Toaru Majutsu no Index:AgneseSS Chapter6
A worldwide hunt had begun.
The spell book acquired by Agnese’s group could be used to locate and capture the guild members hidden all over Europe. But this spread beyond just Europe or even the Eurasian continent There were nearly 16 thousand members scattered around the globe. Looking at pure numbers, they may have rivalled the enigmatic Dawn-Colored Sunlight which was mostly known from its legends. That was far too much for three nuns to deal with on their own.
Leaving even a single guild member would allow it to all happen again. They would spread like weeds, whisper secrets, and grant their harmful power to more troubled magicians. And the victims would be ordinary people, not expert magicians.
So they would end this here.
A thorough reaping was needed and the Anglican Church could pull that off.
But that did not lead to a happily ever after. Let us return to the island’s underground room where the spell book was found.
“We still haven’t identified the leader,” said Stiyl Magnus, a priest with long hair dyed red.
His exhaled cigarette smoke floated through the subterranean space and filled an empty spot.
That felt symbolic.
Stone legs stood upon a pedestal where a statue had been destroyed from the knees on up. It had not been shattered. The stone had been vaporized and blasted against the stone wall.
As a flame magician, Stiyl seemed to have his thoughts on that firepower.
Someone had clearly worked to thoroughly destroy the statue.
“Tu. That name is the only information the spell book revealed on their boss. The voice sample was incomplete and those two letters are not enough to track down their real name. Since they abandoned this base so readily, they must still have a foundation for their plan. They have the funding, connections, equipment, and land plus the knowledge needed to bring all those things together as an organization. We cannot let them escape. We need to assume that they will create a new guild if all we do is destroy their hideout. Then this will all happen again, creating more unnecessary victims all the while. So you must end this before that can happen.”
“Are you telling us to search them out?” Agnese shrugged. “We don’t have any hints to go off of. Using two letters to search out a specific person who could be anywhere in the world isn’t possible. You can’t expect us to accomplish anything and everything just by giving us a goal and a deadline.”
“What was that statue?”
Stiyl was of course asking about the one with only the lower legs remaining. Based on the size of the white marble legs, it must have stood about 2m tall. And the muscular calves looked vaguely masculine.
“They went to the trouble of destroying it so thoroughly when they needed to escape as quickly as possible, so it must have been something they couldn’t let us see. But what do you expect us to do with that information? Do you know how many male gods there are in polytheistic Roman mythology???”
Being unable to identify a god was unthinkable for monotheistic Christianity, but it was natural enough for the guild.
“Oh, my, my.”
Then an oddly relaxed female voice reached their ears. The carefree mood clashed with the violent scene and it came from Sister Orsola whose thick habit could not hide the curves of her body.
She elegantly placed a hand on her cheek as she spoke.
“Then how about I connect you to it? The statue should be coated in its owner’s thoughts or their desire to conceal it through destruction. Someone should be able to see something if they dive into those residual thoughts.”
“Um…are you serious? I’m almost certain that would be a trap. Only the pedestal and legs are left, but Tu must have known someone would investigate them. Investigating the residual thoughts could get your mind drawn into a dream world.”
“Wait, really!? Like where making a mistake in the dream causes your heart to stop!?” Silver-haired and brown-skinned Isabella Theism leaned forward in excitement. And she was breathing awfully heavily. “Eh heh heh. Now, this is getting interesting. A fresh corpse with no external injuries is rare indeed. Drool. And this isn’t just a pickled Hand of Glory or a body compressed into a diamond! It’s a full corpse I could do anything I want with!! I need as much reference material as I can get for the corpses I construct out of animal meat and bones and I was hoping to try out some new things. This really gets my imagination running wild! Ahh, the ideas just won’t stop! Is this further proof that I’m a genius? I could do so many cool things with this!!”
(This sounds like an even worse idea than playing roulette with a round – no, two rounds – loaded in the revolver.)
That woman did not mind at all if they failed. In fact, she seemed to want them to fail.
Agnese gave her a look of extreme displeasure with her mouth a small triangle, but she knew it was the outsiders like her who would be forced to do this. Stiyl was smoking his cigarette with a relaxed look that said he knew it would never be him.
Oblivious to that, Orsola grinned and kneeled on the stone floor. Then she sat back on her heels in the Japanese seiza style. She even patted on her lap.
“Now, who shall I connect?” asked that master of unintentional temptation. “Eh heh heh. I’m no good at all that chaotic fighting, but I can always help guide you into a hypnagogic hallucination.”
Agnese was fairly sleep deprived, so she staggered over and nearly gave in to the temptation of the older girl’s soft lap pillow heaven, but she snapped herself out of it. Now was not the time to let her drowsiness get the better of her, so she shook her head to shake free of that near miss.
Then she turned toward Lucia and Angelene.
They appeared to be thinking much the same thing.
There was a traditional solution to this sort of problem.
“Rock paper scissors!!”
Orsola interrupted their game while offering up her lap free of charge.
Agnese had just grimaced after playing scissors when the other two played rock, so she quickly hid her hand behind her back and put on the biggest smile she could manage.
“Wh-what is it, Sister Orsola? Did you discover something new? Why, that changes everything, so we’ll just have to redo our game, which means that one didn’t count!!”
The rock players loudly lodged their complaints, but she ignored them while watching Orsola point toward the statue’s feet from the lower view point of her seiza.
