Toaru Majutsu no Index:NT Volume20 Chapter 3
Chapter 3: The Blood Choice, A Certain Pious Weapon – SISTER(xN.A._Weapon).
“I want to eat sprouts, sprouts, sprouts. I want to dump them in a frying pan, season them with some salt and pepper, and fry them up. Eh heh heh. That guy cooking would be good enough for me, but then a dorm manager shows up, tells me to eat something more nutritious, and invites me to eat some meat and potato stew since she made too much. Heh heh heh heh heh…”
“Hey, human. I’ll admit being able to enjoy VR with nothing but your brain must be convenient, but it’s time you came back to reality.”
This was no time to be escaping reality on the London streets.
The sounds of hooves thundered through that developed country’s capital city like something from a Western.
“Where are you, runaway!? Fleeing will not end well for you. I do understand that pain, so if you surrender now, I will do you a favor and kill you painlessly here rather than take you back to the Tower of London. Listen, this is your last chance!!”
Kamijou shrank down while hiding from the female knight in silver armor and a surcoat who rode a horse down the main road. That offer was no help whatsoever. And he could not take the mounted soldier lightly just because it seemed so outdated. He was on foot, without even a bicycle to ride. He could never hope to outrun a true thoroughbred.
That aside, what had happened?
“Wait, wait, wait…”
Kamijou Touma, the spiky-haired high school boy with a palm-sized fairy on his shoulder, looked around while leaning against a nearby wall.
He had been to London before, but that did not mean he knew his way around. To him, London was an unfamiliar foreign city. But even then, he could tell the scene before his eyes was abnormal.
Stone pavement, bricks, concrete, and asphalt.
The cold, hard materials forming the London streets were a mixture of old and new, but all of that was blotted out by the structures of old Egypt seen in pictures books. There were piles of giant rectangular blocks, strange observatories, stone pillars that stood as tall as broadcast towers to praise some god, and flat, perspectiveless wall art. Faint clouds of silver sand floated in the air instead of fog.
“What? What happened? This just all fell down like a puzzle game.”
“The aurora-like light of the triple-quadruple barrier is gone. They may be panicking.”
Othinus said that while looking up into the night sky from her position seated on the boy’s shoulder.
Kamijou touched a piece of wall art with his right hand, but it was not destroyed and did not disappear.
“…I hope Aleister and the others have made it into London. I don’t want all this searching to be for nothing.”
“Hey, if that had collapsed, we would have been buried alive. And Aleister had to know sending you to the Tower of London would get you tortured by a professional, but she did so to have you destroy the triple-quadruple barrier’s core along with whatever else. If some mistake kept her from reaching London after that, a blast of divine punishment may be in order…”
“Knowing Aleister, I could totally see that happening.”
“Which is why we need to prepare for that possibility.”
The main problem was that Kamijou did not know what to do without Aleister. He wanted to save Lola from Coronzon who was sealed in Academy City and he knew the key to that was in London, but he did not know what exactly that meant.
He could not support the Crowley’s Hazards who would destroy England as a whole if necessary, but he also could not support England which was attempting to eliminate Aleister without asking what any of this was about. He wanted to settle the Lola and Coronzon issue as quickly as possible. That was all, so why did it have to be so complicated?
He could hear more of the stone blocks falling like rain on a large road a short distance away. He could see them quickly building pharaoh’s tombs and observatories to blot out the usual London scenery.
A quadrupedal form cut across the deserted road.
Kamijou stared in shock and found it was not a dog, cat, deer, or horse. There was a stereotypical hump on a back that stood taller than Kamijou was tall.
“Wh-what? A camel!? I’ve never seen one of those before…”
He felt a squeezing at his heart when he realized there were no fences or bars to separate him from an animal larger than he was. In picture books, they were always depicted slowly walking through the desert, but he had also heard they were used in races. If he stood in front of it, he might be trampled like it was a horse or bull. He did his best not to provoke it, but he was also somewhat skeptical. He was pretty sure the ones he had seen on TV had looked different. ….Had they really twisted their face to form a human expression like that?
Othinus crossed her arms while sitting on his shoulder.
“I see. So that’s it.”
“Um, have you figured something out?”
“Watch out above you. There is a scorpion on the wall you are leaning against.”
“Whoa!? Wait, it’s huge!”
This was far more than the slight fear of the camel. When he saw a venomous bug the size of a young wife’s yoga mat, he frantically jumped back from the building wall. Despite its size, it must have been a cowardly thing because it responded to the boy’s movement and shout by fleeing further up the wall.
This was no time to try to act cool by saying the key to defeating Coronzon was in London. A bug bigger than a slipper was way too scary.
“I think my heart skipped a beat… Eh? What was that? A new species?”
“Or something even nastier.”
The Magic God breathed a sigh of exasperation with her tiny butt on his shoulder. The breath tickled his ear a bit.
“What you see before you is not actually Egypt. It might be easier to understand if I called it the Dark Continent as imagined by Europeans.”
“That’s supposed to be easy to understand?”
“You only have your own ignorance to blame, human. …But, fine. I will dumb it down even further for you. Hey, what comes to mind when you hear the word ‘Sphinx’?”
“Index’s pet cat.”
“Ow! Okay, I’ll take it seriously! Wait, h-hey, don’t cry! I’m sorry, okay!!”
“…I am not crying…”
“I’ll make you some fries from scratch when we get back to Japan! You really liked those, right? Right!?”
“I will take those. But I am not crying.”
Othinus replied flatly, but she was hanging her head and trembling. It was time for Kamijou Touma to be a man and enter serious mode.
“…Anyway, I’ve seen it in old stories and pictures books, but I don’t know that much about it. Isn’t it, um…what was it again? A creature that asks people riddles and eats them if they can’t answer them?”
“Yes. What has four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs in the evening? The answer being humans.”
Othinus seemed to have recovered and she replied like she was reciting a fairy tale.
“But in fact, no such legend exists in Egyptian Mythology.”
“That story was created when a Greek crossed the Mediterranean, saw the Sphinx statue, and incorporated it into their mythology. The ancient Egyptians who made the statue were thinking nothing of the sort.”
Her exasperated nuance may have come from viewing history from the perspective of a god.
“Egyptian Mythology is full of such things. They did not get it as bad as what the film industry has done to Haitian zombies, but it is covered in European biases and preconceptions. Mummies were originally meant to contain the dead person’s soul once more. As a mere container, the mummy alone would never have moved around, but we now think of them as bandaged men wandering around to protect ancient treasure, right? The coffin of a proud pharaoh is treated as the source of a curse.”
“What’s your point? There’s nothing to this and it’s all a giant bluff?”
“…That would certainly be nice. Hey, human. Do you want to try letting that scorpion sting you?”
“Exactly. Whether or not it is based in the proper mythology may not influence the actual deadliness very much. Oh, and watch out for cobras and crocodiles too.” Othinus crossed her slender legs while seated on Kamijou’s shoulder. “Do not forget that London’s final defensive line was breached. It would be one thing if they had done this earlier, but would they really entrust everything to an ineffective illusion? Whether or not it would be physically possible, I just don’t think they could have psychologically played a useless card at this stage.”
“It might be best to assume this has transformed into something more dangerous than pure Egyptian or pure Greek.”
“Wait, wait. You’re saying this looks dangerous even from a god’s perspective?”
“Make no mistake, human. New magic is not necessarily superior to old magic. If we are simply looking at ease of use, the modern Western magic spread by Crowley may be superior, but right now the focus will be on whether or not is effective against Aleister Crowley. That is the only difference that matters.”
…With more than a billion Crowley’s Hazards around the globe, that did sound like it would be a valuable thing. It could even be viewed as the Anglican Church’s trump card or secret weapon.
His tiny understander snorted.
“Also, the Crowley’s Hazards and that Aleister are parallel beings. If something is found affective against one Crowley, it may be possible to slaughter all of them at once.”
“What a pain. When did you make up with Aleister?”
“Don’t be silly. This is an entirely different issue.”
They heard tires tearing into the silver sand.
A large four-wheel drive vehicle shot out from a side street, swung its back end around in a wide curve, and then drove right past Kamijou and Othinus.
“What the hell? There are still people here. And there sure were a lot of nuns hanging onto that thing!”
“More importantly, human, make sure you are not hit.”
He did not have time to ask what she meant.
There was a roar.
And some creatures burst out as if in pursuit of the fleeing vehicle. There was a humanoid shape made from twisted and bent tree roots, an alien with an oversized head, and a concrete cube with definite body-shaped stains on it. It was like a parade of nightmares. It was like cutting into a giant, squishy monster and having its guts explode out.
These were the many Crowley’s Hazards.
They had finally entered the capital city of London.
Even one of them would have been too much.
If he was swallowed up by an entire group, he would meet an even more tragic fate than being chomped by a dinosaur’s jaws.
But just then, a point in the night sky flashed several times.
A beam of light shot out.
The destructive light tore straight through the Crowley’s Hazards.
They were more or less vaporized.
Several dozen of those extremely-grotesque Crowley’s Hazards were erased like someone blowing on a detailed piece of sand art. Scorching wind struck Kamijou’s cheek as he watched. The heat was so great that the air explosively expanded and approached like a solid wall.
The attack had come from an elevated position.
The beam of light had seemed like a giant tree but also had the viscosity of molten steel. It scattered randomly around at first, but then the unneeded branches vanished and it pierced only the target. If there was no safety device, it might have destroyed all of London with that.
But while Kamijou panicked, Othinus calmly observed it from his shoulder.
“That did not come from the stars in the sky. It was an obelisk…a stone pillar used to worship the sun god.”
“You’re kidding, right!? That one shot wiped them all out! What the hell is England doing inside their own country!?”
“They have used their trump card, clearly. With London under attack, they cannot continue acting the British gentleman. Are they going to repel the enemy with this? If so, the scale of destruction in this war will be out of their control.”
Kamijou thought for a bit and then shook his head. He could not stand up to that. If a stray shot came his way, he would have no way of knowing which of the many branches was the real one and it would be too fast for him to raise his right hand in time.
“Didn’t I tell you?” said Othinus. “What you see here is not from the real Egyptian Mythology. It is only a twisted form of Egypt being forcibly processed by the minds of Europeans…in this case, probably the ancient Greeks. Although that may make it easier for them to control.”
She was not like Kamijou Touma.
Magic God Othinus had a belligerent tone to her voice, like she was somehow impressed.
“I suppose this one would be Ra-Zeus. Quite well done for a fake.”
The pacifist nun named Orsola Aquinas held a large blade in her hand.
But it was not the knife she had borrowed from the beefeater who protected the Tower of London. Her usual kitchen knife felt much more at home there.
If used incorrectly, it could still kill someone.
But after Orsola held it below the water flowing from the tap, she placed it on the cutting board like always.
She grabbed her favorite apron from a nearby chair and placed the shoulder straps over her shoulders. She crossed the straps behind her back and tied them to the waist strap with a tight bow. That completed her preparations. Her habit had a hood, so she did not need to wear anything over her hair. The cross at her chest was important to her. It was the hope so many people had risked their lives to give her in distant Japan. She tucked it below the apron so as not to get it dirty.
(It’s too bad we can’t have our party, but I can’t let the ingredients go to waste. I need to make a late-night snack to help the others out as best I can.)
A few memos were attached to the refrigerator with magnets. One of them contained a hastily-written message telling the others to gather at the British Museum, so that would be where Agnese, Lucia, and the others were.
Orsola could not directly fight, but there was more to her than that.
Human beings needed to take breaks to eat and sleep. If she assisted them there, she might be able to support their overall performance.
(Right now, all I can do is cook for them, but I should also think about drawing a bath and making their beds. If I take care of all the odd jobs, they can focus on England’s crisis.)
“Hm, hmm, hm, hm, hmm.”
She hummed a timeless classic.
She spun the kitchen timer and lit a few of the burners. There were a few things she had to keep in mind. She could not bake a pie or a pizza because the dough had to sit. Since she had to feed so many, she could not make fried eggs which required nursing a frying pan for so long. They would not be eating it here, so food that could survive being shaken around a bit would be best. She also wanted to avoid noodles that would quickly go soggy even if they were easy to make. As an Italian, it pained her to rule out pasta and pizza right away, but there was no real reason to insist on Italian food. It meant a lot that they had plenty of potatoes due to Sister Angelene’s insistence on having fries (even though it made Lucia angry with her). This was meant as a late-night snack, but they would not be crawling into bed immediately afterwards, so they would want something filling.
“Good, good, good. Hm, hm, hm. This should work.”
She flipped through the recipe book hanging from a fridge magnet by a string, planned out the short time available to her like a timetable mystery, and nodded several times.
She knew how to cook everything already, but she wanted to check through where she had written down everyone’s likes and dislikes.
She chose a safe meal that did not include anything anyone outright hated.
She boiled whole potatoes in a pressure cooker and she scooped out a turkey and filled it with vegetables. Adding lots of cheese in place of cinnamon was her own personal touch. She then stuck it in the oven. She cooked what turkey meat she had removed and added it to a warm vegetable salad. She did not have time to season and cook some roast beef, so it unfortunately had to be a salad.
“Hmm, it’s hard to tell if these are meat dishes or vegetable dishes.”
After placing some on a small plate and sprinkling some salt, she tried a taste. It passed her check, so she continued as is. Instead of mixing some dressing, she prepared a few different bottles based on the nuns’ preferences.
She knew it would take a bit of time, but she decided to make a macaroni gratin as well. While she had to give up on some long and skinny spaghetti, she simply was not satisfied until she had some kind of pasta in there. She did not have quite enough ingredients, so she used a few of the cooked potatoes to expand it as a potato gratin.
She had a variety of things ready now, but it did not seem like enough if the nuns were going to munch bit by bit on what they liked. Although she saw it more like a kid’s meal of several small entrees on a single plate instead of a luxurious buffet.
It would never end if she made the dishes one at a time, so this capable young woman cooked several dishes at a time. There was an odd research report stating that a housewife simultaneously cooking four or more dishes had equal or greater parallel processing power to a top-level drummer, but it came so naturally to Orsola that she did not realize how rare her ability was.
After preparing a few more dishes, she lifted the large pots themselves instead of transferring them to proper containers. Then she made her way to the dorm’s garage. There was a one-person car there. It was a very thin car that seemed more like a sturdier version of a pizza delivery motorcycle than anything. The back door swung upwards, but it had no trunk, so she placed the pots in the luggage space behind the lone seat and latched the lids shut.
