Toaru Majutsu no Index:AgneseSS Chapter8
Their final enemy awaited them at the center of the chapel shelter below St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
“Fine then.” The man grinned. “Then this shall be a duel. We are both disposable pawns bound to a particular mythology or religion. We shall wear down our lives for a temporary thrill and to the victor go the spoils. I have no problem with that.”
“Sisters Lucia and Angelene.”
Agnese did not even listen.
Anything coming from that dreamer’s mouth was nonsense.
“Our top priority is the pope and the cardinals. Blow them away!!”
A giant wooden wheel exploded on its own and coin bags larger than clenched fists gave a roar of motion.
The splinters and the blunt weapons rushed toward the unconscious old men, but that was the correct choice.
Those VIPs were guarded by largescale spiritual items they wore as clothing, so it would take a lot to kill them. It was best to let the momentum of an attack launch them toward the exit to get them off the battlefield as soon as possible.
Stray attacks from Tu were much more of a threat.
(We got all the cardinals. That just leaves…)
In this case, his defenses worked against him.
One old man remained on the floor where he had fallen.
(We just need to collect the pope!!)
“Oh, dear,” Tu belatedly whispered.
Agnese gave a flourish of her silver staff and the angel curled up at the head spread its wings. The Lotus Wand could control fire, water, wind, earth, and even ether and it was now ready to use.
To reiterate, their opponent was a dreamer.
Nothing he had to say was worth listening to.
“Sisters Lucia and Angelene, use staggered attacks to keep him in place. I will use that opening to get the pope out of-”
“Theory: Angerona I”
By the time the explosive roar slammed into Agnese’s left ear, her vision was already spinning fast. By the time she realized she had been blown away, her feet had left the floor and she could not control herself.
She had been interrupted.
She could not even begin to analyze his very first attack.
Tall Lucia frantically held out her arms to catch her while Angelene unleashed her four coin bags to hold back the man.
“Theory: Faunus III”
No one had done anything, but the coin bags burst from within. Then all the scattered gold coins froze in midair before rushing toward Angelene like bullets.
The stooped and freckled girl could not even scream as they pummeled her.
From there, it was like dominoes.
Angelene slammed into Lucia, preventing her from catching Agnese. All three of them ended up crashing down to the hard stone floor.
The breath was knocked from them.
But Agnese kept her grip on the Lotus Wand. The pain in her back forced out all of her air, but she managed to gasp in just enough to get out her voice.
“What just happened? Sister Lucia, answer me. I can’t defend against something I don’t understand!!”
Lucia could not hold her head steady or get her voice out, but she did manage to move her trembling lips.
Massive jaws…tried to crush you.
Albert Dying did not need to wait for them to finish there. He had not moved a step and he smiled down at them.
“Care to see that one again?”
She saw it this time.
Agnese immediately slammed the bottom of her wand against the floor just as a vertical line split through empty space and a pitch black hole opened within. The impossible hole was longer vertically than horizontally and had to be around 2m tall.
The right and left sides snapped back shut like massive jaws.
The crack distorted and then vanished with a great snapping sound, but the pressurized air had nowhere to go and roared outwards. That was what had knocked Agnese from her feet before.
Her wrists hurt as she held the rattling wand.
She grimaced as she realized she could not resist this with brute force. It was even possible Tu would notice the balance of power and work to contaminate her from within using the vibrations. She forced out her voice.
“Angerona is the goddess of the returning sun from Roman mythology. She normally keeps her mouth shut and ‘seals’ it by pressing her finger against it, but once a year, she opens her mouth to unleash the power gathered within to overcome the winter solstice when the sun has weakened.”
“Oh, I see now. Agnese and Lucia have an Italian ring to them. Then again, the idea of giving power to the dying sun is hardly unique to Rome. You can find the motif in all sorts of cultures. I should have expected you to recognize something so well known.”
All of a sudden, Agnese noticed the man was holding a disc a bit larger than his palm. She thought it was a pocket watch at first, but it was not. It was a compass carved from an oily wood and with a glass cover placed on top.
(What is this sweet smell?)
Albert flicked open the glass cover with his thumb and the compass needle popped out. It would have been an extremely pointed diamond shape to begin with, but the twisted hunk of metal no longer showed any sign of that.
