Here we are once again, on this stage!
Given where we left off last time, I want to get straight into this so enough of this note here. There are technically two characters as the focus of this arc so I want to use both of them but from the chapter title, you can see that the one we are used to this time is the focus. But giving Arisa only one chapter seems a bit unfair!?
Whatever the case, we'll start with the Q & A:
patiphat1998: I think you mean 'F' for Touma here, but I'm glad that you think Kamui is really that major of a villain for Touma. He's not super strong, but challenges more on a more idealistic level so I hope you can see more and more of Touma being challenged here by Kamui in later chapters.
whwsms: I think every chapter for me is a cliffhanger? I'm also glad that you noted that Touma's thinking if effectively 'childlike'. I think, and this is the case when Mikoto and the other tortured Orion, that he's been exposed to the naivety of what he wants and he's seeing how differently everyone else thinks. But where this goes and what it leads to has yet to be seen so I hope you can enjoy it, especially with the divide it's creating! I'm pretty sure that it was Miki, Kamachi's editor, who wanted Index to become the longest running LN series though…
craytherlay: In my defence for Othinus not being by Touma's side 24/7, as much as I would LOVE her to always be there, even the canon shows that they're not always together like GT 5 and GT 6 for recent volumes…but even I recognise that that's a poor excuse given that they're usually side by side. I'm also glad that you like the mirror of Kamui and Touma: Kamui isn't the strongest of villains but he's constantly pushing Touma again and again so I hope you can see what lies ahead for the mental strain this is going to cause our spiky haired boy… I'm also glad that I got the green light for the scene with Index: she needs to be used way more! As for how Touma is saved, I'll save that reveal for another time…
ShadowBloodedge9396: Okaeri! I have to say that these cliffhangers are getting out of hand for me…but they're always the best way to end a chapter! I'm glad that you found the chapter to be worth it: I'm always balancing the length vs. how much happens given that I make you guys wait 2 months for chapters so I want a LOT to happen in them but not TOO much, you know? Let's what out what happens with Hayashida and Touma, shall we? You'll see what happens with Touma and how he escaped though… Let's see what happens going forward though, shall we?
Kaze: Maybe I'm projecting Shirou onto Touma a bit here now that I think about it, but I think that has to do more with the situations I'm putting Touma through. Index has never gotten this dark I don't think, at least not involving Touma, so seeing how he would have his ideals pressed when it comes down to it has resulted in this chapter and this reaction. In a way, this fc is very much "let's see how far we can push Touma", especially since he doesn't want any lives to be lost. I hope that it's not too jarring though and that you can look forward to what comes next.
Guest: I know where the story is going to end, but we're not there just yet (man, now I know what Oda feels like with One Piece…).
DNWorks: I hope that when the real Kamui takes the stage that you can really enjoy what is to happen. Let's see what happens with the General of MINUS though: he's finally taken that front seat!
Multiverse Learner 101: I really like Kamijou and Kamui moments: they're back and forth and how they bump off each other is really nice for hero and villain moments where Kamui wants to be forsaken, just so he can have Touma forsake him. I would definitely have to say that Batman v. Joker is where Kamui's inspiration comes from sort of.
xellos540: I think Touma is surprised that Accelerator would resort to torture given how much he's changed; Touma thought that he had grown past that. I'll try and make sure that the Faction is properly addressed…! I hope though that I can continue to touch upon areas that you enjoy with the series! Hayashida was the one who ordered Orion though; she was his 'master' at the time. I never knew that making Index useful would be such a game changer! Let's see what happens next though, shall we?
ZanderLMAO: I dunno about being Aleister OR Kamachi, LOL…
Luffyash18: Yeah, I think constantly retconning in characters and events has created some inconsistencies, which is why I stopped the retconning around NT 17. I hope it's not too jarring though and thank you so much for your kind words on the matter!
5had0wHand: Since when is me hurting Touma new?! Best power up for Touma would be no more misfortune…imagine the possibilities! But in all seriousness, learning English is the best.
Hestia Frost: First, thanks so much for the kind words. They really mean a lot. But I'm also glad that you pointed out the jarring nature of Touma's personality; as things get darker and darker, you'll have to see how long he can hold that up for…
And the thanks to you, the reader. I'll try and say a lot in a little, but thanks. Really honestly and truly, thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything you have done for me by supporting this project. It means the world.
But GT 7 is already around the corner?! It feels so weird that we're in this stage that we can already get a new novel that addresses the new year, but I guess Kamachi is just that fast! I look forward to what the novel has to deliver and I hope you all do as well!
And from me to wrap up, I hope you can do what you always do when you read these:
Mr Question Mark.
"The collapse of the experimental Tree Diagram Communications Facility in District 15 last night thankfully took no lives. However, the worry Anti-Skill and Judgment is now focusing upon is whether there were any people located within the facility when it did collapse. Preparations are underway for the excavation of the rubble and determining if any lives were lost. We'll give you more as we learn it."
The reporter stating that news with a calm tone didn't even understand how much had been lost when that facility had collapsed. As a result, it was questionable whether what she was doing was disrespectful to those who had lost their lives or blissful that there were those who knew nothing of the Darkness which had caused that collapse.
Because she was talking about what had happened and did not know of the lives lost in that collapse and the fighting that had happened there, could one justify hating her when they knew what had happened and what had been lost? Was it unfair to despise her for her ignorance and for talking as if nothing had happened when blood had been spilled?
Shutaura Sequenzia could not say.
But then again, the fact she could say anything was a miracle in and of itself.
She looked up from the phone in her hand and stared at the man sitting by her bed, a man who held out his hand from his wheelchair to take the phone from her. She placed it inside his palm and he nodded once. He spoke, his voice level and calm although with the state he was in, it was amazing for him to do so.
Yet, it was that tenacity and that drive to get things done which was why he was her right hand man.
Crow 1, the man who had been kidnapped and started the entire incident surrounding Shutaura and MINUS, spoke from his wheelchair. Although he had no bandages on his body and still had his bodysuit that was the official uniform for the Black Crows, the wheelchair he was sitting in was enough to indicate his injuries.
Shutaura herself was surprised when he had first come into her room in that wheelchair. Being one the strongest men she knew, both physically and mentally, it seemed impossible to make him go down whenever you pushed him and yet, here he was, in the wheelchair that spoke of the hidden wounds he had suffered.
In a way, he was like everyone else here.
Hiding hidden wounds that would never heal.
"Captain," Crow 1 started without missing a beat. "We told Anti-Skill, as part of our assimilation into them, what happened and our involvement so we've managed to nip any future problems in the bud when they uncover the bodies of the fallen Crows. Anti-Skill does still want to talk to you about what happened and the nature of the incident at hand, but with the state you are in and our co-operation with Anti-Skill, I ensured them there will be no problems in getting a testimony from you."
"You did? In your state?"
"I wouldn't be much of a second-in-command if I didn't do that much. If I don't, Crow 7 is going to be grabbing that spot without me even realising."
The man spoke with a smile on his face, Shutaura returning it but both knew how strained it was.
It was the early hours of the morning.
A full day had not even passed from when Shutaura, along with so many others, had stormed the hideout of MINUS for the sake of preventing them from causing more chaos and ripping more smiles off the faces of others. Only hours ago, in the middle of the night, there had been gunfire, blood, explosions and bodies, so the switch from that scene to this one in a few hours truly made one realise the effect time had on the world around oneself.
For Shutaura, the sensation was even stranger.
The white room of the hospital around her smelled of disinfectant. Whether it be the natural smell of the place or the meticulous nature of the staff working here, the unpleasant stench filled Shutaura's nose and even now made her feel uncomfortable. The bed she was lying in was a private one in a famous District 7 hospital, one for use by Anti-Skill and Judgment personnel who got preferential treatment because of their status and work in Academy City. The window was closed and a simple glance at it told Shutaura it was bulletproof, further showing how this room was definitely used by those with a more dangerous vocation.
The calmness of the situation and the room she was in…was so different from what she had last seen.
She had woken up here.
Not knowing how she had gotten here or who had taken her. Knowing nothing about what had happened to the people who had been with her when she had last lost consciousness or the chain of events that led to her being here, Shutaura had merely found herself in this room that was entirely the opposite of what she had fallen asleep to.
What had happened? How had she gotten here when she had been caved in on the bottom floor of that pit into hell? What had happened to Kamijou Touma?
The stream of questions she had unleashed from her mouth were never-ending but of them, there were only two that were important. Of those two there was only one answered and one never answered at all.
Kamijou Touma was safe, alive and, much to the surprise of the nurse who told Shutaura and to Shutaura herself, didn't have a scratch on him.
No one knew how she had gotten out of the pit of hell she had been trapped in.
It was as if a miracle had taken her out of that hell and placed her and Kamijou into safety. The short time to regain consciousness told Shutaura exactly how light her wounds were despite what she should have suffered within that hell. The lack of injuries and pain told Shutaura she didn't even need to be in the hospital and it was only because the Black Crows had insisted upon it that she even checked herself in for treatment.
But in all seriousness, she was fine.
Hardly a scratch on her despite the fact she should have died.
What the hell had happened in that hell?
When she had last seen Kamijou, his left arm had been crushed. He had fallen down a flight of stairs after she had been blown back by an explosion and smashed his head against a concrete block, ready to be crushed by more rubble as the facility around them was destroyed.
By all rights Kamijou, and Shutaura with him, should have died then and there.
But here they were.
Safe and sound.
And despite what they had been through, barely a scratch on them.
Not to mention the mercenary who had been with them.
Nothing was mentioned about the boy called Orion Phoenix but instead of being relieved of that, it only unnerved Shutaura even more. Was he safe like them? And if so, how had he managed to escape that hell? Did he know what the hell had happened in those final moments when there were no witnesses?
It was a miracle.
The word that described what had happened to Shutaura had more of an impact than she thought it would. She stared at Crow 1, trying to focus on the words he was saying but finding her mind wondering. She felt her eyes turn towards herself, as if trying to find something within her even she could not see.
The girl who could bring about miracles using nothing but her songs.
Was it possible that she had taken the final stage when Shutaura had lost consciousness? There were times when they girl managed to take control of Shutaura when she fell asleep or fell unconscious, as was seen last night, but then Shutaura should have had at least some awareness of what Arisa had done.
But in the gap in her memories of what had happened there was…nothing. No Arisa, no awareness of anything Arisa had done, just nothing.
What had happened last night?
Was it truly a miracle that had saved them? A miracle without explanation, without understanding and without comprehension? In this City of Science, such a term was impossible to even consider but Shutaura could not help but direct her thoughts towards that term.
And also the girl it was associated with.
Even if Shutaura had no awareness of what had happened last night, did that really discount the possibility that Meigo Arisa had been absent in that final struggle?
"P-Please don't tell me you're considering Crow 7 taking my position. No offence but the guy can't even pilot his mobile weapon properly! Not to mention the number of times he's asked me to erase his browser history!"
"There are a number of things I want to say about discipline there but I'll avoid it because there are bigger things to worry about."
Having heard something she could not ignore which had driven her thoughts from the idol who had disappeared from the face of the world, Shutaura shifted. Her large breasts (a consequence of both her and Arisa fusing together) shifted as a result of her bra being taken off to accommodate the numerous instruments on her body but given she was with company she trusted, she did not mind.
"What of everyone else? The rest of the Black Crows?"
"Currently, the injured are – "
Shutaura's question had been light in tone when she asked it, but now that Crow 1 had responded in the way he did, she faced him properly. She pulled back the covers on her bed, turning and facing the man by draping her legs over the bed, staring right at him. Her hands on the edge of the bed slowly turned into fists and trembled as she knew the question she was going to ask was going to be hard on her.
She did not think of the Black Crows as merely comrades, but of family. Just seeing Crow 1 in this state in front of her was hard enough and the lengths she had gone to for the sake of getting him home safely was enough to suggest how much she cared for those under her command.
As the leader of the Black Crows, she went above and beyond. It was part of that charisma as a person and soldier that had brought so many near her but with the care she had for those under her command, something she felt was stronger because of the fusion with Arisa, she was truly in the wrong line of business.
This question was bound to be asked and answered at some stage no matter how much she wanted to avoid it.
But she could not.
And with that resolve, that determination to face the pain going to be stabbing into her heart, she stared at the man in front of her, steeling her heart as much as she could and unleashed the words she wished to put back in her mouth the moment she said them.
"How many did we lose?"
The bitterness in the air could be heard and the way Crow 1 shifted and cast his gaze to the side indicated to Shutaura the answer he was going to give she was not going to like.
No, there was only one answer she would have liked. But given what she had seen only a few hours ago when it came to what had been left of her comrades who had fallen in the line of duty, there was no question about it. Even if she had been saved by a miracle, there was no way miracles could bring those who had fallen back to life.
People had died last night.
