Toaru Majutsu no Index:NT Volume20 Chapter 2
Chapter 2: The Tower of London Awaits with Maw Agape – the_Abyss_of_London.
Notice to Capital Defense Unit.
Close the England-Londinium Fortress’s final gate barrier. This is an order from Holegres Mirates, grand representative of the Knights.
The situation is as follows.
The coastal defense unit has failed to repel the Crowley’s Hazards pushing in across the Strait of Dover. Now that they have set foot on the English mainland, our top priority is defending London and preserving the safety of the glorious Royal Family.
There is no need to recover the former Agnese Force, the Amakusa Church, or other outside combat units. Do not wait for their arrival. Close the barrier immediately. It was their failure that allowed the enemy on our land. We cannot allow them to hinder our country any further.
I am a proud English noble.
I absolutely refuse to have England treated as a buffer zone to protect the other three countries just because of the geographic conditions. If I am to do this, I demand a good reason.
Since Archbishop Lola Stuart has abandoned her duties and gone missing, the Anglicans have lost their justification to tell us what to do.
I am currently searching her residence at Lambeth Palace. I just hope I can find that in a timely fashion.
Also, prepare the necessary personnel.
The barrier is perfect, but always prepare for the worst case scenario.
“Just in case” is an extremely important phrase during wartime. We are talking about the defense of London here. Stay even more focused than normal and get to work immediately.
There is no need to report to Knight Leader.
I have the favor of the Royal Family, so any who doubt my words will be summarily punished for their betrayal of Queen Elizard and the rest of the Royal Family’s trust.
Kamijou Touma was shaken at a steady frequency.
But he did not feel even a hint of the sleepiness brought by sitting on a train. He was inside a prisoner transport carriage, the door was padlocked shut, and the small window was double-locked with chain-link and metal bars. The gloomy atmosphere refused to go away.
He had forgotten.
He felt like he had come to understand something.
He should not have let the Mina Mathers and baby Lilith incidents influence him so much. While Aleister was a father and a magician, he was also the Board Chairman who had done all that scheming in Academy City. To achieve his goal, he had split the world between science and magic, pitted the two sides against each other, and even used the 2.3 million people in that city as his pawns. Why had Kamijou not considered the possibility that he too would be thrown on the table as a card in Aleister’s deck? These questions continued rolling around in his mind.
“Hmph, you scoundrel. Just wait and see what fate awaits you once we arrive at the Tower of London.”
A dignified female voice filled the same enclosed carriage as him. But that came from the person escorting him, not a fellow prisoner.
It was the same female knight he had seen at the beach of…Dover, was it?
She was even speaking Japanese for his benefit. …Or so the spiky-haired boy saw it. In truth, she had spoken to him in English several times and grown slightly depressed when he completely ignored her incomprehensible words and continued muttering to himself.
“That Asian unit…the Amakusas. I hear they were wiped out by the Crowley’s Hazards.”
“And it is all your fault. It seems the entire city of Canterbury has fallen. That is what happens when those Crowley’s Hazards arrive. They eat people, tear them apart, toy with them for fun, and crush them. This is the greatest disaster in British history…”
Kamijou briefly thought his heart would stop, but more and more doubt rose in his mind as he kept listening.
“Wasn’t Canterbury sitting there entirely untouched?”
“Do not be ridiculous! Everyone is saying it! And who would lie at a time like this!?”
“…In other words, you haven’t seen it for yourself?”
“I hear they dangle people upside down and drain their blood before eating them. The blood pours out of the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and every other hole. That must be unimaginably painful and I hear that is what happened to those Amakusa Asians…”
Based on that, Kamijou felt like he did not need to worry too much about the Amakusas. All sorts of disinformation had to be spreading during the chaos.
He sighed and changed the subject.
“I see you got a new breastplate. That’s good. Really good. Thank goodness your boobs remain undefiled…”
“D-do not dig back up that humiliation, you fool!! I demand you forget that at once!!”
The female knight blushed and backed away while holding her body protectively in her arms. He was reminded of when he was tricked by Tsuchimikado and forced to flee from all the battle girls in the School Garden. She may have had a pure upbringing which left her unaccustomed to speaking with non-knight men.
Then he heard a quiet metallic sound.
Something had spilled from the female knight’s hand. She quickly snatched back up a somewhat large gold coin. Kamijou Touma’s ears were finely attuned to the sound of dropped change.
“Foreign money always seems so weird. It looks like a toy or something.”
“You fool. This is a Beheading Coin. It is a type of spiritual item.”
…For a moment, he thought this tea country woman had gotten her Japanese wrong, but it seemed she really had said “beheading”. And that was such a dangerous word that he had not heard anything beyond it.
Nevertheless, she continued the explanation on her own.
“It assists suicide attacks by removing your pain and fear for a few seconds. You can think of it as a portable anesthetic developed by the magic side. The fact that we need something like this is proof that our training is insufficient.”
“Do not try to take it from me. Everyone participating in this battle was issued one.”
Kamijou finally felt himself surrounded by the wartime atmosphere.
The city of London visible through the small and oppressive window did not seem much different from inside the carriage.
There was no one there.
And not just because it was late at night. He did not see any drunks, or even stray cats. All of the storm shutters were closed, but it seemed less like they were afraid of a specific enemy and more like they wanted to shut out the light from the aurora-like veil overhead. According to Aleister, that was protective magic, but that defensive weapon seemed like a symbol of war. It was an extremely strange sight to see nuns in habits and knights in silver armor rushing around while sinister martial law was being enforced. The entire city was ruled by a stirring that felt like the harbinger of a great disaster. Everything was being remade such that yesterday’s normal would no longer apply tomorrow. The formless “age” itself may have been crying out.
This was not his first time in England.
He recalled the somber look on Index’s face in the Strait of Dover and in the hot-air balloon.
And that was why he said what he did.
“…London sure has changed.”
The local knight woman must not have liked that suggestive comment from an outsider. She gave a snort (while still huddled back in a corner of the carriage) and spoke to him.
“A truly tragic fate awaits you.”
“The Tower of London is not as kind a place as you think.”
He had a vague recollection of hearing about that place.
“I think they talked about that on a travel quiz show… Didn’t they say it isn’t as much of a tower as you would think and it’s used to store jewels?”
“I will admit it is more of a large box than anything, but you are referring to the Jewel House located on the same grounds. The actual White Tower is hell on earth.”
Before Kamijou could ask what she meant by that, their carriage passed through a stone castle gate. There were a few buildings inside the large area surrounded by the tall castle walls. As far as he could see, it looked like a giant hospital made from oppressive stone. But this was an ominous hospital with no exit that only existed to gather the sick without healing them.
The carriage entered one of those buildings.
The already oppressive view of London was entirely snuffed out. All that remained were stone walls in every direction. He felt a great pressure, like he had been buried alive below the thick bedrock. Were those ravens surrounding them with cawing? Even though there had not been a single cat visible in the city? This may have been a safe home for them.
“Get out,” said the female knight in silver armor and a surcoat. “We have arrived at the depths of the earth.”
Kamijou recalled that Lola Stuart, top of the Anglican Church, apparently had some kind of secret, but he doubted this female knight would know that much. Still, he regretted not even trying to get any information out of her while they were alone together.
It was too late now that the double doors at the back of the carriage had opened.
If the others learned that he knew of their secret, it could cause a lot of trouble for the female knight too. If he could not stay with her and protect her, it was best to not to do anything that would rouse people’s suspicions.
This situation was not simple enough to solve just by telling the truth.
The ignorant female knight called out to a middle-aged man she seemed to know.
“Beefeater! This is your next guest. You have an open room, don’t you? I know this is sudden, but please get him checked in.”
“It’s always so hard to tell how old Asians are, but he appears to still be in his teens. What is the world coming to? …Welcome to Hotel White Tower. Although when you check out, it will be in a complimentary body bag.”
…Kamijou had no idea what he was saying in his fluent English, but the somewhat pitying looks were far more frightening than the obvious hostility in his tone.
Once he was handed over to what seemed to be one of the Tower of London’s jailers, Kamijou was led down an oppressive stone corridor at the point of a long oak staff that was not quite a spear. They took turn after turn and climbed and descended stairs along the way. Without any windows, he could feel his sense of direction and height gradually fading away. It was just like a labyrinth. He felt like he was exploring a creepy old castle. He could not tell if they were climbing a tall tower or descending to the depths of the earth.
After passing through a few metal bar doors that blocked the corridor, they found a prison lined with metal doors.
“#087 has arrived.”
“Repeat, #087 has arrived.”
Kamijou did not understand English, but he could make out the numbers. Being stripped of his name and referred to with a number was a unique feeling. He should have been able to write it off as a mere nickname, but he found himself unable to accept it so easily. It felt like having his humanity denied.
A metal door bearing that same number was unlocked and he was thrown inside. The room had a small window. It was positioned high on the wall, but it allowed the moonlight in through the bars. The enclosed space was less than 6 square meters and it contained a tattered and discolored mattress and what had once been a blanket. The only other thing was a toilet he was skeptical could even flush, so it truly was a nightmare. It was so dreary that it would even break the spirits of the people who had chosen to throw out all of their possessions and move into a one-room apartment.
“What am I supposed to do now…?”
He held his head in his hands.
He could see no possibility here. Although perhaps he should have expected that in a professional(?) prison.
He did not have the courage to sit on the toilet or the mattress which had grown brown for reasons he feared to speculate. The stains, cracks, and rust all looked vaguely like human faces. The only option left was to lean against the heavy, cold stone wall and scream at the top of his lungs.
“Aleister, I’m sure you were using the commotion to sneak into London, but you are going to come save me afterwards, aren’t you!?”
Simply put, Kamijou was not supporting England or the Crowley’s Hazards. He wanted to solve the Lola/Coronzon problem and bring an end to the chaos as quickly as possible. He and that Board Chairman were in a delicate position of mutual understanding while still being enemies. And since Aleister wanted to pick a fight England, Kamijou had his doubts she would feel any obligation to rescue a pacifist. In fact, Aleister was about as far from human morals as you could get, so Kamijou had trouble imagining her taking any kind of moral responsibility.
Aleister herself had said to take responsibility for themselves and disembark, so if they continued obeying her and dropped out, they only had themselves to blame for letting her trick them.
So what was he to do?
This was a prison run by Necessarius. He did not know what exactly the oft-mentioned witch hunt entailed, but he could guess it was nothing good. He was imagining a bunch of strange torture tools made from metal rings and thick chains combined into something like a puzzle ring! If he stayed here, he really would be subjected to a cruel show straight out of a gruesome Western fairy tale!!
He heard footsteps.
He jumped and turned toward the metal door. The sounds in the hallway reached him quite well for how thick the door was, but then he noticed the long and skinny window, like the newspaper slot in a cheap apartment. That may have been for giving the prisoner water and food. But he was not at all inclined to approach that small window and peer out. After all, his mind was filled with those gruesome Western fairy tales. It was entirely possible that the instant he tried to peer out, an awl would stab him right in the eyeball.
