Toaru Majutsu no Index:AgneseSS Chapter3
The stage: Frankfurt, Hesse, Germany.
The problem: fucking Angelene.
She had been acting weird lately. That undisciplined stoop-backed freckled nun normally did nothing but eat sweets and laze about, but after returning from “work” (Let’s not get into what exactly that work entails. It was the usual dirty job that placed them below even the roaches that ate and broke down insect carcasses!), she did not return to her bed in their mobile home and instead started vigorously move around outside. That should have left her more exhausted than the others, but her face always looked weirdly bright when she returned. And she would fail to clean her plate at dinner, saying she was full.
That settled it.
Agnese and Lucia worked to capture her before their night shift began.
“Oh, what’s this, Sister Angelene? A delivery job using your phone and a bicycle? An admirable work ethic, but one question: why is a nun lining her pockets with a side job and spending it all on snacks?”
“Ow, ow, ow, owwww!? Y-you really shouldn’t grind your fists against people’s temples like this, Sister Agnese!!”
She was not even given the opportunity to turn the other cheek as she was hit by an infinite combo from both sides at once. Urban rental bike services were similar in every country and phone service was generally global, so you could start a part-time job no matter where you were as long as you signed up.
Unable to escape the endless temple-grinding, Angelene began some desperate shouting.
“B-besides, it’s wrong to visit Frankfurt and never eat a single frankfurter! We were so focused on work we never did eat a hamburger steak at Hamburg, so I decided I wasn’t going to let that happen here!!”
“You’ve been eating meat dishes as snacks? Those are full-blown meals.”
“No, they aren’t!! They’re basically meat bananas, so they count as a snack!!”
That assertion left both Agnese and Lucia trembling.
“First of all, bananas are considered a breakfast food around here,” said Lucia. “Second of all, ‘meat banana’ is far too obscene to shout in public.”
“Hm? How is that obscene???”
“Hm? How is that obscene???”
Once she realized she had self-destructed, Lucia began slamming her forehead against a concrete wall to end her life. Not realizing it took a dirty mind to notice how dirty something sounded was a common mistake.
Agnese was tilting her head along with Angelene, but now was not the time to be taking that girl’s side. She could not go easy on her, so a thorough punishment was in order.
“By the way, Sister Angelene, I assume you were working this very un-nun-like gadget-filled side job because you had heard the rumors.”
“Young bike delivery workers have been going missing. The story is they receive a fake order to an abandoned building and the person themselves is received as the delivery item. By a dangerous magician, of course.”
“Procurers really have evolved with the times. You only need a phone and a finger to get what you need. And the deliverer doesn’t even know what they’re carrying, so it’s pretty clever.”
Angelene had a bad feeling about this.
Procurer was a dangerous term in the world they lived in.
It referred to people who could procure whatever items an escapee or wanted criminal needed to live their lives. That sounded simple enough, but it was a serious issue. Criminals could not receive the usual services everyone else could, so a cavity or appendicitis could be deadly for them. The more irregular a life someone lived, the greater the risk to their health.
On the other hand, a procurer would be meaningless if they were conspicuous enough to be tailed. It was a boring job that required a number of unique skills. For example, how could a male procurer purchase women’s underwear while remaining inconspicuous? The job required solving thought puzzles of that nature.
Angelene already had tears welling up in her eyes when Lucia joined in with red blood dripping down from her forehead.
“Such devotion! This was an independent investigation meant to prevent any new victims by sacrificing yourself instead, wasn’t it!? If you had only let us know, we would have given you as much assistance as you wanted!!”
“Um, uh, but.”
“That’s right, Sister Lucia!! Sister Angelene is our shining star of hope, so she would never doing something as silly as abandon her duties to earn some pocket change to satisfy her own desires!! This was all a service to the lost lambs out there. So now is not the time to be falling for such an obvious trap as ‘meat banana’! We need to support her!!”
“Hm? Wait, Sister Agnese, are you saying you knew how dirty that sounded but played dumb!?”
“I have no idea what you are talking about, Meat Banana Lover.”
The girl feigning ignorance here was their leader. She was making an unspoken threat of permanently giving Lucia that unwanted nickname if she pursued that line of questioning any further.
But that aside, Agnese and Lucia both slapped one of stoop-backed Angelene’s shoulders. There was no escape for her. The world’s rules had already chosen her fate.
“Now, let’s get this sting operation started!! Sister Angelene, I really am impressed to see such devotion after we traveled all the way to Germany!!”
They needed to all be on the same page, so they held a strategy meeting in a dark parking lot.
“This unseen magician is using an ordinary delivery app to gather the materials they need.” Agnese raised a finger. “Namely, human bodies. The boys and girls who pedal on over to the destination, unaware that they are the true product being ordered. They deliver themselves to the execution ground. They enter the abandoned building, thinking something is suspicious, and then they’re killed right then and there. The magician vanishes along with their ‘product’, so all that remains is a large pool of blood and the deliverer’s bike. Who is responsible for such a cultish and inefficient ceremony? Are they after the bones or the organs?”
“Ugh.” Angelene was already groaning.
That alone made it sound like no more than a gruesome crime.
Simple tasks had a way of dulling people’s inquisitiveness. Pedaling a bike loaded with some kind of package was obviously going to wear you out. As someone made delivery after delivery over the course of a day, their thoughts would dull and they would stop questioning the information displayed on their phone. Once they became no more than a cog in the phone-guided machine, the fateful order would arrive.
Their phone’s map could not be wrong.
They were protected by a vast system that everyone used.
So they would be fine.