Directions were very important in the magical world, so had the needle destroyed itself by drawing an impossible power from an impossible direction?
Two such needles had fallen to the floor.
The one from just now she understood. That would be the Faunus needle. But when had he discarded the Angerona needle that had twisted into something like a distorted spring? She dug through her memories yet could find nothing. Even though she had been watching him the entire time.
“But no one actually knows where Angerona came from. Why does she gather power in her mouth and why does her power grow the longer she remains silent? None of it matters to anyone now. No one cares about some ancient queen.”
All of a sudden, Albert Dying was holding a sickle in his other hand. That was the Sickle of Saturn. But if the compass was all he needed for his spells, he would not need that.
She could not let its shape distract her.
That sickle was not designed for offense using its sharp edge. It was meant to create a controlling field around the ground it stabbed into. If he was showing that off, then he must have created a field to his liking.
(Is his magic so powerful that he needs that field to protect himself?)
“And Faunus is a god of treasure. The horns on his head were enough to have him overwritten by the Greek myths of Pan and the Satyr, but that does not erase his logic that prophesied a victory for Rome in a great battle.”
Albert had called this a duel.
But despite what the term implied, the people who used it most often were always certain in their own victory. They would fire up the crowds with talk of ‘a one-on-one battle’, ‘don’t be late’, and ‘let’s fight fair and square’, but they really wanted to ensure the poor victim could not escape while they were tortured to death in public. When a less-than-honest person challenged someone to a duel, they might as well have been demanding a public execution.
Tu had called this a duel when he was outnumbered three-against-one.
That meant he was confident he could win and preserve the execution format with three opponents. If he had thought it at all possible he would be harmed, he would have called them cowards in order to reset the game until he had all the cards needed for his victory.
Agnese wiped the blood from the corner of her mouth.
Her nose picked up a sickly sweet aroma, like a raisin with the sourness removed. It was not unpleasant, but she found it disgusting once she realized it was the oily wood mixing with the sweat on the man’s hand.
(This might still be better than trying to beat the house at a casino.)
“Are you…trying to preserve the pure Roman mythology before it was washed away by Greek mythology? Is that what you’re…so desperate to protect?”
He did not even give a strong denial.
He responded dismissively while holding the large compass and sickle.
“Just so you know, I am not a Roman mythology believer.”
She had been wrong.
The hook dangled below the water had failed to catch in the fish’s mouth.
“During the Roman age, it was Roman mythology. During the Christian age, it was Christianity. I blend in with the victor of the current age to keep myself safe and protect myself. Just like someone dressing in all the latest fashions and throwing out piles of usable clothing each season. Not even I know the answer. All I can do is line up endless ‘theories’ that no one can prove correct or not.”
Analyzing your opponent was everything in the magic world.
If you did not secure what clues you could in the few chances you found, you did not stand a chance. Just like a mountain climber following all the easiest routes only to run across a cliff face with no handholds whatsoever.
Agnese heard a scraping of metal against metal. It came from the compass.
Once again, she had failed to see it, but he had definitely “loaded” the next one.
“Theory: Larvae II.”
This was a new one.
Agnese Sanctis only survived because someone shoved her aside.
She was saved by her fellow nun, Sister Angelene.
A change came over the girl’s freckled face. She covered it with her small hands, but it was still visible through the gaps. Something crucial – maybe water and maybe fat – was drained from her body. It looked like her skin was clinging directly to bone.
“The same applies to what I am using here.” The man spoke calmly while swinging his sickle just enough to keep the side effects from reaching him. He did not seem to care about the commotion around him. “This is not what we had initially hoped to pass down. As the many mythologies and religions mixed together, the original forms were entirely lost. But I will still win. I will survive. The Guild will always view the world from the side of the winners.”
That was all the Guild did.
They did not want any particular side to win. Nor did they hope to gain something through winning.
They only wanted to preserve their status of “winning”.
Everyone had their ups and downs. They would win some and lose some. But the Guild refused to let that happen, so they distorted themselves and others to force a result that defied that law.
With a solid clink, a twisted compass needle hit the floor, having used up whatever its effect was.
That was the empty cartridge.
But by then, Albert had already loaded the next round and snapped the glass cover shut with his thumb. He squeezed the compass made from an oily wood – probably palm.
