturing Orion now that he's considered the opposite of Touma…and the best part is no one will care! However, people still think I'm not giving Touma a break… Hahahaha, I hope you look forward to what Eiyuu can provide! And yes, Touma asking Mikoto for help was a bit of a throwback. Touma still has his phone, but he can't take any calls at the moment… But no, Louis is calling Batya Sis as a form of endearment: they are that close with each other, that's all.
Darkrai Mier: Ohohohoho, eso es lo que piensas...
5had0wHand: LOL – I loved the whole Mugino and Touma Metal Gear thing you had going. It definitely would be kind of strange seeing Kam being yandere though… but I'll hold out on making any further comments until the rest of the story plays out. I loved your summarisation of the entire Mugino arc; you hit the nail on the head, especially with Part 2 and the Endings, haha. I can't believe you took 5 months to finally catch up, but you have my utmost thanks for managing to achieve something that isn't easy to do. Maybe, in the meantime, you'll have to find something else to pass the time, something that will also take you just as long, haha! I have to say though, your comparison to Orion and Touma to rams was very accurate in its own way… I hope you can look forward to the final confrontation with Kamui though; there's still a bit to get there, but we'll get there eventually! As for that baby, you'll see later in the chapter, but did you read my mind with her name!? Although, I do have to admit, I didn't break the bank with the creativity on her name. I'll keep things quiet though on what exactly she is. It's interesting though that you get Rin vibes from Batya, I've never felt that personally, but then again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder!
Salvie: Hahahahaha, I dunno if you could call it dedication or just me having a lot of spare time.
DzNuts134: Touma doesn't remember everything about Shokuhou, only memories he accumulated from when Regon was implanted into his system but Thor – all other memories with her are destroyed. As for how he knew he was a close friend of hers, he could only assume given the apparent connection with him and their conversations which he remembers. Hopefully this addresses your points, all of which were very good and I thank you for your honesty with them. Yeah, we don't see Touma being happy too much. But I'm glad that someone notes the amazing chemistry Arisa had with Touma!
mukashbakirov: I hope you can look forward to what the future holds and for more horror. I have this one character appearing…
Jollyman: I'll never get over how many times I wrote Kamihou…
RUiN The Extinct: Thank you so much!
And the thanks to you, the reader. A lot of crap goes on in our lives and yet, you're here for Part 10. Seriously, from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you for coming on this journey with me and that it is as enjoyable for me as it is for you as you read. Thank you.
Also, I wish you all a happy holiday season and new year surrounded by those you love and cherish. It's been a crazy year for all of us and I hope that you can enjoy it all the same this year as you hopefully do all other years. I wish you all well!
And as for GT 5, another wild ride! It's sort of weird to place my thoughts on it given how different the novel was compared to the usual Dark side stories, but I really enjoyed it for what it was. The ending especially really made it stick out in comparison to GT 4 which, while that was not terrible, I preferred this one to it. As usual though, my thoughts on that novel will be at the end of the chapter.
But I think it's time to get into the chapter! I hope this chapter is much like the others and that you do what you always do for it.
Mr Question Mark.
"I'm not giving you another chance. Answer the fucking question."
"…Or would you rather have another one of your bones snapped?"
Those horrible questions filled the air but it was their owners, those of Accelerator and Hamazura Shiage respectively, that made the questions seem all the more terrifying.
The mercenary known as Orion Phoenix, to some extent, was involved in the kidnapping of Last Order and Takitsubo Rikou. Whoever he was working for, he had allied himself with MINUS and by extension, Kihara Kamui, meaning that the two he had helped kidnap were not safe and being held in some place only he knew.
There was nothing else that needed to be known.
And hence, the only reason he was still alive right now was because Accelerator, Hamazura Shiage and Misaka Mikoto had something they wanted from him.
The darkness of the Underground Mall was countered with dim lights from outside, but the stench of something metallic filling the air gave one the sense that instead of being a suburban place filled with relaxation, this was the new battlefield for the group standing and their fallen enemy. Orion himself said nothing, his only visible eye as the other was hidden by a long bang barely maintaining consciousness, but it opened wide in pain as Hamazura pressed the barrel of the pistol he was holding into his broken body.
Accelerator had done more damage to him that seemed humanly possible and it was clear the mercenary was holding on, but not being able to let go if only because he had something the others wanted. With both arms ripped off by the #1, numerous bones broken which probably included most of his ribs and his spine as well as a shattered left leg, there was barely anything left of the mercenary to be called human.
Sticky blood dripped from his clothes, falling from the edge of his sword's hilt to hit the ground in quantities telling of his future demise from blood loss.
But not before he told the people in front of him everything they needed to know.
They did not know if time was of the essence and hence, trying to find out where Last Order and Takitsubo Rikou were took priority. There was no time for pleasantries and kindness, the only thing that filled the heads of those heroes being the desire to know where the ones they loved and cared for were being kept so they could save them from evil's clutches.
But in the desperation and realisation they could not waste time, they had taken out the voice of reason that had implored them to find it in themselves the time for pleasantries and kindness where they had been none.
Kamijou Touma lay unconscious on the stairs leading into the Underground Mall, the boy's desperate pleas to ensure Accelerator, Hamazura and Mikoto did not go down a path they could not reverse being ignored. In their desperation to remove the voice of reason holding them back, they had taken him out.
They did not do that because they had hated him. Nor had they done it because they had despised the spiky haired boy for trying to prevent them from going down a path of recklessness.
But for the #1 and Hamazura Shiage, when it came down to either Last Order or Takitsubo Rikou and Kamijou Touma, then that choice was already made. No matter who he was, no matter what he had done for them, if he stood in the way of them recovering those they cared for then he had already made the choice as to which side he was on.
And that only meant there was nothing that would prevent either Accelerator or Hamazura from striking him and keeping him out of the picture when what they so loved was threatened.
Only Misaka Mikoto glanced back in worry at the spiky haired boy on the ground, her own heart beating with concern but also the conflicted emotion of focusing on Orion for how he had kidnapped, or was related to, the kidnapping of one of the Sisters.
"Where did you take them? You know something, you piece of shit, and you're going to give it to me. And I'm not letting you die until you do." Accelerator spat out the words, holding Orion by the front of his suit, squeezing it as red blood oozed out. Orion said nothing, his wavering gaze making it clear he was barely conscious but still had the presence of mind to have defiance on his agenda.
"The only person here who was remotely interested in your human rights is no longer on the playing field." Hamazura spat out those words carefully. Despite having met the mercenary before, the boy had never thought he would be facing Orion again in these circumstances, but when it came to Takitsubo and her life, there was no one Hamazura was going to let get in his way, even if it was a Level 5, a Level 0 or some mercenary. "And if you think you're safe, look to what we did to our own ally. Your position, and the things you are going to give us, should be perfectly clear to you."
No smart remark or mocking tone came back to taunt Accelerator or Hamazura. Orion kept silent but that only weighed down heavily on their minds: if he was to say nothing, then the time Last Order and Takitsubo could have was running out and would go along with him.
"…You know you're dying." Hamazura said, removing the pistol.
"But that doesn't mean we're going to make this easier for you."
Accelerator finished and moved, throwing the mercenary over his shoulder. He slammed into the ground with a horrendous cracking of bones, Orion's right blue eye going wide.
He yelled out in a cry that revealed his position as weak and at the mercy of the two boys. Accelerator stepped on his broken form, something creaking underneath the foot pressed on him. Orion let out a whimper, unable to move as Accelerator stepped down on the form of the mercenary with even greater strength.
"Where is she?! Where have you taken Last Order?! I am going to ring out every single last fucking drop out of you until you tell me! You think you're in control of this?! Control this you motherfucker!"
Accelerator stepped down on Orion's chest, the creaking turning into a horrible snap that made even Mikoto shiver. She turned her head away, turning her head back towards Kamijou on the ground and feeling a weight come into her head as she listened to the two other boys.
"This is a lot of loyalty for a hired gun. You're going to die anyway. Do you want that, you piece of shit? Do you want to die in this foreign City, having accomplished nothing to your shitty name?"
…Were they going too far?
Hamazura's words had been icy, a tone Mikoto had never heard him use but even so, the question of whether this was a path they could not return from hung over her head heavily.
The two of them…well, barring Accelerator in her mind, were by no means bad people. But sometimes, even good people, even heroes, had to realise that sometimes, when the chips were down, that the ends justified the means. Sometimes, when it came to what one loved being on the line, you could not think about humanity or 'what one would usually do'. Sometimes, when it came to what you cared for, you had to do everything you could for the sake of that one thing because of how much you cared for it.
If you didn't, they that only showed how much what had been taken from you truly mattered.
If you weren't willing to go that extra mile for what you loved, then you valued yourself more than what had been taken away. And right now? What Accelerator and Hamazura Shiage were doing to the mercenary, unarmed and dying?
That was their extra mile.
Even if it left a bad taste in their mouth, it was what they would do for the sake of that which they loved because of how much it mattered to them.
It was how far they could go for what they loved.
Did that make them evil? Did that make them any less as heroes? Was the cruelty they were showing right now carved into their being and only now was being released?
But more importantly, could they return to their peaceful days when this was what it took to reach them?
A gunshot made Mikoto jump, another scream ripping through the air, following by the sound of Accelerator slamming his fist against the mercenary's face. Blood and spit flew to the side, Accelerator once more lifting Orion up and slamming him against the side of a shop window. Glass shattered and Orion's legs hung limply, his head doing the same but even then, showed the basic signs of his fading consciousness.
"You think we give two shits about you? Which do you think we value; you or what you have taken from us? There is no one protecting you anymore. That fucking Hero, the only person who valued your pitiful existence as trash and as a villain, is no longer protecting you. Which means that it's you against the rest of us. And the only way you're going to enjoy this is if you give in to your masochistic side. Which, given the shit you've been through, isn't going to be popping up any time soon!"
Accelerator tossed the boy into the air, slamming him into the opposite wall and hitting him against the concrete. There was a pained cry, the sound feeling more like a whimper than anything else before Orion fell to the ground, breath sounding more and more like a wheeze. He coughed, blood falling from his mouth and it looked like he was barely alive, trembling in place. In the brief light coming in, he looked like nothing more than a black, white and red smear on the ground, a smear that held the one thing they all needed to protect that which they loved.
"Tell us where they are, you bastard. TELL US WHERE THEY ARE, NOW!"
Hamazura, his voice rising in desperation for his concern for Takitsubo ripped through the air, grabbing the mercenary's hair and screaming into his face. Orion flinched from the action as Hamazura pointed the pistol against his temple and screamed once more.
"You think we give a shit about you? You've taken from us. You have snatched the one thing away from us we cannot have taken. If you think that places you in a position of safety, your position right now should make that clear to you." Hamazura pressed the gun up until Orion's head was on the ground, Accelerator slamming his crutch into the boy's side with a sickening crack.
"ANSWER THE FUCKING QUESTION, DAMN IT!"
Orion's body lurched from the impact, before slumping, unmoving. Accelerator and Hamazura went wide eyed, the latter reaching for the mercenary's nose, trying to feel for some kind of air there before swearing underneath his breath.
"…His breathing has stopped."
"Fuck if I'm going to let him bite the dust before he has given us the things we need. Railgun!" Accelerator turned, his red eyes flashing in the dim light at her. She flinched, the gaze he was giving so horribly nostalgic, but she knew that as a human defibrillator, there was no way she was not going to play a part in this in some respect.
If she played a part in this…
Then was she going to go down a path she would never be able to return from?
This was against the wishes of Kamijou Touma. Doing what she was planning on doing right now would be the same as betraying him and the trust he put in her. If there was anything she did that would drive a wrench between the two of them, it was going down this path of darkness in front of her.
She hesitated for a moment, realising just what that meant, her entire body covered with a slight sweat as she realised she needed to make a decision on this matter, and fast.
What mattered to her more? What would she go to any lengths to protect?
The relationship she had with Kamijou Touma?
