Toaru Majutsu no Index:AgneseSS Chapter5
Things had taken a sudden turn.
A large group of Anglican magicians had arrived on Greece’s Thira island of the Cyclades island group. They were there to destroy the Guild hidden in that small city of about 7000 that was made up of homes and long stairways clinging to the steep slopes bordering the Aegean Sea.
It was late at night, but that deep darkness was shredded by the many flares shining down on the ground with light brighter than midday.
Necromancer Isabella Theism laughed.
“Those girls are doing a pretty good out there.”
“They had better, since it’s their job,” casually replied Stiyl Magnus. “And our job is to identify the villains and slaughter them. The more sources of information we have beforehand, the better. We don’t want to attack an innocent person based on faulty intel.”
“So those girls are only insurance?”
“Insurance is worthless if you can’t trust it. Isn’t that how a second opinion works? So I will not disagree with your assessment of them.”
The flares were of course only a diversion.
Genuine magicians like Stiyl and Isabella did not secure a clear view through normal means before they attacked the enemy.
But the old-fashioned flares would put the enemy on alert while also accentuating the contrast between light and dark in the surrounding area. In other words, it made the light and the shadows stronger. The Guild magicians had no idea when they would be attacked and would want to escape being sniped from a distance, so the deeper shadows made it obvious where they would try to hide.
“We’re talking about a Greek secret society here, so what do you think? Orpheus, Dionysus, or Persephone maybe? I can’t wait to find out☆”
“What has you so excited? We’re only cleaning up the trash on a larger scale than usual.”
“Necromancers like me have a fondness for this genre. Like Japan’s Izanami or the Egyptian pyramids. …Yes, a true magician can’t just rely on the Arsenal. You need to see things for yourself! Yes, yessss! The world is awash with death!!”
The brown-skinned silver-haired necromancer held her shoulders as irregular tremors ran through her. Her words were inappropriate, but Stiyl knew it was accurate.
He was wielding two flame swords even as they chatted.
He wielded them casually and without batting an eye.
With each powerful explosion he caused, an artificial structure was swept away along the magician curled up behind it waiting for a chance to counterattack. There was no need to take prisoners. Or to leave behind any trace of their existence. Eliminating the Guild as quickly as possible was their top priority.
This city at least was indeed awash with death.
“What happened in Turin was a surprise, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, it actually makes me worry for those girls. In our field, going above and beyond on the job is a good way to reach an early grave through overwork. Anyway, it looks like this guild dates back to the ancient Greek era instead of the Renaissance-era revival. The world heritage officials would probably be pissed if they knew we were secretly mopping them up like this.”
Isabella Theism did not possess an obviously deadly power when compared to Stiyl and his 3000-degree flames. Her specialty was to wear the clothes of the dead to “become one” with them and to create fake corpses indistinguishable from the real ones to make the enemy panic.
A dull sound burst out as the accumulated force was released from some twisted human skin being used in lieu of a rope.
A roar escaped from a giant seesaw-like catapult used to throw boulders at a castle’s walls and a rotting corpse that had become a mass of curses and infectious disease flew toward the enemy fortress. That would destroy sanitary conditions and cut off the water and food supply, so it was a standard method of taking a base.
“Do you really need to model those after the people I’ve killed?” asked Stiyl in exasperation.
“The originals are burned until not even the ashes remain, so it’s not like they can tell if it’s real or not. And the corpses of their ace fighters who led the charge on the vanguard are bound to scare them more than just any old corpse. Especially when it’s already rotted so much after such a short period of time.”
“You are not a nice person.”
“If you can’t enjoy this, necromancy isn’t right for you. It causes a panic and it camouflages our own methods, so it seems pretty effective to me.”
In that sense, Stiyl Magnus may have been the cleaner of the two since he insisted on burning the enemy away until not even the ashes remained.
“We’re after their spell book.”
Stiyl sounded bored and his cigarette wiggled up and down in the corner of his mouth as he spoke.
He was speaking to the killer Anglicans deployed around them.
“That’s their sample list filled with wax tapes that use the principle of a phonograph to record a standard voice sample for each of their members. Breathing is the most basic method of refining magic power and an individual’s idiosyncrasies there are hard enough to alter that a lot of magic cabals like to keep track of and manage them.”
“Their leader must really not trust their subordinates.”
“And you think our leader does?” spat Stiyl. “We need this solid evidence to track down all the undercover members they have around Europe. We don’t need to get any information out of prisoners this time, so don’t bother taking any. The Guild chose to enter our world and they violated a taboo while they were at it, so let’s show them how we do things. Commit an ordinary crime and you’ll find yourself convicted in court and thrown behind bars, but what if your crime doesn’t allow for that? Those fools may think they’ve found the master key to the universe, but they are in for a rude awakening.”
