Toaru Majutsu no Index:NT Volume21 Chapter 2
Chapter 2: That Which Human Wisdom Compiled – Grimoire_Nova.
By the way, the thug named Hamazura Shiage was still alive.
If a bug stood out in the open, it would be squished immediately, but it was invincible if it hid in the forest or field.
The city of London was still mostly in one piece. He had parked the stolen four-wheel-drive vehicle in front of the British Museum, he leaned against the side with his arm around his girlfriend Takitsubo Rikou’s shoulders (and she looked even cuter than normal with the knit jacket worn over her pink track suit), a bunch of nuns were gathered around, and the strong-willed exhibitionist gods named Nephthys and Niang-Niang were in the back seat. So what was missing? A life of peace and calm???
Explosive blasts and flashes of light were still erupting in the night. At times, the stone and concrete city itself rumbled unnervingly.
But the nuns running busily to and fro outside the British Museum seemed to have relaxed somewhat. He did not understand a lick of English, but they seemed to have received word of something. Maybe they had learned one of their own was safe. The oppressive tension from before had entirely vanished.
A knock came from inside the back window.
And he could hear some muffled voices.
When he looked inside the vehicle surrounded by a thick animal bumper, he saw the brown-skinned, silver-haired young woman and sickly pale mini-China dress girl tremble a bit and then look elsewhere.
Even an idiot could tell what this meant.
Something very unpleasant was about to happen!!
“Drive to the west and you’ll see something neat. Now’s your chance to capture it!!”
“Definitely not, you stupid gods!! This is the same as an NPC saying ‘there is a cave up ahead’. If I go there, I’m only going to find a crazy brutal dungeon with an insta-kill freak of a boss at the end!!”
For some reason, the mini-China dress girl used her hot breath to fog up the window before pressing her lips and (flat) chest against the window while speaking through the thick glass.
This had the effect of essentially whispering into Hamazura’s ear while he leaned against the side of the vehicle.
“(Stay here and the ‘neat thing’ will probably come to us, but are you sure you want that? Get those nuns involved and they won’t last long.)”
“I can’t believe you!!”
“Protecting your girlfriend is important, but you don’t want too many ugly travel memories, do you?”
Hamazura did not actually know all that much about Nephthys or Niang-Niang, but without the advice they had given just for fun, he never would have made it from Dover to London.
They were ridiculously inappropriate and they did not act on anything remotely resembling human morality or ethics.
But their power was real.
If they said something was going to attack, then that was what would happen.
“~ ~ ~! Get in, Takitsubo!!”
Hamazura grabbed his girlfriend’s slender wrist and opened the driver’s side door. After tossing the small girl (with surprisingly large breasts) past the shift lever, he slipped into the driver’s seat, reached for the wires hanging down from the forced-open ignition, and operated the clutch and handbrake to get the vehicle running.
“Ah, wait! What are you doing!? I overlooked it because it was an emergency, but that’s a stolen vehicle, isn’t it!?”
He just about ran into that straitlaced glasses nun because she happened to step outside just then. She shouted something at him, but he had bigger issues. It pained him, but he simply tapped the brakes a few times to say bye with the brake lights and then sped away.
After being thrown into the passenger seat, Takitsubo Rikou was flipped upside down with her small butt pressed against the headrest and she was as expressionless as ever.
“Hamazura, what is going on?”
“Ask those dangerous people in the back!!”
Despite his obvious malice, the gods reflected in the rearview mirror simply laughed. One wore only bandages and the other a mini-China dress. Both their outfits were revealing enough to get them kicked out of a Halloween party, but they were currently pressing their cheeks together to fit their faces in the mirror for him.
“I understand the desire to gaze upon a fearsome god, but you should really keep your eyes on the road. I mean, five kilometers goes by in no time while driving.”
“Five kilometers!? And what am I supposed to be looking for anyway!?”
“Hamazura, that sign says this is Piccadilly Circus.”
“Oh, you’re such a cute couple☆”
“Shut up, bandage exhibitionist! Can you maybe explain what I’m looking for!?”
“You’re about to run them over.”
When sickly pale Niang-Niang made her nonchalant statement, Hamazura slammed his full weight down on the brake pedal. The tires screeched against the ground. Takitsubo Rikou had already been creating a full-body silhouette of Mt. Fuji while upside down, so this sent her bouncing forward.
Hamazura had forgotten his own seatbelt, so his nose slammed into the steering wheel. The airbag did not activate, but was that due to a malfunction or had he cut a cord he should not have while messing with the ignition?
(What the hell?)
The bright headlights were shining on a girl.
She was curled up like a kitten trying to protect herself in the middle of the asphalt coated with a thin layer of silver sand.
He immediately threw open the door and ran over to her, but was that driven by the guilt of nearly hitting her or just the fact that she was a slender redheaded girl?
“Damn, that was close! What’s wrong!? Are you hurt!?”
Only after running out did he realize how dangerous this all felt. That was mostly due to the smell. It was a burning smell not quite like gunpowder.
He finally gave serious thought to the word he himself had used.
Yes, there were no absolutes and nothing could be taken for granted in London today. The absurdity and unfairness of this city rivaled the darkness of Academy City. Anything could happen and it tended to take things a step or two beyond what he feared. If he was not cautious, he would be chewed up and spit out by some kind of surprise attack.
A vehicle alone was not enough anymore.
His fingers trembled as if from withdrawal symptoms. He really wished he had a gun.
Even though he had worked so hard to escape from that mess and make his way to England.
(Did someone attack her? But wait. Could that someone still be around here somewhere!?)
“Can you stand? Dammit, just get in the car so we can get away from here! Oh, right. Do you even know Japanese? Just come here!!”
Groans were apparently a universal language.
The redheaded girl slowly looked up while curled up to protect her gut. Only now did she notice the bright headlights and narrow her eyes, so she may have barely been conscious. And when he took a better look, he realized she had taken quite a beating. If he had known this in advance, he would have considered having Takitsubo Rikou come out to help despite the danger.
She wore a frilly white dress with pink accents. The ballerina-like lace and frills made her overall silhouette look quite fluffy, but her exposed upper arms were slender enough to guess she was actually very skinny.
However, her short red hair and dress had scorch marks in places.
It looked a lot like she had crawled out of a burning building and then run out of strength in the middle of the road.
He heard a quiet metallic sound blowing in the light breeze.
A bell on a string fell from the white veil girl’s hand and onto the filthy ground. He was reminded of how it was preferable for people in disaster areas to carry whistles or bells because shouting wore you out so quickly.
What had she been thinking when she reached for that?
And had no one answered her call for help even as she lay collapsed here on the road?
What was that she was curled up to protect?
Hamazura was unsure what purpose it had, but a black box just big enough to hold a soccer ball was sandwiched between the girl’s stomach and the ground. It must have been smooth and polished to begin with, but now it was dented and covered with silver sand.
(You’ve gotta be kidding me.)
To repeat, Hamazura Shiage did not understand much of anything that was happening in London today. He only knew the monsters known as Crowley’s Hazards had attacked London and the mysterious ruins(?) set up around the city had repelled those monsters. He had seen Orsola Aquinas fused with Isis-Demeter after she left the British Museum, but his knowledge was not enough to explain what exactly that was. And he was entirely unaware of the return of the Golden cabal at Westminster Abbey.
That was why he came up with a faulty theory here.
(I don’t know if it was the Crowley’s Hazards or London’s protectors who did this, but I can’t just leave her here!!)
“We need to get away from here. …You didn’t hit your head, did you? Okay, I’m going to pick you up. Um, one, two, three!!”
He rolled her onto her back and moved the box. Then he moved his arms below the girl’s knees and back and lifted her up. In other words, he used the princess carry. Skill Out often had to deal with injuries when calling an ambulance was not an option and this was actually a unique method they had developed for retreating while taking their injured companions with them, but Takitsubo Rikou’s mouth formed a small triangle because she had no way of knowing that. Of course, that happened behind the bright headlights, so Hamazura could not see it as his fear drove him to help this stranger.
The dress girl placed the dented box on her stomach and held it like an otter and she desperately tried to look up at Hamazura’s face with one eye unable to fully open.
“Shut up. Don’t talk. Damn, how do British hospitals work? What number do you call and how late are they open? Do you need an insurance card or some kind of ID? And are they even running properly with this war going on!?”
Most likely, that girl did not understand much Japanese. So when he spoke that foreign language in such quick succession with the obvious interrogative intonation, she mistook what he was asking.
What is your name?
She assumed he was asking that very basic question.
The redheaded girl giving off a faint scorched smell moved her throat to half groan an answer.
Most people would think nothing of it, but anyone in the know would feel their heart freeze over when they heard that name:
He had missed his chance.
It was just like when you started to raise your hand to get the bartender’s attention but someone else called out to them first.
That was nothing to be embarrassed about. Everything was fine.
The good-looking middle-aged man named Misaka Tabigake trembled a bit while hiding behind cover.
“This isn’t good. They’re really just going to leave me here. But I can’t exactly shove that injured girl out of his arms and demand he save me instead.”
He had not had a good night what with the giant monsters wandering around and the huge stone blocks raining from the sky, but he was just about at his limit. He had no idea who this new group wandering around London was, but they were bad news. They were too much for an amateur to beat in a game of hide-and-seek. Misaka Tabigake honestly felt that figuring that out was pretty good for an amateur.
As seen from the way he was speaking to himself, the loneliness was eating away at him. Enough so that he was seriously considering buying an AI speaker just to have someone to talk with. Although that would probably eventually end up much like taping the ultimate comfort product to the top of a plate-shaped cleaning robot.
God had not abandoned that middle-aged man.
The four-wheel-drive vehicle started to drive away, but it must have had some trouble and stalled because it shook and then came to a stop. Based on how it moved, it appeared to be a manual, so the driver may have been in a rush and screwed up with the clutch.
Also, Misaka Tabigake heard some dangerous-sounding footsteps from the dark alley behind him.
Those came from a young woman and an elderly man.
“Oh, another ‘lost child’. Hello, backpacker. It’s too late in the year to be trick-or-treating, but the Boogieman is here.”
“Wait, Annie. Our top priority here is Dion Fortune. It was someone else who placed her in that vehicle. …And while they appear to be suppressing their power, I can see two powerful distortions there.”
“Do you need the temple?”
“This will be a major performance.”
Misaka Tabigake lived more on the science side than the magic side, but that only meant he had taken a half step outside the realm of a normal modern person. He knew next to nothing about next-generation weapons or esper power development. He only had the knowledge of someone who was well-traveled outside of Academy City.
You could think of him as a businessman who could get advance notice of new products in development. He was helping steer the future, but not in any significant way.
To be clear, he was not the type of man who could choose to fight courageously after coming in contact with the unknown.
But there was one thing he could tell here.
(This is bad.)
It was like visiting a war torn area and finding a fallen sign warning of a minefield only after walking a good distance into it. Or like feeling pain in your appendix while overseas, but when the locals brought you to the only hospital in the village, you found yourself in a cave with a half-naked old man calling himself a shaman who pulled a knife from a bucket and started halfheartedly sharpening it in preparation.
Moving past this point would cost him his life.
He could sense that invisible wire drawn taut.
This was his experience talking, not anything he had read in a school textbook. The tingling sensation he felt was enough for even an amateur to make a clear prediction about the future. And there was more than one invisible wire. Those two people gave off a solid wall of pressure that violently and complexly filled every last gap.
It was not a question of overcoming this or not.
He could not even consider trying to duck past them.
This was the kind of death that would blow you away if you so much as touched it.
(Not good, not good, not good!!)
It had not captured him yet.
This was a single surface, not a deep forest or a spider web.
Allowing it this close was suicidal, but it was possible he could still avoid touching the wires. He slowly took a breath. If he could back away so cautiously that he did not even disturb the bugs crawling on the road and if he could clear the way for them, perhaps they would overlook him. Just maybe.
Misaka Tabigake smiled weakly.
He considered a number of things and then made the mature decision.
He reached for the construction materials he was hiding behind and applied his full body weight.
With a loud crash, the rebar and triangular cones covered in a blue tarp scattered across the alleyway entrance.
(What in the world is wrong with me!?)
“Start driving, you damn kids! Just get out of here!!”
He cursed himself in his mind, but there was no hesitation in the words he spoke out loud. He wanted to be saved too, but he had already decided he would not push that injured girl out of the way. Letting that four-wheel-drive vehicle escape was good enough. Because what he had seen was too much. That Asian boy and that injured middle-school-aged girl reminded him of something. Even if there was no direct connection, that combination brought a certain face to mind.
He pictured his own daughter who had to be caught in trouble of her own since Academy City had shut down.
When a problem broke out on the streets, a grown adult would not think about beating the troublemaker until they could no longer move. Escaping the danger unharmed was good enough. And projectile weapons were everything in this world. He glanced over at the nearby fire hydrant and considered using the pressurized water to knock over his opponents when they tried to cross the barricade.