(It pains me that I couldn’t prepare any dessert…)
She would be able to boil water at the British Museum. It would be difficult with so many people, but it would be better than nothing. With that in mind, she collected a tea set and a rectangular can of tea leaves. She had not taken an espresso machine despite being Italian, so she was clearly picking up the local British culture. The kind, young woman’s ability to prepare meals for the multicultural women’s dorm was growing without limit.
After loading in everything necessary, she opened the garage door. The silver sand bothered her, so she swept the area with a broom even though it was sure to accumulate again before long.
“There. And we’re off.”
After grabbing the steering wheel and leaving the garage, she realized she was still wearing her apron. She could not afford any further delays, so she kept it on as she drove into the London streets filled with silver sand. The hybrid car was in its electric mode, so it was nearly silent. She seemed to have been warped to a nightmare world where the capital city was swallowed up by Egyptian ruins.
The closed-up shops all had similar notices on their metal shutters: No stockpiling. Let’s share our canned and bagged foods. There also seemed to be rumors spreading that the mysterious monsters were weak to preservatives.
Orsola’s destination was the British Museum where the familiar nuns had gathered.
Despite the emergency, she obeyed all of the stop signs and rolled down the window to rub the nose of a camel drawn to her by the smell of food. Her beginner’s luck gave her a relatively smooth trip through London.
Finally, her destination came into view.
“There we go. Will they mind if I just drive in?”
She tilted her head as she used the one-person car’s thin shape to drive through the gate and park alongside the British Museum’s back entrance. She felt an urge to clean up the silver sand here too, but the food came first.
Everyone was waiting here.
She had found something she could do.
If she shared her strength with theirs, they were sure to rid the city of this oppressive atmosphere.
“Tah dah! Everyone, I’ve brought a late-night snack. How about we all eat together after saying grace?”
Orsola entered through the back entrance with a smile on her face and the apron still over her habit.
Immediately, she was hit by a “flood”.
“Damage report!” “The Crowley’s Hazards have been detected within the city!!” “What is Sir Holegres Mirates doing? He is in charge of the overall defense, isn’t he!?” “The civilians are still not fully evacuated! The official data does not come close to matching what we are seeing!!” “What are those things towering up from the city?” “Did they seriously demand we protect the city without telling us the entire plan!?” “We may have been nothing more than sacrificial pawns, Sister Agnese.” “If Archbishop Lola was here, the power balance between the Anglicans and Knights would never have collapsed like this…” “I’m worried about what happened to the other external units like the Amakusas.” “Were they prioritizing an escape to Scotland over protecting the capital?” “That doesn’t matter! Is there anything we can do!?” “Can we only wait here for further orders!?” “Let us fight.” “Let us put up a fight that matters!” “Please order us to make a direct attack, Sister Agnese!!!!!!”
It was like a giant grater pressed against the heart.
That torrent would scrape away all the kindness there.
Overwhelmed by the vibration of her soul, Orsola could not move and no one noticed her there for a while.
Not even the proper employees of the British Museum would know this was happening.
Agnese Sanctis, the small girl at the center of the storm known as reality, finally gasped and looked over at Orsola standing outside the group of nuns.
“What is it, Sister Orsola? I thought you went to the Tower of London?”
“Well, um, uh. They had some trouble there and could not ensure my safety, so they asked me to temporarily evacuate. Umm, so I made everyone a late-night snack.”
“That’s great. Hey, everyone!! Sister Orsola has brought us some much-needed refreshments. Christianity might forbid meaningless gluttony, so make this a meaningful meal. Work harder for each bite you take!!”
They must have been exhausted because they replied with a fairly impolite cheer and gathered around. Angelene, who had a bent back and two blonde braids, did a little dance each time one of the big pots was opened, but tall Lucia scolded her each time.
They had accepted her help.
No, they had done her the favor of accepting it.
She should not have read too deeply into this situation, but Orsola Aquinas could not just accept this at face value. She felt something like a draft. Why had they told her to go to the Tower of London instead of using her here? The answer was gradually dawning on her.
They thought she could not bear to be here.
They thought it would be best if she did not see this.
Agnese and the others had experience with violence and they had made that decision out of kindness.
Orsola spoke up like a child who had lost her mother in the crowd.
“I am not getting in your way, am I?”
Agnese immediately answered her with a smile.
She was undoubtedly speaking these words out of kindness.
“You’ve helped us plenty already. This is more than enough.”
But how would those words be interpreted by someone who felt inadequate?
The nuns with the power to directly fight and protect their country failed to consider that.
When you got down to it, that was what entertained Nephthys and Niang-Niang so much.
“What, what, what!? What’s trying to kill us now!?”
While operating the four-wheel drive vehicle’s steering wheel, Hamazura shouted more to provide an outlet for his fear than in search of an answer.
Driving into London was all well and good, but the geography grew even more unfamiliar within the confusing layout of streets. It was practically a miracle that he even knew which side of the road to drive on. He had his hands full simply turning the wheel to follow the instructions from Sister Agata, the glasses nun with her stomach caught in the window frame and her boobs on his lap. Except her instructions were often last second and he needed Takitsubo’s translation before he could comply, so he tended to run a little late. He would drive right past the intersection about once every three times.
“Ow, don’t hit me! I’ve already passed the road by the time I get the instruction!!”
“Hamazura, I found a map.”
“There are a ton of weird pyramids and statues everywhere, so we’d just crash if we followed the original roads!!”
A beam of light resembling molten steel or a giant tree surged from the top of a stone pillar as tall as a broadcast tower.
Was that a crane sticking up above the buildings, or was it a ridiculously-huge catapult?
A crocodile rivalling a small warship at more than 300 meters long was slowly swimming through the city’s giant winding river.
“Wow! I can see it, I can see it!”
Niang-Niang looked straight back and shouted happily wile kicking her legs around with no concern for the short length of her mini-China dress. She was acting just like a small child overwhelmed by the view out a bullet train’s window after leaving a tunnel.
Except for the fact that her eyes were directed toward something far more wicked.
“That projectile has got to be Tefnut-Artemis and that giant crocodile below us is probably Osiris-Hades. Hah ha hah!! Humans always have the craziest ideas!! I never thought they would swap out gods like this!!”
“They seem to be making some localized comebacks…but they’re using these things completely wrong. Are they just not looking at the big picture? I wonder if they can really control them like this. Let’s hope they don’t get carried away and become the new Mu or Atlantis.”
The stone and metal bridge began to collapse from the end the four-wheel drive vehicle drove across. The Crowley’s Hazards would be a true nightmare if they caught up, but they were thrown into the dark, muddy Thames where the beast bearing the name of two underworld gods opened its great maw. No, that may have been an artificially-created hell that did not require the involvement of a god or ruler. Or so one would suspect upon seeing its wicked form.
Even when a Crowley’s Hazard tried to jump overhead, they would be shot down by a sphere of stone that resembled a small moon. Hamazura preferred not to think about what would happen where it landed.
Although he was too preoccupied to think about it regardless.
Because an African elephant larger than their vehicle charged toward them from the side.
When he remembered all the nuns clinging to the roof and doors, he frantically turned the wheel. He could not rely on the sheep bars to hold this animal back. He just barely dodged it, but he also crashed into a pile of soft sand.
The seatbelt dug into his upper body.
He was lucky the airbag had not activated. Given her position, it might have hit the glasses nun in the side of the face.
He lowered the gear, stepped on the clutch, and restarted the engine. It started up, but the vehicle would not move when he shifted it into reverse. He only heard a disconcerting slipping sound.
When he checked the rearview mirror, he saw the African elephant shaking its head in agitation a short distance away. This animal was very different from the ones calmly extending their noses and eating apples at the zoo.
“This takes me back.” Nephthys sounded like she was somehow enjoying this situation. “You shouldn’t take them lightly just because they’re herbivores. Long ago, those ferocious beasts were feared more than crocodiles. It can probably turn over this vehicle.”
“Is this as far as we get? Get out, everyone! We need to get away from here!!”
If that mass of muscles locked onto a flesh-and-blood human, there would be no escaping it. That meant Hamazura had to stay here with the vehicle, dangerous though it was.
“The horn, the tail lights…oh, and there’s a smoke bomb by my feet. Hey, Takitsubo, I don’t know English, so tell them to get away from the car! I’ll draw its attention!!”
But something odd happened.
The nuns had been knocked from the vehicle by the crash, but they approached it again and began pushing on the heavy mass of metal like they were rescuing a car from a swamp.
“Hamazura, they won’t listen. I think they’re trying to repay you for saving them in the fields.”
“I can’t leave this all on you either. If we’re going to do this, I want to bet on the possibility of everyone surviving.”
With that, the girl in a pink jump suit and sweater opened the passenger side door and hopped out. Glasses Sister Agata also extracted herself from the window to assist the recovery.
Hamazura clicked his tongue.
The ferocious African elephant was clearly looking at them. And a trumpet of excitement erupted from it. They did not have a second to spare. And if none of them could escape, they would have to get the vehicle moving again.
Hamazura floored the gas pedal with the gear still in reverse.
All those hands gradually moved the mass of metal.
They escaped the pile of sand!!
“Okay! Get in, Takitsubo! You nuns too!!”
The squealing of the tires must have provoked the African elephant because it finally began charging. Hamazura’s heart pounded in his chest, but he could not leave even one of them behind after all this. Takitsubo returned to the passenger seat, the glasses nun dove in through the driver’s side door like that was her spot now, and the other nuns grabbed onto the roof attachment and sheep bars. They were all focused on Hamazura in the driver’s seat. It was almost comical how none of them looked to the very conspicuous pair in the back seat.
He saw the last one climb on.
He turned the wheel to change the vehicle’s direction, changed the gear, and stomped on the gas pedal. The four-wheel drive vehicle seemed to jump as it shot forward.
The giant elephant just barely missed them and crashed into a brick wall.
They did not have time to check on it. He kept changing gears so they could pick up speed.
“Ha ha. They’re all such idiots!!”
That was when a beam of light shot through the night sky overhead.
Whatever it was aimed at, it tore through London’s buildings and steeples and sent pieces of buildings crashing down toward the vehicle. Hamazura knew it was crazy, but his only choice was to swerve back and forth to dodge them.
“Dammit, watch out!! What is with all this crap!?”
“The Greeks did not understand Egyptian Mythology.”
Niang-Niang was from Asia, but what did Nephthys think of it?
On the surface, the bandaged brown beauty only giggled as she added her own explanation.
“So when they crossed the Mediterranean and saw the many ruins and statues in that mystical desert, they did not know what it all meant. No, it may have been a matter of pride in their own intelligence and culture. They decided these must be the same gods they believed in and the locals had simply given them different names. …When they came across a great culture with stone architecture and astronomy at a higher level than their own, they may have only been able to accept it by assuming they were the world standard and these others were inferior to them.”
“The Moai statues at Easter Island got it pretty bad too☆”
“Not to mention the theory that aliens built all the ancient civilizations. I mean, all the islanders did was place logs on the ground to carry the heavy stone.”
Hamazura Shiage could not help but yell at them.
“Can you just tell me what those things are!? And are you going to help out!?”
“Hmm, we really don’t fit on either side of this conflict.”
No matter what, an outsider like him would not receive more allies.
Could he only hope for the different enemies to destroy each other? The previous warm feeling was gone and Hamazura only felt brutality in his heart, but then Nephthys said something interesting.
“Come to think of it, you said you found a map in the dashboard, didn’t you?”
“What about it!? Ah, that was close!!”
“Where exactly is your final goal? Since you’re still driving, I’m guessing it wasn’t just London in general.”
That brought a frown to Hamazura’s face as he turned the wheel whichever way meant not crashing. But then Sister Agata, the glasses nun with her boobs in his lap, forcibly pressed on the brake pedal with her hand.
“Wait!? Don’t shove your face in my crotch, Miss Nun! That’s my-…”
“……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………Hamazura, you seem to be enjoying yourself.”
The four-wheel drive vehicle screeched to a stop and a few of the nuns on the roof and doors were peeled away and fell off.
No, that was not it.
“Ugh. They let go themselves? What, is this your destination!?”
Did they not understand his Japanese, or did they simply not intend to answer him? Sister Agata once more extracted herself from the driver’s side window and tumbled out onto the road. All of the nuns were moving toward the same place.
It was not a castle.
It did not seem like a mansion either.
It was a wide white building on a vast area of land. Perhaps because of the mention of the Greeks, Hamazura was reminded of the Parthenon he had seen on TV. To him, every white stone building with pillars lined up at the entrance was the Parthenon.
“That’s the British Museum,” said the pale, self-proclaimed god who sounded just like a tourist. “If you want something stored, there’s no place better than a museum in a developed nation☆ Dynasties are destroyed pretty easily, so you can’t rely on their palaces. And royal graves and treasure vaults all get wiped out by moisture, mice, and thieves.”
“That’s right, Niang-Niang. But if you use a secret hiding place no one can ever find, no one will realize its importance and it will be covered up by the asphalt and concrete of construction. Compromise is important. …The one problem is when a weird bird is added or an ominous black cat is covered up in the name of art restoration.”
…These gods acted like it was a train station coin locker or hotel cloakroom, but how serious were they about that?
“By the way.”’ Bandaged Nephthys hugged mini-China dress Niang-Niang like she was restless. “About those twisted weapons bearing the names of gods. You got distracted by that impressive African elephant…but what did you feel when you saw them? Hope or disgust?”
“This is a fork in the road. Depending on your answer, you may regret it.”
In truth, Agnese Sanctis was grateful.
At first glance, it may have looked like clueless and careless Orsola Aquinas had rushed in without reading the atmosphere.
But what even was the wartime atmosphere?
Was it really right to cleverly read it and adapt to it?
“Munch, munch. This is the Asian miracle of a buttered potato, isn’t it!? It’s a lot like the baked potato served as a side to a meat dish, but the potato is upgraded to the star! I’ve always wanted to try one.”
“It’s more or less the same thing, Sister Angelene. Although this is my first time seeing a culture that eats it with squid shiokara on top. Anyway, stop talking with your mouth full. You need to swallow first.”
Lucia and Angelene were like that now, but the atmosphere just a bit earlier had been the tense and oppressive one of wartime organization. If that had continued, the constant pressure on Agnese’s back may have led them into a reckless attack.
