Toaru Majutsu no Index:AgneseSS Chapter2
The Strait of Dover between England and France was only 40km wide. It was possible to cross it with long-distance swimming if you really tried.
This story begins above that narrows strip of ocean.
A nun’s voice was drowned out by the deep rhythm of rotors. She was riding a transport helicopter with two main rotors, one in the front and one in the back. The gentle nun was viewing the outside world through the open side door.
Specifically, she was viewing the ocean directly below her.
There was no missing the 262.1m mass with a displacement of 42,670 tons.
But did any of that advance information really mean anything?
“Everyone, I have located the ghost ship,” she reported in an awfully gentle voice. “This confirms that it does indeed exist. It is traveling from England to France at a constant speed. The data I was provided says its top speed is 31 knots, but it is moving slower than that. Regardless, it will arrive at the French port within an hour.”
What would happen then?
Also, it would be a good idea to explain what exactly this ghost ship was.
Sister Orsola Aquinas held a hand to her ear as she continued.
“This is indeed the HMS Hood, a British battlecruiser built in 1920. It was supposedly sunk in the northern Atlantic during the Second World War in the 40s, yet here it is.”
Calais, Pas-de-Calais, France.
They were in a panic here as well. After all, taking the shortest route from England to France would naturally bring you to this port town. Unless the Hood made a sudden detour, it would almost certainly reach the coast here.
Angelene reacted the way she did to most crises: tears filled her eyes and she waved her hands around wildly.
“It’s over! There’s nothing we can do!! This is a World War Two warship, isn’t it? Its firing range has to be at least 20km, which is half the Strait’s width! Its 38.1cm shells can reach here whether it does itself or not!!”
“Since when does she know so much about this stuff? Although her understanding seems fairly shallow.”
“Did you sleep through the plane ride here, Sister Agnese? They were playing an anthology of short black-and-white war films. Let me warn you – you do not want to mention U-boats around her because she will talk your ear off for 3 days straight.”
Agnese’s group was running through the harbor district of the city of Calais. Incidentally, as a French city, that s is silent.
“The camera tossed into the northern Atlantic showed the rusted hulk of the warship is still there, right?”
“The ocean currents and fishing grounds are also unchanged. Most likely this is not a case of the actual ship being brought back with healing magic or something. We suspect Telesma or some other power was guided in to meet the conditions necessary to summon the ship.”
Summoning was generally thought to involve “weird creatures” such as angels, demons, and spirits. The Olympian spirits assigned to different parts of the heavens are a good example of summoning planetary power into an amulet. On the other hand, a ship was a curious motif. After all, there were plenty of legends in which they were used to travel between the world of the living and the afterlife. There was the ferry used to reach the afterlife in Greek mythology and there was the Treasure Ship talismans standardized by Onmyojis to provide good dreams when placed below the pillow.
Whatever form it took, an item capable of traveling between the two worlds could be called to this world by human means.
Or could it?
“Hmm, that explanation isn’t all that convincing. Angels and demons exist in that other phase, so it makes sense you can draw on a portion of their power to summon them, but how are you supposed to extract power from a hunk of metal to summon it? The Hood is certainly large, but it’s a purely industrial product without any kind of occult foundation like Charon’s ferry or the Japanese Treasure Ship.”
“Sister Agnese, can’t we just ask the culprit for details on the summoning method once we track them down?”
Containers were stacked up like metal pyramids on the concrete bordering the sea. This city was developed as an entrance from England, so if it were destroyed, there was a fear of their historical friendship falling apart.
However, Agnese’s trio was not preparing to face off against the battlecruiser itself.
They had another plan.
“We know that ghost ship is the product of some form of summoning and that it was summoned from France.”
“So did they stage this attack themselves to cut ties with England?”
England and France might seem friendly, but a look back at their long history showed more than their fair share of less than peaceful interactions. And in the modern field of weapons development, France refused any help from England as they worked to produce things on their own. England could become an enemy in the future, so they did not want them interfering in the weapons that would be crucial to their national defense.
However, Agnese readily rejected that idea.
“There are way too many people who would benefit from that to draw any conclusions. This feels more like some third party intervening to me. And to be honest, it doesn’t really matter who this is or what they’re after.”
From their(?) British perspective, top priority was ending this while keeping the damage done by the Hood to a minimum. They were playing their role in that here. Someone else could deal with the cleanup afterwards.
Only one thing mattered here.
“The summoning appears to have been carried out in this container yard.”
“B-but that’s suicide!” protested Angelene.
“And also hard to track down. Our simple map fortunetelling only managed to narrow it down to a 10km block, but all the other summoning ceremonies in this area are experiencing ‘interference’, so this has to be it.”
That method may have been similar to measuring rainfall using the interference in TV broadcast signals.
“Okay, if we capture this magician and stop their spell, the phantom Hood should disappear. Time to find their modular ceremonial ground!”
The leader of those three girls tried to psych them up, but Angelene came to a stop and looked around in shock.
She saw nothing but piles upon piles of metal containers.
There had to be well over a thousand of them in all.
“W-we have to find it in here?”
“That’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack! Are you serious!? D-don’t we at least have some kind of hint?”
“Of course not. Managing to narrow it down to this harbor at all was a miracle. Now, Sister Angelene, do you remember what you said earlier?”
“Eh? No, I’m not letting you twist my words to force me to help! Yeah, I never actually said I would do this job, did I? So I’m safe. I can just go home now.”
“I’m not trying to twist your words.” Agnese pointed her thumb out to sea and shrugged. “Didn’t you say the Hood’s shells could reach us while out at sea?”
“W-wait. But now that I think about it, isn’t it a ghost ship without any crew onboard?”
“Empty or not, it seems to have regained all its functions as a ship. That means it can fire on us here. So don’t let the number of containers get you down. We just need to start searching☆”
By the time they could hear it, it was too late.
A metal meteor dropped from the stratosphere and crashed into that harbor district.
The sea split and the mountains crumbled.
Or more accurately, the concrete embankment split and the mountains of metal containers crumbled.
“A-are you kidding me?” groaned Angelene while lying nearby.
She looked up to see the shockwave had twisted a sturdy gantry crane like a sugar sculpture.
She expected a crater or three to be visible with a satellite.
“Is this supposed to be a joke!? We’ll die! There’s no way we won’t! What is this garbage!? This is game over already! Isn’t it over from the moment France is attacked!!!???”
