Toaru Majutsu no Index:NT Volume22 Chapter 2
Chapter 2: (Untitled) – Over_the_Checkmate.
An RV was parked next to an unnamed oasis in the Egyptian desert.
The vehicle was filled with various experimental devices created by disassembling and reassembling various tools, cooking equipment, and daily items. It all looked rather silly because the original products could still be identified, but every device there would have been at home in cutting-edge Academy City’s universities and research institutes. Some countries might have arrested the owner of these things on suspicion of biological or chemical terrorism.
Mina Mathers, the black cat witch in pitch black mourning clothes, was staring at something. She bent over and her cat-like tail rose up. Dogs’ and cats’ tail movements meant different things. From a feline perspective, this was a sign that something had piqued her curiosity. The real calico cat at her feet was mewing.
She was focused on a device made by attaching a few things to a round-bottomed flask. The flask was filled with hot water and maintained a set temperature while a motor slowly rotated it. A sticky and translucent paste-like liquid floated inside, but a small change had begun.
It was strange.
A soft object floated inside while giving off a shine halfway between white and pink.
“I suppose this means the first stage was a success.”
The frog-faced doctor did not sound particularly excited or surprised. In fact, he was working with a different device and not even looking at the flask.
Mina, on the other hand, stared into the glass container from behind her thin veil.
“How long will it take for this to become a baby?”
“The multiplication of cells has begun, so that only leaves two steps. We will have to transfer it into larger containers at each stage, but what matters here is to keep out any impurities such as mold and bacteria. That is fundamental but tricky. Fail here and we will end up with a pink or green mold baby.”
He was joking, but this was no laughing matter.
“I see. You mean the flaming sword barrier.”
“You should know more about the flaming sword than me, Allan Bennett.”
The frog-faced doctor decided to preserve his poker face.
That had been necessary to gain her trust, but he felt like he had gone too far.
And whether or not she was aware of his thoughts, the black cat witch sighed behind her veil.
“In the Golden cabal, it is a symbol of the sword placed alongside the Tetragrammaton to protect the top three Sephirah of the Sephiroth after the sin of Adam and Eve spread across the world. It separates and cuts bonds in order to protect. Crowley’s equivalency table explains exactly what kind of offensive power it provides. Your own student wrote that, did he not?”
The baby groaned unhappily from the crib placed a short distance away from the experimental equipment.
That was Aleister Crowley’s daughter Lilith, but in her current state, she essentially had her bare soul exposed to the open air. That freed her from original sin, which allowed her to perform all sorts of miracles, but it was reckless to remain bodiless in the surface of the four worlds for long. Most ghosts and residual thoughts would break down on their own given time. Even the angels and demons without bodies of their own would reside in a vessel of flesh after being guided by a string of text or they could temporarily exist in the extremely limited bounds of a magic circle. But even those things were not permanent. If Lilith was not given a container soon, she would disappear. That would waste Holy Guardian Angel Aiwass’s efforts in saving unfairly-killed Lilith’s life over the course of a century.
(She is forcibly preserving her existence with the power of miracles, but who knows how long that will last.)
Mina bit her lip without noticing.
Just then, her cat-like ears twitched and the tail growing from the back of her hips slowly swished side to side.
Again, dogs’ and cats’ tail movements meant different things.
From a feline perspective, side-to-side swishing was a sign of displeasure.
“Silver of the seven metals, female, and earth of the four elements. In other words, the light of the waxing moon.”
Why was she mentioning moonlight in the morning? When she made that odd statement, the frog-faced doctor frowned, the baby voice in the crib came to a complete stop, and the golden retriever silently got up from the sofa bed.
What had she received?
Artist Mina Mathers spoke solemnly, like she was receiving some form of divine inspiration.
“Aethyr Avatar – 15: OXO.”
It happened suddenly.
While her trumpet-like cat ears turned every which way, the black cat witch pulled a palette knife from her chest and threw it toward the driver’s seat. She was lucky they had kept the engine running to keep the air conditioner on. The shift lock release button had been broken from the beginning, so she only had to hit the lever to shift it from park to drive. The large boxy vehicle moved forward as easily as a toy cart in an amusement park.
The air shook as if from something directly striking it.
Unlike normal vehicles, large trucks and RVs did not have a rearview mirror to check behind them. Mina looked to the small LCD monitor installed for that purpose and saw the desert oasis torn apart from below as a giant golden tower erupted out.
When the frog-faced doctor saw it out the window, he immediately identified what it was made from.
“By using written text to divide the spiritual territory spoken of by Enoch into a total of thirty regions, you create a color palette providing easier use of the supernatural. In other words, you get the Aethyrs. By absorbing the moonlight in her hair over a long period of time and spelling out the text with that, she is capable of wielding their avatars. Is that what this is, Great Demon Coronzon!? Indeed, you were originally the evil angel found in ZAX, the tenth Aethyr!!”
A voice responded.
However, it was not a biological voice. The RV’s windshield vibrated to create the voice like a speaker.
“Kee kee. Kee kee ee hee hee!!”
There was no time to wait for a reaction.
Mina Mathers ran across the RV to reach the driver’s seat with her skirt flipping behind her. Once there, she slammed her foot down on the accelerator.
More and more bundles of blonde hair burst from the ground like sharp spears, except they were on the scale of giant towers.
“I have been released. Yes, yes, I am now free!! Mina Mathers, you black cat witch, your husband Samuel’s bonds no longer hold me!!”
“But if you wish to know who killed who, you can ask your master later on. Of course, that is only if you have the chance to meet again!!”
A massive amount of hair erupted from the ground as an attack.
(She must have let the ley lines in the UK absorb her accumulated power so she could send it here to Egypt, but why is she bothering to target Lilith? Are you prioritizing your own cruelty over the fate of a nation or the world, Coronzon!?)
That was what Mina Mathers thought at first.
But as she operated the steering wheel, a more unpleasant idea rose up in the back of her mind.
It was like a toxin or pus created by her own body.
(No, it couldn’t be…)
Coronzon could directly attack Egypt from Britain.
The ley lines were like the planet’s nerves or blood vessels. While they did provide a pathway to reach here, the current of power covered every part of the planet like a network.
It was not this one pathway that mattered. No matter where the fiber optic cables ran, people were equally connected to all the data in the world. Unless they were a dealer or trader making tens of thousands of high-level deals every second, no one would notice any time loss there. As long as the world was connected, the result was equal for all.
(Is it not just here? Great Demon Coronzon, how many different parts of the planet are you attacking right now!?)
For one thing, the series of conflicts beginning with the Crowley’s Hazards would have affected the entire planet given the scope of it all.
But in this case, the nature of the threat was not so clear.
It was of course all over if they stopped moving and the RV was skewered, but…
(If she can remotely cause glass to vibrate, this could be bad. This is a threat to the experimental equipment meant to create Lilith’s vessel!!)
They needed a radical countermeasure here.
But this was no time for the black cat witch to be focused elsewhere.
The RV swerved through the desert and a bundle of blonde hair burst from the ground nearby. It did not seem to have simply missed, nor did it seem to have been placed there in advance.
She could not figure out the purpose behind the attack.
So she was shocked when she noticed the tray-like object spinning through the air after the golden spear hit it on the edge.
She recalled something she had heard.
Even in the modern age, there had been a few accidents in which someone set off an anti-personnel or anti-tank mine placed in the Sahara Desert by the Germans during World War II.
A great pressure weighed on her stomach, but shouting was not going to change anything.
Not all landmines were simply buried in the ground. Some anti-personnel ones would contain a spring that would launch it from the ground to scatter deadly metal balls over a wider area. Coronzon had launched this anti-tank mine for the same purpose.
The mine detonated in midair and released a truly deadly shockwave in every direction.
Kamijou Touma groaned and only then realized he still had a mouth capable of groaning.
The smell of disinfectant stung his nose.
He seemed to be lying down somewhere below a roof, but when he tried to get up, he lost his support for some reason. His vision was blurry and refused to come into focus. He did not feel any pain, but he felt like an invisible hand was grabbing and rattling his brain. He felt nauseated, but it was a somehow pleasant feeling. He could not trust the signals in his own body at the moment.
He did not think he could move for a while.
He turned just his head while lying on his back and saw a bob cut girl in a pink track suit lying in the next bed over. The person past her had a bunch of tubes connected to them, but was that Aleister? Since those two beds were lined up nicely, he assumed he was lying in one too. Although these beds were really just thick synthetic sheets laid out over a metal pipe framework. They may have been more like hammocks made of cloth instead of net.
The place was not quite silent.
He could hear the rhythmic beeping of an EKG and air being pumped.
“Are you awake, human?”
“Now, what to do? I claim to be your understander, but I do not know the correct answer here. You would only get carried away if I praised you, but I doubt any kind of scolding would get through to you.”
“Never mind. You can figure this out on your own. There is no medicine to fix a fool.”
Fairy Othinus seemed upset, so he reached out his right hand to pat her small head.
Or he tried to.
Come to think of it, why had he failed to get up when he first woke up? He had tried to push himself up with his hand, but he had not found the proper support below him. Why was that?
The answer was right in front of his eyes.
His right hand was gone.
Everything past the elbow had disappeared.
For a while.
For a good long while, the spiky-haired boy forgot how to breathe.
He felt no pain.
And that accentuated how unreal the image in front of him felt.
That was his dominant hand.
Did it really have to be his dominant hand!?
“I do not get it either.” Othinus sighed softly next to his pillow. “Is it because the wound was cauterized to stop the bleeding, or did Coronzon or Aleister’s attack apply some kind of special effect? Whatever the case, your right hand is not growing back on its own this time. …Of course, I never did know why it was growing back in the past. When I can’t explain to you why it did what it did, I can’t exactly tell you why things are different this time.”
Even his understander’s words sounded like they were coming from the ends of the earth.
There was more to Kamijou Touma than Imagine Breaker.
He used it and it did not use him.
He knew that. He was well aware of all that.
This was not about supernatural battles or tactical value. It was a much more personal and human thing. In a way, he had trusted his dominant hand more than anything else, so the shock of finding it gone hit him harder than he could have imagined.
“What…happened? What the hell happened back there!?”
“It went exactly as you remember it.”
There was more to being an understander than kindness.
In fact, being an understander meant you could say these things without destroying that relationship.
“I imagine your memories suddenly cut off, but that is how it should be. It is not that you were confused or faulty data was written to your mind. You were helpless and it ended there. Aleister used recovery magic, but that was really more like CPR than anything. Human, you were destroyed to the point that it was impossible to tell where your arms, legs, or face were. You lost to Great Demon Coronzon. And it only took her a single attack.”
“In that sense, Coronzon is even greater than Mathers. While you could clash with the Golden cabal to see what it was like, carelessly approaching this Great Demon is enough to kill you instantly. You need to think before you act next time. You no longer have your convenient right hand. You no longer have an adult healer who can give you a free continue. Welcome, child, to a true war. From here on, you are living in a cruel reality where a single 9mm hole means death.”
