Toaru Majutsu no Index:NT Volume22R Chapter 1
Chapter 1: Smile – After_Battle.
Hi, everyone. Who wants to talk about a cheeky pair of boobs?
The room was twice the size of a school’s home ec classroom, so it was much too large to call a fitting room. In there, the long silver-haired girl named Index and the short chestnut-haired girl named Misaka Mikoto were both forming small triangles with their mouths.
Their glaring eyes were directed at two mountains.
“Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow… I-I really shouldn’t have forced myself to do this.”
Her destructive force was even more powerful than usual since she was only wearing underwear like the other girls. Her long honey-blonde hair fell along the curves of her smooth skin and a bewitching tremor ran down her spine as the heater-warmed air directly tickled her bare flesh. That goddess was surrounded by several British royal maids who were doing everything they could to support her body. The foundation they had to work with was on another level. She was the kind of person who would look good casually flipping her hair back after it got wet in a sudden downpour and would still look stunning in a borrowed baggy dress shirt, so she was very different from those girls whose chests did not feel the pull of gravity!!
So while Shokuhou (who seemed to have plenty of self-confidence at the moment) gently raised her hands in front of the maids and let them take her measurements with a cloth tape measure like it was a bizarre holdup, the two who only had their slenderness going for them (and who were short on self-confidence at the moment) could only glare at her and groan like starving wild dogs!!
“They’re like bombs.”
“No, they’re the forbidden fruit.”
Index put her hands on her slender hips and Misaka Mikoto blushed while hiding her own chest behind her arms and crouched down. The young lady was apparently too preoccupied to realize that pose only emphasized the roundness of her slender back.
This important fact slipped out earlier, but they were in their underwear. The Index Librorum Prohibitorum, who had 103,001 grimoires in her head, and Academy City’s #3 Level 5, who could pick a fight with a cruiser, were only wearing the one piece of clothing. They were not even wearing bras. Being together here was made all the more awkward by the fact that this was not their own underwear. It was thin pink paper underwear similar to that used at aesthetic salons and for surgery.
(It’s hard to relax without my usual bag.)
That was the only thing on Shokuhou’s mind as her slender finger toyed with something bright silver. The silver was painted on rather than being metal. It was the sort of cheap emergency whistle that could be found pretty much anywhere.
But did this mean she found that plastic whistle more important than the bag crammed full of the remotes needed to control her #5 Level 5 power?
It was currently evening during December, but none of them were shivering or getting goose bumps from the cold while only wearing the paper underwear. Instead of a mechanical heater gently filling the large space, there was an old-fashioned fire in the fireplace to provide heat.
A kitten meowed.
It was a fairly important fact that the calico cat curled up in front of the fireplace actually had balls. But please forgive him for the same reason that young enough boys are allowed in the women’s bath at bathhouses.
“I hate that being dressed like this is actually more comfortable than before.”
Mikoto emitted faint EM waves from her body, which kept the calico cat from ever approaching her, so she felt a little sad while standing there in nothing but the thin paper underwear and covering her chest with both hands.
“Yes, due to a certain runaway maglev girl I could mention, we were stuck out in the December cold in nothing but a swimsuit and raincoat.”
But things were a little different for Shokuhou than for Index and Mikoto.
She had nothing but her forward swept blonde hair to cover her ample chest, but her soft stomach was covered by a substance similar to polyurethane. When she gently raised her arms with her large boobs resting on that, a British Maid of Honor circled behind her and stuck something like a T-handle into her back.
Needless to say, the maid was not turning a spring to wind her up.
“Now, how about we tighten that up a little more? How is this feeling?”
“Oh? My hip feels a lot better now☆ That’s great, that’s great. Keep going, keep going. And stop. Stop, okay?”
“Umm, mutter mutter, if I tighten it here it would make your hips look even sexier.”
“That is not the point here! Um, wait, are you short on sleep ability because you were part of the fighting force here? I said stop☆ Hagygrgrh!?”
Shokuhou Misaki started struggling as the polyurethane tightened around her stomach more than necessary, so the other maids restrained her arms and legs.
The girl with flowing silver hair widened her eyes.
“Wow, should I be seeing this? Some old lady is writhing around while they hide her stomach fat.”
“Old!? Did you just say old!?”
“Don’t say that, you honest little nun. The issue isn’t with her literal age. What makes her old is how talking about her age immediately enrages her.”
“What are you trying to prove here, Misaka-saaan!? We’re the same age, even if your body forgot to grow in certain places!!”
Mikoto ignored that shrill voice and accepted what was to come. She softly spread her arms when she saw the maid approaching her.
She could not look the maid in the eye.
It was a little embarrassing even when they were both women.
The British servant held a tape measure. Chest size was not measured during school health exams anymore, yet now it was happening in another country entirely. The smiling maids showed no mercy.
They kept their distance differently from the people in the classy world of Tokiwadai.
She naturally squeezed her eyes shut, but that made her more aware of the heat in her cheeks. That might be Shirai Kuroko’s fault.
The tape measure suddenly crossed in front of her at chest height.
The ribbon-like cloth tickled her skin. The maid had a fairly powerful presence and had a mole below the eye. She bent over to put herself on Mikoto’s eye level and then viewed the numbers on the tape measure.
“Did you just laugh?”
Mikoto asked that with a blank expression, but the royal maid was well trained. By the time Mikoto forced down the faint heat in her cheeks and opened her eyes, the maid was back to normal.
Shokuhou Misaki spoke up in slight exasperation after watching all that from the side.
“My, my. I feel sorry for your maid. That job must get monotonous with a body so lacking in curves.”
“You wanna repeat that?”
“I mean, look.”
The maid did not measure Mikoto a bit further down around the ribs. In other words, she did not measure the under bust.
That was a clear statement of flatness.
She was rounded down to zero and declared not a threat. The circle formed by the maid’s tape measure moved straight down to her navel to take her waist measurement.
“It seems some laws are universal.”
Mikoto trembled and seriously considered bringing her fist down on the defenseless maid’s head. But instead…
“Shokuhou, shouldn’t you sit this one out? I mean, that weird hair in Edinburgh Castle threw you three meters straight up and you fell on the stone stairs. How is your hip doing?”
“D-do not be ridiculous. This country is about to throw a party, so I refuse to be curled up all alone in a hospital bed enduring the pain ability like some poor girl who has to miss the school trip and ends up on the very edge of the graduation photo. Besides, someone has to stand below the spotlight. Everyone should be thankful that the person who can shine brightest there is attend- squeal!?”
A surprise attack sent her voice shooting up by two octaves. As soon as the maids around the honey-blonde girl loosened the corset holding her hips in place, her full weight apparently attacked the source of her pain. She arched her back as if from an electric shock, her hands trembled at an awkward height, tears filled her eyes, and her mouth flapped wordlessly.
“Ah, ahh, akh, khah…”
“You totally have that chest to blame for this. It’s called divine punishment.”
Also, she was supposedly in pain, but her breaths were oddly sexy. The way she arched her back also pushed out her large chest and jewel-like beads of sweat appeared on her nape. If she was a fighting game character, she would gain fans for the sounds she made when hit or defeated instead of for her controls or how thrilling it was to win with her.
“If you look at – cough – m-my overall weight ability, I am pretty sure it is less than a mass of solid muscle like you, Misaka-san.”
“Excuse me, maid? Is this where I need to hit her? With a Chaser roundhouse kick???”
“Wait, stop rubbing the back of my hips!! D-don’t lock onto me like that!! Eek, if you insist on punishing me, then I’ll offer you my head or butt!! Just anywhere but there!!”
Shokuhou Misaki really was in tears she clung to the other girl and pleaded with her. She was weak in the knees with her legs trembling like a fawn, so she apparently really was at her limit this time. All that trembling also caused some jiggling, but figuring out where that occurred will be left as an exercise for the reader! She was reduced to this when the brand-name bag full of TV remotes was left in a corner of the room. She might be one of Tokiwadai’s strongest and the Queen of the largest clique, but she was still a middle school girl when without her powers.
Why were these girls wearing nothing but paper underwear while maids wrapped ribbon-like tape measures around their soft skin to take some verrrry detailed personal information?
“Lady Shokuhou. I believe you would be best served by taking the waist corset and extending it to cover the bust and hips, adding a long skirt, and including slits and the like to pretty it up.”
“I get the reasoning…but wouldn’t that be something like a highly-customized bunny girl costume? Why do people keep wanting me to dress like that?” Shokuhou Misaki swept her long hair back with a hand. “But, well, I supposed that works.”
“It will look flashy at first, but it will cover pretty much your entire torso save your shoulders, so it will be no more revealing than a one-piece swimsuit. That is especially important in your case since we want to keep the support for your hips from being too obvious. It will look open while actually being closed. In other words, we will make up for what is hidden by the corset around your hips by increasing the exposure of your cleavage and legs.”
“You know what? Fine. Suggestive but not actually revealing is the standard ability of the uniformed schoolgirl. So what color will it be?”
“Choose whatever you like from the 96 options.”
“Then make the base color yellow. A bright one would be nice. You can choose the accent color.”
This exchange made it clear she was being measured for some kind of clothing.
Specifically, for a party dress.
And it had to be one appropriate for a formal ceremony.
“I could not be happier I was assigned to you, Lady Shokuhou. It has been a while since a job felt so worthwhile.”
“Oh, dear. I hope you don’t say that to everyone.”
And Shokuhou was not the only one.
When she glanced to the side…
“Pant, pant. Don’t worry. Don’t worry at all. You can win this. I know you’re feeling out of your element so far from home, so let me handle everything tonight… Yes, you’re fourteen, so who needs all that excess fat!? Pant, yes, you’re not thirteen or fifteen; you’re fourteen! That only happens for one year in your entire life… And the true wonder of dresses is in the Cinderella-like transformation between the before and the after! I will transform you into the belle of the ball so you’re ready for an exciting and thrilling night!!”
“Hey, this maid is scaring me! I’m feeling a pretty powerful chill down my spine for a different reason than with Kuroko! I’m pretty sure us both being girls isn’t going to stop her!!”
“My, my. The storybook princess look would definitely be best for you, Lady Index. Hee hee hee. Yes, just like this. A large skirt given a dome shape by the many petticoats within. Hee hee. We don’t want anything sexual here. Let’s eliminate that warm body heat and dress you up like a lifeless doll.”