(What is this? You’ve gotta be kidding me. What’s going to happen to me!? Ehh? Why…why now? They aren’t coming to my cell, are they? They have business with some other prisoner, right? They aren’t going to strap me to a dentist-like chair and run the tip of some sewing scissors down the center of my balls, are they!?)
The footsteps continued.
There were identical metal doors all along that corridor, but he could not help but feel each step was approaching him specifically. He was reminded of a ghost story where someone ran across a bloody station attendant, hid inside a coin locker, heard someone knocking on each locker in turn, and finally heard the click of theirs unlocking. Since he could not find any knowledge that might actually be useful here, his panicked brain may have been dredging up any memory it could find.
Finally, the footsteps came to a stop.
They were right in front of the door to Kamijou’s cell.
He desperately suppressed a scream and tried to find a weapon, but the limp mattress and U-shaped toilet seat were the only options. He had so little to work with, it felt like playing an escape game with only two things you could click on. He had no choice but to remove his pants. He tied a knot in the ankles and stuffed his shoes inside the legs. That did not provide much weight, but if he swung it around, the centrifugal force would turn it into a light flail.
He would not give up even if he was thrown into the demon world. Kamijou the Underwear Warrior hesitantly began swinging his pants around.
“Ah, wait, no. If this is how it’s gonna be, then bring it on!!”
However, it seemed whoever-it-was was taking their time to work up his fear as much as possible. They could surely throw open the door and forcibly restrain the prisoner at any time, but they instead chose to stand silently in front of the door. Eventually, they used the long, skinny window to peer inside the cell.
And it was…
“My, my. I hurried here when I heard an Asian with a familiar description had been captured, but you seem to be doing well.”
She was a former Catholic nun and was now with the Anglicans. She was a gentle young woman who could cook and she had a curvy figure that was apparent even through her long-skirted habit. He had never expected to find a truly harmless person with a cross hanging from her neck here in the Tower of London.
And then he realized something else.
He was in a closed room by himself and he had removed his pants and started swinging them around of his own free will. He had taken that bizarre style of battle readiness all on his own.
“No!! Stop! Stop it! Don’t look at me, Orsola! I’m filthy!! I said don’t look at meeeeeeee!!!!!”
Kamijou Touma backed into a corner of the cell and curled up while the gentle young woman placed an elegant hand over her mouth as she watched him through the door’s small window. Instead of disappointment or embarrassment, she responded with a pleasant smile. And that mature tolerance pained him more than anything at the moment.
“Wh-why are you here? Are you trying to sneak me out?”
“Oh. Um, I currently belong to the Anglican Church, so I am helping with the work here. And you need to be questioned. Um, which one was the right key again?”
Kamijou thought he would cry when he heard the jangling of a keyring. This meant she was in charge of beating him in this strange torture and execution tower. He had no allies here. He felt like there was a gaping hole in his chest, but just as his mind began to burn itself out by spinning its wheels too much, his thoughts took an odd turn:
This was only gentle Orsola. …If she was the one doing it, wouldn’t he be spared anything too cruel? For one thing, would she even know how to use the torture tools straight out of a cruel Western fairy tale? He suddenly pictured her cutely tilting her head while holding a whip and candle. He had a feeling this would turn out all right. Yes, it surely would. Ha ha ha. No, Orsola, you use that like this. As long as he did not become a foolish gentleman who placed himself on the chopping block to lecture her on the proper usage like that, he was fairly certain she would run out of time before figuring out what to do. And didn’t that sexy young woman have a bad habit of jumping from topic to topic? It was possible she would forget the very basics of questioning someone and not tell him what she wanted to know or what he was supposed to do. Yes, this would work. Kamijou Touma wiped away his tears. It was sure to work. He just had to put on his pants. It could all start from there. His heart was pounding in his chest, but this was no time to let an odd suspension bridge effect get him somewhat excited. Just zip them up and fasten your belt. If things go well, there could even be a slightly sexual turn of events.
(Slightly sexual… No, this tight leather atmosphere feels like it would go beyond “slightly”. No, no. I need to ride this wave! I’m not going to let this turn into real torture and end up dying in this prison!! My name is Kamijou Touma! I look forward to working with you here! Pant, pant. M-man, this is scary. My favorite word is “dorm manager”. Ohhhh, I look forward to working with you here! I really do!!)
Kamijou Touma boiled over a bit as he poured his passions onto the idea of a dorm manager.
And while he stood there blankly, without putting his pants back on, he had a thought: I can die later.
“Okay, got it open. Now, please come this way.”
Meanwhile, Orsola Aquinas opened the thick metal door with a bright smile that suggested she did not have a clue what was going through his head. As the cross around her neck suggested, she was a pacifist. Despite being a sexy young woman, she was full of openings and just extremely careless.
“Come on, Kamijou. Please put your pants on.”
“I’ve never had a woman tell me that before! I feel like I earned a ton of experience points from that one!!”
“Yes, yes. Look, I’ve spread your pants out for you. You can place your hands on my shoulders for support. Start by lifting your right leg and putting it through here, okay?”
She was the same as always. And this time, that meant her face was right at waist-height.
Right leg and then left leg.
Kamijou trembled as he moved like a small child getting help dressing himself. This scene felt so wonderfully nostalgic after the craziness he had seen throughout England. He felt like everything would be okay if he just followed along. This was peace. There was still hope!
“Oh, ohh, ohhhhhh…”
“My, my. What is the matter? Please don’t cry. There, there.”
Orsola softly wiped away the boy’s tears with an elegant handkerchief, realized he was not going to stop, and wrapped her slender arms around his head. She held his head like a young wife holding a giant watermelon to her chest.
“It’ll be okay. The scary part is over.”
“As long as you answer the questions, nothing bad will happen to you.”
“Wait, you’re on their side?”
Kamijou Touma pulled his head from the bottomless swamp of those large boobs and suddenly sharpened his focus.
This was no time to succumb to the suspension bridge effect or Stockholm syndrome.
He considered slipping past her and making a run for it like a disobedient pet cat, but even if he left the cell, he did not know the layout of the Tower of London and there had been barred doors along the way. He desperately told himself to wait. He needed certainty. Waiting for certainty would be better than making a gamble with no realistic hope of success. He would leave the cell, spend some time with Orsola, and check to see if he could spot any emergency exits.
“You really shouldn’t enter England without permission at a time like this.”
“I’m sure this is all a big misunderstanding, but make sure you tell the truth once we arrive at the room. That is the best way of ensuring this goes smoothly. Lord, please protect this poor lamb…”
“Is that so?”
Kamijou was so focused on memorizing the layout that his responses were fairly absentminded. He recalled that Orsola had specialized in spreading the church’s teachings around the world when she was with the Catholics. Seeing how carefree she was made him feel silly getting so cautious and ready to fight.
“From what I have heard, Canterbury has fallen, which is a real problem. The people who are captured by the Crowley’s Hazards are eaten, rolled up into a ball, or crushed It is so sad that we have reached an age where everyone must rely on these Beheading Coins.”
“I heard something similar in the carriage. But is it really true? Canterbury looked fine when I saw it. In fact, it was making anti-air attacks with frightening high-pressure water blasts.”
“We also can’t contact the Amakusas, so I’m so very worried. Rumor has it the captured people are gutted and dried…”
“Wasn’t it that they were hung upside down and had their blood drained? And it’s probably just that you can’t reach the Amakusas’ phones.”
“My, my. I am here to help with the work, so we need to get you started on that questioning.”
“And with how you jump from topic to topic, I’m not sure you could contact them even if the phones were working. C’mon, granny, you already ate!! Come back to your senses!!”
Despite his hopes, there were no obvious escape points.
That was when someone kicked on one of the metal doors from the inside.
The blonde young woman shrieked in an unexpectedly cute way and clung to Kamijou’s arm from the side. He sensed a soft feeling and a faint sweet aroma. Oblivious Orsola was just like a small child tearfully trembling in a haunted house, but with the way her volume was touching him, Kamijou Touma’s adolescence was about ready to explode.
“…How should I put this? This really isn’t the place for you.”
“Uuh. U-um, I was hoping I could act as the prison chaplain and help guide everyone back onto the proper path…”
She was truly admirable. He seriously wished Aleister would start following in her footsteps. Although that pervert would probably take that advice literally and use it as an excuse to stalk her.
In the end, they arrived at their destination door with Kamijou having learned nothing of value.
“This is the place,” said Orsola as she knocked on the door.
(No, it’s not over yet. Don’t give up. There has to be an opening somewhere. I didn’t find anything on the way here, but if I check on the way back, I’m sure to-…wait, am I really going to be interrogated by Orsola? Am I going to see that clueless young woman tilting her head in black leather bondage gear!? Then there’s still hope! Oh, I can’t wait!!)
Kamijou’s thoughts took a worldly turn and began to run wild, but then a question occurred to him.
Orsola Aquinas had just knocked on the door. She had a keyring at her waist, so she could open the door even if it was locked. That left only one possibility: there was someone on the other side of the door. Orsola was not the one in charge of the interrogation…no, let’s be more straightforward: the torture. There was someone else there!?
The door opened far too easily.
And he stood there in the center of a scene from a cruel Western fairy tale.
A nearly-2m boy who grimaced while biting into a cigarette filter.
“Hello, you piece of shit.”
Kamijou had actually been looking forward to this thanks to the presence of Orsola Aquinas whose curves were clearly visible through her plain habit and who was defenselessly clinging to him like a tearful child in a haunted house. In terms of sugoroku, this tragedy was like landing on an “advance 6 places” spot only to end up sent back to the beginning immediately afterwards.
The person in front of him spoke with no emotion in his words.
“What are you doing here when you should be looking after that girl? I really feel like roasting you a bit, but this is a job. I will leave out my personal feelings and solemnly complete each step in turn.”
Kamijou Touma’s vision started to grow dark like he was lightly anemic.
He wanted to curse his ignorant self for trying to escape reality with the hint of eroticism coming from Orsola’s boobs through her thick habit.
My favorite word is “dorm manager”.
This was not the time for that.
“You can’t do this, you idiot. I know there are a lot of different ways to hurt people, but please not a fire expert! Anything but thaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat!!”
He received no compassion or mercy.
Kamijou Touma was swiftly strapped to the chair.
“Don’t glare at me.”
They were near the first wall of the England-Londinium Fortress.
A small gas station and attached diner were built about 20km from London. Aleister Crowley gave that exasperated comment from a table by the window.
Accelerator, the #1 Level 5, sat across from him.
The diner seemed to have expanded its services using products from the farms that managed the surrounding grasslands. It served lamb instead of beef or pork. The souvenir section sold knit gloves and hats made from what appeared to be wool. …The batteries and the toy radios, which had a range of less than 100m, were sold out, so there may have been some misinformation going around that they could be used to contact your family during the cellphone restrictions.