These were the words of a god who ruled over war.
A mere high school boy could not ignore them. Doing so would be as reckless as seeing a suspicious mass on the X-ray and betting on the possibility that the machine had malfunctioned.
And even if Kamijou Touma decided to brood about it, reality would not stop for him.
The clock was still ticking.
The situation was not going to improve if he just sat round waiting.
So what would he do?
Things had changed. What was Kamijou Touma to do now that he had nothing at all?
He had to think.
He had to think and think and think.
Finally, the spiky-haired boy awkwardly used his left hand to slowly get up. It felt incredibly weird to him. It was an unpleasant feeling, like he was operating his arms and legs using a steering wheel and levers.
Othinus breathed a sigh of exasperation.
“What good is getting up?”
“…I’m going to stop Coronzon.”
“She destroyed you in a single attack before, so what do you hope to accomplish in this state?”
“Was I the only one hit by her attack? What happened to the others?”
“If they’re still here, then I will protect this line with my life. I can’t let that attack hit Index, Misaka…or anyone else. And that includes you, Othinus. This isn’t about who’s an expert and who’s an amateur. I can say this because I’ve experienced it for myself. I can’t stand by and let the same thing happen to everyone else. Who knows who it will hit next.”
“What a pain…”
Othinus climbed up his stomach and chest to reach her usual spot on his shoulder. No matter how much he exasperated her, his understander knew there was no stopping him.
He felt a twinge of pain in his chest that she had to climb up his body instead of his arm.
Her usual route no longer existed.
“I thought maybe you had let that special right hand get to your head, but it seems your illness comes from the soul. Even after our escape in Denmark, it seems I still do not fully understand you. It’s starting to look like not even death will fix you.”
“Sorry for worrying you.”
“You fool. If you really are sorry, then don’t let it happen again. Worry does not come from danger or threats. It is an unnecessary excess if you share it with another instead of carrying it alone.”
He slowly placed his feet on the ground and stood up.
He had lost everything past his right elbow. This simple action caused his body to sway to the side a bit. It was not so much an issue of weight as it was a loss of balance.
When he looked around again, he found the walls were made of the same thick synthetic material as the beds. This was a tent larger than a school classroom and it contained some presumably British people in addition to the track suit girl and Aleister. He could not tell Knights apart from Anglicans, but he did recognize a few familiar faces like that female knight whose name he had never learned.
It did not look like anyone but him had been injured so badly their entire body was rendered unrecognizable. Barring the nightmarish possibility that the dead had been taken elsewhere, it looked like he had received the worst of the injuries.
“Your relief at that realization is why you always get the short end of the stick.”
“That’s fine. If I didn’t get it, someone else would.”
That logic may have been similar to Aleister Crowley’s when he parted ways with the Golden cabal over his anger at the thought of some unknown person being hit by the recoil and side effects of magic.
“Are you prepared, human?” Othinus asked that of the boy who once more stood at the starting line. “You will be leaving this medical tent of your own free will. Once you do that, no one will treat you as injured. The situation in Britain is too pressing for that. If you have the strength to walk under your own power, everyone will try to use you as their pawn. Next time, something even worse will happen. If you are not prepared to experience even greater pain, you should return to that bed.”
“I’ll be fine. Thanks for worrying for me, Othinus.”
“No matter how many times you bow your head, it seems you still do not understand. Rather than thank me for something like this, you should just go ahead and put my mind at ease, you fool.”
It was like pushing past a curtain.
Kamijou Touma left the thick synthetic tent that reeked of disinfectant and he took a step outside.
“We have confirmed damage in Egypt, Prague, and Athens!!” “We are working to locate the Great Demon by tracing back through the ley lines starting at the damaged locations, but it is not working. We cannot narrow it down farther than ‘somewhere in Great Britain’!” “The Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches are contacting us.” “Stall for time!! We can’t have them further complicating things right now!!” “Approximately eighty percent of the Anglican spiritual items, temples, and natural objects are unusable. They appear to have been locked down using the archbishop’s authority!!” “How many Saints can we send out?” “The Honours of Scotland have gone missing as well. Queen Elizard left the Sword of State with a civilian, but if that has fallen into Coronzon’s hands, the royal family and the Knights could lose all of their equipment as well!! This is of the utmost urgency!!” “Quit shouting and think of something we can actually do.” “We can no longer use the Imagine Breaker we happened to pick up!!”
The powerful vibration was so great he could not believe he was only hearing it now. His entire body was struck by a deluge of voices that seemed to physically shake the ground like the crowd at a baseball or soccer game.
He was outside, but it was so intense, he forgot he was in such a wide open space. He had no way of knowing, but this was the same shock that Orsola Aquinas had once felt.
He was in the courtyard of an old stone structure. This was Scotland’s Edinburgh Castle. It must not have been far from where he clashed with Coronzon before because the dirt was torn up in places, the stone walls had collapsed, and other scars were visible. Fully-equipped knights and priests were running busily about and more or less shouting reports in a language Kamijou did not understand. But their frantic tones made it clear none of the information was good.
He even spotted a familiar face.
The black ponytail woman glaring at a map hastily spread out on a wooden box was Kanzaki Kaori. When she saw him, she looked at his arm and started to say something, but she must not have found the words. And before long, she was overwhelmed by the reports from all the nuns around her.
Othinus did not seem bothered while riding on his shoulder.
She made a comment from the perspective of a war god.
“Do not say anything that would get in their way. They are fighting to protect their home from a national emergency.”
“I know that…”
Kamijou looked around and saw similar tents to the one he had left. They had clearly been added in a hurry.
Had there not been anywhere inside Edinburgh Castle for them to work?
Or had the damage from Coronzon left it unusable?
Othinus whispered into his ear.
“The grimoire library you left in London will arrive here before long.”
“Index is coming here?”
“They need everyone they can get. You can blame this on Britain’s negligence. They were slow to strip Coronzon of her authority, so she has begun using her power as archbishop to interfere with all the magical facilities in the country. That will last until the royal family and Knights can forcibly remove that authority. It no longer matters whether the grimoire library is in London or Edinburgh. They cannot use any proper divination or receive any divine oracles, so the knowledge of the 103,001 grimoires in her head will be the only effective key they have to fight back against Coronzon.”
…The situation was sounding even more pressing than he thought.
If Index would be in danger, he wanted to settle things with Coronzon before she arrived. Of course, that was only an ideal and thoughtlessly charging in would only get him reduced to mincemeat again, but that knowledge did not stop the impatience inside him.
“Besides that, the British seem most interested in the A.A.A. worn by that swimsuit girl named Misaka Mikoto.”
“…Even more than their Saints?”
“Even more than them. The fact that they see more hope in the unexpected reinforcements then in their own stable forces shows just how dire their situation is. I have heard that is no more than an Academy City mechanical product, but it absolutely reeks of Crowley’s form of magic: Magick. Although that kid herself might not be aware of it. They apparently want to incorporate that into their fighting force for the time being, but once things settle down, it will likely spark new conflict between the UK and Academy City.”
He could not let that happen.
He could not let that pain be forced onto anyone else.
“Does that mean Coronzon might focus her attack on Index and Misaka since they can fight back against her?”
“I’m not so sure.”
Othinus’s response was not what he had expected.
“For one thing, do you remember what Great Demon Coronzon rules over? 333, dispersion. If she is acting entirely based on that fundamental purpose of hers, then she may not be aiming for an absolute victory or world domination.”
“What do you mean?”
“What does Coronzon hate most? I imagine the answer is microplastics.”
His understander suddenly changed the subject.
Or did she?
“She is an incarnation of natural decomposition. She breaks everything down into its proper state. So she cannot allow anything that remains in an unnatural state for an extended period of time, be it a chemical compound, a civilization, or a lifeform. And if her goal is complete and utter destruction, she would be leaving the job incomplete if she won a clean victory that left things behind. She will be more severe and more thorough. She will raze the world, leaving behind nothing at all. …If the bad feeling I have is correct, this is going to be nasty. She will be trying something on a different dimension entirely from winning or losing.”
Othinus stopped speaking there.
Someone else was approaching Kamijou after noticing him there.
“(Kamijou-san? Wah, wah! Are you all better now!?)”
After whispering to him, she grabbed his left hand and pulled him behind a nearby wall. She may have been worried that he would be incorporated into the fighting force if someone else found him.
She was a girl with long blonde hair.
Was she a middle schooler, a high schooler, or beyond even that? Her age was hard to guess just by looking at her.
She somehow reminded him of a honey scent and she was wearing a raincoat over a swimsuit for some reason.
Kamijou Touma slowly tilted his head and spoke with a puzzled look on his face.
That slight question caused the girl’s eyes to widen like she had taken a blow directly to the heart.
Othinus frowned on his shoulder, but the honey blonde girl held out a hand to stop them from saying anything more.
Then the girl with curves beyond her age forced a smile.
“Eh heh heh. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Kamijou-san. My name is Shokuhou Misaki. I hope we can get along.”
She forced out the words.
Just as she always had, like it was a never-ending curse.
“Nee hee hee.”
Laughter filled the air.
The voice alone was sweet as candy, but the laugh was the grating one of an old woman.
Qliphah Puzzle 545.
Her body’s curves did not match her childish face and small frame…and she was an artificial demon created by Coronzon.
She appeared with an unpleasant noise, but it was an undignified appearance since she popped out of a container-like dumpster on the side of the road.
She seemed to be playing with some mussel shells and empty scotch bottles.
Accelerator, Academy City’s #1, stared skeptically at her while propping himself up with a modern design cane and holding a paper bag in his other hand.
“I know I told you to come out, but don’t play with trash at breakfast time.”
“Oh, does that ruin your appetite? Demons normally don’t have a body, so I need a birthing ritual to appear in the surface world and meet your ridiculous demands. How many times do I have to explain that?”
It was rush hour in the city of Edinburgh.
This was one of the most heavily populated areas in Scotland and things were very different from the state of high alert during the night. Everyone must have relaxed now that the immediate threat of the Crowley’s Hazards was gone.
The actual threat was increasing at an accelerating rate, but the people no longer had an excuse to stay home now that it was not in a visible form.
The #1 was acting on his own for no real reason.
For one thing, Aleister had been the leader of their little group, but she was currently unconscious. He doubted simply waiting for her instructions would improve anything…or that was his excuse anyway.
Really, working with a group until now may have been the oddity.
And he had not walked to the city with a particular goal in mind.
As its name suggested, Edinburgh Castle was located right in the middle of Scotland’s capital. No matter which direction he went when leaving the castle, he would have ended up in this city.
Qliphah Puzzle 545 pulled herself out of the dumpster and rotated vertically in midair. Accelerator sounded annoyed as he spoke to her.
“Use these tissues.”
“Sure. Oh, this has ethanol in it, doesn’t it? Sigh, I know it’s to clean me off, but this is covering my face and clothes with balled-up scraps of paper.”
Even when supposedly cleansing and disinfecting herself, that demon could not stop desecrating things.
