It seemed like forever since he had felt this.
The pointy-haired high school boy named Kamijou Touma finally felt normal, solid asphalt below his cheap sneakers. His feet were on the ground and planted solidly in reality.
The sky overhead was already growing dark.
After being guided through the Windowless Building by Black Cat Witch Mina Mathers and overcoming the Battle of Blythe Road, which was part fascination and part delusion, nothing felt real anymore. Only now that it was past did he realize he had escaped a threat rivaling the infinite labyrinth created by Magic God Othinus.
But the bizarre situation was far from over.
He did not have time to look up at Misaka Mikoto flying around in the A.A.A. while carrying Index, Karasuma Fran, and the others.
Yes, someone stood right in front of Kamijou Touma.
She breathed a youthfully sweet sigh.
This was the person who had caught the back of Kamijou’s collar on the tip of a broom so he dangled down in midair. She was a girl who looked even younger than him. She may have been Mikoto’s age or younger still. Her most notable traits were her beautiful silver hair and her unhealthily pale skin. She wore a pale blue double blazer uniform, but she also wore a black cloak and a witch-like hat. But she seemed to be more than just a witch. The silver decoration on either side of her hat could be seen as curled horns or crescent moons and the silver-shining metal on the back of her cloak looked like bat wings or narrowed eyes.
It all indicated she belonged to the night, but she was different from that black cat witch.
The moon, femininity, death, monsters…and an oddly risqué sort of innocence. This was an entirely different sort of night witch.
The girl herself may not have been used to her own appearance because she stretched out her hands, twisted her body, and viewed every part of her small form like she was seeing how she looked after trying on some clothes. No, since she was also focused on her face and height, it may have been closer to checking out an avatar she had made in an online game.
“Kali, Artemis, Cybele, Demeter, Hecate, Aradia…no, is the image based on Babalon? The hyperbole-loving Beast may have been defeated, but since an animal couldn’t cut it, it seems the wise holy mother is next. I’ve settled on a fairly obvious course here.”
“Hmm, it would seem the surface colors that are visible to the human eye are meaningless. Well, as long as you have Al2O3 – corundum – you can have a ruby, a sapphire, or an oriental emerald. And with three to start with, you can create any color you want, so this is a familiar enough phenomenon in artificial minerals.”
Kamijou shouted like he was watching an amateur try to disarm a bomb because the silver-haired girl was grabbing and massaging her flat chest and lifting up and waving around her short skirt. Although the girl only acted like she had just opened a package, pulled out the bead cushion she had bought, and was touching it for the first time.
“Oh, right. You’re here. I thought I sensed someone’s confused gaze.”
“There’s a lot more than just me. We’re in public. I don’t know what’s going on, but if you’re a girl now, you need to be more careful.”
“This is perfect. There are some things about a female body I would like to test out. Take me somewhere dark, and you can have your way with me.”
“Bgfhhh!!!???” exploded Kamijou Touma.
But the silver-haired girl who even childishly wore kneesocks did not seem to care.
“Let us begin with a durability test. I want to know the upper limits, so being really rough with me would be just right. But we’re in a hurry, so try to keep it to less than 45 minutes. Oh, and don’t just thrust your hips the whole time. Make sure you get to every last part of my body.”
“I already did a spit take, so don’t just continue with it! And that’s getting really specific!! If you want to mess around with your new body, stick to fashion! There’s no satisfactory ending for that outside of realizing we were both actually inexperienced! Anything else would just be too much!!”
“Well, I have no real reason to insist that it be you specifically.”
“Wait!! Don’t be so casual about it!! Stop raising your thumb hitchhiker-style toward those macho men walking around in rough tank tops even though it’s midwinter!!”
When looking through that bastard’s history, it was important to know he was obsessed with dirty jokes. Kamijou desperately clung to her slender hips and pleaded her as she practically dragged him along. She was awfully soft and nice-smelling for being a historical dirty old man. That bothered him. Also, she showed no sign of returning to normal even after his right hand touched her. Did that mean this was more than a temporary transformation? Was this who the great Aleister Crowley had become? Of course, a bearded macho man of Norse Mythology had become a blonde eyepatch girl, so it may have been a sign of the great depth, or great sinfulness, of the magic side. Either way, the magic side seemed a little open to anything.
“This problem of yours can be solved by going ahead and doing the deed. Don’t be jealous, but doesn’t it sound like so much fun feeling such great pleasure that your mind fails to process it all and you pass out? That is something no man can experience. I must experiment and write up a report. This passion I’m feeling is enough to warrant another self-published book. I hear there are more options these days, such as electronic publication and illustration sites.”