Not just her comrades but her enemies as well. Even if this was the type of work Shutaura Sequenzia was in, the knowledge she had lost people was not going to be a comforting one to handle. The thought she would have one less smile looking her way, the thought she would have to tell those families who had lost someone they loved, all of that she knew she had to face even if the thought threatened to crush her and drive her into a corner.
She did not want to face it.
She did not want to hear the answer to come.
But she had to.
Smiles had been lost and there were sure to be tears.
But so she could mourn those people who were her family, she had to know the answer to the question she dreaded to ask. Just asking had been hard and from the way Crow 1 cast his eyes away, it was harder for him to answer even if they knew there were always going to be these types of conversations given their line of work.
But this was the type of conversation that never got easier.
It always got harder to hear the answer no matter how many times one were to have it.
That was the honest thought within Shutaura, a thought she felt pang within her and resound with the other being within her as she stared at the man in front of her. Her fists clenched, she wished he would avoid the suspense and tell her already; her heart was already in a vice and wishing to be free from it she –
The answer crushed it.
No, any answer would have crushed her heart as it did now.
Shutaura felt something stab into her, causing her to lose her breath for a moment. It was with a brave face and with a hardened soul, a braver face than she had ever pulled and a harder soul she had ever thought she would have, that she barely even blinked. She just stared at Crow 1, refusing to look away. She just sat there for a moment, taking in a shaky breath before speaking once more.
Crow 1 trembled as he sat in his wheelchair, gulping and nodding all the same. His professionalism as a soldier was showing in how he responded to the implicit order given to him, trying to force the words out from his throat as he listed off the numbers but surely, just as Shutaura, remembering the names and faces of each one as if they were being jammed into his brain.
"Crows 4, 8, 10, 16, 20, 27, 31 and 32. Those…are the men and women who lost their lives last night, Captain. Here."
Crow 1 reached behind him into the back pocket of his wheelchair and pulled out something from within. Shutaura felt her eyes shimmer as she stared at it, finding it hard to not break into tears then and there.
They were white feathers.
The Black Crows were not official soldiers so they did not have dog tags for identification. Since they were technically a business, they did not need such things identifying them even if they insisted on using the number designations they had used for so long. But even if that was the case, that did not mean they could not have items they held particular to them.
They were the Black Crows. Darkness was what suited them, however, staying within that darkness and living within it was not the point of them. No, the point of them was to bring from that darkness some form of light, some form of purity and seek to overwhelm darkness with that light, to push it back and replace the darker world with a purer one.
Even if they were to blend in with the darkness using the dark colours of the crow, they were not going to live there. They had a light within them they would use to fight against that darkness and push it back such that the light and the warmth they wanted to spread would reside there in its place.
That was what the white feathers were for.
A symbol of purity amidst the darkness of the crow. A reminder of what they were trying to bring to the darkness they so inhabited. A crow living in the darkness but giving off the single bright light of a white feather.
But sometimes crows fell in the darkness. Sometimes, even if they had that white feather, they would become absorbed into it and become lost in it all the same.
So for a Black Crow to no longer have their white feather, it meant one thing.
They had fallen into darkness and no longer had the ability to spread light.
And there was only one way that was going to happen when it came to the family members Shutaura Sequenzia had.
4, 8, 10, 16, 20, 27, 31 and 32.
They were not just numbers, even if they had perished.
Not to her.
Shutaura stared at each of the feathers of the fallen Crows before reaching out and grabbing them with her hand. They felt soft and it took all she had to not crush them in her grip due to the overwhelming feelings in her heart. She just held them in her hand, feeling the eight feathers softly touching her skin.
They were warm.
Almost as if the warmth of the people who had held these feathers still resided in them now.
"…31 and 32." Shutaura said after a moment of silence. "They were the new recruits were they not?"
The bitterness in Crow 1's reply was obvious. Shutaura felt herself remembering their faces and names, realising with a bitterness that one of those lives had been cut short much too soon.
No, not just one life.
But all of them.
They had been lost much too soon. No matter if they were a new recruit or not, no matter if they were a veteran or not, those lives had been lost much too soon.
"…We'll give them all a burial. Even the new recruits. Even if they did not get the chance to spread their wings, they were Black Crows. And we have a duty to remember them."
"…That we do."
Crow 1's voice was soft as he held his head down, not saying anything else. Shutaura merely held the feathers in her hand, finding the warmth they were giving her to be bittersweet: although she had it now, the ones who had given these feathers warmth in the first place were never going to be able to again. The memory of those fallen was more than enough to make her tremble, however, it was in these times that she knew she could not afford to give off the image of someone weak.
She was the leader of the Black Crows. For the sake of those around her, her teammates, she knew she had to be stronger than everyone else.
Even if it was crushing her on the inside.
The greater emotions she had due to being Meigo Arisa as well as Shutaura Sequenzia made her want to scream out her heart with everything she had. She forced it down, taking a deep (but shaky) breath as she found her words, the ones she knew she had to say but not the ones she wanted to.
"Crow 27 was the only one of us with a medical background. It was this incident that showed me we can't have that happening to us again. Although we need a variety of skills, we can't afford to be negligent in the ones we need, even if it means doubling up. Whatever jobs we have on hand right now, we need to drop them ASAP. I'm not… I'm not going to let something like this happen again on my watch. I swear it."
Something bubbled underneath the words spoken. The tone and the authority Shutaura spoke with was by far one of the sternest she had ever spoken with but for what had been lost already, she knew she could not let family walk into danger without the proper resources to make sure they all came back.
If she did not learn from the deaths of her comrades right now, then any future deaths would be meaningless and spit on the names of those who had not made it. And for the sake of the world those fallen Crows had been trying to protect and for the comrades that were still alive, she had a duty to ensure she protected those she wanted to protect with everything she had.
"I swear it."
Those repeated words were not just to the man in front of her. But also to the comrades she had, the comrades she had yet to have and the comrades who had fallen, all of whom were counting on her to make the right decision when it counted the most.
But more than that, she was saying those words to herself. Like a vow she was pleading within her heart, the mistakes she had made in this incident she knew she was going to look long and hard at so she would never make them again.
The Black Crows were not going to live forever. Each day they worked, they placed their lives of the line and there was no rule saying they would always come out of whatever conflict they faced alive. Perhaps, in that sense, Shutaura's words were hopelessly idealistic and naïve.
Even if that was the case though, she was not going to back down on them.
For the sake of those placed under her command, it was her duty, as well as her personal desire, to make sure she swore those words in the very depths of her, and also Arisa's, heart.
"We might be able to do something about that."
With the vow in her heart, the words of Crow 1 caught Shutaura by surprise. He looked at her with a solemn smile, the memory of those who had fallen not being one easily forgotten, even if the subject had slightly changed. He coughed into his hand and brought out something within his bodysuit, a small device that beeped and shone with a backlight. The electronics device issued to all members of the Black Crows was familiar to Shutaura and filled her with a sense of calm she did not know she had been missing.
Given she was within the hospital, all her gear such as her backpack and the gloves she wore with the wire that allowed her to utilise her power had been removed so seeing the device in front of her made her smile, even if it was the tiniest bit.
"Are you sure you can have that in a hospital?" she asked with a smile.
"If something like this kills you, Crow Leader, then you weren't worth following in the first place." Crow 1 didn't even bat an eye as he said those words. As Shutaura was more in here for a formality than anything else, they bounced off her fairly easily but it was the focus Crow 1 had on the screen in front of him that caught her attention more.
Whatever questions she was going to ask were answered before she had the chance to ask them.
"Last night... Or this morning if you're being technical. You ordered everyone to bring the injured to the surface, whether they were ally or enemy."
Shutaura nodded at that despite feeling a bit uneasy given how she could not see Crow 1's face.
She had made that decision and command as the leader of the Black Crows, although in her heart knew that decision had been made merely because Kamijou Touma had been there with her. If she had not made such a command, she knew he would try and save as many people as he could, even if it meant being crushed 30 floors underground, something proven in how he had tried, but failed, to save Kihara Kamui. In a way, the command had come from both her and Arisa within her, trying to save as many people as possible and in turn, saving Kamijou in the process from having to deal with everything himself.
But as a result, she was potentially saving those who had killed the very comrades she and Crow 1 were mourning.
Crow 1's professionalism and hiding his feelings was seen in how he did not react but the way she could not see his face made her question his emotions on the matter.
Whatever the case, he continued.
"Of the men who were saved not a part of the Black Crows, they number 41." Crow 1 said, Shutaura frowning. Was it even possible for the Black Crows who had come down with her into that pit into hell to save 41 people by themselves? She did not know. But she did not get the chance to question it. "Naturally, given what they were up to, they are to be arrested and handed to Anti-Skill. However, many of them, who are in this hospital right now due to their injuries, seem to have a change of heart."
"What do you mean?" Shutaura asked with a frown.
"Well, strictly speaking, the one they were working for was willing to crush them whether they escaped or not. From what I heard from the others, there was some lag between when the detonation sequence began and the explosions happened but Kihara Kamui didn't bother trying to save those injured. The men fighting against us had already forsaken themselves to death…before they were saved by men acting under our command. That type of act doesn't go unrewarded, Captain." Crow 1's words were level and calm as he spoke but Shutaura could tell, having known him long enough, that there was something bubbling underneath the surface.
"You mean to say that…"
"They want to defect. Move out of the darkness and into the light. As if… As if the white of those feathers managed to bring them to their senses." Crow 1 said solemnly, staring at the feathers in Shutaura's hand.
She turned her gaze down to them, feeling and losing herself in their softness.
"(Almost as if the lives lost are trying to revive themselves in the lives of new comrades…)"
Shutaura whispered those words underneath her breath, staring at the feathers in her hands. The white in the darkness had had some effect after all, as if the lives of those who had perished were desperately trying to cling onto some form of good and bring it out in those who had once fought against them. It seemed impossible, but something had come out of it, a small flicker in the hearts of those she and the Black Crow had previously fought.
"Those wanting to defect…" Shutaura said, watching the white in her hands, seeing how it contrasted with the blue of her bracelet. "How many of the ones we saved want to do so?"
"All of them."
"All of them?" Shutaura asked, her gaze turning upwards with a frown as she stared at Crow 1. He nodded once at the tone she used, knowing exactly what she was thinking.
"All of them. Professionally speaking Captain, if these men are like us, then while I can accept half or less of them wanting to defect, all of them is a stretch. I don't know about their loyalties but if enough of them are still loyal to the bastard who killed our friends…"
Shutaura knew the threat before Crow 1 even managed to spit it out. His anger felt infectious, but she tried to stay calm and view things as objectively and professionally as she could.
If even half of them were still loyal to the cause they had been fighting for, then them overthrowing the Black Crows in their current state was more than an easy task. Even if both sides were injured, the numbers fighting against them would be more than enough to take them out.
The Black Crows had lost eight and some of their other personnel were injured, just like Shutaura, making their numbers 24. Besides Shutaura, others hospitalised included Crow 14 and 22, who had fought against MINUS in the first fight of last night.
The enemy, or their former enemy, had a force of 41.
Even if both sides were injured, if a firefight broke out between them, both sides would take a blow.
And Shutaura Sequenzia was not sure how many more times her heart could break today.
"They do realise it's fishy, don't they? All of them defecting?"
"Naturally. But they're still saying they want to defect. All of them despite knowing how fishy it is. Of course, they are going to be handed over to Anti-Skill one way or another for their crimes. The same is going to be said for the high value criminal we have in our custody."
"Criminal? Who are you talking about?"
"Hayashida Mari. The last Lieutenant General of MINUS."
Shutaura's eyes went wide as she heard the name, an influx of information she had forgotten leaping into her head all at once.
That was right.
Hayashida Mari had given herself up. At the eleventh hour, after having had enough of Kamui and his torture of the world around her, she had decided to switch sides. Even if she had been manipulated in part by Shokuhou Misaki playing on her feelings and pressing the right buttons, Hayashida had made her choice and decided to play the cards she had against Kamui. In turn, when she had escaped, she had been kept in the custody of the Black Crows.
Shutaura had failed to order her men and women to make sure they kept an eye on Hayashida because of the high value she had as a piece and potential tool for winning the favour of Anti-Skill who were occasionally unco-operative with the Black Crows despite the assimilation they had but she was glad they had the initiative to do so. With Hayashida Mari in their hands, several doors would open, all of them good.
But the name brought forth another figure to mind.
The auburn with shades of yellow haired boy with green eyes who had been so intent on pleasing the man called Kihara Kamui; the General of MINUS. Orion had called the boy Owari, but what had happened to him after she had left him unconscious? Shutaura had left that boy there thinking she would come to pick him up after they had defeated who they had needed to defeat but unforeseen circumstances had meant such was not possible.
Had he been picked up and let go? If that was the case, he was surely in hospital given he had been shot.
Or had he managed to escape anyway?
Shutaura was unsure but of the piece she knew she did have, she knew she had to hold onto it with everything she had.