A translucent demon was chowing down on a takeout breakfast on the side of the road during rush hour. That had to stand out, but the response from their surroundings was surprisingly dry.
Looking like you belonged was surprisingly important.
Were the office workers walking through the gray city too busy to waste their time on this? Or did they think it was a silly hologram made using some kind of technology? They may have feared it was a prank where any amusing reactions would be filmed and uploaded to the internet.
No longer would people throw their hands in the air and panic when something slightly out of the ordinary occurred, such as a flying saucer taking a zigzagging path through the sky or a naked woman walking down the main street. No one wanted to help earn advertising money for someone using a hidden camera to profit off of strangers’ privacy. Especially when you were an office worker who dealt with a daily commute and worked hard for a monthly salary.
The #1 leaned against the wall and pulled a bottle of coffee from the paper bag.
(This is all more normal than I expected. Do they not see the threat to themselves? If they need an extra push, I could go on a quick rampage while making sure not to actually hurt anyone.)
“Nee hee hee. Are you sure you should do that?”
“What do you mean?”
“The Anglicans aren’t the only ones who want to keep magic hidden. In fact, the Russian Orthodox Church wants to eliminate any and all supernatural beings, so I feel like you’d only get yourself stalked on a global scale.”
“I don’t care. I just want to convince everyone to get out while the getting is good, like rats off a sinking ship.”
“Until now, this Great Demon Coronzon person was in control of the Anglican Church, right? That means she knows exactly how this country searches for people. Checkpoints, tracking, information gathering, human wave tactics, profiling, forensics, video analysis…or do they have their own unique methods? Regardless, she’ll know how to avoid it all. That’s why I need to stir things up and create a situation the UK isn’t used to. If we’ve left their standard manuals and flowcharts, that demon won’t be able to calmly sidestep it all. She’ll make a mistake.”
A similar method was used to locate a dirty cop by placing false embezzlement data onto the server. The cops’ accusations and denials could be observed to determine who the real dirty cop was. So if proper control was maintained throughout, disturbing the public peace could be used as a form of purification.
Demons generally possessed people, which meant they did not have their own physical bodies, but did they still need sustenance? Or was it an issue of enjoying the flavor and sense of fullness? Qliphah Puzzle 545 was eating a hearty eggs benedict made from an English muffin, a mixture of a poached egg and a carbonara-like cream sauce, and several thick slices of bacon. (The shocking part was that people here thought of this as a refreshing morning meal that was kind to the tongue and stomach first thing after waking up.) She glanced over at the loading area for tour buses bound for Edinburgh Castle as she ate.
“Are you sure you shouldn’t have stayed with that group?”
“They have plenty of history behind them. After all, Elizabeth I was so manipulated by the fortuneteller named John Dee that they even accepted the date he gave for her coronation. Plus, John Dee was always accompanied by an obvious swindler named Edward Kelley. Kelley’s womanizing tendencies never managed to reach the queen, but this kingdom still stands out from the pack when it comes to worrying about some strange magician influencing official policy. Wouldn’t it be useful to borrow their knowhow?”
“Don’t be dumb. They ended up with Coronzon, remember? They ended up corrupt as hell.”
“Yup and that corruption led to the secret creation of me: Artificial Demon Qliphah Puzzle 545!! Nee hee hee. Not even Rasputin took it this far. Although I don’t think you have room to talk when Academy City was effectively Crowley’s home base.”
“When we don’t know how many tricks the Archbishop left behind, we can’t get the whole picture by looking at it from a single angle. Whether we join the queen or whoever else, we’re fixed to a single viewpoint if we do what some group tells us to. Then we can’t find what we might otherwise find.”
“And all we’re trying to do is rescue them from Coronzon. Come forward after all this is over and maybe they’ll make you a knight.”
“I don’t want some embarrassing statue in the public square. I’m not here to make friends. And there are plenty of untiring morons who will accept all the pain-in-the-ass odd jobs. We can leave all that to them while we take a smarter route in through the back way.”
“Hee hee hee.”
At that point, the newspaper dress girl laughed in different way from before and gently leaned against Accelerator.
“What are you doing? It’s creepy.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it. Hee hee hee. This means I get master all to myself☆”
“Didn’t I just say I’m not here to make friends?”
“Hee hee hee hee hee hee☆”
The demon kept pressing her body weight against him, so he decided to ignore her. He had learned that reacting to people like this would only encourage them.
When an ordinary person aimed their phone toward the heartwarming scene, he scared them off with a glare and then took a sip of the disposable coffee bottle he held.
There was an odd feeling in the center of his chest.
Whatever Coronzon had done to him was still affecting him. Although it may not have been something that would show up on an x-ray.
Also, it was not anything worth mentioning.
Because mentioning it would not change anything about the situation.
“What is this crap? I should have just gotten a normal can of coffee. And there’s a ton left too. I asked for a small, so why’d they give me so damn much?”
“That opinion makes it hard to tell if you’re a gourmet or if your taste buds have dulled from lack of zinc.”
“Shut up. More importantly…was her name Coronzon? Hey, you damn demon, it’s time for a benchmark test. Tell me why you think she backed off so readily.”
“Um? Well, that would be because you and some other non-British forces were showing up. Three Academy City Level 5s and an A.A.A. were there. Although that puny little Imagine Breaker was killed pretty much instantly, so who knows how useful any of that would’ve been. Peh heh.”
“Okay, I just stepped on a landmine! And not just some anti-personnel or anti-tank one either!! This was clearly a nuclear landmine, so I am seriously sorry for what I said!!!!!! A-anyway, Coronzon only needed to swipe the three treasures and the Stone of Scone hidden in Edinburgh Castle, so doesn’t it seem likely she decided it wasn’t worth getting injured in a fight with some unknown factors like you? I mean, it does seem she used Karasuma Fran to send Kamisato Kakeru into Academy City and make a mess of things there to eliminate those unknown factors before she got there.”
That sounded reasonable.
Accelerator, Railgun, and Mental Out. It was honestly a bit of a mystery how those three had managed to gather in the same place on the other side of the globe, but they had all been surprise participants here. It was unlikely they had been a part of Coronzon’s plan. If she had some other goal, it did seem wisest to prioritize whatever that was.
The #1 struggled to get down the coffee that did not match his tastes.
“She had just eliminated her biggest obstacle by defeating Aleister. That must have been part of her preparations, right? We’re only visitors here and an irregular situation is still underway. If an unexpected factor suddenly appeared on the field, wouldn’t it be best to quickly crush it before it could mess with her plans?”
The coffee felt like a clump of sticky mud going down his throat. The odd feeling in his chest kept it from going down easy.
People tended to focus on health foods when something felt wrong but nothing showed up in the medical tests. And just such an item was within arm’s reach.
“Ugh, I can’t stand this anymore. Hey, demon, do something about this. That’s an order.”
Qliphah Puzzle 545’s eyes widened when he suddenly shoved the bottle of coffee into her hand while grabbing another drink from the paper bag she was holding.
However, the monster looked incredibly displeased.
“What is this? A vegetable smoothie? Does no one have any decent drinks around here?”
“Ahhhh, aw, aw, aw…”
“No, it’s nothing!! I’m claiming my compensation before you try to take it back!!”
The jellyfish demon hopped in place, squeezed her eyes shut, and drank from the bottle with her face blushing red.
Accelerator looked like the last person in the world who would be trying out a health drink, but he was forced to deal with that oddly-colored sludge as the price for his infidelity to coffee. It was too late to try health foods once you were already sick, but people often tried it anyway.
“It was obvious we would keep trying things if she left us alive. The more time passes, the farther things will stray from her initial plans. She had to have known that, so why did she leave us be? She had the upper hand, so why would she go out of her way to change that? It makes no sense. Is Coronzon even trying to win?”
“…Today’s drink has such an adult flavor. And, um, this might be rude, but isn’t that the genius logic of the strongest who has lived a wonderful life where winning is assumed and success is expected?”
“What, is it different for her?”
Accelerator breathed an exasperated sigh at her description.
What success had he had? The constant victories in his life had only led to failure. It would apparently take Qliphah Puzzle 545 a while longer to figure out those subtleties.
The #1 shook the vegetable smoothie that made him even more intolerant than the previous coffee. He hated how it was even thicker than he had expected.
“I don’t know much about this Great Demon Coronzon, but you make it sound like the entire world looks down on her. She sure as hell didn’t look like someone who had learned to be cautious after tasting the bitter flavor of setbacks and regret far too many times.”
“Gulp, gulp. So why do you think she did it?”
Great Demon Coronzon.
Aleister Crowley detested her just as much as Mathers. Although Accelerator’s outsider viewpoint was not enough to guess at what kind connection they had. But beyond that, those three felt the same to him. They all seemed to fall into the same category. …Of course, Aleister would probably try to tear his throat out if he said that out loud.
He sensed the same cruelty in them as he had seen in Academy City’s dark side.
That darkness may have been the same kind of hell that Aleister had experienced long ago. When looking into the pasts of serial killers, it was unfortunately common to find they had been victims of horrific violence as a child.
In that case, the cruel logic fostered in the dark side might just apply here.
“When a piece of shit abandons the prey in front of them and goes elsewhere, there’s always a simple reason.”
“Yes? And what is it???”
Accelerator continued while Qliphah Puzzle 545 cheerfully held the coffee bottle.
“They’ve found a toy that interests them even more, so they throw out the old one. That type has no conscience and mercy isn’t in their vocabulary.”
Hadn’t the #1 been like that once?
A supposedly powerless Level 0 had stood in his way when he had tried to kill the #3 for attempting to stop the experiment in that switchyard. As soon as he had laid eyes on that boy, all interest in the #3 had vanished from his mind.
That was how animals worked.
They only desired one thing at a time.
They were not clever enough to pursue two preys at once.
Accelerator was reminded of his past, but he still spat out the words.
The monster somehow managed to finish off the entire health drink and stuck out his dyed tongue while crushing the empty bottle in his hand.
“That leaves one question: what was it that drew Coronzon’s attention?”
“What are you looking at?”
“Boats,” was all she said.
The woman in a beige habit did not even look back his way as she pulled her absurdly-long blonde hair out from where it was stabbed into the ground. Hamazura Shiage did not know exactly how it worked, but he tried to keep away from it since it moved more like a scorpion tail than a dog tail. He could only sigh behind Coronzon.
Was boating a hobby of hers or something?
When he looked over Great Demon Coronzon’s shoulder, he saw an electronic sign with the same term repeated over and over. When he viewed it through the phone containing Aneri, he learned it meant “canceled”.
The movement of her hair was very worrying, but it could have been worse. She claimed to be a demon and her power was probably real. It may have only been her attempt to blend into human society that prevented wings and a tail from bursting out the back of her habit.
Edinburgh was in eastern Scotland and it bordered a bay cutting deep inland. When they walked to the harbor, seagull cries and the smell of the sea filled the air. Although the ocean did not seem very inviting in December.
