Toaru Majutsu no Index:NT Volume22R Chapter 2
Chapter 2: Meager Laurels – Party_for_Winners.
They all heard the glass shattering.
That white dress with reddish-purple lines must have been difficult to run around in. Index had to lift up the puffy skirt with both hands like a storybook princess as she rushed down the hallway.
Sharp sparkles were scattered around.
The shards of the broken window had fallen onto the carpet.
By the time Index arrived with her long silver hair worn in buns on either side of her head, a few people besides the pointy-haired boy were already there. For example, Kanzaki Kaori and Itsuwa. A lot of the Anglican magicians had declined to attend the party and instead worked as indoor guards, so they seemed to be inspecting the broken window and the footprints left on the carpet.
The small calico cat was trembling and on alert. Could the animal pick up on the tense atmosphere?
Kamijou Touma himself smiled bitterly and held up his phone in his left hand.
He waved his right hand that must have been clenched into a fist a moment ago.
“Damn, the battery’s dead. I really wish I could have charged it up and got a photo of that.”
“Y-you weren’t hurt and that’s enough. What if you pursued this and something happened to you?”
Itsuwa spoke up nervously, but despite seeming so anxious, her bodylines were displayed by the quite short and provocative dress she wore. Yes, this looked more like something Oriana Thomson would wear. Let’s just say she could not be allowed to stand on a London street corner past 9 PM dressed like that. Had she even been the one to choose that dress for herself?
Kanzaki Kaori held a palm to her ear with her long black hair worn in a ponytail.
"The report from Agnese Sanctis of the outdoor guard unit does not sound promising. The footprints in question apparently disappear all of a sudden.”
Kamijou looked skeptical and Kanzaki shrugged in her combination Japanese-Western dress.
“Maybe it jumped between branches in the forest and maybe it used wings to fly in from above. If what you say is true, then we can’t exactly deny that possibility, can we?”
Index and the others turned to look at the pointy-haired boy.
––A monster larger than a human.
––A mass of sky-blue and lemon-yellow.
––A creature more like a quadrupedal lizard than anything.
––Entirely covered by something like muscles with large wings on its back.
––Thick claws shot from the human-like forearm.
“Hold on, wait!! Stop looking at me like that!! Stop writing down every little thing I say with those solemn looks!! It’s scary!! I was more than a little panicked after being attacked out of the blue!”
“But your testimony is the biggest clue we have.”
The Japanese-Western dress must not have had pockets because Kanzaki Kaori pulled a memo pad with decorative Japanese paper on the cover from her ample bosom(!?) and she was too busy writing in it to look up at Kamijou. But…
“I mean, that was right after you hit me. My brain might have been malfunctioning.”
“You don’t have to bring that up again.”
Kanzaki shut her memo pad and blushed a little as she drove that point home.
She also pouted her lips like a small child.
“The sky-blue and lemon-yellow coloration seems odd, but if we focus on the shape… a winged lizard is not an unusual symbol in the field of magic. A tempter, the devil, and the guardian of the depths and of treasure. In other words, a dragon.”
Kanzaki may have only been listing off what came to mind.
But Kamijou’s shoulders jumped at what he heard.
“The motif is famous enough to show up in video games, isn’t it? They are commonly equated with the devil, but they are also used by the Knights as an emblem for one’s house and bloodline, so it is a strange symbol. A mixed symbol like that is extremely rare in Christian culture, which strictly divides good from evil and destroys any and all ghosts as evil beings without taking their circumstances into account.”
The ordinary high school boy finally fell silent.
He kept repeating that word in his mind.
When he looked down, he saw the calico cat growling on the hallway floor covered in broken glass.
Was it the cat’s good eyes, ears, or nose? Something may have lingered here that only an animal could sense.
Kamijou glanced down at his right hand so no one else would notice.
“If it ran away, maybe we should give chase. Who knows what it will do if we give it a chance to recover and it might not just attack here. If it’s after money or food, it could break into a house or shop around here.”
Kanzaki sighed at that.
“And why would we have to rely on you for that? We are the forces prepared for that sort of thing. Besides, an unidentified individual has broken into Windsor Castle while the queen is present. That alone is enough to declare a state of emergency and set up checkpoints all around here.”
“Priestess. C-could this be a leftover part of Coronzon’s forces? We have heard reports of her creating an artificial demon.”
“No, Itsuwa. For the initial investigation, we should throw out all our assumptions and leave all possibilities on the table. This could be some other dangerous element like a magic cabal that wishes to break free of Anglican control. With the UK’s foundation shaken, they might think this is their chance.”
Kamijou spoke up without thinking.
“All possibilities, huh?”
First of all, was the threat to the UK by Great Demon Coronzon really and truly over?
Was there no possibility of someone else lurking beyond even her?
A false bottom.
Thinking about it felt like trying to grasp at a cloud.
The sound of someone groaning reached his ears.
Most likely, the same concern and anxiety had reached everyone here.
This might be entirely without evidence, but what if someone had set up this situation where the defeat of Coronzon led everyone to loosen the country’s reins in celebration? What if they were building up to something and the openings spreading in their hearts now was a part of it all?
No one actually said anything.
Yet the anxiety grew within all of them.
“Strengthening security needs to be our priority. We can leave the outside investigation to another unit. Since we do not know what they are trying to accomplish, I want to avoid splitting up Windsor Castle’s personnel.”
After that announcement, Queen Regnant Elizard whispered to the Amakusa Saint in charge of the indoor security.
“If necessary, I will approve the use of service work. You can wait until after the fact to submit the official paperwork to the royal family.”
Elizard clapped her hands twice to break through the gloomy mood that was setting in.
“Eating and drinking out in the hallway is not part of our culture. If you wish to stand and talk, then return to the dance hall. You can do it just as well there, plus you can enjoy some delicious food and drinks at the same time.”
That set people in motion.
Index picked up the mewing calico cat and started back toward the party hall.
Kamijou began to follow, but he decided to ask Kanzaki a question.
“What is service work?”
“Special measures that allow the Tower of London’s prisoners to temporarily leave their cell and assist in some anti-magician combat while under beefeater supervision. That would mean sending Second Princess Carissa, and William Orwell, a saint just like myself, into combat.”
“It is a last resort. Plus, those two are not interested in shortening their sentence that way.”
Come to think of it, those measures had not been put into effect during the pressing situation when London nearly fell to the Crowley’s Hazards. That must have been a switch they would never press as long as they had any sense left at all.
“Kamijou Touma. You saved this country, so do not worry about all this and have a memorable night.”
This was the usual way of things.
Kamijou always got involved whether it was necessary or not, so Kanzaki laughed.
“Do not worry. The enemy’s objective is unclear, but if they intend to destroy this peaceful atmosphere and spread civil unrest throughout the country, then responding in kind is only giving them what they want. In that sense, ending the party and returning to the battlefield is out of the question. So leave the security work to the security personnel. Keeping everything the same as always is enough to give an unshakable power to society. So please assist our investigation for the sake of peace.”
“Putting it like that is cheating…”
Kanzaki Kaori gently pressed her index finger against his lips.
The perfume-like aroma of her long black hair tickled his nose.
“Have you forgotten that I am older than you? I have had more time to learn how to use my words.”
Index’s flat shoes sounded from below her princess-like dress as she stopped by a different room before returning to the party hall. She did not seem to notice how dangerously her white skirt with reddish-purple lines was fluttering as she moved.
“Come here, Sphinx.”
(Touma always finds a way to get himself hurt, so I need to get some bandages for him.)
She was at the medical room.
Windsor Castle was a fancy place, but people still lived there. Nevertheless, there were AEDs in brightly-colored waterproof bags hanging on the walls on each floor and it had its own medical facility. That would be incredibly strange under normal circumstances, but it may have been a sign of how much they wanted to eliminate even the slightest possibility of disaster.
She knocked quietly and opened the door.
