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A Certain Study in Scarlet

Chapter Text

A Certain Study in Scarlet

Prologue: Kamijou Touma

It was the day after Christmas, and there was just a few more days until the New Year dawned. I had arrived safely at Academy City to begin my training as an esper at Sakugawa Middle School. More importantly, though I had come to understand a little more about my oni-chan. Over the summer, I was struck by how much he had changed. Gone was the carefree, go happy, Kamijou Touma who always played with me whenever we were in the same house. Now, he looked so tired and gloomy, and his whole back slumped as though he was carrying the whole world on his shoulders. Worse, he barely recognized me anymore. It pained me to see him suffer like that, so I came here to learn about the world he lived in.

It was late when I arrived and a light blizzard had started as soon as I walked out of the train station. Standing here in the cold, I felt the cold dread seep into my soul in like icy water creeping into my shoes.A high, steep hillside loomed in front of me, covered with dense trees and shrubbery. A chain-link fence topped with barbed wire encircled the base, strengthening the already impregnable barrier. There was a staircase leading up to the top, but it was guarded by armed guards in strange paramilitary uniform. I shivered at the sight of their black rifles they had slung over their shoulders. It felt like I was about to enter some sort of prison! I had never seen a place so well armed as this. Oni-chan text me when I was on the train. He said he would be there early to greet me, but I still haven't seen him

I miss my home already. Even though it was my decision to go, it was still hard to leave my family. It's the first time that I've been so alone. I can still remember how only a few hours ago, my mother was crying as I climbed into the cabin. Even now, as I stand here in the cold, I can't forget The way she chased after me as my train left the station. But then, I saw him running towards me. He was wrapped snugly in a dark blue jacket, and an orange scarf was tied around his neck. I ran towards him, as fast as my feet could carry me.

"Oni-chan! Oni-chan!" I cried.

I jumped into his arms and hugged him as tightly as I could. We fell together to the ground, and a large puff of snow covered us both in white icing, but I didn't care. Pressing myself against his chest, I felt my worries melt away.

"O hisashi buri, Oni-chan!"

I could hear his heart beating, his laughter pouring from his chest. His hands ran through my hair, and he spoke into my ears, his voice soft and comforting.

"I'm so happy to see you, Otohime."

He raised my head up to face him, and wiped away my tears. "I've missed you too."

"Finally, there's something normal in my life!"

Chapter Text

"You must be hungry. Did you eat on the train?"
I nodded. "Mmph! Oka-san packed me a lunch for the trip."
"That great!" Oni-chan beamed, "By now, it's already near dinner time, though, so we'll eat together before going to my dorm, okay?"
"Hai!"
"I've already booked a table at Julian's. Hopefully, Index managed book our reservation," he laughed darkly, "Hopefully, she hasn't started eating yet."
"Index?" I said, "Who is that?"
"Oh, she's a friend of mine," Oni-chan said, "She is that white white haired nun, remember?"
My mind went back to that summer day. To tell the truth, I hardly remembered anyone besides Oni-chan. Everything else was just a blur of frenzy activities. Although, I recall waking up one night and saw some eerily bright lines in the sky. I thought it was a all dream.
I shook my head. "No, I don't remember."
"Is that so?" Oni-chan sighed, "Then I'll have to reintroduce you to her, later."
"Huh." I sat back down in the Taxi as it creeped along through the city gate. Here, twin tunnels penetrated the earthen wall. To either side, I could see steel blast doors embedded in the tunnel walls. All the cars were funneled through gated checkpoints. As we approached the guard house, Oni-chan spoke into my ear.
"Do you have your student pass?"
"It's in my bag." I said, "I put it in the trunk."
"Fuku-da!" Oni-chan cursed. "Taxi, would please stop for a second."
"We're basically, parked right now," the driver responded. "If you hurry, perhaps you can get it before we have to move."
Oni-chan sighed. Without warning, he opened the door, and stepped out into the middle of traffic.
"Wait!" I cried, "Isn't this really dangerous?"
"Don't worry," Oni-chan smiled, "I've been through a lot worse than this."
He closed the door and went around to the back. At the same time, the taxi driver pulled a lever next to his seat, and the trunk opened. I watched anxiously, as Oni-chan opened the lid, pulled out my bag, and came around to my door.
"Here you go," he said as soon as he opened it, "See if you can find your tag."
But then the driver told him that he had left the trunk lid open. Cursing, Touma went back out and closed the trunk. The whole time, all the other cars were honking at him. I looked sheepishly at him, knowing that this was all my fault. Meanwhile, there were so many guards patrolling the lanes, armed with semiautomatic rifles.
When he climbed back inside, I gave the special school tag to Oni-chan. He gave it to the driver, who tagged the electronic card reader when we got to the guard house. Here again, there were so many armed men patrolling about.
"It's strange, isn't it?" I asked as the gates lifted away, "For a city to be so guarded."
Oni-chan laughed in a wry tone, "You would be surprised what can slip through. It's not as secure as you think."
I looked at him with surprise. "Surely nobody could possibly break through these defenses. Right?"
He laughed again. "Certainly, if this was any other place, I would be inclined to agree with you, but this is Academy city we are talking about."
"When you've lived here as long as I have, you will understand."

Between the lines 1: Asgard is a people
When Othinus lost her power, she hid herself in Midgard in a fortress of science. Yet, her scent had drawn him to the city, for he was Fenrisúlfr, the black wolf and first-born son of Loki. Wintering in Niflheimr, he had slept through the GREMLIN attack and was therefore maligned. For his crimes, the Aesir, those who remained loyal to GREMLIN, punished him, and so Jörmungandr fashioned Gleipnir to bind him, and had Mjölnir guarded him day and night. Her watch was a cruel and unrelenting, and he endured her electrocutions.
But now he was free. Who freed him and how, he knew not. Nor did he care. Three months of confinement had driven him mad with hunger.
Now, he was out for blood!
Her scent was calling to him. They drew him to the artificial world tree, a cheap imitation built my mere mortals. He would devour her, come Hel or high water!

Chapter Text

My face was glued to the window, drinking in this strange new world. The air itself was glowing, even though it was nighttime. The skyscrapers were lit like Christmas trees, advertising their existence to the cars driving by.

"You've grown since I last saw you." Oni-chan said, "How old are you now?"

"Twelve." I said, " My birthday was last week."

"Oh right!" He said, "Happy birthday."

I frowned to myself. Oni-chan always knew when my birthday was. Last year, he even sent me presents. Something must have happened to make him forget.

The driver paid us no attention as he drove through the city.

In many ways Academy city was like any other metropolis. Cars drove on orange ribbons of concrete and asphalt, while tall buildings rose along either side like the walls of a canyon. Tall glistening hotels slowly gave way to and restaurants and shopping centers. Soon, those also melted away into quieter residential buildings.

Yet, Academy city still had a spirit of its own. Frequently, I spotted a ghostly wind turbines turning in the breeze. There were no power lines to see as all of the electricity had been buried deep underground. Gazing down on the streets, I could see strange cylinders wandering the sidewalk. I stared in amazement as they wandered through the sidewalk, sweeping up litter and debris.

But then, my eyes fell upon a vertical beam of light shooting up into the sky.

"Oni-chan, Oni-chan!" I cried out, tugging on his sleeve, "What is that over there?"

Oni-chan took one look at where I was pointing, and his whole body stiffened. "Oh that?" he stammered. "That was where the board of directors' office used to be." He shuddered. "I don't know the details, really."

"Use to be? Did it fall down or something?"

Oni-chan grimaced. "Or something, I guess."

My thoughts went to the similar beacons in New York. I had learned about them in kindergarten. Apparently, some kind of disaster happened and two planes flew into two tall buildings.

Oni-chan opened his phone to check the time. He cursed, "Fuku-da! We are so late. Index must be starbing by now. If only the train station wasn't so far up north!"

"It won't be long now," the driver said, "We're already entering district 7."

Suddenly, all of the taller buildings melted away. All I could see now were short, squat buildings bathed in the city's ambience. That beacon was still there, though. In fact, it was the single most visible feature in the skyline. Even as we left the highway, I was still staring at it, wondering if I could visit that place someday.

"I checked out your dorm this morning," I heard Oni-chan say, "They said it wouldn't be ready until after the new year, so we can stay in my dorm tonight."

Soon, we were dropped off at a family restaurant. I climbed out of the car, all stiff and wobbly.

As I was stretching, I heard a door slam open. A strange girl came running out. Her hair was completely white and covered with a long vail. She wore white robes with gold trimmings.

"Touma! Touma!" She cried, "You're late! I've been waiting here for hours!"

"Don't exaggerate!" Oni-chan slammed the trunk lid and wheeled my pulling-up towards me. "It's only been a few minutes!"

"But I'm so hungry! Couldn't you come any faster?"

"I don't control when the train comes, damn it! You need to learn how to be patient!"

"And you need to learn how not to keep a lady waiting!"

I stared agog as these two people continued to argue in front of me. Who was this girl? Why was she talking to my Oni-chan like this?

"Oni-chan?" I said, "Who are you talking to?"

Both of them jumped; they had completely forgotten about me.

"Sorry, Otohime-chan! Where are my manners?" Oni-chan stammered. He gestured to the white-haired girl. "This is a friend of mine, Index. Index, you remember my cousin, right?"

"How do you do. I am Index Librorum Prohibitorum," The girl took my hands into hers, "A member of Church of Necessary Evil and 0th Parish of the Puritan Church of England. You must be Tatsugami Otohime, we met at the beach house during the Angel Falls incident."

I blinked. "Angels Falls?"

"She's talking about the last summer trip to the beach," Oni-chan said.

"Oh yes, I-I-I remember." I said, "That day was so much fun! I was very happy to see Oni-chan again, after so long!"

Index blinked. "You don't remember me?"

"N-n-no," I stammered, "Of course I remember! How could anyone forget you?"

Oni-chan smiled. "Alright, it's getting cold out here. Let's all head inside."

"Itadakimasu!"

I watched in amazement as the nun tucked into the enormous spread of food before me. There was roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy, spaghetti with meatballs, and chicken curry over rice. All of it looked so delicious, but they were being devoured by the white-haired nun. I watched longingly as each morsel disappeared down the girl's throat. Then, I looked down at my own plate of hamburger and vegetables. It was delicious but I wanted more. I glanced at Oni-chan who only had a bowl of soup.

I had restrained myself.

Maybe this was for the best.

And yet all that food!

I sighed.

"Why do you look so glum?"

I jumped at his voice. His eyes were scanning me, as if he was reading my thoughts.

He smiled. "You are still growing," he said, "You have to eat to build your strength."

"But…" I motioned to his meager meal.

But Oni-chan turned around and called the waiter. "I want to order some more food more food for my cousin!"

One plate after another arrived before me, carrying every delicious dish you could think of. Rack of lamb with potatoes and carrots, Fettucine Alfredo with Shrimp and Mussels, beef stew thickened with cream. I demolished the food, relishing every bight.

You wouldn't believe how happy I was! No longer was I slave to a single choice. Now, I was free to explore all the different flavors in front of me!

Dimly, I was aware of someone approaching our table. I thought it was the waiter again, but a loud raspy voice told me otherwise.

"Oi! Oi! What are you doing spoiling your kids like that?"

I lifted my head and nearly choked. A gaunt, pale boy appeared out of nowhere. Like Frankenstein's monster, but realer! His hair was completely white and his eyes were like two bleeding ulcers. A black collar was strapped around his neck with wires sprouting out. He wore a grey and white striped shirt and long skinny jeans that enhanced his skinniness. When our eyes met, his mouth widened into a grin.

I could only think about how his teeth could rip my flesh apart. He must have known what I was thinking, because the next thing he did was snap his teeth at me. I jumped at the sound.

"Stop it Accelerator," Oni-chan said, completely indifferent to the boy's appearance. "You're scaring my cousin."

"My apologies," he sneered. His eyes never left mine. "I didn't mean any harm!"

"You should be ashamed of yourself, says Misaka as Misaka holds on to his right leg!"

A small girl with short auburn hair popped out from behind the boy. She smiled at me. "Hello, I am Misaka, Misaka says as Misaka extends her left hand."

I shook her hands.

"Misaka thinks that you shouldn't be so scared of this bully," she said, "He's just nervous about to meeting strangers, Misaka says as Misaka gestures to the boy."

"Oh sure, I'm quivering in my boots," Said the boy, rolling his eyes.

Oni-chan just shook his head. "Otohime, don't be scare of them. These two are good friends of mine." He gestured to each in turn. "This is Accelerator and that's Last Order."

"It's so nice to see you!" I stood up and bowed quickly as I could. "You aren't as scary as you look."

"It's nice to me you, Misaka says as Misaka bows in response."

But Accelerator paid no attention. "It's rare isn't it? To see you eating out," he said.

Accelerator turned to watch Index who was still busy with all her food. The girl wasn't even paying attention.

"Oi, Oi," the boys smirked again. "You're gonna go broke if you keep treating your guests like this."

"Leave me alone," Oni-chan crossed his arms and hunched over. "Today's my cousin's first day in the city. I wanted it to be a happy one."

The boy snorted. "That's so like you. Always so selfless," he laughed. "Poor students like you should be getting job or something."

"I have a job!" Oni-chan shot back, "It's just not a good paying one."

"Maybe you should start actually charging them for once!" Accelerator laughed. "But then, we wouldn't be talking about you, wouldn't we?"

Laughing, he left with the girl in tow, leaving Oni-chan to stew in his seat.

I was just confused. Oni-chan was working now? What was he doing?

Index suddenly looked up. "Huh?" she said, "What were you all doing?"

Between the Lines 2: Midgard is the Realm

"Brrr! It's cold!" Tessou Tsuzuri shivered in the cold. Despite the thick coat and woolen hat, the cold had seeped into her bones. Unfortunately for her Regulation dress code prohibited any clothing worn over the assigned Anti-skill gear, so she couldn't add a sweater underneath. The higher-ups decided that battling hypothermia was good for building character, she thought darkly as she stood outside of the city walls.

It was just her luck to be assigned here and on Christmas Eve, no less!

Her only solace she was the cup of coffee in her hands. She drank deeply in the hot beverage, and She sighed contently the warmth fill her up inside. Her breath came out like hot steam, covering the butt of her rifle with a thin layer of moisture.

Yet even that morsel of relief was fleeting. Already, she could feel the cold come flooding back in. She looked mournfully down at the cup. It was now empty.

She sighed, and was about to go back to the guard house, when she noticed a shaggy man stumbling towards her.

"H-h-halt!" She cried, "Who goes there?"

The man sprang forwards on all fours, bounding towards her like a dog. Tsuzuri lifted her rifle up to shoot, but he was already leaping onto her. Tsuzuri screamed as the man tried pounced, and pushed her to the ground. Her firearms discharged, but landed harmlessly nearby. He tried to bite her, but she kept him away with her rifle. His hands clawed at her face and Tsuzuri cried out as they dug into her skin. Dimly, she was aware of shouting from nearby, but the man was relentless in his attack,

And then, the weight disappeared, and Tsuzuri lurched forwards at the sudden loss of resistance. Turning around, she saw the man leaping up the stairs. Other guards had come out and were all shooting at him, but the man veered into the forest, using the trees as a shield.

Tsuzuri gritted her teeth. No one was getting through on her watch!

She sprinted up the stairs, trying to get a bead on the man, but just as she was about to fire, he ran through a thicket and disappeared. Tsuzuri stared agape at the where the man should have been, but then, she noticed a giant hole in the ground. No man could dig that fast, she thought, and yet the evidence was irrefutable. She sighed in frustration.

"Call it in!" she shouted one of the other guards, "Alert Judgement that an intruder has breached wall!" She pointed to another roup. "All of you follow me. I'm going after that person!"

With six other in tow, she leapt into the hole.

 

Chapter Text

Between the Lines: The Bifrost is broken
She was close!
He could smell her presence!
Fenrisufr salivated at the thought of her supple flesh filling his mouth, the crunching of her bones between his teeth and the sweet juices he would taste.
He clawed at the dirt. its very presence aggravated him and blocking his way to the prize he deserved!
Any moment now!
But then, something else caught his attention. He grew curious about this source of so much raw power. Turning his nose towards the scent, he veered right.
Behind him, Tessou Tsuzari crawled towards him. Her face was now caked in mud, but she pressed on regardless.
"This is Tsuzari!" She cried into a radio, "I am in hot pursuit of the Intruder. He is heading into district seven! All units be advised, and converge to my location!



Chapter 3: Misaka Mikoto
"Wah! So pretty!"
I was pressed against the glass, watching the little toy band play in the big store window. There was no wind-up key on any of the of the band members. They were all fully automated animatronics. Each figurine was shaped as a certain breed of dog, and they were all playing a rendition of "Silent Night" on tiny toy instruments.
The Underground Shopping-center was full of people. Shoppers of all ages were mingling and enjoying the Christmas spirit. Everywhere I looked, there were couples, groups of friends, even whole families going into the many stores and restaurants that lined this network of underground streets. Sadly, Oni-chan couldn't join us in all the festivities. Instead, he decided to take my little pull-up to his dorm.
"You've got a lot of stuff to get for your dorm," he said, "There's no way you can carry all of that and your luggage at the same time."
"But Oni-chan! You have to come with us!" I protested.
"I'm not big on shopping any way." he said, "This the most that I can do."
"We can just go to your dorm now and come back later."
He shook his head. "By the time we get back here, it's going to be all closed. Trust Kamijou on this. You wouldn't want a share in my misfortunes."
He disappeared into the crowd even as we pleaded for him to stay.
"I should've gone after him," I said mournfully, "I should be walking with him to his dorm."
The little spotted beagle was blowing on his tiny trumpet. Meanwhile, the black Poodle played on her painted double-bass.
"Touma is a nice guy," Index's voice was sorrowful, though she was smiling a small smile. "He sacrifices too much for those he care about." The bulldog tapped away on her tiny keyboards, and the German shepherd beat away on her tiny snare drum.
"I feel like I owe him so much. If only there was something I can do for him."
Index sighed, "You're not the only one who feels like that. There are so many people who are indebted to him. He has never even asked us to pay him back. He overlooks all of our debts to him, because he thinks that helping others is its own reward."
"A-re! It's you!" Two junior high school girls appeared, walking towards us. They were both wearing tan blazers underneath a thick overcoat, dark blue checkered skirt and knee-high socks. One had reddish hair tied with ribbons into twin tails, while the other had shorter brown hair that draped down above her shoulders.
Index blinked. "Short-pants? What are you doing here?"
"Ano-na! When will you stop calling me that?" The short-haired girl growled, "I have a name, you know."
"Humph," Index puffed out her cheeks. "Sorry, I keep forgetting."
"Oh?" The other girl raised an eyebrow. "And who is this young lady?"
"This is Tatsugami Otohime," Index said, smiling, "She is Touma's cousin. She only just arrived today."
"So," The brown-haired girl said, her eyes narrowing at Index. "You can remember the name of someone you just met."
"Actually, I can remember the name of everyone I meet." Index snorted.
"But you can't remember my name?"
"Oh, well," Index shrugged, "You're just a special case."
"Oi! Who do you think you are, talking to my Onee-sama like that?" The twin-tailed girl sneered. "I'll have you know that you are talking to Misaka Mikoto, Ace of Tokiwadai Middle school and the third level five Esper. Show some respect!"
"And who are you?" Index snorted. "I don't think we've ever met."
"I am Shirai Kuroko," the girl sniffed, patting herself on the chest, "I am herald and to the great Railgun of Tokidawai! Everything she knows, I know as well!"
"Misaka?" I said, thinking of that girl earlier, "Is Misaka a common name around here?"
Everyone blinked. "Uh, I don't think so. Why do you ask?"
"Just a few minutes ago," I said, "There was this little girl I saw at a Family restaurant. She was with one of Oni-chan's friend."
Misaka stiffened. "O-oh yeah," her eyes darted this way and that, "She…is my…cousin? Yes, that's right! Cousin! Yes! She's my cousin!"
"WHAT!" Everyone jumped at the sudden outburst. Kuroko grabbed Misaka's collar and shook her vigorously. "You have a relative in this city and you never told me?!"
"Well it just never came up!" Misaka said, looking away. "Besides, I never wanted anyone to know that I have a few relatives living in Academy city."
"A FEW!?" The pigtailed girl screamed, "WHY AM I FINDING OUT ABOUT THIS TODAY?!"
"Crap did I say that out loud?"
"HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME? WHAT THE HECK AM I TO YOU ANYWAY?! WE'RE SUPPOSE TO SHARE THESE THINGS WITH EACH OTHER! ONEE-SAMA!"
"Do you think that I would ever introduce to you to them, given your current behavior?" There was a loud smack. Misaka's fist came crashing down hard on Kuroko's head and the latter girl collapsed to the ground.
"So? You're that boy's cousin, huh?" Misaka went on, "I've never met any of his relatives other than his parents."
"Most of us live pretty far from here," I said, "I came from Sapporo province up in Hokkaido."
"Heh? That's actually pretty far from here. Are you visiting for the holidays then?"
"No," I said, "I'm actually moving here. I want to learn how to become an esper."
Misaka grinned. "Are you really? Well, I think you have a steeper hill to climb than rest of the students here. Most espers start their training at a younger age, so you may be at a disadvantage."
"Maybe," I said, "But I'm sure I can bridge the gap in no time. Soon, I may even surpass you!"
"Hah!" Misaka smirked, "You're a thousand years too early to be competing with me! But I like your spunk kid!" She held out a fist, "It's nice to meet you, Tatsugami-San!"
"Delighted!" I smiled and shook her hands. "Please call me Otohime!"
Suddenly, I felt something buzzing in my pocket. I pulled out my phone and answered.
"Hello?"
"Ah Otohime," Oni-chan's voice said, "Is Index there?"
"Yes she's with me," I look at the nun, "Did you want to talk to her?"
"Actually, I need to talk to both of you," he said, "Can you put me on speaker phone?"
I pressed on the speaker button and Oni-chan's voice came blasting out.
"Index? Are you there?"
"Hiyah!" Index cried, Touma?" Her cheeks puffed out in anger, "Geez! Why aren't you back already! We've already finished shopping."
"Sorry! Sorry!" Oni-chan exclaimed, "A client just came for my help, so I'm a little preoccupied at the moment."
Client? His words sparked my curiosity. Oni-chan has a job?
"Anyway," Oni-chan continued, "It looks like you two won't be able to stay at my dorm tonight. I called Kanzaki earlier, so she should be coming to pick you up tonight."
"But it's going to be super crowded." Index said, "There are a lot of girls in the Necessarius dorm room. I don't know if they can fit more people."
Oni-chan let out a long sigh. "Fukuda!"
Kuroko was gesturing for my phone. I nodded and gave it to her.
"Hello, Kamijou-san? Are you there?"
"Huh? Shirai-san?" Touma said the response, "What are you doing here?"
"We've just bumped into one another," Kuroko said. She glanced at Misaka, and a large smile crept up her face.
"Onee-sama is here too, you know?"
"Geh!"
Misaka was looking away when Oni-chan's voice was heard. She jumped when Kuroko singled him out. "Eek!"
And suddenly, it was like a fire had lit inside my chest. What was this girl's relationship to my Onee-chan anyway?
Kuroko went on before anyone else could react. "Anyway, I just wanted to offer some assistance. Our dorm may have any accommodations. I think they can stay at our place."
"O-o-oh really? That sounds great!"
"I may ask our dorm manager for permission, but there are strict rules for visitors" Kuroko said. She glanced at Index pointedly, "I'm sure an outsider without proper identifications would be detained, immediately."
"I see," Oni-chan sighed again, "Otohime? Can you hear me?"
I took back my phone. "I'm here."
"Looks like you and Index will be staying in separate places tonight. Index will go with Kanzaki when she gets here. Meanwhile, you can stay with Shirai-san and Biri—I mean—Misaka tonight."
I could hear sniggering behind me.
"But then I won't be able to stay with you!" I exclaimed, "Oni-chan!"
"I'm sorry your first night couldn't be as perfect as you thought it would be," He said, "It'll just be one night. We can regroup tomorrow."
I sighed. "It can't be helped, could it?"
"Thank you for understanding," Oni-chan said, "Bye."
Hung up.
Shirai-san sighed. "Well, you heard what he said."
"Darn you Kuroko!" Misaka growled, her face totally scarlet.
"Looks like some more trouble for us. I'm worried about what the Dorm manager has to say."
Shirai-san,"I'm sure she won't mind."
"Oni-chan said that he has a client," I said, "I didn't know students could get any part time work or open their own business!"
"We don't," Misaka said simply, "He is a special exemption."
"It's all highly irregular," Kuroko huffed, "He is just a citizen after all. He shouldn't be meddling in these affairs, anyway. If you ask me, I think he should go to prison for vigilantism."
"It couldn't be helped, could it?" Misaka shot back, "After all, Judgement and Anti-skill can't really handle the small cases. Besides, you guys never arrive in time anyway."
"What an Admirable defense?" Kuroko smirked, "I'm sure he is happy to have such an ardent supporter."
"But what does he do?" I asked.
CRASH!
The mall erupted in a cloud of dust.
Suddenly, a large gaping hole had appeared nearby, and large dark shadow clawed out of the ground. The next thing I knew, I was on the ground, staring into those blood-red eyes and gnashing teeth.
Dimly, I could hear a little girl screaming somewhere.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4: Railgun

BANG! The mall erupted in a cloud of dust, and large dark shadow clawed out of the ground. The next thing I knew, I was on the ground, and all I could see were those blood red eyes burning into my soul and gnashing white teeth dripping with slobber. Something wet was soaking through my pants, and dimly I could hear a little girl scream.

Then suddenly, I was somewhere else. The eyes and teeth were gone, and I landed on the ground with an audible, "Oof!"

Disoriented, and more than a little confused, I looked around, stammering, "Wha-what just happened?"

"Whew! That was a close one." Kuroko was standing next to me, her hand resting on my shoulder. She looked down at me and smiled. "You're safe now," she said.

For a second, I thought it was all just a nightmare, but a low growling told me otherwise. I turned and saw a giant black wolf baring its teeth at me. It reared on his hunches and bounded towards me. He was almost upon me when a bolt of lightning hit it on the side. It crashed into the shop window and demolished the little toy band playing in the display case.

Misaka was standing in front of me. Her right arm was stretched out, and sparks flew from her fingers. She was alert and focused, and her eyes burned with a passion that I had never seen.

I struggled to my feet, barely able to keep my balance. I could feel a bruise develop from where I landed.

"What was that?" I asked, wobbling with every step.

Index walked up from behind me. "That is Fenrisulfr, the son of Loki in Norse mythology."

"Norse huh?" Kuroko said, "Sounds like something out of mythology class."

"It should be in the curriculum for next spring," Index sighed, "After the Greco-Roman section of course."

"Get back!" Misaka snapped at us, throwing out a hand. "He's not done yet!"

Suddenly, the wolf surged out from the shop window, and shook himself free from the debris. Plastic parts and pieces of glass went flying into the crowd that had gathered, and several bystanders were hit.

"Kuroko!" Misaka barked, "Go and clear out this area. People are going to get hurt if they stay here."

"Right away, Onee-sama!" The pigtailed girl said. She slipped on a green armband and then disappeared. A moment later, I saw her reappear a fair distance away, helping the wounded bystanders. At the same time, she was on the phone, talking to someone else.

"Uiharu!" She said, "Alert Anti-skill! Tell them that there is an attack in the underground shopping center in district seven, and we are in needing back-up! Hurry!"

"A teleporter?" I whispered to myself. I watched as two ordinary girls used scarily complicated powers to save the day.