The threat of the Crowley’s Hazards was gone, so the fearful people were hesitantly leaving their homes. …And they were oblivious to the fact that the root cause of the danger was right here next to them. That said, the people at the top, who knew what was really going on, were still in battle readiness. It was hardly surprising that the boats and airplanes were still being stopped.
The root cause had to know that.
Surely she was not so irritated with the UK that she was planning to flee the country.
Hamazura had lived in a walled city on another island nation, so he knew how reckless that would be. Things here were different from a vast desert or plain where you were not even sure where the borderline was. It would be suicide to attempt a border crossing after the very trouble she caused put everyone on high alert.
“Good, right on schedule.”
“We are making smooth progress toward being able to use these.
Coronzon looked back and lightly kicked a green suitcase with a thud. It had been quite a sight to see someone known as a “Great Demon” break open the door to a discount store and swipe a suitcase, but Hamazura had needed to suppress his laughter lest she kill him for it. She had apparently selected this one for its sturdiness.
The suitcase wobbled more heavily than one would expect because it contained a giant stone along with the crown and sceptre. The Stone of Scone’s presence was too great to ignore.
Coronzon spoke while the cries of seagulls reached them from above.
“I have no more business here now that I have the information I need. I have no reason to stay in this city.”
Hamazura had been left with the Sword of State and he had it roughly wrapped in a coat. There would be no explaining that one away if a police officer started asking some questions during a morning greeting, but he could not shove it in a train station coin locker and just carry around the key.
However, Coronzon did not seem to mind.
“That is fine. Continue carrying it with you. You would be plagued by unease if you did not have one of the keys for the Ceremony of Mo Athair, wouldn’t you? If the Sword of State is not to your liking, you could always let me crush you with the 230-kilogram Stone of Scone.”
“I am a Great Demon, if you recall. You can’t let such little things surprise you.”
If he was caught with the sword, she would kill the intruder.
The look in her eyes told him as much.
“This is a simple matter.” Coronzon walked away from the arrival and departure schedule displayed at the wharf. “If I tried explaining everything about magic and ley lines, I am sure it would go in one ear and out the other, so I will give you only what information really matters. The 78 tarot cards you are so carefully carrying around represent a human body. The cards themselves alone only provide the vague framework of ‘humanity’, but individual traits and idiosyncrasies can be added to give them a personal identity. …Simply put, it is like the grooves in a record. You know what a record is, don’t you? You only need to know the general idea. I don’t care if the disc format has changed, so don’t bother telling me.”
“Who uses discs anymore? This is the age of streaming. Pff, you’re so old.”
“Do I need to pull your brains out and scrub them with steel wool?”
What could he do but shut up?
He had no idea whether she was joking or serious. The demon maiden, who grew irritated at references to her age, winked and casually waved a hand.
“Anyway, the unseen scratches are what form Dion Fortune. Those are indispensable.”
“The scratches on these…?”
“All fortunetelling tools are like that. A brand new crystal ball is useless. They gain minute scratches and smudges as the fortune teller holds their hand over it, peers inside it, polishes it, and lives their life with it. Only with those does it become a kit allowing them to converse with their inner side. Tarot is the same. Did you think it was all the same once the cards were placed face down? Not a chance. After years of use, they gain creases and scrapes that slightly alter the odds of a particular card appearing no matter how evenly you try to shuffle them. A new deck of tarot cards is meaningless. Only once they match the individual user’s circumstances and purposes do they become a conversational partner that will give you the optimal response.”
Every last one of the cards was important.
If Hamazura carefully cut the deck, he would have no idea what the picture and number meant, so how was he supposed to know about the scratches and dents too small for the human eye to see? But if they were like the grooves in a disc or the circuitry on a semiconductor, he knew he had to treat them with the utmost care. The deck was still in his pocket, but the needlessly sticky sea breeze felt like a powerful toxin now.
A toxin to Dion Fortune’s mind, body, memories, personality, smile, and promise.
He recalled the stick of gum in his pocket. He had promised to teach her how to blow a bubble with that. He could not allow anything to be lost from her body or mind until he did that. Not one thing.
“To be clear, a grimoire is still a grimoire even if she has lost her human form. You could not damage those cards even if you punched them hard enough to break your own bones.”
“Eh? Huh? Is that how it works???”
“There is nothing to worry about there. And since these were specialized for defense, looking at the cards will not transmit their knowledge to you. That means there is no risk of harm from the toxin of an original grimoire. …Not that this means anything to someone who doesn’t know how normal grimoires work. Never mind.”
Coronzon was dragging the heavy green suitcase around with her. Even if they had agreed to work together, he had not expected her to explain so much to him. Especially when she could easily have killed him and taken the Sword of State for herself just like she had threatened to at the beginning.
She must have noticed what he was thinking because the demon in a beige habit moved her face in toward him with a smile splitting across it.
“I am a demon, you know?”
“Wh-what about it?”
“Demons are the whisperers and the obstructers. A demon does not blindly attack and push people away. A demon invites, tempts, assists, and provides plenty of success and prosperity before taking everything away from you and throwing you into hell. Think for yourself about what that means. But I will say one thing: this is normal for me. Emotion has not driven me toward an irregular action here. This is how I bring people down.”
That may have been the case in just about any field, be it day trading, casino gambling, flipping land or apartments, or even bank robbery and murder for insurance money.
Everyone could tell it was not worth it when they looked at the total numbers. Everyone knew a gamble that convenient was too good to be true. Not everyone who tried it found happiness. In fact, most were sucked dry while only a small handful reaped the benefits.
Nevertheless, everyone ended up thinking they alone were different and that they would find a clever way to win.
Even though there were no exceptions.
People thought their personal decisions could overturn the cold probability and statistics. They baselessly assumed they had some kind of divine inspiration. And they were oblivious to the fact that their naïve assumptions were really the devilish entrance to a bottomless living hell of debt.
Hamazura Shiage had no way of knowing since he had been wandering on the outer edges of the action, but Coronzon was saying she had mercilessly swallowed up people on the level of Crowley and Mathers.
She was not an obvious predator that spread simple fear.
She whispered sweetly.
She was 333, which meant dispersion.
She separated people’s mutual understanding and she obstructed the bonds of the world.
“What are you trying to accomplish?”
“The Ceremony of Mo Athair. If you understood what that was, would you try to stop me? Ask too many questions and you will lose your chance to return Dion Fortune to normal.”
“Ha ha. Just kidding. It is nothing worth hiding. I wish to bring all natural things to their natural state so this planet can continue spinning. That is my only goal.”
“All natural things…?”
“Yes. 333, dispersion. The true meaning of my name refers to the natural breakdown of all things.”
This was somehow made more frightening by the nearby musician trying to find some way of passing the time since he had arrived a little early and could not start playing his traditional bagpipe quite yet. The end of the world and someone trying not to be a nuisance coexisted here like a marble pattern.
The demon was cut off from the city of Edinburgh which was hesitantly beginning to get going.
“All things in this world – be they people, things, or phenomena – will one day be destroyed. Oh, but do not think of this in a violent way. When I say ‘one day’, I am not saying there is a particular day set in stone.”
“So you aren’t telling everyone to die today?”
“Exactly. So am I really saying anything that unusual? Boy, you too will die one day. It could happen of old age when your lifespan reaches its natural limit, or it could happen suddenly due to an accident or disease. In fact, it is unnatural and unrealistic for anything to lack such a process.”
The death Hamazura Shiage imagined for himself was a sudden and violent thing. He was not old enough to have a clear image of himself happily passing away as an old man.
If all of this was so natural, then why was Coronzon so fixated on it?
The end would come of its own accord, without her help.
He still barely understood any of this, but hadn’t this woman in a beige habit made an enemy of an awful lot of people?
She explained while dragging around the green suitcase.
“In other words, unnatural and unrealistic things obstruct the world’s circulation.”
“Wait, don’t tell me…”
“You might not understand since you exist within the ordinary and natural cycle, but the world is overflowing with indestructible things. Especially when it involves somewhat mysterious things like magic. Weapons that never rust, books that never fade, and civilizations that somehow never show any sign of collapse despite constantly doing the wrong thing! It is you humans who continue to create more and more things that do not break down and you leave them everywhere!!”
She yelled so loudly he thought her voice was going to split the planet.
That woman, who dressed like she still had her job, placed a hand on her forehead.
“The world has been in crisis countless times already: World War III, Magic God Othinus’s rampage, and the rise of Kamisato Kakeru’s irregularities to name a few. This world should have been destroyed all on its own. That is one form of natural breakdown. But that did not happen and history has continued to this day. Why? Because of the people who refused to give in to the natural current and unnaturally stood in its way!!”
This talk may have been on a level beyond Hamazura Shiage’s understanding.
Othinus, Aleister, and Imagine Breaker.
The turning points she referred to had all stood in positions that influenced what happened to those who still remained in this world after ignoring their natural lifespan and expiration date. They may have looked like heroes to those who wished for survival, but what did they look like to someone who wished for death?
Aleister Crowley had tried to make a better world by eradicating all forms of the occult.
But Great Demon Coronzon had the complete opposite view. He had tried to protect the “layer of science” that supported all things at the very, very bottom, but she did not care if even that was lost.
Would they protect it or attack it?
The most fundamental difference may have been her complete lack of concern for the lives that had taken root in this world.
“Do you really think this clot-filled world can remain in a natural state? Not a chance! Humans may not care if they bring down the world around them as they are destroyed. You are, after all, a bunch of fools who tend to conflate the destruction of the human race with the destruction of the world. But those of us watching on from the outside cannot view it that way. If you humans wish to destroy yourselves, have at it, but do not bring the world with you. That is what I am saying.”
All at once, Hamazura Shiage felt his distance from this woman grow infinitely large.
None of this felt real to him.
He was following her to protect someone close to him. He wanted to bring his girlfriend, Takitsubo Rikou, somewhere safe and return Dion Fortune to normal. He wanted to return to Academy City and see Mugino, Kinuhata, Fremea, Hanzou, Kuroyoru, Yomikawa, and everyone else he could think of. And most of all, he wanted to live a happy life with Takitsubo and the others for the mere one hundred years they had. He wanted true happiness with no regrets and a clean conscience. He was not talking about whether or not that was possible. He had only ever viewed it as being “the happiest he could imagine” and that was good enough.
He was risking his one and only life for something on that scale.
So what was this?
The human race? The world??? What kind of ruler did you use to measure things like that!?
“I will return the world to its natural state.”
Coronzon was probably aware of how he felt.
She knew about the chill running down his spine.
“And isn’t it oddly appropriate that I am beginning that destruction in Britain? John Dee, who grew close to Elizabeth I, introduced Enochian magic to the world. The important spell I will use is closely related to ZAX, the tenth Aethyr, which is in fact me. But one theory says it is an apocalyptic power that will draw out a power capable of destroying the world of magic.”
However, she gave a loving look to the powerless boy who had no choice but to accept this. She seemed to approve of his existence as a life within the natural cycle where he would eventually die and break down within the soil.
