Toaru Majutsu No Index SS: Biohacker Chapter 1/
Toaru Majutsu No Index SS: Biohacker Chapter 1
Welcome, Kamijou Touma, to the colorful underground!!
Only after hearing it did Kamijou Touma realize the groan had come from his own mouth. His blurry vision came into focus to reveal he was lying on his side.
His entire body ached.
The type of pain varied. An oozing pain made him intensely aware of his skin, a dull pain slowly spread through the core of his body, and a hot pain covered the swollen parts across his body. He could only count himself lucky that he did not feel that knife-sharp pain that refused to even be touched.
It was an awful night. He was surrounded by the sweltering midsummer air and lying in a back alley that reeked of mold and urine while a smile appeared on his lips. If this was what he called "lucky", then the average for him must have been at rock bottom.
He had learned something with his attempt here.
Taking on five at once did not work. He could handle three at the most. And then only when they had to approach him along a single narrow path. When they could attack him from several directions at once, it was hard to even see them all at the same time. There was nothing you could do unless you were a master swordsman who could dodge an attack from directly behind by sensing a presence there.
Nothing went the way he had hoped.
His uselessness frustrated him to no end. He had grown tired of the boring routine of everyday life and stepped off the rails in search of some excitement, but this was the result. It felt like he had been shoved back onto the rails by some powerful force.
This may have been the extent of the freedom allowed to a middle schooler.
While he lazily pondered that, he finally noticed something that did not fit the obvious result of his actions. Specifically, his cheek felt something far softer and warmer than asphalt. And a faint floral scent tickled his nose within the musty alley.
He wondered if the pain had been so great his brain had emitted a rush of endorphins.
But this illusion did not seem to be the type that his right hand could destroy.
Someone was there.
And quite close by. They were looking down at him from above. No, they were practically leaning over him.
They appeared to be older than him. For middle schoolers, a powerful barrier stood between them and high school. If he was told to separate the middle schoolers from the higher schoolers in the bustling shopping district of District 15, he was confident he could do it in five seconds. That was how great the difference was.
She had shoulder-length glossy black hair held back by a hairband that showed off her forehead and she had a beautiful face. Beautiful, not cute. She wore a short-sleeved sailor uniform, but either it was too short or her chest was too big because the rise and fall of those twin ma.s.ses when she breathed tugged the cloth up enough to give a glimpse of her shapely navel. Much like the story of the North Wind and the Sun, she may have chosen a skimpier outfit after succ.u.mbing to the heat on this sweltering night.
She was way too close.
He could feel something warm and soft on the back of his head and he was looking up at her face while collapsed on the ground, which meant…
(A lap pillow!?)
"Bwah!? Wait, you- ow!!"
"Stay still. You won't be able to move right away. You were pummeled from pretty much every direction."
He frantically tried to get up, but his entire body was thrown into a vortex of agony. He froze up in a weird pose, so the black-haired beauty grabbed his shoulders and guided his head back to her lap.
He had done nothing to earn this.
And when he was given something for free, it scared him. You never knew what they would demand in return. …Of course, that worldview may have been the result of his constant misfortune.
On the other hand, that mystery person did not seem to mind.
But then again, she was a grownup girl(?) - one of those high school girls he had always dreamed of getting to know. Once a girl reached that level, they apparently did not grow fl.u.s.tered over something as simple as a lap pillow. It felt like seeing a businesswoman before Valentine's day who focused on cost-performance by buying a box of processed cocoa products instead of worrying about romance or compet.i.tion.
And with a large-chested older girl, even an exasperated sigh could sound s.e.xy.
"I had heard rumors of a boy wandering this area and causing trouble, but you aren't quite what I expected. I certainly didn't think you were this stupid."
"Who are you?"
"Are you sure you want me to tell you? There are some things you are better off not knowing."
That suggestive refusal was immediately followed by a complete reversal.
This mystery high-risk girl was apparently going to drag him into this while knowing it was dangerous.
"I'm k.u.mokawa Seria. You can think of me as a high school girl who happened to be in the area."
"Oh, and you don't have to worry about those Skill Outs who attacked you."
She made it sound so simple.
It was a h.e.l.l of a thing to say about a group armed with collapsible batons and modified gas guns, but it was true there was no sign of them in this back alley. Yet the girl had no obvious cuts or bruises. Did that mean she had easily driven them away? That certainly fit the profile of the "Senpai" characters seen in dramas and movies, but how had a girl with such skinny arms and bare legs managed that?
There was only one possibility that occurred to the Level 0 boy (and it came with some jealousy).
"Are you an esper?"
"Only you would ask an Academy City student such a stupid question. Have you forgotten what the primary curriculum here is?"
Espers could create movement, fire, electricity, and vacuums with their minds.
With a high enough level, they could indeed make short work of so many opponents. After all, at the higher levels, it was said they did not need any kind of weapon to wield as much destructive power as a battleship gun. Even if a bunch of weak thugs gathered together and joined forces, they would be easily defeated. Coldly logical and coldly efficient - those were the rules that governed Academy City.
"You have the wrong idea."
But his thoughts were overturned a moment later.
This high school girl named k.u.mokawa Seria apparently liked to confuse people.
She brushed the hair from her shoulder as she continued.
"We still live in the age of television."
"The media power balance may collapse before long, but TV still remains strong. Anyone up to no good will flee when the cameras focus their way."
He did not understand.
However, he could hear a woman's voice coming from the well-lit main street where the bright lights and electronic signs allowed everyone to travel in peace. But this did not seem to be someone chatting on the sidewalk. Abdominal breathing? Proper enunciation? The methods he only really thought about during music cla.s.s or karaoke were used to produce an artificially clear and carrying voice.
"The wait is finally over, everyone! L.S.S. presents the Street Corner Kitten Show! It's time to take a stroll while searching for some cuties. Where are those kitties hanging out tonight, I wonder? Oh? Where did that one from before get off to? I have heard that there is a gathering spot for cute kitties between some of the buildings around here."
There was a lot of motion out front.
Some bored onlookers must have gathered around the TV crew and the female reporter. It was true the villains (if you can call them that) who worked to maintain a reputation on the streets would not want their dumb mugs showing in living rooms across the city. And if the cameras caught them in the act, then they would have Anti-Skill after them.
"It may be that disease unique to middle schoolers," said the high school girl while her large chest rose and fell slightly from her gentle breathing. "But everyone seems to judge weapons and esper powers based entirely on their direct usefulness in a fight. Academy City's culture is said to be 30 years ahead of the outside world, but based on what I see here, I can only a.s.sume the entire planet will soon become a postapocalyptic wasteland of mohawks and motorcycles."
Kamijou Touma thought she had a point.
Academy City was well ahead of the pack when it came to technology, but the brains of the people living there did not necessarily achieve the same standards. Greed, l.u.s.t, and pride were what ruled the minds of the most intelligent lifeform on the planet. …And Kamijou was not about to claim he was an exception there.
Convenient tech led to depravity.
Would humanity always be struggling with the same issues, no matter how far technology progressed?
He could complain about depravity all he wanted, but what did it say that he could not even keep up with that degraded world? He could only smile cynically while covered in wounds and bruises.
He could not get anywhere on his own. He had not even decided on a destination.
"So they ran away because of the cameras?"
"Don't just a.s.sume it was a coincidence."
After a sigh of relief, something occurred to the boy.
"What about that girl!? Agh!!"
"Again, don't force yourself to get up. You'll only bring back the pain."
He desperately tried to sit up, but he froze in place halfway up and the mystery high schooler pressed her finger against his forehead and returned his head to her lap.
"Ah, ow! Th-then what happened to that girl? Ghhh, what happened to the girl who they were attacking in the first place?"
That was it.
Kamijou Touma was not an idiot. Well, he was actually an idiot who liked to believe he was not, but even he had learned how to stay safe on Academy City's streets. He was not reckless enough to enter a dangerous back alley and pick a fight with a bunch of armed delinquents for no reason.
Yes, he had a reason for it.
And that was what mattered now.
"Don't tell me she just disappeared. Ow, dammit. They didn't s.n.a.t.c.h her away during the confusion, did they?"
He had to force himself up now.
There had been a lame used car near the entrance of the alley.
The round light car meant for housewives had been decked out with wings and a modified m.u.f.fler in an attempt to make it look manly. It was the obvious compromise of someone who wanted to rebel against society but could not rebel against the price tag. He doubted anyone but those delinquents would want to touch that thing. It was unlikely they would try anything as risky as dragging an entire person around with them, but it was still a possibility. If caught, those numbskulls would probably try to claim it was just a joke and they did not mean anything by it, even if that would not exactly explain why they were wielding a knife. Logic was not always the best predictor of what people like that would do.
"Oh, you mean Mitsuari Ayu?"
"Wait, you rushed into danger and you didn't even know her name? Can't say I expected that." k.u.mokawa placed a hand on her famous forehead and shook her head, but then she smiled. "But you can draw some conclusions from the fact that I managed to ask her her name, can't you? Look, I can tell the pain is keeping you from thinking straight, so I'll say that again: I managed to ask her her name."
While still seated on the filthy ground with their faces so close their noses nearly touched, Kamijou moved just his head.
He was not sure if this qualified as a public road or private property, but the back alley was piled high with miscellany: a plastic trashcan, a rusty bicycle, and some cleaning tools that had practically become one with the grime.
Among it all, a stack of yellow beer cases shook slightly.
There was someone behind it.
The small face that finally poked out belonged to a girl even younger than Kamijou. The gap between middle school and high school was enormous, but the opposite was also true. She looked very young, but the spiky-haired boy could tell she was the same as him. She was probably in middle school.
