In Academy City, magic and science coexist in an unwavering power struggle. Read the prologue of this spellbinding light novel series by Kazuma Kamachi.
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The Tale of the Boy Who Could Kill Illusions
Though his scream sounded freakish even to himself, Touma Kamijou continued his incredible escape.
Dashing through a back alley in the middle of the night, he quickly threw a glance over his shoulder.
Despite having run more than nearly two kilometers already, there were still eight of them. Touma Kamijou, being neither a cook from some foreign legion nor a cyber ninja who’d survived to modern times, had no chance of winning against so many of them—even three was just way too many to handle in a high schooler’s fight. It didn’t matter how strong you were. It was just impossible.
Kicking a grimy bucket, Kamijou kept running as if he were chas- ing off black cats.
Yeah, it’s all July 19th’s fault. It’s the day’s fault that I hit an unusual emotional high, shouting, “Hooray, tomorrow’s summer vacation!” It’s the day’s fault I went to a bookstore and bought a manga that obviously wasn’t going to be good, then went into a restaurant when I wasn’t even hungry, thinking, Why don’t I splurge! where I saw a girl who looked like she was in middle school getting harassed by a thug who was clearly drunk, and although something like that would never occur to me, I thoughtlessly decided to help out…Kamijou’s deviant train of thought was running away from him.
He hadn’t considered that all the punk’s friends would suddenly come out of the restroom.
I always thought going to the bathroom in groups was reserved for girls. Yeah.
“. . . I ended up having to dash out of there before I even got to see my Hell Lasagna topped with goya and escargot, and now I’m getting treated like I skipped out on the check. I didn’t even eat! Man, what did I do to deserve all this rotten luck?!”
Scratching his head frantically, he broke out of the alleyway and onto a main street.
Moonlight had descended on Academy City. Even though the city itself took up a third of the Tokyo metropolitan area, he saw nothing but couples on dates wherever he looked. It’s because it’s July 19th; it’s all this date’s fault! Kamijou, who was single, screamed internally. Everywhere around him, three-bladed wind turbines sparkled in the illumination of the moon and the city’s lights like an aristocratic bachelor’s teardrops.
Kamijou sliced through the night, tearing couples apart.
He glanced down at his right hand as he ran. The power inside it was useless in this situation. It wouldn’t help him take down a single thug, it wouldn’t raise his test scores, and it wouldn’t make him pop- ular with girls.
“Ugh! Just such rotten luck!!”
If he did manage to shake his relentless delinquents brigade, they could always call up reinforcements on their cell phones or bust out motorcycles to chase him down or something. So he was trying to run them all ragged until they dropped. To do that, he needed to dangle himself in front of them like bait in hopes of making them tire themselves out. It was basically a boxer’s rope-a-dope strategy, letting an opponent punch himself out until his stamina was drained.
Most importantly, though, he wanted to help.
There was no need for this to turn physical. All he had to do was wear them down until they gave up. That would be victory.
Kamijou had some confidence in his ability to run long dis- tances. His pursuers, on the other hand, had already ruined their bodies with alcohol and cigarettes, and the boots they were wear- ing weren’t made for sprinting. They’d find themselves unable to go much farther if they kept running full speed without trying to pace themselves.
He weaved through main streets and alleys alternately, making himself look like a dork fleeing for his life. He watched as the thugs dropped out one by one, falling to the ground on their hands and knees. It’s a perfect solution, and nobody needs to get hurt, he thought to himself. But what he said aloud was:
“D-damn it . . . Why do I have to waste my youth on something stupid like this?!”
He was frustrated. Seeing all those couples filled with happiness and sweet dreams around him, Kamijou felt like a loser at life. Summer vacation began the next day. It was pretty depressing not to have any sort of romantic comedy in his life.
Behind him, one of the delinquents jeered, “Stop!! Is running away all you can do, you little brat?!”
These weren’t exactly the sort of sweet nothings he’d had in mind, and it rankled Kamijou.
“Shut up! You should be thanking me for not beating the snot out of you, you stupid ape!” he shouted back, realizing he was wasting precious energy in doing so.
...Seriously, you should be thanking me for not getting hurt, damn it!
After that, he ran for another two sweat- and tear-filled kilome- ters. He exited the city proper and came to a large river spanned by a metal bridge that stretched approximately 150 meters long. There were no cars to be seen. The sturdy iron bridge wasn’t even lit up, just blanketed by an eerie darkness reminiscent of the sea at night.
As he shot across the bridge, he checked his tail.
He stopped. At some point, he’d thrown off all his pursuers.
“C-crap . . . Did I finally lose them?”
Desperately fighting the urge to plop himself down right then and there, Kamijou looked up at the night sky and inhaled.
Wow, I really did solve the problem without punching anyone. I think that deserves a pat on the back.
“Man, what the heck was that? Are you pretending to be a good guy by sticking up for those chumps? What are you, some kind of overzealous teacher?”
He hadn’t spotted her sooner—there wasn’t a single light source on this bridge—but a lone girl was standing about five meters ahead of him in the direction from which he’d come. She wore a gray pleated skirt, a short-sleeved blouse, and a summer sweater. She had every bit the appearance of a completely normal middle schooler.