A small war had broken out.
Stooped and freckled Angelene was bent over lower than an old lady.
“Eeek!! I-i-i-i-is-is-is this really what our investigation led to!? What have we started here!?”
“Shouting will only make you a target, Sister Angelene. And this just means things had gotten so bad this was the only way to resolve it. It had to happen sooner or later, so I’m glad we managed to track down the Guild first.”
Tall Lucia remained calm even now. She may have had a switch in her head that could deactivate her personal feelings when it mattered.
“But why Thira?” asked Lucia. “It’s a pretty minor island as far as Greek mythology is concerned. Don’t they have plenty of more famous islands like Crete or Naxos? Even in the same Cyclades island group, there’s Delos.”
“If they’re trying to stay hidden, why would they choose a well-known tourist destination?” quietly scolded Agnese. “People like this are going to choose somewhere inconspicuous.”
The concept of a guild was not suspicious in and of itself. They were only organizations or groups where workers of a specific field – such as steel or food – would gather to increase the success of their field as a whole.
But on the underside of society, guilds became a gathering point for workers who could not put out a sign advertising their services, such as an illicit manufacturing guild (material procurement, manufacturing, product shipping, sales, etc.) or an assassination guild (weapon procurement, making the kill, disposing of the body, creating alibis, etc.). Different guild members being seen together could be a fatal mistake, so the members would use greetings, handshakes, special cards, or meeting places that only other members would recognize while trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible. Their base would be their biggest secret, so they would never place a suspicious statue out front or hang up a creepy sign.
Being nondescript was their most notable signature.
You could not assume you were safe just because you could not find anything suspicious. The only way to track down this sort of guild was to start wondering if your neighbors were a little too normal and average.
The magnesium flares being launched at set intervals were so bright they would damage the naked eye if viewed directly.
(Honestly, how does this not violate the treaty between magic and science? What ever happened to the world’s dividing line? Is Lola Stuart being paid off by Academy City or something?)
They were not using magical lights because those would interfere with the largescale search being performed by fortunetellers on a ship out at sea while the rest of them fought here.
Yes, the group on Thira might not be all of them.
The Guild was still lurking out there. If they let that slide, the same sort of major incidents would continue to occur. It was hard to say there had been no victims so far and it was not just the expert magicians like Agnese’s group that would suffer from it. Reclaiming peace required thoroughly crushing the Guild.
(To ho ho. “Crushing” them? Say what you mean, me. They must be killed.)
Agnese laughed at herself.
To eradicate all of the Guild magicians scattered across Europe and perhaps the world, they wanted the Guild’s spell book. And with that rune-obsessed priest blowing everything up, he might just reduce that treasure to ashes. Then Agnese would have no idea why she had dragged her sleep-deprived self out here for a late-night surprise attack.
She knew exactly why she and the other outsiders had been thrown onto the front line here.
“All that out there is a diversion.” The leader of those three girls spoke briefly but plainly. “We need to slip in through the back door and swipe their spell book before that smoker goes overboard and burns it all down. Once we have that, they won’t need to hold back. Then they can obliterate the Guild with a largescale magical bombing for all we care. That guy sticks his rune cards inside the target building through the cracks in the doors and windows and he claims he can burn the target building to the ground without getting a single ember on the neighbors.”
“C-couldn’t we just wait until the fortunetellers have their answer? Both sides’ attacks are coming through here, so this is the worst place to be! We’ll never survive if we search through here and then have to backtrack to check the location found by the fortunetellers!”
“The fortunetelling isn’t perfect. This place is full of magical noise thanks to the largescale attacks and there is no perfect countermeasure to magical stealth meant to intentionally hide something. That’s why we have to destroy all the interfering spiritual items and temples to increase the accuracy of the fortunetelling as we work our way in. The fortunetelling is only insurance in case we miss something.”
A ball of light fell nearby those three and sent an explosive blast in every direction. Worse, that was a piece of Anglican magic. If they had not immediately leaped behind a stone wall, they would have been killed by friendly fire.
(I guess outsiders will only ever be outsiders to them, dammit!!)
Retrieving the spell book was their top priority in this surprise attack, so there was a good reason outsiders had been sent in to do that part. It was a like a forced hiking trip meant to place the greatest risk on them. And as a hiking trip, it was a pleasant affair – just like prisoners of war forced to hike across a minefield with a tank keeping an eye on them from behind. But even if Agnese’s group managed to acquire the spell book through their efforts, the credit would be snatched away from them since this was just one part of a surprise attack carried out by the Anglican Church as a whole. It was a disgustingly simple setup.