Inside, she found a female doctor in glasses and about three nurses, but as soon as they saw all the cat fur covering her from the lace neck decoration to hem of the long skirt, their faces stiffened in shock. A blonde nurse quickly had her leave the cat out in the hall and sprayed Index’s hands and dress down with something or other.
Was this how they responded to a lost child, or had they gone into pediatric mode?
“What brings you here?” asked the doctor (with the look of someone who could not at all predict what the other person would do next), so Index raised her hands and hopped up and down on the spot.
“I want a first aid kit for Touma!”
They did not give her a first aid kit.
The doctor in a tight skirt instead handed her a small bag made of thick plastic. It was something like an overnight toothbrush set, but it contained disinfectant, adhesive bandages, non-adhesive bandages, and more. This level of preparation might have been for the gardeners who looked after Windsor Castle’s large grounds. The castle’s medical room would generally treat the royal family and any tourists who fell ill, so they kept it a secret that they would actually be overwhelmed if they had to deal with every little scrape and bugbite the many workers suffered while maintaining and inspecting the castle.
The front of the package displayed a cross on a three-stepped pedestal with a rose decorating the center.
“Ugh… when did my head get so heavy?”
Index heard a sluggish voice from beyond a curtain partition.
She tilted her head, walked over, and opened the curtain.
It was like slamming her nose into a thick but invisible wall.
The sweet smell pushed in at her all at once now that the seal had been broken.
Someone lay on the bed behind the curtain. She must have collapsed in the middle of changing from the fancy dress to her black habit because she had given up with her arms only sort of in the sleeves. Instead of lying face down, it was more like she had been on all fours when her arms gave out. In other words, her butt was sticking up high.
The person groaning with her face in the large pillow was Orsola Aquinas.
She was flushed from ears to nape.
“Ohhhhhhh! Wh-what are these awful memories rising from the deep, deep depths of the ocean? D-did that really happen? No, it couldn’t have…”
She was apparently fighting with herself at the moment.
Index tilted her head, shaking her silver hair in the process.
“What are you doing?”
The sexy blonde woman’s trembling came to a sudden stop.
She also lost her balance and rolled over onto her side. She curled up in the fetal position and stuck her thumb in her mouth. It was all very cute, but it also increased her dangerously sweet allure as a young woman.
Incidentally, Christianity generally advocated ascetism, but it had no real restriction on drinking alcohol. In fact, the consumption of wine played a role in the crucial sacrament of holy communion.
Of course, gluttony was one of the seven deadly sins, so moderation was always recommended.
“I know this isn’t the best day for it, but would you mind if I confessed my sins to you?”
“We can see each other.”
Index had a perfect memory, so she did not like the idea of hearing someone’s sins and worries in an open environment like this. Plus, ask that starving nun for advice and she was liable to tell you to fill your stomach and go to sleep.
The bespectacled doctor said Orsola had been passed out near the restrooms.
Orsola herself had to have been extremely nervous what with the Divine Mixture incident during the war. Part of her would not have wanted to see the others, so it was not that surprising for her to have reached for a glass of something stronger than she would normally ever drink.
“Don’t worry. This isn’t the end for you. Just get some rest today and you can speak with everyone tomorrow.”
“No, come comfort me. Please do not leave me alone here!”
“Is she even listening!? It’s hard to tell, but I think she might still be drunk!”
Why had Misaka Mikoto, who had a veil swept behind her head, and Shokuhou Misaki, who had her honey-blonde hair worn back in two stages, not appeared in the hallway during the commotion?
“Yes, yes, I get it! That startled you, so your body suddenly tensed up.”
The tearful honey-blonde girl slid onto the A.A.A. to use it as a chair and Mikoto sighed while also curling up her body out of embarrassment over the blue lingerie dress.
And once straddling the A.A.A., Shokuhou let out an odd noise.
The A.A.A. looked like a streetcar or police van with plenty of wheels likely made from portions of the motorcycle’s tires, but the front had started swelling out roundly where Shokuhou had placed her butt on it. Before long, she was essentially sitting on a balloon a size larger than a beachball.
“Wait, hold on, Misaka-san. Is this a balance ball? You might have thought this soft material would help, but it really hurts my hip! Hghh!!”
“Th-this isn’t me! A.A.A., calm down a little!! And, Shokuhou, stop bouncing up and down like that!!”
Mikoto had to wrap her arms around the honey-blonde girl’s stomach to stop her from becoming a lot like an innocent young wife who grew a bit too careless at the gym. That left the lingerie dress girl’s back entirely exposed.
This must have really been hurting her hip because Shokuhou had tears in the corners of her eyes and her skin was damp with sweat. Even her nape was flushed a light pink.
“Okay, you can deal with the parts you can reach, but I’ll wipe off your back.”
“I start giving off a sweet aroma when my circulation ability improves, so I can’t help it.”
“Those pouting lips look wrong on you. C’mon, I need to get your nape too.”
Mikoto rubbed a handkerchief down the back of Shokuhou’s neck and also fixed her blonde hair. Shokuhou Misaki must have been a queen to the core because she just let the other girl do it.
“Hm, that would earn about a 70. Misaka-san, with a bit more training, you might make a good servant.”
“A.A.A., bounce her up and down.”
“Abwa abwa ah ha ha!!”
The honey-blonde girl started making odd noises as her hips bounced upwards. Various parts of her body were trembling from a tolerable level of pain. This was doing nothing to eliminate the suspicions about her weakness to bike seats.
After deciding the other girl had been sufficiently relaxed, Mikoto ordered the machine to stop.
“So what was that noise anyway? It sounded like glass breaking.”
“Ah, agh… I just hope that boy did not knock over a rose vase in the hallway.”
That was perfectly plausible.
The artwork and antiques in a place like this would generally have expensive insurance policies, but the monetary insurance payout would not necessarily be enough in a lot of cases. And people had a way of screwing up most when they were specifically trying not to. Mr. Kamijou, Man of Misfortune, seemed like the kind of person who would stumble and set off a bizarre chain reaction that ended up breaking something like that.
“Oh, he’s back.”
Mikoto was looking back toward the door in a way that made her back bend smoothly like she was performing some defenseless warmup exercises on the poolside.
But those few words were enough for Shokuhou Misaki’s heart to skip a beat.
She pressed her palm against the emergency whistle hidden at the center of her chest.
The pointy-haired boy waved at them like it was perfectly normal. But that normalcy was like a powerful attack on the girl’s tear glands.
He remembered her.
The miracle would continue for at least a little while longer.
And the first thing Kamijou Touma said ruined the atmosphere entirely.
“Hey, ladies. Either of you got a phone?”
“Mine’s dead, so I failed to snap one hell of a picture. And I can’t recharge it since the outlets are the wrong shape.”
“But then I remembered a neat trick! You can recharge phones wirelessly, right? If we mess with our phone’s settings a bit, I can use yours as a mobile battery. I just want half a charge…no, just a third! Won’t you give me enough battery to get a photo if the timing is right next time?”
He started with this and did not even tell them what had happened out in the hallway.
And then Index walked in and supplied some further information in a low voice.
“Touma… Did you hear that Orsola was found half-naked by the restrooms?”
The timing could not have been worse.
The atmosphere surrounding the two ladies of the prestigious esper development school of Tokiwadai Middle School changed entirely.
Instinctually sensing danger, the cat slipped from the silver-haired girl’s arms and moved away.
“Your phone was dead…”
“…so you failed to snap one hell of a picture?”
“Wait, it’s not about that. This is a serious issue. And as an educated high schooler who knows a lot of tricky words, here’s a lesson to you dumb middle schoolers: we need to obey the principle of non bis in idem. This is really basic issue, but I was already punished for this once when Kanzaki hit me, so if you keep digging it back up, I really am going to die!!”
But as usual, Kamijou Touma forgot to explain himself properly.
His words did nothing to eliminate the feelings roiling in the girl’s chests. In fact, the dangerous light in their eyes only intensified. They looked a lot like that kabuki makeup art used for anti-shoplifting posters.