Misaka was holding her own against a monster of stupendous size. The wolf was staring down at Misaka, her reflection in his eyes. He charged towards her, but the girl sent electricity to the manacles on the beast's paws, magnetically anchoring him to the floor.

The wolf tumbled end-over-end towards Misaka, who pulled herself up to the ceiling using static cling. She sent a bolt of lightning towards the wolf, but the creature pivoted on one foot and dodged the attack.

Meanwhile, Kuroko was other teleporting from bystander to bystander, attending to the injured and keeping others out of harm's way. All the while, she was on the phone, calling for more help.

I marveled at their ability to work together. One was attacking, while the other defended. It was as if they had been using their powers and fighting together for their entire life!

But then, I saw a couple of uniformed officers scramble out of the hole made by the wolf. One of them, a woman with large glasses and black hair tied into a ponytail, saw us and screamed, "EVERYONE! STAND CLEAR!"

Immediately, a subway train came roaring out of the hole. Misaka, who was still dangling from the ceiling, was caught completely by surprise. Then, the train landed on top of the wolf and ran him over like he was made of butter. Quickly, I shoved Index out of the way, and the two of us fell in a heap. The train barreled past us, mere inches (centimeters) away from my face, and the shrill squealing of wheels filled my ears. I plugged my ears and screamed, desperate to drown out the noise.

Peeking through half-lidded eyes, I saw Misaka crouching on the roof. She was sending electricity into the train to energize the wheels, forcing them to turn in reverse. She steered the train through the narrow passageway by varying the speed of each set of wheels. She rammed the train into the many Kiosks and decorations in the hallway, hoping to use the debris as to slow the train down.

Meanwhile, Kuroko continuously teleported in front of the train and pushed away any would-be victims from its path. Together, the two girls guided the train through the Underground shopping center, doing their hardest to avert catastrophe.

Inevitably, the train ground to a halt, though not before gouging deep grooves into the tiled floor. It listed to one side and toppled over. In vain, I covered myself with my arms, and a huge plume of debris washed over me. When it was all over, everything was covered in a thin film of dirt.

By now, an army of rescue workers had arrived and they converged on the train cars. They pried the train doors open, and hundreds of people came boiling out of the confines. Some had bruises and a few were even bleeding. Most of the passengers were unharmed, though they were crying and desperately clinging onto their rescuers. Misaka, Kuroko, and the armed officers were all helping with the rescue effort. Even the bystanders were helping out, pulling the passengers out of the wreckage and escorting them to makeshift first aid stations.

Index wasn't among the rescuers. Instead, she had gone for a closer look at where the wolf had been crushed. Struggling to my feet, I wandered towards the silver-haired nun, and peered into the crater. Only, when I got there, the wolf was gone. In its place was a gruff old man, lying on the ground. His long black trench coat, horribly stained, had been cut to ribbons. His hair was dirty and unkempt, and scraggly whiskers covered his jawline. I could smell whiskey coming off his breath, but that was completely overpowered by a terrible stench. I wrinkled my nose and turned away.

"Where is the wolf?" I asked, looking around, "How could something that big disappear like that?"

"He's right there," Index said, pointing to the dirty old man, "That's the Fenris-wolf."

"You can't be serious," I cried, but Index just sighed. "He's just reverted back into his human form," she said.

"Animorphy?" Misaka came up beside me. "Sounds like an esper power."

Index nodded. "He's not a magician," she said, "Legend has it that he was born with the power to shape-shift into a gigantic wolf."

"A gemstone?" Misaka crossed her arms and smirked, "Boy, if I could go toe-to-toe with this monster…"

"Yaminousai, Onee-sama," Kuroko appeared, holding her nose aloft, "I know that you are getting excited about such a terrible match, but this is official business."

As she said this, the armed officers came and pushed us away. Their weapons were drawn and pointing at the man. Meanwhile, five three-wheeled cylindrical robots rolled along in front to screening the officers from potential retaliation.

The man stirred, and when one officer jabbed him with his gun, his eyes flew open and he growled at us. The robots cast bright spotlights on the man, who winced and covered his eyes.

"I am Tessou Tsuzu of Anti-skill!" The lady with dark hair and glasses pointed a flashlight at his face. "You are under arrest," She said, "Come quietly, and we shall not harm you."

But the man wasn't even paying attention to her. Instead, he was still staring right at me like I was some kind of meat. Even when the officers cuffed him, his eyes never left mine, and he licked his chops like some an animal.

"…Ugh!" I turned away, shivering.

"That was gross!" Kuroko growled. "To eye a lady with such lewdness!"

"Are you okay?" Index asked, "Did he hurt you?"

"No" I shook my head, "I'm okay."

A terrible smell caught my attention. I clutched at my skirt and blushed at realizing what it was. "Um…I do need a change of clothes."

But then, I heard someone running towards us and a familiar voice call out.

"Everyone are you okay!"

I whirled around, and saw him running towards us. "Oni-chan!" I ran as fast as I could and jumped into his arms.

"Mo!" Index puffed out her cheeks. "Touma, you're late!"

"Indeed!" Kuroko said, "It's so not like you to come after the battles are over. You're like Achilles staying in his tent until the last minute."

"That's not how the myth goes," Index sighed, "I've told you many times before."

"Oh I'm so sorry," Kuroko said, rolling her eyes, "It's not like mythology is my best subject anyway."

"Who was that?" Oni-chan said, raising a head.

"Fenrir, the son of Loki." A distinct clinking sound reached my ears. I let Oni-chan go and saw a tall woman with black wavy hair walking towards us. She wore a short white T-shirt tied at the bottom and tight skinny jeans with the right pants leg cut off. Most notably, she was holding a hiltless nodachi in a dark blue scabbard.

"He is mentioned in the Poetic Edda and further described in the Prose Edda," she said, "He is fiercest of all the beasts, and the bringer of doom. Legend has it that he was fettered by the Aesir to prevent the end of days. Now that he is free to wander the land, he is searching for Odin to consume and destroy. When that happens, the end approaches and Ragnorak shall begin."

Kuroko raised an eyebrow. "And who might you be?"

"Kanzaki Kaori, at your service," the lady said, bowing low, "I believe Kamijou-san spoke of me."

"Ah yes, you're here for the Nun, are you not?" Kuroko said, "Although, I wasn't expecting someone so…"

Her eyes wandered upwards slowly drooped. "…tall."

A thin stream was flowing from the corner of her lips, and I could hear her whisper, in a low husky voice. "Oh, Onee-sama, perhaps you have some competition, after all."

Misaka wasn't paying attention. She was looking somewhere else, though her eyes kept drifting towards our direction. When her wandering eyes found his, she turned red like a tomato, and she jerk her head away.

Touma didn't notice. "Hang on a second. You mentioned that he was connected to Othinus! Does that mean he's a part of that group?"

Kanzaki-san nodded. "Yes, he's part of GREMLIN."

"Gremlin?" I didn't understand what they were talking about, but the short-haired girl visibly flinched at the sound of that name.

"I thought that they were destroyed," He said fretfully, "After the incident at Denmark…"

"Yes, GREMLIN is no more, but its members still live," She said, "Since Othinus had given up her powers, the rest of GREMLIN has gone underground. We've managed to track some of the more prominent members, but most have melted back into society."

Kanzaki-san sighed. "Fortunately, we need not worry about them at the moment. They have no leader, and are no threat to us."

"We should go." Misaka's voice was a lot closer than I realized. I looked up and saw that she had drifted closer to Oni-chan. His body stiffened as soon as he noticed. "Anti-skill is calling for us to leave, and the shopping center is going to close soon,"

"I agree," Kuroko said, "And curfew's only a few minutes away."

"A-re?" Is it that late already?" Touma glanced at his phone. "We should leave before we get into more misfortune."

There was a pause, as all the girls stared at him.

"You heard that?" Kuroko said smugly, "He's telling us to stay out of trouble!"

"I know, right?" Index sighed, "Does he ever stop and think about his situation?"

"My goodness," Misaka scoffed. "Does a tree make a sound when it falls?"

"Indeed," Kanzaki said, nodding, "He is so considerate for others. It's why he is so difficult to be with!"

"Eh!" Oni-chan blinked, "Who are you talking about?"

The girls shared a look and smiled. Then all at once, they turned around and looked back at him.

"Not telling you!"


Between the lines: Neo Yggdrasil

After the downfall of Aleister Crowley, Academy city started changing immediately. The board of directors started fighting among themselves to fill in the power vacuum, while the city fell into greater and greater disrepair.

By day, the city ran as usual, with Anti-skill and Judgement keeping the peace. By night, the streets come alive, as roving gangs ruled the streets. District nineteen, once the abandoned slums of Skill-out, is now a hive of bars, nightclubs and love hotels, and the alleys are full of vice and debauchery.

Meanwhile, the lax in magical security has attracted the more religious types. Both Catholic and Protestant missionaries have moved into the city and have built churches and greatly expanded the theology academies. Necessarius, for example had opened a liberal arts schools in district twelve, and have included dorms for the nuns who teach in the classes. At last, the Science side and Magic side live-side-by-side, cross pollinating and enrich both in knowledge and philosophy.

 

Chapter Text

Early the next morning, I emerged from Tokiwadai School's dorm after a hot shower and a hearty breakfast.

Since I hadn't any set of clothing to change into, so I had to borrow Misaka's uniform. The blouse fit me surprisingly well, though it was a bit long for my taste. When I pointed this out, Misaka only grimaced and sulked in a corner. The cashmere sweater vest was just draped loosely about my shoulders and went down to my knees. The dark grey skirt hung loosely about my waist, threatening to fall with every step I took.

My panties had also been sent for a wash and wouldn't come back until late in the afternoon. I therefore had to make do without it. I cringed as the leggings rubbed against more sensitive regions. I longed to get to Oni-chan's dorm to put on my own clothing.

Misaka was coming too, but Kuroko had other business to attend to.

"This is about last night's attack isn't it?" Misaka asked knowingly. Kuroko nodded. "As a Judgement member who witnessed the events, I have to testify as expert witness. It will probably take the whole day."

"Taa-Ke Mendokusei!" Misaka cursed.

"It can't be helped could it," Kuroko smirked, "With a city this unpredictable…oh and by the way Onee-sama." She walked up close to Misaka and looked her in the eye. "Make sure that your current… predicament doesn't degenerate into some sort of scandal," She said, "We wouldn't a scandal to befall the Ace of Tokiwadai, now would we?"

"Nuh!" Misaka jerked away, "There's no way that would happen!"

"Of course it wouldn't, I trust you completely," Kuroko smiled and backed away, "By for now, Otohime-chan!"

Once she teleported away, Misaka turned to me and smiled as if nothing amiss had happened, "Alright, let's be off, then."

She led the way, passing by an overhead train station and two cross streets. Within minutes, we were walking to a certain dorm in District 7. "We're here!" Misaka said cheerfully, "He should be on the third floor!"

"Huh," I said, looking around. There were no gated entrances like the Tokiwadai dorm. There were no cafeteria and no dedicated facilities for bathing or laundry or any other activities. In fact, it was so normal that I was surprised that Misaka found it so quickly. It was as though she had been here many times before. My thoughts went back to yesterday, how she grew so timid at the mention of Oni-chan's name and yet gravitated towards him without anyone else realizing. Cold suspicion invaded my soul. I narrowed my eyes at her retreating back.

"Misaka," I said as we climbed the last set of stairs.

"Hmm?" Misaka looked back. "What's up?"

"What exactly is your relationship with Oni-chan?"

"Ugh!" The color drained from her face and she stumbled on the last step. "W-w-why a-a-are y-y-ou as-as-k-k-king th-that a-a-all of a sud-d-d-dden!"

"A-re! If it isn't Kamijou's girlfriend!" Before I could respond, a lanky teenager with dirty blond hair appeared on the third floor landing. He was wearing a greenish-brown jacket over a white undershirt and a pair of jeans. He smirked as soon as he saw us. "I thought I heard someone familiar!"

"HE'S NOT MY BOYFRIEND!" came the immediately reply, and suddenly my hair was standing on its end. Electricity was crackling around Misaka, and I suddenly felt afraid.

But the boy just laughed and said, "Sure you're not. Certainly, you didn't confess your feeling to him or anything!"

My ears were burning. Misaka had confessed to Oni-chan? "When exactly did that happen?" I asked.

"Otohime!"

"Hmmm…" the boy tapped on the chin. "I'd say about two weeks ago?"

"Hamazura!" Misaka cried, "I told you to keep that a secret!"

She glared daggers into the boy, but he only laughed.

"Shiage-kun, I thought I sensed a strong personal reality nearby." A high school girl with shoulder-length black hair appeared, her expression was featureless as she examined us. "Oh no wonder, Railgun is here. What's this I hear of confessions?"

"Rikou-chan?" The boy called Hamazura cringed as the girl glommed onto him and stared down at us.

"Go away! Shiage-kun is mine! You go find your own boyfriend!"

"I keep telling you!" A huge surge of electricity passed through my body, and I felt as though my legs would wobble off. "HE. IS. NOT. MY. BOYFRIEND!"

Misaka stamped the ground repeatedly, and I could feel every word jerking through my body. I thanked the lucky stars that I was clinging onto the railings, or I surely would have fallen.

"Nyah nyah! Who is that screaming so loudly in the morning?"

A little blond head popped up from the third floor landing peering down over a low wall. She was younger than me and a head shorter, and her pink beret covered her hair. "Nyah! Oh, if it isn't Miko-neechan!"

Then she saw me and smiled a toothy grin. "Nyah nyah! How do you do? I am Fremea Seivelun!"

"Kor-ra! Fremea!" Shiage snapped, "No climbing on the railing! You'll fall and crack your head!"

"Hai!" The little girl's head disappeared. She ran around the corner and down the stairs to me. I was so taken in that I didn't have time to react before she pulled me straight and kissed me on my cheeks. "Nyah nyah! I am Fremea Seivelun. It's nice to meet you. What is your name?"

My cheeks were burning from where she had kissed me. Her energy was so infectious and her demeanor so radiant that I nearly fainted with excitement. "I'm Tatsugami Otohime. I'm ten years old," I said, "It's good to meet you!"

She beamed and pulled me up the stairs. Then, she hit my arm and yelled, "Tag! You're it!" and ran off laughing. I ran after her, yelling for her to come back. We zipped through the hallway, laughing all the way.

When I cornered her on at a dead end, I lunged, and she spun around so perfectly that she looked like a ballerina. Then, she was taunting me and running the other way.

We were on our way back to the staircase, when I heard Misaka growling, "Like I said, nothing came of it! That idiot ran off without giving me a proper answer!"

"It can't be helped," Hamazura was saying, "You know how he is. He's much too busy saving the world to attend to more mundane troubles. You can try and help him out from time to time."

"Don't you think that I'm doing that already?" Misaka said, "Besides, that idiot has more than enough time to answer me, anyway!"

Hamazura scoffed. "Well, first of all, you need to stop calling him 'that idiot' at least have the decency to call Kamijou by his name."

"I would if he'd stop calling me 'Biri-biri!'"

"Would you rather he called you Railgun? Or even Ace of Tokiwadai?"

"No, of course not!" she exclaimed, "I just want him to call me by my name, that's all!"

"Then maybe, you should be the one to start! That's all I'm saying."

"A-re? Why is everyone crowding on the staircase?" Everyone turned to see Oni-chan emerge from the elevator, carrying a basketful of clothing.

"Oni-chan!" I cried, "Good morning!" I ran gave him a big hug. He laughed and ruffled my hair. "Good morning, welcome to my dorm."

The he looked up at the rest of his visitors. "Shiage? Fremea-chan? To what do I owe this pleasure?"

Hamazura came and shook his hand. "Business sir," he said, "I have some client work for you today!"

"Is that so?" Oni-chan said, "Well, let's go to my dorm room. There's no use standing out here."

Together, the five of us trooped down the end of the hall. Oni-chan, me, Fremea, hamazura, Takitsubo-san, and Misaka all walked to the last door, whereupon, Oni-chan put down his basket and patted his pockets.

"A-re? Where are my keys!" We all sweat-dropped as he started digging through the laundry. "Don't tell me I lost it! Fuku-da!"

He jumped up and was about to run back to the laundry when I noticed a green band wrapped around his wrist. "Oni-chan!" I said, pointing. "It's on your bracelet!"

Oni-chan looked at his wrist and sighed in relief. "Oh thank goodness! Thanks, Otohime!"

Misaka face palmed, and I heard Hamazura groan. "Goodness!" he mumbled darkly, "This idiot is going to be the death of me!"

He opened the door and motioned us inside. We all filed in through the narrow hallway and ended up in a single bed dorm room. Oni-chan set the basket on his bed and motioned us to the kontatsu.

"Everyone, please be seated," he said before disappearing to the kitchen.

I found a spot facing the front door and knelt next to Fremea. Hamazura and the girl named Takitsubo sat down across from us, while Misaka had a seat closest to the bed. Oni-chan emerged with five mugs of tea and sat across from Misaka.

"So," Oni-chan said as he passed out the hot beverage, "How can I help you?"

But the blonde shook his head. "Not me," he said, "Fremea's the one who wanted to see you."

Oni-chan blinked and smiled at the little girl. "Well, Fremea-chan, what can I do for you?

Fremea opened her mouth to speak, but Takitsubo held out a hand. "Wait!"

We all looked at her, and she cleared her throat. "I apologize for my interruption. Unfortunately, I don't feel comfortable with you meddling in affairs that don't concern you. Certainly, I realize that Shiage-kun and Fremea trust you unquestioningly, but I do not. Frankly, this is the first time we've ever met. I have no idea who you are, and I don't like how the AIM field warp around you. Why would you be the one to help us?"

Oni-chan smiled understandingly. "What is your name?" he asked, but it was Misaka who answered.

"Takitsubo Rikou, level 4 esper with an ability know as AIM Stalker." Misaka spoke quietly, "She is part of the mercenary group ITEM."

"Was part of ITEM," Hamazura interjected meekly, but Misaka ignored him.

"If you're going to talk about trust, then let's have it out right here and now! This girl and the group she belongs to helped the dark side perpetuate the killing and torture of my sisters!" She glared at Takitsubo. "You have some nerve to be lecturing others about meddling in the affairs of strangers."

"I do not have to defend myself to you, Railgun," Takitsubo said coldly, "We had nothing to do with the institutions we worked with. ITEM doesn't concern itself with the motives of its employers. We certainly do not take orders from a whiny brat like you!"

Misaka growled, and rose from her seat, but Touma laid a hand on her shoulders. "Misaka wait!" he cleared his throat. "The circumstances around ITEM and the Sisters project are far more complex than you can imagine," He said to them, "There is a lot of baggage to unpack, and we're not even talking about involvement with the higher ups."

At this, the whole room suddenly felt extremely tense. I could perceive a spectre that infected everyone except Fremea and me. Oni-chan went on. "I've been digging around for some information about the whole mess. From what Hamazura told me yesterday…"

He paused and nodded at Fremea. "I think that we should leave that discussion for another day." Hamazura nodded vigorously. Misaka and Takitsubo just glared at each other. Oni-chan kept speaking nonetheless.

"You are right to doubt my legitimacy. Certainly, no one in their right mind should be working with people they don't…eh… trust implicitly."

Misaka snorted. Hamazura just rolled his eyes. Oni-chan chuckled nervously. "Trust Kamijou Touma on this. I've paid for that mistake so many times already!"

He got up and went over to some bookshelves. "These are my credentials," Oni-chan said, pulling out a business card saying "Kamijou Touma, private counselor.". Then he pulled out two documents from a grey binder. "This is permission from Anti-skill for conducting private investigations in Academy city, and a confidentiality agreement stating that nothing said in this room will be leaked to ears outside."

Takitsubo scanned the document, scrutinizing every word and punctuation. Her hands drifted down to the signature and paused.

"Yomikawa Aiho," She looked up at Oni-chan. "How do you know such a top ranking Anti-skill member?"

"She's a teacher at my school," Oni-chan said, sitting back down, "A week before Christmas, I asked her for a favor." He laughed nervously. "She had to pull a lot of strings to get this for me."

"So you're a High School student then," Takitsubo pressed on. "It's highly irregular for such a person to be doing any job, let alone something as substantial as this."

There was a loud cough as Misaka spat out, "ITEM!"

Takitsubo glared. "I had to drop out of school to join that group! I had to abandon all of my friends just to apply for grunt work! There was never a day when I wasn't afraid of dying because of the work, or because of the mistreatment!"

"Don't give me that." Misaka snapped. "I've seen Shizuri's private penthouse! You lived in the lap of luxury and never ever worried about anything!"

"A gilded cage designed to trap the most powerful espers," Takitsubo's voice grew heated as she retorted. "We were nothing but guard dogs for the board of directors! To do as they pleased, and discarded when we outlived our usefulness!"

"If it was so bad, then why did you join?"

"YOU REALLY THINK THAT I HAD A CHOICE?!" Takitsubo's voice grew shrill. "DO YOU HONESTLY THINK THAT I REALLY WANTED TO HELP THOSE MADMEN SCIENTISTS KILL YOUR 10000 CLONES!"

"Do you honestly believe that Mugino REALLY killed Frenda?!"

 

Chapter Text

"YOU REALLY THINK WE HAD A CHOICE?!" Takitsubo's voice grew shrill. "Do you honestly believe that Mugino REALLY killed Frenda?!"

It was like a bombshell had landed in the room. Everyone was staring at her.

"Frenda's dead?" Misaka spoke first, her voice suddenly small.

"YES SHE IS DEAD!" Tears rolled down in thick streams Takitsubo continued screaming "THAT WRETCHED DARK MATTER SLICED HER IN HALF WHEN SHE REFUSED TO TELL THEM WHAT THEY WANTED TO KNOW!"

"Mugino didn't kill Frenda?" Hamazura whispered.

"No! A-no baka!" The girls snapped. "That's why she wanted my help! She wanted to find Teitoku! We were going to avenge Frenda's death!"

"But she told me she did it!"

"OF COURSE SHE DID!" Takitsubo was screaming again. "That bitch liaison told her to lie or else she would send Teitoku to destroy ITEM!"

"What you are saying?"Hamazura gasped. "That the liaisons were in cahoots?"

"Are you really so stupid? Of course they were!"

"But why?" Hamazura cried in distress. "Why would they pit two underground organizations against each other?"

"Hell if I know!" Takitsubo cried.

She grabbed for some tissues and blew her nose, "Mugino that poor fool! She took on the role of villain so that the rest of us could survive!"

Everyone looked stunned at the sudden revelation. I sat there, not sure what to say. So much horrible things have happened in this city, and I had no idea

Oni-chan was rocking back and forth, trying to process everything he heard. Fremea was white as a sheet, her pupils were dilated, and she looked ready to puke.

Misaka's mind was racing. Her eyes zipped about. "I don't understand," she said at last. "When I fought her, Frenda spilled beans as soon as she knew who I was. She could never stop herself from leaking something about ITEM! How could she have withstood Kakine, of all people?"

"That's because she wasn't being interrogated about ITEM!" Takitsubo said.

"But how do you know that?"

"Mugino told me," Takitsubo wiped away some tears. "She was still alive when Mugino went into that chamber of death. When asked if Frenda betrayed ITEM, she confessed that she was going to, but SCHOOL wasn't interested in that. They were after something far more important!"

She fixed a teary stare at Fremea.

There was silence as everyone absorbed the news. Fremea's tiny voice sounded so loud when she whispered, "Onee-chan died for me?"

Takitsubo nodded. Fremea's tiny hands clutched the little pink beret. It was now soaked with her tears. "But why?"

"Because she loved you!" Takitsubo said as tears kept dripping into her lap. "She loved you with all her heart, and none of us would even see an ounce of it. She gave up everything for you!"

"In the end, you were the only thing in her mind. On her dying breath, talked about you was like she was talking about her daughter! Frenda told Mugino about the room full of presents that she prepared for you. She was going to quit ITEM and raise you to be a proper lady! She wanted to show the world to you, to give you a better life!"

"The kind… she could never… have… I'm so sorry!"

Takitsubo broke down and disappeared in the bathroom. Hamazura glanced fretfully at Oni-chan, who nodded understandingly.

"Go, she needs you."

"Thank you!" He too disappeared through the bathroom door, leaving the rest of us comatose on the floor. Fremea was rocking silently in her seat, her face white as a sheet.

Oni-chan sighed. "This is what I didn't want to dive into," he says.

"I had no idea," Misaka's voice was hollow. "I only thought of them as unclean mercenaries, To think that they would suffer so much!"

"ITEM and the other underground organizations are a sticky problem," Oni-chan said, "They are used by the higher ups to be used at their pleasure. Hamazura told me a lot about ITEM and the other organizations, and I've been cataloguing the known members."

He got up and pulled out a binder from the bookshelf. He leafed through a list of names and showed us some with known portraits. Surprisingly, one of the organization, GROUP, was completely filled. "This is as far as I have gotten on my own. I've been going down to the Anti-skill HQ to dig into the archives, but I haven't found much."

"Judgement should be aware of this binder too!" Misaka exclaimed as she scanned the binder, "I can take this down to branch 177, and we can find who these people are."

But Oni-chan shook his head. "I don't want these people to get in trouble. Many them have retired, or are under some sort of protection. I don't want the officials to get drawn into this yet."

He sighed again. "But you're right that I'm hitting a brick wall. Many of these people have gone missing and their information has been stripped from the database. Besides, this is only half the picture.

"All I knew beforehand was that these organizations existed and they were being controlled by the board of directors. I had no idea about the drama behind ITEM before Hamazura told me, and even then, stories like the one we just heard clarifies so much about the inaccuracies I've been wrestling with."

"What do you mean?" asked Misaka.

"The way Hamazura tole me was that Shizuri Mugino killed Frenda for betraying ITEM, then went crazy with rage and forced Takitsubo to find Kakine Teitoku. Now there's the wrinkle. Why did she even care to avenge Frenda's death?"

"To protect the honor of ITEM?" Misaka asked.

"Maybe, but none of the members of ITEM had any real loyalty to the organization. You heard it so yourself. No one felt any real camaraderie. They were all out for themselves." Oni-chan said, "From what Hamazura told me, Shizuri makes repeated visits to Frenda's gravesite, sometimes even without the other. If a supposed friend betrayed you and you killed that person, would you make repeated visits to her grave site?"

"No," Misaka said, nodding, "I'd want nothing to do with her."

"Right?" Oni-chan said, "It simply doesn't make sense."

"That's because all of it was a lie." Hamazura and Takitsubo emerged from the bathroom. Both had tears in their eyes. She sat down and pulled Fremea to her. She glanced at the binder and asked, "What are you going to do with all those people?"

"Find them, save them," Oni-chan said, "Reunite them with their families."

"Most of them have gone missing," Hamazura said, "Either that, or they're dead and in ashes."

"Maybe," Oni-chan agreed, "But I want to try. At least, I could bring some closure for the families."

"You're opening another can of worms, Touma-san, as always." Hamazura said, chuckling, "I'm sure the higher ups would want to stop you just as much as they want to stop each other from becoming the next General Superintendent."

"Oh I have no doubt about that," Oni-chan deadpanned, "Fortunately, I have you and others for help in that matter."

He put the binder back on the self. Then, without warning, he hollered at the door. "Tsuchimikado! Come in at once!"

On cue, the door to Oni-chan's room opened, and a tall lanky westerner walked in. "Yo Kami-yan! Ohisashiburi!"

At once, both Hamazura and Takitsubo whirled around. "GROUP!" The word dripped out of Takitsubo like acid.

"And how do you do? My erstwhile enemies," Tsuchimikado bowed, "I come in peace, so please do not kill me."