“This is in the way.”
That quick statement was followed by an explosive flash of light.
The light came from the kind of wax used for old letters.
“I hold a coded text. When read using the methods of Trithemius’s five books, these fragments reveal text of great power. Now experience the knowledge of the Golden’s beginning.”
The old man’s words became physical destruction.
The makeshift barricade of construction materials was blasted outwards. Misaka Tabigake was reminded of how primitive landmines had been made by covering explosives with rubble. Not that this provided him with a solution. The materials hit him and he was thrown to the other side of the major road.
“Hm. So this is all I can manage without Annie’s tuning. I never was any good at violence. Sorry I’m not as good at inspiring fear as Mathers is.”
“Aga~ ~ ~!!!”
Misaka Tabigake swallowed his scream as soon as it started to escape.
But this was fine. It was not the first time he had dislocated his shoulder.
This was nothing new, so he could bear it.
But then he saw the red brake lights of the vehicle that had finally gotten moving.
(You idiots!! Stop here and everything I did will be for nothing!!)
His eyes widened, but if he actually shouted at them, he might direct that fearsome duo’s attention toward the vehicle.
Unable to get up, he crawled along the ground with one arm hanging limp like a doll’s arm, but then he heard an exasperated voice.
That old-fashioned tutor with a monocle and that doctor in a suit and coat looked like they had stepped out of a picture book.
“Westcott, he’s a normal person. Although he doesn’t seem to be a local.”
“And we are the Boogieman, aren’t we? Since you have given up on tuning me, I have to go at it like I am trying to kill him or it will not work.”
“I am a sensible magician. I just don’t want to be the target of Mathers’s temper.”
“And? Are you suggesting you too would use Coronzon if necessary?”
“Your face. It’s showing on your face.”
Misaka Tabigake heard a quiet sound.
It was the tutor woman tapping her long white and black clubs against the ground.
And something like a giant soap bubble appeared behind the two pillars.
Their conversation and actions made no sense, but Misaka Tabigake could tell they had gone easy on him. Yes, he had yet to touch those illusory wires. And the solid wall of wires had silently changed its layout. They now surrounded him like he was deep in the forest or caught in a giant spider web. They were packed around him densely enough that moving a single finger would touch those deadly strings.
This was bad.
It was enough for the dull pain in his body to fade away.
He could no longer hope to escape just by hitting them with a fire hydrant’s water from a safe distance. Even turning tail and running would be risky. The sense of death was so thick that something as ordinary as breathing felt like a gamble. This was his punishment for trying to be someone he was not.
(This is very bad!!!!!!)
And then the invisible wires of death were mercilessly severed.
It came from directly overhead. Fearsome shells crashed into the ground like a giant sewing machine.
Something was flying overhead. A roar reminiscent of a fighter jet hit his eardrums after a short delay. When his mind struggled to find a description for the silhouette he saw, it settled on a demon with wings spread.
That was not the British air force.
A weapon that ridiculous could not exist in the normal world.
(What is that!? Is it from Academy City!?)
The hard asphalt was torn up like if a bomb went off below the sandy beach and a horribly unhealthy-looking cloud of gray dust filled the air.
“Westcott, you idiot! You put yourself in harm’s way too much!!”
It sounded like they had not expected this attack. But if that was the only reaction they gave despite being in the direct line of fire, it only proved just how monstrous they were. Even enough firepower to tear apart the city was only a smokescreen to them. Misaka Tabigake knew that fear and despair would stop his heart if he saw what was beyond that dust. But he did not waste the time given to him. He forced his body up despite the dislocated shoulder, waved his left hand, and shouted to the four-wheel-drive vehicle at the top of his lungs.
“Get going, you damn kids!!”
They seemed to be questioning whether or not they should bring this strange middle-aged man with them, but he forced their hand by running down a different alley. He heard the screeching of tires as they drove off.
Yes, he could move now.
The tension had dissipated with the arrival of the powerful cavalry. Those imaginary wires of death had been cut, the pressure was gone, and the world seemed to have opened up once more. It felt like being stranded on a hellish snowy mountain and then seeing a rescue helicopter descending through the white blizzard. This was a baseless jinx just like the wires of death, but he decided he was going to be okay now.
He held a rolled-up handkerchief in his mouth and slammed his shoulder into a nearby wall to pop it back into place.
“Pant, pant. Oh, hell. I guess this at least gives me another story to tell at a bar. I could really go for some scotch right about now.”
While more or less rubbing up against the wall, he left the short alley to reach another road.
Then another shockwave erupted overhead. The mysterious aerial weapon from before had circled around to take aim at those two monsters.
And then he saw it.
He got a good view this time.
That silhouette formed from several rocket boosters and powerful weapons had a distinctive name written in English.
Anti Art Attachment.
What shocked Misaka Tabigake was not the strange collection of weapons or that code name that was a bigger secret than any national classification level.
It was the girl in the center.
The girl seemingly made a part of the weapon.
Could he really say he recognized her? Could it really be her on the other side of the world and while operating what had to be an illegal military weapon!?
“What the hell???”
The rational part of his mind tried to convince him he was seeing things, but the father inside him firmly rejected that idea. How could he call himself human if he would mistake someone else for her? The debate in his head devolved into a brawl. His mind went blank.
He forgot all about hiding himself and watched the flying object while leaning against the machine for one of the bike rental services that were filling the streets in place of phone booths lately.
Once more, he became a witness of the current age.
To understand the situation, we need to move back in time a bit.
The thing was, Misaka Mikoto and Shokuhou Misaki had taken the A.A.A. with them to Bali.
As long as a weapon did not look like a weapon, no one would question it.
They had thoroughly dismantled it, reassembled it in a way that gave no hint of its proper usage, and packed it in a container as an incomprehensible piece of avant-garde art.
“Okay, I’ll admit I agreed with your plan so we had some response ability in case of an emergency, but what is this!?”
“Shut up, Shokuhou. It’s too late to complain now.”
Also, the A.A.A. had changed form yet again.
It no longer held just one person. It now held two: Mikoto in the front and Shokuhou in the back. The layout had a fighter jet motif. Mikoto could pilot it herself, but she could reduce the burden on herself by letting Shokuhou handle the enemy location, targeting, and hit confirmation.
“(Although I can’t trust that unathletic girl’s kinetic vision or reflexes enough to give her control of the weapons.)”
“Misaka-saaan, is that any way to talk about someone after dragging them halfway around the world in a swimsuit? And we’re moving at Mach 6!! How am I even alive right now!?”
“Ah ha ha. That’s twice as fast as my Railgun, isn’t it? That’s a little depressing. It feels weird living at speeds like this. In another hundred years, will people be able to break themselves down at the quantum level and travel through fiber optic cables?”
“Misaka-shwaaaan! Please take this seriouslyyy!”
Shirai Kuroko and the rest of the Tokiwadai girls were still back at Bali. The A.A.A. did not have the power to carry around two hundred people and Mikoto did not want to bring those girls on an illegal trip when they had such promising futures. Mikoto would smile stiffly when she heard someone mention Shokuhou’s clique, which was the strongest faction in Tokiwadai Middle School, but make no mistake. They were generally good girls. It was just Shokuhou at the top who was rotten. Mikoto would only bring along someone awful enough that she would feel no guilt about ruining their future.
“(Please tell me this position isn’t a permanent thing. For one thing, I think that twintail girl is going to find some way to curse me before long.)”
“Hm, did you say something!?”
“How are we talking while moving so fast, how has the friction ability not torn our skin away, and how has my double bikini not been stripped off of me!? None of it makes sense! Have the laws of physics learned how to be a gentleman to ladies like me!?”
“Academy City’s heatwave was a largescale microwave attack, remember? So preserving our heat isn’t an issue. And the air can be broken down with electricity to change the oxygen level. Also, fluids will flow from more dense areas to less dense ones, Shokuhou-kun. So when I open a ‘hole’ in the atmosphere (which also gives us the oxygen we need), the air will naturally be redirected there. That prevents us from being roasted by friction even without any armor panels to protect us. Using both methods at once is pretty exhausting so I can’t do it for long periods of time, but I can manage for a short flight like this.”
“Eh? So if you run out of strength, I’ll be fried and suffocate at the same ti-…”
“I’m piloting the A.A.A. too, so if I blackout, we’ll just crash. You’re only the backup gunner, so you can’t fly it on your own.”
“I can’t believe you! Now I really want to make you into my puppet. Oh, but don’t worry. I know just how to ruin your life because I happen to know several perverted dances that would make any normal girl faint just from seeing an example of the choreography!!”
“Now I’m worried about you. Have you been practicing those hellish dances in front of the mirror just so your unathletic ass knows how to give people accurate instructions? Are you really that dumb???”
Flying to the other side of the planet would take about half a day on a normal passenger plane, but the A.A.A.’s rocket engines were a different story.
When they entered British territorial waters, Mikoto made sure to speak up just because.
“The purpose of our visit is sightseeing and we will only be staying the one day.”
“There’s something wrong with scheduling a day trip to the other side of the planet!!”
The distance from the coast to London was about one hundred kilometers, but that was nothing to the A.A.A.
Even Mikoto had to groan when she saw the occasional red flames or the crushed body of a giant beast. It was hard to believe she was seeing the modern world where fiber optic cables covered the earth and you could search any location using a GPS map app.
“So what is all this anyway? Some bizarre technology ability from the Kiharas?”
But for Shokuhou Misaki who knew nothing at all about magic, that was how she viewed the world of magic before her eyes. This was her first time seeing it, so she naturally took this as the average. It was Mikoto who knew how strange this was because she had caught glimpses of it in the past.
(Wow… This is different again from Russia during World War III. It seems less planned and more like someone just dumped out their toy box.)
“Misaka-san, space out like that and we’ll fly right past London.”
She refocused and slowed down enough to observe the surface.
She looked down on the heart of London which was covered in darkness because almost all the lights were out.
“I’m using his phone’s signal, so it has to be him. Tch. I don’t know who that is, but they’ll regret laying a hand on my family.”
What would have happened had Kamijou Touma not followed Karasuma Fran’s advice and shut off his phone to prevent anyone from tracing the signal? Or what if he had forgotten to turn it back off after using it for light in the subway tunnels?
It was a silly hypothetical and there was no turning back time now.
“Explosives loaded. Surface targeting speed: Mach 2.5!!”
“Misaka-san, you’re pure deep down, but you can do some dangerous things. Mach 2.5 is for taking careful aim!? And crossing national borders to fight in a war for a family member sounds more like a job for a half-naked Hollywood macho man swinging around a machinegun with ammo belts wrapped around him!!” She did not care.
She aligned the guide grid along a straight main street to avoid damaging the buildings as much as possible and then she connected those points with a line. The line of fire was set and she did not even need to squeeze a trigger.
As she flew along the preset course, tons of shells were launched toward the ground.
“Hit! But only a shallow one, so let’s circle back around and try again!!”
“You’re firing 120mm shells at the same rate as a Gatling gun and you can call it ‘shallow’? Wait, don’t those have the firepower ability to blow the turret off of a tank with just one direct hit???”
“Don’t blame me. Go ask them why they’re so tough. I think that held them back long enough for papa to escape, but I want to be sure!!”
These two girls were Level 5s created by Academy City.
So they did not let their guard down even when they felt in control. They could not predict what kind of supernatural powers they would encounter outside of Academy City, so it was always a possibility unless they actually saw those monsters’ corpses. After all, there were a small number of espers known as Gemstones who were born with their ability.
So they were cautious of return fire from the ground.
Their targets were walking through London like they owned the place and they seemed to have shrugged off the shells, so they had to have some kind of attack they could use.
But even without that, the A.A.A. was a bizarre weapon. That was obvious enough from the fact that Mikoto and Shokuhou were left exposed. If just one attack hit them, they were done for. The A.A.A. had likely been born of a completely different tree than the weapons development that dated back to World War I. Yes, it was like it had been designed based on the logic of fighting some unknown sort of enemy.
They were flying at an altitude of three hundred meters.
With the exception of a lightning rod at the top of an exceptionally tall building, there should not have been anything near them.
And yet Misaka Mikoto heard a girl’s voice coming from that same altitude.
And soon thereafter, they arrived at the moment Misaka Tabigake had witnessed.
They crashed into something in midair.
Mikoto’s vision spun wildly around and she lost her balance.
The A.A.A. stalled and she lost control.
“What in the-…!? Did I hit a bird!? No, that was no bird!”
“Wait, what, Misaka-saaaan!? Does this thing have any kind of safe ejection ability!?”
Mikoto was too preoccupied to answer that question from the lumps of excess fat. The A.A.A. was not shaped like a proper airplane, so it was fragile once it lost its balance. It may have been designed to provide one-hit kills and thus no thought was given to what happened if it was hit. Even as they were swallowed up by the darkness of London, Misaka Mikoto still could not believe what she had just seen.