Or the Sisters?
The former was a matter of betraying his trust in her. If she were to do this, this would cause a rift, perhaps irreversible, to come between her and Kamijou. For Mikoto, the piece of shit on the ground was just a mercenary she barely knew and had hurt her more than once; harming the Sisters now as well as Kongou Mitsuko. But to Kamijou, no matter how much of a piece of shit someone was, it was a life that could not so easily be thrown away. Even if Orion deserved to be punished for whatever crimes he had committed against the Sisters, instead of capital punishment as Mikoto and the others believed he deserved, Kamijou was sure to advocate making the boy sit out and live his sentence within a jail cell.
The former was nothing more than the strong relationship between her and Kamijou. Just thinking about the possibility of throwing that away because of some cheap mercenary made Mikoto's heart ache and she knew the answer she had in her heart.
But the latter…were her Sisters. The girls that came from her own DNA map and the girls she had wanted to protect above anything else. It didn't matter which one of the Sisters this involved, they were all hers and they all deserved the lives they had been given as a result of Kamijou Touma's action.
The latter was not a question of a relationship at all. It was a life. Just thinking about the possibility of losing that by not choosing to harm some cheap mercenary who dared to attack them made Mikoto's heart ache and she knew the answer she had in her heart when it came to that decision as well.
But the answers she had in her heart contradicted each other.
She did not know the way she could preserve both the life of the Sister in danger and the relationship and trust she had with Kamijou Touma. She did not know a way she could achieve both and allow everyone to be happy at the very end of the day.
Which meant she had to choose.
What was more important to Misaka Mikoto?
The relationship with Kamijou Touma?
Or the life of a Sister?
The choice, after a moment's hesitation, was easy.
"Get out of the way. I'm going to shock that bastard back to us."
And as Misaka Mikoto realised she was throwing away the relationship with Kamijou to save the life of one of these Sisters, she only felt that with each step she took that she was making the worst decision of her life. No matter how right it felt, no matter how much Kamijou would surely have said the same thing and that the life of the Sister was the one that deserved priority over anything she had with him and no matter the small voice in her head telling her she was going to regret this one moment for the rest of her life, Mikoto only knew that with this decision, she had to bring out her inner darkness to make sure the piece of shit mercenary gave her the information she needed to save the Sister in trouble.
No matter what happened from here on out, Mikoto had made her choice of her own volition. Because of that, she had to bear the consequences…but even so, she knew in her mind that the person truly at fault for this was the boy lying only a few metres away.
Whatever happened between her and Kamijou as a result of this decision…it was always going to be the fault of Orion Phoenix.
The curse he had placed upon her by drawing out her inner darkness because of her desire to protect may or may not have any effect on the relationship she had with that spiky haired boy but if it did, then it was his fault. Him putting Mikoto in this position, him making her have to choose between Kamijou and one of the Sisters, it was all his fault.
If whatever came next for her and Kamijou was repairable, then there was no problem.
But if it was not…
Then she knew who she would have to turn her fangs against for making her throw away one thing she desperately wanted to protect for the sake of another thing she desperately wanted to protect.
It was not that what Mikoto was going to do now made her a bad person. Like Accelerator and Hamazura Shiage, she had kindness within her and more often than not (unlike Accelerator), it was that kindness that people knew. What she was doing now may have seemed unlike her, but it was actually not the case.
This was merely the determination she was showing to protect one thing she desperately cared for and the lengths she would go to as to see that one thing she cared for safe and the in the arms of peace. Even if it meant throwing away what she had with Kamijou by betraying his trust that was merely the lengths she would go to for the sake of seeing a Sister home safely.
They had already been through so much with the Experiment and Kihara Gensei. They were no longer guinea pigs so they deserved the peace they were owed and the lives they had been given. It was just not fair and not right that they had to be subject to more and more pain simply because someone else who care nothing for them dictated it to be so.
So she would make this right.
Even if it meant plunging her hands into the filth to do it.
That was her resolve.
Even if it was delving into the darkness Kamijou Touma had never wanted her to bring out.
It was simply how far she had been pushed by Kamijou Touma's Bad End, Orion Phoenix.
Mikoto placed her hands on the mercenary, ignoring the feeling of something poking up from within and sent a load of electricity coursing through the boy's body, hardening her heart as she did so. He lurched, hitting the ground, with the sound of wet clothes hitting concrete. Gritting her teeth, Mikoto, who had chosen the Sisters much like Accelerator had and Hamazura had in choosing Takitsubo, stared down at the bastard.
"You're not going to go that easily. Not when you've taken those girls away from the freedom they so rightful deserve!"
Bluish-white sparks flew from Mikoto's body, entering Orion's, only this time the reaction was more than just the boy arching his body as the electricity entered him. His previously devoid-of-life right blue eye sparked back to life, not to be greeted with the joys life had to provide.
But rather, the darkness he had unwittingly brought forth.
He screamed, Mikoto now choosing to lift her hands from him and grab his throat, sparks coming from her and lighting up her figure as well as the figures of those behind her. They stared at the fallen mercenary, the boy's barely alive body adjusting to the realisation he had yet to pass into the true darkness.
She tightened her grip on the boy's throat, narrowing her eyes and speaking once more.
"Where. Are. They?"
Orion's breathing raced as he stared at the threats before his entire body slacked. He took a deep breath, everyone else staring at his broken form and waiting.
He didn't say anything.
He didn't mock them, spit at them or any such thing that would indicate defiance through words.
He did it through actions instead.
He merely turned his head to the side.
But that was enough.
The words said by the three monsters and their reaction was instantaneous. Electricity sparked through his body, a foot cracked what was left of his unbroken ribs and another letting a round into what was left of his collarbone. Orion screamed as he was subject to the torture not of a Level 0 and two Level 5s, but rather of people who he had unfairly stolen from in the process.
But even his screams died as they were replaced pitiful gasps of breaths as he was being punished for his crimes. None of the three in front of him felt sorry for him at all, their cruel and dark gaze piercing into the boy who had taken from them already and was refusing to give back what had been stolen. Choked gasps erupted from his throat as he bled, his breaths becoming more and more laboured and the gap in between them increasing.
"Shit. He's lost too much blood." Hamazura spat out the words, not bothering to hide it as it was clear Orion knew it too. He spat at the mercenary on the ground, the boy not even flinching as he was still being held by the throat by Mikoto who stared at the boy and his defiance with wide eyes.
What was the point of it? He was going to die, had been tortured and for what? In his pointless loyalty to a client, he was going to lose his life. For a mercenary, the action seemed contradictory now he was never going to be paid for his work. He had been given a ticket out and yet…he had never once decided to take it.
And for what? His to-be death was utterly meaningless.
Accelerator's eyes flashed, shoving Hamazura to the side and plunging his hand right into Orion's face. With a squelching sound, Orion's only visible eye, the right blue one was crushed like it was a pimple, the water from the eye squirting up and striking Accelerator in the face. He barely cared though as Orion screamed, unable to move any part of his body in protest, only screaming and screaming as Accelerator dug his thumb into the boy's eye further and further.
"Tell. Us. Where. They. Are. Or I'll make your body have so many holes, you'll lose to a fucking fishing net. TELL ME! WHERE DID YOU TAKE THEM?!"
Accelerator dug his thumb in even further as Orion screamed even louder, thrashing what he could of his body but unable to do it given Mikoto was holding onto his throat and Hamazura had pinned down his legs. More popping sounds and a crushing sound filled the air, slow and drawn out as Accelerator drug his thumb deeper and deeper to prove his point but never did Orion let out anything but a bloodcurdling scream from his pain. Accelerator, now that there was nothing left to crush drew out his hand, something stringy and crushed having stuck to his hand as he drew it out. Blood and the remains of the eye fell from his hand as he moved it to where he guessed the other eye was and held it threateningly over, his threat plain.
"You may have seconds left to live. This is what a villain like you deserves. Your only mistake was thinking you could keep up with me. If you want any sense of consolation in whatever trash heap your life was, you will answer the one question we have been asking this entire time."
Orion said nothing.
He just turned his head to side again.
Accelerator twitched, his anger clear but never got the chance to say anything, electricity once more surging through the Orion's body as Mikoto held him by the throat. The body lurched but he never once got out a scream, Mikoto tightening her grip on his throat and lifting him up against the wall. With his body weight reduced so much, it was an easy task as Mikoto charged volt after volt into his body, screaming over Orion as she did so.
"WHERE DID YOU TAKE THEM!? What did they do to you!? Answer me or I'll…I'll…!"
She never got the threat out, a gunshot to her side catching her attention. While that was not unusual, given that using the pistol was how Hamazura was using his own skills to get the information they wanted out of Orion, it was the fact that Mikoto did not see the bullet enter Orion's body that caught her attention.
She began to turn her head towards the Level 0 but never managed to do so, instead hearing the boy cry out as he was pushed to the side, slamming into Accelerator behind her and the two boys falling to the ground. Something else entered her peripheral vision, the girl barely managing to catch a glimpse of what was heading her way after striking Hamazura.
She did not react to it, although whether it was because she was not expecting it or felt her heart tighten in pain when she saw it, she did not know.
The only thing she knew was the reality of what was coming for her right now: the right fist of Kamijou Touma.
It slammed into her face, tossing her to the ground and Orion with her. She landed in the pool of growing blood, blinking once from the pain shooting through her cheek, feeling as though her heart had stopped and that she had never felt a pain such as the one she was feeling now. With a shaky hand, she rose it to her cheek where she had been struck, feeling something rise within her as she stared at her assailant, her own heart wavering at the sight of him.
Kamijou Touma stood there, panting and heaving, looking as though the blow had hurt him more than it had hurt her. In the numerous times they had faced each other, whether it be their constant fights, whether it be when she attacked him on August 21st, whether it be during the Daihaseisai, whether it be when they had been fighting in Denmark or even when she had gone on a rampage during the chaos with the Elements and the people who had attacked Tokiwadai, he had never struck her in this way.
Was this how much it hurt being struck by that right fist? Was the pain she was feeling the pain that had felled so many opponents beforehand? It seemed overwhelming…but that may have been because the strike had hit her on both fronts.
It had hurt, certainly.
But the blow Kamijou Touma had done against her heart was by far the greater.
"What are y – "
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?" Kamijou screamed at her, the girl flinching. He stepped on the pistol Hamazura had dropped and kicked it away, turning and looking at the mercenary who was in the state he was because of the three heroes in front of him. Reduced to something less than a person, the heaving lump of flesh had no chance of survival and even if his cause of death was probably going to be blood loss, the fact it had been caused by three people he knew and trusted stabbed into Kamijou's heart more than he could ever say.
This…even if Orion was a bastard, a son of a bitch, did he deserve to die? He was an unforgiveable evil that could never be redeemed? Was he an existence that one had to justify turning him into the state he was in?
He was no longer human, that much was clear.
And the fault of that was because of the people in front of Kamijou now.
"…We don't need to explain ourselves to you. Not when you already know what we were doing and who we were doing it for." Hamazura, on the ground, spat out. Kamijou's eyes flared with anger before he threw something in his left hand onto the floor. The cell phone clattered in the pool of blood, the faint backlight showing it was open to view a text message.
"You want to know where Last Order and your girlfriend are being kept? Look at the phone, it has the location."
Eyes went wide as they stared at the phone, Hamazura snatching it up without a care and going pale at it as he saw one particular detail but Kamijou had already managed to speak before Hamazura could say anything.
"That's right. I got that message a few minutes ago. But even then, I had a few missed calls from that number. We could have figured out where Last Order and your girlfriend were kept at any time if we had thought, if we had even considered doing something that did not give in to whatever darkness that lay within ourselves. And yet, you didn't listen to me. I might have realised too late, I am at fault for that. But the fact you decided to let yourselves give in to whatever feelings within you…!?"
Kamijou's mouth began to quiver but Accelerator had already stood up, snatching the phone out of Hamazura's hand, looking at it and throwing it back to the Level 0.