And once those assumptions prevented them from actually thinking, they would not hesitate to walk right into an abandoned building. Even though the international corporation that had supplied the map did not actually send out guards to protect the people using it.
Since she had been working just that kind of job, Angelene was very hesitant to ask further.
But she also wanted to know what all they knew at the moment.
“Um, uh, do they use a different abandoned building each time?”
“Obviously. The phone they use to order and the building set as the destination are all stolen. That’s why checking through the electronic order data isn’t enough to identify the magician. That would only lead us to the Dietrich or Wilhelm whose name was used for the order.”
People with dirty minds (which she was proven to have) must have had an excess of energy because her bleeding did not slow her down a bit.
“How is the ‘ordinary’ world viewing these incidents?”
“The teenagers who work that bike delivery job tend to be gathering money to run away from home, so any suspicions have been buried in an ocean of statistical data.”
Was this a clever way of abusing the system, or did modern people just not care about strangers anymore?
Either way, the magician was continuing to use that loophole to acquire human bodies.
They clearly had a task that required them to continue taking lives.
“Our sting operation is simple,” said Agnese. “These delivery apps tend to give the job to whoever’s fastest. When an order is made, the addresses of the restaurant and the delivery location are displayed and any nearby part-timers can show their intention to fulfill it by tapping the ‘accept job’ button. So as soon as we see a job with an abandoned building as the goal, we just have to tap that button faster than anyone else.”
Of course. Ordinary users would just have the address displayed for them. They would have no way of knowing who lived there or if that location was even occupied. The overhead view on the map did not tell you what kind of building it was. That was why the past users had fallen for it and charged right into that spiderweb.
On the other hand, if you linked the app up to a database that could display the ownership of any address it was given, the magician’s trap was easy to detect. They only had to work out which of the many available jobs was to an abandoned building.
Lucia placed a hand on her slender chin.
“Does that use church data?”
“Unlike Tokyo or New York, Europe uses a lot of apartments and offices built hundreds of years ago. Even if the area is being modernized, the church can intervene in the name of preserving the scenery. The church has a strong connection to the real estate business. If people live somewhere, people will eventually die there, but the intermediary company doesn’t want the property to lose value over that, so they always make sure to call in the church to exorcise the place☆”
That gave the Roman Catholic Church a ton of city information that they could use to proselytize. And they did not let anyone else use that data, of course. Convenience stores on opposite sides of the same intersection sometimes received very different levels of business. In the same way, the church always checked their data to see where to build their churches and where to distribute pamphlets on the streets to proselytize most efficiently.
Agnese licked her lips while viewing a list of data that had started with old maps and continued to be updated until it even had the latest smart buildings.
“Now, then. I think we’re ready to get started.”
An ordinary person could have accomplished this same thing by checking the city hall database, but they would have needed to know there was a trap waiting for them to even consider doing so. And the heavy users who spent all day pedaling their bikes on the job could, as previously stated, stop questioning anything due to the exhaustion and repetitive actions.
“Now, then. Now, then. Now, then.”
“Ahhh,” sobbed Angelene, but a punishment was a punishment.
Today she would have to work toward bringing peace to the world.
“Wow, those girls have found one hell of a job for themselves. This might be a talent of theirs.”
“Isabella, was that meant as a criticism of me?”
“No? They’ve proven themselves capable, so of course we’re going to exploit them for everything they’re worth. Even if they’re just cute little rookies, if they want to do this work, they need to do real professional work.”
“That doesn’t do us much good if it gets them killed, though. And there is no way they’re winning this time.”
“And, Stiyl, I can hear the voices of those dismembered corpses☆”
The bicycle had small wheels.
It was best described as a folding bike that did not actually fold.
It must have been designed mostly for its looks because the height not provided by the wheels instead came from the extra-high handlebars and seat. That allowed even an adult to ride it without difficulty, but it had a poor torque ratio between one turn of the pedals and one turn of the wheel. Simply put, it was exhausting to pedal it up a steep slope.
Angelene was reminded that the world’s first bicycle was thought to have been in Germany.
She was so out of breath that she seemed to be complaining just by existing.
She was not sure if it was also designed mostly for its looks or if this design protected the contents from the shaking, but the waterproof backpack lent to her by the company was shaped like a round sphere. The stoop-backed nun wore that as she pedaled the bike through the Frankfurt night.
Procurer Angelene was on the job.
“(Her journey to the realm of the dead has begun. Sister Lucia, we need to begin following her.)”
“(We know where her destination is, so can’t we just go there ahead of her?)”
“(If the magician was kind enough to wait around in the same spot the entire time, we wouldn’t need to sneak around like this in the first place.)”
Also, they did not actually know for sure that the attack happened at the delivery point. It was possible the magician erected a people-clearing field or used some other spell to attack before then and then scattered the victim’s blood at the delivery point after the fact. This was a sting operation, so preserving Angelene’s life had to be their top priority in every choice they made.
They jumped from rooftop to rooftop.
Angelene was riding her unfamiliar borrowed bike through the hilly city of Frankfurt, so there was no conceivable way for pros like Agnese and Lucia to lose sight of her.
“(Come to think of it, only the blood and bike are found afterwards, right?)”
“(What about it, Sister Lucia?)”
“(I was just wondering what happens to that round backpack. For that matter, what is Sister Angelene even carrying with her? She received some kind of heavy bag at the restaurant, but that was whatever the magician ordered, right?)”
“(Who knows. I mean, we’re talking about a magician who performs some kind cultish ritual that uses an ingredient as horribly inefficient as the human body. They might just be ordering ordinary food. Maybe there’s a spell user out there who hates to work on an empty stomach, so they munch on some pizza in one hand and slice open their restrained victim’s gut with the other hand.)”