They had taken the paper hot-air balloon to the ground where it waited on standby.
Since they were close to the barricade set up by the Anglicans, this seemed to be an important supply station for the nuns. They occasionally saw a girl leaving with an armful of food or entering the motel to use the shower.
Accelerator gave a skeptical look out the window.
“…Is it just me or are they saying something about the entire Dover coast sinking into the sea? What are you doing with that creepy army of yours?”
“Now, now. Not everything is under my control. They are fighting a war and communications are being restricted. Do you really think accurate information is going to reach those virginal girls? This country no longer exists in the age where you can search anything for a low monthly fee.”
A small war would break out here if they were discovered, but the girl in a blue blazer uniform, a witch’s hat, and a cape was entirely relaxed. But not because she was confident they would not be noticed. She had simply learned every little failure was not worth getting worked up over.
Accelerator took a bite of the burger that had come with the standard meal and then returned it to the tray with a very troubled look. After that, he did not even bother trying anything but the fries.
Aleister chuckled since this was her homeland.
“Well, this country has a lot of things, but good food is not one of them. Still, you are not following the proper etiquette. British food is meant to be eaten with alcohol and the sweets are meant to be eaten with tea. Attempting them on their own is not recommended.”
“This isn’t the time to brag about your home country.” The #1 clicked his tongue and continued speaking with his eyes still directed out the window. “The others all ditched you. This is what happens as soon as that weakest guy is gone. You sure are unpopular.”
Accelerator’s tone seemed to hint that he wished he had gone with them.
Index, Othinus, and Karasuma Fran.
All of those girls had vanished. They were probably searching for Kamijou Touma in their own ways.
“Either way, struggling wildly will accomplish nothing. The path to London will not open until something is done about the triple-quadruple final barrier.”
“I wouldn’t if I were you. Not even vector control will accomplish much. As you are now, you could probably get the toes of one foot inside at most. You are still a long way off from having what I would call a good grasp of magic.”
Aleister wiggled the tip of her silver spoon around while weaving some sarcasm and scorn into her words. Regardless of her individual likes and dislikes, this was the only way the girl magician knew how to communicate with people.
“Well, that Magic God might be able to get through. Regardless, I never wanted popularity. Besides, if I had someone who was willing to risk their life to stop me, do you really think I would have spent more than a century straying from the so-called proper path?”
“…You’re only outside that Windowless Building now because someone did exactly that.”
“Now that was a cruel thing to say. Does that make us birds of a feather?”
Aleister did not seem at all bothered as she scooped up some Western lamb curry with the same spoon as before. As someone who had been born in England and come to hate it, that human knew what she was doing. Instead of hoping for the food to be decently seasoned, she had chosen a curry that had dozens of different spices dumped into it.
Perhaps because that wicked human had grown up in a country of harsh hard water, she did not trust the tap water and drank from an expensive water bottle.
“I supposed I should get to the main issue.”
“London is a large place. If you include Greater London, it is a metropolis with 33 districts that covers approximately 1600 square kilometers. It would not hurt to let you know our destination.”
Accelerator had no real reason to assist Aleister. In fact, this was the person who had cast a dark shadow on his life. Since she did not fear failure, defeat, or death, he could not exact revenge. This journey was a way of finding a way to do that.
He was not interested in either side of this conflict. He was only observing.
If Aleister told him what her goal was, the #1 might very well take it from her and destroy it…but she almost certainly knew that.
She was accustomed to loss.
The grim reaper had been a constant companion during that human’s life, so she would not struggle over something as small as this.
She did not hesitate to play that card.
The game was already underway on the table and that included the risk this created.
“It is closely related to the royal family’s official ceremonies and it is tied to the religion and politics of the great magic kingdom of England.”
“Hm? I thought this was about your family?”
“Oh, that does come first for me, but this is not limited to the personal issues of Lilith and Lola. Before long, Coronzon will crawl out of the seal in Academy City. The next time she shows up, humanity will have no way of stopping her. What do you think will happen if that cruel demon takes control of both the magical Anglican Church and scientific Academy City? That Great Demon targeted my daughter’s body just to deliver a blow to me, but this would allow her to play her games on a global level.”
“As far as I can tell, we cannot kill that thing the way things are. Not even with your help. Thus, I have business with a secret sleeping in England.”
“I’ll talk, I’ll talk, I’ll talk!! I mean, I have no reason to stick with Crowley to this extent! I’ll tell you everything, so no fire! Don’t make me wear a metal mask heated to the same orange glow you’d see at a swordsmith!!!!!!”
The Tower of London torture room was filled with strange torture goods. And in the center of it all, Kamijou Touma tearfully shouted while struggling at the belts strapping him to the chair. In all seriousness, if he did not say something to keep himself focused, he was afraid he would piss himself.
It did not matter that they were acquaintances. He would not bat an eye while he slowly burned away Kamijou’s fingers one at a time.
“Why did you set foot in this country? Whose idea was it? How much does it have to do with Lola Stuart’s sudden disappearance and the Crowley’s Hazards?”
“No, wait! Don’t just flood me with questions like that! Let’s handle them one at a time! I said I’ll tell you everything, didn’t I!?”
“Why did you set foot in this country? Whose idea was it? How much does it have to do with Lola Stuart’s sudden disappearance and the Crowley’s Hazards?”
“Is that all you can say!? Goddammit!!”
Stiyl’s emotionless voice made it sound like he was mechanically reading off a message.
The saving goddess Orsola Aquinas was no longer here. That faint aroma of sweet eroticism was nowhere to be found. All that remained was a life-or-death battle with a devil who reeked of cigarettes. Even now, that nearly-2m boy held a cigarette in the corner of his mouth while making a bored comment.
“You sure do talk a lot. I haven’t even done anything yet.”
“Because it’s fire! Your very first move could cripple me for life!!”
“…The people who do that are only making a show of being forthcoming in order to hide their real secrets. They make it look like they have nothing more to hide so they can trick the questioner into not searching deeper.”
“Yes, that silence sounds much more promising. Thank you for letting me guide you there. And now it is time to drag the information out of you.”
It was true he could not tell Stiyl about the RV in Egypt where Mina Mathers and Lilith were hiding. Even if he and Aleister were enemies with a mutual understanding and even if he would gladly betray Aleister and get her thrown into the Tower of London in his place, that was something he could not reveal no matter what.
“The thing about fire is,” began Stiyl while blowing cigarette smoke in Kamijou’s face, “it’s an extremely useful means of destruction, but it is very difficult to use when you want information out of someone. Go in too strong and they will die of shock. And if the necrosis spreads too far, there is no saving them. It is possible to extract residual information from a corpse’s brain, but you only have one shot at it. And even when compared to cutting or crushing, the fear of losing part of your body is simply too great. Just like you said, a single move could cripple them for life, so there is a risk of them psychologically giving up on life. Once that happens, they will not talk no matter what you do to them. And that is a major problem for someone trying to get the necessary information out of them.”
“So…you won’t use fire?”
Stiyl had mentioned a few terms like cutting and crushing that Kamijou seriously wanted to steer clear of, but he also wanted to make sure of this no matter what.
Stiyl continued with no real change of expression.
“I could answer yes and I could answer no.”
“We use this for the modern witch hunt.”
He held a scrap of paper in front of Kamijou’s face. It was a largish paper doll that really did look like it had been cut out of a piece of copy paper with scissors. It had a simple head and limbs, but the overall balance was off. It apparently only had to look vaguely humanoid.
“What is that…?”
“Keep your mouth shut. I don’t want you biting your tongue.”
With that cold comment, Stiyl Magnus shoved his lit cigarette into the paper doll’s right leg.
“Welcome, Kamijou Touma, to London, the city of fog, magic, and torture.”
It immediately came off.
The boy’s right leg burned and carbonized until the bone was visible and it fell off at the knee.
He was reminded of the delicious part of fried chicken.
The end of the chicken leg bone. This was like a much larger version of that round bit of bone covered in cartilage that quivered like thick, translucent gelatin.
“Oh, you can actually scream? I thought for sure your eyes would roll back in your head and you would pass out with the very first move, but you must have a fair amount of experience with this sort of thing. Well, that will only make this all the more hellish for you.”
Kamijou screamed and struggled, but Stiyl only observed him with the look of a child tearing the legs off of a bug. Then he pressed the cigarette against the paper doll’s lower stomach.
It was like watching plastic melt. With a strange odor, the skin blistered and burst, the muscles snapped, and an internal pressure caused more and more of a thick substance to spill out. His vision flashed in and out and his view of the room grew blurry for a reason other than tears.
The only thing he could hear anymore was the mechanically emotionless voice repeating itself.
“Why did you set foot in this country? Whose idea was it? How much does it have to do with Lola Stuart’s sudden disappearance and the Crowley’s Hazards?”
But at this point, Kamijou finally realized something.
One of his legs had fallen off, but he could not escape the chair’s belts no matter how much he struggled. That meant the restraints on all his limbs were still in place. Even though one of those limbs should not have been there anymore.
“You aren’t actually…burning me with fire. You’re using that doll…yes, using it to send just the sensation to me.”
“Knowing that does not allow you to escape the pain and suffering,” explained Stiyl while holding the end of the cigarette right in front of the paper doll’s face.
It was the same as the urban legend of the purple mirror that said something bad would happen if you did not forget about it before you turned 20. It did not matter whether or not you understood how it worked. The more you tried to reject it, the more you would focus on it and the more you would fall into its trap.
“This is a professional tool. There is no escape. Just like hypnotism and red-hot tongs, it does not actually influence your physical body. Thus, it cannot rapidly raise your blood pressure and cause you to die of shock. Taking extreme levels of damage but being unable to die is hell itself. This is a hell designed by human hands to hunt witches.”
His vision continued to flash in and out.
“And your prized Imagine Breaker is useless here because your right hand is bound to the chair by a perfectly normal belt. When the source is right there in your head, it must be so very painful that you cannot simply reach up and touch it.”
Kamijou could tell. He felt an ill omen like someone was shoving a red-hot sheet of metal in front of his face. He forgot to even clench his teeth and drool flowed from the corner of his mouth as he gathered his consciousness which threatened to completely shatter.
Aleister did not matter. He did not care about Lola Stuart.
But Mina Mathers and Lilith were different.
Giving up on them for his own convenience would violate the boy’s rules.
Stiyl Magnus felt no real emotion. He knew exactly what he had to do and he would simply repeat the same actions he had made the day before. There was nothing on his face, like he was losing sight of himself while repeatedly assembling the boxes running by on a conveyer belt.
The same questions were repeated yet again.
“The face is especially bad.”
Despite those words, he shoved the cigarette into the paper doll as casually as someone stamping a form.
They were floating.