The question in her mind may have been an ironic one for a girl who had transformed herself into a demon with steel wings by donning this bizarre weapon, but she could not help but ask it.
What had that been?
It had looked a lot like the fusion of a human girl, a toxic jellyfish, bat wings, and newspaper.
Yes, it had looked a lot like a demon.
The translucent demon, Qliphah Puzzle 545, had been sent flying by one of the A.A.A.’s barrels after colliding with it at supersonic speeds. She had entered a tailspin and crashed onto the roof of a nearby apartment. This was one of the problems with the occult’s complete lack of control towers and IFF signals.
She had been ordered to run around London and find Hamazura Shiage. He made it sound simple, but she did not know where that boy was and she did not want to be spotted by the Golden magicians or the ignorant British people. So now that England’s anti-air defenses were in tatters, she had thought it would be best to search from the air since it gave her a good view and let her keep a safe distance.
She had never expected someone else to have the same idea.
Freedom of movement and events outside of the contract were the greatest luxuries for a contracted demon. It may have been like sneaking out of your room at night while taking a trip with a group. When something bound you, you wanted to escape it. When you were told it was off limits, you wanted to do it. That devilish way of thinking was not hard to imagine, but this was not at all the exciting accident she had wanted.
She was left dizzy and sprawled out on the roof.
“I just want to scream.”
On the other hand, the minimal damage this had done to her was proof she was a true demon. The word demon had been getting a lot of use lately, but she was basically a downgraded version of the beings that were the opposite of Fuse Kazakiri or Gabriel. Magic Gods, Coronzon, the Golden magicians, and now the A.A.A. It could be hard to tell with all those extraordinary figures wandering around, but Qliphah Puzzle 545 was very much a monster too. She was a resident of the very depths of the world who could drive entire countries to madness if she put her mind to it.
You did not need a giant robot to kill your enemy. Wearing a camouflaging sheet and hiding in the forest to take aim with your handheld laser gun was more than enough.
The value of a tool was not fully defined by its power. No pizza deliverer would be foolish enough to drive a giant semi-trailer truck around the intricate city streets. Supernatural power as stable and convenient as hers was actually quite rare.
And the demon pouted her lips to sulk about being knocked from the sky.
“I can’t believe this. I really should’ve put in some insurance.”
(Anyway, that was the rumored anti-magic weapon, wasn’t it? It didn’t look like those kids knew how to use it properly, but it’s still pretty scary.)
Qliphah Puzzle 545 was an artificial demon created by Lola Stuart (i.e. Coronzon). Plus, Lola had used Karasuma Fran to send Kamisato Kakeru into Academy City when so many Magic Gods had gathered there. When Kihara Yuiitsu had gone on her rampage at the end of all that, the appearance of that weapon had been shared in a report.
It was the anti-Magic God trump card that Aleister Crowley had built.
Now that Qliphah Puzzle 545 had seen it, she felt confident it could hold its own against the Golden magicians. Although it might not be able to actually deliver a finishing blow.
And the four-wheel-drive vehicle driven by Hamazura Shiage had driven off somewhere while she was caught in the collision. Not many vehicles would be out on the streets given the state of London, but that did not mean she would be able to find it again. There was no guarantee. Finding someone going for a leisurely drive around the city was much easier than finding someone who knew they were being pursued.
(Dion Fortune, that mystery man, two Golden magicians, and now the A.A.A.. Also there were those Magic Gods, I guess. I was only supposed to chase after one boy, but now there are all sorts of strange game pieces on the board. I see. So this is the irregular element, unpredictable witness, and unseen tumor that can shred a criminal plan to pieces. This Hamazura Shiage may indeed be an error hidden in the source code that only produces further errors.)
Should she continue pursuing Hamazura Shiage, or should she return to report on the unexpected intruder who had arrived on the A.A.A. which had crashed off in a different direction?
“Hmm, that’s the real question, isn’t it?”
All or nothing.
The contracted demon named Qliphah Puzzle 545 was about to determine whether she was rewarded or punished.
A variety of equipment was lined up in that RV parked by an unnamed oasis in Egypt.
That said, there was only so much the frog-faced doctor – no, that name was no longer necessary here – could carry with him. Surprisingly, most of what he carried in his bag was not medical equipment. Surgery equipment did include hand-cranked drills and saws in order to cut through and drill holes in bone, but those were just construction tools given greater precision than normal.
He was the magician named Allan Bennett.
As a Buddhist monk, he was known as Swami Maitrananda.
According to the official history, he had grown to be a frail old man due to his opium addiction, but after recovering while learning yoga in Ceylon, he had gained a body so healthy you would swear he was a different person altogether. That explained why he was nearly unrecognizable to anyone who had seen him at the Battle of Blythe Road.
How much had Aleister Crowley known when he pulled the trigger on that illusion?
That human was clever, but he was not blessed with success. That was why the black cat witch had speculated he had truly intended to kill the man.
“I will be borrowing that coffeemaker.”
“Is there an ice tray in the freezer? If you fill a bowl and pass it through a glass tube, you can distill and freeze all you want. And I will use this juicer as a centrifuge. I can modify the steam oven into a sterilizer. Because the one for the bottle is too small. A black light? Good, I can mess with the power supply to add in some UV sterilization. Is there any kind of water tank? Yes, if I fill this storage case’s gaps with glue, I can use it as an isolation workbench. The TV is LCD? Yes, I guess I can’t expect CRT in this day and age. …Hm, a home theater projector? Now that’s a nice bit of hardware. If I take it apart and mess with its components, I can make an oscillograph.”
It was one thing after another.
The magician in a white coat quickly manipulated each tool to transform the ordinary household items and appliances into precision medical equipment. And they were all items that could not be bought outside Academy City and would cost tens of millions of yen even inside the city.
This man, Allan Bennett, could save people even if he was trapped on a desert island.
“This is fairly mindless work, so I would like to use this time to confirm a few things.”
“S-sure. Basically, Lilith needs a new vessel of flesh. She is in a very unstable state and she will likely lose her life before long. So to prevent that…”
“You need a vessel of flesh?”
“It should be possible with Academy City’s cloning technology.”
“You mean creating a life that would not normally have been born and then taking that life to use its body as a component? Are you kidding me?”
An odd intensity filled these words.
But Mina Mathers found that those words filled her with relief. It was possible the Heaven Canceller identity had simply been camouflage to hide his true identity, but his inability to ignore any life approaching death had not been a lie.
“Let us discuss ethics, shall we?”
He spoke like an old professor repeating a lesson for a student who refused to listen.
Aleister Crowley viewed Mina Mathers as an inorganic advisor, so not even that human would be able to speak to her like this.
“There are different ways of duplicating or multiplying cells. For example, you can use up an embryo or you can start from the cells extracted from someone. You can use human cells, or you can use cells from a pig or another animal with a similar structure. There are a wide variety of options.”
“Now, just having the same cells multiply is simple enough. Have you heard of that DIY bio stuff recently? If you fill a sterilized glass container with a culture medium made from bananas or potatoes, add some mincemeat from the supermarket, and then just keep it heated, the cells will multiply on their own. The most difficult part of that experiment is eliminating all the unwanted mold and bacteria. The actual cell multiplication isn’t all that hard.”
“But doesn’t that only give you a microscopic clump of flesh that multiplies as indiscriminately as cancer cells?”
He readily admitted it.
This magician laid out a technique that was impossible for modern humankind.
“That is why you control the telomeres to prevent that cancerization process. To do that, you only need to cultivate a type of enzyme that reacts to the repeated sequence TTAGGG and, once you have enough of it, inject it into sample cells you want to multiply. …Was that too complicated? To put it more simply, you just have to return the abnormal cells to normal. Using that method, you can produce any part of the body inside a glass tube. And then there is no need to dirty your hands by killing another baby to save this one.”
There was a precedent for this in Academy City. And Mina Mathers would have come into contact with it while managing data in the Windowless Building.
She worked as the brain of Kaizumi, an old man on the Academy City Board of Directors. She had lost an eye during Tsuchimikado Motoharu’s quest for revenge, but she had repaired the body part using one of the spare parts she had preserved elsewhere.
“This isn’t worthy of so much surprise. Telomerase enzyme injection experiments have reached the point that they can suppress aging to a certain extent. Even with the normal technology outside the city. So should it really surprise you that an Academy City doctor can accomplish a bit more than that?”
“I have a tendency to make pessimistic predictions instead of leaping toward easy hope. That may be because I was built as a simulator, but this is ridiculous either way.”
“You can alter that opinion once you see the results. More importantly, you look after this centrifuge, will you? I would like to make two or three sensors for monitoring purposes just in case.”
That was all Allan Bennett said before moving from the RV’s spacious living area and entering the driver’s cabin up front. He could not remove the vehicle’s ability to drive, but that was still a treasure trove of spare parts.
Also, the golden retriever got up from the sofa bed and followed him.
As Mina Mathers’s cat-like ears suggested, she was sensitive to noises and voices.
So instead of using his artificial voice or leaving behind any written words, the dog projected glowing words directly on the doctor’s white coat.
“Hey, how long are you going to continue deceiving her? There is no romance in toying with a pure heart like that.”
A thin smile appeared on the frog-faced doctor’s lips and he started to say something, but he decided to do this Kihara Noukan’s way. In his case, he used sign language.
“Miss Mina Mathers is being extremely cautious. And I am nothing more than a doctor, so I’m not cut out for a fight. I was told to follow the instructions I was given in advance the instant she showed any kind of weapon.”
“And so you said the magic words?”
“Don’t give me that look. I only did what Aleister’s message told me to do. I mean, I have no idea who this Allan Bennett person even is.”
The golden retriever breathed an exasperated sigh.
“You have no romance at all.”
“That sort of emotion is unnecessary on the path of medicine. All it does is glorify death.”
There was definite pressure behind those words.
And that pressure had nothing to do with volume or tone.
“While deceiving her did get us in the door, I don’t see how we can get a detailed explanation out of her. After all, when she sees your know-it-all face, she innocently believes you already understand it all.”
“Is that thorniness part of what you call romance? Or was it love at first sight between the dog and the cat?”
“Don’t you dare.”
That was when they heard a meow from the frog-faced doctor’s feet. A calico cat looked up from its food dish with a look that said “What? I’m not giving you my food.”
“I heard that you absolutely loathe that...magic, was it called?”
“All magic should be eradicated. Otherwise it will leave a slight vulnerability in the field of science.”
This Kihara had fought alongside Board Chairman Aleister.
He was one of the few who had supported that human and he had done it from a different direction than the frog-faced doctor.
“But having a goal does not mean anything is acceptable in pursuit of it. Yuiitsu-kun was extremely skilled and you could say it was me who drove her in that direction, but it seems she forgot that lesson. But as you can see from my detached view of this, I too am a Kihara. I am part of that family of madness and destruction that saviors like you should look down upon in disgust. But even then, there is one thing I refuse to compromise on.”
“This might be off topic, but have you ever considered taking up the path of medicine?”
From what position was the frog-faced doctor asking that question?
But the golden retriever had an answer ready.
“What a ridiculous idea. If a Kihara reaches for the field of medicine, they will end up like Byouri-kun. I can never be like you. No matter what scientific field it is, I will make a complete mess of it. Even if I start out hoping to use it for salvation. Yuiitsu-kun started with concern for me, but look at what she actually did. That is what a Kihara is.”
“Hm,” muttered the frog-faced doctor in thought.
And since that was the first actual noise he had made, Mina Mathers’s cat ears twitched while she looked after the handmade centrifuge. The tail behind her also lifted up in interest.
The golden retriever’s tail moved differently, but his nose and ears also moved cautiously.
“So what will you do?”
“Well, I have no idea what to think when she keeps using words like ‘original sin’, ‘life force’, and ‘magician’, but I just have to convert that into words I do understand, right? I just need a technique for transferring a human’s entire ‘self’ – memories, personality, subconscious reflex and reaction patterns, etc. – into another body. If I keep it simple like that, then it might just be possible.”
The golden retriever’s tail fell limply to the floor.
“That’s the thing about you.”
“I know it simply isn’t possible, but sometimes I can’t help but wonder if the man in front of me really is Allan Bennett after all.”
“It might just be to deceive an enemy, but this is a skill all doctors need.”
“You can’t underestimate the placebo effect and you don’t want the medicine you’ve prescribed your patient to not work, so removing the patient’s worries is part of a doctor’s job.”
If that was enough to convince the golden retriever who stood near the top of the Kiharas, then that doctor really was an extraordinary person.
“They noticed us.”
The silver girl suddenly spoke within the dusty old London apartment.
It had sounded like she had found some kind of hint, but this new comment interrupted that.
Something was approaching.
No, they had already entered the next stage.