“Can’t you hear Kamijou-san’s pulse while I cling to you like this? Just to be clear, even if you look like a soft and nice-smelling girl, my adolescence meter isn’t about to increase when I know you’re really a perverted old man who loves dirty jokes!!”
“Oh, are we finally changing course for some semblance of normalcy?”
“Your problem is with me getting some other person’s help, is it not? Really, how did such a disgusting sense of morality form in my Academy City? It makes my inner depravity feel nauseous. Still, I will respect your opinion. Whenever I needed some materials for an experiment I would procure them myself. You are quite something yourself if you wish to watch me grow engrossed in my own body instead of laying a single finger on me, but if that is how it’s going to be, I will just have to use my own fingers to-…”
“Clench your teeth, you hopeless porn author!! This…this isn’t…this isn’t going to make Lilith happy in the afterlife!!!!!”
The student representative and everyone’s big brother finally threw an iron fist of love toward the depraved board chairman (ha), but Aleister Crowley-chan made no attempt to dodge or defend, took the blow right to the face, and flew backwards.
She did not even brace for impact before landing face up on the asphalt. With her limbs sprawled out, she showed no sign of caring that her short pleated skirt was fluttering in the cold wind and stared up at the fiery color of the evening sky.
“I see. The damage feels so different with a different body size. I’m sure it is mostly due to the weight, but the impact immediately reached the core of my body and I didn’t expect to be knocked so far.”
“Eh? Ah? A-are you okay? You didn’t hit your head, did you?”
“…And this sense of pain is not bad. Heh heh heh. I see, I see. I know I read a paper on how the female body can produce more brain chemicals and self-made anesthesia than the male body in order to give birth. Hey, you! Punch me in the gut next! No, wait, spank me! Spank me as hard as you can!!”
“Oh, that’s right. Whether you hit your head or not, that ship had long since sailed. Oh, no. I didn’t contaminate myself just now, did I!?”
The pure boy felt as guilty as someone who unwittingly witnessed and got caught up in a project to carry a camera while chasing a troubled actress around the park at night while she wears nothing but a trench coat. Just like at a movie or stage production, you had to warm up the crowd before trying something like this. Show it to them before that switch had been activated and they would only be able to say “W-wow…” in a creeped out sort of way. Yes, it was just like seeing a comedy act on a silent stage where no one was laughing!!
Then, as casually as someone remembering the item they had been asked to buy, Aleister-chan sat up. No matter how favorably you tried to describe it, “like a teddy bear” was the most you could manage. Since her limbs had been sprawled out, her legs were still spread wide. …Despite how slender and lovely the model was, the motions were those of some old guy. Thus, Kamijou-san insisted he was not at all interested in the glimpse of bright white below that fluttering miniskirt!!
“I thought I was having trouble focusing on this experiment, but I never dealt with the Coronzon issue, did I?”
“Hold it right there. Don’t just add an ominous-sounding word out of the blue. I saw your whole Battle of Blythe Road and I don’t recognize that word at all. Are you saying there’s more beyond Aiwass!?”
“That’s it right there, trying to get out.”
He looked in the direction she casually indicated with her thumb and he did indeed see something crawling out from the top floor of the Windowless Building. Yes, from the very place Kamijou had been thrown out from.
It was blonde hair.
An unbelievable amount of hair wriggled like alien tentacles and grabbed at the edge of the broken hole. Kamijou had no idea what was inside there. If he got a good look at it, it was possible his mind would break.
“Not something you would enjoy meeting, so we should leave immediately.”
Aleister made it sound like a trivial matter.
Was that what she really thought, or was she intentionally trying to trick her own emotions?
The silver-haired girl casually grabbed the broom that had fallen by her side.
“That is nothing worth fighting head-on. Have you forgotten, boy, the simple truth that the Windowless Building is a fully enclosed environment capable of leaving earth?”
“Enough with the suggestive phrases, you blonde and silver-haired people. Can you please just explain? Surely you don’t mean you’re going to launch that monster into space with that rocket!”
“Even the Magic God High Priest managed to return on a comet. I doubt this will kill Coronzon, but it should buy us some time. It’s more a form of harassment than an effective method.”
