Toaru Majutsu no Index:NT Volume18 Chapter 3
Chapter 3: Golden – A.D.1900_Invisible_War.
This time, he did not immediately arrive in the world of fog.
He was falling headfirst. An endless sensation of falling squeezed at his heart and a female voice slipped softly into his ear.
“Do you understand now?”
Were reality and illusion mixing together again? He touched his right shoulder as he fell headfirst, but there was no sign of his understander there.
“Falling is a stereotypical method of entering hypnosis. And it need not be anything specialized. For example, have you ever suddenly woken after a standard ‘falling dream’?”
“Well, something like it. It’s actually a complex intertwining of falsehood and fact, like a mixture of animal magnetism and hypnotherapy.”
So what was happening? Kamijou’s head was full of questions as someone else appeared alongside him, also upside-down.
It was a young and beautiful woman in mourning clothes with a translucent veil over her face. However, she had such magnificent bodylines that they were apparent even through the black clothing.
…Or was that who this was? Sandstorm-like static would occasionally run through her and, each time it did, a black cat vision seemed to overlap with her.
He focused his eyes on her more to distract himself from the fear of the fall than to figure out who she was, but that still caused the two images to align.
“What in the hell? A grown woman has cat ears growing from her head…?”
“That must be the most satisfactory appearance for you. You can call me Mina, Mrs. Mathers, or the Black Cat Witch. I was also known as the heretic painter and the founder’s understander, but each name only points to a fragment of who I am.”
No matter what she said, the vision no longer changed. In fact, she grew something like a tail from her hipline, making her even more catlike.
“That’s super unbalanced… What is this? I feel like I’m seeing a female teacher with twintails.”
“Odd. My appearance should be automatically adjusting to the one you will most easily accept.”
The veiled woman’s expression did not change in the slightest.
And was she influencing him? He was still falling toward almost certain death with no plan, but for some reason, he felt his fear fading. Since she was so calm, he began wondering if there was a safety net or a pool of gelatin to catch them. …Although this may have been like wearing VR goggles to view some beautiful scenery while driving full speed toward the edge of a cliff.
“It is obvious why Aleister Crowley constructed me within his own palace. And you already know the answer, don’t you?”
“Hey, can you stop pretending I know what you’re talking about? You clearly don’t think I do! You just want to explain it all to me!!”
“To Aleister Crowley, I…or rather, we are all enemies, trauma, and symbols of setback. But that must be why he has chosen to continue tearing open that wound to preserve his own purity. That is why I am here.”
“Continue tearing open…that wound…?”
“As for why he chose me over Mathers or Westcott, I can only assume he viewed me as relatively reasonable and sensible. I can guess he decided that making me the host would allow him to assemble the more difficult people such as Waite and Regardie.”
“What, what, what!? One at a time, please. Mathers? Regardie? These Western names mean nothing to me! Who are these people!? I’m not going to remember any of it if you just mention some friends of Mozart and Beethoven out of the blue! Especially when I’m kinda falling headfirst toward the ground!!”
“Oh, honestly. You don’t seem to understand at all, but I will continue on regardless.”
“Cat-ear hag, if you want to explain stuff, how about taking responsibility and doing it right!?”
“Golden.” She cut him off with that single word. “That largest of magic cabals combined the DNA of Hermeticism and Rosicrucianism, gathered the world’s greatest minds, and repeatedly made history’s greatest discoveries and accomplishments. Starting with the 3 founders such as Westcott and Mathers, people like Waite, Regardie, and Bennett gathered in one place for a truly miraculous group. And.”
“Aleister Crowley destroyed it all and returned the magic cabal to mere ashes. Thus, I and all the others are the trauma of his defeat and setbacks.”
With no warning, the falling sensation ended.
Kamijou’s eyes widened in surprise and he felt solid ground below his feet. White fog surrounded him in every direction. But unlike before, he could see through it. The scenery was instantly rewritten and a world only seen in old movies spread out before his eyes.
Dirty white steam and sooty smoke blew through a city of brick and stone pavement. The darkness of the night was illuminated by old-fashioned gas lights. A balled-up scrap of paper rolled along in the damp wind. It was a lot like the tumbleweed in Westerns. Kamijou staggered and stepped on it. And it said the following:
London Shocking Times.
April 1900. The day was illegible because the paper was wet and torn.
The newspaper’s ink was running far more than a modern one would, so the small English writing was illegible.
Kamijou looked up and checked the signs around, but he did not know what any of them meant. He could just barely grasp that one of them was a street sign and he tried to read the string of letters there.
“Bl…Blith…Bluth? What is this???”
“36 Blythe Road, Hammersmith. To magic researchers, this was a crucial but quiet turning point of history.”
He suddenly realized the Black Cat Witch was shockingly close by. His nose sensed something odd. He could not explain exactly what, but he may have picked up on a faint scent.
A great many black cats swarmed around the mourning clothes woman’s feet like her shadow. And as she brought that ominousness with her, Mrs. Mathers whispered to him.
“Well, I was known as the Black Cat Witch.”
“That’s a pretty straightforward interpretation.”
“I was also an artist, so I might be carrying the scent of art supplies or oil.”
“You’re pretty cheap, Black Cat Witch!”
The veiled woman remained nonchalant despite Kamijou Touma’s sharp comment.
“This place became the stage of a war.”
“1900? …What happened then? That’s too early for World War One, isn’t it?”
“And it was known as the Battle of Blythe Road.”
Mystery men were rampant in this foggy city of steam and sooty smoke. And someone silently appeared beyond the fog.
The Black Cat Witch spoke as if she were celebrating the appearance of the star in a movie.
“That was when Aleister Crowley went straight for Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers and declared war on the main branch of the Golden cabal, leading to an armed conflict between magicians that was recorded in actual history.”
Kamijou Touma woke up.
…Or was that the right way to describe it? Regardless, he once more found himself on the stairway attached to the Windowless Building’s wall. This too was an alternate dimensional space that extended infinitely upwards. Asking which one was real would not lead to a clear answer.
(Tsuchimikado…protected everyone from Aleister, then we were blown away, and, um, what happened!? Where is he now!?)
As his mind started working once more, Kamijou’s panic accelerated. Yes, there was no sign of his awful friend with blond hair and sunglasses.
It went beyond that. There was no one else here.
There was no response.
He reached for his right shoulder, but he did not feel his understander there.
…Even the pair of gear and handcuff beasts and the person camouflaged as an impossible third one were gone.
They had probably been meant to trip up Tsuchimikado, so were they gone because Maika was not here?
“There is no need to beat around the bush and refer to him as “the person”. That is Aleister Crowley.”
When he felt a sudden breath on his ear, Kamijou forgot he was on an elevated stairway and fell right onto his butt.
“The many stairways and ladders are likely a symbol of mountain climbing made from urban materials. He repeatedly measured his limits with a variety of methods: magic, drugs, yoga, and mountain climbing to name a few.”
Something was there.
“But that can also be misinterpreted as demonstrating the possibility to surpass and expand his limits.”
Mourning clothes, cat ears, and a tail. The young and beautiful woman brought a large group of black cats instead of a shadow and a hint of art supplies and oil tickled at his nose.
Mina Mathers should only have existed in the illusion, yet here she was!?
“What!? Have I not escaped that yet!? Huh? Wait, which one is the real world!?”
“That is an extremely philosophical question, but there is no real reason to distinguish between the two. Even without the example of the Four Worlds indicated by seven candles, the world always has many overlapping layers.”
“Although I suppose someone with a soul as low-level as yours would indeed be trapped by the visions of the physical world. Those chains are the mountain’s devilishness that reaches for human karma and they are the power that binds human thoughts and leads them to ascend the mountain, but they must have also provided a reassuring push on the back.”
“Well, the one thing I do understand is that you’re mocking me.”
Someone who loved explaining things had no way to fulfill that desire without someone to talk to, so this woman might have been lonely. With those silly thoughts rattling around his head, Kamijou started to gulp.
“Oh? I see your spiritual activity is directed toward a higher level now. With that much of an imagination, you might just be able to reach a Tattva vision.”
“Don’t you underestimate a full-on adolescent mind, cat-ear hag! I’ll strip you bare in my mind!!”
“Doing battle at a higher level of spiritual activity is a surprisingly simple task.”
“By which I mean…flash.”
“A black garter belt!?”
“A single visual will solidify their image, trap them, and rob them of their freedom. Using that to seal off the cards in their deck and drive them into a dead end is one form of magic battle. See? You can’t picture anything other than sexy lingerie now, can you? You can only picture an elegant and glamorous lifestyle…”
“Dammit, I can only imagine a smug young woman!? But this looks like the model in a fashion magazine for office ladies. That’s just a boring image of the pre-established harmony. I can’t let a complete stranger take away my fantasies! If I’m going to embarrass her, it’s gotta be some strawberry panties that don’t suit her at all! Burn, my adolescence!!”
“Yes, that is the first step toward a vision. A beginner must first overcome this.”
Kamijou Touma was led around by the young woman, but this was no time to be holding a high-level spiritual battle(?).
“Wait, I can’t be focused on strawberry panties right now! What happened to Tsuchimikado!? Index, Othinus, and Maika are gone too, but are they okay!? Did they disappear or was it me that wandered off somewhere? Having weird fantasies isn’t going to make anything materialize, so whose world is this!?”
“The world is simply the world. It belongs to no one.”
“Again!! This isn’t the time for a Zen dialogue!!”
“Which of course means it does not belong to Aleister Crowley.”
She spoke in a confusing conceptual way that provided no concrete answers, but that phrase caught in Kamijou’s mind.
“You mean…what…eh? But isn’t this the Windowless Building, his headquarters…?”
“Aleister Crowley has no intention of overcoming the trauma that he has perfectly recreated. And he does not care if he has setbacks or failures. So he does not maintain control over the very miniature garden he created. That is why I am able to speak with you.”
Her phrasing was a pain to deal with, but did that mean Aleister was writhing around while viewing the trauma he had created himself? That sounded like someone with belonephobia climbing inside an iron maiden…
“What is that Aleister guy trying to do…?”
“He believes in power. But he does not distinguish between good and evil, right and wrong, correct and incorrect. Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of Thelema. Even if a great many people call that power evil or wrong, he will not hesitate to reach for it so long as it will achieve his goal. That is the kind of ‘human’ Aleister Crowley is.”
“…Give me a simple example.”
“People hate roaches. But that hatred is so strong that it produced the power leading to the development of insecticides and sticky tape. That is what I mean.”
Aleister Crowley’s soul was constantly worn away by powerful trauma, but did he see the intensity of that hatred and disgust as the source of a power strong enough to carry him down his own path? Did he see Mina and the other Golden magicians as a source of unconditional and biological revulsion, just like a cockroach?
“No,” said the woman.
“Hey, you’re getting ahead of yourself, explainer. Don’t answer me before I say anything.”
“Aleister Crowley fosters his hatred in a much larger framework. He loathes, fears, and mocks the entire planet to an extent that is almost pitiable.”
The entire world.
From a stone on the side of the road to the brightest star twinkling in the sky.
…What kind of life had he lived to expand his biological disgust to that extent? There were some scenes that unconditionally inspired certain emotions in the humans who saw them. For example, a weak baby bird or a kitten in the rain. But Aleister Crowley was unaffected. He hated it all equally. No individual reason was necessary; merely seeing it was enough to trigger a biological reaction.
“He’s different from the Magic Gods who just wanted to live free…”
“Of course. He did not wish to become like them and has remained in the category of ‘human’.”
“He likely gave up on crossing the abyss after the Coronzon failure, but he also feels pride in remaining ‘human’.”
She topped off her string of unexplained terminology with a smug look, but Kamijou forced his thoughts to stay focused without wandering off.
(He feels pride in remaining “human”?)
“Yes. No matter how old he grows, he remains very childish.”
“Don’t butt in!! And is this actually a fantasy world of my brain’s creation!? Is that why you can read my mind!? Then become a young woman wearing childish strawberry pantiiiiiies!!”
After shouting at the top of his lungs, Kamijou was KO’d. He covered his face with his hands and curled up on the floor.
“…As I was saying, no matter how old they grow, men remain very childish.”
“You just expanded that to include me, didn’t you!?”
“Will you actually gain anything from being here?” wondered the woman. “You clearly have not mastered this path enough to fall toward the answer when you meditate.”
“You might be hiding it behind your fancy words, but I can tell you’re making fun of me.” Kamijou looked to the canopy of endless darkness overhead. “Well, I guess I’ll just have to keep going. If they’re not here, they’re probably somewhere else. And what is that bastard trying to accomplish by making me climb a mountain?”
“Just like real mountain climbing, choosing the wrong route will lead to death, so be careful. And I would assume Aleister is only trying to expand himself.”
Of course, this was only if it was the others who had disappeared, not Kamijou himself. This was completely unprecedented, but with him switching between worlds so often, he could not rely on his own point of view as accurate. In the worst case, he might have to ensure that Index, Maika, and the others were real once he did regroup with them.
“He failed to climb the K2, which is more than 8000m tall, because he gave up after planning out a climbing route but receiving fierce opposition from his fellow mountain climbers. In other words, to accomplish a difficult feat, he must expand his own existence to the point that he can swallow up others. The rest of you are no more than a part of that.”
“I have no idea what that means, but whatever.”
The ascent was a long one. Step by step, he walked up the stairs.
…To be honest, he could actually pace himself now that he did not have to flee from the human karma, the mountain’s devilishness, or whatever those gear and handcuff beasts appearing around Maika were. That did leave him worried about Maika now that they were separated, but his doubt kept him from making a mad dash up the stairs.
(Surely they didn’t escape back down to the bottom…right?)
They had been continuing up and up because the pair of beasts had been pursuing them from below. With the chain skeleton and transparent flesh beasts nowhere to be found, it was impossible to know whether Index, Othinus, and the others would have gone up or down.
The Black Cat Witch politely clasped her hands in front of her as she walked alongside him.
“You will have the answer soon,” she whispered.
“Hm? Is someone waiting for me?”
“That is not what I meant.”
He felt like he had stepped through the floor.
Then the entire stairway bent like a sugar sculpture exposed to a flame. By this point, he understood what this meant. Falling meant “that” was coming. And Kamijou’s movements were the same as someone flailing their hands around after falling from a cliff while wearing VR goggles. He knew somewhere in his heart that it was useless, but his hands still searched for something to grab onto.
And his left hand happened across something incredibly soft.
He had grabbed firmly onto one of a certain someone’s twin peaks.
“…That is a yellow card.”
“No fair! And since when do you even have a physical body!?”
His vision whirled around.
He did not know what exactly was happening, but the “falling entrance” continued without end…
They stood below the cold sky.
Shokuhou Misaki’s legs squirmed as she held her hands to her mouth and blew white breaths. Up ahead, Misaka Mikoto looked back at her with exasperation on her face.
“Have you ever considered exercising more?”
“I’m cold, not out of breath!!”
She was immediately corrected, but Mikoto was having none of that.
“You’re wearing special-made gloves and socks, but it’s still not enough?”
“A girl’s hands and feet are very delicate, so they’re susceptible to the cold ability. Not that I would expect someone as shameless as you to understand.”
“But you seem to have so much subcutaneous fat.”
“…You might wear shorts under your skirt, but cold weather isn’t easy for normal girls.”
“You make it sound like I’m not normal!”
“The worst part is you aren’t even aware of it!”
Illusory sparks seemed to flash between them.
However, there was not much they could do against the chilly December sky.
“Stop being silly and get walking. Moving will warm you u-…”
“Misaka-san, your back is so warrrm.”
Mikoto screamed as Shokuhou stuck her chilled hand down the back of her collar.
“You- what- I- Do you want me to start using some real electricity to roast every last part of you…!?”
“Oh, is this a hook?”
“Stop fiddling with that! And don’t twist it! That has nothing to do with keeping warm!!”
“Yes, it does. It makes me happy when your body heat rises. And Misaka-san, you don’t wear a sports bra?”
“Are you seriously picking a fight with me here!?”
But this was not the time to be doing this on the pavement.
Misaka Mikoto had returned to a certain place.
District 11 was the foundation of land transportation and this particular corner was stacked with mountains of containers. She had thought it might have been removed afterwards, but it was still there.
“…This just looks like junk to me,” said Shokuhou. “Even scrap metal from cars would have maintained its shape ability better than this.”
“It’s enough that anything of it is left at all.”
It had originally been enclosed in a container, but “something” had clearly been there. The pile of containers had collapsed and their contents were still scattered across the pavement. If the two girls had arrived a little later, it might have been gathered up along with the other trash for the recovery efforts.
“Hmm. So this is the connection to his world.”
The Anti-Art Attachment…and an original one at that.
When Mikoto lightly reached out her hand, the mangled metal writhed like a living creature. This was not magnetism, the Lorentz force, or the van der Waals force. But the dead machine(?) definitely raised its head after confirming the presence of its owner.
“Come to think of it, I’ve been getting weird nosebleeds lately.”
“Are you sure you aren’t just full of fantasy ability?”
Now, it was time to get down to business.
The A.A.A. was right in front of her. But what exactly was it? Misaka Mikoto had built a machine based on the original and customized it for her own uses, but she still did not understand the core or the theory that it used to function.
“Misaka-san. I’m about to smugly explain something even an elementary schooler knows, so don’t laugh, okay?”
“What is it?”
“Guns were brought to this country by castaways from Portugal. Now, how do you think the people of that time figured out how they worked and how to mass-produce them?”
“By thoroughly taking them apart and examining every last piece.”
That was what she did.
Then again, it was already a pile of scraps that had been mangled by several instances of intense violence. She doubted the caution was necessary, but Mikoto still used her power to eliminate all static electricity before facing the sample materials.