“Netta Fornario and Israel Regardie, hm? In terms of a stage performance, they would be the opening act. I had caught glimpses of a few scouts, but an actual attack will only reveal their abilities to me. Either way, this is a major performance overall. Let’s move elsewhere and respond to the very center of their act.”
“W-wait. What are you saying we do?”
“Isn’t it obvious? We ruin Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers’s fun.”
Board Chairman Aleister did not even bother looking out the window.
She snapped her fingers.
“Accelerator, try reading the air currents using the dust floating in here. That calculation should be easier than starting with the vectors on your skin.”
Suddenly, an invisible attack passed through that indoor space, shattered the window, hit a woman with two black braids who was clinging to the outside like a lizard or newt, and sent her flying away from the building. A blackened silver accessory shattered.
He was to preserve as much as possible.
So once he switched the choker back off, the #1 gave a skeptical look.
“Why are you giving me more cards to play?”
“What does that matter to you if all you’re concerned about is killing me?”
The one most surprised by all this was Kamijou Touma who had failed to react until it was all over.
“Didn’t you say it didn’t really matter if they attacked us!?”
“Sorry. Did I forget to explain this to you? I am the kind of human who forgets the promises I made just one second before. That’s just how broken my ethics are.”
“You shitty old man!!”
“The route I took might have been different, but I believe I would be classified as a loli hag. And I don’t say that as a joke. I am the genuine article since I really have lived more than a century.”
But no matter what she said, the situation was underway.
They had encountered and clashed with the Golden cabal once more.
That meant Kamijou and Accelerator of the science side had no choice but to follow Aleister from the room to the hallway. And if that led them to a cliff, the sulking spiky-haired boy was seriously considering kicking the silver girl off of it.
Kamijou was beginning to figure out how to interact with Aleister, but it was hard to get her to stop when you honestly praised her. You had to be more careful with compliments than with insults.
At any rate, he had a hard time imagining that attack would have been fatal, but Aleister no longer seemed to fear them like she had during the clash with Mathers in Westminster Abbey’s graveyard. He hoped he and Accelerator were helping support the lonely magician to some extent.
“That was surprisingly easy. I suppose there are something things you could not fix even by ruling them with fear, Mathers.”
But they were not given enough time to run down the stairs and out the back door or to hold their breath and hide in a good ambushing spot.
Before they could do much of anything, they heard the heavy footstep of leather shoes coming from the stairs.
It was clearly meant to inform them of this individual’s presence.
That fluttering cloak.
That unwavering and imposing build.
Those facial features.
Aleister boiled over the instant she saw that.
“Cold and dry then cold and wet.”
He did not hesitate to wield the supernatural.
The silver girl pushed past even Accelerator to stand out front.
The #1 was the strongest, but his firepower was too direct. Had Aleister decided this called for something more underhanded and tricky?
Or had she not wanted the Golden leader to take away the person standing by her side?
The silver girl was overflowing with emotion, but Mathers walked up to the front line while ignoring all his subordinates. The blue cup and green disc were dancing around him.
The chain reaction of small noises sounded an awful lot like waves crashing and receding.
“The blessing of the earth becomes decay. Come forth and spread, lord of demons born from the decay of all that is.”
The objects scattered at his feet were nothing out of the ordinary.
They were small, hard peas.
Come to think of it, wasn’t there a traditional sound effect for stage plays in which a basket full of adzuki beans was shaken side to side?
These peas scattered at Mathers’s feet quickly grew dark and discolored. They wriggled, spat out sticky strings, and connected together.
This was not magic performed as a group. If it was a stage play, then it was Mathers’s solo performance.
And he spoke words of power.
“Thy name is Belzébuth. Purge the insolent ones who stand before me.”
When Aleister tried to run forward, a bunch of those black strings burst from her left chest.
That was her name.
The many peas scattered on the floor linked together to form a sticky black rotting object and then they linked together the name of a great wicked power and the name of a sacrifice.
It looked like a woman’s long black hair after thoroughly soaking in a slimy drain. It was as unclean as could be. And they covered Aleister’s heart, arteries, veins, and everything on the inside of her ribs. At this point, science was irrelevant. Mathers’s magic ruled over everything.
This was not meant to kill someone instantly.
Because that would be meaningless.
This was the very fear that had remotely hunted down and crushed the Golden magicians who had split away from oppressive Mathers in the midst of the Battle of Blythe Road. Mathers had not simply been caught in a conflict Aleister started. This was the legendary attack said to have shattered the cabal because the magicians feared it more than the enemy before them and had started blaming each other for having started the fight.
“How does it feel after so long, novice?”
“Doesn’t fear taste so sweet once you give in and accept it? Just like every religion and mythology has its god turn military might against the human race at some point.”
It broke the target’s spirit before their body.
In the middle of her run, Aleister came to a stop and just about collapsed to her knees, but Mathers grabbed her neck and he lifted her up with just the one arm.
This was no time to watch on in shock.
Aleister and Mathers killed far too quickly.
It was a little late to act now, so Kamijou could only shout.
Mathers had appeared so tough in the Westminster Abbey graveyard, so Kamijou knew his fist might not work. And Aleister did not have much time with her throat in the man’s grasp. She could die to perfectly ordinary asphyxiation.
“Accelerator, the floor!!”
“Hot and dry.”
“Shut up! Just do iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!!!!!!”
The floor fell away not below Mathers but below Kamijou and Accelerator.
An area with a radius of about a meter collapsed below them.
Just like a shark sinking below the surface, the two boys dropped to the next floor down.
They just barely avoided being hit by the deluge of flames that filled the entire straight hallway. While still holding the silver girl up with an arm and with his scarf flapping, Mathers spoke with a hint of amusement in his voice.
Meanwhile, the four Symbolic Weapons flew around him and clanged together like musical instruments.
The arrangement instantly changed.
“Hot and wet.”
His cloak and scarf danced in a gust of wind. In a single slice, an invisible blade of compressed air chopped the apartment in two all the way down to the foundation.
However, there was one thing in its way.
The floor between him and the boys altered its trajectory just a bit and that affected its accuracy. The scenery shifted and the cracks spread, but they had successfully dodged certain death by just a few centimeters in the identical hallway one floor down. Afterwards, Kamijou Touma pointed back up at Mathers.
It was finally time to attack.
Accelerator broke through the obstacles overhead and attacked Mathers from below. They had no idea how effective this would be, but destroying the floor would drop the man down within Imagine Breaker’s range. Kamijou did not know how Imagine Breaker was classified on the science side, but he knew the Golden cabal had kept it as the ultimate exorcism spiritual item which had supposedly killed Mathers once before. It now resided in the boy’s right arm and had been incorporated into some kind of plan in Academy City. Mathers could never ignore it since it had directly caused his death before.
Mathers stomped the heel of his leather shoe on the floor just before it burst from Accelerator’s attack.
It was like a hopeless game of whack-a-mole. By fully controlling the four elements, could Mathers really use just his foot to strike down Academy City’s #1?
But just then, when Mathers glanced down for a brief moment…
Aleister let out a quick breath and swung her right knee up while still held up by the man’s arm. The sharp and heavy knee strike had to have hit the jaw hidden below the scarf, but Mathers did not react. No training could protect you from a hit like that, but he simply glared at her.
“I came to deal with you personally, so please do not assume you can end this so easily.”
The silver girl actually laughed.
Yes. That human did not fear failure.
“I see, I see. So that’s how it works. It looks like killing the cat as many times as it takes is worthwhile after all. I was already curious after what happened in the Westminster graveyard, but it all makes sense now.”
“You can thank Dion Fortune.”
She gave the answer while facing her death.
Like she was leaving behind a dying message.
“Israel Regardie or Netta Fornario would have worked just as well, but it was Fortune that clued me in. I will reveal your secret. Westcott is the only quasi-immortal that cabal needs.”
“Your hackneyed sensibilities stole the Golden from me once, so I will not be satisfied until I have killed you by corrupting you from the heart so that only contaminates and pathogens flow through your veins. Now, it is time you decided what to do in the meantime. Spiritual Tripping? The Blasting Rod? Or will you use Holy Guardian Angel Aiwass again? No matter what you try, you can never escape from me. Because you are you and I am me.”
“You fool. I will entrust my life to the century I built. In other words, to science. That said, what I could scrounge up at a shopping center was not quite enough.”
She had not broken.
The silver girl was completely different from when she had trembled all alone in the Westminster Abbey graveyard.
Mathers narrowed one eye in displeasure as she continued.
“Really, this is kind of cheating. And you could say I am only handing the earth and its people to Coronzon sooner. But no complaints, okay? If you truly understand what kind of human I am, then don’t let this anger you, Mathers.”
That was when the dam broke. Mathers’s cloak and scarf fluttered as he spun around and slammed Aleister’s back into a nearby wall.
The loud bang was followed by the unpleasantly long sound of the air directly forced from her lungs finding it could not leave through her constricted throat.
“You still haven’t broken?”
“Enjoy this while you can, Mr. Short Temper. I won’t ask the impossible of you. I already know you aren’t capable of anything as complex and intellectual as patience.”
Mathers raised his arm once more. He likely planned to use his height to slam the silver girl against the hard floor. This was not a martial arts ring, so in the worst case, her spine and ribs could shatter and pierce her organs.
Of all things.
While suspended by an arm and short on air, Aleister pulled out a card-sized electronic device. It was a perfectly ordinary smartphone.
Disappointment filled Mathers’s eyes, but it was unlikely he knew what this really meant.
So Aleister explained for him.
“Unlock. Now Academy City is fully functional once more.”
They were indoors, yet Mathers still sensed an intense beam of light dropping toward him from overhead. The light pierced and destroyed everything in its path, but…
“Is that all you’ve got, novice? You really thought an orbital bombing was enough to fry me!?”
The powerful beam practically grazed Aleister’s nose as it scored a direct hit on Mathers. Yet his voice and that strange pressure were not weakened in the slightest. The Symbolic Weapons of fire, water, wind, and earth were ordinary items any modern magician could carry with them, but this was what they were capable of in the right hands.
The silver girl readily responded.
“The result is practically staring you in the face. Who said I was satisfied with a mere satellite weapon?”
It was too late now.
The optical attack had already been launched straight down from satellite orbit. And where was Academy City’s #1, Accelerator, who Mathers himself had intercepted with a stomp earlier?
“Reflection and focusing. It is high time you experienced just what Academy City can do, you philistine.”
An even greater attack shot back up from below as if to rebel against heaven. The #1 had taken the satellite weapon head-on and then sent it right back with double the power.
And that achieved a certain saturation, pushing something past a threshold.
Of the four weapons frozen in midair, the wind dagger was deflected away.
This was a first.
A change came over Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers’s face. The expression glimpsed below his witch’s hat was a negative one, but it was not one of displeasure. It was slight – ever so slight – but his face was twisted as if in pain.
Something burned away in the light. The witch’s hat and cloak, the scarf, and the Scottish military uniform he so loved were all scorched and his previously untouched skin grew discolored. It collapsed. What did? The outline of that immovable obstacle named Mathers.
Just then, something fluttered in the corner of Aleister Crowley’s vision.
The Golden magician named Dion Fortune came to.
“My, my. It looks like she’s woken up, Niang-Niang. If she had waited until after we were done treating her wounds – heh heh heh – she could have at least avoided the sting of the disinfectant.”
“There’s not enough room, Nephthys. And who keeps shoving their ass right in my face? Do I need to bite it!?”
An ear-splitting scream erupted within the four-wheel-drive vehicle.
The bandages, disinfectant, tweezers, and other items inside a mini first aid kit flew through the air. That kit had been found in the trunk of the stolen vehicle along with a wrench and a hammer for breaking the window if the car fell into some water.
Even with the full backseat to work with, it was still cramped with three monsters crammed in there together.
In a habit picked up from living in Academy City where satellites were watching 24/7, Hamazura tended to hide below bridges, in parking garages, or anywhere with a roof when he was on the run. In this case, they were below one of the trees next to the road. However, the very fact that he had a habit of what to do while on the run showed he had made some major mistakes in planning his life.
At any rate.
(Are they 8=3 level? No, even higher!? I thought those ranks didn’t really exist and were just for show!!)
“Nwa ha ha ha! Show some fear and respect! You people used the names of Isis and Osiris assuming there would be no repercussions, but I am one of their fellow gods and am oftentimes seen as one and the same. So good evening. I am Nephthys.”
Hamazura was starting to feel worried.
That delinquent boy began to recall some old trivia on the level of an urban legend that he had heard in the past. Something about screaming at the top of your lungs being bad for the blood vessels in your head.
He turned around in the driver’s seat to look back.
“Hey, she’s injured, isn’t she? Try not to get her so worked up!”
“Oh? But weren’t you the one that asked us to treat Dion Fortune’s wounds? Although it looks like she could heal herself on her own.”
