Toaru Majutsu no Index:Crossover Chapter 2
[Series Introduction 03]
A Simple Series
A collection of tiny, tiny stories related to absurdity. Do you have your pen and paper ready? What kind of answer will “you” arrive at?
The Divine Ship Skíðblaðni safely arrived on the beach.
The control room had been abandoned and the ship had not been guided from land, but it rode up onto the beach all on its own. Yes, just like a landing ship meant to carry personnel or vehicles onto land. Kamijou was worried it would be stuck on land like a beached whale, but since the blonde lady named Waltraute did not seem worried, he guessed this was the proper way of using it. It must have had a way of returning to sea.
And it was hardly time to be worrying about that anyway.
Kamijou gasped for breath like someone lost in the desert.
They had decided to disembark from the strange ship, but that was no easy task with the Divine Ship Skíðblaðni. It was over forty-five kilometers long and its three-hull structure made it nearly seventeen kilometers wide, so simply disembarking required a lengthy trek.
Quenser was supposedly part of the military, but even he was exhausted.
“D-dammit. Cough, cough. This is just wrong. I know I shouldn’t be saying this, but bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better!! A trip to one end and back of this thing is enough material for a weekly blog, so how could anyone actually use it!?”
“Ugh. B-by the way, what exactly is a ‘three-hull structure’?”
“It doesn’t matter!! A girl isn’t going to remove a piece of clothing for each question I answer,
so anyone who wants to know can do a search on their own!!”
Kamijou’s simple question was drowned out by Heivia’s desperate shout.
Waltraute looked down on the boys with a look of pity as she asked a question.
“You make this much noise just moving across a ship’s deck? How do you normally walk around?”
“This ship is as big as a city! And I don’t want to hear anything from someone who has a horse to ride!!”
As college student Higashikawa Mamoru cried out shrilly, Nanajou Kyouichirou whispered to him.
“Is my brain a lost cause if the combination of a blonde girl and a horse seems dirty to me?”
“If you wish to be reincarnated, just ask.”
The peerless and hopelessly incompatible Killer Queen’s comment was enough for him to decide to abandon his worldly thoughts.
After quite a bit of effort, they all arrived at the edge of the divine ship. Kamijou peered straight down from the railing-less edge and found they were six or seven stories up. It was taller than a school rooftop and more than enough to fill his legs with a tremor, but given the overall size of the ship, it was relatively “thin”.
There was no device to lower them to the ground in a magic beam of light like someone being abducted by foo fighters. Instead, a normal gangway was folded up on the side. The idea of being six or seven stories up returned to their minds with a vengeance.
“This isn’t some new diet where we have to lose a certain amount of weight before we can get back on, is it?”
“That would certainly be a problem. Youkai can’t lose or gain weight, so I’d be stuck in an infinite loop.”
The Zashiki Warashi in a red yukata sounded annoyed, but the Yuki Onna let out a delighted screech as she slid down the stairs on Jinnai Shinobu’s ice coffin. It looked like the kind of reckless mountain festival where people slid down a steep hill on a log.
“Damn. If the entire ship wasn’t made of wood, I could use magnetism to take a shortcut.”
Mikoto sounded like she was cursing someone, but she still managed to reach the sandy beach below.
The ocean! The beach!! The sun!! While we’re at it, let’s all change into swimsuits!!!!! …was not how things went here. Excluding the Youkai who had never-ending stamina, they all collapsed from exhaustion. If they had been thrown out into the ocean, they might very well have passed out and drowned.
Index asked a question while watching the Baby Magnum jump down to the beach in the distance and send a wall of sand flying in their direction.
“I-I’m absolutely starving. What do we do now? What are we going to do- wah!?”
The sandstorm brought visibility down to zero and they could only hear Waltraute’s calm voice.
“There is a lot that needs doing, but most importantly, I assume you miss human civilization. I recommend heading to the human world of Midgard.”
Mikoto coughed and used magnetism and static electricity to remove the sand from her hair and clothes.
“The human world? Midgard? What’s that?”
“Midgard is Midgard. That is the world at the base of the World Tree Yggdrasil where the humans live.”
Waltraute made it sound obvious, but Quenser and Heivia began whispering between themselves.
“(What do you think? That sounds like the kind of place where we could find a weapons shop and item shop. But I get the feeling this isn’t ‘our world’ where Frolaytia and the Oh Ho Ho are waging war year-round.)”
“(I don’t care as long as it comes from a beautiful woman. If some filthy guy started talking about this crazy spiritual crap you’d hear from the Faith Organization, I’d clock him right on the nose and ask him to explain it for real.)”
Meanwhile, Mikoto continued questioning Waltraute.
“The human world? So are you going to make us walk some more?”
“You can stay here if you want, but this land is classified as the giant world of Jötunheimr. There are a number of different types of giants, but they are generally the enemies of the gods and mankind. You are free to camp out here, but then it’s your own fault if they step on you or gather you for food.”
The bunny girl gave a light groan and Higashikawa Mamoru looked up at the gangway they had descended.
“If it’s that dangerous, why’d we even leave the boat? It sounds like we were safer in there.”
“You can do that as well. As long as I know where all of you strangers are, you can do as you wish. However, I will stay with any of you who continue to Midgard, whether that is all of you or just one. By the way, Skíðblaðni currently has no food aboard that is not a trap. You will need to gather fresh water and food in a hurry, but if you have a way of acquiring that from seawater, be my guest.”
There was nothing they could do.
The optimistic idea of catching fish with a fishing pole or fishing net flashed through their minds, but the fresh water was a lost cause. They doubted a filter made from pebbles and sand would be enough to remove all of the salt from the seawater.
And so Waltraute was still able to decide what they did.
They had come to the beach yet none of the girls changed into swimsuits and they got sand in their clothes yet none of the girls decided to bathe in the ocean. At any rate, Index, the Zashiki Warashi, the bunny girl, and the others took their first step into the green field.
Kamijou called out while collapsed face down.
Mikoto responded while gasping for breath with her butt flat on the ground.
“How many days has it been now?”
“I don’t know. Three or four I think.”
He had been the one to ask, but Kamijou grew enraged at this unreasonable world when he heard the actual number.
“Oh, honestly!! Why!? Just why!? We were talking like it was a quick trip to the next town over, but we’ve been walking forever! And isn’t a single incident supposed to begin in the morning and end that night!? There’s something wrong when we’ve spent four days on travel alone!!”
This must be a special occasion, Touma.”
Index said something, but he could not hear it over some strange static.
Higashikawa Mamoru stared into the distance where the Baby Magnum waited.
“Let me guess, there’s some reason why we can’t all just ride that thing.”
“That two-hundred thousand ton mass is floating with static electricity. If a flesh-and-blood human got close, he’d be blown to pieces,” explained Quenser. “Climbing up onto one of the main cannons like before is a different matter, but are you sure? That thing moves around at five hundred kph. If our Princess sneezed at the wrong time and pushed a lever, we could all be knocked off.”
The only ones with any energy left were the Zashiki Warashi and Yuki Onna, because they were Youkai, and the Princess, because she rode the Baby Magnum. Quenser and Heivia were supposed to be soldiers, but they were completely out of breath and sitting down with their backs against the thick trunk of a tree.
“This is awful. Just awful. I’m going to lose weight if I keep walking around like this. If you polish up these world-class looks any more, it could easily start a new war, dammit.”
“Huh? Is this the kind of forced march that makes professional soldiers complain? No wonder it’s so tough for a cute bunny in stiletto heels like me.”
“Yeah, well we normally get back by nightfall. The Object takes care of the fighting, so we get paid tax money for just watching on from somewhere close by. Anyone but the monsters in the Northern European Restricted Zone would give up here.”
“You heard them. So carry me, Higashikawa!!”
“Stop. Don’t grab onto me. And since when do we get along? I thought we were trying to kill each other!”
As the party continued to complain, they decided to camp there for the day. However, they only had a fire below a large tree and did not even have any tents.
Meanwhile, Nanajou Kyouichirou muttered something while lying on his side with a dead look in his eyes.
“Isn’t a whole lot supposed to happen when you take a trip with girls in a fantasy world? Y’know what I mean. If you were to describe it as a smell, you would call it bittersweet!! After all, there are no baths or dividers here! If you want to get clean, you have bathe in a river or spring!! And everyone sleeps in a group with no division between boy and girl!! Can’t we have something like that!? Can’t we have something to look forward to about tomorrow!!!?”
“Kyouichirou, have your suicidal tendencies come back?”
“No!! I’m complaining because I want a better life!!”
The desperate boy’s tone of voice was falling apart by this point, but Anzai Kyousuke glanced over and cut in.
“No, you can’t have any of that. There’s nothing that great about a fantasy world. It’s all based on medieval Europe, right? The tenth century? Or maybe the fifteenth? And in England, France, or maybe Germany? Well, if you learned about the actual customs of the time, you wouldn’t want any of that.”
“Stop it, college boy. Don’t destroy a high schooler’s dreams!”
Anzai Kyousuke sniffed at his own sleeves.
“A realistic fantasy would be filled with
pungent body od-…”
He never finished his sentence because Waltraute kicked the stomach of her white horse and its hind legs sent a college student’s worth of mass flying into the sky.
The tremendous sound of destruction was both comical and substantial, but it was enough to silence the fool who was touching on the greatest of taboos.
Waltraute then spoke with a refreshed look on her face.
“Fantasy is fantasy, so it is fantastically odor free. Any smells in fantasy are fantastic aromas.”
“And as I am always riding a fantasy horse, I do not have a hint of fantasy animal smell on me. After all, this is fantasy. …Do you understand?”
Nanajou Kyouichirou did not want to join the other fantasy boy who had become a new star in the sky, so he obeyed his survival instincts and expressed his agreement.
Satsuki looked at him like he was human trash, but she finally turned back toward Waltraute.
“How much further do we have to go?”
“We are about at the halfway point, so we will reach Midgard in another three days.”
Kamijou Touma groaned as he listened in.
Quenser called out while rubbing his calf.
“Hey, do you think there’s anything nice up ahead? Bathing in a spring? Happening across one of them changing? Having to warm our cold bodies through skin contact? Hell, if it means resting my head on their lap and getting fed mouth-to-mouth, I’m prepared to collapse from a light illness.”
“How should I know? If there is something, there’ll be an illustration for it. If you don’t see one, then I guess nothing happens.”
“Oh, hell! So I have to count on heaven to throw some luck my way? Well, you know what!? I believe with all my heart that there’s at least a leaf swimsuit in my future!!”
With that lament in his heart, they continued on to overcome the rest of their long, long journey.
Or they should have.