"We did what we had to. And this piece of shit had it coming to him anyway. I don't have an obligation to care for trash such as him who think they can do as they please with what is mine." There was no hesitation in the justification nor any pause in the footsteps that easily crossed the pool of blood, heading for the exit and, most likely, the location on the phone. Kamijou's eyes went wide at that.
"What you had – LOOK at him! Even if you didn't care, even if you didn't give a damn, that is a human life! A-And you just…you just…!"
"It was a human life. And I don't have to care about you either, you fucking Hero. What do you know about me? What do you know about the things I've done and the things I am willing to do for the sake of what I care about? There are very few things I have an obligation to even think twice about, those things only being in a single cell phone memory. And I can rank them in terms of importance. So, do you want to know where you and this motherfucker end up on that list?" Accelerator stepped up to face Kamijou head on, the two boys glaring at each other.
"…And what about what you just lost? What about the fact that you went down to the level of the shit you care so little about? Right now, what separates you from them?"
"The fact that I'm the strongest in Academy City." Accelerator's words were icy cold as he walked right past Kamijou and up the stairs of the Underground Mall.
"And if it's the protect that brat, there's no way I am ever going to let weakness pass. Not for me. Right now, I can't be bothered to think about things such as the insignificance of that villain. The only thing I care about is that brat. …Someone I'm going to never let out of my hands and I will not think twice about staining them if it is for her and her peace."
Kamijou hung his head down, speaking softly.
"But what about you? If you think you can just throw yourself into the darkness to bring what you love into the light…that's thinking backwards. It saves nobody and makes nobody happy."
"…Maybe so. But it will give that brat the peace she deserves to have. And you have much too high expectations for me in the first place. My hands…are far too stained to go into peace that easily."
"Aren't you the #1? Having these expectations of you…is normal."
There was silence before the clicking of a tongue and Accelerator walked up the stairs into Academy City above. Kamijou said nothing, before turning his gaze to Hamazura.
"…Are you the same? I understand you wanted to have your girlfriend back. But these lengths? Is the life of someone else the right price to pay for your girlfriend? Is what you've done here the right thing and can it allow you to return to the peace you've gained? You're walking on thin ice, Hamazura. If you allow it to control you, then…everything you've worked for will be – "
"I'm not going to let this control me. The only thing I care about right now is Takitsubo. And that will never change. No matter who I am up against, what anyone else says to me or what the world thinks of me afterwards, I will drag my hands through filth for the sake of that girl. A life? It doesn't matter. Whether it be yours or this bastard's here. Do I think this is a waste? Of course. But will I sleep badly tonight because of it? Of course not. The only person who can do that to me is my girlfriend and I am not going to let her down tonight."
"…Even if this is goes against what you're fought for this entire time? You fought for peace and kindness. You rose above those things, Hamazura! How can I look at this and think you can justify it in any way!? Are you telling me you can accept this!? That you can look at this and think this is right?! There are lines in the sand, Hamazura, lines you can't cross so easily without coming back from!"
"…This might not be right, Boss. But I can accept it. And I will. Because of what I love. Because that is normal for me. I don't know what you thought of me…but your expectations are too high. I'm not the hero you think I am. Same for the #1. So get that idea out of your head."
Hamazura stood up, holding the cell phone in his hand and returning it to Kamijou before taking the same path as Accelerator out of the Underground Mall.
But before he went out...
"…You're still the same hero in my eyes, Hamazura. It's just…maybe I thought too much of you. Maybe just a bit too much."
Hamazura Shiage said nothing and left.
Leaving Kamijou Touma alone with Misaka Mikoto.
For both those heroes, the end simply justified the means. They were doing what they were doing because they prioritised the people they cared about. Kamijou had felt…that there was something more to them than that. That the kindness within them would not give in to the darkness Orion was calling out to them, but he had been wrong.
They had simply been pushed that far and as a result had acted accordingly.
He could not hate them for that. He had felt they were better than that, they would not give in to the darkness Orion had called from within them, but they had. They had been exposed to the Bad End of Kamijou Touma and been defeated on a level beyond the physical, but they were still the same: more than ready to protect and save as before.
They had just been reckless this time around, doing monstrous things to someone else.
Someone else had summed up what they had done perfectly.
Ironically, the person who had said it was the sack of flesh that would not survive.
'Doing something wrong for the right reasons'.
Kamijou had turned against Orion for that and yet, now he was faced with it once again from people he knew and had interacted with, he…felt confused. What was there to think? Was Kamijou in the wrong? Was doing the wrong thing for the right reason justifiable if it meant someone could be saved?
He couldn't think that.
He couldn't think justifying something inherently wrong for the sake of something right balanced out. Accelerator and Hamazura had already reached a conclusion: that the ends justified the means for what they cared for and that Kamijou had thought too much of them and their kindness.
Because they had done something against what Kamijou thought of them, were they any less as heroes? No, they clearly were not any less as heroes and were not bad people. But maybe…maybe he had thought too much of their kindness and inner goodness.
Was he the same?
Was Kamijou Touma the type of person who, when pushed, would forgo his own convictions so easily? Would he think that doing something he knew to be wrong and would not do was something he would do anyway?
He did not know.
But, if Accelerator and Hamazura Shiage could give in to the thinking of Orion Phoenix and lose to him…
Could they be trusted?
The terrible thought filled Kamijou's head, but he shook it off.
People weren't perfect.
They did things others disagreed with and just as Accelerator and Hamazura had said, he had expected too much of them, to follow every single word and code to a T. This was just another case of that and it was revealed Kamijou was in the wrong for having expected too much of those heroes.
Had they really seemed that blinding to him? Had they really been heroes that could never be stained?
But they had been people first and heroes second. Even if Kamijou wanted them to not give in to the poison of Orion, they had and with it, Kamijou's image of them.
They had done the wrong thing, but for the right reason.
They weren't perfect at all. And that was normal. But Kamijou Touma felt something within him break, as if he had irresponsibly expected more of the people he knew and trusted. He still trusted them to have his back in a pinch…but maybe to a lesser extent now it was revealed they had their flaws and were not perfect.
Had it been that much of a shock to have that revealed?
Or was it more than that?
Was he so shocked they had simply given in to Orion Phoenix and the words he had said when they painted a darker picture of a world Kamijou wanted to have faith in? Was he hurt that his friends had lost to that boy without realising it?
And was he scared he might do the same?
One day losing to Orion and start his road down to his Bad End as Accelerator and Hamazura had done?
Kamijou was unsure. But he knew he didn't want that.
He didn't want that at all.
He stared at Mikoto in front of him. She flinched and Kamijou opened his mouth to let out the words.
"I suppose, Misaka, that you are the same? That you can justify what you did to Orion because of what was at stake? That you can justify doing the wrong things for the right reason?" Kamijou found himself spitting the words out, Mikoto flinching underneath them. She trembled, like a small child and Kamijou wondered what about that mentality triggered him so.
Was it because it was Orion who said it?
Or was it because that type of thinking meant people could be harmed and no one could be saved? Did that type of thinking tread on his own image of the world and he only hated it selfishly and was now selfishly pushing that onto Accelerator, Hamazura and Mikoto?
Was he the one in the wrong here for forcing something only he believed onto others?
Mikoto trembled, casting her gaze down and speaking.
"…You would have done the same…"
"You would have done the same!" Mikoto stood, her words desperate and her eyes crazed as if she was seeking something more than just consolation in her words. As if she was seeking…forgiveness. "The Sisters were at risk, you idiot! What would you have expected me to do? This…This son of a bitch was the one who hurt them! It was his fault and he deserved what he had coming to him!"
"…So, what happened to him was merely the ends justifying the means. What happened to him was merely the same as what Accelerator and Hamazura said. That you don't care about human life, that you can do whatever the hell you like, as long as someone is saved for it. As long as the people you care about are saved for it, no matter the bodies that pile up. That…" Kamijou started to say something but bit it back.
(That isn't what saving someone means to me.)
He knew it was selfish. He knew that berating everyone for losing to Orion was the same as him being cold and cruel.
But it was just that his Bad End was someone who had hurt his friends on a level they did not know about by letting them fall down to his level. Even if Kamijou hated thinking bad of them for it because they had done so…he could not simply think that that type of mentality would save anyone and let them smile.
"Th-This was a special case. If it wasn't for him then – "
"You wouldn't have gone this far? That Orion was merely a special case?" Kamijou slowly shook his head. "That…is nothing more than leading you down the wrong path. Maybe you won't do this again. Maybe you don't think truly that doing the wrong thing for the right reason is the way to do things. But once the exception becomes the rule…" Kamijou grit his teeth.
"You're thinking too much of me. I'm not the person you think I am! There's nothing wrong with what I did! There's nothing – "
Kamijou said that simple word and Mikoto's heart froze in her chest.
"I really did think too much of you."
Something within her snapped.
A thin thread she did not know was there, something she did not even know existed until now.
They implied something.
They implied that Kamijou, in his own way, had relied on Misaka Mikoto.
But now she had failed him, he was not going to do that anymore.
She had disappointed him.
Mikoto felt her own heart shatter. The loss of the small reliance Kamijou had had on her was more than she felt she could take, a cruel blow to her heart. This was more than being a burden, it was more than being a hindrance to him.
This was her having failed Kamijou Touma.
Having chosen the Sisters over Kamijou, this was her punishment. The loss of something she had with Kamijou and having failed him more than she could have ever thought.
Mikoto trembled, unable to words in response to the shock she felt, trying to say something, anything, but never finding the words. Something rose to her eye but she forced it down, her cheap pride preventing her from trying to claw back what she had lost. This was the greatest blow she had received from Kamijou, even greater than the punch to the face and Mikoto felt as though she would never recover.
Was it possible to feel this pain?
It hurt so much knowing she had failed Kamijou, making her fully understand how much he had relied on her and how much she had relied on him…and how she had destroyed that with both hands. Something caught in her throat, the failure she had created with both hands weighing her down as she hung her head in shame.
By justifying the means to an end, even if she had not yet turned this exception into the rule, she had failed Kamijou Touma.
She had done something she never should have.
And she had cut into herself so hard she did not know if she could claw her way back.
She didn't want that.
She didn't want to be lost here.
But she could not find the words to recover from where she was now.
"…Where Last Order, one of the Sisters, is being held is the experimental Tree Diagram Communications Facility in District 15. This information can be trusted."
Mikoto slowly looked up, seeing Kamijou had pocketed his phone.
"...Why are you telling me this? I thought you said you thought too much of me."
"I did. But that doesn't mean you are any less of a hero. Besides, after what the Sisters went through, I can't just let this go. And neither can you. Go on ahead of me. I'll be right behind you."
Mikoto did not even bother to look at what Kamijou was staying for, the broken figure of what had once been a boy barely breathing and letting the pool of blood around him grow and grow. She turned, head hanging down in utter shame the entire time as she passed by Kamijou and ascended the stairs, like a child being sent to their room.
He had said she was no less of a hero for what she had done.
But she had still failed him.
It might not have mattered to Accelerator and Hamazura much that they had failed him by not meeting Kamijou's expectations (or if it did, they did not let it show) but for Mikoto it was a heavy blow. Even despite still being a hero in his eyes, the piece of what Mikoto had once held lay shattered in front of her in such a way she did not know how to pick it up.
How was she supposed to redeem herself in Kamijou's eyes?
What could she do to make sure she did not fail him again?
Misaka Mikoto did not know.
But what she did know was that she hated where she had placed herself because of her own choices.
It was nothing more than selfishness.
Kamijou Touma realised that as he stared down at the body in front of him.
He was saying the others did not meet his expectations when that was entirely unfair. How had he been so irresponsible in the first place? He thought too much of other people when they were not perfect? They had fallen to Orion Phoenix's line of thinking and Kamijou, thinking they would not, had been hurt knowing it was the case and childishly lashed out at them.