"W-What happened with her?" Shutaura asked a bit too excitedly. "Is she willing to co-operate!?"
"C-Captain, calm down!" Crow 1 looked more startled than anything upon seeing the way Shutaura was acting, rising both hands to suggest he was not going to answer until she did so. "She's more than willing. In fact, she's too eager. It seems that whatever Kamui did in her presence she is more than ready to let loose."
Although that was unknown to both Crow 1 and Shutaura, they both knew (or had been told in Crow 1's case) what Kamui had been doing when he had decided to target Shutaura.
The meaning of such and why he had done that was still unknown. Even if they had escaped with their lives, the reasoning behind that twisted man's motives left something to be desired. Shutaura felt something prickling on the back of her neck, a nervousness she did not want to place or think about. A shiver ran down her spine, as if she were being watched and she shifted slightly to get a proper vantage point of the window in case there was anything there.
But it didn't make her feel any safer.
"…We can use that to our advantage." Shutaura said, placing a finger underneath her chin. "The information she can give Anti-Skill will be more than enough to give us the respect we deserve. I assume there are conditions attached to this eagerness?"
Crow 1 winced at those words and nodded slightly. Shutaura felt something rise within her at that. After all, this girl was the one who had managed to interfere with the signals contained within the remote explosives in the mobile weapons and detonate them, leading to both Crow 14 and 22 to be hospitalised.
To think she had the audacity to want something from them!
It was ridiculous but, at the same time, expected. Shutaura, realising that losing her temper here would cause more problems than solve, took a deep breath to calm herself, hoping that the men and/or women Hayashida had given her demands to had done the same and not struck her out of anger for what Hayashida had done to their comrades.
"What does she want?"
"And they are?"
"The first; a counsel with some nun? Hayashida was saying something about this nun having information inside her mind, information Hayashida needed to know so she could stop whatever Kamui was planning."
The way Crow 1 phrased it felt more like a question and something within Shutaura tugged at her heart. She forced it to the side and looked at Crow 1, giving him the signal to keep on listing the things Hayashida wanted.
"And the second, being a counsel with the boy who joined the Black Crows in all this. One Kamijou Touma."
Shutaura Sequenzia did not know what to say but felt her heart screaming out at the demands Hayashida Mari had made. She felt the poison of those demands eat into her and she leaned forward, breathing deeply as she considered them.
Hayashida Mari wanted to meet the two people Shutaura had to protect at all costs. Meigo Arisa within her had managed to resolve her fears with meeting and talking to them so they were owed a chat but here Hayashida was demanding to see them both. While Shutaura did not know why Hayashida wanted to meet Kamijou, she knew exactly why she wanted to meet Index.
That nun, with her perfect memory, had managed to record every single piece of information from Kamui's computer before it had exploded. Everything Kamui had been working on and threatening Academy City with was within that girl's mind. Hayashida was not the only one who wanted to know what Kamui had been working on; Shutaura was as well if only because it would give her the answers she wanted.
Why had Kamui gone after her in the first place? For what reason? How did it tie into whatever he had been planning as a whole? The pit into hell he had used as a hideout was not something one could create overnight: Kamui had backing of some sort.
And how exactly that backing was going to affect her and her future was something Shutaura knew she had to know despite wanting to stay well away from it.
No matter who Hayashida wanted to talk to, the idea gave Shutaura pain. The threat Hayashida was to both Index and Kamijou was such that Shutaura was unsure what to think. After everything she had been through and after everything she had gone through so she and Arisa could chat with that boy and girl again, was it going to be placed in danger because of Hayashida?
She didn't want that.
Meigo Arisa inside her wanted more than anything for that boy and girl to be safe so she could simply talk with them again and have the chance to say the words she had been wanting to say for so long. To think that was potentially going to be taken from her was enough to make Shutaura tremble because of the overwhelming emotions from Arisa pouring into her.
Trying to maintain a poker face, Shutaura spoke, clearing her throat before she did so.
"Nothing else. She said that after that, she is more than willing to do anything we request of her." Crow 1 said, his tone suggesting he had more to add. He leaned forward, his gaze intense as he stared right at his commander. His eyes held more emotion than anything Shutaura had ever seen in him before and Shutaura stared back, hoping in her heart she was not giving her emotions away as easily.
Crow 1 did not bother to even hide the scorn in his voice.
"So what do we do with them? With the ones who harmed and killed our comrades so?"
The last part was unnecessary, but it was because it was added that Shutaura knew the question would only have one 'right' answer in Crow 1's mind. Was this how the rest of the Black Crows felt? She could not say but the emotions shown by the normally impassive man were more than enough to tell her how much this incident had affected him and the Black Crows.
No, it hadn't just affected them but her as well. The thought of accepting the men who had killed their comrades into their unit when they had been former enemies and could rush them at any time with their numbers as well as accepting the demands of some pompous bitch who felt she was owed something because she had finally done the right thing was sickening to her.
If she let her anger get the better of her, there was only one decision to make.
But because of what was on the line if she made that decision, she knew she had to make the choice with much consideration and thought put into it.
Which meant there was only one thing she had to ask the man in front of her now.
"Do you trust me, Crow 1?"
The question, so sudden, threw the man off guard. He blinked once, his face contorting as he clearly tried to wonder where the question had come from. He looked partially hurt Shutaura would even ask but answered all the same.
"I do. With my life. As does everyone else within the Black Crows. Even those who perished under your command."
"Then I only ask that you wait for my command for what to do with those we hold in our hands. Both Hayashida and the men who want to defect. Do you think you can trust this foolish commander with those decisions?"
Crow 1 said nothing and he didn't need to. His eyes softened in response to her words. Realising he had let his own emotions get to him, the calm words of Shutaura seemed to bring him back to reality, if only for a bit. In shame for letting his emotions leak out, he hung his head.
"I can't forgive them."
His words were not that of a man but instead of someone who had lost something irreplaceable and had someone else to blame for it. Just as Shutaura had failed to protect, this had been the man who had been at the centre of everything, the person who had been kidnapped and who people had died fighting for.
"I can't forgive them for what they did. And I'm not sure I ever will."
Was there anything to say to that? Was there anything that could be said? Those enemies who suddenly felt the desire to hold themselves nobly despite what they had done were at the mercy of those they had wronged.
The 'right' thing would be to forgive them for what they had done. Forgive and forget as the saying went.
But if you could do that so easily after what they had done and the family they had lost because of them, then you had no emotions. If you could cast aside the things you felt so easily, then there was very little calling you human.
The right thing was not always the right thing.
And Shutaura Sequenzia had been shown that more times than she felt possible with the things she did and had seen.
Shutaura said those words, coming off the bed and leaning down such that her forehead was touching Crow 1's. Despite being one of the strongest men she knew, she could feel him trembling beneath her touch, showing exactly his state of mind and his emotions. Crow 1 flinched at those words, trying to control his breathing but Shutaura did not let him withhold what he was feeling that easily.
"I know. Which is why I ask you to trust me. Trust me as those who have fallen did. And with that in mind, I will ensure I make every one of you proud."
The word came out weakly. But Shutaura felt a smile come onto her face as they were said, the trembling man beneath her touch still having the same convictions and trust as someone she would always want by her side.
This was her family and the trust they had in each other even despite the unreasonable things she asked was why Shutaura knew she could never place her life in better hands. What she was holding now, even if it was a man who was giving in to his emotions, was something she treasured beyond anything else. With the decision she had to make, she knew she could not be careless nor do anything that would let her family down.
This was her moment. A moment to be shared with someone she was proud to call her family for the faith she had in him and the faith he had in her.
"It's so weird… Usually I'm the one being visited, so being on the other side is a really strange feeling. I was trying to think of gifts to bring, but I heard you're only in here because of a formality so...Oh."
The door was suddenly opened, Shutaura and Crow 1 leaping up in surprise as the door was shoved to the side with more force than was necessary. Shutaura stumbled backwards, reaching for her backpack in a natural response even though it had been taken off and Crow 1 reaching behind him in much the same way, although there was nothing there but the back of the wheelchair.
Both stared at the rude interrupter, the silence extending in the air awkwardly.
Kamijou Touma, red faced, stared at the two of them, looking back and forth between them. His eyes were wide and he was sweating, his eyes darting everywhere except meeting the faces of those inside the room. He reached for the edge of the door and, with that same red face, slowly began to close.
"S-Sorry for interrupting…"
Shutaura, barely able to keep her mind together after seeing Kamijou despite everything she had just gone through, could not even express her gratitude at seeing him safe. His surprise entry and the way he was now closing the door made her more suspicious than relieved at his safety though, staring at Crow 1 who seemed just as oblivious as her as to what happened.
It only took her a moment to figure it out.
When Kamijou had walked into the room, what would he have seen?
Shutaura with her forehead on the forehead of a trembling man, their faces unseen. As such, for any normal high school boy walking into a scene where two people had their faces close and could not be seen, what was he to think?
His red face and sweat was suddenly explained.
And with it, Shutaura felt herself suddenly break out into a sweat as well.
"T-Touma-kun, it's not what it looks like! I can explain!"
"N-No, you don't need to. In fact, I'd rather you didn't. You stupid normies can go back to doing whatever you were doing so this third wheel Kamijou-san will not take up any more of your time! Despite thinking so hard about what to say when I came into the room, I'm not needed anymore! Carry on and live out the normie lives you want to!"
"It's a misunderstanding!"
"You really expect me to believe that with my misfortune? I'm trying to be considerate here so stop trying to open the door!"
"Your consideration stings rather than heals. Stop trying to close the door and hear me out, you stupid kid!"
"I don't want to hear about how you've ascended the ladder of life and managed to get something I want to have with a dorm manager! The depression will kill me! And after everything I've been through, that means a lot!"
"Listen to meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!"
"I don't want to hear your normie braggiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing!"
It was a rather strange scene to say the least.
One person trying to open the door (the person inside) and another trying to close it (the person outside). Both gripped the handle with faces that suggested a strong amount of tension but as Crow 1 stared at the scene in part shock, something about it made him blink in surprise all the same.
Shutaura Sequenzia was a girl who the Black Crows served under. As a capable commander and as someone who was owed respect for the way she lived and acted when it came to this line of business, there were many times that Crow 1 and the Black Crows had struggled to see her as anyone other than 'Crow Leader'.
But staring at her now, it came as a surprise to Crow 1 that the thought that came into his head was something he knew he had never thought before. No, in a way, it was no surprise that the thought had not entered his head before but more surprising that it was entering it now.
When everything was said and done, Shutaura Sequenzia was simply a girl who had failed to live the kind of life other girls her age had been living. Instead of shopping or hanging out with friends, she had built a family and led a group of professional soldiers into protecting Academy City on the sidelines. But even if that was her role, even she had once been a normal girl who had been offered normal things but had rejected them for the sake of the life she was now living.
But the face she was making now as she grabbed the door and tried to wrench it open…when was the last time Crow 1 had seen her make that type of face for anyone not within her immediate or extended family? When was the last time she had made that type of face where you could look at her and think she was nothing more than a normal girl?
When had anyone seen Shutaura Sequenzia make the type of smile he could see on her face now, one that was not reflective of her position as a commander, but just her position as that of a normal girl?
The smile she never showed anyone was being reflected so easily on her face merely in the presence of a single boy.
Something rose within the man known as Crow 1 as he stared at the boy he did not know, given he had been unconscious for most of this incident.
When all was said and done, he was a part of Shutaura's family too.
So what would be the normal response to someone of the opposite gender who could so easily make Shutaura smile like she was in a way he had never seen before and in a way that made one think of her as a normal girl?
"You son of a bitch…"
"Wait, was that directed at me!?"
"We've been watching over her for so long…so don't just think we're going to give our commander to anyone just like that! You need to prove to me and everyone else you are worthy of her, so don't think you can just win her over without a challenge!"
Clearly, something had been lost in translation as Crow 1 raced towards the door in his wheelchair with considerable skill.
And much to the surprise of both Shutaura and the boy trying to close the door, due to the misunderstanding he was having, there was much you could actually do with a wheelchair if you put your mind to it.
"Do you understand now?!"
"Why are you yelling at me!? Why not at the guy with the wheelchair? When did he learn how to break Euclidean geometry and physics with one of those anyway? Are the Black Crows secretly an organisation who watches your every move and protects the world while operating from the shadows?"
"There was a pause, wasn't there? There was a pause before you responded wasn't there? D-Don't tell me you secretly want to hire me and further place my attendance in the gutter!?"
"W-Where did you even get that idea? You're a minor. Not to mention someone with no military training. Hiring you would be the same as throwing as handing a baby a whip and expecting them to be able to tame lions!"
Shutaura responded back to the energetic remarks of Kamijou while sitting in her bed. As stated before, the misunderstanding of what was happening between her and Crow 1 had been solved but with the red face Kamijou had around Shutaura, it was clear he was aware of her in more ways than one.