“…Well, I was fairly certain I understood most of it when I built my own A.A.A.”
“But that means you didn’t understand all of it, right? Don’t just give up on the parts you couldn’t reverse engineer. Take another stab at it.” Shokuhou gave the pile of metal an exasperated look. “Now, I’m not trying to force gender stereotypes onto you, but fiddling with machines isn’t a very girly hobby. I’m having trouble grasping your sensibilities for letting this fuel your excitement ability.”
“But doesn’t that mean this helps me understand how boys feel?”
“Hm? Are you suggesting this is a chance to better understand him? Let’s see, then. What does his world look like?”
The queen quickly grew much more diligent.
Mikoto gave instructions as the two of them removed covers, pulled out the contents, and lined them up on the cold asphalt.
“This is it. This is the part I couldn’t understand.” Mikoto pulled out and set down a few electronic parts that looked like wafers or a blade server. It all looked very complex, but the action was much like replacing an air conditioner filter. “There are some transistors and LSIs lined up here, but they’re actually meaningless. The current enters from one end, loops around within the circuit, and then flows right on out. It’s moving all over the place inside, but it’s the same as sending power through a cable wrapped up in a drum. There’s no change to the current or voltage and it isn’t creating a special signal. Hmm, why is it being sent through this layer…?”
“Just looking at the shape, it makes me think of a good luck charm or something. Look, doesn’t it seem like something you’d see in the astrology book that the library master carries around?”
“Let’s say you hook a lightbulb up to a 1.5 volt battery. Do you really think the brightness will change if the wire is a straight line or zigzagging?”
“But what if it produces some kind of invisible field? Doesn’t an electric current create a magnetic field around it? Not that it’s powerful enough to detect under normal circumstances, though.”
“And circuits can be used for more than passing current through. They can also be used to catch something. …For example, don’t antennas take a lot of different forms? And to more efficiently pick up EM waves, aren’t they sometimes shaped like a mosquito coil or like a bowl? If an ancient person saw one, wouldn’t they think it was some kind of magic circle or something?”
Misaka Mikoto and Shokuhou Misaki fell quiet and exchanged a glance. Without the necessary foundational knowledge, were these girls in the same position as that hypothetical ancient person?
“If this crazy magic circle of a wire diagram is an antenna, what in the world is it meant to pick up from the air?”
“Whatever it is, it can apparently be converted into an electric signal since this is built into a circuit. Misaka-san, could you read it by connecting to this pile of junk with your power?”
They had finished the overall analysis of the black box section. If they connected it to something, they might be able to give it power and bring it back to life.
“Shokuhou, do you have a cellphone?”
“Sigh. Who needs to ask a teenage girl that?”
“Why did you break it in half!?”
Shokuhou screamed at the sudden violence, but Mikoto ignored her while pulling a speaker and a few colorful cables out of the broken mobile device. She formed a bridge between the pins on the broken circuit boards and attached the thumbnail-sized speaker that was made to convert the signal running through the line into sound.
“That should do it.”
“…I-I really don’t think we can get along after all.”
“Why are you acting like that’s a huge discovery? Anyway, I’m starting.”
Now she just had to pass her power through it.
When she held out her palm and focused, she sensed something she had not before.
Some quiet static came from the small speaker.
“Are you picking something up?”
“But what in the world is the A.A.A. accessing?”
The answer may have been right in front of their eyes the entire time.
One only needed to read the device’s name.
The Anti-Art Attachment.
The device of someone who wished to eliminate all magic.
He was back in the foggy city of London.
But the stinging air from before was gone.
For one thing, he was in a room gently lit by tallow and a fireplace instead of outdoors. Rather than some stately mansion, it was probably an old-fashioned apartment of some kind.
Several men and women were inside.
One sat in a rocking chair next to the fireplace, one sat directly on an ebony desk, and one leaned against the wall instead of sitting.
What was this room?
How was it related to that…Battle of Blythe Road that was mentioned before?
“This is a branch of the Isis-Urania Temple,” whispered Mina Mathers next to him. “It was the prime ceremonial ground of the world-renowned Golden cabal. Although the publicly-known Number 03 was used to hide it.”
Kamijou looked around once more.
Kamijou lived in a student dorm, but even to him, it only looked like a cramped apartment. Old newspapers were piled up in a corner, a chess set and playing cards were scattered across a desk, and a shelf was lined with bottles of drinks that even a high school boy like him knew were bad for you.
There was no crystal ball lying on a purple cloth and there was no magic circle on the floor. There were some scattered cards, but they were clearly meant for gambling. The gold ring and silver coins lined up with them made that obvious enough.
“This is the world’s best…???”
“The others and I did not seek worldly riches. We saw things differently from those adorned with gold and silver vestments and staffs who tended to forget they were accepted by the state and protected by the people’s taxes.”
She was clearly hinting at someone unrelated to this. And he could not take that at face value. There was an obvious note of jealousy in the Black Cat Witch’s voice.
“I do not regret the days of begging my friend Annie for living expenses. And I certainly have no hard feelings for my husband who never held down a worldly job as he dedicated himself to magical research that could not buy even a single loaf of bread. Yes, we were all magicians, so of course our top priority was making progress toward our great goal.”
Kamijou felt like reading too deeply into this would only reveal a tragic story. He sensed the same atmosphere as if a group of manga artists had rented an apartment together only to find out none of them were making any money.
The rundown room had no charm outside the flow of time and a conversation was underway with no concern for Kamijou and the Black Cat Witch.
A middle-aged man spoke to an elderly man in an aloof tone.
“Westcott, all things are connected. You cannot escape the influence things have on each other.”
“What is this, Mathers? That sounds like something Frazer would say. Are you after the same sort of mass appeal he had? Well, I’ll admit that tasteless Golden Bough is as simple as a hot dog smothered in mustard. It’s like Italian pizza. The simple flavor draws in the masses and the toxin of the letterpress copies gathers charisma around him without anyone noticing.”
“That’s enough of that, gloomy old man. Don’t get so upset just because someone’s having fun with Hermeticism. If you’re jealous that his name is going down in history, then grab a knife and head outside. Just like a certain Jack of ill repute. But, but. If you have any intelligence whatsoever, then let’s begin an experiment here.”
“What kind of experiment?”
“I’m sick of cards. We all know each other’s tells too well. Today, it’s chess. How about I use this to prove the existence of that influence I was talking about.”
“It’s always about gambling with you! If you’re broke, how about being honest and bowing down to me?”
“This is a worry a Scotland Yard coroner could never understand. Not when you’re paid with public money and head straight to the pub to spend it all. You really are quite the magician. I mean, you’ve brought alchemy back at the end of the 19th century!”
“Yes, but I was nearly sacked when it was found out I attend these suspicious meetings! The higher ups have their eye on me, so it’s always a gamble showing up even to this unofficial temple.”
…It was a fairly awful conversation for two grown men. Kamijou could see what Mina had meant about men remaining childish no matter how old they were. He was reminded of the fact that the magicians like Stiyl and Kanzaki had all been the type to insist on doing things their own way even if that meant defying the ways of the world, but if they took that far enough, would they end up like this?
However, when he looked around again, he felt like he could see a few things that lined up with what Mrs. Mathers had said.
Then the Black Cat Witch spoke up again.
“By the way, the older old man is Westcott and the other old man is Mathers…making him the husband that gave me the ‘Mrs.’ ”
“Then don’t call him an old man. Show some love!”
“This is based on yours and Crowley’s points of view.”
Kamijou had no idea what was normal or what fashions were in style during the late 19th century and early 20th century, but he saw a major difference here.
The elderly man named Westcott wore a tailored suit with a necktie and Mathers wore a military uniform with a thick cloak and a worn-out pointed hat. However, the uniform was not modern camouflage. It was an extremely colorful outfit that would look more at home on a windup soldier doll.
“…Your husband had some…interesting tastes.”
“The mess of colors is really an eyesore to look at.”
“Again, show some love as his wife!!”
Anyway, this was the beginning of the Golden cabal.
It was not an underground group with high-level organization. Nor did it seem like a secret church that followed some complex and mysterious scriptures. It did not even look like a research institution for making world-changing inventions.
If anything, it was more like an unauthorized salon or an evening party where intelligent people of different occupations and backgrounds gathered to share their ideas. Instead of enjoying the evening by sharing stories of daring exploits, they would reveal the results of their research to each other.
The elderly man looked at the middle-aged man’s hand and raised his voice in lamentation.
“Ahh!? What is this!? Who in their right mind would place their bishop there!?”
“Westcott, do you not remember what I said? You cannot escape the influence things have on each other. You may not see the path now, but this move will guide you to the game’s rightful conclusion. Now, let the clock resume ticking.”
“Did you think you could throw me off my game by making an unorthodox move?”
“If you still cannot see the path after all that, then I’m in luck. These nights of awful, sticky fog are the perfect time for some Irish or Scotch. I’m going to earn myself some decent money so I can enjoy this night.”
“Only the unenlightened use alcohol to see visions, Mathers.”
“Nonsense. I’m still a proper gentleman compared to those self-styled intellectuals that use the proud witch’s rituals as an excuse for lots of sex and drugs.”
“Bff!?” spat out Kamijou.
The cat-eared woman in mourning clothes shrugged next to him.
“Well, that’s one of the reasons this age was fairly shameful for magicians.”
“Isn’t that an extremely worldly problem for you to be caught up in…?”
“At the time, the newspapers that were finally getting off the ground had no real journalistic spirit whatsoever. It was not long before then that public executions were held as entertainment for the masses while the infamous witch hunt swept across the world, but I think it was only the method of execution that had changed by this time. The people laboring to keep food on the table day in and day out would find a dark joy in the newspapers that provided a ‘social death’ to the wealthy and the intellectual who seemed to live in an entirely different world.”
“Why would the newspapers want to cause chaos?”
“Once more time passed, the film industry was born and the people could let out that accumulated pus by watching the villains executed on the screen, but now that the internet has grown ubiquitous, it almost seems we are returning to the era of journalistic executions.”
…Did it really look like that if you only viewed one side of the issue? Kamijou felt like that would give you a pretty serious bias about it all.
“Ahh!? What is this!? When did the board get all locked up like this!?”
“Didn’t I tell you, old man? You cannot escape the influence things have on each other. Hah hah!!”
“Tch. I never thought I would be buying a man a drink at this age. By the way, Mathers, I heard about that newcomer. And with that, I have to ask: are you insane?”
“Is this really all it takes to shake you? You mean Crowley, don’t you?”
Kamijou’s heart leapt slightly at that.
But the magicians in the room smoothly continued.
“How can I not doubt your sanity in this one? He’s one of those who have remade the good, old rituals into sex and drugs, isn’t he?”
“That is certainly a rough spot, but in his case, it isn’t an excuse or a front. You can’t just laugh it off because he really is logically and efficiently achieving results with that. Merely looking at the surface without giving him a chance to explain is the same as announcing that your intellect is no greater than the self-styled intellectuals who shriek about everything they read in the newspaper, Westcott.”
“He will bring disaster to our Golden cabal.”
“So now you are jealous of Merlin, old man? Since when could you see visions of the future without using any tools? Anyway, I married a future painter and gathered the knowledge of many people, from scholars to artists, to accomplish this. So let’s try to show some results with our prototype GD tarot.”
“Gee dee?” parroted Kamijou with a tilt of his head, so the Black Cat Witch whispered sweetly back at him.
“There are many theories about the origin of that card set, but this was a reinterpretation using the secrets of Kabbalah. It was an attempt to remove the original sin that people are born with.”
“Well, it’s a little jumbled up, but it was basically the Golden cabal’s own version of the card set. They were the type that loved to get all worked up about praising their own work.”
“If not for that last part, I might have just accepted it with a normal ‘is that so’! Y’know, like when you’re looking up at a temple or castle!!”
It may have been hard to tell how incredible an important person was when you had a good friend of theirs with you.
Meanwhile, the chess game was still underway.
“…I am a founder of the Golden cabal, you know?”
“As am I. Checkmate.”
A dry clack rang through the room.
Kamijou had trouble picturing how chess pieces moved, but there was apparently nowhere else to move.
“Two founders of the same rank have fought a high-level spiritual battle and that magic duel has shown who is superior. Now, pay up. I need some drinks and snacks to show proper discretion concerning our new member.”
“Was that what you were after this entire time?”
“Didn’t I tell you, Westcott? You cannot escape the influence things have on each other. It was your inexperience that blinded you to the path. I’ve actually already called him to the door here.”
“Without my permission…!?”
“I just got it now, old man. Come in, newcomer!!”
After a modest knock at the door, the knob slowly turned.
Had this truly decided it?
Kamijou did not know the details, but this felt to him like a major turning point in history.
And then the Black Cat Witch spoke.
“That man could be so full of himself when no one was watching. ‘I married a future painter to accomplish this’? Hmm, I see. More than a century has passed, but it really, really pisses me off to hear that again.”
“This world needs more love!!”
The beginning was always signaled by falling, but the ending was always sudden.
“Uuh!? Gh… What? Am I back? Or have I made progress…?”
Kamijou groaned, placed a hand on his forehead, and shook his head.
(What are the problems I’m facing right now? Aleister, regrouping with Index and the others, and the shadow sword in Maika’s chest. Okay, good. My mind is still working properly!)
The inside of the Windowless Building was still a dreary empty world with an endless ceiling overhead and no sign of human life.
As he supported his unsteady body with the railing and continued on, the scene changed.
The stairway, escalator, and elevator from before were gone. Instead, he saw ladders directly embedded in the wall, catwalks, and silver ducts that twisted around like snakes.
The change from elevators and such supported from below to these things embedded in the wall changed the type of mountain climbing.
Did that mean he had reached a higher level?
Either way, he was risking his life even more. The odds of an accident on stairs were different from on a ladder. And this was quite high up for a building. He still could not see the ceiling, but he could not see the bottom anymore either. It was all swallowed by darkness.
Hearing a voice from somewhere, he frowned and looked up. A bit ahead of him, a girl in a maid uniform was clinging to a ladder and reaching her leg over to a catwalk. It was Tsuchimikado Maika. She was sticking her hips out at the exact same height as his face. And she of course still had the hardened shadow sword piercing her flat chest, so the mountain’s devilishness that bound people’s hearts (the handcuff ring and gear) were falling around her at irregular intervals.
But the unsteady footing was actually a good thing here. Most of the metal objects slipped away and fell into the dark depths below. Without coming to a stop, they could not gather the transparent body that was a lot like sugar water. They were completely useless here.
(Or does this work just as well for them?)
“Oh, if it isn’t Kamijou Touma. I was worried after getting separated from everyone.”
“Where are you trying to go?”
“I was hoping to find Aniki since he disappeared. I doubt he’d be defeated so easily, but if he isn’t here, I thought he might be higher up. Whoops-a-daisy.”
She made it sound cute, but she was actually flailing her leg after missing the rung on what was essentially a ladder attached to the wall of a building more than 100m tall. Kamijou quickly looked to the narrow footing along the wall, gasped because he carelessly looked down, and took a deep breath before pressing his back against the wall and sliding over toward Maika. The only upside was the lack of unexpected gusts of wind he would have had to worry about with a normal building.
Once he finally arrived near Maika, he pressed both his hands against the back of her hips through her chic maid uniform.
“C’mon, that’s dangerous, so hurry on up!”
The maid trainee’s body jumped upwards slightly. Kamijou looked puzzled, so the Black Cat Witch whispered softly into his ear.
“Hee hee. Taking advantage of the fact that her hands and feet are on the ladder to go for the defenseless butt of your friend’s sister, are we? You’re quite the piece of shit.”
“Why aren’t you worried about any of this!? I’m on the verge of falling too, so help out!!”
Kamijou shouted at the top of his lungs to avoid any unfortunate misunderstandings, but Maika only tilted her head with her hands and feet still on the ladder.
“Hm? Hmm? Hey, Kamijou, who are you talking to?”
“It looked like you were yelling into empty space, but do you have a phone headset on or something?”
(Huh? Could it be…?)
Kamijou looked to the space next to him.
For some reason, Mina Mathers was standing on the dangerous footing while bashfully holding the long skirt of her mourning clothes with both hands.
“No, you aren’t bashful at all, are you!? Are you trying to distract me until I fall to my death!?”
No one could remain this confused while right next to someone who was basically committing public suicide by shame, so as Kamijou had suspected, Maika could not see Mina.
“People gather information on the outside world using their retinas and eardrums, but the accuracy is not always identical. For instance, myopia refers to a condition in which the eyeball itself extends elliptically towards the back. Since the red you see is not the same as the red Tsuchimikado Maika sees, it is not difficult at all to select an individual I wish to be seen by and display my form to them alone.”
“…Wow. That sounded sort of convincing, but that long explanation didn’t actually explain anything.”
Even through the veil, he could sense her sullen mood.
Oh? He may have hit a sore spot for her there. In that case, what could he do to improve her mood? If he knew how to reward her with a figurative treat and punish her with a figurative whip, he could construct a controller for dealing with this strange and annoying woman.
“Wicked thoughts will only get you cursed, boy.”
“For example, trying to force a lady in mourning clothes to obey you by hitting her with a whip. Perhaps I should make a quick post on a fancy SNS about a troublesome neighborhood boy.”
“I’m done asking how you can read my mind, but you read it wrong this time! Your data’s corrupted! Don’t make this worse by misreading my thoughts!”
“It is possible a young woman with too much time on her hands might find it cute, but the odds of that are about the same as hitting 00 in a game of roulette.”
“I said stooooop!!!!!! (…Ah. But won’t the odds be the same no matter which pocket it lands in? Could I really have a chance with a wealthy young woman who has too much time on her hands?)”
Kamijou Touma had only been protecting himself, but Maika could not see Mina and only stared at him like he was a crazy person. He suppressed tears while wondering if there even was a right answer in this world.