For some reason, Sister Agnese responded with a distant look in her eyes.
“Sister Angelene, you haven’t seen the worst of it yet.”
“Impossible. How could it get any worse?”
“If a few shots was enough to shatter all diplomatic ties and start an all-out war, England never would have left any of its people in France. They would have given up any hope of stopping it, withdrawn everyone, and prepared for war. So why didn’t they do that? Because this isn’t the final defensive line.”
If the Hood only wanted to fire on France, it didn’t need to continue charging toward the coast. It could stop once within firing range.
Then what did both England and France fear the most?
“It’s going to continue on inland.”
“The Hood is taking the shortest route and it has been seen passing right through areas it should have run aground on. So in the worst case, it might be able to continue going even after arriving on land. Maybe it will phase right through the land and maybe it will slide across the land like the ice ships did.”
The mention of the ice ships earned a short silence from Lucia and Angelene.
Agnese understood why.
“The problem is that its current course could take it straight to Paris. It still has around 300km to go, though. They say all roads lead to Rome, but France is a pretty big place too. I suppose that’s how it has enough land for all the wheat and grapes. France is letting England handle things for now, but they apparently intend to begin the next phase once the ship arrives on land.”
“W-wait, so the ship can phase through the land, but the shells still hit? How is that fair!?”
“Don’t ask me for the logic behind it, but ghosts can strangle you, right? If you want details, go ask the Russian Orthodox Church.” Agnese made a shooing motion while bringing the discussion back on topic. “Simply put, France is preparing for a defensive war under the assumption that England is trying to attack their capital. As you know, the Strait of Dover between the two countries is only 40km wide. An all-out war fought from that close range will do serious damage to both sides. So as you can see, they’re in quite the pickle☆”
“I-I’ve had enough of this!! Let’s just give up and leave! I’m not staying somewhere so dangerous!!!!!”
“And if England is destroyed, who’s going to protect us from that giant religious organization with 2 billion followers? We need that country that’s known for its tea and rock music but can’t make decent pasta to save its life. We’re in trouble if we lose its defenses, so we have to protect it. Do you get our situation now, Sister Angelene?”
The blonde braided girl groaned with a frown on her face.
“(I don’t know why she can’t just say she wants to repay them for taking us in,)” whispered Lucia. “(She just misses that women’s dorm, doesn’t she?)”
Agnese smiled and silenced the taller nun with a low kick.
Besides, if the Hood was going to arrive at Calais and trigger a war within an hour, they couldn’t escape the initial attack even if they decided to leave now. Even a conservative estimate said everything within a 200km radius was in danger. Driving an ordinary car fast enough to escape would burn out the engine and the highway did not conveniently take them directly outside of that range.
Lucia leaned back against the bent gantry crane with her giant wheel in hand.
“So that’s why we’re stopping the summoning ceremony instead of the Hood itself?”
“We don’t even know if that ghost ship can be sunk using conventional means. The Russian Orthodox Church might have a good method hidden away, but we don’t have time to negotiate them for it. If they knew we’re pressed for time, they’re sure to insist on some exorbitant price.”
“Which is why we want to make sure the Hood disappears before doing anything without us having to ever come in contact with it. Instead of attacking the Hood itself, we destroy the ceremonial ground supporting it, causing the ghost ship to disappear on its own.”
But Agnese had noted that this seemed like a weirdly small number of people to dispatch when war between the two countries was imminent. All the truly important people had probably prepared some nice excuse that let them escape outside the range of the initial wave of attacks once war broke out. There were 300km between Paris and Calais and the magical elites were probably busy defending the VIPs who lived there. Because if they acted as bodyguards, they got to escape to safety as well. …Agnese really wanted to cast a curse that would crash their private planes.
But regardless, they had to stop the Hood from reaching France and they could not predict when more shellfire would arrive. They had no choice but to take action here.
“The first shot is generally a test,” muttered intellectual Angelene who had apparently learned a lot from that war films anthology. “The second shot is the real one. We’re goners. The next shot is going to be perfectly aimed.”
The first shot had caused most of the stacked-up containers to collapse, but they had not received word of the ghost ship vanishing. That pointed toward one of the uncollapsed ones. With things narrowed down that far, Agnese adjusted her grip on her silver staff and spun around on the spot.
“Iron is Mars, lead is Saturn.”
Not just anyone could perform a summoning at any time and any place.
The appropriate direction, time, location, and more had to be precisely set up for the summoning target. Magic circles for summoning were so complex and intricate because they were essentially writing out a lengthy address to make sure they summoned their target.
“Gunpowder includes sulfuric acid, making it sulfur, so that’s earth. And since it’s a ship, would that be quicksilver? No, the salt would make it ether, I think. Now I need to apply the current latitude, longitude, and date to those four symbols and check the positions of the planets. The flow of energy most likely to interfere with the planetary movements is the path that enters from the south and leaves to the west-northwest. Which means…”
This was much like using the hands of an analog clock and the sun’s position to determine the direction.
If you knew how, you could work out the location of your target.
“It must be a container 400m ahead and with an unobstructed wall facing the ocean!!”
They did not have time to chase after a fleeing magician this time. If they did not destroy it the instant they found it, they could not stop the Hood from arriving. Agnese ran with her fellow nuns while holding her Lotus Wand tight. They only had one shot at this. If they screwed it up and war broke out, they were dead and so were a lot of people who had trusted in them.
They had to avoid that no matter what.
“There, that’s it!!” she shouted.
The container they wanted was in one of the stacks that had not fully collapsed. Part of the pyramid remained and one of the containers on the second level up looked suspicious. Fortunately, magicians did not have to worry about the height.
(Gravity is but an illusion. Everything past the ground is air-filled outer space. Eliminate the earth’s influence and you can fly.)
Eliminating the power of the planet was the foundation of creating a magical lab as well.
Agnese hopped up on top of a container in a single bound.
As short as that was, it still qualified as flight, so she could not forget the risk of being brought down by the spell the Apostle Peter had used to rebuke the Magician Simon Magus when he had used a demon to fly.
Lucia flew up after her while holding her large wooden wheel in both hands. Angelene remained on the ground to provide support. Angelene used a guided projectile, so she had the best bet of hitting a runaway magician in such a wide open area.
Agnese and Lucia exchanged a silent nod as they faced the metal double doors.
It was finally time.
