Toaru Majutsu no Index:NT Volume21 Chapter 1
Chapter 1: Frenzy – Welcome_to_GD_Paradise!!
It was a December night, but the Westminster Abbey graveyard was not wrapped in a melancholy chill.
There was an explosion and flash of light.
The leader of the Golden cabal wore a witch hat and cloak over a brightly-colored old Scottish military uniform. Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers’s scarf flapped in the night wind and his fire wand, water cup, wind dagger, and earth disc Symbolic Weapons floated around him…but he had not used them to produce some special paranormal phenomenon.
There was a dull sound.
Aleister Crowley, who was now a girl with long silver hair, stabbed a broken piece of a fence into the ground at her feet, broke a buried gas pipe (likely used for the gas lamps which were growing common again because the natural gas was seen as ecological), and allowed the flammable gas to leak out.
The result was a completely ordinary explosion with the definite ability to maim and kill.
The intense heat, light, and shockwave shot toward Mathers and the others like a flash flood. It was too late to realize the wind was being used to accurately manipulate the flow and density of the gas. Their entire silhouettes were enveloped by the explosive flames.
The result was hardly a surprise at this point.
“Is that all?”
He did not sound remotely shocked. The dense wall of flames was blown apart like tearing through wet paper. And Mathers stood at the center of the vortex without a single scorch mark on him.
They had originally wanted to use Mathers’s body to stop Coronzon.
That was no longer an option. In fact, it was entirely possible he was even more powerful than Coronzon and was the true mastermind here.
“What else did you expect from the leader of the Golden?”
“Before I learned of magic, I was a boy with a lot of scientific curiosity,” said Aleister with a laugh.
She did not care if she was being arrogant or insolent. Nor did she care if she had been trembling like a scared child a moment before. Even if it was a bluff or a trick, all that mattered was that she could gather strength in her legs and stand up to face her unforgivable nemesis once more.
She would use her defeat and failure.
So that human would speak down to her opponent. Whether or not she had the power to back it up was irrelevant.
“I simply was not satisfied until I had actually proven the superstitions I ran across. Yes, I do sometimes see it in my dreams to remind me I did some awful things. I mean, there was no real reason to kill the same cat in several different ways at once to see whether or not cats really did have nine lives.”
“This is the same, Mathers, who married a creepy cat. If I see something I cannot explain, then I must experiment and observe. That is how I built up the entire science side and Academy City. Whether or not this one attack works is not the real issue. Both success and failure are gathered into the single pile known as ‘big data’. By the time you notice it, it will be too late. You will be trapped and defenseless.”
Her lovely lips continued with the word “and”.
She would make a comeback. Unlike those magical elites, that human would never be broken no matter how many times she was beaten down.
“What I need is numbers. Keep chatting and the next one will hit you, Mathers.”
A fist flew straight toward the man.
In the brief moment that the contrast between the dark night and the bright flames had confused Mathers’s vision, the spiky-haired high school boy named Kamijou Touma ran straight toward him and aimed his right fist dead center on Mathers’s face.
“Cold and wet. Water, reveal thy nature before me.”
Mathers actively used magic against Imagine Breaker as it approached.
The sound was like shattering glass.
But the magic in the way diverted the fist slightly off path. Much like firing a bullet through a water tank.
Was this thanks to the man’s experience losing his life to a different form of Imagine Breaker in the past?
“Next: hot and dry.”
Kamijou could not make up for the slight delay. Mathers spun to the side and easily dodged the fist as if slipping through the gaps in a crowd. But it did not look like the movement of feet in leather shoes. Kamijou noticed the fire wand frozen in the air behind Mathers. It looked much like a fencing sabre.
“Fire, reveal thy nature before me.”
With the sound of a match being struck, the bottom of the wand flashed orange while pointing toward Kamijou. The boy had yet to finish throwing his fist. Even if it was just a solid wand, he was in trouble if it jabbed into his defenseless throat or eye, so what would it do if it carried magical flames?
He did not have time to imagine the answer.
Academy City’s #1, Accelerator, sent his fist right into Mathers’s cheekbone from the side.
This was their first clean hit.
Many gravestones shattered as Mathers tumbled across the graveyard with his Scottish military uniform, scarf, and cloak trailing after him. The result looked like a small airplane had crashed there. A cloud of dust rose into the air, but Accelerator clicked his tongue before even checking on the result.
The air carried no hint of worried emotion.
Extraordinary magicians were gathered on the roofs and steeples like a murder of crows, but not one of them attempted to intervene.
“What the hell is going on?”
Those words were far removed from scientific or logical.
He sounded like he had run across a strange jinx.
“I tried using my reflection to shred all his blood vessels and nerves. So did I screw it up, or does the human anatomy in my head not apply to him?”
A figure slowly stood up.
He was entirely unscathed. In fact, he did not even crack his neck. Accelerator’s reflection could kill any life form with blood and electricity flowing through it, but Mathers was just fine after taking a direct hit without even trying to dodge. It almost felt like he had let himself be thrown so violently across the ground to play along with their game. Like a sumo wrestler who obediently tumbled over when a small child pressed against them. It had suddenly grown less clear which side was really sounding out the other’s strength.
Whichever side ran out of cards first would be consumed.
Mathers tugged the scarf down from his mouth and smiled as if enjoying that game.
“I’m the son of a bitch who spread Kabbalah across Europe, divided magic between East and West, and used Belzébuth to purge my own people. Science? Academy City? I have no interest in anything so indirect. Novice, have you forgotten the taste of Coronzon? Shall I summon her here again? Fear can never be destroyed. So tremble, quake, and above all, offer me your thanks. The world will literally change when you lay eyes on this fear.”
“Ignore him.” Aleister snapped her fingers. “This is the guy who baselessly claimed to be the Count of Glenstrae, descendant of the highlanders. You needn’t pay any attention to his meaningless dramatics. …And have you forgotten what I said, Mathers? Each individual success and failure is not what matters. It is the big data built from it all that will trap you and leave you defenseless.”
And as if in response to the quiet snap, a sticky noise covered the night sky. No, there was a single word to describe that fat lump of flesh, creature with an unnatural number of arms and legs, giant metal insect, doll made just realistic enough to fall squarely in the uncanny valley, and more.
“The Crowley’s Hazards!?”
“I know I was the one to guide them here, but the thing is, I can’t control them. Keep up the fight, Mathers.”
Kamijou shouted the name, but Mathers did not even remove his gaze from Aleister. He breathed an exasperated sigh and tapped the ground with the bottom of his fire wand.
And the magicians waiting on the roofs and steeples responded swiftly.
Was this really the “swarm” that had pushed the magical United Kingdom to the limit?
The Crowley’s Hazards.
Even that name felt wrong now.
There was no sign of what they had once been.
This was not even a battle. It was unilateral destruction, like weeds being mowed down. The grim reaper wielded a scythe, not a sword or spear. That weapon was used to reap lives without giving them a chance to resist. The overwhelming difference in strength here was reminiscent of that.
Countless tarot cards…through the air to guide the lightning…the tower…tumbling down.
Massive flames…like mad…handheld oil lamp.
A white and black club…to boost the magic of the surrounding…
Tap shoes struck the ground…the sound of…formed a cross from the countless sparks.
A quasi-immortal body was used to…a fistfight where…
A black box opened and closed…random magic that not even…could calculate the…
Kamijou Touma watched it with his own eyes.
He compared it to his memories and tried to make sense of it over and over.
But none of it was any use.
He could not keep up with the scene before him as it pressed in toward him like pure violence.
There was only one thing he could just barely tell: no individual magician stood out in this chaos. Altogether, they created a performance with a strange harmony to it.
This was the world’s greatest magic cabal.
The Golden cabal.
There was no point in arguing who was the most powerful. The general idea of synergy came to mind. Blood, flesh, guts, entrails, and things the identity of which Kamijou preferred not to speculate fell to the ground with the sound of heavy raindrops. He nearly forgot to breathe at the sight of it all, but then Aleister, who should have been the primary target, grabbed his hoodie and tugged him back. She was clearly incredibly confident if she could continue to embody the love of moe she had developed in Japan.
A beam of light very nearly grazed Kamijou and then the tip of a Westminster Abbey steeple was torn away and vaporized. The Crowley’s Hazards’ flesh and guts poured down and a portion of the roof began to collapse.
Hadn’t the Golden cabal been sent here to protect England?
Were they uncontrollable once released?
Or were they the ones who secretly ruled this country from the shadows?
“(This only functions as a smokescreen. We need to make ourselves scarce.)”
“(I never expected those things to win here. Didn’t I explain more than once that I am only gathering data at this stage? Smartphones are fantastic inventions. Thanks to those fools having their fun, I have recorded all of the spells the Golden magicians are so proud of. Safely securing Mathers’s remains is no longer an option, so to be honest, we have no more reason to stay here in this musty old graveyard.)”
“Do you really think I will let you escape?”
A deep voice pierced accurately through all the noise.
A short distance away, Mathers repeated himself just to be sure they had heard.
“Do you really think I will let you escape?”
Aleister responded by snapping her fingers and pointing in a certain direction.
When Kamijou turned in that direction and saw who was there, he shouted to them.
“Accelerator, we’re counting on you!!”
After a single tongue click, an explosive boom erupted. Academy City’s #1 used his vector control to kick off the graveyard ground and that white shadow snatched up Kamijou in his right arm and Aleister in his left.
“Hot and dry.”
Mathers sent an attack soon thereafter.
Just as the fire wand spun around, the surrounding Crowley’s Hazards were burned away and a great serpent of flame swept across the spot Kamijou and the others had stood in a moment before. The stone wall, metal fence, and everything else in the way was blown away. Just like the others, Mathers showed no concern for British property and structures. The Golden leader’s cloak whipped violently in the blast. Still, it was impossible to tell how seriously he was taking this. And after just barely avoiding the attack, Aleister took advantage of the small opening by snapping her fingers in the #1’s arm. More Crowley’s Hazards filled the space between them and Mathers like a thick wall.
Simply leaving Westminster Abbey’s grounds required risking their lives.
“This should be far enough. Preserve your battery as much as possible.”
“Is that any way to talk to him after he saved you?”
It was Kamijou and not Accelerator who snapped back at her. The white monster himself did not bother arguing. He simply asked the most relevant question.
“Was that all of them?”
After tossing the other two onto the silver sand filling a London street, Accelerator leaned on his modern design cane and gestured toward Westminster Abbey with his slender chin.
“If so, they won’t last fifteen minutes.”
“No, I would think not. No matter how hard you try, attempting to use magic to kill those magicians from the Golden cabal’s heyday is a mistake. With each Crowley’s Hazard killed, more of my power should be rising to the surface as the defrag continues, but…that is not enough to deal with Mathers. He can denote any aspect of the world with his complete control of the four most basic elements. Challenging that with the supernatural is as useless as aiming a flashlight at the sun.”
“Is the difference in power really that great?”
“Yes, but there is no need to panic.”
They were being pursued by the full force of the Golden cabal. The silver girl herself had to understand that threat greater than anyone, but she relaxed her shoulders and gave the other two an exasperated look.
When you were accustomed to failure, you knew how to get back on your feet quickly.
It was hard to believe this was the same magician whose entire body, even the eyeballs, had had been trembling in the Westminster Abbey graveyard. That self-control was a strength similar yet different to Kamijou Touma’s.
“You were the ones to suggest I resist magic with science. Since you pushed me forward and encouraged me, I would appreciate it if you stuck with me now. …And you were exactly right. I split apart science and magic and let the world heat up for a century. Now it is time to crush the Golden cabal with Board Chairman Aleister’s unique system.”
Small Othinus lightly kicked Kamijou’s cheek while standing on his shoulder. She was warning him not to let his emotions influence him here.
“(Didn’t Aleister say you didn’t have to stick with her to the end and you could jump off whenever you thought it was time? She’s already changing what she expects of you.)”
Their plans were unknown. And extra caution was required when the infamous Crowley was involved, but did that not really get through to the spiky-haired boy?
Meanwhile, the silver girl gave a wicked smile.
“But whatever we will do, I would like to prepare first. And we are not far from a location much more conducive for science projects and DIY work than a moldy graveyard.”
Kamijou frowned, so Aleister explained with the smile of a mischievous child.
“Travel a bit north of here and we will find the famous Piccadilly Circus. In other words, a largescale shopping center☆”
“Well, you two?” asked Aleister. “Doesn’t that sound like the perfect place to fight back against a swarm of zombies?”
“Cold and dry.”
With the sound of something soft bursting, the earth disc held over Mathers’s head swelled out. No, a porcelain-like material gathered around it like an umbrella.