“Aniki seems to be the kind of person who works extra hard and derives a sense of accomplishment from the exhaustion that brings. If he’s gotten into a weird penance mode, we need to find him and stop him as soon as possible.”
…So with or without the pair of karma beasts made from rainbow chains and transparent flesh and blood, they had to continue upwards. The gears and handcuff rings falling around Maika were probably forming their bodies once they reached the ground far below, so no one would want to head back down there if they could avoid it.
Mina Mathers gently bent her hips and stretched her head in from the side to speak with a thin smile behind her veil.
“By the way, that is a magic sword.”
“Well, yeah. It’s a sword made from magic. Anyone could tell you that!!”
“Not what I meant. It is not the wind dagger of the four great elements. I mean that it is the symbolic weapon meant to guide the summoning ceremony. It is primarily something like an amulet that drives out negative power and protects the spell user, but to ‘drive out’ also means to ‘divert or guide in a convenient direction’. So if used correctly, it can be used for summoning as well. Normally, you would take an appropriate sword, color the hilt green and the scabbard red, consecrate it by engraving a divine name into it, and carefully guard it so only the owner can touch it.”
That made a lot of sense here.
Maika had the strange short sword stabbed through her chest and those creepy handcuff ring and gears kept appearing around her.
“It’s actually so clichéd that the grimoire library may have misread it. I mean, who would think the Crowley would smugly use the most basic of techniques? …But in reality, the greater an expert masters their field, the more focus they place on the fundamentals.”
That aside, Kamijou had to wonder if Maika had any thoughts concerning the blade in her chest.
“And when it comes to mastery rather than combat, Crowley always sought virginity in his weapons. In other words, he refused to reuse something that was already used for another purpose. A hammer is needed to strike the sword, iron ore and wood are needed to make the hammer, and so on and so forth. In the end, you need 1000 or even 10,000 things to create a single weapon, but he would claim it was all a necessary part of the learning process. Yes, almost like they were all pieces of a puzzle.”
…Or was her carefree attitude the result of doing everything she could to avoid looking at an inconvenient truth? Like someone who felt sick but kept lying to themselves because they did not want to go to the hospital and hear they had come down with a strange illness.
Looking at it that way, Kamijou hesitated to ask her about it or joke about it.
She could come to her senses at any moment and enter an unmanageable panic.
And unlike normal, that would be deadly during this elevated mountain climb.
“The footing looks pretty unreliable up ahead, Kamijou Touma. Could you support me?”
“Sure thing. Dammit.”
He felt like he was choosing his path, but he was not.
No, perhaps it was more accurate to say every one of the million options available to him would lead to the same result. Fear snuck into his fingertips and spread to the rest of his body, but this was a different sort of fear from the hundreds of billions of hells Othinus had once shown him.
“This kind of reminds me of the second-story seats in the gym.”
“Ohh, now that you mention it.”
There was a narrow metal ladder and a narrow walkway with a metal lattice floor. If not a gym, it felt like the space for lighting equipment above a theatre stage. …The problem was its position unknown hundreds of meters above the ground and that a single stumble would mean instant death.
“With narrow footing, there’s a risk of falling, but with wide footing, the handcuffs and gears can create their bodies and attack. Honestly, neither option is great…”
“Sorry about getting you caught up in all this.”
This was nothing for Maika to apologize for. At any rate, she and Kamijou worked together to climb higher.
“W-will this really be okay? There isn’t some gathering point where the handcuffs and gears have been piling up, is there?”
Some of Maika’s fear must have been seeping out because she occasionally trembled, clenched her small hands, and moved her face close to his chest.
She was right on the borderline of being close enough to feel her body heat.
Then the cat-eared piece of shit whispered in his ear.
“Your friend’s sister.”
“(I know that, you moron!!)”
The pair of pursuing chain beasts was not his only concern. The ladders and catwalks were fine. There was a clear “path” made for people to travel along, even if it was narrow.
The problem was the silver ducts wriggling along the wall like snakes and the air conditioners sticking out like univalves on a rock wall.
“Eh? What, are we supposed to jump!?”
There was something wrong with the mountain climbing route. This was no longer a “path”.
They had to choose a step in the air to climb up and around on and then jump from one block to another. It felt like being forced to play a real-life version of a retro platforming game where falling meant instant death. At a meter off the ground, this might have qualified as a new form of athletics, but things changed at 500 meters off the ground.
His legs felt weak.
He could not draw out 100% of his usual strength.
There was no risk of a sudden gust of wind indoors, but he did not have it in him to count that as a positive at the moment.
For one thing, could the air conditioners even support their weight?
He was afraid the screws would break when he landed, sending him and the air conditioner plummeting to certain doom below.
Maika was of course hesitant to get started and she finally made a suggestion with her face entirely pale.
“W-wouldn’t it be a good idea to prepare some kind of lifeline before attempting this…?”
“Well, I would love to, but was there anything around here we could use as a rope?”
Tsuchimikado Maika responded to Kamijou’s question by reaching to her back with both hands. And he heard a rustling of cloth.
“Hwah!? What!? Why are you stripping!?”
He had no idea how a maid uniform was put together, but was she untying something behind her? Even in an emergency, he was not sure using the apron or dress as a rope was the best idea. Plus, this was an extremely delicate situation what with her being his friend’s sister, so wouldn’t that nyah-nyah sunglasses boy get super mad!? Kamijou Touma’s thoughts bounced around wildly like a game of squash or pinball, but Maika softly blew a heated breath from her nose.
And for some reason, she pulled a crowbar and roll of duct tape from her long skirt.
“Hold it right there, you freak of a maid.”
“Well, that’s just rude. Duct tape is sturdy, so pulling out long strips and layering it several times is enough to support someone’s body weight, you know?”
“That’s not the point. Think of the context here. How in the world did you suddenly pull a crowbar and duct tape out of your skirt!?”
“With these 2 things, you can solve most any trouble in a mansion.”
He had trouble thinking she meant fixing a leaky sink or hooking up a DVR. Did she want to be the kind of maid who could rescue the trapped daughter of the family by single-handedly taking on the group of terrorists that had hijacked a gorgeous mansion protected by a state-of-the-art security system?
“…Are you the kind of person who wants to combine a spray can with a lighter?”
“Yeah, yeah! Or turning the oven into an explosively formed penetrator.”
She was worse than he had imagined.
When he pretended to understand what she was talking about, she replied with some term he had never even heard before. Imagining how something that horrific-sounding had anything to do with a kitchen oven felt like traveling to another dimension.
“You can also tune up the lawnmower to make it go berserk or mix detergents to make poison gas. Nail guns are the standard in movies, but they aren’t actually that useful. So if you want a projectile, it’s best to combine a handy metal tube with the gas cylinder for a portable stove. And in addition to firing projectiles, that can be used as an acoustic weapon.”
“Dammit, is this what happens when you try to make a maid in Japan!? Tsuchimikado, the maid spirit you’re imagining has been corrupted beyond belief while you weren’t paying attention!!”
When he analyzed the damage this had done to him, Kamijou realized that he had actually idealized maids more than he had thought. That pointy-haired boy felt like someone had dumped a bunch of sweet vinegar sauce on some delicious fried chicken. Of course, this did not mean that she had mastered all of that. It may have been nothing more than the maid school version of “what would you do if terrorists attacked during class”. Or so he wanted to believe…
“A-anyway, the lifelines. Umm, we just have to get some long strips of duct tape and layer them a bunch of times, right?”
Even if the theory was correct, no one could stamp it with a safety guarantee. He wrapped it around his torso and then attached one end to a piece of metal sticking out from the wall…and as he repeated the process, he began sweating from tension all the more.
He tugged on the makeshift lifeline again and again to make sure it felt nice and sturdy.
And then the piece of metal it was attached to suddenly broke off.
His body seemed to slip away and he was thrown out into empty air. The scenery melted around him. No, this was different. It was the falling sensation that guided him into one of those visions.
“Are you using pigeon blood?” asked a frowning voice. “A dye that takes a life is against our ethics.”
They were no longer inside the previous apartment. It looked like a dark underground space. The space itself was large, but with the stone walls surrounding it and the unreliable candlelight, it felt horribly oppressive.
A silver-haired young man was stirring up a porcelain pot filled with something sinister-smelling. And the previous skeptical voice belonged to…the elderly Westcott. He looked ready to attend a social gathering in his suit, but that looked terribly out of place in this musty underground space. His social standing was clearly different from the others around him. If that eccentric conversation with middle-aged Mathers was accurate, he was apparently a coroner…meaning he worked for the police.
The young man did not look up as he poured all his focus into stirring the pot. He apparently had no intention of responding.
Westcott of the Three Founders grimaced even more, so Mathers, the man of identical rank who had apparently recruited the young man, smiled bitterly and responded.
“We do not wish to create a coded document that is damn near impossible to decipher and no one can read. We can leave that to the secretive Rosicrucians. Oh, or was that too bold a thing to say to an old man who likes to bring a rosy scent to the cabal and even brought in a mysterious secret document?”
“Do you know why the steam engine has spread so far across the world? The industrial revolution happened because anyone can use it and because it distributes its benefits equally. The sailing ships from the Age of Discovery look freeing enough at first glance, but they actually required national approval and protection to use. That is why the entirely privatized steamers so easily won out. Our Golden cabal will begin a new age in the same way. And what we need to do that is not the all-inclusive and ‘completed’ Christian bible. With that, you take the fixed miracles left behind by a ‘great being’ and branch out via differences in interpretation, so the possibilities are limited. What we need is a way of arranging basic incantations and symbols to materialize any idea you have in whatever form you desire. We need a work kit similar to a board game that extends the possibilities endlessly.”
“In that case, what is the Golden cabal’s greatest foe? Wouldn’t it be the avoidant reaction that hides everything behind the veil of the mystical, insists that the red on the palette means blood and the black means darkness, and continues to remove budding possibilities in that way, Westcott? And yet all of the colors are needed to paint the life force of a bright and beautiful flower. They are intentionally exaggerating the danger of the original grimoires’ toxins, but it is perfectly safe if you avoid jumping right into a theory that is entirely separated from the current world and instead gradually accustom yourself to the knowledge in stages using the work kit method that slowly deepens understanding one piece at a time. If people assumed the sky was inviolable, the airplane never would have been invented and the progress those inventor brothers are making toward an individual machine would have been delayed by a century.”
“Besides, we are in no position to talk about the ideal. From master to apprentice, master to apprentice, master to apprentice. …How many barriers are there between those of us here and a newcomer that joined today? The more people in the cabal, the more people placed in the higher ranks by the ritual of advancement, so those of us at the top are saying 7=4 on paper and peeling back the mask reveals something truly bizarre beneath. It isn’t right. And if the outer face and inner truth don’t match up, the entire organization’s image grows indistinct. Passing things from master to apprentice is fine, but a problem occurs when you don’t know which master to ask about what. If a unique method of determining which of the leaders is actually useful becomes necessary, it’s no different from seeking worldly wisdom in prison. The quality of the people drops when they have to spend their time on that.”
“A cabal is an organization. If the bottom collapses, the top goes with it. We need to take action before this decrease in quality comes to a head. It’s nonsense for the leaders to arrogantly assume the failure to communicate is a lack of talent on the other end and thus give up trying. The necessary knowledge must be right in front their eyes from the moment they enter the cabal. We need to return to the basic idea of providing what is necessary and only what is necessary. We are not seeking a great quantity of knowledge. We are seeking a way to use it! It can be a crystal ball, cards, a turtle shell, or crackling flames. All those who received the benefits of magic had tools to show them the way. Isn’t that also what we want? The completion of a collective device that will answer any anonymous question from someone with the proper experimental environment, be they master or apprentice? Listen, old man, only you enjoy your backwards teaching methods. I want an easier way! And for that, we must immediately complete a work kit that will naturally answer a seeker’s questions as they play with and learn from it.”
It was truly a deluge of words, but one term stood out to Kamijou.
The Black Cat Witch responded by tapping her finger on the table in a corner of the ceremonial ground.
There was…something there. It looked like a detailed miniature garden or a complex foreign board game. There were wands and disks carved from wood, cups made by melting glass, and similar daggers made from metal. They looked like toys at first glance, but a lot of work had clearly gone into making them.
And Kamijou noticed something else.
It looked familiar. It was like a miniature version of the room in which they stood.
“To use modern terms, the concept is probably similar to an app development tool,” explained the woman. "I mean, Hermeticism says everything in the world is made from 22 letters. From there, everyone just has to instinctually rearrange the graphical elements to prepare the environment. That is the gist of ceremonial magic that uses the form of a theatrical play and the miniature garden is a playwriting device for individual use. If the conditions had been different, it might have taken a form similar to haiku or tanka. Instead of relying on god and waiting your turn, this supplies the means of causing the miracle you feel is necessary. Or that’s the naïve ideal form, anyway.”
You moved the dolls within the miniature garden, had them hold the items like the daggers or wands, sprinkled colorful flower petals or leaves from a bottle, and made your own incantation by rearranging the terms in the guidebook.
And that created magic.
Anyone could try it as simply as making a bead accessory.
…Depending how you viewed it, that way of thinking could seem irreverent and frightening. Academy City’s esper development, for example, did not allow you to choose your power type or level, but if the magic side had been able to freely choose everything as easily as selecting toppings for a crepe, how twisted would it have grown?
Even if this app development tool was used to create a virus or phishing site and caused great damage in the outside world, the Golden cabal would not care. Did they see it like a gun culture where the ubiquity of weapons grew due to mutual distrust and a desire for self-defense? Did they see it as an age where those without a weapon would die?
“I am not saying we need to put a stop to this,” said Westcott. “I am saying even magic cabals need compromise. If we grow truly indiscriminate, we will be seen as no different from those wild partying groups.”
“This is worth the risk. Begin, Crowley. Open the eyes of this old man who is quickly falling into skepticism!”
Despite the over-the-top encouragement, the young man called Crowley made no grand actions like a stage magician. In fact, he did not even draw a magic circle directly on the floor. He placed a cloth over the round table in the corner and began drawing a large circle on it using the table’s outer edge.
“That is heresy!!” bellowed Westcott.
“Don’t be silly. It’s actually perfectly logical. As I said, our goal is not a ‘completed’ bible that follows the footsteps of a ‘great being’ and thus only has a limited number of miracles. We will create a work kit with endless possibilities that will bring back the communication of knowledge that has begun to slow to a trickle within our Golden cabal. We created a free cabal that allowed anyone in, man or woman, so it makes no sense to make them wait in meaningless lines. And due to the excessive number of people in the higher ranks, there is no guarantee that the person at the end of the line will provide the correct answer. We should be celebrating when people cut in line and when there is conflict between master and apprentice. What could be better than receiving feedback through confrontation? …This will be as close by as a lady’s sewing set or knitting needle and as professional as a painter or sculptor’s tools. Westcott, you had good taste to use the Germans as reference when establishing this cabal. After all, they have some truly involved board games.”
The small box contained the toys such as the cups and wands. A row of small bottles had varieties of dried flower petals and leaves sealed inside.
It was extremely detailed, but it would hint at new possibilities to newcomers, just like a child first touching an electronic circuit board bought as a teaching tool.
There was no good or evil there.
A child’s basic set could be used to create a radio or an eavesdropping device. In an old war, the soldiers had been issued the same paint sets used by children, which they used to disguise bombs as bricks or coal, laying traps that harmed military and civilians alike.
This was the same.
Even if paint was used in war, the paint’s developers were not criticized.
That was the way they saw this.
“Hey, Westcott, how many years did it take before you could accurately draw a 2m circle freehand? And not while standing in front of a canvas, but while stooped over staring at the floor?”
“This youngster is saying this one idea can erase all the wasted effort we all went through. Drawing directly on the floor will soon seem ridiculous. He says we just have to use the circle of a round table for guidance and then lay the tablecloth on the floor. This is what it means to have a work kit made just like a detailed board game. We can sweep aside the lines that might lead nowhere and instead use a collective device that accepts questions from anyone and gives effective answers to those questions. This is the dawning of an age in which everyone who seeks direct answers to their questions and aspires to use magic can freely give form to any idea they think up.”
The concept of programming languages did not yet exist in this age.
These people were only looking at a complex analog board game.
But to Kamijou’s eyes, this looked like the engineers who had only ever typed in complex and obscure C code dreaming of an app development tool that would allow even children to link together pieces as if assembling a jigsaw puzzle.
It was innocent, but dangerous.
These were truly infinite possibilities that could lead to both good and evil.
“Listen, old man. When guns showed up, the proud knights balked and said that was not tradition. When the steam engine showed up, the weaver women wailed and said the inferior mass-produced products had no soul. …But who can hear their voices now as we experience the stormy waves of time?”
“Are you saying I am a dying breed?”
“Old man, you aren’t extinct yet. Humans still win out over the steam engine because we can retrace our steps without someone pulling a giant lever. Do you still not get it? Now is the time to reconsider your thinking.”
Westcott let out a snort.
He had no intention of hiding his dislike with this newcomer’s character. He was likely prepared to throw the young man out if he made even a single mistake.
But even the awfully tense atmosphere that ruled the room did not impede the silver-haired young man’s movements. He prepared some kind of ritual with the precision of a clockwork doll. He confirmed the accurate directions, lined the pieces up at the appropriate locations, measured the precise time to get each movement just right, used the exact right pronunciation to send vibrations from his body to the air, and moved around the ceremonial ground with the perfect movements.
Kamijou knew little about magic, but even he could tell.
It was all going exactly as Westcott wanted.
But that seemed to make the old magic user’s eyebrows twitch irregularly. He must have truly despised the expressionless young man who worked calmly as if the great pressure did not bother him in the slightest.