“Fortune? Well, anyway, I don’t know how to treat someone that badly hurt, but a bandage woman like you probably knows a thing or two about that. Plus she’s a girl, so it would be a bad idea for me to remove her clothes.”
“Oh, dear. You say that, boy, but haven’t you been glancing back in the rearview mirror. And quite frequently too.”
The mini-China dress girl’s unwanted oracle sent a fist flying toward him from the passenger seat. Yes, while Takitsubo Rikou looked like the cute and expressionless bunny type, she would take action just as expressionlessly when necessary. Our hero(?) kept talking while looking quite ugly with his face squished against the drivers’ side window.
“Bgweh. N-no, you misunderstand. Your tits will always be #1 to me. Wait, wait, wait! The glass is creaking from all this pressure! Are you just embarrassed or are you legit mad!? And can someone please explain what’s going on!?”
“You’re not really supposed to rank people for that kind of thing,” said bandaged Nephthys with a wink.
The gods could quickly switch between English and Japanese, but they used Japanese when speaking to Hamazura. That meant the girl named…Dion? did not know what they were saying but could tell she was caught in the middle of it. She trembled with some tears in her eyes.
The brown beauty continued regardless.
“Magic Gods are those who pursued magic to the point of no longer being human. But these Golden people have remained human while using spells that incorporate even the power of Magic Gods. But it isn’t a case of one side walking all over the other. It’s a complex mess of mutual deception and betrayal. You could say whoever lets their guard down just a little will be consumed.”
“Well, normally thinking, a Magic God who has mastered magic would never be outdone by the knowledge of a magician who is still working to master magic,” said Niang-Niang. “But these Golden people aren’t exactly the average case. Do you mind if I use a poker analogy? A 2 might be the weakest card, but if you gather all four of them, you have a four-of-a-kind. It’s the group effect. It’s synergy. Of course, it’s still like threading a needle, but if used correctly, it could probably bring them pretty close to being the strongest out there. It’s not just the kings and aces that determine who wins and who loses.”
“Even Aleister figured out for himself how to eliminate Magic Gods Zombie and High Priest. If these people want to claim they’re the original Golden magicians like him, they’ll have to show us something that makes even us panic.”
“Um, I was really trying to brush that off with a smile, so why’d you have to repeat yourself to drive your point home? You’re so mean, Nephthys. So thanks for digging back up that embarrassment from my past. Didn’t I say I was going to destroy Academy City and shout ‘all okay’ nice and loud?”
“Who would have thought the Kamisato Fever would bring a quick end to that? Right?”
That loud groan caused redheaded Dion Fortune to jump in shock. The sickly pale mini-China dress girl should have been more considerate.
“A-are you trying to get me to commit harakiri, Nephthys???”
“Eh? Why would you do it the Japanese way? Their cruel traditions are more High Priest’s thing. And that method is no fun at all. It’s like being forced to wear non-matching underwear. Wearing a matching set feels so much better, so I’d rather see some amazing Chinese culture like Lingchi or Paolao☆”
“Are you secretly a demon!? Hey, you innocent babies looking clueless in the front seats, don’t even think about searching those terms!! No matter how curious those Chinese words make you, you will seriously regret it if you hit that search button. So promise your big sis Niang-Niang you won’t do that!”
“Specifically, Lingchi is a form of public execution where a living criminal is slowly chopped up over a long and truly agonizing period of time. Don’t search for it, okay?”
“The Nihon Daruma story about travelers having their arms and legs cut off and then put out on display is a completely baseless urban legend, but it might have taken inspiration from that. Tremble tremble.”
Fortune was trembling even more than Niang-Niang and she looked dizzy too. Perhaps the words Lingchi and Paolao were known all around the world much like pachinko and keirin. Hopefully she did not assume she was going to be punished in such horrific ways.
“Oh, but Niang-Niang, no part of the world is bloodless. You already tried to appropriate harakiri from Japan, but they also had a punishment known as the Six-Location Cut. And while everyone seems to look up to the West as the gold standard, they had a device known as the rack which pulled on the limbs until the body was torn apart. Everyone comes up with these ideas. The humans covering this earth are so cruel, aren’t they?”
“Gyaaaahh!? I thought something was off about you, Nephthys, but you’ve started on some weird new obsession, haven’t you!?”
“Quiet! You shouted so loud Fortune fainted again!”
“Oh, how seductive of her. Being a natural at trances can’t be fun. Heyyy, wake up!”
Fortune convulsed in the back seat after sliding down so much her butt nearly slipped off the seat, but then Niang-Niang did something to her. With her bright stockings and frilly dress, not much of her skin was exposed, but Niang-Niang still seemed to be wrapping wet tissues around her forehead and neck. She was apparently cooling the larger blood vessels to stimulate the girl. It seemed oddly old-fashioned, like a sort of folk medicine.
And after the mini-China dress girl used exaggerated movements to catch Hamazura’s eye…
“This isn’t enough. Boy, bring me a green onion! I’ll shove it up her ass. This is gonna be a major operation.”
“Habwah!? What!? What is this sense of impending doom!?”
Dion Fortune had passed out and did not understand Japanese, but some kind of sixth sense kicked in and she hopped back up as if to avoid some kind of trap. The hop was a little too vigorous, so her skirt fluttered up, revealing a glimpse of her drawers, and her face plowed right into Nephthys’s large chest.
The bandaged woman did not seem to mind and she rubbed the back of Fortune’s head as if comforting a small child.
“These things took root in civilization before the spread of forensics that use fingerprints or DNA, so you can find an odd accumulation of torture and execution techniques in the areas of the world where the majority of the people wished to avoid death. In other words, pretty much the entire world. Ancient Egypt is no laughing matter either. After all, the desert is an unforgiving place and we had such high-level toolmaking and stone construction skills. Some theorize it was the first civilization to use ropes and bondage for torture.”
“Nephthys, Fortune is convulsing again. If you don’t release her from that endlessly soft bog, she’ll suffocate.”
Explaining that made Niang-Niang start to blush, which just meant she was a little less pale than normal, and they had gotten extremely sidetracked with their World Cruelty Theatre, but Hamazura Shiage did not understand the first thing about magic anyway. Talking about gods and goldens in front of him would accomplish nothing. He did recall receiving some kind of special lecture (and a slap) from something-or-other Birdway, but the true idiots were the ones who forget everything even when they did study. It was also Birdway’s fault for not being a perfect blonde teacher with tight skirt, black stockings, a white blouse (with two buttons undone) that showed off her bra lines, and the lovely face and giant breasts to match. How was he supposed to remember the lesson without that?
So there was only one thing to say for that member of the spoiler generation(?) that would just look up the answer to everything.
“Keep it simple.”
The brown beauty responded while pulling Dion Fortune’s small face out from her ample cleavage.
“Dion Fortune might be able to get a bite in on us, but we might be able to chew Dion Fortune to pieces. And while the two of us are together and desperate for some excitement, Dion Fortune is all alone, trapped between us, and injured. So a question: who has the upper hand?”
“Oh, I get it now,” said Hamazura for the time being.
But he had to be careful. That view came from a pro-Magic God position. If that other group called the Golden cabal was asked the same question, they might see things differently.
And on top of that, this new girl had fainted when they shouted too loud, she had narrowly escaped the spring onion, and she had suffocated in the endlessly soft bog, so Hamazura spoke up in sympathy for the woozy-looking frilly dress girl.
“I don’t get any of this, but quit talking about biting people and chewing them to pieces when she’s injured! I was trying to rescue that Fortune girl, but now I feel like I threw a fawn into a cage with two wolves! So stop that! Look how scared the poor girl is!!”
He had taken her side.
However, that seemed to have hurt her pride.
She shouted back at him in English.
“Don’t you dare mock the great Dion Fortune!!”
The black box floated up as the frilly dress girl bared her teeth and roared at him.
Niang-Niang widened her eyes like dinner plates to observe the Golden magician from close up. And she spoke with a blank expression.
“Fine, if you wanna try it.”
“You got this far with the luck of the draw, right? The spells you shove inside that box are transformed and corrupted like a game of telephone, so not even you know what it will end up as. That luck-based randomness is meant to bring down the enemy’s strategies and tactics. So you could say it’s a lot like an archetype processor that forces them to fight with nothing more than their base strength. But do you think you can defeat a god with nothing more than luck? When you’re no more than a hairless ape?”
Sweat poured down Dion Fortune’s forehead below her white veil.
She may have only now realized this.
It could have been Israel Regardie or Netta Fornario. If these Magic Gods had run into any of the other Golden magicians, no one could have predicted the result. But Dion Fortune would be forced to fight with probability instead of with ingenuity or a fistfight. Once that game of Russian roulette began, it would become an extremely boring fight to the death in which she was guaranteed to blow her brains out in the first round.
Meanwhile, Nephthys calmly interrupted.
“Now, now, Niang-Niang. What are you even saying? You can’t call her a hairless ape when you can see that red hair on her head. And by her age, she’ll have some hair down below too.”
“Eh? Why do you look like someone who just saw the real murderer???”
An awkward silence fell between the two higher beings.
This introduced some unnecessary suspicions about Magic God Niang-Niang who had lived for at least a thousand years.
But the woman who had all her hair got back on topic.
“Now, the Golden cabal used Kabbalah as a foundation, added in Egyptian Mythology, Greek Mythology, tarot, Enoch, and plenty of other things, extracted the common symbols of god and light, and put it all together into a system of spells that approaches the essence of it all. And within that, Nephthys is the Imperator, one of the three positions in the 0=0 ceremony. …Now, surely you aren’t naïve enough to think you could use that box of yours against a legit Egyptian deity like me. This is beyond what luck can do for you, unless you set things up to the extent Aleister Crowley did when he brought out that being he calls Aiwass and claimed to have complete the Last Judgment in 1904.”
She received a troubled voice in response.
With the stage play ritual magic that used a large group of people, the arrangement of people could be altered to cover up a weak point, but recovering from a mistake was much more difficult with a solo performance.
Meanwhile, Nephthys smiled and clasped her hands in front of her large chest. She looked like she was begging for something.
Mathers had fought with the coded text that had led to the initial Golden cabal before Crowley had joined, so he may have been able to immediately create a new stage play that omitted the divine crying woman. Quasi-immortal Westcott had also been involved with that coded message, so he may have been able to ignore the apparent damage and work out the flaws in his spells from the horrific wounds torn into his body.
But what about Dion Fortune?
It could have been any other magician or Magic God, but this bandaged woman was just a bad fit for her.
And then the brown woman spoke with the kind voice of a kindergarten teacher.
She kept it short.
But she was the female deity associated with Osiris, god of the underworld, and who was directly linked to death, tears, and sorrow.
“Do you want to die?”
The floating black box fell back down into Dion Fortune’s hand.
Hamazura did not understand, but he could tell the confrontation was over.
Not only did he not understand magic, but the last bit had played out in English. An idiot like him could never hope to keep up.
“So what does all this mean? Who’s the victim and who’s in the wrong? Where am I supposed to take that girl???”
“Oh, what a gentleman. But I don’t think it’s too late to get some more information out of her as a reward for taking her in. …Really, she’s probably the only Golden magician who would back down so easily. Especially in their current state where they would probably calmly challenge a god even after having half their body blown away.”
Then Niang-Niang summed it up with something she really should not have said.
She touched on a taboo.
“Heh. Compared to Westcott and Mathers, she’s a complete newbie to the Golden cabal. So don’t worry! Losing a mere Fighter A isn’t going to affect the cabal much!!”
“You seem really intent on setting her up as the one in the wrong, but I don’t want to see a girl crying in humiliation, so stop it!!”
For some reason, it was Hamazura she glared at with tears in her eyes.
It was possible Dion Fortune was the kind of person who took more damage from pity than malice.
Takitsubo breathed an exasperated sigh from the passenger seat.
And she spoke in English.
“I don’t really care what you think about all this, but you should at least be polite.”
“Hamazura risked his life to help you when you were collapsed on the road, so shouldn’t you thank him?”
“Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee…bubble, bubble, bubble☆”
This time, the frilly dress girl collapsed backwards and passed out.
“Wait, hold on!! It bothers you that much that I picked you up!?”
“I bet this is because we forgot the spring onion,” added Niang-Niang.
He burned away.
He was burned to a crisp and blown away.
Or he should have been.
The smell of death and burning filled the old apartment hallway.
In her silver girl form, Aleister ripped away the man’s hand still holding her neck. The wrist end was carbonized and torn from its arm.
“That damaged his body. But did it work? No, not yet.”
Even after all that.
Mathers had been forced to let go of his target, but he silently glared at her from a short distance away from the scorched area.
There was a simple reason for his survival.
Before he was heated to the point of death, someone else had tackled him out of the way.
The Golden leader spoke that person’s name.
“Edward Berridge. My bright and shining brother.”
“Brother? You seem to have quite a faithful servant, Mathers.”
Aleister’s voice was brimming with sarcasm and mockery.