“I have a number of issues with that, but I still have the right to say no, I hope. You aren’t just looking at me like a French doll, are you?”
At the very least.
Based on these conversations, these maids were not just giving the girls perfect scores out of flattery. Most likely, they had carefully talked it out amongst themselves and chosen the girls that matched their personal tastes.
Shokuhou Misaki knew nothing could be done about it. She and Misaka Mikoto had been marching around the UK in December wearing a ridiculous combo of a swimsuit and raincoat and the long silver-haired nun had been in a bizarre habit held together by safety pins. They could not have attended a party like that. In fact, they could hardly have complained if the police stopped them for questioning. And the hosts of this dress-code-enforced party were gracious enough to provide a full set of clothing for them.
So why did no one else show this kind of hospitality? The reason could not have been more obvious.
Shokuhou Misaki placed a hand on the side of the paper underwear on her hip, focused on her navel wrapped in the polyurethane, and carefully checked on how her hip was doing. She silently grimaced and then asked a question.
“Will the dresses really be ready on time when you are only taking the measurements now? From making the pattern to completion, it normally takes about two months.”
“You have nothing to worry about there.” The Maid of Honor that served the British royal family gave the perfect smile. “We are not normal.”
She did not even use a pattern.
With a sound like a spring-loaded trap going off, eight arms shot out from the Maid of Honor’s back, mostly from the right side. They had several knobby joints and looked more like spider legs than human arms.
“Fear not. It might look threatening with the needles and spools of thread, but the Arachne 8 cannot harm you.”
The honey-blonde girl folded her hands in front of her large chest like a bipedal cat as the Maid of Honor viewed the measurements of her client listed on her clipboard. …The fact that she did not say she did not know how to fight was likely due to her pride as an official British maid who both looked after and protected the royals. The wooden device had several coats of paint and varnish that gave it a shine very different from Misaka Mikoto’s A.A.A. Its texture was similar to a piano that had become the guardian deity of a school music room.
“This spiritual item is normally used to mend damaged armor and habits at frontline bases because the knights and warrior monks will throw a fit and insist they cannot return to the battlefield without their equipment♪”
She was still smiling.
Its movements were a little different from the sewing machines in a home ec classroom.
Instead of sewing different pieces of fabric together to give them the shape of the pattern, every piece of fabric was made to order from the original threads. Middle school girls these days – even ones like Shokuhou Misaki – did not often have a chance to see something as old-fashioned as a loom in action.
The eight legs moved so quickly around it was impressive none of them caught on each other. Each time the almost invisibly-thin silk threads crossed vertically and horizontally in the air, the fabric grew thicker and, as it grew thicker, it gained color like glass or ice. In took no time at all. It was not like a sculpture or painting where the general outline was made first and the details were filled in. Every last detail and decoration was woven from one end to the other, but the process was different again from a copier or 3D printer. Perhaps this would be the result if you brought knit wool down to a microscopic size. The unique motions accurately produced the image the maid had described.
The normal embarrassment had been driven away by the unrealistic mood, but once she had nothing to do, its fingertips began crawling up her spine.
Yes, no matter what anyone said, that honey-blonde girl was only wearing that paper underwear at the moment.
A pair of light-yellow panties fluttered through the air.
Not only were the sides tied with strings and the overall amount of fabric fairly insufficient, but it also had see-through lace in places. It took a certain kind of person to pull off that kind of underwear.
Shokuhou Misaki could only hold it at chest height and spread it out between her hands.
The shape of the back could only be described with a letter of the alphabet: T.
At best, it may have been a Y.
“Oh, do you not like it? I thought it would be best to show you what I could do with something smaller before going for the full dress.”
She understood that.
She really did. It was logical, but this was still a first for that all-around perfect young lady. She had never before spoken with the person who made her underwear and then had to put them on.
Unsure what to say, she mumbled under her breath, could not look the maid in the eye, and fidgeted with the newly-made underwear in her hands. …The maid’s skill was the real deal. The fabric seemed a little too thin for her liking, but it felt nice and light. There was no sign of any elastic or wires, but it was made to stretch and shrink oddly well.
The Maid of Honor took the lack of protest as acceptance and started moving the eight legs on her back to create the next item. Gloves and accessories flew through the air. It was a lot like a faster, more detailed, and more complex version of hand-knitting a sweater, but doubt filled Shokuhou’s eyes as she watched the next all-silk item being produced from one end to the other.
“Um, that is the dress itself, isn’t it?”
“Yes, what about it?”
“Well, you made me some panties and gloves, but what about a bra?”
They ended up confusing each other.
Despite all the other accessories, her large chest remained untouched.
Apparently, Shokuhou Misaki would have to spend the evening without wearing a bra. She would be equipped with a cursed dress that could not be removed – or rather, that would cause some problems of the indecent exposure variety if she did remove it.
Shokuhou was not the only one. Maids gathered around Mikoto and Index who were also only wearing paper underwear that looked like it would tear at the slightest tug. The maids were directly making dresses for them as well, but they had more equipment than just that Arachne 8 thing.
“Hm, I think using my Valkyrie Swan 3 to produce a body as delicate as glasswork would hit it out of the park tonight. It would be best to show real love to your curves! But not those obscene lumps of fat; I am talking about modest and gentle curves!! Yes, let’s make sure even the bumps of your ribs show through! That way anyone who understand the value of a millimeter can enjoy the true beauty found here!!”
“My ribs!? What kind of freak am I working with here!?”
“Oh, dear. Please do not touch the Habetrot 2’s pulleys.”
“This part goes like this. You’re doing the maintenance wrong. Don’t poke it with your fingertips. That Scottish border fairy would use her lips to spin, even if it is a little gross.”
Shokuhou felt heat rising in her nape because being seen changing was embarrassing in a different way from simply having her skin seen. But there were no curtain or partitions here, so she had to squeeze her eyes shut and ignore the reality around her. She put on each of the items made for her. This was different from a normal dress. To repeat, there was no elastic or wires used, but the entire thing squeezed around her like a living creature once she put it on.
(It’s like a swimsuit, or…wow, it really is a lot like a bunny suit.)
She slowly twisted her body around to worriedly check on her butt without hurting her hip.
The solid fabric apparently rose partway up her back. It was likely in order to cover up the medical corset, but the hips were located a little higher than with a professional(?) bunny girl.
The nearly T-shape and string sides of the underwear may have been so it could be worn below the leotard-like dress.
(This is only made out of silk, right? I’m impressed they could make it as solid as that enamel material without any guides or wires.)
It was oddly hard and shiny for silk, but that was likely due to the excessive use of dyes. It might be easier to think of it like normal cloth that had absorbed some glue.
The polyurethane protecting her hips was apparently seen as a part of the dress. She belatedly realized the pressure on her hip was less than when she had only been wearing the paper underwear. Just like tailwinds and air conditioning, people could not put up barriers against truly pleasant changes.
(At this point, that thing seems more like a medical robot suit used by nurses.)
The Maid of Honor in charge of weaving her dress stored the eight legs within her uniform, placed a hand over her mouth, and spoke up in surprise.
“My, what a strange way of doing things. You wrap a large towel around your hips before changing your underwear?”
“This is more comfortable even when we are all women. Do not underestimate the advanced defense abilities Japan’s school culture has developed to deal with pool classes.”
Index was unfamiliar with that culture, so she just removed her paper underwear and put on her silk one like normal. She just stood there and lifted her right then left leg to put it on a leg at a time. Shokuhou wanted to cover her face with her hands when she saw it. She felt oddly guilty for having her eyes open while it happened.
The sexy girl brought her hands behind her to tie back her long blonde hair. It was a lot like making two layers out of her hair and then letting it flow down. She had been handed a small crown-like accessory to hold her hair in place. It attached with a band instead of just sitting on her head, so it was similar to the mini hats worn in gothic lolita fashion.
Shokuhou Misaki wore a bright yellow cocktail dress derived from a solid bunny suit that bared her shoulders and had large slits in the skirt to draw attention away from her hips.
Misaka Mikoto wore a dark blue lingerie dress with a shortish skirt that had see-through sections woven in at the navel, sides, and other areas.
Index wore a white storybook princess dress with reddish-purple lines and a long skirt that was softly pushed out from within.
“Yes, that should do I suppose.”
“I feel like there’s an age-based level cap in effect here.”
“I feel like there’s an age-based level cap in effect here.”
The confident Queen looked like a bunny girl colored a sparkling wine yellow with a longish skirt added on. A cheap emergency whistle fell at her large chest and her phone was stored within a flower decoration on the side of her hip. Index, whose long sliver hair was worn up in buns on either side of her head, and Misaka Mikoto, who wore a thin veil on her head, felt the need to protest.
This all seemed simple enough, but there was one crucial meaning found here.
The royal family’s maids were not hiding the existence of magic from the Academy City girls.
Of course, it was unclear if Mikoto and Shokuhou really understand the whole process that started with refining magic power from one’s lifeforce.
Their personal possessions (some of which had been childishly strewn across the floor by a certain nun) were temporarily in the care of the maids. The problem was how that included Mikoto’s large A.A.A.
The famous electric girl named Misaka Mikoto put a hand on her hip and blushed at how much of her dress was see-through. The look on her face said she wanted to get used to this as soon as possible.
“Honestly, what are we supposed to do about this? I think we’re going to stand out way too much dressed like this.”
Mikoto’s back stretched up because Shokuhou had run her index finger up the electric girl’s spine. Her back was left mostly exposed, so the stimulation went directly to her skin.
“Your item is larger than my handbag, so you need to go check it in at the cloakroom. If you try to enter the party with that mass of violence ability, their men in black will feel the need to restrain you. England is the home of macho men in tuxedos, after all.”
“C-couldn’t I maybe get it to take a less threatening form? Hmm, might as well just go for it. One, two, three…whoa, it actually transformed!!”
The mystery equipment must not have wanted to part with its master and end up in the edge of the graduation photo because it gave an adlibbed response. With the solid clicks and clanks of a 3D puzzle being put together, it became a long, narrow box colored nearly black that was supported by small wheels. It had a lot of wheels, similar to an armored truck, but the overall balance was more like a solid streetcar or police van in miniature.
The long narrow box was about the size of a small bench. The height would make sitting on it more like sitting on the back of a bench, but it was still about right for sitting.