The old man wanted to criticize him but could find no grounds for doing so.
The look on Westcott’s face made that perfectly clear and a mischievous smile came to Mathers’ face when he saw it.
“It’s no use, Westcott,” said Mathers as if he could not hold back any longer. “Magicians are not the type of person who will be accepted by the masses. And yet we continue to leave our mark on history. This is a path we all travel down, is it not? Westcott, your behavior actually proves that that young Aleister Crowley here is walking down the Golden path just like we once did.”
“Are you suggesting someone who showed no sign of understanding the arrangement of our GD tarot can skip straight past visions and accomplish a summoning using a Telesma-level ceremony? Mathers, if we want to avoid losing this promising young man, we should put a stop to this ceremony right this instant. Or barring that, we should at least prepare an exorcising sword in preparation for when he inevitably loses control of the dark forces.”
“Oh, don’t be so sure. If he was someone of such common talents, do you think an eccentric on my level would fall for him and work to win him over to my side?”
The conversation came to a stop.
That was due to the explosion-like roar that came from the floor.
It was invisible, but something like a powerful mass of wind raged around them.
Westcott was of course the one whose eyes widened.
“You fool!! I told you he would lose control of the dark forces!”
Westcott quickly pulled away the tablecloth that bore the magic circle drawn in pigeon’s blood, but the same pattern had been scorched onto the ceremonial ground’s floor. It was inorganic, but it had such persistence. It was like something invisible had stuck its hand through the gap of a partially opened door and was trying to force it the rest of the way open.
“Help me with this, Mathers. We need to buy enough time to contact Blythe Road and have them bring over the treasure!!”
“No, not yet!! Ha ha!! This is where things get interesting!!”
Mathers spread his arms wide as if to welcome it.
Then something changed.
The wind did not calm down, but it gained clear directionality. It wrapped around in a fierce whirlwind as if to contain itself within the magic circle scorched onto the floor. Thanks to that, it maintained the intensity of its power, but it was compact and stable. A formless being was held within the circle and trapped like a fairy tale demon. The stage was set and it would have to answer any of the magic user’s commands.
It was like a gas light that could only burn within its glass container and would be snuffed out at the turn of the knob.
“What…? What happened!? He had clearly lost control!!”
“You’re looking at this in the old way, Westcott. You seem to view the world as 10 spheres plus the invisible Da’at connected by 22 lines, but that Sephiroth is but one side of the world. Aleister Crowley here has recalculated the world using the completely opposite tree.”
“The Qliphoth…? You mean the upside-down tree with a demon’s name engraved in each imaginary Sephirah!?”
“With enough knowledge and consideration, negative power can be changed into words with which to describe the world. What you saw as a failure was the starting point of success for this youngster. You can search for the stairway up to heaven if you like, but you can also learn the formula by investigating the hole down to hell. Just as reading Dante’s Divine Comedy as a bedtime story will make the children tremble in fear. You just have to put in the effort to not turn out the same yourself.”
“But this…this is too risky. I get that the reverse of the reverse is the front, but rushing into practical usage without understanding the truth of the words will only lead to summoning more and more dark forces until you have destroyed yourself. You say you want to create a magic work kit that guides you to the miracle you want by lining up the symbols without any technical knowledge, to safely and surely raise up the newcomers with something akin to a detailed board game, and to complete a collective device that will answer questions from master and apprentice alike, but this goes against that entire philosophy! Just as the bible uses complex expressions to obscure the true meaning within, including the evil tree in our Golden cabal will only complicate our essence! If you want secret rituals full of the evil toxins of original grimoires that only a chosen few can understand and bare their fangs against any who make a mistake, then go join the Rosicrucians. I thought you said this isn’t what we want!”
“Don’t be so sure. It’s all about reversing how you think. Just like how -1 times -1 is +1. Understand that and you won’t be so confused. Whether you start from the positive or the negative, you can turn it in the positive direction in the end.”
“I already said that mental exercise isn’t suited for beginners! This is the capital of the proud British Empire, but the people of London still count coins with their fingers to calculate change. The swords and discs appearing and disappearing in that box is enough to confuse them. Listen, this is the state of things in London, the most advanced city in the world. Everyone begins as an amateur. You can’t assume the masses can do the same things we can!!”
“That’s why we’re changing everything starting from there. Our board game of a work kit will change the world just as much as the steam engine did.”
Kamijou had a sudden thought as he viewed this illusion conversation.
“Why aren’t they able to just listen to each other…?”
Mathers was clearly provoking the other man to draw out what he really thought, Crowley was calmly continuing his experiment with no concern for the surrounding voices, and Westcott (while he seemed the most reasonable) was only advocating the traditions built up over time from the old principles in order to crush the results of this newcomer he did not like. If they had worked together toward a single result for just a little bit, couldn’t they have reduced the necessary time considerably?
It felt like watching people endlessly arguing over the strongest animal with no hope of reaching an answer.
Then the Black Cat Witch sighed from where she had appeared next to him.
“When adults who can never forget their childish side get serious, they return to being children. I generally had to settle things when this happened.”
That was all he could say.
A mediator for fruitless debate. A coordinator. Some people were forced into that endlessly exhausting job and Mina Mathers may have been one such person.
“So why did you even marry that guy?”
“Looking back on it, it seems the rough sort of man has an odd charisma to him. Are you familiar with the aesthetics of a sharp tongue?”
“You sometimes hear about mysterious communities in which 10 or 20 women gather around a single man in a single apartment, right? …The Golden cabal was full of ridiculously idiosyncratic people, but it was also a gathering of that sort of charismatic eccentric.”
“Where’s the love…?”
That would be why they could not agree no matter what they said. They all saw themselves as the “center”. It was said too many captains would steer the ship up a mountain, but the Golden cabal may have been a ship steered so far off course with such great intensity that it crashed into a mountain on Mars.
Feeling dejected, Kamijou saw the illusions continuing their fierce argument.
“But now that we’ve proven Mr. Crowley’s theory to be correct, we might need to review each of our documents one at a time.”
“What are you saying, Mathers?”
“The GD tarot. Our Golden cabal completed that arrangement as a group, but Crowley has successfully summoned Telesma while rejecting the arrangement of those 22 cards. So perhaps the truth is contained in the mistaken arrangement he advocates. I am saying we need to look back over Waite’s traditions.”
“Is that what you were after!? You wanted to stick a scalpel in the Golden cabal’s great achievement and deteriorate it just to increase your own influence!?”
“You are looking at this on too small a scale.”
Kamijou Touma did not really understand magic.
Smashing something with a hammer to break it did not mean you knew how to build up precision equipment piece by piece. No amount of contact with magicians would turn him into an engineer.
But that pointy-haired boy sensed something like a slight shift to the atmosphere.
“What?” he asked. “Are they fighting over power within the group?”
“The Golden cabal was created by the Three Founders. But one of those retired due to old age, so the management became a tug-of-war between Westcott and Mathers. It was Crowley’s entrance that sent the power balance back to an odd number instead of an even one. If Crowley’s power had continued to grow, Westcott would likely have been eliminated two-to-one.”
“The Golden cabal worked to discover a unified theory to explain the truth of the world and they sought to construct a work kit that brought endless possibilities, unlike the bible that had a limited number of miracles left behind by a ‘great being’. Instead of using grimoires which are oceans of dangerous words, they would create an artery of familiar knowledge from fellow humans living in the same age. It would be as close by as a lady’s sewing set or knitting needle and as professional as a painter or sculptor’s tools. Instead of destroying your mind by taking in all of an original grimoire’s toxic knowledge at once, you would gradually come to understand magic in your own words by referencing a detailed board game simple enough for children or adults to play. Yes, just like a development tool that allows you to assemble an app by combining puzzle pieces on the screen instead of spending the time to learn the confusing C language.”
The Black Cat Witch explained the beginning of their ruin in a clear voice.
“By the way, Mathers was trying to investigate each of the pieces carved out by Westcott and the others so that he could use Crowley to rewrite them. By overwriting the work kit development tool they had all created, he could fill it with his and Crowley’s props. No, Crowley was an apprentice that Mathers looked after personally. So even if they worked together, the end result would be seen as a Mathers product.”
“Why go to all that trouble…?”
“He had no real reason. If I had to give one, I would say it was his greed and the fact that he was an eccentric with that sort of charisma. He wanted to break open the stagnation of passing knowledge from master to apprentice and he wanted to clear way the prison-like learning system that required determining who from the many leaders was actually useful. He wanted to get rid of the long lines leading to who-knows-where and he wanted to create a collective device that allowed master or apprentice to ask anonymous questions without shame. And he wanted that simple but detailed work kit to have been proposed by him alone, not the entire group of Golden leaders. He wanted to leave his mark on history. That was probably all it was. Deep down, it was the same as the innocent dream of discovering a dinosaur fossil and having it bear your name forevermore. He too was an adult who could not rid himself of his childish side.”
A dinosaur fossil made sense.
Kamijou could understand betting everything on spending days on end digging through the rocks.
…But once you did find a new kind of dinosaur fossil, could you really just turn around and drive out everyone who helped you in the dig just because you wanted to give it your name?
But then the Black Cat Witch said something odd.
“But that is not what actually happened.”
“Most of the modern magic that ended up continuing on to the modern era is judged to be a product of Aleister Crowley. Mathers’ name is not found there. His innocent but wicked desire was snuffed out before it could be achieved.”
That had not been done by Westcott or the other outsiders. Crowley was part of Mathers’ faction after all.
“This is confusing,” said Kamijou. “So Westcott and Mathers were opposed to each other, but then Mathers and Crowley were fighting within Mathers’ own faction?”
“Directly, yes. Although the enemy reflected in Aleister Crowley’s eyes was something much larger.”
“Now, there was a certain incident that brought an end to Mathers’ work when it all seemed to be going quite well. His fall began with a quiet little armed conflict. What do you think that was?”
Asking questions he had no way of answering may have been a bad habit of Mina Mathers, the lonely woman who loved explaining things.
The cat-eared woman in mourning clothes provided the answer with a smile that seemed to hide deeper meaning.
“The Battle of Blythe Road that I mentioned at the beginning.”
Mikoto felt some kind of sharp pain run through her temples as she focused on what the A.A.A. was picking up.
She grimaced, but something like quiet static continued to intermittently play from the small speaker (which she had acquired by sending Shokuhou’s cellphone to its grave). Like reading a barcode, it was converted into a few human words as it slipped into Mikoto’s ears.
There was no context.
There was no advance warning.
There was no kindness.
There was no asking if the listener understood.
The intermittent array of words felt like peering into someone’s mind. There was no need to arrange it so someone else could understand and they already understood all the advance information needed to comprehend it, so it was like a rough and random riot of words. There was no structure or grammar, only an exchange of isolated terms emphasized in accordance to their importance, so it felt like peering at the notebook of an obsessive memo-taker and trying to use all the words crammed on the page to reconstruct what they had been thinking at the time.
Shokuhou Misaki specialized in reading people’s minds, so was she always facing this wild vortex of information? Or was what Mikoto was viewing a highly unusual case?
She pushed back the pain scorching her brain cells and forcibly worked at converting it into understandable language.
She felt like she was on the verge of seeing something.
…Who was on the other end of the A.A.A.?
…Who was this grand pile of scraps connected to!?
A sweet honey scent gently enveloped her face.
She focused on the outside world once more and found Shokuhou Misaki pressing a handkerchief to her face as if wiping a small child’s nose.
“You have a nosebleed.”
“There are legends saying expert chess or shogi players will get a nosebleed if they go too far with their concentration ability, so maybe this is something similar.”
“Oh, dear. Are words out of style now?”
As Mikoto let the other girl treat her like a child, her focus slipped and she was trapped by the feeling that the fish she had nearly caught was escaping.
Even so, she felt like something was talking in a vague form as she linked together the fragmentary terms. Misaka Mikoto felt a vague anxiety that accepting this would cause everything she had built up to come crashing down, but for some reason, a very familiar phrase appeared there and would not go away.
To ensure the entire stone wall did not collapse, she slowly and carefully pulled out just one of the stones.
And she gently placed it on her tongue.
Shokuhou Misaki’s slender shoulders definitely jumped.
“He really is a part of all this. But it’s written differently…? Would that spelling mean…the One who Purifies God and Slays Demons…???”
The vision vanished like fog.
Unpleasant sweat poured from Kamijou’s entire body. The metal sticking out from the wall had not broken and the multilayer duct tape lifeline had not snapped. He had not been thrown out into the emptiness. …By this time, he had mostly figured out how it worked, but the sensation of falling still felt incredibly real. His heart was palpitating almost painfully in his chest. The term “taking years off your life” stabbed into his mind, but not as a mere figure of speech.
“Oh, ohh? Kamijou Touma, are you okay?”
“Yeah… But really, what is this???”
Was it a method of showing a target individual a premade vision? No, he felt like that was not enough to explain this.
More importantly, he wanted to know why he was being shown the visions. That bothered him more. After all, this was the Windowless Building. Everything here would come from Aleister. Even if the “device” named Mina Mathers was defying her master in contacting Kamijou, he had been shown many times now that the “human” named Aleister Crowley viewed both success and failure as a means to reach the desired result. So it was possible that Mina’s betrayal was part of the plan. It was also possible that questioning this was part of the plan. It was also possible that Kamijou believing he had seen through the plan was part of the plan. …To be honest, once he sent his thoughts down that path, there was no end to it. That labyrinth of opposing mirrors or nesting dolls was the true essence of Aleister. And the moment you ran out of patience with that, it would mess with your defense calculations and allow his surefire attack to secretly strike.
Kamijou had to maintain his self.
He could not stop investigating deeper, but he also had to stop himself from restricting his own actions through excessive suspicion. He needed the accuracy of a clock’s hands.
Even if thinking that way was part of the plan, he could not let his guard down at any of the countless hairpin turns. If just once he ran off the course and broke through the guardrail, he would roll right off the cliff, and that would end the same no matter which level he was on.
“…Whatever the case, we need to get past this.”
“Y-yeah, that’s right.”
The mountain climbing no longer had stairs or ladders. They were combating a cliff face.
The wall they were using for footing only had silver ducts and air conditioners which were directly attached. In some places, the footing would branch apart in a position where they clearly could not stand. It was a lot like a retro platforming game where falling meant instant death, but this was nothing that cool. They would dangle down above the void using their lifeline, reach their toes over to the next footing while stretching their leg so far they were sure they would get a cramp, and then slowly shift their body weight over.
It looked silly, but they were several hundred meters up. Kamijou could not have felt more isolated when he had his feet on one of the boxy air conditioners.
The carefree maid girl must have had it even worse. He reached out his hands to help her as they worked together to move from air conditioner to air conditioner.
Once they finally reached the larger footing of a window cleaning gondola, they decided to take a quick break, but they found someone already there.
“Oh, were you down below?”
She too had apparently been moving upwards to regroup with the others. She must have continued up before Kamijou and Maika woke up.
But Fran would not have had a duct tape lifeline.
How had she overcome that retro platforming game of ducts and air conditioners? Surely she had not actually nimbly hopped across.
His question was answered from an unexpected place.
“I thought this might happen, so I was carrying a spare balloon folded up with the floating gas removed.”
“You awful cheater!!!!!!”
He should have thrown his hands in the air and celebrated that an ally had found a safe way of traveling here, but he could not help but prioritize his complaints after seriously risking his life without that method. He wanted to unfairly ask why she had not brought them along too.
“Ahn? So can we just ignore the terrain for the rest of the way?”
Kamijou sighed on the dangling window cleaning gondola, but when he thought about it rationally, he realized he could not relax at all. There was no longer anything sticking out from the wall. He only saw the window cleaning gondola, a ropeway, a crane hook hanging from a wire, etc. From here on out, their footing would wobble unreliably as it dangled down from the darkness overhead. Instead of anything solidly anchored to the wall, most of it was wobbling back and forth like a pendulum. No amount of lives would be enough when trying something like that. Had Index and Tsuchimikado really made it through that to continue on up? What had happened to the calico cat or 15cm Othinus? Those fundamental questions passed through his mind.
Then he heard a comment from the girl who wore not just shorts but a hoodie bikini in winter.
“Well, um, as you can see from the volume of the floating gas and balloon, it has a weight limit. There’s no way it can carry 3 people…”
Kamijou Touma and Tsuchimikado Maika did not hesitate.
“Ah, wait! Just because it can only carry 2 is no reason to kick out the balloon’s owner! Isn’t that taking your cruelty too far!?”
“Shut up! I refuse to let you just take the easy road all the way the top! Stay here a bit!! Two heads are better than one, and three are even better than that, Fran-san!!”
“You two can fight on your own,” said Maika. “While you do, I’ll be taking this balloon up to the top.”
And in her mourning clothes and cat ears, Mina Mathers placed a hand on her chin while floating nearby like a ghost.
“If you don’t do something, I get the feeling all 3 of you will slowly fall to the bottom.”
Kamijou had faced a great many things in this light bit of mountain climbing. While he certainly did not want to plummet down to his death, slowly descending to the bottom and having to do it all over again would absolutely kill his motivation.
So wise Kamijou Touma made a neutral suggestion.
“W-wait just a moment! It’s wrong to have us all fall. Fran, get us close to some kind of footing. We need to cool our heads for a bit!!”
But the blood had rushed to the hoodie bikini girl’s head, so she erupted.
“You don’t get to play the pacifist after grabbing on like this!! You started this yourself and now you’re ending it yourself? Do you think it’s all about you or something!?”
A fairly serious kick was thrown at point-blank range and Kamijou’s body forgot all about gravity. But they were already several hundred meters from the ground. A somewhat intense tsukkomi could be deadly on this mountain climbing path.
(Oh, please no!! Am I just not suited for high places or something!?)