A moment later, a dark red shower stained every part of the Westminster Abbey graveyard. Needless to say, that was what remained of the Crowley’s Hazards. No matter how many there were, Crowley was still Crowley: no more than a novice within the Golden cabal. They never stood a chance against the group actions of those ultimate magicians who possessed such varied traits and legends.
Not a drop of blood reached the decorative checked cloth which was the pride of Scottish nobility.
“Hot and dry then hot and wet.”
When Mathers pressed his wand against the ground and whispered toward the dark red filth spreading out before him like a deadly marsh, flames rapidly spread out from him and across the entire defiled graveyard. Once the floating dagger spun around him to construct a protective circle, even the ashes were swept away and scattered by a gust of wind. Nothing remained, but that was not worthy of surprise. This was no different than brushing some dust off of his coat.
The many magicians jumped down to the ground.
They were all powerful enough to have defeated the Crowley’s Hazards which had ruled the night earlier, but none of them even cared how many each of them had defeated.
Several of them had participated in a magical ceremony much like a stage play in which they each wore clothing and carried Symbolic Weapons appropriate for their role and used curses and took actions in a specified order.
That was the foundation and the essence of the Golden cabal.
All their results were to be offered up to their leader.
“How was that?”
The man who asked that while kneeling and bowing his head was Edward Berridge. He wore a moss-green military uniform with no camouflage markings and small bags of bandages and disinfectant were attached here and there, so he appeared to be dressed as a medic. Even among the eccentrics of the Golden cabal, he was one of the few faithful servants that Mathers could place his full trust in.
In other words, their leader was not the Great Demon who had been pathetically sealed in a foreign land by that novice. There had only ever been one person to whom they owed their loyalty.
“I never hold back.”
He said little.
There was no need to explain everything here. The others within the Golden cabal would know what he meant. Or rather, the only people who had remained in the cabal were those who could keep up with Westcott, whose excessive caution tended toward paranoia, and Mathers, who had a temper.
In other words, no matter how skilled Aleister Crowley was, he had been unable to stand that group. Not when they claimed sacrifices from the general public were necessary for the development of magic.
“Let us end this quickly, my hounds. You drive them out and I will hunt them down.”
Once they had permission, several figures entirely ignored gravity to jump from rooftop to rooftop. These were not the actions of people who hoped for a fair fight among equals. They moved more like large dogs finally given some food after being denied for far too long.
Still kneeled at his master’s feet, Berridge spoke calmly.
“They may not be the best hounds. They may kill the prey before driving them out before you. Either way, this will be over in less than five minutes.”
He was not bluffing or currying his master’s favor. He truly believed this.
But for some reason, Mathers responded with a slight upward bend of the lips mostly hidden behind his scarf.
“I wouldn’t be so sure.”
The Golden magicians in the Westminster Abbey graveyard were not the only ones affected by that bloody rain.
“What is even happening?”
Those words came from a large man in a baggy shirt and jeans whose shiny black hair was spiky like a stag beetle. His clothes looked like a street-style outfit at first glance, but cross symbols were hidden on it here and there.
His name was Tatemiya Saiji and he served as the vicar of the Amakusa Church.
The Amakusas had initially been deployed to intercept the Crowley’s Hazards at the Dover coast, but when that battle line fell, they had withdrawn to London. They had regrouped there and begun a counterattack with no idea how successful it might actually be.
“Did the Crowley’s Hazards just…disappear?”
Itsuwa tried to make sense of the scene before her while she cautiously raised her collapsible spear and viewed the bizarre mixture of London and Egypt.
It was like that great swarm of monsters had been sucked into a black hole.
Just how many tricks did the Anglican Church have up its sleeve?
“Anyway, we need to check on the situation.”
“The Crowley’s Hazards were concentrated on a point five kilometers north of here. That would put them in the vicinity of St. James’s Park and Westminster Abbey.”
There were too many unknowns to say the threat had passed.
This was no different from knowing some unexploded ordnance was buried underfoot.
Also, St. James’s Park was adjacent to Buckingham Palace.
They did not know what had happened, but that was exactly why they had to go and check. If the Crowley’s Hazards or something even more dangerous were lurking there, it was possible they would be slaughtered without a chance to fight back, but if something dangerous had begun within the capital city of London, they could not just ignore it.
When one side did something, the other side had to as well. That was one truth of the world.
When exposed to the fury of the Crowley’s Hazards, it was entirely possible that the Anglican Church had decided it was time to release something truly shocking. After all, the entire country was on the verge of collapse. They were in no position to only choose the weapons they could safely control.
This was abnormal.
Tatemiya and rest of the Amakusas knew all too well how tough the Crowley’s Hazards were after fighting on the front line. Those things would not simply be defeated in some miracle. Not even using the remnants of the unnatural Egyptian symbols scattered around. They needed more than some extraordinary secret weapon. They needed the kind of experience that a normal person could never achieve.
Then what was this situation?
The Crowley’s Hazards had relentlessly poured into the capital, but now it was like had been sucked into a black hole. They could not just have vanished like that. Not even a miracle could explain it. Only something truly brutal could have produced this result so quickly.
“Let’s go.” Tatemiya Saiji adjusted his grip on his flamberge, a rippling sword that had to measure around two meters long. “We’re going, right? This might mean staring into the abyss, but we can’t just ignore this. We need to understand the situation and then take control if it needs to be stopped. Odds are good the Anglicans are overwhelmed, so we also need to figure out how many normal citizens are still here and make sure not to get them involved in-…”
“Oh? I see no reason to throw out your lives so soon after they were saved.”
A soft voice interrupted from so close he could feel the sweet breath on his ear.
The speaker was already right behind him.
Tatemiya spun around and used the centrifugal force for a horizontal swing of his two-meter-long sword.
He felt a dull sensation.
But he had not hit the woman who had spoken to him. She had taken a step back just as someone else stepped forward. He had not hesitated to take the blade to his neck and protect the woman in a strange form of chivalry.
The level of coordination between the pair was bizarre.
It was creepy enough for Tatemiya to grimace.
Just as Tatemiya heard a dull sound burst out, he saw a flash of light and he was sent flying backwards. Ushibuka and Isahaya somehow managed to support him.
That had been a seal pressed in wax.
Was it a method of conveying one’s willpower derived from letters?
As seen in the seven candles, the dolls of folklore, and many other examples, wax was an extremely common material used in magic.
The woman wore a long dress designed not to stand out much and a monocle with a practical design. She looked a lot like a tutor in an old picture book. The strangest part about her would be the long white and black clubs resting over her shoulders. She looked twenty at the oldest and she spoke to the elderly man who appeared to have lived three times her age.
“These are modern Western magicians. So is this what Crowley produced?”
“Hm, so this is what that heretic wrought.”
But more shocking than any of that was the wet sound coming from the old man.
He was dressed like a doctor in a thick coat. The attack would not normally have traveled all the way from the side of his neck to his face. There should have been a wound on his hand from when he reflexively raised it to protect himself, but even that basic instinct was missing from him. He had to have taken serious damage to his carotid artery and his neck bone, but that old man in a suit held the weapon to his wound with a smile on his face.
“Yes, yes. Not bad at all. That young one built an extremely kind system.”
“Westcott, that really should have killed you.”
“Not at all, Annie. If he had seriously been trying to kill me, I would have been beheaded. Swing a blade this heavy at this speed and my neck bone really shouldn’t have stopped it. He likely reduced the force to make sure he did not kill me. He uses a double-edged sword, so I assume one of the sides has been filed down smooth. Although in this case, it only cruelly lengthened the pain.”
“Whatever you say, Mr. Coroner. Glad to see you would be able to determine your own cause of death.”
Westcott. A coroner. Quasi-immortality.
The name of a certain magic cabal immediately entered Tatemiya’s mind.
Whether that was true or not, these two alone were more than enough of a threat. And if they were part of an organization, how many more were waiting behind them?
“Well, it is true we could ditch these odd jobs if Mathers would just take complete control of that demon already.”
“Are you kidding? If that paranoid man takes control of Coronzon, it would only add to our troubles.”
The more Tatemiya heard from them, the more sweat poured from his body. Of course, the more famous someone was, the easier it was for others to take on their name, but would they put themselves in this kind of danger for it?
“Wh-what do we do, Tatemiya-san!?”
Itsuwa began to raise her collapsible spear, but then she unnaturally stopped.
The monocle woman dressed like an old-fashioned tutor narrowed her eyes somewhat.
She tapped her shoulders with the white and black clubs and commended the girl’s decision.
“Yes, that was a wise choice.” She laughed. “If you had aimed that at me, I might have killed you just now.”
When she heard that, Itsuwa forcibly removed her limiters.
She shattered the chains of fear and stepped in front of Tatemiya. And she jabbed the sharp blade of her spear toward the monocle woman.
Meanwhile, this person claiming to be Annie Horniman did not suddenly punch or kick the girl. Nor did she recite a strange incantation. She simply pressed the tip of the long white and black clubs against the ground and stood them upright.
And she whispered.
“Boost Target: Westcott.”
Everything burst into motion.
Not just Itsuwa’s spear. Many other Amakusas stood around them, so their swords, spears, axes, hammers, staffs, chains, and other weapons rushed in from both sides to protect the girl.
But it only took the one attack.
The object shining at Westcott’s fingertips was some wax kneaded until it was soft.
Was it the wax used to seal secrets within a letter, or was it the wax used to create a cursed doll?
Either way, a flash of light became a physical blow and struck Itsuwa in the center of the gut.
All of their weapons broke and the girl could not even react with her spear.
Itsuwa flew backwards after taking the elderly man’s attack to her gut, but she still managed to see something. The white and black clubs were the pillars of a gate. For just an instant, she saw something wavering behind Annie. It was like a soap bubble taller than she was. And what was that displayed in that ridiculous snow globe? If those clubs were meant to be Jachin and Boaz, then was it Solomon’s Temple?
Unable to get up and with her fingertips convulsing unnaturally, Itsuwa desperately tried to share the inspiration that had struck her. So that as many of them as possible might live.
“It all comes from the Golden ceremonial ground. Those are the white and black pillars – the flags of the east and the west – and the ancient temple based on those symbols. So your magic must be the most magnificent ceremonial ground for an offering. You are the costar and you aren’t interested in individual accomplishments. You amplify someone else’s power.”
“Yes, very well done. The foundation and essence of the Golden cabal is group magic modeled after stage plays. Hee hee. I don’t even care about Mathers’s orders now.”
Annie Horniman was not the only threat.
There was also William Wynn Westcott.
That elderly man was free to move.
After pulling the blade from his neck in a way that would only widen the wound, he tossed the flamberge aside.
The wound was already healing
“Pick it up.”
He pointed down at his feet.
The kind words were belied by an arrogance that seemed to be asking Tatemiya to lick his shoes.
“You would hate to be torn down while unarmed, wouldn’t you? Then pick up the weapon you have entrusted your life to, young one. There is no better medicine for putting your soul to rest.”
“What should we do, Westcott?”
“You can decide that, Annie. I have no interest in putting on a solo performance and I was never any good at it anyway. I doubt I could kill them very well without you tuning me as my costar.”
He made it sound as unremarkable as asking for her help because he had trouble cooking fish.
He was only thinking of the odds. How many people did he face and how many could he get to run away? And how should he take Tatemiya Saiji’s life in order to convince the greatest number of the other Amakusas to run away?
That grim determination was shattered when the magician named Annie covered her mouth and laughed. Strength visibly left her shoulders like air escaping an overinflated balloon.
“You know what? Let’s not bother, Westcott. They’re close, but not quite strong enough. If they had been a little better, they would have been enough of a threat to remove from the main story thread out of self-defense.”
There was no way Tatemiya, Itsuwa, and the others could find solace in those words.
These two were only adlibbing and this was not what they had said just a minute ago.
And that meant these words could be contradicted a minute from now.
“Are you sure? They are using magic with the stench of Aleister Crowley on it.”
“I’ll admit it’s confusing, but most magicians are like that these days. Most of them are complete strangers to that failure of a man, so would attacking them really resonate with him in any way? These clearly aren’t our targets. They’re so boringly obedient. At this level, you can hardly call them experts. So the Boogieman meant for the general public should be enough. If we’re looking for his influence, science and Academy City come first.”
Tatemiya Saiji’s life had been placed on a platter while a conversation was held about his fate.
But there was nothing he could do.
His joints were too messed up for that.
He could not understand this situation, he could not ensure anyone’s safety, and he had had no control over what happened. He doubted anyone had control over these monsters named Annie and Westcott.