Shokuhou Misaki tried placing her butt on it.
The slight stretching sound must have come from her shiny dress.
The honey-blonde girl had sat down while facing it, so she did so like it was a tallish stool. She kicked her feet without worrying about the slits in her skirt and she had the pleased look of someone soaking up to their shoulders in a hot spring.
“Ahh, this is so much better. This kind of support is a fantastic thing when you’ve hurt your hip.”
“Refuse her, A.A.A.!! Don’t just let her subdue you with her ass!!”
This may have been a problem caused by using the device in tandem so often. Misaka Mikoto was the officially registered user, but Shokuhou Misaki may have become a guest user who could share the same services.
At any rate, they had a mobile save point now.
Shokuhou Misaki carefully stood up and placed her feet on the floor once more.
“Okay, we have our dresses, but what do we do now? Sitting around in the fitting room would be boring, but the party floor probably isn’t open yet.”
“You could take a look around the castle if you like, or you could enjoy yourselves in the game room.”
Surprisingly, it was Mikoto who jumped at the Maid of Honor’s suggestion.
She secretly carried around an arcade coin at all times, so she may have been interested in analog games and not just the digital ones (which she could always cheat at using her electrical powers).
“You mean like darts and pool?”
“Why would you talk about a game that requires bending over at ninety degrees in front of someone who hurt her hip?”
“Or you could follow our customs and kill some time enjoying a cup of tea,” added the maid.
When it came to food and drink, it was obvious who the response would come from.
But surprisingly, the silver LR bun monster seemed cautious.
“Touma gets mad if you eat snacks before dinner!”
“Now, now, Lady Index. You have a perfect memory, but have you forgotten the British way after spending so much time in the Far East? Teatime is a separate category altogether☆”
Shokuhou and Mikoto had no intention of pigging out on the food laid out in the party hall, so there would be nothing wrong with having something on their stomach already. The Maid of Honor led them out of the fitting room.
Then the atmosphere seemed to change.
Mikoto belatedly bent over and hid her chest behind her hands. She was outside and her lingerie dress showed her navel like lace underwear. She had of course not chosen this herself. Even the slightest breeze tickled at her milky white skin, stirring up her embarrassment. She could sense the sweet scent rising from her heated nape below the hair pulled back behind her head, but focusing on that would not change anything.
Misaka Mikoto had lived a high-class life herself, so it was not like she had never been to a formal party.
But things were a little different this time.
“Why are you curling up to show off your back, Misaka-saaan?”
The storybook princess and crazy bunny only looked confused by her reaction. They must have had entirely different feelings inside their hearts.
It turned out those girls (and an object similar to a bench-sized streetcar or police van) were not the only ones with nothing to do.
As they walked down the carpeted hallway, they saw someone zoned out in a rest space they came across.
Mikoto’s entire face grew beet red.
The heat spread past her cheeks to reach her nape and even her bare back.
Her eyes widened and refused to shrink back down.
Fluffy Index looked puzzled, but Mikoto might as well have been wearing a body suit of underwear material over her slender torso with only a skirt over that. Of course she was going to cover her face and blush when she ran across a boy she knew.
She had seen a spiky-haired high school boy.
“??? What’s with you, Biri Biri?”
“Whoa! Now is not the time for that high-voltage zapping!!”
The older boy frantically held up his right hand to brush aside the bluish-white flash of light that uncontrollably shot from her bangs.
Meanwhile, Mikoto doubled over and crossed her arms in front of her flat chest. She was entirely focused on defense, but she was too flustered to realize the curved lines of her back were entirely visible.
“Are you okay, Kamijou-saaan? Sorry about how uncivilized she is.”
They belatedly noticed Kamijou Touma was holding a phone in his other hand.
A cable hung from the bottom.
He must have been messing with his phone, realized it was low on battery, tried to charge it up, and found the plug was the wrong shape. As usual, the boy was clearly plagued by misfortune. And even if he had thoughtlessly plugged it in without considering the current and voltage, the “made in Japan” device would probably have been fried.
And something was different about him as well.
Kamijou Touma was not wearing his usual hoodie or school uniform.
He had instead donned an all-black tuxedo and ascot tie like something from a movie.
“Touma, you’re all dressed up!”
“Yes, yes. And that’s a pretty incredible outfit you’re wearing too. I can’t even see your shoes. Dresses have to be way more work than suits.”
“C’mon, Misaka-saaan. How long are you going to stay crouched down like that?”
She was trembling.
Mikoto was blushing and looked one small step away from tears, but she slowly stood back up. She relaxed the arms crossed in front of her chest as she did so. She instead moved them behind her to finally show off the entirety of the lingerie dress she was wearing.
“Wow,” said Kamijou Touma.
“Would you mind telling me what emotion that was meant to express? Answer wrong and I might have to blast you!!”
She could only shout in desperation at this point.
It still felt weird to have those crazy maids use her as a dress-up doll.
But at the same time.
When she thought about it rationally, had she ever taken such a large step before?
(Eh? Ahh…he’s so close! And I’m dressed like this!!)
Mikoto was surprised, but she froze up like a cat that physically could not back up. Meanwhile, Index spoke up while producing footsteps that suggested she was wearing flat shoes.
“They’re going to serve us tea. What about you, Touma?”
“Listen up, Index. When someone offers me something for free, I take it. Being poor is suffering. I’m still ashamed I couldn’t buy those plastic storage containers at the shopping center during the day.”
The calico cat also gave a sweet mew.
He rubbed his small head against her ankle, but Academy City’s #5 did not move.
The honey-blonde girl had been shining in the spotlight before, but now she was acting more like a shy kitten. She must have shrunk down a bit because a stretching sound came from the hips of her shiny dress. She alone could not move out front here. Part of it was her fear. She knew nothing could be done about it, but it still terrified her to be faced with the reality that she could never remain in a certain boy’s memories or mind.
But then it happened.
The spiky-haired boy turned toward her.
It happened without warning and it surprised that rational girl.
Kamijou Touma smiled and spoke to her.
“Why are you just standing there? Let’s get going, Shokuhou.”
Shokuhou Misaki clasped her hands in front of her large chest and spoke with damp eyes.
“That was enough to win you over!? What happened between you two!?”
“Wait, hold on, what is that maiden-like silence supposed to mean? I was expecting you to deny it. Don’t tell me something really did happen!”
Mikoto was freaking out, but Shokuhou was not about to explain everything here.
Most likely, the spiky-haired boy did not even remember it.
He had called out to her like he would anyone else.
But he had no idea how many miracles were at work there.
Even this would be lost.
She knew that.
She bit her lip to bear with something.
There was no reason to hesitate.
In fact, she could brush the issue aside. Shokuhou Misaki took a single large step forward.
She did not need the remotes in her brand-name bag.
She was fine without her powers at the moment.
As long as she had her memories and the promise whistle hidden at her chest.
(Today is for celebrating our victory, so there’s bound to be at least some miracle ability at work!)
Let us move back in time just a bit.
Now, what was Kamijou Touma doing there waiting all alone?
Windsor Castle was on the bank of the Thames on the outskirts of London.
It was not a tourist location like Osaka Castle or Versailles that had long since been vacated. Part of it was opened as a museum and archive, but the British royal family still used it as a residence, making it a true queen’s castle.
The overall structure was a round tower in the central courtyard with angular stone structures shaped like three sides of a square on either side. Together, it all formed a large rectangular frame, but there were no walls surrounding the grounds as a whole. That structure itself was the castle.
St. George’s Chapel existed on one end and the State Apartments for receiving visitors and press conferences was on the other end.
Unlike the pointy castle found in the center of a world-famous amusement park, British castles were generally wide. Unlike Japan, guns and cannons had been introduced to Western warfare relatively early, so each country and era came up with different ways to handle projectiles flying in parabolic arcs. Some used height and others used width. Castles in flat areas would create more horizontal distance and castles in the mountains or on cliffs would use the height they already had.
This was an informal gathering, but Kamijou had still done his best to dress up by copying the others around him. He found himself on the side with the State Apartments. That meant the living area which was off limits from the tourist side. Unlike Japanese castles which were built up on top of the stone walls, the courtyard here was surrounded on three sides by giant stone walls. It may have looked something like a school building linked together in a complex fashion.
It was winter, so the sun set early.
“We normally invite guests to the reception area, but this is meant to be a private affair with mostly people we know, so mother decided using the residential area would help everyone feel more at home. I do apologize for how absurd she can be.”
The person who lowered a cup of tea with a slice of lemon floating in it and whispered to him was someone he would normally only see on TV.
She was First Princess Riméa.
She had shoulder-length glossy black hair and an old-fashioned monocle. While Kamijou and the others were nervously dressing up because the event demanded it, this princess always wore a blue dress that showed off her bodylines. …If the pointy-haired boy was being honest, he found it hard to believe this was really a princess in front of him. And what was she doing here anyway?
Riméa continued casually speaking with him while showing no sign of getting up from her seat.
The boy tried sitting down at the same table and noticed the pattern carved into the table.
It was a rose.
“That is hardly a rare symbol,” said the first princess after a sip of tea. “They say the rose symbol was even displayed on the Round Table. It is not unusual for symbols of an older age to be used in ways that surpass their original purpose.”
“Uh, oh… I-is this actually some incredible relic or something?”
Kamijou was unsure where to put his right hand.
He had destroyed quite a lot in the Tower of London while following Othinus’s instructions.
Riméa smiled thinly.
“Good point. This is the private space where normal tourists are not allowed, so you will find some rare spiritual items lying around. You might avoid some careless accidents if you stick with that grimoire library while here.”
Her words were belied by how little she actually seemed to care.
Did she simply trust the boy that much or did she only see the national treasures here as no more than household odds and ends since this was her home?
“Are there any obvious signs I can look for?”
“There are so many it would only confuse you. For example, the dragon is used to signify the devil, yet it is also used in house crests.”
The word “dragon” caught in the boy’s chest a bit.
Roses and dragons.
But that aside, what was the first princess doing here when the party was starting so soon?
The monocle princess returned his gaze with a fairly melancholic one of her own.
“Oh, I will not be going to the party.”
“I have no intention of mourning a traitor like Aleister and I do not want anyone thinking otherwise.”