It was a dangerous sign when they had decided their opponent was an unfathomable monster and thus gave up on thinking about the situation, but in this case, they knew for sure that the malicious magician’s target was Angelene. The app delivery service was only the decoy used to efficiently lure people in, so they did not have to worry about that part too much.
Part-timers closest to the restaurant or the person’s home would be given the job first, so Angelene did not have to pedal far. At a normal pace, she would arrive in about 10 minutes.
“(Where’s her destination?)”
“(Part of an ordinary warehouse district. It’s the kind of blind spot found in any industrial city.)”
So far, they didn’t see anything suspicious around Angelene. It looked like she would be able to reach her destination without incident.
It was late at night and there was no one else around.
But this was a big city, so there were plenty of streetlights and security cameras. The windows where the lights never went out were easy to mistake for human warmth. You might just think you were protected if you were looking at your phone while you pedaled along. Although you would fail to consider what you needed protection from.
Artificial light created with LEDs might not work against a true magician. And this magician was one who had kept up with the changing times. They would know where all the city’s blind spots and humanmade shadows were. They would be able to locate an isolated piece of this industrial city filled with millions of cameras.
(Doesn’t this violate the treaty between magic and science? Academy City really needs to uphold their end of that.)
Also, Frankfurt was an inland city, so while it was an industrial city, it did not have a harbor district bordering the ocean. Its international airport was primarily for travelers, so heavy equipment was transported either along land routes or along the giant river next to the city.
Angelene was on her way to a base for the land routes – a warehouse district next to the autobahn. Just like their advance info had said. It was hard to tell since there were not always people there to keep the lights on, but there were empty and abandoned warehouses. Homes and shops were not the only example of people being kicked out once they could no longer pay.
That said, there was no good way of telling from the outside which ones were in use and which were abandoned.
“(Angelene has stopped her bike,)” whispered Lucia while landing on the roof of a neighboring warehouse.
“(Be on the lookout. We don’t know whether this magician is working alone or as part of a group.)”
Most serial killers worked alone. Supposedly because such unusual and high-risk desires could not be revealed to an entire group. But that changed with a crime based on a simple shared goal like a bank robbery. Which was this? The key was the constant need for living humans.
Was it part of a major ceremony that required a large number of sacrifices?
Or was it a case of repeatedly failing the same ceremony and having to redo it?
At this point, it was hard to say how planned out this had been.
And the magician being incompetent did not make them any less dangerous. No one wanted to come face to face with someone wielding a blade because they had decided their life would never improve and they needed to be “reborn” to try again. A magician like that would never be satisfied and they would never stop.
Agnese and Lucia heard a creak as Angelene lowered her bike’s kickstand.
She looked worriedly around with the round backpack still on. She had not been told the other two were watching over her. That way she would not do anything that might give their presence away to the enemy magician.
This was odd.
Lucia held her breath and then tilted her head.
“(Did they catch on and leave?)”
That was a possibility, but it still felt weird. If they had detected Agnese and Lucia, when had it happened? If they had such excellent search magic, like fortunetelling or prophecy, would they even need to use the delivery service trick? It seemed like they could magically search out all witness information and attack someone when no one was looking.
Those two could not rid themselves of a feeling like a pebble rolling around in their chest.
They might have overlooked something.
(I need to review everything we know for a fact.)
Agnese made a point of taking a deep breath as she sorted through the information.
Some malicious entity was abusing the bike delivery system. Unsuspecting part-timers were lured to an abandoned building where they were attacked by someone and went missing. Afterwards, only a large pool of blood and their personal bike remained.
That much was certain.
There was one primary question here:
“Who’s doing it?”
That was the obvious question. This entire sting operation was meant to find the culprit.
Agnese’s group had never actually seen any of the attacks. The situation had definitely been set up by someone. Since stolen phones were being used to send people to fake delivery destinations, whoever was making the orders had to understand the part-timers were meeting a gruesome end.
But on the other hand…
“Could the magician behind it not actually be attacking them directly?”
That was a legitimate question.
However, the fact remained that there was blood and there were people going missing. It was hard to imagine the part-timers themselves were spilling a pack of blood they had prepared and then going into hiding.
There was a malicious attacker.
But that attacker might not be the magician who had set things up.
Then who was the most likely suspect?
In fact, what hiding places were even left?
“It can’t be…”
What was it Lucia had mentioned before?
Only the blood and the bike remained, so where had that round backpack gone? The object within it had been ordered by the malicious magician, hadn’t it?
“It can’t be! Sister Angelene, get away from there immediately!! And leave that backpack behind!!”
It was too late.
The bud of malice had already blossomed right behind the stoop-backed girl.
The true attacker opened its mouth to speak while clinging to her back.
What in the world was that?
It had sounded a lot like…a baby crying?
Just as Angelene arrived at her designated destination, her round backpack tore open from within and something like black branches burst out. No, they were more like multisegmented spider legs. She still could not see what it looked like in full. The backpack had been torn pretty badly, but its general shape still remained.
For some reason, she suspected she might die if she looked in there, so she used her trembling hands to pull her arms from the shoulder straps.
As she did so, the sharp end of one of those legs stroked across her cheek like a metal spike.
She threw the round backpack away.
It never hit the ground.
It was supported in midair by the many bizarre legs emerging from it. If those legs were to spread out, this thing would already be larger than she was. In fact, it had to be as wide across as a table for four. Needless to say, the sheer size made it more terrifying than a simple animal or bug.
It sounded like a baby, but this was no baby. It couldn’t be. That was something much more malevolent. And it was clearly more than just a hackneyed monster like a giant spider.