Annie spoke a direct but coldly vague word.
It did not matter who was protecting what. The situation seemed to teeter on a seesaw from one minute to the next, so what happened next was in no way guaranteed. It was like carefully digging up landmines using a mine detector only to be told those mines could move around all they wanted below the surface. Everything was riding on the whims of those two, so it felt like getting on their nerves would get you blown away instantly.
“Your skills were disappointing, but I can’t fault you since it was rooted in kindness. And as we are both defenders of England, fighting and taking your lives would be a waste. Stay on the outskirts and let the others know that the threat of the Crowley’s Hazards has passed. That and that alone is the symbol of happiness that you can present to everyone. Hee hee. Yes, just like a four-leafed clover or a goddess of victory.”
His voice was scratchy.
But it still may have taken every last ounce of courage Tatemiya Saiji had to get the words out.
“Who are you?”
“Are you seriously asking that?”
The look on her face made it clear she thought that question was as stupid as asking why the sun rose every single morning.
“He is William Wynn Westcott and I am Annie Elizabeth Fredericka Horniman. If you claim to be part of this field yet don’t know those names, people might start to suspect you are a mole.”
They had given their warning.
So they did not particularly care what happened next.
“Sometimes you really are the worst, you know that?” asked Westcott.
“That still makes me better than you,” replied Annie. “You’re always the worst.”
A quiet tapping sound followed.
Annie Horniman tapped the white and black clubs – Jachin and Boaz – against her shoulders.
It was late at night in London. Despite the mixture of England and Egypt making the city look like another world altogether, they were enjoying an evening stroll together with Westcott in a thick coat and Annie dressed like an old-fashioned tutor.
Their role was to play the Boogieman.
That was a monster or fairy that mothers had invented to warn their children. If a mother found a child carelessly approaching a forbidden area, they would frighten them and warn them away just like those two had. Running across the Boogieman was bad news, but they were useful since they kept the children from attempting dangerous things.
Stay away from rivers and swamps. Be careful around the fireplace or kitchen. Be home before it gets dark. Do not go with strangers.
The warnings would be extremely simple and there was no need to specify what would happen to those who did not heed them.
Monocled Annie held the white club between her cheek and shoulder.
“Curse that Scotland-obsessed man. Is he focused on their fairy culture now? I just know Mathers was the one that decided to have us do this.”
“I think you’re jumping to conclusions this time. The Golden cabal also has that famous poet, remember?
“But we could do this so much more easily with a people clearing field.”
“The entire country is already on edge. Everyone feels the same pressure no matter where they are, so a people clearing field would only send them wandering around forever, Annie. And if we could not predict where they would go, there would always be a risk of them being where we do not want them.”
“I wonder what Coronzon is doing right now. If we could control her, I bet we could knock Mathers down a peg or two.”
“Why needlessly snatch the chestnut from the fire? We can leave that tricky work to someone who specializes in it. Namely, Mathers.”
“One of your few flaws, Annie, is that everything you’re thinking is written right there on your face.”
Historically, there was a reason Annie Horniman applied so much pressure to Westcott and the other Golden members. While she was interested in the occult, the main reason she had chosen to join the newly-established Golden cabal was her friend Mina Mathers. Annie had been wealthy, so she had been a valuable source of funding for the cabal in its early years. That was also why she did not get along with Mathers. Her intention had been to support her friend’s lifestyle, so she loathed that man who ended up spending all the money on magical research and translating grimoires. After all, he had been unemployed and had no connections in “ordinary” society, leaving him unable to support his wife, but for some reason, he had always come to her for money while acting like he was better than her. It was said that love was blind, but why her best friend had married a man like that had been the theme of Annie Horniman’s greatest lifelong research project.
That was why Annie was with Westcott now.
No matter what the circumstances, she could not bring herself to work with Mathers. She preferred being with someone else who saw Mathers as an enemy.
As long as they were less of an eccentric than Mathers, at least.
“When you get down to it, Mathers holds all the cards. Oppose him too strongly and you could easily be ‘eliminated’.”
“I wasn’t suggesting that… I just think it’s unfair that only Mathers and Aleister are allowed the title of ‘uncontrollable monster’. Having a functioning brain is downright exhausting around here. The Golden cabal wouldn’t be what it is without all of us, right? So can’t he share with the rest of us?”
“And how long are you going to resign yourself to the #2 spot, Westcott? He might have more forces, but the opposition party is still the opposition party. Sigh, has nothing changed even after an entire century has passed?”
Arthur Edward Waite was sensible enough but was lacking in skill. Crowley had interesting skill but was even crazier than Mathers.
“Mathers really is treating us like outsiders. I can’t believe he’s using magicians of our level as a Phylakissa to keep people away. That’s 0=0 work!”
“I don’t recall you complaining when we were assigned the job, young lady.”
“Don’t be dumb. Nothing good would come of having a sane person butt heads with that indiscriminate magic freak. I know just how crazy Mathers is, so someone has to keep things in order. Scotland might be a different story, but I doubt he would go easy on anyone here in England.”
“Well, it is true London must remind him of some rather unpleasant memories of life.”
“I can’t stand a man who can’t find a place for himself outside of magic. He’s practically a natural disaster. It’s like if an undertaker went around killing people to ensure he could make a living.”
The nervous people were sure to relax somewhat now that the Crowley’s Hazards were gone.
So the temptation might fall upon them.
Like a fool hoping for some secret knowledge, people were sure to peek out through a gap in the curtains or hesitantly crack open the door to feel the outside air.
That meant this pair’s work was only going to grow.
Warning people one at a time would be far too much effort.
“Hey, Westcott, as a coroner, you know how to open people up, don’t you?”
“I do not appreciate that phrasing.”
“You don’t get to complain when, outside of your job, you cut open bizarre corpses to examine the bodies of those who had signed certain contracts on parchment,” said Annie. “Anyway, this time I’ll be the victim and you can be the villain. You can use a razorblade or a kitchen knife, but isn’t there a perfect killer for an eerie night like tonight?”
“Ha ha. So Jack the Ripper was part of the police, was he!? That explains why he was never identified no matter how many bodies turned up!! …That theory is hardly funny, young lady.”
The silver girl held her smartphone on its side.
She seemed to be reviewing what she had filmed earlier.
“John William Brodie-Innes. The Calvary cross, the equal-armed cross, the pyramid cross, the Maltese cross, and more. They all refer to the joints in a battle formation. So the primary effect must be the gathering, directing, and scattering of power. The more time he is given, the greater the formation he can weave together.”
She muttered under her breath and showed no intention of explaining to Kamijou and Accelerator.
“Robert William Felkin. Those aren’t tarot cards flying around him. Are they a mind immersion spiritual item using tattva? But instead of increasing his own mental state, they may be meant to drag other people’s minds into the bog. And I bet the entire group works together to attack the defenseless physical body once the astral body has been removed. Although if anyone was using an Eastern method, I expected it to be Brodie-Innes.”
These were Golden magicians just like her.
So instead of discovering anything new, Aleister may have been searching for anything that differed from her own understanding.
“Edward Berridge. A magical medicine specialist. I bet they wouldn’t have been so eager to take on the Crowley’s Hazards if they didn’t have him as ‘insurance’. He’s using a reflective tablet which ‘redirects’ the impurities to heal. That does sound like the kind of system he would use.”
At that point, Aleister paused for a moment.
And was that a cynical smile on her face?
“Annie Horniman. Are those white and black clubs supposed to be Jachin and Boaz? She’s using spells to tune and optimize a third party instead of directly attacking. I would like to know how much of Solomon’s Temple she is reproducing with those two pillars. But regardless, I never imagined Annie would follow Mathers’s instructions.”
William Wynn Westcott, Israel Regardie, Netta Fornario. She chopped the long video into small chunks, divided them into multiple folders, and added tags to signify importance. Kamijou could not tell what made her add some to the favorites list and not others, but he kind of felt sorry for the ones who were snubbed. But there had been more than one hundred magicians in all, so this work could not be completed overnight.
Each individual was important, but they were a group.
They were the world’s greatest magic cabal.
Was she perhaps focusing on the ones who were the key to that group movement? That was only possible because she was familiar with the group from her time with it, but she had to be careful lest she end up stabbed in the side by someone she had ignored or by a dark horse. Failing due to some overlooked detail would be a very Aleister thing to do.
Meanwhile, they heard the dull sound of breaking metal.
Piccadilly Circus was lined with famous shops and one of those was a shopping center with a focus on hardware supplies.
The back entrance used a solid metal door, but the remnants of the Egyptification came in handy. There were plenty of stones and blunt objects lying around. They threw a rope over the top of a streetlight, attached it to the front and back of a golden sarcophagus containing who-knows-who, and tied a shorter rope to the center so it could dangle down as a handle.
Then they just had to ring the bell.
It was a lot like a Shinto temple bell.
By holding the rope in both hands and leaning backwards, the sarcophagus swung back like a swing. And just like revolting peasants lifting up a log to break through a castle’s gate, the feet of the sarcophagus broke through the thick metal door with a powerful dropkick.
Kamijou Touma the Burglar was very troubled that this had worked.
“Okay, I’m getting more and more worried about my future!”
“You’re just barely safe as long as you don’t start to think of these things as a special talent. Try to return to normal society, human.”
Since Othinus was a god of war and deception, she did not seem to think much of the destruction occurring before her eyes. But if she accepted anything and everything, he felt like he would gradually drift in the wrong direction, so his teenage heart actually wanted her to scold him a little. Who would have thought the day would come when he longed for Index’s behavior that had done such severe damage to his adolescent scalp.
When the door was mercilessly smashed through, an alarm began to sound, but none of them seemed to care. It was obviously just an automatic thing and no human guards would be showing up in this situation. Still, it was distracting, so silver-haired Aleis-tan grabbed a metal ruler bent at a right angle and smashed the alarm console on the wall to silence it.
“We should knock over some shelves to create a barricade, but as you can see, you shouldn’t expect it to accomplish much. If they wanted to, they could blow through the walls or ceiling to get in.”
“Then what’s the point of fortifying ourselves here!? You stupid dick!!”
“The shock seems to have temporarily dragged your vocabulary back to the early elementary level, but not to worry. We are not here for defense.”
Crude names did not seem to have much of an effect on this lover of dirty jokes. Some kind of specialized tactics would be necessary for her rotten heart, like how casting healing magic would do damage to rotten zombies.
“I will not rely on magic.”
She knew their opponents well.
Yet the bloodthirsty board chairman spoke with a gruesome smile on her face.
“I am here to prepare what I need to hunt down old-fashioned Mathers.”
“What a joke,” spat out Accelerator. “What can you do with some junk at a hardware store? A chainsaw and nail gun aren’t gonna do much against them.”
The #1 reached toward his skinny neck and touched the choker. He had stuck with them just because, but now he was implying it would be a lot faster if he dealt with the enemy on his own.
Aleister responded with an exasperated sigh at her short-tempered student.
“Preserve your battery.”
“You look starved for an explanation, child. I apologize if I ruined the illusion that adults can do anything, but we unfortunately are too short on time to hold a special lesson to clear up some brat’s questions. We are busy, so your bottle can wait. Although I will explain what I can while we work.”
Despite not actually having permission, the silver girl threw open the door to the main shopping area and grabbed the handle of a shopping cart. That much looked a lot like a young wife out shopping for dinner ingredients, but all the lights were out and the humming girl was headed toward a section full of dangerous-looking tools.
“To answer your question, normal weapons would indeed be useless. But that just means we have to scale up. Airplanes, tanks, barbed wire, mortars, etc. Quite a few tools of death reached the limelight during World War I and so many people died that even the winners wanted to kill themselves out of guilt. And I saw it firsthand to make sure my prophecy had been accurate, so you can trust me on that. But do you know what weapons the soldiers feared most and were quickly banned by war treaties because of the gruesome way in which they killed?”
Othinus and Accelerator gave a “hmph” of acknowledgement.
Kamijou was apparently the only one who did not know the answer to this quiz. Although it was unclear whether it was healthier to know the answer or to not know.
Whatever the case, Aleister readily gave the answer while selecting a welding torch and a thick gas tank.
“It was the poison gas weapons. The most well-known is mustard gas, but if we don’t aim that high, we can easily produce a certain gas right here. For example, the first one used in World War I was chlorine gas and it can be made by mixing together some ordinary detergents. And it too is a true weapon of war.”