They were up against the magician who had summoned the Hood to have it run aground at Calais and ignore how ships supposedly worked to keep cruising along the land to attack Paris. The resultant war between the two nations may have been part of their plan too. If they were still working here, one of the first places to be enveloped by the flames of war, then their own survival must not have been part of the plan. This did not seem like the end result of purely logical thought processes. People like that could cause far more damage than their base skill level suggested if things went south. And they could also have a high level of skill to begin with, so the nuns could not to let their guard down even in a two-against-one battle.
“(Let’s do this.)”
Agnese placed her hand on the large lever used to open the door.
Tension ran through them.
If the enemy was currently preparing a spell to blast through the door, they would be reduced to mincemeat. They wanted to believe they were a step ahead of the enemy, but there was no way to plan for the bizarre insights illogical people could have.
Agnese inhaled and exhaled.
And she gathered her resolve.
She used her full weight to lower the lever and then flung open the door.
The loud bang of the door pounded on her eardrums.
“Put your hands up and get down on your knees!! Or we'll murder your ass, you magic nutjob!!!!!!”
A whole world seemed contained within that space.
In the criminal world, specialized containers filled with the machinery needed to manufacture drugs or guns were apparently sold as “factories”. That let the buyer endlessly create new products, so they were an even bigger problem than normal smuggling. This was the magical version of that. If you knew the accurate name of what you wanted to summon, you could calculate out all the necessary numbers, colors, circles, directions, dates, and more using the many sliders lined up along the wall. The boxy space looked something like a planetarium and the many lines displayed in the darkness showed where to paint in order to draw out intricate magic circles on the floor, walls, and ceiling.
This could become any temple and it could prepare the optimal environment for anything you might want to summon.
Even a near amateur could use this to calculate out everything they would need.
“Wah! Wah!! Waaahhh!? Wh-wh-wh-who are you!? This is a lab, s-so I’m not illegally living here or anything. I’m not using it as a residence!!”
A twig of a young man raised both hands in a corner of the container and began making excuses about a different issue altogether.
Lucia looked skeptical.
“Wait a second, Sister Agnese. Are you sure this is the right place?”
Her certainty did not seem to quell Lucia’s doubts.
She viewed the circle covering the container and then the sliders on the wall that spelled out the initial summoning request.
“We’re after whoever summoned the Hood battlecruiser, right?”
“Yes, of course.”
“But this is set for ‘mandrake’.”
Agnese’s mind went blank.
That was entirely different.
And sure enough, a small potted plant sat at the center of the makeshift magic circle.
“D-did I do something wrong? Okay, I’ll admit it! If I’m going to research a plant, I would prefer for it to look like a beautiful woman, but is that so wrong!?”
They ignored the self-styled researcher who was shouting at them about something irrelevant.
This was definitely where the Hood had been summoned.
But the container was currently being used to summon something else entirely and the young did not seem to know anything about the ghost ship. If he knew this coastal area would be engulfed in flames once the chaos caused by the Hood led to war between England and France, it seemed unlikely he would be here engrossed in his botanical love. France’s leadership had implicitly stated that they had set up a defensive line along the 300km between the coast and Paris. That meant they had abandoned this area to the fighting.
What did all this mean?
“A-a shared ceremonial ground!? That’s a thing!?” exclaimed Angelene after the other two emerged and explained the apparent situation.
Agnese found it hard to believe too.
Magicians traditionally constructed their own magical items and temples and refused to let anyone else touch them. That strengthened your connection with the items and reduced any noise from other people. However, none of that had been done with this container. You could say it was so coated with other people’s grubby fingerprints no one could tell who it belonged to.
They could not investigate the residual thoughts like they had before. Too many people had been in there, so they would have a hard time determining whose thoughts they were detecting.
“I really wish you’d come to me sooner if there was a problem.”
The plant-loving twig of a young man introduced them to a gray-haired old man. He was short but had thick muscles covering his entire body.
He apparently ran the container yard’s hidden side while officially working for the harbor.
“The magic world has settled into its own bloc economy these days. You have the wide influence of the powerful cabals like the Dawn-Colored Sunlight to thank for that one. As time passes, the people forced out of those cabals have had a harder time constructing their own ceremonial grounds, which creates a market for shared ones like this.”
Basically, he was lending out rooms to shady people and receiving money under the table for it.
“It’s necessary.” The old man did not seem to feel any guilt for being involved in the magic world for such a worldly reason. “When you’re trying to stay hidden, the last thing you want is to stand out. So to avoid that, I have to participate in the economy using worldly money. If you never eat any food like an Asian Xian, the neighbors are gonna get suspicious. If you never leave to shop or put out any trash, they’ll wonder if you’ve died.”
“So it’s only for camouflage?”
“Being ‘normal’ is harder than you would think. I do my best to roleplay the boring old man with no real interests for the most part, but the world out there just isn’t pure enough for that to be enough.”
The aboveground part of the world (if you could really call it that) also had secretly rented rooms for runaway criminals preparing to flee the country or to hold illegal workers. In more recent years, there were apparently also rooms used to create guns with 3D printers or grow illegal plants with UV lights.
Instead of keeping the container ceremonial ground in one place, it was apparently moved around the yard at irregular intervals to make it harder to track down.
The person running that business could not let anyone see the room or even hear rumors of it. At a glance, the place looked like a yard with over ten thousand containers. If they were shuffled at random, there was no real threat of a third party figuring it out.
“For the past month, only 5 magicians have used that container. Including that customer there. If that container was used to summon the Hood, then it must have been one of those five.”
Agnese wanted to scream.
This was like knowing which rental car had hit someone but not knowing who was driving it at the time. Identifying the car did not identify the culprit. And since the whole point of the container yard was to ensure its own secrecy, there would not be any guards or security cameras.
Their only option was to investigate those five.
And all the while, time was passing and the Hood was drawing ever closer to France.
“Just to be sure, destroying that container wouldn’t make the ghost ship out at sea disappear, would it?”
“It would not.” The old man shook his head. “As I’m sure you know yourself, summoning ceremonies like this have a corresponding exorcism ceremony. Forcibly stopping the summoning ceremony isn’t the same thing as completing the exorcism ceremony. And since the ship is still out there after the magician left the ceremonial ground, this summoning must have grown autonomous. The Hood won’t disappear until the corresponding exorcism ceremony is completed. And you’ll actually need the ceremonial ground intact for that.”