You could not let yourself know this thing.
Simply thinking its name in your mind would steal your soul away.
This terrifying thing was as far from human warmth as anything could be. The way the horrific creature cried like a baby seemed like a serial killer trying but failing to pretend to be a harmless neighbor. There was no way this thing could ever inspire you to protect it.
“Sister Angelene!!” shouted a familiar girl’s voice from atop a large warehouse.
Angelene looked up there on reflex, but the sharp voice rebuked her.
“Get away from there!! Hurry!! The killing was set up to be automatic too. The magician was back in the restaurant at the starting point, not in the abandoned building at the goal! They had you place the murder device in your backpack and then sent you to the scene of your own murder!!”
“H-how is this happening!? How can this be happening!?”
She started running, but tripped in her panic. She belatedly realized she had run into her bike. She righted the bike, climbed onto the seat, and placed her full weight on the pedals.
The babylike signal exploded.
Legs heavier than heavy machinery tore into the asphalt, all while crying just like a baby in distress. The horrifying “backpack” was on the move.
Angelene had become the definite target of that being that would take away your soul through simple knowledge of it.
A true crisis was underway.
“What am I supposed to do nowww!?”
The magician responsible had not even shown up, so they could not stop this thing by punching the person who had sicced it on her. What chance did she even have here? She doubted you could outrun this kind of “death” on a bike. The monster that tore into the scenery with spider legs and cried like a baby was the very concept of inescapable death. Understanding it would not reveal a path to survival – it would only close off your fate and guide you to your doom even faster. There was no thinking your way out of this absolute death.
She heard some light footsteps from up above.
She could guess Agnese and Lucia were following by jumping between warehouse rooftops. Or she hoped that was what it was. If this thing could mimic their voices too, then she could only give up and die.
“The magician made sure to distance themselves from the threat they created! If they could perfectly control it, they could have attacked you when you picked up that thing at the restaurant!!”
She thought her heart would freeze over.
Knowing she had been pedaling along with that thing on her back was terrifying enough, but the thought of it possibly attacking even sooner made it all the worse.
“So, Sister Angelene, your best bet is to retrace your steps and return to that restaurant! You just have to create a situation the magician doesn’t want!! Then they’ll have to do something about it!!”
(That’s all wishful thinking! What if the magician has already left the restaurant!?)
But she had no other options at the moment.
If she stopped here, she would meet the same fate as the previous victims. Did that thing chew up the victims and carry them back to the magician in its stomach, or was killing them with that thing enough to complete the ceremony? Either way, she would not see the sunrise.
She pedaled through the warehouse district at top speed.
She could tell it would catch up to her eventually, but she could return to that restaurant and make it the original magician’s problem before that happened. That was the only way she saw to survive. It was like playing catch with a cartoon bomb with its fuse lit.
“The area just outside the warehouse district is densely populated! Do you have a people-clearing field ready!?”
“If the magician detected the unnatural flow of magic, they could escape, so if you want to survive this, just rush on through!!”
“Are you serious!? I really feel like we’re crossing a line here!”
The almost metallic footsteps continued to pursue her. And the unnatural, baby-like crying was even closer than she had thought. She did not have it in her to look back. She was not even checking her phone. She was entirely relying on her own memory when a single wrong turn could mean failing to arrive at her destination and becoming a live snack.
She pedaled with a ghastly look on her face until she spotted a familiar light: the restaurant’s sign.
It still had its lights on this late. She looked to the register counter through the window and recognized the young woman staring wide-eyed back out at her.
Since the woman had not left, she must have been extremely confident her plan would work.
Or had she been too afraid to wander around “outside” before she knew how it had turned out? All while assuming the bike carrying the bomb would never return to the starting point no matter where it went.
Angelene shouted at the top of her lungs toward the roofs.
“Trash spotted!! She’s still pretending to be the real restaurant manager!!”
“Understood, Sister Angelene. Now’s your chance to deliver that package to its rightful owner!!”
With a deafening shattering of glass, Angelene and her borrowed bike crashed into the restaurant.
She broke right through the locked door and tumbled out onto the floor.
Her thick nun’s habit came in handy at times like this. Which was not too surprising since hers truly was combat gear.
She had fallen onto her butt.
Not Angelene. The magician woman who had set all this up.
“Eeeeeeeeeeeeeek!! Y-you!? Why would you ever come back here!?”
“Because you sent this magic after me!”
Angelene desperately shouted back, but received an odd response.
The terrified magician shook her head like a small child.
“It wasn’t me!! That brutal curse isn’t mine!!”
The woman had called it a curse.
She had very clearly done so.
“Baron Samedi is the fearsome death god who stands at the crossroads.”
She crossed herself with trembling fingers, but her words suggested it probably meant something different than Angelene was used to.
“But just as any priest can use any curse, any good god also possesses the aspects of any evil god. The opposite is also true. Oh, purifying death god with a red lack of eyes, separate me from the threat like the knife that slices the lime!!”
A powerful crashing sound followed.
The glass door at the entrance had been destroyed by Angelene and her bike, yet the spider-legged thing that cried like a baby was blocked from entry like there was an invisible wall there. Its front end was squished flat against nothing, like a dump truck that crashed into an unseen barrier. It was reminiscent of the distorted face of a murderer squished against thick glass.
“This way, hurry.”
“This will only buy us some time because the curse has already locked onto us. It will come in here to kill us no matter what!!”
The woman grabbed Angelene’s hand and guided her back into the restaurant’s kitchen. Even at these indoor walls, the magician woman would cross herself and create an invisible barrier at every door they passed through.
