Toaru Majutsu no Index:Crossover Chapter 3
[Series Introduction 4]
The Zashiki Warashi of Intellectual Village
Youkai can be found living in the ultra high-quality brand-name rural towns known as Intellectual Villages. However, criminal Packages are built to incorporate and abuse their natural abilities. Solve the mystery of the Package and attack the true villain!
Come to think of it, whatever happened to Jinnai Shinobu, protagonist of The Zashiki Warashi of Intellectual Village?
With a bizarre shout, the high school boy with blond-dyed hair rose to his feet with the force of a bear trap.
“Sorry about the wait, everyone! Jinnai Shinobu☆is back!!”
After shouting as indiscriminately as a bullet hell game, he gave his surroundings a confused look.
The ground was made of some unknown translucent material (if anything, it looked like extremely smooth glass), the massive area was supported by the branches of a giant tree, and the city positioned on top was so streamlined and futuristic it made one think the people were planning to move to Mars.
Jinnai Shinobu muttered to himself as he stared blankly at a distant structure that looked a lot like a space elevator.
“This is insane. How many floors tall is that thing?”
“The great hall alone supposedly has 540 rooms and I think it’s easily over one thousand stories. That’s the mansion of Thunder God Thor, the son of that idiot. Can you believe it? That muscular guy might be able to manage, but you’d normally starve to death in your own home with that. Losing Light God Baldr really was a major loss. He was a good son who never said anything stupid.”
A female voice suddenly answered Shinobu from behind.
Shocked, he turned around and found a crouching woman with long blonde twintails and loose white clothing. Her dress was so loose that her posture could not only give a glimpse of her breasts but leave them fully exposed.
And Jinnai Shinobu was not about to cover his face with his hands and turn the other way.
He stared straight at her cleavage with the appraising eye of a jeweler.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“Oh, I see you’re honest with yourself. And… Fwa ha ha!! I am Freyja, goddess of love and beauty! Not only that, but I am the great goddess with free control over half of Asgard’s army!!”
“I see, I see. Of love and beauty, you say? I see! So you’re an expert in those fields, are you!? I’d like to hear more about that! Just how far can I go before you’ll get mad, goddess!?”
“You should probably be more worried about yourself. You’ve been frozen in a block of ice for so long that your soul ascended to the heavenly world of Asgard.”
“Eh? So I’m dead tits!? So tits that means tits I’m not tits ‘back’ tits at all tits! What tits am I tits supposed tits to do titty tits!?”
“That’s quite the one-track teenage mind!! I’m saying your frozen body was left behind on the surface! You’re having an out-of-body experience and you’re a little bit dead right now!”
“Wah! Are you saying it too quickly to fit the whole word in there!? Well, calm down. I just gave you the bare minimum of information, so how about we get down to business? Norse goddesses don’t hold back as far as this is concerned. It’s just that kind of legend, culture, and religion. In other words, there are no brakes!! How about I give you a hands-on lesson as to why I’m known as the goddess of fertility, Shinobuuuu!?”
“This is where the guy would normally throw on the ‘pathetic MC’ brakes, but not ‘Talk of the Town’ Jinnai Shinobu! He stomps on the gas instead! The dead may have rights, but they have no responsibilities! Plus, this is a foreign world and it’s with a goddess, so there are no morals, ethics, or virtues to stop me!! There are no brakes on my end either, so let’s get this started, Lady Freyjaaaaa!!”
Just as rose and lily petals began scattering through the air, Marriage Goddess Frigg silenced them with a fist.
According to legend, Frigg was Odin’s wife. She did not make many appearances, but she was known to borrow his power and authority to control Asgard’s army. As a substitute for the world’s greatest god of war, her fist was far from weak.
The impact was strong enough to create a crater covering the entirety of the Kantou Plain which would form a new bay, but Freyja did not avoid it. As a fertility goddess, she instead received it head-on and absorbed it within her body.
She managed to keep the scene in the realm of comedy.
“Gfhhh!! Heh. Even I would’ve been in trouble there if I didn’t have the power and authority to control half of Asgard’s army.”
“Why would you mention that in front of his wife? You only have that because you became my husband’s mistress to swipe some of his power. And could you stop acting as a reference point for Norse goddesses? You’re the only person in all nine worlds uninhibited enough to sleep with four dwarves for a single accessory.”
“Eh? Four guys and one girl!? But that’s…um…how would…? Wait, if she put that there and twisted like this…no, that still leaves one of them out!! Is it like some kind of puzzle ring or when you try to fit too many plugs into an outlet!?”
“Heh heh heh. There are a surprising number of bizarre solutions out there, but maybe it’s too much for a mere high schooler!”
Frigg swung down her explosive fist again and the goddess of beauty finally fell silent and held her head.
Frigg then put her hands on her hips.
“Well, it’s extremely rare for a soul to ascend before the body is destroyed, but what are we supposed to do about it? The quality of your soul was determined as soon as you ended up in the heavenly world, so maybe we should give you a proper welcome.”
“The heavenly world? So this is heaven?”
“You’re probably thinking of something from a different religion, but the general concept is mostly the same. This is where the chosen winners in life end up.”
“You mean…! You mean…! My good deeds have earned me a heavenly reception that no human hands could ever reproduce!? And you aren’t going to charge me some outrageous fee after the fact!?”
“(Hmm. Why isn’t he questioning the fact that he’s dead or crying that he wants to go back?)”
When surrounded by multiple goddesses, he of course wanted to go on a bit of a detour before getting back to the main task.