“Imagine Breaker has wandered the edges of history as a reference point for the world. It has existed in a variety of forms: people, objects, places, and buildings. But why does it break? If it merely pointed to an uncorrupted world, it would have a number of different reactions, such as deflecting, diverting, and slipping through. And yet it chooses to destroy the supernatural things it cannot accept. That is my point here. In its natural state, the world bares its fangs against all things. If the conditions are right, death is the natural fate for all people and creatures. That which cannot be broken down must be rewritten into that which can, even if that means smashing it to pieces. That is the perfectly natural cycle you find in this world.”
“Now, a demon has ‘obediently’ granted you quite a bit of knowledge.”
It was a sticky but somehow childish thing.
“Do you now have the foundation needed to determine how much of what I say is the sweet whispers?”
“If not, you will be just one more who is devoured.”
What kind of people had contacted Great Demon Coronzon in the past? And just how talented had those people been? Hamazura Shiage could not find an answer. He could not imagine it. But they had not become an Edison or an Einstein. There was a simple reason why that was.
“So how do you judge this warning I am giving you? Does a lie atop a lie mean the truth??? If you simply accept everything I tell you, you will meet the same fate as Mathers. So, boy, try to at least struggle as much as Crowley who rejected me after summoning me with Neuburg.”
All of those brilliant experts had failed.
They had sunk into the depths of history without leaving their names behind.
Their laments, shouts, and screams had not reached anyone.
What normal person had ever heard of them?
“What do you think?” asked Accelerator.
“Coronzon wouldn’t have had any business in Edinburgh,” replied Qliphah Puzzle 545. “If she needed to use the three treasures and the Stone of Scone here, she would have done it at Edinburgh Castle. So whatever her goal is, she would have left here as quickly as she could.”
“She would be able to launch herself outside the atmosphere and take a ballistic course to the other side of the planet, but that seems unlikely to me. The UK is pretty badly weakened right now and she should be able to hijack the country from them using the Honours of Scotland, but when weighing science against magic, magic still has the upper hand. If she used magic to blast off, the witches would detect her immediately and move to attack her.”
The translucent demon paused for a moment and pointed a thumb at her own large chest.
“Also, I am an artificial demon created by Coronzon herself. I know her habits, so I can detect when she uses any large-scale magic. But I haven’t sensed anything of the sort.”
“She isn’t going to use any fancy magic to fly☆”
They heard a low rhythmic thumping.
It was currently rush hour.
The trains were not on high alert like the boats or airplanes, so they were apparently still running.
“The Rapid Model from Edinburgh to Glasgow will soon be departing on Track 9. Cars 1-4 are reserved seating cars and Cars 5+ are free seating cars.”
An office worker walking by looked over in shock at the tongue click that did not at all suit the beige habit.
The crowd flooding the train platform was mostly commuters and not tourists. Great Demon Coronzon lightly looked around while using both hands to drag around the heavy-looking suitcase that she had claimed weighed 230 kilograms.
“They’re suspicious. But why haven’t they used the government’s authority to shut down the trains?”
“What? The government? What’s going on?”
“It is time for a test.”
The woman with long blonde hair sounded somehow delighted even though something unexpected was underway.
“We must get the three treasures and the Stone of Scone past their blockade. Boy, it is time to see how useful you will really be as a pawn. The enemy has likely sent a small but powerful unit. And its members will be the type to ignore their obligation to report to their higher-ups. In other words, they are quite capable. You will never save Dion Fortune if you do not shake their pursuit.”
“If you wish to stand on the starting line, demonstrate your strength. Do you really think this will end well for you even if you choose not to?”
Hamazura Shiage’s job was to escape.
Coronzon was not with him. Plus, that beautiful demon had called this a test. If he disappointed her here, he would be unable to rescue Dion Fortune.
He knew pursuit was coming and he had no real reason to stay put. He wanted to get out of the city of Edinburgh if possible, so his only real option was to board the train Coronzon had prepared for him.
From there, he had to view it with the same logic as a game of old maid.
You had five cards to choose from. You were afraid to choose the middle and edges because they seemed suspicious, so you only ended up considering the safer-sounding second and fourth cards. He boarded the packed train and stayed near the door while the crowd seemed to crush him.
The train started to move.
If the pursuers thought this train was suspicious, they were sure to start searching from one end or the other. If necessary, he would have to get off at the next station or hit the emergency stop button and hop out onto the tracks. He did his best to calm himself by convincing himself he had thought this through (practicality of his plans not withstanding).
He thought he saw some kind of white cloth fluttering outside the window.
And it had not been moving horizontally with the train’s movement.
It had moved up from below.
He heard a quiet metallic creaking from the ceiling.
An image he would very much prefer not to think about appeared in the back of his mind. Sweat poured from his back and spread to the rest of his body.
(Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! That was Accelerator! Are you goddamn kidding me!?)
Hamazura could not figure out how that monster could have gotten involved like this. He might be pursuing Lola Stuart since he had been following Aleister when they first arrived in the UK, but something more must have gotten in the way. There must have been a major shift in the dividing lines between groups.
Whatever the case, Hamazura had to assume almost all individuals and organizations would be opposed to Coronzon.
There was just one thing he knew for certain.
(I can’t save Dion Fortune unless I get him off my tail.)
With an enemy like this, he doubted he could escape by running off at the next station or hitting the emergency stop button and throwing himself out onto the tracks. That #1 would be able to play tag with an airplane if he wanted to.
He felt heat growing in his pocket, so he tapped his phone through his pants.
“(Aneri, your calculations aren’t going to find an answer, so put that on hold and move on to the next problem. Don’t focus on comparing specs and finding a way to defeat Accelerator. I don’t care if it’s pathetic. There has to be some other way.)”
It was like feeling a pain in a back tooth. He did not want to accept that he had a bad cavity, but putting it off would only make it worse.
(I have time to think. I must. He’s the worst possible monster, but this car has more than 250% the passengers it’s supposed to. He won’t fight by tearing the car apart and turning everyone inside to mincemeat. I need to observe the situation and make my way to another car.)
The plan Hamazura had been using to calm his anxiety was crumbling before his eyes, but he could not just give up and throw in the towel. He clenched his teeth and started thinking through the conditions again. However…
He heard a sweet feminine voice being suppressed.
And from shockingly close by.
In fact, the girl was pressed right up against him.
“(P-please stop. Or I’ll scream…ahh.)”
“Eh? Eh? What’s going on? Eh!?”
When he tried to pull away inside the crowded train, he felt some resistance coming from the tip of the sword scabbard he had wrapped in a coat. This was accompanied by a short shriek from the girl. This was bad. He was certain he was in trouble. Had that mischievous Sword of State snuck its way somewhere it shouldn’t be!? Like between a strange girl’s legs!?
But then he realized something.
(Wait, why was she speaking Japanese???)
“There, I hope you enjoyed that honey trap performance by everyone’s favorite sexy girl: Lessar.”
He heard a straining sound more through his bones than his ears. While surrounded by so many people, she surreptitiously grabbed his hand and twisted it in the wrong direction.
When he looked down again, he noticed a tail-like thing extending from the back of her hips and wrapping around the sword’s scabbard.
On the surface, it just looked like that devilish girl was whispering to him while rubbing her cheek against his chest and looking up with an odd heat in her eyes.
“(G-give it a rest already. No one can beat me when it comes to playing dirty☆)”
“(Wait, you idiot. You’re getting off at the next station with me. Honestly, I was right to be suspicious when Dion Fortune of all people pops up at a gas station. Suspicious of the person with her, not Fortune herself. On the magic side, it isn’t the people working on some vast conspiracy you have to watch out for. It’s the complete amateurs who skip several steps and reach the core of it all far too quickly. They end up thinking they can do anything and end up blaming the world for getting in their way. If you want details, look up terms like ‘microcosm’, ‘runaway self-consciousness’, and ‘Qliphothic forces’!)”
No matter what she said, he could not let her capture him.
She still had his one wrist and elbow in a lock, so his other hand wandered blindly trying to find a solution. Swinging it at her would not accomplish much when she was pressed right up against him. More importantly, Lessar could definitely break his arm if she applied just a bit more force to his wrist. So he was not trying to attack her. He was searching the wall. His palm stroked along that surface in search of a distinctive bump.
He wanted the latch to open the window.
As soon as he threw the window open one-handed, the biting December wind rushed inside. The wind was like a solid wall, so it knocked Lessar off balance. No, it actually surprised all the other passengers into moving and she was caught in that human wave.
Hamazura Shiage did not escape unharmed either. He felt a stabbing pain in his bone at both the wrist and elbow. Had Lessar wanted use of both hands to support herself, or had she let go out of kindness? Either way, he was released before the joints were broken, so he snatched back the Sword of State she was holding onto with her tail(?).
“Hey, wait!! Now you really are going after my ass!!”
Her panicked nonsense was in Japanese, so the office workers around them did not seem to understand her. That spared him being ganged up on by the well-meaning passengers. He moved against the current and then climbed out the window he had opened.
He left the passenger car, scaled the wall, and arrived on the roof.
He risked his life to escape that assassin, but this was not over yet.
In fact, this was where it truly began.
He had expected this.
He had predicted it, but it was still nearly enough to stop his heart.
He would have been done for if he were alone.
Hamazura Shiage held the coat-wrapped sword tightly in his arms.
He could not die until he had saved her and returned to Takitsubo.
No matter what.
There were only seven Level 5s and Accelerator was the top-ranked one. This was not just a case of Hamazura’s attacks not working or having any punches reflected back so they harmed him instead. If they clashed head-on at full power, he would be dead before he even saw what hit him.
He felt like a prey facing his predator.
How else could he describe it?
All of a sudden, Hamazura threw the coat into the wind and held the exposed Sword of State. He drew the blade from the wooden scabbard and aimed the tip of the golden-glowing double-edged sword at the #1.
His opponent only scoffed.
The wind blew wildly on the shaking rooftop. And Accelerator did not seem remotely concerned despite the uneven surface created by the air conditioner units and joints between cars.
That was enough to clue Hamazura in.
He had never expected to defeat the #1 with this. He might be able to if he used it how it was meant to be used, but he was not Coronzon or Lessar. The delinquent boy did not even know how to use a normal sword, so a metal bat or pipe would have felt more reassuring. He had only drawn it because he hoped to use it as a hostage. He had hoped it would cause his opponent to falter and hesitate to attack.
That laugh had been his answer.
Accelerator only cared about solving the immediate problem.
Simply put, he did not care if he had to break the sword and Hamazura’s body along with it.
There was no room for negotiation here.
(Isn’t there something?)
(Isn’t there anything at all I can do!? I can’t just give up because there’s nothing I can do. If I don’t do things right from the very first move, I’m screwed!! I’m up against the #1 monster, so there won’t be a second move!!)
“You ready to do this?”
He heard something slicing through the air.
Accelerator pushed his shoes forcefully against the roof and charged ahead with the velocity of an artillery shell. Hamazura immediately responded by wielding the sword. But he sent it toward his feet. Specifically, toward one of the industrial air conditioner units that made the footing up here so unstable.