But again, this was only buying time.
This did not solve the fundamental problem, so the curse would catch up to them eventually.
Angelene belatedly realized her thighs were trembling.
That was half due to fear and half due to her simple exhaustion. They said crises gave you incredible strength, but she was still amazed she had managed to escape that thing on such a cheap bike. If she had to do it again, the same miracle would not occur a second time.
“Th-that spell. Is it…?”
“Yes. As you can see, it’s Voodoo.” The woman wiped sweat from her brow. “But Voodoo doesn’t actually have any fixed teachings or spells. It’s a culture that borrows the gods and ceremonies of other mythologies and religions, makes them its own, and adds in their own things to continually expand on it. It might even include familiar aspects of your Christianity.”
Hadn’t that come up during the incident in Spain?
Not to mention Isabella Theism of Necessarius.
“I was studying a curse,” spat out the woman. “Divine punishment and divine wrath are a part of god’s will, right? Just look at the stories of Saint Andrew or Saint Vitus. A painful demonstration to the people can be used to show the world god’s glory. And since Voodoo continues to grow while it incorporates all other mythologies and religions, I thought the key to quickly contacting god could be found there.”
“It’s apparently called the Ceremony of Ba Moun.”
Angelene had no idea what language that was or what it meant.
Maybe that was for the best.
She did not want to think about where that knowledge might lead.
“The spell allows you to bind a priority contract with a demon who will grant your every wish, but in exchange, you must sacrifice someone you care for once every year. And once you run out of people you care for, the demon will devour you. It’s the worst and most wicked spell in Voodoo. But I should have been able to control it with enough research. Keyword: should.”
She sensed some kind of link between the requirement to sacrifice people you cared for and the boys and girls who kept going missing.
“After losing control of the curse, you started forcing it onto unsuspecting people to escape it yourself!? You had them take your place every time you couldn’t escape it any longer!?”
“If that were enough to save me, I’d be out there enjoying my life right now.”
She did not even reflexively deny it.
Did people really become this self-centered when they were pushed to the limit?
“I wanted to get rid of the curse. No matter what it took. That habit is Catholic, but I get the feeling you aren’t a normal nun. A pro has finally shown up, so I hope you’re something special.”
She had tired to force it onto someone else to get rid of it.
She had wanted to let them dispose of the problem for her.
She was not even a procurer. She was more like someone who dumped babies or spirit tablets in a coin-operated locker or park trashcan. Knowing someone would find it before long, she abandoned the thing so no one would know it was her. She forced all responsibility onto whoever discovered it so she could run off.
And she would grimace each time the curse returned to her afterwards.
Yet she never gave up and kept doing it.
“There’s something wrong with you,” said Angelene. “And that’s putting it nicely.”
“You had that curse after you too, so you know how terrifying it is, don’t you? What was that nonsense about once a year? It doesn’t wait at all before it comes to devour you. It’s completely broken as a curse.”
Angelene did not want to die.
That was her primary goal here.
And when she calmly analyzed her situation, she found this supposed dead end actually had a path out. But only she could use that path out; the other magician could not.
This was a curse.
The Ceremony of Ba Moun was a spell to create a priority contract with a demon who would grant the magician’s every wish. The demon described there was very poorly defined. It simply required repeated sacrifices of people the magician cared for and, once the magician ran out of those, it would devour the magician themselves.
That might sound like a complete dead end with no escape and it could be described as the worst possible curse, but that was not quite accurate.
There was a very simple way of immediately ending the catastrophe.
The woman who had caused it all had to die to the curse.
That would complete the process.
No more sacrifices would be needed and the thing known as a demon would leave immediately.
Angelene heard a terrible crash like a thick wooden pillar had been mercilessly snapped. Her shoulders jumped and she looked back toward the door. She could sense a presence there. She could hear it. Something was clawing at a door, meaning it was inside the building.
How many more doors were in its way?
The woman had said that would only buy them some time and she had not just been being modest. Those barriers were not showing any more of an effect than she had claimed.
The solution Angelene had thought up was correct.
Even the most powerful curse could be eliminated if it had a set target and it finished off that target. Assuming the curse did not remain behind afterwards, creating a lasting house of death.
But could she do that? Was she allowed to make that choice???
“I can’t believe this.”
The woman bit her thumbnail without noticing the girl staring so intently at her.
She had demonstrated an ugly fixation on life.
But that also proved that she was most definitely alive.
“This is nothing more than a spell created by humans and meant to be used by humans. No matter what kind of power it’s borrowing to boost itself, there has to be a way of getting rid of it. If I analyze it enough, I should be able to dispel any and all forms of magic.”
The crying of a baby could be heard through the door now.
But those cries were not something a lovable life would ever produce.
This magician had saved Angelene from that once.
She was of course being self-serving here. She was only keeping Angelene around to have someone to shove the curse onto while she escaped. But even so, Angelene would not be alive right now if not for that decision.
Could she really decide this was the right thing to do like she was throwing a switch?
Was it really allowed?
Whose approval could she receive to be freed from the guilt weighing on her gut like lead!?
“What did you wish for? Even if you only wanted to study the curse, you must have had some kind of wish you wanted granted. You must have used it at least once. So what was it?”
She sounded like she was only now remembering.
Or like she was thinking back to a time when she had still had a conscience.
“I wished no one else would ever have to suffer from a strange curse.”
That clinched it.
Angelene could not do it.
It was true this magician was beyond helping. She had gotten a bunch of innocent people killed and had even tried to force the curse onto Angelene so she alone could escape to safety. It was all so hopelessly self-centered.
She was still a human being.