“Isn’t this statue’s pedestal oddly new?” she asked with her head childishly tilted.
“I see.” The cigarette waggled in the corner of Stiyl’s mouth. “That means it was removed from its original pedestal and brought here. Which suggests it was not made by one of their guild craftsmen. Did they steal it from somewhere?”
Theft of magically valuable items was far from unheard of, so it would be difficult to track down Tu’s identity from that alone.
“Heh heh heh.”
But the Anglican Church was not shy about their title as world’s best in anti-magician combat. It had all begun with detecting witches hidden among the people.
Isabella put her hands on her rag-covered hips and laughed loudly.
“Ahhh ha ha ha!! So at long last you come crying to me for help. When you reach a dead end with no path to the truth remaining in the world of the living, just come to Necromancer Isabella Theism☆”
Agnese secretly elbowed Stiyl in the side.
“What’s with her? Did that calm downer of a girl grab an energy drink and flip some kind of switch in her head???”
“She’s just itching to get in on the action after you three did everything for us. Ignore her.”
“You two!” said Isabella while rudely pointing at them.
Her sudden burst of motivation was worrying to Agnese, but it was true they had no way of investigating that statue when only the lower legs remained. Plus, bringing that back up would only lead back to the result of the rock paper scissors game.
Isabella slapped at the center of her chest and gave a snort.
“Why does a necromancer wear the filthy clothes of the dead? What immediate benefit do they hope to gain from that? One answer is divination.”
“When no one in the world of the living can find the answer, it is time to seek the dead who have escaped all physical restrictions. When the link has been severed, it’s my time to shine.”
Agnese, Lucia, and Angelene all gave her extremely skeptical looks. For one, if she could reveal the truth this easily, why had they spent so much time running around Europe? Magic was convenient, but not all-powerful. The necromancer’s claim was too good to be true and they could not grasp the reality of what she could actually do.
Gullible Orsola, however, continued smiling in her seiza position.
“My, that’s incredible. Then could you ask a ghost to reveal all my embarrassing secrets?”
“I could not.”
“Like I said, it’s when the link has been severed. Generally speaking, the dead can only reveal lost information. I cannot draw out any information that could be found through methods available to the living, like carbon dating, alternate light sources, lie detectors, or truth serums.”
“Lost, you say?” Agnese grinned. “Then you could tell us how to become a Magic God?”
“If the dead cannot answer me, that means it can be achieved using known methods. But not necessarily known to me.”
She had a comeback for everything. Which was generally the case with people who claimed to speak with the dead.
The others remained skeptical, but they did not put up much of a resistance, which she seemed to take as a sign that she was free to try. The necromancer spread her arms wide and fluttering scraps of paper filled the area. A closer look showed they were all clippings from newspapers and magazines.
“A complete resurrection is the work of the Lord, but I need not go that far to invite in a being capable of answering your question. Once drawn in by the unsalted rye bread and unfermented grape juice, I demand thou don this temporary garb!!”
A mini-whirlwind formed.
The invisible storm was made visual by the floating papers telling of depressing crimes.
“I seek data concerning a lost connection. There is no boundary between life and death here, so draw out the information once formed by human hand but lost through death. Answer my call, for I desire just one thing from the wandering dead: from where was this statue taken!?”
The storm gathered together to take a certain form.
The thousands or tens of thousands of articles formed a life-size human. Although there was no way to tell if that was one of the dead or not.
The stooped and freckled girl’s eyes sparkled a little.
“Oh? I-it made something. Will it speak to tell us the answer? Or will it write it or making rapping noises???”
The silence lasted a while.
Then Agnese grabbed Orsola’s hand and tugged hard on that nun who was still smiling in the seiza position.
The dead made its move a moment later.
It made an attack like its fingernails were tearing into space itself.
Stiyl removed his cigarette from his mouth, looking very irritated.
“Eh? Oh, c’mon. This means it was a perfect success. Now you all need to attack the raging dead spirit to tear all those articles from it. The last one remaining will be the divination result.”
“I-Is she serious?”
Earnest Lucia’s temple was twitching at this.
And the careless woman bragged about it with a smile.
“Oh, and if you screw it up, you’ll be joining them in the afterlife. Of course, that just means more materials for me, so it’s not a problem at all☆”
Everyone (except for Orsola who was still not aware what was happening) sent a kick into Isabella Theism’s back, knocking her toward the article doll. It did not seem equipped with a safety device to prevent it from attacking its master. While Isabella screamed and rolled around to avoid the nasty scratching attacks, Stiyl ignited a flame sword in each hand. Thousands of rune cards were pasted around them, but no one else knew when he had done that.
“Disinfect it,” whispered Agnese. “And Isabella while you’re at it.”
The flame swords made multiple consecutive attacks.
Since Isabella put her hands over her head and curled up on the floor, this must not have been one of her corpses made from animal meat and bones.
At any rate, embers and the scorched remains of the articles scattered through the air.
Agnese reached out and snatched the one surviving clipping that floating in front of her.
She read the headline.
“Thieves break into a Nuremberg museum?”
The article itself was short, but a close reading showed a number of things that did not make sense: how had the thieves gotten the museum’s door unlocked and how had they carried out such a heavy statue without the guards noticing? That was why the local police had suspected it was an inside job and the guards had pretended not to notice. That suspicion had led the investigation astray in its earliest stages.