“Now, the weapon known as the demon of World War II was the napalm used for carpet bombing, but that too can be easily created by mixing some additives into gasoline. Also, the self-forging warheads used in modern tank warfare are destructive enough to break through composite armor, but that was really just taking something accidentally discovered when a housewife was caught in an oven accident and putting it to military use. It has long been said that it is not the technology that kills people, but that is all the more evident when you see how thin the line between military and civilian is. Do I need to go on and explain the connection between soccer balls and radomes or between stealth fighter canopies and a microwave oven’s protective door?”
“Enough talk. You’re giving endless examples because you feel the need to sound more convincing. In other words, you’re worried this isn’t enough.”
That quick rebuttal came from the #1.
He was not the type to sugarcoat things.
“Did they really look like people who would die from ordinary weapons found in military history? I seriously doubt running them over with a tank would be the end of the story.”
“Hah hah hah. Oh, don’t worry about that. You can count on me when it comes to handmade weapons. Just so you know, I was once an agent for the British intelligence agency MI5. Blam, blam☆”
“Wait, what!?” shouted Kamijou.
He could not quite remember if the number was 5 or 6, but he was reminded of that handsome spy who traveled the world in a black tuxedo.
“I was constantly disappearing and appearing elsewhere thanks to my lifestyle, so some magical researchers take that idea pretty seriously. They say I did so many bizarre things and shocked all the newspapers to either manipulate information or send a sign to my enemies or allies. Now, I’ll leave the truth of the matter to your imagination.” The silver girl giggled. “Anyway, the impact of new weapons can vary. These might be legendary magicians, but they aren’t the residents of some convenient alternate world. Showing them a borrowed gun or bomb isn’t going to freak them out.”
Aleister winked as she threw more and more “materials” into her shopping cart: thick metal pipes, the rubber tubes used to connect a gas stove to the gas line, a drill, a circular saw, an air compressor, etc. She seemed to have regained her confidence by now.
“But that just means we have to show them something beyond modern warfare. And SF weapons are my specialty. Have you forgotten? I’m the board chairman in control of the very Academy City that created espers like you. Even without the Bank, I can build some next-generation weapons even more brutal than magic.”
Think of an athletic festival or cultural festival.
When people were moving about to prepare for something, it created a lot of hustle and bustle.
And that of course meant people could not keep their eyes on every little thing. There would be blind spots.
“Come out, Qliphah Puzzle 545.”
While Aleister and Kamijou Touma were slicing apart pipes with a saw and drilling holes in them, Accelerator hid himself in the vending machine corner of the dark shopping center. And something rose up in front of him.
It was a collection of snack wrappers, empty cans, paper packages, and other trash that should have been divided into the different trash cans lined up by the vending machines. When it all gathered together like nails to a magnet, it ultimately had the same volume as a short girl.
And with a quiet popping sound, a translucent silhouette appeared from within.
“Nee hee hee. Nee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee.”
Looking just at the shape, she appeared to be a girl.
But her overall proportions were out of balance. She had too many curves for her short height. Her eyes were naturally quite large and her nose looked artificially well-formed, but most of all, her rainbow-colored hair spread out like a jellyfish, axolotl-colored wings grew from her back, and a thick tentaclish tail covered in suckers extended from the back of her hips.
She was a demon artificially created by Lola (i.e. Coronzon).
Accelerator had taken her in when she was near death after defeat at Aleister Crowley’s hands and she was currently secretly working with the #1.
Qliphah Puzzle 545 wore a “poverty dress” made from faded English newspapers decorated with duct tape and thick pins. Countless English words danced across their surface and lined up to create shocking articles.
The fear of Academy City’s human experiments. Should clone tech be internationally banned? The #1. Manufacturing people from human cells. Ignoring their human rights. The possibility of a new threat. Using them as a new commodity for safe and cheap labor.
“Now, now. What do you need with a demon like me?”
“First, why even bother with that meaningless performance?”
“I’m the type of demon that possesses people. Or rather, incubi and succubi are pretty much the only demons with their own bodies. Anyway, existing without that is really exhausting. So when I appear, I like to have a door to use. Or maybe you would call it something to symbolize the birthing process.”
He had asked, but the #1 clearly did not care about the answer.
“Okay, my first command is to clean up this mess.”
“Ugh. That’s like telling someone to clean up the confetti they threw around for you. Was I born under a star ensuring I would only meet ultra super Ss?”
However, Qliphah Puzzle 545 seemed to be enjoying herself as she got down on all fours to clean up. She also needlessly stuck her little butt out toward him and wagged her tentaclish tail. She was, after all, a being meant to draw out people’s malice and desire. Poses that stimulated people’s sadism may have been her specialty.
The text covering those crinkling newspapers was likely completely different from what Aleister Crowley had seen. It might change depending on who was looking at it.
Materialism, anxiety, greed, lust, ugliness, cruelty, viciousness, rejection, foolishness, and godlessness.
It was all a metaphor for the Qliphoth that pointed to all this world’s vices.
Accelerator could only quietly click his tongue.
…Which meant he still felt somewhat uneasy even after this attempt to reduce the tension.
That demon would speak with a voice as sweet as candy but laugh with the grating voice of an old witch. It may have been a part of her demonic devilishness that set people on edge, like listening to a scratchy record that occasionally let the needle skip.
“Nee hee hee. I would really prefer you didn’t speak my demonic name out loud all that often.”
“Then what do you suggest I do?”
“Do you really have to take that threatening stance? Honestly, I don’t care what you call me as long as it’s obvious you mean me: familiar, agathion, imp, or even partner or honey if you like☆”
“Okay, okay. I forgot you were the type who can’t take a joke. Now, why have you summoned me here? Since you’re so powerful and very nearly unmatched, I doubt you want help fighting.”
“I want to confirm the consistency of some things.”
“I see, I see. Nee hee hee.”
The rainbow girl laughed like an old witch and placed an index finger on her slender chin.
And that symbol of dangerous knowledge spoke.
“I did some research regarding the Golden cabal, so I can tell you Aleister Crowley is not bluffing here. But you already knew that, didn’t you? Instead of focusing on what Crowley said, you compared the reactions of Othinus, who understands magic, and Kamijou Touma, who does not. You looked to see if either of them noticed something off about what was said.”
Accelerator decided she was not an idiot after all.
Aleister had spent many long years plotting inside the Windowless Building, so would he be able to determine the truth of what that human said by looking at her face? The answer was no. She was the one standing in the spotlight, but that was not where he had to focus.
Although as the one holding the demon’s reins, perhaps this display of intelligence was not to be celebrated.
“Mathers and Coronzon, was it? So which one is the big boss here?”
“At the moment I would say Mathers. Looking at the influence they have, anyway.”
“You said Aleister wasn’t bluffing. Even about MI5?”
“Peh heh heh☆ What do you think?”
The demon covered her mouth and laughed.
She too was leaving that to his imagination.
“There are a few things I don’t understand,” said Accelerator.
“Are you asking me to teach you the basics of magic like how to convert and refine your life force into magic power? I’m pretty sure Crowley or Kamijou would notice your absence and come looking before we were done.”
“Not that. Why isn’t she bluffing? Just because we came running when she was in a bind? If that was enough to dull her mind, there’s no way she could’ve kept Academy City running for so long. There must be more to it.”
“Nee hee hee. At the very least, I don’t think it’s for your sake.”
The #1 thought for a moment while leaning against a drink vending machine.
“Does she still have a job for that right hand?”
“Focusing on the efficiency and utility is exactly what I would expect from someone who made a contract with a demon, but it might be simpler than that. You’re thinking of her as the board chairman, but this Aleister has left that position and is free to act.”
Of course, he could not trust what he heard here.
There was no evidence to back up the theory and it was all coming from a demon.
“Come to think of it, with the board chairman stuff and everything, you seem awfully knowledgeable about the science side. How much do you know about Aleister?”
“Only what data was given to me to define my enemy. I, Qliphah Puzzle 545, was set to autonomously activate as a Crowley Killer if Lola Coronzon was no longer in control of the world. Simply put, killing Crowley is the entire reason I exist.”
That reminded him of something.
A military clone known as Misaka Worst had been created to kill him. Or if she failed in that mission, she was to take her own life to induce a mental breakdown in him.
“Pathetic,” he muttered. “Does everyone think alike?”
“I don’t know what you’re thinking of when you say that, but is it that surprising they’re so similar? Crowley, Coronzon, and Mathers originally lived in the same world. It was only later that they scattered into different groups.”
“Then there is more to this,” spat out the #1 monster. “I don’t know if it’s Coronzon or Mathers, but anyone with those same cruel thought patterns wouldn’t be satisfied with a simple attack on the building. Something far more dirty awaits us.”
The Golden cabal was released into the London night.
A girl in a frilly white dress with pink accents flew through the darkness. Her short red hair, white skin, and small build appeared even fluffier than normal thanks to the white flower, veil-like hair decoration, and ballerina-style dress. Without the thick soles of her shoes, she would have been less than 150 centimeters. It was reminiscent of how most animals would try to look threatening by bristling their fur or feathers when faced with danger.
Her name was Dion Fortune and she too was one of the Golden magicians.
She moved legs in bright stocking to dangerously jump from rooftop to rooftop and some others ran alongside her at the same speed. Arthur Edward Waite wore a vest and slacks and looked like a tailor thanks to the slide rule in his belt and measuring tape around his neck. John William Brodie-Innes wore the black robes of a judge. Waite in particular was more skilled than anyone with tarot, so he could not be thrown off the trail no matter where their prey tried to hide.
The specific process was of little importance.
They just had to know that what Waite told them was true.
“Naked Shopping Center at Piccadilly Circus. Would you like someone to watch your back, young lady?”
“And how about I move out ahead of you so you’re protected on both sides? Nothing motivates a British gentleman like a small hand holding onto the hem of his clothes. Hah hah!”
“No thank you,” spat out the small girl without even glancing over at her companions. “The science side? Don’t make me laugh. Only my mistress is allowed to kill me.”
She jumped down from the roof of a five-story building.
The shopping center in question was right there. And while in midair, Fortune reached for the box that always stayed by her side. The black box was made of a smooth material and was about big enough to hold a soccer ball. Normally, the group would work together to construct a single piece of magic, but she added in a pinch of adlibbing.
As her skirt caught the wind and gave a glimpse of her drawers, she tossed in a well-used rose cross medal and closed the lid as if to chew it up.
“Translate, simplify, and create anew!!”
The truth was, Dion Fortune did not know what kind of magic would come out. She claimed to use up old and inefficient traditions to rebuild them as a smarter new spell, but the grimoires she compiled were beyond what the Golden’s defenses could handle and some magicians in the cabal speculated their teachings moved beyond what the original ones had covered. So the magical phenomena that Fortune introduced to the battlefield would bring great chaos to enemy and ally alike.
Only one thing was known for sure: Dion Fortune had consistently found victory using this method.
Since not even Fortune could predict what her magic would do, it had a way of ruining any calculations and plans made in advance. It was much like triggering a volcanic eruption or sudden downpour while two armies were staring each other down. No matter what kind of plans a novice like Crowley built up in that building, they would all be torn down by something shockingly unexpected.
Even now as she jumped down from a building rooftop with her ballerina-like skirt inflated by the wind, she had no guarantee the magic she used would assist her in that.
“Hey, you need some help!? That’s a five-story drop!!”
“I said no thank you.”
Fortune spoke casually while she dropped through the air of that December night.
Ultra-hot flames burst from within the black box. Her short red hair and decorative veil were tossed about. And like a booster, the explosion transformed into thrust and forcibly altered the dress girl’s falling trajectory. She gave a hop, floated for a moment, and then descended safely to the ground along an unstable trajectory.
She had not planned this at all. Any plans would have been meaningless.
It all came down to her luck of the draw.
That was Dion Fortune’s greatest weapon. That was why she created the invisible monster of unpredictability and used it to help her fight. It was just as unfair as someone winning through pure dumb luck against a supercomputer AI taught to play mahjong through repetitive learning that included the traits of individual players. It was such nonsense that not even Arthur Edward Waite’s cards could fully predict what would happen.
The stage play ceremonies were secondary for her. She used adlibbed oddities. So while raising a giant mass of flames like a hammer, she took aim at a window on the shopping center’s second floor.
Did this enemy require working with the others or not?
“Here I go, Crowley!!!!!!”
If this meteor of an attack landed, it might just raze the shopping center and the rest of Piccadilly Circus to the ground.
Yes, if it landed.
What came next was not an artillery shell or a laser beam.
With the explosive sound of space itself being distorted, something slammed into her while she was still airborne.
“Hit confirmed. Charging second shot. Don’t underestimate the illusion known as science I have created.”