"Moto-kun, what's going on?" A short girl in maid outfit pushed in. "Ah Misaka-sama! Ohaiyo-gouzaimasu!"

Misaka stared at her, completely nonplussed. "Maika-chan? What are you doing here?"

"I live next door, Misaka-sama!" She glommed onto the lanky youth and winked. "With my favorite Oni-chan of course."

The blond gave her a tight squeeze. I boggled as he pressed the tip of his nose against hers before shooing her away with a slap on her behind.

"Damn you Tsuchimikado!"I heard Oni-chan grumbled, "Some people have it so lucky!"

"I guessing that you overheard everything we talk about?"

"Kinda hard not to—nyan," Tsuchimikado said, knocking on the doorframe. "These walls are thin and carry voices like the wind."

"Then you can make up for your eavesdropping," Oni-chan said, "By giving them some information on Komaba Ritoku."

"What do you mean?" Hamazura exclaimed. "What does my old boss have to do with this?"

"Everything," Tsuchimikado kicked the door open and walked outside.

Hamazura turned to Oni-chan. "What's the meaning of this?"

"Don't you find it strange that Frenda entrusted Fremea to a Skill-out leader?"

"What about it?" Hamazura retorted, "Ritoku was an amazing leader! He was kind and caring to his followers!"

Oni-chan sighed. "Look, I love you man, but you know as well as I do how dangerous Skill-out is. It isn't exactly built for taking care of little girls. Why then did your boss give his life for Fremea?"

"Why do you want us to investigate that?"

"Like I said, I want to give this whole mess some closure, and that applies to you, too. I think this will help you."

Tsuchimikado held the door open. "I'll take you to GROUP's old headquarters. I'm sure you will find what you need."

"But—"

"Go!" Takitsubo was stroking Fremea's hair. "This is for your own good."

Hamazura hesitated. "Are you sure?"

She nodded. They shared a glance, and some deeper understanding passed between them.

"Alright, I'll go," He followed Tsuchimikado outside, who let the door close behind them. As they left, I could hear their voice drift in from the window.

"Oh and by the way," said the blond in sunglasses, "I suggest that you bring along other ITEM members—nyan."

"Why?" Hamazura asked

"Oh nothing, I'm just not sure if the old security system hasn't been shut off—nyan. I could use some extra muscle…"

Oni-chan stretched and walked into the kitchen. "Biri-biri" He said, leaning out the doorway, "Can I talk to you for a minute?"

"I told you to stop calling me that!" She got up and followed him.

And then, I was alone with Takitsubo and Fremea. She was singing a soft lullaby, while the smaller girl lay in her lap and cried herself to sleep. Quietly, I got up from my seat and crept over to the kitchen.

I got close just enough to hear Oni-chan say, "…the Big Spider case?"

Misaka said, "Yes. I helped anti-skill get the bastards. Why?"

"I want to talk to the ringleader, Kurozuma Wataru. Do you suppose you could help me secure an interview with him?"

"Why would you talk to him? What does he have to do with this?"

"I don't know," Oni-chan sighed, "I read the Anti-skill report about Komba-san, and it strongly implies that he and big spider were rivals."

"I have this suspicion about the day he went and saved Hebitani Tsuguo." He went on, "I think that there was some foul play going on."

"How do you know all of this?" Misaka asked, "This should have been classified information."

"Yomikawa-sensei told me the gist of what happened," Oni-chan said, "She was there on the day when Anti-skill raided the place."

"Wait! You don't think—"

"I'm not thinking of anything." Oni-chan cut her off. "I don't have the clay I need to build my bricks. I need to ask Wataru directly."

Misaka hesitated "I don't think Konori-senpai would approve of your digging into this."

"That's why I want her to grant me permission. Do you think you could help me on this?""

"I-I'll see what I can do."

Footsteps told me they were coming out of the kitchen. I panicked and scrambled back to the kontatsu just as the pair emerged. Misaka hurried to put her shoes back on and opened the door.

But then, she paused and turned her head around. "Hold on," She said, "You still haven't answered me properly yet."

"I know," Oni-chan said, "It's just…" He bit his lips and turned his head away.

Misaka closed the door, kicked her shoes off and walked up close to Oni-chan. Deftly, she forced his head around, caressing his cheeks so tenderly.

"What?" she said, "Tell me."

"I-I made this promise to someone," he stopped.

"Yes?" Misaka asked knowingly.

Oni-chan closed his eyes and grasped her fingers in his own. "I made a promise to protect the world around you, to fill it with happiness and laughter," He said, "But there is just so much to do, and problems just keep cropping up!"

"I know about your promise," She said, "I overheard you say it."

"Oh, is that so?" Oni-chan laughed shyly. Misaka nodded.

"I've told you this before. No one is saying you have to bear the weight of my future or the fate of six billion people to the point of your own destruction! You've probably seen a deeper part of the world than I have, but I can't have you falling off the cliff while clinging to convenient meaningless principles. There's no such thing as a perfect world. Even if it looks perfect on the surface, you'll find something twisted if you look at it differently. Do you really think that's the same thing as saving people?"

"No," Oni-chan said, "Why are you telling me this again?"

"Because it's important," she said, "Because it's my world that you're messing with, and I can't have you meddling with it without my say so." She took his hands in her own so they interlaced with each other. "Besides, you are a part of my world now too, so you better not do anything stupid, or I'll beat your ass!"

She smirked. "We're in this together… Touma-kun!"

She kissed him on the cheek and hurried outside.

Cold dread invaded my soul. Watching them interact, I realized that I had lost before I could even begin. Nevertheless, I felt happy for Oni-chan, who was clearly happy even if he had so much on his shoulders. I remembered Index's words that there were so many people indebted to him.

Oni-chan stood rooted at the door long after it had closed. Then, he came back and sat down close to the bed, exactly where Misaka had sat. He leaned against the bed and stared at the ceiling.

At that moment, Fremea stirred from her slumber, and she sat up from Takitsubo's lap. She opened her mouth in a loud yawn and scratched at her eyes.

"Alright, Fremea-chan," he said, smiling, "I'm so sorry for the wait."

The poor girl jerked from her stupor, and said shakily, "Oh no, thank you so much for seeing me. I'm glad to have so many people whom I can rely on."

"Is that so?" Oni-chan beamed. "So, what was it that you wanted to tell me?"

"Well sir," Fremea said, "It's about a nutcracker."

Between the lines: Letter of permission from Kamijou Touma to Aiho Yomikawa

Dear Yomikawa sensei.

As you know, Aleister Crowlery was ousted as general superintendent of Academy city. As a result, a power vacuum has formed, and the top brass in the city are fighting to fill in the void. Many schools have since shut down, and lots of students have free time to do whatever they want.

Since the start of September, I have barely kept up with class, what with the constant interruptions from espers and magicians alike. After the incident with the Elements, I realized that I hadn't done any homework at all, and had missed quite a few tests. It was impossible for me to not repeat the school term, even if my whole day was devoted to remedial classes.

Therefore, I decided to accept my fate and dropped out of the next school term. In the spring, I hope that I could be readmitted as a transfer student, or something. I am not the only one, though. Tsuchimikado and Aogami Pierced have followed my lead and dropped out as well. Together, we the Delta Force have resigned to our fates and are trying again for next year!

Fukuda!

The idea of becoming a counselor and consulting detective came to me while I was in the library. I was reading a book called, 'a study in scarlet', where a detective was trying to uncover the many mysteries in the world. One passage stood out to me as echoed how Academy city felt to me. In the book, the detective says that, "There's the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it." After reading this passage, I thought about all the incidents that I'd been involved in, and how Academy City was so much worse than what was written in that book. Such threads were entangled with so many others that one didn't know where one started and another ended.

I want to untie this messy, a mammoth task I know, but one I believe would be good to this city. Fortunately, I have many friends I can count on and many connections that I have formed over the past few months alone.

With your permission and approval, I hope to embark on this mission soon.

Yours sincerely,

Kamijou Touma

 

Chapter Text

"Nyah-Nyah, it all started when this guy—I think his name was Dousa-Mai-ya—came to our school and brought this biiiiiig bag of toys to give to all us. He gave everyone little puppies who could play saxophones or a trumpet or even some drums! He told us that if we brought the puppies together, they could play together like a tiny band! We of course tried it, and all of a sudden, the puppies were playing just as he said."

Fremea-chan drank some of her tea.

"But then, Dousa Mai-ya pulled out this biiig bulldog with a large hat and a stick in his hands. He had these biiiig blue eyes and a wiiiide jaws with pointy teeth. Dousa Mai-ya told us that this doggy was special. He put a whole walnut in its mouth, and the doggy chewed the nut, and it fell out in little pieces.

"All of us wanted him right away! All of us tried to get it, but Dousa Mai-ya pulled it away from us. He told us that this doggy was tougher than the others, and how it was for a special little girl. 'If you are good little girls and don't do anything naughty, then the Nutcracker is yours on New Year's Day.'

Oni-chan was listening intently. His arms were wrapped tightly around him. He was rocking back and forth, and his eyes were closed as if in deep concentration. At that very moment, his eyes flew open, and he held out a hand to stop her.

"When did all of this start?"

"Nyah! Christmas Eve," Fremea-chan replied.

"So a three days ago, correct?"

"Hai!"

"Okay, please continue."

"Nyah-Nyah! So a lot of the kids thought that this rule was unfair. I know this boy name Fritz who ran with the Nutcracker-san in his arms, even though they told him not to. When we all ate at dinner, he was holding Nutcracker-san and eating breakfast at the same time.

"Nyah! Fritz isn't what you call a neat eater, and some of his food ended up dripping onto the little doggy. When Sensei came to take the Nutcracker-san away, he wouldn't let it go. They kept tugging at poor Nutcracker-san until inevitably it slipped out of Fritz-san's arms. Everybody screamed when we all saw the little doggy fly out and fall to the ground. Nutcracker's big red hat was knocked off his head. Fritz, of course, had to take a time out after that."

"Oh poor Nutcracker-san!" I cried, but Fremea-chan shook her head.

"Nyah-Nyah! That wasn't the worst thing to happen with Nutcracker-san, though!" she said, "The worse came later when we were playing before going to bed!

"Fritz, that idiot! He stole Nutcracker-san again! This time Marie caught him and threatened to tell sensei, but he just stuck out his tongue and ran away with Nutcracker-san. Then, we were all chasing him, screaming for him to stop and come back. He tripped on his own untied shoelaces and fell on top of the doggy band still playing on the floor, and Nutcracker-san flew out of his hands and his hat got knocked off again. Then Marie tripped over Fritz and landed on Nutcracker-san!"

I gasped.

Fremea-chan nodded. "Nutcracker-san was even worse now than before! His hat was knocked off again, but then Marie landed on him and his arm popped off and his lower jaw snapped off, Nyah- Nyah! Worse still, the whole doggy band had been smashed to pieces.

"Nyah-Nyah! We were all crying at that poing. Fritz was crying because he hurt himself and Marie was crying because she hurt Nutcracker-san. All of us were crying because the two of them were crying. Fritz was punished again, this time with raps on the knuckles. Marie had to sit in time out, and the rest of us had to go to bed early.

"Later that night, I woke up to a strange continuous chirping sound that seemed to echo throughout the house. I crept out of my bedroom, and I saw strange shadows coming up from below. I wanted to go downstairs to look, but something made me feel super sleepy. The last thing I remember was the grandfather clock chiming and that Dousa Mai-ya guy sitting on top."

"The next morning, I somehow woke up back in my bed. Then I heard some music playing downstairs, and the whole class ran downstairs. Miraculously, someone had fixed the whole band, even though they had all been smashed to smithereens. Strangest of all, though, Fritz and Marie have both gone missing."

There was a pause as Fremea-chan sipped some more of her tea. Oni-chan, who had been listening intently, came to and started asking some more questions.

"Who is this Marie? And who is Fritz"

"Nyah- Nyah! They're exchange students from Austria. They came to learn how to become espers."

"So are they related?"

"I think so. I don't really know the details."

"But since they're both foreign nationals, aren't they just going back to their home countries?"

"Nyah! That's what sensei said when we asked her," Fremea-chan answered, "All of us accepted it at first, but then one night some of the kids saw Fritz wandering through the hallway. They yelled at him, but he wouldn't yell back. They chased after him, but he disappeared around a corner and was never seen again."

Fremea-chan drank some more tea.

"Nyah- Nyah! Then I found out that they were child-errors and had no family back home. So there was no way they would go back anyway."

Oni-chan blinked. "How on Earth do you know that?"

Takitsubo, who had stayed silent through the whole interview, suddenly spoke up. "Fremea-chan asked us to search for Fritz and Marie in the JUDGEMENT database. There was no record of either child leaving Academy City, either through legitimate means or through dark-side dealings."

Oni-chan sweat-dropped, "…And might I ask how you got entry into that database?"

"We hacked into it," She rolled her eyes, as if it was the easiest thing in the world to do.

"I need to tell Shiai to beef up the security then," Oni-chan grumbled to himself before standing up. "I think I get the gist of what you need," he said to Fremea, "Fritz and Marie are missing, and you want me to look for them, and you want me to find out about this Dou-sa-maiya character, correct?"

Fremea nodded. "Nyah! I went to JUDGEMENT to ask for help, but they were busy dealing with this man-wolf thing to handle my case."

My mind flashed back to last night at the underground shopping center. Those big red eyes and the gnashing teeth were plaguing my dreams, and the mere thought of them made me shudder. I kept my mouth shut.

"Okay then," said Oni-chan, "May I visit your Dorm this evening?"

"Sure," Fremea said, "But I'll have to talk to sensei first."

Oni-chan glanced at Takitsubo-san. "Is there any way I can contact you?"

She nodded. "I can give you my number. Fremea can text you through my phone."

"Excellent! That takes care of a lot of things!" Oni-chan smiled.

Takitsubo-san and Fremea got up together and followed Oni-chan to the door. I got up too and went after them.

"Bye Fremea," I said, "I'm so sorry for all the trouble you've had. I only wish that I was there for you."

She hugged me, tightly. "It's okay. I like my life right now. I have people who love me and friends like who care for me. I don't want anything to change!"

She stepped back through the threshold and let the door close between us. Then, I heard the scraping of metal as she and Takitsubo-san departed.

I took the opportunity to duck into the bathroom. Oni-chan handed me some of my clothes, and I changed with the door slightly ajar.

Oni-chan sighed. "So Otohime, what do you think?" He said, "About the case, I mean."

I thought for a second. "It all seems peculiar to me. First of all, who is this Dou-sa-Mai-ya character they keep talking about? What does he have to do with Fritz and Marie's disappearance? Is Nutcracker-san really all that? Why was there so much fuss over him?"

Oni-chan nodded. "Then there is the strange chattering or chirping in the night, and the toys getting repaired in the day."

"I can't make heads or tails on any of it," I confessed, "It's all very strange."

"There is one clue that we can work on right now, though." Oni-chan said. "That Dou-sa-mai-ya specifically named the Nutcracker as leader of the toy band, and I kept thinking of this play I saw once."

His footsteps faded away. When I came out, I saw him rummaging through the bookshelf. With a cry of delight, he pulled out a little pamphlet and showed it to me.

"Aha! I have it!"

It was a simple piece of cardstock folded widthwise to form a little booklet. Its cover, though, was decorated with an elaborate border and the image of a stocky wooden soldier could be seen on the cover. Its title was written in English in a large serif font, under which the Japanese translation read: "THE NUTCRACKER AND THE MOUSE KING: A CLASSIC TALE OF LOVE AND HEROISM!"

"I saw this last week. It was put on by the liberal arts schools," he said, "It's the first western play I've ever seen."

"Isn't there a ballet version too?"

Oni-chan nodded. "Actually, this play was based off of the original novel."

"But how can that be?" I asked, "This is Acadamy city we're talking about. Science is the only thing they care about."

"I know," Oni-chan sighed. "Academy city isn't big on the Arts, since it's too focused on Science to care about anything else. So the new liberal arts schools have started a patronage system. Both the Anglican and Orthodox schools have been especially fierce in attracting more protégés especially level 0s and others who haven't found much luck in their core curricular studies."

He smiled. "Well, I know where I'm going next."

He took a step back, and his foot landed on the blanket draping the Kotastsu. Before I could react, he slipped on the blanket and fell backwards screaming and arms flailing. There was a loud "crash!" as he landed with a loud thud on the squat table, which in turn flipped over and dumped Oni-chan in the space between it and the bed.

"Ita-ta-ta-ta!" Onichan groaned, "Fukuda!"

Then, I heard what I could only describe as rolling thunder, even though the sky was clear. Like an old fashion steam locomotive, it grew louder and louder until it stopped at our very door.

BAM! BAM!BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM!

The door boomed as something loud hit it. Then, a voice roared like a lion. "KAAAAAAAAAMMMIIIIIIIIIJOOOOUUUUU TOOOOOUUUUUMAAAAAA! COME OUT THIS INSTANT!"

Side Story 1: Casing the Joint

"Here we are-Nyah! GROUP Headquarters!" Tsuchimikado Motoharu he threw his arms out wide like a showman

Shiage looked up at the grayish brown façade, barely able to contain his …uh…excitement? No that wasn't the word he wanted to use.

He had expected some kind of military-style bunker with guards posted everywhere. Instead, it was normal a skyscraper, like you would expect in a city like this. It stood facing a ribbon of highway, raising up thirty stories, yet all the people walking by barely registered its presence.

"Huh,"

"So? Why did you chou-call me out here?" said the girl standing at his elbow, her arms crossed tightly.

In truth, Hamazura was so relieved that Saiai Kinuhata came alone after he called ITEM for help. Mugino, safe to say, was out shopping and couldn't be bothered "…to play with children," as she so eloquently put it. Even so, that was a small comfort for Hamazura as a tiny but deadly strong hand grabbed his collar and dragged him down to her level.

"Why are we chou-following a GROUP member into GROUP's HQ? Are you trying to get us killed?"

Shiage could feel his bladder loosening. How could such a cute girl in a wool sweater with a bob haircut and bangs make him tremble so much? His lips quivered, and he tried desperately to speak. "Ex-GROUP member," He stammered, "GROUP was disbanded just like ITEM was."

"I don't chou-care!" She said darkly, "There are many other things I'd rather do than chou-hang around with you. Now give me a reason why I shouldn't chou-clobber you for wasting my time?"

But before Hamazura could supply an answer, a loud raspy voice made both of them freeze instantly.

"Well shit! Aren't we a happy lot today?" The albino in striped shirt emerged from the underpass. The tap, tap, tap sound from his cane echoed loudly off the concrete, amplifying his presence to all.

Motoharu grinned. "Accelerator-kun you sure took your time-nyah! We were just about to go on without you-nyah!"

"Heh, and get blown to bits? I don't fucking think so! You couldn't get past the first trap even you used up all your magic."

Kinuhata dropped Shiage. "I sure we could chou-manage without you." said, "I think that I'm more than qualified."

But Accelerator just jeered. "Cheeky brats like you should know their place." He sneered. "You're just a sad imitation of me."

Shiage sweated as the two glared down each other. There was no way he would survive if they really went at it with each other.

Fortunately, Motoharu intervened. "Peace between co-conspirators-nyah! We are in this together!"

Kinuhata broke her gaze at Accelerator and turned to the blonde. "I chou-ask again. What does this have to do with me?"

"Nyah! There's a treasure trove of data in there," Motoharu said, gesturing at the building, "The GROUP laison compiled a mountain of knowledge about Academy city and the outer world. Included in that cache is information on child errors in who disappeared in the underworld and had been erased from the Judgement and Anti-skill Databases" He glanced at the girl and smirked. "Mayhaps you will even find information about your past-nyah! Even before the Dark May project."

Kinuhata stroked her chin thoughtfully. "Sounds interesting, but why are you doing this?"

"Call it a favor for a friend-nyah," Motoharu said, "I hate owing that guy so much debt, and he made me an offer I couldn't refuse!"

"Heh, so he's finally ask for repayment?" Accelerator growled. "It's about fucking time!"

"And yet he collects so little," Motoharu smirked "He is so infuriating-nyah!"

"Honestly," Shiage sighed. "I just know that I'm gonna owe him so much more after this is done!"

Kinuhata glanced at the boys quizzically. "Who are you all chou-talking about?"

At this, all three boys just laughed. "Nyah! They say he could stop a bolt of lightning simply by waving his hand at it," Motoharu said, "And his words were so-nyah charming, Magic Gods fall head-over-heels for him-nyah!"

"I hear that General Superintendent Aleister Crowley wanted to bequeath the city to him," Shiage said, "But he adamantly refused."

"It's true," Acclerator growled, "When the world's most powerful people are in deep shit, they go to him for help."

Motoharu laughed. "He is only the most interesting man in the world, of course. Kami-yan Touma!"

 

Chapter Text

 

"Fukiyose! I have to get Otohime to her dorm!"

"You can go there after you attend school!"

"I need to get to the library right now! There's this play I have to do research on!"

"You can do that after school!"

A very cross high school girl, tall with flowing black hair and well-endowed in her chest area, was Oni-chan through the streets. I trotted along behind them, trying to keep up with her without actually running. My little pull-up followed me like a well-heeled dog rolling, along noisily on the concrete sidewalk. It was a little after ten, so everybody was there watching our sad little parade.

The girl couldn't care less. Despite the winter weather, she had left her jacket unfastened, and her standard school uniform could be seen: a navy blue blazer with yellow ascot, regulation skirt, and white knee socks. everything about her just screamed "ordinary school girl", except for the fact that she was dragging Oni-chan across town. We were already at the train station before Oni-chan could stop her and make a final plea for freedom.

"Please Fukiyose! Let me go! There is so much stuff I have to get done today, can't we do this another—"

"Kamijou Touma!"

The girl spun around in front of the turnstiles so violently that Oni-chan was yanked forwards and nearly crashed into her. She stopped him with a palm to his chest, making him wince in pain.

She glared at him. "Is high school not important enough for you?"

"Huh? That's not—"

"I come back after two weeks and what do I find out? That you're quitting school to go play with some friends?"

"That isn't—"

"Komoe-sensei was crying over your photograph this morning, did you know that? Have you no shame, letting sensei down like this? Why are you being so selfish?"

Oni-chan pulled his hand away. "You don't understand."

"The heck I don't!" Fukiyose-san snapped, her hands firmly planted on her hips "I saw you hanging out with that Skill-Out member yesterday! You're planning on joining a Skill-Out member, aren't you?"

Oni-chan blinked. "Skill-Out member? You mean Hamazura?"

"Hamazura? Who is that? No! I saw you yesterday! You were with that punk with black leather and black knit cap!"

"You've got it all wrong! I wasn't—"

She cut him off again. "Just because you hate school doesn't mean you should turn to delinquency! I'm here for you and so are your classmates. There's no need to throw your life away!"

There was silence as Fukiyose-san continued to glare at Oni-chan, but he just sighed.

"This is why I didn't want to talk to you about this. You make assumptions and then judge me on those assumptions! You've never even bothered to understand me."

Fukiyose-san tried to make a rebuttal, but Oni-chan cut her off.

"What do you even know about me? That I am a special needs student who needs babysitting to get through high school? You don't know a single thing about me! Delinquency? Skill-Out? Throwing my life away? I am not doing any of those things! However, my grades are in the trash, and even if I locked myself in my room like a hermit and slaved away on a year's worth of makeup work, I still wouldn't scrape by with a decent score. It's much better if I stop and reevaluate my current situation."

"Your current situation," Fukiyose-san growled, "Is going to school like a normal high school boy! You need to know your place and stop with all of this nonsense!"

Oni-chan snorted. "Nonsense? Just because you don't know what I do doesn't make it nonsense! My place? I don't need you dictating who I am and what I want to be. As for being a normal high school boy, I haven't had such a luxury since October. My place is in this world is my own business. Not since I came back from World War III did have anything resembling normalcy!"

"What are you talking about?" Fukiyose-san looked genuinely confused. "World War III? Is that some kind of MMORPG?"

But Oni-chan shook his head. "You wouldn't know. You have never been privy to anything I've done, though I don't blame you," He said, "World war III, Hawaiian invasion, the Fraulein Kreutun incident Most of it was hidden from you, anyway, so I don't expect you to understand everything I do."

He sighed. "Look, I'm sorry for making Komoe-sensei feel so bad about me, and I do want to make amends, with her. Maybe I can arrange a tutor with her or something. That way, I won't get too behind on everything. Rest assured, Kamijou Touma always fights back even when the odds are stacked against him."

"So, you see? Nothing bad will happen to me. I'll keep up with my studies and do all the things I have to do will get done! Everyone will be happy!" He looked up at Fukiyose and smiled, "So, do we understand each other? Can I go now?"

He held out a hand to her, hoping for some sort of peaceful agreement.

Fukiyose-san just glared at him. "Honestly," she said, "I knew you were going to be difficult, but I didn't think you would be impossible! I can barely understand what you're talking about, and only half that sounded like anything believable. All I can see is that you are finding excuses for not going to school, so you leave me no choice."

she snapped her fingers, and at once, three high school boys burst out from the foliage. Oni-chan's face darkened as he watched them surround us. He glared at one of them, a blue-haired boy with piercings.

"Aogami," he growled. Then he glanced at each of our attackers. "You're all making a mistake."

"I think not!" The blue-haired boy sneered, "Prepare yourself, Kamijou Touma! You shall pay for making Komoe-sensei cry!"

the boys converged on Oni-chan, intent on tackling him to the ground, but Oni-chan dropped to a low crouch and rolled back in a reverse summersault. Two of the boys collided with each other, but the blue-haired one lunged towards Oni-chan, who twisted to one side. Then, Oni-chan reached for my hand, and suddenly, we were running for our lives while the high school students, including Fukiyose-san chased after us.

We ducked into an alley way and weaved our way through the narrow brick-lined passageway. My little pull-up stayed with me through the entire ordeal, but its rubber-coated casters, rolling along the uneven pavement, loudly broadcasted our route.

Fukiyose-san and Aogami-san came in after us, while the other pursuers ran around to cut us off.

My lungs were already burning with exhaustion, and I struggled to keep up. We were both covered with sweat, but Oni-chan kept up the pace without a problem. I marveled at his athleticism and wished that I was just as fast as him.

Oni-chan led the way, confidently navigating the mazelike passageway. It was obvious that he had gone through this alleyway many times in the past, and I wondered what kind of life he had before I came and how he came to possess such an intricate knowledge of the less trodden areas.

After another turn around the corner, I could see light appearing ahead. We could even hear an automatic bus pulling up to a stop in the distance. Yet, before we could even reach the open end, two red-faced high school boys came charging in.

"Fukuda!" Oni-chan swore, "As expected Fukiyose would bring two track team members to come after me."

Then, two things happened at the same time. Fukiyose and the Aogami guy emerged from the corner behind us and charged after us, just as Shirai Kuroko appeared with loud crack.

"There you are! I've been looking all over for you! I need to talk to you about last night's attack!"

Oni-chan hesitated. "Can this wait? I'm kind of in a middle of something—"

It was already too late, as we were boxed in on both sides. Yet, everyone had stopped less than a meter away, and their eyes were glued on Shirai-san's green armband. I had only seen it the night before, when she was fighting that wolf-man thing.

She gave them a courteous nod, then turned back to Oni-chan

"Unfortunately, this cannot wait," She said, "Our intruder from last night is awake, and we need someone to keep him under control while we interrogate him. Additionally, Otohime-chan here was a witness to the incident in the underground shopping center, so we wanted her testimony about what went down."

"Do we have to go now?" Oni-chan said, "I am kind of busy right, what with Otohime's dorm registration, and this case I have to research on."