But Agnese thought the police would have failed to track down the crooks regardless.
Magic had clearly been used in that theft.
And sadly enough, theft was a thing on the magic side as well. For example, one historic Christian figure was in fact a relic collector who would bite off a piece of an important figure’s arm bone to keep it for themselves or stick their finger in a corpse’s nose to take home the eye socket bone.
When you wanted a powerful item badly enough but you could not create it for yourself, there were only so many options remaining: buy it, trick someone out of it, steal it, or kill for it.
And while biting off a piece of a holy figure’s bone to steal it might be praised, buying miracles with mutual consent was strictly forbidden. The act of simony was banned, but what did and did not qualify was an extremely complex issue.
Angelene lay flat down on the desk.
They were back to investigating, which was much easier said than done when they were manually fishing through mountains of documents. These unglamorous and obnoxious jobs were generally given to the outsiders.
They had been holed up in their trailer for three days straight.
“Fuck that slave driver of a priest,” cursed exhausted Angelene. “I-I mean, what kind of question was that, anyway? If she could get an answer to her question, why couldn’t she have directly asked for Tu’s real name or location?”
“Are you volunteering to risk your life against that monster again? And Isabella has an out in case her precious divination fails: ‘No answer means you can find the answer in the world of the living! Now you know the answer is within your grasp, so get to work! Hurry!!’ If she told me that after I risked my life a second time, I think I really might throttle her. Eh heh heh.”
Agnese laughed weakly with a shadow over her face, so Angelene zipped her mouth shut and said nothing more.
But that did not mean they had found nothing at all.
They had found some related articles in old European newspapers.
“There appear to have been 7 identical thefts.” Lucia sat up straight after waking herself with a hot shower. “And there was a temporary gap in the middle. They may have thought they had achieved some kind of goal, but discovered they were mistaken and resumed stealing. If so…”
“That gap was not part of Tu’s plan?”
They exchanged a glance.
Tu may have failed to “wipe everything clean” and left something behind.
If those nuns did not find anything after all this, they were pretty sure they would die of stress. This gave them one more job: had there been some sort of magic side incident during that gap? It was time to dive back into the mountains of old newspapers.
“A bloodline investigator went missing?” said Lucia.
“Wh-what’s that?” groaned Angelene while sprawled out on the floor.
The look on her face said she never wanted to see any small text ever again.
“Exactly what it sounds like: an expert who investigates the client’s bloodline and writes them up a certificate. They’re used by everyone from ordinary history buffs to mafia godfathers. They can confirm that a self-proclaimed bastard child is in fact entitled to a piece of a massive inheritance, they can help gather evidence of infidelity, and they can get chased by a shotgun-wielding maniac after shattering the dreams of someone who truly believed they were a descendent of some great king.”
“And that applies to the magic world too?”
Agnese looked skeptical because magic was generally the techniques taught to those without inborn talent. Even the Saints who had physical characteristics similar to the Son of God were something like a mutation and not something inherited from parent to child.
Even the Roman Catholic Church did not determine their pope by bloodline. It was the result of an election. Of course, they did not allow female popes, so you could not exactly call it a fair election.
“Magic itself is the result of effort and does not require inborn talent.” Lucia shrugged. “But connections to the past can still lead to trouble when it comes to conflict between cabals. If you looked into your own personal issues and found nothing, wouldn’t it make sense to look back to your parents or grandparents?”
And it was human nature to turn any need into a business.
Agnese was interested in any hints they could find related to the guild boss known only as Tu.
Visiting a salon to help her mental health could wait until later.
“So about this missing bloodline investigator. I don’t know if they skipped town or went into hiding in a secret shelter, but what’s their name and their last known address?”
“Brax Mizhine. Age: 28. Sex: Male. Location: Cambridge, England. If this trail goes cold too, Tu really will forever elude us.”
They were finally home again.
Although thinking of this as “home” made Agnese laugh on the inside. They were not treated very well here, but England was still their second home.
(They’ve really tamed us, huh?)
That phrasing was half serious and half a joke to hide her embarrassment.
She was less than pleased with the spraying sound surrounding her. But this was not a wet spray; it was a special form of incense. She sensed the sickly sweet scent while raising both hands in the metal container and waiting for the “cleaning complete” light to activate. She was of course not wearing any clothing.
(Naked) Angelene was blushing with embarrassment while the many metal nozzles sprayed their contents all over her as well.
“D-do they really have to do this to prevent us from bringing curses back into the country!? They’re the ones that ordered us to stick our hands in all that filth!!”
“Sister Angelene, you need to learn that making logical arguments is not a good way to get ahead in adult society.”
“Besides, doesn’t that unsanitary necromancer need a decontamination way more than us!? Then again, splashing disinfectant on her might kill her!!”
Agnese called her name again to silence her. Those words were not befitting of a nun.
At any rate, the light turned from red to green. Once they had been successfully purified (although Agnese doubted they had any traces of a curse left on them to begin with), they walked naked into the next train car. They donned the underwear and habits folded up there and then stepped outside of the freight train.
The ordinary blue sky awaited them there.
The sky viewed from London was pretty, but felt somehow artificial. Almost like they were viewing it through a plastic dome.