She had fluffy chestnut hair and a slender build. Her chest size and her entire skeletal structure appeared to still be in the process of growing. She wore a short-sleeve blouse, a beige sleeveless sweater, and a dark gray miniskirt. He was pretty sure that was the uniform of some famous school or another, but he had no idea which one. She also had the nerve to wear a small (he a.s.sumed) brand-name bag over her shoulder despite only being in middle school.
There were tears in her eyes, her shoulders were tense, and her legs were pressed together and trembling.
On the other hand, her hair and clothing looked unmolested and she did not appear to have a sc.r.a.pe on her.
She was so unscathed that it actually confused Kamijou.
His awareness could not keep up with what he had done.
"You got between them and her and caused enough of a scene to gather attention and buy some time. Of course, you were probably lucky to buy even 10 minutes like that."
It had not worked like a samurai movie where the hero could swing a sword around and cut people down in all 360 degrees or like a Western where everyone wanted to send their rival to their grave in a one-on-one quickdraw shootout.
All the boy had managed was to curl up in a ball to protect his vitals.
He had only managed to endure and endure while running down the clock.
"But without those 10 minutes, I couldn't have noticed what was happening and brought that TV crew here. Then Mitsuari Ayu here might have had her arms, legs, and mouth duct-taped up before she was thrown into the back of a car and driven away."
Her tone said she refused to accept it.
But at the same time, the situation demanded that she say it.
And k.u.mokawa Seria said more under her breath after looking away from him.
"Well done, hero. I haven't felt this excited in a while."
It was late at night, but it was still hot as h.e.l.l.
The sun was not even out, but they were going to collapse from dehydration if they did not get inside somewhere.
On the other hand, the late-night food at a family restaurant was a little bit outside of a middle schooler's price range. Ordering ordinary food would mean a bill of more than 1000 yen. At times like this, it was safer to visit a burger place that forever fought the good fight with burgers, fries, and coffee, each for less than 100 yen. The trick was to order individual items instead of going for the meals which looked like a good value but actually cost a fair amount.
The paper sheet on the plastic tray doubled as an advertis.e.m.e.nt: "Please consider making a donation to the L.S.S. Animal Protection Fund. Weekly donation plans start at just 200 yen - the price of a single ice cream!!" That did not do much to catch the interest of a middle schooler.
"Come to think of it," said k.u.mokawa, who had only ordered a coffee and a chocolate pie. "I hear they're ending their 24-hour service soon."
The midriff-baring high school girl really was a grownup for coming to a fast food restaurant during such a hot night yet not ordering a soda. Kamijou had of course prioritized cost-performance by ordering a medium-size fries and the world's most famous soda. Visiting a burger place and not ordering a burger was a fairly heart-pounding experience.
"If the burger places are shutting their doors, then the world must be ending. That seems less likely than the power being cut off to my dorm."
He had not immediately returned to said dorm because he wanted to check on the bare minimum of things about that back alley incident.
Had it been a random attack, or was there more going on there?
He at least had to know that much.
He had put himself in danger to rescue a girl he had never met. It would all feel like a waste if she was kidnapped by those delinquents five seconds after they parted ways. It was a selfish reason, but he honestly did not want his own efforts to have been for nothing.
That was his own reasoning, so it had been a surprise when the fluffy-haired middle school girl named Mitsuari Ayu had gone along with it. If he had grabbed her skinny wrist and forced her to come with him, he would be doing exactly what those delinquents had been, so if she had refused to go with him, he could only have let her go.
When he climbed the narrow stairs to the no-smoking section on the second floor with his tray in both hands, a tremor ran down his spine. He had been careless. The air conditioning was stronger than he had thought.
The girl seated at the table was chowing down on the flimsy burger she held in both hands, so she must have had a ravenous appet.i.te. Eating it that fast destroyed the usual cost-performance advantage of this place, but that may not have mattered to her. The part-timer at the counter had been flabbergasted upon seeing the limitless black card she had pulled from her brand-name bag.
"I thought that bag looked cheap for Tokiwadai, but I didn't expect it to act as a cooler." The mystery high school girl named k.u.mokawa Seria sounded somewhat exasperated. "And since it has a charging unit, is it actually refrigerated? Do you keep frozen treats and cold drinks in there? As hot as this night is, that kind of luxury wouldn't even occur to most people."
"Eh? That looks cheap???"
"Heh heh. Take your time and educate yourself, boy. You need to be careful when buying gifts."
The girl had also pulled her normal phone and card from that ultrluxurious brand-name cooler bag, so it may have had a chilled zone and a room temperature zone separated by insulation. He had heard that lithium ion batteries had trouble in the cold.
The cheap sauce based on mustard and mayonnaise must have been too powerful a flavor for her because Mitsuari Ayu kicked her feet below the table while smiling happily. She did not seem at all aware that she was the topic of conversation.
That troublesome girl seemed ignorant of some basic rules such as holding the burger by the wrapper to keep your fingers clean. She made up for that by frequently licking off her slender fingers.
This did not look like someone enjoying an old favorite.
That smile was more like someone enjoying the unfamiliar tropical flavor of a banh mi or loco moco. Cooking some commercial curry with a bit of coconut milk mixed in might be enough to delight her.
The busty uppercla.s.sman high school girl (now there's a powerful series of words!!) sat next to Kamijou and crossed her arms in a way that lifted her b.o.o.bs from below.
"Oh, so she's that type."
"She's what type?"
Kamijou looked puzzled and k.u.mokawa took a drink from her paper cup of hot coffee without adding any sugar or milk. Mature older girls apparently did not make a slurping sound.
"Boy, this is just how some girls are. This is probably going to take some work, but do not snap and cause a scene."
He still did not get it, so maybe you needed to be a girl to figure this one out. Still, it looked like Mitsuari was willing to speak with them while she worked at the burger with a smile, so he focused on asking her what he wanted to know.
He did not want any more trouble.
He wanted to confirm that nothing else was going to happen, feel relieved, and head home so he could collapse into bed.
The mystery super high school girl was always the one initiating conversation, but he did not know where to start when speaking to a middle school girl. Speaking with his cla.s.smates made him nervous enough, but this was some rich girl from another school altogether.
There was no way he could come off as suave here.
He decided to make an attempt as if sending out sonar signals and reading the response.
"U-um, who were those people?"
"Did you run into them by random chance? I certainly hope they haven't been stalking you for a while or something."
"Wowwwww. Th-this is soda looks even more amazing than the rumors said. So this is that mix of powerful carbonation, artificial colors, and mystery sweetener."
"And that uniform is for some fancy girl's school, right? Don't they have strict curfews? What were you doing out so late?"
"I will now partake in my first ever soda!! Gulp, gulp, gulp, nbh!? Uh, uhhhh, burp!? H-how indecent of me."
She was not listening and had no intention of answering him.
And had that lovely girl just succ.u.mbed to the inner pressure of the carbonation and let a belch escape her mouth?
Pure Boy Kamijou Touma trembled as his hopes and dreams took a powerful blow from a sledgehammer, so k.u.mokawa placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. The soft hand of an older girl acted like glue filling in the cracks in his hopes and dreams.
The busty black-haired high school girl whispered in his ear with her long legs crossed below the table.
"She never intended to speak with you. She only wanted to get a meal out of you and leave. Her type only ever has fancy French cuisine and tea to eat and drink, so junk food like a burger must have sounded like a very attractive offer."
Now was not the time to be soothed by the high school girl's hand on his shoulder and breath in his ear.
He nearly shot to his feet, but she held him firmly in place.
"Like I said, don't get mad. Eating what she can and then leaving is a standard strategy for a girl who has no actual interest in you. It looks like putting yourself in danger to save her wasn't enough for her to open her heart to you. I can see how someone like her might anger those low-IQ thugs."
He did not want the answer.
He had a very bad feeling about this, like he had taken the bag containing his New Year's money - which should be his biggest source of income in the year - and only feeling the hardness of perhaps a 500-yen coin instead of a soft paper bill.
The black-haired forehead girl looked utterly exasperated.
Perhaps to deal with her own stress, she bit a small piece off the end of her chocolate pie to get some sugar in her.
"Munch. I imagine something similar happened before you came running. You saw that ugly car outside the alley, didn't you? Her pure upbringing probably left her curious about the world of junk cars, so she asked those thugs all sorts of questions that sounded an awful lot like compliments. Right up until she had had enough. They probably thought they could offer her a drive and take her home with them, but then she smiled and said goodbye. Then they snapped."
Kamijou wanted to hold his head in his hands.
Then what was the point of all that pain filling his body? It was more than half Mitsuari Ayu's fault, wasn't it!? …Of course it was still about 30% the fault of those idiots who could not handle a bit of teasing.
"Um, they did not provide chopsticks or a fork, so am I supposed to eat these nuggets with my fingers just like the burger and fries? Is everything here finger food? How fun."
Meanwhile, fluffy-haired Mitsuari Ayu could not stop smiling.
She probably was not even hungry, but she still showed no interest at all in their conversation.
"Munch, munch. Hm, these are chicken fried in oil, yet they are nothing like karaage. The flavor changes a lot with ketchup and mustard. are they only meant as separate flavors? Would I be breaking the rules to attempt a forbidden mixture of the two?"
"Hey, wait! Not the mini salad! Don't eat that with your fingers!!"
"Hm? Why not?"
That question was not even worth answering, so he just strongly reiterated that she was not to do it. The girl in a prestigious school's uniform wrinkled her refined brow in response. It looked like she disliked having an odd-man-out to the finger food category. If left to her own devices, she may have tried eating the corn potage and ice cream cup with her hands as well.
"If you insist, I suppose I can do things your way today. I hope you are thankful how accommodating I am being here."