This principle could be seen in the Asian folk belief of the Kokkuri-san. If the human got bored and ended the ceremony partway through, what they had summoned would not just go away. To safely end it, you needed a magical charm made from the scrap of paper or coin used in the summoning.
(Is it possible the Hood is headed to Calais so it can destroy the container that could be used to exorcise it? No, that may be reading too much into this.)
“Let me guess, the only person who would know how to perform the exorcism ceremony is the magician who summoned it, right?”
“Right you are.”
Angelene began scratching at her head with both hands.
“Are you kidding!? Rent out the containers if you want, but can’t you at least have them write down what they’re summoning!?”
“They could just lie and it’s not like I’d get paid any more if I monitored every ceremony at all times. In a business like this, you make money by providing a location, not an actual service. You don’t want to call over a waiter every time you want a drink at the self-serve station, do you?” said the old man. “Besides, the people renting out a ceremonial ground are generally trying their hand at some dangerous spell beyond their level, so I’m not going to risk my life by sitting in on that gamble. It’s like the people who head out to an internet café to look at foreign porn because they’re afraid their mom will check their browser history. Oh, but maybe that’s not the most relatable example for some nuns.”
“Anyway, if those 5 are the suspects, we’ll just have to speak with all of them.” Lucia did not look happy about any of this. “The names they gave you aren’t fake, I hope?”
“There’s a decent chance they are, but I have ways of tracking them down. I’m fine with them having their secrets, but I’d be out of business pretty quick if they could skip out on paying me that easily.”
The plant admirer gave a start at that one, so the muscular old man grinned.
“I only take payments in cold, hard cash. Most people assume that’s to not leave a paper trail, but that physical handoff means you can’t fully eliminate your residual thoughts from the euros. It might not tell me what you summoned or how, but it will give me your name and appearance.”
They had less than an hour.
The Hood battlecruiser was moving at a constant speed and there was no sign of that changing as the Anglicans altered the weather and ocean currents, laid explosive traps, and otherwise tried to stop it. At this rate, that heavily-equipped ghost ship would arrive at Calais on schedule.
Even if they were able to contact all five (which included the mandrake guy they had found earlier) without any delays, they could only speak with each one for about 10 minutes. And there was no guarantee the culprit would be cooperative once identified. This was not over until they had fought the culprit, defeated them, and gotten the Hood eliminated.
Lucia leaned toward Agnese and whispered in her ear.
“(If necessary, we might have to take desperate measures.)”
“(We know it was one of those five, so it would be fastest to load them all onto a small boat and send it toward the ghost ship. Whichever one summoned it will have to stop it to protect themselves. That’s the most surefire way to avoid a meaningless war between England and France.)”
That would mean letting all 5 die if the culprit wanted to die and the Hood remained after their death.
Fortunately, all five lived nearby.
Calais was France’s busiest naval traffic base, but it was a small city with a population of only a few ten thousand. There were plenty of other cities where magicians gathered, so only the locals would have been renting out the old man’s containers.
“What’s going on!? Help! Take this burlap sack off my head!!”
“A-are we going to be sold off to some foreign country?”
But even if they lived nearby, taking the time to pay them all an individual visit would have taken too long, so the Anglican agents working secretly in France had “invited” that very energetic group to the harbor.
The first young man (who secretly adored mandrakes that looked like girls) was horrified by the sight. He had apparently realized what would happen to him if he was less than cooperative.
Isabella Theism, a beautiful woman with silver hair and brown skin who wore rags that faintly stank of death, clapped her hands together with a smile.
“Okay, okay! Quiet down, everyone! If you’re all magicians, you must be constantly considering the cost of life that goes into your magical pursuits. Whether that means your own life or others, you know you need to retire once the cost grows too high, right? Well, you might just need to rethink your life plan if you manage to make it through today alive. And that ‘if’ is entirely dependent on your choices here.”
The word “life” held a lot of weight when coming from a necromancer.
Most of them fell silent after that, but one of them apparently had an irritating amount of guts. He crossed his legs confidently with a sack over his head and his hands bound behind his back.
“I have nothing to tell you. A magician only reveals the success of their research by showing off the results thereof!”
“No matter what we might do to you?”
“Of course!! I will show you what it means to be a true magician!!”
Isabella moved her smiling lips toward the ear below the sack.
“Let’s see…I believe I forgot to introduce myself. I am a necromancer who works with corpses.”
Then she lowered her voice to a whisper and spoke in an almost apologetic way.
“(Are you aware what kind of skin that sack covering your head is made from and what other kind of skin that is binding your wrists? Let me tell you, this is a gruesome sight for those of us who can see.)”
Agnese grimaced at the vomiting she heard coming from within the enclosed space of that sack. This was a nonviolent example of overdoing it.
Isabella placed the back of one hand against her cheek and laughed like she was nobility.
“Oh ho ho! A cowhide sack and a snakeskin belt are too much for you? And you call yourself a ‘true magician’!? Now, everyone, welcome to the forest of confusion and doubts. Are any of you still feeling defiant?”
“Hey, if you don’t help him, he’s going to drown in his own puke!!”
“Does anyone still want to resist after hearing that?”
At any rate, they had all the suspects now.
It was time to figure out which magician had summoned the Hood.
“You first, Monsieur Gosetti.”
“I am Gosetti, a 5=6 of B∴A∴’s recruitment division.”
“Monsieur Gosetti, do you understand your situation here?”
“I am Gosetti, a 5=6 of-”
Agnese came back to her senses when the other nuns restrained her with shouts of “Sister Agnese, take a deep breath!” and “Why are you clenching your fist!?” He said he was part of a cabal’s recruitment division, but she was pretty sure he was just bragging about being from an even more niche part of an already niche community. Like not just being a sock fetishist but also rejecting knee highs and stockings while insisting on thigh highs and only thigh highs. Which was a problem when they had no time for this nonsense.
“I was only using a summoning ceremony to create a talisman. From Taphthartharath. To be honest, I wanted to bolster my mental side to make sure my thoughts were not dragged down by the materialism of this metal-driven age.”
The magician was using a protective charm for his own purposes, but he was going about it in the right way. There were talismans that were activated with a command and amulets that had a constant effect, but all such protective charms were spiritual items that had to be filled with some form of energy. Just like charms for good business or good grades, people would not prepare something like that unless they felt the need for one to clear some hurdle in their life.