When night fell on the fifth day of trudging along, irreconcilable differences rose to the surface between Kamijou Touma, Index, Misaka Mikoto, Quenser Barbotage, Heivia Winchell, the Zashiki Warashi, the Yuki Onna, Anzai Kyousuke, Higashikawa Mamoru, the bunny girl, Nanajou Kyouichirou, and the Killer Queen as they gathered around a makeshift campfire.
The situation could be summed up as follows:
“What do you mean you’re cooking the apples!? Are you the kind of person that eats pineapple with sweet-and-sour pork!?” (Heivia)
“We don’t have a fridge here, so the apples are all warm! They’ll taste a lot better if we go all the way and cook them!!” (Misaka Mikoto)
This might seem like a trivial argument, but a lot had built up on the way here. Anyone would end up that way after being forced to walk for five days straight with sleeping on the grass or hard ground as their only rest.
“I don’t understand why anyone would want to cook fruit. Fruit goes with shaved ice or ice cream, so why are you turning in the exact opposite direction?” (Nanajou Kyouichirou)
“Jam and apple pies use cooked fruit! There’s also chocolate bananas, candied apricots, and tons of other examples!!” (Index)
“And I don’t think it’s all that rare to cook fruit as-is in Europe. In England, they cook melon and serve it with chicken.” (Zashiki Warashi)
“Wait! Don’t bring up southern British food! I might respect their music, museums, and beautiful women, but I can never accept their food!” (Quenser)
“Hey, hey, hey! If we’re gonna fight over it, do we really need the apples at all? They’re the dessert, not the main dish, so they don’t matter that much, right?” (Kamijou Touma)
Meanwhile, an electronic chime filled the Baby Magnum’s cockpit.
The Princess shifted her hips in her seat to turn around, open the door to a microwave bolted to the wall, and pull out a cheeseburger.
When she opened the pull tab of a nicely chilled metal can, the carbonation quickly bubbled out due to vigorous movement of the Object. She brought her lips to the cold can just before the drink geysered out and drank it.
Once it settled down, she pressed the can against her forehead, took a bite from the cheeseburger poking out of the wrapping, and muttered to herself while chewing.
“So good.” (Princess)
Soon, the world-saving heroes exploded.
One of the branches in the fire burst.
“Ahh, if only the murderer in charge of freezing was wandering around here.” (Killer Queen)
“…” (Frozen Jinnai Shinobu)
“Ah! Come to think of it, we’ve got a Yuki Onna!! We can get her to freeze the apples or make a sherbet or whatever we want.” (Anzai Kyousuke)
“Don’t be ridiculous. Do you really think I would use my power for anything other than Jinnai Shinobu’s happiness?” (Yuki Onna)
“Can’t we let the people who want apples eat them and leave it at that? I’m really not that interested in them.” (Kamijou Touma)
In addition to the microwave, the Baby Magnum included a handheld game system and the kind of mini-fridge found in hospitals and hotels. An Object single-handedly supported one side of a war, so the condition of the Pilot Elite could have a dire effect on the battle.
“Hmm. Why is there so much vanilla? I really feel like chocolate chip or mint today.” (Princess)
The Princess shoved aside the frozen foods blocking the way and observed the brand-name ice cream cups. Finally, she chose one and pulled out the small cup between her thumb and forefinger.
“Today’s dessert will be this limited-time-only cherry blossom ice cream.” (Princess)
Next, Armageddon arrived.
“I’ve had enough!! I’ll never be able to get along with her! Come to think of it, I didn’t like her from the very beginning!!” (Higashikawa Mamoru)
“Oh, is that so? Well, that’s just perfect. You haven’t forgotten that causality has been twisted to the point that I’ve been resurrected, have you!? Don’t think that your Ever-Victorious Challenger is going to save you forever!!” (Bunny Girl)
“Wait, wait, wait!! Why are you two really trying to kill each other!? I-in that case, how about we divide up the apples and only cook half of them?” (Kamijou Touma)
“Take a side or shut up!!!!!” (Everyone Else)
A Pilot Elite’s special suit was perfectly skintight, but it had a zipper running from the throat down to the navel.
Inside the Baby Magnum’s cockpit, the Princess pulled out a military item known as a wash towel. Simply put, it was a combination of an antibacterial wipe and a soothing powder soap.
Despite all the effort that went into its development, it was a fantastical item not issued to the normal soldiers. In the purely natural environment of a desert or jungle, a well-trained nose could pick up the scent of shaving gel from five hundred meters away and a military dog’s accuracy was even higher. Using soap or shampoo in those conditions could literally be a deadly mistake.
However, that was not a problem from inside armor powerful enough to withstand a nuke.
Because of all that, the wash towel was known in the military as a “handheld bath”, a “euro-note towel”, or an “officer’s luxury”.
It was not as nice as soaking in a proper bath, but being able to clean one’s body had a great influence on their mental and physical condition.
The Princess also set her chair’s massage feature to “low” and stuck a hand in her special suit to wipe away the sweat.
Meanwhile, she muttered to herself with a blank look in her eyes.
“Viva relaxation.” (Princess)
A tremendous roar filled the air.
Kamijou, Quenser, Anzai Kyousuke, Nanajou Kyouichirou, and the rest of the boys were knocked to the ground with their butts sticking into the air like human chairs.
“A-aren’t the girls on the pro-cooked apples side a little too powerful?” (Heivia)
“The Railgun and Killer Queen are raising the average too much. A-and they also have those Youkai who can ignore any physical attacks.” (Quenser)
“W-wait a second. Cough. Why are you throwing me in with them?” (Kamijou Touma)
For that matter, Shinobu had already been thoroughly silenced inside his ice coffin, but even he was flipped upside down and skewered into the ground.
Meanwhile, Misaka Mikoto stood tall and brushed the dust from her hands.
“That takes care of that.” (Misaka Mikoto)
“We’re going to take a bath, but make sure those apples are cooked by the time we’re back.” (Zashiki Warashi)
After receiving a beating like that, the world-saving heroes were searching for some cruel way to get their revenge.
At the same time, a god arrived on a white horse to check on them.
“What happened while I was gone? Is that bearded head god spreading war among the humans again?” (Waltraute)
“Hey, the caravan guys are right over there. We might be able to find some rare snacks!” (Boy)
However, the other boys were not about to let that peaceful topic calm their hearts.
“(That doesn’t matter!! What am I supposed to do about this anger boiling in my heart? How about we go peep on them as they bathe!?)” (Anzai Kyousuke)
“(No, wait! Wait, comrade!!)” (Quenser)
“(What? There’s no reason to start acting clever now!)” (Higashikawa Mamoru)
“(That isn’t what I meant. That ‘Kyah! Pervert! Zap, zap!’ would only last a moment, but we’d end up roasted black. We need to resist for now and secretly move onward!! We can’t go with the cliché! If we want our revenge, we need an absolute victory that has a permanent effect!!)” (Quenser)
“(What’s this, Quenser? Did you have another brilliant idea in the face of disaster!?)” (Heivia)
“(Just watch. First, let’s go visit that caravan. We might be able to start a revolution with their lineup.)” (Quenser)
“(Okay, let’s do this! This is our only chance to act and we have six world-saving main characters working together. That has to be enough to take at least one step outside the normal punchline!!)” (Nanajou Kyouichirou)
“(Eh!? Since when am I part of your group!?)” (Kamijou Touma)
With that, the losers from the anti-cooked apples group made their way to the caravan. It was made up of several large carriages pulled by four horses each. Based on what they could communicate through gestures, it seemed the caravan had just completed a large trade and was on the way back to the city, so they only had scraps of cloth and broken clasps left over. None of it was useful for anything more than kindling.
“We don’t have any money, so what are we supposed to do?” (Anzai Kyousuke)
“Sell the apples. They caused all this anyway.” (Heivia)
The boys completed the trade and acquired the scraps of cloth and broken clasps, but what were they to do with them?
It was Quenser Barbotage, technical mastermind, who answered that question.
“Hey, Heivia. It’s time we put our stealth skills to full use. We need to approach the bathing girls like we’re sneaking into an enemy Object’s maintenance base.” (Quenser)
“What? So after all that, we’re just going to peep?” (Heivia)
“No, we’re gonna hide their clothes.” (Quenser)
“You’re really taking it to the next level, aren’t you!?” (Nanajou Kyouichirou)
“But if we do, they’ll have no choice but to use the change of clothes we prepare for them. We may only have scraps of cloth and broken clasps here, but a little work can transform them into something nice. For example, we can make up for the fantasy that’s been so sorely lacking here by making bikini armor, a seashell swimsuit, or something along those lines!!” (Quenser)
A lightning-like effect ran through their surroundings.
The usual RPG Item Mixing event had arrived.
However, Kamijou Touma alone remained rational.
“Wait, wait, wait. We can’t do that! If we do, they really, really will kill us this time.” (Kamijou Touma)
“…” (Everyone Else)
“Huh? It’s just me? I’m the only one with any sense left!? Stop this! It’s definitely a bad idea! Biri Biri is gonna cook us at least medium rare!!” (Kamijou Touma)
However, the world-saving heroes used this pointless opportunity to join forces.
With the intensity of the latter half of Chapter 4, they attacked the pointy-haired boy head-on and then got down to planning.
Eventually, someone noticed something was wrong.
“Hm? Huh!? My uniform isn’t where I left it!” (Misaka Mikoto)
“My clothes are gone, too.” (Index)
“There weren’t any monkeys like at a hot spring, so I think we know exactly who did this.” (Zashiki Warashi)
They found some other clothes folded up not far away.
When they unfolded them, they found scraps of cloth that would fit right alongside the phrase “please do not touch the dancers”.
“Those boys!!” (Killer Queen)
As the killing specialist filled with rage, a male voice reached them from beyond a thicket.
“Hi, hi. You were getting upset with how dirty your clothes were, weren’t you? A caravan happened to be passing by, so we bought some new clothes for you. And this is a fantasy world, so apparently bikini armor and nude capes are perfectly normal here.” (Quenser)
“Quit playing dumb!!” (Misaka Mikoto)
“But we can’t exactly argue that it isn’t normal in this world. We haven’t seen a human village here yet.” (Yuki Onna)
“E-either way, this isn’t acceptable! We don’t have to follow the local rules, so we can just wear our original clothes.” (Index)
“Wow. I don’t know why, but today’s fire is really burning good.” (Heivia)
The girls’ faces grew entirely pale.
Even with the thicket blocking a direct view, the light of the fire was notably brighter than normal. A roaring campfire was nice, but what was it burning?
Hint: What is missing?