Come to think of it, the state funeral was set to be held once the country had gotten over the entire crisis. Although Kamijou was unsure what was normal since he could not imagine what the process for a Western funeral even was. Was it more normal to hold the celebrations or the funerals first immediately following a war?
At any rate…
“Castle parties are like a gathering of devils who all use their official titles to get their way. Oh, I just can’t stand it. I’m feeling sick to the stomach just thinking about those people gathering around me just because I am a princess. Cinderella had it good. She could be the belle of the ball and then slip away once the time came. That is why I wanted this chance to meet with you before the party started. Before all those unnecessary official titles get involved.”
…It was sounding like the oldest of the sisters had precisely zero interest in the official ceremonies. The second sister, militaristic Carissa, had been thrown deep inside a prison, so the third sister, shy Villian, would be forced to pick up the slack.
Riméa spread some strong goat butter on a thin cracker and ate it before continuing.
“So now I can give you my thanks as no more than Riméa, boy. Thank you for protecting the country of my birth. I have no interest in social status or position, but the lights of the city seen out that window are an irreplaceable treasure to me.”
“The only light that will remain bright all on its own is the legend of Christian Rosenkreuz. The ordinary city lights must be preserved through effort. And that is what you did.”
Kamijou glanced out the window for a moment.
He viewed the scene outside. It may have been different from the flood of lights that formed the million-dollar view of a metropolis like Hong Kong, New York, or Shinjuku, but each of the lights he saw dotting the darkness was someone preparing dinner, a child working on their homework, someone checking and rechecking the TV or internet for news about the end of the war, and other scenes of ordinary drama that had been allowed to continue.
Riméa silently tilted her head when he laughed quietly.
She was a gloomy princess, but that made her sensitive to the damp sort of atmosphere she claimed as her own. She could tell the boy’s laugh was not simply one of joy.
The teenage heart was not that simple.
“I didn’t do anything. It was Coronzon who kept her plot going until she had revealed her true nature and it was Aleister who put himself at risk to oppose her. They both took their convictions past the point of no return. From beginning to end, I was only along for the ride. I was walking forward as they pulled on my hand, but I kept regretfully looking back at where I had come from.”
“I still can’t get used to people talking about Crowley like some kind of savior.”
“But that’s what he was,” sighed Kamijou.
He had not been a perfect human being by any standard. It was an undeniable fact that he had brought suffering to a great many people. But if Aleister had not decided to protect this world and continued fighting until the moment his heart ceased beating, history would not have survived to this point.
“All I did was survive to the end. I wasn’t at the center of this and I couldn’t reach the core of it, so I was stuck in the safe position of an observer the whole time.”
A lot of people had not survived.
Aleister and Coronzon had been at the very center of the incident, but they were no more.
They had died at war.
That concept was so foreign to a Japanese high school boy that he was unsure how to process it. He may not have been able to really come to grips with it yet.
“But,” softly added Riméa. “Call him a hero or a great warrior if you like, but he did not protect this country and this world all on his own, did he? That magician could only reach those heights because he knew he was not alone. That is how you protected this country. Just as all the other British people created a country that was worth protecting.”
“In that sense, it was my right hand that gave him the last push after he walked right up to the precipice. Even though I might have been able to grab his hand and stop him instead.”
“If the magician had wanted that. But if you had done that, I imagine Crowley would only have repeated history. He could not have escaped his life of suffering from setbacks and failure in some corner of the world.”
“What someone considers the best possible choice cannot be determined by anyone else. If that is what that criminal chose, there is no negating the action he took, no matter how we might judge it. For me, Magician Crowley is still an eccentric pervert who could not compromise with the society around him and drowned himself in magic, drugs, and boys. But the Board Chairman Aleister you knew was different, wasn’t he? Then go tell people about the person you saw from your position by his side. Throw out all those official titles and tell people about Aleister Crowley simply as a human.”
With that, First Princess Riméa silently stood from her chair.
Kamijou looked up without thinking, so…
“I said I am not going to the party, didn’t I?”
If the veteran Maids of Honor saw an opening, they were clearly ready to tie up that princess and drag her to the party hall, but Riméa’s expression remained calm.
“Enjoy yourself today. You earned it for winning and coming back alive.”
“It’s only tea.”
“I get that, Index, but keep it away from the cat.”
It was the short period of time before the actual party started.
They were in a large space in a corner of Windsor Castle.
Although it was impossible to tell whether this counted as a big room or a small room for this castle.
At any rate, when Kamijou grabbed the calico cat to pull him away from the tea set (since the cat would either bite or kitty punch anything he was interested in), Index grew upset in her fluffy dress that looked like it had to be hot.
“Why do you always do this, Touma!?” complained the girl in the white dress with reddish-purple lines. “You never let us do anything. Even Sphinx is going to go delinquent if you keep this up.”
“Oh, shut up. I know it isn’t as well-known as onions and chocolate, but you’re apparently not supposed to let cats have caffeine either. Besides, you shouldn’t be giving the cat human food in the first place!!”
“What!? Then how do you explain the Japanese culture of cat rice!?”
“That term’s roots go back hundreds of years. The source there might be just as old as the idea that Bakeneko lick up lamp oil during the night!”
Kamijou Touma was used to figuring most things out on the fly, but even he had to give up when it came to a formal tea set. What did you put in where and how many minutes did you wait? There were even two different hourglasses for measuring the time.
He kept opening and closing the lid of the white porcelain pot since its silhouette was at least familiar.
“I don’t get this, but do I just have to stick the tea leaves in here and pour hot water in?”
“I want my tea as soon as possible.”
“So these boxy things are the tins of tea leaves, right? Are they all the same thing? Then I’ll just open one and dump it in there.”
“Waaaaaaaaait!! There’s a measuring spoon!”
“Waaaaaaaaait!! There’s a measuring spoon!”
When Kamijou started using it like a small Japanese teapot, the Tokiwadai ladies shouted in unison to stop him.
You apparently had to measure out the tealeaves to match the volume of the pot.
When the girls leaned forward, the blue chest and yellow hips of their dresses made stretching sounds. This was very unlike jeans or a leather jacket. This was a dangerous noise that made it sound like they would be torn open like a present handed to a small child if they caught on anything.
Kamijou’s face grew red for more reasons than one as he frantically shouted back.
“I-I knew that! This is that kind where you put the hot water in and let it steep before pouring, right!? And the hourglass used for that is right here. Kamijou-san understands everything!!”
“Shut up! There are a lot more steps than that!!”
Mikoto stretched over the table to snatch the teapot away from him and realized too late that left her unable to hide her see-through lingerie dress.
The short-haired girl heated up even more than the porcelain pot as the other girl spoke up.
“I see you still haven’t changed your bad habit of endlessly talking to claim the initiative when you feel cornered. Sigh, what a troublesome girl you are.”
The girl in the shiny, bunny-style fabric breathed an exasperated sigh.
Mikoto worked to correct his mistakes one at a time.
“First of all, why are you just talking about ‘tea leaves’ like they’re all the same!? What kind of tea do you want and how strong do you want it? The astringency and acidity change a lot depending on the kind of tea leaves used, the amount you use determines the strength of the tea, and how long you steep it and whether or not you expose it to the air completely changes the final flavor.”
“You also need to choose how you prepare it depending on whether you want to drink it straight or add some lemon or apple as an accent. In a more extreme case like royal milk tea, you had the process ability wrong from the moment you mentioned pouring hot water in.”
Kamijou started trembling and could only ask one thing.
He could tell this was too hard for him from the moment he heard that using hot water could be wrong when making tea.
“So what am I supposed to do first?”
This boy’s ability to ask for help instead of faking it was his one saving grace here.
Kamijou was looking something like a wet puppy and Mikoto winked at him (since she had apparently grown numb to her own embarrassment).
“What kind of tea are you in the mood for?”
“The kind where you can unscrew the plastic bottle and drink it right away.”
The Tokiwadai ladies were loving enough to suppress the urge to tell him to go running to the nearest store.
“Then how about some normal Darjeeling?” asked Shokuhou.
“What a wasted opportunity. We’re in the country of tea, so we could try something truly monstrous like this Assam from a royal warrant holder.”
Mikoto leaned forward (stretching her bare back in the process) to grab one of the tea tins that was otherwise out of her reach, but…
“Hey, stop poking my back!!”
She protected herself, but the honey-blonde girl did not seem to mind.
“That isn’t a bad idea, but isn’t that brand ability all about enjoying the astringency. I doubt a commoner with common tastes would like it☆”
“Hold it, Shokuhou. Why does it sound like you know that idiot’s tastes?”
“Take a wild guess.”
The honey-blonde girl smiled while toying with the silver emergency whistle hidden at her chest.
Mikoto and the honey-blonde girl quickly prepared the tea while chatting. They did it so easily the pointy-haired boy was not entirely sure what they had even done. If you did not know what to focus on, you could not learn much from a demonstration. Kamijou Touma may have been like a small child watching their big sister in the kitchen.
“Calm down, Index. Now is the time to wait.”
But even he knew what to do while the sand was spilling down within the hourglass.
Mikoto rested her head in her hand and kicked her feet crossed below the table while she waited until all the sand had fallen before her eyes.
“There, that should be good. We don’t need to let steep it any longer than this.”
“Is it like starting on your cup noodles before the three-minute mark to enjoy the not-quite-done texture?”
“If you ruin this classy atmosphere any further, I really will hit you.”
Mikoto grabbed the porcelain pot and poured the tea into cups for them all. Instead of pouring it in directly, she poured it through a fine filter. And instead of filling up each cup in turn, she slowly filled them all up bit by bit.
“What are you doing?”
“This way everyone gets the same amount. You can have the last drop as a special service.”
Kamijou took his first sip and then obediently reached for the case full of sugar cubes. Index plopped two sugars in before even tasting hers. They only learned you were supposed to enjoy the aroma first when they saw the Tokiwadai ladies swish their cups of tea around a bit without drinking any.
But since he had started drinking his already, there was no turning back for him.
He trembled as he tried bluffing.
“I totally knew you were supposed to do that?”
“It doesn’t really matter. Everyone enjoys it in their own way.”
He thought they were going to make fun of him, but they actually accepted him. Apparently, this was not a fighting game where you wore down each other’s stamina. Unfortunately, that left Kamijou Touma at a complete loss regarding what to do next. But then…
“C’mon, quit holding the sugar pot. You already got your one sugar, didn’t you?”