This was an age that criticized those without courage.
But was this really a situation that required forcing a show of courage? They had been given a chance to reconsider that question.
Orsola was a valuable part of the group.
That faint light stood out all the more as the entire country was swallowed up.
Orsola herself did not realize what she had done and looked somehow apologetic.
She placed a hand on the center of her apron’s chest.
“…We went to all that effort to prepare for the Christmas party, but I used up all the ingredients.”
“At least you found a good use for them. I mean-…”
Agnese started to say something but swallowed the words with a smile still on her face.
I mean, I doubt we’ll make it to Christmas. What would she accomplish by saying that to a support role like Orsola?
Instead, the small girl shifted focus.
“There’s no one way to celebrate Christmas. It doesn’t have to be about eating and drinking, right?”
“That’s…right. A silent night might be nice.”
Orsola was smart.
She may have noticed the forced change of focus.
And Agnese Sanctis had learned something while keeping her silence. Orsola Aquinas was a symbol that must remain pure. She was a definite ray of hope that still remained in this age. It was not an issue of winning or losing. If she was stained by the madness of war, one of England’s crucial pillars would break.
They could not just buy time for the important personnel and treasures to be evacuated north to Scotland.
They could not just stubbornly make a sacrificial last stand.
Agnese was truly thankful.
She had seen it with her own eyes and felt it with her own hands. This person had given her something concrete to protect and given her a real reason to fight.
“Um, is something the matter?” asked Orsola.
There was no way they would survive until Christmas.
That was Agnese Sanctis’s blunt assessment, but she still smiled and responded.
There was a thin chain around Orsola’s neck. Agnese could easily imagine what was hidden below that apron: a small cross. It was a symbol of everything that protected Orsola Aquinas, but also a symbol of Agnese Sanctis’s sin.
She would not let that happen again.
She would be the shield this time.
“Let’s fight and take back our days of peace and calm.”
An incredible “explosion” always occurred in the chaotic period between eras.
It was an invisible thing that still shook the world to its core.
In recent times, if the Great King of Angolmois really had appeared in July 1999 as prophesied, it would have descended from heaven like a giant meteor and obliterated the normally necessary 2000 year period, forcibly ending an era. No matter who had survived as a result, the world would surely have been ruled by a completely different format of the mystical.
In Aleister Crowley’s case, the symbol of the chaotic period he had witnessed was the destruction of the Golden cabal.
And after the small world he believed in was drowned in blood, what was it that magician had grasped in the instant of the 1904 “explosion”: a holy guardian angel or an extraterrestrial lifeform?
With that, the old Osiris had completed its role and the new Horus was born.
Modern Western magic was the result of him building up magic in a form that everyone could use equally and of a certain man completing the compilation. He had spread it throughout the world in the guise of documents “leaking out” upon the Golden’s destruction. And that extremely irresponsible act had killed an innocent child. He had to have been aware of magic’s danger, but he had still spread that information while shedding tears of blood so that he could control that global risk himself.
Was anyone more knowledgeable of the magic used by human hands?
Could that human really allow anyone to boast such a thing?
Two gusts of wind blew through.
Kanzaki Kaori and Knight Leader’s extraordinary athletic abilities made them the trump cards of the Anglicans and the Knights, but Aleister Crowley did not falter while between them.
In fact, she seemed to be inviting them to dance.
She was a silver girl with a blue blazer uniform, a witch’s hat, and a cape.
She should have been killed instantly, but that magician instead seemed to be in control of everything. She twirled with her long silver hair fanning out around her, as if to revel in the contradictory situation.
“Ha ha, ha ha, ha ha, ha ha!! What’s wrong, England!? What’s wrong, London, city of fog, magic, and gold! Are you out of tricks!? Then I’ll be on my way to Westminster Abbey!! I will set foot in that holy ground where Lola Stuart…no, Great Demon Coronzon’s Achilles’ heel is hidden!!”
Neck and hips.
Two silver flashes attempted to slice through her body, but loudly-laughing Aleister was no longer there.
She had jumped up onto the large stone blocks that continued to rain down from the heavens.
“You fools. How can you expect to catch me when all you’ve done is cram in as much power as possible without considering the original capacity? Did you want to show off your powerful alkaline batteries that much? I’ll admit Saints are difficult to reproduce and they have an obvious charisma, but their great power is so inconsistent and unstable that they are mostly just hiding the actual losses in how flashy their actions are. As for that armored tax collector making up for his insufficient power by siphoning it from the entire country, you aren’t even worth discussing.”
Knight Leader moved even higher.
He clung to the bottom of an airborne block like a bat.
And a line of silver light dropped toward the silver girl’s head.
There was a slight gasp.
But unlike before, the falling blocks did not allow them to come to a stop. Instead of blocking the attack, Aleister twisted her body to avoid it and jumped to a different piece of stone.
The bizarre aerial battle continued.
The silver girl must not have cared too much if her voice was reaching them or not.
That was how it had always been for Aleister Crowley.
“What matters is optimization. You can think of it like superconductivity of magic power. A blood sacrifice that stains the entire planet is a product of intelligence. You are stuck in an age where you shove a bunch of coal into the furnace to move a mass of metal with the steam, so did you really think you could keep up with me as I am now?”
Kanzaki Kaori’s body transformed into a sonic boom.
She mercilessly broke through the base of a pyramid being constructed, so Aleister was forced to alter her footwork.
The silver girl landed on a stable apartment roof for the time being.
She formed a gun with her right hand, aimed it at the elite knight pursuing her, and blew him away with Spiritual Tripping. It did not matter whether or not that attack actually existed. The attack was established by convincing your opponent it did.
But it was not over so easily. If they placed their target on the route they wanted, England could launch a surefire attack.
The top of a stone pillar flashed irregularly as if aiming at the silver girl who easily escaped the lethal range of the blades wielded by fierce warriors moving at supersonic speed.
A mythological attack burned the London shadows. The light was like molten metal, it spread out like a giant tree, the unneeded branches were removed, and it accurately attacked only the scoundrel of a magician.
Aleister Crowley held her right palm out toward empty space.
She was not using Spiritual Tripping this time. Nor was she taking advantage of a vulnerability in modern Western magic.
A magic circle colored a sinister blood red appeared and blocked the divine attack like a shield.
After being concentrated down, the red lost its shape and faded into nothingness once more. But once they knew it was there, the others’ eyes could not be fooled. A faint red haze seemed to surround Aleister as if oozing out from the lovely silver girl’s outline.
It responded to supersonic actions and deflected attacks bearing divine names.
It was important to note that nothing of the sort had been seen when Aleister fought Kamijou Touma in the Windowless Building.
“I mentioned the optimization of power, didn’t I? Instead of just trying to stop an attack, you scatter it. When that power has only been absorbed from the earth and concentrated, returning it to the earth is not difficult. …At the very least, a battle must be fought between people. No matter how large the scale, a soulless unmanned spiritual item can never bend my will.”
Had she never expected to keep this hidden?
Or did this not qualify as a trump card needing to be hidden?
“Have you forgotten the situation here? I have split into more than a billion Aleister Crowleys who are simultaneously attacking all 53 countries and regions of the British Commonwealth. Thus, the conditions have been met. This worldwide conflict is defragging me. I will not allow a single needless sacrifice. Did you think the mere defense of a single European island nation could hold back the chaos currently swallowing up an entire planet!?”
At that very moment, a drop of red appeared on the silver girl’s index finger. It may have been Human Aleister Crowley herself who had done it.
And the silver girl could only smile bitterly at what that small wound meant.
Knight Leader was not smiling.
“Even a ‘mere’ European island nation will be effective.”
“Heh heh heh. Ah ha ha ha ha!! Yes! Yes, yes, yes! I’m just never satisfied until I’ve shown off, am I?”
“Did you expect me to be all upset? If only you had just let yourself be overwhelmed, but now I’ve lost my chance to stop, you noble, noble elite.”
With an explosion of dull sounds, the fierce warriors’ bodies disappeared.
The stage had shifted again.
Several tall, skinny objects rose up from the stone and steel city like they had broken through the ground. They were a row of 30m stone statues of historical pharaohs. The silver girl leaped to the head of one in a single bound and Kanzaki pursued her. They jumped from statue to statue while watching for opportunities to attack each other.
She must have realized that any magic she used would only be negated by a vulnerability, so Kanzaki Kaori made “normal” attacks with her steel blade. Aleister slipped right past those and took aim at Knight Leader who attempted to make an attack with slightly shifted timing. Spark-like numbers danced from her fingertips and her fingers formed a simple gun.
“Blasting Rod. The power will grow to 10 times what you imagine.”
With an explosive roar that only the victim could hear, the man in a suit was blown to the side.
He was mercilessly knocked straight into the ground from atop the pharaoh statue’s head.
Aleister used the slight lag this created in order to jump to a newly-formed pyramid. No, her target was not a modern apartment or an ancient tomb. She ran along the new and old buildings like a skipping stone to make her way to the base of a stone pillar that stood as tall as a broadcast tower.
What about the divine-class firepower released as beams of light?
She charged straight toward it while dodging the first and second beams and she did not allow a third.
She no longer used magic.
The girl’s slender leg swung around and an extraordinary attack mercilessly broke down the obelisk.
“That’s Ra-Zeus down.”
The roof of a normal apartment was not enough to bear its weight.
As the stone pillar twirled like a giant’s baton, Aleister jumped to an ancient pyramid and forcibly grabbed that pillar in her small hand.
She now held a javelin measuring more than 100 meters long.
The silver girl whispered from atop the pyramid.
She responded casually to the warship-sized crocodile that leaped straight up from the distant Thames. She used just her arm strength to throw the pointed stone pillar like it was a dart. She did not hesitate to skewer it. The giant crocodile had carelessly shown its head as if responding to a mayday from Ra-Zeus, but it was swiftly eradicated before it could do anything.
“And that’s Osiris-Hades.”
Of course, it did not end there.
Neither Kanzaki Kaori nor Knight Leader had been fully defeated. And destroying just a weapon or two of London’s defensive firepower was not enough to turn the tide.
But the silver girl actually gave a fierce smile.
“Send in as many as you want, watch as they are all destroyed, and fall into greater despair each time. To be blunt, no Aleister Crowley will go easy on England. Recall what you did to us. That is all I have to say.”
A dull sound rang out.
The magician looked back from the roof and saw Saint Kanzaki Kaori running up the levels of the pyramid to reach her. The levels were stepped, but those steps were the size of storage containers. It was a superhuman feat.
Aleister breathed an exasperated sigh and muttered something under her breath.
“I expect everyone has noticed the oddity by now, but I suppose it’s time to reveal the trick.”
All sound vanished.
No, they had moved past the world of sound. The pyramid they were standing on collapsed as the base was blown away. Someone planted their feet on the tops, sides, and even bottoms of the airborne rubble to bounce around like a pinball. The Amakusa Church Priestess with a black ponytail charged straight toward Aleister with a sonic boom surrounding her as she compressed the air in front of her. Shichiten Shichitou no longer mattered as it hung from her belt. A mere tackle would smash the silver girl’s body to smithereens.
The girl in a blue blazer uniform, witch’s hat, and cape only snorted on an airborne block while making sure she was not crushed by the stone raining down around her.
A roar soon followed.
Nothing in the world changed.
“…They are those who were blessed from the moment of their birth. They are the fools who were satisfied with that and ceased to think. Have you ever wondered why the various sects of the Christian Church place such an emphasis on Saints?”
In fact, time seemed to have stopped there.
Only Aleister Crowley’s voice hung in the air.
“It is not because you are closer to the Son of God than normal people. Nor because they see value in your rarity or are overwhelmed by your miraculous power. What matters most of all is that unlike the immortal god or angels, the Son of God and the patron saints that followed have their methods of execution and death clearly laid out in historical documents. In other words…if your individual beliefs are deemed to have strayed from what the organization wants, they can swiftly throw the breaker and remove you from the fight. Saints like you were no more than a convenient form of miracle!!”
The red haze wavered like an aurora.
It extended from Aleister Crowley’s palm and pierced Kanzaki Kaori’s side like a single sharp spear.
The silver girl shoved it in and twisted it.
She kicked off the midair block and dropped to a nearby apartment roof with her target still in her grasp.
She pushed her hand in to strike skewered Kanzaki Kaori.
An unbelievable impact shook the city of London.
It did not end there.
One of the fewer than 20 Saints rolled to the side and something burst from her back. Whatever it was, it was translucent. It was a barefoot girl with a small frame yet with sexy curves. Each of the individual parts was beautifully alluring, but the overall proportions were imbalanced.
It happened instantaneously.
Whatever this was, it had been embedded in the battle without anyone noticing.
Time seemed to resume moving and the pyramid blocks rained down around Aleister.
The translucent girl had thin wings and a wicked, tentacle-like tail displayed almost too prominently on her back and the back of her hips. Her straight hair was a rainbow color never seen in humans and it spread outwards before the ends curled inward, making it look something like a large umbrella.
Her clothing initially looked like a shoulderless dress with a long skirt full of slits because it was shaped like upside-down flower petals, but it was actually a collection of trash. English newspapers – their gray color turned yellow or brown with age – were sewn together to create the overall shape, what looked like glittering jewels were actually shards of glass, and silver duct tape was wrapped tightly around her large chest and hips.
“This is the natural result.”
The silver girl stared at the demon who had a sinister hole in her forehead.
She spat out the words while the limp Saint remained lying on the roof.
“Saints generally prefer quick showdowns, so it did seem odd you would go along with my nonsense for so long.”
Something scattered at the bare feet of that fool princess. They were Beheading Coins, the spiritual items that rid you of pain and fear for the few seconds needed for a suicide attack. Those coins were only useful during a hopeless war.
As the countless sparkles fell to the apartment roof, they transformed into beer bottle caps.
She was likely a symbol.
A symbol of hopeless war. A symbol of formless disinformation that inspired unnecessary grief.
This demon was the very atmosphere that drove people mad.
“Even I will research my likely enemies. And knowing Kanzaki Kaori’s personality, she would never work at fortifying London’s defenses on her own while the rest of the Amakusas are sent to the dangerous front line at Dover. And no matter how she was distorted and even if she is willing to accept necessary evils, I seriously doubt she would accept the deaths of others so readily. That was the most obvious one, but…what a pain. I imagine there were discrepancies, large or small, in the others as well.”