The color of the sea was determined by the sky, but the color of the sky was determined by the city. Unlike Italy’s historic cities, London had a mixture of old and new structures, giving it a jumbled look. The Ferris wheel and financial offices may have been to blame there.
(It still feels more natural than the area around Academy City, though. That place had a chemical look that made me afraid to let anything touch my tongue.)
They took a long-distance bus to Cambridge.
The container they used as a mobile home base would be transported there ahead of them by helicopter. England was a lot more accommodating than the rest of Europe as long as they did not ask the country to improve its nasty pasta that they seemingly went out of their way to make worse.
“We would have starved to death long ago without Sister Orsola to cook for us.”
“You said that out loud, Sister Agnese. Feeling homesick?”
She sent a low kick Lucia’s way. The shop at the bus station had some sandwiches inside the glass case at the register counter, but she grimaced and walked past them. Why did they insist on such gross combinations like tomato and cheese? Just add some basil sauce and you would have something workable, but they instead forcibly added some mustard-slathered grilled chicken (a cheap processed meat injected with beef tallow). That was supposedly to make it look more substantial, but it only got in the way. None if it made any sense to an Italian-born girl (who was a true gourmet thanks to her past of digging through the trash for scraps). She knew they would not find anything acceptable there, so she continued on to the bus terminal with an empty stomach.
“S-so why would this guy live in Cambridge?” asked Angelene who had stubbornly insisted on the window seat.
“People hoping for the prestige of that name usually have no confidence in themselves, unfortunately enough,” said Lucia.
Lucia apparently intended to spend the travel time catching up on her sleep because she already had an eye mask on her forehead.
Not everyone who lived in Cambridge worked for or had graduated from the famous university, but there were people who chose to live there to borrow its reputation.
It was evening by the time they arrived.
This was England’s leading academic city…but it did not have many smart buildings or labs. The look of the city made it clear they considered it a virtue to leave the historical stone buildings in their historical state. Of course, that was only to preserve the scenery, so the interiors had all been updated.
Fortunately, they had a place to stay even as night fell.
Despite all the historical stone buildings, plenty of aboveground and underground parking lots had been built out of necessity. One of the flat parking lots had a giant metal container sitting in one corner.
“Wh-what do we do about dinner?”
“You’re on cooking duty today, Sister Angelene. We wouldn’t be able to find any acceptable pasta if we tried eating out, so hurry up and boil some water, add some salt, and dump in the dried pasta. I don’t expect much originality from you, so a standard bolognese is fine. Even your lazily-made meals are better than the alternative. Oh, and I assume anyone with half a brain would know this, but please don’t try to pair that with a caprese salad or minestrone soup. Two tomato dishes would be too much.”
“That’s a mean thing to say and also a very specific request! It’s 100% odds that’s just what you want to eat right now, Sister Agnese! Can’t you give me a shorter request!?”
Tearful Angelene got to work, the other two ate their fill, and then they made the girl tremble by rating it a 5/10. By then, about an hour had passed.
“Sob, sob. I didn’t want to do something tomato-based because of how hard it is to wash the dishes afterwards. And you two stacked the dishes on top of each other before I could wash them.”
“Hey, it’s better than all the olive oil and garlic with pepperoncino. Now get those dishes washed so we can get to work.”
“If you have nothing better to do than lie on the couch watching TV, then come help me! I thought I had cooking duty, not cleanup duty!”
Angelene bared her fangs in her apron, but since she did not leave the sink, the hierarchy of power was plain to see. The cooking duty system was absolute.
After finally getting something to eat after arriving in England, the three girls left the mobile home. The sun had fully set and Cambridge’s night awaited them.
“I thought this city would be quieter,” said Lucia as she looked around. “But there’s a surprising number of people out this late.”
“Well, it is a college town. The year-round partiers will only now be getting started.”
“Eh? Then how bad is Academy City since it’s nothing but students???”
Stooped Angelene was dangerously close to touching on a forbidden fruit there.
They were in a college town at night, but not even the college students walking around with beer bottles in hand were crass enough to catcall nuns. They might have had cars chasing after them if they were in casual clothing, though.
“Where is Brax Mizhine’s office?”
“Not far. He used it as a home too.”
There it was.
It was indistinguishable from the university buildings scattered around the city. It was just one of the many historical buildings here. And just like an old home remodeled into an izakaya, the building was the only historical thing about it. The man had simply been buying prestige.
Instead of stepping through the front gate, Agnese circled around the wall surrounding the property.
“Pretty strict security.”
“Only someone who knows about magicians would defend against them, so this tells us Brax was part of our world.”
After making a full circuit, they stepped a bit away from the building and viewed the area from another building’s roof. That let them analyze the security well enough.
“I’m surprised how deserted the place seems. With a mansion this big, I would expect some servants or guards and maybe even some family over to visit. Using unmanned alarms might mean he didn’t trust anyone but himself. But the big garden has a fountain, which should require a specialist for upkeep of the pipes and pump.”
This meant they could not relax.
The inside would be full of traps, like a pyramid meant to kill graverobbers.
They had discovered some things from their visual observations.
“That gate detects artificial objects, which is simple but a real pain. Did he assume any product of civilization was violent? Thanks to that, any kind of spiritual item is out. That includes our Symbolic Weapons and our habits.”
“U-ugh. Y-you mean…?”