“Here, I will give you a teaspoon of honey instead. Although I’m sure this had less to do with the flavor than it did with trying to look good in front of the two girls who clearly knew what they were doing.”
The honey-blonde girl kept things moving for the unnecessarily cautious commoner.
She herself did not use sugar or milk. She instead scooped a spoonful of apple jam into her cup before taking a sip.
“I so love this, even if some people say it’s wrong. That said…hm, I guess this gets a passing grade. Although you might have gotten some help from the water.”
“The water, huh? You do know drinking that mixture is going to make you sick to your stomach, don’t you?”
They did not want to fill themselves up too much with a dinner/party coming up, so the only tea snacks were thin, unsalted crackers. But Index resorted to desperate measures by grabbing five of them at once to gain some real thickness.
“Geez, really? Index, quit chowing down on those! You’re getting crumbs all over your dress!!”
“Are you feeling sleepy? All you’ve been saying is ‘nh’.”
She was apparently too sleepy to respond properly.
That would probably change once the caffeine kicked in, but Kamijou had no choice but to look after her for the time being. He used a handkerchief to wipe off her mouth and the lace around her neck before brushing the cracker crumbs off of her dress. They were unsalted crackers, so the calico cat licked at the ones that fell into her lap.
Did he notice the honey-blonde girl with the apple jam tea silently narrowing her eyes?
She watched the pointy-haired boy smiling bitterly as he looked after the small girl.
What was she reminded of when she saw that?
“The British crisis beginning with the Crowley’s Hazards and ending with Great Demon Coronzon has come to an end. We must raise our glasses here in memory of those who were lost. Raise an earnest prayer and never forget to enjoy yourself with the life you still hold! Now, a toast!!”
Queen Regnant Elizard was the same as ever.
She would not allow the gloomy atmosphere to remain that way. Terrorism, war, disease, and disaster. No matter what troubles were thrown at her nation, that nation would be helpless if she could not find the words to inspire them. For example, if a horrific terrorist attack shook the country, the self-proclaimed sensible people who would snap at everyone but the actual terrorists, telling them to restrain themselves and be more considerate, were actually indirectly giving the terrorists what they wanted. No matter the situation, they had to preserve their normal lives. If a leader was to act as an umbrella standing protectively above the people, perhaps this was a necessary skill.
They were in one of Windsor Castle’s dance halls.
…This was technically in the private residential part of the castle, but this was the royal family and they may have enjoyed ballroom dancing in their everyday lives. When you thought about it, it was hard to imagine where else they would practice dancing.
The meal took a buffet style.
The British Maids of Honor were gathered in one corner of the hall.
But not because they were employees standing aside so as not to get in the way of the guests. This was a day for celebration, so they were enjoying the party too.
They were surrounding the Eastern blood that had crossed the vast ocean to visit them here.
Due to the gender ratio, that corner alone carried a scent much like a girl’s locker room.
They were all head over heels for that Japanese boy.
“Really? You came here all the way from Japan? That’s incredible.”
“Here, let me hold your hand. I can help you clean up.”
“Here, here. Eat this. I’m really proud of this one. I-I mean, if you want, of course. Now, say ‘ah’.”
The maids were answered by a meow from the floor.
The Japanese calico had an extremely rare genetic makeup, so it was a rarely-seen breed in England. It was about as unusual as the hairless cats created by repeated selective breeding.
Just like with Akita and Shiba dogs, something that was common in Japan could gather a lot of attention overseas.
That three-colored guy was getting all the focus.
Even though he was only washing his face with his front paw.
“Kyah! Oh, I just wanna- kyah, kyah!!”
“Kyah! Oh, I just wanna- kyah, kyah!!”
“Kyah! Oh, I just wanna- kyah, kyah!!”
“This is way more upsetting than it should be.”
Resentment filled the pointy-haired boy’s voice even though he could not understand any of the English being spoken by the mountain of maids.
That said, this had definitely been arranged so everyone could relax and enjoy themselves.
This home party had not been revealed to the political or economic worlds and the press had been thoroughly shut out. They could walk around and chat much more easily than in some stuffy ceremony and it helped drive home that the war was over.
Index pointed all over the place while wearing her fluffy white princess dress with bright reddish-purple lines.
“Touma, there’s tons of food prepared over there and over here!”
“Is that so?”
“I’ll get some for you too. I hope you’re ready to see I can play the big sister when I want to!!”
“Wait just a second, Index-san! I honestly don’t trust your taste in food. A person’s buffet plate is a reflection of their heart. This isn’t going to end up being meat, meat, the occasional carbs, more meat, a sprinkling of fat, and lots and lots of sugar, is it!?”
The sound of her flat shoes disappeared into the crowd. Incidentally, that taste in food had been developed by the shocking diet he had given her in his dorm, but the pointy-haired boy did not think it through that far.
Meanwhile, Misaka Mikoto and Shokuhou Misaki had nonchalantly moved their way toward the Japanese section of the available food. Those middle school girls were casually chatting with the blonde maids, so they seemed utterly bizarre to the high school boy who struggled with even a normal English textbook.
That said, this was odd.
Why were they not in the center?
He wondered if they were feeling homesick, but apparently not.
“Hey, ladies. Why are you hanging out by the wall like this?”
The two girls responded to his question by wrapping their arms around their dresses and not looking him in the eye.
Their cheeks were a bit red.
And they breathed exasperated sighs.
As if to call him dense.
Apparently, the girls did not want to be seen by so many strangers in those extreme dresses the maids had chosen for them. …Although they were apparently so busy guarding their chests they forget that curling up only accentuated their alluring backs.
And besides that…
“Well, um…it’s mostly British food, you know? And, yeah, that makes sense given who invited us, but still.”
“Their combination of tea and cakes hits it out of the park, but I hear opinions grow much more divided once you get to the heavier foods☆”
Kamijou had a horrifying thought.
He quickly turned around, but he could not tell where Index was in the crowd. He could not even imagine what kind of food was going to be piled up on the plate she returned with.
“And that’s why you’re here in the Japanese section?”
“Chinese would have worked too. It’s not quite as ubiquitous as the world-famous burger, but Asian food has been accepted pretty much everywhere in the world.”
They apparently planned to use this section as a starting point and then check out the rest for anything passable.
But when Kamijou glanced over at the food here…
“Check out this futomaki. This says it’s a new winter product: the Cambridge roll.”
“So it’s not even a California roll!?” exclaimed Mikoto. “If they’ve ruined the Japanese food too, we might be out of luck tonight!!”
“Anything that puts avocado in sushi rice should really just be called American food,” said Shokuhou. “We aren’t about to claim it as our own.”
The problem was how it was actually pretty good once he tried it.
It was something like tenmusu with some cheese as an accent.
With the visual of fried fish and cheese placed between the seaweed and rice, claiming it was Japanese food would probably get you quite a look from the people of Nara or Kyoto, but the students of a city of science were more flexible. If you thought of it like a bizarre rice ball flavor found in a convenience store, it was not all that outlandish.
“Munch, munch munch. …Munch? Munch!!”
Shokuhou Misaki had trouble with the futomaki because she was unsure how you were meant to eat it. You were apparently supposed to do it European style and cut it into bite-sized pieces with a knife and fork, but her common sense as a Japanese person worked against her here. She held the thick thing in her slender fingers and stuffed it into her mouth like the one eaten at Setsubun.
The embarrassing and sexy middle school girl was entering some dangerous territory here, so Kamijou could not keep watching and instead lowered his gaze to the (globally-accepted) futomaki he held.
“Maybe the food here is safe after all. I mean, it’s all gotta be made by pro chefs who cook for a queen and princesses. I don’t know how the hierarchy works here, but they have to be the crème de la crème of British cooks, right?”
“Touma, I’m back with the food. They say this is like ketchup and they boiled a bunch of beans in it!!”
“Excuse us,” said the two ladies as they chose to keep their distance.
Just like conveyor belt sushi and ramen ordered with extra fatty pork, you were not to leave anything on your plate at a buffet. Kamijou Touma knew that. From the moment he accepted the plate handed to him, his honor as a growing high school boy would demand he commit seppuku if he broke that vow.
He wanted to gather his resolve and start eating.
It was beans.
Not meat. Not fish.
Could beans really be a primary ingredient?
These were not processed into tofu or something. These untouched beans had an entirely different sort of impact.
“The fact that it all looks so bright and red only makes it seem weirder. I thought beans were plainer than this.”
He lamented, but it did nothing to change the amount on the plate.
Some days were just like this.
Index had a perfect memory and she proudly reported that this dish had the “OK for Cats” label, so Kamijou considered feeding it to the calico cat at his feet, but that only got him a cat scratch on the back of his hand. Now that the kitty had experienced fancy cat food, he had no interest in human leftovers.
That meant it was time for Kamijou to pick up the fork…except this was more of a job for a spoon. He scooped some up like it was the kind of bean soup rarely seen in Japan and made another attempt at the fairly densely-packed bean army.
For one thing.
Was he even ready to eat beans that were not edamame or soybeans?
He could not even think of any other than adzuki and green peas.
The fact that they were not even available in Japanese supermarkets was proof of how few Japanese people liked them. Not all these beans had the same worldwide acceptance as peanuts and cocoa.
There was one thing he had to mention before even getting to the flavor.
“This is like a soup, but it feels so dry in my mouth.”
This was the fearsome side of beans at their beaniest. But what could you expect when their main selling point skipped straight past flavor, aroma, texture, or any other food-related attribute and went with nutritional value and preservability? Not even fava beans felt this dry.
“Hwa hwa hwa ni ha ha hwa hwa ni?”
“And I see you’re chowing down on them like you do everything else, Index. I swear you can eat the food in any part of the world.”
A lot of people wearing tailcoats and dresses were gathered in the dance hall, but this was not everyone who had participated in the battle. And those missing were not just the ones like Aleister whose names would have be carved into a war memorial.
Mikoto breathed an exasperated sigh as she looked around.
She was blushing and crouching down a little due to the blue lingerie dress, so she looked more like a small animal than usual. But the lady with her short hair worn back did not consider what that hunched over pose meant for her smooth back.
“I know it was an emergency, but I’m still amazed we weren’t arrested. None of us got our passports stamped, did we?”