They were not perfect and Kamijou had thought they would not stoop down to Orion's level but that had only been his thought processes. Even if they had only done it this once, if they did it again, did that mean that someone would not be happy and have their smiles ripped away from them?
Kamijou did not know but could not bring himself to hate or discard the people who had given in to Orion's thinking. Nor could he think of them as evil or anything such as that; they had only not met something Kamijou had placed on them. They had not changed and only a part of them Kamijou had to recorrect in his mind.
That was all.
He could still trust them to do the right thing when it mattered.
At least, that was what Kamijou told himself.
Now that they had been exposed to Orion and fallen, who knew what could happen with them next?
Kamijou could not say but the victim of his own twisted line of thinking sat in front of him. Was this comeuppance for being who he was? Kamijou did not know but could not find the heart to joke about it, looking at the growing pool of blood in front of him.
Orion Phoenix was barely even a person anymore.
Both arms lost and bleeding, his left leg at an impossible angle, his white shirt stained absolutely red, bits and pieces of bone poking out of his shirt, his right blue eye completely crushed and blood pouring from the socket: it was a gruesome sight. Unlike the others who had felt nothing for the mercenary, the human life, one that should be treasured no matter who he was made Kamijou pause for a moment before speaking.
There was no answer, at least, not immediately.
"I don't…have long. Make it…fast."
The voice was barely a choke but its bluntness remained the same. The person and the wounds he had sustained was because he had pushed others to the extent they had seen no other choice, a choice they had taken even if Kamijou had felt as though they would stop themselves before it got too far. But they had not, not meeting expectations Kamijou had had of them, leading to this.
What could he say? An apology? That would be pointless and shallow, especially given Orion's wounds. But it was the only thing that felt appropriate, as pointless as it seemed. However, looking at the mercenary, Kamijou could not exactly find himself able to say those words.
Why was that?
Was it because the boy was his Bad End? His failure? Because he had gone down a path Kamijou would if he ever failed or betrayed himself and what he felt when it came to saving others? For whatever twisted reason, Kamijou was left standing there, knowing in his heart one horrible fact.
That the boy in front of him could not be saved.
Even if they had been enemies, it was hard to swallow and looking at the person in front of him who was on his way out, Kamijou felt himself shaking. A person was dying right in front of his eyes, there was nothing he could do about it and the people who had caused it were people Kamijou was sure he could trust with his life…but not so sure whether he could trust to do the right thing anymore, even if this was one case.
Orion Phoenix could not be saved.
Kamijou repeated the words, the reality in his mind, as if trying to accept the bitter reality but only finding himself shaking all the more. The growing pool of blood stained Kamijou's shoes but it was after a small moment that Kamijou found what he had to say.
"…Do you want me to tell anyone? You have your handler, Faith. …We're probably going to see her when we go and get the people you kidnapped. Do you want me to tell her…what happened?"
"Makes…no difference…to me." Orion's voice was quiet, each breath pained and getting slower. He shifted what he could, wincing as he did so but the way his head angled towards Kamijou made it clear he was trying to talk right to the boy. "Do as…you want."
"Do you want me to…" Kamijou found himself unable to say the words but realised that whatever sentiment he had, he had to force down and say the words.
"Do you want me to be witness to your final words or wish?"
There was a small silence, Kamijou unsure whether the words he had spoken affected him or Orion more. He gulped, silence filling the Underground Mall before the answer came.
The response was blunt, but there was something else to it, a finality and a decisiveness that could not be denied. If it had been anyone else asking, it felt as though Orion might have agreed but the way he had said it felt as though because it was Kamijou asking, he refused to say the words indicating his death.
There was nothing else that came from the mercenary's mouth.
Kamijou said nothing, staring at the broken form and nodding once, even if Orion could not see it.
There was nothing else the failure had to say to the success. There was nothing more than success had to say to the failure. There was no begging of 'final words'; the gap between the two boys was simply too large and their differences separating them only furthering that gap.
But that was the way it was to be.
Kamijou slowly turned and walked away, not even bothering to look back as he desperately hardened his heart at the scene behind him. He was abandoning Orion and refusing to stay with him not only because the boy was dying and wanted to be left alone, but also because of their differences meaning he knew Orion would never want Kamijou by his side when he died.
Kamijou felt he was the same: if it came down to it and there was one person he would never want to be by his side if it came to his death, then it would be the mercenary: the Bad End. He did not want to be surrounded by the thought of what a failed version of himself might have been like and he felt Orion did not want to be around Kamijou if only because of the differences in ideology shared between them.
For that alone, Kamijou felt as though respecting the mercenary's wish was the only thing he could do for the single boy. If there was anything Kamijou could do for Orion, it was this one thing, even if Kamijou felt as though there was more he could do.
But there was not.
There were no more words to be said and the success needed to let the failure die, as he should. This was the wish of the departing and it was not Kamijou's place to question that or fight against it.
But even so, the thought there was someone there he could not save and had not reached in time made Kamijou feel as though more had been lost tonight than the expectations he had of others and the loss of life.
It was the chance of the smiles of everyone else not being lost. Even if it applied to his enemies, there were people they cared about and people they valued…but they would now have those smiles lost because of the death of those close to them.
Surely no one else would have cared for those people who had made the active choice to do something wrong.
But that spiky haired boy did.
And the chance of those smiles coming back had been lost with those who had perished, one more smile slowly being rubbed out as the flames of Orion's life were slowly extinguished.
Orion Phoenix was going to die.
This was not something Kamijou Touma could afford to see. Disregarding Orion being a Bad End, it was Orion's wish that Kamijou not receive his last words to pass on to those who had lost their smiles through his death. So, the only thing he had to do was accept the death of that mercenary.
Even if it meant accepting that he had not reached someone in time to save them.
Kamijou Touma ascended the stairs, closing his eyes and coming out into the open air of Academy City. He said nothing, reflecting on the lives lost today and on the smiles lost with them.
But even if those thoughts caused his heart to waver, he could not afford to reflect on them any longer.
There was somewhere else he needed to be and someone else who was going to have their smiles lost because of what Orion and the other dead soldiers had done. Despite the bitter pill of their deaths, they were gone now and it was time to focus on what could be recovered.
Such as the smiles of those in danger because of MINUS and Kihara Kamui.
Focusing on the deaths of others, such as the massacre during the incident with Kongou Mitsuko, would solve nothing for the smiles of others about to be lost. The world turned and life went on and with it, both the cruelty and the kindness of it.
So could Kamijou continue to reflect on that cruelty without showing even the slightest bit of kindness?
"…No more losses tonight. No more. I…I won't allow it. Even if we've already lost smiles tonight…"
Kamijou Touma made his decision, staring up at where he knew District 15 was and racing after it into a run, letting out the shout within his heart into the air.
His core was shaken.
He had seen people die and with them, the smiles of others be lost. He had been unable to save someone in front of him and had to accept there was nothing he could do for him and also had to accept there was nothing Orion wanted done for him by Kamijou. He had had the expectations he had in others destroyed as they have given into their own inner cruelty and fallen to the level of Orin by doing something wrong for the right reasons.
But that was no reason to abandon anyone else to the horrors and the unfairness of the world.
That was no reason for that core of his to completely break, and the small desire to save someone be shattered.
So if there was no reason for it…
What reason did he have to not reach a hand out to those smiles?
The answer to that question was clear in his next words.
"It doesn't mean I can just let the smiles of others be thrown into the fire, damnit! Even if I've done nothing tonight, I won't let anyone else's smiles be lost! There's no way Kamijou Touma is going to let that type of ending be the one everyone has to accept!"
It was just…cold.
That was the only thing Orion Phoenix felt.
Well, what was left of him.
His body barely had anything else to it left and it could no longer support itself, falling down to the side where it splashed in his blood. He was amazed the human body had this much in it in the first place but that thought meant nothing in his isolation.
Kamijou Touma…no, where Orion came from it would be Touma Kamijou, was now gone.
There was something about him.
The way he had called Orion a 'Bad End' and his failure had stung the mercenary a tiny bit, the words of the boy sinking into his skin but he refused to let it show. Doing so would be breaking free of his client's wises, wishes he had above all else. But even so, he could not ignore that small feeling of pain when Mr. Touma Kamijou had said those words.
(…What did he know about me? What right did he have to say those words?)
Orion barely had the sense to think properly but found himself thinking of that spiky haired boy. That only pissed him off even more, but he refused to let it show within him or on his facial expressions as had been the case when Kamijou had said those words. Showing them now was pointless; in Death's embrace, everything meant nothing, and nothing meant everything. Even if he had been alive, showing what he felt about those words was pointless too: it had nothing to do with his job and the work he had to do, nor would saying anything on them change anything.
Not that anything mattered anymore.
There was nothing left.
Only waiting for what was to come.
Orion closed his other eye, the left one hidden by the bang, darkness coming over him, the silence filling the Underground Mall being the only thing that filled him now. Would this be what letting go was like? It was…relaxing, the tranquillity he had wanted finally being revealed to him as if a gift from above.
Only for it to be broken, racing footsteps coming into his ears. He refused to acknowledge the presence of whoever was coming, someone who always came when he reached these limits and was about to release himself into the void waiting for him.
His guardian angel.
An existence that, when he was about to finally achieve peace, would never let him do it.
In these few moments, on the verge of death, he truly hated them for what they were about to do to him.
And what it would result in.
Even if, in the moments after, he accepted what was to come, it was in the moments when he was receiving it that he rejected it all his might.
The footsteps slowed and stopped. Orion opened his other eye, staring out at the presence he knew was there.
"The answer is always going to be the same. Wow, this repair job is going to be tough. You lost an eye this time. As well as your arms. You're 'armless. Get it? Because the French don't pronounce the 'h' sound, it has a double... You're not listening."
For the first time, even when he was being tortured this had not happened, Orion's tone turned to one of begging.
"Let me…go. Just…let me…"
"And I said, the answer is always going to be the same."
Hs guardian angel, he saw, rose a hand and reached out towards its eye, reaching into the socket and pulling its eye out with a squelch. It popped right out of the socket in a sickening display of what lay within the human body and it smiled, the expression on its face looking as though it were hiding immense pain, but for what it was about to do, found it to be worth it.
"And the words I have to say now are the ones I will always say when I need to. You'll hate me for this. You always do. I can accept that though. Because it means…you are saved. So, let's begin."
The torn out eye was turned in the hand holding it and pressed right against the empty eye socket which had once held the right eye of Orion. He panted, wanting to shake his head and fight off what was going to happen but barely had the energy for it as the owner of the eye spoke.
"This is my body, which is given up for you."
That was it.
And with those words, the torn out eye was forced into the right eye socket of Orion Phoenix.
A scream ripped through the air.
And many more were surely to come.
Thankfully, District 15 was the next District over when it came to District 7, being to the direct west so the direct route to the experimental Tree Diagram Communications Facility was a journey that would not have been long for Kamijou in any sense. Although Kamijou knew that the Tree Diagram Information Receival Centre, back when it had still been active, was a facility erected in District 23, the things he knew about the facility in District 15 were limited and only things he knew as bare trivia.
But even as the knowledge about it filled Kamijou's head, he knew he could waste no time.
Shokuhou Misaki's phone calls and texts describing what was happening with the Black Crows and Shutaura Sequenzia made it clear to him exactly what was going to happen: an all-out assault against the facility in the hopes of taking down the people who had attacked them in the first place. While that in itself was an effective tactic on Kamijou's side, the unexpected presences of Accelerator, Hamazura Shiage and Misaka Mikoto were surely going to prove to be surprises to those planning on entering the building itself.
And given what he had seen about the surprises already happening within Academy City, Kamijou did not want anything else blind siding him and causing him more trouble than it was worth.
The Underground Mall entrance had long since disappeared behind him and the bloody footprints he had made were also gone. The only remnants of what had been Orion Phoenix that were left now were the wounds he had given Kamijou, the blood on the boy's face smearing as Kamijou wiped it and sweat from his face.