Complicated feelings ran through her heart at that, feelings she knew came from Arisa pouring into her. It was all she could do to separate out in her mind what feelings belonged to her and what belonged to Arisa.
Even if it wasn't clear which was which.
"As you are a civilian, it is the job of people such as myself and the Black Crows to keep you in safety and not push you into incidents where you are to get hurt. Hiring you when you can barely protect yourself against a gun isn't going to result in anything positive, I can tell you that." Shutaura said, trying hard to keep focus and not lose her train of thought.
"I think it doesn't matter whether I'm a part of you or not; I'm still going to be facing these types of misfortune related incidents one way or another."
Kamijou's words were jovial in response but the mere mention of them made Shutaura wince. Those words stung more than she thought she would, staring at the boy sitting by her side and looking at his left arm.
She hadn't believed it when she had been told. The only thing that suggested to her both she and Kamijou had managed to escape that pit into hell was that she had made it out barely wounded despite the injuries she knew she had sustained in that place. But the idea that Kamijou had also escaped without injury? The idea was laughable given he had had his arm crushed.
And yet, here we was.
Without a scratch on him.
There wasn't even a bandage and his left arm looked good as new. Shutaura, who had sustained less damage than Kamijou, was the one in the hospital but the memory of what Kamijou had sustained when he was a civilian, a minor and had to be protected from the incident he had thrown himself into, instinctively made Shutaura stare at the arm which should have been wounded but wasn't.
"Are you really…alright?" asked Shutaura. Even though Kamijou was sitting in front of her now, it barely felt real. His existence felt more like it was brought about by her own weak heart wishing for something to be reversed when it came to his injuries
But she knew he was real.
Which meant she had to question what she felt was not: whether he had even been injured in the first place and whether he was truly alright.
Kamijou smiled at her.
"I am." He rose his left hand and clenched it into a fist before opening it again. "See?"
Shutaura stared at the hand in front of her, reaching out slightly. The action and what she was silently asking got through to Kamijou as he handed her his hand and she held it within her own. The warmth and the solidarity that came from the contact with another human being was real and as if never wanting to let go, Shutaura held onto that hand with both hands, gripping it tightly as if to know it was real.
Such brought a red face to Kamijou as he turned his head away to avoid meeting her face and making her realise how embarrassing what she was doing was.
"Your left arm was crushed…wasn't it?" She never turned her head up from the left hand, holding it and running her hands over it like it was an unknown species. The hand seemed fine, so clearly, however it had happened, the crushing of Kamijou's arm had been nothing but an illusion and it was nothing more than Shutaura voicing her relief that she spoke.
There was silence for a moment before Kamijou answered.
Shutaura shot her head up and stared at Kamijou with her eyes wide and her mouth open.
"My arm. It was crushed. I remember it well and I can recall the sight of it when…when it was taken from the concrete block after I failed to save Kamui. That's not something you forget or just imagine; my arm was definitely crushed."
"B-But then how are you – "
"That was what I was hoping to ask you." Kamijou stared at the girl with hopeful eyes although that was slowly dying as he realised she knew nothing. "After all, I was knocked unconscious after we were blown down the staircase. The only person who I remember to be conscious at the time when I was knocked out was…you. Which means that if anyone knows what the hell happened to my left arm, it would be you."
"B-But, I don't know anything!" Shutaura exclaimed. "I lost consciousness shortly after you did and the next thing I know, I'm out of that hell and here without a scratch on me. I don't even know how we got out, what happened or where we were found."
"From what the others told me, we were found a few metres away from the entrance into that pit. Completely fine and unconscious."
Kamijou spoke of something Shutaura had never heard of. There were plenty of things she wanted to know but having woken up here she never had the chance to find out, the only people having visited her being Crow 1 and Kamijou. As a result, the information she had been given was very limited but at the same time, there was one question she knew had to have answered but seemed as though there was no answer for.
It spun in her mind giving her nothing but confusion. In her fractured state of mind, she felt her mouth move loosely, unable to hold in the words she knew she had to ask.
"What the hell happened down there?"
Whatever had happened, it hadn't just been a simple healing of wounds.
What had happened was that Shutaura and Kamijou, trapped under thirty floors of concrete had made their way through that, through the explosions happening throughout the facility at that time as well, had mostly every single wound covering them healed including their broken bones and ripped flesh in the case of Kamijou and deposited a few metres from the pit into hell where they had first entered.
Forget being an issue of determination and drive, what had happened to them both was simply impossible. There was simply no logical explanation to her question.
But no matter how much they could not explain it, the raw truth was that they had made it out and were here to tell the tale even if they did not know what was to be told.
"I don't know." Kamijou said while pulling back his left hand from Shutaura's grip but staring at it all the same.
There had been something injected into his arm a few days ago when he had lost it, allowing it to be reattached. The Tetris Nanomachines had assimilated themselves into his arm and replaced what was the lost skin, cells and muscle so it was not impossible to think that when substantial damage had been done to his arm that the Nanomachines would work to fix themselves and thus his left arm.
However, while that potentially explained one part, it did not explain how he and Shutaura had managed to get out of the pit into hell they had been trapped in. Without a proper explanation that answered the questions of how they had escaped and how they had escaped heavy injury, every explanation they could come up with was lacking.
The Tetris Nanomachine solution only explained why Kamijou had escaped without injury but did not explain how they had escaped or why Shutaura was just as unharmed as he was, relatively speaking. As such, it was not the answer to the question of what had happened in that pit.
Was there any satisfactory answer then?
Kamijou could think of nothing himself but found himself staring at his left arm which had healed itself such that it looked as it always did and spoke.
"But I do know one thing."
"Even if you might not like what I'm about to call it…what happened was a miracle."
Shutaura stiffened at the word used to describe the person she had been fused with. There had been a time before, when she had been incomplete, that she had resented that word. But after having seen the light and the hope contained within it, she had come to change her opinion of what that word meant to her and what it symbolised.
Miracles were not something she could hate anymore, not when her father and part of herself in Arisa had brought about so many which had literally saved others. Discarding that, as she had learned from Kamijou, was the same as stepping on their feelings and their lives so she knew better than to continue to do. Her old personality and how it had rejected the concept of a miracle was what made her stiffen, but looking at what she had learned, she felt her expression softening.
There was no explanation for what had happened down there in that hell.
But that one word captured what had happened to them so perfectly that Shutaura could only feel a smile coming onto her face while turning her head to face the window.
"Maybe so. …Maybe so."
Perhaps it was the way she had had turned to face the window or her tone but the way Kamijou asked the question made it clear to her he knew something was bothering her and was not going to leave her side until he had the answer as to what that was and whether it was something he could help with.
In the end, he was always like that.
Shutaura had no basis for having that thought given she knew very little about him so she knew where it had come from. Arisa was telling her that Kamijou was staying with her until he knew exactly what was concerning her and how he, if he could, could lessen the problems on her heart. Even though Shutaura herself knew nothing of Kamijou, the knowledge from Arisa pouring into her told her things that tugged at her heart in this desperate time where Shutaura needed counsel.
She was the hard-headed leader, more than willing to take on the decisions she had to make by herself and not burdening her men with the weight of the problems she had to face. But while that was a virtue of hers, the isolation it had created around herself now threatened to crush her where she sat.
A voice inside her head was telling her it didn't have to be like that whenever this boy was around. It was telling her so strongly that if there was a solution to the problem at hand, even if this was a world where Kamijou did not belong, then Kamijou would be the one to help her see it.
It wasn't a stranger telling her that; it was part of her, as annoying as that was. A part of her was desperately begging her to show her heart, to reveal itself, lest Shutaura be weighed down by the weight of her responsibilities. She knew she had to ignore that voice, ignore that part of her that wanted to give in to Kamijou but the mere strength of the reliance that was placed on Kamijou and the overwhelming desire to have this boy heal her seemed almost too much to bear.
Trembling and facing internal conflict within herself, Shutaura said nothing for a moment as she stared out the window, unsure of what to say and what part of her, Shutaura Sequenzia or Meigo Arisa, would come out on top.
Which part of her was stronger in this case?
The leader within her knowing that her troubles were her own to face and not someone else's who was a minor, civilian and had no place within her world and what she did?
Or the girl desperate for someone to be by her side and hear the pains within her heart?
The answer was decided in the words she spoke next.
"Even if what happened to us was a miracle, the same can't be said for what happens next."
She was tired.
That was the one thought Shutaura Sequenzia had.
What had happened to her last night was more than she felt she could bear. After having been blown up, after having Crow 1 kidnapped and failing to save him, after being shot in the chest, after battling MINUS, after seeing and not knowing what the hell Kamui had wanted with her, after being rescued despite not knowing how and after losing her family, she was tired.
Tired of trying to face everything by herself. Tired of having to bear a burden for the sake of her image and tired of strangling herself with the word of 'duty'. Tired of putting up a front after having lost members of her family and faced with the unfairness of trying to forgive those who had taken them from her.
She was supposed to be objective and rational in this case but how could she be? How could she strangle herself with the thinking that 'there was a safe way out of this' and 'there was a way out' when she wanted to do nothing more than yell at those who wanted her kindness they did not deserve for what they had taken and threatened from her.
Was she weak for letting these words out?
Shutaura did not now but if she did have a weak heart, the relief she felt from saying the things she had to say and let loose from her heart were such that she did not know whether it was preferable to be weak or strong.
Even after everything they had faced, Kamijou had managed to come into this room with a smile on his face and wanted to cheer Shutaura up. She had no idea how he managed to do that but if he reflected the darkness of the world, the poison within Shutaura's heart she could feel melting away with each word she spoke and released in her pain.
She released it all to the boy sitting by her side.
Everything she had bottled up inside and was worried about after what Crow 1 had told her.
Kamijou said nothing until she was finished, Shutaura holding the edges of her blanket and staring in the corner of her eye at the white feathers located on her bedside.
"What do I do?"
Her voice was trembling as she asked.
"Not only is there the issue of Hayashida but also of the family who died and the men and women asking for forgiveness in all that. What about Kamui? What if he comes for me again and this time more is taken from me? I don't think… I'm not so sure I would be able to take anything more when it comes to that disgusting insect of a man coming into my life. After losing so much, how can anyone expect me to decide something when it's possible no matter what I choose something could be taken from me?!"
Shutaura yelled that to Kamijou but in her surprise, she did not find him looking away in uncertainty nor trying to avoid her gaze because he did not have an answer. Instead, she found him staring at her with a small smile on his face, not saying a word.
Shutaura could not help but gawk at the expression on his face. Despite everything she had told him, he could still have the peace of mind to smile about it? Confusing emotions came within her, those of anger at his expression when it came to an issue weighing down on her heart…and relief in the expression being made as if it was a smile Shutaura (or was it Arisa) had been waiting to see her entire life.
"Shutaura…" Kamijou started before shaking his head. "You're holding too much in your hands. At this rate, before you know it, you'll be unable to carry anything else."
"What…are you talking about?"
"The solution to your problems aren't so complicated."
Kamijou Touma, despite what Shutaura had just told him, responded back with words that seemed so detached from reality Shutaura had to question whether he was insane or not. Her expression of shock and surprise seemed to be his cue to continue talking all the same.
"Firstly, with the issue of Hayashida, that isn't your burden to bear. She wants to talk to Index and me? While I can understand the former when it comes to what Kamui was doing despite not understanding the latter, that isn't your issue to bear. It is mine and Index's. So, I'm not going to let the kindness you are showing by trying to protect us be the thing that crushes you underfoot. I refuse to have someone like that bear a burden that is endlessly going to destroy them. Neither Index or I would want that."
"How can you say that? After all this time, after Arisa finally managing to overcome her fear, after I managed to overcome the fear of finally meeting someone who knows I am two in one, how can you willingly place yourself in danger because of that?! Do you know how long Arisa has been waiting for the chance to speak to the two of you!? And yet, you'd be just willing to talk to the person who threatened me without a second's hesitation!?"
She was scared.
Scared that the two people who she had wanted to see for so long would be taken despite finally having managed to overcome her fear of speaking to them. Of the people in Academy City and of the people she knew she had to talk to, it was Index and Kamijou who Arisa had wanted to spend time with and talk with, if only because of the kindness they had showed her and the things they had given her.
But despite that, Kamijou was telling her to ignore the fear Hayashida would do something to them and hang on the edge, on the possibility that nothing would happen? She was MINUS and even if she had changed sides, there was nothing saying she would not change her tune once she saw Kamijou and Index.
Kamijou, clearly realising the issue at hand, responded all the same.
"I would. And I am sure Index is the same."
"Why would you do that!? Do you know how utterly foolish that is!? She was once part of MINUS! She – "
"Because if it comes between us facing her and getting hurt in the process or you withholding that information from us and finding yourself crushed as you cannot give in to her demands, then I know which I would choose. And I know Index well enough to know what she would choose too."