Index and Karasuma Fran were holding onto the wire dangling from one of the hoodie bikini girl’s UFO balloons. They were practically embracing each other as they got as close to London as they could manage.
“Riding a hot-air balloon with so many people is just wrong. Riding Bunny Gray like this is best.”
If they touched it, they were dead.
Once they were caught, they would be pushed into the gap between barriers and ultimately crushed beyond recognition by the giant press that covered the entire city.
Yes, they were near the triple-quadruple final barrier that irregularly emitted unnatural red or green lights.
“It looks like England really is completely transformed.”
“They have no choice given the situation. The people here are only trying to protect their country, so you can’t blame them.”
“Right…I need to look at this differently…”
“You can’t just lament what’s happening. If Great Demon Coronzon breaks free of the Banner of the West in Academy City and crawls back out, there is no way of stopping her.”
Much like Tsuchimikado Motoharu, the hoodie bikini girl was good at this sort of thing thanks to her experience infiltrating an enemy group to achieve her objective. She did not simply alter a single long rail. She always had multiple rails so she could switch to another parallel rail at any time during the chaos. That was the unique logic of someone who could never appear shaken.
“This goes beyond a simple conflict in the Crowley family. This is a battle to free England – and the world as a whole – from Great Demon Coronzon’s influence.”
“I know that.”
From a distance, it looked like an ominous aurora in the night sky, but from this close, it was obviously a dome covering the entire city.
“So do you think you can get us through? All magic is a product of human hands. A grimoire library that has memorized 103,000 grimoires should know how to break through.”
“I’ve taken in something other than that too.”
And after that unnecessary correction…
“It generally seems to have given a physical repulsive force to the rules permeating the land and space. It uses the aspects of national and regional character that work to distance outsiders. I’d like to compare it to the Eastern idea of Dosojin…but this probably has its origin in the guild membership rules that force members to protect the group’s secrets.”
“So can you get through or not? If you can’t refine your own magic power, I can help you out.”
“Forcibly pulling on it won’t do any good. It’s like a bunch of those power cable things tangled together. It isn’t an issue of the strength at any single point. Untangle one part and it will get tangled with another part. That multi-layered structure is what makes it such a pain. I doubt even Touma’s right hand could fully destroy it if he just went straight at it.”
“And what about with your knowledge as the Index Librorum Prohibitorum?”
“Not a chance. I doubt even the person who set up this final barrier knows how to untangle it. They’ve intentionally randomized it. That way you can’t make a fixed correspondence table using Gematria or something.”
“Well, rushing it isn’t going to help. I guess we’ll have to deal with one thing at a time.”
Some people might find Index and Karasuma Fran to be an unusual pairing, but they actually had a few things in common.
“Mh. I finally come back to England and I can’t even get into London, which is Bunny Gray’s second home…”
“I prefer Japan’s Kanamin, so I don’t really know what you’re talking about.”
“Are you feeling a throbbing in your head?”
“Only a periodic twinge.”
Yes, Index and Fran had both had something done to their bodies so that Lola could directly control them. The control method had been destroyed for both of them, but they could sense some traces of it remaining.
Was that throbbing a reaction to Great Demon Coronzon’s thoughts?
If only they could use that to stage some kind of counterattack…
“I have to repay her for what she did to me in that A. O. Francisca incident.”
“None of that matters if you get crushed by the final barrier before you can do anything.”
They could not open it, so there was nothing they could do.
While keeping a short distance from the final barrier that could crush them if they even touched it, hoodie bikini Karasuma Fran asked a question.
“What happened to that little Magic God?”
“I’m not sure. I think a bird might have gotten her.”
Kamijou Touma’s eyes would not focus properly.
A rusty flavor filled his mouth. His mouth was all sticky after his back teeth bit through his own flesh. He did not think it was his tongue. It was probably the flesh of his cheek. He wanted to rinse out his mouth, but he was not given that kind of freedom.
Stiyl was no longer here, but the questions continued ringing in his eardrums.
He forcibly peeled apart his stuck-together lips and spoke while his eyes refused to focus and his body sat limply in the chair he was strapped to.
“…Aleister. I really am going to kill that bastard…”
Stiyl Magnus was not here.
Had he gone to get an even nastier tool, or was he getting a first-aid kit to treat Kamijou’s mouth and extend his suffering? Was there any chance at all of a clueless Orsola miracle?
At any rate.
“Oh, you’re tougher than I thought. I expected to find you had at least pissed yourself. You must have built up some resistance from confronting this god of war for such a depressingly long time.”
At first, he thought his brain was pumping out too many endorphins to distract him from the harshness of reality.
But when he raised his head while strapped to the chair, he did indeed see her.
“Why the surprise? The bars over the window were built to puny human standards, so they could never stop a god in her tracks. Their precious security was flawed at the most fundamental level.”
In other words, she had used her small size to slip between the bars. It was the same reason mice had no trouble wandering around an impregnable prison. But while Kamijou did not know how many floors up this was, wouldn’t it have been difficult for Othinus to climb up to the small window?
He heard a sound like sheets beating against the air. He looked to the window again and his eyes widened in shock. There was a giant bird standing there. If he was being honest, he was a little afraid of animals larger than cats and birds larger than crows.
“The head Norse god has an affinity for birds. I would use two raven familiars to gather information around the world and I would transform myself into a hawk to inspect the lower world.”
“You captured it and rode it around? I’ve never seen a real hawk up close before…”
“Now that is sad to hear. Has basic education changed that much?”
Othinus was constantly defeated by their kitten, so how had she managed to tame that dangerous thing? As she spat out her last comment, Othinus climbed up Kamijou’s shin and took up a position on his lap. And she removed something from her shoulder that was like a golf bag to her small body.
“Did you talk?”
“…Hmph. As always, you are far too kind. You did well for someone who was betrayed by a supposed ally and exposed to the tortures of the world’s greatest witch hunting organization.”
She sounded utterly exasperated but her voice also had a somehow gentle roundness to it.
Othinus’s golf bag turned out to be something wrapped in black leather. She unwrapped it on his thigh and revealed a few different tools she had acquired somehow or another.
“What are Index and the others doing…?”
“How should I know? You need to start worrying about yourself for once. The humans are still stuck at the triple-quadruple final barrier covering all of London. As long as they don’t attempt a random attack on it, they won’t die. And since they clearly couldn’t do anything, I decided to set off on my own.”
“It is the same as the bars on the window. A barrier built for humans cannot stop a god like me. And it is a flaw in the basic design, so there is nothing anyone can do about it at this stage.”
Othinus first pulled out a tool with a sharp blade at the end of a pencil-length metal rod. Given her height, it looked a lot like a spear or naginata.
Fear returned to Kamijou’s worn-down heart.
What had happened to the peaceful world of a few seconds ago?
“Hey, what is that!? A scalpel or something!? You sure are a dangerous fairy!!”
“You moron. This is a knife used for working with pure gold. We can’t get started unless I do something about these belts, right? But these are nothing compared to chains or a metal ring, so wait just a moment.”
“You idiot! Hey, don’t crawl across me with an exposed blade! You’re kidding, right!? That’s right by my wrist! You’re really going to cut there!? I’m afraid you’re going to slice right through me!!”
“…Understander, when did you lose so much trust in me?”
“You Western gods are always so careless about things! You’re always destroying and remaking the entire world! Can you really cook and sew and do other precise dorm manager work!?”
“How rude. I’m skilled enough to get my friend’s severed head talking again. Cook? As a sign of peace, I once created a human from the spit gathered in a spittoon. And the blood flowing from their corpse was used to create the world’s finest mead. Has that cleared up the misunderstanding?”
“I trust that our bonds are strong enough to survive this, but you’re honestly creeping me out!!”
“Shut up. Okay…all done. Your right hand is free.”
It did not take long once one hand was free. The restraint belts used the same structure as the belt on his pants. While making sure he did not knock Othinus off of his lap, he undid the remaining three buckles.
Tiny Othinus gave a haughty snort before speaking again.
“You look exhausted. Curse those damn Anglicans. Maybe I should drop a divine spear on their heads.”
“This is their job. Not that I want them to keep doing it.”
Orsola and the others seemed to have fallen for some self-made disinformation about the Amakusas being destroyed and Canterbury falling. They were also carrying those Beheading Coins, dangerous-sounding suicide-attack spiritual items that worked something like a portable anesthetic, so he could not let his guard down for a variety of reasons.
Once he was free, Kamijou checked each of the tools Othinus had brought. In addition to the knife, the palm-sized god had a metal-cutting saw thinner than a pen, a screwdriver handle and a few interchangeable tips, a small hammer used to break a sunken car’s window from the inside, a free-size wrench that’s width could be adjusted with a dial, and more. It looked like she had grabbed everything she could because she did not know what would come in handy.
“It is ridiculously out of the question for a god like me to worry about the interests of a mere human…but I am a criminal. And the environment I rely on is established by the treaty between Lola and Aleister. And yet one of them has been revealed to be possessed, cratering any trust anyone had in her, and the other has cast aside their own title as Board Chairman. I don’t care who, I just want someone who can guarantee my position. And that includes my position by your side.”
Kamijou naturally approached the small window Othinus had used to get in.
But once he reached the wall, he was confronted with reality.
“This…is really tall! I can’t reach it!”
“Honestly, there are plenty of unproductive torture devices in here. How about using one of them as a stepstool?”
“I don’t know how any of them are used. I’m afraid one will snap shut like a bear trap the instant I step on it.”
Kamijou hopped up and down until he managed to grab the window’s bars and forcibly climb up. …When he looked out, he found they were much higher than he had expected. They were at least on the third floor. And he had no idea if there was anything to cushion him below. The outer wall was almost entirely vertical and had nothing sticking out for him to grab. Also, this building was only the White Tower, so even if he escaped it, he would still find the thick castle walls surrounding him. If he jumped down and broke his leg, only a cruel fate awaited him.
He let go to end his modified pull-up and he breathed a heavy sigh.
“…That’s not going to work. Even if I could break the bars, jumping out from here would be suicide.”
“In that case, the only remaining option is the main door.”
Guided by Othinus’s voice, Kamijou grabbed the tool set and dragged his exhausted body toward the metal door. Since this was not a normal room, there was no keyhole on the inside. The hinges were also attached on the outside, so he could not find anything to remove with the tools. Nor was it fragile enough to break a hole in with the hammer or saw. This door did not even have the long, skinny window he had seen on the cell door.
“There’s nothing here. What am I supposed to do!?”
Kamijou shouted and kicked the door in desperation, but that only left him holding his aching toes and groaning. There really was nothing he could do. He even lost his balance while standing on one foot, so he placed his right hand on the door to balance himself.
Immediately, the thick metal door collapsed outwards with an almost silly sound.