Staring into the night sky, Kamijou seriously considered just fall- ing backward onto the ground.
It’s the girl who was getting hassled at the restaurant.
“. . . So is that it? Does this mean those guys stopped following me because . . .”
“Yeah. They were being a pain, so I fried ’em.”
He heard the sound of electricity and saw a pale blue flare.
No, the girl wasn’t holding a Taser. Every time her shoulder-length brown hair shifted, it buzzed with sparks, as if it were some kind of electrode.
An empty plastic shopping bag fluttered along on the wind, passing in front of her face. Immediately, the bluish-white sparks eradicated it. It was akin to some sort of automatic interference system.
“Whoa.” Kamijou grunted tiredly.
Today was July 19th. That was why he went into a bookstore and bought a comic book that was obviously crap, why he went into a restaurant when he wasn’t even hungry, and why he’d recklessly opted to jump in when he saw a middle school girl getting harassed by clearly wasted thugs.
However, Kamijou hadn’t been thinking, I should rescue that girl.
His only thought had been saving the boys who’d crossed her path.
He sighed. The girl was always like this. He’d been seeing her around for almost a month now, but neither knew the other’s name. In other words, they weren’t striking up a friendship.
She was the one always coming up to him all haughty, saying she’d reduce him to a heap of trash, and Kamijou’s job was to shrug it off. There were no exceptions; he stood undefeated.
She’d probably cheer up if he could make it look like she’d won, but he was a pretty bad actor. He tried faking it once before and had subsequently spent the rest of his night getting chased around by what could only be described as a monster.
“. . . Wait, what did I do again?”
“I will not allow a stronger human than me to exist. That’s enough of a reason.”
That was all she said.
Even characters in fighting games these days have better fleshed-out setups than her, Kamijou thought.
“I’ve had enough of you making me look like an idiot. I’m a Level Five esper, got it? Do you think I’d really use my full strength against an incompetent Level Zero? I know plenty of good ways to cook weaklings, you know.”
This city, unlike others, didn’t follow the traditional scenario where street thugs were the toughest. Those delinquents earlier had been complete nothings—they were Level Zero espers, Impotents, who’d dropped out of the Curricula designed to “develop” their superhuman abilities. The truly strong in this city were people like her: honor student–level espers.
“Um, about that. I already know you have a 320,857th of talent, but you should quit talking down to people if you want to live a long, healthy life, all right?”
“Shuddup. Those guys stoop to gross stuff like injecting drugs directly into their veins and physically shoving electrodes onto their brains, and they still can’t bend a spoon. If they’re not completely talentless, then what are they?”
Yes. This is the kind of place Academy City is.
Academy City’s other face was somewhere that Brain Development—using more palatable names like Mnemonics or Memorization Techniques—was quietly included in the student Curricula.
However, it wasn’t like every single one of the 2.3 million “students” in the city quit being human, like the hero of a comic book. If you looked at the city’s population as a whole, a little less than 60 percent were only at a level where they could bend a spoon if they strained their minds to the point where the blood vessels in their brains exploded. They were all just useless Level Zeroes.
“If you want to bend a spoon, you can just use pliers. And if you want fire, you can just go buy a lighter for a hundred yen. We don’t need telepathy; we have cell phones. Superpowers aren’t all that special.”
This was coming from Kamijou, who carried the stigma of hav- ing been labeled a “useless” esper by the Sensors during a citywide physical examination.
“They’re all wrong in the head. You’re just bragging about some by-products called supernatural powers. Wasn’t the entire goal to try and go beyond that?”
The girl, one of only seven people in Academy City considered to be a Level Five esper, turned her lips down in response.
“Huh?…Right, that. How did it go again? ‘Man cannot measure God; therefore, we must first obtain a body beyond that of man, or we can never arrive at God’s answers’?”
“It’s just ridiculous. What on earth is this ‘intellect of God,’ anyway? Hey, have you heard? They’re developing some military-grade little ‘sisters’ for me, based on my DNA, that they can use in the army. I guess the by-products were sweeter than the ultimate goal, huh?”
She stopped, her spiel ending abruptly.
The air changed silently.
“. . . Well. That’s what strong people would say, isn’t it?”
“Strong people, strong people, strong people. They don’t understand how much of a struggle it is to try and accomplish anything because they happened to be born with natural talent. What you just said sounded exactly like a line from the hero in some comic book, oblivious and cruel.”
Whzz. zz. zz. He heard a freakish whirring emanating from the river beneath the bridge.
There were only seven espers of her caliber in Academy City. How much of their “humanity” had they had to sacrifice to get there . . . ? A dark flame flickered at the end of the girl’s words, hinting to him of that fact.
Kamijou rejected that.
He denied it with singular resolve, by never turning back.
By never losing.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Just take a look at the annual physical examinations, will you? My level is zero, and yours is five, the highest! Go ask the people walking around over there, and they’ll be able to tell you right away which is better!”