The translucent demon only laughed after being found out.
That temptress’s body was imbalanced after pursuing beauty too far and she wore a dress of English newspapers, duct tape, and thumbtacks. She did not appear to be bound by gravity. Her feet never touched any surface, she ignored the concepts of up and down, and she twirled upside down. The movement could not be explained by the presence of her wings and tail.
That demon’s mere presence destroyed order.
The newspaper articles writhed as they covered her feminine curves.
“Wicked”, “pervert”, “ghoul” – the dancing text was driven directly into people’s minds instead of via their vision and it was all irresponsibly criticizing a certain human. Of course, she had not just so happened to pick up these malicious articles which had grown yellow or brown like autumn leaves. The battle had already begun.
Aleister Crowley had taken the form of a lovely girl.
So she was not foolish enough to judge someone by their outward appearance.
“Ee hee hee. Hee hee hee hee hee hee hee.”
With a light sound, a new figure landed on the apartment roof.
Another demon had arrived.
The person standing atop a rectangular chimney was Accelerator.
“…Are we really doing this again? Is this the same as with that A. O. Francisca kid?”
“Higher lifeforms like Coronzon and Aiwass are not that common. For one thing, there are no truly pure elements in the surface of the Four Worlds. Accelerator, you bear the name of a particle accelerator, but not even your power can fully separate them.”
“That is no more than an artificial demon with a much simpler structure. It just needed to control someone. It is essentially more of a tool than a lifeform.”
“Not what I meant.”
“You’re the piece of shit who sat at the top of Academy City and laughed at all your ‘successes’ while filling one half of the world with tragedy and misfortune, so why do you go easy on someone just because they’re being controlled? First A. O. Francisca and now this. You aren’t seeing your own situation in them, are you?”
“…That’s your problem?” The peak of a certain category gave a self-deprecating smile. “Aleister Crowley has always been the one who tears down the old order. I am the complete and utter piece of shit who directly rebelled against the world’s largest religion, did not hesitate to trigger internal conflict within my magic cabal once I deemed it no longer useful, and carried the entire world to the next Aeon with the completion of the Book of the Law. My plan is full of holes, but all that matters is that the many branches eventually regroup somewhere. Did you really think I had a goal that followed any proper logic?”
“I do not expect a proper death for myself or the world and my soul will descend to hell after I die. But that is not the convenient penal colony, where the victors send the losers, that my predecessors thought it was while they smugly believed they alone would never end up there.
A quiet sound came from girl Aleister’s shoulder. Whether it actually existed or not, she supported a twisted silver staff there. But this also meant that arrogant magician had drawn her best weapon from its sheath or holster.
Her actions belied her words and said this being required radiating killer intent in every direction.
While observing the temptress girl who floated like a balloon and spun right-side up once more, Aleister traced her empty hand’s fingers across the brim of her witch’s hat.
She had quickly seen through the collection of allure who sent her newspaper skirt dancing in a crescent moon shape.
“Quite the stereotype.”
“Ee hee hee. Nee hee. Hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee.”
“…And you got the interpretation wrong. The Qliphoth is often interpreted as an evil tree and it does use demons’ names for the guardians of the spheres, but that does not mean its essence is an absolute evil. Even if you were to misuse tarot, it is not simple enough for the upside-down Death card to mean life or resurrection.”
“Qliphoth?” asked Accelerator.
“Yes, this is a chance for you too. You might not know what the words mean, but keep this in the back of your mind. This is knowledge that is freed of the division between science and magic.”
Materialism, anxiety, greed, lust, ugliness, cruelty, viciousness, rejection, foolishness, and godlessness.
Those were the things seen behind the toxic words of the newspapers’ sensationalist articles.
The newspapers adorning that demon’s “merely” beautiful body were very different from modern ones. They were the bible of an age in which environmental destruction was mistaken for conquering nature and people reached for the power of capitalism and money as they searched for a source of stability to replace faith. Provocativeness over truth, immediate sales over intelligence. And this had been propped up by the overwhelming influence of mass media. To Aleister, who had constantly been attacked by their biases and prejudices, those hopeless, century-old newspaper articles really were the evil tree that indicated the immoral world with its 10 spheres and 22 paths.
Of course, that magician would not let something like this break her concentration.
The silver girl gave a flowing lecture to this newcomer.
“That is the inverted tree that stands in the opposite position of the tree of life protected by the angels. If the just have gone through the appropriate training, it can assist them in acquiring the dangerous knowledge found in that hidden world, but if you view it with insufficient resolve, you will be bewildered by a fog of confusion, find something other than the truth, and come to believe that a perverted underground ceremony is the one and only way to acquire knowledge, or some such nonsense.”
As represented by the baseless misinformation and the Beheading Coins, the translucent girl was the strange atmosphere of a hopeless war.
Kanzaki Kaori, Knight Leader, and possibly London or England as a whole may have been influenced by that.
Just like someone reaching for a strange magic sword or ancient parchment and peering into it without the knowledge needed to properly understand it.
“Even if you do open the path through a misuse of the cards, nothing good will come of using the reverse meaning before learning the standard meaning. However, that is not the crux of the problem. …The tree of life is also a diagram explaining how to handle the soul. Thus, using the inverse tree properly will likely assist in the creation of something much like a life.”
One must not forget about Mina Mathers here.
She was an AI meant to support Aleister’s thoughts and an original grimoire, but what was that book’s name? The Thoth Tarot, which Aleister had sent out into the world. And each tarot card gained power corresponding to the tree of life.
Aleister had called this artificial demon more of a tool than a lifeform.
Aleister was the Board Chairman who had mass-produced more than 20,000 military clones, disposed of them in an experiment, and used that as camouflage to spread the Misaka Network, so she did not hold back on this subject.
This was a tree anthropomorphized by human knowledge. She was a partial demon created exclusively as a possession specialist. Her structure was similar yet different to the humans who corresponded to the tree of life. She was a thought being who was the inverse of Mina Mathers, the embodiment of the Thoth Tarot.
With all that spelled out, the accumulation of history could give the illusion of stability, but Aleister understood the meaning contained there and breathed an exasperated sigh.
Do not be led astray by the words. A definite get-rich-quick scheme introduced by a demonic temptress would be even emptier than a pyramid scheme.
Look to the essence.
That demon with a disconcerting hole in her forehead was horribly flimsy.
“Is this meant as revenge? That does sound like something Coronzon would do. What is your name and number? Refuse to tell me and I will drag it out of you with Neuburg’s method. That great demon could not refuse, so do you really think a mere creation like you could do so?”
“Hee heee hee hee. That part is quite simple.”
Those ten fingers swayed like they were adrift in the dark sea at night. Was that thread or thin poison needles that glowed with a rainbow light? Like a deadly jellyfish, the countless needles stabbed all across nearby Knight Leader’s body.
He became unrecognizable.
His limbs bent, his body moved stiffly, he spun around…and with a swing of a slender arm, he was discarded to the side. He was not worth holding onto. This seemed to say the true battle had yet to begin.
The girl demon spoke.
“Qliphah Puzzle 545. A pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“…And one more thing. Yes, I see now. The John’s Pen structure embedded in the grimoire library was inputted by Coronzon via Lola.”
Think back an era at a time and it was a simple matter.
Coronzon had not changed in the slightest.
England as it collapsed, A. O. Francisca, Index, and Lola Stuart.
As that number and essence indicated, that great demon obstructed the world’s bonds and that preference had remained consistent. But instead of acting as an external threat, the demon derived joy from tearing things apart by dripping poison into the group and having them ruin it all themselves.
“What are you going to do?”
“Whatever I wish.”
The silver girl whispered a singsong reply to the artificial demon who disturbed the world’s harmony with the threat of stereotypes. Aleister focused once more on the staff weighing solidly on her shoulder whether it physically existed or not.
Chaos was wild nature itself. Unlimited freedom gave birth to all things, but it was not kind enough to protect the fangless and furless humans.
But the order brought by castle walls was simply oppressive and would kill even more people. The rules of hopeless wartime would preserve order by driving out all doubters as an evil, and those rules were a far greater intentional evil than the capricious ferocity of nature.
This magician reached for the contradiction of riding the wave of chaos rather than suppressing it, but also acquiring the true order of unrestricted freedom that restrained no one.
And she spoke the fundamental essence of the book she had released to resist a world of collapsing bonds.
“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.”
“Sorry I’m late! Sister Agata has arrived!!”
The glasses nun named Sister Agata shouted as she entered the British Museum that felt like a school or hospital at night since the lights were off.
The situation really was different from normal.
Although that should have been obvious from the fact that everyone there was holding a Beheading Coin in their hand.
For one thing, Agata and the others had been kept in the dark about so much.
Why had contact with Lola Stuart been lost without warning?
Why had the Crowley’s Hazards suddenly started attacking the British Commonwealth?
They knew nothing, they had no set goal, and they had simply been ordered to fight.
They were to protect London indefinitely.
Looking back, they may have been a unit of sacrificial pawns meant to buy time.
Museums were normally busier at night because they only had the limited time while it was closed to bring in or take out the antiques and artworks, polish the glass, replace the lights, and inspect the air conditioning that managed the room temperature and humidity. But that was not enough to explain this. In the donut-shaped hall known as the Great Court, wooden boxes, cardboard boxes, and various types of packaging material were piled up and some of the glass cases had their contents missing.
The fires of war had directly reached London, so preparations were underway to either evacuate north to Scotland or participate in the magical war.
The Egyptian section’s Rosetta Stone was one of the main draws of the museum and archaeologists would probably feel faint if they knew its spot was already empty.
When Agata arrived, a great quantity of eyes turned her way.
They all belonged to people in black habits like hers. The skirt and sleeves had zippers that allowed adjustments to personal taste, so they were clearly all the Roman Catholic style.
There were around 250 of them in all. Joining the former Agnese Force and their identical habits helped put Agata at ease. But she could not indulge in that and come to a stop. Everyone knew they had no time. The glasses nun spotted their short leader and got straight to the point. Almost like she was driven by the strange wartime atmosphere itself.
She spoke to a short girl. The girl’s red hair formed several braids about as thick as pencils. She kept her habit’s skirt intentionally short to prioritize mobility.
“Sister Agnese, what is the situation?”
“I only arrived a bit ago, so I don’t know the whole picture…but to get right to the point, the Royal Family and the Knights are arguing over what to do at Buckingham Palace. With the triple-quadruple final barrier broken, a direct defense of London is unavoidable. The knights charged with protecting the royals are suggesting a Plan B of evacuating just the Royal Family to Edinburgh Castle in Scotland, but Holegres Mirates, who is acting as an intermediary, insists the royals will not accept a Plan B and demand a happy ending.”
During British Halloween, the current queen and the second princess had directly clashed on the front line over the future of Britain and the people who lived there, so the Royal Family was clearly a combative group. Once they learned they were under attack by a ghost they thought they had banished long ago, they would never even consider abandoning the capital and shamelessly fleeing.
They could not use the people as a shield so they could survive.
That sounded virtuous enough…but Agata wished those immature leaders would think about how much it would shake the kingdom as a whole if they were to die in battle.
(Or is someone putting those words in their-…no, I’m overthinking this. But it is true we haven’t heard anything directly from the Royal Family…)
The force took its name from her, so when Agnese began to speak, the other nuns gathered around. First, tall Lucia asked a question as if to confirm what she already knew.
“I had thought our plan was to fortify the city’s defenses by regrouping the remaining forces that were called back from the collapsed front line, but what is our objective then? Are we to eliminate the Crowleys flooding the streets, or are we to buy time for the VIPs to escape to safety?”
Whatever their plan was, they still had a large army approaching them. If it took too long for the Royal Family and the Knights to come to an agreement, they could end up starting a marathon without knowing where the goal was. It might finally be time to use their Beheading Coins.
Agnese made sure Orsola was not nearby and then sighed.
“…First of all, do you think we can win this?”
“We’re only hearing about the shortest route across the Strait of Dover, but the routes from Spain and Scandinavia are apparently approaching their boiling points as well. Once those cups run over and the Crowley’s Hazards cross the ocean from there, there really will be no stopping them. And if they come from the North Sea, evacuating the Royal Family to Scotland’s Edinburgh Castle might be meaningless. I just don’t see how risking out lives buying time is going to improve the situation.”
With just one route of entry, they had failed to push back the enemy and allowed those monsters to reach London.
And a second and third route would soon be established, so they did not even want to run the numbers on how outnumbered they would be. It was enough to feel faint. The higher ups might be choosing a strategic withdrawal, but that was looking like delaying the inevitable, like escaping to the roof when your high-rise building was on fire. No matter what calculations they ran, there was no hope to be found.
“Even if someone charges the enemy with a rousing battle cry, they aren’t going to turn this around. How can we buy time and who can we help escape? …That would be the bare minimum of an optimistic view and we can only reach it by throwing away our own lives.”
Yes. Even after shifting their goal that low, it still counted as optimistic.
If they staged a last stand, the odds were much better they would be killed without accomplishing anything at all. Not much was worse than being ordered to simply “defend” without given a clear goal. It turned a group of human beings into a barrier of expendables.
It was such a straightforward way of putting it that Agata and Lucia both fell silent. It may have been Agnese’s ability to keep this kind of meeting going that had made her the leader of these 250 girls.
Then another nun whispered in her ear.
“(Sister Agnese. The list will be complete soon. We have categorized them using three different systems.)”
“(Each of the orderings is based on a complex series of logical calculations. If you simply choose from the top of the list, you will not be held responsible.)”
This list ordered the 250 nuns in the British Museum based on their “usability” and it would be used to select the members of a suicide squad.
However, Agnese Sanctis breathed a quiet sigh so that no one would notice.
If the time came for that, she intended to toss that list aside. As their leader, she would have to take responsibility and throw her own life away.
“(That is merely running away,)” whispered the nun who stayed in the shadows with her eyes closed. “(You must make a decision and throw out the lives of others. You are only trying to escape that pressure.)”
She slowly let out a breath.
Whether she would use it or not, they were probably hurrying the completion of the list. The other nun left to go elsewhere, eyes still closed.
Agnese focused on Lucia, Angelene, and the others in front of her.
“Whether or not we will defend the city with our lives, the battle has arrived in London. This is a battle within London instead of a battle on the way to London, so we cannot avoid damage to the city. …That means this is no longer a battle to defend. It is a showdown in the capital city. We cannot hope to put up a fight if we are not prepared to destroy the city ourselves.”