With that support taken away without warning, Kamijou Touma fell over and rolled out into the Tower of London corridor. He very nearly committed seppuku with the tools he was holding. He had no idea what had happened and looked around in confusion. He doubted that metal door had broken just because he kicked it. Which meant…
“Did they magically reinforce it to provide the strength they wanted?” asked the Norse god who was skillfully standing on his head. “If so, you should touch everything you can: doors, stone walls, locks – it doesn’t matter. There was no reaction from that window, but Imagine Breaker might work in some places.”
“…Should I really do that? Isn’t the Tower of London a historical building!? I don’t know how England handles national treasures and important cultural properties, but wouldn’t this be a big deal!?”
“Not to worry. You would only be bothering the Royal Family.”
“Royal!? So it is a big deal!”
“How can you be so bothered by this after spending so much time clashing with a god like me? …Also, what made you think you could settle all of this without upsetting anyone? Have you forgotten what they did to you as soon as they brought you to the Tower of London, human? Whether you escaped your bonds or not, being taken here is like earning a red card in life.”
“That smile has frozen on your face, hasn’t it? Create a path out if you want to live. If you do not destroy every wall and door you can in order to create an escape route the authorities did not expect, you have no hope of survival.”
There was no turning back now that he had destroyed the door. Even if he returned to the room and sat in the chair, they would notice something was wrong. And they would surely see that as intent to resist and torture him further. In fact, they would have continued the torture like normal even if nothing had changed. Nothing good would come of staying in that room. He could not keep dreaming in vain of an Orsola miracle.
When he scrambled to his feet with his face pale, Othinus climbed down to her spot on his shoulder and lost herself in thought.
(Hmm. In that case, I can make a good guess why Aleister suddenly sent this human to the Tower of London: the greatest treasure which they cannot even keep in the Jewel House.)
“Fine! I don’t even care anymore!! To hell with Stiyl and Orsola! They can get yelled at for allowing me to escape. Curse that warm and gentle woman. I hope she’s brought to tears by a slightly lewd punishment!!”
“What’s gotten into you? Has the threat of death finally broken the switch meant to preserve your bloodline?”
Things were surprisingly easygoing.
The grasslands continued to the horizon, which felt terribly empty to Hamazura and Takitsubo who lived in cramped Academy City. Several railroads intersected at the center of that landscape. There was something like a roofless unmanned station, but there were no ticket gates or ticket machines. It may have been exclusively for loading and unloading cargo such as sheep and machine-rolled hay.
“Hamazura, can we really not get through? If we wait around, those monsters are going to catch up.”
“Hmm. I think this is as far as we can get like this. They’ll probably notice us if we move any closer.”
Hamazura Shiage switched off the headlights and come to a stop in response to his girlfriend in a pink track suit and sweater.
It looked like a perfectly ordinary cargo station, but it was surrounded by an abnormal amount of chain-link fencing. There was a transformer room for the trains, but it was still overkill.
“Are they arguing about something?”
“They’re saying Loch Ness has dried up. …Do they mean the Loch Ness?”
He did not really get what Takitsubo meant. Hamazura was not sure if “Loch Ness” was the name of a coffee brand, some historical ruins, or a soccer club team.
Regardless, he could guess this was more misinformation.
(They’re fighting a war, so do they have food or fuel stored here? They could have built a big underground tank like under a gas station…)
Hiding it in an obvious vault or underground area made it easier to target, but they could not hide it in civilian homes just because that was harder to find. Thus, they tended to use national forests, prisons, and parks. A transformer room surrounded by fences and high-voltage warnings fit the conditions.
But before getting to that, Hamazura did not understand all the complicated details about magic and the Anglican Church. He was simply worried about this obvious checkpoint when they had illegally entered the country without a passport and then stole a car. Stealing cars was forbidden in pretty much every country, but he was especially afraid of ending up in handcuffs in a foreign country with an unfamiliar legal system.
“What should we do? Choose a different route?”
“It looks like this same barricade continues forever.”
The vehicle’s four-wheel drive power would allow them to leave the asphalt and directly drive across the grassland, but that did not seem to be the issue here.
Hamazura glanced at the rearview mirror to check on the monsters in the back seat.
“Hey, you say you’re Magic Gods, right? I don’t really know what that means, but can’t you use your over-the-top god powers to blast through this checkpoint?”
“Oh? Are you sure you want us to do that?”
“We can do that, but I apologize in advance if it ends up altering the earth’s crust here. If you think of it as creating a new wonder of the world, then it’s actually a plus for the local humans who are bound by worldly interests☆”
…Hamazura was not sure how serious the brown bandage woman and mini-China dress girl were. He did not really get how incredible Magic Gods were, so they just seemed like a relative insisting they would start taking things seriously tomorrow.
“Oh, I think you have other things to worry about.”
As soon as Nephthys said that with a smile, someone tapped lightly on the driver’s side window. The sound alone was enough to make Hamazura groan. It was identical to an Anti-Skill officer arrogantly using their position of authority to question him. He glanced over, but did not find a uniformed police officer carrying a gun or baton. It was a glasses nun in a black habit. Instead of a flashlight, she held a lantern that used reflective panels to direct the light of an oil lamp in a single direction.
It was a strange visual for someone who had lived by LED lights for so long, but nothing good would come of stomping on the gas pedal and trying to flee. These people who truly believed they were in the right would not hesitate to grab onto the car at times like that. And if they were subsequently thrown off, he would now be responsible for a death or injury. If he wanted to avoid danger and not place any additional crimes on his own head, he needed to focus on the “etiquette” of these situations.
He opened the window rather than the door.
(The grassland starts right over there, so she wouldn’t hit her head on the asphalt if she’s sent rolling away. If I catch her off guard and knock her away before gassing it, I should be able to ensure her safety.)
It might seem surprising, but even if a possibly hostile person was within arm’s reach, people would relax if there was any kind of “wall” between them. This was based on the concept of personal space, where another person would begin to feel threatening if they moved within a certain radius of you. Every prison and juvenile hall made sure to warn the guards to remain cautious when approaching prisoners through the bars. When questioning someone in a car, pretty much everyone would bend over and try to peer inside, so Hamazura planned on making his move when she moved her face in close. …The fact that all this came to him so readily was proof that he could not rid himself of his old lifestyle so easily.
Judging the age of foreigners was difficult, but this glasses nun looked even younger than him. And she spoke with the lantern in hand.
“What are civilians doing wandering around here!? You need to evacuate! Just get away from here as fast as you can!!”
The idiot could not speak English and did not even know how to open a conversational English app on his phone. All he could do was clasp his hands together and repeat the magic word: sorry.
It was only after Takitsubo gave him a brief translation that he noticed something was out of place. This glasses nun had not approached them because she thought the car was suspicious.
A moment later, the ground shook.
No, that was not it.
It was similar to how the cheering in a stadium could cause a false positive on a seismograph. Something was approaching with a kaiju-like roar. He could sense its approach from the tingling pain in his skin.
“Uuuh,” groaned Takitsubo in the passenger seat. What had she detected? “I feel sick. What is this signal…?”
The nun aimed her unreliable lantern in a completely different direction and clicked her tongue.
“A Crowley’s Hazard. Damn those god-hating calamities!!”
Unemotional Takitsubo’s translation was irritatingly slow. They were not watching a sports match on TV. They were right there in the thick of it. As the disaster raged, the outside speakers made warnings and announcements in a foreign language he could not make out.
At any rate…
“Oh, dear. Was that the England-Londinium Fortress? The battle line has already pushed its way to the second wall, hasn’t it?”
“That leaves 40km, right? And with that running start, the rear encampment won’t be able to fall back and regroup. Is the defensive line going to collapse all at once?”
The very kind Magic Gods translated it into Japanese for him, but that did not help much. The surface words were not enough for him to understand the meaning hidden below.
He grew pale and shouted at them.
“Hey, by Crowley, you mean Aleister Crowley, right? Is that thing really going to crush us along with everyone else? We came here because she told us to!!”
“While that is the Crowley we mean, this is a completely different possibility, so you probably can’t rely on that. Or do you want to try walking out there and proving you’re their friend? Of course, if you hold out your social media friend list, you’ll probably just get trampled by that army of dinosaur-sized monsters.”
“You’ve gotta be kidding…”
Hamazura opened the driver’s side window.
He did not know if she would understand, but he used Japanese to shout at the glasses nun who was left outside and trying to carry some heavy plastic containers.
“Carrying that fuel will only get you killed!! Just hurry! Do you want to die!?”
When he gestured with his arm, she finally seemed to get it. Before he could open the door, she dropped the containers and dove in the open window. Thanks to that, her hips caught on the window frame and her upper body fell in Hamazura’s lap. He was thankful for the glasses nun’s softness, but he regretted this turn of events once he realized how hard it was to operate the accelerator, brake, and clutch with someone’s body weight squishing their boobs against his lap. Regardless, he sent the four-wheel drive vehicle racing forward.
Something roared right past them.
He had no idea what form it had originally taken, but a giant object seemingly made of red shadows barely missed the nun’s legs sticking out the window. They could not let their guard down. Something larger than a bus was tearing into the grass at its feet to make a sharp turn and take aim at them again.
In the back seat, Nephthys said something while holding Niang-Niang like a body pillow.
“She says her name is Sister Agata and she wants to thank you.”
“Yes, and her boobs are touching me!! I want to thank her too!!”
“Try to keep your jealousy under control, Takitsubo. We’re rescuing someone and taking evasive action here. Ow!? Okay, okay. I apologize, so if you’re gonna hit me with tissues, use the paper box!! That bottle of wet tissues is really hard, so it hurts!!”
“She also says they need to buy time for Archbishop Lola to return. …How admirable.”
Nephthys added her own exasperated comment at the end. Given the nun’s puzzled look, she must not have been able to see past Hamazura and into the back seat.
Fear clenched his heart when a large shadow arrived overhead, but this seemed to be something other than a Crowley’s Hazard. It resembled a boomerang-shaped stealth bomber, but it seemed to be made of a thin cloth, making it something like a bat’s wings.
Flying through the air would help avoid the risk of the Crowley’s Hazards on the ground, but this thing made no attempt to collect the nuns on the grasslands.
Instead, it dropped plastic containers like the ones the nun had been holding and even larger metal drums.
(Damn them!! Is fuel more important than human life!?)
He did not shout at the top of the lungs because of the glasses nun whose butt was still sticking out of the vehicle.
Hamazura had a connection to Lilith, but he was not at the center of the issue. Still, the mention of Lola Stuart seemed ominous to him and he was worried this Agata might know who he was.
He could not just pick up the one nun. Bus and truck headlights started to light up and he heard horses neighing in the darkness, but it did not look like there was room for everyone on those things. Each time he saw some nuns abandoned on the green grassland, he came to a stop, honked the horn, and yelled to them.
“Grab onto the roof, the door, or wherever! Just get on!!”
The words may have been unnecessary. The girls immediately hopped on. The roof had an attachment for skis or a snowboard and the four sides had metal bars for keeping sheep away, so that “bird cage” had plenty to hold onto. Hamazura suppressed his raging heart, controlled the impatient urge to stomp on the gas pedal, and waited. He had never known the simple act of waiting could feel like it was shortening your lifespan.