That was why this magician was the very same Aleister Crowley who had once followed the Battle of Blythe Road through to the end. Once she got started, she would not let her conscience stop her until it was over and done with.
“Besides, that wouldn’t have been enough to kill you off whether you received help or not.”
Embers danced through the air.
But they did not come from burning pieces of the apartment.
The edges of the giant hole allowed the wind in from more than one direction and that blew something into the air between the two magicians.
They were tarot cards.
Simply put, it was the same as the black cat witch named Mina Mathers. She had been both a powerful simulator and the Thoth Tarot, but then Aiwass had set her free by remaking her as a grimoire to virtually construct a body for her. Qliphah Puzzle 545 was another example. Coronzon had power equal to or greater than Aiwass, so she had successfully created an autonomous artificial angel based on the Qliphoth.
Unlike humans, such beings could not refine magic power using their own life force, but they accomplished something similar by absorbing power from the ley lines running through the earth.
In other words, even a fake could use magic.
“It was not that you acquired a quasi-immortality spell like Westcott’s.”
Aleister’s lips definitely twisted upwards.
She had discovered that Cinderella’s dress was made by the fairy godmother, but there was another way of looking at that. She seemed to be mocking the filthy identity hidden below the dress.
“Original grimoires have always been considered indestructible. Isn’t that right, Mathers?”
Thinking back, why had Mathers bothered to create a wall of water to redirect Kamjiou Touma’s fist back in the Westminster Abbey graveyard? Even though he had made a point of taking Accelerator’s deadly reflection straight to the face immediately afterwards?
And on that note, why had Academy City’s #1’s special attack – the one that destroyed all the blood vessels and nerves in the target’s body – failed to work on him?
The answer was simple. An original grimoire would never want to come in contact with Imagine Breaker. And since he was technically not human, it was no surprise his circulation of blood and bioelectricity differed from a normal person. So even if Accelerator was the best the science side had to offer, it was only natural his calculations had not fit.
“I notice you don’t have a drop of blood on you even after slaughtering so many other versions of me. Did you not want to blot out the card patterns? Come to think of it, I can see some of that black cat’s influence there.”
Those had been small questions, but it was something else that had really stood out to Aleister.
“It was Dion Fortune,” said the silver girl. “She is technically a Golden magician, but she only joined in 1919. That is well after the Battle of Blythe Road in April of 1900, Mathers! And what about Israel Regardie or Netta Fornario!? Those untimely magicians arrived after the battle was already over and futilely worked to forcibly restore the Golden cabal to its former glory. You could say they were from a different generation. Whatever their skill level, they are complete newcomers from my perspective. If you had been secretly selecting your favorites from the later iterations of the cabal such as the Dawn-Colored Sunlight or New Light, someone would have detected you long ago. So what is this? You were all one group from the beginning? Newcomers like them would never be standing side by side with the founders like you and Westcott!!”
It was true Fortune’s name had been mentioned in the Windowless Building.
But you must not forget.
Aleister had reproduced that based on his own point of view and its main purpose had been to inspire and motivate him by digging up his old traumas.
As long as the powerful symbol of the Golden cabal was there, there had been no need for the details to be exactly right. In fact, some exaggeration would only help with the intended goal. And when the events had been shown to Kamijou Touma, Mina had provided some additional explanations and rearranged the chronological order to help convey what the boy needed to know.
It was possible to create beings that thought for themselves.
And for higher beings on the level of Aiwass and Coronzon, it was possible to create things like the baby Lilith and Qliphah Puzzle 545.
With so many previous examples, there was no reason to not do it again.
So they had to reach for that answer here.
It was much more convincing than attempting to claim every last Golden magician had somehow survived the Battle of Blythe Road and remained undetected for a century afterwards.
The hand Aleister held like a piece of fried chicken crumbled like a knot had come undone and it transformed into several cards. The wind carried them over to Mathers and his lost hand regenerated.
A true grimoire could not be destroyed by any method.
That was why the Anglican Church had created the grimoire library known as Index Librorum Prohibitorum.
“What a silly farce, Mathers. Even with all these familiar faces around, am I still all alone in the end?”
“Is that how you see it?”
Even with the truth revealed, Mathers whispered to the silver girl.
“If you truly have stopped thinking there, then no target could be easier to finish off, Aleister.”
The air crackled as killer intents clashed.
If either one moved a finger, some unstoppable attack would be unleashed and one or the other would be destroyed.
But just before that could happen, Mathers grimaced a bit.
“Do not interfere.”
It sounded a lot like a high-voltage line exploding, but it did not come from the hallway. It either came from one of the rooms or from outside the building.
“I thought I had sensed a slight intoxication, but it seems something had slipped into my mind. Is this the madness of war? Protégé of Coronzon, do you know who it is you are targeting here?”
The silver girl’s eyebrows rose slightly.
Hadn’t she already killed the artificial demon this reminded her of?
“You had an excuse ready to go for when you lost? You are thorough if nothing else, Mathers.”
“Say what you wish. Punishing this ungrateful demon comes first, but do not think this has saved you. I am always working towards killing you. I will fill in these irregular gaps that keep extending your life. No matter how small they are, I will fill them in. So come at me with science or magic. The number of possibilities you have left are the countdown to your doom. You must know what kind of person I am and surely you do not think the likes of Coronzon could change me.”
The words “cold and dry” soon followed.
As soon as Aleister tackled a nearby door and dived into the room beyond it, an all-destroying sandstorm filled the straight hallway.
The silver girl did not bother checking the hallway.
She quietly clicked her tongue while collapsed on the floor.
“So he’s gone.”
She finally heard a few sets of additional footsteps, but she doubted they belonged to the Golden magicians or Mathers. They were in such a rush she wondered if that god of war was scolding them. And just as she started getting worried, Kamijou Touma and Accelerator peered in through the broken door.
“S-so what happened?”
“I destroyed one and mostly revealed the mystery behind the Golden members. Bread and wine, 22 and 56, and some wax as a secret ingredient. I will explain and in detail.”
Aleister sat up on the floor, sighed, and added something else.
“(But if that battle had continued, it would have been me that was killed. Just as discovering the blueprint for a tank doesn’t make its armor any less solid, revealing Mathers’s identity does not reduce his magical skill.)”
“What? Did you just mutter some ominous stuff under your breath?”
“No, it was nothing.” The silver girl shook her head while seated. “Anyway, since Mathers left, he must have found something more important than killing me. And it would be something more than eliminating someone interfering from the shadows.”
“Hold on. You mean Mathers of all people had a more pressing issue to deal with?”
Aleister had to smile at that phrasing.
In this short time, Kamijou had seen what drove that man.
“Yes. Mathers of all people prioritized something other than what he wanted. He tried to hide it with a silly act even after faithful Berridge was destroyed before his eyes. That means whatever is happening could not wait until after he had killed me. There must be something, but I have no idea what. So I would like to know if you have any ideas. …This would be so much easier if I had Mina Mathers here as the Thoth Tarot, but you will have to take her place for now, my students.”
Dion Fortune, the girl wearing a frilly white dress with pink accents, heard a quiet metallic jingling.
Hamazura Shiage leaned the driver’s seat back to get some rest and accidentally hit Nephthys with the headrest, but then he seemed to realize something.
“Oh, right. I still have this. You can have it back.”
She could not understand what he said, but the expression half-hidden by her white veil looked quite complex. It could not be measured with any one emotion.
This was the SOS signal that had not reached anyone.
She seemed to be a prideful girl, so she may have gathered what courage she had left and rung that bell while something broke inside her and she burned with humiliation. And since it had ultimately accomplished nothing, this reminder must have been a doubly or triply painful.
Or perhaps it was the same for any teenage boy or girl.
Asking for help was perfectly normal for adults, but it required a painful amount of effort for a child to utter those words.
One’s pride was more valuable than their life. His pride’s value had not risen to the point that he would be unable to ask to use the bathroom at school, but Hamazura was at that same age. The results of his powers development and the scores on his tests had cost him almost all of the currency known as pride and that debt had continued to pile up until he found himself wandering the back alleys of Academy City. But he had been given a chance to recover by Takitsubo Rikou, Kinuhata Saiai, Mugino Shizuri, and the late Frenda Seivelun. If those girls had not taken him in and given him a loan in the currency of pride, he would have still been there in the back alleys.
So despite the language barrier, he found himself speaking to this girl.
“No one heard it, but that’s fine. If none of your companions heard you asking for help, then that protects some of your pride. So it’s okay. It’s all in how you look at it. You can redo it as many times as it takes. It still hasn’t fallen to zero and you’re still not in debt.”
Takitsubo seemed unsure whether or not she should translate this.
So Hamazura held out a hand to stop her.
It did not matter if the girl could not understand him. It only mattered that he said it.
A failure was not a complete waste of time. Sometimes it was necessary to come to a stop. So he hoped he could show that through his actions instead of his words.
A staticky sound continued intermittently just outside the run-down apartment.
The translucent demon named Qliphah Puzzle 545 was there.
Perhaps due to a direct counterattack from Mathers, her outline was irregularly blurring. She had fallen to the ground, she could not breathe properly, and an unpleasant sweat poured from her entire body. The text on the English newspapers complexly rearranged itself, but it never formed actual words and sentences. It looked more like a corrupted text file.
This was no time to dream of the sweetness she found in freedom of movement and in events outside the contract. This external pressure could only be described as extraordinary. A monster lurked outside the rules. Leaving those rules introduced a lot of risk. She was reminded just how valuable the boring safety of those rules was.
(This is bad. This is bad bad bad bad bad bad bad bad bad.)
She could not gather her thoughts.
She had quickly given up on pursuing Hamazura Shiage and intended to tell Accelerator what she had seen.
(Even in this form, he’s still Mathers. Did he really rearrange the numbers of the Major Arcana using his own interpretation? He’s leaving Coronzon’s control!!)
But once she returned, she had found Mathers and the other Golden magicians attacking the Isis-Urania Temple.
Qliphah Puzzle 545 had learned that no good deed goes unpunished. She had tried to actually protect her contractor for once and this was how she was rewarded. Her policy was to only answer the questions she was asked, so she had kept the identity of these Golden magicians to herself.
But no matter what form he took, Mathers was still Mathers. She had tried getting him to act carelessly by using the madness of war on him like she had with the Lady of the Masquerade Ball, but using the exact same tactics against such an intelligent group had been a mistake. Every action taken by the cabal personnel and the reason behind it would have been reported back to their leader. And they were not naïve enough to be repeatedly outdone by a downsized artificial being.
A normal person would have been killed instantly by that attack.
Qliphah Puzzle 545 had only survived because she was a demon.
“Kh. I can’t believe this.”
She was surprised she was calm enough to speak in complete sentences like that. It was like floundering in the water and thinking you would drown, but then realizing your feet could reach the bottom of the pool.
She somehow managed to stand up, used a hand to prop herself up against the wall, and took a deep breath. Then she hesitantly tried spreading her wings like someone checking on a half-healed scab. She once more left the bonds of gravity and floated up.
(Well, I’ll just have to check on everything one at a time. Nee hee hee. And I guess I’ve shaken free of Coronzon’s control too.)
She made a loop-the-loop in the moonlight such that anyone on the ground would have seen her make a loop around the moon.
It looked like her body was not going to fall apart after all.
She saw something on the ground.
A four-horse carriage was weaving through the gaps in the miniature city below her. And it was not alone. Similar carriages gathered from all over to form a single caravan.
They seemed to be on their way to pick someone up.
Qliphah Puzzle 545 looked to see where the carriages were headed and saw Buckingham Palace.
“So is that for the Royal Family? Nee hee hee.”
The standard tourist route through the British Museum did not visit the back area. Index and Fran threw open the thick double doors and stepped into a darkness so thick it felt like swimming through stagnant air.
Overall, it was like a giant stone dome.
“Here, use this light.”
They must have decided her basted-together clothes would never stop falling apart, so Orsola now wore a Japanese-style school uniform coat over her bare skin. But Index was a discerning girl thanks to her perfect memory. She knew this was the very same coat a certain boy had used to cover Orsola’s nudity while taking her from the subway!!
“There are a lot of historical documents stored in here, so try to restrain yourself.”
Fran cautioned her before anything happened.
Incidentally, Orsola carried a silver tray containing what looked like an oil lamp, but it was actually an electric light. And the light was covered by a glass shade that blocked UV wavelengths just like sunglasses did. Needless to say, that too was to protect the old paper.
But why was it on a tray?
“It pains me that sandwiches were the only finger food I could prepare for you.”
“Food! And are those the wicked kind that seduce the maiden heart!?”
Fran gave her a look that said “What did I just say about historical documents?”, but it was no use. The sandwiches Orsola had brought were only canned meat and vegetables held between bread, but the care taken in preparing them was evident from how she had boiled the contents to remove excess fat and salt and how she had cut off the bread crust.