The disconcerting noise was like a wild animal tearing through an empty aluminum can.
The compressed and liquefied chemical coolant immediately burst out as a white vapor.
Of course, he did not think this was enough to harm someone with control over all vectors.
Still, the #1 monster was kicking off the roof to build up speed.
“I can take out his footing without breaking through his reflection barrier!!”
A portion of the roof rapidly grew white. The liquid hydrofluorocarbon reached temperatures dozens of degrees below zero and it could even flash freeze metal. The surface of the roof could not survive the rapid temperature change, so a thin layer of the surface began to strip off. Just like the paint peeling from the playground equipment in a long-abandoned park.
The soles of Accelerator’s shoes suddenly lost their grip.
It was the same idea as a bicycle’s tires slipping on wet leaves on a rainy day. The #1’s vector control power could not influence something if it was a step removed from him.
“You…son of a bitch…”
Accelerator was thrown slightly off target and passed right by Hamazura, but Hamazura ducked down and made no attempt to touch him. No matter the situation, reaching for that monster was suicide when he still had his reflection. The #1 could not rid himself of his momentum, so it was best to wait until he rolled right off the train’s roof.
“Did I get him!?”
Hamazura pulled the Sword of State from the air conditioner unit and looked back, but he saw nothing there.
He only heard the rhythmic clanking of the train and only saw the linked cars shaking in a wave-like motion.
He did not actually want to see a mutilated corpse, but it did not feel real when his opponent just disappeared like this. Was this what it felt like to continue feeling a limb you had lost? The threat had vanished, but a vague unease lingered behind.
He heard a loud metallic noise and several smaller ones following it.
He definitely heard them.
The ominous noise sounded like giant claws tearing through a steel wall. And that assessment may not have been entirely inaccurate. He had torn through an air conditioning unit with an antique sword, so surely the #1 could use his bare hands to tear apart a train wall that used a lot of aluminum to reduce the weight and improve the fuel efficiency.
The #1 had not fallen yet.
But part of Hamazura was not surprised. Using the numbers to measure their strength may have been wrong, but this was not #4 Mugino or #2 Kakine. This was the #1. He was a much greater hell than those other two. It was wrong to think you could escape by catching him in a trap.
The grim reaper’s whisper reached him from somewhere.
But what could he do?
What was he supposed to do!?
If his first attack failed, he was done for. He could not expect a second attack. Hadn’t Hamazura decided that himself? And he had failed to make a clean getaway. He could sit here nodding in understanding all he wanted, but what was he actually supposed to do!?
Just then, something with a glossy color cut in from the corner of Hamazura’s vision. He saw delicate silver hair and brown skin that looked more alluring than healthy. And he saw white bandages lazily wrapped around a body.
“Neph…thys ? How did you get here!?”
“Quiet. I know I’m far too attractive to ignore, but this isn’t the time to chat. Go and get running already.”
In the most casual way imaginable, Nephthys used a high heel made from white bandages to kick Hamazura down. She did not rest her weight on him and kept it at the level of a gentle reward, but he did not have time to enjoy it.
She had kicked him down, but down where?
Down off the train, of course.
He felt no fear.
He did not have time for that. His mind spun its wheels like a gear was missing.
The vision in front of his eyes did not lead to any emotional response.
When Accelerator climbed up the train’s wall to get back on the roof, he clicked his tongue at what he found there. He still felt an ache in his chest thanks to Coronzon’s attack, but this was not the time to worry about that.
Something strange appeared in the outside world rushing by beyond the train.
It must have broken through the door to exit the train. It was a gold…something. It looked like a giant carnivorous plant made of thread or hair and opened its maw to catch falling Hamazura Shiage. Then it fell to the ground that was rushing by like a merciless chainsaw blade.
Accelerator had no idea what had happened, but his target was still alive.
And while holding some kind of important item.
“Who are you?”
“To be clear, I am not strictly on his side.” The bandaged brown woman held an index finger to her lips. “I am Nephthys, one of the Magic Gods, but you could call me a spectator this time. And from that perspective, this is so very boring. Who wants to watch a battle when they know the outcome from the beginning? I’d like to fast-forward through all that, but if I can’t, then I just have to stir things up myself. I do apologize for doing what amounts to throwing a bucket of popcorn at the movie theater screen.”
“Yes, no one likes a show off. Perhaps I should view everyone as a common enemy here. And now that I have entered the ring, how about you show me an entertaining fight, you wooden actor.”
Something else acted in violation of gravity.
The dried leaves caught in the biting midwinter wind ignored that powerful current of air and formed a vortex right next to Accelerator. Just as they gathered in a single spot, they audibly burst apart.
Bare feet with a girl’s uniquely soft curves floated in midair without touching the train roof.
This girl had revealed herself to the surface world through an artificial birthing ceremony.
The translucent demon looked like a fusion of a human girl, a killer jellyfish, and a newspaper. She wrapped her arms around Accelerator’s neck to cling to him.
“Oh, this ain’t good. That’s a legit Magic God, isn’t it!? There’s no point in taking on one of those combat-obsessed freaks who have risen to divine heights but have no intention of guiding others!! Nephthys isn’t our target, so I recommend finding a clever way out of this fight!!”
“Do you really think she’s gonna let me get away, dumbass?”
“Yes, that would be a problem for you, wouldn’t it?” said Nephthys.
The brown woman giggled and removed the index finger from her lips. Then she silently stepped back, pressed her palm against the center of her ample chest, and spoke.
“That choker on your neck gives you a set limit, so stalling for time is the biggest threat for you. If you tried to escape but I continued chasing you, you would actually end up using more of your battery. So it’s safer to instantly slaughter the threat standing right in front of you, isn’t it?”
“…So you’re saying I should kill you?”
“Yes, exactly☆ You can’t ignore me now that I’ve shown I know about your battery. Lions, sharks, and other candidates for the strongest animal tend to be cowards who hate nothing more than something invading their territory.”
“Qliphah Puzzle 545.”
“A demon’s name is used for verbal commands and contracts on paper, so I would really prefer you did not use mine in front of someone who knows how to- gwaaaahh!? Yes, what do you want!?”
Accelerator did not order her to defeat the Magic God or act as a shield.
The white monster reached for his choker as he spoke.
“I’m gonna do this my way, but there’s too much I don’t know about magic and whatever. So tell me what I need to know when you think I need to know it.”
“Sure thing☆ Nee hee.”
A violent wind roared around Accelerator. It was clearly caused by something other than the train barreling down the tracks. This was different from the charge he had made against Hamazura earlier. Academy City’s #1 held the position of the strongest, but he would obediently analyze his mistakes and learn from them. His idea of the strongest was not a fixed position; it was a constantly evolving one. And that may have been why he was the #1.
Accelerator crushed his weakness and took another step up the ladder, but Nephthys only giggled some more.
You must not forget that she loved fighting so much that an alternate world of eternal, uninterrupted fighting had been her idea of the ideal playground.
She softly shut her eyes.
And she whispered as if reflecting on something gone.
“He had the right idea. It was just that his methods left something to be desired. So I will show you the true answer. Perhaps you can gain an even greater power from this.”
That was when something changed. A single jewel-like tear dripped from the corner of Nephthys’s right eye. Needless to say, it was not meaningless.
“Nephthys is the crying goddess. She is the sister of Underworld God Osiris and wife of Death God Set. Osiris was killed by the misdeeds of her husband and she purified that sin with her flood of tears. I am a collection of those who were buried along with the dead pharaohs who desired company and I am seen as another face of that goddess. Thus, I can draw on that initial goddess’s power because I am already Nephthys.”
Nephthys was the female divinity who cried at Osiris’s funeral in the legends focused on the god of the underworld. But she was also a mysterious goddess who had no other major stories about her. That was why her entire identity as a Magic God was contained in her tears.
Tears of joy, tears of rage, tears of sorrow, and tears of mirth.
And in this case…
“Tears of transmission? It lets her boost whatever magic she targets?”
It was Qliphah Puzzle 545 who felt a tremor down her spine since she was familiar with magic.
Her marine tail twisted in displeasure.
“It’s similar to Annie Horniman’s magic, but Nephthys is alone here. What good is boosting magic?”
“Oh, it’s good for something. I have a target right here after all.”
She opened her tear-damp eyes and her gaze pierced the target to be boosted.
“Target: Qliphah Puzzle 545 – Boost.'”
By the time the demon voiced her surprise, it was too late and the situation was explosively changing. Qliphah Puzzle 545 freely controlled the madness of war and its effects were powerful enough to envelop the entire magic kingdom of Great Britain. But now that was amplified. No, it was sent wildly out of control by an external source. Nephthys was indeed a Magic God. A boost from her was more than just a slight push in the right direction. When a hero or warrior was supported by their god, it was not uncommon for their immense success to be paid for with a short life. And their early death would come in a decidedly unhappy form, such as death in battle or execution.
Nephthys was using that as an attack.
All to mess with Accelerator who was closest to that artificial demon.
“Oh, no! Run away, master!!”
Again, it was too late.
The outcome could not be overturned.
Did a spiraling red mass trail after him because he had coughed up some blood?
The #1’s reflection and vector control were useless against Qliphah Puzzle 545’s power. He was like a tank or warship caught in the detonation of a shell contained inside itself. And the more powerful he was, the harder it hit him. All of the power Accelerator held was unleashed on his own body and he entered a tailspin as he fell from the train.
“Hm, so is that all he can do?”
Nephthys put her hands on her hips and let the biting winter morning wind wash over her body while she let out a white sigh.
A girl from a wannabe cabal appeared to be hiding inside the train, but Nephthys decided there was no need to defeat her. She likely did not have any way of jumping off of the high-speed train.
The chocolate-colored goddess was only a spectator.
She would not support anyone and she would attack anyone.
But at the same time, she would not act unless something caught her interest and demonstrated enough power to inspire emotion in the Magic God.
Those were the rules.
After thinking through all that, Nephthys wiped the tears from her eyes. A certain boy appeared in the back of her mind.
He was fighting for a girl he had only known for one night.
He knew nothing about her besides her name.
But that true protagonist had cast aside his position as an onlooker and chosen to risk his life so he could once more see that smile which had scattered in the wind as so many cards.
She knew this was a bad habit of hers.
“These things always drive me to tears.”
Divine blessings and punishments were provided for selfish reasons instead of according to a systemized set of phenomena and laws. That may have been why Aleister Crowley so hated them.
An unnatural translucent form flew past the gravel edges of the tracks and down a slight cliff there. No, they must have been in a panic because they fell head-first to the ground. They could not get back up and flailed their arms around to grab at the dirt and crawl forward.
A girl could be heard crying.
The sobs were too painful, pathetic, and ugly to say they were meant to inspire sympathy.
“No, this can’t be true! It can’t! Master!!”
This was Qliphah Puzzle 545.
She clung to a figure who had fallen to the ground there. That person’s representative white was stained by an impure red and the color of mud. She had done this to him. If the #1 had reigned as the #1 and not taken on anything else, this never would have happened.