It was abnormal enough simply to have an external enemy directly entering a country’s capital.
From here on out, nice-sounding ideals would not be enough.
Just because the stage had shifted to London did not mean they could go on a rampage, knocking over buildings willy-nilly. They had to allow the Royal Family and the important materials to be evacuated north to Scotland, they had to keep the civilian casualties to a minimum, and they had to prevent any repercussions related to the Tower of London’s prisoners or the hidden magic cabals. Before, they had been able to line up barriers on a plain, aim their weapons from there, and focus on fighting, but now they had to fight in an entirely different way. They of course had an overwhelming disadvantage as the ones being invaded, so they would have to forcibly make up for that somehow.
And that would require using one life to protect another.
The existence of the list flashed through Agnese’s mind again.
“I used a back channel to acquire a map showing the distribution of independent indoor evacuation within London. We can start by using that to decide which buildings we can bring down to form barriers and which areas we need to keep the enemy out of.”
Of course, they did not have time for preparations here either. The enemy had already crossed the final line and entered London. Someone would have to stop the Crowley’s Hazards while they remade the city into a labyrinth.
Even if they did complete the preparations for that labyrinth, they would only be buying time based on time already reckless bought by others, so there was no guarantee of victory. And what would happen to the unsupported humans who stood in the way of the Crowley’s Hazards?
They had no exceptional joker, so normally thinking…
(We need to use a suicide squad here.)
They would be committing suicide. They would be killing themselves with their attack.
Meanwhile, whether she had realized what this meant or not, Lucia frowned and spoke.
“Well, we need to prepare ourselves for what’s to come.”
Agnese gave a thin and somehow troubled smile.
She scratched her cheek which had the softness of a teenage girl.
“Since they are duty-bound to protect the kingdom, the Royal Family and the Knights can’t choose to destroy London themselves. Meanwhile, former Catholics like us are outsiders. We have the advantage of choosing options that will make people question our patriotism.”
At 250, their numbers rivalled a small school. That might sound like a large army, but Agnese and the others had been reduced to the level of dirt in their fight against Biagio Busoni who had contaminated the Roman Catholic Church and God’s Right Seat who had lurked even deeper in the church. They had been forced to make an enemy of 2 billion people around the world, which was literally several orders of magnitude higher. It was practically a miracle that England had accepted them as a temporary home. They had not been given time to really plant their roots here, but they had been taught how to hold kindness in their hearts.
They could not let that go to waste.
They would save as many English people as they could, so she wanted to accept as many nuns as she could.
And to that end, Agnese Sanctis was willing to use her own life as a pawn.
She did not know what kind of treatment the magician named Aleister Crowley had received from this country. Agnese and the others had been accepted for now, but they might eventually end up on the receiving end of those thrown stones. But this was not the time to worry about that. There was something they could try and people they might be able to protect.
She did not care if they were accused of being ungrateful.
Did they want to be saved, or would they go to die? Would they move forward, or would they fall back? Agnese did not know what exactly was in Lucia, Agata, and the others’ hearts. Then Angelene, the small braid girl clinging to Lucia’s back, opened her mouth.
“Didn’t…Holegres Mirates, was it? Didn’t that knight summon us to the British Museum because some powerful spiritual items were being stored here? Didn’t he say they were hidden in a puzzle of stacked boxes so not even the normal personnel were aware of them?”
“Yes, he apparently found some documents that Archbishop Lola kept in Lambeth Palace. It seems they have already been removed, though.”
Agnese acted confused in a different way from before.
A low tremor rose through the floor of the British Museum which stored so many antiques and artworks. The museum was built to prevent a single crack or chip to its contents, so the fact that the outside shaking was reaching them inside was proof of a serious emergency.
An obelisk could easily shoot down a mobile fortress. A warship-sized crocodile swam through the winding Thames. A catapult flung stones with enough force that they cracked the ground upon impact.
They were all exceptional jokers.
Their impact on the overall battle was unclear, but they were a hope to Agnese who might have to order some of these familiar people to make a suicide attack.
Glasses Agata hesitantly looked up at the ceiling.
“I did see some extraordinary things during my wild first experience with hitchhiking, but it was not clear how much those things could do against a full swarm of the Crowley’s Hazards.”
“There is a reason for that. From what I hear, those things are being used wrong. Um, I think they called them Divine Mixtures. You are apparently supposed to do more than just connect them to the ley lines, making them reliant on the ground. That method can apparently only draw out less than 1% of their true power. I apologize that this is all hearsay.”
Agnese breathed a heavy sigh.
Those things were their last hope, but they would be meaningless if they were wasted.
“It’s a stereotypical miscommunication. We successfully found a few capital defense spiritual items in the depths of the British Museum based on the documents Sir Holegres found in Lambeth Palace. But the enemy army was already here, so everyone dragged them out there without checking how they should be used… And even if we do receive an official order to retrieve them, that would not be easy given the chaos out there.”
The shifted power balance was obvious from the fact that the knights were rummaging through the Anglican Archbishop’s residence. Lola’s absence was painful. That had given the Knights a lot more sway and outsiders like Agnese’s group or the Amakusas had lost the guarantee of their safety.
“S-so we have usable capital defense spiritual items, but they can’t use their full power and we can only sit and watch as they’re destroyed one by one!?”
Would they jump straight to a suicide attack, or would they have time to attempt a less hopeless fight first?
It was gradually dawning on them that that decision was being decided by people other than them. Lucia looked furious, but Agnese raised her index finger.
“So at Sir Holegres’s request, they are being hurriedly retrieved by freelance couriers that exist outside the chain of command. For now, we need to gather as many surviving fighters as we can while keeping damages to a minimum. We will have to hear the details from the courier, but as long as we know how to use it properly, we should be able to annihilate the Crowleys in London, even if it means systematically destroying the city and turning it into a labyrinth.”
With a carefree comment of “I have more food ready”, something unbelievable approached. Even if the British Museum’s Great Court was part of the tourist area and had plenty of glass cases to protect everything, it was still strange to see gentle and carefree Orsola Aquinas wearing an apron over her habit and pushing a food cart toward them. Any antiques maintenance and repair specialist would have foamed at the mouth and fainted if they had seen it.
But just then, a monotone buzzer rang.
It was likely from the main entrance. Normally, that would not be audible in the donut-shaped hall, but even if it was full of frantic energy, the museum had not eliminated the darkness of a school or hospital at night. The rude blast of noise at the guard station made its way all the way here.
Everyone turned toward it. Even Orsola.
This signaled the arrival of the supplies needed for a comeback, but was that a fortunate or unfortunate thing?
Holding a means of resistance meant they could no longer choose an easy death. They had no choice but to enter hellish London once more.
There were around 250 of them.
And Agnese Sanctis, the small leader who gave the force its name, spoke all of their thoughts aloud.
“…So it’s here.”
An obelisk broke.
It took flight.
It skewered a giant crocodile.
“What are we supposed to do about this…?”
Kamijou Touma, the petty bourgeois who could not participate in that mythological-level battle and was honestly more afraid of the scorpions and cobras, muttered blankly to himself.
The Egyptification of the city of fog must have been accelerating. The silver sand had been no more than a thin fog before, but now it fell like volcanic ash and started covering up the asphalt roads. It sort of reminded Kamijou of Academy City littered with Element remains after the heat wave.
Meanwhile, Othinus sighed while recrossing her slender legs with her tiny butt on the boy’s shoulder.
The pyramids and giant statues kept appearing and disappearing on their own, so he avoided touching them with Imagine Breaker while relying on the normal asphalt that was being erased by the silver sand. He had touched some wall art before, but that was too small a sample. If something did collapse at his touch, they could easily be buried alive.
“…From the look of things, I’m guessing Aleister is causing all that destruction up there. Is this the war she was talking about? If so, she’s a lot softer than I expected. And I doubt just seeing a baby’s face would have triggered it at this stage.”
A god of war saw things on a different scale entirely.
Kamijou was starting to feel dizzy from these other-dimensional visuals, so what did she find lacking?
“Once you had destroyed the triple-quadruple barrier from within, you may have had no strategic value to Aleister. Or to put it another way, why do you assume you need to risk your life and fight here?”
“Wait, you need to ask these questions, human. You’re not some wage slave that has mistaken the runner’s high of overwork for actual value!”
When she shouted in his ear, Kamijou came to his senses at least a little.
Yes, that was right.
“I don’t need to force myself to run right into the most dangerous area, do I?”
“That’s what I’m saying. They might be in a state of high alert, but the people of this country are not as diligent as the Germans. Not all of the shops will be closed and England is a country of pubs that serve plenty of craft beer and scotch whisky.”
“Wait, Othinus. We can’t go to an actual bar.”
“I don’t want to hear anything from Mr. Soft Drinks who can’t even bring himself to drink the tap water, much less alcohol. Anyway, unlike France or Spain, England’s cities do not go to sleep early. We can ignore that magical battle between those idiots busy giving their minds a work out, find someplace to kill some time, and eat some fish and chips while creating a nice vacation memory between just the two of us…or whatever…”
“Either way, what do you want me to do when I only have 72 yen in my wallet?”
“…Are you serious? Is that really so bad it makes a god fall silent? …No, wait. Wait! I have something else here in my wallet. Go to a drug store or convenience store with this Tatsuya Tea point card and…oh, I guess it wouldn’t work in England. It’s looking like I really will need to brave the foreign tap water.”
No matter what he did, Kamijou could not escape these more boring threats to his life. With service charges and table charges, modern places would take money just for sitting at a table without ordering anything, so it did not look like they could flee into a sturdy building.
In that case, they would have to find safety while outside.
“As big as it is, this is still just one city, right? Is there anyone I know around here? I don’t care about the war between England and the Crowley’s Hazards. If I can just convince someone that this…Coronzon? is controlling that Lola person, we wouldn’t need to fight like this, right?”
“Whatever Lola’s nature, I seriously doubt reconciliation is an option now that the Crowley’s Hazards have unilaterally invaded their homeland… But fine. That is the Board Chairman’s problem. So who do you hope to find?”
“Anyone, really. It could be Agnese, Sherry, Birdway, Oriana, Lessar, or hell, even Princess Villian or Queen Elizard! I’m a little afraid of Orsola who was wandering around the Tower of London, though… And weren’t there even more people with those British-sounding Western names!? With that many, surely I can run across one of them, right!?”
“……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………Hey, human. Is it just me, or were all of those female names?”
“Ow, my earlobe!! Did you pick up Index’s biting habit!? And I can’t help it that all of the British guys are terrifying people who tend to rush to the other side of the moral debate! Like Stiyl! Or Acqua!! They can’t take a joke and not one of them has a temperament that’s ‘just right’!!!!!!”
“(Has he completely forgotten that a god of war got fed up during a battle against him and threw in the towel? If your atmosphere or temperament are too much for him, you probably barely qualify as human anymore…)”
Just as they were discussing that, they heard the old-fashioned clip-clop of horse hooves through the thin curtain of silver sand.
It was Kamijou’s new acquaintance in full-body armor and a surcoat.
“I finally found you, runaway!!”
“My offer of mercy has expired. I will lasso you around the neck and drag you back to the Tower of London!!”
“Wait, are you a knight or a cowgirl!?”
“Are you unaware America broke away from England, human?” his little neighbor unhelpfully explained.
He would be in trouble if he was caught by this knight who was not very nice to her horse by making it gallop over the asphalt to reach him. The Tower of London was irrelevant here. Dragging him around by the neck could easily be a death sentence.
“S-s-s-stairs! Where are some stairs!? Horses can’t handle height differences, can they!?”
“Sigh. I can tell you’ve never watched those horse-riding competitions, human. A properly-trained horse can easily handle heights up to their chest and a horse trained for security around Buckingham Palace will have no trouble with stairs.”
He had no choice but to eat his words. He made a frantic change of course, reached both hands up to the edge of a pyramid block on the main road, and somehow managed to climb up on top of it.
“Where are you, runaway!? Running and hiding at this stage is craven!!”
“(Craven? She’s really going all-in on this old-fashioned knight thing, isn’t she? And how am I the craven one when she’s using a full set of weapon, armor, and horse against a defenseless and unarmed person!?)”
He was apparently in a blind spot when viewed from the ground. Instead of risking a peek down, craven Kamijou Touma curled up like a roly-poly and held his breath.
Then that giant roly-poly was sent flying when a scooter suddenly ran into it.
…It took him a second to realize it given how sudden it was, but this was a proper(?) traffic accident. The ear-splitting screech of brakes echoed from the ancient ruins taking over London.
“Huh? That didn’t sound good. I really wish everyone had obeyed the evacuation order. And this sand in the air is such a pain since it reflects the headlight back at me if I turn it on.”
“We are far too busy to mess with this. And who was it that said we could avoid all the people and wreckage if we drove along the ruins themselves? Honestly.”
Someone shouted from the ground below. The female knight in silver armor and a surcoat dismounted her horse and climbed up after hearing the loud crash, but she must have been dutiful through and through because she grew pale and ran over to assist the spiky-haired boy even though he was an enemy and a runaway prisoner. She may have felt like a police officer who had pursued a runaway criminal a little too far with their police car.
Meanwhile, the culprits looked down at Kamijou Touma who was trembling (in the straitlaced young woman’s ample chest).
“Geh!? One of those goody-goody knights is here! And while we’re on a covert operation!!”
“Lend me a hand here. If we leave them like this, we can’t correct our mistake until that stuffy knight (who will probably take her virginity to her grave) completes the recovery magic on her own. You provide the consumable candles and incense. …And who is that kid anyway? A drunk who ran out of alcohol and couldn’t stay put, or a foolish young priest out on patrol???”
While lightly convulsing (in the arms and chest of the female knight) atop the neatly-aligned giant stones, Kamijou heard what those true pieces of shit were saying.
And their voices sounded familiar.
When he matched faces to those voices in his head, the Kamijou Touma lightning struck.
“Lessar and Birdway!? Have you two formed a magical crime duo!? Are you running around out here to take advantage of the chaos!? And don’t put multiple people on a scooter! Do you even have a license!?”
The female knight’s eyebrows twitched as she held the boy close (with her defenses lowered in a variety of ways).
The guilty pair panicked.
“Crap, that guy’s a goody-goody too. Run away, run away!”