“Ahhh!! Did you burn our clothes!?” (Bunny Girl)
“I really feel like killing you right now, but I don’t want to head out like this either.” (Zashiki Warashi)
“Do we have to make a…small sacrifice here?” (Misaka Mikoto)
The girls spread out their prepared clothes on the ground once more and checked on their tragic composition.
It was a mystery how the boys had known, but they were sized perfectly. That gave them no choice but to wear what was prepared for them.
The situation was as follows:
Index → Equipped: Nude Cape (Blue)
Misaka Mikoto → Equipped: Bikini Armor (Red)
Zashiki Warashi → Equipped: Tropical Leaf Swimsuit (Green)
Yuki Onna → Equipped: Impish Bondage Bikini (Black)
Bunny Girl → Equipped: Bunny Suit (White)
Killer Queen → Equipped: Dancer (Gold)
After donning the clothing and blushing bright red at how ridiculous it all was, Misaka Mikoto sent bluish-white sparks scattering from her bangs.
“Okay, time to turn every last one of them to charcoal!!” (Misaka Mikoto)
“Wait. Why am I still in a bunny suit?” (Bunny Girl)
“Maybe they thought your outfit was perfect already and decided not to fix what wasn’t broken.” (Zashiki Warashi)
After learning their revenge had been a success, Quenser Barbotage held his sides and beat the ground.
“Ah ha ha ha ha ha!! Success! Success! Now this is feeling more like- dbgshah!?” (Quenser)
“I’m throwing!! Every single one of you!! Into that fire!!” (Misaka Mikoto)
“Wait, wait, Misaka-chan, wait! That wouldn’t just be medium rare! That would be a failed attempt at well done!! And besides, I stood in harm’s way to protect you from this!!” (Kamijou Touma)
“And can someone explain why I’m the only one with the unintelligent-looking warrior-type outfit!?” (Misaka Mikoto)
“Again, it wasn’t me! And if you look back at how you act on a daily basis, the best job for you is the 0 MP gorilla-type that-…no, wait!! Don’t throw me in the fire!!” (Kamijou Touma)
Incidentally, Index’s habit was known as the Walking Church and was one-of-a-kind, so it seemed like burning it would cause some problems down the road. However, it would all work out somehow or another.
Distortions in causality and the timeline could accomplish anything.
A lot happened, but the end arrived suddenly.
A white fence ran from the horizon on one side to the horizon on the other.
Instead of metal, it looked like it was made from really long fish bones.
“This is the border between worlds. The human world of Midgard lies on the other side, but…”
“Waltraute-san?” uneasily asked Kamijou Touma. “Why do you sound so hesitant?”
The goddess known as a warrior maiden glanced behind her as if faced with some dreadful sight.
“W-well, I am not trying to speak out against the behavior of strangers, but are you really going to approach a human village in those extremely inappropriate outfits?”
Ever since Index and the others had made use of the “Dress” command, Waltraute had used her frightening reaction speed to constantly keep the short boy behind her and the girls out of sight.
“Waltraute, I can’t see like this.”
“You don’t have to see!! Only the strangers need to see that. Honestly, I can’t believe this! No matter how much our techniques advance, I swear I will never visit a foreign world!!”
“See, Touma!? She just blew away your argument about these clothes! My 103,000 grimories were more than enough to tell there’s no logic behind them!!”
“I already told you!! I tried to stop them!!”
Index began hitting Kamijou, but it may have been a Pavlovian response by this point. In that case, was he indirectly responsible due to his actions in everyday life?
Heivia had hidden in the girl’s blind spot while shoving the blame on someone else, but he soon glanced around skeptically.
“I had been wondering what it would be, but it’s just a fence? There’s no huge gate or welcome parade?”
The delinquent soldier only mentioned that because he wished for that kind of warmth after several straight days of walking.
He could only pray that they would find some human warmth in the human world up ahead.
They then all crossed the fence and took their first step into Midgard.
After being carried in on a forty-five kilometer warship, Kamijou had imagined any human city would be a futuristic place where everything was AI-controlled and cars whizzed by in clear tubes, but his assumptions were betrayed spectacularly.
The log houses were the fancier ones. Anything made of bricks or stone walls was for a king or feudal lord. It was not uncommon to see houses with roofs made from a dome of grassy dirt.
The stone-paved path was only built from the city entrance to the homes of the most influential. The rest of the paths were unpaved dirt ones.
Also, Index, the Zashiki Warashi, and the other girls were given confused looks by everyone there.
Even a king would give you a wooden stick and a cloth tunic, so why were these people walking around in a nude cape or tropical leaf swimsuit?
“See!? See, Touma!?”
“I-I really think you should try complaining to one of the others from time to time! You don’t have to work so hard to rehash the same joke, Index!!”
The nude cape attacked the uniform-wearing boy and some of the passersby seemed to mistake them for street performers because they handed over two walnuts and an apple.
The food calmed things down and Kamijou was able to escape Index’s fierce attacks, so he quickly resumed observing the human city.
“So this is a realistic fantasy world.”
“Stop it,” commented college student Anzai Kyousuke as he stared into the distance. “Do you want to end up like me, young one?”
Waltraute guided them to the city’s inn. It was the usual business seen in RPGs alongside the weapons shop, but it was apparently a fairly rare thing here. This was simply because a community that developed from a small-scale village society was not the type to accept outsiders.
“They’re willing to happily accept a group of people dressed in bikini armor and a bunny suit? Is this the kind of place that ends up sheltering all sorts of criminals on the ru- gyabah!?”
His unnecessary comment earned him one of Mikoto’s lightning spears to the butt.
Meanwhile, college student Anzai Kyousuke gave a fairly serious comment.
“But we have no idea if they’ll understand our language, we don’t know their religion, and we have no way of proving where we came from, so it really is lucky they’re fine with us being here. I have no idea what would have happened if this actually was medieval Europe.”
A community willing to accept strangers was strong.
After all, they were blessed with the possibility of absorbing foreign techniques and cultures.
Of course, this was only if they did not go too far and lose their own originality.
“This city is sure to become a kingdom one day,” whispered Waltraute with all emotion and investment removed from her eyes.
At any rate, the inn was a two-story wooden building and it was cozy enough for Kamijou and the others to fill all of the rooms. The rooms themselves only had a single bed…or rather, a sort of wooden box with no springs. Not only was there no bathroom or shower, but there were no chairs or tables either. The guests were forced to get creative.
After checking his room and stepping back out into the hallway, Heivia gave an annoyed complaint.
“Wow! I think the grass might actually be more comfortable. Are they seriously making us pay for this?”
“Heh heh heh. Eh heh heh heh heh heh heh. Let’s make an ice room of love together. Now I can be with you forever and ever. Eh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh.”
“Crap, I chose the wrong person to talk to.”
Not even Heivia could do anything about the obsessed yandere that did not even look his way. The Yuki Onna’s voltage must have reached its peak because each breath she took sparkled like diamond dust.
On Waltraute’s suggestion, Kamijou and the others gathered in the bar/restaurant on the first floor.
The pointy-haired boy forced down an unnecessary comment, but Nanajou Kyouichirou let it slip.
“This is one hell of a scene now that we’re all together again. The skin all the girls are showing is- gugyah!?”
“Dbfh!? A-again! I held my tongue, so why are you attacking me too!?”
The lightning spears flying from the bikini armor and the powerful fist of the tropical leaf swimsuit caused quite a disaster.
They were more than exhausted, but they were still incredibly unsure about sleeping in what amounted to a wooden box.
“By the way! Can’t you at least let me use your shirt!?”
“Eh? A shirt over bikini armor? That’s just complete chaos. At first glance, you’d look like a pervert wearing nothing but a shirt, yet when people noticed the armor underneath, they’d still think- gogugyah!?”
Waltraute ignored the well-done roast and spoke.
“The Divine Ship Skíðblaðni is the warship of the gods and the primary enemies of the gods exist outside of Asgard. In other words, that ship is meant to carry the gods between the worlds.”
Even as she calmly gave her explanation, she used her own body to perfectly cover the short boy’s view.
“Mh,” said the boy hidden behind her. “Hey, hey. Waltraute.”
“Wh-what? If it is about not being able to see, I will not listen!”
“No, not that. Your butt has been pressing up against me for a while now.”
While performing a spit-take, the Valkyrie corrected her distance from the boy.
For a Valkyrie, she seemed more like a worrier than warrior.
“Anyway, it is only meant to travel between the nine worlds supported by Yggdrasil, the world tree. It was not made to surpass the boundaries of Norse mythology. Nevertheless, you have been dragged here from beyond those boundaries.”
Quenser and Heivia exchanged a glance and shrugged.
They seemed to have given up already, but Index urged Waltraute on.
“Our entire world is supported by Yggdrasil, either by the branches or the roots.”
Waltraute pointed out the window where a giant tree could be seen rising toward the heavens. Its trunk looked large enough to fit a small village inside.
“If the branches and roots are forced to grow in a direction that ignores Euclidean geometry, they could likely create a ‘path’ connecting to a new world other than the nine worlds.”
“Hm. Come to think of it, the world tree does grow from the water of the well of wisdom.”
“Yes, just like the three Norns sprinkle the well’s water to make it grow while the Black Dragon Níðhöggr gnaws at the roots to make it wither. I still do not know the exact method, but my going theory is that the well’s water was used to influence the world tree’s growth so the branches or roots extended in otherwise impossible directions.”
“But that would definitely be unstable.”
“That is what Skíðblaðni is for. It powerfully absorbed you as you made your unstable passage between worlds and it prevented you from getting lost in the gap between worlds.”
“Wait, wait, wait, wait!!” cut in Mikoto. “You’re moving too fast! I’m still stuck back at the starting point!!”
Anzai Kyousuke had been pouring all of his strength into maintaining a look of comprehension, but that comment just about caused him to break down in tears. It may have been that people became adults once they stopped pushing themselves beyond their limits.
Index sighed before continuing.
“Basically, it works on the level of gods, so there’s nothing we can do.”
“Sorry. That was a little too blunt and now I’ve lost all hope.”
“But the truth is the truth. We may be divine ourselves, but it will take us some time to determine the details and find a way to return you all to your original worlds. Then again, I know someone who loves this kind of trickery, so it may be faster to beat it out of him than to investigate.”
Waltraute summed it up with the kind of argument that fit right in with all the fighting and pillaging of Norse mythology.
“So you can wait here until we have finished our investigation. I brought you here because I assumed you would prefer being with humans to camping.”
“What a pain.”
Despite Quenser’s complaint, he felt great relief in his heart.
This was better than the errand-running quests that required conquering the continents one by one to gather the seven treasures needed to return home.