(Tack the word “religious” on the front, and the most exploitative of environments driving its people to death through overwork can be swept under the rug as “the pursuit of asceticism”. History and tradition are a scary thing.)
Agnese held a hand to her still-ringing ear and grimaced.
“Damn, no human being deserves this kind of work environment. It’s times like this when I regret not learning how to send remote instructions to statues and things like that. I ended up putting that off so long I forgot to ever study it.”
“The magic world still has a ways to go before it can manage unmanned weaponry.”
“Even the internet is down to a pretty reasonable monthly price these days, so cost effectiveness really comes down to the quality of your idea. For example, what about a statue of the Virgin Mary that did some damage with its equipped sword and shield and then opened up like an iron maiden to chomp on the weakened target?”
“Sister Agnese. You need to go study the bible some more once this is over. Starting with the part about honoring our predecessors.”
That announcement from Lucia amounted to a death sentence. Angelene was trembling when it was not even directed at her.
Just as a flare burst and scattered light perhaps even brighter than lightning, Agnese spun her Lotus Wand around and an explosive blast filled the top of a watchtower. That spell selected and solidified wind out of the five major elements. And Greek mythology was a bow culture. It went without saying what had happened to the watchers who had been aiming into the distance with the bow belonging to a goddess of the moon and virgins. The magicians were thrown from the tower, their limbs flailed helplessly in the air, and they crashed down onto the city of stone and stairs.
“That was a lot of people,” commented Lucia, sounding both exasperated and impressed.
“An observer, an archer, and maybe an arrow supplier? That must be what you get with a guild full of highly specialized workers.”
By gathering people from a special field, they could move more flexibly as a group. A guild’s structure was a lot like a soft cushion made by filling a bag with lots of hard beads. It was a subtle difference from magic cabal magicians who learned to do everything themselves.
(Those poor fools. When you only know how to do the one thing, you must not even consider leaving the battle no matter how things are going. They’re like soldiers who line up in perfect ranks to be bombed to death.)
The island of Thira was distinctive terrain.
The rough waves of the Aegean Sea had worn down the coast to create steeply sloped cliff faces, small homes of white stone were lined up along those slopes, and white stairs linked those buildings in a complex pattern similar to a labyrinth or a ghost leg lottery. Being on an island covered in stairs must have been a challenge even for the online stores that had covered the planet. This historical city did not even allow the passage of cars, but the houses had small tray-sized heliports attached to the walls. Those were probably landing points for delivery drones.
That terrain made attacking the island a real pain in the rear.
You had to climb that steep slope when arriving from the sea and the Guild used the terrain to their advantage while holding the high ground. They took barrels filled with hot oil or quick lime and rolled them down the stairs, they sent countless arrows pouring down at their enemy, and they sent flashfloods down the slope. Having the earth’s gravity on their side meant a lot. Whether you followed the stairs or attempted to scale the cliffs, it was a hellish climb.
(It’s like an 8-bit action game.)
When the flare’s light faded, Agnese climbed on top of a nearby house’s roof and took aim at a messenger running down the stairs while grumbling silently to herself. As much as it felt like a game, people were actually losing their lives, so it was no laughing matter. That was why she kept a straight face as she jumped down onto the enemy and covered their mouth.
“You aren’t going to kill them?” asked Angelene.
“We can leave that to the damn long-haired priest. Our objective is the spell book.”
When the next flare swept away the darkness of the night, she dragged the limp messenger into the deep shadows between two houses.
“I found their encryption book. Sister Angelene, you share this with the others. But wait…a Caesar cipher???”
“You can ask your questions later, Sister Agnese.”
When discussing the origins of the world’s oldest whatever, you generally had to talk about either Greece or China. That was true of noodles, money, ships, wheels, flamethrowers, and even encryption. Still, something about this seemed off to Agnese. But before she could answer the doubt filling her chest, the other nuns dragged her up the long, winding stone stairs. At this point, they would not be remotely surprised if a giant round boulder came tumbling own at them like in an exploration action movie. They had to keep their focus on what was uphill of them.
“B-but I’m surprised.”
“About what, Sister Angelene?”
“We’re attacking a magic cabal’s HQ, so I was imagining more of a big battle between individuals. Not all these largescale traps like the quick lime and flashfloods.”
“This guild is the villain hiding in the shadows of history to provide knowledge, techniques, materials, and motivation to criminals all across Europe. That means they have been keeping themselves perfectly safe all the while. I doubt they want to treat their own valued lives as disposable now.”