That should have been obvious, but once you were reminded of that obvious fact, you could not go through with it. Angelene did not even know her name. Maybe she had been afraid it would keep her from acting if she knew. Once she accepted her as a fellow human, she could no longer abandon her.
But that terrible subconscious bulwark had just crumbled away.
This knowledge closed off her fate and guided her to her doom.
That seemed fitting for the person who had created this curse, so Angelene bit her lip.
She could no longer think of taking the easy way out.
“Tell me your name.”
The door to the kitchen finally dented in toward them. It bowed inward. Once that thing caught up, they would be devoured and killed. Angelene could just tell that the thing was not something you could think about “defeating” or “beating”.
But she still asked for that piece of information to make a clear decision for herself.
The woman looked taken aback.
She narrowed her eyes a little before answering.
“Frau Halveria. And you?”
That eliminated one option.
She could no longer abandon the coward and run to safety while pretending it was the right thing to do.
She had decided she would capture that woman alive and throw her into the Tower of London.
Agnese and Lucia had identified the restaurant Angelene had entered, but carelessly approaching it now would mean losing their lives. Then they could not hope to save the girl trapped inside.
So they chose to attack a different location.
They captured the loafer watching on from a nearby rooftop and tied her up.
An observer like that would only have been waiting there if she had known from the beginning this would happen.
“Fucking Isabella, how about you tell us what exactly is going on here?”
“Oh, my. Is this kind of kinky stuff popular in the Agnese Forces right now? As nuns, you should really act more like proper servants of god.”
“How much did you know?”
This sting operation might seem to have begun when Agnese used a story she had heard to punish Angelene, but there was more to it than that.
Where had Agnese come by the information in the first place?
If they had been intentionally lured into this, it was worth tracking down the provenance of that information.
“Heh. Eh heh heh heh heh. I-I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Sister Lucia, give me a hand. I want to build a giant DIY seesaw that can launch her all the way to that restaurant.”
“For a siege catapult, wouldn’t we need to roll up some rope to build up strength?”
“I’d die, I’d die, I’d die, I’d die!” tearfully pleaded Isabella. “Ahh, are you still stuck in the era when they honestly believed you could stuff someone in a cannon and launch them to the moon!?”
“That’s a Voodoo demon, isn’t it?” coldly asked Agnese. “So wouldn’t you have some countermeasure against it?”
“Oh, no. I couldn’t do that. It doesn’t matter if you’ve mastered the Voodoo arts here. I mean, we’re talking about the Ceremony of Ba Moun of all things. Besides, this is a spell that someone created but can’t control. All its abilities have been specialized toward granting your heart’s desire, safety be damned. Adding or removing anything to it would decrease its purity.”
“So it’s like a rocket built with a ‘to the moon or bust’ philosophy?”
“Yes, you might be half dead from heat and radiation, but you’d still set the record for the fastest manned flight, right? But decking out your ship with heavy lead panels is meaningless if won’t lift a single millimeter from the ground. Launching a rocket requires a lot of prior investment.”
It sounded crazy, but some people were in a situation so pressing they needed their wish granted ASAP. Like wanting to stop the giant meteor falling toward you, or wanting to save your sick and emaciated daughter. You couldn’t even wait a day longer for those wishes. And people had a way of feeling satisfied with even a halfway decent result. They would never rely on such a poorly-defined demon if their situation were not so pressing, but that very pressing situation left them unable to examine whether or not relying on that demon was really worth the price. Because if it failed even once, they would lose everything.
So person after person boarded that incomplete rocket to the moon, knowing it would leave them half dead. Just like people used to destroy their lungs with dust working in a mine to excavate a tiny piece of pure gold the size of their fingertip.
They were not in any position to properly consider the risks when they made the decision to try it.
They only learned the price they paid after the fact, once it was too late.
“But what does it even mean to ‘grant your heart’s desire’ here? That’s an extremely vague description.”
“When you look into it, it isn’t much.” The woman who smelled of death gave a thin and sticky smile. “The Voodoo specialty known as the zombie is not about making musty old corpses rise from the dead. You use special chemicals to intentionally harm someone’s body in order to remove the Ti Bon Ange from the five components of the soul. The spell is used to rob the person of their mind and remake them into a living unit you can control. The Ceremony of Ba Moun uses a demon as an amplifier to forcibly shift things up a level, bringing it from the micro to the macro. Simply put, it intentionally makes the physical world ill in order to control the diseased area. But that’s still only a small portion of the whole. The appendix is a tiny aspect of your physical body’s entire volume, right? And yet it can still bring you endless and excruciating pain until it is removed.”
“In Phase Theory terms, I guess you could call it corrupting the current phase instead of inserting a new phase of your own. But like I said, this spell has abandoned the entire concept of safety, so the corruption will reach the magician themselves sooner or later.”
That was very different from how Agnese viewed it.
Just like someone with a mastery of medicine might view medicines and poisons as the same basic thing, someone with a mastery of mythology might view gods and demons as the same basic thing. But Isabella’s way of combining Voodoo and Christianity inside her without any contradiction was not a thought process a nun could follow so easily.
The brown beauty herself seemed entirely carefree.
“Is there an affinity? You’d better believe it. Voodoo is a greedy religion that takes in every last miracle it runs across. I mean, they even include Yahweh as just one of their gods.”
“Enough talk.” Agnese sounded exasperated as she pointed her thumb toward the restaurant. “How exactly do you intend to solve this? We can’t lose Sister Angelene here.”
“Um, what do you think all that ‘talk’ was leading up to? If you were paying attention, you would have noticed I was going to great lengths to explain how the Ceremony of Ba Moun demon cannot be defeated.”