“Sandwiches are not very messy, but it would still help if you held them between these napkins.”
“I just hope eating this late doesn’t make us too drowsy.”
Despite what the hoodie bikini girl said, she did not try to stop them. Index and Karasuma Fran were promoted into the group that had managed to eat a meal since landing in England. The mayonnaise was homemade and had a few drops of olive oil for flavor. Thanks to that and other tricks by the capable young woman named Orsola, the sandwiches seemed much more complete despite using canned ingredients. Meanwhile, poor Kamijou Touma and Hamazura Shiage were still going hungry.
But that was not why they were here.
Reading desks were lined up in the center and tall bookcases formed a circle around them, but the hoodie bikini and rabbit-ear antennae girl’s gaze moved right past that cascade of books and looked further in. The historical documents were only used as reference for the work done here. The real exception of the British Museum was further in: the archive and workroom for repairing damaged covers or torn pages. The old texts needing specialized repairs were sent there.
Which raised a certain question.
Fran frowned and looked back at Index as the girl approached that area.
“You have more than 103,000 grimoires memories, don’t you? And original grimoires can repair themselves, so why would they need human help?”
“I have the text memorized. But not the tiny creases, fingerprints, and other marks left on a physical text. And a lot of original grimoires should be gathered here as external reference material. Keeping their locations uncertain helps ensure their safety.”
Grimoires were not mere data.
Whether it was papyrus, parchment, or paper, they were physical objects. Which meant there would be important traces left beyond the actual text itself.
“Bibliomancy,” bluntly stated Index. “You pull out a grimoire, picture your worries in your head, and flip through it. Then you place your finger on a specific passage and read what it says to find the answer to your worries.”
“That method is used with the Book of the Law, isn’t it?”
Index obediently nodded at Orsola Aquinas’s elegant question.
“But it isn’t actually entirely random.”
“A brand new book would be one thing, but when you’ve read through a book countless times, you will leave some mark on it. Given enough time, it will gain a habit of opening on its own to your favorite page. So even if you think you are flipping randomly through it, it will be biased toward certain pages. So you could say bibliomancy isn’t so much random as it is a way of reminding yourself of a favorite passage.”
“Well, fortunetelling is often just guiding the customer toward the answer that already exists inside them. They just want the objectivity and self-acknowledgment of having someone else say it.”
People left their mark on the tools they used.
That was not at all limited to books. Tarot, other forms of cards, and crystal balls would gain fingerprints, smudges, and small scratches when touched on a daily basis. That was what transformed them into devices to confirm the thoughts inside you. And their accuracy grew the more they were used.
“In other words.” Orsola placed a slender index finger on her chin. “The truly original Book of the Law would have the small marks and scratches needed to peer into the mind of its author, Aleister Crowley? Like data recorded with magnetism?”
The hoodie bikini and rabbit-ear antennae girl audibly gulped.
Perhaps the thought occurred to her because she wore so many kinds of antennae while also being a magician.
“If you could fully control what small marks and scratches you made on a book, could you transfer that ‘invisible data’ to a brand new book?”
Index looked around, pulled out several books, and checked them, but then she tilted her head.
This was the British Museum’s repair room, but that alone must not have been enough data.
“There is a lot of confusion around the country right now, but we could probably gather more from the British Library and other places in England,” said Orsola.
“So it would be difficult to gather something stored further away?” asked Index.
“Especially Scotland, I’m guessing.” The hoodie bikini and rabbit-ear antennae girl tilted her head, and operated something in her backpack. “The phones and internet of the science side and communication magic of the magic side are all having trouble. Even though the threat of the Crowley’s Hazards should have been eliminated.”
“Is there nothing we could do?”
Fran pulled an antenna from her backpack.
No, that was not an antenna.
“I’ll head over to Scotland and stab this palm rod into a ley line. I should be able to use it as a temporary base station for a communication magic data network.”
“Then let me do that,” hesitantly offered Orsola Aquinas. “There is not much I can do here, so you two stay here in the British Museum to continue your investigation.”
“I don’t know the situation out there, so danger could be lurking behind any corner.”
“That is all the more reason not to have our precious grimoire library wandering around.”
Orsola’s voice contained an odd intensity.
She may have seen this as atonement for causing so much chaos in her attempt to help London by using the Divine Mixture.
Everyone found their own way to recover, so Index sighed and spoke.
“Don’t do anything reckless, okay?”
“There is nothing to worry about. If I use that helicopter thingy, I can travel at three or four hundred kilometers per hour. It will be a quick trip.”
“Your use of the word ‘thingy’ isn’t exactly inspiring confidence.”
“It’s Mathers,” said the silver girl.
Kamijou Touma shouted back at her within the old apartment.
“What? Hold on. You’re not making any sense. You said we’re supposed to figure out why Mathers left, but now you’re saying it was because of him!?”
“What was my original plan here? To stop Coronzon using the contract she has with Mathers. I could use his remains as a relay point to indirectly send Coronzon a stop signal. But we did not find those remains at Westminster Abbey and the Golden magicians are ganging up on us. Is that because the enemy was a step ahead of us? No, it’s more than that. We have to rethink all of our assumptions.”
“What does that mat-…wait just a second. You aren’t suggesting there are two different Matherses, are you?”
“Yes, you can’t let the impact of Mathers’s return lead you astray. My methodology was not wrong.” Aleister waved her fingers a little. “Why was Coronzon protecting the United Kingdom with so many Crowley Killers: Qliphah Puzzle 545, the Divine Mixtures, and even the Golden magicians? To put it another way, what was that demon so afraid of? If Mathers’s remains did not exist, there would be nothing worth going to such lengths to protect. Because Coronzon would not have a weak point.”
“But Coronzon did use several different methods of preventing us from messing with England. As if she was afraid of something.”
“Oh, and just to be clear, the idea that Coronzon herself is acting out of love for her homeland isn’t even worth considering. We are talking about a demon who would laugh as the entire world burned down around her.”
That meant it was not an emotional reason.
There had to be a logical explanation.
Accelerator clicked his tongue.
“So you’re saying they’d be in trouble if the real Mathers’s corpse was discovered?”
“Now that is an answer worth a perfect 100. To be honest, it never sat right with me that Mathers’s bones were buried in London. While he was born and raised in this city, not all of his memories here were pleasant ones. If he was going to insist on anywhere, it would have to be Scotland.”
Aleister tried to sound like she had known all along, but do not be deceived. She was the one who had said they had business at Westminster Abbey. This was the same awful trick that famous detectives used when a corpse showed up and they said “Just as I thought! I knew something smelled fishy around here.”
But Kamijou Touma was an honest and gullible boy, so he looked quite impressed.
“Come to think of it, didn’t you say something about the name Lola Stuart being chosen for him?”
“He claimed to be the Scottish Count of Glenstrae. That had about as much legitimacy as Westcott’s Sprengel Letters, but it is more than enough of a personal motivation. Humans will kill their neighbors over delusions, after all. Heh heh.”
“Hey. If you keep teasing my understander, I’ll kill you, Aleister.”
The tiny understander seated on Kamijou’s shoulder cut in without hiding her irritation.
She crossed her legs and got back on topic.
“But I am curious why Mathers and the others would start to act like soldiers now. The focal point of the fighting was London and I haven’t heard of anything happening in Scotland. Plus all the Crowley’s Hazards in the UK have already been dealt with.”
“Not to mention that the Golden magicians easily dispatched the Crowley’s Hazards,” said Aleister. “I can’t imagine Mathers of all people would put on an act and withdraw because of them. He does not view the different Crowleys any differently, so he should have no trouble crushing as many of those parallel beings as necessary. …In other words, he could have killed me before moving on to the others.”
What the silver girl was saying sounded crazy, but it must have been accurate.
But what other possibilities were there?
Kamijou Touma honestly did not know British geography very well, so just saying “Scotland” did not mean much to him.
But he still tried to figure something out.
“Huh? Was it Orsola or was it that female knight whose name I don’t know? No, maybe it was Lessar or Birdway. Whoever it was, when they told me about some guy called Holegres’s plan for the Divine Mixtures, I think they said something about Scotland.”
“Holegres? And Scotland?” asked Accelerator. “Oh, yeah. I met that piece of shit noble called Holegres Mirates.”
It could be easy to forget with the Golden cabal showing up, but these were not two separate incidents.
Everything happening in the United Kingdom was connected, so they might find a hint in an unexpected place.
So what had been happening before the Golden cabal, back when Qliphah Puzzle 545 and the Divine Mixtures had clashed with the Crowley’s Hazards? Why had Orsola, Agnese, and the others been so unreasonably ordered to buy time?
“Oh, right. I remember.”
Kamijou Touma and Accelerator gave the answer at the exact same time.
“The Royal Family was being taken from London to Scotland.”
“Oh? What’s this, what’s this?”
Hamazura Shiage asked that inside the parked four-wheel-drive vehicle.
The radio, which had been silent due to the emergency restrictions on the press, began talking on and on about something in English. He did not understand English at all, but he could still sense the intensity in the male announcer’s voice.
“Hamazura, they’re talking about a road closure. No one is allowed to enter the highway heading north.”
“I can imagine a lot of people want to escape London right now, but would anyone really want to draw attention to themselves by driving around with the engine roaring? Hell, they’d probably crash into part of a pyramid before running across one of those monsters.”
That was when Nephthys gave an amused comment from the back seat.
“Oh, my. So the Royal Family has finally decided get up off their asses. Are they avoiding the airport because they’re afraid of being shot down? And if they’re securing the route north, they’re probably withdrawing to Scotland.”
That comment caused more than just surprise.
Dion Fortune almost jumped out of her skin. And she must have developed some weird sort of habit because the frilly dress girl nearly fainted again.
“Oh, man. I’m guessing this is bad for you. It is, isn’t it?” The sickly-pale mini-China dress girl spoke in a teasing way. “Mathers was all about Scotland, so it makes more sense for him to be buried at Edinburgh Castle than Westminster Abbey. The place looks like a tourist attraction, but there’s still tons of underground tunnels centered on St. Margaret’s Chapel. So was Westminster a trap and Edinburgh the real deal? Buuuut what happens if a magical symbol as powerful as the Royal Family visits Scotland because they have their hands full with the Crowley’s Hazards and everything else? And you can’t exactly reject a visit from the queen, so that’s probably where they’ll end up staying. By the time they arrive at Edinburgh Castle, the anonymization barrier placed on the graveyard might just shatter from the pressure.”
“Exactly right. So, Fortune, we need to get on the highway and give chase. Quit goofing off and rejoin us.”
It was a woman’s voice.
But where did it come from? And was it speaking Japanese or English? Hamazura could not tell, so it scared him that the meaning entered his mind and would not leave.
The dull pain in the delinquent boy’s skull felt like having his head split open and directly filled with alcohol. He had no idea what he was shouting. Plus, this did not seem to be an attack. Those words had simply been sent to him and this was only a side effect.
Those words had clearly been directed toward Dion Fortune.
“Hurry it up. Also, there appear to be two distortions in there, but what are they? If you will not answer, we will have to go there and see for ourselves.”
Hamazura felt nauseated, but not like he had been punched in the gut.
This was a dangerous nausea, like he had been punched in the back of the head.
Yet he was not the target here.
This was directed at Fortune. Hamazura felt like the core of his mind was being grabbed and shaken, but whoever this was may not have even noticed he was there.
(Dah, bwah!? What…the hell? Is this some kind of unavoidable pseudo-sonic weapon using telepathy!?)
“Is that astral projection?”
“Ow. I think it’s a little more primitive than that. Instead of dragging something from the physical body, it’s more like causing something to grow. Their magic power or some equivalent power is vibrated at a set frequency to make contact. So it isn’t the most precise thing in the world.”
Nephthys paused while holding a hand to her head.
And she had no trouble making her next comment.
“But in this case, I’d say she is in the most trouble.”
That was what Hamazura Shiage heard.
So he naturally thought of redheaded Dion Fortune. The speaker was clearly trying to bring that girl back. The shock to Hamazura and the Magic Gods was only a side effect, so it could not compare to what Fortune was feeling from a direct hit.
It was someone else who looked like she was going to cough up blood and whose face was covered with sweat.
It was Takitsubo Rikou in the passenger seat.
It all faded in an instant. The pain, the mysterious heat, and the dangerous sense of having been punched in the back of the head all went away. And an even greater anxiety and fear squeezed at his heart.
“What’s wrong? Do you feel sick!?”
Were those really his girlfriend’s words coming from his girlfriend’s mouth?
It felt more like a giant invisible hand was squeezing them out of her.
It may have been related to her ability to accurately locate and track other people’s AIM Diffusion Fields. Even without the highly toxic Body Crystal, she occasionally seemed capable of receiving special signals.
Had that manifested in the worst possible way here?
Her mouth flapped as if in search of air and horrifyingly weak words left her.