Shirai-san thought for a moment. "I'm sure something can be arranged," she said, "I may take Otohime-chan to Branch 177 office for a remote interview while you attend to your business, and you may come later. Besides, your desk is always open in case you need anything."

"I see." He said, "Actually, this is perfect timing. Otohime, give me your bags."

I gave him my trusty little pull-up, and he walked towards the two students blocking his path. At first, it looked as though they were going to push him back. But he gave them a look, as if to say, "Stop me if you want to get hurt."

"What's going on?" Fukiyose's voice made me jump. I had forgotten that she was still there. "Why are you after Kamijou-chan? Is he involved some kind of trouble?"

"I am sorry, but that is classified information," Shirai-san said, "I assure you that Kamijou-san is not in any danger. However, we are requesting his assistant in certain Judgement cases."

Aogami-san snorted. "Seriously? What does Kami-yan do anyway?"

"Already we are straying into sensitive information regarding an ongoing investigation," she said, "Unfortunately, I have not the clearance to tell you about all past incidents that Kamijou-san has assisted us in."

"But I can say this." She placed her hand on my shoulder and smirked at the others. "I trust him with my life."

With that, the brick-lined alley dissolved away.

I found myself in front of an ordinary yellow brick building with black window sills. The black placard bolted next to the stairs was the only indication that this the office for Judgement Branch 177. Shirai-san ushered me into a cramped office space with four desks, and a large sitting area. Two of the desks on one side were already occupied. The girls working their stood up as soon as I came in.

One was a tall high school student with short black hair and rimless glasses, who wore the same school uniform as Fukiyose-san. She came up to me and held out a hand. "You must be Tatsugami Otohime, right? I am Konori Mii. It's a pleasure to meet you."

"Nice to meet you," I said, shaking their hand, "Please call me Otohime-chan."

The other girls was a middle schooler like Shirai-san with a large headband full of flowers. She had on a navy blue sailor fuku with red ascot. She beamed and shook my hand.

"I'm Uiharu Kazari. It's a pleasure meeting Kamijou-senpai's favorite cousin."

I blinked. "Favorite?"

"Hai," she said, "You would think so too by the way he gushed about you yesterday. He couldn't stop talking about how he wasn't the lone ranger anymore and how he was finally getting someone to talk to."

I felt my cheeks heating up. Did I really mean that much to Oni-chan?

Meanwhile, Shirai-san was at her desk, leaning over her computer. "Konori-senpai," she said, "Has Yomikawa-sensei contacted us yet?"

"Not yet," Konori-san replied, "But she will be soon, so we should prepare."

"Otohime-chan, come here," Shirai-san pulled out the chair and gestured me to sit. She raised the chair so I could properly look at the monitor. She was setting up the connection when my attention turned to the only unoccupied workspace. The desk in front of me seemed newer than all the rest. There were a collection of binders, some pens, and a closed laptop tethered to the desk itself. There were also a couple of pictures all showing Oni-chan with various groups of people.

Intrigued, I got out of my seat and went for a better look. The first photo showed him standing with Index-san, Tsuchimikado-san, a tall man in flaming red hair and a woman with long and messy black hair. Another picture showed that beach vacation I had with Oni-chan in the summer. I picked up the last photo, which depicted Oni-chan and Misaka in a heated argument with Shirai-san, Uiharu-san, and another girl with black hair looking on. This picture was taken recently, I realized, since all of them were dressed for the cold. My fingers traced his jawline and then followed his arm down to his gloved hands. His fingers were wrapped around Misaka's, and their faces were so close together.

That sinking feeling I had when I saw them together was back. I felt a like throwing up a little. I looked back at the summer vacation photo of me, Oni-chan, Touya Oji-san, and Shiina Oba-san. Back then, he hadcalled me "Mini-Misaka"… but why? Did it start back then?

My mouth was bone dry, though I could speak with some effort. "So this Oni-chan's desk." I put down the picture. Shirai-san nodded.

"Sou-desu-wa!" she said, "He comes in from time to time to help out."

"So he's part of Judgement now?" I said as I walked back to her desk.

She hesitated. "Not exactly."

"It's a special arrangement between Judgement and Anti-skill," Konori-san chimed in as I sat down, "Though it's highly unorthodox, especially since he's now a Ronin."

She sighed and turned back to her computer. "It's not fair. Kamijou-kun should be going to school like a normal boy," she grumbled, "We would've been in the same class together. It would have been nice."

"We're ready!"

Shirai-san opened a video chat window and gave me a headset. A woman with long black hair tied to a ponytail appeared on the screen. She was wearing a blue vest with an emblem shaped like the mountain character.

"Good morning," She said, "This is Aiho Yomikawa. Am I speaking with Otohime Tatsugami?"

"Uh-huh."

"Very good," she smiled. "This interview relates to the events that transpired at the Underground shopping center in District 7 on the night of 26 of December. Let's begin. Please tell me what happened."

 

Chapter Text

"…And then, a gruff old man was lying in the middle of the crater, and I could smell the stench coming off from him."

"Thank you," Yomikawa-sensei said as she wrote down everything I said. "I think that's just about everything, I just need—"

There was a loud commotion outside before the door burst open and Oni-chan and Misaka-san stalked inside. Their faces were so close to touching each other and they were screaming so loudly at each other that their faces were red like tomatoes. Behind them came a middle-school girl with shoulder-length black hair. She had the same school uniform worn by Uiharu. Her shoulders were shaking with laughter, though she kept her face from view. She slipped past the arguing couple and made a beeline for Uiharu's desk.

"What are they arguing about this time?" Uiharu-san asked as soon as she got close. The girl guffawed and said, "Oh! You know, the usual…her wasting money over trinkets and him always meddling with her affairs."

"I'm not wasting my money!"

"I don't meddle because I want to!"

Misaka-san and Oni-chan snapped at the same time. Misaka-san whirled around and fired back.

"If you hadn't been there, I could've gotten that limited addition pink Getoka superball!"

A long sigh issued from Shirai-san, who was sitting on the couch. "Again? With that Getoka stuff?"

Oni-chan snorted. "Oh please! That machine was obviously rigged. I bet you've been playing that thing all morning!"

The unknown girl nodded and Uiharu-san snickered.

"I was thiiiis close to winning!" Misaka-san cried, standing on tip-toes and pinching the air in front of Oni-chan. "You could've warned me when you walked up so close!"

"I didn't even speak to you!" Oni-chan's arms flew out wide and I could see that he was holding a little book, "Saten-san was calling out to me! I didn't even see you squatting there, next to that plastic machine! Don't blame me when you get so jittery!"

"I almost fried the machine!"

Shirai-san facepalmed. Meanwhile, the unknown girl and Uiharu were doubled over with laughter.

"Again, that's not my problem!" Oni-chan scoffed. "For someone called level five, you seem to have trouble controlling your power."

Just like that, all the giggling stopped. Uiharu-san and the unknown girl frozen and eyeing Oni-chan with horror.

"Heh," a strange smile appeared on Misaka-san's face, "I'll show you how I control my powers!"

Blue sparks suddenly appeared around Misaka-san, and I felt my hair stand on their ends. Shirai appeared and dragged me behind the desk just as a bolt of lightning erupted from Misaka-san's bangs and streaked right towards Oni-chan.

My mind went blank and I heard myself I cry out in shock. I bolted towards Oni-chan but strong arms kept me pinned to the floor. Then suddenly, there came a strange noise like glass being broken, and the electricity went away like dust on the wind. I watched agog as Oni-chan retracted his right hand, smiling a wryly at Misaka-san. "Nice control. Yeah, I am totally convinced."

I wasn't the only one, either, as Uiharu-san and that other girl were staring at Oni-chan with, and their eyes were wide like dinner plates. We didn't even here the door open until...

"What's going on here? Wha—!"

Everyone turned to see Konori-senpai standing at the door, with a large bag of white take-out boxes dangling in her hand. She took one look at the burn mark and immediately glared at the two perpetrators.

"Misaka-san!?" she snapped, "Again, with the temper tantrums!?"

"No Konori-senpai it's not…"

"How many times have we gone over this? You can't just make a mess of the office! I know you get angry easily because of him, but this is unacceptable!"

Misaka-san and looked down at her feet. Her arms were behind her back, and she looked very small. "Sorry Konori-senpai."

"And Kamijou-kun!"

Oni-chan took a step back, as if stung by her sharp remarks. "What? What did I do?"

"Must you provoke Misaka-san so much?" Konori-senpai growled. "It's bad enough that I have to deal with the governing board members to even let you in this room!"

"Why are you blaming me? She was the one who attacking me!"

"That's because you are the only reason she snaps like this!"

"Hey, I'm the victim here! Didn't you see? She just tried to fry me!"

"It's not like that ever works," Misaka-san rolled her eyes.

"ENOUGH!" Konori-senpai shrieked, silencing everyone else. "If you keep this up, I will have no choice but to force you to leave!"

"But Konori-senpai!"

"Both of You!"

"But Konori-san!"

"NO EXCUSES!" She planted the bag on her desk and plopped into her chair. "God! It's like I'm scolding two children!"

She let out ragged sigh and–after a few seconds—untied the bag.

"Lunch-time! I bought some Chinese takeout for everyone!"

All at once, Uiharu-san, me, and Shirai-san all went over to open the boxes. Immediately, the strong whiff of red pepper and meaty smell invaded my nostrils. Bright red mapo tofu were mingling with some pepper steak strips and twice cooked pork. The other box had lighter vegetable and tofu dishes along with a large serving of fried rice. Shirai-san distributed some plates and chopsticks, while Misaka-san came over last to help divvy out the food. However, both Oni-chan and the unknown girl stayed behind. Konori-senpai noticed and motioned them over.

"…Come on Saten-san, Kamijou-kun, there's food for you too."

The long-haired girl bowed low.

"I'm sorry for all the trouble, but I already ate before coming here." The Girl said.

"…And I was going to take Otohime out for lunch after this." Said Oni-chan.

"Unfortunately, we need to get you to the Anti-skill detention center," Konori said to Oni-chan, "So there won't be time for that."

Both came over and grabbed plates. Then, the unknown girl turned to me. "You must be Otohime then," she said, "Kamijou-san has been talking about you all week." She held out a hand. "I am Saten Ruiko by the way. Please call me Ruiko. I go to Sakugawa Middle School. It's nice to meet you!"

"Nice to meet you. I'm Otohime," I said, shaking her hand, "You must be Uiharu-san's classmate then."

She beamed and nodded. "Yup."

I turned around and froze at what I saw in front of me. The carpet was scorched except for where Oni-chan was standing mere moments before. How was this possible?

"I can never get use to that," Saten said, "Misaka-san being bested by Kamijou-senpai, I mean. It's not every day that you see a Level 0 going toe-to-toe with the strongest electromaster in the city."

"Strongest? Misaka-san?"

Saten-san nodded. "Yep! She's only the third ranked Level 5 esper. She's top of the class!"

"I didn't know that!" I sat back down at Shirai-san's desk and started eating when Oni-chan walked over to me and pulled a set of keys from his pocket.

"Oi, Otohime," he said, "Here you go. These are the keys to your dorm and the lockers for your gym clothes. Keep it safe, alright?"

"Okay." I said and pocketed the key fob, but my eyes were on his right hand.

"Was that your esper power then?" I asked. "A power that negates other powers?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah something like that." Oni-chan laughed nervously, "It's a little hard to explain though."

Just then, a voice came through the computer. "That looks delicious!"

"Oh!" I jumped and glanced at the screen. Yomikawa-sensei was still connected with me. Her chin was propped up by her hands, and she was smiling at me. "I'm so sorry! I didn't realize—"

"Oh no, don't worry about it. It's always like this when that bickering couple shows up.

"We're not a couple!" snapped Misaka-san just as Oni-chan barked, "We don't bicker!"

Everyone else just snickered or rolled their eyes.

"I will be sending a car to pick you up," Yomikawa-sensei said, "See you then."

She hung up. At the same time, Konori-senpai got up from her desk and motioned to Oni-chan.

"Kamijou-kun, a word if I may."

"Of course. What is it?"

Oni-chan put his book down on my—I mean Shirai-san's—desk and followed Konori-senpai outside, and the door closed behind them.

My eyes fell on the book Oni-chan, which said "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" on the cover, and I thought back to the strange interview with Fremea-chan. Then I thought back to the conversation with Hamazura-san and Takitsubo-san, and I was even more perplexed. I looked back at the desk, at the closed laptop, and at the photos. I was still staring at them when Ruiko-san came up to me and said, "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," I said, "I just…"

I hesitated. "I've been wondering," I asked, "How did Oni-chan get a desk here in this office anyway? Is he really not a Judgement member?"

Everyone froze, and the carefree atmosphere all but disappeared. The girls were all trading glances with each other, as if daring each other to answer my question. Finally, Misaka-san groaned and spoke first.

"It's complicated. Like I said last night, this…" she gestured toward Oni-chan's desk "…was a special arrangement set up between Anti-skill and Judgement."

"Sou-desu-wa!" Shirai-san said, "Even then, the circumstances had to be very particular for everything to work. If it wasn't for all the chaos these past months have brought, all of this may have never happened anyway."

"Why? What happened?"

All the girls looked each other in hesitance. Then, Uiharu-san took a deep breath and started speaking.

"For us to answer that question, we must to talk about what happened two weeks ago, when the Bank—that's Academy city's massive database—became corrupted and all the data inside were lost." Uiharu-san sipped some tea. "The circumstances behind the meltdown was unknown at the time, but Anti-skill and many other government-run institutions lost everything. Research data, student attendance, test scores, Anti-skill databases, and hospital records—they were all wiped out. Consequently, criminals serving detention had to be released and many students had been pushed out from their schools."

"That's right," Shirai-san said, "To deal with the growing chaos, the board of directors declared a two-week holiday for all schools while they wrestled with reconstruction. All the missing information had to be recovered. Meanwhile. We, Judgement and Anti-skill members had to deal with the increased crime rate as well as accommodating the disenfranchised masses."

Uiharu nodded. "Fortunately for us, most of the schools were planning on an early winter break anyway, and most schools, hospitals and research facilities had kept their own backup servers."

"There were a lot of school mergers though," Ruiko-san said, "A lot of students and faculty members went home after being pushed out of their schools. That's why Konori-senpai and Kamijou-senpai had to shared the same class."

"At least that's what was supposed to happen," Shirai-san sighed. "But that idiot decided to ditch school to get more involved in rebuilding Academy City."

"Well, he really didn't have a choice did he?" Misaka-san spoke up. "How could he have gone back to that life? Not after Aleister Crowlery went and destroyed the world he lived in."

That name brought an utter chill in to the room. Misaka-san's face had contorted into a snarl like nothing I had seen before. Everyone else were visibly uncomfortable, Saten biting her lips and fiddling with the straps of her purse, and Uiharu-san rocking in her chair.

Unfortunately, that name meant nothing to me, and I had to ask. "Aleister? Who's he?"

Misaka-san sneered. "Only the ex-general superintendent of Academy city. It turns out that he was the reason behind the Bank's corruption. After his so-called ascension, he had no more use for this city and so he tried to destroy it."

Ascension? I didn't understand, but Misaka-san wasn't finished.

"He's behind everything wrong about this city, from the terrible experiments committed to all the shady dealings in the underworld. ITEM, GROUP, Level-upper projects, or even that insane Agitate Halation experiment… he's the mastermind behind all of it!"

"Quiet," Shirai-san said suddenly, appearing in front of Misaka-san. "You know very well that, that is classified information. We can't talk about that in front of Otohime-chan!"

"No offence." She added as she glanced at me.

I waved it away. "But what does all this have to do with Oni-chan?" I asked, "Why did he quit school?"

"Because he felt responsible for the City's demise," Misaka-san said, "He was right next to Aleister when that bastard sent the virus to corrupt the Bank."

"Which is ludicrous!" Saten-san exclaimed, "If what you're saying is true, there wasn't anything he could do anyway!"

"You know how he is." Misaka-san sighed, "That idiot blames himself for not taking a more active role in the city's well-being. That's why he gave up his life as an ordinary High school student."

"Ma-ta-ke!" Shirai-san groaned, "Anyway, over the past two weeks, we've been slowly rebuilding our databases by using information from the various schools and institutions. Unfortunately, our authority has diminished considerably, and many facilities are reluctant to contribute more data, and so we've had to get the information the hard way."

"Hard way? Like going door-to-door?"

"Exactly." Uiharu-san nodded. "You're Oni-chan has been helping us out in completing a census of the city. He could negotiate with the new liberal arts schools—especially those run by the English and Russian churches—into providing student records. It's amazing that he has so many connections while all of us couldn't even get a face-to-face meeting. You won't believe all the people he knows in the city!"

"Heh, and he calls himself the unluckiest man in the city," Saten-san said, laughing. The others rolled their eyes.

"So what does he do now?" I asked. "Is the census still going on?"

"Yes and no." Uiharu said, "We're almost finished with documenting district 7, and now we're helping out with the other branches. You see, our branch has many contacts in other districts like religious schools, friendly Skill-out member, and other less well documented organizations, so we are uniquely qualified in helping out with the other districts."

"Anyway, Kamijou-senpai is working on a different side of the case." Uiharu-san said. "So far, we've uncovered a long list of missing persons who either worked for or was a victim of the darkness that once blanketed the city. So, he's been leading private investigations into those cases."

"I see." I said, thinking back to the binders I saw in his room.

Just then, the front door opened, and Konori-senpai peeked in.

"Otohime-chan, it's time to go! Misaka-san, Shirai-san, please come along as well."

"Hai!"

All three of us trooped out together and out the door. Just before the door closed, I glanced back at the room and the scorched carpet.

What on earth was my Oni-chan involved in?

 

Chapter Text

Between the lines: A Cold War

During my talk with Misaka-san and the others, Saten-san was secretly recording Oni-chan and Konori-senpai. Later, she gave me the tape so that I could use it for this story. Here's what she saw and heard.

Kamijou-onichan and Konori Mii-senpai stood outside on the second-floor veranda, looking out onto the street below. Both were bundled up in thick coats and scarves, and their breaths misted in the crisp air.

"How goes the census?" Oni-chan asked.

Konori-senpai sighed tiredly. "Not well. We've been receiving conflicting instructions from the board of directors, some want us to stop our probing and focus more on our normal duties. Meanwhile, others what us to join forces with the 3rd branch office in Tokiwadai to protect the peace."

"Even though that sector is perfectly safe."

Konori-senpai nodded, "Something like that, I guess." She groaned. "I just don't understand it. What we're doing is vital for keeping Academy City safe. Why are they interfering so much?"

"Maybe there's information they don't want you to find out about," Oni-chan said, "They want to keep you bottled up in the garden of learning."

"That much is obvious," Konori-senpai said, "But what are they hiding and why do they want to keep us away?"

She sighed and turned away from the street. "Anyway, that's not why I asked you out here."

Oni-chan nodded. "Did Wataru-san say anything?"

She nodded. "He's declined to speak with you, saying that he has no recollection of that warehouse incident. There was no way he could have told you what happened."

"I see." The disappointment was obvious in his voice, though he did his best to hide it.

Konori-senpai went on. "He did want you to know this. Kombu was an honest man with a strong sense of honor. There was no way he could have had a relationship with Frenda Seivelun, since he would have seen her as a daughter. There's no way Fremea could have…you know."

Oni-chan nodded. "Yeah, I get it. However, that still leave us with the same questions. How did Frenda know Kombu Rikou and why was Fremea entrusted with him? Why didn't Frenda send Fremea away after joining ITEM? Why was she involved the darkness to begin with?"

Konori-senpai just groaned in frustration. "I just don't get it!" she said, "You keep referring to darkness, but how does it go? How could something like ITEM and SCHOOL happen under our very noses? Judgement was created to prevent harm to our students. How can we even do our jobs when the board of directors block us at every turn? How the hell does an experiment like the Radio Noise project happen? How can 10,000 clones be created and destroyed without being detected?"

Oni-chan looked at Konori-senpai in surprise. "She told you?"

Konori-senpai nodded. "I met her clone yesterday," she said, "She identified herself with some number. They're not even given names! I then had to talk to Misaka. She barely said anything about it, and I didn't want to press her more, because she's my friend. All I could get out was the clones, Accelerator, and you." She glanced briefly at Oni-chan, who fidgeted nervously.

"Does Shirai-san or the other girls know about this?" Oni-chan asked.

Konori-senpai shook her head. "I promised Misaka to keep the whole case under wraps, but I'm surprised that Shirai-san hasn't had an encounter with a clone yet."

Oni-chan shifted his feet uncomfortably, but Konori-senpai pretended not to notice. "I was hoping to talk to Accelerator about all of this, but Yomikawa-sensei has been reluctant to give me access to him."

"…And then there's you." She said suddenly, turning to him. "Misaka told me that you know pretty much everything. I have so many question for you too."

"Fakuda!" Oni-chan cursed.

Konori Mii-senpai went on. "I'm just more curious than ever about this whole case. I mean, growing up thousands of clones just to kill them off seems a colossal waste of money, and there's just no way the Board of Directors would have approved of such a measure if that was the only goal.

Oni-chan sighed. "It's a sensitive topic for all of us. There are a lot of people besides who are involved in the incident. I can't just talk about it like this without putting all of them in mortal danger. Maybe we could trade intelligence some other time..." Oni-chan said just as a car baring the Anti-skill emblem pulled up to the front of their building. "...But not today."

Without another word, he went down to greet the drivers. Konori-Senpai shook her head went back inside to get us.


 

Chapter 10: Anti-skill

Anti-skill's detention center was in district 2, a good thirty minute drive from Branch 177 office. As soon as the van arrived, me, Oni-chan and Misaka-san piled into the back while Shirai-san sat in the passanger seat.

We headed southwest along a major highway. We went past this gaping pit surrounded by scaffolding and work crews, and I realized that the beacon of light that I saw last night came from here. Both Misaka and Oni-chan were visibly uncomfortable when I pointed the landmark out, and their hands were tightly clasped together.

We crossed into district 15, and our route made a slight turn southward. We passed by numerous greyish buildings, including various office buildings and shopping centers. One of the buildings caught my attention, though. A squat greyish building had a large crowd gathering at its base, and firemen were climbing up ladders to access its roof.

Suddenly, I spied a great stone wall running next to us, with a roof made of red tiles like some old-fashioned buildings in a European city.

"Oni-chan!" I said, "What's that?"

"Hmm?" he leaned in for a closer look. "Why that's the garden of learning. It's where Tokiwadai middle school and other girls only schools live."

"Oh!" I said, "That must be where Misaka-san's and Shirai-san's school."

"That's right." Shirai said, "It's an oasis from the rest of the city. A place where a lady can be truly lady-like."

"Heh." Oni-chan smirked and crossed his arms. "Of course, it's also full of prissy Ojou types who barely leave the confines or have any interests other than girly food and fashion. Hardly any has interacted with people of the opposite sex."

"Oh come on!" Misaka-san rolled her eyes. "I know some of that reputation is deserved, but it's totally unfair for you to lump us in together."

"Hmph! You are just envious that you can't enjoy the accoutrements of a more civilized society." Shirai-san fired back, turned her nose at him. "A pleb like you wouldn't understand the need to be more refined and more lady-like."

Oni-chan scoffed. "Heh! Refined like Biri-biri here?"

"Wha-? How dare you!" Misaka-san cried. "I can be a perfect lady if I want!"

"If you want, she says!" Oni-chan laughed. "Well I have never seen you act lady, ever!"

"I wouldn't want to waste my good manners on a caveman like you!"

"Oh is that so? Yet you waste money on that ridiculous button dispenser." Oni-chan rolled his eyes.

"Wha—?"

"Actually, he has a point there."

"Kuroko? You traitor!"

"Traitor my foot!" Shirai-san shot back, "You must stop getting all that Getoka stuff! It's gaudy and not lady-like ag all!"

"Not to mention that's a total drain on your finances." Oni-chan said, nodding solemnly, "If you want to have any money left before you get married, then you ought to start controlling your spending and not fall for these scams!"

"Mmhmm!"

"Wait a minute! How did this conversation turn on me?!" Misaka cried. Then she realized what he had said and her face turned bright red, "A-a-and what's this about m-m-m-marrying? I'm not marrying you!"

"Fu fu fu, Not yet anyway!"

"Kurok—"

"Ahem!" Everyone jumped as the driver cleared his throat loudly. He turned around coldly and announced, "We've arrived."

Before us loomed an enormous cylinder of blue glass sitting on top of a grassy knoll. We drove up along a ramp to the bunker's roof, whereupon armed guards came to escort us. We were ushered through glass double doors that rose almost two stories above our head.

A large blue crest greeted us on our arrival: a three-foot (1 meter) tall "Yama" symbol was circumscribed with a hexagon in such a way that it looked like the talons of a three-toed hawk. Sitting in the middle of the lobby, it's shadow was cast upon black benches that were arranged radially so that they formed a sundial on the floor.

We cross the atrium to a set of glass elevators, one of which stood open waiting for us. Once inside, we sank into the ground. Down and down we went, never sure when we were stopping. There was no indication of what floor we were on, but the walls were transparent a afforded us a generous view of the many levels we were passing through.

We arrived in a dimly lit hallway where overhead vents actively piped air in from the surface. We went past several rooms with prison-like doors and a giant window to see inside. Most were black and devoid of people, but some were brightly lit with Anti-skill members inside interrogating criminals.

As we turned a corner, we found four people gathered around large metal fence that extended up to the ceiling. A single steel reinforced door stood in the center and was dimly lit by an overhead lamp.

Index was the first to see us and was waving at us, but the other three were deep in conversation and hadn't noticed.

"I don't like it. This place is too confined and too controlled for my magic. I would be much more comfortable once we are back outside." A tall man with flaming red hair was speaking. I could see a barcode tattooed under his eye, and the thick black coat made him look three times bigger than he already was. Next to him, a strange nun in a red habit responded.

"First complaint: it is easy for you to say this when you have two powerful allies at your disposal. Second complaint: I am the one who should be worried with three Neccessarius members breathing down my back."

Next to them, standing tall in her jeans and white T-shirt, was Kanzaki-san. Though she now stood erect and calm, I still remembered how quickly she dispatched the black wolf before it could hurt me. "We have no quarrel with you or the Orthodox." She was saying, "Your support of the Anglican civil war was invaluable. We couldn't have fended off Coronzon without you."

"First Objection: No. It wasn't I who contributed the most. Your savior was that possessor of Image Breaker. Without him, all of humanity would have collapsed."

Then, redhead noticed our approach and smirked. "Speaking of the devil, Oi!"

The three members turned in surprise as our party drew in closer. The man walked towards us, his thick coat billowing behind him. "if it isn't the man of the hour" the man said, smirking. "And what fine timing you have!"

"Styl? Index? Kanzaki-san?" Oni-chan said, shaking their hands in turn. "And you are?"

"First official introduction: I am a nun of the Russian Orthodox Church, Sasha Kreutzev at your service." The nun's clothes clinked as she bowed before him. Looking more closely, I noticed a lot of what looked like hardware tools were hanging off her body, though most of it was covered by a great red habit with golden trimmings.

"Oh right," Oni-chan said, "You're the nun from that Angel Fall incident."

What happened next was a blur, and the next thing I knew, Oni-chan was on the ground, and the girl was on top of him, ready to chisel her way into his chest cavity. Her voice, as she spoke, was deadly calm. "First death threat: if you value your life, then you will never speak of that again."

Everyone else had already reacted. Misaka was bristling with electricity and Shirai-san was clutching three white spikes in each hand. Meanwhile, the man named Styl Magnus had two balls of fire in his palms, while Kanzaki-san had half-drawn her sword.

"U-u-understood." Oni-chan groaned. He waved a hand at the others who immediately relented.