While complaining (in an incredibly condescending way), Mitsuari reached into her bag and pulled out a mult.i.tool bearing a Swiss maker's logo. The blade was made of practical gold made stronger by mixing in some t.i.tanium. That was probably the world's most expensive tool that could be called a fork or a can opener. It might be more expensive than the big-screen HD TV or concept model PC displayed at the front of an electronics store.
The grip shined with a glossy pink resembling painted nails and the blade was gold, so it was clearly custom-made but still not at all in line with Kamijou's tastes. If someone handed him shoes in that coloration, he might suspect it was some kind of punishment game.
The fluffy-haired girl mixed up the packaged salad with that super-fancy fork (that looked a little too small for practical use).
"I always hesitated to come here since I did not know how to order at the counter, but now I have no reason to hesitate. I can do it on my own next time. I will be leaving once I finish this."
"You ate and drank all that and the only time you responded to anything I said was asking why you couldn't eat the salad with your fingers? Are all middle school girls this impossible to deal with!?"
"Don't act above it all, boy. You are a middle schooler too."
"This is about the difference between the boys and the girls! I can't even hold a freaking conversation!!"
"She is being difficult, I'll give you that. She also seems interested in the grittier side of the world, so maybe it would be a good life lesson for her if we wrapped packing tape around her and left her overnight in a bathroom around here. Like a park bathroom."
The large-chested uppercla.s.sman was in a wild mood.
Her odd excitement may have been due to the coffee's caffeine.
The darker side of a high school girl was peeking out instead of staying hidden in the restroom or break room. The unexpected attack left Kamijou trembling.
If this had all been caused by Mitsuari Ayu leaving herself more defenseless than an armpit in a sleeveless China dress, then the situation was actually extremely simple. If she was not being targeted by some grand conspiracy, then he did not need to do anything more for her.
"What school is she from? I know that uniform is from some famous place."
"Tokiwadai Middle School - one of the prestigious powers development schools in the School Garden on the southern end of District 7. The students there are all monsters since you have to be at least Level 3 to attend."
"Where are its dorms?"
"They have one inside and one outside of the School Garden. But we're talking about someone sheltered enough to go with a strange boy who promised her nothing more than a burger that costs less than 100 yen, so I seriously doubt she lives outside that no-boys-allowed zone."
"Then this is all over once we get her back to that…School Garden place?"
Mitsuari finally looked up from the food she was eating.
That girl wearing the uniform of…Tokiwadai was it? made a clear statement.
"That would be a problem."
"Oh, shut up. It's time someone got after you for sneaking out at night to have fun. I don't want to babysit you, you know? But who knows how much trouble you can get yourself into before reaching your dorm if we just let you go here."
The fluffy-haired girl sighed softly and pulled something from her short skirt's pocket.
She placed a phone on the table, but it had been given a more powerful camera with an attachment. It seemed to use a wider angle lens than was standard.
"Mental Stinger." She gently whispered the name of a strange power. "Tokiwadai students must have at least a Level 3 power. Yes, at least. Did you really think some catcallers on the street could get the better of me?"
"Oh, not Mental Out? What a disappointment."
Powers or not, that mult.i.tool knife in her hand looked dangerous enough.
"I was afraid that power might have been ma.s.s-produced, but I guess that isn't possible."
"Stop, Senpai. I'm not sure what you're talking about, but don't provoke the girl holding a knife!! Just think how sad the Swiss craftsman would be if something happened!!"
He did not know what she could do or how much she could do with it, but the name was enough to guess it was some kind of psychological power. This would have actually been easier if she could shoot fire from her hand or buff her muscles.
But Kamijou was curious about something else as well.
"I don't get what's going on, but why did you pull out your phone while bragging about your power?"
"H-hmph. That isn't obvious? I control my powers by aiming the camera lens at whoever I want to targ-"
He did not even wait for her finish her explanation.
He instantly s.n.a.t.c.hed up the phone sitting in front of him. When Mitsuari leaned out over the table in a panicked attempt to take it back, k.u.mokawa grabbed her skinny wrist and lightly twisted it.
She struggled in vain.
In Kamijou's opinion, being well-versed in the art of self-defense pushed an older girl another step up on the attractiveness scale.
It made them even more untouchable or out of reach.
He made sure that Mitsuari's ultrconvenient refrigerated bag of cold ice cream and drinks and her very Swiss mult.i.tool were not knocked from the table in the struggle.
The night-shift part-timer must have been accustomed to trouble because they showed no sign of panicking. They pretended not to notice while continuing their lazy job of mopping the floor (which a robot could probably handle just as easily). Kamijou really wished he could live his life like that.
"N-no fair! You can't just steal people's possess- ow, ow, ow, ow!!"
"There are two kinds of people who come out and explain how their power works: liars trying to sow confusion, and complete dumba.s.ses. Now, which one is more likely from a sheltered young girl?"
"Kiiii!! H-how dare you call me a, uh, dumbb.u.t.t for simply answering the question I was asked!!"
"This is quite something for how condescending you were being earlier."
"You're being more condescending than I ever was!!"
Mitsuari belatedly started protesting while the pressure on her upper body squished the flat chest of her sleeveless sweater against the table, but Kamijou and k.u.mokawa could only sigh in exasperation.
She was red in the face, had tears in her eyes, and sounded out of breath.
When her defenses were this poor, it almost felt like some sort of s.e.x appeal.
Although saying so would be nothing but an insult to her.
Kamijou looked shocked after perpetrating something as sc.u.mmy as stealing a girl's phone.
"Wow, she's defenseless."
"Which is why those morons got the wrong idea. She didn't even try to keep her short and fluttering skirt under control when climbing the stairs earlier. The way she shakes that little b.u.t.t around makes her something like a walking powder keg."
Kamijou updated his opinion of her to "the kind to fall into a pit of fear while riding a packed train".
The fluffy middle school girl must have still been in her rebellious phase because she kicked her legs to no avail while forcibly held down on the table. The view from the front suggested that short skirt was doing very little to hide the b.u.t.t sticking up on the other side. And if this were the back alley, there would be no one around to put a stop to it. There were no refs in real fights and there were no ropes surrounding the ring like in professional wrestling. Once you were caught, it was over. Pins and joint locks were a hundred times scarier than flashy but simple punches and kicks. In a one-on-one clash, their head-on blow might break your nose or knock out a front tooth, but it was said you had a better chance of winning if you left yourself unguarded in order to pin them down.
Judo, sumo, Muay Thai, wrestling, and aikido.
Setting aside debates over which would be the most frightening to run across on a dark street, they were all plenty dangerous. When a doc.u.mentary described a country's military hand-to-hand technique, it was usually based on a martial art with a focus on grabs and throws as opposed to punches and kicks. And in the countries or regions without a good local example, judo was often imported from the Far East.
As long as the joint was pinned at the optimal angle, there was no real need to use much force.
"Kicking your legs isn't going to accomplish anything," scoffed k.u.mokawa Seria. "Except make your underwear ride up, I guess. You don't want that happening when you don't have a hand free to fix it, do you?"
The middle school girl's struggling finally stopped.
But since her hips were wiggling while she pursed her lips and blushed, things may indeed have been uncomfortable inside her skirt. It was the same phenomenon seen in girl's swimsuits during pool cla.s.s.
Kamijou Touma casually waved the phone in the face of the pinned and tearful fluffy girl.
"I'll be escorting you home."
You did not use a cellphone for things like this.
They were convenient pieces of technology, but they were also full of personal information.
Thus, you should use an old-fashioned payphone. It was best to use one in some forgotten place where there were no security cameras nearby.
People were easily captured even after going to the trouble of leaving their home and sending the threatening email from an internet café a few subway stops away. That was thanks to the security cameras that kept track of who was using each booth and moving through the café's aisles. You could not get away with anything just because it was a public s.p.a.ce that received a lot of traffic.
You had to hide your face and be careful about fingerprints and hairs so you did not leave behind any trace.
Whether the evidence was physical or digital, you had to keep in mind that you were breaking the law or you could not ensure your own safety. The checklist needed to avoid Anti-Skill's forensic investigation was a long one, but if you decided you could not accomplish everything on the list, you should not stoop to criminal activity in the first place.
Crime was crime.
If you could not escape being caught, you would be punished.
"That's right," said the person who pushed aside receiver's curly cable with his gloved fingers.
That was just how careful he had needed to be when entering this phonebooth. He had to speak with someone located elsewhere and discuss things they could not allow to be discovered.
"The back-alley brats I paid off failed to accomplish anything. Making this look natural is no longer possible. The Wyvern should work, so once the cargo arrives, I will settle this myself."
A skeptical voice spoke over the heavy receiver.
He had expected this, but when hesitation over a small risk would only lead to the risks s...o...b..lling out of control, it was best to nip that death spiral in the bud. It was too late to panic once the point of no return had already pa.s.sed.
"Yes, that's right. I want to do something before the package enters the School Garden. This will become much harder if that happens. So contact the cargo deliverers immediately. Drones? No, those would be useless with all the unexpected gusts of wind and updrafts created by the buildings. Yes, that is why I will guide it with my bow. So you only need to get the cargo to me. I can handle the precise adjustments on site."
They began pouring with sweat as soon as they stepped outside.
They were all wearing short-sleeved summer uniforms. However, this had more to do with the excessive air conditioning in the burger place than it did with the sweltering night created by the heat island effect of a metropolis like Tokyo. It had been chilly enough for their spines to tremble when they stepped inside and it had altered their standards without them noticing.
"Man, it's hot," said Kamijou.
"I understand the urge, but don't mess with the fire hydrants around here," said k.u.mokawa.
"I don't want a shower that badly!!"
"Phew, I think I need to take a long bath tonight. Especially after eating that extra food."
"Girls have our reasons. It's primarily about washing away the sweat, but only an ascetic monk at a Buddhist temple can maintain their weight through nothing more than eating in moderation and exercise."