Plus, this was the boy whose fortune would come back with “terrible luck” in every category from romantic luck to business luck. However, he could not afford to kick the bucket here, so he flailed his arms around mostly on instinct.
And his desperately outstretched right hand felt something.
It was Fran’s bikini bottom.
He had grabbed on from the front.
The rabbit-ear antennae girl held the balloon’s grip wire between her thighs, used her hands to hold either side of the bikini bottom as it threatened to slip down, and began a hellish came of tug-of-war as she blushed red and shouted at him. Would it slip down or not? An extreme battle began.
“I’ll kill you, you pervert!!”
“Shut up, you attempted tsukkomi murderer!! And if you don’t want to lose the ‘attempted’ part, then help me out here. By the way, I’m truly thankful that your bikini isn’t the side-tie kind!!”
Then mourning clothes and cat ears Mina whispered in the life-risking boy’s ear as she floated casually alongside him.
“Despite how she looks, she’s actually very happy you’re giving her this attention. A bunny with a broken heart can die from loneliness after all.”
“Ohhh, is that so? Fran, are you just embarrassed? Then it seems to me you should be able to meet me halfway here.”
“The knee!? Gabh! A knee to my cheekbone!? Thanks for the really unreliable theory there, Mina. You’re not much help here either, are you!?”
“Don’t be silly. That is merely her way of hiding her embarrassment. She is what people call a tsundere.”
“Yeah, right. Inside and out, she’s seriously trying to kill me!!”
“Okay,” said Fran. “If you’re willing to have a nice chat with your own imagination there, please let go of my swimsuit.”
“I’m not risking my life here because I want your bikini, Fran! If you don’t let me clear up this misunderstanding, I’ll commit a double suicide with your bikini bottom here! I don’t think you’ll like the position that leaves you in!!”
He thought he had just barely managed to achieve equilibrium, but then he felt something slipping in his right hand.
(It can’t be! Did Fran really lose her final line of defense!?)
Kamijou was shocked by the pressure of falling, but that was not what had happened. His hand held nothing.
This sensation should have been impossible.
It was the same as the illusion of the railing or footing collapsing.
He was entering another vision.
“This will probably be confusing, so allow me to make a note first: we will now move the timeline beyond the Golden age. Just keep in mind that this is past the time he spent with Mathers and Westcott.”
Every man and every woman is a star.
Separate from their surface consciousness, people contain a self that can achieve wisdom. If everyone could awaken to that self, the entire world would turn at maximum efficiency, as if all the gears fit together. In other words, nothing is intrinsically worthless.
“You look upset, young lady. Would it cheer you up if I invited you to the starry sky?”
In that case, there may have been some kind of necessity to the “human” known as Aleister Crowley meeting a certain woman.
His voice was similar to when he was younger, but it was also decisively different. It was calm, it contained an intent to connect with the outer world, and most importantly, it was not filled with hatred and doubt directed at the world.
He was considerate.
He was trying to gently touch the other person’s formless heart.
“…That’s surprising,” said Kamijou. “The magician of the century could fall in love like normal?”
“And I am the wife of eccentric Mathers,” said the Black Cat Witch. “Is that a problem?”
Did marriage really make someone look so much more reliable?
“Also, Crowley was surprisingly popular due to his androgynous beauty and his eccentric charisma. In fact, because it came to him so easily, he never had much interest in normal love.”
“Normies are the worst.”
“Watch what you say. He was generally an unemployed eccentric who loved black jokes and submitted his own erotic novels to a cheap publisher, so you can’t really call him a normie.”
“In his great masterpiece, he got carried away and referred to male genitalia in more than 100 ways. He also visited Egypt and attempted the K2 with no extra oxygen supply. Once he started something, he would stubbornly give it his all.”
Kamijou began trembling.
He felt his image of the evil demon king crumbling down around him. This was like looking under your father’s bed or searching through your teacher’s computer. There was some important information that an adolescent was better off not knowing.
“By the way, Crowley would also nonchalantly bring his own semen to the ceremonial ground where everyone was gathered and use it in experiments, he stole the butterfly decoration used to hide the crotch of a naked bronze statue and wore it over his pants to a party, and he would make the most wonderful rhyming sexual jokes whenever he saw a magician from the same cabal. He was quite the unrestrained magician.”
“That just makes him a giant pervert!! His personality was entirely broken!!”
“At the time, it was all dismissed as mere mischief, so the difference between eras can be a frightening thing. I’m truly jealous of modern society with its civilized definition of sexual harassment…”
Whenever he looked more deeply into the older ages seen in samurai dramas or knight stories, Kamijou could not help but notice how difficult women had it, but if everyone around her had been that eccentric, Mina Mathers must have felt completely surrounded. And the sad part was that enduring it all would have been meaningless.
But Crowley the Unrestrained King had toned it down in the current scene.
Had the silver-haired young man seen enough value in the ephemeral woman standing next to him to suppress that egotistic side of himself? With the perverted side of himself closed up like a cuckoo clock, the silver-haired “human” looked just like a gentleman with a strict policy of “ladies first”.
“That woman is named Rose. She became Aleister Crowley’s first wife.”
“The details can come later. …Although after this, the things pent-up inside him exploded.”
“Now I don’t want to see the rest!! I have a bad feeling about what’s coming!!”
Time flowed by.
After marriage, they seemed to begin living together and Aleister apparently stopped trying to hide his magic research from his wife Rose. In fact, he actively used her as an assistant. Kamijou did not know exactly how it worked, but he seemed to sometimes use an incantation and a magic circle to summon something formless and send it inside his wife’s body.
The woman had initially seemed ephemeral, but Kamijou felt a heart-pounding unease when he saw her convulsing in a chair inside a basement filled with some kind of burning incense.
“Crowley was a man of logic and efficiency, so he did not hold back even with his own wife.”
“That is a method of hypnotizing someone to intentionally guide them into a trance and access a higher being, but the trance here is the same type used by the ancient witches who would rub a special ointment on their brooms, mount them without wearing any underwear, and-…”
“Waaahh! Waaaaaaaahh!! Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh!!!!!!”
Kamijou shuddered as his danger sense warned that carelessly listening any further would be like a scam where he was made to overhear told personal information and then pressured into paying money in apology.
“Now, as his true self exploded out and he ended up playing doctor – or rather, playing magician – with his newlywed wife, he eventually accessed a higher being said to be a guardian angel during a trip to Egypt. And that guardian angel’s name might have been glimpsed here in Academy City.”
“…That name is Aiwass. That being contains the number 93, just like Thelema. And just like Coronzon, that name became a major turning point in Aleister Crowley’s life.”
Kamijou did not recognize that name.
Although it was possible that it was a name someone other than him had pursued.
Answers did not always appear before the one seeking them.
“The compilation of Aleister’s theories was turned into a book based on what Aiwass said through Rose’s mouth. And this was something sensational enough to blow away not just the Golden cabal’s foundational theories constructed by Westcott and the other leaders, but also the new theories Mathers planned to build by hijacking them.”
“What? So he got an answer through something like the Kokkuri-san, decided he had drawn it from his own subconscious, and turned it into a book???”
“Sometimes a powerful grimoire is given more prestige through a legend saying it was provided by a higher being, but there are a relatively large number of records remaining of Crowley and Aiwass’s contact. Although it seems the skeptics that wanted to get rid of him searched through and found fault with all of them. Still, I think it has more credibility than the laughable document permitting the cabal’s establishment that Westcott forged.”
“…Did you just casually slip in something really important there?”
“Legends are unnecessary if you only wish to learn knowledge and technique. But Westcott was from an older age, so he wanted his cabal to have history with an academic or royal scholar. Thus, he claimed to be the only person to have received permission to create a cabal from the ultimate higher being named Anna Sprengel. Whether or not Lady Sprengel actually existed, the document Westcott received was a fake created by an Englishman forging a German’s handwriting. Honestly, if he hadn’t been so intent on social standing, he wouldn’t have fallen prey to those silly newspaper journalists later on.”
Instead of a superhuman organization that secretly determined world events from the shadows of history…they felt more like a group of eccentrics that caused trouble wherever they went. If this was the gathering of geniuses that changed the magic side’s level of techniques, Kamijou wondered if they had looked like an uncontrollable hurricane to those around them.
“But this would have been a happy time for Crowley.”
“…I’m really worried that his wife wouldn’t be able to survive that happiness.”
“Not what I meant.”
Time continued further.
And Kamijou heard a voice that seemed horribly out of place.
It was the crying of a baby.
“That is Aleister Crowley’s first daughter.”
“Oh… Yeah, I guess that would eventually happen if he got married.”
A small life was wrapped in a soft cloth.
The baby calmed down in her mother’s arms, but the man seemed to be keeping a slight distance. Was he afraid of infecting her with his impurity as a magician?
A high school boy like Kamijou had no way of knowing how much courage it would take to fill that slight gap.
But after a very, very long time, Crowley finally moved his fingertips toward his child’s mouth.
And then the small hand gently grasped the father’s fingers.
“To be blunt, her official name was about as overly-long as Jugemu Jugemu, but magic researchers simply call her Lilith. Crowley apparently read the stars to determine her name and it supposedly has an actual meaning. In other words, that was how obsessed with his daughter he was.”
His passion seemed to go to waste a lot, but it was kind of adorable when it went to waste for something like this. He sought logic and efficiency in everything and he would make harsh jokes and cruel jeers every time he opened his mouth, but perhaps he had worked hard to try his hand at something he was not used to.
As a father, he had wished for the happiness of his newborn daughter.
As he peered down at his daughter held gently in his wife’s arms, reached out his fingertips, and saw that tiny hand gently grab them, what had grown in the heart of that “human” who had the skill needed to master magic and hijack the world’s greatest cabal?
“This was the happiest time for Aleister Crowley.”
“Yeah, maybe so.”
“Do you not understand? This was the happiest time.”
Kamijou frowned when Mina Mathers insisted on repeating herself. He sensed some hidden meaning to her words.
And the Black Cat Witch explained while surrounded by an ominous atmosphere.
“To put it another way, it is only downhill from here. Aleister Crowley’s life only continued to sink without ever resurfacing.”
“Wait… Hold on…”
Kamijou looked back to the scene before his eyes.
This was an illusion.
Instead of complete fiction, it was probably an image of the past a certain person had walked. So no amount of struggling could change history. All of it had already happened.
But Kamijou still begged it to stop.
What he saw here was perfect. This was the ultimate accomplishment of everything that Aleister Crowley was. What could be added to or subtracted from this? Any addition or subtraction would clearly be superfluous, but what had the outside world brought to this miniature garden?
“To assist with the birth and to protect the unstable mother and daughter with all his being, Aleister temporarily stopped his magical research. And to make up for that delay, he left on a trip to a great mountain once the mother and child’s state had stabilized. He had a certain objective there, but that does not matter here.”
There was a single answer.
“Once he was done there, he learned of his young daughter’s unnaturally sudden death by illness. That “human” had wished for his daughter’s happiness more than anyone else in the world and he had given her a name so long it was a pain to say…but he had not been allowed to come running and be with his beloved daughter as she died.”
That had begun the fall.
It had been a trigger great enough for a human to curse the destiny of the entire world.
This was different from before.
He was not groaning from the shock and confusion of the scenery and vision suddenly changing. The information brought by the foggy city felt like a heavy blow to Kamijou Touma’s chest.
Aleister Crowley. The beginning of his fall.
The far too sudden loss of his young daughter, Lilith.
Kamijou could not steady his wavering vision. As an average high school boy, Kamijou Touma had of course never had a daughter. He had no way of knowing how realistic the feelings inside him were.
But the boy had no way of resisting the emotion driven inside him like a thick stake.
He curled up, opened his mouth wide, and let out a roar with all his might.
Emotions provided by an external source were never good. In a way, they were more dangerous than a flamethrower. He knew that, but he could not stop the clear liquid that spilled from his tear ducts.
This was what Kamijou felt while viewing it from a distance.
No, even as her actual father, Aleister Crowley had only been a distant observer. He had only learned of that small life’s loss through a simple letter. He had not been allowed to rely on some grand magic produced from every technique he had and he had not even been able to hold that tiny hand, despite knowing it was no use. He only had the merciless result forced onto him after it was all over.
How could someone overcome something so unreasonable?
No, had he turned out the way he had because he could not overcome it?
Had the “human” named Aleister Crowley been wandering in a forest of his own creation for over a century?
And while Kamijou Touma’s thoughts were in such a serious place, a girl’s small foot struck his cheek.
“Get your hand off of my bikini bottom already, you pervert!!!!!!”
It was Fran who was blushing bright red. Kamijou was finally knocked from the balloon in reality instead of an illusion. But there was no sensation of falling and his butt landed on a nearby steel beam.
The hoodie bikini girl had apparently moved the balloon over toward the wall.
“Honestly, this is the problem with boys. Mutter, mutter. Give them the chance and they’ll justify everything they do… Why do they only ever use their brains when it comes to making their actions seem legitimate…?”
A misunderstanding seemed underway at tremendous speed, but she would probably say something about using his brains if he made any kind of excuse, so he left that untouched.
Kamijou decided to change tack a little.
“W-well, I’m not sure you can say that about all boys. Eh heh. Eh heh heh. I mean, what about Kamisato?”
“That bastard was the victim type of pervert that would naturally take all the juicy bits for himself!! If all the boys in the world would end like that just by standing there, I’d sink into despair!!”
“Hmm,” said Mina. “It seems to me like a very bad idea to bring up that name so soon after she had her heart broken, but are you the type that enjoys bullying the girl you like?”
When Mina appeared in the air, Kamijou’s briefly numbed feelings came surging back. He was reminded of what he had seen. Of the tuning point that sent a human’s life tumbling down.
He breathed in and out.
He wiped the sweat from his brow.
He did not care what anyone said about him.
Kamijou spoke to the person only he could see.
“What is it?”
The Black Cat Witch stood next to him and looked down at him.
As usual, she did not bat an eye.
“What happens after that? What happens to that ‘human’!?”
“Again, that leads to the Board Chairman Aleister Crowley you see in the present.”
“That’s not what I’m asking about!! Send me there right away!!”
“Every man and every woman is a star.” Mina Mathers whispered what sounded like a password. “When each individual is aware how they should act and fulfills those actions, there will be no meaningless work in this world. If you seek something, you must walk on your own feet and reach out your own hand.”
Kamijou Touma looked out ahead with utter exhaustion in his eyes.
He saw window cleaning gondolas, crane hooks, and ropeways. As before, he would have to scale a deadly mountain using only unstable footing.
But he no longer hesitated.
It did not matter how unreliable the footing was. It did not matter whether or not they were being pursued by a pair of beasts with rainbow chains and transparent flesh and blood.
He wanted to know the whole history of that human’s wandering.
Then a 15cm god spoke to him by climbing up onto a window cleaning gondola’s railing. She had apparently climbed this high under her own power. The world had to have looked very different at Othinus’s scale.
“I won’t tell you not to go running ahead. That would be like telling a bird not to fly or a fish not to swim. But if you do start running, don’t give into despair. Abandoning thought is just being lazy. When you’re running recklessly forward is exactly when you need to remain calm. You need to make use of all your power to return alive.”
After he nodded, Othinus climbed up his clothes to her usual spot on his right shoulder. If he took one wrong step, she would plummet to the bottom with him, but he did not feel a single tremor from her body.
“Hey, Othinus. Have you seen Index or Tsuchimikado? They don’t seem to be here either.”
“Talking about another girl already? No, maybe I should interpret that as your normal behavior and be relieved.”
“Sniff, sniff. …And you are covered in a mixture of a few odd scents.”
“Hm? Is that because of the weird visions Mina’s been showing me…?”
“You held more than one girl in your arms on the way here, didn’t you? Really, how could you not notice you were getting these indecent smells on you? Honestly…”
“Why are you so irritated!? Let’s get serious before you sink into a bog of your own making!”
Othinus was in a very bad mood, but she seemed intent on sticking with him to the end.
Kamijou looked back toward Maika and Fran.
“If you don’t think you can go any further, you don’t have to follow me. If you stay on the narrow footing, those handcuff and gear beasts, human karma, mountain devilishness, or whatever they are can’t appear around you. I’ll head to the top and see if the others are up there.”
“I-I want to see for myself that Aniki’s okay.”
“And I can safely get to the top with my spare balloon as long as you all don’t get in the way.”
Those did not seem like logical or efficient opinions.
If they simply sought safety, it may have been much better to remain on the window cleaning gondola.
But Kamijou did not force his opinion onto them.
Perhaps that was due to the lamentation of that “human”. Perhaps it was because he had indirectly felt that magician’s intense emotion after being unable to see his daughter’s death for himself.
“Understood. It’s your decision. It’s not my place to tell you what to do.”
Now that they knew what to do, they only had to do it.
They were fortunate to have Fran and her balloon that could continue up no matter what. By passing her belt-like makeshift ropes made from multiple layers of duct tape, she could pass the rope along routes they normally could not have reached. She could tie two crane hooks together to create a V-shaped wire or she could use two horizontal ropes to attach a window cleaning gondola to a midair ropeway and place zigzagging tape between them to create a makeshift bridge.
It felt a lot like athletically moving from one cliff face to another by clinging to the wire strung between them. But their odds of survival were much better than using the midair swings as they jumped from one pendulum-like hook to another.
In her chic maid uniform, Maika held onto a vertical duct tape lifeline as she reached her tense legs from one footing to another.
“The view from below is incredible,” said Mina. “Yes, look at her tremble… This is a strange feeling you can never get from a miniskirt café model.”
“…The rest of us can’t float, so if we tried that, we’d fall to our deaths.”