"Mo! Touma!" Index, who had jumped back to protect herself, stalked towards him and reprimanded him. "You nearly scared me to death! How can you be so careless?"

"Ma-ta-ke! You really know how to get into trouble, don't you?" Shirai-san scolded. Her needles disappeared in the blink of an eye.

"Indeed," Kanzaki said softly, sheathing her sword. "Leave it to you to pick the most provocative thing to say!"

"Think before you speak, ano-baka!" Misaka barked.

"Tch. So troublesome!" the man named Styl extinguished the flames in his hands and turned his back on Oni-chan.

"Sorry," Oni-chan said meekly. He was still struggling to his feet when another voice joined us from behind.

"My, my! nothing ever stays calm around you, does it? You would run through a minefield without a second thought."

The voice was high but strangely commanding. When I turned to look for its source, Yomikawa-sensei was standing there with her hands at her hips. I couldn't understand it. How was she be speaking in such a high tone when her mouth wasn't even moving?

Then I saw it on her shoulders. I thought it was a doll, but it was too detailed to be a doll. And it was moving on its own! I thought it was a robot like those band figurings I saw in the underground shopping center, but this…thing…was moving so fluidly and so un-robodically that I discarded that idea.

And it was speaking!

"Are you sure he is Fenrir?" the little creature was talking to Yomikwawa, "Seems awfully convenient, if you ask me."

"That's how he refers to himself," Yomikawa said, "He claims that a boy named Thor freed him from his icy prison in Svalbard, then tricked a certain Vindhler into opening the Bifrost, and dropped him off in front of the city walls."

The doll cursed. "Thor that bastard! if you ask me, He acts more Loki-like than the real Loki. Perhaps I erred in my naming."

She was merely 3 inches tall, with blond hair and blue eyes, one of which was hidden beneath an eyepatch. She had on a tiny wide-brimmed hat, a long black cloak that covered her in darkness.

"You!" Misaka growled suddenly, "What are you doing here?"

"So harsh and blunt." The doll smirked. "You fit the bill more perfectly! Perhaps I was mistaken for naming that troublemaker."

"Onee-sama?" Shirai-san said, "It seems that you know these people well. Would you care to give us an introduction?"

"I'll do it."Oni-chan said, standing up. "You've already met Index and Kanzaki-san. They and Styl are Magicians and members of the Anglican Church."

He gestured to the redheaded man, who dipped his head respectfully. Kanzaki-san also bowed.

"And that is Orthinus," Oni-chan went on, "The former leader of GREMLIN, a former Magic God…"

"…And orchestrator of the violence that occurred here last month," Misaka finished for him. "During the Ichihanaran Festival, and the invasion of Academy city…"

"Don't forget the events in Hawaii," Index cut in. "Though I wasn't there to see it."

She glowered at Oni-chan. "Hmph! Why didn't you take me with you? Why did short-pants here get to go instead? It's not fair!"

"Umm…well…"

"Maybe because he didn't want to babysit a freeloader like you," Misaka stepped in front of the nun, leaning in so close that that their noses almost touched. "Maybe he just had much more important things to worry about."

Sparks could be seen flying between the girls as they glared at each other. Oni-chan just hid his face, mumbling, "Fakuda!" under his breath.

Unfortunately, Shirai-san had long since stopped listening. She was clawing her own face and chanting, "Ichihanaran…Magicians…invasions…Hawaii…Magic Gods…Magicians…invasions… Ichihanaran…Hawaii…"

Her voice deepened with every mantra. Slowly she sauntered over to Misaka-san.

"Kuroko?" Misaka-san said, backing away warily, "What's gotten into—"

Without warning, Shirai-san grabbed onto her friend's shoulders. She raised her head so that their faces were centimeters apart, and she spoke with a creepy high voice.

"Oh Onee-sama! It seems that, once again I am learning things about you. Things that you haven't told me about before!"

"Kurok—"

Without warning, Shirai-san shook Misaka violently whilst screaming into her face. "FIRST YOU HAVE A SIBLING! AND NOW YOU HANG OUT WITH THESE STRANGE AND POWERFUL PEOPLE? MAGICIANS? MAGIC GODS? WHAT THE HELL IS ALL THIS?" She threw Misaka away and twisted around, laughing and crying hysterically. Then she saw Oni-chan beneath her tears, and she whipped around and shrieked, "THEN YOU TELL ME THAT YOU WENT TO HAWAII WITH HIM!"

She jabbed a finger at Oni-chan.

Misaka-san blushed and looked down, sheepishly towing the floor. "Umm…Yes?"

I could almost see a mushroom cloud billow out of Shirai-san's head.

"WHY DID YOU NOT TELL ME ALL OF THIS? WHY DID I HAVE TO FIND OUT ABOUT THESE THINGS NOW? I THOUGHT WE WERE FRIENDS?! HOW COULD DO THIS TO ME?!"

Shirai-san bolted past everyone in her path and shot off into the darkness.

 

Chapter Text

Previously…

Without warning, Shirai-san shook Misaka violently whilst screaming into her face. "FIRST YOU HAVE A SIBLING! AND NOW YOU HANG OUT WITH THESE STRANGE AND POWERFUL PEOPLE? MAGICIANS? MAGIC GODS? WHAT THE HELL IS ALL THIS?" She threw Misaka away and twisted around, laughing and crying hysterically. Then she saw Oni-chan beneath her tears, and she whipped around and shrieked, "THEN YOU TELL ME THAT YOU WENT TO HAWAII WITH HIM!"

She jabbed a finger at Oni-chan.

Misaka-san blushed and looked down, sheepishly towing the floor. "Umm…Yes?"

I could almost see a mushroom cloud billow out of Shirai-san's head.

"WHY DID YOU NOT TELL ME ALL OF THIS? WHY DID I HAVE TO FIND OUT ABOUT THESE THINGS NOW? I THOUGHT WE WERE FRIENDS?! HOW COULD DO THIS TO ME?!"


 

Shirai-san bolted past everyone in her path and shot off into the darkness. Everyone else watched her go, too lost to even follow.

“…et-to…shouldn’t we go after her?” I said.

“Ugh!” Misaka groaned, massaging her temples. “She does this all the time. It’s just another one of her antics. She will be back.”

But Oni-chan wasn’t so sure. “Come on, let’s go see what the matter is.”

We found her sitting in an empty room. Her elbows were propped up on the table, and her hands were laced together. She stared at the wall, deep in thought, but shifted her gaze when we arrived at the doorway. She studied us carefully, scanning us with questioning gaze. Before long, her eyes focused on Misaka-san, and she smirked.

“W-w-what?” Misaka said stiffly, “Why are you looking at me with such concern?”

 “I’m very worried,” Kuroko responded coyly, “You’ve been keeping so many secrets from me. I’m hurt that you can’t trust me. Or are you so scared that I couldn’t keep something as terrible as this?”

 “I-I don’t know what you are talking about,” Misaka-san said tensely.

Kuroko just laughed and spoke in a creepy high voice, “Oh but Onee-sama, you know exactly what I’m talking about!”

She stood and sauntered over. “A certain description has been cropping up all over the hospital records,” Her grin widened. “Middle School-aged girl with brown shoulder-length… Wearing a Tokiwadai Uniform…does this sound familiar?”

Misaka grew pale. Kuroko laughed again. “Now I’m sure that you haven’t visit so many hospitals so many times. Certainly, you couldn’t have gone to three hospitals at the same time!

 “Kuroko” she laughed nervously, “I-I-I can explain—"

“Shhhhhhhh!” Kuroko placed a finger against her lips. “You don’t have to lie to me. I know you have reasons for covering it up.”

She glanced at Oni-chan, and her eyes darkened with suspicion. He trembled under her gaze. “Please! We’ll do anything.”

But Kuroko shook her head. “I want the truth of this matter, and you will tell me everything. However, I am aware that you have concerns that prevent your divulging of the information, so I’ll give you ample time to prepare.”

She pushed passed us and turned around, suddenly cheerful.

“Well that’s enough of that,” she beamed creepily, “We will have more time talking about that later.”

With a hop and a skip, she disappeared down the hall. Suddenly, it was like fifty tons of weight had been lifted from everyone’s shoulders. Misaka collapsed to the ground, and Oni-chan had to lean against the wall for support. Kanzaki-san, Stiyl, and Sasha went after Kuroko, but Index stayed behind.

“Touma,” she asked, “What is going on?”

“She knows about Misaka’s sisters,” Oni-cha answered, “Among other things.”

Misaka stared at him in disbelief, but he shrugged and said, “She knows too.”

 

“Ah! There they are!” Yomikawa-sensei exclaimed as we came to view. “Hurry up, you slow-pokes!”

She and Kuroko were already waiting by the gate. As soon as we gathered around her, she turned and swiped her ID on the card reader. There was a loud buzz before the door unlocked with a loud “Clang!”

We all crowded into a narrow holding area, with just enough space for us to stand in single file. The far end was closed off with an identical security door, and a narrow window ran along the side. A guard peeked out from inside and spoke to us.

“Leave any weapon you bear in my office.”

Yomikawa nodded and she turned to us. “You heard the man! We can’t let you through so armed. You can take your weapons back before you leave.”

I went past without trouble, as did Index-san and Oni-chan, but Kanzaki-san stood for a while, hesitating. “It is not my will to put aside my blade, or to deliver Nanasen to any man.”

The guard frowned. “It is the rule of Anti-skill.”

But Kanzaki-san protested still. “It is not clear to me that the will of Anti-skill, though they are the peacekeepers of this city, should prevail over the will of I, Kanzaki Kaori, supreme pontiff of the Amakusa Church!”

At this, Yomikawa-sensei stepped swiftly into Kanzaki’s way. “Well, this isn’t the Amakusa Church. You stand in the Jurisdiction of Academy City,” she retorted.

“Hmph! I don’t see why Academy City has any sway over me.”

“You’ll do as we say, or you won’t be going inside,” Yomikawa’s hand drifting to her holster. “Need I remind you that your presence here is a privilege requested by the English crown? We would bar your entry even if you are the Queen of England herself!”

Stiyl let out a puff of smoke. “This is getting tedious.” He said, “Needless is their demand, but it’s useless to refuse. They will have their way in their own domain, for better or worse.”

“Truly,” Kanzaki scoffed, “I would do as they bid me, were this only a Shinai or that I bore any sword but Nanasen.”

“Whatever its name is,” Yomikawa-sensei growled, “You will leave it here, or your friends will go on without you. Would you fight all the members of Anti-skill by yourself?”

“Objection: She is not alone.” Sasha pulled back her cloak revealing an arsenal of hand tools—Hammers, chisels, hand saws, even a crowbar were hanging off her body. She glowed at the Yomikawa-sensei. “I repeat: Not alone!”

In a flash the guard pulled out a semi-automatic rifle, and Kuroko and Misaka prepared for battle.

“Stop! Stop! Come on guys, calm down!” Oni-chan stepped in between all of them, waving his hands around. “We’re all friends here! Or else we should be! We have an enemy baring down on us as we speak, and I can hear him or her laughing at us!”

Stiyl snorted. “You’re one to talk, after aiding and abetting a known fugitive of the Anglican church!” he sneered, “You’re lucky our errand is pressing! Out of the Way!”

He pushed passed Oni-chan and stood before Yomikawa-sensei. “There!” he said, spreading out his arms. “As you can see, I am unarmed.”

But Yomikawa sensei patted him down anyway, and she pulled out a pack of red cards, each printed with a five-pointed star in the middle.

She raised an eyebrow at him. “I am not as naïve as you think. A reliable source has told me how your powers work, and that they depend at least partially on these cards.”

The red head whirled around and glared at Oni-chan. Undeterred, Yomikawa-sensei pocketed the cards. “I hope you wouldn’t mind if I hold onto it.”

Kanzaki smiled. “It seems that everyone has somethings too dear to trust to another.”

Oni-chan turned to her. “Please, Kanzaki-san. These are my friends and wouldn’t wish any harm upon you. Besides their either espers or normal people, what can they do with magical items?”

The swordswoman sighed. “As always, you put way too much trust in other people. In doubt, a warrior of worth must trust to her own wisdom,” she said, “However, if you believe they are worthy of honor with no evil purpose, then I shall have no more objections. Very well then.”

Slowly, Kanzaki untied her weapon, and herself ducked through the narrow opening. She propped the nodachi upright against the wall.

“There I set it,” she said, turning to the guard, “But command you not to touch it, nor to let anyone else lay their hands on it. Death shall come to any man who draws it save for myself.”

The guard nodded nervously “O-okay.”

Sasha came up next. “First remark: if they have Nanasen to keep them company, my tools may stay here too without shame.”

She unbuckled some straps, and all of her tools fell to the ground with a loud thud. She cracked her neck and massage her shoulders. Then, she gathered up her tools and pushed them through the opening. “Here are my instructions: Keep these well, for these are the tools of Hiram Abiff, chief architect of King Solomon’s temple, recovered after the third Crusade. Keep these well.”

Wonder came into the man’s eyes, and he hastily set them next to the sword. “No one will touch them, I promise you.”

Finally, Kuroko and Misaka came up then. Both gave up their book bags, and Kuroko unstrapped the belt she had wrapped around her legs. When at last everyone was ready, the guard turned to his console, but just as he was about to pressed two buttons, his eyes found me. At once, he froze and then grew furious.

“What are you doing Yomikawa?” He snapped. “Are you seriously bringing this kid in here?

Yomikawa rolled her eyes. “Obviously not!”

“What!” I stared at her in shock, but Yomikawa-sensei ignored me. “I’m taking her to my office to finalize the paper work. I just need to kids off first.”

I felt like a sledgehammer had been knocked into my chest! How could they not let me in! It wasn’t fair! I tugged at her pants leg, crying, “But Sensei! You can’t be serious! I wanna go too!”

But she shook her head at me. “This is no place for a little girl.”

“But Sensei! I want to stay with Oni-chan!”

She shook her head. “There’s nothing to see. You’ve already met the prisoner last night. I don’t see why you need to see him again.”

“But…”

“But nothing! Honestly, you shouldn’t even be down here in the first place!” She turned to Oni-chan, “I’m sorry for not realizing this sooner.”

“No, not at all!” Oni-chan walked towards her. “The fault was my own. I was so caught up today’s happenings, that I didn’t even consider her presence here!”

“But that’s not fair! Come on!”

“Otohime!” I jumped at his sudden shouting.

He squatted down next to me and looked me in the eye. “This is for your own good. I’ve seen too many people get dragged down to this level of the darkness. I couldn’t bare it if you ended up here too!”

“But I’m not afraid of the dark!” I said, “As long as you’re next to me, I don’t care where I am!”

“Well I do!” Oni-chan exclaimed. “Didn’t you see that binder containing all those names? What do you think it will do to me if I find your name on that? What would your mother and father say if you went missing under my watch?”

“I…I…” my mind was an empty void. What could I possibly say next?

“But what about Fremea’s case? I thought we were going there together afterwards!”

Oni-chan shook his head. “I’m sorry if I made that promise with you, but I can’t take you there, especially if it’s after curfew. This isn’t a game! Whatever’s happening in her dorm isn’t some child’s play! I can’t in good conscious bring you along with me!”

I chewed on my lips and looked down at my shoes. I really wanted to stay here with him, even if he was going to see that monster or stay up late at night. I looked up to see if he had changed his mind, but his eyes were fixed on me.

I sighed, “Okay.”

Oni-chan smiled.

“Good girl!” he ruffled my hair before standing. He glanced at Yomikawa-sensei and said, “Would you send her to her dorm room after you’re done? It’s getting pretty late, and she needs to check in before dinner time.”

Yomikawa-sensei rolled her eyes. “Baka! I’m not your personal driver! I’ll see what I can do.”

She pulled out her phone and walked away. Oni-chan turned back to me. “I’m going to drop off your stuff later this evening. In the meantime, you have a lot stuff to do.”

“But what about Fremea’s case?” I asked again, “If I’m not coming with you, then who is?”

Oni-chan smiled. “Don’t worry. I’ll think of somebody.”

He glanced at Misaka, who raised an eyebrow, “I distinctly remember that you sent me away before I could even hear about it. You had better fill me in on the details.”

Oni-chan nodded. “Of course.”

“…Yeah? Okay, perfect! Bye,” Yomikawa hung up. “Alright then, Konori-chan will come to pick her up later.” She glared at the boy. “You owe me, ronin!”

Oni-chan cringed but bowed anyway. “Thank you, Yomikawa-sensei.”

Yomikawa sensei clasped me on the shoulders and pulled me to one side. Then she motioned to the guard. “We’re ready!”

The guard gave her a puzzled look. “Are you sure? There are no barriers between them and the prisoner! What about the Level 0? Aren’t you being too careless?”

“Ha! I’m more worried about they will do to him!” Yomikawa laughed, “As for Kamijou-kun.”

She looked at the group in front of us, a motley band of misfits and grinned. “Someone has to keep this rabble in line, isn’t that right?”

Oni-chan groaned as some of the others shared knowing looks.

“Fakuda!”

Chapter Text

The Factions

“Well, that should take care of that.”

“Huh” I barely registered Yomikawa-sensei’s voice as I stared somberly out of the windows. All I could think about was ways to get back down to the underground bunker.

We were on the tenth floor of the Anti-skill building, and I could see for miles around. All the little cars below were inching by slowly, and their honking echoed up the side so even I could hear them up here.

Yomikawa sensei was tidying up all the paperwork I had to do. Apparently, they needed a written testimony in addition to my recorded interview. Then, Yomikawa-sensei took me down to one of the labs, where they took my picture, my fingerprints, and even cheek swabs for DNA analysis. Yomikawa said that all of this was to allow the crime lab to rule me out as a suspect. They also wanted a blood sample but I refused.

No one was going to poke holes in me without my permission!

 After that, we had to wait for the results to come in. By that time, the sun was already setting and  casting the world in a golden hue. Leaving the windows, I sighed and collapsed onto the office chair. I was just about to relax when there was at a knock on the door.

Yomikawa-sensei looked up and said, “Come in!”

Two anti-skills members, both normal looking men, walked in. Both wore a navy-blue baseball cap and a colored vest over their uniform. Both also had coils of wires coming out of their ears and sunglasses that hid their eyes. Once the door was closed, they stood at attention.

“At ease gentlemen,” Yomikawa-sensei said, “Alright, Otohime-chan, these fine men will escort you to the lobby. I think your ride is waiting for you there.”

The walk to the elevators were uneventful. I was in front while the two officers came up behind me. When the elevators came, I went straight to the glass panels while the two guys stood facing the door. The elevator had a magnificent view. I could see the entrance below, where black unmarked cars occasionally pulled up to let out some official in suit and tie.

Somewhere in the middle of our decent, the elevator stopped. Curious, I turned around and saw a girl with purple hair giggling and running into the elevator. Before anyone could react, she pressed all the buttons below us. The two guards glared at her as the door closed, but the girl just ran up to me and gave me a bone-crushing hug.

“Hi there! I’m Naru, it’s nice to meet you!”

I smiled awkwardly, “Likewise, I’m Otohime.”

The door opened again, and two more girls walked in. One had a large brown cap, a belt full of bottles and trinkets, and black fingerless gloves. The other girl had short brown hair and a white face mask with two crossed hands painted in the front. Both greeted Naru like old pals, who then introduced them to me.

Mina! I want you to meet Otohime-chan!”

They nodded politely at me, but never bothered to give me their names. Instead, they shook my hands and stood on either side of me. I glanced at them nervously, but the guards paid them no attention.

We were three floors above the lobby when the door opened again. A third girl with long black hair came sprinting into the elevator. Before the adults could react, she launched himself towards us and tackled us to the floor. Blinding pain lanced through my head as I hit the floor, and I was barely aware of what was going on around me.

Two small vials were suddenly rising into the air. They smashed together, and the resulting cloud hovered overhead, enveloping both guards in noxious fumes. Within seconds, they had collapsed to the ground, and their skins were bright pink.

I stared dumbfounded at them. Then, the girls were now standing over them, and the masked girl stared coldly back at me. I felt small and afraid.

“I am the leader of this little group,” she said, “My liaison wishes to have a word with you.”

I stared into her eyes and could only see cold and darkness. I wondered if she was one of the girls Oni-chan was looking for. I looked past her and saw Naru laughing hysterically while the black-haired girl tea-bagged the bodies.

The masked girl followed my gaze and shrugged.

“Don’t worry,” She said, “They’re just unconscious. Trust me when I say that if it were up to us, we would do far worse to them.”

Even though these girls were no older than me, the way she said that so easily and the way they were treating the bodies…they terrified me.

She snapped her fingers, and the others pulled the two anti-skill members out to the hallway. Then, the masked girl opened the elevator’s maintenance panel and pulled out some sort of tablet device. As soon as she connected the device to the elevator, all the lights flickered off and then back on again.

“Take us to beauty senpai,” She said, and the device chimed.

The doors shut immediately, and the elevator sped down past the lobby. As it sank beneath the ground, I thought for a mad moment that I was going to see Oni-chan again. However, the elevator stopped way sooner than I expected and opened to a different floor. The corridors were brightly lit and ridiculously opulent, and I couldn’t help but remember the hall of mirrors in the Palace of Versailles.

The girl escorted me to a pair of heavy oak doors with a knob in the middle. It opened into a large ornate chamber, where a girl with long black hair and navy blue high school uniform sat with a slouch in a leather armchair. She was sipping tea out of a tiny cup, and eyed me as I walked in.

“Have a seat, Otohime-chan,” she said, “You must be tired after running around all day.”

She glanced at the masked girl, who immediately pulled out a stuffy chair for me. The girl sat behind a large ebony desk where a white laptop sat on a canvas writing pad. The room was full of stuffed animals, from giant stuffed bears sitting on the bookshelf behind the girl, to the millions of plushies littered all over her desktop.

Her hair was kept neat and tidy with a red hairband, and she wore the same school uniform as Konori-senpai and Fukiyose-senpai. Somehow, that kept me at ease.

“What is this place?” I asked, “Why have you brought me here?”

She smiled. “You must be tired after running around the city all day. Would you like a spot of tea?

She rang a bell, and the masked girl reappeared from behind the curtain, laden with a tray. She poured me a cup of tea and left some cream and sugar on the desk. She gave me a curt nod and left.

“Tell me,” the high school girl said, “What is your relationship with Kamijou Touma?”

My hands felt clammy as I stirred some sugar into my tea. “Who wants to know?”

“A friend, one who cares about him very much,” she said, “I was hoping that you could help me with an important manner.”

I poured some cream into my tea. “Help you? On what?”

“Information of course. Nothing indiscrete, nothing you would feel…uncomfortable with.” She glanced at me. “Just tell me what he’s up to.”

My hands could barely hold onto the little cup. One false move, and all the tea would spill onto the carpet. “I could be wrong, but I think that’s none of your business.”

“It could be.” She said.

“Well then, why don’t you ask him yourself? Since you’re such a friend and all.”

She laughed. “Cheeky,” she smirked, “You should drink your tea before it gets cold.”

“What if I don’t want to drink your tea?”

The cup was rattling in my hands. She studied me carefully.

“You don’t seem afraid.”

“You don’t seem that frightening.”

She laughed again. The tea rattled even more in my hands, so I balanced it on the arm of my chair.

“You are brave for a little girl, I wonder if that’s not the same as stupidity,” she went, “But there’s no need to worry. I wasn’t going to poison, or anything like that. If I wanted you dead, you’d never even see me.”

My stomach churned. I couldn’t say anything. I couldn’t even trust my own mouth.

She sighed. “Very well, I’ll tell you a little about myself, if that will put you at ease.”

She sipped a little from her cup. “My name is Kumokawa Seria. I am one of Kamijou Touma’s old classmates. We have what you might call a difficult relationship.”

I picked up my cup of tea and let the warmth waft into my face. I looked at her over the rim of my cup, I could tell that she was waiting for me to ask my questions.

“Why do you want to know who he hangs out with every day?”

Her eyes were suddenly clouded and hard to read. She looked down and swished the liquid in her little cup. “I worry about him. Constantly. Not a day goes by when he’s not gone off on some new adventure. More than once, I have seen him back from his escapades a spent and broken man.”

She drained the liquid in her hands and poured herself another cup. Her face was blue and sullen. She stirred in some sugar.

“Your connection with Kamijou Touma intrigued me. He’s never mentioned a word about family outside of Academy City. In one moment, he was leaving school and going out on his own. In another moment, he’s suddenly gone to pick you up at the train station. I thought for sure that he was bringing another powerful friend into this city.”

 “I’m just a cousin who barely understands what he is going through,” I said, “I worry about him too. The last time I saw him was this summer, when he barely recognized me. I could tell that there was so much riding on his shoulders.”

I drank deeply. This was some good tea.

“You mentioned that he has powerful friends?” I asked, “What did you mean by that?”

Kumokawa-san frowned at me. “Surely, you have noticed all those people around Kamijou-kun? Weren’t you at all surprised by all the people you’ve met so far?”

I frowned. “Well, I know they all have powers, but isn’t that what Academy city’s all about? I thought everybody here had some sort of ability!”

“Hah!” She scoffed, “Hardly!”

She sipped some more tea. “No, most of us in Academy city are like anyone else in the world. Boring, predictable, and without any real power to speak of. His friends are the exceptions, and the higher ups have taken notice a long time ago.”

She put her little cup down, opened her laptop, and began typing. “Misaka Mikoto is one of only seven level 5 espers to emerge from the power curriculum program, and she is ranked no. 3 behind Accelerator and Dark Matter.”

She turned the laptop around, and I could see the photographs on the screen. There was Misaka-san’s picture, along with two others, a boy with brown hair and brown colored clothing, and an albino boy with white and grey striped shirt. I recognized the last picture.

 “Hey! That’s the boy from yesterday!” I cried, “I met him at that family restaurant! He is no.1?”

Kumokawa-san smirked. She pressed a button, and a window popped up to show me a video. I watched as tanks rolled up to a single kid in the middle. They fired, but when the dust cleared the boy was fine, while all the tanks were destroyed.

My jaws dropped. Kumokawa-san’s smirk widened.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 “You’re starting to get it now, aren’t you?”

She pressed a few buttons and another footage appeared.

A spiky-haired boy lying on the ground with a girl perched on top of his chest. Looking closer, I saw that it was showing Oni-chan and Sasha, and I noticed the others standing nearby, and poised to attack.

Kumokawa-san smiled. “Kamijou-kun is surrounded by people with immense power and therefore becomes powerful himself.”

As she said that, I watched as Oni-chan raise a hand, as if to command those around him. At once they all obeyed, and lowered their weapons.

I chewed on my lips. “So what exactly do you want from me?”

“Like I said, I want information,” she said, “I want you to be my war correspondent… My agent in the field… One who documents Kamijou-kun’s day-to-activities.”

“War Correspondence?” I asked, confused.

She shut the laptop and put it away. Then she drank some more tea.

“I know that you have met my cute kohai, Fukiyose Seiri. Right?” I nodded.

“Most people like Fukiyose blunder around this city and all they see are schools and students and books,” She said, “But when you walk with Kamijou Touma, you see the battlefield.”

Battlefield? Who was he fighting? I thought. I was going to ask, but then, there was a commotion outside. I jumped out of my seat in time to see the oak doors burst open. Naru and the black-haired girl came  hurtling towards me and skidded on the floor before my feet. Both were heavily bruised and had burn marks all over their bodies.

Looking up, I saw the source of their injuries.

Kuroko-san and Misaka-san were standing in the doorway. Kuroko-san leaned against the frame while Misaka-san stood in the middle with an outstretched arm. An arch of lightning danced from her brow and a coin was pinched between her thumb and forefinger.