"Who knows what Hayashida wants from you? And you would risk your life should it come to that just so you would lessen some burden on me?"
There was no hesitation in his words. He responded so fast and naturally Shutaura was left momentarily gobsmacked, staring at him with uncertainty and disbelief. There were many things she wanted to say to that, many things she knew she had to reply with but in the back of her mind, there was a single thought that seemed to throw all that away.
And that was this was merely who he was.
He could tell Shutaura was being crushed by the weight of her responsibility with what to do with Hayashida. Because of her desire to ensure Hayashida did not harm the people precious to Arisa, she was more than willing to be pressured by the demands Hayashida was making.
But in the face of that desire to protect, Kamijou could see how it was harming her to do so. He could see how she was cutting herself so deep so she could protect both of those precious people such that it was carving her own face and smile in the process.
When it came down to his own safety or the smile of someone who was being threatened because of him, there was only one option he would choose. It was simply who he was and it was what drove him to the very depths of his core; a simple matter of how far he was willing to go for the sake of someone else and their smile.
"You think it makes me happy to see you take on a burden for my sake? You think it makes me happy to see you protect me when it's at the cost of your own smile? Because if that's the case, then you must not think much of the smile I am making. You must not think much of the life I am living. Because if the world I live in is built on the pain and suffering of those who are trying to hide things from me for my own protection, then all of that can go to hell."
Kamijou spat out the words whilst staring right into Shutaura's eyes such that she could see he was entirely serious with the things he was saying.
"You don't seem to realise this yet, you idiot, so let me tell you. When it comes to the world I have and live in, your smile is just as important as anyone else's. So if it comes to you 'protecting' me, then I don't need it. Because if we don't manage to both go out into the sunlight smiling together then there is no point. Index is the same. There's no point in you protecting us…if you are not saved as well."
Shutaura said nothing, staring at Kamijou who was more than serious. Even though she barely knew him and even though they had barely interacted, he was still saying her smile mattered? And that for the sake of it, he was willing to get hurt in the process such that he could relieve some burden from her soul?
It made no sense.
But at the same time, it was the only type of response Shutaura felt her heart willing to accept.
"…I barely know you. Why…would you go so far for me? We don't know what Hayashida is going to do to you when she meets you. It could be anything. And yet, you're willing to risk going that far for someone you barely know?" Shutaura asked, her mind barely able to comprehend his words or his choice in the matter.
However, it seemed he had something else to say.
"You're the same, aren't you?"
Shutaura stared at him in confusion.
"You decided to take on the burden of Hayashida for Index and me. Despite not knowing us and despite having the choice to not listen to Arisa, you chose to protect us for the sake of our smiles. Isn't that right?"
Shutaura opened her mouth to say something but closed it. Turning her face away, she stared out the window for nothing more than an excuse and to prevent Kamijou from seeing her flustered face.
"It wasn't as noble as you're thinking. The only reason I even considered that was for Arisa."
"And Arisa is part of you. Which, I think, suggests a lot about the kindness within your own heart as well, don't you?"
"…Do whatever the hell you like. If this is going to be your reaction to me wanting to hide Hayashida's request from you, then I don't give a damn anymore. Why was I even letting myself be crushed by the pressure of her demands in the first place if this is going to be your response?"
Shutaura spat out those words, hoping in her heart those words would prevent Kamijou from seeing the look on her face now she had been released from the burden of Hayashida crushing her. Like a weight lifted from her shoulders, she felt lighter…but at the same time, felt something heavy still on her shoulders all the same.
There was not just the issue of Hayashida to consider after all.
"With your permission then, I'll do as I like with her. Index as well." Kamijou said with a smile. "But then there is something else. The issue with the defecting soldiers."
Shutaura nodded, unsure of her emotions and realising the pressure of having to decide about the men who had killed her family was one she knew she could not make impartially. The people who had died had been not just her comrades, they had been more than that, and it was with surprising ease that she could place a face to the killer who had taken their lives.
Those who had perished deserved justice. The decision she had to make then was easy.
But at the same time, those men and women who had killed her family had their human rights too. As a commander, she could not just give in to her emotions and had to balance the aspects of fairness and justice in the right way. That was her role and it required her to be more than just a girl, more than just a commander.
It required her to literally balance lives with her words. This was different from her commanding the people under her to fight; there was always the chance everyone would survive. But here, with her words, she could decide the fate of the men and women who, quite literally, were hanging on her words with bated breath.
They were all defecting.
Or so they claimed.
The idea they would all be doing so was ridiculous to say the least. Much as the Black Crows had been killed by MINUS, MINUS had been killed by the Black Crows. Even if they had been saved by the Black Crows under the orders of Shutaura and, in their supposed gratitude, were choosing to defect, would none of them really feel nothing when it came to the lingering feelings inside of them? Would none of them seek to take revenge for the comrades they had lost?
If Shutaura chose unwisely, people would die. If she chose to accept the soldiers who wanted to defect and they had malicious intentions, then the resulting mutiny would only add to the bodies. But if she did not accept the soldiers and there was the chance they were sincere in their intentions, then she would be throwing away any chance of offering them kindness.
If they did not hold malicious intentions now and Shutaura decided to forsake them, they certainly would harbor such feelings.
Was there a right answer here?
Shutaura did not know and swallowed, leaning forward in her bed.
"What do you think?" Shutaura asked, wondering why she was irresponsibly placing her choice to make on another person who was nothing more than a normal high school boy. If the choice was difficult for her, then asking someone else who had barely left the secondary education system was just impossible.
But again, whether her heart was weak for that she did not know. Maybe she wasn't even looking for an answer but just an outlet for the decision she had to make despite not wanting to.
But again, Kamijou Touma surprised her.
And again, Kamijou Touma did not surprise the part of Shutaura that was Meigo Arisa.
"Accept them. All of them. All the soldiers who want to defect, take them under your wing."
Shutaura didn't even get the chance to breath, turning her head and facing Kamijou who was clearly serious with his words. His eyes held his conviction but within Shutaura's she did not know what she held.
Even so, that was clear in her voice.
"…Are you serious?"
Her words felt like ice as they left her throat.
"You want me to accept…all of them? Do you have any idea what they did? They killed…" Shutaura could barely even speak of what they did, feeling her heart contract. "They did something unspeakable and yet, when they get down on their hands and knees and beg for forgiveness, you expect me to just accept them with open arms?!"
She knew it was unfair what she was saying. This was not what a high school boy should have to decide and when she had been unable to decide, seeing someone having done so, the only thing she could do was throw accusations at him for how foolish his choice was.
Was this why she had spoken about the choice she had to make?
Not because she wanted to get it off her chest but so she could berate someone who could make a choice when she could not?
It was the epitome of unfairness.
But that did not stop the words coming from her mouth.
"If the things I am feeling are shared among those we want to take in, then there will be a bloodbath. Do you want that? You who so desperately want to make sure everyone can go home with a smile on their face? People are dead."
The last statement made Kamijou's shoulders jump. His expression twitched, keeping firm but the small way his eyes glanced to the side and he bit the corner of his lip suggested the impact they had was what she had wanted.
"Wake up, you foolish boy. Right now, any decision made is going to make someone suffer. And yet you choose the one where everyone has a gun pointed to their back? There is a limit…to how idealistic you can be. Choosing to accept everyone right now is the wrong thing to do."
"The wrong thing?"
In response to the spat out words of Shutaura Kamijou let out his own trembling ones. He closed his eyes, shaking his head and managing to speak all the same.
"I can't accept that. How can… How can leaving everyone trying to reach out to you be the wrong thing to do? How can choosing to cast aside the hand trying to grasp yours be the wrong thing to do?"
"Easily. You forget what happened. What that hell was. Those people…" Shutaura pointed at the door, thrusting her finger and jabbing it forward. "For what they did, we can't accept them into our unit like that. How can we? The lingering feelings within us are surely the same as them! How can we trust those who merely want to get to us by pretending to defect and pretending to wear sheep's clothing?"
"I know what they did – "
"But you don't seem to realise it!" Shutaura spat out, cutting Kamijou off. "Are you so poisoned by peace? Are you sitting in your little world, stuck in the clouds, thinking you can just forgive and forget everyone and everything they do to you? The real world isn't like that Touma-kun. The real world is a place where you can't rely on the words of everyone and take them at face value. The real world is a place where sometimes you have to cast someone out because they are different or have done the wrong thing!"
Shutaura felt something rise within her as she screamed out the next words.
"Those bastards killed my family! And you expect me to just sit back and accept them?! Who the hell do you think you are?!"
"I'm the goddamn person who seems to be the only one who believes in the fact there is something better within those bastards, Shutaura!"
Kamijou who had taken nothing but harsh words stood up, knocking his chair back and sending it clattering to the floor.
"You don't think I know what they did!? Of course I do. And because of that, they need to face their crimes. But for the things they did, does that define them? Does that mean we cannot give them a second chance when they are clearly asking for your help? Sure, there is the risk they will shoot you in the back. But if that was the case, why even bother with the façade of defection? Why not kill us all now!? You're thinking as a soldier, as a commander of your unit who knows she has lives in her hands, but are you thinking as a person? What the hell do you know of those people who took the lives of your family? Do you think that the Black Crows are that pure? I saw the bodies in that facility and I can tell you that not all of them were the Black Crows, Shutaura."
"That is exactly why! We killed their comrades just as they killed ours! Who knows if what they are feeling will come back and bite us!?"
"Well then, let me ask you something, Shutaura. For the Black Crows who killed those other soldiers, your enemy, do you think of them as bastards? As sons of bitches for having decided to take up a gun and pointing it at your enemy?"
"Of course not!"
"Then why are you just applying that to someone else who did the same thing but didn't fight for you!?" Kamijou yelled into the air back at Shutaura, the girl freezing in place. "Was it because they weren't on your side? Was it because they were fighting in the Darkness? Why were they even doing that? Because as far as I've seen, the decision to fight in the shadows isn't one you make when you're deciding what to have for dinner. Those men and women, when faced with the Darkness, embraced it. But you know what? Kamui decided to blow them all to hell. When they were all supposed to die, you know what happened? You did, Shutaura. You and your decision to save them."
Kamijou, breathless, panted heavily.
"You, in a place where killing, violence and death are the only language decided to be better than them. You decided that instead of giving in to your feelings when they were dying to become the better person and save whatever shitty lives those people might have led up until that point. You decided that Shutaura. You and you alone decided to save the lives of those soldiers with your own words. You didn't have to. No one would have blamed you if you did not. But you did. In the darkness, you decided to show a single speck of the bright light of kindness towards your enemy."
Shutaura's eyes glanced over at the feathers on the table, representing the light the Black Crows had vowed to bring onto the battlefield for the sake of making sure darkness was not ever reaching and was broken, even if only for a tiny bit. And Shutaura, with her own actions by deciding to save the enemy, had shown that brightness and chosen to save those lives tainted within black.
"You showed them there is something within you that didn't give in to the weakness of your heart. You showed them that when you were surrounded by death and violence that you could become someone better and choose to save instead of choose to kill. You showed that Shutaura. …So why can't they? Why can't they have the chance to show that maybe they are better than you think they are?"
"You saved them. And they were inspired by you. It might be ridiculous, but maybe it's so ridiculous it's true. Maybe, when they realised that someone like you can exist, they thought they could change themselves. That maybe they could decide to fight the better fight and with someone they know they can trust to have their back. Am I the only one…"
Kamijou held back the question, as if deciding whether to say it would cause him damage or not. His lip trembled but as he took a shaky breath, his eyes wavered, looking as though they were on the verge of tears as he spoke.
"Am I the only one who values the smiles of those other bastards? Am I the only one…who truly believes they can be good people, better people? Am I the only one…who thinks they deserve to live, even after what they've done?"
"People died yesterday, Shutaura. And even if that incident is over, does that mean people have to continue to perish over it? I have to accept there were people I could not save last night. But does that mean the rest of them should die for it?"
Kamijou stared at Shutaura, managing to take a deep breath and spoke once more.
"If we start focusing on what we lost Shutaura, then we will never be able to gain anything new. I say accept all those soldiers wanting to defect not because I have forgotten what happened last night. But because I refuse to believe your kindness when you saved them did not touch them. That now they are saved, there is a chance they can become better people. I have seen that countless times. So I can't believe it isn't impossible. And for that alone, I won't abandon them. I won't, when they are reaching out, choose to cast them aside. Because I believe in them, those bastards. They aren't demons and people can't be separated into those fine terms of 'angel' or 'demon'. I believe that within that darkness inside them…there is something wanting to break out. Something good. Something wanting to break out right now that we have to grasp otherwise it is never going to appear again."
Kamijou paused for a moment, a small smile rising to his face as he spoke once more.
"A miracle…as it were."