The silver girl spoke on behalf of all three.
“Touma, are you saying you did something worthy of punishment?”
“Ahhhhh, what a pain in the ass!! Besides, I was wrongfully accused!! Orsola was already drunk when I found her!!!!!”
A series of solid sounds followed.
The A.A.A. transformed from the balance ball and back into the small bench-sized streetcar or police van. Shokuhou Misaki was elegantly sitting on the edge portion, so she gasped as her butt slid back to about the center. It was a quite a visual thanks to the slits in her long skirt.
It was ready to charge.
The #5 girl spoke while riding that bucking bronco.
The bench-sized mass sent the pointy-haired boy flying while the Queen of Tokiwadai was riding it.
Far from getting non bis in idem, he did not even get innocent until proven guilty.
It was a chilly night.
An intermittent orange light very different from a firefly glowed below the frigid sky. But very few people who saw it would consider it ephemeral or fleeting.
It was the embers at the end of a cigarette.
The cigarette belonged to Stiyl Magnus.
He stood nearly two meters tall and had shoulder-length red hair. He was wearing a formal suit instead of his usual black priest’s habit, but he was still the same person. He was a Necessarius hitman who destroyed magic with magic. He had a different history than Kanzaki Kaori or Agnese Sanctis who had arrived here for more complicated reasons.
Equally-tall Tatemiya Saiji of the Amakusa Church spoke with exasperation in his voice.
“Oh, you were here? I thought you were off wasting time somewhere in the name of serving the first princess.”
“I just refuse to stay long anywhere I’m not allowed to smoke,” replied the priest while waving the cigarette between his fingers and leaning back against Windsor Castle’s wall.
In truth, he had found it impossible to stay there for another reason.
The silver-haired girl had looked far too bright in that dress.
Everyone wanted her to smile and Stiyl was no different, but that smile also had a way of stabbing into his heart. Because that smile was directed at someone else.
Did she remember them or not?
That was the insurmountable dividing line between that boy who had been granted happiness and Stiyl who had not. Seeing her like this was a painful reminder of that fact.
(The seven deadly sins, hm? I don’t know if this is Satan or the Leviathan, but if mere emotions are eating into my heart this badly, I clearly need more training.)
Tatemiya’s presence reminded him of someone else.
What did that man’s superior, Kanzaki Kaori, think about all this?
Had she reached an understanding with herself, organized her feelings, and placed it all in one of the drawers of her mind?
Stiyl softly shook his head.
He had hoped smoking would help him focus and calm down, but it was only tightening his blood vessels and increasing his blood pressure. His thoughts never went anywhere good when he felt more like the cigarette was smoking him.
The priest spoke to distract himself.
“What about you? I thought the Amakusa were in charge of the indoor security.”
“This is nothing too out of the ordinary considering he is involved. After checking over the broken window and the hallway, we decided it was time to take a look outside too.”
Tatemiya smiled and looked up at the second story window.
But this was a castle and each room was quite large, so the ceilings were positioned high up. You could not think of this like a normal house. A fall from that height would mean at least a broken bone.
“But I don’t see any damage to the stone wall. Does that mean it jumped right up to the window instead of crawling up the wall? I can see why Agnese’s group would report that it might have flown.”
“The bigger question is why it went straight for the second story. If it wanted to sneak in, the first floor should have been good enough.”
Was it lucky or unlucky that it had run across Kamijou Touma first and foremost? His right hand had driven it away before they could figure out much of anything, so all they knew was that it used some kind of supernatural power. The boy himself was a complete amateur and he did not know what mattered most in a report, so it was hard to imagine the attack scene based on his statements.
“He really does have a way of causing trouble.”
Stiyl stopped talking there.
He did not really care if the conversation continued.
But in that case…
“Things are going to get a lot busier around here.”
“You were assigned to the first princess, weren’t you? If you want peace and quiet, I would recommend slipping out of the castle in the name of searching for Princess Riméa.”
He would have loved to do that, but it did not appear to be an option.
Being around that girl was painful.
But make no mistake. Some fools would convert their love into anger or hatred, but Stiyl was not that sort of person. Rule #1 for him was to eliminate any and all threats around that girl. The mental pain and injury he received was of secondary importance.
“The footprints suddenly disappear.”
He released a card printed with a rune.
Instead of attaching it to a surface, he had it fly in the night breeze to create a flame that hovered like a will-o’-the-wisp. This was just the one card, so it would not last long. The laminated card burned away and it swept away the darkness only when the plastic seemed to bubble up.
It revealed a few nonhuman footprints.
More than the shape, the distance between them was clearly too great. It looked more like it had been jumping in a straight line than walking or running.
And the bizarre footprints completely disappeared after approaching the artificial forest surrounding the castle.
“Did it move through the branches, or was it making a running start to break free of gravity and fly?”
All of this fit the report from Agnese and Holegres who had been in charge of outside security.
The scattering of lights moving through the trees would be the maids and nuns searching through the forest and grass for any further traces of the intruder. They must not have found much because some equipment like spider legs was creaking with nothing better to do.
But Stiyl was interested in something else.
“It bothers me how skillfully it broke in and escaped. This is Windsor Castle, the queen’s second home. Breaking in is not that easy.”
“Are you suggesting this monster understood the British style?” Tatemiya looked skeptical. “I know we were pretty desperate during that war and it did feel like we revealed quite a bit of our hand, but still.”
Did that mean it was a local or foreign magic cabal or even another sect like the Roman Catholics or Russian Orthodox? They still did not know how far Lola Stuart… no, Great Demon Coronzon’s reach had spread, so it was hard to say if her influence had been entirely eliminated.
Looking at it that way might have made sense, but…
“There is no sign of any magic being used.”
With a quiet popping sound, Stiyl’s flimsy will-o’-the-wisp burst into nothingness.
His search had ended in failure.
“There are no traces of magic power. Is that really possible? That would mean they understood international-level magical security well enough to slip through it yet used no magic of their own. Did they gain something from that restriction? Or…”
“The culprit might not be acting alone. Maybe the person who actually snuck in doesn’t know as much as the person giving them advice.”
“You mean someone like that girl with 103,001 grimoires in her head? But who could that be?” Stiyl breathed a sigh mixed with cigarette smoke. “The lizard is an obvious threat, but I’m also concerned about their adviser.”
There was some luck to found in this unfortunate situation.
The bright sky-blue winged lizard that Kamijou Touma had seen did not repeatedly attack in the same way. That was good because the party did not have to be called off, but it also left them with zero clues as to the culprit’s identity.
The pointy-haired boy held the back of his hips and let out a white breath.
He was on the balcony directly connected to the dance hall.
The celebration was continuing like everyone was trying to laugh off the bad mood trying to set in like a fog, but they were taking it a little too far. If he stuck with them to the end, they might just toss him so high into the air in celebration that he ended up in heaven.
That was when he heard a girl’s voice from behind.
She wore a white princess dress with reddish-purple lines and her long silver hair was worn up in buns on either side.
The pointy-haired boy turned around.
“I feel like I’ve figured something out.”
He smiled bitterly when Index tilted her head.
“Maybe I just didn’t want it to be over.”
“Board Chairman Aleister is gone,” said Kamijou Touma.
He was not just talking about the fate of his enemy. That ending would affect the lives of this boy and girl as well.
“So is Lola Stuart who stood at the top of the Anglican Church as archbishop. We were sort of lodged into a gap, but the walls on either side are gone and the crack has grown into a great ravine. There’s nothing holding us in place anymore.”
Index, who had memorized all there was to know about magic, lived in Academy City, a place ruled by science.
Yet they lived together in that student dorm like it was normal.
The adults who had ensured that could continue had suddenly disappeared. This was not quite like having both your parents die in an accident one day. His opinion here was more colored by the pure pros and cons, so the teenage boy was unsure how to accept it.
“I thought if we fought, I could preserve the place we had.”