They would probably want unmanned magical weaponry more than anyone. And the nuns could only thank god that their techniques had not reached that level.
After their allied troops silently neutralized the scouts up in the watchtowers and on top of the building roofs and then withdrew safely, Agnese heard a voice speaking directly in her head.
“This is Sister Agata. Excellent work, Sister Agnese. The ley line disturbances are gone for the time being, so we are receiving a reading with our scan using an old map and pendulum. The item in question is near the rain water storage tank at 25-DD.”
“Th-th-that’s really close,” said Angelene. “Oh, no! Does that mean we have to go get it!?”
“I’m sure that was part of the plan when they divined its location. C’mon, get going, lazybones.”
Agnese strongly urged her fellow nuns on.
When used right, her Lotus Wand could strike distant targets just by hitting the wand itself, but that was not always the best option. When you needed to silently knock someone out with the first attack, a simple blow like that could be insufficient.
Thira was a small island in the Aegean Sea and, like with any remote island, securing fresh water was a top priority. The greenery suggested that it did have a natural spring, but the locals would not want to rely on that alone. That was why large stone pools had been built at the top of the steep slopes.
“Those will have a smelly rotting corpse dumped in them soon enough, so we can ignore them. Our priority is securing the spell book and ending this ridiculous battle.”
“C-come to think of it, what’s happening to Thira’s ordinary people?”
“The harmless people have all been thoroughly petrified. They are swiftly and silently knocked unconscious and given defenses capable of resisting any stray shots that might reach them. And anyone who shows an unusual resistance to it is actually an expert magician.”
They casually put the people in stasis and casually fixed them afterwards, much like how a water bear worked.
That sort of largescale test worked even with a population of 7000. Necessarius was not humane enough to hesitate just because the civilians were being used as a shield. They were the world’s most powerful problem solvers who dealt with crimes and even wars.
Agnese’s group arrived at the top of the cliff after climbing the long stairway.
This area took advantage of the level terrain up here.
The artificial structure found there was still built with white stone, but it was built down into the ground in a bowl shape as large as a small baseball field. That giant crater was filled with dark water that reflected the flames, flares, and moonlight, similar to the ocean during a fireworks show.
“This must be the source of the flashfloods they’ve attacked us with a few times.”
“Wait, Sister Agnese. Is this what I think it is?”
“Yes,” Agnese replied exasperatedly. “This may have originally been an ancient Greek amphitheater or arena.”
It did not appear to be an ancient dam with a long history behind it. This reuse would make the investigators of ancient ruins faint if they saw it.
And it was also a major hint.
For example, the ancient theatre of Delphi contained a shrine to Dionysus, the Stadium at Olympia was Zeus’s holy ground, and the amphitheaters on Delos were all linked to Apollo or Artemis. Any large structure where people gathered would have a god’s name engraved into it somewhere and that would reveal what kind of spells or tactics the Guild preferred.
“We need to investigate it all. But our top priority remains the spell book.”
If this had been an ancient Greek theater or arena, then there would be more than just the bowl-shaped surface structure. Even normal theaters had underground paths and rooms built for the actors and props to be moved around without the audience seeing. And with an arena where slaves were made to fight lions, there would need to be prison-level cells to prevent the stars of the show from escaping.
It did not take much searching to discover an entrance. They found a square trapdoor on the ground outside the circular white stone dam. The unusually recent magic circle on the lock showed signs of updating by the Guild magicians using the place. Just like Venice, the City of Water, had wireless LAN signals filling the city to allow for a comfortable life. Since the circular arena was being used as a dam now, it was best to assume the whole ancient ruins had been tampered with. It had been remodeled beyond its original design and purpose.
Agnese crouched down and held out a hand.
She focused on the curving line surrounding the base of her thumb and the line that began between the base of her index and middle finger and continued diagonally down toward her little finger.
This was a Western form of palm reading. It used five lines and five bumps or “mounts” on the palm. The two lines she was focused on were the life line and the heart line.
It was unusual to use this technique to learn about others instead of yourself, but it was possible. For example, the life line indicated the presence of danger to or the extent of your life. If anything here would threaten her life or rattle her emotions, it would have an effect on the signs written on her palm.
That told her what plan to use. Lucia and Angelene took up their own positions around the trapdoor. They had worked together long enough that she did not need to give them a spoken command or a hand signal.
Just to be sure, she sent out a transmission.
“(Agnese here. We have arrived at 25-DD. We will now enter the ruins, so please have the diversion team drop an extra big one. Anything that makes a lot of noise will do.)”