The bunny girl toyed with the end of her fake rabbit ear and spoke up.
“Then is there nothing for us to do?”
“No. In fact, moving around would only cause unneeded confusion, so I would prefer it if you stayed put,” replied Waltraute. “So do what you want in the inn until you hear from me.”
“Oh, so we just get to relax and-…”
“But of course, you will need to earn enough money to pay for your rooms and food.”
“This is bad! This is really bad!!”
Heivia sighed while sitting around in one of the restaurant’s simple chairs.
“How is this bad, you ask? Cheerful Heivia here has been doing nothing but sigh since he got here. First we have to search a dungeon, then we have to march for days on end, and now we have to earn some money? Where are the silky blonde, long-eared elf girls or the mermaids with a harp in one hand? I’ll even take a half-naked princess captured by a giant octopus.”
The leaf swimsuit Zashiki Warashi sat directly on the round table instead of in a chair.
“Well, there’s no real family register here and our identity isn’t managed by a social security number, so finding a place to work shouldn’t be too difficult. Of course, I certainly don’t want to work.”
“It doesn’t sound like it’s actually that easy,” cut in Mikoto. “I asked the guy who runs the inn, but he won’t even give us a job washing dishes or cleaning floors.”
“Why not?” asked Quenser with a frown.
“They only pass jobs down from father to son or from master to apprentice, so there’s nothing we can do without being in the bloodline or knowing someone in the area. This really did develop from a village society. Any outsiders won’t be able to buy anything and will just dry up.”
It was an impossible situation with any labor standards laws or employment equality laws, but an undeveloped culture was exactly this type of society that allowed these imperfections.
Higashikawa Mamoru groaned as he remembered the class on politics and economics he had taken just to fill up his schedule.
“Are you serious? So we have to get the village society to trust us before we can even begin searching for a job?”
“Hee hee hee. And if earning their trust requires a lot of gifts, we’re right back where we started.”
She was in just as much of a bind, but he bunny girl’s voice was inappropriately bright.
That was when Kamijou and Index entered the conversation.
They placed a few flyers on the table. Instead of paper, they were made from ink on something like animal skin.
“According to Index, these are the jobs outsiders like us can do.”
But Nanajou Kyouichirou grimaced.
“What’s this? These flyers look like you could summon a demon if you signed your name in blood. What do they say?”
“They’re based on runes, but the dialect or the details are quite unique. It uses the standard twenty-four futhark runes plus seven symbols I’ve never seen before. But from what I can tell…”
Index traced her slender pointer finger over the “magic writing” and revealed the help-wanted information.
“Go to the mountain and cut out some rocks. An average of thirteen tons a day!” (Average Weekly Death Rate: 30%)
“Become a rower on a galley. Row a top-class warship and cross the ocean!” (Average Weekly Death Rate: 80%)
“Make salt on the beach. On a white night, you can dry out the seawater all night long, too!” (Average Weekly Death Rate: 50%)
“Travel to the freezing north. If you collapse on the way, that’s your grave!” (Average Weekly Death Rate: 40%)
(*All units have been converted to modern values by Index)
Anzai Kyousuke tried to turn over the table like it was a tea table, but the Zashiki Warashi stopped him because she was sitting on it.
He decided to yell as a compromise and to vent his frustration.
“Hard labor!? And isn’t some of this the kind of social service work some eras and regions had criminals do!?”
“Hmm. That’s a village society for you. Assuming the undeveloped techniques and equipment of medieval Europe, all of these would just about kill you from overwork. Is this a new kind of formless murderer?” asked the Killer Queen while rubbing her temple with a finger. “And if this is the alternative, it might be more efficient and safer to search out a wanted poster for someone with a bounty on their head.”
“Um, wouldn’t that be a death game where outsiders hunt down other outsiders?”
Kamijou pointed out that problem just to be sure, but Quenser and Heivia began whispering to each other.
“With the Princess’s help, we could blow any wanted criminal to smithereens.”
“But who knows how many shells she has left. Not to mention we couldn’t get the bounty if they’re in smithereens. That monstrous weapon doesn’t have a ‘stun’ setting.”
However, they could not live in this city without earning enough money for the inn and food. And the city had developed enough that they would have difficulty living off of fish or fruit trees.
In fact, Waltraute had helped them with that during their long march, so it was unrealistic to expect them to continue supporting themselves out in the wild.
“Well, damn. So those were the only posters in the inn?”
Quenser sounded like he was setting their problem aside for the moment.
“I doubt we’ll find anything, but it may be better to search out some posters elsewhere. If we’re going to despair, how about waiting until we’ve searched the entire city for any proper help-wanted ads?”
There were no objections. Or rather, no one had the guts to choose anything with those death rates.
So without time to take a break, Kamijou and the others started to leave the inn.
“Wait a second! Touma, do I really have to walk around outside like this again!?”
“Don’t worry, Index. We all look strange to the people of this world.”
“Then how about we trade?”
“A guy in a nude cape!? Are you trying to summon depthless darkness into this world!?”
But they had no other option besides “remove all equipment”, so Index, Mikoto, and the other girls had to go along with it.
They made their way outside, but the situation took a turn at the first step out of the building.
“Mwah hah hah!! Strangers, you have the troubled look of someone who needs weapons to fight the powerful monsters around the village but lacks the money to visit the weapons shop. But there is always help somewhere!!”
A strange person suddenly called out to them.
The strange person was a tall woman of about twenty who had long silver ringlet curls, half white skin, and half pale bluish skin. Her outfit resembled a wedding dress, but it was as transparent as ice. That gave a full view of the bikini armor style outfit made of narrow chains, leather, and precious metal she wore below.
Kamijou turned toward the voice and briefly froze in place.
For one thing, this woman had not had any real reaction to Index’s nude cape or Satsuki’s dancer outfit, so she obviously fell under the category of “strange”.
Even Waltraute had been disturbed by those outfits.
When he added it all together, tears welled up in Kamijou Touma’s eyes.
“I’m sorry, everyone!! Something big is probably about to happen here. After all, a strange person – a female one no less – just appeared before normal high school boy Kamijou Touma!!!!!!”
“Don’t worry, boy. She’s around twenty, so you can’t call her a ‘beautiful girl’. That means this isn’t necessarily following the standard path, right?”
Quenser tried to soothe Kamijou, but Heivia muttered something ominous next to him.
“(You have to be kidding. As a soldier, anyone over twenty is usually really important. So is this following our world’s rules? Is some huge war between monstrous weapons about to begin?)”
However, the ice dress woman did not seem to care.
She placed her thumb and forefinger at a right angle to form a gun, pointed it at the group, and spoke.
“You’re trying to find work, aren’t you? That’s what people like me are for. I was waiting outside because the village society will kick me out too if I hang around an inn for strangers too much.”
“So are you an intermediary or middleman or something?”
“Correct, leaf swimsuit girl!! For one thing, a lot of people in the warrior or farmer classes can’t read the wanted posters. And forest witches like me need reading and writing jobs to make a living. It’s a give-and-take kind of thing, see?”
Mikoto frowned and the strange woman meaninglessly placed her hands on her hips.
“I also work a bit as a minstrel, so I wear these really showy clothes. You can think of them as a stage costume. But really, I’m just afraid of getting chemicals on me, so I want something like a raincoat to cover me.”
This may have been a time before the invention of lab coats.
But more importantly, she had a legitimate reason!
“Uuh… I’m so glad to find someone like us,” muttered the middle school girl in bikini armor who was feeling faint.
Meanwhile, the strange woman or stage costume witch snapped her fingers.
“To be blunt, the only posters left there are the ones for people who want to work themselves to death. If you want to eat and sleep properly, I recommend getting some help from a specialist.”
Her white skin and bluish skin mixed together in a marble pattern while Kamijou and the others exchanged a quick glance.
“I feel like things are really starting to get moving, but what should we do? Should we go along with it?” (Nanajou)
“I’d rather not. This is clearly going to get us in trouble. And we don’t have the frog-faced doctor here, so I bet I’ll really die this time!! Actually, don’t I end up in the hospital way too often? At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out my entire body has been gradually turned into a cyborg!” (Kamijou)
“But doesn’t this looks like a forced scenario?
I bet if we choose ‘no’, we’ll be stuck in an eternal question loop.” (Heivia)
“Or if we refuse,
we’ll shift away from the normal route and end up on an ‘everyone dies’ quest or an ‘aliens attack’ quest. That might sound crazy, but if this is a fully open world and not a linear scenario, that kind of Absurdity could easily happen.” (Higashikawa)
They were cautious, but they still overlooked something.
The ice dress witch clapped her hands twice and made an announcement.
“Boo, boo! Time’s up! Now you’re stuck with me!!”
I let my guard down because a digital timer didn’t pop up!!”
Anzai Kyousuke tore at his hair, but it seemed there were no redos.
You only got one life.
Unless you found a 1-up somewhere.
“Okay, okay. Leave it all to me. These are the jobs strangers like you can do!!”
The stage costume witch displayed some help-wanted information.
“Let’s carry some corpses!” (Average Weekly Death Rate: 0%)
“Let’s bite into the world tree’s roots!” (Average Weekly Death Rate: 0%)
“Let’s whip the sick and elderly!” (Average Weekly Death Rate: 0%)
“Let’s gather the nails of the dead and build a giant boat!” (Average Weekly Death Rate: 0%)
(*All units have been converted to modern values by the stage costume witch)
“Hold iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiittttttttttttttttttttttttttttttt!! There were two corpse-related jobs mixed in there!!”
“Oh, so the rumors of jobs washing or gathering up corpses have even reached this fantasy world, have they?”
Kamijou’s shout and Mikoto’s dull comment mixed together while Anzai Kyousuke said “I’m so glad I didn’t bring Harumi with me” with an utterly dark look on his face.
Meanwhile, Quenser and Heivia spoke up.
“Hey, that one about gnawing on tree roots sounds familiar. Where have I heard that before?”
“Are you thinking about how the Island Nation used to force-feed the sap in tree roots to POWs? What a dreadful story.”
“It’s called gobou, Westerner.”
As the tropical leaf swimsuit Zashiki Warashi gave a casual correction, the bunny girl and Satsuki muttered to each other.
“But if we exclude the corpse ones and the tree roots, doesn’t that only leave one of them?”
“In a way, I think that one would be the hardest on us. We might end up with a lifetime of nightmares for just a little bit of money.”
Meanwhile, the stage costume witch pouted her lips at having all of her options rejected.
“C’mon, what’s this? I went out of my way to give you some jobs, but you keep complaining that they’re not a good match? You make it sound like you have a choice in the matter.”
“Next time, add a value for mental health.