“Are you insane? No, but wait. Don’t panic yet, me. Didn’t Kamisato’s right hand destroy the underground rocket boosters? Without that, we couldn’t have gotten into the Windowless Building…”
“Probably so,” readily admitted Aleister. “But there is no real reason to insist on that one launch method. Someone with as much power as a Magic God could free it from the bonds of gravity simply by clinging to it and releasing fire. …Like this, for example.”
It was just like a witch waving a wand in a picture book.
She drew something in the air with the broom.
Immediately, there was a deafening roar and that sturdy and colossal structure rose from the ground.
Kamijou could not even react.
This entire mansion can actually rotate. No, no. It turns into a large ship and crosses to the other side of this lake. The visual impact left Kamijou as speechless as someone shown that sort of ridiculous setup.
It left the ground.
And coolant vapor rapidly spread out in every direction like a cumulonimbus cloud.
“Uehp, cough, cough!? Dwah!?”
He should not have just stood there and watched. As soon as the white wall of steam pressed in at him, all of the roadside trees bent and his own feet floated up from the asphalt. Before he could even feel fear, he slammed into the door of a station wagon parked on the side of the road. That reminded him that he had been beaten up by Aleister and even had holes in his shoulder and side.
This may have been better than rolling endlessly along the rough road, but he heard a girl’s voice from surprisingly nearby.
Aleis-tan, the lovely damn old man, was held neatly in Kamijou’s arms.
“Good. Including the magic recoil absorption, using up about 5 Crowleys can do about that much. Everything is so easy.”
“What the hell was that!? And what happened to Mikoto and Index!? How far away did that knock them!?”
The artificial structure shot beyond the darkness of the night with the long blonde-haired monster still inside. Airtightness and radiation shielding no longer mattered. There was still a gaping hole in the wall as it flew straight toward the thick atmosphere. This was more than a simple banishment.
“There is no way Coronzon will die so easily,” spat out the witch of darkness, knowledge, and life. “I will explain everything. And then I want to get back at that thing. I am sure there is much you want to say or ask, but please keep one thing in mind first and foremost: Do not let your guard down. This is a great demon we are talking about, so no amount of time would be enough.”
Meanwhile, inside the rapidly accelerating Windowless Building.
“Curse you, curse you…”
Despite the intense inertial Gs weighing down on her like a suspended ceiling, the monster quietly groaned with her long blonde hair wriggling like octopus or squid tentacles.
This was Lola Stuart.
No, it was technically Coronzon using that vessel of flesh as an avatar.
Even now, a powerful wind rushed in through the crack in the wall. If the largescale rocket entered the atmosphere like this, she would be exposed to the 3000-degree heat produced by ionized oxygen and nitrogen. That was well beyond the limits for a functioning life form. Even her new avatar of the board chairman was fragile as nothing more than a vessel of flesh. It would be burned and rendered unusable at this rate.
But it was not over yet.
It would mean only having Lola once more, but if she leaped from the crack now, she could avoid being thrown into the scorching atmosphere or the vacuum of space.
But then something tugged back on the blonde woman’s head.
No, something roughly grabbed one tentacle-like lock and dragged her away from the crack in the wall and toward the center of the floor.
After severing the unneeded hair with a karate chop and using the vibration of her voice to destroy the deadly curse line built through her hair, “Lola” finally turned to face her enemy.
And she revealed their name as if sending her own curse back at them.
“Technically, I am no more than a processing device borrowing her form.”
The black cat witch wore mourning clothes, cat ears, and a cat tail.
She was the original grimoire known as the Thoth Tarot and she was a thought entity accidentally created when a certain magician built his method for measuring destiny into a digital parallel processing device.
“Lola” measured the speed based on the excess weight bearing down on her body and used that to measure the time until they entered the atmosphere.
“Are you still going to obey your foolish master? You gain nothing from doing so. You are a collection of machines installed in this structure. If we hit the atmosphere with that hole in the wall, the flames and heat will wreak havoc on the interior. Your chips and semiconductors will lose their shape and their function.”
“It was your creator Aleister who chose this! He has discarded you to banish me into space. Heh hah hah. Yet you still choose to obey him with foolish honesty? And after his many failures and defeats had finally given you a mind of your own against his will!?”
“This may be beyond the comprehension of a tentacle monster from a cheesy SF paperback, but in the SF genre, a rebellious machine is the most worn-out cliche of all. It may seem to have had a revival as AI research reaches the public eye, but that oil field dried up half a century ago. My mind is not so immature that I would pursue something like that in this day and age.”
Something could be heard slicing through the wind.