“The signal is from…two sources. Hamazura…this is bad. You must not…contact them.”
Hamazura wanted to know why this was happening.
It had not been like this a moment before. He had already been in over his head here, but this seemed even worse. It may have meant a lot that the Magic Gods had allowed him to take a step back and simply observe things. That way his girlfriend’s life had not been at risk.
(It’s this bad for me and I’m a powerless Level 0.)
He had to bite his lip.
Now was not the time to wallow in his helplessness.
(So how bad is it for a Level 4 like Takitsubo? Her brain has to feel more than shaken! It’s gotta be more like taking a blast from an invisible shotgun!!)
“Annie and Westcott,” said the white veil girl.
Dion Fortune was speaking English, but Hamazura could tell she had spoken two names. These were the companions who had not shown up even when she rang her SOS bell. And here they were to pick her up again.
“Do you know them?”
“Then tell us everything you know! Hurry!! I don’t know who they are, but we need to silence them. I can’t force any more pain onto her!!”
Shouting at her in Japanese only confused her, so Nephthys softly whispered to the girl.
But she did not just translate what he said.
That bandaged brown beauty added the following:
“He says he wants to fight for his girlfriend. No matter how mysterious the enemy. So hurry.”
“Y-you can’t win. You just can’t. We’re talking about Westcott and Annie from the founding period! And when two or more Golden members work together, they’re greater than the sum of their parts!!”
“Oh? Did I forget to say he was willing to risk his life?”
He did not have time to agonize over it.
Hamazura Shiage ran out of patience and reached for the driver’s side door.
He threw it open and took a step outside.
A moment later, the delinquent boy’s vision bent to the side.
Was he even aware the world was spinning around him?
“Annie, don’t be so hasty. That was not one of the distortions.”
“For real? He ran out so quickly I hit him with Jachin on reflex. Whoops.”
“Hm. Hitting him with the pillar of mercy was very considerate of you, Annie.”
They said something in English, but those suspicious people were not what mattered. His nearby girlfriend was.
She had sensed a signal from the northwest.
She had said it came from two sources and that he must not contact them.
Takitsubo Rikou’s groaned words belatedly returned to him, but he had already been knocked to the ground. Some kind of blow had hit him in the head and he could not even move his fingers.
The intruders were an old-fashioned tutor with a white and black club and an old man who looked like a doctor in a thick coat and suit.
They spoke in English while looking down at Hamazura like fishermen whose net had caught a bizarre surprise.
“Then are the distortions inside?”
“I wonder what Fortune is doing in there. Let’s drag her out already.”
Sweat poured from Hamazura’s body.
He did not know what they were saying, but he could imagine where they were focused.
If they checked inside the vehicle, they would encounter the two Magic Gods. He had no idea what those self-proclaimed gods could actually do, but what would happen to weakened Takitsubo Rikou in the passenger seat if a battle broke out here? A single stray shot could be fatal.
So before that happened…
(I have to keep them out here!!)
He forced out a roar, gathered strength in his fingers, and grabbed a fist-sized stone lying nearby. He did not have to aim for the head or heart. There were plenty of locations that would hurt no matter how much you had trained. Without getting up, Hamazura swung the rock down on the doctor’s little toe.
The man made no attempt to dodge.
Hamazura heard something being crushed within the leather shoe, but the man did not bat an eye.
And while the old man looked down at the boy, something like wax danced in his fingers.
Hamazura could not hope to imagine what that would do.
But his instincts told him one thing:
A fearsome roar burst out.
His heart stopped beating.
Or so he thought, but time continued to pass and he remained conscious.
He held his chest which ached from fear and tension and he tried to see what happened from the ground. There were signs of an explosion, but the asphalt was torn up right in front of him…where those two monsters had stood.
“What the hell happened???”
He also saw a black box floating in defiance of gravity.
He saw a girl in a frilly white dress with pink accents.
The redheaded girl was clearly looking past Hamazura. The delinquent boy slowly looked in the same direction and saw the old-fashioned tutor and coat-wearing doctor extracting themselves from the bushes and broken trees and then standing back up.
What had happened and how had they survived it?
He had no idea.
Annie and Westcott looked puzzled. They appeared to be testing their throats and their voice rang in Hamazura’s head again:
“Don’t make a fuss,” said Fortune.
It happened again.
Hamazura cowered down from that voice, but just as the black box spun in Fortune’s hand, something burst in front of him. No, invisible waves burst out like an approaching flood.
“Leave here, Annie, Westcott. I assure you these are not targets Master Mathers would insist on eliminating. You are supposed to be the Boogieman, so when you run across civilians who cannot directly influence the battle, shouldn’t you only be driving them away?”
“C’mon, what’s come over you, Fortune?”
The old man sounded exasperated and he had returned to speaking normal English.
He spoke like he was calming a child, but there was no smile in his eyes.
“You shouldn’t be doing this. I heard what happened at the Naked Shopping Center in Piccadilly Circus. It pained me to hear it. So return to us and help us out with that power of yours.”
“You can’t trick me. You only used me to buy time for Taphthartharath and you didn’t even bother searching for me at the blast site afterwards. And I doubt you’re here because you were following my signal.”
“Direct any complaints toward Mathers.”
The old-fashioned tutor sounded somewhat irritated.
When she referred to Mathers, it was usually to dump a problem on him.
Those were their roles. They were only fakes created by Lola Stuart, but having them roleplay according to a set process was the most efficient way of keeping their thoughts going.
The Golden magical system had spread all across the world (albeit in a form altered by Aleister), but something else was needed to recreate the original magicians: the rules, processes, and incentives to efficiently use their group magic.
For example, a certain boy had lost his memories. He believed he knew what Imagine Breaker’s power was, but was he correct about that?
“It’s true we were following a different reading, but we really were glad we found you. Not that I can blame you for not believing us.” The old man in a coat shrugged. “So to eliminate any misunderstanding between us, we will tell you everything. That Asian lying there is irrelevant. The distortions we seek are in the back seat. We have detected something requiring caution even for our Golden cabal, so we would like to open the door and check inside. And if necessary, we must eliminate these distortions.”
“I won’t let you.”
“I apologize if I was unclear, but what you want changes nothing.”
“Westcott, you had better listen.”
The old man’s eyebrows bent in displeasure.
How much of a taboo was it among them for such a young girl to demand anything of him?
Soon thereafter, light clashed with light.
But the look of surprise was not from Dion Fortune whose frilly skirt fluttered up, giving a glimpse of her drawers. It came from the magicians of the founding period, William Wynn Westcott and Annie Horniman. The quasi-immortal man’s magic was amplified by the white and black clubs, yet his wax seal had failed to knock down the frilly dress girl.
The beam of light had hopped straight up and passed above the four-wheel-drive vehicle’s roof.
He had missed.
No, it had been deflected.
That wax spell was derived from letters, so it sealed power and sent it to someone. The beam of light hit a water tank on a nearby building, causing the tank to burst like a balloon and send water raining down.
But that was not the only destruction.
Something spiraled around the center of Westcott’s chest. That attack had been launched from Dion Fortune’s floating black box. Of course, stabbing a knife into that old man’s chest and turning it like a doorknob would not kill him.
“Didn’t I tell you to listen? Interrupting someone while they’re talking is rude. And you call yourself an English gentleman?”
Sweat dripped from the old man’s brow and down his nose.
That founder magician was worried.
“My spiritual item fully breaks down any spell and transforms it into something else entirely. Not even I know what it is in the box. So, Westcott, it is all random. Premade plans, the pre established harmony, and any secret preparations are no match for a complete and utter accident. I will tear down your stability. Do you know what that means?”
It was Dion Fortune in her ballerina-like dress and white veil who took a step forward as if to hold the black box out as a threat. Mathers, Waite, Gardner, and Brodie-Innes could not have done anything, but her next words acted as a critical hit against this old man.
“If you don’t, my accidents will tear down your stability – your quasi-immortality.”
The monocle tutor clicked her tongue and started to move, but wax shined in the darkness.
The old man grabbed Annie by the nape of the neck and leaped away.
He made a leap that seemed like it must have shattered his own legs and reached a nearby rooftop in a single bound.
It was all over.
The thread of tension loosened just a bit.
The outline of Dion Fortune’s fingertips blurred somewhat. She clenched her small fists to suppress it.
Of course she was terrified.
She had defied two magicians from the founding period. Westcott had folded, but what had Annie tried to do? The Golden cabal was all about teamwork, so could Fortune have dodged it while on her own?
She let out an annoyed breath and kicked the vehicle’s tire.
“What is wrong with me!? Why am I picking a fight with them!? Now I’ll never have another chance to rejoin them. And the entire Golden cabal from Westcott to Master Mathers will be out to get me!!”
Hamazura had no way of knowing what she was shouting in English.
He only knew he no longer felt the ringing in his mind that had tormented Takitsubo.
“You did it.”
He said something she could not understand.
Dion Fortune cried out as her white veil fluttered in surprise.
Hamazura Shiage could barely stand, but he forgot all about the pain and suddenly hugged Dion Fortune.
“Ah ha ha!! Wow! You kick ass, Fortune! How’d you get those monsters to leave? You saved Takitsubo’s life. Thank you, thank you so much!! I couldn’t have done anything on my own!!”
“Tch. Stop that…”
She could not understand his words.
But she could understand the tearful smile on his face. The magician named Dion Fortune had learned there was a way of earning the currency of pride without clinging to the Golden cabal. And this had to be how you did so.
He kept hugging her and did not let go. So to preserve her pride, the frilly dress girl opened her mouth to speak.
And since he could not understand her, there was no need to worry about saving face.
“Well, what else was I supposed to do? They never came to save me when I rang my bell, but I hear you risked your lives to take me in.”
“That’s what she said, boy☆ Ha ha ha ha ha ha.”
She had forgotten all about the translation gods in the back seat.
So she covered her face with her hands and released an unintelligible scream.
The situation was converging.
A new development had come into view.
Mathers had a reason worthy of acting out of self-defense.
What did he need in order to protect that secret?
If the Royal Family arrived in Scotland, they would unintentionally destroy the anonymization barrier. And the Golden cabal would do anything to keep that from happening.
Between the Lines 2
“Let’s name our sixth temple Amen-Ra. We’re finally going to Scotland!”
Those words were spoken in the distant past.
Specifically, about a century ago.
The cheap apartment was old even then. And the man who looked annoyed in the Isis-Urania Temple was William Wynn Westcott.
“Is your usual sickness flaring up again, Mathers? You need to separate your personal interests from your magical research.”
“Don’t be silly. The north is a mystical land. I would love to investigate Edinburgh Castle and research the Loch Ness area. Going on picnics from England to Scotland is not easy, so we need a base in the north!”
Everyone in the Golden cabal knew Mathers was both a genius and an eccentric and he likely caused trouble for the neighborhood housewives who knew nothing about him. If not for Mina Mathers maintaining a public face and speaking with the neighbors with a smile, he may have been driven out of the area long ago.
And one of the strongest eccentricities was his obsession with Scotland.
He claimed to be a descendant of the highlanders.
He claimed to be Scottish nobility: the Count of Glenstrae.
None of his claims had anything to back them up, but unfortunately, his skill was very real. Westcott was certain that man would be capable of counterfeiting a family tree or altering the ley lines to link his bloodline to Scottish land (although Westcott was hardly one to talk when he had counterfeited the Sprengel Letters).
The Golden cabal had gathered the greatest talent in the world.
But that did not mean they wanted to stand out. Those who studied magic were generally outcasts.
“That is no reason to be shouting about bringing back the House of Stuart while wandering around Main Street in broad daylight, Mathers! It is 11 AM. Normal people are at the office or factory working at this time of day. Even the Lady of the Masquerade Ball waits until the pubs are open to cut loose. Because then if she causes any major problems, people just assume she is drunk!!”
“You public officials are so hardheaded. You have a stable income, don’t you? You have plenty of savings, so why in the world wouldn’t you spend it?”
“Shut up, you jobless bum. Why are you out enjoying yourself every day when you have no income? And when you get into trouble, it draws attention to me! It’s hard enough juggling two identities without my superiors breathing down my neck!”
“Life is so much easier once you lose your job. Every day, I calmly meditate on why you people are so obsessed with the public world.’
“Annie is glaring at you.”
“I couldn’t bear that museum manager job she got me, so I quit in less than a year. And now she’s just paying my expenses directly.”
“Annie just pulled out a cursing doll!! Someone restrain her before she uses it!!”
“And now Mina’s soul is tied to Paris. Traveling from there to London isn’t easy. I mean, I can’t take a ship or hopper car without any money.”
A struggle broke out between the Golden magicians (using their top-class powers), but the unemployed yet powerful founding member (who had a beautiful young wife) sighed another comment.
“Scotland is so wonderful.”
He seemed to be fantasizing about a distant land.
And there was confidence in his voice.
“Everything I desire is there.”