Betraying no emotion, Kumokawa-san stood with her tea and greeted them. “Ah, Misaka-san, Kuroko-san, I thought you would be here,” She smiled, “You’re a minute late, I’m afraid.”

“You are Kumokawa-san Seria I are you not?” Kuroko-san said, “What is the meaning of this? Why have you kidnapped Otohime-chan, here?”

“Oh, it’s nothing. I just wanted a private word with her. It wasn’t a big deal.” Kumokawa-san said. She came around the desk and grasped me on the shoulders. She beamed at me. “See? There’s no harm done right?”

“You know, senpai, I’ve got a phone. There wasn’t any need to kidnap my cousin like this.” A strange clicking or tapping sound reached my ears. My eyes widened as Oni-chan limped into view. His right arm was now in a sling, and he was leaning on a crutch. Index was there, supporting him, but he looked unfazed by his injuries. Behind him came Stiyl Magnus, Kanzaki Kaori, and Sasha Kreutzec.

He glared at Kumokawa-san. “I mean, it was very clever of you to use the Scavengers like this. Who would have guessed that some kids would be a threat to Antiskill members,” he said, “But you could have just phoned me you know…on my phone.”

“Sorry,” Kumokawa-san responded, “But I don’t have your number.”

Oni-chan scoffed. “Of course you do, you work with Tsugotoshi. There’s no way he doesn’t have a file on me, not especially after what happened after Agitate Halation.”

Kumokawa-san grimaced. She glanced down at me, mumbling. “I wish you hadn’t reminded me of that.”

She gave me a little squeeze, and then pushed me away. “Run along now,” she said, “Think about everything I’ve shown you. Help me and I’ll be there for you.”

I nodded and ran to Oni-chan. Immediately, I hugged him as hard as I could, and he smiled and returned the hug with his one good arm. Together we left the office with me still clinging to his side, and the doors closed behind us. Nevertheless, the tap-tap-tapping of his crutches reminded me of his predicament.

“What happened to you?” I said, letting go. “How did you get this injured?”

“Ha ha,” He laughed nervously, “It’s a long story.”

Index scoffed. “You can say it was another one of his stupid heroics.”

“I know right?” Misaka-san said. “He will never change.”

Stiyl laughed “Maybe he likes getting hurt. Maybe he’s a masochist.”

“I am not!”

“Opening remark,” Sasha said, “If he wants instruments of torture to satisfy himself, I am more than happy to provide.”

“And I as well,” Kaoris affirmed, “There’s plenty of such techniques that Amakusa can provide.”

Kuroko-san laughed, “Maybe he’s waiting for someone to use it on him.”

Everyone just laughed. Oni-chan hung his head.

“Fakuda!”


 

Side Story 1: The Caper

Part 2: flipping the coin

“As expected from our old master. Who could have imagined employing him to stop us!” Tsuchimikado laughed quietly as he lay in Shiage’s arms. He was completely spent, and blood poured out of every orifice.

Shiage boggled at the boy’s careless attitude. “How can you laugh in situation like this? In case you haven’t noticed, we’re completely surrounded!”

All around them, the sound of battle was raging as the two monsters fended off a horde of HsPs-15 Powered Suits. Two suits sprayed the air with lead shot, but Accelerator stood in the way, and the projectiles rebounded towards their source. He stomped the ground, and a shock wave rippled out from under him, hitting all the suits at the same time.

Behind him, Kinuhata charged towards another attacker, punching through the empty cab and crumpling its gun. She stole one glance at Shiage and smirked in a way that made him super uncomfortable.

“Takitsubo is going to—cho—love it when I tell her about how you—cho—let a boy lay on your lap.”

Shiage cringed. “Oh, please don’t do that! I’ll never hear the end of it!”

The trouble started from the moment they set foot in the grey building. Shiage could tell that something was off. The lobby was full of students and teachers milling about, but no one greeted them or even acknowledged their existence.

“I know this magic,” Tsuchimikado said, “Stiyl told me about it during the Misawa Cram school incident.”

He tried to use the elevator, but the buttons wouldn’t even budge. Not even when accelerator used his vector control would the button press.

Tsuchimikado growled. “It is as I feared. To think someone would employ that certain magician. Quite Admirable, really.”

Something he said must have triggered an alarm, as suddenly, everyone was watching them. All at once, bright orbs of light emerged from their temples, and race towards them.

Ya-bai! Get to the stairs! Hurry!”

The four raced through the fire escape door next to the elevators.

Somehow, they barely managed to reach the fourth floor. They had managed to evade the light orbs, and Tsuchimikado was able to disrupt the magic, but in doing so, he had severely injured himself and was drenched in blood. By the time they reached the fifth floor, he was a bloody mess and had collapsed to the ground.

That’s when the powered suits appeared.

“Fakuda! As Kami-yan would say,” Tsuchimikado gasped as he lay on Shiage’s lap. “Aureolus Izzard is a craftly son of a bitch! Blending science and magic in a terrifying display of power. It’s quite admirable, really.”

His laughter ceased when blood spurted from his mouth. Quickly, he rolled off of Shiage’s lap and coughed out red phlegm. Shiage cringed. “We need to get out of here! There’s no way we’re gonna reach the top in this condition.”

“Hah! And to think that Kami-yan has faced worst odds than this,” he said wiping the blood from his mouth. “Kuso! Now I really feel inadequate compared to him.”

“Then what should we do?” Shiage blurted, “We can’t stay here.”

The magician-esper turned his head and laughed. “Don’t worry,” he held up his phone, “I’ve called in some reinforcements.”

As he said this, two shadows appeared behind Shiage. When he turned around, he found two people a girl and a boy standing there.

Tsuchimikado smiled. “Let this GROUP reunion begin!”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 13: Case of the Nutcracker

Act II: Baker Street Irregulars

After dinner, I found myself in the backseat of a taxi-cab, being driven across town. We were traveling westbound towards district 13, where most kids of my age went to school. Sadly, Oni-chan couldn’t come with us. Due to his injuries, he had to be shuffled off to the hospital.

Misaka-san was in the front, texting on her lime green Getoka phone, while Index and I were in the back. As we got onto the highway, Index pulled a little calico kitty out from her robes and was playing with it.

My eyes widen when I saw it, and I screamed, “Wah! Kawaii!

Index beamed. “Her name is Sphynx! Say hi, Sphynx!”

The little cat mewed at me. I giggled and extended my finger. The little cat sniffed at it and nuzzled my hand.

“Nyah!”

Jou-to!” Misaka-san snapped her phone shut, “Don’t tell me that you’ve been keeping that cat in your robe this whole time. What if that monster came and hurt it?”

“It’s fine,” Index replied smiling, “My Walking Church provides protection to any being who seeks sanctuary within its walls. Sphynx is in no danger when he has sanctuary with me. Fenrisulfr couldn’t hurt a hair on Sphynx’s head.”

“Hmm?” Misaka-san said, “Ma, as long as she wasn’t harmed.”

Four exits later and we arrived at Matsuume Elementary School’s dormitory. They were built like small brick houses, resembling a European village. The snow-covered walkways were illuminated by old fashioned two-light street lamps. Our taxi drove up to the gated entrance, and we trudged our way inside.

The cottage in which I would live in was called “Baker Street” and the signpost next to the path said “London”.

Misaka-san showed me how to swipe my key card on the reader next to the door. There was a loud click, and the door swung outwards. Once we were inside, we stood in a dark carpeted hallway, and hardly any sound could be heard. Only thing I could hear was the air piping out of the vents. Someone had left the heater on.

“No one’s here,” I said quietly, unwilling to disturb the peace.

Misaka-san sighed, “Well, that isn’t surprising, since most people have gone home for the winter.”

“At least it’s warm in here,” Index said, smiling.

Together, we marched up stairs to the second floor, and I started looking for my room. “…213…215…217…219…221…found it!”

I pulled out the key Oni-chan had left for me, and it slid in easily. I turned the key and the door unlatched. Once inside, I turned on the lights and was greeted with a rather strange sight. Two bunk beds stood at opposite ends of the room, both with built-in writing desks underneath. A leaning ladder granted access to the beds, next to which stood a four-drawer dresser. Two double-hung windows were set into the far wall, under which stood a pair of bookshelves, one for me and one for my future roommate.

My side of the room fully stocked with all my things in their proper places. My bed had been made and my school supplies were already laid out on the desk. Even my clothing had been put away in the dresser, and my little pull-up stood next to it. I blushed as l opened the underwear drawer. To think he took the time to fold them so neatly.

Coming out to the hallway, I found Index in the common room playing with Sphynx. Misaka-san wasn’t there. I found her standing in the shared bathroom, talking on her phone.

“Are you kidding me?” she snapped, “You knew you had a case and still let yourself get hurt!? How can you be so irresponsible?”

“Oi! Oi! Why are blaming me for something I have no control over?” the voice shouted back, so loud that even I could hear it.

“You always say that!” Misaka-san growled back, “You always blame the circumstances of your injuries! You are as much to blame as that monster!”

“What was I supposed to do?” he cried, “He was in so much pain, I didn’t know what else to do!”

“Well, in the first place, you didn’t have to get your hand bitten off! You didn’t have to showboat your abilities in front of us!”

“I don’t showboat!” The voice snapped, “Anyway, I’m going to have to cancel my meeting with Fremea-san and Hamazura this evening. Ja-na!

The connection ended, and Misaka-san snapped her phone shut. “Ta-kke! He’s such an idiot!”

“What is it?” I said as Index came in with Sphynx. “Was that Oni-chan?”

She nodded. “They’ve taken him to a hospital in District 7. He’s going to stay there overnight.”

“Oh no,” I said, stricken, “But I thought he was going to meet with Fremea tonight! He had a case ready and everything!”

Misaka-san sighed, “He’ll just have to cancel the appointment then. There’s no way he can be running around all night, especially not when he is in that condition.”

“But…” I said, but Index-san shook her head.

“For once, I agree with Short Hair,” Index said, earning a glare from Misaka, “Touma is in no shape to go anywhere. He’ll only hurt himself more.”

“Then we can go!” I blurted out at once. “We can go in Oni-chan’s place!

“Absolutely not!” Misaka-san said sternly, “It’s dangerous to get involved in such a case!”

“Besides, we don’t know anything about the situation,” Index chimed in, “We have no idea who was involved, or what was even going on!”

“But I was there and heard everything!” I said, “Fremea’s friends are in trouble, and she reached out to us!”

 “Us?” Misaka-san said, “She went to that Idiot for help!”

“But we can help her!” I said, “We must help her!”

The two girls shared a glance.

Misaka-san sighed and ruffled through her hair. “Ta-kke! You’re just like him. Stubborn to a fault!”

She ushered me to my dorm room and pulled out the chair from my desk. She motioned me to sit. I obeyed, and she walked over to the opposite desk and leaned against it. Then, she nodded to Index who came in and sat down on the chair.

“So?” Misaka-san said, looking pointedly at me.

I stared back at her. Was she expecting something from me?

She sighed, “Come on, I don’t have all day. You’re going to have to fill me in on everything. After all, I had to leave before I heard anything, and Silver Sister here doesn’t even know what you are talking about.”

Index glared at her.

“Ah!” I smiled sheepishly. “Well, it seems the case has something to do with the Nutcracker story.”

I told them about Fremea’s tale about Fritz and Marie, and their fight over a Nutcracker that a man called Dousa-Mai-ya had brought during Christmas Eve. Then I told them about the children’s disappearance, and miraculous repair work done on the toys. I told them that the children were still missing, and we needed to find them.

When I was done, Misaka-san and Index traded glances.

“What do you think?” Misaka-san asked.

“Hmmm,” Index crossed her arms and closed her eyes, “Dorsselmeyer, Marie, Fritz…They’re all characters in the original story. It’s strange how the events match up so well. I don’t know if there’s some sort of magical ritual going on, but it’s worth a look.”

“Obviously, we need to find out where the children went,” Misaka-san said, “There’s a lot of details we don’t know. Who are Marie and Fritz? Who is Dorsselmeyer? Why was he giving out toys? There are so many questions that I’m not sure where to start.”

“Well, why are we still sitting around here for?” I stood up. “We could knock around those questions all night, but there’s only one way to answer them, isn’t it? We have to go see Fremea!”

“Ano-sa, Otohime!” Misaka-san said, “We’re not playing a game of Cluedo here. We don’t have the faintest clue of what trouble Fremea is in, we need more data.”

“Besides, it’s much too dangerous for you to go,” Index said, “What would Touma say if we let his adorably tenacious cousin waltz into some trap!”

I puffed out my cheeks. They were totally sidelining me! How dare they treat me like some kid!

“Well I’m going whether you like it or not!” I said, jumping up from my desk. “I’m the one who has all of the information! I was there when there when Fremea told her story. Besides, Fremea is my friend and I can’t just leave her alone!”

“Otohime!”

“Otohime-chan…”

“No!” I crossed my arms tightly, “If you don’t want me to come sneaking after you, then you will have to tie me up in this room!”

“Ugh!” Misaka pushed off hard from the desk. “Fine! Have it your way then!”

She stomped to the door and wrenched it open. For a heartbeat, I thought that I had gone too far. I thought for sure, that she was going to leave me behind, but then she stopped at the doorway.

She sighed. “You remind me of myself. How long did it take him to accept me? How long would it take me to accept you?”

She looked back at me and smiled “Come on then. It’s a hard knock life for us. Let’s see how you can handle it.”


Between the lines: A certain scientific marvel

“Could you please go over your plan one more time? Just so I can understand how crazy it really is?”

Yomikawa looked up at the monitors, each showing a member of the Board of Directors. In front of her, Kaizumi Tsugutoshi was massaging his temples as he sat in his armchair. He was a grizzled old man with graying hair and a voice ravaged by age. He wore an old-fashioned pin-striped suit, and his knobby hands were studded with gold rings.

She took a deep breath and spoke her mind. “Kaizumi-dono,” she said, “Have you ever been in a war? In a firefight? Have you been in a situation where you don’t have an abundance of control? Currently, this city is at its weakest state, and we are at the mercy of the world.”

“We have an army,” Oyafune Monaka sat serenely at her desk, stirring a cup of tea, “Anti-skill and Judgement have served us well in the past and continue to show loyal service.” She took a sip before going on. “We have the six wings and ten legs to protect our borders. Why would we need anything else?”

All the heads were nodding in agreement. Honestly, they were still so certain of their technology that, they ignored everything that had happened recently.

Yomikawa tried a different approach.

“Ichihanaransai, GREMLIN, Othinus’s attack, the Magic God invasions, Elements… do any of these terms mean anything to you? Just yesterday, a monster evaded our security team, dug its way into the heart of the city, and wreaked havoc in an underground shopping center! Every time some maniac decides to invade our city, even with our technological advancements, we’ve always been woefully, hilariously underprepared.”

There was silence as the board members traded glances with each other. Then came the voice of Shiokishi, garbled by a voice modulator. “Certainly, Academy City is surrounded by enemies, and we are short on staff. I don’t trust any of these newcomers who have infiltrated our very borders.”

“Are you referring to the missionaries?” Oyafune said, “They only seem to aid our students and help in the education. If we maintain good relationships with them, then there won’t be any problems.”

“They’re poisoning the minds of our students!” The deeper voice of Nakimoto Rizou boomed out. He was a hard man, chiseled with by his time in the military. His muscle bulged out of his suit, and his sharp goatee bounced as he spoke. Yomikawa struggled to contain her displeasure. According to her sources, this was the man who financed the DA and who blocked her from acting against STUDY.

He went on,” Those so-called schools are filling the minds our students with unscientific teachings. They must be stopped or at the very least kept check!”

She bit back her vitriol and replied, “There is a lot that we don’t agree with, Rizou-dono, but you are right on one thing. We need a response team!”

She turned to the other board members. “There are some among Anti-skill and Judgement members, who want to try out this plan,” she said, “To bring together a group of remarkably talented people, and to see if they could work together and fight the battles we never could.”

“In other words, you want some faction of super heroes to protect us,” Oyafune mused, “It’s a pretty old-fashioned concept. A very unscientific sentiment.”

“War isn’t won by sentiments,” Yomikawa replied, “It’s won by soldiers.”

Tsugutoshi scoffed. “Are you seriously going to leave the fate of this city to a handful of freaks?”

“I’m not leaving anything to anyone!” Yomikawa snapped, “These people need to be watched over or even controlled, but I believe that with the right push, they can be exactly what we need.”

There was a long pause as the directors shared a glance. Finally, Oyafune spoke for the group. “Very well, we must discuss this privately,” she said, “You’ve given us a lot to think about. In the meantime, you may cobble together the people you want in this new faction.”

“Thank you.” Yomikawa bowed.

The viewscreens all winked out, and she left in high spirits.

Chapter Text

Chapter 14: Case of the Nutcracker

Act III: The golden cage

 “Oh, it’s such a privilege to have received such an illustrious guest as yourself. Who would have thought that the Ace of Tokiwadai would grace us with her presence!”

Headmistress Genevieve Clavel sat across from us, sipping a cup of tea as she spoke. We were all sitting in the office of her boarding school.  Fremea was sitting next to her in the sofa. Her feet were jittery as if she was sitting on a bed of nails. She bit her lips and focused on her fingers. Misaka-san was sitting next to me, sipping her tea while her eyes remained focused on the headmistress. To my left, a young girl in maid costume was serving us tea and biscuits. She had long black hair tied into low twintails, both of which draped below her waist.

The headmistress paid her no mind as she addressed us. “Honestly, I wish our meeting was for some happier purpose. I don’t see why you even bothered to investigate such a trifle. Really, I imagine that this is as an inconvenience to you as it is to me.”

“Ms. Clavel,” Misaka responded, putting her cup down. “We came here on the behest of Fremea-chan. She has already told me about the disappearances of your students. I hardly consider that a mere inconvenience.”

The headmistress sighed. “Well, children come and go from this institution all the time now, especially since the new term hasn’t started until next spring. All of our student records have been wiped clean, so there’s no way we would know anyway.”

“Haven’t you been keeping a copy of your data?” Misaka asked, “Surely you had some sort of back-up for your files.”

“Of course we did, mademoiselle,” Clavel-sensei said, “It got destroyed when the Elementers attacked. Then, rioting broke out in the streets, and we dared not to venture out amid all the rabble. We were just starting to repair the servers when the Bank shut down.”

“So, you lost everything.”                           

The headmistress shifted in her seat. “Yes.”

My gaze shifted to Index, who remarkably was barely paying attention to our interview. She had taken off her white and gold habit and was now wearing the school uniform of her new Anglican school. It consisted of a tartan pleated jumper, worn over a white-starched blouse. Woolen leggings kept her lower body warm, and they ended in a pair of Mary Janes.

All this time, she was examining the room and sniffing the air like a dog trying to catch a scent. Her change in wardrobe afforded her greater dexterity as she combed through the room with a small magnifying glass.

Misaka spoke again. “Tell me about Marie and Friz,” she said, “How did they come to this school?”

Clavel-sensei bit her lips “I can’t tell you much,” she said, “But I can say that they were brought here from Central Europe after their parents had died. They came with a relative who works in this city.”

“Who?”

“I’ve never met him,” the headmistress said, “We’ve only corresponded with letters, from which he would pay the children’s tuition and other fees. I don’t believe that I’ve ever met him.” She sighed. “Anyway, they were transferred to our school at the start of December and have gotten along fairly well with the other children.”

At this point, Index was literally crawling on the floor with her magnifying glass. The headmistress glared with disapproval but looked away when Misaka asked another question. “Who is this Dorsselmeyer character? How did he become acquainted with this school?”

“He works in district seven as a toy maker. I hardly knew him since his shop opened recently, yet seeing his work is always a treat. Somehow, he is combining the technology of this city with the ancient knowledge of toymaking from his homeland. We take field trips to his store, and he always dazzles the children with his creation.”

“So is he a foreigner?” Misaka asks, “Do you know where he’s from?”

Clavel-sensei shrugged. “I couldn’t really say much to that, except that he is either Dutch or German.”

“Have you seen him interact with children? Does he talk much to Marie or Friz?”

“I don’t know much about that,” she said, “Unlike me, he hardly speaks any Japanese, so he rarely speaks to the children. Some of the children help him translate, but Marie especially talks to him in either Dutch or German.

Misaka growled something quietly to herself. Then she asked another question. “Couldn’t you tell what language they spoke together?”

She shrugged. “It didn’t seem important at the time. While the children frequent his shop, I don’t have much time chaperoning them all the time. After all, I am a very busy woman. Usually, I assign one of my girls to do the job.”

At this point, Index stood up with a satisfying smile, put her glass away, and sat down next to me. She accepted a cup of tea and thanked the maid for her troubles. “You have a very decent staff here, Ms Clavel,” she said, “Did you train them yourself?”

The headmistress snorted. “Why bother when you have a whole school dedicated to the art? No, we hire these ladies from Ryouran Maid Academy.”

Misaka glanced towards Index, who merely shrugged. The Electromaster stood up and stretched. “Well! If you wouldn’t mind, I would like a tour around the school.” She glanced at Fremea, then at me, and smiled. “Shall we?”

We emerged from Clavel-sensei’s office and found ourselves in the vestibule. A large oaken door stood on our left, separating us from the outside world. To our right, a long corridor led off to classrooms and lecture halls, all of which were closed for the night. As Clavel-sensei directed us down the hallway, two maids shadowed us. One was tall with long blond hair tied into twin-tails. The other was short, with curly brown hair that fell to her shoulders.

“All of our lessons are conducted here on the first floor,” Clavel-sensei said, “Here, we teach subjects like Japanese reading and writing, Mathematics, Science, and English. We also employ teachers for the arts, including music, painting, calligraphy, and drama.”

“What about social sciences?” Index asked, “Don’t you teach things like History or Philosophy or Religion? What about other languages?”

Clavel-sense rolled her eyes. “We have tutors from the new liberal arts schools coming in for those subjects. The children are free to choose these subjects as supplementary material, but they are completely optional and paid for by the parents.”

She snorted. “You won’t see us supporting such frivolous subjects here.”

Index grimaced. Misaka and I exchanged worried glances, but Fremea, walking next to me, just shrugged. “Nyah-nyah! It’s okay,” she said, “Shiage-onichan signed me up for most of those classes, and most of the kids take some form of world history.”

 “How are the teachers though?” I asked, “Are they strict or mean?”

Fremea shrugged, “Nyah-My biology teacher, Alphonse-sensei, is my favoritest teacher in the whole wide world! He explains things so well, and he’s always there to answer our questions. He treats us like little adults. Nyah-but his brother is another story. He teaches chemistry, but he’s always screaming at us whenever we call him short.”

I laughed. May be this school wasn’t so bad after all.

Clavel-sensei turned the corner and opened a pair of oaken doors. Above us, a large wooden sign saying “Dining hall” hung over our heads. Passing into the room, we came upon a large open space with rows upon rows of benches.

It was easily two stories high with four chandeliers hung in a line under the arched roof, bathing the room in warm glow. At once, the sound of kids screaming and laughing filtered downstairs and filled the the air itself with incessant cacophony. Clavel-sensei wrinkled her nose at the Sound.

“Right! I’m going back to my office now.”

She turned and barked at the maids. “Kaho! Mafuyu!”

“Yes Miss Clavel?”  They intoned.

“Take these girls upstairs,” Clavel-sensei said, “Show them to the girls’ bedroom or anywhere they wish to see.”

“At once my lady!”

Satisfied, the headmistress strolled outside and slammed the door behind her.

The tall, bubbly blonde girl beamed at us. “How do you do? My name is Kaho Hinata! Please call me Hinata-chan. This is my senpai, Mafuyu Hoshikawa. It’s nice to meet you!”

The shorter brunette bowed to us. “Please call me Mafuyu. It’s nice to meet you.”

We all bowed. “Thank you, Mafuyu-san,” I said, “My name is Otohime and these are my friends, Misaka-san and Index-san. It’s nice to meet you.”

I looked around.

There was still traces of dinner being cleared away. Everywhere I looked, there were maids bustling about, mopping the floor, or wiping the tables, or carrying dishes away. On either end of the chamber, there were a pair of staircases leading to the second floor. Here too were staff members coming up and down the stairs, carrying soiled laundry, or bringing fresh new linens. As I watched, one of the maids stepped on a tile, and the whole panel in the wall opened.

“Wha!” I cried, tugging at Hinata’s sleeve and pointing at the hidden door, “Ne-ne! Where does that lead to?”

“Oh, that’s where the kitchen is,” Kaho said, “It leads down to the basement and splits off into the kitchen and laundromat.”

“Wow!” I cried in amazement.

Hinata-chan nodded with approval. “Now then, shall we be off?”

The maids escorted us upstairs.

I turned to Mafuyu-san. “So why isn’t Clavel-sensei coming with us?”

She shrugged, “Even though she is the headmistress, she has never been comfortable with the children. She tries her best, but the mere sound of their rowdiness makes her green.”

Jou-to!” Hinata protested, looking around anxiously, “You shouldn’t speak of Miss Clavel like that. It’s not right!”

Mafuyu shrugged. “If that lady cared a little more for the kids, these incidents would never had happened!”

Misaka and Index traded glances. Fremea squeezed my hand.

Coming up the stairs, we passed a maid with red braided hair carrying a large pitcher of water. Suddenly, a little boy without any clothing appeared at the top of the stairs. I watched mortified as he came screaming past her. She was barely able to keep her balance, when another maid with silver hair raced down after the child. Somehow, she managed to squeeze past both me and the maid with the pitcher without knocking us over. It helped that Mafuyu had immediately shoved me to one side while Hinata rushed up to steady the red-headed maid. I thanked my savior, and we were off again.

Once we reached the second-floor landing, there were kids everywhere, screaming and laughing and running around in various states of dress. Some of them were of my age, but most were much younger than me.

The two maids ushered us into a large bedroom, a long chamber with dozens of beds placed next to each other. Their headboards were pushed against the wall on either side, forming a long alley in the middle. Each bed had a little nightstand placed underneath a wall-mounted candle-like light fixtures. A large green trunk sat at the foot of each bed, serving as storage for each kid’s belongings.

“This is the girls’ room,” Hinata-san said, “This is where our children stay at night. We also have bathrooms and shower. Of course, Boys have their own facilities too.”

Index broke off from our group. Like a dog drawn to a scent, she made a beeline towards a lone bed. Unlike the others, it was perfectly made and undisturbed by the other kids. She dropped down to all fours and sniffed around underneath the nightstand.

Hinata-chan watched with confusion. “Ano-sa,” she said, “What is she doing!?”

Misaka smiled. “I take it that this must be Marie’s bed.”

“Y-yes it is,” Hinata-chan stammered, “B-b-but this is highly irregular!”

At that moment, Index pulled back and turned to Hinata-chan. “Was there some kind of object here? Something she kept hidden from the other kids?”

“W-why yes,” The maid said, “Miss Marie always kept a small box underneath the nightstand. Strangely, from the time she came into our care, she’s always kept it there unopened.”

From her pocket, Index pulled out her trusty magnifying glass, “Aha!” she said, “Clearly, it hasn’t been moved for a long time!”

Misaka took off her blazer and handed off to Mafuyu-san. “Hold this.”

She pulled out a little camera and a small plastic square ruler and squatted next to Index.

“What do you see?” I said, squatting down next to them. Index held her lens for me.

“Look, don’t you see the outline of a box here?” She traced her fingers on the ground. The floor was spotless, but seeing through the lens, I noticed the faint line where dust had gathered. It formed a rectangle, so faint that I barely registered its presence.

I gaped at Index. “How did you notice that?”

“Because I was looking for it,” Index replied, “I sensed strong traces of mana coming from this spot. There was definitely something magical here.”