Inside the dark shopping center, Aleister aimed something forward while keeping his distance from the window. It looked something like a spiky shield, but each of the spikes was a modified thick pipe. A look on the back of the shield showed thick tubes and hoses packed in tight.
Aleister laughed while surrounded by an air compressor and an acetylene gas tank normally used for welding.
Accelerator breathed an exasperated sigh while leaning on his modern design cane. Only Kamijou Touma responded with the surprise and asked the question that Aleister wanted.
“What? I turned the knobs and kept the hoses from tangling like you asked, but she suddenly fell from the sky!”
“This merely sends flammable gas through the pipes to create a mass of sound.”
Teachers appreciated students who asked lots of questions, so the silver girl answered while using a grip similar to a bicycle’s brakes to open and close the shield-like collection of pipes.
“That said, it’s really just detonating a mixture of acetylene, oxygen, and hydrogen and using the pipes to aim it all in one direction. The speed is probably Mach 9.8. …Now, this is no time to be staring with your mouth agape. The speed of sound is the speed at which it propagates, so what do you think will happen if you force it to go beyond that and reach nearly ten times the usual speed?”
Sound would become a brutally lethal weapon.
The rest was the same as an industrial cutter that sliced through thick steel with water. And mixing artificial diamond dust or other solid impurities would increase its cutting power. Air could produce a similar sort of power.
The cute girl god(!?) insolently crossing her legs on Kamijou’s shoulder spoke up.
“That explains why you were mechanically grinding down those titanium alloy screws. You are a cruel one. You filled the barrels with a special abrasive to increase the damage from the shockwave, didn’t you?”
“I call it the Super Sonic Striker. Tighten it together and it forms a spear.”
Aleister fired the second shot. The dress girl must have realized it was some kind of projectile even if she did not know what exactly it was. She held a hand to her face like she had run nose-first into an invisible wall and she used her flame-spewing box to leap to the side. However…
“Spread it out and the S.S.S. forms a wall.”
The third shot struck the short girl’s entire body. The invisible wall sent her flying in the opposite direction where she slammed back-first into a building’s wall. She was partially embedded in the wall, so the thick wall itself must have taken damage from the blast. And it of course did not end there. The flames vanished from the black box and the frilly dress girl lost her support. With the wind whipping at her skirt and drawers, she helplessly fell more than three stories down to the ground.
“Ah!!” shouted Kamijou.
“You idiot. This isn’t the time for compassion.”
The #1 was unfazed. The one who blatantly clicked their tongue was Aleister who had supposedly just scored the clean hit she had wanted.
“Just like with Mathers. I still need more data.”
That redheaded girl had fallen from quite a height, but she slowly pressed her hands against the ground and lifted herself up on legs wearing bright stockings. There was only asphalt below her, so nothing would have cushioned the fall. And what about the Mach 9.8 mass of sound that had hit her!?
Then came the fourth shot.
When the shockwave spear hit her, the frilly dress girl was slammed into the opposite wall once more. By the time the fifth shot was fired, she held up the black box and something like a translucent umbrella deflected the shockwave spear.
Was she adapting to it?
“Are they preparing to work together? The Golden cabal’s true attack is coming.”
Meanwhile, the high-pitched sound of shattering glass came from overhead. The enemy was the world’s greatest magic cabal and there was no guarantee that one girl was the only one approaching them. There was another attacker. But even if he knew it was a diversion, Kamijou would not be satisfied until he had commented on the strange scene playing out outside the window.
“Hey, she only successfully blocked that last one. Shouldn’t she have taken a lot more damage than this!? O-or is that thanks to her black box too!?”
“I see. The outlines of the problem are gradually coming into view. This odd feeling may be the key to reaching the heart of the issue. The key to learning how exactly Mathers and the others managed to escape that battle alive.”
Aleister must have decided continuing to attack that nightmarish girl would only allow another magician to get behind them because she tossed the entire unit out the window.
And that included the acetylene tank which was extremely useful for metalwork like welding, but could cause an explosion if handled improperly.
Accelerator did not bother relying on his power. He held a hand over just one ear while still leaning on his cane.
A moment later, flames and light on a level never seen in a normal school life reached Kamijou even though he was indoors. But this was not enough to relax. That frilly dress girl with that floating black box was enough of a monster to hop back to her feet after taking repeated hits from a mysterious superweapon, so it seemed doubtful an irregular explosion would be enough to take her out.
Kamijou’s only option was to desperately stay right behind Aleister.
“All magic follows some kind of system. It only appears otherwise because you do not understand all of the formulas hidden behind it.”
“What’s your point?” asked Accelerator.
“It isn’t like her. Dion Fortune only ever uses what she happens to draw from her box, so it is odd for her to rely on a single spell like this. Using quasi-immorality to frighten people was more Westcott’s style.”
She answered, but she had no intention of actually explaining. Not to mention that only Kamijou, who had seen the past in the Windowless Building, would recognize those names.
Without properly answering Accelerator’s question, Aleister laughed in her throat. Even though she had to understand they were the ones on the run here.
“So it’s Dion Fortune, is it!? Ha ha. At this rate, I wouldn’t be surprised to have Regardie coming for us next!”
It was a broken sort of laughter, but then Aleister shoved a hand in her skirt pocket. She had set up next-generation weapons around the shopping center, but to get her from position to position, she had put together a few brutal grenades that used the gel form of gasoline known as napalm or that combined iron oxide and aluminum for high-temperature incendiary rounds. The crazy scale of the Golden cabal was obvious from the fact that these were only meant to act like smoke bombs.
A moment later, Aleister’s head rotated vertically.
No, it had been severed by some kind of sharp blade.
It looked a lot like she had been beheaded by an executioner’s axe.
So who would have believed it had been done with the edge of a single card?
The card depicted a tower being destroyed by lightning from heaven.
It symbolized destruction and shock.
The person who stepped up alongside the decapitated girl was a middle-aged man with a tailor’s long measuring tape around his neck and a slide rule in his belt.
“That was much too easy, so I did not have a chance to introduce myself. I am Arthur Edward Wai-”
“It was tricking you that was much too easy, you fool.”
He was not given a chance for small talk or to gasp in surprise.
A small feminine hand slammed into Arthur Edward Waite’s face. No, the blow was not the point. The hand held a thick plastic bag like those used for IVs. And needless to say, it was shoved right into the man’s mouth.
And that deadly hand belonged to Aleister Crowley.
When the focus of Waite’s eyes shifted slightly, he saw the true silver girl standing before him.
“It’s the same as a Rorschach test. When people are shown an unclear pattern like an uncountable number of stars or grains of sand, they will imagine the outlines they hope to see. Just as people see faces in the milky way or the desert dunes. There is even a theory that people manage to resolve their troubles by staring at a crystal ball because they are actually peering into their own mind by looking at the faint scratches and cloudiness on and in the crystal. That is why fortunetellers leave their mark on the tools of their trade after many long years of use. In other words, the trick to this form of guidance is not to shut off all information; you must provide just a hint of information. Are you even listening?”
Did that magician really have the time to break it all down to understand it?
There was a whitish explosion not quite like a magnesium one.
Once iron oxide and aluminum began to react, they would heat up to a maximum of three thousand degrees Celsius. The simple firepower rivaled Stiyl Magnus’s Innocentius, but it was less continuous and provided less control. Regardless, it could not be fun having such a dramatic chemical reaction occurring inside your own body.
Ultra-hot flames burst from the man’s eyes, mouth, nose, and every other hole. And when Kamijou saw the man transformed into a pillar of fire, he began freaking out.
“Wah! Waahhh!! Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!???”
“Quit scrambling around for a fire extinguisher. We need to get to the next attack point. This is no more than a smokescreen.”
“I will obediently accept even the most unpleasant fact if it is true. Have you forgotten what happened with Mathers and Fortune? If this was enough to kill them, we wouldn’t be in this jam.”
Extraordinary did not even begin to cover it.
While it was difficult to harm Accelerator, the #1 esper, and Aleister, who had mastered magic, they would still suffer like a normal person if they were cut or stabbed. The only other person Kamijou could think of who would not bat an eye at having their entire body destroyed was Othinus as a full Magic God when she had worked to take his life with her crossbow.
And this was not limited to Mathers at the top or Fortune with her black box. It was nothing special for them.
Could they all do this?
Just how monstrous was the Golden cabal?
When they heard the sound of footsteps on metal, the shoulder fairy whispered in the boy’s ear.
“So more trash has arrived, huh? How long do I have to keep preserving my battery, you piece of shit?”
Accelerator made it clear he wanted to kill whoever it was before they were killed.
The sound came from the third or fourth floor. That was where lights were hanging down at even intervals to illuminate the entire shopping center. Think of it like a large warehouse or school gym. This sound came from the complexly intersecting metal framework up there.
Step, step step, step, thud.
Was it some kind of sparks?
Perhaps they had something hard on the soles of their shoes, like with tap shoes.
With each step, a small orange light floated about overhead. They formed crosses. Some had arms of even length, some were twisted, and some were like a combination of four arrowheads. Many different cross symbols filled the night sky like a planetarium.
This was not a hunter who silently pursued his prey. These were the steps of the hound that used his footsteps and breathing to apply pressure and lure the prey out into the line of fire.
There was no real light on him and they could only see a figure dancing in the darkness, but Aleister practically groaned a certain name.
“John William Brodie-Innes.”
He too was a proper Golden magician. So was he one of the truly formidable foes who could single-handedly overturn the modern Western magic that Aleister had spent a century spreading through the world?
But the silver girl saw through it a moment later.
“No, he rushed out here to take over for Waite. He’s only stalling for time. The foundation and essence of the Golden cabal has always been ceremonial magic modeled after a stage play. And the results here are not even being offered up to Mathers. The Lady of the Masquerade Ball. So even after all this, you still devote yourself to her? You certainly are a loyal hound!!”
Hyde Park was located about three kilometers west-southwest of the Naked Shopping Center at Piccadilly Circus.
There was a small island in the Serpentine Lake within the park.
At just two kilometers away, few places were so close to Buckingham Palace.
A woman and two men were there.
Each and every one of the Golden magicians had walked a legendary or mythical path. And with a coroner, a genius author, and others, many of them had been famous outside of the cabal as well. However, a few of them had been famous for their more scandalous side.
For example, William Wynn Westcott and Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers whose strong wills had forced them to split the cabal between the two of them. There was also Aleister Crowley who had widened those cracks until the entire cabal shattered.
When thinking of the most influential member who had helped spread word of the organization, you could not forget about her.
The Lady of the Masquerade Ball.
She was known to have so little sense she boldly attended a non-magical ball while wearing a Symbolic Weapon that was still being developed and should never have been taken out in public. In a way, her wild antics outdid even Crowley’s.
“A distance of 3000 is still dangerous.”
One of the men kneeling at her feet softly spoke to her.
The Lady of the Masquerade Ball reigned supreme in a fancy red party dress that showed off her bodylines and with her beautiful face covered by a smooth mask without eyes or a mouth. The two men knew their place, so they remained kneeling behind her with their heads bowed even as they expressed their concern.
“This is still in the danger zone, so the unexpected could still harm your precious body. I do not know how powerful this science of Crowley’s is, but I do not think the risk is worth taking.”
The masked woman’s only response was to exhale from her nose.
She was not Aleister Crowley. The side effects of magic did not concern her. Even if it fell upon some ignorant person or blew a faithful servant’s body to bits, she would still prioritize her own goals as a magician.
She was served only by those who were not bothered by that stance.
If Mathers and Westcott were the leaders of the main faction, then she was the empress of the secondary faction. That was why she had created a secondary cabal known as The Sphere to which only the chosen of the chosen were invited. It may have been like the elites of a giant empire gathering in one place and putting together a unique set of ideals. Their territory might be small, but their influence could not be taken lightly.
One of the men wore the thick, long-sleeved shirt and comfortable pants of old-fashioned tennis apparel. He held an oil lamp in one hand.
His name was Frederick Leigh Gardner.
“I have a report from our brothers. They say to fire.”
That was all she said.
As soon as she snapped her fingers, their formation moved. The formation was made by the Lady of the Masquerade Ball and her two magician servants, but it was not a triangle.
There was one more spot. A horn was embedded in the small island to form the fourth corner to take the place of a man who wielded a twisted silver rod.
“So Allan never made it, did he? Where did he get off to, anyway?”
Those words held great meaning.
The Lady of the Masquerade Ball.
Charles Rosher, Frederick Leigh Gardner, and Allan Bennett.
Surely you have not forgotten.
Allan Bennett was the only teacher Aleister Crowley ever accepted and his greatest friend. Yet the Lady of the Masquerade Ball only saw him as one of her servants.