All of those will clearly wear down our SAN in no time.”
“I only have one proper job left, but it would be really boring and just plain not worth doing.
I can’t make any guarantees about your SAN, though.”
“I’m really afraid of what you would call a ‘proper job’ after happily introducing this lineup,” said a dejected Index.
“Fine, but this is really the last thing I have,” said the witch while raising her index finger.
“Gather dropped items along the road and at the bottom of a cliff.” (Average Weekly Death Rate 90%)
“Merchants often want someone to gather the products that fell off of a carriage and the ones at the bottom of a cliff are hard for amateurs to reach. However, gathering up what someone else dropped is considered unmanly in Norse culture, so make sure no one sees you. Here, people don’t dig up treasure; they fight a monster to take it.”
The witch sounded reluctant, but Kamijou was finally on board with one of her ideas.
“That’s it! That’s great! There are no corpses involved, it won’t tear us apart mentally, it won’t cause anyone any trouble, and it’ll make someone happy. Yeah, this finally feels like a real job!!”
“Oh, really? Then I’ll give you a map of the road and you can do what you want. The client will directly pay you half the cost of whatever you find, so you don’t earn a thing if you don’t bring anything back.”
“(Hey, Quenser. Wouldn’t we make more if we just kept the stuff for ourselves?)”
“(I would avoid doing anything noticeable before we know how the laws work here. I don’t want to be burned at the stake.)”
With that, the party made their way out to a cliff-side road to earn their keep.
“But…” began the leaf swimsuit Zashiki Warashi.
“Hm? What is it?” asked Mikoto.
“If it’s just gathering lost items, why was the average weekly death rate at 90%? (Not that it matters to a Youkai like me.)”
A mechanical whirring rumbled through the forest.
What towered in front of Quenser and Heivia was a twenty meter military robot. It seemed to have been designed with snow or ice in mind because it was entirely translucent, its back contained what could be giant wings or snow crystals, and the elbows and knees were covered in extremely sharp spikes.
Something like a disembodied soul floated near its chest while emitting a bluish-white light and a male face crying out in hatred or rage could be seen on the surface.
“Dammit, this thing does not belong in a fantasy world!”
“See, I told you? The world is being as cruel as always!!”
Kamijou heard continued gunfire as he ran through the trees of a forest.
The translucent robot struck back by firing a bluish-white beam of light toward the ground. Around twenty conifer trees were felled around the blast site and the dirt was torn from the ground and thrown into the air.
The supposed soldiers seemed not to care about keeping quiet because the shouts of those two idiots were echoing across the mountain slope and all the way to Kamijou.
“Dammit. I’ve only got five magazines left, but I’d rather hold onto the one missile I’ve got. How are you doing, Sir Knight!?”
“At a quick estimate, I’d say I have about ten kilos of Hand Axe. This is no time to hold back. If we need to, we can make more gunpowder out of piss!”
“Yeah, but try to use that in a weapon! You’ll end up blowing off a finger with your own piss!”
Their attempts at shooting the giant translucent robot did not seem to be going well.
To avoid being hit by a stray shot, Kamijou made sure he was never directly behind the machine and he hid behind a thick tree trunk for the time being.
Index stood next to him while using both hands to make absolutely sure the explosive blasts did not lift her cape too high.
“What is that thing?” asked the pointy-haired boy.
“I’ve never seen the design before, but since this world is based on Norse mythology and that seems to be a form of grudge or evil thoughts stored in its chest, I’d guess it’s a soldier of Niflheim. That would make it the soul of the sinners who obey Hel, queen of that icy world.”
“It doesn’t really matter,” muttered Mikoto who was hiding behind another tree nearby. “I’ll take care of it with this.”
Mikoto held an arcade coin in her hand.
“If you’re going to hold it in place, head forward. If not, get down and cover your head. Whatever the case, we need to lure it to the side.”
Suddenly, the translucent robot turned their way.
The bluish-white beam fired from the chest blew away the tree trunk Mikoto hid behind like it was made of paper.
“Are you serious!?”
Kamijou’s eyes opened wide, but something was not right.
Just before it hit, Nanajou Kyouichirou had tackled Mikoto out of the way. Countless sharp wood chips scattered at frightening speed and a few of them stabbed into Nanajou’s back, but strangely, he did not shed a single drop of blood.
Mikoto looked baffled.
“Oh, this? Don’t worry. Whether a ten-ton truck runs straight into me or a grenade goes off right in front of my face, it will somehow miss my vitals and I’ll survive. That’s just how the world is made.”
“Oh? What a coincidence.”
Someone crushed some grass underfoot.
The translucent robot began to fire its next bluish-white beam, but Higashikawa Mamoru, supposedly a mere college student, stepped out in front of it.
“That sounds pretty familiar. So I’m not the only one who comes out on top for some strange reason or another?”
It was not an issue of what he did.
Just before the deadly beam was fired, the earth below the robot’s feet crumbled under its enormous weight. It lost its balance and the beam flew off in the wrong direction.
It was as if all forms of coincidence had taken his side.
The beam very nearly took out the bunny girl instead, but all she did was give a cheerful whistle from the branch she stood on.
“You’re as skillful as always, Ever-Victorious Challenger. Not that we developed it to be used like that.”
The sound of a swinging whip came from somewhere else.
It was the Killer Queen. That girl was a “mass of death” that controlled crushing deaths and she spun her body around as if to match the dancer’s outfit she wore. However, she did not hold a ribbon. Instead, ropes made of special military rubber intersected as they attached to the tree branches and trunks and formed a deadly cage that produced massive pressure. Those loops wrapped around the giant robot’s body, limbs, and neck before tightening with intense vice-like strength.
Something could be heard breaking inside the machine, but it did not end there.
The translucent robot pulled out the reinforced rubber – or rather, the trees it was attached to – and continued marching forward.
Still on the ground, Mikoto placed the arcade coin on top of her thumb.
(Oh, honestly! Those moronic soldiers are in my line of fire! I can’t get a clear shot from here!!)
She released electromagnetic waves to scan the surrounding terrain and conditions. She was searching for anything she could possibly use.
What she found was the Zashiki Warashi who had tried to escape to safety.
“Over there! Boom!!”
She did not hesitate to flick the coin at thrice the speed of sound. It whipped up a tremendous wind, knocked over the trees, and created a straight line of orange light.
The Zashiki Warashi looked surprised, but it was already too late.
With an incredible sound of impact, the Railgun struck the Zashiki Warashi and ricocheted off of her. The black-haired Youkai was unharmed and had enough sense leftover to hold her leaf swimsuit in place.
Meanwhile, the shot had bent at a sharp enough angle to accurately blow right through the giant translucent robot.
One of its legs was torn off at the base.
It collapsed and seemed to bend over, but it still did not stop moving.
Nanajou Kyouichirou and Higashikawa Mamoru stood in front of Mikoto and Kamijou Touma held his right hand forward.
A moment later, a different railgun flew in from outside the forest and annihilated an entire band of the terrain.
The destruction was on the scale of a dragon’s intense breath. Not only was there nothing left, but a large enough strip of forest had been cleared to build an airport runway and the robot was so thoroughly smashed that it would be difficult to locate any wreckage.
More than ten people had been scattered around, but the shot had skillfully slipped in between all of those allies.
Kamijou fell onto his butt and heard a familiar voice.
It was college student Anzai Kyousuke.
He must have created makeshift flags from tree branches and handkerchiefs because he was waving two of them around as a primitive form of signal.
“I asked that Object thing for some help. Was that okay?”
“I think we need to punch this guy.”
Heivia’s low voice signaled the continuation of the battle.
Misaka Mikoto began complaining as soon as they returned to the run-down inn.
She, Index, and Satsuki were gathered in one of their rooms.
She twisted her hips around to check her back and it was obvious what she was trying to do.
“There are marks everywhere. …You can’t just make a breastplate out of metal. I will admit they were pointlessly clever to put cloth on the inside.”
“From the looks of it, the clasps aren’t going to break or anything like that.”
“Oh, is that so? Thanks. But can’t we do something about these clothes?”
“I just hope we get some good news from the two who went out.”
Satsuki turned toward the window whose curtain was tightly closed.
The girls had been forced into these outfits by a conspiracy thought up by the boys, but the girls’ reactions fell into two general categories: those who were incredibly embarrassed and those who did not particularly mind.
The latter category contained the bunny girl, whose outfit was not that different from what she wore before, and the Zashiki Warashi, whose expression had not changed in the slightest after the change from red yukata to tropical leaf swimsuit.
The Yuki Onna also fell under that category, but that had more to do with her having no interest in her surroundings. She was likely off somewhere embracing Jinnai Shinobu’s frozen form.
Before long, a knock came on the door.
Mikoto turned the knob and the aforementioned Zashiki Warashi and bunny girl entered.
“No luck,” immediately said the bunny girl while not seeming to care. “We couldn’t find any clothes we could get our hands on. The price is of course an issue, but they also have no mass-production infrastructure, so everything is custom made. Even if we ordered something now, it would take over a week before it was ready.”
“And when people’s clothes get old, they seem to take them apart and sew them back up. It may be a lot like the relationship between a kimono and kimono fabric. If we really want them to make clothes from scratch, we have to be prepared for a pretty large burden.”
In that case, it seemed like they could earn enough to live on with the skill Quenser, Heivia, and the other boys shown in making these clothes out of the junk they had gotten from a caravan, but it also seemed unlikely they could put those skills to any worthwhile use. The skills might be exactly the same, but a greasy stalker could not become a sexy spy who kept the world safe. Those idiots could only fight in an idiotic field.
“The world really works in a twisted way, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah, Touma often puts a lot of wasted effort into things.”
The way Index did not even hesitate suggested that pointy-haired boy needed to enter the mystery-solving phase of removing these wrongful accusations.
The bored-looking Zashiki Warashi leaned against the wall and spoke.
“We may be lucky Shinobu wasn’t involved in that. He doesn’t often use the full scope of his devilish intelligence, but if he had, he could easily be cruel enough to hide a slit in the center what looked like a normal bikini.”
Regardless of all that, it was looking like they would have to continue their grand adventure in the outfits that prank had produced.
“Honestly, do you think we could make some better clothes if we stole theirs and tore them up for material?”
“But then we would look like a group of Amazon warriors ruling over a bunch of naked guys. I feel like that would be embarrassing enough.”
“That is pretty common. If a dead soul was sealed inside ice armor, it must have been the vanguard of Hel, queen of the underworld.”
Kamijou and the others had somehow managed to earn enough for room and board. While eating breakfast the next morning, Waltraute stopped by to check on them and casually explained what they had run across (while still looking shocked at the skin the girls were showing).