The beautiful older girl apparently put some effort into maintaining her body. She was a very different person from wild Kamijou who just ate and slept when he wanted.
The trains and buses stopped running when the school curfew went into effect, but there were still plenty of private cars and motorcycles on the roads. It looked like taxis and motorcycle couriers were doing good business and the large trucks and tanker trucks were just as busy at night as they were during the day.
k.u.mokawa held her skirt down against the wind caused by a large truck with the L.S.S. corporate logo on the side driving by. The glorious being that was a high school girl was very different from some old man who walked bowlegged up the train station stairs. Her casual mannerisms did not feel at all unpleasant and in fact seemed weirdly s.e.xy. …Why the excessive detail on this subject? Because that was what drew Kamijou Touma's eye!!
Mitsuari sighed after walking out ahead a bit.
Her actions contained a dangerous naivete very different from k.u.mokawa's uppercla.s.smanly ones.
Showing that fluffy girl back to the School Garden where Tokiwadai Middle School and its dorm were located was the quickest method here, but she would occasionally stop, reach into her skirt, and do something in the b.u.t.tocks area. It was weirdly alluring despite her immature body, so Kamijou was unsure where to look. It seemed more like she was reaching there without thinking instead of doing anything on purpose.
But what was she doing?
Kamijou grew incredibly uncomfortable while he tried to figure out where to look, but more mature k.u.mokawa spoke up in his stead.
"Hey, how long is it going to take you to fix your underwear? Adjusting it once should be enough. This is embarra.s.sing to watch."
Mitsuari realized what she was doing once it was stated that bluntly.
She frantically held the b.u.t.t of her skirt with both hands, blushed bright red, turned around, and snapped back at k.u.mokawa.
"Y-you're the one that did this to me!!"
"All I did was pin you to the table. It was you who pointlessly kicked your legs until your underwear rode up in the crotch. You only have yourself to blame."
Angry Mitsuari pulled out her phone, so Kamijou s.n.a.t.c.hed it from her grasp while k.u.mokawa grabbed her arm and pinned her to the sidewalk.
"Senpai, what kind of move was that? An Anti-Skill technique?"
"It's my own personal style. That muscular style of martial arts is beyond my abilities."
The scariest aspect of esper powers was the great variety of supernatural phenomena that could be produced from the mind. It went beyond a soccer player letting the ball slip past them. Oftentimes, it was too late by the time you even realized you had been attacked.
So having a visual trigger like this was convenient.
Tokiwadai Middle School students had to be at least Level 3. Kamijou did not know the details of the Mental Stinger power, but using it while the target was within arm's reach was basically suicide.
"Ah, hey!? Wait, my skirt!"
k.u.mokawa twisted the girl's arm behind her back and pressed her soft cheek and growing chest against the ground. Kamijou was surprised to find how oddly s.e.xy it was to see a rich girl crawling on the ground in defeat. It probably helped that she could not support herself with her hands, so her b.u.t.t stuck up in the air, leaving the color of her panties as visible as could be.
"Black, huh?" commented k.u.mokawa. "Is that the Silk Spider by Morgan & Claudia? I'm a little annoyed that that's the movie limited edition."
Kamijou was unsure what part of that was the brand name, what was the product name, and why there would be limited editions. Girls lived in a strange world. At this point, he would not have been surprised to learn there were also high-mobility and one-of-kind versions.
The pointy-haired boy tried to find somewhere else to look, but k.u.mokawa showed no mercy.
"Yeah, I was right. In fact, it's riding up even more than I thought. How did this even happen? Does underwear ride up more easily depending on the shape below?"
"Gwah! Please stop talking about the shape!! Why are you looking that closely!?"
"Take a look here and tell me what you think, boy. The crotch doesn't normally bulge out quite this much, does it? Ha ha ha. And check out this mole here."
"Stop trying to trick me into looking! I won't look and you can't make me!! So you can rest easy, Miss Red Ribbon Bows Given Spiderwebby Accents With Black Lace!!"
"You're clearly looking enough to pick up on the basic design concept! I'm going to jab my fingers through your eyes and sc.r.a.pe out the brain cells containing those horrifying memories, liar boy!!"
She was past trying to rely on her Mental Whatever power.
At this point, it felt less like they had rescued the girl and more like they had taken over the s.e.xual hara.s.sment right where the delinquents had left off. It was enough to make Kamijou blush even brighter than Mitsuari herself.
"Keep this up and I'm pretty sure it'll haunt my dreams, so let's stop here, Senpai!!"
"How thoroughly were you burning all of that into your memories!?"
He turned his head away to keep himself from looking and waved his hands while begging the uppercla.s.sman girl to release her.
"Well, if you insist."
As soon as k.u.mokawa released the twisted wrist, Mitsuari hopped up fast enough to stir up the sweltering night's air and tried to swipe her phone away from Kamijou, so the self-defense lady had to pin her down again.
"Have you learned you lesson?"
"Heh heh. I have, I have!!"
They could no longer take her at her word, so k.u.mokawa Seria smushed the girl's face into the world's ugliest pig face and snapped a photo with her own phone. Once they had some photographic insurance, they finally released her.
Just to be safe, Kamijou removed the battery and external lens from Mitsuari's phone and returned the separated parts one at a time.
"The School Garden, huh? I didn't realize we had a dimension of girliness right here in District 7. I live here and I've never been there."
"Of course you haven't. It wouldn't be much of a no-boys-allowed zone if they let in people like you."
So it was a restricted area.
Academy City had 23 districts in all, but unlike the large shopping district that was District 15 or the aeros.p.a.ce-focused District 23, District 7 was - for better or for worse - known for being a nondescript mishmash of things. The population density and level of development was also a mixed bag. It was bustling with energy in the busier places, but it was entirely deserted in the emptier places.
Things grew quieter as the three of them walked together.
It even felt like the night's heat had suddenly gone away.
They were approaching a collection of prestigious girl's schools and the atmosphere would be ruined if modified motorcycles were roaring around all the time, but Kamijou still grew more and more timid.
It was not that there were no buildings around.
Nor was it getting any darker.
But it still felt like there were fewer and fewer people around with each step they took. It may have been like the difference between a school during the day and at night. No, like the difference between a school in use and one that had been long abandoned. The actual city around them had not changed, but the altered atmosphere made it look entirely different.
Perhaps you could call it an omen.
To be blunt, Kamijou Touma did not have the sharpest instincts. He would not notice anything was amiss right up until the surprise party crackers went off all around him. Even though there was nothing he could do to change things without sensing the preparations being made around him.
So this was not a testament to some sixth sense of his.
It was more like the threat lurking below the surface had finally taken tangible form.
They all stopped when they heard something unbelievable.
Fluffy-haired Mitsuari took a step back and b.u.mped into Kamijou.
It may have been an instinctive attempt to distract herself from the fear.
Something was up ahead on this road with too few streetlights, but it was not something that should exist in a concrete and asphalt metropolis. In fact, it should not have been found in the zoo or even in the depths of the Amazon.
Tigers and killer whales had no natural predators, but this intimidating presence would cause even them to turn tail and flee.
It was an animal.
Kamijou felt like his legs were going to give out. He had yet to see the whole thing, but the intense gaze piercing him contained the kind of killer intent that a mechanical camera lens could never reproduce.
It was watching them.
It was hunting them.
He finally noticed a glint of light in the darkness. No, there were two arranged side by side. They had to be eyes. They reminded him of a cat's eyes, but he had not noticed them until now because he had been looking at his own eye level.
These were much higher.
He had to tilt his head up to see those glowing eyes at the same height as a three-story building.
What was that? Not even a tiger on its hind legs or an elephant known for its giant body were that tall. Could it be a giraffe since they were made to have elevated heads? No, the eyes were too far apart for that. This head was bigger than that. Also, the eyes were not positioned on the sides of the head to expand the visible range in order to detect danger, as was common with herbivores. These eyes were positioned on the front of the head for the depth perception needed to judge the distance from one's prey, as was common with carnivores.
This should not have been possible.
He could flip through an animal encyclopedia all day and never find an answer.
A tremor shook the ground.
It took him a moment to realize that was an excessively large footstep. And the threat went beyond the legs. He also heard something like large sheets beating at the air. The silhouette came into focus as the creature approached them.
It was large enough to rival a three-story building in height.
It looked something like a bipedal carnivorous dinosaur.
That was shocking enough to make his heart skip a beat, but it did not end there.
Thin, bat-like wings spread out from its back.
And with the sound of oxygen being sucked in, an orange glow flashed near its enormous maw. Almost like the sparks at the end of a flamethrower.
That clinched it.
He knew the answer now, but the name that came to mind was unbelievably unrealistic.
That silhouette was covered in slimy green scales like a lizard.
He had never imagined his knowledge from fantasy video games would come in handy here.
He did not understand.
But a moment later, that great maw opened wide and fire burst out in a straight line as if from a flamethrower.
Its giant form stood about three stories tall.
The breath unleashed toward the ground from its great maw roasted the s.p.a.ce along a straight line of 50 meters. The heat was so great it burned away the branches of the roadside trees, liquefied the asphalt, burned and discolored the paint of the cars parked on the curb, and finally ignited their fuel tanks, making them explode.
That single attack recolored the world.
Recolored it orange.
The light of the heaven-scorching flames swept away the tranquil darkness of the city night.
Even the hot night air was blown away. The heat that now slammed into their faces was like sticking their head inside a sauna or oven. Kamijou almost thought his face was covered by clear clingwrap that had been dunked in hot water.
An odd buzzing sound came from the roadside trees.
The cicadas should have been docile at night, but they were frantically flying away.