And he spoke his words of power.
“Theory: Venus Genetrix I.”
Agnese briefly froze.
That divine name did not immediately bring a form of attack to mind like Mars or Jupiter would have.
The air was split open by something too strong to call a whip. It was probably some kind of tree branches intertwined in a complex but powerful way. It would tear through flesh and bone on contact.
And Agnese was slow to react.
She immediately backed out of its range, but then something burst from it. The solid fruits attached to the branches burst and created a wall of sharp shards, like a grenade blast.
She had very clearly been too late to react, so her survival was not the result of her own skill. The dense wall of sharp shards had been forcibly pried apart at the last second by the explosion of Lucia’s giant wooden wheel. “Let’s ignore the Genetrix part for now.” The young man smiled thinly. “Everyone thinks of Venus as a goddess of beauty, but did you know she was originally an agricultural goddess of gardens? Also, a historical figure was absolutely fixated on her productive powers: an ancient Roman general by the name of Julius Caesar. Perhaps you’ve heard of him?”
“Venus, Goddess of the Harvest, was known as the personal guardian deity of that strongest military man. Venus was a protector of Rome, but adding the Genetrix gives her name a special meaning. Caesar had thoroughly developed his abilities for harming and killing, so when he wanted to expand the Roman Empire, he may have been drawn to that productive power he lacked. He was hailed as the strongest when it came to military might, but that created a blind spot he hoped to fill with the divine mother of Aeneas. He wanted a solid protector who would gently support him. So that goddess will rush in toward any opening that presents itself.”
The force of the shards was doubled.
The sharp shards from the many fruits closed back together to form a wall and rushed toward Lucia. This spell was a lot like a carnivorous plant without eyes or ears letting itself be bit to accurately locate its target.
It was a like a giant pair of jaws lined with sharp teeth and fangs.
Agnese’s warning was drowned out by a great boom as if from a drum taller than she was. Lucia had barely managed to avoid being fully caught between the closing jaws, but she had not escaped unscathed. She had been hit from the right.
The many shards that did hit her slammed her against the wall, where she slid down to the floor and stopped moving.
Agnese heard the clack of metal against metal.
She looked over without thinking, but with her life on the line, she subconsciously kept Tu in the corner of her vision.
Nevertheless, she did not have time to intervene.
He had clearly replaced the compass’s needle and he should have been defenseless while he did so. She knew she could take away his weapon if she intervened at that moment.
“Now, then,” he said. An oddly sweet aroma hung in the air as he gripped the loaded compass. “How are you enjoying this safety bought with your friends’ destruction? Unfortunately, you have no one else to take the next attack, sister.”
She immediately leaped forward because Tu had stepped his foot on the pope’s stomach and raised his sickle.
The old man already had a sharp stake against his chest, but Tu did not hesitate.
As soon as she moved in the way, scorching heat assaulted her back.
This was not just a blade wound.
The Sickle of Saturn created a field of control over the land it was stabbed into.
(Is he trying to tear away my inner world!?)
“Ha ha ha. You help the pope after doing nothing for your friends?”
A straining sound came from within her.
This was not just her physical body tearing apart. Her skeleton itself shook, her individual organs wriggled like slugs, and she feared she was transforming into another creature altogether. She could imagine her shoulder blades splitting as wings sprouted from her back, webs growing between her fingers, her canine teeth growing disconcertingly long, and her mind deteriorating too far for bipedal movement.
Was she only imagining all that?
It all may have been possible with the Sickle of Saturn.
Albert Dying smiled.
“You did the right thing. If I pry open the pope’s chest here, no one can stop the spread of the Sickle’s field. But that also proves that people are not equal under your system. Thank you. Your bravery has shown me that this era must be destroyed.”
“Shut up!!” she snapped back.
He kicked at her side, placed a foot on her small back, and pulled out the Sickle of Saturn like he was removing a nail. The sensation of the blade pulling from so deep inside her made her shudder far more than when it had stabbed into her.
“Now, a question: are people still equal?”
Stabbed and stepped on, Agnese still lay protectively over the unconscious old man.
The pope might have been killed if she had not acted.
Nothing might have changed for her own little world if a new era had begun.