“If we want to sneak in without being detected, we’ll have to strip it all off first.”
They all fell silent.
Even if they did get through the front gate, they would then be in enemy territory. The inside seemed deserted, but that did not mean there were no hints to be found there. They did not want to have any documents inside self-destruct if they triggered some kind of defense mechanism. And if they were caught in the middle of that, they could be harmed themselves. On the other hand, they did not want to walk around naked, even if it was the middle of the night. They were bashful maidens after all.
Sinister shadows fell over Lucia and Angelene’s faces.
“Come to think of it, I seem to recall someone trying to escape the consequences of a rock paper scissors game.”
“As a matter of fact, so do I. And I still haven’t paid her back for insulting my cooking earlier. Hee…hee hee hee. Sister Agnese, got anything to say for yourself?”
They had more or less analyzed her rock paper scissors tendencies in that first game.
But the stooped and freckled nun had made a mistake when she allowed their cornered prey to speak.
“Rock paper scissors!!” shouted Agnese Sanctis.
“Whoever plays rock loses!!!!!!”
Angelene managed to course correct away from rock at the last second, but Lucia was too slow. She ended up trembling while holding out her clenched fist.
Agnese put on a devilish smile after playing scissors like normal.
“Ohhh? Sister Lucia, what’s this I see here? Care to explain whether that’s rock, paper, or scissors?”
“S-Sister Agnese! How could you do this!?”
Cool Lucia looked to Angelene for help, but the stooped nun had corrected to scissors at the last second and chose to look the other way for now.
Yes, playing scissors under the altered rules would always mean either a win or a draw. If Lucia’s protests were found valid, it would only mean the two scissors players would have to compete to find the true loser.
“A-Angelene. Look me in the eye, Sister Angeleneee!!”
“C’mon, get out of those clothes. We won fair and square.”
The streets of Cambridge were full of partiers.
The college students showed no sign of stopping anytime soon. The traffic laws had been thrown out the window as they drove around in convertibles with beer bottles in hand and young men in nothing but their underwear threw their hands in the air and shouted while breaking the speed limit.
But not even they took things quite this far.
“I am going to kill those two.”
She was entirely nude.
The moonlight shined down on the alluring contours of Sister Lucia’s body. That nun was more of a clean freak and got more embarrassed than any of the others, yet here she was with all of her soft skin exposed to the air and flushed a bright red. The tall girl was crouched down and covering her important bits with her hands while the other two grinned like crazy, watched from another building’s rooftop, and gave instructions.
“Test, test. Sister Lucia, continue forward from there. Yes, forward. Bloodline Investigator Brax Mizhine’s home/office is 20m directly ahead of you. This is our last chance to find a hint leading to the guild leader known only as Tu!!”
“Y-you’re lucky the mansion is deserted because that means no one can see you like that. Isn’t that great!?”
“How irresponsible can you two be!? There is a large road lit up by streetlights right over there! Gyaahh!!”
Naked Lucia hid behind a roadside tree until a convertible full of partiers passed by for the umpteenth time. If they found her like this, they would assume she was a pent-up slut participating in a rather unique form of volunteer work.
She breathed heavily with tears in her eyes while focusing on her ear.
“I am about to enter the mansion’s grounds. I will need to throw out this communication spiritual item, so you two collect it.”
“Will do. We’ll give the order to head in, so there’s nothing to worry about. Kee hee hee.”
She did not trust them in the slightest, so she removed the acorn from her ear and chucked it into some nearby bushes. She wanted those two to deal with disposing with it. She covered her body with her hands, crouched low, took a deep breath, and ran out across the asphalt lit up by bright LED lights.
Being naked outside had been enough to fry her brain, but the world had so much more to offer.
This felt like taking yet another step over the line.
(All technology can go to hell!!)
She was blushing bright, but she moved swiftly. She silently moved up to the large metal gate and jumped more than 5m straight up without the use of any kind of tool. Once her back just barely moved past the gate, she flipped around in midair and silently landed on her feet.
She was in.
Once on the mansion grounds, she could ignore the tool-detecting security. While avoiding an obvious pitfall, she grabbed a new acorn from a nearby tree and scratched out the necessary symbols with her fingernail.
Then she stuck it into her ear.
“O-oh, nooooo! Sister Lucia, how bold of you to bend yourself up into a bridge like that in the nude!”
“Stop judging a nonexistent performance. I’m not saving the world with gymnastics right now!! I assume you’re still up on that roof, so can you see any danger around here!?”
“No more jokes about me being naked! Take this seriously!!!!!!”
A bush split apart.
She quickly jumped behind a tree just before some sharp projectiles shot out. With more than 50 syringes flying horizontally her way, it was more of a barrage meant to cover a wide area than a pinpoint strike. They were packed too close together to dodge, so she did not even want to imagine what she would have been injected with if not for the tree to use as cover.
She saw a stumpy shape moving in the darkness.
It was larger than her while she crouched down and it looked like a hedgehog without its spines.
(An unmanned trap. Are some of them autonomously wandering around like that!?)
But if she focused too much on that, she might get trapped in a stationary magic circle. She clenched her teeth in frustration, but then her friends’ helpful voices reached her.
“So do you think that was an aphrodisiac?”
“W-wouldn’t a paralyzing drug be worse?”