Kamijou's group had only survived because a powerful gust of wind had blown in from the side. The breath was slightly diverted to the side like water from a hose bending. Otherwise, they all would have been burned to death.
Kamijou had no idea what was going on.
He had grown tired of the boring routine of everyday life?
He had wanted to step off the rails in search of some excitement?
When someone's limbs went limp, they apparently fell right back onto their b.u.t.t.
It took him a few seconds to figure out that was what he had done. Shouting only drew attention to himself and crouching down kept him from moving to safety. If he had been munching on some popcorn in the living room and watching this scene on TV, he might have considered those facts. But he could not manage that here. Instead of his body refusing to move the way his mind told it to, it was more like his mind was not functioning at all.
It had gone entirely blank.
Emptiness filled his head.
Was this what he got for rescuing a stranger? What good was clenching his fist against something like this? The power in his right hand did not matter here. He was a middle school boy who could only curl up in a ball and get pummeled when facing some delinquents armed with cheap, easily-bent batons they had likely bought online. Of course an animal larger than a dog was going to terrify him. Worse, this one was a carnivore that could breathe fire. He did not even want to count how many rules of the city night this broke.
He had no idea what would help out here.
Meanwhile, Mitsuari was panicking in a different way.
She swung both her arms around with enough force to just about squeeze her chest with the strap to the bag she was wearing over her shoulder.
She gathered every last ounce of strength and screamed.
Then Kamijou felt a tug on his hand.
k.u.mokawa Seria used her other hand to push on Mitsuari Ayu's back while yelling at them both.
"Into the alley!!"
"I don't know what that is, but a hit from that fire would have been the end for us. There's no hope in a wide-open s.p.a.ce like this!!"
That green dragon was so large they had to look up at it. Its maw was lined with brutal fangs. This was not a pair of cold scissors or a mechanical press; it was a living creature's mouth covered in the s...o...b..r that represented hunger. What would happen if those jaws snapped shut on them?
No, it did not need to reach that point.
A thick reptilian tail thicker than Kamijou's torso was swinging around in obvious displeasure. It crushed a large motorcycle parked nearby and crashed through a building wall. It had to be heavier than a metal barbell. And not one of the dragon's green scales seemed to have been dislodged in the process.
A human would be turned to mincemeat if it simply rushed forward and trampled them.
And just because it was big did not mean it was slow. If that entire body was a huge ma.s.s of muscle, it might be able to run as fast as, or faster than, a car.
Their eyes met.
Kamijou's eyes met the emotional eyes of a living creature.
The giant dragon dragged its legs across the road as if checking to see what kind of surface it was. That was enough to peel up a layer of melted asphalt.
That thing did not hesitate.
Its enormous body finally charged forward!!
He could not do anything as fancy as turning around and running away.
He was still down on his b.u.t.t, so he rolled to the side instead.
"Ah," gasped Mitsuari in surprise.
He had rolled in the opposite direction that k.u.mokawa Seria had indicated by pulling on his arm.
He had not done it on purpose.
Or had he?
The action felt a lot like brushing off that good will.
He could no longer judge for himself why he had done it, but now that he had done it, he had to stick with it. He did not have time to turn back toward the alley the girls were running to. Even a second's delay could mean being trampled to death right now.
(I have to run!!)
He scrambled to his feet on the asphalt and finally managed to run, as if pushed on by the loud roar. On the way, he got his feet tangled up below him and stumbled.
He turned his back on everything there.
A loud boom sounded behind him.
Had the dragon knocked over a thick traffic light pole or the reinforced concrete of a building?
It might not have been so bad if the dragon had charged after him, but that was not what happened.
He only noticed after rolling on the road and climbing underneath a car parked on the curb.
The pressure was gone.
The only sound was the pounding of his own heart.
The giant dragon was focused on someone other than him.
Even if it was temporary, finding safety brought his usual senses back to him.
It was like feeling the guilt rush in after leaving someone else to drown so you could use the piece of driftwood to float in the ocean.
(Did I kill them? Did I let them die!? Dammit, no, that can't be! No, dammit!!)
Tears welled up in his eyes.
No matter how tightly he clenched his teeth, the slight chattering sound would not go away.
What was he doing?
He was curled up below a car desperately clinging to life like a bug on the underside of a stone.
He hated how much relief he found here.
Abandoning those girls and escaping to safety on his own like a chicken was the lowest of the low. After this, he could only crawl around in the shadows like a slug without ever receiving sympathy from anyone.
He felt pathetic.
He was on the way to becoming exactly the kind of grownup he did not want to be.
Or so it felt to him.
Which may have explained what he did next.
Finally, that ordinary boy stopped fighting the pressure building up inside him.
"To h.e.l.l with this!! I can't stand it anymore!!!!!!"
This had nothing to do with love or courage.
If anything, it was the opposite of justice or bravery.
He was driven by panic, anxiety, and fear - the same things that pursued anyone in their adolescent rebellious phase. He did not want to be any more pathetic than he already was. He would rather die than continue down that path. He moved his trembling fingers to grab at the asphalt, crawled out from below the car, and finally stopped being a bug clinging to the bottom of a stone for dear life.
He might look foolish and silly, but he had made the choice to be the type of person he wanted to be.
"Are you kidding me!? Don't you dare die without my permission!"
It was a horribly selfish way of putting it, but that was they way he saw it.
He ran back to where he had come, but that extremely conspicuous dragon was nowhere to be seen.
"Where'd it go?"
"You idiot!! Why would you come back after getting away!?"
He looked around cluelessly until the girl named k.u.mokawa shouted at him from the alleyway that was now a mess of large cracks.
A moment later, it dropped from above.
The giant dragon slammed into the ground like a meteor.
In this case, Kamijou Touma was saved by how pitifully small he was.
The asphalt rose up around the dragon's landing point and scattered every which way, but it pa.s.sed above his head while he curled up on the ground. If his legs had maintained their strength for even a moment longer, his entire head would likely have been knocked off.
All logical thought left his mind as he stayed down on the ground.
The giant claws he saw before his eyes simply terrified him so much he swung up his right hand on reflex.
It was too weak a move to call a punch. It was more like a playful swat from a cat.
As soon as his fist touched it, he only felt a strange slimy sensation.
Nothing else happened.
(It really doesn't work!?)
"You dumba.s.s!!" someone shouted from the alley entrance.
Then something wrapped around him as if tying up his neck and right shoulder.
As soon as he grimaced at the p.r.i.c.kly sensation of a plastic rope, the loop tightened and he was forcefully tugged backwards. He struggled on the pavement while he was dragged over like someone caught in a cowboy's la.s.so.
Something crashed down where he had been sitting earlier (was it the enraged dragon's foot?) and tore up the ground.
"I tried to focus the weight on your shoulder, but I didn't dislocate your neck bones, did I? But even that would be better than being trampled back there, right?"
He was dragged into the nearby alley.
"Also, why did you come back? You should have escaped."
k.u.mokawa Seria had a hint of happiness on her face that belied her words.
That had been a close shave.
He initially just lay there where she had dragged him, but then he heard a loud crash like a truck plowing into a building. The s.p.a.ce between buildings was just barely enough for a large motorcycle, so the slimy green dragon's large maw could not fit.
But this was not over.
With the sound of oxygen being absorbed, orange sparks danced within its mouth again.
The flamethrower was coming.
The dragon was preparing its breath.
k.u.mokawa Seria used her slender chin to gesture toward the makeshift emergency stairs on the filthy wall instead of further back in the alley.
"Run!! Climb up!!"
They were entirely focused on escaping.
They could only count themselves lucky their legs had not frozen up.
A fearsome boom and flash of light erupted out. An orange flamethrower blast filled the surface of the narrow alleyway just as Kamijou's group reached the third-story landing. Flamethrowers were most effective when used to quickly clear out complex and narrow s.p.a.ces like trenches or caves. Hiding behind cover or around a corner was not enough to escape the wall of flames.
"Th-the color," said Mitsuari Ayu in a daze. "It's changed color."
This was more than the reflected firelight could explain. The scales covering the giant dragon had definitely changed to an orange hue. But what did that matter? It probably did not mean anything. Mitsuari was probably subconsciously afraid that she would panic if she was not a.n.a.lyzing something and keeping her mind busy. It was like being in an elevator dangling precariously in the air. Feeling helpless while in a dangerous spot was horrifying enough to make breathing difficult.
They had avoided the fiery breath by running into the narrow alleyway and climbing the emergency stairs.
But they could not rest yet.
The fire's heat would rise, so they would be cooked as if on a grill if they stayed put. Plus, the dragon was still on the move. It could think for itself and it was targeting them. They had to lose it somehow if they were to survive.
Mitsuari Ayu gasped as she finally managed to focus on reality.
"Um, could we call Anti-Skill!?"
"We would have to dodge those flames and that body for the several minutes it took for them to arrive!!"
Plus, could standard Anti-Skill patrol equipment really deal with that monster? Their 9mm handgun bullets could not kill even a human being instantly, so critics had pointed out they would allow a criminal to kill the hostage while they were dying. And that ma.s.s of muscle could probably deflect even a rifle bullet with ease.
Kamijou did not have an actual plan, but the beads of sweat pouring from his body demanded he hurry his thoughts along. The heat of the flames covering the alley surface was rising toward them. The night was hot enough already and now they had to contend with this saunlike heat. Staying here would only drain their stamina and dehydrate them.
He roughly wiped the sweat from his brow.
He had the needlessly strong pride of a teenage boy, but he no longer felt any reluctance toward choosing to run.
"L-let's climb to the roof for now. Staying here will just wear us down."
But he had underestimated the enemy.
He heard something beating violently at the air and then a tremor erupted from directly above.
He hesitantly looked up to see the night sky had been covered up.