“As long as Aleister and Coronzon’s battle continued, I thought we could live in Academy City forever. So maybe I wanted to find some big mystery leftover and for it to take physical form and attack us.”
But that was selfish.
Aleister and Coronzon themselves must have been fighting to bring an end to all the fighting. He could not demand they extend their suffering just because he wanted to protect his own temporary lifestyle.
He knew that.
He did, but Kamijou Touma still bit his lip.
“What do we do?”
Index had two paths open to her: stay here in England, or head back to Academy City.
“What are we supposed to do now?”
And Kamijou Touma also had two paths open to him.
Aleister was gone. His plan was no more. Would he return to an Academy City with no scheming villain, or would he choose another path by heading into the world of magic while relying on his right hand’s power?
Imagine Breaker worked on any supernatural power whether it came from science or magic, so perhaps he had no reason to stay in Academy City any longer.
Index did not say anything for a while.
She was thinking.
Then her lovely lips opened just a bit and she spoke.
“I want to go home.”
She had made her choice.
Index wanted to go home. Of course she did. It had always been unnatural for her to be in Japan’s Academy City.
Kamijou knew he had to make his choice now.
But Index smiled and said more.
“So let’s go home to Academy City. I mean, isn’t that what we were fighting for? If we don’t do that, what were we even risking our lives for?”
“Are you really okay with that?”
He was trembling.
But he could not quite figure out why that was.
“I mean, this is where you were born and there’s nothing tying you to that city anymore! If you want to return here, you can!! So are you really sure!?”
“There is something.”
The silver-haired girl in the princess dress smiled a little.
This was not the usual smile she gave.
“There still is something tying me there. But it isn’t a bad thing. So let’s go home, Touma. The place I’m thinking of now has to be where I’m really meant to be. That isn’t something I can abandon so readily.”
He had no words.
Even though he knew he had to say something.
If Index stayed in London, she would have plenty of use for her talents. And there were people here waiting for her, like Stiyl and Kanzaki. There was no need for her to force herself to return to her life in Academy City. He wanted to tell her to think about this more carefully so she could make sure she had made the best possible decision for herself.
But he could not.
He could not bring himself to do it.
As ugly and as despicable as it might be, Kamijou could not possibly say anything that had the slightest chance of making her change her mind.
So silence naturally fell over them.
They simply stood there on the otherwise empty balcony looking into each other’s eyes.
Someone must have been shooting off fireworks to celebrate the end of the war because the many colors of those fiery flowers illuminated the winter darkness outside the balcony. But the boy and the girl did not turn to look.
“Index…” he said.
He naturally placed his hands on her slender shoulders.
Not even he may have known what he was trying to do.
His fingertips must have touched the buns on either side of her head when he placed his hands on those shoulders because her silver hair came undone.
It shined brightly in the moonlight.
Index softly looked up at him.
And like that, she ever so slightly angled her head.
But just then.
Something swooshed through the air to leap over the second-story balcony’s railing.
There was destruction.
The shockwave was a blend of shattering glass and splintering oak.
The tackle was intense.
As soon as the enemy leaped over the balcony railing and charged forward, it slammed into Kamijou’s side at full speed. They broke free of gravity’s bonds and flew through the air, leaving Index behind. They crashed through the window and rolled across the party hall’s floor. The enemy’s claws tore into the luxurious carpet as they grappled and desperately struggled to come out on top.
Everyone there saw it.
Many screams and shouts mixed together.
A sticky luster came from something like countless threads that flowed along the lines of the body’s muscles. Overall, it was made up of a few sky-blue and lemon-yellow lines. It was similar to a tropical snake or frog, but this likely did not exist in nature. It was more than two meters long, it had four legs – except with a clear distinction between arms and legs – and its head displayed a prominent set of brutal crocodilian jaws. It also had the thin membrane-like wings of a bat and a thick tail brimming with power from base to tip. It was unclear if the swishing of the tail was really a sign of irritation, but it was unlikely to be a friendly message.
A winged lizard.
In other words, a dragon.
That strange motif was a symbol of the devil, but it was also used in the emblems of houses and organizations. In the Western world that clearly divided good from evil, a single symbol crossing that divide was unusual.
“So we meet again.”
It had attacked a second time. And had it even fled the first time? Had it instead been in hiding, waiting for this chance?
Even the small calico cat was bristling his fur.
It was the dragon that ended up on top. Pinned down, Kamijou Touma felt a nervous sweat soaking not just his face but his entire body, but he still forced a smile.
For a brief moment, two strange colors flashed in from somewhere.
Had they come from the fingertips of his right hand?
“And I’m glad. I really am. With a mystery like you leftover, I can forget all about those terrifying thoughts!!”
With a roar, the dragon swung its right hand horizontally. With a sound like a spring-loaded device, several thick claws burst out.
But the pointy-haired boy was not decapitated with his head sent rolling across the floor.
“What is that thing!?”
The intruder must have noticed the other gazes on it.
Misaka Mikoto had raised her voice while blushing and holding her body to hide the blue lingerie dress that was see-through in places.
She shook free of the embarrassment and removed her right hand from her body to hold it out in front of her.
A shockwave erupted in the party hall with a sound like someone beating a drum taller than she was and all the surviving windows shattered. She showed no mercy. She started off with her railgun. The arcade coin was accelerated to three times the speed of sound and it left an orange trail behind it as it mercilessly pierced the monster’s side.
Its side broke.
There was a squishing sound.
But it was not enough to stop it!?
With a deep boom, the monster swung down its right arm again. A meteor fell with a sky-blue light. Kamijou moved his right arm instead of his head.
Had the railgun attack thrown off the monster’s aim?
It just barely missed and tore through the carpet and the hard floor beneath.
An injury to the wrist could easily be fatal, but that was not the dragon’s intent.
That boy’s right hand carried great meaning.
“Ha ha! I see. Is that your plan!?”
The dragon did not wait for Kamijou’s belligerent laughter and attacked again.
Were the raised claws really targeting the pointy-haired boy’s right hand?
Was it trying to cut it off and take it for itself?
Some of the magicians might have thought so.
But that was not it.
That monster had just one reason for being so fixated on Kamijou Touma’s right hand.
An odd sound burst out.
It happened on contact.
It happened as soon as the winged lizard’s claws touched Kamijou Touma’s Imagine Breaker.
The sound of destruction spread from there.
That must have loosened its grip somewhat.
The pointy-haired boy laughed as he bent his knees, placed the soles of his shoes on the strange dragon’s belly, and then kicked up.
His opponent did not put up any more of a resistance.
Cracks ran through it while it rolled across the carpet. The lizard’s skin, which appeared to be made up of bright sky-blue fibers, gradually broke apart like it was a hard shell.
And once it crossed a certain threshold, the sky-blue and lemon-yellow swirled around the center point. No, it was technically swirling around the winged lizard’s right foreleg—or would you call it the right hand? The bizarre outer shell was sucked in toward the wrist there. It all flowed there like the bathwater once the drainplug was pulled.
It was like there was a large bat hanging from that wrist.
But even that was fully drawn inside.
Once the sky-blue exterior was gone, the rest was naturally exposed.
Only the interior remained.
This was the true nature of the beast.
The enemy they must defeat was being revealed.
The opening conflict had ended. Everyone’s tension naturally grew. They would soon have to struggle like their life depended on it.
Everyone in the party hall gulped as they all became witnesses.
Witnesses of what appeared from within the winged lizard.
Witnesses of what had caused all of this.
It was a pointy-haired high school boy.
A boy they all recognized was revealed to the world.
So what exactly had happened?
To understand that, we must change our viewpoint and move back in the timeline a bit.
“Ah, ahhh, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!???”
The sound of something bursting open sounded on the thick ice covering the sea between Great Britain and Ireland. This was just before the end of the war when everyone was focused on the Queen Britannia as it sank along with Coronzon and Aleister.
But something else entirely had been happening then.