“Hell yeah!! I’ve always wanted to try out a divine attraction like this! What’s going to happen? They say only the honest people who have cast aside their desires end up in heaven or the Pure Land or whatever, but it’s surprisingly full of jewel-covered palaces and beautiful goddesses!! Now, now. It’s time to let Sommelier Shinobu judge the quality of the heavenly services available here!!”
“O-okay, then.” Freyja was still rubbing the top of her head, but she had stopped crying. “At the very least, I can guarantee you’ll enjoy yourself to death. Any of the ‘dreams of men’ are granted here. All the men who end up in Asgard go at it from morning to night with sweat scattering everywhere from all the movement.”
“Why do men like doing that so much?”
A powerful electrical current surged from Shinobu’s right temple to his left.
His adolescence was exploding.
“Seriously!? This place is really filled with that kind of debauchery!? Th-then can we end the scene right here? While the focus is elsewhere, I’ll sneak around back and enjoy myself!!”
“Don’t worry, don’t worry. You don’t have to sneak. Everyone’s open about it here.”
“Seriously!? What is wrong with Norse standards!? (Not that I’m complaining.)”
“Okay, time for the announcement! When Norse men die, they go to Asgard!”
“Year-round, from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to sleep, they never get a moment’s rest!!”
“Because they’re given the right to wield a weapon and eternally fight to the death!!”
Shinobu had been tapping the “yes” button so fast he nearly did so again, but he just barely managed to stop his mind from continuing on.
He needed to back up a bit.
“Wait, wait, wait, wait!! What!? What kind of hellish service is that!? And wait. How is that even a service? It’s just hell!”
“Eh? Oh, don’t worry. Even if your heart is torn out or your head lopped off, you’ll be good as new the next day. You can continue fighting to the death forever until Ragnarök comes along☆”
“I have to continue fighting to the death all the way up to the final battle and then get thrown right into the end of the world!? And there’s not even any days off!?”
Frigg sighed with an elegant hand on her cheek.
“Why do men enjoy fighting so much? After living out their life and being guided to Asgard, you would think they would finally want some time to rest, but they spend every day using giant hammers to smash open or crush people’s heads and they never seem to get tired of it.”
“Oh, no. I was just thrown into the twisted slaughter paradise sitting on the borderline between S and M that some soldier thought up because he can’t find any meaning in life other than blood and smoke. Please no! What happened to my debauchery!? Where’s the alcohol and women!?”
“Hm. That’s not really the kind of paradise a high schooler should be talking about either.”
But the mass of desire named Jinnai Shinobu was not going to let Freyja’s comment get in his way.
His adolescence was already exploding!
“Oh, but come to think of it, I’ve only seen goddesses around here. Is this one of the worlds where the only guy is surrounded by nothing but female characters? Then I’m all for it! Okay! Let’s get the mock battle started where I have my way with a female warrior in bikini armor or a sorceress in a nude cape!!”
“Where have all the men gotten to, Lady Frigg?”
“The queen of the underworld has been more active lately, so they were probably sent out in case something happens.
It’s what people call waiting in the nude for further news.”
Shinobu’s nose twitched slightly.
“I can sense it. Yes, I can sense it. Being a queen instead of a princess is a bit of a downside, but I still sense a rare kind of beauty! Who is this girl who sounds like she would wear black bikini armor (as the one girl among the four generals)!? Is she a friend of yours!? Then tell me her email address!!”
“Hm? Hel’s the youngest of the three children of Evil God Loki and Giantess Angrboða. The other two are the giant wolf Fenrir and the great serpent Jörmungandr.”
“Hmm… So is she the type with a woman’s upper half and a snake’s lower half? This just got more difficult.”
But after all his time with Youkai girls, Shinobu was not deterred.
Not only that, but Frigg rejected the idea.
“She looks just like a beautiful girl.”
“Then what were you worrying me for!? And if she’s the youngest, that means she’s a little sister and a queen. What more could you want!?”
“However, half her body is alive and the other half is dead.”
“Eh? So she’s a zombie or a mummy? Well, as long as she looks like a lively young girl wearing nothing but bandages, a mummy’s fine by me! Keep it coming! Keep it coming!!”
“(Seriously?) Umm, as her title suggests, Hel rules the icy underworld of Niflheim. She has direct control of all the human spirits that can’t get into Asgard and she uses them to form the army of evil spirits that opposes the gods.”
“Huh? Is that really how you’re going to explain it?” complained Freyja. “Well, she may be queen of the underworld now, but she didn’t have that power from the moment she was born. It was only after that bearded head god banished her to the underworld that she gained the power to rule it as queen. So her properties and abilities before then may have been completely different.”
“What in the world are you talking about, Miss Dancer?”
“It all started with a prophecy saying the three children of Loki and Angrboða would oppose the bearded head god. During Ragnarök, Fenrir swallows Odin whole while Jörmungandr grows infinitely to crush the land and ultimately kills and is killed by Odin’s son Thor. That’s why Odin needed to put together some countermeasures before that happened.”
Then what about Hel?
If she had been banished to the depths of the underworld, surely she was prophesied to cause some dreadful catastrophe.
However, Freyja shrugged at that obvious question.
“No one knows.”
“Even as one of those three disastrous siblings, the prophetesses and the three goddesses of fate couldn’t tell what kind of role she would play. All they know is that she has the same level of power as Fenrir and Jörmungandr.”
“Wait a second. You mean… You mean she has enough power to kill the head god, yet she hasn’t been stained by evil and she’s just a beautiful girl left all alone because everyone fears her power? That’s amazing!!
She’s gotta be a virgin! All you ball-less cowards have left this piece of perfection untouched for me! Gwa ha ha ha ha ha!!”