“Oh, he’s tough enough to walk this off. And given his right hand, trying to heal him would be a waste of time. Let’s get to the British Museum already.”
One was an imp from a wannabe magic cabal and the other was the boss of one of the modern world’s largest magic cabals. Both of them were small girls and they tried to sneak back onto their scooter.
But then someone else fell from the night sky.
“Oryaaahh!! What do you think you’re doing, Touma!?”
It came from above the proud blonde girl’s head. Index the silver-haired nun rained down upon the pyramid eating away the London cityscape. It was a lot like the mysterious phenomenon of frogs or small fish falling from the sky. Even that arrogant cabal boss was caught off guard by this, so she was easily crushed between the falling nun and the lower level of stone material. She ended up sprawled out while face down.
The sudden occurrence shocked the female knight into squeezing the spiky-haired boy’s head, but Lessar in her lacrosse uniform and devil’s tail panicked even more.
“C-crap! Did someone sniff out our transport route!? As a courier, I can’t let anyone take that thing from us…”
Another mysterious phenomenon provided a finishing blow.
The night sky was split apart by a spotlight that shined directly down on Lessar’s head. She protected her eyes with a hand and frantically looked up to see the saucer-like silhouette of an unidentified flying object.
“Waaaaahh!! Wha-, eh, wait, a-aliens!? W-were they summoned here by this ancient civilization’s pyramid? Am I gonna be abducted and cattle mutilated? This is not how I expected my night to go. How far forward has the world’s doomsday clock advanced when I wasn’t paying attention!?”
“…Bunny Grey is unstoppable. Vee.”
While Lessar slumped down and screamed, a hoodie bikini girl descended while hanging from a large balloon. She was making a peace sign with a smug look on her face.
Meanwhile, an armored person was acting like a little girl squeezing her stuffed animal after a bad dream. It was the female knight and she was holding the spiky-haired boy, but…
“Ah!? When did you sneak up so close, invader!?”
The fully-equipped female knight mistook Kamijou Touma for an alien and shoved him away with both hands. He held his back and unsteadily rose to his feet, but his suspicions were already as high as they could go.
Or rather, most anything Lessar was involved in was bad news.
He asked some blunt questions in an extremely low voice.
“That thing? Courier?? Transport route???”
“If you don’t explain, I’ll tie you to Fran’s balloon and set it loose. Like a flower’s seeds. If you’re lucky, they’ll collect you in France so you can blossom into a beautiful flower.”
That might sound dreamlike and romantic, but it must not have sounded realistically survivable to her. While sitting on the stone with no escape, Lessar looked around in search of help and heard an intake of breath from Leivinia Birdway who was crushed below Index like a frog on the road.
She always had a noble scent to her despite leading an underground group.
“Yes, it might be time to come clean. How should I put it? Seeing your face broke some things inside me. Who cares if this was a job from the honorable Sir Mirates? Besides, we didn’t want to do this in the first place, so maybe I should be thankful someone has shown up to put a stop to it.”
Next to Kamijou Touma, the female knight tilted her head right along with him. She may have recognized the name “Sir Mirates”.
“It was a forbidden power.”
Birdway had all the information and the look on her face suggested it had been a mistake to not take the ignorant boy’s side in the first place.
“I should have thought about whether I would be able to look you in the eye. Am I losing my touch? What good is defending your country if you have to destroy it from within to do so?”
Leivinia seemed sick of the silver sand in her fine blonde hair.
“I will explain. Because just calling it a Divine Mixture probably wouldn’t mean much to you.”
On the roof of an old apartment, a translucent demon floated like a jellyfish with a dress made of discolored English newspapers, silver duct tape wrapped tightly around her alluring chest and hips, and long, rainbow-shining hair spread out like an umbrella.
She was the atmosphere of hopeless war that drove people mad.
The girl had a hole in her forehead and when her total of 10 fingers wriggled on either side of her, long skinny threads burst out like tentacles adorned with countless poison needles.
Were the fools entirely under her control?
With a series of dull sounds, Knight Leader and the other fully-equipped knights jumped up to roofs of equal height. In fact, Aleister Crowley could not even ignore Kanzaki Kaori who lay collapsed at her feet. She could fall back under the demon’s control at any time.
Qliphah Puzzle 545.
She was such a blasphemously evil girl that she actually looked like a stereotype.
A wicked smile spread across the demon’s face as Beheading Coins – which were actually just shiny beer bottle caps – fell around her soft-looking bare feet.
“Nee hee hee, ee hee hee hee hee hee, hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee.”
But her true essence was not one of common combat strength.
This created demon could control people with wicked temptation.
So how could Aleister be certain she would not target Aleister herself with that?
The demon, with her alluring body contained in a shoulderless dress of discolored English newspapers and silver duct tape, brought her spread arms together right in front of her. When she did, the entire scenery grew distorted, like it was caught in a vortex. An unbelievable number of threads – no, hundreds of millions of miniscule needles – were rotating as they approached. It was like a giant worm bursting from the desert sand to devour a poor human. They enveloped the silver girl in order to forcibly attach to her with countless points.
Evasion and defense were both impossible.
The essence of this demon with rainbow hair was dangerous knowledge. Peering into it without the proper preparation would confuse the human mind and send you down the path to ruin.
“Hee hee, hee.”
The silver girl could not even blink. She could not correct her leaning body and clear drool dripped from the corner of her mouth.
And while she stood there, motionless, the barefoot demon walked toward her in such an obvious way it almost felt unrealistic. The English newspapers forming her slit-covered shoulderless dress produced an unpleasant sound. Would she shatter the silver girl’s mind, or would she use her other pawns to skewer the silver girl’s motionless body over and over? She was a symbol of lies. She was more beautiful than anyone yet she wore a collection of trash. She tilted her head as she slowly approached and chose the silver girl’s fate.
“Ee hee ee hee hee. Hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee.”
Far too suddenly, Aleister’s right hand grabbed the demon’s neck.
This was not just a reflexive action.
The silver girl’s eyes were staring straight at the hole in the forehead of the demon who dangled from her hand.
The demon was not controlling her.
The impossible situation confused the artificial demon, she kicked her translucent legs enough for the thumbtacks to pop off and her dress to tear apart, but Aleister did not bat an eye.
“The evil tree will trip up any amateurs who attempt to use it. At the very least, you should not reach for it before learning the fundamentals of the tree of life. As a surprise attack against those who never intended to view it, the sight alone can provide a powerful shock. Just like a flasher in a trench coat on the streets at night.”
The harshness mixed into the speech may have just been Crowley’s Crowleyness.
“But if you have sufficient training and experience, the evil tree can assist you in acquiring dangerous knowledge. And all that really means is to learn the standard Sephiroth before peering into the inverse Qliphoth.”
“I am the human who understands all of modern Western magic. Did you really think a mere inverse interpretation would cause me to err and destroy myself?”
“Hee hee, ee hee hee hee! Hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee!!!!!!”
A dry sound exploded out.
It was a lot like an inflated balloon popping.
She displayed no hesitation.
The knights collapsed limply to the flat rooftops like marionettes with their strings cut. The Beheading Coins they held so preciously in their hands fell to the ground and transformed into filthy beer bottle caps.
While showing no concern for the demon girl who had been blown away without a trace, Accelerator spat out a comment from atop a rectangular chimney.
“You sure like using your right hand for things.”
“A mere sign of longing. What about you?”
It threw the #1 off balance when she admitted it so readily.
“Humans are such contradictory creatures, aren’t we? The more we belong to the side of evil, the more we long for that right hand. But Imagine Breaker would never choose someone like that.”
“Is that why?”
“Yes. I do not care if you think I’ve gone soft. This is my war.”
Those did not sound like the words of the person behind a simultaneous attack on 53 countries and regions using an army of more than a billion. Your average person would likely give up trying to understand what it meant.
At any rate, this was another line of defense after the triple-quadruple final barrier.
There was no guarantee that Lola (i.e. Coronzon) had only prepared the one artificial demon, but this had definitely weakened their wicked influence.
Just then, the #1 with his modern design cane heard a whispering voice. He looked over and saw the door to an apartment cracked open and a gray-haired old man hesitantly gesturing him inside.
The man was telling him in English to hurry inside because it was dangerous outside, but Accelerator gestured for the man to leave him alone.
Aleister and the #1 easily jumped to the neighboring building’s roof.
“You could have accepted the offer,” said the rare magician. “Have you forgotten? It is true that in Academy City you are the feared #1 and my actions have made yours a bloody life. …But that is only in the artificial boundaries of Academy City. The outside world functions on the natural laws, so no one knows who you are. They will have no problem speaking to you and you should be able to speak to them just as easily.”
“This is not an artificial city. You can create your own identity here. If you reject them, they will reject you, but if you accept them, they will accept you. You seem to think those military clones require Academy City, but is that really true? Setting aside the necessary equipment, wouldn’t it be faster to construct a personal environment outside Academy City where you can do so from the ground up?”
“So what about you?” spat back Accelerator. “They hate Aleister Crowley and will never forgive the invader who is laying waste to England, but they only know the name. Ignoring those crazy people and their magic or whatever, most of the amateurs would never think you could transform into a brat like that. That old man wasn’t just telling me to take shelter. He couldn’t have been more misguided, but he was trying to save you along with me. …Couldn’t you just vanish into the crowd with your baby?”
“…I wouldn’t be able to, no.” The silver girl slowly replied with a plain voice and a smile containing a lethal dose of venom. “Hatred is a spiral. No matter what England is like now, I can never forget how they mistreated me in the past. No matter how perfect my smile, a thorn would remain somewhere. And as that thorn continually pricked them, modern England would eventually grow to hate me. Once the spiral begins, there is no escaping it. The poison has already been poured into the drink, so there is no way of removing it.”
“Is that so?”
“The situation is not that bad for you yet. If you ignore me and the others at the top level of Academy City, that is. You need not stick to Academy City’s ways while in the outside world. It is probably about time you began to consider how you will disembark.”
“Will you continue to hide in the shadows out here, or will you gather your resolve and walk out into the sun? As someone who has been down that path, I have one piece of advice: do not base your decision on what you think best suits you. It is much easier to find happiness if you look to what you want to be and choose the unfamiliar path.”
“This is a secure line. What was it you wanted to discuss?”
“Oh, dear. Is anything truly secure, Sir Mirates?”
“Are you saying you want to speak with me in person? Just so you know, you will not find me even if you search every cathedral in the City.”
“I, Holegres Mirates, am deeply trusted by Queen Elizard and the rest of the Royal Family. If anyone attempts to listen in, we only need to remove their heads as punishment for their betrayal of both the Knights and the Royal Family. Our secrets will not get out.”
“…You haven’t said anything about the Anglicans who specialize in that sort of thing.”
“They are done for. They were doomed from the moment Lola Stuart ‘disappeared’.”
“Are you suggesting you did that?”
“I will leave that to your imagination. The power balance should be clear from the fact that knights are searching the Archbishop’s residence at Lambeth Palace. It is high time you decided whose side you will take.”
“So by crushing the pesky Anglicans and gaining the Royal Family’s trust, the Knights can effectively hold all the power?”
“The Knights of England can. Do not forget about the other three countries. And to deal with them, I must leave the queen feeling a little more indebted to us.”
“…Yes, Queen Elizard only knows of the Mirates family and I doubt she even knows what you look like. Her view of your family is still stuck 200 years in the past.”
“You speak too much.”
“I am very sorry.”
“And I made it that way on purpose. Now, what personnel are available?”
“If they obey your request, some of the former Agnese Force remains in London, so we can use them. They are being gathered at the British Museum.”
“A lot of the Divine Mixtures were destroyed, but we just barely managed to recover two of them. They are being transported by freelance couriers.”
“I do not expect a flawless victory. From the moment Dover fell, we knew the southern land would be devastated. Escaping this unscathed is no longer an option, so we must focus on resurrecting ourselves from the ashes. If England is sacrificed to allow the Royal Family to safely escape to Scotland, the lead-up to that event does not matter. The Royal Family will surely feel deeply indebted to England and its nobles after that.”
“…Are you sure we should do this?”
“Go over Knight Leader’s head, you mean? What happened to the England-Londinium Fortress? We cannot afford to continue losing land thanks to a stuffy man who simply obeys the Royal Family’s orders. I will work myself to the bone as a Knight of England. We will be very busy once I have built up my camp. I will rid us of all unnecessary personnel and he will be the very first one I dismiss.”
“No, not that. Are you sure we should do this to those nuns?”
“Hmph, of course. I am acting with the intent of throwing England into the fires of war and using that very furnace to resurrect it, so they at least need to make themselves useful. You understand, don’t you? I am reorganizing the personnel.”
“So you are indirectly executing those nuns by sending unnecessary personnel into an unwinnable battle?”
“Outsiders who devour our tax money and fill up our land are nothing but dead weight to the United Kingdom. This is the perfect opportunity. This might be a fruitless war, but we can make the best of it by cutting away the fat to optimize ourselves.”
“But I will give them some hope. Even if it is only a way to ensure those girls dive into the furnace all on their own.”
“…Perhaps you could call it karma that no one showed up to stop me.”
That courier was well aware that everything she did tended to backfire. Once, that had even led her to work with Lidvia Lorenzetti to revolutionize the world.
She had long curly blonde hair and she wore a thick coat. Covering her bodylines with artificial mink (the price of which was skyrocketing after Academy City’s sudden shutdown) was not enough to suppress that alluring woman’s sex appeal.
(But there really are still people here. The leaders have already decided to evacuate to Scotland, but London’s normal houses are still full of people. What do they think those shutters will protect them from?)
She did not remove her coat even after entering the building, so she may have changed her mind after actually facing the nuns. The already silent museum was filled with around 250 stern nuns. It would be a certain kind of impressive if someone could run around that solemn art gallery in nothing but body paint. Those nuns might snap at her if they saw the extremely skimpy clothing she wore below her coat. That sense of taboo was palpable. Oriana walked right past the cloakroom while holding a silver duralumin case lined with papyrus.
The ability to intentionally shift people’s gazes was a valuable tool for an underground courier like her, but that was not always a good thing.
Agnese Sanctis opened her mouth while focused more on the case than Oriana herself.
“Is that it?”
“Yes, just as that Holegres knight requested. This is one of the Divine Mixtures. I believe it is Isis-Demeter. This trump card was mistakenly removed from the British Museum, so I had to retrieve and return it. Shall I provide the details of its use right here and now?”