Explosive flames even larger than the flares erupted in the distance. The Thira city on the steep slope was illuminated by an orange light similar to the setting sun. They could sense the enemy on the move even through the trapdoor.
They sensed extreme tension, humiliation, and a touch of relief.
That last inappropriate scent was just like the response of someone realizing that the aerial bombing had landed on something other than their own shelter.
“(The grave robbers discovered St. Benedict’s bones. There is no door his hand cannot open. Lock, be opened!!)”
Just as the enemy’s focus was drawn elsewhere, Agnese forcibly destroyed the magic circle on the lock. Lucia lifted the trapdoor just a crack and Angelene tossed in a single gold coin shining brighter than the sun.
That coin symbolized greed.
Its gold shine blinded all filled with wicked desire, causing them to lose sight of reality.
The trapdoor was shut once more just before the lightning-like flash filled the enclosed space. Agnese adjusted her grip on the Lotus Wand while her own eyes were protected.
She licked her lips and spoke in a singsong way.
“You’re so ugly you’d scare off your own cute puppies, you goddamn magicians!!”
“Okay, we really need to talk after this is over, Sister Agnese. With the bible in hand.”
The trapdoor was fully opened this time.
And several different colors of light entered.
Magical attacks using the silver staff, wooden wheel, and coin bags attacked the blinded magicians one after another.
Stooped Angelene had the coin bags at her hips float up into empty air. They had light sources attached to them: the headlamps worn on the foreheads of explorers.
Needless to say, any noticeable light source in the dark would be targeted first. Attaching that light to your own forehead was out of the question. In that sense, a light you did not even need to hold in your hand was safe and reliable. Not only would it not draw attacks to you, it would draw attacks away from you, making it the perfect diversion for an attacker.
They faced less resistance than expected inside, but Agnese Sanctis did not take an optimistic view of that. She instead felt the ominous atmosphere of finding your supposedly full tank of gas was now half empty. The lack of intense resistance meant the enemy had no real attachment to this place. Either the Guild’s main force was not located here, or they were escaping through some other exit.
(Who knows what kind of punishment awaits us if they manage to escape with the spell book.)
“Sister Lucia and Angelene.”
They were in the hidden portion of some ancient ruins that had existed since BCE times. They were walking through an underground tunnel that could not possibly meet modern safety standards, but its bumpy surface provided plenty of spaces to hide. They were at least spared having to push against an endless headwind of projectiles in a long straight tunnel with nowhere to hide.
They took a fairly quick pace while keeping a lookout for any possible cursed charms, dolls, or other booby traps on the floor, walls, or ceiling. They knew rushing would increase the risk of death, but they could not rid themselves of the fear that they would miss their target after coming so far.
Not everyone had survived the series of events leading up to this.
Including some ordinary people.
If the Guild’s main forces managed to escape, they would be back to square one. The Guild would throw fuel on the fire of people’s criminal motives to cause crimes around Europe. Both the victim and the criminal would end up suffering for it while the Guild laughed from a safe distance. Agnese hated being pushed to work so hard in this exploitative work environment, but she would also have trouble sleeping at night if she allowed that to happen.
She would end everything tonight.
She would bring an end to that chain of events.
Then she heard a dry sound much like rustling paper.
She held a finger to her lips and they all turned silently toward the source of the noise.
The long passageway circling the dam had other stairways and rooms built onto it, making it resemble a stone ant colony. The noise came from one of those rooms. Its original purpose was unclear, but they doubted it was for anything friendly given the remnants of a metal door that was pulled straight up by gears and chains much like a guillotine or sluice. Agnese would not be surprised to learn it had once housed a lion trained to devour people.
But was that really a thing of the past?
A deafening roar came from unexpectedly close by.
Agnese gulped and immediately chose a course of action. Her mind had gone blank, preventing her from refining magic power, so she would have a hard time fighting back with any kind of complex spell.
It would be too late by the time this beast leaped at her. But before the ordinary fear could freeze her in place, she thrust out the Lotus Wand on pure mechanical reflex. If something was held out in front of most animal’s faces, they would hold it in place with their front legs and bite at it.
For Agnese, anything was fine as long as she was not torn through by the first strike of those powerful jaws.
And she was not about to allow a second strike to happen.
Her call was answered by an explosion to the side. Lucia’s giant wooden wheel had burst on its own, scattering splinters like a shotgun. They slammed into the side of the lion that had misjudged its action, blasting away the 200kg beast like a kicked empty can.
Only after seeing the beast roll over and convulse on the floor did Angelene go pale and tremble.