“Norse mythology is all about battle, so the souls of skilled people are believed to become skilled warriors of the gods. Similarly, it is not unusual for Hel to try to obtain skilled souls to prepare her own army.”
Kamijou almost nodded, but he could not overlook one thing.
He tore off a piece of some unnecessarily hard bread and asked about it.
“Wait. What do you mean ‘similarly’? Is this Hel person not the only one that does that kind of forced recruiting?”
This fantasy space was not poisoned by technology and large-scale factories, but that did not mean the vegetables and cooking were all that delicious. It was far too irregular and the flavor was highly unrefined.
The Zashiki Warashi lived in an Intellectual Village where crops had been turned into an extremely high-quality brand-name product, so she was looking especially blue.
Naturally, Waltraute ignored that and continued.
“It would be more accurate to say Hel is copying what was originally exclusive to the gods. Our bearded head god is especially nasty. He causes wars in Midgard and claims it’s because he wants skilled souls.”
“You’re kidding. The only people I’d let fight over me are girls in swimsuits. Besides, I’ve already decided I want to die on top of a woman. I’m not getting killed for some bearded dude’s convenience.”
The queen of the underworld sounded scary, but the gods could not be trusted either. It was all so savage one had to wonder who the residents of this world were supposed to pray to.
“Well, it would not surprise me if Hel targeted the souls of strangers like you, but you will not be staying here long. If you return to your original worlds as soon as possible, you will not be caught in that catastrophe.”
“Have you found a way for us to go home?” asked Satsuki while poking her fork into what she was torn between calling a salad or a pile of weeds.
Waltraute placed a hand on one hip before answering.
“This kind of trickery is always the work of Loki, but he seems to have vanished. Of course, running is proof that he’s up to something. I should be able to find him within a few days and beat the snot out of him.”
As before, she intended to use her fists to get information out of the usual suspect instead of doing an actual investigation. The gods’ stance was quite simple.
The Zashiki Warashi sighed when she heard that.
“So should we assume we’ll be stuck here for at least a few more days?”
“Heh heh heh. It doesn’t matter to me. As long as I’m with him…”
The Yuki Onna was in full yandere mode as she laughed gloomily and shoved filleted fish into the surface of the ice near Jinnai Shinobu’s mouth. She would likely remain happy even if all of humanity were destroyed.
While pretending she could not see any of that, Mikoto voiced another worry.
“By the way, um, god? I don’t really get it, but should we assume your side will be aiming for us too now? I’d really prefer not to be attacked on two fronts at once.”
“Oh, no need to worry about that,” readily replied Waltraute.
Index gave a puzzled tilt of her head and the warrior maiden continued.
“Well, uh, the ‘higher ups’ have their own issues to deal with.”
In Valhalla, the hall of the gods, someone sat silently on a throne with a face so thoroughly swollen one could only assume a bearded head god had placed a hornet’s nest over his head as a costume.
Kamijou and the others did not need to worry about money for a while thinks to the scavenging job the day before, so they had no real reason to head out today. However, they had carelessly paid for everything up front, so they had no money left for the girls to buy clothes. Heivia’s sleazy “just as planned!!” look earned him a thorough roasting from the bikini armor’s lightning.
They only had to lie around their rooms until Waltraute found a way for them to return home (in an extremely violent fashion), but that naturally left one person all on their own.
Quenser glanced worriedly toward the inn’s entrance.
“I wonder if the princess is upset about this.”
Someone shouted in desperation and kicked Quenser to the floor. As the boy rolled through the inn, “she” stepped into the bar/restaurant portion of the inn.
It was the stage costume witch from the day before.
She waved around her hands which had a mix of white and bluish skin.
“Why!? Why!? I prepared all sorts of jobs for you, so why are you still in here!? Don’t you usually thoroughly check through any new feature you find!?”
“We’re not exactly looking for luxury here,” said Kamijou who was somewhat irritated with Norse culture’s lack of toothpicks. “And besides, aren’t you Hel, queen of the underwo-…”
She tried to drown him out by coughing, but it was too late.
Kamijou was unable to hold back.
“There’s no way anyone could be tricked by this! You’re the only person who was introduced partway through!! And when there’s only one suspect, the answer is obvious once something happens!!”
“D-don’t be ridiculous!! You’ve passed by countless people in the city, you’ve spoken with the guy who runs the inn, and someone had to have paid you for what you found on the job yesterday, right!? There have been tons of people, so it wasn’t just me!
Don’t gloss over everyone who isn’t a beautiful girl!!”
Index and the Zashiki Warashi exchanged a carefree glance.
“But…you know, right?”
“Yeah. When someone makes that stubborn of an appearance, there’s no way they’re a normal person. If a suspicious widow is holding a schedule in one hand during the early afternoon and says it’s about time to head out, you can’t accept that she’s just on her way to a limited time sale at the supermarket.”
The stage costume witch who was actually Hel, queen of the underworld, was utterly confused.
She was so distressed that the mix of white and bluish skin below her translucent dress changed its pattern and started looking like the suntan left by a school swimsuit.
“Y-you at least noticed the clues, right? You noticed the ghost armor and my dress were both translucent and icy, right? And that they point to Niflheim, the icy world of the dead!?”
The woman with a blue school swimsuit suntan yelled with bloodshot eyes.
“And the original jobs I gave you – carrying corpses, gnawing on the roots of the world tree, etc. – included ones related to Niflheim. I did it all properly, so you noticed, right? Right!? You looked through all those clues and arrived at the answer, right!?”
Hel was desperate for some small mental salvation, but the bunny girl (cruelly) replied with a beaming smile.
“Hm, I’m not sure. I don’t really understand it all, but I think that Waltraute person told us up front it was the work of Hel, queen of the underworld.”
“Ohhhhhhhhh!! You mean it wasn’t the instantaneous workings of a genius intellect!? Someone just spoiled it for youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!?”
Hel, queen of the underworld, fell to her hands and knees and began punching the floor. It seemed necessary to call her by her full title or else people would start calling her by the completely unrelated name of “school swimsuit woman”. That was just how much of her dignity and majesty she had lost.
Still on all fours, the queen let out a shout.
“But!! Since you took that shortcut, I have no choice but to get to the point, strangers! I can only call it reckless to have refused the opportunity to slowly level up!!”
“Queen, what can you do besides get us jobs to work on?”
Kamijou’s simple question must have hurt Hel because she answered with tears in her eyes.
“If you insist on knowing, I can summon the Black Dragon Níðhöggr.”
An explosive wind appeared out front.
The inn’s front entrance flew inwards like a shuriken and all the windows shattered. This was all caused by an intense downwash created by a something massive decelerating by striking the air near the ground. The nun’s nude cape blew dangerously high and the clasps to the Killer Queen’s dancer outfit were blown off. From inside, Kamijou and the others could not tell what was going on, but it was obvious to anyone outside. A two hundred meter dragon had flown down in front of the inn.
It looked like the entire entrance was filled by Níðhöggr’s gaping maw and Hel waved a hand around to give instructions while still on all fours.
“Mwa ha ha ha ha ha!! I’m sure Waltraute or someone has told you the souls of skilled or rare humans make an excellent military force, so there’s no need to explain! Níðhöggr, crush their flesh shells until nothing remains!!”
The dragon’s reaction was swift.
Pitch black particles gathered in its gaping maw and intense pressure built up. When released all at once, the attack would contain enough firepower to rival the Baby Magnum and it was mercilessly aimed toward flesh-and-blood humans.
“Now, it’s time for the exciting climax
where an RPG bought in DLC pieces would pop up a screen saying ‘To be continued in Vol. XX’! And when making this into a movie, make sure this part is really high quality! Kaboom!!”
Hel seemed overcome with emotion, but she had made a few mistakes.
First, Kamijou Touma’s right hand contained Imagine Breaker, so he could negate most any magical attack by holding it forward.
Second, Níðhöggr’s mouth was positioned on the inn’s entrance and she was still on hands and knees between Kamijou and the entrance.
Third, Níðhöggr was overly obedient to her, so it prioritized its master’s orders despite thinking that positioning was dangerous.
Those three points led to a certain conclusion.
The pitch black breath accurately struck Hel’s kneeling butt and nothing else.
If someone swung a wooden spoon the length of a human spine toward someone’s butt, it might have made a similar sound.
Imagine Breaker negated the raging pitch black torrent and Kamijou quickly swung his head aside to avoid a certain “projectile”.
Someone flew through the air while partially bent over and their head stabbed into the opposite wall.
Heivia reflexively turned around to look and saw only a round butt and legs sticking out of the wall with a long skirt spread around them like a giant flower.
“It’s a manmade miracle,” he commented.
Removing the human rafflesia (that was also the queen of the underworld) from the wall proved difficult. She must have been caught on something because she would not come out no matter how hard they pulled. On top of that, she seemed embarrassed at having her butt sticking out in front of them because she braced herself with her arms to keep them from revealing her face. As they continued their attempts to rescue her, she finally used her slender legs to grab Kamijou Touma like a crab’s pincers and attempted to drag him through to the other side of the wall.
Anzai Kyousuke summed it all up in a single shout.
“This is just scary!! It’s like some carnivorous plant from the tropics!”
“This just shows how much she wants some ‘high-quality souls’. Honestly, why are gods always so Absurd?”
Regardless, Hel was outnumbered, so they grabbed her legs and pulled like a game of tug of war and she ultimately popped out of the wall like a giant turnip in a children’s picture book.
The sudden release sent them all tumbling to the floor and bliss filled Heivia’s face as the bikini armor and bunny suit lay in a pile with no division between gender. But a closer inspection showed his usual companion was lying on top of him, so he was forced to half-seriously attack the other boy.
The tropical leaf swimsuit Zashiki Warashi was the first to crawl out of the pile of people.
“So what are you planning to do now, queen of the underworld who is more frightening than sexy and has introduced that disturbing claw pincer to the world?”
“Mwa ha ha!!”
Hel scrambled to her feet and laughed loudly (and meaninglessly). She was likely getting desperate.
“True strangers visiting from outside the nine worlds supported by Yggdrasil are rare indeed, so the lovely queen of the underworld is of course going to take all these souls for herself!! It would be hard to find a reason to let you go. This is like running across a duralumin case full of cash in the woods. What? Take it to the police? Yes, yes. Thanks for the textbook answer!!”
She sat in a random chair and (still meaninglessly) crossed her legs. She seemed to want to mentally place herself above them to crush the embarrassment in her heart.
But Kamijou and the others did not follow.
Index rubbed a finger against her temple and spoke.