“I really don’t think it’s that simple,” said an exasperated Frigg while looking down on Jinnai Shinobu. “Whatever her origins, she truly is the ruler of Niflheim now. You really should think of her as a diabolic queen.”
“Then all the blame falls on that bearded Odin guy you’ve been talking about! If he hadn’t thrown poor Hel-chan into the underworld, she would still be an adorable heroine!! But this is still exciting. The former straight-A student’s pure body is back and this time it’s tightly wrapped in seductive black leather bondage gear.”
“I will admit she may have been treated roughly.” Frigg waved around her raised index finger. “Since Fenrir and Jörmungandr are dangerous, that bearded man decided Hel had to be too and banished her.”
“He doesn’t see them as Loki’s kids. He sees them as three creatures that evil god created. It’s not about good and evil. He just wants to seal that destructive power at the bottom level of an abandoned facility. And I’m sure he used his usual self-centered logic to believe he did the right thing and saved the world. He’s the type that never understands why so many people are trying to kill him.”
“Well, he is the kind of person who names himself the head god without a second thought.”
“How shameless do you have to be to say you’re perfect? And that god of war, magic, and fraud isn’t even a beautiful girl. He’s a bearded macho man.”
The filthy bearded (self-proclaimed) head god had thrown an icy beauty into the abyss for his own safety as casually as someone ordering another beer. The more Shinobu heard, the worse Odin sounded. In modern Japan, it would have been about time for someone to yell at them to stop gossiping and get to work.
But Jinnai Shinobu did not particularly care about that bearded man.
“So you’re saying Hel-chan really is beautiful!? Is there anything we can do!? Is there any way of turning her back into what she was before!? That’s what matters!!”
Beauty Goddess Freyja and Marriage Goddess Frigg exchanged a glance.
“Well, I’m not sure.”
“Whatever she was originally and however she got where she is now, she’s doing quite well for herself. She may not have chosen this, but it seems to have suited her surprisingly well and she’s gotten really used to it. And,” she added. “As I said before, she only became queen of the underworld later and her original properties and abilities are still a mystery. It’s possible she holds something that surpasses even Odin’s imagination.”
“Hello, everyone. Could you hurry back to your own worlds now?”
The fourth warrior maiden sister, Waltraute, asked that as soon as she arrived at the inn.
Kamijou and the others had been eating breakfast at the bar/restaurant and they looked annoyed when they heard her. The only one without a reaction was Jinnai Shinobu because he was frozen solid in an ice coffin.
And since they could actually feel annoyed with this, the girls were clearly getting used to their nude capes and bikini armor. Adaption was a truly frightening thing.
“That’s one hell of a greeting.”
“I see no reason why strangers would be reluctant to leave this world. I’ve found a way to send you home, so I can do so at any time.”
Quenser and Heivia were taken aback.
“Wait a second. We’re leaving already? But we haven’t defeated anything or gone on any kind of adventure.”
“And we haven’t met a mermaid sitting on the rocky shore or a blonde-haired long-eared elf! What’s the point of a fantasy world otherwise!?”
A Norse goddess stood before them and two Youkai sat at the same table as them, but the two idiots did not seem to notice. They seemed to categorize those things differently from the kind of fantasy that was accompanied by 8-bit music.
Waltraute put one hand on her hip.
“We were the ones caught up in an unexpected situation, so there was no reason to make strangers take care of it. I took care of the necessary investigation and defeated the enemy, so you can simply accept the result.”
“Hm?” Mikoto tilted her head. “Enemy? So there was someone behind all this?”
“Well, this kind of thing is almost always the work of Odin or Loki and this time it was Loki.”
In one corner of Asgard, Waltraute had grabbed Loki – who looked intellectual, attractive, and somewhat of a bad boy – and shook him by the collar.
They were on the very end of the edge of Bifröst, the rainbow runway. Normally, the gods and Valkyries used it to fly to the surface, but it had been transformed into a light torture facility. Simply put, Loki was hanging from a single arm and his legs were dangling over the edge of the “cliff”.
When the attractive man spoke, he sounded like a pig, but that was because Waltraute had beaten him to a pulp as soon as she found him.
“Yes, I already know you used Skíðblaðnir and Yggdrasil to call in several strangers from truly foreign worlds. You used the world tree’s ability to grow when it absorbs the water of the well of wisdom to extend the branches to worlds other than our nine. …But how do I return those strangers to their original worlds? Depending on your answer, I may just let you drop from here.”
“Hm? The branches are still connected to the other worlds?”
“The water of the well of wisdom makes the world tree grow, but it can wither when that water is sucked out? Just like when Níðhöggr bites into the roots? So you damaged the base of the irregular branches to make them wither?”
“So if the wounds are plugged with something and the ‘leak’ is stopped, the withered branches will return to their original positions and function as bridges again? So if the strangers return to Skíðblaðnir, they will be automatically returned to their worlds?”
When he heard that, college student Anzai Kyousuke grew pale.
He was a man who understood adventure.
“That’s not enough. We have to clear several dungeons on our own, visit villages and towns to gather hints from villagers and townspeople, and clear the normally impenetrable barrier deep in the mountains to challenge the demon king to single combat!! How can you just give us the answer like that!? Do you have any idea how the villain has to feel after preparing so much for this day!?”
But Waltraute was not fazed.
“Well, gods always cheat.”
“Still, there’s something wrong with reaching the ending by sitting around in the inn! All we’ve done here is eat and sleep!! Shouldn’t we actually be punished for that!?”
“I don’t care what the villain thinks. And all of the heroes were looking for the shortest and quickest route; it just so happened that a great adventure was their only option. If an easy option presents itself, you have to take advantage of it.”
“Well, I suppose…”
Anzai Kyousuke continued to complain, but Waltraute ignored him and continued on.