“E-eek. What is that!? The Nemean lion!?”
“Based on the way my attack hit, I don’t think it’s a biological creature. Is it made of stone or metal? It may be modeled after the Mycenaean Lion Gate.”
So was this like a rooftop Shisa or a temple’s Komainu coming to life and attacking you? Of course, those more comical examples may have been Agnese’s way of distracting herself from the fear.
And defeating that unidentified lion did not mean the danger had passed.
The lion had leaped out at them, but they had yet to check its room. What was that sound of rustling paper Agnese had heard beforehand?
She was a moment too late in asking that question.
She heard a deep burning sound and an orange light emanated from the room.
“Oh, no! They’re burning something!”
She rushed into the room and found a stranger standing within.
No, perhaps it was better to say she found someone she did not recognize.
After all, this girl had all the skin on her face peeled away.
Agnese spoke to the criminal who had gone to such lengths to escape.
“Ah ha ha.”
Monica apparently had no intention of winning this fair and square. Siccing that lion on them had not been to kill them – it was only to buy time for this.
She held a burning collection of paper.
She did not let go. Not to the very end. The fire she had set spread beyond the papers and enveloped her arm as well.
“Ah ha ha ha ha!! Hah hah hah ah ha ha ah ha ha ha ha ha!!”
“Get ready, Sister Agnese!!”
Monica laughed and spread her arms even as her entire body went up in flames. Then she ran toward the three nuns. She may have intended to grab at Agnese to share her fiery fate.
But Lucia did not let it happen.
Her giant wooden wheel burst, the many splinters scattered, and Monica flew back toward the opposite wall with more than 10 times the force she had come running in with.
She must have been counting on that.
Something fluttered through the cold stone room like cherry blossoms while scattering embers everywhere.
“Th-the spell book,” bemoaned Angelene. Her voice soon grew to a shout. “Wasn’t that the spell book we were searching for? It was just blown away! Wh-what do we do now!?”
The paper had been set on fire, the wax tapes had been melted, and the entire book had been shredded by the wooden scattershot. Agnese’s group had helped destroy it in their efforts to protect themselves.
The destruction was so thorough that restoring it now would be difficult.
Agnese sat down by the wall and watched it continue to burn.
“Sister Lucia, how much lifeforce does Monica have left?”
“It is about to run out and there is no stopping it.”
She received a cold response, but she did not mind.
That was not the main issue here. She could let herself feel that guilt once the dawn arrived.
Right now, she had a more important task
She roughly grabbed some blank memo paper found in the same room.
“Check her leftover thoughts. I need help from both of you to extract the spell book from Sister Monica!”
“B-but isn’t the spell book a bunch of wax tapes with the sounds recorded on them? Extracting her memories of seeing the spell book won’t get what we need!”
“We aren’t looking in her head. The residual thoughts clinging to her clothing would be less strictly guarded. Any voices she’s heard even once should coincide with the voices in the spell book, whether she was aware of it or not!”
Normally, that level of accuracy would not be possible.
If it would, they could have solved some other incidents much faster. For example, the summoned ghost ship attacking Calais, France.
But in this case, the burning habit and lost spell book had been destroyed by the same fire. “Cause of death” made for a very powerful common factor, so they could use that to absorb the information from both the spell book and the criminal’s clothing.
Do not forget.
As seen in the Golden Bough, magic of the sympathetic and contagious varieties placed a heavy emphasis on relationships and connections. If there was a handhold there, why wouldn’t they use it?
They knew there was no saving that girl enveloped in the flames, but she was still breathing and thus still a survivor for the time being. But they coldly refused to treat her and extracted the necessary information even if it meant watching her die.
They were working toward peace.
They were working toward a bright future.
(This is certainly something we couldn’t let that spiky-haired boy see.)
It was a contemptible and inhumane act, but otherwise the spell book needed to defeat the Guild would be forever lost. Agnese clenched her teeth but continued her work with perfect accuracy.
“When martyred, the glass shards of St. Vincent’s prison turned to flowers and he saw an angel. Thou carry no pain and no secrets. This place contains naught but light. The truth shall not be embellished as the light shines bright to guide the lost lambs on this earth.”
While continuing her work, Agnese looked to the room itself instead of burning Monica. She was somewhat afraid of suffocating with no windows for the smoke to escape, but she was also curious what kind of room this was.
It was a large room - twice the size of a school classroom.
The walls were lined with bookcases and old tomes were piled up on the tables. But more than that…
(What is that?)
“Ugh,” groaned the torch.