“I don’t even have mine,” said Kamijou. “I mean, we were the ones attacking England when we used the chaos caused by the Crowley’s Hazards to cross the Strait of Dover.”
“Um, Kamijou-san? I feel like I need to ask this again: what were you doing that led you to this country???”
The Kamijou and Index pair had arrived in the country in a very different way from the Mikoto and Shokuhou pair, so there were bound to be some misunderstandings there.
And the others they had crossed the Strait of Dover with were not at this party.
They had ended up in different positions.
The most obvious example was the lack of representation from the science side here.
Accelerator had gone missing along with Qliphah Puzzle 545, the artificial demon created by Coronzon. Hamazura Shiage had apparently shown signs of fighting alongside the great demon at the end there. Karasuma Fran had started out as a pawn working for Lola (aka Coronzon) and had brought the Kamisato Faction to Academy City to cause chaos there, making her a spy who indirectly led to Aleister’s death. It had been half forgotten during all the mess with Aleister and Coronzon, but she was supposed to have disappeared into the world outside of Academy City along with Tsuchimikado Motoharu. Given her situation, she was in no position to make an appearance at Windsor Castle even if the war was over.
War could not simply be called good or evil.
That was a hackneyed saying and it could be an unpleasant one given how often it was used by those who spoke of war in a detached sense that ignored the actual tragedies and hatred produced by war, but Kamijou and the others had found themselves in the slim gap created by that thinking.
They had won and they were not to be punished for the laws they broke along the way.
Even though someone who had not been here could not have won the battle no matter how hard they tried.
“This is going to leave behind some thorns.”
“You mean the people in the most central roles will be pushed away from the cheerful parties?” Mikoto smiled bitterly with her hair worn back with a large veil over it. “I don’t think that’s quite accurate. Whether they lived or died, if they were capable of choosing to flee, then they must have been afraid of something.”
“We didn’t stay here instead of running away because we knew England would welcome us once the fighting was over. They could have arrested us, interrogated us, and found us guilty in court. But we still stayed here to explain ourselves properly. And that’s why we get to attend this party. Whether those other people lived and ran away or died satisfied, they must have been afraid of an uglier ending. Thinking of the risks made them tremble, so they decided to call it quits.”
Misaka Mikoto did not sugarcoat it.
That may have been because she had seen those clone “sisters” of hers who had seen so many of their own killed but decided to go on living without letting themselves be dyed by the desire for revenge or victim complex that others might try to force onto them.
And after a somehow mature sigh, the fourteen-year-old girl laughed.
“In that sense, even this was a victory on our part. Not a victory in the war that has brought such great joy to the UK, but a victory in the small gamble we made with ourselves.”
“Yeah, I hear the celebrations in the UK’s big cities are quite something right now,” cut in Shokuhou Misaki who wore her honey-blonde hair up (revealing her bright milky-white nape).
She turned her attention away from the calico cat purring at her feet and waved her phone at them. Her bunny suit style of dress had no pockets, so she stored it behind the ribbon decoration on the side of her hip.
“It seems the normal people are only aware of those monsters that arrived from the sea. Crowley’s Hazards, were they called? Everyone’s splashing alcohol on each other like they’re celebrating a big soccer victory.”
“That might be why the queen decided to make this an informal home party.”
If the party was held in the name of the country as a whole, who knows how many millions of people would have come pushing in for an audience. On a day like today, that really could have happened.
The war was over.
The threat of Great Demon Coronzon was gone.
As the boy thought about how best to accept that, Queen Regnant Elizard approached with Knight Leader by her side like a secretary.
“Enjoying yourself, boy?”
“I’m making an attempt at your country’s cuisine.”
“Try just going for it without thinking about it too hard. Our food is a lot like beer – it’s an acquired taste. To be honest, I stuck my tongue out at it a lot when I was a kid. My father had to get after me a lot when he caught me sneaking a lot of French sweets.”
Her comparison was a difficult one for a high school boy to grasp.
As classy as they were, Misaka Mikoto and Shokuhou Misaki were still not used to making audiences like this, so it was amusing how quickly their backs straightened up. The queen of a developed nation was a little much even for them. They also tried to cover themselves with their arms because of the bunny suit and lingerie dress the maids had given them. …They were apparently unaware of the basic rule that girls became much more noticeable when they grew embarrassed.
Meanwhile, the pointy-haired boy was as ill-mannered as could be.
“What about you? I know your oldest daughter isn’t here.”
“Riméa has her own way of enjoying herself, so do not worry about her. She has probably changed into a leather jacket and jeans and found her way into a pub in the city. But not as First Princess Riméa. She will be emptying a huge beer mug while surrounded by people who only see her as some ordinary woman.”
Unlike her delinquent sisters, Third Princess Villian had attended the party. She was shrinking down in one corner of the party hall while surrounded by a great many knights. She had not accomplished much of note at the end of the fighting, but the virtuous girl had treated a lot of injured soldiers. She had apparently gathered their support in a different way from Carissa who dominated them by force.
“What’s your opinion of today’s battle?”
“We did what had to be done.” Elizard answered without hesitation and then relaxed her shoulders. “That is what it means to protect your country. It just so happened that the problem was so large it reached the surface this time. Nations must be supported. Peace will not last forever all on its own. In fact, how you position just one of the supports can change the basic structure from good to evil. Then everything will change. So you can never let your guard down even for a day. I will not allow this country to fall and I will not allow it to stray in the wrong direction. Even Adam and Eve were cast out of paradise, so you cannot expect any absolutes in a mere manmade country.”
“Sphinx, it’s time to come back!”
Index called out for the cat while dressed like a picture book princess.
Cats were generally very territorial and were famous for being very shy if brought on a trip, but this calico cat was far too fearless. He slipped into any gap he could find – below the long tables of food, behind the cooking booths by the wall, between the legs of ladies wearing gorgeous dresses, etc. – and curled up in those safe spaces.
The girl’s flat shoes sounded on the floor and her white and reddish-purple skirt fluttered in a dangerous way despite how long it was.
“I guess I’ll have to lure him out with food.”
“You just want to eat the food. Besides, all those maids already fed him an unbelievable amount of cat food, so I bet he’s had enough.”
“Then what are we supposed to do?”
“Give him some after-dinner exercise?”
The pointy-haired boy pulled out a decorative flower he had picked up from somewhere. It was no more than a wire with an imitation rose at the end, but it worked as a makeshift cat toy.
“C’mon out, calico kitty.”
Kamijou Touma crouched down and worked to drag out the cat.
He made a valiant attempt to face the cat hiding below a lady’s long skirt, but he only ended up with another scratch on the back of his hand and the lady’s smooth high heel in his face.
“What do you think you are doing!?”
He thought he recognized the voice, so he looked up to see a familiar female knight with her face blushing red. She had always been wearing armor and riding a warhorse before, but she was apparently a high-society sort of person otherwise.
Shokuhou Misaki breathed a soft sigh while wearing a distinctive dress designed similar to a bunny suit and colored the bright yellow of sparkling wine.
She was accustomed to parties like this. It was not all that unusual for someone like her to speak with a British knight or even someone with a legit noble rank in this day and age.
But there were some gaps between her smiles.
In the short spaces between visiting with others, she found herself toying with the cheap emergency whistle she wore.
Misaka Mikoto was giving her most sociable smile next to her.
That girl was not suited for nobility.
She was crouching down in a way that only accentuated her bare back. And she was speaking to…
“Th-the kitty cat? I want to give him some cat food too.”
“That hurts, you know!?”
(The animal is only reacting to the EM ability you emit from your body, so there is nothing you can do about it. You really do love wasted effort, don’t you?)
Animals did not exactly like Shokuhou either, although that had nothing to do with her powers. But speaking of her powers, Mental Out only worked on humans, so she did find herself avoiding cats and dogs. But from the looks of things, Mikoto would have to use her as a shield. The calico cat did seem to like her and he kept rubbing his head against her ankles.
She was pretty sure Kamijou Touma was doing a lot to help them out.
This looked like a lively party hall, but Shokuhou and Mikoto did not know many of the British people here. Of course, the honey-blonde girl was used to these social scenes and was confident in her ability to put on a perfect smile, say all the right things, and blend in, but she was much less confident that would put her mind at ease.
Kamijou knew almost everyone here, yet he was sticking with them. That would be his way of not leaving Shokuhou and Mikoto alone in this unfamiliar place. Although he may not have been aware he was doing it.
But that was exactly the point.
When he went to the restroom, the surrounding activity seemed to fade away.
“That means we must have fought alongside each other on the highway between England and Scotland. I’m shocked. That was more or less your first anti-magician battle, wasn’t it? And you were up against the original Golden members who were even more powerful than the rumors suggested.”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
“I was helpless against them. My duty is to Her Majesty and the state, so I never expected to be taking a boy I barely knew to the battlefield. Speaking of that boy, I can’t believe he just tried to crawl right into my skirt…”
“But most of the actual fighting was done by that super-strong girl over there.”
She felt uneasy even as she had a pleasant chat with a blonde female…knight?
She knew her mind was wandering, but her focus was not on the short-haired woman in front of her.
It scared her that she was no longer in his field of vision. His memories and awareness of her had remained in place by some kind of coincidence, but when she considered the possibility that it would all reset once he walked back in through the door, she could not calm herself down.
(I’m so pathetic. I thought I had accepted this long ago.)
“Oh, your glass is empty. Allow me to bring you another drink. Of the non-alcoholic options, would a Saratoga cooler be acceptable?”
“Make it a Shirley Temple, please. The ginger ale’s dryness ability is a little too-…kh!”
Shokuhou Misaki’s milky-white back straightened up unnaturally.
At the same time, the long narrow box that accompanied Misaka Mikoto everywhere gently and silently circled around behind her. It moved into position for her to sit down as she staggered.
She was surprised to find it lifted her butt up to the height of a stool, which lifted her feet off the floor. Mikoto took a sip of her broad glass while making sure not to look toward Shokuhou who had been freed from the pain in the back of her hip. Mikoto was drinking a Florida, which was basically a mixture of different fruit juices. It could be made at a family restaurant’s soda fountain if you had the guts.
Mikoto whispered while worried about anyone watching them.
“Selfish girl, you might have a polyurethane corset under your dress, but you’re only fooling yourself for now. You were attacked by that…Great Demon? Well, by that weird hair, so make sure to get some rest from time to time.”