They lived a life of oppression, suspicion, and odd jobs that underestimated their abilities. It wore at them more every day they continued to live as outsiders without a real home.
But she still wanted to avoid this.
She did not want everything to change.
She had learned to relax during the short breaks between jobs. The Anglicans gave her the absolute worst jobs, but the group from Italy had worked to come up with recipes they could cook in the women’s dorm. She still felt out of place in London’s mixture of old and new, but she had not disliked her days off when she could munch on biscuits and watch video makers perform with a phone in hand.
Yes, yes. She would admit it.
Maybe they were being tamed and maybe they were being used.
But Agnese Sanctis liked those bland days that were too forgettable to even write in a diary!!!!!!
She thought about the Roman Catholic Church. They had abandoned her, but she could not have them collapse here. Just like she had her own world, this old man had his own world.
She could not let anyone trample that underfoot with a thin smile on their face.
They might live in very different places, but she was the only one who could stop it, so it was up to her to protect him!!
(This may be my arrogance talking, but I wonder if this is what it feels like to forgive someone.)
Albert Dying, the man who had nothing of his own, laughed.
“Then I’ll keep at it until they are equal.”
To be honest, Tu had no real reason to talk.
The more he revealed about his spells, the more of his hand his opponents could defeat. Telling the truth gained him nothing.
But he did it anyway.
(I have plenty of needles. If I can convince her that I can only use one of a few options, then my next move can take her by surprise.)
It was all to help him win.
It was all to remain in a constant state of winning.
He never would have bound himself with the term “duel” unless he thought his victory was assured. That term was a double-edged sword that would prevent him from escaping if he unexpectedly found himself losing.
And he had the next needle loaded.
(Now, what is your battle plan?)
Albert Dying thought to himself while gripping the large compass in his hand.
The Sickle of Saturn was the foundation of his offense and defense.
The compass was sufficient if he only wanted to crush and kill his opponent.
A battle plan appeared to eliminate the unnecessary options while building up an optimal route to victory, but it really only narrowed your field of view. And the narrower that field, the easier it was for an attack to slip in through a blind spot.
(If she thinks I was simply defeating them one at a time, then she will die next time. Keeping a set distance to fire projectiles creates a blind spot right in front of you. But protecting that old man does not restrict her quite enough. If I want to move in close enough, I should wear down her stamina a little further. I will wait two or three more moves.)
“Theory: Juturna IV.”
This one was a high-pressure water cutter.
The horizontal sweep could easily slice through the girl’s torso.
The attack played out properly, but it did not provide the expected result.
Why hadn’t it hit? Albert Dying took a step back while opening the transparent cover. He dropped the twisted needle to the floor and inserted the next one.
Or he should have.
He was interrupted by an absurdly casual voice.
Agnese Sanctis was no longer just protecting the helpless old man.
When had she moved so close?
“How can you keep up with me!?”
His hand was blocked from loading the compass, like someone had grabbed his wrist just before he made an iai strike.
To rid her grip from his arm, he clicked his tongue for the first time and swung the sickle with his other hand. He just barely escaped her restraint, but the needle he had intended to load slipped from his grasp.
The following unpleasant sound would not stop ringing in his ears.
The small sharp piece of metal hitting the floor was not part of his own battle plan.
Once the thought entered his mind, he came to a shocked stop.
He had violated his own rule.
(Outside my “battle plan”? You mean I too was narrowing my view with one of those?)
“The individual spells weren’t what worried me.”
Bloody Agnese Sanctis did not force herself in closer.
Was she being cautious?
Or was she confident?
“That compass was missing its ejection and reloading phase. Which makes sense because that’s the part you would most want to hide. You might have a million cards available to you, but you can only use one at a time. And you have to use that ‘theory’ incantation to activate it.”
“I might not know what’s coming next, but that’s nothing to fear as long as I know when it’s coming. If I can dodge just one of them, then the time it takes to reload allows me to fight back. The million different cards were just meant to overwhelm us, weren’t they? The real trick here was how you shifted the timing. Figure that out and neutralizing you is easy!!”
He took immediate action.
He had to load a needle in the compass to use it.
To keep Agnese away, he scattered several of the sharp metal pieces on the floor. Her high-soled sandals worked against her here. Afraid of tripping, she came to a brief stop and Albert managed to stick the needle inside and close the glass cover.