“Hmm… The cultural customs here are completely different from ours, so we might not be able to understand each other like this. I think we need to come to a better mutual understanding of each other first.”
“What?” asked Heivia. “You’re confusing me more than her. What exactly are you suggesting we do?”
The bunny girl smiled bitterly and gave a comment of her own.
“Surely you aren’t suggesting we read through a thick law book.”
“Now that you mention, it’s kind of amazing that Japan’s laws are gathered in a single book but no one really knows the details.”
Kamijou did not sound too interested in this, but the Zashiki Warashi pushed them in another direction.
“Morals, ethics, and role models. Every world and every era has ‘installation’ books with all of that simplified enough for a child to understand.”
“What kind of brainwashing books are those?”
“Fairy tales, picture books, and old stories. Those are all meant as lessons for children, you know?”
When they heard those words of a centuries old Youkai, Kamijou and Mikoto exchanged a glance.
It seemed worth a shot.
People often talked about living in a tolerant society, but discussions and negotiations worked best when both sides had an equivalent set of values. Of course, most people tried to change the other person instead of trying to understand them.
Kamijou made up his mind.
“I am a young bachelorette! Do I look like some old woman to you!? And what is it!?”
“You’re like a hidden boss in an RPG, so how am I supposed to know how old you are? And more importantly…”
“Don’t sidestep the issue like that! But what is it!?”
“Have you ever heard the story of Momotarou?”
In truth, Kamijou did not remember all the details of Momotarou, but he remembered enough: a superhuman crawled out of a peach, tamed three beasts, attacked an island of oni, and made off with all their riches.
He was pretty sure it was a longer story than that since it was told in picture books and scrolls, but when he explained the main points, it took less than ten minutes.
“Sob, sob. That Momotarou was such a wonderful guy. He was a real hero for conquering the outside world and creating his own kingdom. That’s what you call a true man! Wahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!”
“Ehh!? You’re crying? I’ve never seen anyone cry over Momotarou before!”
Mikoto shouted in surprise, but Nanajou Kyouichirou did not sound delighted.
“Um, uh. I think there really is a discrepancy in our interpretation here and I heard a dangerous word mixed in there. Momotarou isn’t a story of war and conquest.”
Quenser and Heivia were the most taken aback of all.
“(Now I’m scared. What is with the Island Nation? They raise kids with that kind of story!? If they see exterminating an island of man-eating giants as a happy ending, I can see why they produce such frightening soldiers!!)”
“(We need to rethink some things. They’re known as a nation of technology, but it looks like they’re also focused on the kind of combat education needed to breed a fighting spirit!)”
The Zashiki Warashi, who had suggested the idea, and the Yuki Onna, who was still embracing Jinnai Shinobu’s frozen form, both shuddered as they were briefly reminded of reality.
“From ‘our’ point of view, that certainly isn’t a story we want children hearing. And it’s still a mystery what exactly Momotarou was.”
“He was a horrifying mutation. In all seriousness, ‘we’ could all be wiped out if five of him appeared in the world.”
However, it seemed to have been more effective than they had thought.
Hel grabbed Kamijou’s collar and shook him back and forth whiles shouting at him.
“Do you have any more!? I thought your clothes were weird, but if I’d known you were a group of minstrels, I would have given you a warmer welcome! Anyway, tell me more about your world!!”
“W-wait! My neck!? I’m gonna die!”
Whether liked or disliked, Kamijou was about to be taken to the underworld, but he was released at the last second.
After waiting to recover from Status Effect: Confusion, he coughed and tried to continue speaking.
“Princess Kaguya is about…”
“What? Who cares if you had to leave!! I bet the old man and woman wanted to go with you, so you should have just married for life, Princess Kaguyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!”
“Urashima Tarou is about…”
“Ohhhhhhh!! After all that, it’s a story of tragic love!? And when Otohime’s going on the attack like that, you need to take her up on her offer, Urashima Tarou!! How could you want to head back to the surface then? What are you, a dense protagonist!?”
There were some definite discrepancies in interpretation here and there, but Hel no longer seemed impossible to understand. It felt like they were gradually seeing where her heartstrings lay.
She seemed to like it when a protagonist fought and won.
She seemed to find it sad when people were forced to part ways.
She seemed to want romance that was ultimately fulfilled.
Despite her frightening title, she seemed to have the same emotions as a normal human being.
At that point, Quenser and Heivia began whispering to each other again.
“(If this is enough to get her crying, what would happen if we gave her a Shakespeare story?)”
“(Wait, wait. That would require a lot of background knowledge, so she might just be confused. How about A Dog of Flanders? I’m not really sure what kids are supposed to learn from it, but no story has more despair.)”
“Hey, you two. I see those looks on your face, so no playing around when we’re about to get this settled.”
Mikoto put a stop to the boys’ plans, but their goal was to keep Hel from acting violently and a fairy tale related to life and death might not be all that bad an idea.
“Hey, hey,” spoke up Mikoto. “Have you heard of the Little Match Girl?”
“And you say the look on our faces was bad!? I’d say a girl freezing to death is far heavier than what we were thinking of!!”
Hel had tearfully latched onto Momotarou and Princess Kaguya, so what would happen with the Little Match Girl who had no great reversal thanks to a super hero or magic?
The group watched on half in interest and half in fear.
“What? She didn’t work hard enough to survive, so of course she died.”
An aura of confusion filled every inch of the inn.
The tears and snot covering Hel’s face vanished almost immediately.
“Wait, wait, wait!!” Kamijou cut in to check on something. “That was…how should I put it? You don’t get it? It’s a stereotypical tragedy and it teaches people to try to reach out and help someone they see in trouble so they won’t die like the little match girl did.”
“What are you talking about? She only died as a match-seller because she only sat there and continued selling matches. Not only did she not work to break out of her predicament, but she’s supposed to force that effort onto someone else? That’s not leaning on each other for support; that’s one side leaning on the other and crushing them.”
They seemed to have found the root of the discrepancies, so Kamijou thought for a moment and presented a different litmus test.
“You didn’t seem to like that one, so let’s talk about something else.”
“Oh, that sounds great! I want to hear about a dragon slaying!! Or about an intense fight between muscular macho men!!”
“Sorry, but there are no dragons or macho men here. It’s called The Little Mermaid.”
“What? She let some other woman steal the love of her life and then went to die on her own? You’ve gotta be kidding me.”
Kamijou, Quenser, and the others knew they had found it, but Hel had not noticed the discrepancy and continued talking.
“I mean, love is the simplest basis for conflict. If you fall in love with a guy, you have to slaughter the competition and take him for yourself! You can’t speak? You have fish legs? Who cares!! If you love the prince, then get him by any means necessary! Is that all your love was worth, Little Mermaid!? Hmph!!”
“A lot is starting to make sense,” said the Killer Queen while choosing her words carefully.
The queen of the underworld did not beautify human death no matter what form it took.
She especially hated anyone who avoided conflict and chose their own death.
That kept her from accepting a story that ended in tragedy. She would angrily proclaim that the protagonist should have killed one of the other characters to win a happy ending.
It made sense at first glance, but something about her reasoning was twisted. That may have come from how she looked down on the dead as the losers. There was no special category for victimhood or self-sacrifice and she threw all the dead under the category of “loser”.
But was this thinking unique to Hel?
Or was it shared by all the people of this Norse world?
“Besides, it’s wrong to say the afterlife is full of pain and hardship.” Hel sounded thoroughly annoyed. “Even Niflheim has the ice palace Éljúðnir. That’s my house, by the way. Any usable souls are invited to that hall and received as guests. Light God Baldr is probably hanging around there somewhere and you’ll be given a guest room depending on your ability once you’re dragged down there. The humans in Niflheim don’t undergo eternal suffering because I’m cruel. That show of cruelty only happens because all of the sinners who end up there are too useless to be my guests.” Hel sighed. “And there’s really no helping it since I only get the leftovers after Odin takes all of the decent souls.”
“The sinners can’t be your guests? And what do you mean by useless?”
Kamijou sounded skeptical and Hel waved a hand in front of her face.
“Useless as far as Ragnarök is concerned. I don’t know what basis you all use to divide heaven from the underworld, but those are the rules here. The powerful and courageous warriors who die in a blaze of glory or the witches supported by magic are deemed ‘useful’ and that idiot Odin recruits them and takes them to heaven. That leaves me with the souls of the sick, the elderly, and anyone else who died without fighting. There’s just no way I can win Ragnarök with a group like that,” she complained. “Anyway, Odin
who has become something like an obsessive gamer hasn’t called dibs on you all, so you can see why someone like me would really want you as a part of my army. Of course, I say army, but a battle of the gods comes down to the radiance of individual souls and a single hero or god of war can easily influence the entire battle. Maybe you can think of it like the galactic alliance fleet stealing a dozen of the enemy’s new ace fighters.”
Despite her explanation, one thing did not sit well with Kamijou and the others.
In fact, it only filled them with more questions.
Kamijou asked about one fundamental issue.
“Wait. Wait just a second. You claim to be Hel, queen of the underworld, so that means you’re a lot like Satan, king of the demons, or Enma, lord of hell, right? Sorry about only knowing this stuff from RPGs.”
“Well… Since it sounds cooler, I would recommend calling me the one who rules over evil rather than the incarnation of evil. But either way, it isn’t wrong to view me as the queen who rules over the depths of the earth where sinners’ souls arrive.”
“There, that’s it. Call it hell or the underworld, but you say that’s where sinners go, right?”
“Generally, yes. But sometimes, when the spirit of a female medium grows too powerful, her soul will end up living down there. Supposedly they bring disorder to the patriarchal Norse society.”
“Then why are there all sorts of sick or elderly people’s souls there?”
His image of the underworld did not fit.
He could not figure out why the depths of the earth would contain a child who tried his best to live but could not take a step out of bed or an old man who had worked hard and saved all sorts of people.
If the underworld was what Kamijou, Quenser, and the others were imagining, those people would be suffering there regardless.
If those people ended up the victims of sinners, it was unreasonable, but they could still imagine it.
But if those people were considered sinners themselves and treated like the perpetrators, it was too unreasonable to even imagine.
However, Hel looked utterly confused.
She had the same look as someone who was told, in all seriousness, that it made no sense for the sun not to fall from the sky.
Without a second’s lag, she replied.
“Society will never forgive the great crime of living an entire life without killing a single person.”
This was to be expected of the supposedly “normal” high school boys Kamijou Touma and Nanajou Kyouichirou, but it included even the Killer Queen who fought with murderers for a living, the bunny girl who had cast aside her morals for world peace, the Zashiki Warashi who looked in on human society from outside, and Quenser and Heivia who waged war year-round. All of them completely forgot to breath or think for a bit.