“…Why are you doing this?”
“I could ask you the same question. Why don’t you just use Mental Out on yourself? If you wanted to, you could remove the pain or even turn your mind into a happy flower garden.”
“I have my reasons. Not all of them logical.”
She sounded like a stubborn child.
But maybe the boy who had shared that summer with her would think this was more like her.
Her large chest rose and fell in a sigh and she crossed her long legs.
Although that was not a sign of confidence. She was trying out the movement out of fear that the pain would come back. The calico cat chased after her foot like it was a cat toy or laser pointer, but that was probably because of the sparkling heels.
“This is certainly something. I never thought the day would come I let you see my weaker side.”
“You’ve seen plenty of my weakness.”
“It’s fine when I see it. After all, I’m the fixer with lots of behind the scenes ability☆”
She knew that was a selfish way of looking at it.
She liked to control others and view everything as a single large stage and some might view that as a fear of something happening without her knowledge and catching her by surprise, but she did not care if they thought that. She was afraid of having her bonds severed and she was afraid of getting excited all on her own.
So she took control.
When you got down to it, the Queen of Tokiwadai’s largest clique was just a young girl. She feared loss and could not stand to see what she thought she had crumbling away, so she never stopped struggling. …And it all may have been a reaction to losing her connection to that pointy-haired boy on a certain summer day.
The difference between a superiority complex and in inferiority complex was paper thin.
If she had not been so afraid of loneliness, she never would have worked to create the largest clique in Tokiwadai. If she did not fear missing some crucial information, she would have had no interest in the influence of a being charismatic figure on social media.
“Are you afraid of anything?”
Mikoto breathed out through her nose with her milky-white back showing in the night party.
She lightly shook what remained of the drink in her glass.
“I still have nightmares of being buried beneath a giant pile off lifeless mannequins. And given how much you had to do with the prototype, I know you know what caused those nightmares.”
So of course she was afraid of honestly facing her own heart. Everyone was bound by things like that. Even if they did not have the power to control people’s minds.
She was scared.
Even thinking of the possibility terrified her.
But there was pride in living with that fear. If she offered to use her remote to remove the burden of those nightmares from Misaka Mikoto’s shoulders, it was unlikely the other girl would agree.
Shokuhou Misaki was the same.
No matter how painful it was, she did not want to lose the memories of that person’s smile. No matter what.
“Yes. I have worthless dreams sometimes too.”
“Oh? Now, this is rare. You’re actually revealing a mental weakness instead of a physical one? So what are these nightmares that make you wake up in a cold sweat?”
“…Scenes just like this one.”
The fingertips toying with the silver emergency whistle came to a stop.
This happiness would come to an end. It was bound to unravel at some point.
A certain boy would forget about Shokuhou Misaki eventually. That was unavoidable.
She knew that.
She really did.
But at least she had it for now.
For this one day.
“Dammit, I don’t have a nosebleed, do I?”
The pointy-haired boy held his face as he grumbled to himself.
Getting a high heel to the bridge of the nose by a lovely British socialite was quite a rare experience. He knew he had to be imagining it, but he could have sworn he heard a cracking sound when he pressed his finger against his nose. He had a hard time imagining how much damage had been done, so he wanted to check in a mirror.
That was why he had slipped away as if using the restroom, but he ran across something truly incredible while walking down the straight hallway.
“My, my, my. The planet really is spinning, isn’t it?’
“Wahhh!! How drunk are you, Orsolaaaaaaaaaa!?”
He could only hold his head in his hands and scream.
Someone was sitting on the hallway floor and leaning against the wall by a window. This woman, who had short blonde hair and a very nice body and who apparently could not even stand under her own power anymore, was Orsola Aquinas. She normally wore a black habit that covered her from head to toe, but today she was wearing a party dress that left her back exposed. And something was wrong. Very wrong. It was falling off of her in places, the zipper was undone, and she was only just barely holding up the silk fabric and cross at her chest with one hand. The nun’s defenses were dangerously low today, so she might as well have been wearing the legendary naked apron.
A warning siren blared in the pointy-haired boy’s head.
His experience spoke to him here.
(This is bad. Even if I just took a high heel to the face, I am not surviving the night if even a single drop of blood drips from my nose right now!!)
The fearsome beast known as Index and the zappy electric girl were in the same building. If he was attacked by both of them at once, he might not ever make it back to Japan.
Also, some things were lying on the floor around Orsola.
But these were not drink bottles or glasses. The labels were in English, but he was pretty sure they were products meant to increase alcohol resistance. The small brown bottles and bags of powdered medicine littering the floor were the kinds of thing not found in a high school lifestyle: turmeric, liver extract, and other items found on the shelves of the local convenience stores and drug stores.
“Wait, you actually tried to prevent this? Then how bad would it have been otherwise??? And if you know you can’t handle alcohol, why would you drink it at all!?”
“Hee hee hee. Cheers, cheers☆”
Orsola laughed, mimed lifting a glass, and repeated the same word over and over. …He could picture what happened quite clearly. She did not normally drink, but this was a day for celebration, so she raised the glass the maids gave her along with everyone else. She had not known how strong the drink was, but she was too nice to just throw it out either, so she ended up drinking it. Yes, and because she did not normally drink, that clumsy young woman had poured it all into her stomach at once!!
Also, the arm she raised to mime raising the glass happened to be the one providing what little defense her chest still had. The world lost its last bit of a conscience and the dress’s thin and crumpled-up material fell away.
His mind went blank.
So unfortunately, he could not provide a proper explanation of what occurred before his eyes.
However, the world only knows one word that can express it properly: Boing!!
And to be clear, Orsola was not hiding a bouncy ball in the chest of her dress.
“Sigh… Why do I feel so hot? I need to cool myself down.”
Instead of quickly covering herself up, she instead started fanning that fully-exposed portion of her anatomy.
Kamijou held a hand to his forehead as a wave of dizziness passed over him.
He was enough of an adolescent to want to circle any dirty words in red when he came across them in the dictionary during class, but this visual actually made him feel guilty for looking.
“That’s right. It was never Index or Misaka. The real skin exposure always comes from Orsola, doesn’t it!? And thinking back, that holds true during the Divine Mixture mess as well!!”
Orsola’s expression quickly grew serious and a suspiciously strange noise escaped her bewitching lips.
This was not good.
He was pretty sure something was about to happen.
Things had been bad enough when he ran across Misaka Misuzu drunk on the side of the road in Academy City, but at least she had seemed used to it. This was different. Dealing with someone who did not know their limits was a lot more nerve-racking.
“Hey, can you stand, Orsola? Don’t do that here. Just don’t. This castle carpet looks super expensive, so let’s get you to the restroom. C’mon, stand up!”
“Stand up on your own two legs!! Don’t lean on me like that!!”
Her alluringly flushed nape seemed to be giving off some kind of invisible sweet gas or the aroma released by those apples you put in the fridge to make sure the bananas grew ripe and delicious, but the way she pouted her lips was like a small child, making it all the more powerful.
“Oh, geez. When I take your arm to lend you my shoulder, you’re all exposed in front. What am I even supposed to do? How am I even supposed to close this dress up???”
“Oh – you – hopeless – boy. You wouldn’t be having so much trouble if you regularly practiced your princess carrying.”
“You want me to be the sad kind of person who mimics abducting people all on his own!?”
“You heard me☆ Kyaha kyaha kyaha kyaha!!”
She started kicking her legs like a child (which tore her stockings, making her legs even sexier than if they were bare) and started pushing toward him while laughing in a manic way she never would have while sober.
Kamijou Touma made his best attempt at princess carrying her.
But once he tried it, he found his center of gravity was farther forward than expected. He could tell one wrong step and he would slip, sending his face right into those two mounds jiggling there in front of him.
And the way this young woman had pressed her index finger against his lips while saying “you heard me” had been too powerful. He was very glad this was a stone castle with few modern conveniences. …If he was filmed right now, Orsola might just move deep in the mountains to become a hermit once she sobered up.
They must have made too much noise.
A door other than the one to the party hall opened and a black-ponytailed woman in a multicultural dress that included a Japanese style poked her head out.
It was Kanzaki Kaori.
She must have had guard duty today because the Japanese young woman had her nearly-two-meter sword at her hip. When he saw her, Kamijou began wildly shaking his one free hand.
“Hey!! Help me out here!! Orsola’s in a real bad state.”
“Are you sure you don’t mean you put her in a real bad state?”
“Wait, wait! Um, you’re not like Index. You’re the strongest when it comes to physical attacks, so that would be a bad idea. I mean, Orsola’s the boke and you’re the tsukkomi in this case, right!? A slap from a Saint would be too powerful! I’m pretty sure this misunderstanding is one of the greatest threats to my life to date! Please noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!”
This may have been what it meant for people to change.
This man had experienced more than enough during the war to change most anyone.
The person in question here was Holegres Mirates.
When he heard a loud crashing coming from the castle, he leapt up from his chair in the guard station.
“What in blazes was that!?”
“The regular patrol just left, remember? We’re keeping in close contact with the security team in the castle, so it’s fine. We would have received an emergency alert if there was a problem. Some knight or magician probably got a little carried away with the festivities.”
Agnese Sanctis did try to stop him with exasperation in her voice, but she knew in advance he was not about to listen. Besides, she was busy staring at the handmade boardgame she and her fellow nuns were playing using bite-sized chocolates instead of chips so they were not actually gambling with money.
“I only know this because the Amakusa mentioned it, but there is apparently an Eastern saying that you should keep your helmet on tight even after victory. Such a wonderful concept! Remain ever vigilant! It is an honor for the victory party to be held in our England as opposed to the other three regions, so I will not allow anyone to spoil it. Thus, I must be going! The patrol awaits me!!”
The chubby knight walked out into the cold with a lantern in hand. He was a high-ranking member of the Knights, but you never knew when he would see a nocturnal fox looking at him and fire his double-barreled self-defense gun while falling onto his ass.
That was why Agnese Sanctis had to grab her Lotus Wand from where it was leaning against the wall and leave the warm guard station to pursue him.
“Really!? Wait, please wait! Take me with you!!”