The loading was complete.
“Theory: Dius Fidius I!!”
She had been late to respond, but she dodged the formless divine punishment with a snort of laughter.
Even though he had spoken the name of “another chief god” said to be on the same level as Chief God Jupiter – who corresponded to Zeus in Greek mythology – but had vanished into the shadows of history.
“You always keep that round compass in your hand. I thought maybe you could keep casting the spells as long as you had the needles, but it’s awfully large. In an age of smartphones, you don’t often see compasses too large to fit in the palm of your hand. That means you have some secret hidden in there, doesn’t it? Something that warrants its larger size.”
The young man said nothing.
Agnese interpreted that as an admission he could no longer play games.
“You would open the glass cover, throw out the old needle, set the new one in the center, and then close the cover again.”
She paused between each step as if checking over them in her head.
“That would take a few seconds, wouldn’t it? But that doesn’t make any sense. While the Amakusas use everyday objects for everything, a combat spiritual item has generally been so optimized that it looks strange to the untrained eye. That unnecessary structure is needlessly delaying your actions.”
Agnese did not hesitate.
The look in her eyes said she already knew the answer. That young man used nice-sounding words to deceive and manipulate people, so that was the last thing he wanted to see.
“So what’s the trick here? The palm wood? Did you include that important religious symbol to create an acceleration spell that lets you move too fast for the eye to follow? Or is it the sweet smell? Are you using some kind of chemical to make me hallucinate? No, no, no, it’s none of that. This isn’t about any of the mysterious hints you’ve created to lead me astray. The answer is much simpler. Because the simpler the structure, the less risk of malfunction. I know what a coward would choose when his life is on the line.”
So she presented him with the decisive words.
“There never was a glass cover. With a silly scam artist’s trick, you greatly reduced the time needed to reload while deceiving anyone watching it happen. Right?”
Yes, the “glass” cover was no more than a frame.
That part was not needed to activate the magic.
Albert Dying would ignore the cover altogether to push the needle in with a finger and then exaggeratedly open and close it with his thumb.
That was why Agnese had always overlooked when the reloading happened.
No matter how carefully she watched as he popped open the glass cover, she was never going to see it happen when the reloading was already complete at that point. Just like staring at the train track was meaningless when the train had already passed by.
That was all it was.
The silly trick had eliminated the deadly few seconds when he was most defenseless.
They both viewed a duel as a chance for a dishonest person to hold a public execution and they both knew someone would only call for one when everything was set up to ensure their victory.
This revelation had erased his advantage.
But Tu still had a chance. Agnese had already stated this did not tell her what was coming next.
(You assume anything I use will be another projectile. Narrowing your vision like that creates a short-range blind spot. I will use your own battle plan to kill you. I will emerge victorious here and I will remain forever victorious!!)
As long as she remained trapped in her “battle plan”, Agnese would not even notice the blind spot she had created. She could only grimace from the wound she had taken to the back and struggle to keep her legs steady below her.
The tides could turn against Tu here, but she had only revealed the ancient god spells used through his compass. His true power lay elsewhere.
He did not hesitate.
He sliced down his own arm with the sickle.
Agnese tensed with surprise.
No, he had sliced his own shadow on the wall from shoulder to elbow. That damage was then transferred to Tu himself, just like someone injuring a doll to harm the target.
And that was an accurate comparison. The Sickle of Saturn overwrote who controlled the land it stabbed into and set up a more convenient field.
So it could also be used like this.
By slicing and tearing into oneself, it could overwrite the inner world of the human body. And by tearing down the wall between the micro inner world and the macro outer world, he could wield magic unusable by mere humans.
“Theory: Saturn 0!!!!!!”
He did not need the compass needle this time.
And people could not respond to something that caught them by surprise.
Nothing was more frightening than a lack of tricks.
Or rather, than being pushed to the point that all tricks were off limits. Magic was a logical system. It could be hard to tell since none of it was visible, but it was no different than sticking a branch below a big rock to lift it with leverage.
So if a magic user was pushed to the point that they could not use that kind of trick, they had truly been pushed to the limit.
Tu, Albert Dying, heard something soft being squashed.