It was a much smaller and more personal issue than something influencing the fate of nations or the entire world.
Particles of ice had blown up like a blizzard, so Index must not have been able to see what happened even while she dangled from the Bunny Gray balloon.
Kamijou Touma’s right arm had exploded at the shoulder.
Nothing external had caused this.
In fact, it was blown away from within by a power it could not contain.
The pain was too much to bear.
He had no idea what he was shouting as he held his torn right shoulder with his other hand, collapsed to the thick ice, and rolled around. The wallet and phone fell from his pocket, but he did not have it in him to pick them up. He was too busy making sure he did not bite his own tongue.
Even so, he could not bring himself to shut his eyes.
Something was happening in front of him.
It was his right arm.
It was floating in that empty white space like it was defying gravity.
No, this was not all that strange. He had seen it several times before. He had just always turned a blind eye because it had always worked out in his favor, so he could not start calling it creepy as soon as it fell out of his control.
The end of his detached right shoulder twisted while dripping with red blood.
There was a small clicking sound.
(What is that?)
Just as he wondered that, a strange artificial-looking triangular prism appeared about fifteen centimeters away from the bloody end of the detached right shoulder. The sides were divided into keyboard-like squares that were moving in and out all on their own.
There was no way he could ignore this.
That strange object really was there in front of him.
“Kazakir—no, this is different!” he shouted.
The triangular prism shined with a pale platinum light and he grimaced.
It happened silently.
The triangular prism gained a head and a right arm past the shoulder.
It all fit together perfectly and resulted in an identical boy standing there in front of him.
This went well beyond wondering where this other boy had come from or how he had appeared here.
Was there no way to explain this using nothing more than biological science?
And the monster was wearing the exact same clothing that Kamijou was.
He could only just stare blankly up at him.
No, staring blankly did not qualify as choosing an action.
With his right hand gone, there was nothing at all Kamijou Touma could do. He could only say one thing to the identical pointy-haired high school boy.
“What are you!?”
“Imagine Breaker is just one card in your deck? You’re the one in control?”
There was obvious mockery in his voice.
A cracking sound shook the air.
A shocking pink light flashed at the corner of his mouth and an emerald one at the corner of his eye. They were pretty colors, but did it mean he was unsure how to process the parts that were not quite the body’s surface but not quite inside either?
And he used that extremely lifelike right hand to calmly pick up the phone that had fallen on the thick ice.
“Don’t make me laugh, you snot-nosed brat. Once this right hand’s taken from you, what have you got left? Who would ever accept you as Kamijou Touma now?”
There was a sound like long, wet hair splatting against a concrete wall.
Kamijou Touma’s right shoulder should have had nothing attached, but sky-blue threads twisted around to fill that empty space. They formed what looked like powerful muscles and quickly grew to the silhouette of a human arm. Once it was complete, he felt a lessening in the intense pain causing sparks in his mind. The other boy had grabbed the phone, but Kamijou used this new arm to reach for the wallet at his feet.
But something scared him more than the bizarre visual.
It frightened him that his body was accepting this situation before his mind just because the pain was gone. The ordinary decision to only believe what you saw with your own two eyes could bare its fangs when you saw something truly unbelievable and hard to accept.
The thing he saw here was a part of his body.
It was not something to be rejected.
(This psychedelic thing is… my arm???)
He did not have time to question it.
With another bursting sound, the sky-blue arm opened back up like a giant maw. And it worked to swallow up Kamijou Touma himself instead of the enemy before his eyes.
He no longer had anything to stop it.
Imagine Breaker had gone to the other boy.
“How can you call yourself Kamijou Touma without this?”
That other boy grinned while clenching and reopening those fingers.
As if to show off the power that should have belonged to Kamijou Touma.
“It’s time you learned firsthand what happens once it’s gone.”
“Which one is the real Kamijou Touma?”
Queen Regnant Elizard’s words rang through historical Windsor Castle’s dance hall.
Two things stood out from the scene.
A cracking noise echoed out.
One of them was a pointy-haired boy in the same tuxedo and ascot tie as before.
The other was a high school boy with a bizarre replacement right arm jutting out from his shoulder that had muscles colored a sky-blue reminiscent of artificial dyes.
They mostly looked identical, so everyone’s attention naturally gathered on a single point.
The differences in the right arm that a certain boy had always relied on.
The boy they all knew opened his mouth.
In other words, it was the boy in the unfamiliar tuxedo who had been smiling with them in the peaceful party this whole time.
“I mean… isn’t that obvious!?”
He sounded nervous.
He had trouble getting the words out.
He acted as innocently suspicious as anyone would when questioned by the police or falsely accused out of the blue.
“Imagine Breaker in my right hand can negate any supernatural power. And didn’t this all start when I used that hand to save Index when she wandered into Academy City? Yes, that’s right. Stiyl was the first to attack, but the next fight against Kanzaki was the real threat! Um, um, oh, right! In the end, I had to fight the John’s Pen installed in Index herself, but… yeah, now that I think about it, that must have been Lola’s… no, Great Demon Coronzon’s doing.”
It all sounded accurate enough.
The boy with the sky-blue and lemon-yellow arm narrowed his eyes a little.
There was no surprise in his voice. It was like he was answering a question he knew was coming.
Elizard had received reports from the Anglicans on what had happened with the boy named Kamijou Touma and there was no protest from Agnese or Lucia who had come running after hearing the fighting.
The one oddity was the suspicious look on Index’s face.
“I can tell you everything that’s happened. If you want, you can hook me up to a lie detector or whatever you call them. Oh, I know! You can have Shokuhou there check! Her Mental Out is the real deal, so she can do anything she wants with the human mind. If she peeks into my mind, she should be able to tell you I’m telling the truth about all this! See, I can tell you everything I should know!! Right!?”
Again, none of it was wrong.
Mikoto had seen the tuxedo boy’s phone. She had recognized the location of the small scratches.
“He is the one that can use Imagine Breaker,” said Itsuwa.
“D-doesn’t that settle it?” added Villian.
A silent change came over Kanzaki Kaori’s gaze. Her expression switched from one of observation to one of suspicion.
How many people here had realized that being able to mechanically rattle off all the right answers was in fact the wrong answer?
Misaka Mikoto felt like her suspicions were confirmed when she saw the crumpled-up look on the face of the honey-blonde girl who she was supporting from the side.
“I’m right, aren’t I? Y-you can tell which one’s the monster by finding out whose memories are accurate, and since I know all this, it means I’m Kamijou Touma! Right!? I mean, the opposite wouldn’t make any sense at all. J-just put it to words and you’ll see how silly it sounds. Why would the one without Kamijou Touma’s memories be the real Kamijou Touma!?”
Even if some of them felt something was wrong, there was nothing they could do if they could not put it to words… or if they were working off of a little-known fact.
There was a sticky luster.
Those sky-blue and lemon-yellow colors did not exist in nature, but the light was too lifelike to call it a weapon or tool.
“My right hand broke.”
The “monster” seemed to be forcing out his voice.
He was being forced to explain something he could not even explain to himself.
He held his transformed right hand while squeezing out those agonized words.
“I know this is going to be hard to believe, but there was something more to my right hand!! And he holds that secret. I mean, another me appeared from my—”
The tuxedo boy reached out to the side.
He grabbed something from the silver tray held by a dumbfounded maid with a mole below her eye.
He used it to hit the high school boy with a sky-blue arm.
He mercilessly bashed the other boy in the head with a wine bottle held upside down.
Everyone flinched back from the violent cacophony of shattering glass.
Was it the normal people who would act more suspiciously at times like this? The tuxedo and ascot tie boy smiled and slowly exhaled.
His shoulders seemed to relax.
That right hand that had always hesitated to kill now held a glintingly sharp weapon.
“We don’t need to listen to this crap. Letting him speak will only confuse us. I’m not letting this bastard trick anyone after rushing in and making up some crazy story.”
But the sky-blue arm boy did not fall.