“You have no real reason to stick around in this world. And whatever Loki might have been planning, we don’t know how long his safety mechanism will last. If the temporarily withered branches truly die and cannot return to normal, it is all over. There is no reason to let this chance escape and increase the risk of never being able to return home.”
Kamijou and the others had no arguments on that point.
The bunny girl raised her hands to stretch her back in her chair.
“Ahhh!! So we can finally get back! …Hm? Come to think of it, what’s going to happen to me when I get back?”
Quenser and the Zashiki Warashi added onto that.
“At least we know we have a way back. Of course, I doubt Frolaytia is going to accept a logical explanation of what happened. In fact, I bet she’ll treat us like deserters and throw us in a cell.”
“A Zashiki Warashi’s house is supposed to fall into ruin when she leaves, but this doesn’t count, does it? It would leave a bad taste in my mouth if I got back to find they were buried in debt.”
They had not put any real effort into anything, but everything felt like it was over.
Although the number of people who could appreciate a long RPG that takes an average of fifty hours to complete may have gone down in recent years.
So Waltraute spoke to sum everything up.
“We will take care of all the difficulties, so you only need to hurry to the rendezvous point.”
“Hm? The rendezvous point?” asked Heivia.
Waltraute replied as if he had asked a very stupid question.
“I said you would be using Skíðblaðnir, didn’t I? You have to gather there first.”
“Wait. Wait a second.” Mikoto sounded like she had heard something she could not overlook. “Skid…whatever you said…is the giant ship we were originally on, right?”
“What else would it be?”
“We walked for nearly a week to get here, but it won’t be that way this time, will it?
There’s a helpful item that lets us quickly or instantly travel to villages and dungeons we’ve already been to, right!?”
Waltraute cracked her neck before answering.
“Of course not. You have to walk all the way back.”
Niflheim was a hopeless land entirely covered in white snow and ice.
It was a comfortable environment for Hel who ruled that underworld, but the same could not be said of the human souls cast into that abyss.
The jangling of their thick chains never ended.
Even the will to cry out in pain had been worn away, so they suffered in silence. Those “sinners” looked more like machines or dolls than humans.
There was an old man who had collapsed from old age.
There was a child who had been too sick to ever leave his hospital bed.
There was a mother who had died in childbirth but at least managed to bring her child into the world.
Hel stared at them in that white world.
Odin, ruler of the nine worlds, had proclaimed them “evil”. He desired valiant and powerful warriors and any human souls who would not help him with Ragnarök were deemed “evil”.
She had never questioned it before.
She had accepted it as normal.
It was unlikely that applied only to her.
Those “sinners” suffered until their minds broke and there was no end in sight for them. There was no purification, no rebirth into the next life, and no other system to save them. They were simply discarded here and forever abandoned, but even they had given up and saw no other option.
After all, this was the way of the world.
After all, everyone was taught that this was normal.
After all, Odin had unilaterally decided on these rules and created the system.
Hel herself was not sure what exactly was brewing inside her.
Those minstrel-like strangers had told her the truly foreign moral tales of their worlds and that had broken the gears inside her.
Or perhaps the strangers themselves had been the cause.
She heard the jangling of a chain. This was a dissonant noise that stood out from the standard pace of the others. A small child had collapsed into the deep snow.
While Christianity had demons and Buddhism had oni, the Norse underworld had no specialists to torment the sinners.
The whips and clubs were held by translucent amorphous humanoid silhouettes.
Human souls were used to torture the “sinners”.
To the gods of Asgard, souls that could not take part in war were useless objects that would be no help during Ragnarök and Hel reused them as her own army.
Of the “sinful” souls who were crushed further every day, only those able to be reused were added to her army.
However, that was no salvation for those souls.
The killers, the killed, the torturers, and the tortured were all identical human souls.
They had no sense of brotherhood. That normal sense was thoroughly crushed during the eternal torture received for their supposed sins.
Some souls writhed in pain like machines and others tortured them like machines.
And that same sight continued as far as the eye could see.
It was obvious what would happen to the collapsed child’s soul.
The torturer ghosts gathered around the child who had disturbed the system and they held whips and clubs in their hands. They had no efficient set of steps or a manual. If this child would not stand back up, they would beat him until he did. If he would not obey, they would destroy his body until he did.
He was only a dead soul.
He was only a never-ending being that had shifted outside the normal ecosystem.
He was only trash that the gods had decided could not be saved.
But at that moment, Hel muttered to herself.
And her voice rose to a yell that shook Niflheim.
“You’ve got to be kidding me, Odiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn!!!!!!”
She stomped across the white snow and ice and forcefully kicked away the torturer ghosts swinging their whips toward the child’s spirit.
But those torturers had simply been given that role.
They were also human souls sent to Niflheim. The head god had judged them “useless”, so they had been thrown into a world of eternal torture where great pain would wear away even their ability to feel fear or put up any resistance.
Hel truly looked at her surroundings once more.
There were no “sinners” here. Not a single one had done anything wrong, be it stealing, lying, or killing.
And yet they had all been given that label.
It was all for Odin’s benefit and they would not benefit him any. But more importantly, it was due to the actions of Hel herself while believing in that system. She had truly believed that these victims were “evil” just because they were of no use to Odin.
There was no salvation for them.
Nothing was going to change.
Nothing could be changed.
In this world, the bearer of justice and the god who proclaimed himself on the side of good was only thinking about himself. Nothing else could be relied on to purify them. And no matter how rotten or ridiculous he was, Odin and the army of Asgard he commanded were the strongest and the largest, so they could say they were the good guys and do whatever they wanted. Even if they were wrong, nothing would change. Not ever.