Shutaura Sequenzia could not understand.
She had seen this incident and also lost herself to her emotions because of it.
And yet, throughout it, Kamijou Touma who had seen the same things as her, had maintained his entire core throughout. When he had seen Kamui, he had not given into his rage and demanded he die. In fact, he had tried to save the man who had caused the entire incident in the first place. He had wanted to save as many people as he could, making his objective that instead of 'defeating the enemy'.
Was that where she and him differed?
Whereas Shutaura was a soldier with a set enemy to defeat, did Kamijou have that? Sure, there were people behind incidents he ran into but he ran into them with the intention of dragging whoever was involved out of the abyss they had fallen into and stopping whatever was causing them pain. So he clenched his right fist, but not so he could defeat that enemy in front of him.
But to ensure he could stop their tears.
His ideals were ones much more fragile than hers. Jut in this incident, there were times when he had failed to save anybody. Kamui had died while Kamijou had clung to him and Kamijou had passed so many bodies in that pit into hell. In a way, Kamijou had failed whereas Shutaura had won the moment Kamui had been defeated. In that sense, it should have been Kamijou lamenting and not the other way around.
Yet here they were, Shutaura staring at Kamijou and realising that with all her strength, it meant nothing in the face of that spiky haired boy.
Where Shutaura had seen death, Kamijou had overcome it. Where Shutaura had seen challenge, Kamijou had defeated it. He had been challenged with the brittleness of his ideals over and over again but the more they were challenged and the more they were shattered, the picking up of the pieces made his ideals even more stronger the next time and even more powerful.
And because of those ideals formed so many times in the forge that constantly tried to shatter them, he believed in the goodness of people. He had seen it so many times before and he refused to believe there was anything known as 'evil'.
For that boy, if you took that step towards breaking free from difficulties in your life, then maybe there was someone there worth saving: a simple person who was reaching out from within their own abyss to grasp something they could never reach.
He had chosen to see past what Shutaura did and look at the people trying to reach out to her and realise they were people too. They had lives, made decisions and maybe they had realised just how foolish their decisions were when Shutaura had decided to save them.
His ideals, the most fragile of all of them, were the strongest because of how many times they had been challenged. Had Kamijou been faced with death before and had to go past his feelings in order to maintain his ideals before? Had he experienced a pain so great it would have been easier to throw his ideals away but chose to stick to them all the same?
He had said it himself.
For the simple fact that there was even the slightest chance that those others could be saved, he was not going to abandon them. Even if there was no chance those defecting soldiers could be saved, would that be enough to stop him?
Kamijou was not interested in defeating an enemy or saving the world or anything as noble as that.
He just wanted to make sure he could save the people in front of him who were trying to grasp something out of their reach.
Nothing more and nothing less.
He did not expect Shutaura to understand his line of thinking. He had been challenged on that too so he had described the possibility that something had changed within the defecting soldiers as something else entirely.
But what Shutaura felt was truly a miracle was the boy standing in front of her now.
In truth, he held too much hope in her.
After all, the only reason she had decided to save those soldiers who were her enemy was because she knew that if she didn't, Kamijou would try and do so himself. Anything he said, the hope the soldiers had in her, the possibility there was some kindness being drawn out of them because of her, it was not true.
It was only because of Kamijou Touma that those things existed. It was only because of that boy and the blinding light he gave off that those soldiers had the chance to change.
Shutaura Sequenzia merely stared at him, realising one very simple thing.
Kamijou Touma was too bright.
And in a way, the darkness that constantly tried to grasp him would never have a chance when it came to the ideals he had developed and strengthened to such a great extent.
"…They killed my family."
But Shutaura could not find herself entirely accepting those bright ideals being presented towards her so easily. Her weak heart could not do so so easily.
But even so, Kamijou Touma and with his own heart responded to hers.
"I can't forgive them entirely."
"I'm not asking you to. I'm asking you…to give them a chance to show you they can be better people. To believe they can be. And to show them there are people out there who are willing to reach out to lost cases like them and give them a chance to grasp what they were always missing."
"They might shoot us in the back."
"There is the risk you would shoot them in the back as well. And yet they still asked to defect."
"They are members of the Darkness."
"Members of the Darkness…who are reaching for the first bit of light they have seen in a while."
"The Black Crows…won't accept this. They will blame me for anything that happens."
"Then you can blame me. But Shutaura, if you decide to take them on, then no matter what, you will never have lost. You will have shown that the light within you isn't going to be defeated by the likes of this darkness."
Shutaura felt something else rising within her as she looked at Kamijou, his words and his wishes to save even his enemies and see something better in them that no one else would.
(It's your light…that is never going to be defeated.)
(It's your light…that is never going to be defeated.)
Two parts of Shutaura Sequenzia thought that at the same time as they stared at that single boy.
How could he believe so blindly in the goodness within people? How could believe in others so much and how could hold on to those ideals of his when they had been pressed from all sides so many times before? How could he want to save someone even after all he had lost?
Was that it?
Was it because he had lost someone that he realised…he didn't want to lose anyone anymore? That he would hold onto the people he could save so tightly now he had lost someone he would never let go?
In a way, with that thinking, there was one thing he had said that rang true within Shutaura.
He would never lose.
No matter what happened, Kamijou Touma would never be defeated.
"Then I've made my decision." Shutaura Sequenzia spoke after a small while, staring at the boy in front of her who blinked once. The question he was asking in his eyes was obvious and she gave a groan, rolling her eyes.
"Do you really need to ask? It might be idiotic…but if there is some light in those bastards that they are trying to reach out to us so they can crawl out of the Darkness, it's the duty of the Black Crows to ensure they are saved. We'll accept all the defecting soldiers. Not a single one…will we allow to be unsaved. They will pay for their crimes, to be sure, but we will not abandon them. I swear it."
Kamijou's face relaxed at that, showing an expression that looked as though he was about to cry. That in itself made Shutaura want to do so as well but she held it from being shown on her face.
The Black Crows were surely going to have the same objections she did. But as Crow Leader, that was going to be her problem, not this boy's.
Right now though, she chose to believe.
That within those defecting soldiers was the honest desire to not remain within the darkness, having been touched by Shutaura's salvation of them even though they had been enemies and killed her family. The next few days, even weeks or months, were going to be hard for sure.
But if what Kamijou Touma believed was true, then everything would turn out alright.
Because there was good in people that would never die no matter what happened.
He was the one example of that if anything else.
After all he had been through, he still saw the goodness in others. He believed in Shutaura, those former members of MINUS and wanted to make sure everyone went home with a smile on their face.
In his own way, Kamijou Touma had grown.
While staying in the same place he always did.
Looking forward with his hand reached out to grab anyone who fell along the way.
He had said those defecting soldiers was a miracle in that they were honestly trying to change themselves.
But that was wrong.
After all, the one who had instigated that was Kamijou Touma himself. The one who had made Shutaura even decide to save those other men had been him meaning that if there was any miracle wanting to break out of those men she was going to be taking under her wing, then it was Kamijou who had caused it.
Oddly enough, one part of Shutaura Sequenzia felt there was not a better word to describe him.
Kamijou Touma was a miracle in and of himself.
And there was nothing no one would ever say that would make that one part change its mind.
There was still one more issue left though.
"Where are we going?" Shutaura asked as she moved down the hallway of the District 7 hospital, Kamijou supporting her as she moved.
"You said you wanted to know why Kihara Kamui attacked you in the first place. I'm going to find out why. And I figured since you wanted to know as well that you would be interested in coming too."
"I've called someone who is a specialist when it comes to Kihara Kamui. Today's incident…wasn't the first and it won't be the last when it comes to Kamui. And given what happened here and how Index managed to memorise everything Kamui was working on, I was planning on just having this Kamui specialist and Index sit with me and discuss what Kamui is working on. But it seems the number of people getting involved with this has increased… So I figured you would want in as well. That and Hayashida."
Shutaura had felt Kamijou was just someone who went with the flow of things and did not really get his foot in the door when it came to conflicts such as this. But in his own way, he was fighting against what Kamui was doing despite not really having done stuff like this in the past.
In his own way, Kamijou was fighting back too.
"Something like that. I don't know much about the man myself. Which means I have to work with what I have and do what I can to stop him."
Shutaura knew very little of Kamui herself as well. Judging from what she had heard from Kamijou and could piece together, the man she knew as 'Kamui' was not even the real one, just someone who had been implanted with his personality and had the chance to be saved. What that meant was still in the grey area for her but it seemed Kamijou had more information when it came to this.
Parts of her heart (again, Shutaura was unsure what parts) rang with concern at that. Given what she had seen Kamui capable of, the idea Kamijou was going to get further involved in that worried her tremendously but with the words Kamijou spoke, it was clear this was not an issue he was going to back down on.
"So that's why you asked me before we left my room if I was in contact with Hayashida and for her to meet us in the courtyard. Is that where this Kamui specialist is waiting for you?"
"Along with everyone else who has to hear what she has to say."
Again, something within Shutaura felt annoyed at that. The conflicting emotion of that annoyance and confusion as to why she was feeling it was again why Shutaura was on the fence about whether merging with Arisa was a good thing.
"Yes. A scientist by the name of Yume. She's apparently pretty famous within a number of fields but as a high school boy, anything with the word 'paper' and 'thesis' in the name makes my head explode."
"Even the newspaper?"
Kamijou, supporting Shutaura by her shoulder as they moved slowly through the corridors imitated his head exploding. Shutaura scoffed at that, smiling slightly and shaking her head with an amused laugh.
Did she think she would be able to make a face like that after what had happened and so soon? Her family had died and there were a number of issues to be sorted out but she was here and living out the life others could not. Not only that but the solution to various issues she had had their solution presented to her in the form of this spiky haired boy who, even when faced with the darkness, could afford to smile.
It wasn't that he was forgetting what he had seen.
But it was because of what he had seen that he knew he had to treasure what he would not afford to lose.
And that was why he could not afford to lose his smile. Because if he did, then he would allow that darkness and its tainted colours to wash off on him and never allow him to feel grateful for what he had and loved.
Even if it was his own, he had returned to his peace. Not everyone, but people had been saved and his own thoughts and solutions to the challenges were ones he took to heart, allowing him to smile despite what he had seen.
And if he could do it, the one with the ideals which were the most fragile, then surely Shutaura could do it too.
"I've never heard of her. But if you trust her, then that is enough for me."
"…This feels familiar, doesn't it? You and me supporting each other? It's like that time when Arisa was performing in that mall and there was that explosion."
"I seem to remember our positions were reversed back then."
"…You've come a long way since then too."
Shutaura did not know what it was about those words which made her pause but they did. Was it what was said? Or the way they had been said? Not even she was sure but as they lingered within her mind, she felt herself stare at the person she was now, who she had been and everything she had done since merging with Arisa.
It was probably just a passing thought of Kamijou but the way it was said and how it applied to her gave Shutaura pause for only a single moment before nodding herself.
"I have. And I have Arisa to thank for that I think. The parts of me that were lost…when she merged with me, I got them back. I feel…like a whole person now even though I am of two minds. But if there is anyone who is responsible for that, it has to be Arisa. Even if she is not 'here', she still lives on."
There was silence, the two taking the time to think of the girl who was mentioned now.
Someone who, in her own way, had brought about miracles just like this incident was doing in its own way. The things she had done and the impact she had even now was never going to disappear and it was because of that that the worth of a human life could be seen.
Even now, Meigo Arisa lived on through Shutaura Sequenzia.
And with it, it had brought about a greater change.
What exactly was Arisa thinking and feeling right in this moment? Shutaura could manage to grasp the small parts of her with what she was feeling, Arisa focusing entirely on the warmth surrounding her as she was supported by this boy. Just as Arisa had asked Shutaura to do, Arisa was relying on the strength of this boy in her own way, allowing it to carry her and push her forward with the strength to see through another day.
When had Arisa started relying on this boy? When had her heart been moved like it was when it came to Kamijou? Shutaura did not know but the overwhelming power of the emotions within her heart came through to show on Shutaura's face, a blush appearing that she desperately wanted to force down but could not.
The feelings of Arisa and the proximity of the boy she had those feelings for were just too powerful for someone to think they could force down when it came from a part of them.
But that in itself brought about an interesting question.
Meigo Arisa felt something for Kamijou Touma.
But she was a part of Shutaura Sequenzia. Sure, they were two different people but they were also the same, cut from the same cloth.
So if Arisa had these feelings within her heart, then was it really impossible that such a thing was not leaking into her heart as well? Even if Shutaura maintained they were separate, they had been cut from the same cloth so it was entirely possible for a part of Shutaura to feel something for Kamijou, even if that part was called Meigo Arisa.
But did that mean Shutaura felt nothing for Kamijou herself as her own person? What did the girl called Shutaura Sequenzia think of the boy supporting her now?
She stared at him, watching his smile and feeling something rise within her that she felt so strongly but was unsure whether it had come from her or Arisa.