He doubled over and clenched his teeth to bear with it.
Was that red wine or human blood dripping down his brow and temple?
The calico cat mewed and rubbed against him.
The cat chose the monster with the bizarre and brightly-colored arm over the boy he had been with until now. Even though cats generally disliked strong smells and would not normally approach a mixture of blood and wine.
The tuxedo boy must not have liked having any difference between the two of them.
With a slight spasm near the eyes, he used his other hand to shove the silverware off of a long table. The sharp forks loudly crashed down toward where the cat was.
Index had been unsure what to do while holding her emergency medical set, but even her cry of sorrow did nothing to change the tuxedo boy’s expression.
The cat growled as if threatening him with his entire body.
He had just barely avoided being badly injured, but that was no more than a coincidence. Cats were not made to jump backwards, so if the forks had landed just a little differently, who knows what would have happened.
The boy holding a broken bottle in his right hand looked across the crowd and made an announcement without even bothering to glance over at the girl with tears welling up in her eyes.
“The war is over and I’m sick of fighting, so I’m not letting this guy cause trouble. I refuse to lose anyone. We got past the war, so I will not allow anyone to die now.”
He did not let go of the broken bottle.
The boy with the sky-blue and lemon-yellow arm tried to keep his balance while bearing with the pain. And he made an effort to not knock over the food lined up on the long table as he did so.
The boy who raised his leg and kicked over the long table with the sole of his shoe was the one in a tuxedo.
That may have been because of the sashimi knife, the thick metal hook used to hang up a large fish for carving, and the other sharp objects in the Japanese section of the buffet. It may have been to keep any possible weapons away from the other boy.
It may have been a logical action.
He ended up squashing the bizarre futomaki that had likely been prepared with that boy and the other Asians in mind.
For a brief moment, some odd colors flashed: shocking pink and emerald.
But they did not come from the broken bottle or the wine dripping from it.
The boy brandished the jagged bottle like it was a knife.
“And I’ll do anything to ensure it. That’s what it means to be Kamijou Touma, right!? Am I supposed to give up just because my right hand’s power doesn’t work here? Not a chance!! I’ll use anything at my disposal. In fact, when I’m up against someone I shouldn’t possibly be able to defeat, I’ll use any cheap tricks I can find to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and protect whoever needs protecting!! Isn’t that the Kamijou Touma way!? Am I wrong!?”
If no one said anything, he was going to stab the other boy to death.
Elizard raised her voice against that extremely simple action.
“We can figure this out later. For now, just restrain them both and confine them to separate rooms!!”
That seemed to decide everything for everyone.
Elizard had taken action to stop the killing.
But who had she been trying to protect when she did so?
The tuxedo boy knew everything.
So he smiled and jabbed at someone’s Achilles’ heel.
He was the thorny flower.
He was the center of the mystery, the distortion, and the oddity and he lured in the honeybee.
He did not even look over at the dress girl whose shoulders shook.
“Which one do you think is Kamijou Touma? Which one will come running when you blow that silver emergency whistle? Answer that and you will know which one of us needs your help.”
The reflexive anger did not come from the honey-blonde girl herself.
It came from Misaka Mikoto who was supporting her from the side.
“That’s obvious BS! Is this Metamorphose? Or maybe a body tissue version of Creation? Either way, you have some guts getting that close to us pretending to be someone we know. Shokuhou, let’s work together to kick this piece of shit’s ass!! I’ll do the physical part and you do the mental part!!”
She was certain that was what would happen.
At the very least, the idiot she knew was not the kind of person who would hit someone with a wine bottle and try to stab them in the gut with the jagged edge. The fact that this boy had his phone still bothered her in a corner of her heart, but when she thought about it, it was perfectly possible he could have stolen it from the real one. That was far from being conclusive evidence.
She suddenly realized the previous change to the atmosphere was gone.
All sound had vanished from the dance hall. This place was ruled by the awkward silence after someone said something horribly inappropriate.
Had her opinion not been generally accepted?
No, it was not that.
Misaka Mikoto realized something and slowly looked to the side.
She looked to the person right next to her.
She knew she had to have a look of utter disbelief in her eyes.
“Shokuhou, this has to be a joke. You couldn’t have!!”
She saw a crumpled-up face there. She saw Shokuhou Misaki still holding the TV remote she had removed from her brand-name bag. That was not the Queen of Tokiwadai Middle School’s largest clique and it was not Mental Out of the seven Level 5s. It was only a lost girl driven to the edge of the cliff and still unable to find the answer.
The remote slipped from her slender hand.
But Tokiwadai’s Queen had not surrendered or come to her senses.
There was a dull sound like something popping.
Was this the right thing to do or not?
She may have already known the answer.
But human beings were creatures who could not always do the right thing even when they knew what it was.
Even as the calico cat mewed at her feet, that lonely girl could not stop.
She had lost control of herself.
And the power to control the human mind through the manipulation of the body’s moisture went berserk.
“But he remembers me. I don’t care if it’s a miracle or a coincidence. I was never hoping for a logical answer. But… but whatever he looks like and whatever he might do…”
She was crying.
Tears streamed down her face.
She knew what it meant to do this, but she could not correct her mistake.
The mini hat wobbled atop her honey-blonde hair.
That false crown shook.
“But if there are two Kamijou-sans out there… and one remembers me and one doesn’t…”
She controlled all the victors of the war in the dance hall, including the queen regnant.
She took control and made them hers.
Shokuhou Misaki bit her lip to suppress the sobs as she wept like a lost child.
And she raised her voice as if to break through the solid barrier of the one girl she could not control by normal means.
All while squeezing the cheap emergency whistle in her hand.
“That’s the Kamijou-san I shared that summer with!! So I’m sorry, Misaka-saaan!!!!!!”
A dry popping sound followed.
She had lost control of her power to manipulate moisture on the microscopic level to control the human mind. The large turkey on one of the long tables burst like a dustball and the venomously red wine spilled on the floor boiled in the blink of an eye.
If this power happened to hit it, even silver armor would crumble away like it was made of sand.
The destruction tore a loose band across the dance hall like a searchlight sweeping around the honey-blonde girl and finally directed itself toward the skull protecting the #3.
It was as violent as performing brain surgery with a chainsaw.
That pushed Misaka Mikoto over the edge as well.
The obstinate and childish #5 was telling her something.
That girl had been driven to the very edge of the cliff and could only choose the wrong answer as she trembled there.
She was telling Mikoto to do the right thing in her place.
Mikoto felt an intense headache piercing her temple, but it faded away almost immediately. She could not reject it, so it was making its way into her mind.
She had no time.
There was not much she could do.
This was not like the past. Mikoto had been spared Mental Out’s effects before thanks to a combination of the unique traits of her Railgun Level 5 power and the solid wall of her powerful distrust of Shokuhou Misaki’s power itself. But now Shokuhou was forcing her way through while prepared to lose control of her power. At this rate, her power really would reach Misaka Mikoto’s brain.
That said, reconstructing those defenses on the fly would be difficult.
Because that would have been the same as looking at the weeping honey-blonde girl and remaking her own mind to think the girl deserved this.
Could she really do that?
She did not know what summer Shokuhou was referring to.
But despite having the power to control minds, that girl had never aimed the remote at her own head. No matter what happened and no matter how painful it was, she had not wanted to lose those memories. Could Mikoto barge in and mock those broken feelings?
This was not even the usual Mental Out.
Taking over all of Windsor Castle with no external support was not normal.
The noise in the back of Mikoto’s mind was growing.
She likely had less than ten seconds left.
(Top priority is making sure that idiot isn’t surrounded. I don’t even know if I can escape Shokuhou’s control. I allowed her in too much while we were working together… I’ll be caught in Mental Out’s web like this!! But what am I supposed to do!?)
She heard some meowing.
The small cat was trying to say something from the floor.
Shokuhou Misaki’s Mental Out only worked on humans.