Misaka laid the ruler down next to the outline. “I say that the box was about six centimeters wide…and eight centimeters long. You couldn’t hold much in that.”

She took multiple pictures, then looked around, “It may still be around here somewhere.”

She stood up, pocketed her items and turned to the bed. One by one, she lifted the duvet, blanket, and bedsheet, rifling between each layer. Then, she picked up the pillow and pulled out the case. She squeezed the pillow between her hands and looked inside the pillow case.

“Nothing,” she muttered as she laid the pillow on the trunk with the other bed linens. Finally, she stripped the cover off from the mattress and examined both. She grunted. “Nothing at all!”

Sparks leapt from her bangs. Then, she was alight with electricity.

Hinata-chan shrieked and leapt back. “Misaka-san! What are you doing?”

Misaka smiled at her. “It’s okay,” she said, “I’m not trying to fry your bed or anything.”

Indeed, the mattress remained unharmed even as electricity enveloped it. Miraculously, it lifted from the bed and hovered in the air.

“Hey silver sister,” she grunted, “Can you see anything under here?”

Index groaned. “I wish you would stop calling me that. My name is Index.”

Nevertheless, she ducked beneath the hovering mattress and examined its underside.

“I don’t see anything underneath. There’s no way she could have lifted this mattress by herself. It’s much too heavy.”

Then she examined the bed frame. “No, there’s nothing here either.”

She pulled back from the space, and Misaka lowered the mattress. Minutes later, the bed was restored to its pristine state. Misaka sighed.

“Well, I guess there’s one place we haven’t searched.”

The trunk lay on the floor at the foot of the bed, and the lid was shut. A combination lock kept the latch in place. Misaka flipped it around and found an ordinary keyhole in the back. She turned to Hinata-chan. “Do you have the key to this lock?” Misaka asked.

Mafuyu responded, “Yes, but it’s stored in the basement. Besides, we can’t just let anyone access to the children’s belongings without permission. If you’re JUDGEMENT or ANTI-Skill, you have to obtain a search warrant.”

Misaka smiled. “Fortunately, we aren’t either of those things. This will be filed under ‘probable cause’”

She lifted the lock with one hand and closed her eyes. Electricity flowed down her arm and energized the lock. Though the dial remained still, we could all hear the clicking of the lock’s mechanics. It wasn’t long until there was a loud “Sctick!” and the shackle came loose. Misaka smiled, and her eyes flew open. Quickly, she removed the lock, loosened the latch and threw open the lid. Her smile widened.

“Bingo!”

There, among the clothing, was a wooden box, measuring six by eight centimeters at the base and ten centimeters tall. The lid was curved like an arch, and the hinges and latch were made of shiny brass.

Misaka took out the little box and then gave it to Index.

“Can you see anything?”

Index peeked inside and smiled. “Yes! Wonderful things!”

Opening the lid, she showed a large round golden cage with runes etched into the tiny bars. It sat snuggly in the middle, where the rich indigo velvet flowed into a large hole.

Index pulled out the golden ball and held it in her hands.

“I can feel the mana concentrated in this cage. Obviously, something magical and powerful was kept in here! Yet I don’t sense any malice or evil intent.

She turned to Mafuyu. “Can I borrow this for a while?” she asked, “I’ll give it back once I finish studying it.”

“Well, it’s not mine to give,” Mafuyu said awkwardly, “But if it helps you with the case, then…”

Index’s smile broadened “Thank you! I promise to give it back unmolested!”

She pocketed the little box and stood up.

Then Mafuyu spoke again. “Well, I’m sorry to interrupt your fun but…”

Somewhere in the hallway, a clock struck nine o’clock. All of a sudden, the room was flooded with girls. All of them were changing into night clothes, and maids were coming in to tuck them in.

“A-re,” Misaka-san said, “Is it bedtime already?”

“That’s right,” Hinata said, “The kids must be in bed before the lights shut off automatically.”

“Unfortunately, this also means it’s time to wrap things up,” Mafuyu said. She handed back Misaka’s blazer.

She turned to the other maid. “Hinata, would you please help the Fremea to bed? I will escort our guests downstairs.”

“Bye Otohime-chan!” Fremea hugged me tightly, “I’m so glad you could come.”

“I didn’t want to leave my new friend hanging,” I said, “You came to us for help, and I couldn’t let it go.”

Fremea beamed. “Thank you! That was so nice of you!”

I hugged her again. “Good night Fremea-chan!”

“Good night! Come back tomorrow okay?”

“Umm!” I nodded as hard as possible.

We waved taller goodbye and followed Mafuyu down the hall. Coming to the second floor landing, I saw an old fashioned grandfather clock. Its pendulum was swinging, and it was still chiming for all to hear. Next to it, a winding staircase led up to another floor.

I pointed this out to Mafuyu. “Where does this staircase lead to?”

“To the top floor,” she answered, “It’s really the attic, but we’ve built a play area. It’s where the children keep all their toys.”

“Including the Nutcracker?”

“Yes, he’s up there,” Mafuyu said, “But we don’t have time to see him, now. It’s time for you to leave.”

Soon, we arrived in the vestibule. Index pull her nun’s habit over her school uniform, and we all put on our scarves and coats. Mafuyu opened the door, and showed us out.

“Good night ladies,” she said, “In just a few hours, the clock will chime midnight. Sleep well, for it is a time of magic and of dreams.”

Chapter Text

A New Day

December 28

The next day dawned cold and crisp. I looked out of my dorm room window and found the cobbled streets filled with snow. Quickly, I threw off my covers and climbed down from my bunk. Then, I picked up my toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, and towel, and I raced off to the showers.

My phone was ringing by the time I got back. I picked it up, and Uiharu was on the other side.

Moshi-moshi,” I said, “Uihara-san?”

Hai! Ohayo Otohime-chan!” she replied cheerfully, “I just wanted to let you know that we’re on our way to pick you up.”

“Pick me up?” I said, confused.

“Hai! We’re going to check on Touma-san!”

“Oh right!” I said, “Where are you now?”

“Well, we just left district 7, so it will take about 40 minutes to reach you.”

“Great! I’ll see you soon!”

I hung up.

Looking out the window, I suddenly thought of a brilliant idea. Quickly, I cast my towel to one side and got dressed. Three minutes later, I was flying out the dorm and into a huge snow pile.

Laughing, I turned onto my back and carved out a snow angel with my arms and legs. I stood up to admire my handiwork and then trudged off to build a snowman.

I had just finished sculpting the body when a yellow minivan pulled up. Saten Ruiko climbed out and was waving at me. “Ooo-oi!”

Quickly, I stuck two branches into the snowman’s sides, and I drew a smile on the face. I would come back to finish my handiwork.

Ohayo!” I said, trudging towards the taxicab.

Ohayo Otohime-chan!” Saten-San stood with her hands behind her back, beaming at me. “I bet you’re hungry!” She said in a sing-song way.

As if on cue, my stomach growled. I smiled sheepishly.

She smiled craftily and pulled out a large plastic bag. “Ja-jang!” she cried, “I prepared this especially for you.”

“Wah!” I cried, “Arigato!

She escorted me towards the yellow minivan. I climbed in and found everyone sitting there waiting for me.

Ohayo-gouzaimasu,” I exclaimed, and Misaka, Kuroko and Uiharu all greeted me in turn.

Ohayou, Otohime!

Ohayo-gouzaimasu!

Ohayo-gouzaimasu-desu-no!

I sat in to the middle row with Misaka. She smiled warmly, “Ohayo.

Ohayo,” I said, “It’s sure cold outside!”

Soudesu-wa,” Kuroko said, sitting in the passenger seat, “Although, I’m glad to be in a warm car.”

Saten climbed on and shuffled to the backseat, where Uiharu sat in the corner. The sliding door shut on its own, and the taxi pulled away.

As we entered the highway, I unwrapped the cloth sack and cried out in delight. Inside, I found a two-tier bento box containing a complete Japanese breakfast. Grilled salmon and tamagoyaki lay on top of a nori sheet. Under that was a bed of white rice, with a ball of natto in the center. I opened the bottom tier and found piping hot bacon-and-onion miso soup keeping the rice warm. My mouth was watering as soon as I caught that rich aroma.

Wah!” I clapped my hands together, “Itadakimasu!

We were driving eastbound between district 2 and 15. Lookin up from my meal, I could see the Anti-skill headquarters passing by. It’s blue-and-white striped façade gleamed in the morning light, and the giant emblem sparkled like blue topaz in an azure crown. My mind drifted back to the previous day, and all the strange people I had met. There were so many things I didn’t understand.

The driver turned us away from the blue building and changed to a northbound freeway. Soon, we entered district 7. At once, a great stone wall loomed next to the highway, a stark contrast to all the steel and glass buildings to our other side. Inside, I knew was the garden of learning, where Misaka-san’s school was.

“I wish I could go inside,” I said wistfully. Misaka heard me and smiled. “I’ll get you a day pass. We can spend the day there later.”

“Really?” I cried, “Ya-ta!

She beamed, then turned to the girls in the back. “Of course, you’re all invited too!”

Saten-san and Uiharu-san both cheered.

The rest of the journey went without incident, and we arrived at the hospital without much trouble. Kuroko paid for the fare, and we got off at the entrance.

The hospital was set up as you would expect, with patients and guests in a lobby waiting for their appointments. A nurse ushered us to the receptionist who greeted us as soon as we neared her. “Ohayo-gouzaimasu,” She said, Are you here for a visit?”

Hai,” Misaka said, “We’re here to see Kamijou Touma.”

Suddenly, a shadow passed over the receptionist’s expression, and her voice was suddenly cold and terse. “Oh, is that so? In that case you will find him in his usual room, 221B.” She pulled out a clipboard and handed it to us. “Please sign in here.”

Each of us took turns appending our names to the sheet. When it was my turn, I marveled at the dozens of names listed for Oni-chan. Who would have thought him to be so popular!”

At that moment, the elevator door opened, and Tsuchimikado Maika emerged. She smiled as soon as she saw us.

“Hah! Hi everyone! Ohayo-gouzaimasu!

Ohayo-gouzaimasu!” We chimed at once.

“You’re here pretty early today!” I said, “Did you come to see Oni-chan?”

“That’s right,” she said, “I just knew he needed better food than what the hospital could serve.” She said proudly, “Naturally, nobody can beat my breakfast bento!”

At this moment it was like the whole atmosphere was crackling. I turned to look at Misaka, but it was Saten who boldly strolled forward. “Ahem! Well I just so happen to make a breakfast bento myself!”

Maika raised an eyebrow at her. “Oh? Is that so?”

“Hem! hem! hem!” Saten looked at me confidently, “Otohime, did you like the breakfast I made for you?”

Hai!” I said, “It was delicious!”

“Ha ha ha! Why of course it was! I put a lot of effort making it!” Saten-San said, slapping a hand to her chest, “You could say that it’s world class!”

If looks could kill, both girls would have fried each other long ago. The rest of us watched as they stared each other down.

“Oho?” Maika smirked, “Those are bold words coming from someone without proper training! Are you prepared to eat those words when you lose to me?”

“Ha! I’ll stake my life on them! Tomorrow at dawn, I’ll crush you!”

“It’s a deal then!” Maika said, holding out a hand. “Meet me in Ryouran Maid School in the test kitchen, and I’ll serve you some just desserts.”

The two girls shook hands. A moment later, both girls broke down laughing at the absurdity. Just like that, all the tension left, and we were all back to being friends again.

“Anyway,” Maika-san said, wiping a tear from her eyes. “I’m assuming you’re all coming to see Kamijou-chan as well, correct?”

“That’s right!” I said, “We heard that he was getting discharged, and we wanted to celebrate the occasion.”

“Sound nice!” She said, “If only I could share in on the happiness.”

“Eh?” I said, “What do you mean? What’s wrong?”

“Well actually…” She hesitated. “I came to get his help with some difficulties.”

“Difficulties?” This time, Misaka and Kuroko perked up.

She hesitated. “Well you see, Aniki hasn’t come back, and I’m getting worried.”

“Aniki?” I asked, “You mean that blonde guy with sunglasses?”

“That’s right,” Maika said, crossing her arms, “That bastard didn’t come back, even though I waited all night! Hmph!”

Misaka whispered something into Kuroko’s ear, and the twin-tailed girl approached Maika. “If I understand this correctly,” Kuroko said, “Kamijou-senpai ask him to investigate one of his cases?”

“Hai” Maika said, “Aniki does this all the time! He’s always diving head-first into dangerous situations and getting himself hurt, but at least he always checks in to let me know if he was okay.”

“Mata-ke! He tries to hide everything he’s doing from me.” She sighed, shaking her head, “I wish he had a little more faith in me. I would have understood what he was up to!”

“Hai!” The nurse suddenly cut in, “You’re all free to go. Please don’t hold up the line, as there are guests who have to register as well.”

We looked around and saw that a long line had formed behind us. Sheepishly, we moved out of the way. Maika laughed. “Well, don’t let me keep you away from your precious Oni-chan. He is expecting you!”


Side-story: A disturbance

Hamazura didn’t come home last night. I tried calling but couldn’t get any connection. I tried texting him, but no reply ever came. It was as though he had dropped out of this reality. Yet I could feel his presence in the AIM diffusion. He was somewhere out there, somewhere in Academy City.

He wasn’t the only one missing either. Kinuhata didn’t respond when I texted her about the situation, and I haven’t seen her since yesterday.

Mugino, on the other hand, couldn’t be bothered to look into the matter. I called her in the evening last night, but I she couldn’t care less about them.

“Kinuhata isn’t some damsel in distressed like you. She can take care of herself!” she snapped, “And as for that bastard, its best if we never think of him again! Clearly, he doesn’t care for shit about your feelings for him. Otherwise, would have come running back long ago and begged you for forgiveness! Screw him!”

In the end, I have had to look into the disappearance myself, and there was only one lead I could find. Everything about him screamed run-of-the-mill high school boy. Yet, the way Hamazura described him made me think otherwise. I’ve heard so many stories about the boy, like how he and Hamazura went to Hawaii to stop an invasion from group of terrorists, and how that ordinary high school boy saved Fremea from that City-run experiment called Agitate Halation. He also told me how this boy inspired him to stand up to Mugino and save me from her machinations. It’s strange to think how my own life was affected by someone I had never met until yesterday.

Meeting him for the first time, I knew right away that there was something odd about him. The AIM field around his right hand was heavily distorted, as though I was gazing through a crystal ball. It reminded me of gravitational lensing, like how light bends around a black hole. Moreover, he seemed extremely plugged-in to the inner workings of academy city, to the point that ex-GROUP members, skill-out members, and even higher-ups would seek him out for assistance.

Digging through Academy city’s archives, I found something interesting. This boy had been traversing the globe like some sort of double-O seven secret agent. I don’t even remember seeing him in Russia, but somehow, he was instrumental in stopping World War III. he seemed to have made many powerful friends, like Accelerator and Railgun. Even Aleister Crowlery favored him above all other students.

Since yesterday, a viral video had popped up in the always-popular urban legends website. It showed a spiky-haired high school boy getting his arm bitten off by a giant wolf, and instead of his bleeding to death, a giant serpent erupted from his stump and attacked the wolf. It was like watching some Kaiju movie or reading something from Greek mythology. The boy’s face was pixelated but I knew from the spiky hair who it was.

Kamijou Touma is an enigma that I want to crack. I want to meet him more formally, and I want to understand him thoroughly.

Today.

Chapter Text

Omake: Binding of Fenrisulfr

Sometime in the night, between 10 PM Dec 28 and midnight Dec 29, a viral video popped up in the notorious “Urban-legends” website. It showed a group of espers facing off a grizzly man in a dungeon-like chamber, somewhere in Academy City. He was bound to a chair with heavy chains, which electrocuted him whenever he strained against them. Among those facing him directly was a spiky-haired high school boy. Though his face had been blurred, the boy was clearly talking to the man in chains. Whatever he said was known only to the people in that chamber and to the video’s producer, as the audio had been stripped and replaced with some techno music.

Suddenly, the man grew ten times his size. His face elongated into a snout, and his body was covered in black fur. Despite the electricity coursing through his body, he broke free from his chains, turning into a giant black wolf. All the espers were set on attacking the monster, but the spiky-haired boy held them back with a wave of his hand. Inexplicably, he put his right hand into the wolf’s open maw, as if daring the beast to bite him.

A golden thread wound around the monster’s body, binding him tightly. Enraged, the beast bit down hard, severing the boy’s arm. At first, he screamed as blood came pouring out of his stump, but then it stopped and something else came out. Commentators watching the video would say it looked like a snake had sprouted from the stump. Others would say that it looked more like a dragon.

Whatever that thing was, it struck the giant wolf like a cobra, tearing off chunks of the beast’s flesh and blood. Seconds later, the dragon or snake thing disappeared, and the boy’s arm reappeared. Meanwhile, the wolf had reverted back into his human form. He remained bound in the golden thread, and his body was covered with gashes from where he had been attacked.

The boy too had collapsed and lay in a pool of his own blood. All the people in the room rushed to his aid, and the video feed was cut off.

In the last frame was a single line of text that read, “There he shall lie until Ragnarök comes and frees his shackles.”


 

Chapter 16: Case of the Nutcracker: Intermission

“Oh, you’re finally here! I was beginning to think that you were never going to show up.” Stiyl Magnus was waiting by the elevator, smoking as he leaned against the fire alarm control box. Seeing this, Kuroko immediately teleported in front of him. “Really? You’re doing this here of all places? In a hospital no less! What gave you the impression that this sort of behavior was acceptable?”

It was comical to see Kuroko tell Stiyl off. The man with flaming red hair easily towered over the twin-tailed girl, and his dark robes made him look like some sort of caped crusader. Indeed, Saten and Uiharu were too busy gawking at his overall build and size. Yet it was Kuroko who stood her ground while Stiyl balked. He rolled his eyes.

“What’s the harm?” He said, “It’s not like I’m going to set the place on fire!”

“That’s besides the point!” Kuroko snapped, “Don’t you know what second-hand smoking is? We’re in a Hospital! Haven’t these patients suffered enough? Do you really want to lay an additional burden on them? Tanomu-yo, you can smoke in the courtyard!”

“Tsk! Fine!” Stiyl dropped the cigarette and crushed it under his foot, but before he could walk a step, Kuroko had picked up the stub and shoved it into his hands. “You’re a big boy! Dispose of this properly!”

“Tch,” Styl grimaced but complied with Kuroko’s demand, tossing the stub into the trash can. Then, he stepped into the elevator to go downstairs. As the elevator doors closed, Saten laughed nervously. “Eh-heh-heh. He’s not going to be happy when he comes back.”

“No Indeed.” Kanzaki Kaori walked up to us. As usual she wore her denim jacket and despite the cold, her midriff was completely exposed. Meanwhile, her nodachi hung on her back, clinking with every step she took. Saten and Uiharu were openly gawking at the tall girl, but she paid them no mind. “That Stiyl Magnus would be reprimanded by a thirteen-year-old girl may be beyond what his ego could bear.”

Kuroko shrugged. “It’s not my job to placate his emotion or appease his self-esteem. As a member of Judgement, my duty is to preserve and protect the inhabitants of this city. If his ego stands in the way of my duty, then I will take it down.”

Misaka-san rolled her eyes, but Kanzaki smiled. “You’re principled and resolute. I like that about you. Come, he’s waiting for you.”

The door was open to room 221B, and we walked into… a rather absurd scene.

Oni-chan was sitting up in his bed, being spoon-fed by a girl sitting on the bed. She had black hair worn in a bob cut with short fringes, and she was wearing a dark brown cardigan and tan capri pants. Yet she wasn’t the source of the strangeness. Oni-chan was handcuffed to the gurney like some criminal and was being gnawed on by Index. All of them—except for Index—froze at the sight of us at the door.

The girl shrieked and then jerked back violently, pulling on the spoon in Oni-chan’s mouth. Unfortunately, that also pulled him forward until he was on top of her. All three bodies tumbled out the bed with aloud thud.

“YAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!” Oni-chan screamed as his handcuffed arm twisted around horribly. Meanwhile Index was thrown to one corner, and the girl landed on her back. Wincing, she looked up and saw Oni-chan, still in his hospital gown, hovering over her.

Ii-iaahh!” She screamed and then shoved him off violently, such that his head hit the bed frame, and he bit down on his own tongue.

“GAAHH!!” I winced as he cried out again in pain. Fakouda, I thought.

Misaka-san was already sparking from her brow, and she struggled to keep her temper in check. “I’m sure there is some reasonable explanation in this,” She growled, “Is no one going to explain what is going on?”

At that moment, the door slid open again and in stepped the doctor. He was a bald-headed old man who looked like a frog, especially as he was wearing a green shirt under his lab coat. Coming in, he was holding a bundle of clothing. He took one look at the room and sighed. “Just what I needed. More excitement in my life.” He turned to Misaka-san and said, “Young lady, can you not make too big of a mess in here? After all, this is my hospital.”

At the sight of him, Misaka-san turned off her powers immediately. “I’m sorry sir, I didn’t mean to…”

“It’s quite understandable,” The frog-faced doctor said, one corner of his mouth rising slightly. “I’d be shocking him too if I had the power.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, shocked at how nonchalantly the doctor had spoken those words.

He merely shrugged. “He had been caught trying to sneak out in the night, probably so he could help out someone in need. We had confiscated his clothing, because we feared that just this scenario would happen.”

Walking over to Oni-chan, he unlocked the handcuffs, and Oni-chan rubbed his wrists tentatively. He laughed nervously as the doctor scrutinized him.

I cringed. Was it because of Fremea’s case? Kuroko was knowingly elbowing Misaka, who in turn was massaging the bridge of her nose. Saten was whispering into Uiharu’s ear. Index had sat up and was rubbing her head gingerly.

The doctor went on. “I don’t know what possessed him to trudge out into the snow wearing nothing but a hospital gown. Needless to say, the nurse who dragged him back found him passed out in the cold. A few more minutes in the snow, and he would have died of hypothermia.”

What? I stared dumbfounded at Oni-chan, not even sure what I wanted to say next. Everyone else were either sighing with exasperation or facepalming as though this was his typical behavior.

But the doctor wasn’t finished. A faint smile crept up his face as he said next, “They say that unfortunately, his gown had come loose and was flapping in the wind. In the end, everyone got to see what a manly nut he was.”

I covered my face, mortified as the imagery came unbidden, flooding my head. Uiharu, Saten, and Kuroko were all doubled over and trying to keep their giggling quiet. Misaka-san just stood there, blushing furiously. Chuckling to himself, the frog-faced doctor dropped his bundle on the table, then left. After he was gone, Misaka-san stomped over Oni-chan, pulled him to his feet, and then slapped him across his cheeks.

“What were you thinking?” She demanded, “How could you be so stupid? Were What made you think it was a good idea to do that?”

“I…I…I…” He looked away, ashamed.

“Is this about Fremea’s case?” I asked point blank, “I thought that you were going to stay here and meet with Fremea later today!”

“Of course, I was going to leave it for tonight,” Oni0chan said, “But then you got involved, and I got worried for your safety! I didn’t want you to get hurt!”

“Let me guess, you were going to play the hero again! You were going to come at the last hour and save us?” Misaka-san growled, “I told you that Otohime was safe with me and Index! There was no way for her to get hurt!”

“Yeah, but I thought…that…” Oni-chan blushed, “I thought that…given your abilities, I thought that you wouldn’t be able to handle the situation.”

For a moment, there was silence. Then, Misaka-san was like a spark plug, and Kuroko had appeared besides her with white spikes in one hand.

Onee-sama,” Kuroko said, “How about I teleport these needles into his acupuncture points? I’m sure there is some way we can cure his stupidity.”

“W-Wait! Let’s talk about this, Shirai-san! –iitai!” Oni-Chan’s back slammed against the hospital equipment as he tried to back away. His voice was quivering as he stammered out, “Acupuncture needles aren’t that big! Surely I’ll bleed to death if you stab me with all those spikes!”

“Actually, I have a better idea,” Misaka-san said as sparks leapt from her brow. “How about you teleport some into his thick skull so I can give him some much-needed electroshock therapy!”

“Please! Don’t even joke about something so horrible!” Oni-chan cried hysterically, “I don’t want my limbs dancing like a frog with electrodes stuck in its head!”

“Who says that I’m joking?” Misaka-san jeered, “It’s not like you’re in control of your senses anyway!”

“Ehh?”

At that moment, the black-haired girl jumped in front of Oni-Chan, pushing the other girls away.

“Don’t come any closer!” She snapped, “I will not let Kamijou-kun be harmed in any way!”

A long three-pointed spear appeared in her hands. Both Kuroko and Misaka-san backed away in shock, but Oni-chan placed a hand on the girl’s shoulder.

“It’s okay, Itsuwa. Let them be.” He assured her. Once again, I was reminded of the power he wielded. How can someone so dumb be so popular!?

“I’m sorry,” Oni-chan said sheepishly, “I didn’t mean it in that way. I wasn’t trying to put you down or belittle your abilities. There are aspects to Fremea’s case that I felt uncomfortable exposing you to. Index told me a little of what you found last night, and it confirmed my suspicions.”

“Suspicions?” I asked, “Of what?”

“Of the fact that the magic side is involved in this case.” Everyone jumped as Index stood up. Gingerly, she rubbed her temple while saying, “That little box we found in Marie’s trunk…it was meant to carry something powerful and magical.”

Oni-chan sighed, “I thought that maybe the whole thing would go over your head, since magic isn’t something you’re used to.”

Saten, Uiharu, and Kuroko all looked confused, but Misaka-san just rolled her eyes.

Tak-er!” she said, mussing up her hair, “At least give me some credit! I’m not as ignorant as I used to be. Not since that incident with the Chairman…” She blushed. “Honestly, it’s obvious isn’t it? That all the principle actors in the case—Marie, Friz, and Dorsselmeyer—have something to do with ‘The Nutcracker’ story?”

“Exactly,” Oni-chan said, “And I suspect that they’re all based on one version of the story.” Saying this, he pulled out the paper-bound book he’d been carrying around all day yesterday.

“The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” Misaka-san read the title. “Wait, Isn’t that the original novel? What was the author’s name again?”

“Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann,” Index said, “It’s the only version where the protagonist is named Marie! All the other versions called the little girl Carla or Mary.”

“That’s right,” Oni-chan said, “It’s the only version that tells the story of how the prince was turned into the titular Nutcracker.”

“Wait a minute!” Misaka-san asked, “You can create magic out of literature? I thought that magic could only have been created from things people believed in, like religion or superstition.”

“Yes,” Index nodded, “Certainly, religion is the most powerful source of magical power, and the most powerful cabals have something to do with it. However, anything can be used as the basis, as long as people believe in it, whether it is mythology, legends, or fantasy.”

“Hold on!” Everyone turned to look at Saten Ruiko. Her head was tilted to the side as she was trying—and failing—at processing everything she was hearing. “What are you talking about? Magic? Religion? What are you talking about?”

“Huh? Oh right,” Oni-chan said, looking at her, Kuroko and Uiharu, “There’s no way you would know about the magic side, would you?”

He gave a look towards Kanzaki Kaori, who at that moment was guarding the door. She nodded and approached the girls. “Come,” she said, “I will explain as much as I am permitted to. Itsuwa, come with me.”

“At once my lady.”

Together, Kanzaki and Itsuwa escorted the girls out, leaving me, Misaka-san, and Index behind.

Oni-chan sat back down on the bed and covered his legs with his duvet. Then, he motioned us to sit in the chairs left in the room.

“So?” Oni-chan said, “Have you brought it?”

I didn’t know what he was talking about, but Index did. “Of course,” she said, “I’ve kept it safe in my Walking Church.”