If she had never questioned it, she may have at least been able to numb herself to the pain, but now she knew.
Not even she knew what had caused it, but now she knew.
She knew something was wrong about this.
She had realized something obvious.
It would have been simple to say she had grown.
But in this hopeless world of combat, it may have been more accurate to say she had broken.
And if she could only obey the movement of those gears…
Hel, queen of the underworld, begged.
But not to the gods who were only concerned with their own desires and benefit. She begged to her own heart.
“Break it all!! Break everything ‘here’!! Break every last piece of it!!”
Something writhed in the center of her heart.
She was no longer the “Queen of the Underworld”, that silly role Odin had given her after the fact.
This was something massive that had been there since the moment she was born. It was something different from what Fenrir or Jörmungandr contained and it was something the prophetesses and the three goddesses of fate had been unable to grasp.
The first to sense it were Kamijou and the others. They thought it was a small earthquake.
It was not even worth ducking down and hiding inside a solid cabin. The ground shook a little and it quickly subsided.
“What? So they have earthquakes here too?” asked Kamijou while panting from their long trek.
“In Norse mythology, earthquakes are said to be caused by the god named Loki. The other gods sealed him in a cave to punish him and every time a snake’s poison causes him pain, he struggles and shakes the earth.”
“Is everyone here an S? What is wrong with Norse society?”
As Loki had been beaten to a pulp by Waltraute, he was obviously not yet locked up in this era.
And a short distance away, the two exhausted idiots named Quenser and Heivia were discussing something else.
“Hey, Quenser. Did you recognize that just now?”
“Yeah. That wasn’t an earthquake. It was more like the tremor of an explosion travelling through the ground.”
The next to sense it was the human boy who was always clinging onto Waltraute’s waist and back. He thought it was a large gust of wind.
Incidentally, he was not with Waltraute that day. He normally apprenticed under a mead maker, but it was unfortunately raining that day. As Norse culture lacked paved roads and the construction techniques needed to build retaining walls for rivers, falling rocks, or landslides, it was not all that uncommon to be stuck indoors because the weather was bad. It was not just the farmers and fishers that had to worry about the weather.
Also, Norse culture had no large-scale educational system.
For anyone but a royal or noble surrounded by tutors, basic language and arithmetic skills were taught by the parents when they had some spare time, but that could easily create a spiral of stupidity where stupid parents produced stupid children.
For that reason, the village shaman would occasionally go around to each home, make sure the children had an acceptable level of education – or rather, the bare minimum needed to survive – and would help fill any gaps. (And he would never forget to include some religions lessons that ensured a shaman had a place in the village.)
On this day, the old shaman showed up at the boy’s house.
However, it was rare for the shaman to actually have to provide supplementary lessons, so the lecture was a lot closer to a friendly chat.
“The gods, the humans, the evil spirits, and the elves live in the nine worlds which are all supported by Yggdrasil. We all manage to coexist somehow or another.”
(Come to think of it, I haven’t seen Hel in a while. I want to draw with her.)
The boy ended up staring out the window while only half-listening to the shaman, but the old man did not get angry.
“Light God Baldr was one of Lord Odin and Lady Frigg’s sons and no beings or weapons in any of the nine worlds were able to harm him. If not for Loki’s trickery, he never would have been killed.”
As previously stated, the point of the lessons was to ensure a minimum level of education in the village and to maintain the shaman’s influence (so the village still thought he was necessary). As long as those two points were met, no one cared if the rest accomplished little.
But at that moment, the boy noticed something out the window.
At first, he thought it was the wind. Something invisible was rustling the leaves of the trees.
However, it was not wind.
All of the windows noisily shattered and the doors flew off their hinges and into the buildings. It was a massive shockwave that rushed along the earth in a single direction.
Normally, the boy’s small body may have been bloodied, but the old shaman spread his overly-large cape and covered the boy from harm. And as this would maintain his influence, the old man grinned behind the boy’s back.
“Mister, what is that?”
The boy pointed out the broken window.
Something massive loomed up in the distance. It was so large it was easy to forget how distant it had to be and it seemed to stab deep into the shaman’s brain through his eyes and optic nerves.
It was difficult to describe. The closest approximation would be a massive pitch-black tree that towered up toward heaven.
The shaman had only just explained that the nine worlds of the Norse world were supported by the world tree, so what was this?
What was this tree that was large enough to rival the world tree?
“That might be Lady Hel.”
“Is that black mass the sins of the dead? The only one who could wield that…no, the only one who could wield it and remain at its ‘core’ without being torn to pieces is Lady Hel because she can directly control that sin.”
The first to see what it truly was may have been Jinnai Shinobu up in Asgard.
He stood on the edge of Bifröst, the rainbow runway the Valkyries and gods used when heading out into the outside worlds.
A pitch-black vortex filled a large chunk of the expanse of land visible below the clouds. It was huge. It was simply massive. It resembled the typhoons or hurricanes seen on weather maps.
He was only able to view it so calmly because it was not going to reach him directly. Instead of just viewing it like someone else’s problem, he looked down at it like a typhoon that had canceled school for the day.
“I guess they have disasters everywhere. Typhoon, cyclone, hurricane, willy-willy. I don’t know what you call it here, but…huh? Do rainclouds really look black from above?”
Shinobu sounded carefree, but the gods had been shouting and running back and forth. This seemed to be a big deal for them and the muscular runway controller Heimdallr shouted a warning at Shinobu.
“Guest, stand back, stand back! We’re about to begin excitation of the takeoff catapults for lanes one through seven!! …Oh, yes, yes. I’m working as fast as I can! And no matter how hard I work, it still takes time. If they would rather jump off before reaching critical speed, tell those nine fighting-obsessed sisters they can go right ahead. They’ll just end up decelerating and crash into the ground!!”