“Ah ha ha. Oh, Sister Angelene. You have a sick imagination!”
“Ehh? You’re the one that brought up sketchy drugs.”
“You two are paying for this later,” muttered Lucia.
She had no weapons and not even any clothing. Whether she wanted to search or attack, there was only so much magic she could use with only the movements of her hands.
She threw a stick to the side as a diversion and rushed out from behind the tree while the hedgehog fired its limited remaining shots in that direction. She kept her eyes open for magic circles while giving the now spineless hedgehog a wide berth.
When she looked closer, she could tell the darkness was littered with threats.
A turtle carrying a bear trap on its back was crawling at her feet and bats with nooses for heads were hanging upside down from the tree branches. She decided it was best to keep a healthy distance from the roses that had barbed wire for vines. These combinations of plants and animals with trapping, torture, and execution tools probably had some logic and efficiency to it, but she felt like she could glimpse Brax Mizhine’s own cruelty in them.
She reached the back door.
Touching the keyhole would apparently get your torso bisected by pressurized water, so she destroyed the hinges and removed the impact-resistant door to get inside.
She rushed toward her top priority target, grabbed it in both hands, pressed her face into it, and rubbed her forehead on it.
“Yes!! A bedsheeeeeet!”
“Tch. She just boosted her defenses. That’s no fun.”
“S-Sister Agnese,” said Angelene. “Your standards have dropped significantly if you think walking around in only a sheet is a solid defense!”
Naked time was over.
Her skills were not on the level of the Amakusas, but she could construct a basic spiritual item with a combination of everyday household items. She went for the ceiling fan slowly rotating on the guest room’s ceiling.
Her usual spiritual item was based on the wooden wheel in the legend of St. Catherine. The wheel, rotation, and cross symbolism were all useful to her.
She pressed a hand to her ear.
“I have secured a basic weapon. So where in his home should I search?”
“I was afraid of that, goddammit!”
Too much clothing could also be a problem. When the sheet filled with air and inflated, it threatened to slip down. This may have been why bath towels were only made so large.
There were of course traps inside the unlit house as well, so every step she took was risky.
She had to keep her eyes peeled for anything on the floor, walls, or ceiling. She checked the good hiding spots for a person out of her usual habits, but mobile traps could approach her from pretty much anywhere – even from the ducts or the fireplace. Not to mention that the doors and chandeliers could be traps themselves.
The mansion was large enough to mistake for a university building.
It doubled as an office and a home, but if she searched at random, she could step on a trap at any moment. And all of this was wasted effort of she ended up in combat. All she wanted was a hint related to Tu, so she wished she knew exactly where to look to find that.
“Sister Agnese,” she said. “Check our information. Did Brax Mizhine use any fake names while staying at hotels?”
“Sometimes yes and sometimes no. He probably hid his real name when working on magic-related jobs.”
“Then how did he travel for the jobs when he used a fake name?”
“He avoided using his own vehicle or public transportation. He would take a taxi past his destination and then slowly walk back to it on foot, stopping at a few stores along the way. He may have hoped that would mask what his true destination was.”
(The roundabout method.)
Lucia sighed and lifted up the ceiling fan.
“Then I need to check the kitchen, not the study.”
“U-um, why???” asked Angelene.
“The ways people defend their secrets fall into a few different categories. Some keep their secrets at a distance, some prefer to keep their secrets on them at all times, some go for the ‘hiding in plain sight’ method, and some send it to the bottom of the ocean where no one will ever get close. Brax Mizhine would have wanted to sever any connection between himself and his secrets, so he wouldn’t keep it in his bedroom or office. But if it was completely out of sight, he was afraid someone might dig it up, so he wanted it close enough that he could check on it.”
“I-I see. And that means the kitchen?”
“A mansion of this size will have a gardener, a cook, other housekeepers, and maybe a plumber for the fountain. Outsiders would be coming and going fairly regularly, so he had it set up so any problematic documents could be pinned on the people he had hired if word got out. So it would be best to hide them in a room the master of the house would never visit. Or that’s what he probably believed anyway.”
“W-wow. You’re just like a porn hunter mom checking under her son’s bed while he’s out!”
Lucia looked up at the moon through the window. Something was wrong with those two. It was not a full moon, but this night seemed to be messing with their heads somehow.
She even focused on the intensity of the light and the weight of the air as she kept an eye out for traps on her way down the dark hallway.
She had decided on the kitchen as her first target, but she needed to have a Plan B ready. If she did not find anything there, the garage or boiler room might be good options.
She slowly opened the kitchen door.
It was as large as a restaurant kitchen and it had plenty of doors and drawers thanks to the cabinets, cupboards, refrigerator, oven, microwave, dishwasher, and more. She never knew when something would leap out at her.
She also had no idea what exactly she was searching for.
Any hint leading to Tu’s identity would work, so she had to consider the possibility of flash memory smaller than a kernel of corn or a magical charm pasted to the underside of a drawer.
The microwave and dishwasher seemed like likely possibilities, but she chose the refrigerator first.
“I’m the one out here working, so I should be the one getting information from you. But anyway, a fridge has more devices installed inside it than you would think, but it also has a lot of gaps. Plus, the insulation and the vibrations and magnetism caused by the large motor will mask it from a lot of searches.”