(…This is going to be something to explain. Let's only hope Shutaura manages to get control of the situation before everything goes nuts with Misaka and the others.)
He doubted it was the case and having to control three Level 5s in one place, as Shokuhou had said she would also be tagging along for the fight without Kamijou having a chance to say anything as she had texted him those details, would surely give Shutaura a handful to deal with. He sort of felt sorry for her but his concern turned to the two Level 5s who had actively tortured the mercenary…and indirectly taken his life knowingly.
(…I can trust them to do what is in their interests which align with mine. But after seeing what they were willing to do, can I trust them to do the right thing?!)
Kamijou did not expect them both to be perfect. But the concern he had now was more of the safety that came with others who stood in their path. He didn't want to think of them as being untrustworthy when he knew they were good people, but the things they had done to another person just to get what they had wanted…
Someone's blood was on their hands; a choice they had actively made of their own volition. If they were willing to do that to someone when they could have thought things out rationally, did that make them the type of people Kamijou could trust to do the right thing when it counted?
Kamijou was not sure and the internal conflict was tearing at his head. He shook it, knowing this was more than just the personal issues he had with those heroes, turning back down to his phone while also keeping an eye on the road in front of him as he scrolled through the contacts list of his phone, looking for one in particular: Mental Out.
Shokuhou had said she was going to be participating in the upcoming fight. While she was a Level 5, despite Kamijou wanting her safe and out of harm's way, that was her choice and one he had to accept. But what worried him more were the inclusion of Othinus, Index and Tatsugami Otohime in the upcoming fight.
Othinus... Kamijou had no idea what to think of any decision she had to fight. When the greatest threat to her life was literally being stepped on, he wanted her well clear of any fighting but telling that to the person who had become a god of war in the eyes of others was not exactly a smart idea.
Still, it was her decision and even if she was tiny, she was still more than capable of making smart (this was sometimes questionable) decisions.
But the more immediate concern for Kamijou came for Index and Otohime.
The last time they had fought, it had not ended well. Index had had her John Pen's mode hijacked and Otohime had seen enough blood and carnage to be traumatised, even if she did not seem like it. She had said she had dealt with it but with the issue of her Magic Name, Salvare001, being a looming term over her head and making her realise she could not achieve it, the concerns he had for both in this upcoming fight were dire.
Not only that, but Shutaura had said this involved Harmonia's Cradle to some extent. The appearance of a girl who seemed to be Itsuwa and another magician from that cabal, one Batya Sitara, gave Kamijou cause for concern too. Last time, Harmonia's Cradle had tried to interfere with MINUS and now a battle was once more about to start…was it going to happen again?
And if it did, what exactly would happen to the people caught within it?
There was too much at stake.
What with MINUS, Kihara Kamui and the projects they were undertaking, Harmonia's Cradle, even thinking about trying to make sure nobody lost their smiles and everyone was saved was a daunting task, especially with what had been lost already.
But that didn't mean he could just give up then and there and sacrifice those smiles because of his uncertainties. No matter what anyone else said, Last Order and Takitsubo Rikou deserved to be happy and deserved to have their smiles.
Which meant there was nothing wrong in trying to get them back.
Something had already been lot but that was no excuse to turn away the people still suffering. Kamijou himself had to take on those mistakes and charge forward, if only because of the people who had suffered as a result of the mistakes made already.
He wasn't going to allow an ending where everything was lost.
So he would fight for an ending where those who had lost their smiles had the chance to regain them.
(And the only way I am going to do that is use what I have on hand and what I can trust. And even if they fell down to Orion's level, Misaka and Accelerator, as well as Hamazura, have the right intentions in mind. Which means that, for now, I can trust them!)
But first, he needed to call Shokuhou and have her tell everyone else to expect them. He raced through the streets, checking his phone and glancing up to make sure he didn't hit anything in his way on the empty sidewalk next to an empty street.
Or at least…
It should have been empty.
But, standing right there, in front of him was something that made Kamijou's eyes go wide.
It was a girl.
Around three years old, standing on two feet, wearing a white dress that was practically transparent and staring right back at him. Her blue eyes seemed to shine in the light that was coming down on her, reflecting the white of the dress and giving an otherworldly feel to it. The dress was too big for her and its edges went down to the road but seemed to float as the wind passed through them. Her white hair fluttered as well, the light pink strands in it often giving the feeling that her hair was choosing between white and pink in places. She stared at Kamijou and he at her, but there was one thing he picked out was on her stomach.
The uppercase Greek symbol for phi.
Kamijou felt his breath catch in his throat as he stared at the small girl, who looked mature for how old she appeared to be…but at the same time, not.
He had seen her before.
Just tonight, as a baby he had found in an alley.
And again, crawling in an alley before she managed to stand on two feet, her intellectual development being phenomenal before she had disappeared.
And now, standing right in front of him, as a three year old on two feet.
In just the space of a few hours, this child had gone from being a baby barely clinging onto life into a small child of about three, standing and staring at Kamijou. When he had seen her go from crawling to standing on two legs within a few seconds, he had hypothesised that whatever had happened to this child had something to do with accelerated aging, like was done with the Sisters but the girl in front of him…Kamijou could not find the words.
She looked three.
But given that Kamijou had only met her tonight, she was barely a few hours old, at least, judging from what Kamijou had seen of her.
The only mark that differentiated her had to be the black phi symbol on her stomach. Looking like a circle with a vertical line through it, it was the uppercase symbol for phi, the 21st letter of the Greek alphabet, representing the golden ratio. Trivia came through Kamijou's head but just staring at the girl in front of him, when he had so many other things to deal with, gave him a headache.
This was the same child he had seen before. Kamijou knew that, somewhere inside of him was that knowledge and he was not about to question it. The mark on her stomach, the blue eyes and the white hair with pink streaks, they were all the same, especially the very former.
This girl, over the past few hours, had been following him. Not only that, it had been this girl who had directed him to where Orion Phoenix had been located.
He knew he could not be distracted with this girl, but Kamijou simply could not help it, only one question filling his mind as he stared at the girl as she stared back at him.
(Who…is th - )
The girl spoke, the first words she had ever let out of her mouth. Kamijou went wide eyed, the softness of her voice carrying over to Kamijou and the way she held her head down made it clear she was nervous. She twiddled her toes through the almost transparent dress, looking back up at Kamijou before turning her head back down again.
Kamijou stared at her, then down to the mark on her stomach, going dead eyed as he had one single thought.
(…Even Index has a fake name with more imagination to it.)
The girl sniffled, tears coming up to her eyes as she trembled, shaking and bringing up her hands to her eyes, wiping them.
"My…My name isn't…fake. I am Ph-Phi."
Kamijou found himself opening his mouth to say something but stopped mid-way, staring at the small girl in surprise.
(I never said her name was fake. Can she…?)
Kamijou stared at the girl, trying to see if there was any obvious reaction before turning his head up and down the street to see if there were any cars coming. This late at night, or this early in the morning depending on what you thought of the time, meant no one was around, allowing Kamijou to move onto the road and reach the small girl. She was still sniffing, her eyes on the verge of tears as Kamijou reached her and squatted down to her level.
"U-Um, Phi…chan? L-Look at me for a second." Kamijou asked as desperately as he could, trying to focus on the girl but realising there was barely any time for this. Even so though, the small girl called Phi seemed to be awfully responsive, turning up her head as she looked at Kamijou with puffy red eyes. Instantly, guilt filled the spiky haired boy for what he had done to make her cry, the hunch for why she was crying filling his mind along with it.
"W-What are you doing here, Phi-chan? And why are you here? You've been following me around this entire time, haven't you? Not to mention that you…" Kamijou wanted to say something about the instant aging process she had shown but how exactly to approach that to the small girl was something he was uncertain about.
There were too many things he was uncertain about when it came to this girl.
Even so, she still spoke.
"I…" Phi sniffed again. her tears seeming genuine. "I don't know."
"Don't know what, Phi-chan? What you are doing here? Or why you are doing it?"
"B-Both. I…I only know…you."
Kamijou made little sense of the words this girl was saying, but the nervousness he felt from them was clear. Whoever this girl, Phi, was, she knew Kamijou. But at the same time, he doubted that could be trusted. Even if there was truth to her words, this girl had appeared and disappeared and also aged practically instantly in front of the boy's eyes over the course of a few hours. Based on the uncertainties and the mystery surrounding her, as an existence, she felt similar to Kazakiri Hyouka.
The idea instantly made Kamijou draw his right hand behind his back, unsure of what this girl exactly was…and how his right hand would affect her. Just like how Kazakiri was scared of his right hand, was it possible this girl was also related to that and would fear it in the same way?
Still, this girl knew nothing of what she was doing or why she was here. Although her existence felt similar to Kazakiri, the purpose was entirely different.
(…Beings like Kazakiri can't be mass produced can they? I don't have time for this in the first place!)
Phi shook her head.
Kamijou frowned even further, staring at the small girl.
"No what, Phi-chan?"
"No… B-Beings like Kazakiri Hyouka can't be mass produced. She…She was a special case because of the AIM fields created throughout Academy City so there is only going to be one of her, even if she was used for other purposes."
Kamijou's eyes went wide. Even putting aside the advanced vocabulary of this seemingly-looking three year old, the words and the flow of the conversation were ones that Kamijou could only suspect as being that of a particular power, one he knew well.
"P-Phi-chan. Are you…reading my mind?"
Kamijou asked, cautiously placing his right hand over his head in a casual effort to hide what he was doing, but the words and the caution he placed within them made the small girl jump. She held her head down, trembling as she did so before speaking once more with a shaky voice.
"I'm…I'm sorry. I-I know I am not allowed to, and it is impolite to do so but…your thoughts just keep on coming into my own head. Like a natural reaction." Phi trembled, her speech once again being pretty advanced for a three year old. No, she wasn't a three year old she was something like a six-hour-old…the thought made Kamijou's head hurt and he realised that trying to apply basic logic to a case such as this would not exactly solve anything.
"That's OK, Phi-chan. It's just…as long as you know it's impolite to do that." Kamijou said as he looked around with his right hand pressed against his head. "Do you know where your Mum and Dad are? Or anyone else you know?"
Phi said she didn't know why she was here so it was unlikely that either was the case, but even so, the words that were natural to ask came from his mouth. She slowly nodded her head, something within Kamijou lighting up at that as he leaned forward and placed his left hand on her shoulder. She jumped at that, the contact of the dress she was wearing making her rather jumpy but Kamijou tried to keep his voice level and calm.
"Where are they? Where is the person you know? Do you think you can call out to them to take you somewhere safe? It's dangerous this late at night."
Phi paused for a moment before she shook her head.
"I can't…call out to them."
"Do you think you can go to them?"
Phi nodded and stared up to face Kamijou, the nervousness clear in the slight tears in her eyes.
"I…I already am."
Kamijou's eyes went wide as the small girl called Phi stared up at him with expectant eyes.
"The only person I know here…is you. The only person I have in my head…is you. As soon as I saw you for the first time. I knew who you were and I knew everything about you. The only thing in my head is Kamijou Touma and I don't know why! I know your age, I have your memories and the only thing I know is you! Ever since a few days ago, my head has been filled with thoughts of you and nothing else. I know everything there is to know about you; what you eat, do on your days off; everything! I can tell what you're thinking but I don't know why! I have all this information, and even more information about the world and what is inside Academy City and outside it and it keeps on coming into me like waves. But even amongst all this information coming into me is the thought of you! And I don't know why! Please…I want to know why! Please, tell me why!"
Phi grabbed Kamijou's shirt and looked up at him with small, terrified eyes, Kamijou staring back at her with the same expression, although with confusion mixed in. He had no idea what this girl was talking about or even saying but, for some reason or another, to add to the pile of questions, the only thing within her mind was thoughts of Kamijou and the knowledge of everything else that seemed to be relevant to the world.