“Eh? What are you preparing? It doesn’t sound like a rescue mission.”
“Lady Frigg, Lady Freyja!! You’ve got nothing better to do, so you handle the explanations!!”
The shirtless Spartan of a man dragged Jinnai Shinobu away and chucked him out of Bifröst.
He was waved over by Freyja, the blonde twintailed goddess who would never grow up no matter how old she got.
“What you’re seeing down there isn’t weather. You should be able to tell based on how high up we are here, but it’s too big to be a normal typhoon or hurricane. It’s over eighty kilometers across, after all.”
“What are you talking about? The really bad typhoons are that big, aren’t they?”
“Geh. For real!? Your world’s natural disasters are that bad!? Is your weather god on strike or something?” Freyja looked annoyed. “That’s a disaster, but not a natural one. I suppose it’s all of the sin borne by the sinners cast down into Niflheim. Each one of them may be weak, but gather them together, and you have a great torrent of power!! Sounds like a special attack, doesn’t it?”
“What? I don’t really get it, but you’re saying it’s a concentrated form of people’s malice and hatred?”
Jinnai Shinobu did not laugh at that because he interacted with Youkai on a daily basis. If one looked deep enough into the origins of those twisted versions of the Youkai seen in picture books and fairy tales, it was not uncommon to find some bloody story of killing or being killed.
However, Freyja rejected even that.
“No, it did come from humans, but it wasn’t produced by humans.”
“It’s the gods who judge human souls and it’s the gods’ job to overwrite those souls. You only become a sinner because a god calls you one, so the god can make good into evil or evil into good. So it would be best not to think of what you see swirling around down there as hatred or resentment. If anything, you could probably call it the ego forced onto them by a selfish god.”
“You mean it’s like throwing muddy clothes into a washing machine and expelling all of the stains at once?”
“Probably. Honestly, why is Hel taking this all so seriously?”
Once again, her thinking seemed to jump ahead like a needle skipping on a record.
The gods had all of the data ahead of time and had already finished considering all of the possibilities, but Shinobu had no advance knowledge and could not keep up.
“Eh? Eh? Wait a second. Why did you just bring up Hel-chan, the unfortunate bad girl?”
“First, what we’re seeing are the souls of the sinners cast down into Niflheim. Second, Hel has the strongest control over those sinners. And third, no one but Hel could enter that vortex and escape unharmed.”
Freyja sounded exasperated.
“And when I say sinners, I don’t mean the souls in Niflheim are those of liars, murderers, or thieves. Anyone who isn’t any use to Odin is branded a sinner and sent down there to be disposed of. So what if Odin’s stamp is removed from them? The souls will no longer be sinners and they might be able to travel to Asgard. And even if not, they won’t have to continue suffering in Niflheim. That’s probably what Hel was thinking anyway.”
The girl had questioned something.
She had been unable to allow something to continue.
She had tried to strip those suffering people of their false “sins”.
She had transformed herself into their way out in an attempt to rescue them.
“Wait, wait, wait. Are you serious!? Then Hel-chan’s a real saint! Who cares about that bearded Odin guy!? Hel-chan’s more worthy of worship than some god who arrogantly creates ‘sinners’ for his own convenience!!”
“Don’t be stupid. It isn’t this easy.” Freyja sounded annoyed. “I don’t know how much power a ‘god’ of your world has, but the title is pretty cheap for us. There are some who we don’t even know what kind of power they have or what they can do. We just kind of treat all of the Æsir as gods.”
“Baldr was called the god of light and justice, but even he was killed by Loki’s scheming and sent down to Niflheim. I don’t know about anywhere else, but here, gods aren’t absolute. And Hel isn’t even a god, so there’s no guaranteeing her safety.”
“The souls sent to Niflheim will literally suffer forever. That includes everyone since the dawn of history who wasn’t chosen by Odin. Saving every single one of them and bearing all of their sins goes far beyond what a single person can accomplish. Odin is the most powerful of us all and I doubt even he could do that.”
“Wait a second. But Hel-chan isn’t trying to do anything more than that, right? She doesn’t have an ulterior motive; she really is trying to save the souls that were made into sinners?”
“That’s what makes this so much trouble.” Freyja put a hand on her hip. “Hel has to know she’ll burst if she tries this. But she can’t stand to see those sinners suffer, so she’s trying it despite having no chance of success.”
“What do you mean ‘burst’? You mean if she fails, she doesn’t just get to rest and try again!?’
“This is why all of the virtuous gods of Asgard are panicking. If Hel explodes while bearing all of mankind’s sins, no one can begin to guess how far the damage will spread. Just to be clear, this world has been prophesied all the way up until it ends in Ragnarök, but even the prophetesses and the three goddesses of fate say they don’t know. No one knows what’s going to happen, but it’s looking even worse than the battle that will destroy the world. You can see why this is such a big deal, right?”
That was why some were attempting to end this before that happened.
They would deal with Hel before she exploded.
They knew what she was thinking and how much she had suffered.
They showed no remorse despite having caused this by creating those many sinners for their own convenience.
Hel herself had not even been proven to be good or evil. She had simply been judged by a bearded and muscular old man in an eyepatch and sealed in the depths of the underworld.
Even after all that, Hel had not wished to be saved.
She had wished to save others.
Even after having so much stripped away from her, she had wished to give more away.
“There’s nothing we can do. Because her motives are so pure, no amount of intimidation or negotiation will accomplish anything. That leaves suppressing her by force as the only option. It makes you wonder what’s to become of the world when not even the gods can remain idealistic, but reality is forcing our hand here.”