He felt a dull sensation in his fingernails when it happened. In Roman mythology, Saturn was the king who usurped heaven, but before he was overwritten by Cronus of Greek mythology, he had been an ancient god named Satus. He was an agricultural god who controlled seeds and sickles. His name, his role, and even his world may have changed, but he had kept that weapon through it all. That suggested it was the only real thing he had left.
Thus, it retained the symbolism of the sickle that sliced open the earth and let a bountiful harvest grow.
Tu’s gaze wavered somewhat.
He looked down at his own fingertips. The deadly nails were split open and his fingers were bent in disconcerting ways.
Simply put, he had been stopped.
By the silver staff Agnese Sanctis had pulled back toward herself.
“Oh, dear. Did what I say lead you to believe I had only analyzed your compass? You were the one who stabbed me with your Sickle of Saturn to mess with my inner world, remember?”
But she shouldn’t have been able to dodge this even if she understood it. His speed had been absolute. She could not have responded to his attack in time, so how had this happened?
Something had happened.
But the groaning whisper had not come from Agnese Sanctis.
“He was a regionary bishop without a diocese of his own. But he built more churches than anyone else and provided many people with a place to rest.”
It was Sister Lucia.
Angelene also recited the words from the floor.
They crawled because they could not even stand up with all the pain and agony filling their bodies.
They clenched their teeth and set self-care aside in order to support the girl with whom they had shared the good times and the bad.
They spoke in unison now.
“His passion and powerful legs were second to none. Traveler with a worthy cause, feel the push at your back as you continue your journey. You will find your feet move quicker than anyone else’s!!”
That spell created a literal tailwind.
No matter which way you moved, the tiny miracle would summon a wind to assist you.
Agnese was not alone.
Their old home had relied on numbers for everything. And it was Tu who had called this three-against-one arrangement a “duel”.
He could not call it unfair now.
Lucia and Angelene had already fallen, but that did not make them insignificant. If this man would laugh them off as ignorable, Agnese would show him the power they had granted her.
She would show him that the very thing he had dismissed as insignificant could sometimes be the trigger needed to save the world!!
“Telling the truth gains you nothing. Isn’t that a standard principle in magical combat?”
Whether it failed to activate or merely injured her, his foolproof attack had failed to kill her.
She had never before seen Theory: Saturn 0, yet it had not worked.
That surprising result led Tu to change his battle plan once more. He clung to what he knew had worked before. He forced his aching hand to pop open the compass’s glass cover in order to load the next needle, but…
“That movement is an illusion.”
The words cut him off before he could act.
“Now that I know that, I have nothing to fear from your spells. I can ignore the compass and your movements. If I wait for you to speak the incantation, I can get the timing right. It doesn’t even matter if you use your compass or sickle to activate it.”
With a distorted clang, the end of Agnese’s staff knocked the new needle from the young man’s bloody hand.
He thought he could keep going even without the Sickle of Saturn, but…
“Yes. The Lotus Wand is a Symbolic Weapon capable of controlling fire, water, wind, earth, and ether. And in my case, I’ve constructed a further spell on top of that.”
She crushed that possibility.
“You could say it’s like the wax dolls used for curses. If I hit the wall or a chair with this, the damage to the wand is transferred to the linked target.”
Agnese Sanctis did not make a second strike.
There was no need.
“So I don’t even have to do anything. The wand was hit, so it’s already over.”
After a short delay, a heavy impact rattled Tu’s head.
He fell hard to his knees. That was proof of greater damage than if he had been thrown backwards.
He glanced down at his spiritual items for a brief moment, but before he could do anything more, Agnese kicked the large compass from him and stepped down on the sickle lying on the floor.
“I said it’s already over,” she bluntly stated.
“I…” Even so, Albert Dying was not done moving. “I will win. I must always be winning. I will do…do anything to ensure it.”
“You must always be winning?” She seemed to spit out the words. “But you gave into your anger and executed the bloodline investigator named Brax Mizhine, didn’t you? Our research suggests he was a pathetic scammer, but killing him did nothing to affect your score, did it?”
“Did you really hate Stiyl Magnus that much? Admittedly, he’s a condescending asshole constantly polluting his surroundings with cigarette smoke, but that isn’t why you hate him. Then why?”