“No. We’re short on time and I want to avoid having to repeat any of it. Come to the Great Court where you can explain it to everyone at once.”
“True.” Oriana breathed a heavy sigh while carrying the duralumin case wrapped in the same linen used for mummies. “It might be cruel to have you explain this to your own companions.”
The Great Court felt crowded and cramped due to the stacks of wooden and cardboard boxes and the nearly 250 nuns gathered there.
When they all focused on Oriana and her artificial mink coat, she softly placed the papyrus-lined duralumin case at her feet. She unwrapped the linen, unlocked it with a key made from a gold and silver alloy, and revealed the delicate artwork within that seemed entirely unrelated to a deadly weapon.
It was made of pure gold and diamond.
Those materials were combined to create a single, life-size rose.
It seemed to draw in the soul of all who viewed it and it looked different from different angles. It was like a Rorschach test with a mysterious allure. Oriana had transported it here, but not even she could quite tell whether it looked more like a rose or a narrowed eye.
“Th-this is it?” Dual-braided Angelene leaned forward while clinging to Lucia’s habit. “This is the capital defense weapon? Since we got it back, um, uh, w-we won’t have to lose anyone, right? Right!?”
Not even Lucia’s chiding could stop the small stooped nun. She was clinging to far more hope than the previous explanation warranted. She was implicitly saying she did not want to die. And Oriana did not think that was a bad thing. No one wanted to start a fight when your fate was known from the beginning. If there was some hope, they would want to grab at it.
But a glasses nun frowned.
“Um, I know Sister Angelene just asked this, but…is this really the trump card Holegres mentioned? Is this really one of the capital defense spiritual items that Archbishop Lola had in reserve???”
“It is pretty to look at, isn’t it?”
Courier Oriana Thomson had decided to take the role no one else wanted.
She considered how she should go about explaining this.
“And you might be able to win. If you use this Divine Mixture properly.”
She started with the conclusion.
Angelene was not the only one who gulped.
“I’m not just talking about buying time in a slightly better way than the worst case scenario. I mean actually fighting and actually winning. You can settle things with the Crowley’s Hazards pushing into London. This would provide you the power to do so.”
They would be grabbing a powerful weapon in order to match an absurd enemy.
From there, it would escalate.
Oriana did not touch on whether or not that would really be a good thing. That sort of argument would be far too empty and heartless for these cornered girls.
“This might seem unthinkable to the pious nuns of a monotheistic faith, but just look at it as something people in a distant world think. …While it is best to understand all truths through the pursuit of a single mythology and faith, that is not always possible. To get an idea of how difficult a path that is, just think of how great a magician has to be before they reach the level we call a Magic God.”
“…When it comes to that, we have no intention of using the tricks and shortcuts known as magic.”
As the 250’s leader, Agnese made a bitter amendment as if to correct a past mistake. Oriana did not bother arguing the point.
“You can understand it to an extent, but you never know what you are missing along the way. When faced with such a gap, people will try to forcibly apply what knowledge they do have. This is especially common when attempting to translate another culture or religion from across the sea or desert.”
The nuns had a variety of reactions.
One listened intently in order to grasp at this hope, one refused to listen because she had already hardened her heart and did not want her heart to be shaken anew, and one was afraid her hand would be brushed aside if she reached for it. They all had their own unique reaction.
Oriana thought for a moment and lightly embraced her alluring body while toying with the artificial mink of her coat.
“For example…yes, the Eastern island nation of Japan has a god known as Dakini-ten. She rides through the world on a fox, is linked to Inari worship, and responds to all people’s prayers. However, she has her origins in India where Dakini is a god with no connection to foxes. There, she is a death god that rides around on a jackal. But because jackals do not exist in Japan, they attempted to understand her by forcibly applying a similar four-legged animal to her. That established a link to the foxes of Inari worship and gave her a unique interpretation as a god who answers prayers rather than predicting death.”
Take the algebra problem of 1 + X = Y and solve for Y. 6 and 9 might look similar, but the answer changes entirely depending on which one you fill in for X.
Monotheistic Agnese sounded dumbfounded.
“I-is that really okay to do…?”
“Not normally, but it can be useful at times. Think of it like activating a light bulb by stabbing electrodes into a fruit in place of a battery.”
The courier in an artificial mink coat continued her explanation while glancing over at aproned Orsola who was jumping up and down like a child to see Isis-Demeter over the crowd (and oblivious to how this made her large chest jiggle).
“Egyptian Mythology has been twisted quite a lot. For example, the Sphinx’s riddles were an invention of Greek biases and preconceptions after crossing the Mediterranean. And when we decipher Egyptian myths today, one important piece of information is the Rosetta Stone which is written in Egyptian hieroglyphics, standard Egyptian writing, and Greek. So all of the Egyptian culture deciphered using that as a starting point is no more than an interpretation seen through Greek eyes.”
Oriana slowly restated the name of the trump card: Isis-Demeter.
No, that was not all.
“Ra-Zeus, Osiris-Hades, Tefnut-Artemis, Wadjet-Leto… Just hearing the names was not enough to understand what does what, so they gave the Egyptian gods the names of Greek gods with similar roles – king of the gods, ruler of the underworld, etc. – to try to understand them that way. Of course, once the sightseeing Greeks returned home and explained everything, it all transformed into monsters nothing like the original stories. That tendency may have stuck around, because when Pliny released his Natural History during the Roman era, things like the phoenix are introduced as real animals and plants.”
For Agnese, Agata, and the others, that kind of twist was not what they cared about. They just wanted an option other than simply buying time. They just wanted to repel the Crowley’s Hazards from England…no, from London. Their top priority was acquiring the power to fight, even if it was like swapping out a newspaper delivery scooter’s engine for a rocket engine.
Small Angelene spoke up while hiding behind tall Lucia.
“We heard they were only being overpowered because they were not being used properly…”
“Exactly. That Holegres knight must have been in a hurry. Or maybe it was done by others who were too afraid of him to report their mistake. It seems these things are not all that powerful when merely connected to a ley line. Simply put, all the other ones were more or less wasted.”
Courier Oriana breathed a heavy sigh and paused for a moment.
She was a part of the underworld, but even she was hesitant to state this.
“However, there is risk involved.”
She knew all too well that explaining this would not stop them.
If they did nothing, the best they could hope for was to throw away their lives simply to buy some time. And the odds were good they would fail to accomplish even that. They would seek the power to fight no matter what kind of risk it brought.
“The most obvious one would be the Ra-Zeus combo. In Egyptian culture, the gods and the pharaoh were strongly linked. The human pharaoh was a child of Ra, so all the people were required to obey. Of course, that also meant the pharaoh was expected to solve things like crop failures and droughts.”
In her artificial mink, Oriana seemed to be putting off saying something.
“So based on Holegres’s recalculations, even though these are powerful spiritual items, they are not meant to be connected to a city or the land in order to absorb vast amounts of power. To repeat, the gods and the pharaoh were linked. Before worrying about energy, these Divine Mixtures desire people.”
Was it dawning on them what she meant?
This risk was a complete change in the rules. They were no longer talking about their lives.
Aleister Crowley likely would not have cared if he were in their place. In fact, the magic at the foundation of the Golden cabal had been something like a stage play and the various priests had held ceremonies based on Egyptian Mythology. Furthermore, Leivinia Birdway, Kihara Kagun, and Marian Slingeneyer would not have minded either. It might have bothered Magic God Othinus somewhat, but it would not have been an absolute deal breaker.
But these people were different.
The Roman Catholic nuns gathered here were not just any magicians.
“Simply put, the Isis-Demeter Divine Mixture cannot display its true power unless someone offers up their body and fuses with the Egyptian or Greek god. Now, can you do that? When you have already dedicated yourselves to the absolute Christian god?”
That was it.
For Agnese, Lucia, and the others, hearing that condition felt like having a rusty stake driven through their heart.
The Beheading Coin could disperse their pain and fear for a few seconds, but not even squeezing that could distract them from this.
This was even greater than the fear of death.
“From here on…I will leave the interpretation up to you.” Oriana Thomson let out a gentle breath. “But if I was to give you advice from a freelance position, I would say that a few exceptions have been seen in the past. For example, the word Maria Kannon was created when the people in the Amakusa region of Japan hid holy images within the many Buddhist images to escape the shogunate’s harsh persecution. The stories of Saint Vitus are theorized to have incorporated stories of an old Slavic god. The world you know is not necessarily all there is to Christianity. Incorporating different cultures and civilizations does not always decrease its purity.”
If they drew a line in the sand.
If they did not lose their core.
But it was still not a choice everyone could view that easily. Because what if it did not work? What if it turned out they had abandoned the faith they had followed their entire life? It was not someone else’s criticism they feared. Could they accept themselves if that happened? Forcibly-developed arguments were the same as a handmade hazmat suit. Could you really trust something you had made by cutting apart a thick plastic sheet with scissors and then taped together? It would be patched-together and falling apart and who could say when the invisible germs or poison gas would get in.
Why had it been the former Catholics who were summoned to the British Museum?
Would outsiders like the former Agnese Force really be made the cornerstone of the capital’s defense?
If anyone could not imagine why Holegres Mirates, the knight in charge of defending London, had made that choice, they were either very pure or very stupid. It was the same reason the Amakusas and former Catholics had been sent to the most dangerous battlefield at Dover. It was unclear where in the chain of command the decision had been made, but these girls had been chosen as convenient sacrificial pawns.
But after being cornered here, they had nowhere else to go.
And knowing that…
(If someone reaches for this, it will break their psychological pillar and their group will fall apart.)
Oriana very nearly clicked her tongue.
She had been suspicious of the meaning to this job, but now she was certain of it.
(But if none of them reaches for it, they will be accused of refusing to cooperate during a national crisis. Either way, they cannot stay here. No one knows why this war happened, but I suppose someone thought they could use it. You’re an awfully small person, Holegres. You’re no more than a stereotypical racist who wants to build up a nation of your own kind while excluding others.)
A low tremor reached them. Was it the Crowley’s Hazards, or had the England side done something to fight back? Either way, it only applied more pressure to the nuns’ hearts.
The conditions had not changed. Whether they would fall for Holegres’s trap or try to escape it, the time for war with the Crowley’s Hazards was approaching.
Everything would be lost at this rate.
Both the people and the things that the nuns had worked so hard to gather here.
Kanzaki Kaori and Sherry Cromwell lived in the same dorm as them, but those two had been given different orders for some reason and were not here. These nuns may have questioned that somewhere in their minds, but they must not have been certain enough to just reject everything.
(Once again, everything I do backfires, dammit.)
Even when Oriana succeeded, she ended up hurting people she did not want to hurt. Her job and her life felt so worthless, so she cursed in her heart like usual.
The silence was painful.
It was only broken by the words of Oriana Thomson in her luxurious artificial mink coat.
“Of course, there is another option: leave it be. Give up on the Isis-Demeter Divine Mixture and rely on some other method. Although if I’m being honest, that isn’t very realistic and you might earn a lot of criticism if you reject a weapon capable of defeating the enemy. But you do have the option of turning away and fleeing this country. Wasn’t England no more than a temporary home? So you don’t need to defend it with your lives.”
Courier Oriana had placed the weights on the scale and given them the freedom to choose the other option, but she already knew the answer. She did not know their individual situations, but those 250 nuns would not flee. They took their lives far too seriously for that. What would Oriana have done if she had been abandoned by the Roman Catholic Church and seen as an enemy by their 2 billion followers? Giving up one’s position as a nun and blending into the background as a freelance worker – a complete nobody – would be much safer. But these girls had not done that. Even with one-third of the world’s population as an enemy, they had not abandoned their positions as “Roman Catholic nuns”.
Agnese, Lucia, Angelene, Orsola, Agata, and all the others.
They would not give up on their lives as nuns or on England which had accepted them as a second home.
One of those 250 would reach for it.
They would do so whether or not they had noticed Holegres Mirates’s trap.
With the straightforward lives they had lived, they could not run away from the debt they felt to England.
The spiky-haired high school boy who had saved them may not have intended to bind them like this, but they had become entangled nonetheless.
And they were caught so tightly that an unseen knight had decided to take advantage of it.
Oriana herself had once pursued a justice seen only from one side so she could use it as an absolute measuring stick. She had made an enemy of Academy City in that pursuit. As long as she drew a clear line between good and evil, she had thought she could avoid the tragedies brought by differences of interpretation.
But how well did that actually work?
Justice forced upon someone by another left no room for complaint. If all who protested were declared evil and forced to sacrifice themselves, was there any good left in that system?
What about Kamijou Touma?
That boy existed on a different level of the same predefined good and evil yet he appeared to be following some kind of straight line. It may have been that former part of Oriana that he had attacked.
(…What a pain.)
Oriana Thomson sighed so the others would not notice.
There was actually a third option here.
The Isis-Demeter Divine Mixture sought a human. But that human did not have to be one of the Catholic nuns.
It could just as easily be a freelance magician. If that underground courier reached for it herself, none of those girls would have to worry about tainting their soul or losing their faith.
(I had a feeling this would end badly once I noticed the true meaning of the job, but…sigh. It always backfires. This goes well beyond a courier’s job. If you’re up against a railway gun, sending in a flimsy spy plane armed with a peashooter is nothing more than a category error. I need to make sure I don’t go too far and lose sight of when to pull back. Otherwise, I could easily lose my life.)
It was about time to step forward.
It was time to change her destiny and her role.
And they had their answer.
A slender feminine arm slowly reached toward the golden rose of Isis-Demeter.
A bursting sound echoed through the London night.
As soon as that Divine Mixture was dragged out from below the scooter’s seat, Kamijou Touma used his right hand to destroy the detailed vulture decoration made of pure gold and diamond.
“Wah!?” screamed the straitlaced and stuffy female knight.
Leivinia Birdway rubbed her temple with her index finger.
“That was a British treasure.”
“Shut up. I don’t care about that Sir Mirates bastard.”
He gave no excuse.
But the issue was complicated by the exasperated but happy look in Leivinia’s eyes even though she had supposedly agreed with Holegres’s reasoning and retrieved the Divine Mixture so it could protect England by sacrificing someone. Of course, pointing it out would end badly, so he had to be careful.