He was useful, but not worth growing sentimental over. A pawn was no more than a pawn.
“Let us begin the silly wordplay. We shall toy with numbers and letters, add straight lines and curves, and combine it all into signs and symbols.”
This was somehow different from the Golden incantations that resembled complex formulas.
What left the Lady of the Masquerade Ball’s mouth sounded more like a children’s song. The simple lyrics were a series of sticky terms that seemed to carry gloomy traditions and other aspects of the past.
Just look back at history and you would find what the Lady of the Masquerade Ball had accomplished with her beauty and wide knowledge.
She read the classics and concentrated it down to the level that a certain being was visible to the naked eye.
(This really is no fun without you here, Allan. Everything goes exactly the way I want. These non-rebellious servants provide no variety. They do nothing more than extend the reach of my own individuality.)
“It is time to shake Kochab, the planet protected by Raphael. But do not forget. Though the names may differ, the entire celestial sphere points to a single tree. All elements fall within my grasp and no element found on the surface of the four worlds or to the very ends of this earth can be fully separated. Therefore, only the appropriate knowledge allows one to reach their pure form.”
Simply put, she had fully summoned the spirit of Mercury with a method entirely different to the Golden cabal’s.
“Planetary Spirit Taphthartharath. Leave thy natural revolution and seize upon my planet.”
It had no physical form.
Nothing more than a great power collapsed in upon itself while falling straight toward the shopping center at Piccadilly Circus.
It was all blown to smithereens.
And yet someone somewhere said the following:
“Nee hee hee. Mission accomplished☆”
When it erupted, Kamijou had no idea what he was screaming.
In the instant of the lightning-like strike, a single strange image was burned into his retinas: Accelerator reaching for his choker and Aleister grabbing the #1’s wrist and pulling him to the ground.
As soon as that voice stabbed into his ears from close by, the flow of time suddenly reverted to normal.
Aleister had known Kamijou would do what he was told, so she had instead prioritized the #1 who would take a moment longer to grasp the situation.
Everything exploded and was tossed around. The shelves, the walls, and the ceiling fell apart and were blasted skyward. It was less an explosion and more a frightening vortex of destruction, like a giant tornado had been compressed into a point before unleashing its power all at once.
In that case, the boy did not understand.
Neither Imagine Breaker nor Accelerator had done anything. They were simply lying down and clenching their teeth, but for some strange reason, their flesh and blood was not torn to pieces and they had not died.
“That is the symbol of Mercury. The Planetary Spirit Taphthartharath.”
While lying on top of the #1, the silver girl brushed off some small pieces of the building and provided that name.
“How about explaining in a way that actually explains something?” asked Accelerator.
“But in this case, it is the same as the relationship between salt, sulfur, and mercury in alchemy. Instead of pulling in the actual planet revolving around the sun, certain symbols and signs are given energy in order to control them. You should understand what I mean, Kamijou Touma.”
This was a problem.
Why was it so hard for geniuses to understand that passing the conversation to someone else would only get a blank stare in response?
“It is the same as astrology. Where the stars are actually located in the vast universe is of little importance. We only find meaning in how they line up when viewed from earth. Well, due to your extensive experience with modern Western magic, you may be more familiar with the four elements. But the basic idea remains the same. It can get complicated when you include Enoch, but it would be the element of wind in this case. When you convert from decimal to hexadecimal, the number of stones does not actually change. You are merely viewing the problem from a different angle. Every man and every woman is a star.”
Oh, no, thought Kamijou.
The board chairman assumed he understood, Othinus was not providing an explanation, and the #1 was giving him a look that said, “If you get all this, then I’ll leave it in your hands.”
He got the feeling they would kill him if he said he did not understand.
Aleis-tan was apparently the type who would die of loneliness if left all alone, so she seemed to view him as a formidable enemy and as a good friend who had shared her experiences in the Windowless Building. But when it came to this topic, Kamijou could not play the Showa-era wife who knew what her husband meant when he said “y’know, that thing”.
He had never felt so left behind.
“Simply put, the power being used is the normal energy circulating through the earth. I am sure you have heard of ley lines before. The attack appeared to fall from the sky, but it was actually the opposite. It erupted from the earth and rose toward heaven. Just like a car’s wheel, when the human eye views it at a certain speed, it appears to move in the opposite direction. Or to dumb it down to the point that a kindergartner could understand, they placed a fictional Mercury on the screen of the night sky, removed one element from the energy building up in the earth to destabilize that energy, and launched it toward that fictional point. See how it is all related to the way we see things from earth? Try fighting back normally with Imagine Breaker or Accelerator when you are still affected by that viewpoint issue and it will have the opposite effect. No matter how strongly you view them as an enemy, you will only increase their accuracy and power. It would be as foolish as reaching out to touch the high-voltage line powering a train.”
“R-right, right, right. Yes, exactly. I know just what you mean. That’s exactly what I was about to say!!”
Kamijou Touma was on the verge of tears, but he forced a full-face smile while trembling and spoke with his voice cracking. After all, Accelerator did not seem like the type to take a joke. How was he supposed to say he was clueless when that boy was giving off such shark-like killer intent!?
He had to push through it.
But that was fine! He probably would not die just because he did not bother figuring out what it all meant!!
But the small understander on his shoulder saw right through him and gave some exasperated advice.
She was, after all, the god of deception in addition to magic and war.
“Human, it seems you need a quick overview of why people come to hate math or cooking. When the class is progressing too quickly for them, they will pretend to understand and skip past one page in the thick textbook. And once they do that, they have no hope of understanding anything after that. The only option is to return to where they got stuck. So if you do not confess you are an idiot who understands none of this, your pain will only continue to grow. It is best to bite the bullet while the wound is still shallow.”
“Japan has an interesting folk belief: a liar grows into a thief. …Do as you wish, but I suggest following your ancestors’ advice. I’ll even apologize with you, okay?”
The spiky-haired high school boy decided to return to the basics.
Pretending to be smart had always been a fool’s errand for him.
And he grew teary-eyed when she offered to apologize with him. Anyone who did not cry there could not be human.
“I’m an idiot. I’m sorry, but I’m an idiot. So please tell me!! I doubt this magical knowledge will be useful in any other context, but everything here is so crazy I feel like I’ll be killed in an instant if I don’t learn this, so please teach me! Wait. Oh, no. Am I in serious danger of being held back a year because I’ve been using up all of my brain space for stuff like this!? Goddammit!!”
“Tch. So it’s not about knowledge or skill,” said Accelerator. “Are the real idiots the ones who can’t even absorb information properly? I can’t believe this.”
“Is there a permanent marker lying around here?” asked Aleister. “In honor of this moment, I need to write ‘idiot’ on your forehead.”
Despite what she said, Aleister had the look of an abandoned child…although the boy soon to be permanently branded as an idiot was too preoccupied to notice.
At any rate.
“As long as we behave normally, the energy will only descend from high places to low places. If they have removed the Mercury symbols from the ten components to create a lightning rod to guide that power, then we just have to follow the same rules. And what do you do if you don’t want to be hit by the lightning strike hitting the lightning rod? You stay away from it. Doing nothing is a perfectly valid choice.”
“You, the pervert who’s still a pervert as a girl,” said Othinus. “Don’t get carried away. I gave him a push in the right direction to help get things moving again, but normally, I am the only one allowed to insult him.”
“And you, the androgynous one. Why do you look so displeased?”
There was no difference between science and magic here.
It was the same as reaching out toward a high-voltage line. Attempting any kind of special defense would only harm them.
But if they stayed put, they would be safe.
Aleister’s answer was correct, but how had he known that?
His thoughts turned to a certain staff.
It was a twisted silver rod.
If Allan Bennett had not been one of the Lady of the Masquerade Ball’s servants, it was unlikely Aleister Crowley would have been able to dodge this so easily. For one thing, the planetary spirit summoning used by the Lady of the Masquerade Ball was based on some of the oldest texts in the Golden cabal’s possession. Specifically, some texts that had not been optimized with Mathers’s unique methods. Since Aleister and Mathers were always focused on creating something new, Aleister would likely have been confused by this. If she had not heard about it from that old man one hundred years ago, the odds were good she would have failed to respond appropriately and been blown to pieces.
It was thanks to the one teacher and friend a certain human had ever accepted.
The silver girl smiled ever so slightly.
(Old enemies never seem to go away, but the old friends are much the same.)
“Curse that Lady of the Masquerade Ball. This kind of inconsistency crops up because she relies on such inaccurate bombings. Well, she has always had a bad habit of doing everything in the most extravagant and over-the-top way she can yet losing interest in any one thing quite rapidly.”
Aleister finally got up off of the #1.
Kamijou reacted by looking around the area.
He found a frightening scene. Where had that giant shopping center gone? It was worse than the aftermath of a child violently tearing open a present. It was more like someone had taken a utility knife and sliced it open into a polyhedral net. The ceiling and walls were gone and nothing but rubble and wreckage was spread out around them like the dunes of a desert.
“What in the world happened? What about that Waite guy and…whatever the other one was. I feel like there were an awful lot of Williams, but regardless, there were Golden magicians here, right?”
“Arthur Edward Waite and John William Brodie-Innes. There is also poor Dion Fortune who you forgot entirely even though she is a girl. And there might have been more we never saw. The Lady of the Masquerade Ball can be merciless when it comes to sacrificing personnel, so their survival is an unknown quantity.”
None of those names made Kamijou want to say “Oh, yeah! That guy!!”
He had trouble when all these Western names were listed off at once, so it felt like playing on hard mode.
“Accelerator-san? Would you mind explaining why you clicked your tongue!? And you’re not playing fair here. You’re sitting there acting like you can see through everything, but do you really understand any of this? I mean, you’ve just been silently nodding over there!!”
Had he learned nothing from the lightning rod example? Silence was one way of expressing yourself. Choosing not to say anything careless before you understood the situation was an excellent choice, but Kamijou had never been good at that. Kamijou Touma had the soul of an old lady on a foreign vacation who only knew Japanese, so he generally felt like he would die if he stopped talking. Plus, he had a terrible sense of humor. When someone like him gained any authority at all, they would end up droning on and on like a school principal giving a speech.
When Kamijou looked further out from their location, he realized the damage was not contained to the shopping center.
Only that one building had taken any direct damage, but the indirect damage was a different story. Rubble and glass shards had been scattered in every direction. All around them, windows were shattered, shutters were dented, and even some stone or concrete walls had collapsed. He was glad it was late at night and that the city was on high alert. The scene would have been truly horrific had the streets been teeming with tourists like when London was shown on variety shows.
Meanwhile, a vicious smile reached the lips of someone whose life was becoming something of an unfunny joke.
“But our survival will be an unknown quantity for them as well. In fact, they will likely assume we were killed in the Lady of the Masquerade Ball’s over-the-top Taphthartharath attack.”
“How does that help us, you dirty joke lover!? That just means we drove them back enough that we can’t see them anymore. There’s nothing we can do now, is there!?”
“Yes, and that is fine. You need to learn how to use adversity to your advantage. With this much destruction, the Golden group will need a short time to check for bodies. So now is our chance to act. And there just so happens to be a location I was hoping to check out.”
“And where is that?”
“We can talk on the way there. You wouldn’t want to waste this brief respite we acquired, would you? Welcome, Kamijou Touma-kun, to London, city of fog, magic, and the Golden.”
And the Golden.
Something clicked in Kamijou Touma’s mind when he heard that. Because he had seen the end of the Battle of Blythe Road in the Windowless Building.
“Oh, that’s right. Blythe Road! That wasn’t some strange fantasy world. It happened for real in the real London. So that place must still be here. You said it was a ceremonial ground and armory for the Golden cabal, right? If we could rummage through that place, we could find some powerful-…”
“Sorry, but no.”
The silver girl smiled and rejected that idea.
Was the hint of sadness on her face a touch of nostalgia?
“Isis-Urania. That temple given the number 3 was the first one established by the Golden cabal…although it was more of an annex than anything. It was the kind of moldy stone apartment you can find anywhere. Instead of overwhelming them with power, I would like to understand our enemy. And you cannot learn from a textbook if you start in the middle. So how about we rewind the clock and head back to where it all began?”
Now, why was it given the number 3 if it was the cabal’s first headquarters?
“That was Westcott’s doing,” explained Aleister while walking through the London night.
The city was still on high alert, so metal shutters were down all over the place. Some of those shutters had been dented in by something. There may have been no real need for any of it now that Isis-Demeter – the last of the Divine Mixtures – had been destroyed, so the Egyptian stones were gradually fading into the foggy city’s air.