“Sister Lucia, prepare the catapult.”
“Okay, okay! I’ll figure something out, so just listen!!”
“Get to the point,” said Agnese in a voice much too threatening for a nun.
The necromancer put on a stiff smile and poked her index fingers together in front of her chest.
“Heh. Eh heh heh. Recall what our win condition is here. You just want to make sure those two survive even if we can’t defeat the demon, right?”
“I would have agreed to just saving Sister Angelene, but if you have it in your rotten heart to go that far, be my guest.”
“Then there is still a possibility.”
Isabella Theism lightly clenched a fist and struck the center of her chest with it.
She also winked and smiled.
“Did you forget I specialize in necromancy?”
They were inside the restaurant’s kitchen.
Frau Halveria had suggested a simple gamble.
“We make ourselves seem dead.”
“Like Romeo and Juliet?”
“In Voodoo, you can create an absolute poison with a single lime growing on a tree. And zombie powder is a drug that puts people in a state of pseudo-death to control them. I can create anything with this industrial kitchen to work with! There’s no escaping from the Ceremony of Ba Moun, so we just have to make it think we’ve passed on. If its target – me – is already dead, it loses its purpose and should be destroyed!!”
There was no time to see if anything she was saying was true. She probably was not 100% certain herself. She would not have killed all those people if she had been absolutely confident this would work.
“I-is there anything I can do!?” asked Angelene.
“Hold the door until I get the drug ready. Don’t let it in here!!”
She had to use force.
When she slammed her shoulder into the door, a force more than twice as powerful pushed back. The bent door was nearly knocked away. The barrier that Frau Halveria had put in place would be the only reason the door had not been splintered by the impact.
But who could say how long that would last.
There were Christian spells for blocking intruders and pursuers. A lot of them. After all, it was said the Son of God had spread his teachings while constantly on the run from people who did not understand him. But this door was already protected by Frau Halveria’s barrier. If she cast her own spell on it, there could be interference between the two barriers, causing a malfunction, so it was better to leave it be.
With a dull crack, the constant tackling against the other side of the door caused it to bend further while she held it with her small hands. It split and the splinters slashed her fingertips.
“Let me see,” said Frau Halveria.
She pulled out a suspicious-looking medicine bottle.
“Don’t worry. Voodoo drugs aren’t just used for zombies and assassinations. In fact, a priest’s job is to listen to the people of the city or country they rule over and solve their problems. The shambling zombies are just an extreme version of that. At times, making an example of someone or providing the ultimate punishment are the only way to preserve the peace.”
She had pulled out what looked like an empty seasoning bottle, but that was not what she actually used.
She set the empty bottle down on the corner of the countertop with an audible clunk.
“Loko Atisou,” she said while working on a different medicine than before.
It looked like no more than a few different meats and vegetables chopped up and made into a paste, but when she rubbed it on Angelene’s fingertips while saying something under her breath, the bleeding stopped and the small wounds themselves slowly vanished.
“The ceremony has now closed the wounds. Oh, Mystère of medicine and healing, I thank you for guiding us to the path of life leading out from the labyrinth of death. In the name of Brave Ghede, I demand you leave this place.”
“Don’t worry about it. No one likes to be in pain and everyone fears death.”
Angelene’s out of place words made Frau Halveria look away.
Then she bit her lip.
“Not that I have any right to say that after sacrificing innocents. I know I can never say those sorts of things ever again.”
This may have been like an interrogation room.
A strange bond of trust had been formed between the police detective and the criminal. They might have strayed from the straight and narrow, but when faced with the way things were supposed to be, they could regain their ordinary sensibilities.
Everyone feared death.
If she had the strength to not avert her gaze from what she had done while panicked, Frau Halveria might just be able to turn over a new leaf.
“It’ll be okay.”
“What’ll be okay?”
“There is no bringing back the dead. You even said Voodoo zombies don’t work like that. But part of you still wants to help people. No matter how little of it remains, you still have enough of a heart to go pale in the face when you see someone hurt. You should be able to turn that heart toward the people who have already died and not just the people you can still save. Even the dead have dignity that needs to be protected.”
“So you shouldn’t die here. Not as long as you can feel regret. You need to save the people who died by your hand. Their lives are gone forever, but you can still give them something.”
A dull crash came from the door.
It was the decisive sound of a wooden pillar breaking, so they were out of time.
“Once you take the pseudo-death drug, get inside the fridge. That will lower your temperature to complete the illusion of death! There’s no other way of tricking the Ceremony of Ba Moun!!”
Something occurred to Angelene then.
(Even if this drug can trick the demon, won’t it lock onto us again the instant we “come back to life”? We can’t feign death forever.)
But before she could ask about that, she felt a sharp pain in her neck.
That was enough to knock her out.
Evidently that woman could indeed create an absolute poison with a single lime.
Frau Halveria slowly exhaled, passed her arms below Angelene’s arms, and lifted the girl from where she had collapsed to the ground. Then she dragged her further back into the kitchen.
Angelene felt betrayed.
But she sensed an odd lack of hostility. Which brought an even greater sense of danger.
“The drug was to…save you.”
“Surely you understand.”
The woman was dragging Angelene to the large industrial refrigerator.
It was plenty large to fit someone inside.
“Even if I used the drug to temporarily stepped down from the stage, it would lock back onto me as soon as I recovered. So there’s no point in me taking it. This was only ever going to work for you.”
“I should have done this from the beginning.”
“But then…you didn’t have to do this to me.”
“No, I didn’t. But if I didn’t incapacitate you, you’d be killed too.”
What had given her a change of heart?