“What…?” muttered Shinobu.
Freyja assumed he was enraged at this unreasonable world and cursing the imperfect gods who ruled it.
However, she was proven wrong.
“That’s so exciting!! If that’s the case, she should just tell everyone instead of trying to do it all herself! What’s wrong with wanting to save all of the innocent people being treated like sinners? And the queen hoping for that is actually an unfortunate heroine who was cast down into the abyss by the gods, but if it’s all dealt with and everyone’s saved, it makes a nice happy end!! Ha ha! This is finally feeling like a real fantasy. You can’t find anything this exciting holed up in a closely-regulated rural village!!”
“Wait, wait! I understand sympathizing with Hel, but approaching that black vortex would be suicide. And it’s wrong to think a human can solve something the gods can’t. If a human touches that, it’ll be torn to pieces.”
“Are you sure?” Jinnai Shinobu grinned. “A god alone can’t do anything to stop it? A human alone can’t do anything to stop it? I know what that’s all about. …But have you forgotten? I came from another world filled with foreign techniques.”
“A Package is a method of extracting the power or traits of a Youkai and using it for criminal purposes. If a human and Youkai attack each other, the human will lose, but a Package can be used to extract some portion of the Youkai’s power and it can sometimes be amplified or concentrated into something greater than the original Youkai. In other words, a human can win the fight under certain circumstances.”
He paused for a beat.
“I don’t know if a Package can be used against a god, but it works with Youkai and other monsters that aren’t quite up to that level. From what I’ve heard, Hel-chan has power on the level of a god, but isn’t one herself. That means she fits the bill. If I incorporate her into a Package, I might be able to accomplish what she can’t on her own!!”
However, Shinobu himself was only a normal high school boy and he did not know how to build a Package on his own. He would have to get some help from the Zashiki Warashi and Yuki Onna who had been living for hundreds of years.
Freyja had clearly been caught off guard by this suggestion.
“Are you serious? No, but wait. In that case… No, no. Are you sure you haven’t overlooked anything? I feel like there has to be a terrible downside to something so convenient.”
“Hey, hey, hey! No need to grind to a halt now! We’ve got everything we need and a small crack has already run through the exit-less labyrinth’s wall! So what’s there to hesitate over? I can’t do much on my own and a crack is just a crack, but if I widen that crack, I might just be able to drag out a god!”
“Oh, right. Your group was apparently on its way back to your original worlds, but what happened with that? And won’t you be left behind if you stick around up here in Asgard?”
“Are you serious!? Where do those idiots think they’re going without me, the center of the universe!?”
Colorful light trailed through the sky.
Waltraute, fourth of the nine Valkyrie sisters, flew through the sky with the aurora trailing behind her. She appeared with her giant white horse in front Kamijou and the others who had finally reached Skíðblaðnir.
The black vortex, pitch-black tree, or collection of all the sinners’ sin towered above them as she spoke from horseback.
“The coordinates for your addresses are being rapidly distorted. I beat a solution out of Loki, but who knows how long it will last with that thing here! You may only have the one chance to return home. With so many pressing concerns to take care of, I can’t see you off, but remain aboard Skíðblaðnir no matter what happens. That will take you home!!”
Heivia shouted back while watching the Baby Magnum use the movable landing slope to board the ship.
“What on earth is that black thing anyway!? And is it headed this way!?”
“It shows no sign of approaching! As long as Hel does not move at its center, it will stay put, so you need to return home before she notices you. Any objections?”
“What are you going to do?” asked Mikoto as Waltraute stared at the distant tower of black.
“I must do something about that.”
“Based on what Hel said, I thought you only saw this world as preparation for Ragnarök or setup for the next world,” pointed out Kamijou.
He received a single answer.
“Do you really think everyone wants everything to go according to that bearded god’s plan?”
The sound of scraping paper reached the back of Waltraute’s ears and a distant goddess’s voice reached her.
“Okay, okay. I’ll ignore that dangerous statement this one time. This is Freyja, the goddess of beauty! Also, you need to get back here. The nine Valkyrie sisters are the cornerstone of Asgard’s forces, so it’d be a problem if you weren’t working for us.”
“And I have one other thing to report. That boy husband of yours just set out toward that black vortex holding a wooden board and a painting set made from plant dyes.”
The cool beauty began to choke.
She turned her back on the confused looks from Kamijou and the others and she continued her conversation with a whisper.
“What is he trying to do!? And why does he keep doing these things!?”
“Who knows. From the looks of it, he might just want to paint with Hel.”
Freyja paused for a beat.
“Or maybe he actually wants to save the queen of the underworld.”
“Asgard’s army is waiting for the optimal timing to bombard that black stuff swirling around her and we want to have a strategy meeting concerning that and some other things. Oh, and Odin is of course not a part of this. This is between Lady Frigg and me, so get back here. If you don’t do anything, that boy really will be in trouble this time.”
“When has one of his adventures not gotten him into trouble!? I understand the situation, so I’ll be right there!!”
With that said, Waltraute turned toward Kamijou and the others with a look that said she regretted each second that passed.
“I’m sorry, but I have told you everything I can. At any rate, stay here no matter what happens. That will bring an end to your unreasonable adventure. Understand!?”
With a flash of light, an aurora trailed behind her as she flew toward Asgard on her white horse.
Kamijou and the others were left behind on Skíðblaðnir.
If they stayed put, they would be returned to their original worlds.
What happened to this world afterwards would not affect them in the slightest.
Heivia casually crossed his arms and asked a testing question.
“What do we do now?”
Kamijou was the one to answer and he let out a long breath before continuing.