“Sadly, we screwed up the succession process after our previous boss died. Our passcode was lost and now no one can enter our ceremonial ground.”
“So the original crypt was a mental thing?”
“Do you really think it would be smart to head down into the vast catacombs beneath Paris with a candle in hand to perform suspicious rituals every night? If you want to hide what you are, you avoid any actions that would raise eyebrows. When you get down to it, you don’t want to construct a physical building as a ceremonial ground at all.”
That was one way of thinking about it.
If every single member of the cabal could mentally picture an identical building, they could acquire the same sense of community as if they really were all gathering in the same place. Of course, reaching that point was easier said than done, so they would use something as a jumping off point for their imagination. Just like you could create identical ice crystals by preparing impurities that were identical on a microscopic level. They called that their passcode. In their case, a random number was distributed to all their members at set intervals so they could share that, but that sequence had come to an end when their previous leader kicked the bucket.
“But, Monsieur Gosetti, that means you prefer to use a mental temple. Sharing a location with outsiders introduces the risk of being directly attacked like we have done to you. So why did you feel the need to create a talisman now of all times?”
“Fuck you and your beard!! We don’t have time to care about your cabal’s rules. Can’t you tell we’re a little bit pressed for time!?”
Agnese scratched at her head and yelled, but Pierre Gosetti apparently had a different reason for falling silent.
When he did answer, he could no longer look her in the eye.
“I did nothing wrong.”
“It was a talisman for a safe birth because my wife is approaching her due date. Is that a good enough reason to want a physical protective charm?”
The girl appeared to be wearing her pajamas. She was around the same age as Agnese, but she was wearing a shockingly see-through negligee.
“Ummm, I was researching nightmares.”
She insisted on correcting Agnese, so this was sounding like another magician with an annoying obsession. Much like a waitress that ignored anyone calling to her in English. Was everyone in France like this?
“I’m basically looking at astral projection, but instead of the journey to ‘the other side’, I’m interested in the marks left on your body afterwards. Um, are you familiar with Dion Fortune?”
“What’s your point?”
“Ummm, that wasn’t enough for you to figure it out? Peh heh heh.”
Agnese was really mad now, so Lucia had to restrain her.
And after that needless waste of time…
“I wanted to perform a ceremony where I summoned myself elsewhere to extract my soul or the core of my mind from my body. I thought the best way of accomplishing that would be to leave my home and cut myself off from the outside world.”
“So you wanted the tension of an unfamiliar environment? With the slight spice of something a little bit illegal?”
“Ah ha ha. Pretty much, yeah. They say there are more ghost sightings at hotels, hospitals, and campgrounds because the unfamiliar environment makes people sleep less deeply, which makes it easier for them to experience hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations. For me, you can think of it like a booster helping my mind reach a higher level.”
It was not uncommon for people to think they would find special knowledge in things, places, or people found “elsewhere”. Necromancy was one example. That field had developed from the crude logic that the dead could answer your questions since hey were not constrained by the rules of this life. John would still be John after he died and, as a human, he could always lie, but the believers of those in “the great beyond” seemed to think death made everyone both smarter and more honest.
(The Son of God was made whole when he ascended into heaven, so by focusing on just that fact and twisting its intended meaning, you could conclude that people level up upon death. But at least in Europe, necromancy isn’t a religious thing. It’s more like a type of fad.)
Extracting one’s mind and traveling to another world was the polar opposite of necromancy. The living were the ones encroaching on another territory to feast upon the otherworldly wisdom found there. Of course, that presupposed that a collection of exactly the knowledge that person wanted did in fact exist “out there”.
However, the world had not been created for humans, so it was wrong to assume things had been set up for human use.
After all, god had “expelled” Adam and Eve into the outside world for their sin, so life here was meant as a punishment. In that case, it was best to assume most of the world created by god was made to be unpleasant for humans. And the realm beyond the physical world would be even less pleasant. That was not a line humanity should cross before the last judgment.
“Umm, but like I said, I don’t really care about that part.”
“I’m interested in the body left behind. Or more specifically, the marks of unknown original that appear on it during the journey. Dion Fortune mentioned receiving scratches all across her back after a dream world catfight with some old woman boss of hers.”
That seemed like an awful way to refer to the other party, but a nun like Agnese had no obligation to speak up in defense of some powerful magician from the past. So she let it slide.
“Why are you interested in that? Some bizarre form of self-harm?”
“Don’t assume I’m some kind of weirdo, dammit. Don’t those scratches sound really amazing if you could fully control them? Eh heh heh. I mean, that would give you a placebo effect that could take care of inoperable brain tumors and aortic aneurysms. So I wanted to intentionally mess with the alchemical principle of salt to see what kind of wounds it left on me.”
“I wanted to kill someone.”
This woman started right off with a shocking statement.
The old man in charge had likened this rental ceremonial ground to an internet café, so this would be like someone wanting to send a death threat from somewhere other than their home machine. …As someone pursuing a criminal, Agnese felt that attempt was fairly naïve, though.
This woman wore a bloody mourning dress and glared up at Agnese with a sticky look in her eyes.
“What? Did you think all magician had some upstanding reason for what they did?”
“No, of course not,” replied Agnese with a smile.
Anyone who had engraved a magical name into their heart would be someone who had grown “twisted” after coming face to face with some unfair part of reality. It was said people only relied on god in their time of need. Similarly, people would only rely on the occult when they had enough of a reason to do so.
(That saying sounds awfully disrespectful though.)
As a genuine nun, Agnese hid that thought behind her smile. She did not have time to get into that right now. She had to get more out of the woman.
“Who did you want to kill?”
“That is a secret.”
“Then why did you want to kill them?”
You might think that question would similarly go unanswered, but not necessarily. Saying who you tried to kill would count as confessing to a crime, but saying why you wanted to kill someone had no set punishment. Also, people who wanted to personally punish someone often believed strongly in their own righteousness.
Eventually, Plum opened her mouth.
Agnese felt certain that revenge would never come to fruition.
Whether or not it was justified, planning was everything when it came to attacking those more powerful than yourself. This woman was letting Agnese affect her attitude here, so it seemed unlikely she had much of a plan. It was like a chess player getting so mad their bishop was taken they insisted on taking their opponent’s queen. People like that would forget that the aim of the game was to take their king and that they had to take that king’s no matter how many other pieces were taken along the way.