A giant form was pressing its thick legs against opposite buildings and looking down at them. The bat-like wings on its back were opened wide. Yes, it had wings.
It was unclear how far it could actually fly, but it could at least ignore most height differences.
It must have absorbed the color of the night sky this time because its scales sand wings were dyed a pitch black.
Its ma.s.sive jaws opened.
An igniting sound rumbled out.
"Get inside!!" shouted k.u.mokawa as they all tackled the metal door together.
A moment later, the fearsome flamethrower breath shot straight down with enough force to melt the makeshift emergency stairs.
Their combined weight broke through the metal emergency door and they tumbled inside.
They heard bending metal directly behind them. The emergency stairs were falling to the burning ground after either the wall's surface or their bolts were melted.
There was no turning back now.
There were no obvious lights, so they had to rely on their phone backlights. This appeared to be a multi-tenant building with a few different restaurants crammed together. Instead of an office, they were in a s.p.a.ce meant for customers. There was a somewhat sweet smell in the air and a glance at the building map next to the one small elevator said the first floor of the building was a cake shop.
"Is this a combination yakiniku shop and boutique?" The busty high school girl sighed. "I feel like everything from the latter would smell like the former."
The dragon must have still been walking on the roof because low tremors sent small pieces of the ceiling falling down. It was a lot like being in an air raid shelter during a bombing.
"W-w-we need to call Anti-Skill! And the firefighters!!"
"Young lady, I know you want to avoid getting in trouble for breaking and entering, and there is nothing we can do about the fire ourselves." k.u.mokawa put her hands on her hips in exasperation and then turned to Kamijou. "But you know why we need to do something about that dragon before we call in the firefighters, don't you? I would have trouble sleeping at night if our report led them to their deaths here."
Even when focused just on extinguishing the fire, she seemed to think they could not just let the adults handle it.
This was like another world altogether. Reinforced concrete felt like the symbol of the structures built by the grownups, yet they found no relief at all after hiding inside one of those st.u.r.dy buildings. Manmade things were no match for that extraordinary threat. Its claws and fangs were not directly targeting them right now, but the pressure alone was so great it seemed to be damaging his stomach and heart. The pain was like having a thin wire wrapped tightly around his soft internal organs.
This was on the level of a natural disaster.
He felt the same hopeless despair as if he were watching a tornado approach with enough power to rip a house's roof off. He had to consciously keep his breathing stable or else he would scream and run around.
"What do we do?"
He knew he could not sit down.
Once he did that, he was never getting up again.
"I'm so stupid. Why did I come back? I should've just accepted being a chicken. I should've made an anonymous report from a safe distance and then gotten the h.e.l.l out of here! Oh, G.o.d!! Why does it always end up like this no matter what I do!? I always second guess myself until I don't know what's what anymore!!"
"Cool your jets, boy. What's done is done and thinking about it now isn't going to improve our situation."
"Why does it matter that they're girls? It's not like they're going to kiss me if I save them. I'm so dumb. Why would I risk everything just to save someone when it won't benefit me in the slight-…"
"Calm down. Try to stay calm. Here, I'll help."
A loud sound echoed out.
Fluffy chestnut-haired Mitsuari held her hands to her mouth in surprise.
The busty high school girl winked after throwing a solid slap.
"Staying here isn't going to save us. Staying by the wall will only get us roasted if it breathes fire through a window and cooks the entire floor. It also might break right through the roof or wall with a tackle or knock the entire building over at the bottom. Not to mention all the fires around here. The smoke and flames will get us if we stick around too long."
Kamijou did not say anything.
The situation made him picture a bundle of tangled cables. She might be calmly listing off what they had to do, but the fear of being trapped at every turn only grew inside him.
While k.u.mokawa Seria leaned against the wall and crossed her arms below her large chest, she seemed to be focused on something else.
She was looking elsewhere.
She opened her mouth in a colder way than before.
"Do you know what that thing is? Spiky Head and me can't think of any reason why we would be attacked by a monster like that."
The fluffy-haired girl squeezed her small bag in her arms like a pillow and shook her head.
"I-I don't know. This came out of nowhere for me too."
"I see." k.u.mokawa exhaled through her nose in displeasure. "Then let's leave it up to luck. We have no way of defeating it, so running away is our only option. The boy, you, and me will split up and run in three different directions. No matter how big it is, there's only one of it. Since it's entirely up to chance, no complaining if it goes after you, okay? The other two can run to safety while it attacks one of us. That gives us more of a chance to escape into a crowd or seek help from the adults. That's fair, don't you think?"
"Wait, um, but then, uh."
"The odds are 1/3 for each of us, so it's a lot like playing Russian roulette with two bullets loaded in a six shooter. If there really is no reason for it to attack you, then it should be entirely fair. And you can't think of anything, right? Then you don't have to pessimistically a.s.sume it will 100% go after you."
The girl gulped.
Her tiny body shrank down even further.
Her mouth moved, but no words came out.
Silence surrounded them.
However, the first to give in and speak was not the fluffy-haired girl.
"Wai- cough." Kamijou Touma's voice caught in his throat due to the heat and fear, but he managed to interrupt. "Wait, Senpai! Hold on a second, please!!"
"G.o.d, really!?" k.u.mokawa blatantly scratched at her head. "Don't get all softhearted, boy! I had just set things up so Mitsuari would talk if she's hiding anything!!"
"I can't just watch this. It's too much. I came back because I was afraid of abandoning you, so I can't waste that effort by letting even one of you die now. I can tell I'd crack first if we tried to do that. And regardless, there are a few things I want to check on."
Mitsuari held her hands to her undeveloped chest and shrank down, but Kamijou waved a dismissive hand.
"No, it isn't about your situation. I'm sick of this squabbling between friends."
"Friends? You don't know who either of us are. You're more softhearted than I thought."
"That doesn't matter and you can make fun of me for it all you want. I'd rather be mocked then see a girl looking blue. So our top priority has got to be that mysterious dragon going nuts out there. I want to brainstorm some ideas about that thing. Please! If that thing stays a mystery, I think I'll go crazy!!"
"Well, if that's what you want."
k.u.mokawa sounded irritated, but she must have felt somewhat similar since she actually agreed. An unidentified but undeniably deadly creature was crawling around out there. This was like one of the strange curses seen on a summer ghost story show. Simply being told not to feel afraid was not going to cut it.
Kamijou took a deep breath and made sure not to let his imagination overpower him here.
"First of all, what is that thing? I mean, it's a dragon, but can it actually be scientifically explained?"
"Well, it's not like they found it deep in a European forest and wrapped a rope around its neck to drag it here." k.u.mokawa kept her arms crossed and pouted her lips like a child. "But the dragon breath doesn't have to be some occult phenomenon from a picture book. We don't know its anatomical structure, so it might have multiple stomachs like a cow. It could always create some kind of flammable substance inside its body and ignite that."
"A flammable substance?"
Mitsuari tilted her head and k.u.mokawa sighed.
"A familiar example would be methane gas. Although the gas that left your mouth at that burger place would have been carbonation, I suppose."
"Bwah!? Erase that from your memories right this instant!!" shouted the fluffy girl, but Kamijou had a troubled look on his face.
He wanted to give this the proper thought even if he had to force it.
He wanted the peace of mind that came with categorizing that thing - that monster - as an understandable creature.
Just like people insisted ghost sightings were actually caused by plasma illusions or special mental states brought on by low frequency waves.
"Would it really be that simple? I mean, that flamethrower melted the metal stairway like it was stripping it from the building."
"It might be difficult for a single creature, but, boy, did you know that the termites which do so much damage to trees and wood do not actually have any internal organs capable of digesting the wood they eat and converting it into nutrients?"
"They exist in symbiosis with protozoa that break down wood and convert it into nutrients. So if that other creature broke down stone instead, termites would eat stone. And if they broke down plastic, termites would eat plastic."
k.u.mokawa Seria seemed to be saying that the same monster would be considered a vampire if it liked blood or a zombie if it liked flesh.
Academy City science was known for taking things to extremes. The esper development was the primary example.
"How much of your food you digest is dependent on the balance of your gut bacteria. And depending how sugar, a necessary nutrient, is broken down, it can become flammable. Like with methane gas or alcohol. I can't write out the actual equations for you, but I still think it's possible to reproduce a dragon's fiery breath with a purely biological approach."
"The melting point of iron is around 1500 degrees. If methane gas is mixed with the air before ignition, it can surpa.s.s that number depending on the level of oxygen intake. It's the same basic idea as the bellows used for metalworking."
If that creature had burst out of a magic circle after someone recited a strange magical incantation, there would have been no way of understanding what was going on. Their only option would have been to use their final trump card: have the boy clench that right fist which only he was aware of and charge blindly in at the dragon.
But this was different.
That animal wandering around out there was doing just fine after a blow from his right fist.
So was it a product of the organized and understandable science that was managed by Academy City's technology?
That would open up a different path even if his right hand would be of no use.
"Are you saying it's a chimera creature made with cloning or biotech?"
"Yes. If someone abused biological science to rearrange the DNA for their own purposes, I suppose you would call them a Biohacker or something. People like that will use anything that catches their interest, from bacteria to mammals. Safety will be a secondary concern."
That word sent a disturbed chill down Kamijou's spine.
It was an entirely different sort of crime to mugging or murder. They would create even more prolific black ba.s.s or an even more virulent influenza virus just because they wanted to or because it was there. They did not need some grand conspiracy or plan. They might doom the world "just for fun". They would a.s.sume they at least would be safe, but they would be little different from the people who released a turtle into a city waterway once they could not look after it anymore.
"I have to know. If that thing was created by piecing together existing animals like a puzzle, then what do you think it was made from?"
"What it was made from?"
He traded opinions with k.u.mokawa Seria and Mitsuari Ayu.