The glasses nun sticking halfway in through the window pounded on his thigh.
“Hamazura, she says everyone is holding on.”
The tremor was approaching.
Aleister would always be Aleister. Those monsters may not have known how to distinguish between enemy and ally. The horizon was barely distinguishable from the darkness and it seemed to swell up irregularly.
That was an illusion.
As far as the eye could see, the various Crowley’s Hazards, both large and small, were approaching and none of them had a human form any longer. The army was so massive it looked like a moving mountain range.
There was a clown larger than a broadcast tower with super deformed proportions. There was a humanoid form made of round clock faces and innumerable gears. There was a giant with tiny Crowleys spilling from the tears in its thick, sewn-together skin.
It was a nightmarish scene.
Hamazura did not even want to think about what would happen if they were swallowed up by that.
Enemy and ally would meet the same fate.
“What the hell, what the hell, what the hell, what the hell!? The scale here is so messed up!!”
“My, my. This car is covered in girls on the outside and inside. I never thought I would find a secret garden here.”
“That black habit is from the Roman Catholic Church, right? And that bus was full of Asians, so it was probably the Amakusas. In that case…yes, I can sense the cruelty of this situation☆”
The Magic Gods acted like they were outside the flow of time, but he could not bother with their sightseeing talk.
The off-road engine roared as Hamazura crashed the four-wheel drive vehicle through the barricade and drove off into nature. He did not have time to check where the asphalt ended and the grassland began. His only option was to get as far away as possible form the deluge of flesh and destruction approaching from behind.
“Someone translate what that Agata girl is saying into Japanese!!”
“She’s saying to watch out for the English gardens, boy☆”
He frowned at the mini-China dress girl’s words. She had not translated the term “English garden” at all.
“The English like to enjoy the scenery, so they put special effort into the fencing for the sheep. They don’t grab some wood stakes and boards for some crude carpentry like on American ranches. The ground might look level at first glance, but they’ve actually built drop-offs of more than a meter to keep the flower-eating sheep out. And of course, the trick is to make sure the drop-offs aren’t apparent when looking out to the horizon from the higher second house, so looking harder isn’t going to help.”
“Then what am I supposed to do…!?”
Gravity seemed to disappear while he was shouting.
The four-wheel drive vehicle had driven right off of one of the 1m drop-offs. His vision wobbled up and down when they landed, but he was more worried about the nuns holding onto the roof. Fortunately, the sheep bars kept them from falling off.
“Also watch out for waterways, stone steps, and brick flowerbeds. While the French love to keep the land level and build living rose mazes, the English prefer to dig into or build up the ground itself. Let your guard down and you’ll fall in a hole or blow a tire.”
“That advice is about as helpful as ‘watch out for the mines buried around here’. All it does is inspire fear without giving me any actual way of knowing what is safe or not!”
It sounded like he should return to the asphalt instead of relying on the power of four-wheel drive. Even if the English liked to mess with the ground, he was pretty sure they would leave the public roads alone.
Before long, he had crashed through a second and third checkpoint.
There were no guards of any kind there.
They must have decided retreat was the best option. The powerful light of flames scattered across the grasslands which had no streetlights. This was clearly not fuel igniting. It was an unnaturally sticky sort of fire. A seemingly endless hay wall had ignited. And it would not just catch the Crowley’s Hazards pushing in from behind. This was the checkpoint Hamazura and the others had intended to break through next.
“Hey, there’s a ton of nuns hanging on outside, right? So what do we do!?”
“According to the glasses girl, they will take care of themselves so drive right on through.”
He could only scream.
Thinking of it like passing one’s hand through a candle’s flame, he used their speed to send the large bumper crashing through the wall of fire.
There was a deafening roar as the fire consumed oxygen, but he did not feel much heat even with the driver’s side window wide open. He saw a pale blue light surrounding the four-wheel drive vehicle.
Takitsubo frowned in her pink track suit and sweater.
“Um, a magical barrier? I think that might be a slang term I’m unfamiliar with…”
“I don’t care what it is, but don’t keep it to yourself!! Give it all to me in Japanese!! All of it!!”
“Hmm… We are the students of Saint Peter who gaze upon the Son of God. We shall be protected by the secret ceremony of the saint symbolized by the unicorn’s horn and breasts on a plate and who stopped the lava of Mt. Etna.”
“Eh? What? Is this some scary fairy tale stuff???”
Nephthys placed a hand over her mouth and giggled in the back seat.
“No, you two. That translation is correct. This is based on the legend of the saint known in this country as Saint Agatha. After all, Christian holy women are generally considered inviolable.”
The vehicle was safe and none of the nuns clinging to the roof and doors seemed to have major injuries. But Hamazura did not look happy as he held the steering wheel.
“…That doesn’t really help. Getting through there wasn’t enough to escape those monsters!!”
As if to confirm his amateur thoughts, the nun in his lap began shouting again.
“Shit, whatever she’s saying, it sounds serious. I know I’ll regret this, but someone please translate for me!!”
“ ‘Come to think of it, stop touching my boobs, you asshole.’ ”
“This silent killer intent… Takitsubo’s gonna kill me before the Crowley’s Hazards can, isn’t she? Anyway, is she saying anything else!?”
“She says escaping to London won’t do us any good.”
At first, he did not know what the glasses nun was saying via Niang-Niang.
The mini-China dress girl explained further while having fun rolling around in the back seat and grappling with bandaged Nephthys.
“She calls it the triple-quadruple final barrier. The castle gate is locked tight, so driving full speed into it will only smash the car to pieces.”
“…Then what do we do? The way forward is blocked and we have who-knows-how-many unstoppable monsters approaching from behind! Seriously, what are we supposed to do!?”
“I guess everyone here was used as sacrificial pawns. That’s why the Roman Catholics, Amakusas, and other external groups were placed on the front line.”
Nephthys barely seemed to care, but her words gave him no hints whatsoever. Racing toward a cliff in a game of chicken was risky enough, but this was like having a giant steamroller approaching from behind while you did so. Whether he stepped on the gas or the brakes, he could not avoid being torn to mincemeat.
But just then…
“Hamazura, something feels weird. One of the pressures has disappeared.”
Hamazura shouted wildly while sweatily holding the steering wheel and gladly accepting the label of “creep” from the nun pressing down on his thighs.
“Ahhh!? Wh-wh-what the hell is that!?”
It happened in an instant.
To the people not in the know, it must have seemed sudden.
The veil of light covering London vanished like a major blackout.
“Okay, let’s get moving.”
After seeing impregnable London’s defensive wall vanish, the girl in a blue blazer uniform, witch’s hat, and cape calmly spoke.
“I would expect nothing less of Imagine Breaker, the ultimate joker spoken of since the Golden days. It seems Kamijou Touma successfully destroyed the core stored in the Tower of London. That spiritual item was necessary to maintain the triple-quadruple final barrier.”
“Don’t get so mad, Accelerator. Would you prefer to stick him in a jewelry box for safekeeping?”
Their destination was Westminster Abbey.
It was probably London’s largest cathedral and it had a deep connection to the Royal Family.
“They do not have the guts to place it in an obvious castle, but they are also afraid to place it in a normal home. So what location is sturdy but in a blind spot? Without even referencing the giant Star of Africa diamond, the infamous Tower of London is well known for storing the Royal Family’s greatest treasures. …So where in London would the defenders want to place the core of their triple-quadruple final barrier? Nothing could have been more obvious.”
If it could not be destroyed from the outside, they only had to destroy it from the inside.
The human named Aleister Crowley had once destroyed the world’s largest magic cabal via internal conflict. If she was willing to admit defeat after a direct attack failed, she would not have continued down a path of suffering and setbacks for more than a century.
“There is no escaping now, London.”
She spoke in a singsong voice and each of her steps seemed to be crossing a definitive line.
What that meant was likely only understood by that magician who had a century-long connection to this land.
“I’m back, city of fog, magic, and gold. Fortress of Great Demon Coronzon, Crowley has returned to settle things once and for all.”
They arrived in south London.
It was part of the outskirts that had chaotically spread outwards over the years.
There was stone, brick, concrete, and asphalt. The street’s mixture of old and new was covered by a cold December fog.
As soon as she set foot there, she heard the dull metallic rattling of shutters and doors. They knew they were already locked, but they could not relax until they double-checked. It was a sign of that sort of rejection. It seemed meant to drive out a great criminal who would curse you if you so much as laid eyes on her.
There was also the solid scraping of cowboy boots walking across the rough ground.
And the scraping of an extremely long katana scabbard.
“…I apologize, but I must drive you from this city immediately.”
One leg of her jeans was cut to the base, her coat had one arm missing, and her T-shirt was tied at the bottom. The long glossy black hair of an Asian was tried in a ponytail and the belt at her waist carried the long Shichiten Shichitou.
“I do not have a second to spare if I am to save everyone who is risking their lives fighting.”
She was Kanzaki Kaori, a Saint.
There were fewer than 20 of those obvious cornerstones of a fighting force.
Meanwhile, Aleister Crowley was more like a stage actor. She used exaggerated gestures and a loud voice, but the more ostentatious she behaved, the more her presence and reality seemed to fade away like a dream or illusion.
It was like a formless tanuki or fairy showing off money made from leaves or sawdust.
“Are you shorthanded, giant of the United Kingdom?”
A roar echoed through the darkness directly behind the silver girl.
The multiple defensive lines laid out like tree rings or a baumkuchen were no longer functioning. The triple-quadruple final barrier had been lost. Nothing remained to keep out the army of Crowley’s Hazards. The capital city of London was being trampled.
Some new footsteps blocked the way.
A line of silver light flashed as swiftly as lightning but with a violent slicing power.
Red, green, brown, and gray. It was unclear how they had gained bodily fluids like that, but flowers of blood blossomed in a variety of colors.
Aleister and Accelerator by her side showed no sign of surprise. They must have already detected the assassin’s presence.
It was Knight Leader who softly landed behind them after swinging his double-edged sword to clear off the blood. The man in a suit had a few dozen fully-equipped knights waiting behind him.
Aleister was surrounded now, but she only scoffed.
The magician faced the Saint rather than Knight Leader.
“Those were all Aleister Crowley as much as I am. Does a loving Saint like you not feel anything when you think of the magic name you carved into your heart?”
“The Beheading Coin.”
But it was not Kanzaki who responded.
Of the two assassins, it was the head of the Knights who took a step forward.
“At the request of Holegres Mirates, I gave the final approval to issue these spiritual items in case a swift suicide attack was necessary. I spread them around the country.”
He squeezed something in his hand and clenched his teeth while burning with justice.
And he did not hesitate to unleash a shout.
“But I will not let anyone use these. Not even one of them. I am not alone here. If I work with a Saint, I can push you back. I will push through you!!”