That question crossed a line.
There was no kindness in her voice.
“You blame them both for your failed ceremony that forced you to go into hiding.”
Agnese Sanctis was still inexperienced.
When slapped on the right cheek, she would reflexively throw a punch. And she had a smile on her lips as she said this.
“You claim you must ‘always be winning’, but that died long ago. If you ask me, revenge is the last resort of a loser.”
A disconcerting sound filled the chapel.
What happened next defied logic. Albert Dying had already been hit by the finishing blow, but he got back up. His hands and feet dug into the stone floor to rise up like a beast.
“This isn’t…this isn’t over!! No one ever protected me, so I had to protect myself. Do you have any idea how hard it is to always be winning? I came all this way because I couldn’t allow a single loss, so…so I…!!”
Agnese’s voice was ice cold.
He was threatening her, but there was no dignity behind it.
He leaped at her, presumably to take back the Sickle of Saturn pinned below her foot, but she caught his face on her elbow, slammed her silver staff into his back while he curled up holding his nose, and then stepped on the back of his head after confirming he had collapsed to the floor. Finally, the wand’s attack hit him again.
He was like a ghost who had forgotten how to return to the graveyard.
His rash attempt to never face a loss was a lot like a senile old fool forgetting when to stop and struggling for much too long. His greatest misfortunate was in not encountering anyone who was willing to end this earlier. So now he scrambled vainly at the floor.
Agnese sighed as she looked down at him struggling like a roach with a pin through it.
(Well, I might have shown more mercy if he hadn’t hurt Sisters Lucia and Angelene.)
“From here on, you can start counting up your losses. One by one.”
Agnese Sanctis quietly sighed.
It was all over.
The pope was safe where he lay on the floor. With the defeat of Tu, aka Albert Dying, the Violator of the Peace spiritual item trying to force its way through the old man’s holy garb had stopped resisting. Agnese only had to crouch down and grab it for the X-shaped belts to unravel from the pope’s chest like no more than ribbon.
She tossed the Violator of the Peace aside and it hit another of the culprit’s spiritual items with a solid clang. It looked like nothing more than a small sickle made from crude materials, but even that could destroy the world.
That was what made magic so frightening.
She pressed a communication card against her ear and spoke into it.
The method used by the card had existed before the invention of electronic devices, but most people would assume she was operating a phone. Most cars around the world had round steering wheels and there was no real reason to make showerheads X or star shaped. Most everyone would settle on similar shapes because those were easiest for people to use.
“The Sickle of Saturn has been retrieved. Yes, yes, you check on things outside. Eh? It’s going to be stored and preserved in the British Museum? No, I’d rather destroy it here. Hand this to you Anglicans and who knows what your black-hearted Archbishop will do with it!”
She remained crouched and gently stroked the pope’s forehead with her empty hand while holding the conversation.
Lola Stuart at the top of the Anglicans was entirely different from this old man. That woman loved power games and kept her good and bad deeds perfectly balanced, so there was no point in worrying on her behalf.
“Stiyl, you agree that would be best, don’t you? Yes, yes, I know a poor middle manager like you isn’t allowed to say so out loud, so just dock my pay already. Ugh, I swear the world is edging toward destruction because saving it only gets you punished. Bye.”
That ended her magical call.
Now she spoke to someone in the same room as her.
“Hey, Sister Lucia. You still alive?”
“You too, Sister Angelene. I took out the bad guy, but do you also need some recovery magic?”
“Already working on it. Ugh, don’t those Larvae things suck all the fat out of you once they latch onto you? The legends say they also leave weird marks all over your body, don’t they?”
The three girls stopped talking there.
So when they heard a groan, it did not come from any of them.
There was no reason to stay here until he woke up.
Every last part of Agnese’s body was aching and she had been stabbed in the back to protect the pope, but she had not risked her life to place him in her debt.
Reluctant to leave, she rubbed the old man’s forehead once more.
That was enough.
“Sister Agnese, it’s time.”
“C-come to think of it, we’re in the country without our passports, aren’t we?” said Angelene. “E-eeek! There’s only one exit from here and if they find us, we’ll be thrown in jail for sure!”
Agnese Sanctis pulled her hand away and silently stood up.
“The pope is fine. What about the cardinals?”