From what she was saying, she felt more like a library than Index, although instead of a library of grimoires, it was a library filled with knowledge of the world…and of him. The thought, despite not knowing the reason why, that there was someone having information on him coming into their head without knowing why made him shudder, especially when considering the people in the world who would use that to their own advantage.
Two faces came to mind; neither of them pleasant.
Lessar and Leivinia Birdway.
The latter simply because having information on him would make it easier for her to rule over him and threaten him into doing whatever she wanted easily.
And the former if only because it would give her more 'material' to work with and control.
Phi though, despite Kamijou holding his right hand to his head, grabbed onto his shirt tighter.
"…I can still hear your thoughts inside my head. You're thinking about the Magic side and the people related to it!"
Kamijou felt his heart stop, staring at the girl and feeling his right hand against his head. Even with that magic cancelling right hand against his head, this girl was still able to read his mind. How she was doing it went beyond Kamijou but the basis of her power and how it worked suddenly seemed more terrifying to the boy.
(How is she doing that? How is she getting this information from me and why is it centred on me?)
"I don't know!"
As if they had been talking using words, Phi unleashed those words into the air, leaning forward and pushing her head into Kamijou's chest. She trembled, Kamijou feeling the wetness of her tears against his chest, the girl holding onto his front and shaking like a leaf in the wind.
"I don't know anything about what is happening to me. I don't know…but I know everything you know. I know about the Magic side, what Index is for, the worries you have. And…"
Phi trembled, staring up at Kamijou with her blue eyes that leaked tears, preparing to let the words out, but even before she did Kamijou had a feeling within him he knew what she was going to say. And because of it, he trembled even more than the small girl did in his arms.
"…I know about what Othinus did to you during the infinite hell and the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder you have from it. I have those memories inside my own head too."
Instantly, the small girl in front of him felt more dangerous than anything Kamijou had ever faced.
He knew it was a terrible thought but the knowledge contained within this small girl's head…it spent a shiver down his spine.
Who was she? What was her power and where was it coming from? What was she doing here and why did she have Kamijou as the focus of whatever power she had? Why did she have his memories and why was she appearing in front of him now of all times?!
Kamijou knew nothing and he knew this fear was exactly what Phi was feeling too as well. The fear of what she was and why she had the knowledge she had inside of her were daunting questions that did not have an answer yet, but in his shock of what had been revealed to him, Kamijou felt nothing more than true terror race through him.
There was someone else in this world.
Someone else who had the same memories he did when he was traversing that infinite hell.
The pain, the suffering and the torture that made even Orion's pale, was within the head of someone else. A curse he wished on none was inside the head of this mysterious girl, basically a few hours old given from what she said, but filled to the brim with knowledge of him and everything else. Someone as young as that had been made to sift through the horrible memories that lay dormant within his mind and had been made to suffer because of that.
It would have been worse than when Kamijou had faced it and he pulled Phi in close, feeling the girl tremble within his arms like she was going to shatter like fragile glass hitting the ground.
"I…I don't know anything. What is happening to me? Why…Why is this happening to me?"
Her cries were muffled but just as pained, the small girl Kamijou had no idea about huddling against the body of Kamijou. He held her tight, stroking her hair but finding his frantic thoughts racing, unsure of what to do or how he was going to address this.
What was going on in this City? It was one thing after another tonight and now, right in front of him, was a girl who claimed she knew everything about Kamijou without resorting to creepy yandere tendencies, having become an encyclopedia on Kamijou overnight. The mysteries of this and what was happening made Kamijou tremble…but at the same time shake with anger.
He could say nothing to this girl.
There were no words of consolation that would get through to her because he knew nothing and Phi knew it, being able to read his thoughts. Anything he had to say to her would be proven falsehoods and hence, there was no point in lying to her. Her tears right now were also because she knew he knew nothing about this, any possible explanation for what was happening to her being lost and not providing her with any salvation at all.
Phi, whoever this girl was, was alone in her problems and her isolation and there was nothing he could do about it as he knew nothing.
And the fact it was the case, especially when the pain was coming from him, made Kamijou's entire body burn with anger.
Kamijou said the words slowly, puling Phi away from him and she stared up at him in response.
"I don't know what is happening to you. I'm not going to lie about that. But for whatever is happening to you, I will figure it out. I will make sure the answers come to light. But…I need time. I need time to sort what is happening to you out. Do you think you can give me that?"
Phi held the boy's gaze for a little bit, staring into his eyes as if peering into his soul before slowly nodding. She wiped her eyes free from her tears and let out a small nod, something that Kamijou responded to by placing his forehead on hers.
"Thank you." He whispered. "I'll make it up to you, I swear. But…I need time to do that. Right now…"
"There is something you need to do. Something more important."
The words could have felt accusatory from the girl. Certainly, her words suggested her problem, whatever it was, was less important to Kamijou than whatever was happening now, but her tone of voice suggested she saw the facts as merely facts and nothing else. Kamijou broke the contact and saw that the girl was staring at Kamijou with a determination that surprised him given her previous tears, but she nodded vigorously.
"Shutaura…no, Arisa…They need your help with whatever it is they are involved in." Phi spoke, Kamijou staring at her in surprise at how she knew they existed in the same body, only giving more credence to her words that she had his memories…but also the shame Kamijou had for giving those to her.
Kamijou's apology was on more than just one level, deep in nature and heartfelt. Phi shook her head and faced him head on.
"It's nothing you need to apologise for. I…don't know what is happening to me. But I am sure you will help me out in the same way you have helped so many. I know. I've seen it before."
"Gack. Yeah…through some method or another, you know everything I've done and experienced." Kamijou felt a sweat form on him as he cast his gaze to the side. "I'm not too sure what to think about that when you're a small girl and I have my privacy…"
Phi tilted her head to the side in confusion, but Kamijou refused to think more into it for fear of her pure mind getting tainted by his high school boy thoughts. He rose, staring at Phi, the questions of who she was rising within him but without the time needed to properly investigate them, he would never figure them out. The only thing he knew was that Phi needed his help…but was more than willing to wait for it when he had other things to worry about.
"Thank you, once again. I will save you. But please…wait for me."
Phi slowly nodded and Kamijou returned it before racing off back into the night, leaving the small girl with the almost transparent dress in the darkness, watching his back recede into the night.
The streetlight illuminating the small girl flickered once as it plunged that section of the street into darkness before it once more turned on and maintained its glow over the Academy City street.
With only one difference.
The small girl called Phi was gone.
Shutaura Sequenzia slowly moved through the Academy City streets, holding her handgun. Her black bodysuit and hair made it easier to move through the darkness of the streets, a feat made easier also because she was alone and given the wound in her chest was not hurting as much. In fact, it had substantially decreased in the pain it was giving her, giving her a lot more freedom of movement. It hurt to move too much but Shutaura was confident that if anything came her way, she would be able to face it head on by relying on her handgun and her esper power. Having the Black Crows separate and converge of the experimental Tree Diagram Communications Facility in District 15 meant they could cover all avenues of entrance and exit and simultaneously converge on the location of MINUS's hideout at once.
It would be in and out. Dealing with this issue would mean that Academy City would be safer once again and also get back at the people who had harmed her, Crow 1, 14 and 22. For that alone, to make sure the family she had was kept even a little bit safer, Shutaura knew what she was doing now was not only for the good of the City but also for more than that.
And yet, despite being professionals and trained, it seemed that civilians had decided to charge into the fray. While Shokuhou Misaki was a Level 5, the same was not said for Index and Tatsugami Otohime, a fact that hovered over the head of Shutaura like a weight.
They had no power. What exactly could they do when it came to the upcoming fight? Shutaura did not know but their weakness in this was surely going to be weigh them all down heavily, as much as she did not want to think of it like that.
More than that though, there was the Level 0, Kamijou Touma.
He had once defeated Shutaura, although in this fight, evidenced by the handgun in Shutaura's hand, he could do nothing if the opponent pulled a gun on him from a distance. One bullet could end his life and even if he charged into the fray with good intentions, it would take nothing more than a twitching of the muscles and then everything would end.
Shutaura felt concern for her teammates, her family, but the concern she felt for that single boy drove waves of confusion through her. He was a good ally, yes, but he was nothing else to her. Or more accurately, he was nothing else to Shutaura Sequenzia.
But for the girl also within her, Meigo Arisa, Kamijou was somebody to care about. And because of that, because of the concern Arisa had for Kamijou, the future battle weighed down on Shutaura more than she felt possible. Even if she had her teammates to worry about, the thought of the single boy being involved in this pressed down on her heart from all sides and gave her conflicted feelings.
The same was said for the nun Index as well, the two presences that had meant something to Arisa but not so much to Shutaura adding a heavy weight to her. She paused for a moment, holding her head and trying to force the thoughts from her mind.
"I don't have time for this…"
She was addressing Arisa but felt it more appropriate to use words given that Arisa was her own person, even if she had been cut from the 'cloth' that was Shutaura.
"He is making his own decision. She is too. Like everyone else in this fight, he is acting with the risks being known so there is no obligation I have to keep an eye on him. If I did that for everyone, if I kept a close eye on everyone, they would fall through my fingers. This…concern filling me is yours, not mine and if you let it overwhelm me, I won't be able to do anything when it matters. This is more than just me, Kamijou and that nun. This covers everyone else in the Black Crows as well. Just…Just for now, even if you don't want to, I need you to silence yourself and not bring your emotions forward into me. Just for now."
Nothing changed, much to Shutaura's annoyance. The concern she had for Kamijou was growing even with those words, as if Arisa were challenging Shutaura with what she was feeling. Shutaura grit her teeth, walking forward all the same and truly wondering whether, in her state now, she was adequate to fight.
During the initial confrontation with MINUS, she had given in to her emotions. And right now, she was sure she was going to be the same with the growing concern she had for Kamijou and Index and the possibility of the two of them coming into this fight. It was going to be a hindrance to her ability and that dulled the sharpened blade of her skills as a soldier.
She clicked her tongue, realising she had to move, however, movement on the side of the street next to hers caused her to turn her head. Her eyes went wide as, coming out of the alley of the opposite side of the road, was –
Kamijou Touma, face bloodied and with red smears over it, appeared from the alleyway, sweat covering his face and he stared at Shutaura across the street with wide eyes. Both parties, who had once been separated but now reunited, stared stunned at each other before Kamijou had the sense of mind to move, checking both sides of the street before crossing it to her.
"Thank goodness I found you. I was wondering if I would run into anyone when I was making my way here but I'm glad that I ran into you, the leader." Kamijou did not even seem to notice the rising concern Shutaura had for him, questions racing through her mind but instead of immediately voicing them, it was the concern filling her head that came through louder than them all.
"F-Forget about that! You're bleeding! How…How did you get these wounds?" Shutaura did not even think, reaching forward and using a hand to touch Kamijou's cheek in an action that made him jump. Flustered, he reached out and shook his head while pulling her hand away.
"A-Ah, right! It's not my blood so there's nothing to worry about there. W-Well it is my blood but there's also someone else's within it too…"
"What happened? The last thing I remember…is you leaving Arisa, chasing after Orion. Did he give you those wounds?" The awareness, but not the memory of what had happened last time she had seen Kamijou, filled her mind and gave rise to questions of concern.
What she did not expect was for Kamijou to stiffen, the boy's expression turning into one of melancholy before he turned his head down in silence.
"…What happened?" Even Shutaura knew to take the hint, something on Kamijou's mind that seemed to be weighing down on him. Again, the concern she had for the boy increased immensely, a feeling clearly coming from Arisa but Kamijou only responded with a shaking of his head and a smile.
But even then, Shutaura could tell it was a smile that was desperately trying to hide loss of some form. Was that because of her own ability to read emotions or because of Arisa's knowledge of the boy and how he would try and calm her down without thinking of his own emotions and mental state?
"Orion…won't be bothering us anymore." The words were oddly calm but the fact it was Kamijou who said them made Shutaura go wide eyed. She stood there in stunned silence, trying to find the words to say but finding none. The anger she had at that mercenary for shooting her in the chest disappeared, replaced with the concern she had for Kamijou, making that smile in front of her and saying those things.