Setting aside how exactly the genetics had been manipulated, the girls' opinions were not all that different from what he had been thinking. There was a tendency to overthink things when your life was on the line, but when they kept it simple, that should be the answer.
They could understand this.
It made sense.
And that meant they could fight.
The final key was the small bag carried by Mitsuari Ayu. It seemed like an item from another world altogether to Kamijou, but grownup k.u.mokawa Seria had said it was not as expensive as it looked. In that case, why did Mitsuari choose it over other, nicer ones? That question led to the answer they needed.
"That's a sweets shop below us, right? With cakes and cream puffs and stuff?"
"What about it?"
"I think we've already found its weak point."
Of course, Kamijou Touma had gotten the snot beaten out of him in a no-rules street fight that was not divided out by weight category. He had learned his lesson. Since being a head taller could provide as big a difference as wielding a weapon, he was not about to challenge this enormous beast with just his clenched fist.
He had something else in mind.
The building and possibly the ground as well shook hard enough for fear to clutch at his heart, but staying put would not improve their situation. And if the dragon destroyed a certain something while trampling everything on the ground, it really would be checkmate. They would lose any hope of winning.
"Pant, pant, gasp!!"
He now ran down the stairs alone in the dark.
He needed to reach the first floor.
His reasoning was solid, but a theory and practical results were two very different things. He could not relax yet. There were no lights on and he only had his phone's backlight to go on. As dumb as it would be, tripping here could still kill him.
They had been thrown into what looked like a hopeless dead end, but he was not going to let this end with that seemingly legendary monster killing them. He did not know what the dragon was thinking, but an animal was an animal. There was always a chance it would try to harm its prey for no logical reason.
(Was it a cake shop or a pastry shop? Where is it!? There!)
Was the door locked or had all the intense shaking bent it? Either way, it would not open when he turned the k.n.o.b, so he forced it open with a tackle. He had no interest in the desk drawers or the safe in the corner of the room. He instead grabbed a large waterproof cloth bag hanging on the wall.
According to k.u.mokawa Seria, what they needed could not be opened with his bare hands. Strictly speaking, it was a public item anyone could use, but the necessary tool was traditionally kept by the manager of a nearby building.
"I've never seen one of these before," he groaned after checking the hefty weight of the bag.
He did not have time to be choosy, so he grabbed the large bag and then made his way to the large silver freezer. However, this was not meant to store ordinary food. It was used to cool things to -70 degrees and it contained the other key they needed.
(This isn't something I can carry by hand.)
He wanted a cooler, but none were in evidence. Instead, he checked the back of the shop and found a box made of styrofoam and plastic rope. It was apparently used to carry around whole cakes.
After filling up the box, he used his other hand to grab the loop of plastic rope connected to the styrofoam box.
He was too scared to use the building's front exit and the back entrance was enveloped in the flames of the dragon's breath. He ended up opening a window in the office room and rolling out from there. He failed to stick the landing and fell over, so he clicked his tongue.
He felt a low tremor.
He stayed stock still. He would lose if he screamed.
He observed his surroundings while fighting with the great pressure inside him, but the bipedal monster did not seem to have spotted that raw flesh that posed less of a threat than a chicken. Driven by his pounding heart, he carefully observed everything.
He wanted two things while out here.
One was a flat red metal box on the side of the road, and the other…
"There it is."
It was a special sign.
His gaze followed the metal pole down to the asphalt where he found what he was looking for.
He pulled a metal object from a thick bag. It was heavier than a metal bat, but it was not a weapon. It was a certain kind of handle shaped like a letter T.
His hands were trembling too much to move like he wanted.
Reality was not a video game, so his body did not always react the same way, like he was moving an a.n.a.log stick or pressing a colorful b.u.t.ton.
But he had to do it regardless.
His breathing was heavy and sweat poured from his forehead.
(Argh, this is such a pain. Why can't you just hit a single switch for this? What are you supposed to do in an emergency!? The damage will only spread while you're dealing with all this c.r.a.p!!)
It may have been similar to pitching a tent. He glanced down at the manual found inside the waterproof cloth and connected things together as instructed. It used paper instead of a digital format in case of a widespread power outage or communication disruption.
(I don't want to release it yet. Where's the intake? There it is. If I fill that with the stuff from the freezer, the tank's pressure should rise.)
At any rate, it felt heavy in his grasp.
Once the unit was complete, he held it at his hip like a giant machinegun.
"Now, let's get started."
Three stories tall was about 10 to 13 meters.
Weapons like a knife or metal pipe were useless against a ma.s.s of muscle that large. And while handguns were enough to simply warn off a criminal in the city, not even they could handle something like this.
Once it was released, the Wyvern was guaranteed to obliterate its target.
There were flaws such as the effort it took to guide around and the unexpectedly large spread of damage from any mistake made there, but the opposite problem could never happen. The damage would never be less than expected and the target would never escape alive.
It was a prized possession used when a target absolutely had to be taken out, even if it meant paying a small price.
Which was why the man could only gasp at the situation he found here.
"I am calling over the emergency line," said the operator's voice in his ear. "Due to the exceptional circ.u.mstances, I am skipping the safety procedures and removing the wireless communication restriction. Please report. The Griffon's mechanical observation equipment is not enough to grasp the situation. Please respond immediately."
But he had bigger things to worry about.
And he still held his bow in his hands.
"What is that? What the h.e.l.l is happening!?"
Kamijou though his heart would freeze from the unexpectedly loud rattling sound made as he ran. He had to approach that dragon either way, so there was no way of getting out of this without it noticing him. He clicked his tongue, but there was no way around it.
(d.a.m.n, this tension is definitely taking years off my life. Years!!)
The roar was loud enough for the surrounding gla.s.s to rattle.
The dragon was there.
It must have absorbed the color of the building's wall because it was colored gray as it clung upside-down to the wall of the 10-story multi-tenant building. It seemed to be peeking inside each window in turn. It probably intended to unleash a flamethrower blast if it saw anything moving inside. Whether it hit or missed, the building would be engulfed in flames, smoke, and heat, which would kill the girls huddled together and hiding within.
Then their eyes met.
The gray dragon moved its head while clinging to the wall.
Its enormous jaws opened and it roared.
Normally, Kamijou would have been helpless. His opponent was sitting high up on the wall with its sharp claws digging into the concrete. It could roast him with its flamethrower, but his fist could not reach it. And he doubted it would help much even if his fist could reach.
But things were different now.
Kamijou Touma held a tool down at his hip.
A moment later, something flew from each of them.
The dragon had launched that powerful breath from its great maw. The oxygen intake from the wind made that flamethrower hot enough to melt steel, but what had flown from Kamijou?
"d.a.m.n, that is so cool!!"
He was restraining it with his entire body, but the tool still struggled in his arms. He could not help but give an impressed cry.
The tool itself could be found anywhere.
This was his first time using one.
He was not the kind of student who actually attended the fire safety lectures.
"What else do you expect a human being to use to put out a fire!?"
The water roared out in a white stream and attacked the dragon on the wall like a laser beam. The pressurized water crashed into the armor formed by its hard gray scales and thick muscles.
The dragon breath was deflected and ended up burning things elsewhere.
Whether it used methane gas or alcohol, some kind of flammable substance was needed to produce the flames. His pressurized water had hit whatever that substance was and deflected it away.
Even a professional firefighter would have been shocked to see this.
The hose was much more powerful than normal.
It actually tore the electronic signs from the building wall.
"That's a cake shop on the first floor, so they had plenty of dry ice for coolant!! Throwing that in the tank causes it to vaporize and increase the pressure, so it's perfect for upping the power of the water!!"
Kamijou made it all sound like his accomplishment, but it was actually Super High School Girl k.u.mokawa Seria who had done all the calculations. If he had dumped it in there randomly, he might have cracked the tank, rendering it useless.
The water pressure was so high that a direct hit from close range would have dislocated someone's shoulder.
But his target was not human.
He heard a roar from directly in front of him.
The brutal stream of water could strip the paint from a car, but it was still not powerful enough to tear off the giant dragon's scales.
Kamijou would lose at this rate.
It was all over if that thing opened its mouth and released its flamethrower breath.
But he was not done yet.
"I said I dumped dry ice in, didn't I?"
The effect was dramatic.
Kamijou was not using simple water.
"That coolant has a temperature of -70 degrees. Since water freezes at 0, I couldn't exactly use it as is. But by creating supercooled water, the water stays liquid below its freezing point. It's normally nothing more than stable water, but that strange liquid will freeze the instant it's. .h.i.t with a powerful impact!!"
The earlier dragon breath had not hit Kamijou. It had flown off in a different direction instead. That was partially due to the flammable substance colliding with the pressurized water, but it had more to do with the dragon being thrown into confusion by the damage it took and losing sight of the puny boy it a.s.sumed it could kill in one hit.
"That's gotta hurt like h.e.l.l."
He grinned while holding that metal nozzle thicker than his arm.
He had lived a life of misfortune. If he was up against a kitten or a chick, he might have hesitated even with an animal.
But both he and his opponent had encountered misfortune and chosen violence as a tool to break free of it.
He had no reason to hold back with someone so similar to himself.
A white steam different from smoke appeared in the hot midsummer night. It looked like a breath in midwinter. Kamijou felt a stinging pain in his cheeks and earlobes just by watching it from nearby.
"Reptiles like snakes and lizards are generally coldblooded. They can't maintain their own body heat. If they're rapidly cooled by having a bunch of water or ice dumped on them, it can actually put their life at risk!!"
In fact, a normal lizard would enter hibernation mode from a change of 5-10 degrees. If the internal structure of the dragon was the same, then it would also have a weakness to cold, no matter how large it was.
k.u.mokawa Seria had said this could all be explained scientifically.