Was it Angelene insisting that it was wrong to get innocent people killed by the Ceremony of Ba Moun? Had she realized her partner here was too weak to accomplish anything, so she was giving up on her?
Was she thankful that someone had tried to free her from her lonely battle in some form or another?
Angelene clenched her teeth.
Even though she knew she would not have the strength to do so for much longer.
“I didn’t do all this to push you toward death!!”
Frau Halveria only smiled.
It looked like the face of a corpse to Angelene.
Then the door from the rest of the restaurant was mercilessly broken through. The time had come. No one could stop it now. The cold rules of the magic world would bare their fangs against a living human.
“Hello, hello. Coming through.”
An absurdly casual voice interrupted.
There was someone else inside the realm of death this restaurant had become. And they were very close. A woman with silver hair and brown skin stood so close to the sinister collection of spider legs extending from the shredded backpack that she could have rubbed her cheek against a thorny leg if she only bent her hips a bit.
“Well, I’d say your first mistake was figuring out how to draw out so much power from such a half-assed design. The cost performance on this thing is wild. Well, the spells that catch on as rookie-killers tend to be the easiest to set up. Like the Kokkuri-san or the Ushi no Koku Mairi.”
No one was allowed to enter this place.
Once that innocent-sounding curse was uttered, the woman who smelled of death had her right side mercilessly bitten away with what sounded like a wet explosion. Her overall silhouette now looked like a red crescent moon. Her blood and guts spilled out into the air, but they came to a stop before hitting the floor. But not because the spider legs had caught them. The woman herself remained standing tall.
Corpses were all she could create.
But if she had methods of manipulating corpses, she would also have a way of controlling them remotely.
“I see. Looks like my experiment was a rousing success. If it wouldn’t react to a corpse made from rearranged animal blood and meat, even I would have to give up. So we’re lucky it considers anything that moves a threat, whether it’s alive or dead.”
Angelene was speechless.
The Ceremony of Ba Moun had ruled over this place, but that atmosphere had been obliterated by the gore of this silver-haired brown-skinned new arrival.
“This shouldn’t be so surprising. The Ceremony of Ba Moun is admittedly powerful and nearly impossible to mess with, but it has one crucial different from normal spells. Since its power comes from a contract with a demon, the curse has a master. It is not a truly formless collection of malice or anything like that. It has a definite and physical source, so you just have to do something about that.”
Her pieces began to fall again, but she maintained her smile even as she piled up on the floor.
“With the Ceremony of Ba Moun, the demon itself will come to take the life of anyone who fails to follow the rules. And that demon is an individual. No matter how powerful it is, this will always be a one-on-one deal. In other words…”
The female cadaver smiled and calmly pointed at something with a remaining finger.
“You only need to present it with two corpses of the exact same person.”
How long had those been there?
They were Frau Halveria herself.
Or more accurately…
“Especially when that demon will bite at anything that moves, even a corpse.”
If Angelene had found one of those first, she would have doubted the woman standing next to her now was alive. She would have suspected she was speaking with a ghost. That was how detailed the doppelgangers were, yet it was really nothing more than large animal bones and organs patched together.
There were indeed two fake corpses lying on the floor.
There was a dull tearing sound.
The demon had just one body, yet there were two of its target lying at two distant points on the floor. As powerful as it was, it was a single being, yet it could never ignore its own objective. And what happened when it tried to move to attack both targets at the same time?
This time, it was not a baby’s cry.
This was much more brutal. It was a primal scream that seemed to deteriorate the soul of all who heard it. But make no mistake. That was not an adorable baby. It was something very different. If you felt even a twinge of guilt or any of your ordinary emotions were stirred, it would draw you into a vortex of inhuman malice.
The demon split itself apart and splattered itself across the floor.
All the pieces came in contact with all the perfectly ordinary shadows in the room and disappeared as if absorbed by them.
“That should do it.”
Someone other than the cadavers on the floor entered through the broken door.
It was the silver-haired brown-skinned necromancer.
“Ooh, I really nailed the colors today! The attention to detail really pays off when you see how the corpse splatters itself around. Check out how taboo this all this. The stickiness is subtly different from when a living human is crushed!!”
This one did not seem to be made from pig and cow parts.
It was obvious enough once you met her directly.
Isabella Theism wore the clothes of the dead with a childlike smile on her face. Those clothes were the source of her faint scent of death; it did not actually come from her skin. It was most accurate to say she was a living person who dressed up as the dead. But the woman from before had been nothing but death. She had carried the flat and simple scent of death found from no more than a corpse.
“Well, that should solve your Ceremony of Ba Moun problem. Although even that didn’t actually kill it.”
She made it sound so simple.
Should they fear that demon for living up to its name? Or should they breath an exasperated sigh at this wielder of death who had so easily dealt with it?
“If a demon is particular about its name, you just have to properly name it. If a curse is particular about numbers, you just have to use a numbers trick. If you can’t actually pull that off, you shouldn’t try to use those things. Do you get that now?”
The magician named Frau Halveria looked to the restaurant floor in shocked silence.
“What do we do about this? There are two corpses of me here, but if we leave them here, it’ll definitely lead to problems.”
“Well, it wouldn’t have fooled the curse if you could visually tell them apart from you.”
Isabella Theism grabbed a mop and tossed it over to the woman.
Frau Halveria caught it in confusion and the other woman winked while providing the name of the ultimate punishment game.
“Have you ever heard of forensic cleanup?”
“Not many people get a chance to clean up their own corpse. Did you know the word grotesque was originally an art term? Give this gruesome scene a good hard look and rethink your path in life if you don’t want to end up like this yourself.”