Putting out the fire now would not save her and thoughtlessly dumping water over her head might only make it worse.
So Agnese continued her work, but she also moved her lips to speak some other words.
“Your lost lifeforce will not return. There is no saving you. Do you have any last words you want me to relay to a family member, a friend, a lover, a teacher, or anyone you want? I swear I will get your message to them.”
Monica smiled a little when she heard that.
And she did not hesitate to respond.
“Shut up, you hypocrite. I’ll see you in hell.”
That was the end of it.
The torch became nothing more than a torch. She was no longer moving in the slightest.
Her outstretched hand had simply wandered through empty air.
(What a sad person.)
She had betrayed the Roman Catholics and picked a fight with the Anglicans to side with this strange Guild, but she must never have managed to rid herself of the loneliness lodged deep in her heart. She had died alone. And even in the Guild she was willing to protect with her life, she must not have found anyone she wanted to leave a final message for.
Malice, hostility, enmity, and animosity.
Her life had been like a book left stiff and moldy after being soaked in filthy water and forcibly dried. She had desired freedom more than anyone, yet she had lived a life holding her breath while hiding in the dank shadows.
Had she betrayed all those people for nothing more than that?
Agnese did not know what promises had been made to recruit Monica, but she could only imagine the girl had been manipulated and exploited.
And even Monica must have known it.
Otherwise, she would not have wasted her final words like that.
Today was like poison to Agnese’s mental health. If she was not careful, she would end up being crushed by the dark side of the world. She took a deep breath to refocus her mind and then she tapped at the memo paper in her hand. She had written all over that paper without even noticing it herself. She had created a new book. She had even drawn out the waveforms that had been recorded on the wax tapes.
“We have the spell book,” she clearly stated. “Now we can hunt down the Guild.”
The Guild base on Thira was quickly taken.
So quickly they had time leftover before dawn.
(That was too fast.)
Agnese still carried anxiety in her heart.
It had all gone too smoothly.
After leaving the circular water storage pool, she rapidly organized the information in her head. There was something they had to do even after this battle was complete.
“There is one person who is only listed in the records by an alias. As the only person important enough to ignore the usual rules, they must be the boss.” Agnese swiftly explained her thoughts after meeting up with Stiyl and Isabella. “They’re only known as Tu. I have no idea what that means, but do you get the impression we defeated them?”
“No, I don’t,” replied Stiyl. “Everyone on the front line felt like disposable pawns meant to buy time. They may have been fighting to win, but it didn’t feel like they were fighting to survive. A VIP with an alias would have cared about their own life more than that.”
“Where does that name come from? Is Tu a chemical symbol???”
Isabella smiled while making a non-magical suggestion, prompting Agnese to sigh. She could not believe these superiors of hers. They really had not discovered anything themselves.
(Does that mean this Tu escaped the island during all the fighting? We must have had ships surrounding the island, so that couldn’t have been easy.)
“I also noticed a few curious facts about the Guild,” said Agnese.
They had acquired the spell book from Sister Monica, but they had discovered some other things along the way and there had been other interesting documents in the room where Monica had died.
Had Monica failed to destroy them, or was the Guild confident they could not be stopped even if that information got out?
“Their encryption uses a Caesar cipher. I would have expected the use of a scytale, a cylindrical strip of parchment developed in ancient Greece, but they used a method developed later in ancient Rome.”
“Sister Lucia. When we destroyed that watchtower, the sniper dropped their weapon, remember? That bow and arrow fills anyone it hits with a deadly disease and it has its origins in a goddess of the moon and virgins. We never let it hit anyone, though, so we can’t say if it only works on women or not.”
“Yes, it appeared to be the bow and arrow of Diana.”
Not of Artemis.
There was an obvious reason for a different god to be seen here.
“Roman mythology?” muttered Stiyl while exhaling cigarette smoke.
Roman mythology was very similar to Greek mythology, but it provided a position for a few emperors and heroes to grant legitimacy to the Roman Empire. Rome did have its own original indigenous religion, but that had mostly been lost as the stories of Zeus were applied to Jupiter, the stories of Hera to Juno, and so on.
Agnese continued her explanation.
“Furthermore, we were confronted by Sister Monica who was originally Christian. Since they managed to recruit her without being detected, the Guild must have a means of contacting Catholics in secret, right? That means the Guild has adapted with the times to work within a Greek, Roman, and Christian society. Just like the influenza virus develops a new strain every year to defeat the existing vaccines.”
This was not an outdated fossil clinging to life on the edges of society.
Quite the opposite.