This was not some great power or weapon, but that entirely harmless meow told her how to fight back. At the very least, this would be better than running out of time before doing anything.
(Thanks for the assist!!)
Her target had lost its form as a dangerous weapon to act as a chair to support Shokuhou’s aching hip.
It looked like a many-wheeled streetcar or police van about the size of a small bench.
In other words…
“Do it, A.A.A.!!”
Mental Out could not control a purely mechanical product. Mikoto gave a manual command before control of her own mind was taken. It was an extremely simple one to make sure the other girl could not interfere.
The next sound was like a great bell ringing.
It came from the boy with an arm of a sky-blue and lemon-yellow found nowhere in nature.
It came from Kamijou Touma as he was mercilessly knocked from the floor and thrown out the second-story window.
“This is in… your hands now.”
Mikoto smiled a little as she watched that brightly-colored boy escape all alone outside the ring of controlled people.
He vanished from view.
But that was fine.
He was out of her reach, but some hope remained.
“A girl is crying after being driven to the edge. I know you’re not the lousy kind of guy who can sit idly by after seeing that!!”
That was her limit.
Academy City’s #3, the Railgun, lost consciousness.
Intense noise rushed in from the back of her mind and stole away the view before her, starting from the edges of her vision.
The jaws of Mental Out snapped shut.
The victors of the war were swallowed whole and a new threat made itself known.
This was an absolute rule, but it was so absolute it was twisted into unchanging stagnation.
It was something that could be called a great evil.
Between the Lines 2
“Hm, hm, hm, hm.”
A lovely sound of what seemed to be the voice of a girl no older than ten rang cheerfully within a closed room of the Tower of London that was covered in fearsome blood and shadows.
The flattened fried shrimps of her reddish-blonde hair were swaying.
This was Anna Sprengel.
The frightening appearance of the torture chair had made the world tremble even if it had never actually been used, but not even it could hold her interest for long. She left the chair and now sat directly on the floor with her legs below her.
“Ooh, that’s cold.”
“Do not lift your butt. Can you please get some clothes that actually fit you?”
Holy Guardian Angel Aiwass was standing on the ceiling.
Or perhaps he was floating upside down.
Anna Sprengel was holding the too-large dress to her chest and that left her with defenses no greater than a naked apron, but that was not what made her pout her lips.
“I do not like this design or fabric in the slightest.”
“Well, to match your actual age, we would have to rewind the fashion styles by nearly a century.”
“Boo. There are plenty of tailors with signs bragging about being established two or three hundred years ago, but they’ve all lost sight of the traditions they started with.”
While they discussed this, the (person who looked like) a young girl lowered her butt directly onto the cold stone floor while some thin but tough rope extended around her like a snake. She held something in her fingertips. It was a round object smaller than a coin. Boxes of caramels or chocolates lay around her, but that was what this was.
In a way, this was a pill of immortality.
Although there was no guarantee it would satisfy the many people who sought after the legends of the rose.
She casually popped it into her mouth and moved her mouth to squish it between her alluring tongue and the inside of her soft cheek. It was crushed more easily than meringue. She used her slender throat to swallow it into her stomach.
“Your quality is not what it used to be, St. Germain.”
“That is your only thought after ingesting a brain-eating bacteria, lady?”
After that dry yeast-like mass had nearly spread across Academy City, it had been carefully preserved and shipped by air to England since they specialized in magic. In other words, Anna Sprengel was playing with the highly virulent St. Germain that was being imprisoned here. This was not the weakened version secretly secured and modified by Kihara Yuiitsu. This was the extremely dangerous original.
“The St. Germain of my generation left more of a tingle on the tongue. Oh, it’s already melted.”
Anna Sprengel rubbed her small hand on the bare navel below the dress she had to hold up. The St. Germain must not have been enough to satisfy her because she tossed a bite-size chocolate into her mouth. The two would mix together in her stomach, but her expression suggested she was not thinking about St. Germain at all anymore.
“Honestly. What a waste of a miracle,” complained Aiwass. “Anyone from a hygienic lab would probably foam at the mouth if they saw this.”
“Science is such a fleeting term when it comes to medicines, immunity, and everything else really. It’s a meaningless word.”
“Because it was Aleister and his Archetype Controller that split the world between science and magic?”
“No,” bluntly answered Anna Sprengel with the look of someone who was fed up being praised and supported. “This is a deeper issue. Originally, people were open to anything. And then along came Francis Bacon to eliminate the four idols and propose a thought process that emphasized observation and experimentation. In other words, the father of modern science was a Rosicrucian.”
In truth, it was not the candy she had needed.
It was something else.
A quiet but hard sound repeated itself.
“Now – then.”
Either she had gotten used to the cold or her own body heat had warmed the stone floor.
With her butt directly on the cold floor, she had roughly stacked up boxes of small bite-size caramels and chocolates all around her. But nor was it the empty boxes that Lady Anna Sprengel had wanted.
It was the silver wrappers and the clear plastic films.
She followed a certain set or rules to attach them to the tough rope crawling around her.
It was like a giant necklace with crude decorations attached.
When she excitedly lifted it with both hands, the dress fell from her flat chest.
She pouted her lips and roughly tied the too-large fabric around her small body before grabbing both ends of the rope once more. She bent it into a gentle U-shape and then stood up.
“Jump rope, jump rope. That should cover every direction.”
She placed her bare feet together and lightly jumped on the spot.
She made a nice rhythm with her hopping.
“Yes, yes. I will switch it over. Obeying your requests is my job after all.”
Aiwass did something with he stood there on the ceiling and the type of lighting changed with a buzz.
It became a cold blue.
The jump rope had silver paper and plastic film attached at set intervals like a giant necklace and it reflected the light while leaving an afterimage behind.
“I kind of wanted to try this out.”
“You mean those toys that write a message in a fan using flashing LEDs?”
“That and VR.”
The display area took the form of a jump rope, so it was like a large egg surrounding Anna Sprengel’s body. Or it was like an aura. From her perspective alone, a new scene was displayed around her in all directions.
That scene was Windsor Castle.
The old Rosicrucian magic cabal had a great many legends with supposed material evidence, including a flame that would never go out and a drug of unaging immortality. This was another of those many legends.
According to a scroll found in the seven-walled tomb of Christian Rosenkreuz, that being known by the abbreviation of CRC had created a perfect miniature of the world and he could understand all things about the world by reproducing the past, present, and future of all things in his miniature garden.
The people who loved to attribute the pyramids, the Moai statues, and everything else to UFOs and aliens might think of it as a giant simulator built by an ancient supercivilization, but the truth was much simpler.
There was no metaphor here.
You only had to create the miniature garden for yourself.
While Anna Sprengel hopped in place with her many fried shrimps shaking around her, she focused on a certain point of the temporary scene displayed around her. Windsor Castle was accurately formed from bluish-white light, but the people moving around inside it were colored yellow instead.
“It’s too bad.”
Instead of admitting to a mistake of her own, she sounded like someone lamenting the tardiness of a train that was two hours late for its stop at an unmanned station in a remote area.
She also pouted her lips at her own lack of a chest to jiggle as she jumped.
“If they had been a little quicker to give the go sign for service work from the Tower of London, I might have encountered England’s main forces.”
“Your dress is about to slip off of you.”
“If it bothers you so much, wouldn’t placing a coat over me be the gentlemanly thing to do?”
Anna Sprengel did not even glance over in Aiwass’s direction. She continued casually jumping rope while looking around the fake image of Windsor Castle.
The image was only visible from the inside of the jump rope, but Aiwass had no trouble knowing what she was seeing.
“You have no intention of making a mess of this, do you?”
“Not really, no. Butterflies and honeybees are the same. They’re most fragile and at risk immediately after emerging from their chrysalis or pupa stage. They should not be touched by human hands at that time. Not until their thin wings have dried anyway.”
She giggled just before the rope hit her bare right ankle.
The egg-shaped display area cut out and the temporary image of Windsor Castle vanished again.