He had said he was ignorant of magic.
That might sound simple enough, but that great monster had exposed a weakness to her and relied on her.
This was how it ended. He had not made any kind of mistake. It was this demon who should not have hoped for anything nice. Had she forgotten she was already defined as an unsavable being? Demons brought ruin just by being demons. Anyone who supported them would be dragged down to the depths of the earth. She had to have known about that rule.
“Shut up. Don’t start bawling over a few scratches. I hope this doesn’t become a habit of yours.”
Accelerator spat out the words and easily stood up.
He had lost control of his own powers, so the reflection barrier meant nothing. A red stain was still dripping from the corner of his mouth, but he had not lived a life where he was going to freak out over a bit of blood.
Tears carried more weight than blood.
That was the only conclusion he could reach after seeing those clones obey their orders and throw away their lives while never being allowed to cry.
But the #1 also sensed something else.
The odd feeling in his chest was gone. Come to think of it, when Coronzon had done that to him, hadn’t she said he would feel better if he coughed up the blood?
(Did she intentionally remove the clog as a form of maintenance? So she isn’t just siding with that irregular factor called Hamazura Shiage. She’s messing with us all in a much more troublesome way.)
“Listen, this was never going to go smoothly right from the very beginning. We just have to learn from our mistakes and figure things out as we go along. Don’t freak out over the result and get cold feet.”
“I’m a step behind Coronzon on everything here. And it feels like I’m another two steps behind with all the irregular factors around here. I need your help to make up for those three steps. So I’ll say it again, Qliphah Puzzle 545: help me. I need your power. Are you still willing to help out a human?”
“Yesh! I’ll make sure I’m useful next time, master! I promise!!”
He lightly clicked his tongue.
But not at Qliphah Puzzle 545 whose eyes were still damp.
What would that Level 0 do at a time like this?
Accelerator was good at hitting things with his fist and tearing things apart with his fingers, but he did not know how to stop someone’s tears with that. But that Level 0 would be able to look anyone in the eye and reach an agreement.
In other words, this white monster had no right to act superior here.
This was as far as being the strongest got him.
And it was time to look at the most immediate issue. The train was already gone. Plus, Hamazura Shiage had left the train far earlier than this. He needed to follow the tracks back, but he doubted he could locate his target right away. It was unnatural for Great Demon Coronzon to be walking around on her own two legs.
Of course, there might be something he could learn from the traces they left behind. If he did not have enough information to get ahead of them, then his only real option was to head back and investigate.
“Then I’ve got a question: what was that? I’d heard the term Magic God in Academy City too.”
“She was Magic God Nephthys. A Magic God is a human who became a god by mastering the field of magic. She specifically is a collection of the slaves and servants buried alive with the old pharaohs and is based on Egyptian mythology. What about it?”
Accelerator could not understand all that at the moment. But he was certain that Level 0 with the right hand was a different matter. They might see the same thing, but they had taken different paths to get here. Accelerator had to make up for those differences.
And with that in mind…
He had been injured in an attack from the enemy. There was a clear line between attacker and victim, but this girl was trembling because she thought it was her fault.
What would that boy do?
He had to tell himself what he had told the demon: This would never go smoothly right from the very beginning. He had to fill in the puzzle pieces he knew and work toward completing the picture.
He had to view the same world as Kamijou Touma.
But following in that boy’s footsteps would be meaningless. He needed to secure a different viewpoint, get a view of what that boy could not see, and do what that boy could not do.
This incident was not a hurdle for Qliphah Puzzle 545 alone.
Academy City’s #1 monster, Accelerator, was taking the very first step on a new journey.
Great Demon Coronzon clicked her tongue without thinking.
Something like a golden flower bud larger than a light car was slowly opening like it was blossoming and it revealed a woman in a beige habit and Hamazura Shiage in her arms.
They were to the side of the tracks.
“This was supposed to be a test, but I’m really not sure how to score that. The Magic God stole the show right at the end.”
(Well, he didn’t run away when facing an opponent he knew he could not defeat, so I suppose that gets a passing grade as a sacrificial pawn. The invisible cage I have built for him is doing well.)
How much could he guess of what she left unsaid?
Still in her arms, Hamazura lifted his face from the chest of her beige habit and hesitantly looked in the direction the train had gone.
“What is Nephthys trying to do? She had no good reason to fight the #1.”
Hamazura Shiage had no way of imagining a being who had enough power to destroy the world yet only used it for her own amusement. He could not imagine a mind distorted enough to see a monster like the #1 and immediately think he was wasting his power.
“So what now? We’ve lost them for now, but since they knew to be on that train, they must know what you’re trying to do. I just hope they aren’t waiting for us at our destination.”
“They will be searching all across the UK, so it does not really matter where we go. In fact, we are not headed to Glasgow like that train was.”
“This is all for the Ceremony of Mo Athair. I only needed some way of heading west. Stand up already. We will reach the ocean by other means.”
“The ocean? In December!?”
“You ignorant fool. Are swimsuits the only thing you associate with the ocean?”
Meanwhile, Coronzon thought to herself.
(Nephthys, hm? Did he manage to pick her up somewhere like he did Dion Fortune? If so, I really think he could have saved Fortune via that Magic God instead of relying on me… That must mean she is not fully under his control. But it does not appear the thread of emotion has been fully severed either. Interesting. If I could use him as a controller, I might be able to indirectly control a Magic God. This country’s chaos is only going to grow.)
Just as she thought that, she heard a footstep in the gravel.
“Is that Accelerator!?”
Hamazura shouted and turned around while wielding the Sword of State, even though it was unlikely to be much use.
However, he stopped before fully unsheathing it.
He had not expected to see this person there.
It was a small girl with a black bob cut, a charm on her forehead, and sickly pale skin. The short hem of her modified mini-China dress gave a risqué view of her bare legs, but the large sleeves hid her hands out to the tips of the fingers.
Just like Nephthys, she was a Magic God.
“Oh, just to be clear, this isn’t an emotional reunion. I’m honestly not as emotional or as easily moved to tears as Nephthys.”
Hamazura’s entire body was wrapped in a strange chill that felt like countless tiny bugs crawling around below his skin. This was not the same as Accelerator, whose obvious hostility had felt like a bared blade. This killer intent was like a dark whip that would take its sweet time to torment you. And he also realized that she was kind enough to announce her presence instead of smashing them to pieces in a surprise attack. Niang-Niang was not Nephthys. She may have been more what a pure Magic God was like.
She clearly intended to fight.
Like she was snacking on the life that Nephthys had allowed to escape.
He could not read her.
Were the Magic Gods on his side or not?
“Look after the suitcase, boy.”
Coronzon spat out those words and her absurdly-long blonde hair began to wriggle on its own. That Great Demon told Hamazura to back away, so had he passed her test?
A sinister face-like shadow appeared in that long hair.
“Looks like I can’t use him as a controller after all. Well, I would have been disappointed in those self-styled Magic Gods if it had worked.”
Hamazura could not help but shout a question while the demon protected him.
“Why!? One of you Magic Gods just saved me, right!?”
“Hm? First of all, you really shouldn’t assume we’re all the same, but besides that, didn’t Nephthys explain it to you? The reason we’re doing this isn’t worth hiding or keeping secret. We just want to have fun fighting. We don’t care about some clever and intricate plan. And yet…”
The modified China dress girl looked puzzled about something.
“We’re here as spectators, but that’s so boring when it’s obvious from the start who’s going to win.”
A seemingly endless series of clanking noises followed.
There was a sword, spear, axe, staff, crossbow, wind-and-fire wheel, club, net, chain, gun, caltrop, whip, hoop, claw, hammer, arrow, spike, disc, hook, sickle, lance, scissors, halberd, weight, crutch, thorn, fork, ruler, rope, tube, bag, board, saw, etc.
So many weapons fanned out from Magic God Niang-Niang’s baggy sleeves.
They definitely erupted from there.
This was another threat that no one could control.
“The signal is growing! Any higher and she’ll go into shock!”
“Her body is badly injured and barely holding on. If it reaches saturation, she won’t be able to resist any longer. She needs local anesthesia. Add five milligrams of ethylphin!”
Five fingers grabbed that doctor’s wrist.
The silver girl grimaced and got out a scratchy voice while lying on her back.
“No anesthesia. It will only dull my mind. How many milligrams have you already given me?”
“Y-you’re kidding, right? The colinrase we gave you should already have circulated through your body!!”
“Tch. Did you base the amount on my weight? I don’t have time to wait for it to be naturally discharged. You have cetylmin, don’t you? I’ll break it down in my blood.”
The silver girl got up while grabbing a tube from the table. She attached a needle and stabbed it into her own wrist before the military doctor could stop her.
“Are you insane? If you neutralize the anesthetic in your state, you’ll die of shock.”
“In my state? I never would have survived this long if this was enough to kill me. I once fought all the Magic Gods at once and survived with half my body badly burned.”
Her body and throat felt as hot and dry as if she had injected herself with a radiocontrast agent, but she could ignore that much. Once the neutralized substance left her body as sweat and urine, this would naturally fade away. Aleister checked to make sure the stab wound in her side was stitched up before hopping down from the examining table.
She left the field hospital medical tent made of a thick synthetic material and she found herself on the grounds of Edinburgh Castle.
But why had she been receiving medical care?
This was still that magic kingdom. Even if the position of archbishop had been vacated, she doubted their anti-magic combat ability would have completely ground to a halt. They had to know she was here, so what would happen once they realized Academy City’s board chairman was Crowley? She was honestly surprised she had not been shot to death while unconscious.
She doubted this had been done out of kindness.
(The crisis continues. They want to bolster their fighting force in any way possible.)
That was a reasonable guess, but the thought put a smile on the silver girl’s lips.
Who would have thought she would be kept alive by Coronzon’s evil deeds of all things? What could be more ironic?
“Oh, oh…like this? Does this work as a heliport???”
“No!! That’s not even close to being a circle. It’s all squished up!!”
“Misaka-san, couldn’t you draw a perfect circle by making a sliding turn with that nuisance of a monster bike?”
“Keh keh keh. You mean the motorcycle that thrusts right up into your weak point? Are you that eager to experience it again, you horny beggar? You’ve developed a taste for it, haven’t you?”
“Could you not make ridiculous false accusations!? A-and, M-M-Misaka-san, th-th-that really isn’t something to bring up in front of a boy!”
“Kamijou-san, don’t just tilt your head in that adorable way! I’m not explaining, okay? There’s nothing here worth digging up!!”
The blonde girl was blushing and frantically waving her hands around, but Mikoto did not seem interested in that.
She frowned and gestured her chin toward what Shokuhou was holding.
“Hey, what is that thing?”
“Spin, spin, spiiiin… A motor keeps the outer cylinder rotating, which is apparently the trick to keeping the contents cold. Good, looks like it’s still working.”