He had apparently seen no issue with treating the former Roman Catholics and the Amakusas as expendable back when the war began, so this was an odd sort of relationship. For one thing, he had been the person who thought of his own benefit first and foremost, clung to his seat of privilege, and wanted to be the fixer who bossed everyone around, so it was rather odd for him to be actively going on the winter patrols that were normally left to the lowest ranking knights.
A white monster and Britain’s third princess.
His interaction with both had been short, but by giving those interactions the proper weight, it was possible to learn.
It was possible to redo things.
“Ahh!! S-Sister Agnese left without finishing the game!! And she was the one that invented this cruel boardgame.”
“Wait, Sister Angelene. We can continue without her and let her roll for all the turns she missed once she returns. Honestly, and we might as well move her piece for the roll she just made. Um, she rolled a 5, so 1, 2, 3, 4…geh!! Take three chocolates from any player of your choice!?”
The other nuns started complaining about their unluckiness, but Agnese paid them no heed.
Windsor Castle was built horizontally instead of vertically, so making a circuit of the exterior was like a lap of a small jogging course. The tree branches rustled in the chilly breeze, but it was not all that desolate a scene. This was about forty kilometers away from the capital of London, but the occasional fireworks were being set off even in this smaller city of about thirty thousand. It would hardly be surprising if the fireworks had reached a ridiculous scale of fifty thousand set off every minute in London itself. At this rate, the country was going to run out of fireworks before it was time to ring in the new year.
Of course, Agnese did not look delighted as she held her shoulders for warmth and pursued the chubby man while able to see her own breaths.
“This is your fifty-sixth time out on patrol. Are you still doing this because of some curse that prevented a proper event from occurring on a nice, round number like fifty???”
“Hm, nothing out of the ordinary this time either. Good! Exactly what I like to see!!”
…He was not hoping for trouble and was truly delighted to find everything in order, so it was impossible for him to ever decide to stop. At this rate, he would probably continue circling the castle all night.
Was this small change really a welcome sight for Holegres Mirates? Agnese’s habit had a miniskirt, so she rubbed her thighs together to fight the cold as she spoke up.
“Huh? There’s something here.”
The chubby knight held his lantern out toward a spot he had already passed by.
But he could hardly be blamed for missing it. Agnese had not spotted an obvious intruder or a drone carrying a suspicious package.
The light was directed down at the ground.
An odd mark had been left there.
Agnese had found it, but even she looked puzzled while holding her Lotus Wand between her arms (because it was made of silver and would be too cold to hold for long if she did not frequently warm it up with her own body heat!).
“What is this? A footprint???”
She questioned her own conclusion because it was so very different from a human one. Nor was it a familiar animal track like from a fox or cat. It was much larger and more sinister. It left sharp gashes in the ground as if from a bird of prey’s talons, but the size of the area of torn up grass was more like that of a bear.
They had of course never seen anything like this.
This was not a case of them being ignorant. It could only be described in terms of “as if” and “like” because there was no word to describe it accurately. They were unlikely to find tracks like this in any animal encyclopedia or even dinosaur encyclopedia. It was strange enough for them to even consider the possibility of it being a power-assisted suit given that shape.
Unlike in the past, Holegres did not hesitate. He drew his left hand dagger in his empty hand. It was a short, defensive sword meant to block an opponent’s blade and it had been developed for nobles who might end up in a duel but did not like walking around with a bulky shield. It spread out with a spring-loaded sound. Holegres did not use a sword breaker or main-gauche that had comb-like grooves carved into the thick blade. His parrying dagger caught the enemy’s blade on the branch-like secondary blades that fanned out from the base of the sword.
He prioritized a solid defense over a reckless attack.
That decision likely came from the lantern he held in his dominant right hand, but it probably also came from his knightly sense of duty telling him he had to survive and bring this information back to the rest of the knights.
He stood back to back with Agnese who had adjusted her grip on the Lotus Wand and he carefully cast his lantern light around. Then that man who had re-honed his rusty sword asked a question.
“Is there something there?”
Agnese spread out the angel-wing-like flower petals at the end of her Lotus Wand and a twelve-colored shine thinly spread across the sides of the silver wand like a soap bubble or a film of oil on a puddle.
“This was your fifty-sixth time out on patrol. You passed by here not too long ago, didn’t you? But you didn’t see anything then.”
“Then allow me to amend my statement,” said the tense fat man. “Something came through here. And quite recently.”
Kamijou Touma was walking back from the restroom while still trying to get used to the tuxedo and ascot tie.
On the way, he spotted a curtain fluttering in one of the windows lining the straight hallway. Even though this was the second floor.
Then he noticed something.
He looked back down the hallway he had just walked through.
Someone was there.
He had walked past without noticing, so they may have been hiding behind or below one of the showcases lined with precious metals and pieces of artwork.
Nevertheless, Kamijou Touma spoke with the look of someone who had spotted an old friend.
He clenched and opened his right hand to see how it was doing.
He seemed to be continuing something that had been left unfinished.
“Took you long enough. I was sure you would be here sooner than this.”
The other person said nothing in response.
A few lines colored a sky blue and bright lemon yellow not found on any natural creature danced in his vision.
Without a word, an arm was swung horizontally and enormous claws audibly burst from the hand.
These were the all too sinister claws of a dragon.
Between the Lines 1
The woman wore mourning clothes and had the ears and tail of a cat.
Black Cat Witch Mina Mathers was curled up in a corner of the RV. She was tearfully puffing out her cheeks in protest.
The frog-faced doctor sighed.
“Did she finally figure it out?”
“You have no one to blame but yourself for this one.”
The golden retriever named Kihara Noukan sounded exasperated. Technically speaking, Aleister had instructed the doctor to do this, but that human was no more and blaming him would accomplish nothing.
Within that gloomy mood…
“You said you were Allan Bennett. I opened up to you and revealed so much because you said you were Golden Magician Allan Bennett. But who even are you really?”
Mina Mathers was muttering to herself (with the chest of her mourning clothes physically opened up to reveal her cleavage) and it seemed unlikely a logical conversation would get through to her. In fact, she was digging her nails into the knit doll with red hair, a white dress, and a black box that she had made in her free time. It had been such good friends with the black mourning clothes kitty doll, but now it was audibly tearing.
The frog-faced doctor realized he would have to deal with this like he was in the pediatric ward.
“Would you be willing to forgive me for a corndog?”
“American food in the UK!?”
If trying to claim a position of authority did not work, it could be effective to make yourself look a little silly instead.
“Uhh,” someone groaned.
It came from Lilith in the crib. She could no longer speak human language and she loved her bottle. No matter what method was used, this was what happened now that she had a physical body. She could no longer wield miracles as an exposed soul that could be snuffed out even more easily than a candle’s flame.
The war was over, her father was dead, and there was a lot of noise outside the RV. London was setting off so many fireworks one had to wonder if they were trying to set fire to their city. The RV was parked on the curb, but it might be a good idea to move it elsewhere if the excitement grew any further.
What did this scene look like from the daughter’s perspective?
Lilith was not to blame here, so Mina let go of the knit doll she had made, got up from the floor, and began preparing a bottle.
“In other words, Westcott was a cloud.”
The upset kitty widow(!?) Mina Mathers pouted her lips like a sulking child and started speaking.
Kihara Noukan tilted his canine head.
“The Rosicrucian texts are so deep that there are multiple interpretations. There are even some groups who claim some of the interpretations known to the public are bait meant to hide the truth and that the true group and true purpose of their existence lies elsewhere. …That is why no one was willing to listen when Johann Valentin Andreae revealed that he made it all up.”
Whether from magic or science, explaining things had a way of putting intellectuals in a good mood.
The frog-faced doctor and Kihara Noukan knew this well from their own experience, so they let Mina continue.
In fact, if they tried to interrupt her when they did not know what they were talking about, they would only trigger a great eruption.
“The Sprengel Letters that Westcott showed off so much in the Golden cabal were undoubtedly fakes he created. He clenched his teeth and pursued realism to the point of studying how to write like a German lady and he kept writing those letters back and forth to himself.”
“That is quite a life to live.”
“But even if Westcott’s letters were faked, that does not prove that the woman named Anna Sprengel did not exist. It is always possible a real one existed separate from Westcott’s letters to himself.”
Mina Mathers lifted Lilith from the crib and brought the end of the warmed baby bottle to the baby’s mouth.
She continued speaking while skillfully dodging the baby’s lips that had locked onto the real deal.
“That is what I mean by a cloud. Westcott knew that Lady Sprengel existed, but he intentionally lied to hide her from the other Golden members. Once his plausible lie was revealed for what it was, everyone would assume there was nothing more to it.”
…Aleister had used the Sprengel Letters to set up a clash between the Mathers and Westcott factions.
Westcott would have known he was being set up, so had he been devoted enough to the real Anna that he had to keep up the charade?
He had felt the need to hide Anna Sprengel’s presence even if it meant causing the Battle of Blythe Road. Because if he let a great conflict break out over his failure, it would only make the “he faked the whole thing” theory sound more convincing.
“What a pitiful man. A cloud is much like those scammers who will reject any opposing theory. No matter how many times they are disproven, the people who do not want to believe they are wrong only need to point and say one simple thing: all the rest of you are the clouds.”
“Once you start down the path of a cloud, there is no end of it. Because the Lady Sprengel that Westcott believed in may have been yet another cloud. And if you start doubting everything and peeling back the layers of the onion one by one, what do you have left? You can only hope you do not peel more and more and more and more until you suddenly realize nothing remains in your hands.”
The golden retriever stepped out of the RV and into the outside air.
He did so because he could not smoke around the baby now that she had a physical body, but he noticed something after cutting the end of his cigar with a blade. The English words “no smoking area” were painted large on the asphalt out here.
There were some days when even a dog wanted to cry.
(Ehh? But there’s so much fireworks smoke it’s obscuring the stars.)
He was so very disheartened.
He decided he needed to start some R&D on airtight smoking doghouses that were collapsible for easy portability and would let him smoke anywhere without causing anyone any trouble. And he would intentionally not get it patented so it could be freely spread around to create a wonderful world void of bias and discrimination!!
Also, something was bothering him enough that he did badly want a smoke
But it was not teary sentiment that filled the golden retriever’s heart.
His nose as a researcher was telling him something.
“Although the Kihara category was partially supported by Aleister’s Archetype Controller.”
This was what he wanted to say.
“I can still smell his presence.”