True to her self-proclaimed title of witch, she may have loved tempting people onto wicked paths. Either that or she was one of the unfortunate people who always messed with the camera to see how low an angle they could get in an RPG or shooting game.
“Placing a burden on all of your muscles in a specific order might count as a variation of yoga. Crowley focused on that while mountain climbing.”
“You hag, the way you place a hand above your eyes when focusing on something really does make you seem old.”
“…Was someone just insulting me?” cut in the hoodie bikini girl’s words like a curse.
The trouble was about to spread, so Kamijou decided to stop speaking with Mina who had a way of causing misunderstandings.
As they climbed higher, the scenery changed again.
Footing was still sparse. The mountain climbing route was still devastating and consisted entirely of objects hanging from the heavens by wires. But instead of window cleaning gondolas and crane hooks, Kamijou and the others saw fairy tale 5-pointed stars and cradle-like crescent moons. They were all a few meters across and it felt like jumping between gorgeous chandeliers. If not for the terrible fear of heights, they should have provided enough footing, but…
“How high up are we now…?” Kamijou wondered aloud.
Unlike true mountain climbing, the air did not seem to grow thinner and colder as they climbed. No matter how strange it seemed, they were still inside the Windowless Building, so the temperature, pressure, and humidity may have been kept at a certain value.
The giant tower ignored three-dimensional space as it rose toward the heavens.
And they had finally reached fake stars and moons.
…This should have been an impossible height. Checking the distance from the surface to the outer atmosphere in an online encyclopedia was enough to know that. That was not a distance that human legs could clear in a day. But at the same time, this was an alternate-dimensional space where Euclidean geometry did not apply. The distance of each step did not necessary match up with the distance they had actually traveled. Plus, they were surrounded by giant walls on every side. With no view outside, there was nothing to judge the distance by.
Would they really make their way to outer space like this?
That absurd thought entered his mind.
Until now, Fran had flown freely around with her balloon to create spider webs of duct tape for them, but now the hoodie bikini girl sounded surprised.
Fran’s butt was pressed against the side of a simplified star like the kind seen at the top of a Christmas tree. It was almost like she had fallen onto a soft cushion.
Confused, Kamijou asked a question.
“Eh? Eh? What just happened? Some kind of adhesive? Or a magnet???”
“I don’t know…but it felt like I fell toward the star…?”
On the boy’s shoulder, Othinus crossed both her arms and legs as she sighed.
“Artificial gravity? Curse that ‘human’. Is he working to acquire even the forces of the planet?”
Kamijou did not understand how this worked.
Artificial gravity brought to mind a small room spinning around to produce centrifugal force, but he had no idea how people or objects could be pulled toward the surface of a small sphere like this.
If the actual matter was far denser than the apparent volume, could it be given the same powerful universal gravitation as a normal planet?
“No, that wouldn’t work… It wouldn’t make sense for it to be dangling from a single wire then. And if it was that dense, it would be a scorching hell like the earth’s core.”
There were exceptions such as a black hole that created gravity powerful enough to distort the surrounding space and had no material core, but that too could not explain this. Or rather, that would not allow one to adjust the gravity to the desired level. There were only two options: a micro black hole that could only be observed through data or a macro black hole that would swallow up the entire solar system if it formed. Even an esper who could directly manipulate gravitons had only been able to produce explosions.
“Being able to convert the proper methods into any universal power does sound like his kind of theory. I doubt you will find the answer with the knowledge found in a high school textbook, human.”
“I’m not interested in being an intellectual. I just want to know if Imagine Breaker will destroy it or if it can support me.”
With that, Kamijou reached his hand out toward the closest crescent moon.
And that acted like a trigger.
He had already had a hunch... it was about time.
Reality and illusion crossed over, the crescent moon crumbled away without warning, and Kamijou Touma was overcome by a far too real sensation of falling.
“Let us begin with the answers you wanted. We will be returning to the Golden age. This happened before he married Rose and was given Lilith.”
It was a toxic foggy city covered in steam and smoke.
There was a whistling that sounded like a draft, but it was actually the breath escaping a man’s throat in a study. Even with no knowledge of medicine, one look at his face was enough to know his organs were far from healthy. Enough so that he looked like an old man in the deeply contrasting shadows created by the lamp’s flame.
“Allan Bennett. He was one of the few people who Aleister Crowley could call a true friend and teacher who, unlike Mathers, had no ulterior motive,” said Mina next to Kamijou. “There is nothing to say about his condition. These are merely the symptoms of addiction to medical opium used as a pain reliever. This was a social pathology found everywhere at the time.”
That master was of course not the only one in the study.
This was Aleister Crowley’s story.
“…In other words, it is the same as my body,” Allan said to his visitor.
He flipped over several cards sitting atop a heavy desk. Kamijou did not know the details, but when he saw those cards that looked like playing cards with more involved artwork, the word tarot came to mind.
Whether the stories were true or not, what was it those tools were used for?
The man continued through his cracked lips.
“Everyone is a slave to miracles and fortune. Even the way you choose your daily bread interferes without your knowledge. And that interference can involve people’s lives. Just as I chose the wrong medicine and it has stuck with me ever since.”
Kamijou gulped because he had cheated.
He had already seen how this turned out.
“That was the meaning behind Crowley’s journey,” said Mina. “He was searching for a way to protect his daughter who was at the mercy of the phases and sparks and who would suddenly lose her life in but a few years. …And just as the cards showed, he did not make it in time.”
As she gave her smooth answer, the mourning clothes woman looked down at Kamijou’s right hand.
Hadn’t he heard a joking theory about it tearing apart invisible fortune and thus providing him with misfortune?
“Phases? Sparks? What are you talking about? What does any of that have to do with his daughter?”
“Allan will explain.”
The Black Cat Witch was correct.
Allan Bennett swept aside the cards and moved his lips.
“Magic is convenient. If our Golden cabal completes its simple work kit, we can break back open our stagnated knowledge without needing to fear the toxins of an original grimoire. After all, that toxin is the result of the reader’s mind rejecting such a great discrepancy from their common knowledge and wisdom. If it can all be explained through their own words and fingertips, that gap can be filled and no one must suffer. Once the long lines are gone and people no longer need to determine which of the higher ranks have authentic knowledge, the entire organization will grow much more quickly. With a collective device to answer the questions of master and apprentice alike, our direct combat strength will grow. But normally, all phenomena in this world are bound by the principle of equivalent exchange. Our magic cheats the system to provide an input of 1 for an output of 10. …However, are we truly deceiving the world? Perhaps we are merely shifting the cost beyond what we can imagine. We have long held that concern.”
“This world contains as many phases as there are divine legends and religions. And the distance between each phase is not even. The rise and fall of civilizations and traditions affect the power balance in the real world. When you get down to it, fortune is the sparks that failed to become miracles. The spray produced by the contact and collision between phases has a shockingly thin but widespread influence on people. It affects coin tosses, the order at which dishes are served at a restaurant, meetings and partings, marriages and divorces…and even people’s deaths. If you see no direct cause for your daughter’s death, you should assume it is a spontaneous event caused by a gathering of the influence that so many people are unwittingly affected by.”
“You mean there is no such thing as a spontaneous accident or illness in this world?” asked the silver-haired young man. “You mean the small things that people accumulate are an issue of the overlapping phases and, as a result, the entire world will cause slightly unsanitary conditions to force a deadly illness onto my daughter? Is that what you are saying, teacher?”
“That is taking it a bit far. Your daughter is nothing special. Everyone is affected by it equally. But a unified theory like Hermeticism roughly grabs and gathers the overlapping phases, causing them to collide all the more. I imagine that would make the sparks more frequent. And this will influence more than just the present. The future is made from the present, after all.”
“And the Golden cabal understood that danger but tolerated it?”
“A phenomenon which cannot be measured may as well not exist. That is what Mathers said, but it would be the weakness of our hearts that allowed us to let that opinion stand.”
The gap between phases changed irregularly on a daily basis. There was nothing an individual could do about it. Even as the nations fought for supremacy and glared at each other across their borders, the world’s continents were slowly moving. Not even the greatest world powers could stop that movement. In that case, weren’t the conflicts on the surface trivial matters?
What if Mathers had continued his magical research with that sort of thinking?
What if the collective anonymous questioning device began to function?
“There was a way of exorcising it,” said Allan Bennett. “Although Westcott and Mathers never publicly admitted it, there was an unspoken understanding that it was not a problem as long as they had the treasure at Blythe Road and that they would be fine as long as they possessed it. Edward, you too were protected by that. That is why they saw no problem with what you were doing.”
But that would only protect him, the magician.
They said they could not pass their protection onto those who were not there and they did not bother to reveal the protective charm already hidden in their pocket. It was like they knew felling the trees of the forest would eventually turn the planet into a desert, but they continued cheerfully with no concern for those who would starve in the future.
Even now, all sorts of magic was being performed across the world.
No one knew what emotions people would be given by the pressure between phases and the sparks that produced. When lives were thrown out of that shallow and widespread current, there may not have been an overall cause or conspiracy behind it. And that was why it was nearly impossible to nip that disaster in the bud.
Aleister Crowley himself had so often performed magic below an invisible umbrella and thus with no sense of danger, but what if that too had been wrapped in the same wickedness as the magic of those he so despised?
“Are you going?”
“If the sparks brought by invisible collisions will not end, then I see no reason not to take action.”
“Then why did you visit me? The best way to overcome the disadvantage of being outnumbered is to use the element of surprise.”
“I wanted to take a necessary item from you.”
“You already have everything you need.”
Still seated, Allan Bennett gestured as if he were gently grabbing something.
There had been nothing there before.
But something odd flashed in the master’s hand. They looked like sparks from a lighter’s flint. But they scattered through the air as small numbers.
28, 4, 29.
And then the master’s hand held a twisted staff made of silver.
“I am altering the scene here,” whispered the Black Cat Witch. “Normally this would be invisible to all but Crowley who it is directed towards, but I will place it here as an objective image. After all, nothing is as empty as an explanation you cannot understand.”
“…But that’s all you’ve been giving me.”
But time passed as Kamijou made his exasperated comment.
“You should have already learned it all perfectly. Although it may only look like one of the abominable powers which will take your daughter’s life and tear your family apart.”
Allan opened his hand and the staff disappeared once more.
But this was not the Blasting Rod that Allan Bennett was known for.
It was actually a usage of the technique known as Spiritual Tripping.
The man tapped his bony fingers on the ebony desk in front of him.
“A war is about to begin.”
“Will that power take your target’s life or take away the possibility for life? …In other words, even if they survive, they will essentially bear a curse saying that, from that point on, every choice they ever make will end in failure. Everyone who is ‘killed’ by you will despair and be doomed to a life that continues eternally downhill without ever rising once more. In a way, this will be a living hell that is much crueler than simple death.”
His exhalation sounded like a broken flute.
“And prepare yourself. If you announce that you will destroy the entire Golden cabal for the daughter you will one day lose to a spontaneous death, you must also turn those fangs back toward yourself and eliminate Magician Aleister Crowley. You can never truly achieve your original objective without cursing yourself as your own nemesis and swallowing the poison you have concocted.”
“I am aware of that.”
“You can of course compromise there. You can always meet your desire for vengeance halfway. But then it would lose its purity and become no more than an empty shell. The instant you hold back for fear of losing your own life or assets, your feelings for your daughter will grow dull and rusted. Keep that in mind.”
“I am aware of that.”
Hearing the exact same response again, the pale master gently smiled as if no more words were necessary.
It was the kind and sad look of the master seeing his student surpassing him.
And then Magician Allan Bennett said more.
“Then hurry up and kill me. One of your nemeses sits right here.”
He could compromise with his vengeance.
But the instant he did, the feelings within him would grow dull and rusted.
So it did not matter how much he respected this man or how close they were.
Since this man was a magician of the Golden cabal, Aleister Crowley could not overlook the master before his eyes.
Allan never did stand from his chair.
Even if his body had been worn away by an ignorant and juvenile medical prescription, he too was a magician who represented the Golden cabal. He had produced that silver staff from thin air earlier, so if he had wanted to, he surely could have fought back against the assassin paying him a visit.
But he did not.
Allan had not welcomed the young man as a magician or a teacher. He had welcomed him as a lonely man does a good friend.
His cards had likely already told him his fate.
Aleister Crowley started to shake his head.
But the unwavering look in Allan Bennett’s eyes prevented him from doing so. To those who accurately divined fate, different positions on the timeline were a trivial matter. As his master, the man was celebrating his student’s marriage. He felt hatred for that which would tear apart that happiness. And he felt regret toward himself for his inability to change it despite having sensed it in advance.
The silver-haired young man reached out his right hand. He stuck out his thumb and forefinger in a handgun gesture.
32, 30, 10.
Just like the old man, he seemed to guide scattering numbers in his hand.
And then the man held an old-fashioned flintlock gun.
That attack would directly take a life or doom them to a life of ruin that could never recover.
Allan Bennett smiled as that fingertip aimed toward his forehead.
Whether it was real or an illusion, a definite gunshot sounded and the man’s head jerked backwards.
Why had this happened? It took Kamijou Touma a while to realize he had returned from his vision.
Even with Imagine Breaker, he was perfectly able to grab at the stars and moons dangling down from wires. …Did that mean they were not products of magic and the artificial gravity had been created through purely scientific means?
He and the others did not need a lifeline.
They leaped between stars, crossing over the empty space at thousands, if not tens of thousands, of meters up. They could not choose which part the artificial gravity pulled at them or how, so Maika’s long maid skirt would sometimes rise up like an umbrella in a typhoon and Hoodie Bikini Fran would sometimes land on all fours with her small butt sticking up. Regardless, they continued the impossible mountain ascent with no major problems.
“It’s already ending,” said Kamijou with no real proof.
He could not explain his reasoning to himself, so Maika, Fran, and Othinus had to find it even more baffling. But he repeated himself.
“We’re approaching the end. There was no other way from the beginning.”
There was an end point in the starry sky.
And a familiar face was clinging to the side of the large star dangling there.
“I didn’t see you on the way here, so was the way up split into a few different paths?” she wondered. “Or did the rest of you fall farther down in the beginning?”
She had the calico cat with her.
While in Index’s arms, it threw cat punches toward Mina who the others could not see.
“Oh? It would seem I am no match for wild instincts.”
“…? Does that mean it isn’t that only I can see you? Are you actually preventing the others from seeing you?”
“I am the Black Cat Witch. I seem to bring them under my control whether I intend to or not.”
And it was obvious why Index had stopped here.
Kamijou looked straight up.
“A black hole, hm?” Othinus sounded exasperated as she sat on his right shoulder. “The scale here is as ridiculous as ever.”
Straight above, something like a black galaxy swirled around as if to indicate a presence on an even higher level. No human had directly seen a black hole, so they did not know if this was accurate, but with the artificial gravity produced by the previous stars and moons, it seemed likely this was a tunnel modeled after a black hole.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” said Index. “Why is this going so smoothly? If even a single ladder had been removed, we would have been stuck. It’s almost like this is a form of training we have to complete in advance.”
If they jumped in there, it would take them somewhere.
But Kamijou Touma felt like there was something he had to do before that.
He leaped from the final star toward the black hole, but his suspicions were confirmed.
The black hole did not suck him in.
He instead plummeted downwards.
This was the appropriate form for a magic battle. That was the whole of it.
The foggy city’s steam and smoke were sliced apart. Even the darkness of London’s night was swept aside by the bright flashes of light. There were two magicians there. Those monsters had attempted to swallow up and take over the Golden cabal which was the world’s greatest. Even the Jack who had terrified the public by attacking prostitutes in the dark of the night would have trembled and fled had he seen their clash.
Magician Aleister Crowley.
Magician Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers.
A rusty-smelling liquid dripped to the stone pavement.
It could be a gun, a sword, a shield, or a bow. Aleister changed the shape of his fingertips, numbers scattered from his hand, and the corresponding type of illusionary attack power appeared there.
It could be a fire wand, a water cup, a wind dagger, or an earth disc. Mathers controlled all things on the material level by sending those symbolic weapons floating around him.
Their clash was never-ending.
And if it would not end, it was obvious who had the advantage.
“You fool… If you had stuck with me, you could have received the scraps of my success!!”
“Your future daughter? Fighting for your not yet certain family? Isn’t there a simple way of solving that without harming anyone? Just never have a child. If Aleister Crowley has no daughter, the fangs of death cannot close upon her!”
“Then why did you marry, Mathers? It could not have just been a means of bringing a talented painter into the organization. Even if you never verbalized it in your mind, there must have been a reason why it had to be the woman named Mina.”
“Don’t give me that look…”
“Even if we know it will lead to definite failure or danger, there are some things we desire to a maddening extent. You cannot expect magicians to be stoics who ignore the workings of their own body, Mathers. Without even looking at the story of Tristan and Isolde, it is clear that love is a poison and family a narcotic. That is how people work. And that is why they have appeared in the lineup of the cards as an inescapable inevitability. This is a result that cannot be changed.”
“I said don’t give me that look! I am the leader of the Golden cabal!!” roared Mathers as he wielded powerful explosive flames like a part of his own body. “A cabal does not just refer to the individual magicians. If one of us rebels, the group will crush them. Aleister, you should have declared victory only once you were in a position to have the group do your bidding! Like I am here!!”
Aleister was not reacting to Mathers as he fell back.
Several people appeared on the surrounding rooftops.
Paul Foster Case.
Arthur Edward Waite.
Robert William Felkin.
“My reinforcements are unlimited. All magicians must obey the cabal’s decisions. As long as I stand at the top, anyway.” Mathers wiped blood from his mouth and put on a fierce smile. “It’s time you learned what a hunted fox feels like, rebel. The primary reason you lost was your inability to stop your battle from being rewritten with the word ‘rebellion’!!”