She opened her mouth to say something, not sure what she was to say, before Kamijou interrupted her.
"B-But there is more to it than that. Orion was involved in a kidnapping tonight. Another one, different from Crow 1's."
"A-Another!?" Shutaura, moving the conversation along because she did not know what to say to Kamijou, much to her shame (although she felt that Arisa had something to do with that too). She started walking to their destination in a hurry, Kamijou doing the same.
"Yeah. And the people he took from aren't exactly pleased about it."
"Is Anti-Skill involved?"
"Worse." Kamijou said with a wince. "The #1 and the #3. As well as a Level 0 friend of mine you don't exactly want to mess with when he's pissed. They're all converging on where we're heading right now."
Shutaura gagged, struggling to find the words to describe the bombshell Kamijou had just dropped on her so casually. Trembling and with good reason, she stared at the boy as if doing so would make her realise the joke he was telling. His face barely even changed and that in itself told Shutaura the seriousness of the situation, a frantic sweat having formed on her.
"A-Are you telling me that, right now, we have 3 of the 7 Level 5s ready to attack this one facility where MINUS is hiding? And that we are dealing with more kidnappings?"
"I-In fairness, this isn't my fault! Things sort of happened and it turned into this. So I think you better call this in and tell your teammates, otherwise this is going to turn into a bloodbath if the Black Crows are going to be caught in the crossfire and those two Level 5 not in the loop attack them."
Shutaura paled at the thought, frantically grabbing for her radio and yelling into it as she and Kamijou ran through the night.
"All units, all units. New information has been given to us. Keep advised, additional back-up, unwarranted and unasked mind you, has appeared. Additional back-up has appeared. Keep advised that while they are on the same side, they are hostile. Extremely hostile." Shutaura added that last bit, static coming through the radio on her end before a reply came through.
"Captain? Crow 17 here."
Shutaura frowned at that. Given that the Black Crows were moving in groups of two, any Crow not paired with another was paired with one of the civilians taking part in this situation, save for her who had been formerly partnered with Kamijou. And as far as she recalled, Crow 17 had yet to reach District 15 and was paired with another of the Black Crows. There was nothing unusual for him to report and yet, here he was, making such a report.
Something was up.
"Crow 17, give me a status report."
"We think we might have found one of these 'additional' back-up units. He attacked us out of nowhere riding an acrobike, demanding information. We managed to subdue him using CQC but he's still alive and kicking. More of the latter. What do you want us to do with him?"
"An acrobike?" Kamijou asked with a frown, turning to Shutaura and nodding. "He's on our side. Hamazura Shiage is his name. A-As long as you tell him we're all going to be moving together in this to save his girlfriend, he's sure to move along with you without causing too much of a fuss. …I hope."
Shutaura grimaced. In a situation as tense as this, the words 'I hope' when it came to co-operation were not exactly something she wanted to hear. Regardless though, especially when this was about the boy's girlfriend, it seemed unlikely he would back off: after all, without realising it, he had engaged two professional soldiers in unarmed combat thinking he could gain the upper hand. His desperation was either going to be his undoing…or going to make him a vital asset.
With Kamijou by her side too, she could not exactly discard him without angering the boy to which she frowned, bringing up her radio to her mouth.
"Crow 17. The subject's name is Hamazura Shiage. He is on our side, although I suggest explaining the situation to him before he gets any more angered. I have it from a reliable source that he'll co-operate with us. And tell him he is to do so. If he does not though…we can't exactly trust those who don't trust us, can we?" Shutaura's words were oddly cryptic, Kamijou beside her shivering but she paid it no mind. "If it comes to that, do what you need to do."
"Now, as for everyone else – "
"Wait just a minute."
A female voice, sweet sounding, came through the radio.
"You said you have a 'reliable' source ability. Where exactly is that source coming from? Because how exactly can you trust someone with the information and the lives of the rest of us?" The voice was one she instantly recognised, as did the boy beside her, who went wide eyed upon hearing it.
"Shokuhou? Is that you!?"
Kamijou asked, the response from the radio being almost immediate in return.
"K-Kamijou-san!? W-Well, if you are the source ability, I have no problem trusting it, but where are you? And what happened to you!?"
"Touma?! Where did you even get off to? Shutaura said you were chasing after Orion? What happened to him?!"
"Onii-chan, where are you right now? I never got to see you after we left the apartment, so I've been really worried!"
"Ahem!" Shutaura coughed into the radio, an irritated expression on her face. "For all civilians listening in, this channel is not the gossip corner for the rest of you, but rather an official channel to discuss the operation to take place and the risks of such. Please, if you want to have your concerns put to rest, please use other means."
There was silence for a moment before Kamijou's phone starting gong off like crazy, text messages and ringtone filling the air. The sound made Kamijou jump and Shutaura want to say something in return but given they had listened to her orders, there was nothing she could really say in response.
However, there was one thing she had to add to the forces surrounding her now.
"As for the rest of you, the other 'back-up' that is going to be coming our way is not going to be as easy to handle as an esper on an acrobike. The source I have says both the #1 and the #3 are going to be assisting us in this operation, although I am told they are operating within their own personal capacity. If you can't get them on your side as soon as you see them…I suggest you stay well away from them. Their targets are the same as ours, although it seems they are after kidnapped victims of their own, being held by our targets."
Shutaura did not bother giving any more detail than was already needed, the lack of response from the other Black Crows giving an indication again of their professionalism. They were clearly reeling from the news that 3 Level 5s were going to be on the scene but they kept their feelings to themselves, the task set ahead of them having not changed, only the details of who was going to be there having changed.
"Yes, Crow 17?"
"For future reference, when we storm the enemy's hideout and we find these kidnapped victims, what exactly is the course of action we are to take?"
"What do you think?" Shutaura asked with a small smile on her face. "We save them of course. Just as we would have wanted Crow 1 to have been saved if someone else were storming this building as well. That is all. The mission has not changed. But if there one last order I have to give to all of you…"
Shutaura tightened her grip on the radio a tiny bit before speaking again.
"Come back home alive. I'm not accepting any deaths tonight. Understand?"
The unified response that came through the radio made Shutaura grin before she pocketed the radio, turning to the phone within Kamijou's hand as they ran through the night.
"I suggest turning that off. Although the #1 and the #3 are going to be making a lot of noise, the less chance of MINUS knowing our presence is there, the better. And knowing you…"
"My misfortune is going to make my phone ring at the worst possible moment." Kamijou said with a deadpan, realising Shutaura was right. Without really wanting to but understanding the necessity of it (knowing him and his misfortune, his mum would call him at the worst moment and cause the enemy to charge after him with their guns blazing), he sent a quick text to the others informing them of the situation before turning off his phone.
He sighed after he did so, rubbing the rest of the blood from his face as he ran through Academy City's District 15, having already passed the border between it and District 7.
"Things have gotten crazy already. To think that just a few hours ago, I was planning on what to have for dinner with my guests."
Shutaura knew the sentiment. If she had known today would have started with her office being blown up, she would have stayed in the bed and not left for work but that was merely how things went. Even so though, as she stared at the boy next to her, the concern she had for him seeming to overwhelm her mind and it was that emotion which she knew would serve as a hindrance to the future operation.
She had to get rid of this feeling within her soon, lest she not operate at peak performance and turned to Kamijou.
"You can leave at any time. Things…have already gone too far with you involved and bringing you into this any further isn't going to end well. Whether it be for you or whatever opponent you are facing, the future ahead of you is going to be filled with conflict."
Kamijou smiled at that a bit, as if knowing Shutaura was trying to scare him off and indirectly telling him to be safe. His face turned into the same expression of melancholy he had when Shutaura had first brought up Orion before he turned to face forward, nodding slightly.
"I know that. And I know that…not all the conflict ahead of me is going to end well. Blood will surely be shed and violence is the only language that will be spoken in the minutes ahead. But even if that is the case, I can't let this go. My heart is telling me…that this isn't one of times where I can easily pack up everything and turn away because I know it's going to be dangerous. Everyone now is fighting for something, something they cannot ignore and something they hold in their hearts. You're like that, Shutaura, as are the rest of the Black Crows. So is everyone else, even me. If this was something I could put to the side, I would. But my heart is telling me I can't just leave this be."
"…Even if the future is not going to be kind?"
"Especially because of that. How can I leave this be? This goes beyond just me. It involves you, MINUS, the Level 5s and the safety of Academy City. I don't have some grand goal in mind to put a stop to all that and save the entire City. The only thing I have in my mind is that I can't let this go on if only for the fact that if I do, more and more smiles are going to be lost. I've done nothing but react, so this time, it's time for me to do something proactive, to strike at the heart of everything happening and maybe get the one up on the people who have already hurt so many. …Even if I had to be brought into the thick of it, I know what I have to do and what I want to achieve at the end of the day."
"And that is?"
The word came out of Kamijou's mouth instantly but the weight of it felt as if the boy felt he was speaking gold.
"Everyone deserves that. You, me, those who have kidnapped and those who care for them. And right now, that is threatened. Which means I can't just put this to pass and put to the side, even if I know what is ahead of me is not going to be pleasant. But I have to fight that no matter how scared I am, no matter how concerned I am for my safety and the safety of others, because if I lose myself and think only of the negatives, the negative MINUS will overpower everything else and make the negatives surround me from all angles. Do I want others to fight? Do I want to charge into this? Of course not. But everyone here is fighting for something they can't compromise on and there is no other way. For them…for me…I will fight. If only because of the chance I have to restore the peace and smiles already been lost."
Was he worried? Of course he was. He didn't want this and he didn't want to have to face what was coming because of how he knew there was the chance something was going to be lost. But what was going to be lost if he let this continue was by far more worrying to him. And because of it, he knew he had to rise his right fist and fight for what was to come.
Despite the concern, the consequences and what was to come, Kamijou Touma would fight for a better tomorrow, a better future where nothing was lost and everyone could go home with a smile on their face. A future where the happiness of others was achieved and where it was finally grasped with both hands and held tight.
He had the same concerns for Shutaura; he was worried for the others. But he knew that they had made their choice and that, while he was still worrying for them, they were fighting for something they saw as important. Respecting and valuing that, he did not turn them way but accepted them for what it was and who they were.
Just as he had right now with his decision to fight.
Shutaura Sequenzia, or more accurately, Meigo Arisa, felt concerned for him in the future of what was going to happen such that the emotion she was feeling was almost overwhelming. But at the same time, although that concern would never die, Kamijou was doing what he wanted and what he felt to be right, being moved forward by his own emotions and choice.
A choice he had made not because anyone had forced him into it but because he wanted to, much like everyone else. Even if there was concern he had for others and the concern they had for him, he had made his choice as to what he wanted to do and let it drive him into his very core.
His features were determined, his eyes blazing with the desire to do something and to set something right.
So, no matter how much Shutaura felt concerned about him, no matter how much she wanted him to turn back, how could she? He, like everyone else here, including Shutaura, had made his choice.
And with it, the desire to fight and bring back the lost smiles on the faces of others came through him.
Who was she to turn away from that? Who was she to say anything to the contrary?
Shutaura found herself unable to say anything and although the concern for the boy was still there, it was replaced with the knowledge he had made this choice with the knowledge of the consequences, driven by his heart and his desire to save someone despite it all. And it was that desire to save and reach out and restore the smile of someone who had lost it, unwavering even in the face of challenge, that seemed to be the strongest of all.
Shutaura Sequenzia found herself smiling as she stared at the boy next to her. This was merely the boy known as Kamijou Touma. There was nothing surprising about it, despite the shock one felt when exposed to it, and it was merely who he was. It was something anyone would be proud to have, and anyone would be proud to have in a friend of theirs.
But what she found confusing was whether that smile and those thoughts of pride were coming from her or from Meigo Arisa.