They had maintained a network across all of Europe since the days of ancient Greece and they could still remain hidden wherever they went. That explained why they were so difficult to track down. When the Christian priests and nuns arrived after the fact to view things from the surface, they had a hard time seeing the Guild’s territory spread out deep underground.
They lived on the underside of society.
And they would change the names of their gods to match the current age to pull it off.
They were willing to compromise.
This group seemed fundamentally incomprehensible to Agnese and the others who worshiped the Son of God. They could apparently use the full set of Roman spells, but it was doubtful they truly worshiped Jupiter from the bottom of their hearts.
“What matters here is the relationship between Greek, Roman, and Christian. If you look back in history, it looks like there’s a direct progression between them, but it wasn’t actually that simple.” Agnese sighed. “For example, when the Greek age led into the Roman age, the name of Rome swallowed up the weakened Greek lands. But by absorbing Greek culture, the Roman gods had a large portion of themselves overwritten by the Greek ones. Like Zeus and Jupiter becoming essentially the same. So you could say Rome won politically but was conquered culturally. Their views of good and evil weren’t consistent. The Roman Empire did not at all understand early Christianity and oppressed it like a new cult. That becomes all too clear when you look back on the legends of the martyred saints.”
“But once Christianity was accepted by one of the emperors, it was the Christians who began oppressing all other religions. Like the witch hunts. Any priest or priestess that worshiped any of the ancient gods was accused of being a witch, but those were the very people who had branched off from Roman mythology and developed their beliefs from there, right? The Christians ended up doing exactly the thing their ancestors had so decried.”
Was it simply human nature to be corrupted by power?
But that was not what mattered here.
“The Guild was searching for a way to survive while all this was going on.” Agnese explained it all as if confirming it for herself. “So they threw out their own religion and blended in with the masses. When Rome absorbed Greece, they became Roman. When Roman mythology was oppressing Christians, they joined in. And when Christians began oppressing the traditional witches, they threw stones at their own friends. When the witches who failed to escape in time were burned at the stake, they laughed along with the Christians. When Greek and Roman sculptures were the new hot thing during the Renaissance, they criticized the overly strict Christian culture of art. …As you can see, nothing about them ever remained consistent. They only wanted to be on the side of whoever was currently winning. They might know the winning side was wrong, but they would still join in without making any criticism. They readily spat on everything they held dear. Doesn’t that raise questions about whether they really are Roman magicians deep down?”
The whole idea was unbelievable for the nuns who believed in the Son of God and were willing to fight for their faith, but the Guild had used that method to survive.
“So they have nothing to protect. Good and evil are meaningless to them. Myths are mere tools to them, culture no more than a battery, and the world just a consumable product. Once one is too worn down to be of any use, they move on to the next. Once the time comes, they simply do it. It happened with Greece, it happened with Rome, and now it’s Christianity’s turn. The Guild is working to destroy Christian society. But only because Christianity has reached its zenith. They are willing to do this simply because the time has come to change out the battery. They have pulled the trigger on so much violence not due to an issue of good and evil, but because they truly believe the current age is forcing it upon them.”
The Guild’s violence was not based on a powerful grudge or depthless hedonism.
When the time came, they would act.
It was simple and unshakeable. There was no room for negotiation there.
The only solution was to slaughter them all.
“(This really is a job for me,)” muttered Stiyl below his breath. “(Kanzaki could never do it.)”
Then he spoke loud enough for the others to hear.
“That is the standard form for violence with no real ideology behind it. They go on a rampage of killing and looting and, when accused with the crimes they have so obviously committed, they blame the age of war and insist they are not responsible. But it all comes from their personal desires, not the age they live in.” After that exasperated assessment, Stiyl got to the crux of the issue. “This apparent boss of theirs known as Tu has disappeared. If that was not just for self-preservation, then they must have something left to do that was worth abandoning this base for. That is the real problem at hand.”
Before, the Guild had been adding fuel to the fire that motivated criminals around Europe, but that had not been enough.
So now they were attempting to accomplish something themselves.
Stiyl’s assumption carried another implicit question.
What exactly where they planning?
“The Guild can hide anywhere in Europe. And they intend to obliterate the Christian society as casually as you might throw out a dead battery. They thought they could accomplish it from here, but they failed. They may be feeling some frustration from that. Just like someone when their internet connection suddenly goes down or their train is stopped for hours on end.”
She breathed in and out.
Agnese was not just an impartial observer in this. It was directly tied to her own identity.
Yet she did not hesitate to make her next suggestion.
“So the obvious move would be to dress themselves up as Roman magicians and destroy the Vatican that guides its 2 billion believers around the world. What could be faster or more effective than that?”