“So after all your talk of masters and apprentices being equal, you’re still an authoritarian who looks down on everyone from a special position reserved only for yourself.”
The action Aleister took was simple.
He immediately turned around and vanished into the steam and smoke.
“Oh, foolish Mathers, my beloved,” whispered the Black Cat Witch as if reminiscing on the distant past.
She viewed this ended world through her veil.
“That man was caught in the organization’s selection process, had his beloved daughter driven out from the protective umbrella, and felt burning inferiority and intense emotion at having to rely on the same power as his hated enemies… And as he raged with anger, did you really think he would continue to rely on logic and efficiency and make a strategic retreat?”
“It is beginning,” clearly stated Mina Mathers. Her tone seemed to say this was the moment for which she wore the mourning clothes and led around the black cats which symbolized bad luck. “The Battle of Blythe Road. The quiet armed conflict in which Magician Aleister Crowley directly faced the world’s largest magic cabal.”
The stage changed.
A man holding a twisted silver staff blended into London’s darkness.
Crowley was on his way to 36 Blythe Road, Hammersmith. The Golden cabal’s most important ceremonial ground was located there.
Despite being referred to as a “war”, what he did was not all that flashy.
All alone, he forced himself into the building, swept aside the few magicians who were maintaining and inspecting the equipment inside, locked all of the exits, and holed up inside.
“…What is he doing?” asked Kamijou. “Won’t he just be surrounded?”
“That was acceptable for him. Aleister did not need to win this battle.”
“Winning and losing meant nothing so long as the fact that he fought remained. You will understand soon enough.”
A quill in the office area sliced through empty air.
It grazed Crowley’s cheek and raced across the stationery on a heavy desk there.
Flowing writing appeared.
Mina must have been providing assistance because the meaning of the words entered Kamijou’s head.
“What is the meaning of this, Aleister? I have already parted ways with you. I do not recall ordering you to occupy Blythe Road!!”
When he read that automatic writing, Aleister Crowley silently formed a smile.
…After this, he would get married despite knowing it would end in failure. And his fingertips would be gently held by a tiny hand. This was an expression that would never be made by this “human” after that.
“But that is the truth of this shallow world,” he said. “All members of the Golden cabal will assume that Aleister Crowley, a mere pawn, occupied the Blythe Road ceremonial ground on the official orders of Mathers. In order to take everything away from the Westcott faction. …It’s a strange thing, Mathers. They will think that even though you do not recall signing such an order.”
“You can’t mean…”
“Yes, yes. Did you think I made a nearly suicidal attack on you for no reason? I wanted your blood. With a single drop, forging a document was quite simple. In fact…didn’t Westcott forge a letter from Anna Sprengel to give the organization more prestige when creating the cabal?”
The scene changed.
In a location nowhere near Blythe Road, a furious-looking Westcott stormed into Mathers’ headquarters. He was not the only one breaking through the thick door. Just as Mathers had his faction, the Westcott faction also incorporated half of the Golden cabal.
“What is the meaning of this, Mathers!? Blythe Road is the foundation of the cabal in London. This has gone beyond anything you can weasel out of by claiming it was the individual action of that failure Crowley!!”
“But it was!!”
“You know Scotland Yard is keeping an eye on me. They do not like that a civil servant like a coroner is participating in such suspicious meetings. Maintaining any connections below the surface is risky enough, so you are quite the strategist to intentionally create friction within the cabal!”
“That really isn’t it! That document was-…”
Mathers trailed off as he seemed to realize something.
The Black Cat Witch sighed.
“If they had been meeting alone, Westcott and Mathers might have been able to cool their heads and reach a compromise.”
“With so many of their subordinates here, Westcott would never accept it if Mathers insisted this was the same forgery method Westcott had used. If he did accept it, his authority would plummet down to earth.”
“Yes,” announced the widow dressed in mourning garb. “A single intentional defeat pulled the trigger of a great war between the Westcott and Mathers factions that controlled the Golden cabal.”
From there, a hellish scene played out.
Flames danced. Wind sliced. And it not all of it was that simple. Strange beasts were unleashed while curses and diseases ran rampant through the London darkness. Even if this was the age when Jack the Ripper had used the curtain of steam and smoke to work in secret, how had the people of London accepted and comprehended these strange phenomena?
And of course, Aleister Crowley’s battle was not yet over.
“He never expected the two sides to entirely wipe each other out. One side was sure to win and the survivors would take over. …All he wanted to cause was chaos. And then he could slip into the confusion to sneak in close enough to stab both sides before they saw him coming. To the end, Crowley only ever thought of fulfilling his revenge by his own hand.”
The Blythe Road ceremonial ground was also an armory for the Golden cabal.
After retrieving the necessary tools from there, the silver-haired young man returned to the noisy London darkness.
“In this age of rational magicians, Crowley was one of the few who actively approved of blood offerings.”
He was cunning.
When he killed a Westcott faction magician in a back alley, he carved traces of the Mathers faction into the corpse before dumping it on the main road.
When he killed a Mathers faction magician in an underground tunnel, he placed a Westcott faction weapon next to it before leaving.
“Even these tricks were only a front. People will be blinded to the truth as long as they see the malice of trickery. They will assume there is nothing more than this. He was the one who concluded it would take covering the entire planet with blood to guide his great ceremony to success. The sight of washing out blood with blood placed Crowley in a state similar to perpetual motion.”
…No, this went beyond a direct clash between the two factions.
Scotland Yard would want to divulge everything that happened, those in the New World would seek a version of the occult backed by greater tradition, the old witch lodges felt their place in the world had been taken by the Golden cabal, and spiritualists with no sense of danger would want to contact them. Everyone who wanted to get involved in this would be drawn to London and the existing power balance would be entirely destroyed. The greater the organization, the more complexly its gears fit together.
The vortex of indiscriminate destruction and chaos was like a marble pattern.
It swallowed everything and chewed it up. The hatred produced more hatred.
When blood was shed by magic, that blood would be used for the next attack.
As the battle escalated further, it created larger openings. It produced an opportunity to secretly enter areas that would normally be unreachable.
This was a path of carnage in which he killed an enemy, changed weapons, and continually resupplied in that way.
And eventually, a dull sound burst out somewhere.
The first one to produce a dumbfounded expression was Westcott.
He slowly looked down and saw that piercing his side.
“Westcott’s magical ability was said to be not all that great,” explained Mina. “At least when compared to true eccentrics such as Mathers and Crowley. …And yet he still managed to control a powerful faction as one of the Three Founders thanks to his quasi-immortality.”
“I will omit what exactly that entails. But I will say that he specialized in forging documents. And as a coroner, he had the opportunity to contact more corpses than the average person. Also… in our world, parchment was used to converse with demons and transfer souls. But Crowley stabbed straight through that assumption with an attack using the treasure he had brought from Blythe Road.”
A single arrow was piercing the old man’s side.
But it was not made of metal or wood. It looked like muddy-colored wax. The tip branched out into five twisted prongs. Almost like a hand trying to grab at something…
“The arrowhead is made of bone, the feathers are made of leather, and the shaft is made of wax. …But not just any wax; the grave wax created from flesh and blood.”
In other words…
“Imagine Breaker. The ultimate exorcising spiritual item created from a certain Saint’s right hand. It was originally the most secret of weapons meant to drive an uncontrolled being back beyond the magic circle after a failed summoning.”
Even as a mere spectator, Kamijou Touma felt his breath catch in his throat.
Westcott had never doubted the absolute strength of his quasi-immortality and he was unable to even pull out the thin arrow now that it was taken from him.
Aleister Crowley’s eyes did not waver.
With the arrow still in hand, he formed a handgun gesture with his other hand and several numbers danced from that hand like sparks: 32, 30, 10. Then the illusion gun fired an impact that sent Westcott’s body flying backwards.
“I have altered the scene again,” softly added Mina. “I am sure you understand after seeing it before, but that is a weapon that can only be seen by the one it targets. I am merely placing an objective view of it here.”
Meanwhile, time continued to pass.
As nonexistent gun smoke floated around him, Aleister whispered words that sounded like a curse.
“An arrow holds the meaning of a spiritualized attack. It should have thrown off the yoke of the physical once it was launched… but as it negates all supernatural powers, it ironically seeks the physical instead, Westcott.”
The 5 branches of the arrow’s tip seemed to have torn into the old man’s flesh and blood. Specifically, the container of his soul, the red mass at the center of his chest. The old man had been torn to pieces within the wound when that was forcibly ripped out, but Crowley ignored him and turned around with the bloody arrow still in hand.
His nemesis stood there.
Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers.
When Crowley stuck out his tongue and licked off the blood that had splattered onto his own face, the ruler of the Golden cabal took a few steps back with a stiff expression on his face. The wand, cup, dagger, and disc symbolic weapons floating around him took a clearly defensive formation.
“Do you find it that hard to accept the death and ruin of a single person?”
“All lives are born and vanish! Most leave nothing behind and are no more than common weeds that must force themselves to believe they are happy and successful!! You could have redone it. Even as you lamented the daughter who was rejected by the friction between phases and sparks of the world, you could have created a new life! Yes, yes! That’s all it was! You could have remade her as many times as necessary!!”
The conversation ended there.
Aleister forcefully threw the arrow that had pierced a magician’s life. Mathers had his floating symbolic weapons of fire, water, wind, and earth move to intercept. He lost many great weapons, sacrificed one of his arms, and even then only just barely managed to stop the arrow of the dead.
An invisible explosion burst from within the flesh of the master’s arm and the legend of Imagine Breaker vanished from this age.
And where did it go?
That was obvious: down a different path that eventually led to Kamijou Touma.
The boy could not help but look down at his own right hand.
But the Golden leader should have realized something.
This was not the arrow’s revenge; it was Aleister Crowley’s revenge.
The silver-haired man altered his stance. As soon as he gestured as if he held something in both hands, numbers scattered from them like sparks from a lighter’s flint: 1, 27, 5. Then a double-edged sword appeared in his hands.
The gigantic sword was nearly as tall as he was and looked like something from a children’s book.
It was the steel sword of a great king.
There was no point in discussing the laws of physics here. If someone had been able to bring a radar device here, the reflected waves would not have detected anything there.
This deadly weapon sliced directly into someone’s perception.
It used a technique of conveying one’s meditation to someone else.
It was the magic known as Spiritual Tripping. The name did not sound very sharp, but it linked the user’s body to the target’s just like with a voodoo doll and it synced up their motions. But this usage allowed the user into the target’s mind. The gesture would send the power of the indicated weapon into the target’s mind.
“Oh, Mathers, my foolish spouse,” said the Black Cat Witch. “If you had not been so obsessed with the details and if you had kept your eyes on your true enemy even if it let that arrow shatter your breastbone, you would have had a way out of this.”
Mathers was slow to react as the other man stepped forward.
The man swung the giant sword diagonally down with both hands and the nonexistent blade dug deep, deep down into Mathers’ torso through his shoulder.
“This is a tribute, so rejoice, self-styled highlander. I finished you off with the sword you so loved.”
It did not matter here whether or not it physically existed. Either way, it tore through Mathers’ body and dark red liquid erupted from within.
Only one man remained standing.
Aleister Crowley made a quiet announcement to the end of his ideal.
“Now you will either die or have all possibility of success stripped from you as you live out the rest of your days in despair. It is time you withered away, sinner.”
“You see, Mathers, this is not a mere outburst of anger at being unable to stop the spontaneous death of a life that has yet to be born.”
Unable to swing it all the way through the man’s body, the sword had stopped partway through, so Aleister whispered to him from close range.
“The world is filled with such tragedy. The sunny parts of this world are simply overflowing with tragedy. Everyone should be enraged and stand up against it, but they claim it can’t be helped and they give up! That is where my sorrow lies!!”
In the very, very end, Mathers recalled that he too was a magician.
Several more explosions detonated at nearly point-blank range. The two men were both blown backwards, but the battle was already over.
“I will…wipe out…all magic.”
Crowley’s body was torn to shreds, but he did not fall.
He had destroyed Westcott and Mathers, the true rulers of the Golden cabal. But his battle was not yet over. There were still countless magicians in the cabal. No, he was looking at something even larger than that.
“I will shatter every last phase and put an end to all mysticism. It can be helped and we need not restrain our tears and bite our lip when faced with tragedy. I will bring back the pure world in which everyone can feel anger like normal and question it all like normal!!”
He had to know the truth.
Aleister Crowley was also a magician of the Golden cabal.
If he was to curse the entire cabal, he could not disobey the rule saying he too must swallow the special poison he himself had concocted.
“That’s…why…?” asked Kamijou.
“Success and failure don’t matter. No, he works under the assumption that nothing he attempts will go the way he wants it to. Is that because he too walks a path where all possibility has been taken from him!?”
“This was not a clear end to the Golden cabal. Even after the large organization broke apart, it broke into smaller cabals claiming to be its successor. They tied on splints and spent a long, long time like a large tree rotting away. But as they declined, nothing remained of its former glory. Many people attempted to bring back the Golden cabal. But as history shows, none of them succeeded in regathering the personnel and materials. They all worked to achieve their goals, but every last one of those dreams was shattered before completion and they sank into disappointment and despair jut as Aleister Crowley had announced.”
Kamijou knew Birdway’s cabal claimed to be of the Golden variety, but would it be hard to say it was the pure form of the Golden?
“And,” added the Black Cat Witch. “Aleister Crowley himself was deported a few times and was unable to maintain an environment for any major magical research. Finally, in 1947, his death was announced on British land. At the end of his quiet war, the avenger who had hunted down every last one of the cabal’s magicians stayed true to his own rules and turned his blade on himself in the very end.”
His battle had not yet ended.
That was why he was in Academy City and standing in Kamijou Touma’s way.
“Even after conquering the Battle of Blythe Road and turning his blade on himself…he still could not overturn the common disease that took Lilith’s life. That was more than enough for him to thoroughly give up on the laws of god that he had already cursed since childhood.”
As the enemy of all magic, he had spent 50 or even 100 years creating a new term: the science side. Modern science had robbed the occult of its legitimacy, made scientific investigation and examinations the symbol of “correctness”, won the position of widespread acceptance, and spread a mentality akin to science worship in which the scientific was considered correct and the data was considered absolute.
Everything he did would fail. Even if he tried to use that to his advantage, it would still work against him.
But even as he was forced onto that hopelessly harsh and thorny path and even as the entire world worked to trip him up, he had advanced his game pieces this far.
Aleister Crowley would never stop.
He assumed he would be obstructed and he expected to fail. After coming so far with that mindset, that magician would show no surprise and continue on as normal no matter what obstacle might stand in his way.
“He intends to destroy all phases,” whispered Mina Mathers, someone else who had once lost to Crowley and vanished in the depths of disappointment and despair. “So that everyone can laugh like normal and cry like normal. So that every man and every woman is a star. So that the people can be freed from the sparks created by the collisions between phases and from the spray that failed to become miracles. So that he can build a world that is built up by the accumulated efforts of individuals and not influenced by prayers or divine punishment. Only once he achieves that will he believe he has truly fulfilled his duty as a father.”
…Kamijou Touma had finally seen it all.
Her role must have been complete because the Black Cat Witch was gone.
Kamijou did not hesitate.
Along with the others, he jumped into the object overhead that resembled a black hole. It felt something like an elevator traveling through a tube. It did not take long, but he had no idea how far they had actually traveled. He only knew they had been sent far overhead.
And the scene at the end of the mountain ascent was not the end of the universe or the center of the Big Bang.
“Stairs…?” whispered Index.
Yes, a spiraling stairway wrapped around the large space. Instead of stone or metal, it seemed to be made of smooth porcelain or glass.
Othinus sighed from the boy’s shoulder.
“Is this the ring of the snake biting its own tail? No, it might just be the stairway up to heaven.”
And someone bloody sat on the very first step.
Was this the side effect of using magic to protect the others, or had he been forced to use magic a few times after they had been separated? Either way, Tsuchimikado’s clothing was stained a dark red.
“Yeah, yeah. Don’t worry. I didn’t want you to see this, but, well, it’s nothing to worry about. I’ve survived this plenty of times before, so I’ll survive it here too.”
Kamijou doubted that meant anything. Just because you had survived every game of Russian roulette so far did not guarantee the next one would be fine. But Tsuchimikado had probably wanted to reassure his stepsister even if it was a lie.
“So you’ll…be okay?”
“Even I’m surprised by that one. It almost makes me think there was some meaning in having my wounds open when I got here… Like I was being told to wait here until you all caught up.”
Success and failure did not matter. No matter the result when the die was cast, that magician would turn it into the trigger needed to advance down his path. Deciding it was useless to think about it would only turn you into a puppet, but suspecting that everything had meaning would mean restricting yourself for no good reason.
“Let’s go, Kami-yan. It doesn’t matter how much he toys with us. We win as long as we get the last laugh.”
With that, Kamijou started thinking.
Had the Board Chairman really laid some cunning trap up ahead?
Was it truly logic and efficiency that ruled that magician?
Kamijou had seen his war.
He was like dry ice. He was supposedly extremely cold, but he was hot enough to burn all he touched. Which was Aleister Crowley’s true core? Kamijou could not find an easy answer.
He set foot on the spiral staircase.
He climbed step by step.
At first he did not notice, but with each step, the glass-like steps grew more transparent. They seemed to gradually fade away into the air. Finally, the steps themselves vanished. Kamijou continued climbing toward heaven.
No, it was not just the steps that had vanished.
Kamijou called her name in surprise.
“Othinus, Fran!? Dammit!!”
There was no response. The companions he had walked with all this way were gone. No, it may not have been them that had disappeared from the world. It may have been Kamijou Touma who had disappeared.
And then he heard a voice from somewhere.
“Do you understand now?”
It was the same voice he had heard in the distance past.