However, giving this woman advice would allow her revenge to succeed.
Agnese was a proper lady, so she simply smiled and prompted the woman to continue.
“And you chose to take revenge through…summoning?”
“Heh. Heh hee hee. No one could ever follow my logic. Yes, there is no need for me to plunge a blade into his heart myself. I need only disturb the balance and he will destroy himself. So I will extract his physical form through the three alchemical principles. By summoning the pillar supporting that holier-than-thou asshole to me, he will lose his internal balance. Then he’ll be at the mercy of the great power he himself attempts to wield. It’s perfect. Heh heh, heh hee hee. I scare myself with my own brilliance sometimes.”
This was the twig of a young man they had met first of all.
He had said he was researching plants and, if they were going to have a humanoid shape, he wanted one that looked female rather than male.
In other words…
“Oh, it’s the pervert.”
“Hey, wait! What are you writing down in your notes there!? Don’t you have some questions for me!?”
Did he really understand the situation here?
If they did not get to the bottom of this, the Hood battlecruiser would arrive here and trigger a war between England and France. France was most interested in protecting their capital of Paris, so they had made the “painful decision” to sacrifice the 300km leading up to Paris as a defensive line. That meant this city was bound to end up engulfed in flames during the fighting.
“Do you want the mandrake to make medicine from it? I do hear that there are male witches out there.”
“No, I am simply researching environmental maintenance. Fill the field with strange things, and strange things happen more easily. Now, I don’t intend to remake the natural environment right away, of course. I start by summoning things and then I plan to move on to growing things in a sealed glass greenhouse.”
“And the insistence on femininity is…because you’re a pervert?”
“Enough leading questions. By including that opposite nature, I can increase the masculinity inside me.”
“In other words, by looking at roots that look like a woman’s crotch, you can increase the disgusting male desire within yourself? And you were too afraid to do it at home, so you made the same decision as a kid who brings his phone to his secret base?”
“You seem intent on branding me a pervert, but masculinity means sulfur in alchemical contexts!! You must know this!!”
He was a large muscular black man. He looked like he could solve most of his daily troubles a lost faster with his fists than by chanting a spell.
Agnese scratched her head while recalling what happened before.
“Um, Mr. Puke?”
“Did I do something to insult you, or do you just like tormenting people!?”
“Oh, sorry. Now, to get on topic, what were you using the ceremonial ground to do?”
“I was studying food.”
“Food? As in, the stuff we eat?”
“The very same. If I can find a method of cooking that directly extracts the compositional elements, it would greatly enhance the possibilities for all humans.”
Agnese understood the logic behind that, but she imagined studying it would only lead him to ancient Chinese alchemy. Hopefully he was not going to drink mercury while thinking it would give him eternal life.
“I have demonstrated the heating and cooling of elements within the enclosed space of a glass container, but I cannot extract the result. It vanishes the instant it contacts the outside world. So the cooking part can be done, but you cannot consume it. Just like the elixir of life that Ayton of the Golden cabal created. What I wanted was a way of keeping the volatilized element in place.”
“And you used summoning to do that?”
“It should be possible. I would be using the magic circle that surrounds the summoned object.”
“Ummm, are you saying you would do the cooking within the giant magic circle and then eat it while you extended the time until it was naturally destroyed?”
“Um, but. Aren’t the summoning circle and the protective circle generally separate things? Well, some ceremonies use just one circle and have either the human or the angel be the one inside the circle, but the basic idea is to keep the summoned thing and the summoner in separate fields or else the summoned thing will bare its fangs against the summoner. What you’re talking about sounds like keeping the zoo visitors in the same cage as the lions.”
(Oh, that look tells me he hasn’t solved that problem yet.)
He was of course renting out a ceremonial ground to perform those experiments. If he already had an answer, he wouldn’t need to keep coming back for more summoning. The old man who ran the place was a greedy realist, so renting out the container of course cost money.
Also, magic circles tended to get more complex as time passed. Mathers had created an English translation of (what he claimed was) the magic circle of King Solomon and even that included four smaller circles for incense in addition to the main circle.
“There is a way.”
“If you say so.”
“There has to be!! The ingredients needed to enhance humankind are right there, yet we aren’t allowed to consume them!? Listen, we need only clearly define who is the predator and who is the prey. Do that and we can enter that cage without any worry of being the ones consumed!!”
“Sure. Fine. Whatever.”
The clock was ticking even as they called in each of those five to gather information.
And there was no getting that time back. If Agnese got this wrong, there probably would not be time to try again.
“Y-you can see it, can’t you?” Stoop-backed Angelene was looking out toward the sea. “Isn’t that the Hood there!? If it’s close enough to see, we only have a few minutes before it arrives!”
That was close enough to fire its main cannons directly instead of along a mountain-like arc. However, Agnese was most afraid of it “landing”. France would begin fighting a war for real once that happened. A largescale magical shootout would begin between England’s Dover and France’s Calais and it could cause enough damage to require redrawing their territorial waters and exclusive economic zones.
They could not escape even if they abandoned their work and fled to safety now and the social system protecting them would fall if England lost its capital of London and ceased to function. The distance from Dover to London was only 100km.
“Pierre, Rini, Plum, Harris, and Rouen. Those are the five who used that shared ceremonial ground. One of them must be the summoner, so have you noticed anything suspicious about their testimony?”
All five were suspects.
The Hood had been summoned from that container ceremonial ground, so one of the five had to have done it. Nothing else made sense.
But at the same time…
“They couldn’t have been lying.”
“True, we did set it up that way.”
Agnese pulled out a pair of scissors she had been hiding behind her back.
That had been a piece of magic where the scissors would turn like a doorknob if the target knowingly lied. The spell normally worked with a pair of scissors stabbed into a sieve. Lie detectors based on fortunetelling were common in their world. But they required being in a limited one-on-one space just like ordinary fortunetelling and required focusing on a conversation with the other person. That made it a difficult trick to actually use.
Agnese held a hand to her chin.
“The scissors didn’t move, so all five of them are renting out that secret ceremonial ground for the reasons they gave.”
“Could they be hiding a smaller objective with the larger one? They could be telling the truth but not the whole truth. Like someone saying they went out to make a delivery for work, but their true reason was to talk with the attractive housewife receiving the package.”
That was of course a possibility.