Of course, that would also make it a poor spot to hide a medium vulnerable to magnetism, but it was still worth checking. She stood in front of the red refrigerator that had two doors and a drawer. She cautiously grabbed the handles on the device taller than she was and pulled them toward her.
She fell silent, so Agnese called out to her.
Nevertheless, Lucia remained silent in front of the refrigerator.
The truth she had seen in the refrigerator’s lights remained real. There was no denying it, but she still wished those bright LED lights would go out.
She was hesitant to inhale, but she spoke all the same.
“…I found something.”
“What did you find, Sister Lucia? We can’t see what you’re seeing!!”
It was in the fridge, so it was of course nice and chilled.
The way it was so neatly stored showed this had been done by a tidy and orderly person.
There had to be about 60 liters in all.
An entire person’s worth of human flesh was chopped up and stored inside the fridge.
The guild leader known as Tu had gone around Europe stealing from museums.
But the thefts had stopped for a period.
During that period, a bloodline investigator named Brax Mizhine had gone missing.
Had Tu been involved in that? They had hoped to find some information by sneaking into his mansion that doubled as an office.
And this was the result.
The arms had been severed at the shoulders, elbows, and wrists and the legs at the thighs, knees, and ankles and then it had all been sealed in plastic wrap. The torso did not remain as a single part. Instead, each of the organs had been separated into plastic storage containers. The head had been chopped up as well. The parts of the face like the eyes, nose, ears, lips, and tongue had been neatly separated, but so had the scalp, the skin of the face, and the skull. The brain had been sliced into eight pieces with each one stored separately.
Even if they had been stored in the fridge, it was odd for them to remain unchanged. There was no clouding in the eyeballs, so it was like seeing one of those disturbing videos where a chemical-filled burger or convenience store bento was filmed for a long period of time without any bugs getting near it.
Lucia returned the small container holding both eyeballs to the fridge.
“I only the portrait hanging on the mansion’s wall to go off of, but this is probably him. Assuming that painting and any photos weren’t faked too, this is Brax Mizhine.”
“Yes, Sister Agnese. This was not a natural death and it does not look like the result of failing some kind of spontaneous ceremony. This was a gruesome murder. We should assume it was a sort of execution.”
“A-are you saying Tu did it?”
Angelene’s voice was trembling.
There were countless reasons for people to kill each other, but they could look back at Tu’s actions for this one.
Tu had attacked museums around Europe and stolen valuable items. They had stopped the thefts for a period, but then they had started up again.
Blood Investigator Brax Mizhine had gone missing during that gap.
They now knew he had been killed and dismembered.
Leaving the body behind may have been meant as a message to someone. And his family and the mansion’s workers may have stopped showing up because they had seen it and went into hiding.
“Tu was satisfied he had achieved his goal, so he stopped stealing. Or he thought he had. But after murdering Brax, he started stealing again.”
“We had already predicted he found out he didn’t have what he wanted, right?”
“Yes, whatever he had stolen was a fake and had no effect. Brax was a bloodline investigator, so he was an expert at looking through old records. Could he have screwed up an appraisal?”
That did not seem like enough of a reason to kill.
It was Tu who had stolen the fake from the museum, not Brax.
(If I’m right about this, then Tu may have killed him to silence him. But in that case, they wouldn’t have killed him in such a complicated fashion. They would have done it secretly in the ocean or mountains or made it look like an accident or illness.)
Why would he have been executed for getting it wrong?
Brax Mizhine was hiding something in the kitchen. After some more searching, Lucia found a sealed envelope of paper documents attached inside the small elevator shaft for kitchen carts.
It was a secret list of purchases.
The list included stone and wood from an old home, old wine bottles, parchment, ink, paint, and adhesives like beeswax and animal glue. The age of the items appeared to be important. They were categorized by era and region.
“What is that about?”
“He was probably gathering counterfeiting materials. To fake the will of an English noble from the year 1000, you need paper and ink from the year 1000. Paper and ink from France or China in the year 1000 won’t do. Nor will paper and ink from England in the year 1500,” explained Lucia while flicking at the bundle of documents. “A bloodline investigator reveals secret histories and bloodlines that ordinary people can’t research, but the people who hired him would want their beliefs to be confirmed. He was basically changing his answer to give the client what they wanted. The truth was irrelevant because the client would have no way of finding out it wasn’t true, so he would figure out what they wanted to hear and – true or not – give them that answer. Because when he put a beaming smile on his client’s face, it would come with a hefty tip.”
That was not limited to investigators like him. Quack doctors did the same. Honestly confronting a patient who was faking their illness would only lead to an argument, so they would give them some medicine and tell them to see how that worked. If that medicine was actually a harmless vitamin pill, they could be peaceably rid of an irritating patient who was trying to pass off their laziness as a health condition. And thanks to the convenient placebo effect, that meaningless vitamin pill might even trick them into improving.
“He must have appraised whatever Tu had stolen and given it the stamp of authenticity, which Tu must have been delighted to hear.” Lucia sighed as she approached the conclusion. “But that appraisal was a complete lie told to earn some money, so Tu only learned it was a fake when they began their big ceremony where failure was not an option. But it did fail and that harmed Tu in some way, so they came back to angrily confront Brax. And, well, we’ve seen how that turned out.”
“Is that why there was a gap in the seven thefts?”
“Brax must have seen it as no more than his usual lip service, but that lie was worthy of death to Tu who was risking their life on this.”