“This unreasonable world is really starting to piss me off.”
The boy walked across a vast stretch of land.
The pitch-black tree was majestic enough to weigh on the hearts of everyone in the world who saw it, but no matter how far he walked, he could not reach it. It felt like trying to chase the sun or moon on foot. This was because it towered up from around Hel on a scale rivaling the sun or moon.
Even so, he was approaching bit by bit.
He continued on using his two feet.
“I’ll save Hel.”
He checked the weight of the bag on his back and faced forward again.
“I want to draw with Hel, so I won’t let her say goodbye.”
And then the boy reached it.
He reached that land of swirling despair located at the furthest reaches of the world.
He had travelled to a few of the nine worlds already. For better or for worse, he was a dreadfully good walker and this time it was most definitely for the worse.
After all, if he had not arrived here, he would not have learned what he did.
After all, if he had given up on the way, he would not have run across this.
All too twisted blackness existed before his eyes. It may have looked like a massive vortex when viewed from heaven, but it only looked like a massive wall from his perspective.
He could not grasp the full scope of the black vortex or tree located ahead of him, so his eyes locked onto something else.
Deep in the blackness, he saw something other than colored wind. He felt countless gazes staring back at him from beyond the sandstorm. Something prickled in his ears. It felt like insect eggs on the verge of hatching. It felt like they could burst at any moment and an uncountable number of “something” would spill out.
“What…is this?” he muttered.
According to the old shaman, Hel stood at the center of this.
But the boy had not realized just how repulsive a thing it would be to simply stand there.
In fact, the shaman probably had not known either. It was even possible that not even the gods knew despite claiming to know everything.
They had called this a collection of all the sin extracted from the sinners cast down into the underworld.
But it was not.
Or rather, the substance swirling around Hel was indeed the concentrated form of the sin flowing from those sinners, but what peered out from within clearly surpassed that.
It was not of this world.
It seemed to have come from somewhere else.
It was far more repulsive and beyond understanding. It seemed unlikely that anyone looking it in the eye could share their emotions with that horrible grotesque swarm.
The boy looked up at the black tree once more.
Hel was inside. She had been surrounded, blotted out, and swallowed up by that grotesque swarm.
He had no arrows or shield.
The boy simply called her name and tried to charge inside the black vortex.
But a powerful grip reached his shoulders from behind.
He was forcefully pulled back and away from that blackness before anyone could learn what would happen if he touched it.
And then Kamijou Touma slowly breathed out.
“Sorry about stopping you like that, but if you’re going to do this, do it right. You can’t just charge blindly in and accept failure if it comes. Hel’s life is resting on your shoulders right now.”
“Eh? What?” The boy blinked in confusion. “I thought Waltraute guided you home.”
“We thought about that,” answered Quenser. “But it would have left a bad taste in our mouths. We’ll deal with our own problems somehow, but the girl named Hel comes first. I saw you try to charge in there without a second thought, so I think I already know, but I still want to check. What do you want to do about Hel?”
The boy briefly fell silent and then gave a quick answer.
“I want to save Hel.”
“Sounds good to me.” Higashikawa Mamoru smiled. “I don’t care if it ruins Hel’s own determination or if it isn’t what the gods up in heaven want. We want to do the same and that’s why we’re here. In that case, we can be friends.”
“But this was a problem that we couldn’t solve on our own,” said Nanajou Kyouichirou. “We may have people who ended World War Three, who go around destroying the ultimate weapons that can withstand nuclear weapons, who confront cruel incidents even as they’re tossed about by the world’s Absurdity, or who live on while fighting natural-born killers, but we’re still only strangers in this world. Even if we solved each incident as it came, we still need to head home eventually. So…”
The leaf swimsuit Zashiki Warashi continued from there.
“If we truly want to solve this world’s problems, we need to get the help of someone who lives here. We can help, but we can’t end this. Are you prepared to do that in our stead?”
The boy looked up at the Zashiki Warashi and nodded.
“It’s not that I want to save her,” he immediately replied. “I will save Hel.”
“Okay.” Kamijou nodded. “Then you’re our final trump card. Whether you call it the preliminary match, paving the way, clearing the path, or whatever else, we’ll prepare the route you need to reach Hel.”
Kamijou Touma tightly clenched his right fist.
This time, Index, the girl wearing only a cape, opened her eyes wide to analyze the enemy.
Similarly, Misaka Mikoto, with the bare minimum of protection provided by the bikini armor, scattered electricity while flicking a large coin up into the air with her thumb.
The relatively immoral Quenser and Heivia began preparing their military explosives or assault rifle.
The Princess who resembled an ice doll lightly stroked the levers that operated her colossal weapon.
The Zashiki Warashi in a leaf swimsuit simply smiled calmly.
The Yuki Onna embracing Jinnai Shinobu’s frozen form in her impish bondage bikini began freezing her surroundings with her usual look of ecstasy.
College student Anzai Kyousuke prepared himself to face the Absurdity of the world.
Higashikawa Mamoru let his special ability blossom so he could win any gamble.
The bunny girl released her murderous ability.
Nanajou Kyouichirou thanked his ability to always avoid fatal injuries no matter what happened.
Satsuki in her dancer outfit pulled out the special rubber rope that symbolized crushing death.
Finally, Kamijou Touma spoke for them all.
“Okay, let’s get this started.”
Their enemy was the queen of the underworld, the souls of all the humans unfairly cast down into that underworld, and all the sin they had borne.
This was the story of a girl who had wished to save them all and had been broken.
“Prepare yourself, Hel! We’re about to destroy every last piece of that illusion!!”
There were no side characters here.
With this many protagonists, anything was possible.