“…Damn you, Lola. When did you cleverly shift the axis of their justice? Did you convince them that killing your enemy is a form of salvation?”
Let us make one thing clear.
Kanzaki Kaori and Knight Leader made no more attempt at conversation.
The fog and darkness were split as the monsters attacked Aleister from the front and back simultaneously.
They shattered the sound barrier.
Their extraordinary attack transformed their very bodies into deadly weapons. Kanzaki Kaori used Nanasen, seven wires blended into the exaggerated motion of drawing her sword. Knight Leader simply used his double-edged sword. They combined trickery and a straightforward attack so their enemy could only respond to one of them. It was complete overkill that would smash a criminal’s body to pieces instead of just take off their head.
But Aleister only breathed an exasperated sigh.
Meaningful numbers scattered from her right and left fingertips like orange sparks.
Immediately, silence fell. At first, it seemed like time had come to a halt in some kind of mistake. She had blocked both Kanzaki Kaori’s wires and Knight Leader’s sword.
One with a golden staff with a spherical head. The other with a large silver scythe.
The two weapons symbolized the sun and the moon.
Aleister remained between the two monsters and fended them off with a hand each.
“Is it that strange?”
And Aleister whispered like a demon with the strange weapons in hand.
“Is it that strange that I can easily stop your supersonic attacks when I could not even dodge Kamijou Touma’s fist? There is an answer to your question. If you have any thought left in your heads, then enjoy figuring it out. That is the greatest luxury of human life.”
They were in the midst of a battle and a war.
So Kanzaki Kaori and Knight Leader did not respond to her words.
It truly happened in an instant.
In less than the blink of an eye, a spear shredded the darkness on its way toward the national traitor’s chest.
Knight Leader had caught a spear tossed to him by another knight and made a further attack with it.
Wars were fought with the sword, but executions were a different matter. An axe could remove the head or a spear could pierce the heart. In the capital city of London, there were plenty of things that had taken more lives than the average war.
This symbolized a tragedy of the wealthy, not a war of the starving.
Knight Leader had fought on equal footing with Acqua of the Back, aka William Orwell, who held a unique position even among the Saints. Meanwhile, the silver girl already had both hands full. She should have had no way of blocking the spear aimed at her heart. This spear had its weight magically increased, so it would break her body to pieces.
“Again,” whispered Magician Aleister Crowley in a singsong voice. “I was asking if you are shorthanded.”
With a heavy clang, the spear tip was forcibly repelled. It happened at just a few dozen centimeters from the silver-haired girl’s back. After missing its mark, the spear struck a nearby steel streetlight. The streetlight broke.
Accelerator stood nearby, but he had not interfered with his control of vectors.
At some point, the unrealistically large scythe had vanished and Aleister had touched the spear with her perfectly normal right hand.
Kanzaki Kaori took a cautious step back.
Or perhaps she was creating the distance needed to launch her next attack.
“What’s wrong, frontline fighters?”
Aleister gave a cruel smile, but at what was it directed? At the proud fighting force of the homeland she so loathed, or at herself for having to once more rely on magic after coming so far?
“Surely you have not mistaken something as simple as this for Imagine Breaker. If you are that devoid of knowledge, I won’t even bother with you. I will trample you down and continue on.”
“Modern Western magic.”
Something spilled from Kanzaki Kaori’s lips.
She spat it out in an unnaturally hateful voice no one had heard from her before.
“Are you the magician who created it all?”
No matter how many Crowley’s Hazards she had fought as they arrived from the ocean, none of it would help with this battle here.
The different Crowleys had entirely different forms after walking entirely different possible paths. Some of the Crowleys had wholly abandoned magic and others had wholly mastered it.
“I’m shocked you would see me that way. Nothing I did was all that impressive. I simply took what was already there, chopped it up, and rearranged it in a more understandable form. Just like the colors of the rainbow or the do-re-mi scale used to teach children. …Of course, the fools who thought that is all there is were successfully convinced that the world is divided between science and magic. Even though there is actually a nearly infinite gradation in between those two poles.”
Knight Leader made another heavy spear jab, but he mostly meant it as a test to confirm what he already suspected. Aleister used her right hand to swat it away like a bug and the deadly spear tip was deflected out into the empty air.
She did not need a weapon or spiritual item.
Her most reliable partner was inside her head.
“I don’t care how many billions of people live on this planet. Even if every last one of them hates me, only a small fraction will be able to use magic at a practical level. And no one can harm me if they follow the theory of modern Western magic which I constructed and redistributed. Freedom vanished from the world with the introduction of the Book of the Law in 1904. No matter how hard you try, the shadow of Aleister Crowley will continue to stalk you at the foundation of your spells. I can interfere as much as I like. As the developer, I am familiar with the backdoors and zero-day exploits in the technical system known as modern Western magic. Right now, I am merely refusing you service. Perhaps I should have it blow up in your hands next.”
It did not particularly matter if the magical materials they relied on dated to a time before Aiwass’s summoning – or to put it in Crowley’s terms, the time of the Last Judgment when the Aeon was advanced. Even if you listened to Japanese noh or kyogen, it would be ruined if you attempted to understand it using the do-re-mi scale brought over from the West.
“Why is it I can fly on a broom without fear of being brought down? Because you cannot do it.”
In other words, the only people who could hope to outdo Aleister in the field of magic were the extraordinary Magic Gods or a magician with an independent streak on the level of Westcott and Mathers who had competed with Aleister to develop a universal format for the foundation of magic while in the Golden cabal.
Imagine Breaker was not needed if you only needed to negate magic.
That was clear from the fact that a grimoire library held a central position in anti-magician combat. And Mathers had so badly wanted to be the editor of modern Western magic because he had wanted to establish rules that worked to his advantage. Just as a specific search engine and a specific online store had covered the planet, he had wanted to stand at the foundation of the infrastructure.
Aleister had something that let her keep up with their supersonic movements.
And she could reject all of their modern Western magic.
The fully-equipped knights began to move. They must not have wanted to trip up Kanzaki or Knight Leader who were moving at supersonic speeds, so they rushed Accelerator instead.
It only took an instant.
The #1 grabbed one of the knights by the face and lifted them from the ground.
“I’m not on that piece of shit’s side. I won’t get in your way.”
There was no obvious fire in his voice.
But it was that very iciness that squeezed their hearts with frozen vines.
“So leave me the hell alone. …Do you want me to kill you?”
Surprisingly, it was Aleister who snapped her fingers.
“Your enemy is right here, so worry not. Lashing out at outsiders will only bring you back to your old ways. Do you want to return to being the battle-crazed berserker you once were?”
Accelerator clicked his tongue and let go of the knight’s face.
He had not used his vector control to mess with the inside of their body, but the fully-equipped knight did not move after collapsing to the ground.
Aleister narrowed her eyes, but not at the knight whose will to fight had been so pathetically broken. She was focused on the other knights who made no attempt to save them.
Knight Leader tossed aside the spear and spoke in a cold voice.
“Move. You are in my attack range.”
That was all he said to his fellow knights who were in trouble.
If they had a reason, then they could accept it.
It would be worse to make them think it was their fault.
“We will make a recovery here, so do not worry and please withdraw.”
Kanzaki Kaori’s somewhat exasperated voice seemed helpful, but it was actually quite the opposite.
Something was not right.
Aleister viewed everything from a cynical viewpoint, so she had seen through it. The tendency to lift up irreproachable experts might seem like a virtue, but that also meant driving out anyone who had even the slightest flaw.
“…Is that all?”
She (he?) had never trusted god. Nor did she trust those who trusted god or those who loudly insisted they were obeying god by preserving order.
“While you have gone through these routine tasks and repeated these tear-jerking stories of emotional subjugation, has some innocent person been harmed by the magical recoil being scattered everywhere? And because you use others for your own grand achievements? If so, you are beyond saving. Did you think I sounded full of myself talking about redistributing all of this? It is more than that. The fact that you did not question the very system of magic and choose to stop using it is proof that you are truly beyond saving.”
Once she knew that, there was no need to hold back.
If Aleister Crowley announced she would trample them down and continue on, that is exactly what she would do. She would crush them underfoot and keep moving like they were no more than a bug.
But just then, something changed.
It was unclear what sort of emotion it contained, but Knight Leader smiled a little.
“We already knew.”
A heavy noise followed.
It was a block of stone larger than a harbor container. The stone had been neatly cut and dropped into London from the open air. And this abnormal phenomenon did not occur just the once. It was only here-and-there at first, but it gradually picked up steam until it was a complete downpour. It was a lot like the strange phenomenon of small fish or frogs suddenly pouring from the sky, but it was fundamentally different. If anything, it may have been more like a puzzle game with more and more blocks falling.
If a single one hit her, she would be killed instantly, but Aleister looked unfazed. Yes, that human could tell she was not going to die here.
The blocks were falling in an orderly arrangement.
The stone blocks stacked up to quickly form giant structures. The nightscape of London was rapidly blotted out as a wholly different culture blossomed.
A king’s tomb took the shape of a square pyramid that incorporated both largescale stone architecture and high-level astronomy.
A stone pillar rose sharply into the sky to praise a sun god.
Countless pieces of wall art included both diagrams and writing while ignoring the perspective seen in Western paintings.
The historical kings displayed as giant statues were all pharaohs with no connection to the Royal Family that ruled England. London was known as the city of fog, but its atmosphere had entirely changed. The girl magician felt the piercing chill of the dry desert at night. It would have seemed perfectly natural for the ground to burst open and a corpse wrapped in bandages to crawl out.
Northern Africa had come to London.
Eventually, Aleister narrowed her eyes in admiration at that mismatched scenery.
For someone who had come to hate Christianity after a lifetime of abuse, false accusations, and persecution from the “pious believers”, this may have actually been more comfortable even if it was a trap sprung by the enemy.
“Egyptian mythology, hm? Although this is the Egyptian scenery as a European would imagine it. Did you use the Rosetta Stone as a source? I imagine you dug through the British Museum until you found it. But I believe I already explained that even magical resources from before 1904 are meaningless if you attempt to understand them through the filter of modern Western magic.”
“That is why we will make no attempt to understand them.”
Aleister and Kanzaki Kaori both already knew the answer.
So their statements were no more than curses meant to strike their opponent with harmful emotion.
“We take what is there and release it as is. That is all.”
“And you call that managing the battlefield? I believe most people refer to that as a runaway weapon.”
“We do not care.”
Knight Leader remained unfazed.
He did not bat an eye.
“When fighting aboard a ship, the presence of a storm can influence a knight’s battle.”
The lovely girl felt a tug on her right cheek and then a slight scratch appeared there. A piece of the falling and piling-up stone blocks had broken off and a tiny fragment had cut through her skin. It produced only a single drop of blood, but that drop held great meaning.
Her untouchable status had been shattered.