Saying this, she reached inside the sleeve of her robe and pulled out a small wooden box. I recognized it immediately as the same box we found in Marie’s trunk. Smiling, she handed it off to Oni-chan.

“Here it is,” she said. Oni-chan reached out for it with his right hand but then stopped at the last moment.

“No,” He said, pulling back his hand, “If I touch it, I’ll destroy it.”

Misaka-san took it instead. She opened it and pulled out the little cage. I gazed up at it in wonder as Misaka-san dangled it over me. The golden lacework formed a brilliant sphere, only slightly bigger than a ping-pong ball. It was studded all over with jewels, each individually crafted to sparkle in the daylight.

“What an intricate little device,” Misaka-san mused, “Each of the threads must have been so carefully cast, and the rubies are so inlaid craftily! This is no ordinary cage!”

“No,” Oni-chan agreed, “It’s been shaped to exactly fit whatever it was supposed to fit. For someone to have this item custom made, he or she must have been very wealthy.”

“Hang on! This reminds me of something!” I said, suddenly remembering, “Last year, I went to St. Petersburg on a cruise and saw one of these in a museum! The tour guide said that these were given to the Russian royal family!”

“The Fabergé eggs.” Index said, “They were gifted to the Royal Family between 1885 and 1917. The last one, called Constellation, was being made just as the Russian revolution was heating up, and Czar Nicholas II had already abdicated.”

“Constellation, huh?” Misaka-san said, gazing at the little cage, “I guess you can say that these studs resemble stars, but it doesn’t remind me of any constellation I know of.

“True,” Index said, “But then again, is it really the Constellation? As you know, there are two other eggs that lay claim to that title. One is in Moscow in the Fersman Mineralogical Museum, while the other is in the Fabergé museum and under the protection of one Alexander Ivanov. Also, this little cage is rounder and more similar to a turtle’s egg. All imperial eggs were supposed to have been made from birds’ eggs.”

“Right, it’s possible,” Oni-chan said, “That this cage is in fact not the Constellation and has nothing to do with those eggs. We won’t know for sure about that. However, we can know one thing for certain.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“That whatever was inside, whatever object the cage was protecting, was—or still is—far more valuable to Marie than this piece.” He said.

“Or even its container!” Misaka-san said, putting the little cage back into the little box. She picked it up with both hands. “Look at the trimmings and the decorations! They are not merely painted on, but inlaid pieces of decorative wood! And the lacquer! I’ve only seen this patina on a Stradivarius violin. The craftsmanship on this box is amazing!”

“But what could be so valuable?” I asked. “What could be so amazing that Marie would toss this aside for it?”

Oni-chan shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said candidly, “But I think we can find clues in the Nutcracker story itself.”

Saying this, he pulled out his book and opened it to an earmarked page. “Here’s the passage that may be key to our investigation.”

The story of Princess Pirlipat and Madame Mouserinks, aka the Mouse Queen, was a long one. According to the story, the Mouse Queen had tricked the princess into allowing her to gobble up the lard that was supposed to go into the sausage for the King. Enraged at the Mouse Queen for spoiling his supper and upsetting his wife, the king had Drosselmeyer, his court inventor, create traps for the Mouse Queen and her children.

The Mouse Queen survived all attempts on her life, but her children weren’t so lucky. Swearing revenge, she focused her wrath on Pirlipat’s son, the crown prince and sole heir to the throne. She magically turned the boy ugly, giving him a huge head, a wide grinning mouth, and a cottony beard like a nutcracker. According the story, only way to cure him was to have him eat the nut called Crackatook.

“Crackatook?” I said, after hearing Oni-chan read the passage, “Is that what was in the box?”

“Perhaps,” Oni-chan said, “But is that what really happened? We don’t really know.”

“Magic based on Fairy Tales are tricky,” Index said, “There are much more embellishments to the story, and a lot of it is just fanciful storytelling. Was there really a woman named Madame Mouserinks? What was so important about the lard in the sausage? Was that an analogy to something else? There are so many questions.”

“Aside from this, what about all the other people involved?” Misaka-san said, “Miss Clavel and her staff clearly know more than they let on. How could the headmistress be so blasé about two children disappearing under her watch? Also, if it’s true that all the people involved have something to do with some prince-turned-nutcracker, then where is he? Where is the Nutcracker?”

“I think I know where he is,” I said, “We never got to visit the third floor, now did we? Maybe he’s still there, waiting for us.”

“Or maybe he’s already been turned back and is now on the run?” Oni-chan chimed in, “We can’t know for sure until we see him for ourselves.”

“Or see the children,” Index said.

Throwing the covering aside, Oni-chan stood up and adjusted his hospital gown. “Anyway, we probably won’t be able to visit until tonight. In the meantime, we can visit Dorsselmeyer’s toys store.”

Misaka-san nodded. “Um, Miss Clavel said it was in the underground shopping center.”

“I remember that place!” I said, “It’s that place with the toy band!”

“You mean where Fenrisulfr attacked?” Oni-chan asked as a shadow crept up to his face, “I hear that entire section has been closed off to the public. There’s no way we can go there now.”

Kuso!” Misaka-cursed, “Every second, those children are sinking into the darkness! It’s unacceptable!”

“I know,” Oni-chan sighed. “Fukouda deshu-no?

He walked over to the little table and picked up his clothing. “Speaking of misfortunes, unless you want to see more of Kamijou Touma than you wish,” he said, smiling wryly, “I suggest that you all clear out so I can get dressed.”


 

“How does he do that?” I said, walking out the door.

“Do what?” Misaka-san said as she came out behind me. Her cheeks were rosy red, and her lips were slightly puckered. I could feel my own cheeks burning, so I guess I wasn’t that different.

“Say something so outrageous and get away with it?”

“Hmph!” Index huffed as she closed the door behind her. She tucked the little box inside her sleeve. “It’s unfair! He’s seen me naked so many times! Why don’t I get to see what a manly nut he is?!”

At that, we were all giggling hysterically. Honestly! How many times has oni-chan walked in on girls dressing?

Before I could ask, however, there suddenly was a commotion in the hallway. Fukiyose Seiri was struggling with Kanzaki Kaori. Behind her walked a whole posse of people. There was Takitsubo Rikou, Yomikawa Aiho, and Aogami Pierce, the only male in the entourage. Also, with them was a short pink haired girl.

“Let me go! I’m here to see Kamijou-kun!” Fukiyose was shouting as she pulled against Kanzaki Kaori.

Dame-desu!” Itsuwa was screaming, “He’s in an important meeting right now! He can’t be disturbed!”

“What meeting!?” Fukiyose snapped, looking at everyone around her. “All I see are girls standing in a hallway! What is this? A certain series of conjugal visits?”

Conjugal visits? My cheeks were burning. I wasn’t the only one either. It didn’t help when Oni-chan’s door opened and he peeked outside.

“What is it?” He asked, “Is there a fight?”

“No!” Misaka-san snapped. Her whole face was now beet red, “Have you finished dressing?”

“Not yet.”

“Then get back inside!”

Too late, Fukiyose had broken free from Kanzaki’s grasp. Before Oni-chan could close the door, she reached for the vertical bar and wrenched it open.

There you are! I’ve been looking all over for you!! How the heck did you get injured? What do I see now? A whole gaggle of girls just standing around? I thought you were some kind of deviant before, but now I…see…it…all…now…”

Like an old-fashioned record player, her tirade wound down as her brain processed what she was looking at. She looked down, and her face went scarlet.

We were all looking down; I’ve never felt my cheeks so hot before.

Faintly, I heard someone whistle and say, “Damn son, no wonder you have so many girls waiting for you! Now I know where Kami-yan disease comes from!”

Fukouda! I thought.

Chapter Text

Between the lines: A Flashback

Kamijou Touma wasn’t in his dorm when I rang the bell. I rang it once more before giving up. I was turning to leave when I saw Tsuchimikado-san’s sister coming up the stairs.

“Ah! It’s you again!” she said as soon as she saw me, “Forgive me, but I don’t think I’ve introduced myself properly. My name is Tsuchimikado Maika, it’s nice to meet you.”

“Likewise,” I said, bowing, “Pleased to meet you. I am Takitsubo Rikou.”

She beamed. “Are you here to see Kamijou-chan?”

Hai,” I said.

“I knew it!” Maika-san cheered, “Unfortunately, he isn’t here. He got hurt last night and had to go to the hospital.”

“Oh?” I said, “Which hospital is he at?”

“The one here in District 7,” Maika-san said, “It isn’t too far from here.”

Sou-desu ka?” I said. That would make sense, after what happened in that video uploaded last night. “Thanks for the information.”

“No problem! Have a great day!”

I studied the girl as she went to unlock her own dorm room. Seeing that maid uniform under her overcoat, I couldn’t help but think of one of the staff members in Fremea’s boarding school.

Anou…Just a minute,” I said.

Maika-san paused and looked at me. “Hai?

I cleared my throat and asked, “I have a friend who goes to a certain boarding school, and one of its staff members also has the name Maika. All of the staff were hired from Ryouran Maid School, so I was wondering if you worked there.”

Oho?” Maika-san said, “What is the name of that school?”

Et-to, I think it was Abbey Grange Park Academy,” I said.

“Ah!” Maika-san shook her head. “Sorry, but I’m training in Tokiwadai’s dormitory,” she said, “But I think I know who you’re talking about.”

“You do?”

“Does she have black hair and squinty eyes and look like some sadist?”

Hai.”

“I thought so!” Maika-san cried, “She’s a really nice girl, once you get to know her. She’s a year ahead of me, even though she has only been at my school for a month. The instructors say that she had prior working experience in a certain role-playing maid café.”

“Role-playing maid café?”

Hai!” Maika-san said, “Apparently, there was a scandal involving some food inspectors and the owner, and the place closed down as a result.”

“Hmm…” I said, “I will have to look in to this incident.”

As I was musing, there was a commotion on the third-floor landing. A whole group of people came boiling up the stairs and was making a beeline for us. At the head of the pack was a short pink haired girl. Behind her were two high school students: a blue-haired lanky boy, known to be an associate of Tsuchimikado-san, as well as a tall girl with a well-endowed bust.

Looking down at myself, I resolved to never let Hamazura-kun meet this girl! Ever!

“It just wouldn’t do,” the pink-haired girl was saying, “I can’t just have my ka-waii students disappearing all the time! We’ve already lost Kamijou-chan, and now Tsuchimikado-chan is gone as well? I can’t accept this!”

“Oh, come on, Komoe-sensei!” The tall girl cried, “As shameful as it is for me to say, this is Motoharu we’re talking about! He’s been in out of school plenty of times! In fact, his delinquency makes Kamijou-kun look like a saint!”

“That may be true,” the shorter girl said, “But Tsuchimikado-chan has always provided excuse letters, however flimsy or contrived. Having no communication at all is so unlike him!”

“But why are you going to this idiot for help!” The taller girl snapped, “He makes some elaborate excuse, drops out of high school and goes to hang out with Skill-out members and goes fighting in some gladiatorial event! How can you come here and not find more sensible help like Anti-skill or Judgement?”

“Because Yomikawa-sensei trusts him. It’s not like I’m trying to rely on a delinquent high school boy, but he knows things even Anti-skill officers like Yomikawa-sensei do not.” The pink-haired girl sighed.

“Speaking of which,” she went on, “Fukiyose-chan, I heard that you came here and bothered him while he was working. I hope you didn’t cause him too much trouble.”

“How could you!” The taller girl gasped, “I was only trying to bring him back to class! I can’t bear the thought of leaving him behind!”

“I understand your feelings,” the shorter girl said, “Honestly, I was worried myself when he first told me what he was up to. However, he promised that this was a temporary measure, and he would be coming back in the spring. Kamijou-chan isn’t someone who goes back on his words.”

The pink-haired girl smiled. “Besides, if the worst-case scenario happens and he doesn’t come back, then I can come here and tutor him myself.”

The taller, more athletic girl was going to say something else, but then the blue-haired boy waved his hands and called out, “Ooii! Maika-san! Ohayo!

Maika-san giggled lightheartedly and waved back, “Ohayo! Baka-onichan!

Hi-doi!” The boy cried, reeling back as if he had been slapped, “What did I ever do to you!”

“Hmmm, let’s see,” Maika-san pretended to think, “First, you broke into my bedroom to steal my panties, then you tried to cop a feel while I came to your school to deliver Aniki’s lunch bento. Then you propositioned me in front of Aniki. You’re fortunate that I stopped Aniki from beating you to death.”

“Ya ha ha ha ha!” the boy laughed, rubbing the back of his head, “Funnily enough, I don’t even remember that episode! Anyway, we came to see Kami-yan. Can you be a dear and wake him up for us?”

Maika-san shook her head, “Unfortunately, he isn’t here right now. If you hurry, you can find him at the District 7 Hospital before he gets discharged. Better run!”


Chapter 17: The Council of Touma

“I guess this is karma for all the times I’ve walked in on you changing, but did you have to hit me so hard?”

Uru-sai! It’s your fault for appearing naked in front of me!”

Eh? How is that fair?”

“Just die already!”

Fukouda!

Oni-chan was sitting on a bench in the hospital hallway. His face was covered in white bandages after Fukiyose-san had beat him to a bloody pulp.

She had gone berserk upon seeing him naked getting dressed, and decided to vent her embarrassment by smashing his face in. It took Me, Saten-san, and Itsuwa-san considerable effort to pull them apart, and we had to physically restrain the girl so Misaka-san could drag Oni-chan back into his room. By the time he reemerged dressed, his face had swelled into a red and tender mess.

A nurse had to be called in to attend to his injuries. She suggested that he stay another night, but Oni-chan wouldn’t even consider it. “It’s already a strain on my wallet,” He said, “I’ll go broke if I have to stay here. Besides, I’ve gone through far worse than this.”

Instead, he asked if there was a place that was private so he could talk to so many people. Reluctantly, the nurse acquiesced, “There’s a conference room in the second floor. It’s available until noon, so you have plenty of time.”

“Thank you as always,” Oni-chan said. Smiling, he turned around and waved at the group. “Alright everyone, follow me!”

Dutifully, we all fell into this strange procession. All the other patients had come out to gawk, and I couldn’t help but blush at my situation.

I was walking next to Index and Misaka-san, right behind Oni-chan. He was conversing with Aogami-san and the pink haired girl. Behind me, Yomikawa-sensei was walking with Shirai-san and Uiharu-san. It was strange to see her without her Anti-skill uniform. Instead, she wore a green tracksuit and an ordinary T-shirt. Lastly came Saten-san and Fukiyose-san, not really speaking to each other.

Oni-chan ushered us all into the elevator and then got in himself. I found myself standing next to the pink short-haired girl who was busy conversing with Aogami-san. She caught me staring and bowed. “Hello! You must be Kamijou-chan’s ka-waii cousin. Yomikawa-sensei has been talking all about you.”

Hai!” I said, bowing back, “My name is Otohime. It’s nice to me you.”

“Nice to meet you too, Otohime-chan,” she said, “I am Komoe Tsukuyomi. I’m actually your Oni-chan’s former teacher!”

“Eh? Kamoe-sensei?” I said, “But your no bigger than I am!”

“Ha! I get that a lot,” She giggled, “Despite my looks, I’m much older than you and a proper high school teacher!”

Before I could say any more, the elevator chimed, and the doors opened. Oni-chan led the way and ducked into a conference room.

Like any other conference room, it was long and fairly spacious. Frosted windows made up the far wall and florescent lights were recessed in the ceiling, lighting up the room. The central table could comfortably seat up to twenty people and was narrow enough to allow people across from each other to shake hands comfortably.

Stiyl Magnus was already sitting at the head of the table, smoking. He watched as we filed in one-by-one. Oni-chan went around the table to sit in front of the windows. I sat down on his left-hand side, along with Index-san and Itsuwa-san. Meanwhile, Misaka-san, Shirai-san, Uiharu-san, and Saten-san all sat down to his right. Fukiyose-san, Aogami-san, Komoe-sensei, Yomikawa-sensei, and Takitsubo-san all took seats across from us.

Finally, Kanzaki-san closed the door and sat at the foot of the table. Once everyone was seated, Oni-chan grunted and rose from his chair.

“You have all come to seek answers for a problem you’re having. If I have to guess, there are people you care about who have gone missing and you have no way of contacting them.”

To my surprise, everyone sitting across from me was nodding.

Oni-chan sighed. “Tsuchimikado Maika, who was here beforehand, has told me a similar story. However, I would like to hear more details from all of you,” He said, “Come on then. Let us have the facts.”

Before anyone else could say anything, however, Fukiyose-san stood up to speak. “First, let me apologize to you for making baseless assumptions about you. It seems that you move in circles above what the normal population experience, and you in fact fight monsters that normal people wouldn’t dare approach.”

“Thank you,” Oni-chan said, “That was very nice for you to say, but what made you change your mind so drastically?”

“I think this is what she saw,” Shirai-san said. Leaning in, she pulled out her little white phone. A little screen popped out from the main body and a certain video from a certain urban legends’ website started playing. Oni-chan’s eyes grew wide as he saw it.

“Who leaked this?” He asked. “Who was filming us?”

“I don’t know,” Shirai-san said, “But this video was uploaded last night. It’s safe to say that your secrets are out in the open. Anyone who knows you will see it.”

Fukouda!” He cursed silently.

Fukiyose-san went on. “Anyway, I want to understand more about what you do. Why were you fending off some giant monster? Why are you consulting with Skill-out members?” She glanced around and scowled, “Why are you surrounded by so many girls?”

Oni-chan sweat-dropped. “Well, I can’t say much about that last question…” He laughed nervously. Index-san, Misaka-san, me, and the other girls were all exchanging uncomfortable glances.

He cleared his throat loudly. “I am a consulting detective. I make it my business to know what other people don’t know, like all the things happening in this city.” He gestured towards me and the other people sitting next to him, and said, “These are the people I work with: my friends, my family, my compatriots. They help me keep tabs on things like the criminal underbelly, corruption in the highest echelons of power, and threats from outside forces.”

“Admirable,” Fukiyose-san said, “You did a great job of sounding like a certain mei-tantei from a certain never-ending anime.” She spat out the phrase “mei-tantei” like some piece of gum that had lost all its flavor. “All of this just sound like lofty nonsense to me. After all, you’re just a high school boy who meddles in affairs beyond his normal life.”

Oni-chan sighed. “I haven’t been a normal high school boy since summer. There’s no way I can prove what I can do.”

“On the contrary, of course there is!”

“How?”

“Let me come with you. Bring me along to see whatever you’re up to.”

“Ehh?”

Fukiyose-san crossed her arms. “Nothing you say will change my opinion about you. I have to see what you do with my own eyes.”

“Impossible!” Oni-chan cried, “The places I go aren’t some fun adventure spot or some amusement park. You don’t know the power of the dark side!”

“I can take care of myself just fine,” Fukiyose-san said haughtily, “There’s nothing I can’t handle!”

Oni-chan bit his lips. He gripped the table so hard that his knuckles went white. “What if I say no?”

Her eyes narrowed. “Then I will drag you back to school, and we will have no more of this consulting detective nonsense.”

Oni-chan groaned. “Is there no way I can dissuade you on this path?”

She shook her head.

Fukouda!” Oni-chan grumbled, “Fine, have it your way.”

Satisfied, Fukiyose-san sat down.

Oni-chan, too, collapsed into his chair. He looked towards the others and groaned. “Okay, who wants to speak next?”

Yomikawa Aiho stood up. She surveyed the room before speaking. “As many of you know, I have taken Accelerator in as my ward.”

Misaka-san flinched at those words. Her eyes became unfocused, and she was shaking as if her life had been sucked out. Oni-Chan noticed and placed a hand on hers. She jerked violently at the sudden contact but relaxed when she saw who it was. Their fingers intertwined, and she leaned in to him.

Yomikawa-sensei gave Misaka-san a concerned look but continued on regardless. “During the Battle Royale days, he was always able to call me every day. Even during World War III, he had somehow remained in contact despite being deep in enemy territory. He has only been out of touch once before, when he decided to break into the windowless building. As you can imagine, it’s deeply concerning when his communications get cut off so completely.”

Kamoe-sensei stood up next to Yomikawa-sensei. She took a deep breath and spoke. “My home has always been a sanctuary for wayward students who are in desperate need of assistance. Like Yomikawa-sensei, I have been harboring a student, Musujime Awaki, in my house since September.”

This time, it was Shirai-san who flinched at the name and Misaka-san who comforted her, embracing her with one arm.

Kamoe-sensei didn’t notice. “Even when she was knee-deep in Academy city’s darkness, Awaki-kun has always answered my phone calls. This time, however, she hasn’t call me or even text me if she was alright. The last time I saw her was yesterday afternoon, when she got a text saying that somebody needed her help.”

“That’s what happened to Accelerator,” Yomikawa-sensei said, “He said that he got some text message and left without saying anything else. I suspect it was Tsuchimikado who contacted them.”

Kamoe-sensei nodded. “And he is missing too. It’s not like him to skip class without even providing the flimsiest excuse, I’m worried about him.”

At this, Fukiyose-san stood up again. She glared at Oni-Chan as if deeply despising the fact that she needed his help at all. “Like you, Tsuchimikado has decided that going to school is something he can do on his own schedule. He has failed to show up to class and is doing god-knows-what in god-knows-where. He never even bothered to provide any excuse for his shameful behavior.”

“Me too,” Takitsubo-san said, standing as well, “Hamazura-kun always contacts me whenever he goes out on dangerous missions. After leaving your dorm yesterday, he called Kinuhata-san for help. Since then, I haven’t heard from either of them. Kinuhata-san has always been diligent in maintaining communications with the rest of ITEM. In fact, she was the one who set up this system of calling in.”

Oni-chan sighed. “Tsuchimikado told me that infiltrating GROUP headquarters was dangerous, but I didn’t appreciate exactly how dangerous it would be. To think he would call upon Accelerator and Awaki for help,” He leaned back, deep in thought, “I wonder if Etzali was also roped into this affair. I don’t know what effect this will have on the magic side.”

“Practically nil,” Stiyl Magnus said, puffing out more smoke, “The Aztecs are in total disarray, and even then, Etzali has forsworn any allegiance to the cabal. It’s not a problem.”

“That’s great! We can dispense with that complication,” Oni-chan said, “Thank you everyone, please return to your seats.”

Standing up, he addressed the group again. “All of you have heard what the others have said. All of you have undoubtedly noticed what unites these stories. Now, it is my duty to provide the last piece of information. I know where your loved ones are.”

This caused a stir among the table. Oni-chan went on, “I sent Tsuchimikado and Hamazura to retrieve some intelligence from a dark side organization called GROUP. In fact, Tsuchimikado, Accelerator, Awaki-san, and Etzali were all members of this organization. I’m guessing Tsuchimikado sent word to his old comrades for help. Yesterday, sometime in the evening, I received a voicemail from Tsuchimikado. It was the last piece of communication I received before his disappearance. I will play it for you here.”

He set his own phone on the table and activated the voicemail. He put the speaker on, and Tsuchimikado’s voice emerged from the static.

“Kami-yan, I think I’m in deeper shit than I thought. What is that phrase you always say? ‘Fukouda!’ right? More like ‘Fuck my life!’ right?”

He laughed. “Luckily, I have great sense of self preservation, and I’ve kept myself out of harm’s way. Hamazura’s with me too. If his girlfriend’s hearing this, let her know that he lives to fight another day!”

The rhythmic pattering of feet could be heard, as he was running down some hallway. “Anyway, I’m going to need some back-up. When you do decide to intervene, bring Stiyl or Kanzaki with you. Who would have thought that our old liaison would hire a magician to do the dirty work? Somehow, he’s turned us all against each other.”

“I fear the you have met this bastard before. I remember reading something similar from the reports about the Misawa cram school incident. He must have escaped during the chaos that the chairman brought when he invaded Britain.”

He stopped when suddenly, there was a loud crash coming nearby. More pattering of feet could be heard as he escaped into a stairwell. “I’ll try to stay alive as long as possible. Surely, my healing abilities will help in this situation. Take care of yourself, Kami-yan, and I’ll see you soon! Motoharu out!”

The call ended.

At first, no one else was brave enough to break the silence. Everyone was processing what was heard.

Then, Kamoe-sensei whispered, “Oh my god!”

“A-men.” Stiyl Magnus angrily stabbed his cigarette into the ashtray. “Aureolus Izzard!” He spat, “To think he would be involved!”

“Hold on!” I said, “Is this also why you tried to sneak out of the hospital? Were you seriously going to help Fremea’s case and then go help Tsuchimikado? In the same night?”

“Eh-heh, it’s not like I haven’t done things like that before.” Oni-chan said sheepishly. Shirai-san and Index sighed heavily. Misaka-san just growled “Baka!” under her breath.

“Anyway,” Oni-chan said, “I promised Tsuchimikado that if he found any trouble with the mission, I would go and assist him. However…”

Here, he stopped, grinding his teeth as if regretting what he was going to say next. “However, I can’t do this alone. If even Accelerator can’t handle the situation, what are the chances that I will survive alone?”

He grimaced as he struggled to say his next words. Planting his hands on the table, he bowed so low that his head touched the surface. “Make no mistake. I am going in to extract Tsuchimikado’s team from GROUP headquarters, but I just don’t have the strength or the firepower necessary to go alone. It’s hard for me to say this, but I need help. I can only ask the people here to help me, and I’m only asking for volunteers. Will you go with me into the depth of hell?”

At first, there was silence. Then, Misaka-san, Shirai-san, Index-san, and Itsuwa-san all stood up at the same time. “It’s about time!” Misaka-san said, grinning, “I’ve been waiting for this call forever!”

“All of this talk of Academy City’s darkness worries me deeply,” Shirai-san said, “To think such lawlessness could happen under our very noses, I can’t even fathom how deep it all goes.”

“Me too!” Index said, “I want to meet this Aureolus Izzard. Stiyl Magnus said he took me in when I was still a child. I want to save him from his own demons!”

“Normally, Amakusa wouldn’t be involved with problems involving the science side,” Itsuwa said, “But since you asked me so directly, how could I possibly refuse? Plus, Tsuchimikado-kun is a friend and I don’t want him to get hurt.”

Kanzaki-san, and Stiyl Magnus rose up as well. Kanzaki spoke. “Like Itsuwa, I have a debt to pay. Compared to all the things you helped me with in the past, this is a trifle. Of course, Tsuchimikado is in trouble and there’s no way I can refuse to help him.”

Stiyl sighed. “As loathed as I am to say, I’m in the same boat as Kanzaki. Aureolus Izzard, boy do I have a score to settle with that son of a bitch!”

I stood up too, “I may be small and inexperienced in these sorts of things,” I said, “But I want to help.”

“It’s going to be dangerous,” Oni-chan said, “I can’t guarantee your safety.”

“I know, but I too have a good sense of self preservation. If any trouble comes my way, I’ll just hide somewhere safe, so they won’t find me.”

Fukiyose-san stood up next. “I’ve said this already! I’m coming with you, whether you like it or not!”

Finally, Takitsubo-san, Uiharu-san and Saten-san all stood up.

Takitsubo-san sighed. “Since half of ITEM are there anyway, I might as well join in on the fun. Plus, I want to see Hamazura-kun!”

Saten grinned. “I’ve always looked up to you, Kamijou-senpai! You’re a level 0 like me, yet you get roped into all of these crazy adventures! How can I not come and help out!”

Uiharu also grinned, nervously, “Clearly, communication is going to be difficult once we get into the building. You need someone who is experienced in these sorts of things. I happily offer my services!”

Oni-chan looked around and grinned. “Thank you, everyone.” He bowed again.