The boy who had made his choice, the boy who had the desire to brave anything that came in front of him if only because of the chance to restore a lost smile stopped at the corner of the building in front of him. He started to peer around it but Shutaura, the professional in this situation, held out her hand, going first.
No matter what she thought of Kamijou, no matter how she felt his spirit and his desire to save was blinding, no matter what she had felt she had learned about him, she needed to go first. She peered around the edge of the building, to see her destination in front of her, before frowning once and turning back to Kamijou, remembering something she had forgotten to say.
"By the way…"
"? What is it?"
"You and I are going to have a talk after this. Don't think I've forgotten about how you stuck your head in between my breasts. There are some things I need to say to you for that…so make sure you come back home alive."
Kamijou Touma though never got the chance to feel the warmth and the hidden emotion inside those last words, only paling and trembling at the way Shutaura had said the words before. But it didn't matter to the soldier if only she knew the emotion within those last words, peering around the edge of the building, Kamijou shaking behind her but doing the same.
There it was.
The experimental Tree Diagram Communications Facility.
And with it…
And the chance to strike at the heart of what threatened the smiles of so many.
And there we have it!
So, what did you think!?
Surprisingly, a lot happened this chapter so I guess we'll get right into it. There were about two or so parts that I want to draw attention to but of them was definitely the first part where Accelerator, Mikoto and Hamazura were confronted with the idea of 'how far they would go to make sure what they loved was safe'. In it, and I want to stress this, was the idea that they are by no means lesser people for what they did to Orion but rather, he pushed them that far and with it, had to accept the consequences for what he did. But along with that, the others have to do the same in that they also have to accept that, on some level, they have failed Touma by not meeting the expectations he had of them in that they would not go that far and try and maintain some sort of rationality in their mind. But because of what was threatened, I threw that out the window.
Here, Accelerator, Mikoto and Hamazura made their choice of what mattered more to them: Touma or what was threatened to them. While for the two heroes, this was an easy choice to make given the narration that happened in the previous parts, for Mikoto this was a choice that really hammered into her. While the LIFE of one of the Sisters was maintained, the connection she had with Touma was what she chose to shatter with her own hands by failing him. The part where he strikes her (especially this as I felt it really illustrates how the connection between her and Touma has become fractured that he can think of doing that) was where she realises she has disappointed Touma and the part where he questions whether he can trust Mikoto to do the right thing anymore are all really important parts as it is here that Mikoto has, with her own hands, destroyed something she has valued above all else and strained it.
Orion was definitely the villain here but as you saw what happened to him, I hope that for what was at stake, you saw everyone else going that far being in character for them but also felt it definitely was too far (even if it was deserved). The sight of him in his final moments with Touma really illustrates the lengths Kamui indirectly pushed them to go to for the sake of those they loved and for that alone, I hope you can realise how close they might have been to truly breaking in their own right. By no means feel sorry for Orion here, that was not the point of his torture scene, but rather illustrating that the inner cruelty within the cast is slowly edging forward.
But at the same time, by showing that cruelty, the others fell down to Orion's level. Back in Kongou's part, there was a lot of back and forth between Touma and Orion about the fallacy of doing the wrong thing for the right reason and while that was pushed forward as being a 'bad' concept done by 'bad' people, we had that idea pushed forward by the 'good' guys which strains what Touma thinks of them. While he concludes that maybe he thought too much of them, the strain it has put on what he thinks of them in the future is truly going to be a tipping point for them all and I hope you can look forward to that.
The final scenes between Orion and Touma I kept short if only because of how different they were. The scenes I have with them usually have some conflict, whether physical or verbal and now I had no chance for that, I had a scene where a non-conflict zone between them could simply not exist with Orion, the failure, forcing Touma, the success, away.
I also hope that the final scene with Orion kept you guessing for his character…and what comes next.
But within all this chaos and thoughts of blood, there was the reveal of who the small girl was called: Phi. I felt that poking some fun at the name and how it was 'unimaginative' was the right thing to do there but at the same time, having her cry made me feel a bit bad. But even if we have her name and what she is doing, I hope you found yourself asking the same questions that Touma was about her existence; what she was and what purpose she has. Phi is going to be one of the few prominent OCs from now on so I hope you can come to like her…and also how terrifying she can be with the knowledge she has in her mind. Where I am going with her is something I hope you can enjoy, even if there are nothing but questions.
But the final scenes. Throughout this chapter, while the underlying thought is that of 'miracles', I had the focus be a lot on 'choice', perhaps to reflect how it was Shutaura's father who made the choice to create a miracle. But while the concept of choice was negatively covered, it was done in a better way in the second part with Shutaura, namely that everyone has a choice and it is that choice which is pushing those fighting to do something good for others. For that choice alone, no matter what we think of it and no matter how worried we are, how can we criticise or think bad of it for the things another person is for someone? I wanted to use the small moment to give Shutaura a small insight into how what Touma is doing is his choice and his choice alone because he cannot accept the consequences of not acting. And because of it, because of that drive and determination, there is really nothing else that has to be said on the matter: Touma is doing what he wants to do…and with it, the only thing we can focus on is how that, in its own small way, allows for someone to be saved.
That small scene in its own right was definitely the way I used to return to the premise of ACUL0: Shutaura learning more about Touma in his own right; his CHOICE to do what it takes to make sure there is a better tomorrow because of how everyone deserves peace. Even with the chaos of everything going on, I hope you found yourself smiling as that scene returned to the premise of the story.
But now that we've gone there, it's time to jump into the fray with the fight scenes. There are definitely going to be a lot of them now…
And as usual, my usual thoughts on the most recent Index novel. Please be aware that, as usual, this will contain a variety of spoilers so please ignore this if you don't want to see them.
I found this novel to be very strange. One of the things that I noted to myself during GT 4 was that there was too much Othinus…but in this volume there was not enough?! Jokes aside though, I really enjoyed this novel for what it was, although there were elements in the second half that through me for a loop in terms of storytelling and execution.
One of the things that I really felt stick out this volume was how GT 5 is probably one of the first novels where we have Touma taking an active part in the Dark Side. I know that he's been involved in the Sisters and other types of incidents, but this has to be one of the first volumes where he has acted in an incident where various groups have been moving all at once, vis-à-vis OT 15 and OT 19 style. GT 5 felt like the 'sequel' to GT 3 and in that sense, having Touma play ANY part whatsoever during that incident was really surprising and also a breath of fresh air. If there was any 'hypothetical' volume where you would ask 'what if Touma was involved in OT 15 or OT 19', this volume would be the answer…and I really liked the themes that came from that as a result. Having Touma focus on wanting to save others instead of just solely surviving was a really nice contrast to the usual way that these volumes went and just goes to show the types of effect that Touma can have on these incidents with these incidents alone. If there was anything that really stood out to me, it was placing that 'Touma influence' on an incident of GT 5's nature that I really enjoyed.
I'll speak more about the second half here because the first half was more of a 'dream sequence' as it were, but having the appearance of Tessou really threw me and also goes to show that not everyone came out of Handcuffs alright. While there were the dead, having Tessou snap and turn into what she did was a welcome surprise and also one that I wasn't expecting whatsoever. If there was anything that I enjoyed, it was her ability to manipulate so many characters to her will and use them as she saw fit. Kamachi's note that how Touma and Tessou are similar but different also shows how you can have the same goal at times but approach it from vastly different angles.
The final battle against Kihara Hasuu though was a definite surprise! Having a chainsaw wielding ghost that uses his own body and carbon absorption as his weapons made for an intriguing villain and having Hasuu as the usual 'Kihara like mad scientist' character was a nice contrast towards how Touma would usually solve these things. In this sense, it really made a lot of sense to have Hamazura and Sodate come back to help Risako so I really liked tat call back to GT 3 in this sense: despite Touma having a key role in the resolution of that incident, in the end, it was also Hamazura's 'homework' that he ever finished so I liked that he had a role in it to play.
I will say that the structure of the novel felt a bit disjointed and a lot of characters ended up suffering as a result of this. The beginning of the novel was very much Touma + Alice given hr influence on the story and the second half of the novel felt like it was Touma + Handcuffs and as a result, a lot of the characters that appeared ended up not doing much whatsoever which I felt was a bit disappointing. Despite having the premise of the villains escaping, Benizome and Rakuoka Houfu did basically nothing, not to mention that I felt Rakuoka Nodoka could have done a lot more. Not to mention Kuroko; she was basically relevant for Alice's dream world but did nothing else afterwards which I felt was a bit of a shame. The only character that seemed to have an ounce of relevance was Youen so I didn't mind the fact that Kamachi didn't forget his characters entirely, haha.
Speaking of characters, I both enjoyed and disliked how Kamachi has been reusing characters as of late. Yomikawa's prevalent appearance was a really great moment and even the appearance of characters like Kazakiri and Melzabeth again shows how Kamachi has been leveraging things that he has used in the past to his advantage. Like showing Stiyl and Kanzaki in GT 4, it shows a lot about the series where the villains are the only new characters and Kamachi can use his large cast to his advantage. At the same time though, having Kaai reappearance and Melzabeth coming out of nowhere (it's great that he's reusing her, but how smart is that woman!?) did fall a bit flat, especially given what happened to Kaai at the end of GT 3 (like, did she become a slime girl who is obsessed with NTR?!). While I enjoyed the usage of characters that have been used before, the lack of explanation and also the lack of screentime at times for some characters (did Othinus and Kazakiri even say anything this entire volume?!) felt a bit disappointing.
Even though I complain though, I really enjoyed the volume even if I have some gripes. Touma's speech to Aleister really shows just where Academy City stands now that they have a new Board Chairman and also reveals, despite everything he has been through, Touma won't change no matter the incident. Not only that but I felt Alice's involvement in the novel to be one of the highlights, not only because of her power (she was also very cute) but also how it builds up to what is coming to happen next. I can't say that I understood what he taught Alice, but her power and how it distorted the events of the novel in the first half was really quite interesting and gave a nice twist on the novel, especially with how Touma turned down the fantasy world for the ambition to achieve a true ending where he could save everyone. He really was the hero that Handcuffs needed, wasn't he?!
Also, did Anna put a Jesus crown on Touma?! With what she said about him in GT 2, is he basically Jesus!? Not to mention Aleister hinting that Touma is one of the only characters that could be close to achieving his True Will…
Still though, what the hell is Touma made of? Hamazura in GT 3 gets in the stomach from a handgun and has to spend 4 days in the ICU before his apperance. Touma on the other hand gets shot in the stomach by a sniper rifle, gets barely treated by Youen, walks to the Taboo, faces Hasuu for some time who is holding a goddamn chainsaw, gets hits with basically the destroyed remnants of a concrete pillar, thrown several metres in the air, manages to have a conversation with Melzabeth in which he basically saves Ladybird's entire existence, manages to stand up to face Hasuu only final time and then CRAWLS out of the Taboo!? I mean…what the hell!? Othinus's hells has basically turned him into a tank. I do feel bad for Touma though as Alice's innocence has now placed a target on his back for Aradia. Such misfortune.
I will also ask whether GT is the start of Touma's popular phase. In the past 5 volumes he has been kissed on the lips by Anna and Youen (even if it was a dream world) and also kissed on the cheek by Alice and Melzabeth. I don't understand why he's receiving all this lip service all of a sudden when he received…two kisses throughout all of OT and NT if memory serves? Also, I don't mind NTR with Youen and Touma, Youen was quite cute this volume, even though Alice takes first place.
Overall, a solid novel. Seeing a Dark Side sequel with Touma taking the main role was a really big change to see and also introduces how Academy City has changed since Aleister took over. A few gripes, but having Alice in the story I think really helped prevent it from becoming nothing but darkness and despair.
But I'll leave things there.
And as always,
Review if you please.
And I'll see you when I see you and I won't if I don't.
Touma, Index, Otohime, Othinus, 3 Level 5s, the Black Crows and Shutaura vs. MINUS and Kihara Kamui. …Something tells me this isn't going to end well.