If the scissors could reveal everything, the Tower of London would not need all its cruel equipment. This was only the first hurdle used to see how the other person would avoid telling the truth when they could not just lie.
The ceremonial ground was definitely this container yard.
The information they had gathered on the way here proved that. There was zero chance of this being a decoy and the real one being elsewhere.
That left one question.
“How did they avoid telling the truth?” asked Agnese. She lost herself in thought. “How did they hide that they summoned the Hood?”
Agnese Sanctis thought back on what she had said. She had made her own predictions about the composition of the summoning magic circle when she located the container.
Iron was Mars and lead was Saturn. Gunpowder included sulfur, so it was earth. The ship was salt, so it was ether. The energy entered from the south and left to the west-northwest.
Of course, the seven metals, the three alchemical principles, and the five elements were some of the most basic principles in the magical world, so most any ceremony would include them. Even Agnese’s beloved Lotus Wand had them hidden within the spell. But the odds needed to find the exact same sequence lined up like that were astronomical. Everyone used random alphanumeric sequences for their passwords, but no one could guess it perfectly by pure chance.
This was the same.
The explanations gave by those five might partially match, but none of them could be used to summon the Hood.
“One of the five has added something extra to their ceremony.” Lucia must not have been able to bear the silence because she spoke up, sounding fairly impatient. “And so they created an environment capable of their original purpose and summoning the Hood. That lets them tell us a partial truth without actually lying. Isn’t that what must be happening here, Sister Agnese!?”
A white lighthouse stood at the very tip of the harbor.
However, that was well within the Hood’s firing range. The container yard and embankment had already been destroyed, so coming here was risking your life. People died for no good reason all the time. Modern harbors were the result of humanity trying to harden the sea and control the waves to eliminate some of that ubiquitous death, but once they failed to function, that death would bare its fangs once more.
Nevertheless, someone had chosen to come here without fear.
A spiral staircase led up within the metal tower.
It was midday, but the windowless tower remained dark save for a single old lantern. The distinctive aroma of slowly melting wax hung in the air as that person climbed the rusty metal stairs one at a time. The lantern cast an unusually large and flickering shadow on the curved wall.
They were almost there.
They were about to reach their destination. Despite the severity of what they had done, they climbed the stairs with just two legs and reached a perfectly ordinary hand toward the rusty knob of the metal door at the top. Magicians never did seem able to rid themselves of their human side. At any rate, they opened the door at the top of the lighthouse.
They froze in place afterwards, but not because ordinary sunlight had dazzled their eyes.
How had she gotten ahead of them?
A girl was staring into the distance with her small butt seated on the railing surrounding the viewing platform. She was staring out to sea.
“Why didn’t you run away?”
That question explained everything.
In fact, the nun had clearly known everything from the moment she showed no surprise at this person’s arrival. So the person put up no resistance after coming this far.
They had achieved their goal.
The Hood was visible cruising this way even as they spoke with Agnese Sanctis.
“Come to think of it, I never asked your name,” she said.
“Not that that tells me anything, she said with a bitter smile.
“I usually keep it hidden, though.”
Compared to Pierre or Rouen, that name did not sound at all French.
Agnese, whose name came from an Italian saint, shrugged.
“The Hood is a British warship.”
“Did you think a British summoner would be spared in the attack? And depending on France’s response, England could be destroyed too.”
“I didn’t summon it for any of that.”
Thinking back, a lot was unknown about how this came about.
The five people who shared the container ceremonial ground had been attacked in their homes and forcibly taken to the harbor by the Anglican Church. So until they had been abducted and told why they were there, they had not even known the Hood had been summoned.
However, one person had already been there without needing to be attacked.
Before even the mandrake guy.
“I said my name was Jack, didn’t I?”
Calais was the entranceway linking France and England. It was right across the 40km Strait of Dover, so a fair number of British magicians would end up there.
“Each of the five you rented out that ceremonial ground to covered a piece of the puzzle. Iron, lead, sulfur, and salt. Each of them covered one symbol, but none of their individual spells looked like enough to summon the Hood.”
“But combine them all and you see something else altogether. Almost like placing multiple panels on top of each other to create a single colorful piece of woodblock art. None of them could have set that up. It had to be the landlord who could view it all from a step removed and had the master key necessary to manage that rented space.”
All five had been the summoner, but none of them had been aware of it.
They had been oblivious to their position as a gear in a larger machine.
That explained why none of them could be found lying. Ignorance was the strongest mental defense. No device or drug could break through that barrier to reach the truth.
If the nuns had shoved those five onto a small boat, they would have run out of time without an answer. Letting them all sink out at sea would not have made the phantom Hood go away and it would have crashed right into Calais.
“What were you hoping to accomplish?”
Agnese remained seated on the railing while kicking her legs in the empty air off of the lighthouse.
“Looking at the big picture, war will begin once the Hood reaches Calais, whether or not it ever arrives within range of Paris. Because the 300km to Paris will be used as a defensive line. That will mean severe damage to France and England alike. Simply being British or French doesn’t seem like enough to explain this.”
“I have no interest in destruction.”
“The Hood was a ship constructed based on the lessons learned during World War One.”
“Were you aware that the Magician Crowley predicted the outbreak of that first war?”
That name was taboo.
Everyone on the magic side had benefited from his actions, but his sins were too great to earn him any praise.
“The ship contained his ‘genes’. It was given the ruinous element of that magician who insisted the entire world must be stained with blood before the great ceremony could begin. Without that, the Hood may have been victorious in the northern Atlantic.”
He had summoned a ship.
There were examples, such as Charon’s ferry to the afterlife or the Treasure Ship talismans standardized by Onmyojis, but it still had not seemed convincing. It meant summoning a purely mechanical object with a magic circle, instead of the usual angels, demons, or magical elements.
But what if this were true?
What if the symbolism of the Magician Crowley had been unwittingly included?
Then it likely would be possible.
That would put it on an entirely different level from Charon’s ferry or the Treasure Ship talismans. If, intentionally or not, that had been worked into the basic design of the entire ship, then it could conceivably have gained the ability to travel to and from some other realm. Then it would be possible to summon the Hood battlecruiser via occult means, as absurd as that sounds.
(Since it has indeed been summoned in the same way as an angel or demon, then it must have been converted from a simple physical object to a great mass of energy. Maybe it happened when the ship passed to another phase, or maybe it was done by inheriting something from Crowley, but it must have happened. That would mean the rusted hulk at the bottom of the northern Atlantic is only a small sliver of its true power.)