“You drink iced tea in a swimsuit during December? You really are weird. Also…”
“Um, uhh…I feel like I’m forgetting something related to you. Hmm…”
Mikoto said that while holding her shoulders and growing pale, but Shokuhou nodded in satisfaction after making sure the double-layer container held between cooling sheets was working. She then put the large cylinder back inside her brand-name bag.
At any rate, Aleister could hear the boy and girls’ voices from where she had left the medical tent. They were apparently preparing for the arrival of a transport helicopter. The spiky-haired boy probably wanted to meet up with the grimoire library, but the swimsuit girls around him kept giving him complicated looks and occasionally got annoyed and kicked him in the back.
But then Silver Girl Aleister noticed something.
A certain body part acted as a symbol for Kamijou Touma.
But that right arm was missing past the elbow.
Aleister gasped and then shouted at the top of her lungs.
“You fools! Did no one seal that up!? Don’t leave it exposed! Restrain his right hand immediately!!”
Panicking and shouting only the most crucial part may have been a mistake. The boy and two girls only gave her confused looks. But there simply was not enough time to explain it all from the beginning.
Sometimes, a wound in the back did not start hurting until you realized it was there.
It actually felt odd that this had not happened until now.
With a bubbling sound, something erupted from the end of the incomplete right arm.
It was not blood.
It was not flesh or bone.
Something more – much more – sinister and divine seemed to take control as Kamijou Touma shouted and held his own arm with his other hand.
Was it a dragon?
No, it was not even that.
They might have been able to comprehend it as a threat if it had some obvious form, like an alien with a giant head or a legendary monster made from the fusion of several animals.
But this was different.
This was something else.
Misaka Mikoto could not describe it, but it seemed somehow worse than any of that!!
Dark red bubbles continued to appear from the wound. And instead of ordinary spheres, these were collections of triangular surfaces. They were a lot like polygons from a video game, so they felt like a symbol of the artificial. They were all different sizes and the bigger ones were taller than the boy himself. More triangle-surfaced bubbles welled up from the existing bubbles as if to create a single giant serpentine line. Even as Mikoto watched from close by, she failed to see this as an arm. Even though it had burst out of an incomplete arm.
It was a deep, deep red, but also faintly transparent.
What was that silhouette spinning and crawling within???
Was she caught by surprise?
Or did she feel like she had seen this somewhere before? Either way, Mikoto’s eyes widened.
(That isn’t what it looked like when I saw it before.)
“Wait, what’s happening!? Restrain it…but how!?”
However, the silver girl glared at the #5 instead of the #3.
Or maybe Aleister was more focused on Shokuhou Misaki’s power than the girl herself.
“Mental Out! Use Category 061: Sensory Misidentification. It only has to be temporary, but trick his brain into thinking his right arm exists past the elbow!!”
“His right hand doesn’t exist right now, so you don’t need to worry about him negating this!!”
There was a heavy roar of wind, like a subway train pushing the wind through the tunnel.
If Shokuhou Misaki had been just a moment slower in pulling the TV remote from her bag, the girls might have been swept away from right to left.
Was it known as a phantom pain?
People would feel pain from a body part they had already lost.
All of a sudden, the linked group of triangle-surface bubbles vanished like they had evaporated into the air.
As did the mysterious silhouette swimming within it.
Or perhaps it had been sealed away by an invisible lock.
“Wait, are you okay!?”
Kamijou Touma fell to his knees, so the girls quickly ran over.
(This is only a cheap trick. It won’t last forever.)
The silver girl bit her lip.
And she completed some private calculations.
(It is too soon to let that out. The exterior Kamijou Touma will be obliterated as things are now.)
“Edinburgh to Glasgow? Understood. Release the hounds. We still do not know what she is up to, so we need to pursue her and wait for her to make a mistake. Be careful.”
Not everyone on the Edinburgh Castle grounds was in or around the synthetic tents.
The pink jersey and fluffy sweater girl had been led to St. Margaret’s Chapel, which was surrounded by oppressive stone walls. That may have been a sign of how cautious they were about her. They were not sure what to do with her. She had helped treat Queen Elizard, but then Hamazura had run off with the Sword of State. Given that second part, she doubted they would treat her exactly well. She could hardly complain if they branded her a traitor.
She was inside a confessional on the wall.
Two phone-booth-like rooms were lined up and connected by a lattice window that did not let the occupants see each other’s faces. It was usually used to confess one’s sins and free oneself from those earthly bonds, but it was now being used for a different purpose. For one thing, the listener was not a priest or a nun.
They were clearly in the military.
This was a professional interrogation.
The male voice had an old-fashioned ring to it that made her think of a knight.
“I apologize, miss, but I must leave for a moment. Someone else will take over, but we are sharing our information. Feel free to tell us everything you know.”
“We still have quite a few questions about how exactly it all happened, but we have decided that you personally are harmless. Of course, entering our country without a passport and stealing a car is a violation of our sovereignty and autonomy, but we understand that you had your reasons. And that those reasons were to help others. We are hoping you will continue to act with such benevolence. Goodbye.”
She heard someone say “Thank you, Knight Leader” outside of the confessional. Takitsubo Rikou was left alone in the cramped space for a while. Was that a bagpipe she could hear in the distance? The muffled noise filled the place with the lonely feeling of a school after hours, so it was even worse than complete silence.
She heard what sounded like a Japanese woman’s voice mixed in with the reports being given. Was that the ponytail katana woman she had seen around the castle grounds a few times?
Finally, someone seemed to enter the other room.
This time, it was a woman’s voice.
Was it another knight?
“I apologize for having you repeat yourself over and over. This is part of the process, so don’t let it bother you. First, give me your name.”
“You were traveling with someone else in your same circumstances and you were joined by those who claimed to be a Golden magician and Magic Gods. What were their names?”
“Oh? Not willing to talk anymore? Surely you aren’t going to say you don’t know. Or are you intentionally gathering everyone’s anger to keep attention on yourself? I like that way of thinking. I suppose tormenting you any longer would be beneath my dignity.”
Something suddenly changed.
The voice changed entirely.
Takitsubo frowned at the tone of enjoyment she heard there.
Something was different.
This was not about who was in the other side of the confessional. She had no way of saying anything about someone she had never met before. Takitsubo was focused on things outside the confessional. She had heard people greeting each other before. The confessional was not built to be soundproof. Nevertheless, she could no longer hear anything at all.
She felt the same uncomfortable feeling as someone trying on different outfits in the fitting room when the store’s lights and music suddenly shut off. However, she felt no desire to open the unlockable door and check on things outside. This was not so much a change as it was an invisible threat creeping toward her. She felt like opening the door would lead to a swarm of venomous serpents leaping out at her.
“Do you want to save the runaway Level 0, Hamazura Shiage?”
The fact that this person knew the name of that precious person felt like a gruesome curse.
This person was different.
She had no idea who they were, but they could not be anything as respectable as a knight or soldier. They would not refer to someone as a Level 0. For one thing, she doubted they knew the name Hamazura Shiage. Something had changed. The situation had left the thick rails it had been following. She did not know when the female knight had been replaced, but it felt like an oddity that spoke human language was now sitting in that other room!!
“Or do you want to speak with those beings known as Magic Gods again? Do you want to save the magician of the Golden cabal?”
“I am just here for fun.”
The sweetness of a poisonous flower arrived through the lattice window, but this was different again from Nephthys.
Takitsubo could tell it was corrupting the air.
“I am one who occasionally appears at the edges of history. I am the name only seen in letters. But since the Golden cabal was involved in this incident, I carry some responsibility as the one who authorized its creation.”
Takitsubo no longer relied on words.
She used her senses. She focused her mind on the strange headache-like sensation that was not quite pain and not quite pleasure. It was different again from what she had felt from those Golden magicians while riding the stolen four-wheel-drive vehicle around London. The sensation coming from the other side of that thin lattice window was gentler but still seemed to squeeze at her brain with an invisible hand.
This was dangerous.
However, she would remain trapped and helpless if she always stayed in the safest location.
“I want to save them. Of course I do. Do you know what Hamazura is doing right now!?”
“Excellent. I am glad to hear you say that. I will now help you escape. I will tell you more in time, but I will leave it at this for now.”
The voice arrived softly through the lattice window.
“My name is Anna Sprengel. I am the ruler of the No. 1 Temple in Germany and gave permission for the creation of the No. 3 Isis-Urania Temple in England.”
Between the Lines 2
Before the Golden cabal made a name for itself, the most famous of those organizations was the Rosicrucian Order.
No, technically even the Golden cabal was built underneath the Rosicrucian name.
The Golden cabal had a number of levels and groups, such as the First Order, the Portal, the Second Order, the Third Order, and the cabal-within-a-cabal named Sphere. The First Order was ranked from 0=0 to 4=7 and primarily specialized in ritual magic with a focus on Egyptian deities, but the Second Order that began at 5=6 was represented by a ritual taken from the story of an explorer discovering the tomb of Christian Rosenkreuz. For one thing, the Second Order was referred to as the R.R.etA.C., which stood for “Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis” and meant “Ruby Rose and Golden Cross”. No matter how far the name of the Golden cabal spread, it could never escape that foundation.
Of course, it was only natural to assume the German No. 1 and No. 2 Temples that created that foundation were pure Rosicrucian. Recall the name Rosenkreuz. Even if you knew nothing about magic, it was easy to imagine which country’s language was at the root of this. The situation for the Rosicrucians was just as complicated as it was for the Golden cabal, so let us focus only on the most critical part.
There was no requirement to wear a specific uniform or to reveal any of their actions outside of helping the sick. The members would hide and live among the public and leave no signs that pointed to them specifically instead of the Rosicrucian Order as a whole. However, their skill and influence were not to be denied, so to avoid needless confusion, they would prepare a successor in advance and an annual meeting was held to deepen the bonds between members.
There was also a requirement to keep the Rosicrucian Order a secret for one hundred years after its establishment, but that limit had long since passed since Rosenkreuz himself had passed away.
That alone might make them sound like a harmless organization, but you must not forget. Rules are no more than an ideal. In fact, rules must be established to get ahead of those who would break them otherwise.
Here is an example from a different organization.
Magic must not be used for vulgar purposes based in worldly desires, such as locating buried treasure or exacting personal revenge. Magicians should strive for apparent omnipotence by acquiring as much knowledge and skill as possible and they should constantly battle their own heart to live an honest life. The Golden cabal proclaimed some lofty ideals, but they had actually fallen into a wretched situation where they exchanged magic attacks out of jealousy and suspicion. Recall the Battle of Blythe Road and you will see just how honest and upright they really were. Aleister had lit the fire and Westcott and Mathers had let it burn. That last one in particular had even purged his brethren with the demonic power of Belzébuth and Typhon-Set.
And you must not forget.
Let us back up a little.
Read through the Rosicrucian rules once more.
The members would leave no signs that pointed to them specifically instead of the Rosicrucian Order as a whole.
That raises a question. If that was the rule, why did that woman provide the name Anna Sprengel on several different occasions?
Here is one possible answer:
No matter how superior she might have been, that lady was one of the magicians who chose to break the rules.