“That shouldn’t be a problem. There is only one exit, so we check on them as we leave.”
“Then there’s Tu – Albert Dying.”
“Eh? We’re in the country illegally and now we have to carry an entire person back with us!? I-isn’t an unconscious person really heavy?”
Angelene started to fidget nervously.
But if they left him with the Catholics and he later escaped, it would be their fault. Anti-magician combat was the Anglicans’ specialty, so it would be safest to take him back home with them.
Agnese smiled at that phrasing.
This was supposed to be their home. It was the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. So how could they go “back home” from here?
She knew the answer.
And she knew what to say next. They needed to choose who would carry Tu on their way home.
“Everyone but me loses!!”
“Who put you in charge!!!???”
“Who put you in charge!!!???”
Agnese Sanctis had made a serious error by disobeying orders and acting on her own.
Destroying the Sickle of Saturn without permission was especially concerning.
Her meals were reduced from three a day to two and she was forbidden from snacking in between. And this was to continue until further orders were given.
The girl in the black nun’s habit looked half dead.
She had been prepared for punishment, but the higher ups knew her weaknesses too well. The ban on snacks hurt far more than the lost meal. How was an Italian girl supposed to live without her coffee? Solitary confinement would have been preferable to this.
She was back in London, England.
The world continued to turn despite everything that had happened. London’s famous colorful payphones were being removed and loaded onto trucks and the taxis polished as bright as leather shoes were being converted to electric models. Even the world’s most famous clocktower was apparently no longer named Big Ben.
Humans were like tuna that had to keep swimming or they would die.
Something unseen was pouring down on the world.
Anything that came to a stop – be it a culture or a mythology – would be sealed in that stratum, just like a specimen encased in clear plastic. History may have had no more weight than a long-forgotten meme.
The Guild and Albert may have found that absurd. They had wanted to reclaim what was buried in the stratum. But after slowly and carefully excavating it, they realized it was small enough to hold in their hand.
Was that why he had wanted to wield it to its fullest?
To prove it was more than that?
(And what about me?)
Not even she understood why she had rejected the idea returning to the Catholics. It was more than just her principles. She may have made the decision out of fear.
Fear that she would lose something if she returned there.
Lucia and Angelene rushed over to her.
The perfectionist girl was punctual and always kept her promises, so she continued to work hard even during their unfair punishment.
“We’re being scrambled to Piccadilly Circus,” said Lucia. “When people look inside a boxy ashtray left on the side of the road, they are sucked in and go missing. There were similar urban legends back when technology was shifting from CRT TVs or analog cameras, but it appears someone is copying those stories to feed their collection obsession. A battle is about to begin at the gathering point, so you need to get fully equipped and move to your post, Sister Agnese.”
“What is our job?”
“This magician keeps escaping because they are sensitive to the faint magic of a people clearing field, so the Anglicans want to do the same job through physical means. The ordinary people will be kept away by feigning drainage problems and covering the road with filthy water.”
Agnese Sanctis looked up toward heaven.
She had suspected it would be something like this.
They were still the bottom rung.
You didn’t get any extra allowance for saving the world.
“How can that be sanitary?”
“We need to wear full-body raincoats with rubber gloves and boots. But wearing that would stand out when it’s so nice out, so a bomber will soon be passing by overhead to support us by creating some artificial rain with dry ice. Sudden downpours not found on the long-term forecast are hardly uncommon these days.”
That strict girl had failed to read between the lines.
Her obsession with cleanliness had led her to focus entirely on how to defend themselves from the filth. Surely there had been other options.
Agnese winked over at Angelene.
“We need phone and social media countermeasures. The risk is especially great since we can’t use a people clearing field. There are so many cameras around these days and I don’t see why that would ever change.”
“Um, actually, I’ve already done that,” said Angelene. “All we need is for you to join us, Sister Agnese. Why do you think we ran over to get you? Because the phones aren’t working here.”
Agnese scratched her head at that.
She had hoped to find a flaw in the plan so she could boycott it, but it turned out Lucia and Angelene were the type to do everything right even when they gained nothing from it.
Agnese had no choice now, but there was a note of enjoyment in her voice as she replied.
“Then let’s get going. The time for some captivating service work is upon us!!”