Science was used for Academy City’s Ability Development. Things like pharmaceutics, neurology, and cerebral physiology. Even without any talent, if you made it through the standard Curriculum, you’d at least be able to bend a spoon with your mind.
However, Touma Kamijou still couldn’t do anything.
Academy City’s measurement devices had verified a complete lack of talent in him.
“Zero, huh?” the girl repeated, turning the words over in her mouth. Her hand dove into her skirt pocket for a moment, only to reemerge holding an arcade token.
“Hey, do you know what a Railgun is?”
“It’s some sort of battleship weapon that fires metal shells using superpowered electromagnets. The principle’s the same as a maglev train.”
Clink. The girl flicked the token into the air with her thumb. It whirled through the air before landing back on her thumb.
“. . . It’s apparently something like this . . .”
Precisely as she spoke . . .
An orange beam of light lanced right past Kamijou’s head sound- lessly. It was actually more of a laser beam than a lance. He only real- ized it had come from the girl’s thumb because that’s where he saw the tip of the ray of light.
A moment later, a thunderclap sounded as if lightning had struck. The shock wave of air being torn apart inches from his ears threw off his sense of balance. Shakily, wobbly, he glanced behind him.
The moment the orange beam collided with the bridge’s pavement, the asphalt had been blown inward the same way water is when an airplane crash-lands on the ocean’s surface. Having spent its destructive energy in that straight thirty-meter line, it faded into an after- glow, searing its image into the air.
“Even a coin like this has massive power if it’s flying at three times the speed of sound. Although it does melt after about fiffty meters because of air friction.”
Iron and concrete swayed violently as if the structure were an unreliable suspension bridge. The metal bolts holding it together clinked and clanked and shot out of their moorings all over its scaffolding.
Kamijou felt a chill, as if someone had thrown dry ice in his blood vessels.
He thought for a moment that the effect would boil all the moisture out of his body. “Y-you…Don’t tell me you used that to get rid of those guys!”
“Don’t be stupid! I don’t use this on just anyone. I don’t plan on turning into a homicidal maniac, you know,” she answered, her brown hair scattering sparks.
“For those powerless Level Zeroes…This was more than enough to get rid of them!”
Suddenly, a pale blue spark flew from the girl’s bangs like a horn . . . . . . and a spear of lightning blasted straight at him.
There’s no way I can dodge that. It was a bolt of electricity fired from a Level Five esper’s hair. It was the same as trying to elude a lightspeed lightning strike unleashed from a dark cloud—but only once you saw it coming.
Thoom!! The sound of the explosion hit him a moment later.
He’d immediately covered his face with his right hand. When the electric spear collided with it, the blast not only violently dispersed through Kamijou’s body, but it scattered in all directions, blanketing the bridge’s steel framework in sparks.
. . . At least, that’s how it looked.
“So, tell me. Why the heck don’t you have a scratch on you?”
Her words sounded nonchalant, but she was glaring at Kamijou, baring her teeth in frustration.
The high-voltage current that had splayed around him was strong enough to burn through the bridge’s steel frame. But even though it had struck his right hand directly, it hadn’t blown the appendage off the rest of his body . . . there wasn’t so much as a singe.
Kamijou’s right hand had dispelled the few hundred million volts of the girl’s electric attack.
“Jeez, what is that power supposed to even be? It’s not in Academy City’s data banks, that’s for sure. If I’m 1/320,857th of a natural, then you’re probably the city’s only 1/2,300,000th of a natural disaster,” muttered the girl resentfully. He couldn’t respond. “If you go around looking for fights with that anomaly, then I’m gonna have to crank up the voltage a bit.”
“. . . Yeah, says the one who always loses.”
Her reply came in the form of another “Lightning Spear,” approaching him at Mach speed.
But once again, the moment it struck his right hand, the current discharged in every direction as if it were nothing more impactful than a water balloon.
This was Kamijou’s Imagine Breaker, the death of illusions.
It was the laughingstock of daytime television—but in this city, supernatural abilities had been derived by mathematical formula. If anyone employed such “abnormal power,” even if they took the form of divine miracles, he could cancel the abilities without a trace.
As long as it was this abnormal power, even this girl’s supernatural ability, her Railgun, was no different.
However, Touma Kamijou’s Imagine Breaker could only be used against “abnormal powers” like these. Simply put, it could block an esper’s fireball, but it wouldn’t block the concrete shrapnel the assault pulverized in the process. In addition, the effect only extended from his right wrist to his fingertips. If the fireball hit him anywhere else, he’d be drowning in flames, so . . .
I thought…I thought I was…I thought I was really dead! Ahh!
He mustered up his calmest, most composed demeanor. Even if his right hand could completely nullify a Lightning Spear traveling at the speed of light, the fact that it had actually struck his right hand in the first place was nothing but a total coincidence.
His heart beat furiously in his chest. He had to summon every shred of his strength to compose a mature grin.
“Man, so unfortunate . . . such rotten luck, huh?”
With a single sentence of lament to the world, he brought an end to this day, July 19th.
“You really are unlucky.”
. . . .
A Certain Magical Index will be available on November 18th. Purchase it from your favorite bookseller today.