“I can’t believe what I did,” said Leivinia. “I was just so frustrated that those Crowley’s Hazards were dragging down the image of the Golden cabal. But now I feel like I’m back to my usual self.”
“A-are you sure this is a good thing? I will admit that Sir Mirates’s capital defense plan is lacking in compassion, but still…”
“Hmph. What’s done is done, so quit complaining about it, Miss Knight.”
“Yes, but why do you look so happy about it?”
Leivinia silently grabbed the female knight’s collar and dragged her around back. An odd scream of “Wait, no! Not through the gaps in my armor! Use leverage there and it will break! Gwaaahhh!!!???” rang through London’s Egyptian night. I would point out what exactly she was doing, but there is no explaining that. Saying it would end badly means it would end badly. You just had to be careful.
The female knight returned with a dejected slump of her shoulders (and with her silver armor and surcoat somewhat out of place). Lessar grew a bit pale upon seeing her, but she still spoke up.
“…I’m impressed you can do that to an elite knight. She probably draws out all sorts of power by writing out an angel’s name with stars or numbers and she probably includes the traces of some nasty ritual in everything she does, down to the way she says good morning.”
“No, I’m just a standard Type 25 Commander.”
“Heh. Eh heh heh. So you’ve already broken down the essence of such things and systemized it???”
Kamijou was curious about a lot of what they were saying, but something else took precedence.
He stared into the distance.
“You said you weren’t the only couriers, right? Then we have to get to the British Museum… I don’t care about England vs. the Crowley’s Hazards. I can’t believe those people! I didn’t leave them with the Anglican Church so they could be used as parts for some horrific human body weapon!!”
“W-w-w-wait just a second.” Lessar grew flustered and tearful because she felt like he was criticizing her when all she had done was transport the thing she was hired to transport. “Wh-what Sir Mirates is saying isn’t wrong and just because one of the Divine Mixtures reaches the former Agnese Force doesn’t mean any of them will really use it, right? I mean, think of the costs and risks. Plus, it can fuse with anyone. It isn’t over just because the nuns refuse. Some mean-looking magic cabal boss with no faith whatsoever just has to do it instead.”
“…That’s not an option either,” spat out Kamijou.
He patted angry Birdway’s head and apparently failed to notice Othinus puffing out her cheeks on his shoulder.
“So there’s a way to protect everyone you care for. And you can choose to use it or not. …You call that freedom? Are you really free to choose!? Of course not!! It would actually be easier to refuse if you were being bluntly ordered to do it. Yes, yes! There’s no real reason for them to feel so cornered, but the more seriously they take everything, the harder it is to escape these things!! Right!?”
“Touma…” said Index.
“When you’re shown a chance at salvation, it doesn’t end there. It was the same when I challenged Othinus. For example, what if you’re buried alive in a tunnel or cave collapse and someone shares their food with a small child? That settles it, doesn’t it? Then everyone has no choice but to surround that child with food like some kind of offering. You’ll feel bad if you don’t do it. Those are more or less forced acts of good, right? Once things are set in motion, there’s no freedom there. No one will be able to make a logical counterargument. Even if the one child can’t possibly eat that much and even if it just dooms the adults to starve, everyone’s hearts will be swallowed up by the ‘moving story’! Could a single person really carry the weight of being the one person who says they aren’t sharing their food because it doesn’t add up? Of course not! Are you kidding me!?”
That boy had run toward almost certain death countless times.
It had sometimes been based on the schemes of Academy City or the Anglican Church.
But even then, Kamijou Touma had thought for himself and made his own decisions. No matter who was plotting behind the scenes, he had seen someone he wanted to save or an incident he wanted to stop, so he had no regrets about that.
“What is this nonsense about a hopeless wartime atmosphere!? Screw that! I’m not some yes-man who agrees with anything Aleister tells me to do. I don’t care whether England or the Crowley’s Hazards win. The fundamental problem is Lola and Coronzon, so those overly serious nuns don’t have to force themselves to fight! Yet Agnese and the others are being forced into it with no chance to complain! Those Beheading Coins diminish the value of human life, so they were bad enough, but these Divine Mixture things are going to screw with their minds!! How can I let that happen? Holegres Mirates? A systematic capital defense? That bastard won’t even show his face on the battlefield, so I’m definitely not letting him sacrifice the people left in his care!!”
It seemed similar, but it was completely different.
Agnese’s group was essentially surrounded by a thick invisible wall that was gradually crushing them. There was no room for freedom of choice there.
“Argh, what’s with this thing? The engine won’t start. I’ve never ridden a moped before, but I want to get to the British Museum ASAP!!”
“Huh? It was running just fine before,” said Lessar. “Maybe it’s the silver sand. It might’ve gotten inside and fried something.”
“Also, visibility is poor, the accumulated sand will make the roads slippery, and there are a lot of obstacles with the Egyptification and rubble from the battle,” said Birdway. “You would probably crash even in a bicycle.”
“Human, how about reading the signs instead of running off randomly? The British Museum is the other way.”
Kamijou Touma groaned as he listened to Othinus’s warning and obediently made a U-turn.
“This is not going to end well…”
It was like a prophecy.
“Showing them that blinding form of salvation will only fill them with guilt even if you tell them it doesn’t have to be them. There is no way this will end well!”
Aleister Crowley stood on the roof of an old apartment.
After blowing away the demon girl named Qliphah Puzzle 545, she shifted gears by raising her hands and stretching her back.
“Now, onto Westminster Abbey. Pretending to be an educator is fine, but I have been talking far too much. My throat is a bit sore.”
“Are you sure this’ll be that easy?” Accelerator interrupted while continuing to “observe”. “You say you’ve gotten rid of the evil guidance by that hopeless wartime atmosphere and those Beheading Coins. You claim that will cause a lull in the battle. But I’m not so sure. You talk big for the person who spread the chaos in the first place. And the contrary way you talk makes it sound more like what you hate is the oppression of goodness and justice.”
“The evil was destroyed, but is that cause for celebration? You’ve had your head held down by goodness and justice for so long, so surely you know those things are strongest when the pendulum swings back.”
A slender feminine hand grabbed the Isis-Demeter Divine Mixture.
Oriana Thomson, the freelance courier, gulped.
She was surprised, but not because she had grabbed it herself. No, another hand had reached out just before she did.
Agnese Sanctis was the leader of the nuns gathered in the British Museum, but she too had her eyes widened in shock. No, that was not quite accurate. She only led the 250 nuns of the former Agnese Force. There was one nun who was from the Roman Catholic Church but had not been part of the Agnese Force.
Why was this happening?
Why had she chosen to push herself to the very limit where one wrong step would mean abandoning the faith she had kept for so long?
She looked no different from normal.
She gave a graceful smile as she explained her choice.
“Because unlike all of you, I don’t have the power to fight directly.”
There was no hint of a shadow on her face.
She was probably facing her true desires more than anyone else.
And that was why Orsola Aquinas did not hesitate.
“I’m not even given a spot on your list, but this way I can do something for all of you. I’m normally no use at all, but now I can protect you and your lives.”
Something was being distorted. Distorted, distorted, distorted.
Something that should have been untouchable.
“This is a good deed, so why would I need to think twice?”
Only here, by seeing this decision from an outside perspective, did Agnese, Agata, and the others face the fundamental distortion. No one had said that. There was nothing forcing them to do this. And yet it ensnared people, starting with the most earnest. They would come face to face with a sin no one had criticized them for, be crushed by their weakness, and drift toward a more obvious but mistaken form of justice and self-sacrifice.
Everyone wanted to live a cool life.
Everyone wanted to be on the side that produced moving and emotional stories.
Even if that was not like them, even if they did not fit in there, and even if they were not up to the task.
“Tah dah! Everyone, I’ve brought a late-night snack.”
How much had that kind young woman suppressed her own feelings to preserve her usual smile and tone of voice? When faced with that tense stench of death, Agnese had been unable to bring in food with a smile. Orsola had been able to, but that did not mean it had been easy.
It may have been a great shock to her.
Something may have begun to stain her soul.
The majority rule did not matter.
The era and atmosphere were not the point.
Agnese saw killing as inevitable and Orsola wanted to protect their peaceful life. If asked which one was right, the answer should obviously have been Orsola Aquinas who argued for peace and tranquility.
“That’s…right. A silent night might be nice.”
But Orsola Aquinas was a smart person.
It was insulting to suggest she had not noticed something off about Agnese’s unnatural smile while discussing the future.
And that kind young woman did so much to look after the dorm residents’ health, so how could she not have felt something upon seeing Agnese and the others approaching death and destruction?
Could she do nothing and stay silent as it happened?
Would that kind, kind person have never once bit her lip while watching those nuns heading to their deaths while smiling at her and telling her alone to escape and survive? How much had she worried, agonized, and writhed about while Agnese and the others were out front? Wouldn’t she have thought about it at least a little!?
For humans to intentionally hurt or kill another human – or any form of life – they required a certain amount of “strength”. There were a lot of people who would not crush a roach below their slipper even if they found it in their room. The same applied to the Crowley’s Hazards, no matter how repulsive those invaders were. To get people to overcome the fear of death and take someone else’s life, the most important thing was to remove that mental barrier via hostility education and repetitive training.
Orsola Aquinas would never be able to do it.
At the very least, not in a battle in which she went on the attack to destroy the enemy.
That nun had already disliked fighting. She had preferred to let others punch or kick her if the alternative was hitting them. But couldn’t people be swept away like this? When people she cared for were being hurt and her second home was being destroyed, wouldn’t she direct some thorny feelings at herself for being unable to pick up a weapon?
And what if it was a fight to protect?
What if she had to grab a weapon and stand up to the enemy or else she would lose her home and everyone she cared for?
The big picture was irrelevant to Orsola Aquinas. It did not matter why Lola Stuart had suddenly gone missing. It did not matter why the Crowley’s Hazards had attacked as if in response to that. It did not matter that they finally had a concrete counterattack plan after the higher ups chose to withdraw to Scotland.
She simply wanted to protect her everyday life.
She wanted to save that women’s dorm and everyone who lived there.
That was really and truly all it was.
This reality made Agnese want to cover her eyes.
It had all backfired.
(Ahh! Ahhhh!! Her? Sister Orsola? This has to be a joke. And to save us…!?)
Then, something inside Agnese Sanctis told her to slam on the brakes. This did not come from the majority of her mind that was filled with regret. No, this was a warning signal from the part of her that was a cold fighting machine. It told her not to let this happen. It told her not to be dragged along with it, start crying, and say “me too, me too”. Do that and she could not hold onto anything.
She had to set her emotions aside.
She had to face the truth.
Something was not right.
The warning bell only grew louder in Agnese’s mind. She clenched her hand and felt something bending there. She held the Beheading Coin there. But no. It was now only a completely ordinary beer bottle cap.
Orsola Aquinas had made her decision. She had grabbed a deadly weapon, as if the water tension of an overfilled cup had burst and the water had spilled out.
But, but, but.
Where had this wobble come from?
What had caused the scales of good and evil to tilt ever so slightly?
“No…” said Agnese Sanctis.
This was not her decision.
Orsola Aquinas would squeeze the cross at her chest before doing anything and she would always say a prayer before eating, so would she really seek this easy power?
There had to be more to it. She would not throw it away this easily!!
It did not matter that Orsola was technically not part of their group. Everyone there had a deep connection with her and saw her as an indispensable person.
But Agnese’s feelings were powerless.
She was not Kamijou Touma with Imagine Breaker, she was not Index with more than 103,000 grimoires, and she was not Aleister Crowley who had created all of modern Western magic.
Shouting could not overturn a decision already made.
A bright light burst from a certain nun.
And one of England’s crucial pillars – a definite portion of their conscience – broke.
Between the Lines 3
Kinuhata Saiai, a girl in a short knit dress, looked up at a thick wall.
Academy City had shut down.
She stood outside that confining wall, but it did not feel real.
“Hey, Kinuhata. Isn’t it about time we found somewhere to spend the night?”
She turned around when someone called out to her.
It was Mugino Shizuri. It was unclear how much longer the title of Academy City’s #4 would mean much of anything. Kinuhata put her hands on her slender hips and spoke with some emotion in her voice.
“Man, looking at things now…our numbers are super dwindling.”
Frenda Seivelun, Hamazura Shiage, and Takitsubo Rikou.
Everyone else who had fit in the category of Item had gone. It was now only Kinuhata Saiai and Mugino Shizuri.
“This is how it is once it’s over. Even Fremea has left.”
“Well, at least there isn’t much risk of Level 0s being targeted by industrial spies. And I doubt word of Yakumi Hisako’s Agitate Halation Project made it outside the city. Really, she might be super safer than when she was in Academy City.”
In fact, Kinuhata and Mugino had earned enough personal grudges that Fremea would have a greater risk of being hit by a stray bullet if she stayed with them.
“Where should we go tonight? A karaoke box?”
“No, the soundproofing at those places is actually pretty bad.”
“Super how about a manga café or internet café?”
“You just want to eat junk food, don’t you?”
“If I leave it to you and your refined tastes, we’ll probably end up at the top floor of a resort hotel. I get super sick of those places almost immediately. Think about why burgers and gyudon are perennial standards. Humans prefer something on the cheaper side.”
“Also, will you be okay with your body maintenance?”
Kinuhata was not talking about beauty treatments and skincare. She meant the artificial things like Mugino’s prosthetic eye, prosthetic hand, and the foundation covering her burn scars.
Mugino Shizuri lightly moved fingertips that were indistinguishable from biological ones.
“These will probably last longer than a normal body.”
“Is that so?”
Kinuhata and Mugino were not really considering an escape from the country. Japan was an island nation. Whether by ship or plane, leaving the country required riding some kind of vehicle. They knew they were the target of grudges, so they wanted to avoid carelessly using such things and ending up among some wreckage in the ocean. It would be one thing if they absolutely had to escape the country, but they did not see any reason warranting that kind of risk.
Pretending to flee far away while actually staying close by was a tried-and-true tactic for fugitives.
“Oh, yeah. Super what was this place again?”
Kinuhata Saiai asked that question when she saw a large empty lot.
Mugino did not sound very interested.
“I’m not sure. Weren’t they planning to build some kind of church here?”
Kinuhata placed her index finger on her slender chin, opened and closed the drawers of her memory, and finally found the answer.
“Oh, right, right. Orsola. It was the Church of Orsola. Weren’t they naming it after some nun who spread god’s word to a bunch of different regions?”