It was exceedingly rare for a summonable object to appear naturally.
It was like the odds of seeing the moment at which an angel descended from heaven.
Agnese doubted this old man could have put together a plan like this on short notice. This may have been the result of badly wanting to find that sunken ship at some point in the past.
Once something was summoned, it would generally remain until the corresponding exorcism ceremony was performed. Of course, it also required a massive amount of energy to remain in existence in that autonomous state.
(The Treasure Ship. I can’t forget that Crowley liked to travel and he even visited Japan by ship. The arrangement of symbols has transformed the ship itself into the talisman, so instead of having great power to begin with, maybe it’s gained an invincibility similar to that of an original grimoire. The Hood is starting to lose the restriction of numbers. Enough so that it could be used to mass-produce Gabriel talismans you could carry with you.)
“I do not know if that magician managed to insert his will into the Second World War as well. After all, he was an eccentric person whose legend was one of repeated failure and defeat. …But the Hood ended up with a piece of him within it, even if by pure coincidence. I couldn’t stand to leave it like that.”
Agnese’s kicking feet came to a stop.
Two things had entered her mind.
He was an old man, so he would have lived in a world she had not experienced.
“Are you saying you actually fought in that war?”
“I’m not that old. But my father would always tell me stories about the Hood. He even told me vivid tales of how a German warship blew a hole in it and how he had to dive into the icy seawater as the ship sank.” Jack sighed. “My father was a decent magician himself, but that didn’t mean much back then. Academy City and the science side weren’t around yet. I mean, we’re talking about an age when witches danced in the midwinter forests until they froze to death in an attempt to delay the Third Reich’s invasion.”
His father had always told him stories about it.
The images had worked themselves into his mind until it felt like he had actually experienced them himself. It was a lot like a small child writing a story about his father at work.
Maybe that explained it.
His father had proudly served aboard that battlecruiser, so he could not allow anything to stain its reputation. And he had taken action based on nothing more than that.
“So…do you know exactly how long you have?”
“I was told I have half a year to live.” The old man smiled a little and kept smiling as he continued. “It’s been 2 years since then, so I could keel over at any time.”
He did not seem afraid.
That was a moment that would come for everyone eventually.
He made it sound like he would prefer it if he spent his final moments working to help the Hood or even if he died along with the Hood.
“Did this give you what you wanted?”
“Not yet. I want to experience the Hood myself. I want to feel like I’m reaching out and touching it.”
“I doubt that will happen. The phantom isn’t that powerful.”
That made him realize the destructive landing still had not happened.
He could see the massive form on the ocean horizon. That was less than 5km away. At the battlecruiser’s max speed of 31 knots, that meant it was right on top of them, yet it never seemed to arrive at the harbor. Almost like a mirage oasis that seemed to move further away the more you pursued it.
“Do you mind if I discuss something too illogical to be proper magic?”
“This is already over. Have your say as the victor.”
“The largest driving force necessary to summon something is probably the desire in the summoner’s heart. You must strongly picture the summoning target in your mind and gather your willpower using the magic circle and the incantation necessary to give it physical form. But your spell was lacking in that sense. It was doomed to be since the five actual summoners were oblivious to the Hood’s existence. The created spell was bound to be full of interfering thoughts. You can create a beautiful face from a montage of different faces pasted together, but that won’t be anyone that exists. And since they don’t exist anywhere, you won’t ever find them even if you put out a wanted poster. Right?”
“You overly complicated the process out fear of being caught. You prepared this secret base and then dragged in five other magicians to ensure the ceremony would continue even if the magic circle’s location was discovered. But that was why it failed. If you had performed the Hood summoning ceremony on your own, that ship would have arrived here. You would have gotten what you wanted.”
He had prepared for every eventuality and that was why it had not worked.
His excessive planning had allowed the Hood to slip from his fingers.
The summoning had failed from the beginning. The shimmering appearance of the ship proved that. The Hood would never arrive anywhere. The wandering ghost ship would disappear all on its own before long.
“So I couldn’t do it after all.” The words fell from his lips like flakes of rust. “I’m not my father – I only ever heard the stories. My generation had it easy, so maybe it was presumptuous to think I could purify that legendary ship.”
“It’s pretty obvious, I guess.”
Silver-haired brown-skinned Necromancer Isabella Theism tilted her head, causing her death-smelling rags to sway.
Agnese sighed and continued.
“The current era is built on that former one, so some people will remain obsessed with the world of the past. Even when everyone who actually fought in that war are gone and no one alive experienced it themselves.”
The Hood had disappeared without a trace.
As if to say it never should have been there in the first place.
All that remained were the scars of destruction in the Calais harbor and the empty expanse of the sea.
She had not defeated that old man.
Because it had already been over.
The battlecruiser he had summoned would never have arrived here. The shock of learning he could never actually experience it for himself would be punishment enough. And with so little life left, Jack Prometeria would not have time to put together a new plan.
However, Isabella seemed anything but respectful.
If you were not willing to break some taboos, you would never specialize in necromancy.
“It’s our job to fulfill that sort of desire☆”
“Necromancers, I mean☆ We rob graves, steal the stained clothing within, and wear them to become one with the dead so we can provide otherworldly answers from the mouths of the dead. That might sound like a cursed thing to do, but ours is the correct way to hear the words of a specific dead person. Jack, was it? There is a simple way to help him work through his regrets. Summon one of the Hood’s crew and ask them what they think. Or we could summon his own father for him. He can ask them if their loss was due to their own lack of strength or if it was due to the Crowley curse dragging them down. And he can ask them if they regret what happened. Wouldn’t that solve everything without going to all the trouble to summon a big ship and possibly start a war?”
Was she trying to claim she was a pure shaman instead of a necromancer who reeked of death? She was like one of the ancient witches who had been labelled as evil by the intentional misinformation spread by a global religion.
On the other hand…
“How can you say that when we don’t even have a clear definition of the soul?” asked Agnese.
“As long as enough people come seeking our techniques, our field will never die out.”
Even if they knew it was wrong.
Even if they understood intellectually it was grotesque.
Isabella Theism smiled as she continued.
“Eternal life will bring only loneliness. It is much more comforting to contact the dead and speak with the deceased. Twisted as it might seem, that’s just how humans are.”