Hel alone spoke smoothly as if ruling that stopped moment of time.
“Hm? Was there something wrong with what I said? If you die without taking part in human wars… No, no, if you die without taking part in the preliminary practice for the war of the gods…. No, no, no… Well, anyway. Anyone who can’t help kill is sent straight to the underworld.”
If she had spoken those words with great malice, they might have been able to accept it even if they could not understand it.
That would mean Hel was the end result of swallowing up human tragedy and misfortune and she distorted the paths of humans who tried to live a proper life despite it all. It would be normal not to understand that.
But that was not the case here.
Hel’s expression and tone of voice were no different from someone speaking with the classmate at the neighboring desk.
And those rules did not just apply to the residents of the underworld. They applied to all the humans and gods in this world.
She had not created that unreasonable system on her own.
It was just how the world worked and even those who called themselves gods did not question it.
“Well, to put it simply, you’re sent to heaven or the underworld based on your ranking. The stronger you are, the more people you’ve defeated, and the more you’ve killed, the higher up on the list you are. Only the people on the upper end of the list get to go to Asgard and everyone else is sent down to the underworld. It’s obvious what happens to the sick and elderly who couldn’t build up their score, right? If you don’t kill a bunch of people, you don’t get a happy life in heaven. Honestly, what a troublesome system.”
“Wh-what…the hell?” groaned Heivia.
Even a soldier covered in firearms was very nearly swallowed up by this.
“I know I’m the last person to speak out against this. I really do. But this is messed up. Isn’t it normally the exact opposite? Doesn’t the afterlife usually work by saving the people who were killed instead of the ones who did the killing!?”
“Take that up with the bearded head god who made up the rules. He’s terrified of the prophecy, so he’s been that way ever since he learned he’d be eaten by Fenrir during Ragnarök. To him, ‘good’ people are heroes who can kill lots of people and ‘evil’ people are pacifists who can’t.”
“Don’t you think it’s wrong to go along with that?” muttered Misaka Mikoto in a daze. “I mean, what’s this Ragnarök thing anyway? What are you fighting for? It isn’t to win. That’s only the means. What are you trying to gain by fighting and defeating people!? Is it to protect? If so, then this underworld or whatever is throwing the ones needing protection in cages and making them suffer! That’s just plain wrong!!”
“Eh? Fighting to protect? What’s that?”
The girl had thrown everything she could into her yell, but it was deflected all too easily by confusion.
“Whether we win or lose Ragnarök and whichever army comes out on top, the world is still going to be destroyed. That’s how it’s set up. That idiot Odin doesn’t want to be the world’s protector or savior. He just doesn’t want to be eaten, so he’s using the entire world to make sure he alone can survive Ragnarök. That’s all it is.”
“The prophecy says we, the gods, and the humans will all be killed during Ragnarök. However, Light God Baldr and his brother Höðr will be resurrected from the rubble and create a new world and new humanity from scratch. So in the very, very end, the gods will cover the entirety of the new world. That is why winning the war is considered the true meaning of Ragnarök.”
Hel waved her index finger while still sitting.
“So those of us who will be left out want to change that ending. Only one or two have to appear in the end, but if one of them is someone from the underworld, we can cover the entirety of the new world. In a brand new world without any selfish gods, we can create our own paradise without anyone getting in our way.”
The gods and their enemies were never thinking about protecting the world or conquering the world.
It was all set to be destroyed. It would be such a great catastrophe that they were calculating out what they would gain after it was all destroyed.
In that case, what remained for the humans of this world who were caught in the middle?
They did not have the power to overcome a catastrophe that could destroy an entire planet and they could not pray to the gods because those gods wanted to see the world’s destruction. Yet they could not start worshipping the enemies of the gods instead because those enemies also hoped for the world’s destruction.
There was no rest for the people of this world. All it had was a giant eggshell.
The world was meant to be broken open from within so something could crawl out.
It was a paradise warmed by a hen and raised to meet its own doom.
“That’s just wrong,” muttered Kamijou.
Hel slowly turned her head around and the pointy-haired boy continued.
“If there really are gods, the world is probably made for their convenience. And if people show up and claim to be enemies of the gods, that very thought is probably all under the gods’ control.”
“If the enemies uses that thought to fight the gods and win, what’s left for them?”
“Whether the gods win or their enemies win, nothing changes. Even if you create a paradise unopposed, that paradise is only for you who had no problem with making the sick and elderly suffer. How is it any different from the paradise created by some combat-obsessed god? So what are you really fighting for? If the next world is the same no matter who wins or loses, then it’s all about the gods from the beginning to the end.”
“True,” replied Hel while still sounding completely carefree. “But the winners get to choose how the world works. The only people at the two great peaks of the nine worlds think that way. It may be a lot of trouble for everyone else to go along with it, but you expect people to hate you when you’re the queen of the underworld. I’d say the arrogant bearded god who is worshipped despite spreading fear and slaughter is far more evil.”
There was no stopping it.
Kamijou and the others would leave here after only a short stay. After that, the people of this world would obey its rules and the world’s shell would be broken.
Like a bad dream, they would soon be thrown out of it.
“Then what are the people who live here supposed to do?”
“That’s simple.” Hel smiled. “Either let themselves be killed or kill those of us at the top.”
Hel, queen of the underworld, left the inn.
She could have gone for another round, but she decided to call it a day since the Black Dragon Níðhöggr was wagging its tail around as if saying, “Can I get them? Let’s get them, boss!!” Even the true queen of Niflheim would not be able to bear becoming a wall rafflesia twice in one day. The only person who could endure that would be Light God Baldr whose invincible body could deflect any attack. (And Index and Mikoto needed to perform some maintenance on their clothes before they were entirely destroyed.)
The sight of an ice queen sitting on a black wyvern was exactly the sort of thing some teenager might draw, so the images in the human heart may not have changed much since the days of the myths.
However, voices reached that queen just as she was about to fly away.
“Ehhh!? But salmon sandwiches would definitely be the best!”
“Do not be ridiculous. Meatballs are the undisputed champion.”
She turned toward the arguing voices and saw a short boy clinging to Waltraute’s waist and arguing with a four meter giant.
That giant was Surtr who supposedly led a great army that would destroy the world alongside Hel.
“What are you doing in Midgard!?”
“I could ask you the very same question.”
“And where’s your fire sword!?”
“Oh, I threw that away due to certain circumstances.”
Hel felt faint when she heard the giant nonchalantly deny his very reason for existence.
The boy standing between Demon King Surtr and Hel, queen of the underworld, (a hopeless position on a mythological level) did not seem to feel any danger whatsoever.
“We’re talking about what’s the best food to go with rice. Hel, you think it’s salmon sandwiches too, right!?”
“I will admit salmon is delicious, but it doesn’t exactly go with rice when made into sandwiches, does it? Small meatballs are the best and you cannot convince me otherwise. But they have to be small! When they’re made to fit inside a lunchbox, they feel so luxurious, don’t they!?”
“Salmon sandwiches can to go with rice.”
“Nh. Don’t tell me you’re like those takoyaki fundamentalists!”
Hel had initially been too shocked to say anything, but something about it had irritated her for some reason.
Specifically, why had they not mentioned the true best option?
“Wait! Isn’t this when you’re supposed to go with fries!? You can eat them as-is, you can share them with all your friends, and you can trade them for something else, so there’s nothing to complain about!! Fries are the best when hanging out. It’s so simple, so why don’t you get it!?”
Hel suddenly vented her frustrations, but…
“Fries? Are you serious?”
Hel grew enraged at the boy and giant’s low-key reactions.
“What!? Aren’t you supposed to be trembling in awe at my amazing choice!?”
“Um, Hel. You clearly don’t understand how boxed lunches work. Fries are good when they’re just cooked, but what happens when you leave them in a lunchbox for a while? Everything good about them vanishes.”
“Croquettes are the same. They’re no good once they aren’t crispy anymore. We’re talking about boxed lunches here.”
“Eh? Th-that isn’t true. It’s not the fries’ fault! It’s because you put them in the same box as moist things like… Yes, like fish and meatballs!! They wouldn’t lose their crispiness if you didn’t trap them inside with all that moisture! If you don’t use too much oil and divide up the contents of the lunch, they’d be just fine!!”
“You can’t get rid of salmon for some potatoes.”
“Throwing out the meatballs is a blasphemy against the world itself.”
Hel’s lips began trembling.
“You just don’t understaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnd!!”
Níðhöggr flapped its wings and Hel flew swiftly away.
The boy waved below.
“Oh, you’re leaving already? Bye bye, Hel!”
“I’m never coming back!! Never again!! Stupid, stupid!!”
The shock of having her fries rejected had left Hel half in tears as she flew across Midgard with Níðhöggr. The queen soon returned to Niflheim, that white and hopeless land at the end of the nine worlds where the light of the sun never reached.
It was entirely covered in ice and snow.
No matter how much one dug, they would never find any water or food. They could only experience the pain of the afterlife as the cold wind tore at their soft skin.
And none of this was penance for anything they had done. No matter how much work they completed, their soul would not be cleansed.
The system simply said anyone who ended up down there would suffer eternally.
The truck-sized guard dog Garmr came out to meet Hel.
“Oh, sorry about the wait, Garmr. You did well looking after the place while I was out.”
She raised a hand and Garmr lowered its giant head so she could pat it.
While taming the guard dog, she glanced to the side.
Beyond the white screen of blowing snow, humans with scraps of cloth wrapped around themselves were walking in a line through the snow. Their arms and legs were bound by chains that linked them to the person in front of and behind them.
Their ages and sexes were a complete mix, but if they were here in Niflheim, they had a single point in common.
They had not committed any kind of crime or sin.
Odin, the head god who ruled the world, had simply considered them unnecessary and closed the gates of Asgard to them.
That was all that had sent them to Niflheim, where they would be forever tortured with no chance of salvation.
“More of them have shown up again. Looks like some died of starvation in addition to disease and old age.”
As Hel muttered that, Níðhöggr rubbed its giant head up against her as if saying “That doesn’t matter, so pat me too!! Reward me for putting up with this cold!!” Before long, a fierce fight broke out with Garmr over who got her attention.
As she patted both their heads with a bitter smile, she felt a prickling sensation in the back of her mind.
It was like a tiny thorn, so she barely even noticed it.
It was nothing but a small story from those strangers.
But that thorn was certainly there.
She was not aware that this throbbing would remain even after overcoming the pain in her heart.
Or that this tiny thorn…no, this tiny wedge was powerful enough to very nearly clog up some truly giant gears.
Before long, the world would change.