It didn't matter though when she thought about it.
The reality was the same.
She just wanted to make sure she could protect this one smile that shined so brightly even when it was plunged into darkness.
Kamijou paused, stopping in the middle of the hallway as Shutaura had those thoughts. Shutaura frowned, wanting to ask why he had stopped and turning her head to face the corridor and freezing up, realising she didn't even need to ask. She was surprised Kamijou himself did not change expression given the person standing at the other end of the corridor because the moment Shutaura spotted him, her entire body froze up and refused to move. Even if Kamijou did not change expression, she could feel him tensing up next to her.
There was a good reason for that.
"…So you did survive after all."
"Ms. Sequenzia, Mr. Kamijou."
Orion Phoenix did not even bother to reply to Kamijou's comment. What was contained within his words? Shutaura was uncertain and so was Kamijou, the words merely having left Kamijou's mouth with no knowledge as to the emotions within them. They were the only things he felt he could say when he saw the boy mercenary approaching them.
He looked the same as always; wearing a black and white Western suit underneath a long black and battered trench coat that clattered when he walked, evident of the weapons underneath. The sword by his side, with a green hilt and red scabbard, swayed by his side, all of his skin except what could be seen of his face covered in bandages. But even the left side of his face was covered with a long black bang, only showing his right blue eye.
Even though he had been blown up, lost his left arm and had been on the verge of death when Shutaura and Kamijou had last saw him, he approached without a care. It was clear that whatever had happened to the two of them in that pit of hell which had broken them free from thirty floors of concrete and healed their injuries had also occurred to Orion.
But what the hell had happened down there?
Whatever the case, both parties he addressed felt a sweat on their brows as he approached, knowing full well that in this long and straight corridor and given his weapon of choice, if he desired to kill them, they would be sitting ducks.
Kamijou was wearing the uniform he had when he had when he had been involved in the incident and Shutaura had changed into a hospital gown. They had nothing at their disposal to fight back with apart from a wheelchair lying in the hallway and a fire extinguisher a few metres back.
He felt like a demon having come back from the dead. No, not a demon but perhaps much like his namesake.
He was Orion Phoenix.
The hunter who rose from the ashes to capture his prey.
And right now he was walking towards them both without a care in the world.
"What do you want?" asked Kamijou with some caution in his tone. Orion tilted his head as he turned his gaze towards Kamijou, stopping in front of them both. He was silent for a moment, staring at Kamijou before turning his gaze to Shutaura.
"My business is with you, Ms. Sequenzia."
There were no pleasantries.
That in itself told volumes of Orion's personality, but if anything, it made things easier for Kamijou and Shutaura when it came to understanding Orion's intentions.
"Me?" Shutaura and Kamijou frowned, uncertain where this was going.
"When we last spoke, you formed a contract with me. I'm not certain if you remember."
Shutaura blinked once before, in the back of her mind, recalling that what Orion was saying was true. Back when Kamijou had had his left arm crushed by a concrete block, Shutaura had been unable to lift it by herself. And because of that, in her desperation, she had formed a contract with Orion as her mercenary to assist her in lifting that concrete block off Kamijou's left arm even though Orion had been dying in front of her.
That choice she had made when she had prioritised Kamijou over Orion was not something she would take back but at the same time, the memory of having formed a contract and asking a dead man to help someone else live stung. After all, after he had helped her get Kamijou from under that block, she had left him to die to save Kamijou.
Any potential grudge Orion might have had for Shutaura after that was one she knew she had to be wary of. Her next words could literally decide several things for her.
"I remember." Shutaura said. The lack of response from Kamijou made it clear he remembered such as well even though he had been screaming when she had made it.
"Such a contract falls under a strange category for me." Orion spoke smoothly and without pause. "Faith, as much as it annoys me, has taken it upon herself to deal with a lot of my contracts and is my main contact point for them. While I choose to accept them or not, she deals with the logistics of such. Very rarely will I have a contract put to me that is not sent through her. Yours being one of them. However, a commonality I have found with such contracts is that they are formed in cases of severe duress. In your case, it was Mr. Kamijou having his arm trapped underneath a concrete block."
"You don't seem surprised that it's fine." Kamijou remarked. His words were nothing more than a way to gauge whether Orion could shed any light on the mystery of what had happened to the three of them down there. The only response Orion gave was to stare at the boy for a moment before turning his gaze back to Shutaura without saying anything to him at all.
"Such contracts, Ms. Sequenzia, are contracts where I cannot lay down my terms and conditions. You make them raw and they are flimsily built. However, a contract for me is still a contract. Although it was only temporary at the time, I have to ask you: do you wish to continue our contract?"
Shutaura blinked, uncertain of what was being asked of her.
"Are you…asking me whether I still want to hire you?"
"Then I refuse."
The answer, as if Shutaura had already decided in her mind, was spoken. She was surprised it came out so fast, leaving Kamijou rather surprised too. She spoke again, more for Kamijou than Orion.
"The contract between us was…spur of the moment. But I have a team underneath me. I have people working for me who are bound by more than a mercenary's contract. If you want me to hire you, then I request you leave your CV with one of the offices of the Black Crows, one of which you blew up by the way. But as for our contract, consider it terminated. I…have no need for a mercenary anymore."
They could be considered harsh words.
But if there was anything Shutaura knew, it was that Orion was a soldier much like her. He, as a mercenary, would understand the soldiers Shutaura had brought together were a tightly-knit group and that, while temporary, there was no room for 'casual workers' like Orion. Even if the world they lived in was vastly different to Kamijou's, she knew her words, to Orion, would be considered fact and not harsh.
They were soldiers after all.
"Then my business is done."
And with that, Orion turned and started to walk away.
Kamijou and Shutaura both stared as he did so, feeling themselves rather stunned at how blunt he was. Perhaps it was his personality but the way he was acting felt like a true edgelord and with his clothes that felt like cosplay one could not help but think that despite how serious he was, Orion was the one most detached from reality.
"I-Is that it?" Kamijou asked. Orion stopped and turned back, frowning.
"Yes. I no longer have a contract with Ms. Sequenzia and as such I have no business with her. She seems fine so why would I bother doing anything else with her?"
"S-Shutaura said you blew up one of her offices. Wouldn't Anti-Skill and Judgment be looking for you? Don't tell me you just walked in through the front door! You're wanted, aren't you?" Kamijou spoke to him, more surprised than anything else as Shutaura realised the truth behind his words.
Orion had been captured and taken in by Anti-Skill, however, had escaped. As such, there was a warrant for his arrest and he was wanted for questioning into the bombing he had done to one of Shutaura's offices. Although no one had died, handling explosives and acting as a terror agent was a crime, something Orion was liable for. But he was just walking around like nothing was the matter?
"My circumstances have changed."
"That's not an explanation, you idiot." replied Kamijou with a deadpan stare. "Stop trying to act all cool and mysterious. It's more of a pain in the ass than anything else. Are you trying to cut yourself on how edgy you're being? With your colour scheme, are you trying to be a wannabe emo?"
Orion narrowed his eye at Kamijou but otherwise did not react to the jabs sent his way.
"Like I said," Orion completely ignored Kamijou as he spoke again, "My circumstances have changed. As of a few hours ago, I was declared dead by Academy City. As a result, all charges against me dropped."
"I have your friends to thank for that, Mr. Kamijou. After all, the amount of blood they spilled whilst torturing me was over the lethal amount for any one person. As a result, because in the eyes of Academy City law enforcement it's impossible for me to have survived that, they declared me dead." Orion spoke so casually but the words he spoke made it clear to Kamijou he wished he had never asked.
Because Misaka Mikoto, Accelerator and Hamazura Shiage had truly tortured this mercenary to the verge of death. The only reason Kamijou did not say to death was because Orion was standing here now. However, the amount of blood spilled had not been safe. And it seemed Academy City was of the same thinking: only one logical conclusion being drawn from the spilt blood.
Even if such a conclusion was contradicted by the boy standing in front of him now.
"Th-That was because – "
"I don't give a fuck about their reasons, Mr. Kamijou." Orion butt in. "Frankly, I don't care. But the fact of the matter is that I should be dead given the amount of blood I lost. As such, Academy City has declared me dead and removed all charges."
"But you're not dead!" Shutaura blurted out, unsure of how much what she was hearing was true when she had heard none of this from Crow 1. Kamijou was oddly white as she spoke. "How can you lose so much blood and be standing here right now as well as having the ability to fight me as you did? As a normal human, you should be dead!"
The only explanation that gave way as to why Orion was standing in front of them was merely because there was a fundamental error in that line of thinking. Namely that Orion was hardly normal at all.
However, with his next words, he destroyed that thinking where it stood.
"You're correct. I should be dead. And I would be if I didn't keep on getting saved."
"What?" Kamijou asked, his voice barely a whisper as he got over the bad memory of what his friends had done to Orion.
"Every time, without fail, when I am on the precipice of death, I keep on getting saved. Renewed. Fixed. It's how I appeared before you when you thought I was dead."
Kamijou felt himself turn his mind back to when Orion had seemingly come back from the dead. The time when he had been tortured by his allies, only to come back and plunge everyone into the pit of hell. The time when he had shot Kamui after everyone had seen him as nothing more than splatter on the floor.
All those times, Orion had been saved by…something. On the verge of death, there was something that had saved him and something that had decided to keep him living on.
So if that was the case, then what about when he had been on the verge of death, trapped underground under thirty floors of concrete and with Kamijou and Shutaura? Back then, when they did not know what happened and how they had been saved, was it possible that whatever had decided to save Orion back then had also saved them?
The question Kamijou had to ask was obvious.
"Are you the one?"
"The one who saved us."
Kamijou could not begin to get a fix on this boy.
"When we were trapped underground, something brought us out and healed us. Or something happened, something saved us. Is the one behind that…"
What would change if it was? Kamijou had assumed Orion was his Bad End, someone who betrayed himself and had lost himself to the darkness of war. If Kamijou ever failed and turned into a machine focused only on fighting instead of saving, he was certain he would turn into a being like Orion.
If Kamijou Touma ever lost his way, then Orion Phoenix was who he would become.
If he gave in to his PTSD and continued to be desensitised to his own death, unable to remember what he could not afford to lose, he would become this mercenary.
Kamijou had felt safe in thinking things such as that. He had felt safe that there was a thought he could place on Orion that stuck: that he was a bastard who killed on the orders of others instead of thinking for himself and did not save people when he had the chance because he was not ordered or obligated to.
But if he had decided to save them both despite Shutaura leaving him for dead and despite Kamijou saying he would destroy the world Orion lived in…
Then what was he supposed to think of him then?
The answer came to Kamijou immediately.
"No. I wasn't the one you saved you."
Kamijou and Shutaura went wide eyed. Orion, clearly knowing the question to come, smoothly answered.
"I don't know what saved us. However, if there is a word for it, I would describe it as a miracle."
"So…you didn't see what saved us?" Shutaura asked, glancing at Kamijou. If there was anyone who knew what had saved them at the eleventh hour after she and Kamijou had lost consciousness, it would have been this boy who had not yet lost consciousness despite being on the verge of dying. But given his response, it seemed that what had happened to them all was truly a mystery…and a miracle if they had to put a word to it.
But again, Orion destroyed that thinking with his words.
"Oh no, I did see it."
Kamijou and Shutaura stepped forward, Orion frowning.
"You saw what saved us?! What the hell was it?"
Kamijou's question echoed in the halls as he stared at the one person who could answer all their questions as to what had happened in the depths of that hell. It felt strange that Orion was the one with that knowledge, but as the question hung in the air, the answer came immediately.
"I don't know."
"I saw what happened. Make no mistake. But I don't know whathappened. I can't explain or understand it. All I know is that whatever saved us, it's different from what usually saves me. It healed us, blew through the rubble blocking our way and got us out of there. The reason I wasn't found with you two by everyone else was because when I was healed, I was still conscious and had the time to escape."
"B-But then what saved us!?" yelled Shutaura.
"Are you fucking listening to me? I. Don't. Know."
The sudden edge to Orion's voice made the two of them stiffen. But even as they felt themselves intimidated by the mercenary's blunt words, the questions remained.
The only person who saw what had happened did not know what had happened. Even with an answer, nothing was answered. Only more questions came. Something had saved them, that was for sure.
But the nature of it? What truly happened?
None of that was answered.
"No…" Shutaura spoke again, slowly.
Speaking right now with this mercenary in front of her, there was something she realised.
Something that hadn't been obvious to her until right now.
"We should have died long before being trapped. At least, I should have."
"Shutaura?" Kamijou asked, Shutaura turning to face the mercenary.
"Come to think of it, that's right. Why am I still alive? When I was fighting you, there was a moment when you could have easily shot me. There was a moment where I had lost but you didn't take the shot. No, even before that. Even before our fight, if you saw me as an enemy, you could have easily removed me. So why didn't you?"