In some cases, information could pull a deadly trigger.
For example, if a doctor had told a patient what disease they had a little sooner, they could have prevented the unwanted spread of that information from locking them out of buying a certain company’s stock.
Tu had lost everything and been forced to go underground due to the usual pleasantries that the eloquent man had seen as no more than business as usual.
And if Tu had returned to this mansion to execute the man for it, they may have also retrieved and destroyed any hints leading back to them.
Yet they had not found the documents Lucia currently held. It seemed unlikely they would have intentionally left them behind. They had failed to clean up thoroughly enough, which was unsurprising in a mansion so full of traps.
She skimmed through the documents.
The purchase list for counterfeiting materials was divided out by era. Going from top to bottom would not lead her to the most recent job. She narrowed her eyes and then grabbed a magnifying glass lying nearby. She approached the window and gathered the moonlight with the lens.
“St. Catherine is a symbol of knowledge. She outtalk any and all scholars. Her wisdom shall show the way.”
It was like a laser pointer highlighting the important text on a whiteboard.
The spell ensured that the viewer was not led astray by the vast amount of information and that the answer they wanted was revealed to them. The effect of the spell differed based on the amount of knowledge the spell user had.
She had the answer.
“This appears to have been his last job.”
“The Sickle of Saturn. Run a search of Roman mythology as quickly as you can! If we can’t track this down, we never will find Tu!!”
“The Sickle of Saturn?” groaned Stiyl Magnus in a distant location.
In Greek mythology, that would be the Sickle of Adamant.
Necromancer Isabella Theism clapped her hands in front of her face while smiling.
“Oh, so Tu was Saturn!!”
As similar as they might sound, the names Saturn and Satan had nothing to do with each other. The Roman worshipers may have resented any similarity as the spread of Christianity had them viewed as demon worshipers themselves.
That solved the mystery of the destroyed statue.
“Saturn is equivalent to Cronus in Greek mythology, right?” Isabella sounded excited. “Yes, Cronus the usurper god who staged a successful coup by cutting off chief god Uranus’s you-know-what with his sickle. Kyah☆ Of course, Cronus then had the chief god position taken from him by Zeus.”
The Sickle of Saturn.
A spiritual item that could bring down a god and usurp the ruling throne.
Of course, this was the same as the grimoire author Hermes Trismegistus. It was not actually made by a god and was simply a spiritual item that borrowed the name.
But that was not what mattered here.
Stiyl bit down on his cigarette’s filter as he spoke.
“I’ve seen the Sickle of Saturn and its owner. I thought I had burned even their bones to ashes.”
“Yes, the enemy’s ceremony failed there, didn’t it?”
Isabella casually referenced that intense battle from the past.
Anyone who worked for Necessarius would have no shortage of ridiculous stories that were so full of secrets they could not tell them at the pub.
“So did Bloodline Investigator Brax Mizhine’s unwanted lip service cause Tu’s ceremony to fail, nearly getting Tu killed by a witch hunting squad, so he angrily returned and executed Brax?”
Stiyl put out his cigarette on his portable ashtray and put a new one in his mouth.
“If so, what do you think is happening this time?”
“First, we need to go over what the Sickle of Saturn is. By stabbing that spiritual item into the ground, it takes over the local ley lines and remakes that area into the user’s territory. It’s similar to the Croce di Pietro that Catholicizes any land it is stabbed into, but this one is worse. That sickle can provide a ‘foundation’ to any land, cut it away from the surrounding land, and grants its user near-godlike authority there.”
“It’s basically a largescale field constructor that uses the ley lines running through the planet. And it’s powerful enough to wear down any unauthorized intruders’ souls to the point of death.”
The effect was simple enough, but there was no greater reign of terror.
This would search out and eliminate any defiance in that territory more efficiently than nanoweapons that selected people to kill based on race or skeletal structure. Auto-searching weapons was a new form of fear. Slaughtering all who did not convert was a very Roman mythology way to rule. And since this used the ley lines running through the planet, the sickle’s location could cause the field to cover more than just a single town.
The guild believed it was Christianity’s time to go, so they would destroy it.
“They failed last time.” Isabella’s relaxed words were like a sickening incense that artificially created the scent of death. “Their plan was to stab that sickle into the Vatican, the very center of the Roman Catholic Church, so they could steal away the vast land where their 2 billion believers live, but it ended in failure. Thanks to your efforts, Stiyl.”
“A lot of good those efforts did in the long run.” Stiyl Magnus audibly crushed the new cigarette’s filter between his teeth. “I thought it was odd even after I submitted my report. He slipped from our grasp, so we shouldn’t have been able to stop it. But now it makes sense. His spiritual item just so happened to be a fake.”
“And that’s why Tu was stopped by a last-second reversal that never should have happened. So many of his reliable subordinates were burned before his eyes and he was forced to go into hiding, but now he’s climbed back onto the main stage of magic. As if to say he no longer needs to hide his plans because he has long since been ready to go.”
“Doesn’t it seem likely he has the real one this time?”
Stiyl fell silent.
The enemy had been faster this time. And since they had not directly tracked him down, they could not immediately stop him.
Stiyl had known the answer from the beginning, so now he spat out the name of a man he thought he had killed.
A sharp blade swung down in the center of the Vatican.