It did not seem to bother her, so she forcibly retied her dress around herself and casually spoke the most crucial part.
“Are you familiar with the concept of magical memory, Aiwass?”
“That is one theory that spread like ripples from what I told that human.”
Anna Sprengel made the recommendation this time, which may have been a violation of their standard method.
She was the magician who had bridged the Rosicrucians to the Golden cabal, but she also had no direct connection to the Magick system that Aleister Crowley had independently proposed.
That was like a blind spot or a mutation.
Although that was why she needed Aiwass to fill in the gaps of her knowledge.
“That is the idea that, if you follow your memories back in stages, you will eventually acquire the memories of someone else or of a past life. I believe it was a modification of Allan Bennett’s meditation method. Aleister in particular believed that a new soul settled into place a few months after fertilization of the egg, so he focused on cases where the time of death of a famous magician corresponded with the estimated time at which a new child’s soul settled in. He believed it was possible the magician had been reborn.”
Anna gave a snort of laughter and tossed a caramel in her mouth.
She really must have entirely forgotten about the St. Germain she ate and killed earlier.
She might desecrate the world, but she was not the type to waste food.
“Munch, munch. He practiced replaying people’s words backwards when recalling his memories? Are you sure that tantrum-throwing child wasn’t just forcing reincarnation into his worldview as another way to thumb his nose at Christianity since they firmly rejected the idea?”
“You could be more charitable and say he was strongly influenced by Egypt and Asia’s belief in the cycle of reincarnation. And the memories in this case are not a proper explanation in chronological order. For example, you might be able to acquire Oda Nobunaga’s tactical knowledge, but you could not state what he ate for breakfast on a particular day to prove you had his memories.”
“Well, isn’t that convenient.”
Anna clearly wanted to say she could pick apart the flaws in this all day.
Of course, that may have been the way of things for a genius who had never looked up to another person.
“Aleister himself gave a warning when he proposed the idea. Energizing your soul to draw out the memories hidden within was all well and good, but he said starting the process based on a delusional foregone conclusion that you had a connection to, say, Cleopatra would only lead to self-made delusions of grandeur.”
“Really, he went that far? Well, it is like him to mix in some dark humor to take a jab at Mathers’s supposedly logical arguments for being a proper noble… So what did Crowley himself ‘discover’ like this?”
“He claimed to have inherited the memories and techniques of Magician Eliphas Levi.”
“Wait, really? He’s pretty famous and connected to the British branch of the Rose.”
Aleister had come out on top in the conflict within the Golden cabal that had Rosicrucian origins and eventually developed his unique Magick, but this would mean he also had the memories of the person who had helped spread the British branch of the Rose. It was said Levi himself had belonged to that branch. The circular result was a lot like a snake swallowing its own tail.
The girl swallowed her candy.
“Ridiculous,” she spat out. “Memories are not that conveniently linked to someone’s value. People are who they are whether they have their memories or not.”
“Then why are you pitting those two against each other?”
“The clash itself was unavoidable, but it was that outsider girl who tried to classify people based on insufficient information. You can’t blame me for that one. Make no mistake: my decision was based on something else.”
That girl who looked only ten smiled in a way that looked all the crueler because of that young appearance.
“Besides, he was already in tatters. Aiwass, you said Kamijou Touma had suffered severe brain damage more than once, didn’t you?”
“The first was for Shokuhou Misaki. The second for Index.”
Anna messed up her jump roping a few times in a row. It may have been due to her ankle-length hair.
But she did not seem all that bothered by it.
Instead of trying to have fun, this may have doubled as a way to adjust to her shrunk body.
“In other words, he carries damage of both scientific and magical origin,” continued Aiwass.
“Didn’t I already bring up Bacon? Those categories aren’t all that important. Knowing he was in an unstable state due to multiple instances of damage is enough. It is hard to believe that boy was even moving around in that state and then he underwent another great stimulus.”
“Crowley’s recovery magic.”
“If your report is accurate, that probably was the only option after he took Coronzon’s attack. Without that, he would have died… or rather, he was already half-dead. But cutting off his right hand and casting the recovery magic obliterated what little balance still remained.”
“But I imagine the recovery magic was not convenient enough to bring back his lost memories.”
“Why would it, fool? And that much should be obvious from some external observation. The boy is still wandering the world without his memories. Sometimes when you try to stabilize an unbalanced house of cards, your touch can become the finishing blow.”
“Reminds me of the Fool in tarot.”
“Oh, now that is a nice observation. Well done. Come to think of it, there are different factions split over the decision of where in the other 21 cards that #0 card should go. And depending on that, the exact same arrangement of cards on the table can have entirely different meanings.”
She stopped jumping rope and let out an oddly heated breath.
And then she spoke.
“The important part here is that Crowley cut off the right hand first.”
She folded the jump rope in half, held it in one hand, and then spun around on the spot.
“That is more important than the formless memories. In other words, he was healed and his brain’s network was reconstructed based on the assumption that the lack of his right hand’s power was his proper state.”
“Then what about his leftover right hand?”
“Yes, that is the question. His entire body seemed to be fully healed, but just as the rest of you are vastly overemphasizing, he did not appear to regain his past. So where did it go? Couldn’t the two unnecessary parts have gathered together instead of going off in separate directions?”
She wiped the sweat from her brow and then grabbed the jump rope in both hands once more.
“Forcing yourself never ends well. You will always pay some kind of price. Magic God Othinus did not show much restraint, but even she never messed with Kamijou Touma’s head, such as directly altering his personality.”
“He was already in an unstable state.”
“And Coronzon’s repeated severings must have pushed it over the edge.”
“The wandering #0, hm?”
In this case, #0 did not refer to the right hand or that born from it.
Even if the power to negate the supernatural had been stolen from him, he was still himself.
“At this point, that is a different being acting entirely independently. Both in mind and body. Hee hee. But what does the Fool indicate here? Even when the number and arrangement of the cards is the same, people’s opinions differ on that point. Well, if you ask me, the quickest way to end this would be to kill the dregs that were just chucked out the window.”
She jumped rope to once more display Windsor Castle in the bluish-white afterimage.
Even this was a game to her.
“I mentioned honeybees, didn’t I?”
“You mean about the pupa stage?”
“That does more than just let the bug grow from larva to adult. Inside the hard pupa, the larva destroys its own muscles and organs and uses that to create its adult form. You could say they are remaking their old self into a new self. Aiwass, surely you can tell what this is a metaphor for.”
“The acquisition of a new self. The goal of joining a magic cabal is to overcome the judgment of death and obtain the light of god. But if you only wish to surpass your physical form and elevate your soul along the Sephiroth, couldn’t you have simply tamed Coronzon who guards the borderline known as the Abyss?”
“Fool, have your thoughts dulled as much as your body? That is not what matters. Why do magic cabals like us open our doors to newcomers? If you thought we were doing it out of the kindness of our hearts, you are quite a sucker. We can take them for all the money and land they own. Just think of John Dee who gave his woman to a friend because the friend claimed to have received a divine message saying they should share their wives.”
“You judge your old self and gain a new self.”
Anna Sprengel grinned.
And she tore apart her own smile by parting the corner of her lips with the tip of her tongue that still carried the sweetness of the caramel. She casually placed her legs together and tried jumping rope again. It was only an afterimage displayed for her viewpoint, but an accurate view of Windsor Castle appeared in bluish-white light.
The Rosicrucians claimed a few different goals, but one of them was to tear down the old monarchies and create a nation ruled by philosophers.
So that ideology likely applied to other fields as well.
For example, they might question the simple and fixed idea that humans were in control of their powers.
She spoke while thinking of that strange symbol that crossed the duality of good and evil by being counted as a filthy devil but also being used to signify proper families and organizations.
“Let’s watch, Aiwass. The One who Purifies God and Slays Demons has appeared. What will he destroy and what will he create within his chrysalis? I hope it will more than surpass my expectations.”