Kamijou wanted to say something to her, but felt himself pause.
Something wasn't right.
He could feel it and now Shutaura had said it, he realised it was true.
In the fight Kamijou had had with Orion, why was Kamijou still alive?
In their fight, they had been hanging off the back of a van being dragged along by Orion's trench coat. Their fist fight had had no real winner given it had been stopped part way but there had been a moment where Orion had had the upper hand, gun to Kamijou's face, before the mysterious Eiyuu character had saved Kamijou. That and with Mikoto's appearance, there had been too many close calls.
Close calls that, when it came to a mercenary, Kamijou should not have had.
A normal high school boy against a trained mercenary.
No matter of guts or willpower would have had any effect since Imagine Breaker meant nothing.
When they had been dragged back, if Orion had merely let go and let himself be dragged back, pointed a gun at Kamijou's face as he was being dragged behind the van, Orion would have easily killed him. Hell, even when he had had the gun pointed at Kamijou's face before Eiyuu's appearance, he could have easily killed him.
Kamijou remembered the look in Orion's eye when he had been in that victory position before Eiyuu had appeared.
There had been nothing originally.
But within it, had Kamijou seen the emotion of resignation?
He wasn't sure, but if there had been resignation, it was almost like the idea of killing Kamijou hurt Orion more than it ever would Kamijou.
The same was said for Hamazura Shiage. When Hamazura had first met Orion, it was during a car chase to help take back Mugino Shizuri from MINUS. Orion had shot him in the hand, but if he had been aiming to kill, that was a poor shot.
And Kamijou knew Orion was by no means a poor shot.
Had Orion shooting Hamazura in the hand then not been to kill him…but for some other purpose? During that incident and chase, there had been people trying to kill Hamazura so had shooting that boy in the hand somehow saved him by making him fall to his knees and scream, successfully dodging a barrage of bullets to hit him in the chest?
Why were they not dead?
Orion had had chance after chance to kill them – Kamijou, Shutaura and Hamazura – but had not taken it. There were various more efficient ways to deal with a fight that Orion likely knew but he had chosen the fights and situations where he was in the least likely position to kill.
But when he had been presented with the opportunity to do so, he had not taken it.
He had chosen to spare them, even at the cost of whatever injury he then incurred.
He had not killed when he had the chance to.
"Would you prefer me to kill you?" Orion asked without even changing his expression. "I am no stranger to taking a life so I can easily rectify my choice."
"That implies you decided to let us live." Shutaura said, her eyes narrowed. "That when you had the chance to kill us, you did not take it. Sure, you might have killed others, but you chose to not kill us. Why?"
"I had no orders to."
"That isn't an excuse. You don't have orders to breathe but you do it anyway. The initiative you take on the battlefield sometimes necessitates the taking of a life. You should know that as someone who has taken one. So why did you not choose to take ours?"
"Why…the fuck do I have to answer your questions?"
Those words in themselves cut off any form of further conversation.
Orion, who Kamijou and Shutaura had almost been able to see eye to eye with on some level, had entirely cut them off with his words.
They stood stunned at the complete and utter rejection within his words before he spoke again.
"I didn't come here to play fucking 20 Questions. Given you answered what I needed of you, I have no business here anymore. So have a good day."
Orion began to turn, after the spitting out the words. However, as Shutaura gathered her thoughts, she stopped him.
"Y-You're not going to ask for payment? I did technically hire you."
"There's no need. It's not like I did anything anyway."
"…I know I said it before, but I'm sorry."
That made Orion pause.
"For leaving you when you were on the verge of death. After you helped Touma-kun free from the concrete block, I choose him over you. I said it before…but for that, I'm sorry."
Orion stared at Shutaura, neither party saying anything before he spoke.
"Ms. Sequenzia, I will not and do not hold a grudge over that. I was a tool for your use and you chose to use me as you saw fit. I did not consider you choosing Mr. Kamijou over me as a betrayal. You used me and that was it. Nothing more and nothing less. It was in line with what I was hired to do. So there is nothing to apologise over and nothing to forgive."
Orion turned once more, walking down the corridor…before stopping. He just stood there for a moment before turning, his one blue eye staring and seeming to pierce into Kamijou.
"…Before I go, there's something I want to ask you, Mr. Kamijou."
"Why the fuck do I have to answer your questions?" Kamijou answered like a child in the same way Orion had. The mercenary did not even blink as he spoke once more.
"In the final moments in that pit, before you lost consciousness, did you think of anything?"
Kamijou stared at the boy, uncertain where the question had come from and finding himself surprised it had even arrived in the first place. He stared at the mercenary, trying to judge where the question had come from but finding no answer. In its place though, with no real reason to deny him the answer, Kamijou gave it.
"If there was anything that I thought…it would have to have been that I didn't want everything to end the way it seemed to have been heading. With all of us trapped down there…unable to reach the surface. I…I didn't want that kind of ending. That was the only thing on my mind."
Orion said nothing, his one eye narrowing before he turned back around.
"Well congratulations. Your wish was granted. Very few people can say that. Especially in the world it was made in. …Have a nice day you two."
And with that, he made his way down the corridor and disappeared around the corner.
The moment he did, both Kamijou and Shutaura let out a sigh they did not realise they were holding in.
"That was…unpleasant. Not to mention he didn't answer anything we asked." Shutaura replied, turning and looking at Kamijou who was merely staring at where he had seen the mercenary go.
Kamijou said nothing, his eyes narrowed as he stared after where Orion had gone.
He had always felt that boy was black and white with how he dressed. What you saw was what you got and what you got was a bastard who took up his gun for the sake of anybody, threw away his morals and did as he was asked even if it did not approve of it. He had betrayed himself and his feelings, had decided to abandon any sense of self he had and focus entirely on the obligations he had to his client.
Kamijou would have preferred him like that in truth.
Because just with this incident, Orion had moved into that grey territory that everybody occupied.
He had chosen to save his client at the time, Hayashida Mari, at the cost of his left arm and while placing his life on the line. He had decided to do the good thing even if it had come at the request of Hayashida. He had assisted in helping Kamijou free from the concrete block and even though he should have had a grudge at Shutaura for abandoning him, he felt that, as a tool, there was no need for a grudge given he had been used.
Those things all added mixture to the elements of the black and white nature he appeared to have. The greyness surrounding the boy was such that Kamijou felt confused, lost and unsure what to do when it came to how to handle Orion.
After all, it was his world which had created so much harm and pain wasn't it? And as a member of that world, Orion was the same. Yet, here he was, adding greyness to what should have been black and white by doing the noble thing despite it being in line with how he always was.
Maybe this was the first time Kamijou Touma had seen the person named Orion Phoenix.
Maybe this was the first time he had gotten a good look at him and his character.
Was there anything else under the surface? He had felt the boy was a bastard but now that his perception of Orion had become distorted with the noble things he had done, even Kamijou felt himself unsure what to do with the things he was feeling.
Orion Phoenix was his Bad End and that was it.
That was all Kamijou had thought of the boy…but was it really the case? Was that really…all there was to him?
Kamijou did not know.
He had done bad things…but he had done good things as well.
Did they balance each other out in that sense?
Was he the villain…or just another person with his own circumstances?
He wasn't sure there was a solid black and white answer there.
"Come on. We've got somewhere we need to be."
Kamijou said nothing on the entire way down, Shutaura choosing not to say anything either until they finally reached the ground floor. Careful when it came to directing Shutaura, it was not long until they finally reached the courtyard, the open space of the hospital having the cool air brushing up against them and free from the scent of disinfectant.
The table where they headed to had people Shutaura already knew there.
Index, Shokuhou Misaki, Misaka Mikoto and Hayashida Mari turned and looked as Kamijou approached, the former MINUS girl staring at Kamijou as they approached as it was clear she was focused on the demand she had to speak to him. It was the last thing on anyone else's mind though as Shutaura took a seat and Kamijou did the same, sitting in between her and Index, facing the woman who Shutaura had sat next to on the round table everyone was sitting at.
"Is this everyone, Kamijou-chan?" The woman asked. Kamijou nodded to which the woman stared at Shutaura with a somewhat sympathetic gaze given her hospital gown before speaking.
It was here that the final mystery would be solved.
"My name is Yume. And while I realise this will be an unpleasant topic, it's one we all are here to hear about. I won't waste any time."
And it was this woman who would lift the veil that had covered it for so long.
"We're here to talk about Kihara Kamui. I hope…you have the stomach for this."
And there we have it!
What did you think?
Normally, such a chapter would indicate the end of the arc but there was still the fact that the reason behind this incident has yet to be shown. As we finally get into that, this arc has yet to end for that reason so I hope you can look forward to what is to come and the twisted nature of what was at play during this arc. I realise that while I could have put it in this chapter, since it relates to the overall arching plot, it needs to have its own chapter. Which is why I split it up in this way.
However, in its own way, this provided a conclusion as well. The important point to take out of this chapter was that the struggles Shutaura has had to face internally because of the decisions she can control are ones she has solved with the help of Touma. Dealing with things such as what she is to do with Hayashida and the fact she is distrustful of the people trying to defect, I wanted to give the sense that this was a girl trying to live in a soldiers' world and as a result is pressured by the world and the choices she knows she has to make and the lives that are going to be affected by that as well.
Who is going to be further hurt by her choices? What is going to be sacrificed and what is going to be lost? These are the types of things, as a commander, she knows she has to focus on but with everything she has lost she is uncertain whether she can do so with the same objective mind she would look at everything else with. This struggle to overlap what she wants and what she knows balancing with fairness and justice is sort of what made this the resolution of the 'internal' aspect of her problems whereas the 'external' aspect of Kamui is set to follow! I really felt that splitting this up was important as well if only for the fact that while one has an overwhelmingly correct answer, there is another aspect that does not have such.
A lot of different things happened in this arc but as the arcs get darker and darker in nature, I really want to point out the resulting speech Touma has. Instead of focusing on things such as the darkness, grudges and the chance there are lives in danger, Touma chooses to look at the goodness in people and how even those within the darkness have the chance to be touched when you do something kind for them. In a world filled with darkness, Touma's light is a really big factor trying to push it back and I hope you focused heavily on it in its own way: after all, it was the entire point of the speech he makes. Instead of losing oneself in the pain and the suffering and giving in to it, it becomes about striving past that, wanting to see past the pain and the loss and see what you can grasp with your hands after everything is said and done. The things Touma has faced since the darker arcs really took hold mould him in this way: he realises that the world is not kind but at the same time, wants and values more than anything the kindness it CAN offer and holds onto it because he believes in it and people so much. And in turn, for those people living the darkness, they feel as though there is something good in the poisonous world they see because of that. There is someone who believes in them and wants to reach out to save them even after all they have done.
This overwhelming belief and the desire to save others when the world has crushed everything about those ideals is part of what really resonates within Shutaura but also with the past arcs and future ones as well. While the important question of "Why?" when it comes to Touma is asked, the aspect of "How?" is just as important here especially with this world he finds himself in.
…I only hope that as the arcs continue that you can watch as Touma's ideals are pushed more and more.
You'll also note that there weren't really any illusions destroyed here. The main reason for that is because the world of darkness was destroyed in a sense by Touma's light who pushed it back and gave Shutaura the chance to see reason and also the goodness within the people she berated as being 'enemies of justice'. When compared between the two, I definitely think it was more important to have that world instead of any illusion destroyed.
But how did they get saved? There is an explanation for it, however, when it will appear will be saved for another time. The keyword here was most definitely 'miracle' in its own way so keep an eye on that. Even though Orion was the only one who saw what happened, I hope that while you aren't satisfied with the answer given, you can still accept the answer given in that it was a 'miracle'.
The last part with Orion also had worth, although more in the sense that although Touma managed to 'defeat' Orion, he still finds himself on the edge when it come to deciding where Orion lies on the spectrum of 'ally' or 'enemy' instead of on the moral line of good and evil. The latter type of line isn't really a line that is strongly focused on when it comes to Index, at least I have found, because of the idea of destroying illusions placed within so I made Orion sit on a line where he isn't good or bad but you find yourself not liking him either way when it comes to being an enemy but at the same time, reluctantly accepting him when it comes to being an ally. This is the type of struggle Touma faces with Orion who is essentially his Bad End…but whether there is anything else hidden within that has yet to be determined. I hope you can look forward to the development of both Touma and Orion in this sense.
Note that it's not confirmed that Orion feels resignation when he was about to shoot Touma. Again, this adds to the ambiguity over whether he truly feels sorrow or regret when he kills someone…
One point of interest here is that although this arc was rather dark, what came out of it was not 'victory' per se but kindness. And returning to that point despite what was faced is where I think I really had to return to which I hope you enjoyed.
And as always,
Review if you please.
And I'll see you when I see you and I won't if I don't.
There's a lot going on, isn't there?