The brief silence was almost deafening.
Did this also mean the threat of the Crowley’s Hazards had passed? That should have been a good thing, but it also illustrated the strength of the Golden magicians who had torn them apart in the blink of an eye. Even with the Divine Mixtures, the standard(?) Anglican Church had failed to fully accomplish that, yet the cabal had done it so easily.
The era had changed once more.
Instead of that fusion of Egyptian mythology and Greek mythology, everything had been repainted in Golden colors.
“He apparently wanted to claim the Golden magic cabal was not something new but actually the official continuation of the ancient Rosicrucian line. In other words, it was a new branch. Thus, he faked a letter sent to a German cabal and also faked a response authorizing the creation of a British branch. That exchange of letters is known as the Sprengel Letters. And because there were already two temples in Germany at the time – or so that old man claimed for his invented backstory – the first one in London was said to be the third.”
“Anna Sprengel. No one ever actually met that legendary individual who only appeared in letters. It sounds utterly ridiculous, but that is the world we live in. I mean, wouldn’t it be exciting if there was actually a mysterious #0 Level 5? A missing superior rank has such a strange draw and persuasive ability. Even if you have no proof of its existence, you assume that is due to your lack of experience. So let me put it as simply as possible. The proper meaning of the word does not really apply in this case, but…the affliction you refer to as ‘chuunibyou’ was just as common a century ago as it is now. Back then, they loved the slightly mysterious ring of the German language they so rarely heard. And there you have it.”
Aleister really was harsh and merciless at times like this. Although she had failed in her own life for the exact same reason, so she could not just innocently laugh about it. Your words had a way of coming back to bite you.
Kamijou looked back toward Academy City’s #1.
The idiot on the verge of being held back decided to rebel against the smartest kid in class.
“Well? Can’t understand a word she’s saying, can you?”
“Why do you look so proud of that?”
“Mwa ha ha! Because I had a head start on all of this stuff and even I’m having trouble believing what I’m hearing!! You didn’t know anything about this before now, so there’s no way you understand when she starts babbling about Isis-Urania!! I bet there are nothing but question marks in the brain behind that handsome face of yours!!”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
“Eh? Wait. What? You can’t just admit it! Now I sound like the bad guy here!”
“Isis-Urania, huh? That’s different from Isis-Demeter, so it sounds like I need to fill in some missing information. And it’s supposed to come from some German secret society? But the ‘Golden’ name doesn’t sound German to me. Now, setting aside whether or not that society actually existed, they just wanted the prestige that name brought, right? Sounds like they weren’t interested in actually being loyal.”
“(Don’t worry, human. No matter how much inner ugliness you reveal, I will always remain your understander. You piece of garbage.)”
She said it oh-so-gently.
At this point, Kamijou Touma could only bite his lip and shake.
You were not an idiot if filling in some missing information was all you needed. That just meant you were missing the proper foundation. On the other hand, what did you call someone who absorbed information worse than reinforced concrete absorbed water? What did you call someone who did not have a clue even after having everything explained? Even the idiot was beginning to figure that out.
“(Also, when idiots try to feel better by seeking out another idiot, it is because they are idiots being idiots. Why don’t you consider bettering yourself instead, you idiot?)”
“You’re saying all of that out loud, Othinus!! Hghh! You’ve already broken my spirit, so is this that thing where you’ve decided it’s faster to tear me down and then build me back up!?”
His cries of “hghh” continued.
And while he fearfully covered his ears to escape reality, Othinus breathed a soft sigh.
“(How smart you are honestly doesn’t matter. Test scores aren’t going to save anyone’s heart. What makes you a real idiot is that you don’t understand that I will always be by your side to explain anything you don’t understand. Honestly, why don’t you use the resources available to you? That’s like struggling to do math in your head in this age where every phone has a calculator. Really, just really. Have you forgotten that wisdom lies at the foundation of magic, war, and deception? Grumble, grumble.)”
With his hands over his ears Kamijou Touma did not at all notice the way his tiny understander was childishly pouting her lips on his shoulder, thus confirming he was an unfortunate sort of idiot.
“This is the place.”
The silver girl came to a stop and looked up at something.
But even after his experience in the Windowless Building, Kamijou Touma would have walked right past it if she had not said anything. It was an ordinary apartment on an ordinary street. Yet there it was. Kamijou’s mouth hung open. This was his first visit after a century had passed. The time scale of European buildings was completely different since they were made of stone and did not have to worry about earthquakes. The only buildings from a century ago in Japan were shrines and temples. There were some thatch roof homes that appeared to be preserved, but their roofs and earthen walls were replaced quite frequently.
It was the same as how famous paintings were touched up with the appropriate paints, meaning you could never truly see the brand-new completed product exactly as the painter had intended it. So when you really did have an original structure right in front of you, it was quite impressive.
“The Isis-Urania Temple.”
Aleister had to be feeling something in her chest.
Even Kamijou felt an odd sense of time passing like he had just returned from Ryugu-jo.
“Mathers, Westcott, and the others would never give this place up.”
When Aleister stepped in the front door with no hesitation whatsoever, Kamijou belatedly ran after her. Yes. This was the starting point of the Golden cabal. It was a special holy ground for them. So was it really safe to just strut on in? Kamijou thought of those figures he had seen in the darkness at Westminster Abbey. The visual was enough to send a shiver down his spine. To be blunt, they had not seen Kamijou and the others as worthy enemies.
When Aleister Crowley and Kamijou Touma rushed into the stone apartment, some scraps of paper and fallen leaves gathered next to Accelerator and rose up as if to insert themselves into this brief period of time.
With a forceful popping sound, a translucent demon appeared from within.
“You have some guts. Nee hee hee.”
“Clean that up.”
“And you learn way too fast. I thought you didn’t know the first thing about comedy, but you’ve already picked up how to respond with perfect timing!!”
She laughed while immediately getting down on all fours. And while she got all muddy and showed off her pitiful state at her master’s feet, the #1 monster breathed a sigh of exasperation.
“Don’t pop up like this when I haven’t called for you. I don’t want them seeing you.”
“Oh, dear. Well, I’m glad you do know I’m your trump card.”
Qliphah Puzzle 545 flipped vertically in complete violation of gravity and her taped-together newspaper dress trailed after her like a crescent moon.
She floated upside down.
Was this pose also meant to extract something from Accelerator’s heart?
“I did as you said, but can you really call that a success?” she asked.
“We survived, didn’t we?”
She was originally meant to bring about the madness of war.
She was the very atmosphere that drove people crazy.
So Accelerator’s command to Qliphah Puzzle 545 had been a very simple one.
“Y’know, while I do like the idea of encouraging the enemy to attack because you don’t want to deal with a brutal surprise attack at their full power, no normal person would be able to give that command. Nee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee☆”
Doing that was theoretically possible if you had the power to amplify hostile urges in anyone participating in the battle.
No matter how powerful the enemy was.
From the moment their group had joined the battle, they could not escape Qliphah Puzzle 545’s power. In fact, the stronger they were and the closer they were to the center of the fighting, the greater their desire to spread death would be. It was the same as the pressure at the earth’s core creating such incredible heat. Unless they could choose to stop fighting despite knowing how powerful they were, like Orsola Aquinas had done with Isis-Demeter, they could never shake free of the negative passion.
Accelerator had not tried to dodge it altogether.
Nor had he asked her to do the impossible.
If he knew it would not be fatal, he was fine with hastening the timetable of the bomb being dropped on their heads.
Perhaps this was a logic unique to Accelerator who would use his reflection to stop any attack.
And what would have happened without Qliphah Puzzle 545 pushing the Golden magicians onwards?
If the attack by Planetary Spirit Taphthartharath had been calmly carried out at full power as initially planned, could Aleister have dodged it so easily? Kamijou Touma seemed to be putting his life in that silver girl’s hands, but the #1 still had some fundamental doubts there.
He could not forget that the board chairman had never followed a single path of success.
Confidently intercepting the attack only to be blown to smithereens was a perfectly realistic possibility for her.
“Tch. How naïve.”
“So what now?”
“What Aleister is telling us is fundamentally accurate. She is not bluffing. If that’s your view, then there’s no point in you sticking around here.”
“True enough. Plus, they might just detect me in that cramped indoor space. I mean, a formless presence fills up a lot more of an indoor room than the wide outdoors.”
“You’re free to work now, right? Plus, you’re pissing me off, so I’m sending you on another job.”
“I see. Yes, that does make me feel more like a familiar. So where will you be sending your lowly gofer?”
“Hm? You aren’t gonna complain?”
“Well, I am interested in doing some things outside the contract, but I’m still a demon, so you could say I live to work. I’m actually quite diligent. I work hard and corrupt people real good. That’s just what I do. So what do you want???”
“While that board chairman was working on her godawful plan, there was someone she tried to have killed because he was a dangerous and unpredictable element. I know he came to England, but I want you to figure out if he ever made it to London. You can do that since all sorts of information finds its way to the capital, right? Now that I’ve experienced it for myself, I can tell. It’s a kind of stealth. His presence just disappeared. …So why does he exist? He barely has any presence at all, but at times like this, you never know when he’ll introduce a glitch onto the game board and make it all freeze up. He’s completely hidden. It’s the same uneasy feeling as noticing a mistake in the source code only to never find it again when you scroll back up. It shouldn’t matter, but if you ignore it, it could develop into a critical error.”
It was unusual for Accelerator to remember someone’s name.
Especially when that someone was only a Level 0.
“Hamazura Shiage. I want you to go figure out where he is and what he’s doing.”
After climbing a few flights of stairs, Aleister finally entered the hallway of a certain floor. The straight, narrow hallway left nowhere to run or hide and it was lined with identical doors. She stopped in front of one of those doors and did not hesitate to fling it open.
She seemed to be saying that she too had the right to say “I’m back”.
“What the hell?” muttered Kamijou Touma when he peeked inside from behind that short girl.
It was a horribly dark room with no artificial lightning.
He was pretty sure the overall layout was unchanged from when he had seen it in the Windowless Building. He recognized the position of the table and shelves and even the pattern on the curtains was the same. This was the starting point for Westcott, Mathers, and Aleister. They had killed time by gathering here and having serious discussions about something as ridiculous as magic. It was a simple place, but it had to be mentioned when discussing the Golden cabal.
Something like particles of light were faintly dancing about that otherwise dark room. Was it the reflection of the moonlight coming from the window? It was not just some hallucination. Aleister quietly clicked her tongue and pulled out her phone. She activated the backlight and shined it inside the room.
She illuminated a room trapped in the past.
Specifically, everything was coated with dust. That was also the identity of the light particles reflecting the moonlight. It might be easier to think of it like the dust floating in a film projector’s beam.
It was obvious no one had been living here.
There were plastic sheets over the shelves and table to keep the dust off, but that was the only human intervention. All of the light fixtures had been removed, presumably to avoid an electrical fire from a short. There were no footprints on the dusty floor. The place remained as a holy ground, but that was all. There was no sign of Westcott, Mathers, or the others having visited.
“Are they more focused on Blythe Road? Or did they build a new base elsewhere?”
Kamijou tilted his head. If what Mathers and the others had said was true, they had been hiding in the shadows of history for more than a century after the Battle of Blythe Road. They had hidden from the watchful eyes of the Anglican Church and Academy City. They would have had plenty of time to build up funding and construct a new base as a third group not part of the science side or magic side (which had been split apart by Aleister). Even if they called this a holy ground, it was hardly surprising they would have found other things and places they cared about even more in the intervening century. Even shrines and temples would be moved to new locations during the development of a city.
But Aleister was not ready to nod or shake her head.
She acted as carefully as someone presented with a strange contract to sign. The silver girl’s eyes flitted between each piece of information before her and she finally muttered a few words.
“Wait. Could it be?”
It was late at night in London.
“Is this the place? Yes, this is it.”
Index wore a nun’s habit with white and gold teacup coloring and Karasuma Fran wore a hoodie, a bikini, and rabbit-ear antennae. The two girls had entered the strictly guarded capital city during the chaos caused by the Crowley’s Hazards and Divine Mixtures, but they had lost sight of their goal there. They were searching for the spiky-haired high school boy named Kamijou Touma, but even after finding him again after he ran off on his own, they had lost track of him yet again.
But they could not just stay still.