Aleister could not be killed by the magic she had developed.
But Aleister could be killed by the mystical when it was not viewed through the filter she had constructed.
These were ancient methods from before the modern era. Whether they were runaway weapons or disasters, an unexpected strike in the storm could shatter the soul of this person who had taken a girl’s form.
…Knight Leader and Kanzaki Kaori were supposed to be protectors, but they had searched for, constructed, and were rejoicing at the success of a method meant to kill a human who had supposedly been born and then died in England.
(Almost like a repeat of 1947…)
Aleister Crowley continued to scoff even with her advantage taken.
Hers was the look of a human who had never feared failure in the first place.
“Surely you did not think I of all people expected to end this without a single scratch on me. The magician named Aleister Crowley does not fear bloodshed. I am the bastard who decided my great work would require dyeing the entire planet with blood and who foresaw the outbreak of World War One but focused on my magical research instead of making any attempt to stop it.”
The fight was only just beginning.
There was no need to even count this as a second round. This was the true beginning when both sides were finally wearing down each other’s lives.
“Now, it is time I taught you something.”
In her lovely girl form, Aleister used a thumb to wipe the blood drop from her cheek and then spoke in the exaggerated way of a stage actor.
“I shall teach you the true nature of the blood sacrifice used to kill every last member of the Golden cabal. Or if you like, you could call it my Blood Sign.”
Between the Lines 2
The Tower of London was in a panic as well.
So many places had been cleanly broken through: the thick metal door, the bars blocking the corridor, and even the outer stone wall thought to be eternally indestructible.
Needless to say, they had all been destroyed by Imagine Breaker.
The disappearance of a single prisoner had left the entire place buzzing with the energy of a beehive.
“The White Tower takes top priority! Hurry up and lock it down and perform a headcount on the permanent prisoners. If you deem it necessary, you may eliminate any who take even a step outside their cell!!”
“The walls around the entire facility are more important. Even if they make it to the garden, no one can escape if we fortify the final gate!”
“Check the keys. Do not let any of them be duplicated!!”
While the specialized jailers known as beefeaters ran around in a frenzy, a gentle nun tried to stay out of their way by leaning against the wall of a newly-ventilated corridor.
She held a hand elegantly to her cheek and spoke in a troubled voice.
“My, my, my, my…”
“There you are, Sister Orsola. Are you hurt?”
The tall boy with red-dyed hair who walked up was Stiyl Magnus. The religion did not actually ban it, but standing next to a priest with a cigarette in his mouth reminded her how much variety there was in the Christian Church.
“N-no,” said Orsola. “I am perfectly fine. Um…”
“He ran off. Kamijou Touma, that is.” Stiyl gave his hateful reply with enough force he nearly bit through his cigarette’s filter. “I intentionally used a normal chair with normal restraints that had all magical elements removed…but knowing his misfortune, I doubt the latch broke by pure coincidence. And the belt was clearly cut. Damn, does that mean he had help?”
…Stiyl was actually pretending to be on her side and observing Orsola’s reaction, but he did not find what he was looking for.
But not because she was good at hiding things. Orsola held the cross at her chest and spoke as if praying for the boy’s safety.
“This has developed into a major incident, but do you think Kamijou will be okay? I just hope he doesn’t resist and get hit by a curse…”
Stiyl could only click his tongue at that.
If she was this bad at lying, he seriously doubted she could have helped Kamijou Touma escape. In fact, if she had helped, she would probably have gone to report what she had done.
In her Roman Catholic days, this woman had stayed true to her nonviolence even with the Agnese Force targeting her life and she had decided that being beaten was better than raising her own hand to beat someone else. And by a twist of fate, she had ended up living in the same Anglican dorm as the former Agnese Force, but she was virtuous enough to live in harmony with them. She was the last person to mask the truth out of fear of pain.
He actually felt guilty for having doubted her, but she also reminded him of someone.
She was much like the grimoire library girl that he had once guarded.
(I’m still much too soft…)
“Stiyl, are you going to go search for him?”
“We all have our own duties. I will wait here and work to get the usual interrogations back up and running. And when I have some spare time, I will help fix these holes in the Tower of London.”
“In that case, um, is there anything I could do?”
“Make no mistake. The Anglican Church did not give you that cross so we could place you on the front line as our pawn.”
“Find happiness and reach for it yourself. Do not waste the chance that girl risked her life to give you, Sister Orsola. We don’t even need to look at John’s rebuke of the philosopher. Wealth is powerless, but throwing it in the ditch is not the same as honorable poverty.”
He must have known this was not the role for him because Stiyl awkwardly brushed a hand through his long, red-dyed hair.
“We still haven’t finished checking how many prisoners escaped their cells. The Tower of London is a deadly place right now, so you should withdraw outside the walls for now. …I would prefer to think it hasn’t crossed that final line, but the risk is still there. Be careful.”
“It would be best if you let the beefeaters guide you, but be cautious of them as well. A permanent prisoner might have stolen one of their uniforms. Make sure their sleeves, hems, and shoes are all the right size. Got that?”
He did not let her get a word in edgewise. After his rapid-fire instructions, Stiyl Magnus turned away from that kind oasis and disappeared into the darkness of the Tower of London.
Meanwhile, Orsola Aquinas was left behind.
“Isn’t there something?”
She paced back and forth.
Her tempo was much slower than the frenzied movement around her. Her desperate persistence may have looked painful.
“Isn’t there something I can do to help? I don’t care what…”
A voice called out to her from the side.
It came from the long, skinny food slot on one of the nondescript metal doors. Saying you did not recognize that female voice may have been tantamount to lese majeste in this kingdom.
This was England’s second princess, but at the same time, it was the culprit behind the attempted coup d’etat known as British Halloween.
“It sure is noisy out there. Did some idiot make a run for it?”
The Tower of London was generally permeated with the negative side of history, but there were some who stayed in a cell of their own free will. To restrain herself, to prevent the magic cabals from banding together to take her life, to be freed from the obligations of life…and to punish herself even if it meant rejecting a pardon.
Second Princess Carissa was officially known as a militaristic tyrant, but Orsola knew it was all rooted in a desire to protect her kingdom. Carissa’s plan for her coup d’etat had been to preserve England’s unique traits, enrich it by any means necessary, and then break Curtana to return the kingdom to its people.
“If you need help, then open this door. I can hunt them down as your hound.”
“Then again, it would probably be best if I stayed put for now.”
Orsola felt like tilting her head at that passive statement. Carissa was a militaristic patriot who might as well have been a powder box in a dress, so Orsola had assumed she would want to burst free of her cell with the Crowley’s Hazards rampaging across England.
A self-deprecating laugh came from beyond the slot.
“People like me and that mercenary bastard keeping his silence in the next cell over are a type of symbol. You could call us heroes or champions. It’s easy to set foot on the battlefield when using heroic words like that, but that can also place a great pressure on the atmosphere as a whole.”
“That’s right.” The born warrior explained the rules of war to the pacifist. “An external enemy isn’t the most frightening thing in war. In fact, you need to be more worried about the people pushing on the soldiers’ backs from within the defensive line. If they pick up too much momentum, you’ll never be able to stop. …When living in an age of war, always think of the internal pressure, sister. In every age, speakers who inspire madness will rise within your own borders.”
Orsola recalled that Second Princess Carissa had only relied on professional warfighters like the Knights and the modern military during her coup d’etat. British Halloween had ended in failure when the masses had sided with the queen, but Carissa may have drawn a line in the sand and made sure that she did not allow the civilians to be infected by the madness of war.
“Maintain self-control. War requires more than just an army. It is all for naught if everything falls into an age of madness no matter how much you demand everyone preserve their morals. People like you are also necessary.”
“Um, what do you mean…by that?”
Just as Orsola Aquinas asked that, several footsteps approached.
“There you are, sister. It is dangerous here. Please withdraw outside the grounds until the headcount of the permanent prisoners is complete and safety has been ensured!”
She did not have time to insist on an answer.
Carissa quietly closed the food slot she had been holding open and she made one last remark.
“…Look at that one standing inconspicuously in the back. His shoes are the wrong size.”
The other beefeaters approached the suspicious one and restrained him. In order to keep her clear of the chaos, an emptyhanded jailer led Orsola away while she held the cross at her chest. All of a sudden, she had left the White Tower and was taken outside the thick walls surrounding the entire facility.
“This is Orsola Aquinas, a temporary worker. Please get her checked out!”
“The curse scan of her hair sample is complete. Identity confirmed. Hurry outside!”
The jailer who had escorted her out removed a large sheathed knife from his hip and pushed it into the nun’s arms.
“As that cross indicates, you are already as English as any of us. I wish I could escort you all the way back to the safe dorm, but this is an emergency and we must complete the lockdown as quickly as possible. Sorry!!”
She did not have time to say anything.
Left alone, Orsola used both hands to hold the knife to her chest and looked nervously around.
“…What do I do now?”
She had wanted to help out at the Tower of London, but that was no longer an option. But if she was caught in some trouble in the dangerous London night, she would cause further problems for the others during an emergency.
She recalled the beefeater mentioning the dorm.
“I guess that is what I will do.”
People would change once they had even a temporary goal. Just like a child who did not want to go to school but gradually made their way there by kicking a pebble along the way.
Orsola trudged through the London streets.
Silver sand hung in the air like fog and giant pyramids and statues rose up in defiance of history. England’s capital city was being eroded away. But this was necessary if they were to protect it. The scene had the unpleasant impact of seeing the age itself transforming or finding yourself no longer able to think of peace as the status quo.
Orsola Aquinas breathed a heavy sigh, but she eventually made it back to the women’s dorm.
That was a warm symbol of a peaceful life.
But there were no lights on now. Nor was there any sound of life or warmth. Even after opening the front door and stepping inside, she only found a dreary atmosphere no different from the outside. It was like a dead, abandoned building.
She placed the borrowed knife on a nearby table and walked to the kitchen. Everyone relied on her cooking skills, so that was her greatest power spot.
But even after returning home, the wilted flower would not bloom again.
The kitchen was exactly as they had left it. There were several bags of flour on the countertop. Opening the refrigerator would have revealed a paper package of cream and a wrapped turkey. Needless to say, it was already December. Making an order at the last second would not be enough to serve so many people, so the plan had been for this to be the day everyone worked together to ensure they had all the necessary ingredients.
The banner bearing those words and the tree decorations were all sitting out waiting to be hung up. Orsola would not look, but she knew there would be brightly-wrapped bags and boxes below the beds in each of the rooms.
It had all been abandoned while half-finished and all the warmth had faded away.
Was this really the end?
Would the madness of war take that gentle time from them?
Could she only watch as it happened?
Orsola Aquinas clenched her fists in front of her large chest and breathed out through her nose.
“I’ll do what I can. Even if it’s just the one thing.”
Always think of the internal pressure.
Had the words of Second Princess Carissa, war expert, reached that pious sister or not?