A dragon seemed like a legendary monster, but if it was truly contained in the category of science, then it was no more than an animal. No matter how big, brutal, winged, or fire-breathing it was, it had to contain the inner workings of a living creature. It breathed with its lungs, it pumped blood with its heart, and it thought with its brain. Those ordinary rules had to apply.
In that case, appearances were important. If it looked like a lizard or bat, then it would have to have the biological traits of a lizard or bat.
For the most part, it had to be based on a reptile. The bat wings were thin and had no fat, so it was unlikely it was producing and storing up body heat there.
Flamethrower sparks danced in the dragon's mouth That was actually a blessing in disguise since it gave advance warning of the attack to come. In that way, it was the same as Mitsuari Ayu's phone. Kamijou forcibly moved the hose struggling in his arms and adjusted its aim.
He aimed it toward the dragon's wide-open mouth.
The stream of water could not get through its armor-like scales or thick muscles, so the cooling effect would be so much greater if he blasted it directly inside its body.
The intense roar was enough to shatter the surrounding windows.
Was that a bat's ultrasonic waves instead of a lizard's traits? Was it simply crying out in pain, or was it using sonar to accurately scan the terrain in the dark? The dragon's giant body strained as it struggled. It apparently intended to crush him directly instead of going for a long-distance attack.
It kicked off the wall with a loud boom and small cracks spread across the building's concrete wall like a car's windshield.
He let go of the firehose and rolled to the side.
It was like a meteor strike.
The thick asphalt tore up and the gravel foundation below that was scattered around. The ground was torn up in a straight line continuing for hundreds of meters. The cars parked on the curb were thrown around and the roadside trees were broken down.
The boy slowly stood up.
He was soaked with the water spraying from the firehose as it flailed about on the ground and his uniform was half frozen like sherbet, but he still laughed quietly.
The dragon had knocked the ground itself into the air, but that was the end of it.
It was no longer moving.
It trembled some, but it curled up and stopped moving to desperately preserve what little body heat it had left. Its ability to change color stopped working, so it remained that gray color that now stood out from its surroundings.
"Reptiles hibernate in the winter," he spat out.
The firehose was launched up by its own pressurized stream and he caught the metal nozzle out of the air in a single hand.
"So you've hit your limit."
"This…can't be happening."
The man slowly exhaled.
He did not know what had just happened.
But if he did not understand the threat, why had he withdrawn so far from the front line? And why was he holding his breath as if in fear of being discovered?
His back b.u.mped into a metal wall.
The string of his bow tw.a.n.ged like a broken musical instrument. It had a stabilizer and dot sight attached, so it looked more like a piece of sports equipment than a hunting tool.
No matter how hard he found it to believe, the Wyvern they had prepared had indeed failed to destroy its target. That should not have been possible, but he could not fall behind. If they had failed, he had to withdraw. His own safety was priority #1.
He came back to his senses.
Now was not the time to blindly follow his homing instinct.
Emergencies were exactly when you had to choose your actions most carefully.
He removed his back from the metal wall - the side of a large truck container - and made his way to the payphone he already knew was safe. He needed to use a special method to contact the others.
"Prepare the retrieval team!! Send them out immediately. We cannot let the public known of the Wyvern's existence. We can only erase the footage from security cameras and robots that comply to public standards! Personal cameras and phones are beyond our reach! We must erase all trace of this before Anti-Skill or the firefighters arrive!!"
He knew that was asking too much of them, but listening to the operator's reb.u.t.tal at a time like this was a very bad idea. Thus, the man "rationally" placed the receiver back on the hook, took an intentionally deep breath, and rubbed his fingers down the center of his chest. He was stimulating his autonomic nerves to calm his thoughts.
His ident.i.ty as a researcher rose to the surface.
"(Where did we go wrong? If the Wyvern functioned according to our expectations, its ground and aerial mobility and its flamethrower radiator attack should have given it the mobility and firepower needed to destroy a formation of four main battle tanks. On the defensive side, it should entirely neutralize ultrasonic and infrared targeting and it should be able to adjust the angle of its scales to divert radar waves so they won't return to the radar. Did the focus on high firepower create a gap in its anti-personnel attack power? If it did not begin with a detailed scan using its ultrasonic sonar, then was it an issue of insufficient education rather than an anatomical flaw!?)"
The man muttered under his breath while opening the gla.s.s door and stepping outside. He kept doing so as he walked toward the driver's seat of the large truck.
But that was when his shoulders shook and he came to a stop.
"Oh? You noticed me faster than I expected. I was hoping you would reveal more valuable information first."
He was facing the truck container.
A high school girl with black hair, a prominent forehead, and a sailor uniform a size too small was leaning back against the container's side. Just like he had been a little earlier. How long had she been there? Had she been smiling there while listening to the critical information he had so carelessly let slip!?
"It looked like that dragon could partially change colors to match its surroundings like a tree frog or chameleon, but in that case, why was it green to begin with?"
Her oversized chest must have tugged on her summer uniform's top because her navel was showing while she waved around a skinny stick-shaped voice recorder.
"You managed to get that giant thing here without causing a scene, so it must have been in a large box of some sort. A special box with the largescale cooling equipment to artificially induce hibernation so your own pet dragon won't devour you. That means the green dragon must have been frozen in that state and then shipped here. That made its weakness simple enough to deduce and also helped me search our surroundings for the culprit."
The tool was not meant to be used like this, but now was not the time to be picky. The man frantically nocked an arrow to his bow and he pulled the string tight.
But he did not loose the arrow.
He unnaturally froze in place with the string still taut.
"Oh, I didn't think you would help out."
k.u.mokawa Seria sighed with the look of someone whose thunder had been stolen.
Someone stood behind the man.
It was a girl with fluffy chestnut hair, a small bag over her shoulder, and the summer uniform of a well-known middle school. Mitsuari Ayu was targeting the man's back with her phone's camera.
That allowed her to open a hole in the barrier around someone's mind and manipulate the soft stuff within.
"Mental Stinger, hm? That's a pretty cheap power."
(Much like someone else I could mention.)
"Are you really one to talk? How did you manage to escape his notice? I provided no support whatsoever until just now."
She still had her secrets.
The capable high school girl stepped away from the container wall and slowly approached the man who had his bowstring taut but could not move a finger.
She took one step to the side.
That was all it took for the unarmed high school girl to escape the line of fire.
Her slender fingers moved to his sweat-soaked chin.
"I should probably get a photo of your face, your fingerprints, and a hair sample. The hair root will give me your blood type and your genetic type. You seem to specialize in biology, so I imagine you know just how much of a threat that is."
"You have no way of hiding your ident.i.ty any longer. Biometric locks are generally unchangeable, so all the secrets you left in your accounts could leak out. …And once your boss starts fearing that possibility, you might just be the next target. You'll have one of your own creations sent after you. Hm, I wonder what it will be next. A Kraken? Or maybe a Cerberus?"
Mitsuari Ayu looked to the side instead of at the man.
She looked to the truck container that k.u.mokawa had been leaning against. Three large letters were printed there: L.S.S.
"Were you using a random company's name for camouflage, or were you being honest?"
k.u.mokawa sounded exasperated.
She could investigate that later, but settling the immediate incident took precedence. Since this man had tried to kill them, letting him go free would never end well. No matter how much of an advantage she had now, she could not leave any possibility of him taking revenge at a later date.
She would not claim to have no fear, but that was exactly why she could not go easy on him. She had to fully eliminate that fear.
When she could crush an enemy, she would do so.
And she would use as surefire a method as she could.
"What do we do now?" asked Mitsuari.
"Since he's under your control, you do the honors. First, have him slowly release the bowstring and then drop the weapon. Although I doubt that is meant for self-defense or a.s.sa.s.sinations. He probably uses the arrow to launch some kind of substance that will guide in the dragon with its scent or moisture. That way, he can use the arrows to control it."
Unlike higher thinking lifeforms like humans, lower thinking lifeforms like insects and reptiles generally only thought in terms of yes or no. They thoroughly scanned the terrain and circ.u.mstances using high-quality sensors that could detect temperature, humidity, sunlight, scent, and other factors and they used that to search out the route with the least risk, the most food, and the best possibility of leaving behind offspring. For example, a snail looked for shade, high humidity, and edible rocks and a rhinoceros beetle looked for early morning, tree sap, and places where birds would not find it. The group that arrived at the optimal location through that series of yes-or-no questions would be able to reproduce and the group that failed to do so would die out. It was obvious enough what would happen to a snail that wound up in an arid desert. They lived in a world of those sorts of choices.
That said, the terms "higher" and "lower" are only for convenience's sake and there is no real superiority or inferiority between the two methods. The aforementioned thought process was adopted by the field of mechanical engineering for things like a Mars exploration robot.
But if you knew what conditions and materials those yes-or-no questions were based on, it was not that difficult to externally control a lower thinking lifeform like an insect or reptile. That was used in the field of non-agrochemical insect extermination such as the sticky sheets that caught flies and roaches.
So if you wanted to control an enormous dragon, you only had to prepare a few different arrows carrying cotton soaked with different perfumes and launch them in a long arc.
At the very least, that would be easier than controlling a human being like k.u.mokawa Seria and Mitsuari Ayu could do.
The Tokiwadai Middle School monster released an exasperated sigh.
"Now give him a simple command. I imagine the person who risked his life more than either of us would be frustrated if he did not play a role in the conclusion, so we can give him a reward. Just this once, we can let a boy take the credit."
The other girl tilted her head in confusion, so k.u.mokawa gave her a cruel smile.
She winked as she explained.
"Have that twig of a researcher run full speed toward Kamijou Touma. His fist will do the rest."
A loud, dull sound filled one corner of Academy City.