Nothing about this person had changed after more than a century of fighting.
A silver and gray form stood there.
Was it supported by a trance born from a mixture of weariness and accomplishment?
Kamijou naturally called out to the staticky gathering.
“Board Chairman Aleister…?”
“Do you understand why you are here?”
Where was “here”?
The top of the Windowless Building? His life in Academy City? Being born into the world in the first place?
“If you have come all this way and still do not understand, I suppose that is fortunate.”
That “human” was destined to never have anything go the way he expected, yet he judged this to be fortunate.
“All the necessary information has been inputted. But if you still do not understand the answer, then it is the same as a disease with no subjective symptoms. If you feel no pain, you cannot resist it. I will reach the conclusion during that time.”
“I won’t argue what was good and what was evil.” Kamijou shook his head. “But your way of life is sad. If I had to choose between right and wrong, I would say the path you’ve walked is undoubtedly wrong.”
“You make it sound like I caused all of the tragedies you have seen.”
In a way, that was not inaccurate.
To erase all magic from the world after destroying the Golden cabal, this “human” had split the world in two by creating the opposing science side. He had created Academy City to obtain the functionality he needed and, if he had controlled the opposition in the outside world, this went beyond just the one city. The science side alone could not explain this. The tragedies inside Academy City had been like sharpening one’s claws and fangs and that sharpness was meant for use in battle within the outside world.
But he said more.
He was a mass of silver and gray and he was a shadow that seemed to give human form to every worldly thought. And Aleister Crowley made a definite announcement.
“You are the one that stands at the center of all this, Kamijou Touma.”
“I lost the arrow in that conflict. And I needed to acquire it once it appeared again. So it would be no exaggeration to say I built Academy City in order to attract the Kamijou Touma who would eventually be born.”
“Imagine Breaker’s power is only noticeable when surrounded by people with supernatural powers. Kamijou Touma will not express his tendency toward conflict if no one needing help is within arm’s reach. …And yet you were able to make your presence perfectly known. Why was that? Isn’t it obvious? Because a stage covering western Tokyo was remade into an esper development institution that followed the perfect theory that would allow Kamijou Touma his greatest performance.”
Why were esper powers seen as perfectly normal?
…Because someone had set it up that way.
Why had students been able to wield supernatural powers in the streets without anyone questioning it?
…Because someone had set it up that way.
Why were there holes in the system which allowed frequent incidents which would enrage this boy?
…Because someone had set it up that way.
Why had the adults repeatedly plotted to fulfill their selfish desires within the city’s darkness?
…Because someone had set it up that way.
What about when Kamisato Kakeru had entered the city from outside? He had not been from the science side or the magic side that someone had drawn out. He had truly come from “outside”. Hadn’t Kamijou Touma felt like something was terribly off about that boy? Hadn’t their conversations never quite fit together and hadn’t it felt like something unpleasant was shifting their words out of place? Hadn’t he been angry that the other boy had continued wanting to talk about such confusing things?
But Kamijou had been wrong.
Kamisato’s way had been right.
It would have been strange for them to reach a true understanding after just 5 or 10 minutes of conversation. There was an invisible barrier between people and it was normal to not truly “see” someone unless you spent a long time breaking down that barrier. It was normal to not understand someone, so wasn’t Kamijou Touma’s discomfort with failing to understand someone proof that he had been raised in a greenhouse that someone had created?
Having lived and lost his memories in this city, Kamijou had no knowledge outside of what was found in Academy City. This city was like his hometown. He had assumed the way things felt here was the same everywhere and understanding that was enough to have something in common with everyone in the world.
But what if that had been prepared for Kamijou Touma before Kamijou Touma had even been born?
Of course it would feel so very comfortable to him.
It was like creating a baseball school where baseball was everything so that a baseball boy could be sent there.
“If you were not that way, Academy City would not have taken this form,” said Aleister’s voice. “If you could be activated by different conditions, there would have been no need to construct the tragedies that make you shine.”
If Kamijou Touma had been an intellectual boy who loved shogi, this city would have been filled with people sitting at shogi boards and moving shogi pieces.
If Kamijou Touma had been a sensory boy who loved cooking, this city would have been overrun with cooking battles that stimulated the senses with flavors, colors, smells, sounds, and aromas.
If Kamijou Touma had been an athletic boy who loved mountain climbing, this city would have been packed with climbing duels in which contestants climbed up the walls of the high-rise buildings.
But that boy had entrusted his life and lifestyle to his right fist.
Thus, Academy City had taken this form. So that it allowed his violence to bloom to its fullest.
“I was the one that prepared the board, lined up the pieces, and constructed the stage.”
“But, Kamijou Touma, I modelled it all after your free Thelema.”
Which one of them was the primary offender and which one was the accomplice?
…Why had the human named Kamijou Touma only had his right fist? If he had had other means of resolving things, Academy City might not have specialized in violence to this extent. He recalled the experiment in which Academy City’s #1 was made to kill 20,000 military clones, the method to summon an angel via Last Order and using Kazakiri Hyouka as the triggering mechanism, the military cyborgs of the Freshmen, the anti-Academy City Science Guardians, and the Agitate Halation project which intentionally constructed a weak person needing protection in order to mass-produce countless heroes… It had looked like it had all been started by hopeless villains and the mysterious leaders of the city, but if Kamijou Touma had chosen a slightly different path, none of those tragedies would have had to happen.
Kamijou Touma thought and thought and thought before facing forward.
And he let out a roar.
“I don’t need to ask why!! So what, you piece of shit!!!???”
He was aware he was hoping for something far too convenient here.
Asking “what if” would not change anything at this point. Kamijou Touma was currently here. There was no changing that. Academy City had been in this country long before he was even born. There was no changing that either. Even if it had all been built in preparation for Kamijou Touma’s arrival, there was no way he could have stopped it since he had only arrived later.
So if he was going to argue, that was not the key point.
He had to face forward.
To ensure he avoided any further tragedy.
He did not have time to hope for what could never be. He had to think about what he could do now. He already knew exactly what he had to do. Even if that was at the end of some rails someone had laid out for him.
He had seen more than enough despair when dealing with Othinus.
So he could handle this.
The structure of the world would not crush him with its pressure.
“I can’t let you get away with this…”
“No matter what the cause was and even if I sympathize with parts of it, you clearly chose the wrong method!! So I will stop you!! Even if it means wielding the very power that made this city the way it is!!”
“Correcting a mistake with a mistake? If that is how you will grow, that too is fine. My life was always doomed to fall. It would be rare for someone to understand my words as they are.”
Aleister Crowley also remained unchanged.
There was no waver in the voice of the one who had built Academy City. In fact, this may have been the voice of the villain he had created in preparation for the future.
He had a single reason.
The collisions between phases and the sparks they created. They had taken his young daughter’s life for no real reason and torn his family bonds asunder…and the world was willing to accept such tragedies as no more than cruel coincidences that could not be helped. He wished to strike back against that world, so that “human” made the wickedest move available to him.
“But perhaps you are too focused on yourself to reach the proper conclusion. You are the only one allowing yourself to do this. Your position here will never change.”
There was no more need to respond.
He did not need to be an embodiment of justice.
He only had to be a fighter who clenched his filthy fist.
Even if it meant breaking some rules…
Even if it meant bearing some bad karma…
He had to stop this “human”.
Even if no one in the world would accept him, he had to do this.
And with that in mind, he continued up the invisible spiral staircase.
As if charging into the depthless darkness.
But a moment later…
A deafening roar blew a giant hole in this dead-end of a world and obliterated the silver and gray form.
The machine’s core was shaped like a strange magic circle and that core linked it to someone.
It was like looking at the sun through a telescope.
The answer was right there, but carelessly looking directly at it would blind you. Only after intentionally using several thick filters to block your vision to restrict the amount of information being retrieved could she establish a normal link.
Of course, the amount of information she received was limited. She was at the center, but she could not quite grasp it. She could not shake the hesitation, like someone preparing to pull the bombing trigger based on pixelated aerial footage, but she did not need to know everything at the moment.
She knew what she had to focus on.
The One who Purifies God and Slays Demons.
It was written with different characters, but that was a boy those girls knew well.
“…I know the location.”
Even if you could not crack the encrypted communication itself, you could determine the distance and direction of the tower from which it was being transmitted. This felt similar. Mikoto used the A.A.A. to locate the person to which it was linked.
The attacker who had used that curse on her may have done the same thing.
He may have sensed the girl carelessly contacting the A.A.A. and sent an invisible attack to those coordinates.
But no matter what it was, technology opened its gates equally to all.
That was an ironclad rule in the cyber wars between organized hacker groups. Cheap revenge should be avoided. Making a largescale counterattack would give the other side a chance to learn how to access or infect your system. So the standard methodology was to always consider whether the results of an attack were worth the risk it brought.
This was the same.
If the person on the other end could do it, so could she.
“The Windowless Building in the center of District 7. That’s where the mysterious linked person is!! And they are extremely focused on the name Kamijou Touma!!”
“Wait, wait… Unless they’re being used as a stepping stone, that could only mean one person…”
Given the circumstances surrounding the A.A.A., it was hard to imagine that person was harmless and friendly. Even setting aside the nosebleeds caused by using the A.A.A. itself, that curse had clearly been a malicious attack from a third party.
And defying the master of the Windowless Building brought the risk of having to let go of everything they had built up inside Academy City. They were up against the Board Chairman who ran the entire city, so he would likely be able to expel or kick out a girl or two no matter how good their grades were.
Normally thinking, now was not the time to make waves.
They should be smarter about how they handled this.
But those girls had heard a certain name: Kamijou Touma.
“Let’s get started. Let’s blow a hole right through that building.”
“You never change, do you?”
Metal could be heard fitting together with ominous sounds. Even if it had been turned to scrap and dismantled by its owner, the A.A.A. was still the A.A.A.
Once it had accepted someone as its owner, it would move like a living creature when they desired it and it now attached all around the slender girl. It may have been designed to cause harm, but when it was this obedient, it actually felt quite admirable.
Shokuhou Misaki breathed an exasperated sigh.
“But are you sure this is okay? You might have learned the A.A.A.’s core is something like an antenna, but you still don’t know why you get the nosebleeds. We don’t know how it’s putting a burden on you, but it probably has something to do with your head. Rely on it at random and it might trip you up when you really need it.”
“But holding back isn’t going to help here. To be honest, I’m several laps behind and I can’t stand on the same stage as that idiot. I feel like I can only just barely catch up if I accept these risks!!”
“Like. I. Was. Saying.”
Shokuhou placed a finger on her own lips and winked.
She seemed to be joking, but she was showing her respect for the girl who had exposed her own weakness instead of hiding it.
“If I control your mind, wouldn’t we at least be able to share the burden?”
Mikoto had never even considered that.
She looked confused and answered the question with a question of her own.
“…Why would you go that far?”
“I will never tell you.”
That alone she said bluntly.
“My #5 Mental Out can’t control your mind because your #3 Railgun rejects it. But that’s because you’re subconsciously rejecting my invasion ability. Although that’s not too surprising.”
“What about it?”
“Question: is that rejection still in place? Will you still reject me if I’m trying to help you save him, no matter what my reasons might be?”
“I don’t know how to remove the wall.”
“It would certainly be nice if we could all control our subconscious. We’re not all expert shogi players or pro golfers, so we don’t have our own zone.”
Misaka Mikoto once more looked across Shokuhou Misaki’s body from head to toe.
And she spoke honestly.
“There’s no way we can get along.”
“I appreciate the honesty.”
“You’re extremely suspicious. You sound needlessly full of yourself despite being in the same year as me.”
“But now it’s starting to piss me off.”
“And I can’t stand that useless flesh that just annoys me to no end.”
“That has nothing to do with this!!”
Yes, no matter how hard they tried, they could never get along. They both triggered biological disgust in the other. It was like someone had gathered everything that irritated them and gave it human form. They could not just flip a switch and get along because it was an emergency.
So they had just one point in common.
Misaka Mikoto asked a question.
“Are you worried about that idiot?”
“That’s what I’ve been saying.”
And then two locations overlapped.
With the rumbling of the air being compressed, Misaka Mikoto once more sliced through Academy City’s blue skies while wearing the A.A.A.
She had a single destination: the center of District 7, aka the Windowless Building.
“!! That is one hell of a headache you have!”
“Now do you understand my pain?”
“But, Misaka-san, do you just have bad posture? Your shoulders are really stiff even though you don’t have much of a chest.”
“Why must you be so annoying even when you’re linked to my head!?”
It was not just Misaka Mikoto and Shokuhou Misaki who were linked. The thoughts of whoever the A.A.A.’s core was linked to were mixed in as well. Although those were only fragmentary indicators that could not be converted into clear language.
But the words seemed to begin outnumbering the noise as she got closer.
She still could not see the whole picture.
But she could tell that this mystery person was strongly focused on that boy’s name.
And that was enough.
“We’re up against the Windowless Building which supposedly not even a nuke can destroy. What if my Railgun can’t break through the wall!?”
“Well, I have heard some silly rumors that it didn’t budge even after the #1 used the rotation of the earth to attack it. However…”
The other girl whispered in her mind.
She maintained the nuance of a mischievous and heated sigh.
“We don’t have to hold back for the #1’s sake. Let’s work together and make an unprecedented record☆”
Shokuhou Misaki’s power controlled people’s minds, but she technically did so by controlling the miniature bits of liquid in the body.
And since adjusting the salinity could provide conductivity to that liquid, it could also be influenced by electromagnetic powers such as the Lorentz force.
On top of that, the real bottleneck with the destructive force of Mikoto’s Railgun was the air resistance. If she simply launched a coin 50 meters, the frictional heat would entirely vaporize it, but that conversion of speed into heat of course caused a loss of kinetic energy.
What if that Railgun was fired when that friction could be reduced or neutralized?
The Liquid Proof Railgun.
With the limits on distance and speed removed, it produced endlessly frightening destructive power.
She no longer used the frictional heat as the brakes. She reversed that way of thinking. The slight coating of liquid on the coin’s surface took away its heat and cooled it. And when that liquid explosively expanded as steam, it gave the coin even more speed. Instead of simply being carried by its initial speed, it accelerated more and more as it flew. The tiny shell gained limitless speed as it produced a thin, spear-like contrail and was absorbed by the impressive wall of the Windowless Building.
This was not possible with just any water manipulating power.
The fine control used to manipulate the liquid in the brain to control the information there was needed to place a special lattice pattern on the surface of the coin. This required precision far greater than the ablation that protected a space shuttle from the atmosphere’s heat by melting in just the right way despite being nothing more than a plastic lattice.
The scenery grew distorted.
The impregnable Windowless Building was mercilessly torn into as if the coin were breaking through the wall of space itself.
She did not understand all the details.
But she could myopically make some guesses about the problem right in front of her eyes.
So that girl shouted the words that rose up from deep in her heart.
“There are lives that were saved just because you were here. There are people who were given courage just because you ran forward. So don’t hesitate!! I assure you that the path you walked was the right one and that it created a great many possibilities. If something about you is rejected as wrong, then I’ll open it all up and explain this to you!! So, so, so!! No matter what anyone says and no matter what logic they use against you! Stay true to your own paaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaath!!!!!!”
That was all.
Does that seem strange?
But it only took the girl’s words reaching his ears.
That boy once more clenched his right fist as tight as he could.
The empty vision of silver and gray was nowhere to be found. The person waiting for him now was the true Aleister Crowley.
In truth, not even those girls may have known which one had done it.
Shokuhou Misaki, Academy City’s #5 Level 5, aka Mental Out, sighed in a distant location.
Nothing she did would allow that boy to remember what she looked like.
They could not share their memories and he would forget her no matter how much time they spent together.
Not even if she made full use of her powers as the #5.
But this was different.
It would all be remembered as Misaka Mikoto’s words and Misaka Mikoto’s actions.
But that meant the girl could leave her mark on him.
A vibrant sound burst out.
Shokuhou Misaki had slapped both her cheeks.
And then the girl took a new step forward after standing in place for so very long.
This time, it did not matter if it was the #3 or the #5.
The girl gave a fierce smile and spoke.
“Now, it’s time for a bit of a rampage.”
“Now, it’s time for a bit of a rampage.”
Between the Lines 2
Unlike the older age that called itself a renaissance but still required explaining the world through the existing Christian framework, the age in which natural science such as the steam engine finally swept across the world may have felt like the end of a long winter for the magicians.
The magic cabal with the Golden name was born in that age of steam and gas lights. They did not blindly accept the information written in the bible, looked instead to the ancient religions from before the bible’s creation, and attempted to learn how they had changed as they were passed down to the modern age.
Partially due to the Hermeticism they were born from, the Golden magicians tended to look to the Egyptian legends of which traces were found on the African continent across the Mediterranean Sea. Thus, the Golden cabal tended to name their temples after Egyptian gods such as Isis or Osiris.
Aleister Crowley had already been sick of the goodness and justice proclaimed by Christianity, so that had to have been a comfortable age for him.
That Golden cabal eventually broke apart due to ugly internal strife between humans, but even after the Golden cabal’s fall, that magician continued to talk about the Aeons of Isis, Osiris, and Horus. And in his later years, he released his own version of tarot which borrowed the name of Thoth.
The Thoth Tarot.
Unlike the normal GD Tarot, he mostly redid the 22 cards of the major arcana. The older tarot predicted an age when the final judgment would be given and people would continue on to the next stage, but by swapping out the images, Crowley’s version insisted that the final judgment had already occurred in 1904 and the current age was the Aeon of Horus in which Christian rule had been eliminated.
So what happened in 1904?
If you rely on his own personal view, the answer was as follows:
He contacted the Holy Guardian Angel named Aiwass.
And the original grimoire known as the Book of the Law was released into the world.