The situation was accelerating in a negative direction. That was all too obvious to Index even though she was a bit removed from the center of the issue. The traces she did see were extremely ominous. There were sticky clumps all over the walls and ground around here, but she could tell it was not Orsola Aquinas with the Isis-Demeter Divine Mixture that had done this. There was little to no sign of any resistance from the Crowley’s Hazards. Isis-Demeter was certainly a threat, but not enough to explain this. If it had clashed head-on with an army of Crowley’s Hazards, it would not have had such a decisive victory. It may have been able to repel the army, but the entire area would have become a rotten sea of trees. If anything, there may have been more friendly fire than anything.
“Something else is happening.”
Index looked so nervous she might start biting her nails if she was not careful.
Why had this war started?
Where was the center and who was in control?
Index knew it had started with Aleister and she had managed to follow along up to the Divine Mixtures, but now she was confused.
She felt a need to calm down and view the big picture once more.
She had to make up for falling behind and get ahead of the issue.
“Instead of wasting time searching blindly for Touma, we should find something we know we can do. I wasn’t much help when I saw him before and who knows how far behind I’ll be next time. So I need to be ready to give him some actual useful advice each time I see him.”
Was this another form of growth?
She was done with chasing blindly after the boy and then getting mad at him once it was all over. If she could not find him, then what could she do without finding him? Instead of lamenting that nothing went her way, what could she do in this less-than-preferable situation? That was where Index set her sights now.
Meanwhile, the rabbit-ear antennae girl adjusted the large backpack on her back and looked up at the impressive building in front of them.
“And that’s why we’re here?”
“Yes. This is the British Museum.”
Books were kept in the British Library instead, but there were actually a few exceptions. And there was none of the creepiness of sneaking into a school or hospital at night. There were a lot of people inside already. And they were full of energy. When they peeked inside, they saw lots of former Roman Catholic nuns gathered.
“Oh, if it isn’t the grimoire library. Should I say ‘welcome’ or ‘welcome home’?”
Agnese Sanctis, a short nun with lots of pencil-thick braids, spoke up in surprise when she noticed Index.
“What are you all doing here?”
“Outsiders like us haven’t been given any direct orders. They might think we’re already dead. So we’re checking on the damage to London and redoing some calculations.”
Agnese’s expression was quite soft for what she was saying. Perhaps the damage was a lot less than they had feared.
That was good, but…
“Oh, my, my. What to do? I already served everyone the food I had made.”
“Don’t move, Sister Orsola! Your basted-together habit is coming apart!!”
The pieces of a habit fluttered away like flower petals as the utterly carefree (and super sexy) woman approached. With the moonlight shining on her, the visual would probably have inspired Botticelli to paint a sequel to the Birth of Venus.
She was so perfect it looked more like art than a pinup model, but she placed a hand on her cheek and tilted her head.
“What brings you here tonight?”
“Give me the key to the repair room in the back.”
Index spoke like a child demanding her allowance so she could visit the candy store, so (naked) Orsola only tilted her head further.
“Umm, Index? You have a perfect memory, so don’t you already have all of those documents memorized? I apologize if I am being rude, but I don’t see why you would need to view them now.”
“If I was only interested in the text, yes.”
“This has all gotten really complicated, so I want to gather as much information as possible. I need to untangle all the threads and line them up in order. I need to know what’s happening in London…no, across the entire world. If I don’t know that, I can’t give Touma any advice.”
The report never came.
No matter how long he waited, it never came.
“That’s enough waiting.”
A short comment was uttered in the ruined graveyard of Westminster Abbey.
It was the voice of someone ending something in disappointment.
And Mathers’s simple comment made Edward Berridge’s shoulders jump. That faithful medic was still kneeling in his moss green uniform equipped with bandages, disinfectant, and other medical supplies.
He had failed to live up to his master’s expectations. That fact felt like an invisible flame burning his entire body.
“No, that can’t be. It is just taking them longer than expected to find the bodies. Again, that can’t be!!”
“That’s enough waiting.”
Mathers repeated himself.
Berridge could viscerally sense what that meant, so he fell silent instead of digging in his heels any further. This man had reached for the name Belzébuth to purge internal traitors and not just battle external enemies, so he was toying with Berridge to see if the other man would obey.
And Mathers himself continued speaking even as he gave off that crushing pressure.
“Aleister Crowley is alive. We are talking about someone who survived even after I sicced Coronzon on him.”
That was the conclusion.
And who was it that had been so confident Aleister would not last five minutes?
Just how shameful and humiliating was it to have his master reach this conclusion before the bodies could be found in the remains of the shopping center?
But the Golden leader did not care.
Perhaps it was his ability to excise those human emotions that allowed him to proclaim himself as the organization’s leader. It was not necessarily just Westcott and Mathers who sought that position after all.
While Berridge burned with shame, Mathers simply thought of some numbers.
(Well, this happened because the Lady of the Masquerade Ball carelessly attacked ahead of everyone else, so fine. Curse that gaudy woman and her Sphere. If she hadn’t chopped up my Golden cabal to create her own little playground, we would not be unraveling like this.)
He had made sense of the result, so he would not question it. But no one could say what would have happened to Berridge if he had not been able to.
“Aleister would not die so easily.”
Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers bent over to look the other man in the eye. He lifted his witch’s hat a bit and whispered in Berridge’s ear as if revealing the answer to the fool who could not accept his mistake.
And those words may have been an even more painful blow than declaring he would kill the man.
“(Because Aleister was always my #1 student who I taught everything I knew.)”
Mathers did not console his subordinates at times like this.
He would not hesitate to punish them even if they were already dead. And if they were a magician who showed promise of further growth, he would throw them off the cliff and accept only those who managed to crawl back up. That was why he was the most feared among his fellow Golden magicians and was sometimes referred to as a tyrant or dictator. The people he silently allowed to go about their way were the ordinary people with no promise whatsoever.
To his knowledge, there was only one person on the planet who had ever lived up to his fierce expectations.
Even if that had inspired such intense rage and hatred within him.
Between the Lines 1
So what kind of person was Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers really?
Looking back in history would show an impressive list of accomplishments. The greatest of those were helping to found the world’s greatest cabal and translating original grimoires such as The Kabbalah Unveiled, The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, and The Greater Key of Solomon. The originals were not just incomprehensible but also shattered the reader’s soul with their toxic knowledge, so he converted them into a simpler form that anyone could read. That was the trigger which led to a Kabbalah-centric magical culture spreading across all of Europe. Even the grimoire library of Index Librorum Prohibitorum rated his writings at the same level as The Golden Bough or The Book of the Law.
It was less well known that Mathers translated more than just important grimoires.
“Oh, you’ve made such a mess again.”
The graceful woman could not be blamed for letting some exasperation color her voice. French newspapers littered the floor and blue and purple paint was splattered on top of that. The main dish was the corkboard larger than a tray. The cork had been cut up with a knife and pasted together in layers to create rippling hills and valleys.
It may have been meant as a type of diorama.
This man’s talents really were as a writer and a translator. To a talented artist like Mina, his attempts here looked like a child making a tiny garden for art class.
“I never did like that game of chess.”
“You mean Enochian chess?”
“Mina, I mean the basic game itself. Everyone claims it’s some intellectual game that simplifies war, but in what battle do both sides have identical forces and supplies? And don’t get me started on the terrain! Half of war is decided by the terrain!!”
“That’s great and all, but are you never going to stop living like this even when we have a shocking nine pounds to get us to the end of the month? Do you mind if I ask how you think it is acceptable to live on a tattva diet where you have to use your mind’s eye to see anything at all between the bread in your sandwiches?”
“Give up, Mina. Working will not put any more money in our wallet. How fulfilling your life is relies on your outlook. And there are surprisingly few people willing to learn in this age of excess.”
“Oh, I see. This explains why you actually called me by my name for once, instead of just ‘hey’ or ‘you’. While I appreciate that, I would like to remind you that there are still fifteen days left in this month.”
“Mina, if it comes to it, I can release myself from these physical bonds and go on an astral journey. Can I count on you to keep my physical body safe?”
“It is not astral projection if you collapse from hunger with your soul hanging out of your mouth. Wouldn’t it be more efficient to learn some practical yoga to suppress the activity of your organs?”
“I hate all that Eastern nonsense. I couldn’t tell you if it works or not, but just look at those youngsters who have confused a magic cabal for a sex salon. They’ll accept anything if you just add ‘Indian’ or ‘Tibetan’ to the front! They try to excuse their opium use and orgies by calling them secret ceremonies passed down in the East. It’s ridiculous. Those self-styled magicians must think India and Tibet are some strange fantasy world. And I bet they couldn’t even tell you what language the true sutras are written in!!”
The eccentric genius named Mathers was satisfied as long as he could let his heart of justice burn over things like this. And he completely missed that his wife was much more concerned about them starving to death in poverty.
When you got down to it, a magician was a magician. Mathers did not have a public face like Westcott did as a coroner, so he was not going to have a rich lifestyle. Yet there were things he could not stop himself from doing like a bad habit.
“India sounds nice to me. They have plenty of teas we could never hope to drink.”
“Stop thinking about what we can’t have, Mina.”
Of course, there were no public texts saying Mathers had a hobby of making dioramas or inventing his own rules for chess.
Those were nothing more than ways of distracting him from his boredom.
“Before getting to labyrinthine trench warfare, you need water. The concept of water must be there. Chess unfortunately lacks the concept of projectile weapons, but this will still greatly change the soldiers’ movement. Coal stole the sails from ships and petroleum is changing automobiles into tools of war. This is no longer the age of wind. Whoever controls the water controls the war. Especially in England and France. Listen, Mina. What must we control if we are to stay on the forefront of magic in the coming age? This is where you will learn what truly matters. The ocean has long been opened for the chosen ones.”
“Oh, my. So my self-proclaimed highlander husband wants to be a Viking now?”
He cleared his throat.
This was about military matters.
Even before translating The Kabbalah Unveiled, Mathers had translated a French military manual.
“Do you find this childish?”
“While literary types like you hoard knowledge, artistic types like me focus more on intuition. Learning the details of perspective, texture, and lighting can come later, but you need to start by finding your core. Those with no defined axis for themselves can never even pick up the brush.”
The woman who always stood by his side was one of his few understanders and also a partner who provided powerful support by absorbing his techniques and knowledge and providing the artistic talent he had not been blessed with. She was much more than a student. While Mathers sought to bring back lost knowledge in the form of text, she supported that with intuitive graphics.
If personal computers had never developed past alphanumeric text on a black screen in the name of history or tradition, they never would have become so ubiquitous. Needless to say, it was the icons and the mouse cursor that had made them simple enough for anyone to use intuitively.
The exact same approach had been attempted a century earlier. Aleister had ultimately put a stop to it, but if they had successfully incorporated those visual and graphical explanations, another form of magic may have filled every corner of the world like computers and smartphones had done.
The woman walked back and forth through the shelves lined with strange books and finally pulled one out.
It was the translation of a French military manual that pointed to a surprising side of a magician like Mathers.
“I liked your writing back when you wrote this. It was rough around the edges, but there was real warmth in the phrasing you used.”
“You do know that is a manual for efficiently killing people, don’t you?”
“It is all in how you use it.”
She was his understander.
She was not like Westcott who had competed with him for power and influence within the cabal or like Crowley who had developed a rival theory of magic. Just like that small god was for Kamijou Touma, even if he pushed her away or seemed to insult her on the surface, she would never mistake the true meaning behind his twisted temper (that Mathers knew was a problem but could not change).
“If it was really meant only for experts in the field of killing, there would be no need to break it down so anyone could understand. It is a way of being ever prepared and knowing the tactics of the neighboring country just in case times change. Look at it like that and then who would you say it is for?”
“Your one and only flaw is your bad habit of interpreting everything as a virtue.”
“Annie warned me about that too. Yes, I believe it was back when I told her I was marrying you.”
She was the type to just come out and say things at times like this.
But he was not to be underestimated.
Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers did have a childish side that wanted to wear a Scottish military uniform, that would stare at old maps and fantasize about battles occurring there, that deeply approved of bayonets for keeping some form of sword on the battlefield even in an age of bullets and gunpowder, and that made his eyes sparkle when he saw a giant cannon. But more than that, there was a part of him that could not stop once he had made up his mind about something. It was the same tunnel vision seen in a certain type of genius when they were focused on something. When it came to his magic research, that man was highly unapproachable and feared by those in other cabals or even in his own cabal. And that bomb had gone off in the worst way during the Battle of Blythe Road.
He was more than just an eccentric.
And there were some hobbies you could follow much further specifically because they were entirely disconnected from profit.
So what if he had the military skill to command a group and overwhelm all opposition in addition to his excellent magical skill?
How much of a threat would he be then? If you would like to see the answer, just look to the Golden cabal.
If you dare.
Because armies look very different when they are directed at your enemy or directed at you.