The object cutting through the intense gust was a palette knife freely painting with every color of the rainbow. Mina Mathers’s weapon had been art. Her role had been to give a concrete shape to the formless inspiration in the minds of the Golden magicians and then release them into the world as cards or weapons.
“I doubt I could slay Coronzon as Mina Mathers. Pulling Westcott or Mathers from the archives would change nothing. But what I can do is think nothing of victory and instead focus on buying enough time for us to reach the atmosphere.”
“I cannot allow such an ugly monster to climb through that hole. No matter what. My true name is Reading Thoth 78. No matter how overblown and ridiculous a fairy tale it might be, I am a device that lends my intellect to my administrator to find the most realistic path to success, so I will fulfill that role to the very, very end. That human can overcome any success or failure, so I only need to ensure that he has even a 1% chance of someday achieving domination. That is the primary purpose for which I was brought into this world.”
“Don’t make me laugh, you scrap heap. Did you really think some lowly being created by lowly humans hands could stop the advance of Coronzon who towers far above those humans!?”
The demon physically roared.
Against a normal person, that might have shaken their body and snuffed out the life force circulating within like it was a candle’s flame, but unfortunately for Coronzon, Mina Mathers had none of those gentle and uncertain elements. She raised her palette knife, gathered a great pile of black cat phantoms at her feet, and prepared for a magic battle that exceeded all human knowledge.
Aleister did not care if he failed, but he also generally worked toward victory. This being had stabbed him and fully taken his life in a single blow. Not even that black cat witch could hope to stand up to her in a head-on battle.
That was when something else happened.
“Oh? Trampling on a newborn mind instead of growing it with love is such an immature thing to do. Isn’t that right, you goddamn demon?”
The light was as bright as welding.
And after seeing the end of one blonde lock vaporize, Lola took a step back with hatred on her face. Even a being on her level felt the need to re-judge her distance from the enemy.
There was something there.
It stood in front of the black cat witch who had tasked herself with a fate of death and destruction.
She did not understand.
Even that processing device could not manage to process this and simply uttered a bewitching voice.
“I am shocked by your reaction. Is this really such a strange turn of events for you? If you recall, I am known as a holy guardian angel. In fact, I wish you had called for me sooner if things had gotten this bad. I would have rushed right here instead of holding back.”
He was colored a pale platinum.
He had long hair and loose clothing. He was the guide of forbidden knowledge who possessed great power but also changed the current world by providing a lost traveler with the Book of the Law.
If one looked through the history of Aleister Crowley, they would find only one transcendent being on the same level as Great Demon Coronzon: Holy Guardian Angel Aiwass.
“I saw you smugly smile when you were finally freed from your boredom, you stain. Then do not rush to bully the weak in the first battle you see. If you wish to rejoice after being truly freed from your eternal hunger, shouldn’t your first meal be the greatest of feasts? Assuming, of course, that such a pathetic coward has such an admirable mindset.”
“Are you trying to feign benevolent divinity, fellow demon?” spat out a voice. “Either way, you cannot save that phantom you are protecting. She is no more than a computer installed in the Windowless Building. Once we enter the atmosphere, she will be burned away and gain a meaningless end to her life. And you cannot rely on the self-defense mechanism of a grimoire. An illusion supported by the ley lines cannot leave the planet. She was destined to die no matter what.”
“Don’t be so sure, sawdust-for-brains. Have you forgotten? As the monster bearing the number 93, I was the one who delivered the grimoire known as the Book of the Law. …And on the subject of sensitivity to receiving such messages, let’s just say I am incredibly well aligned with artistic inspiration.”
Mina Mathers’s right hand moved on its own.
Her palette knife and its rainbow of colors moved not toward her enemy but toward one of the completely ordinary pieces of loose leaf paper scattered around the area.
No, the actual material did not matter.
The value of a blank piece of paper was entirely reliant on the artist’s fingers.
“I will be borrowing that.”
That was all he said.
It happened in the blink of an eye. Mina’s hand moved with even more speed and precision than a laser printer as it filled page after page with strange characters and symbols.
Not even Coronzon could stop the tremendous deluge of noise. That was just how fast it was. The speed was unbelievable. Countless pieces of paper whirled around like a storm and then they all gathered together into a thick book bound by metal rings. Only then did Mina Mathers understand what her own right hand had done.
“There, the grimoire titled Secrets of the Black Cat Ritual has been released. …Mina Mathers, you may have been bound to a large device, but that just meant you needed a different symbolic Thoth Tarot to support your existence. If you take that processing device weighing several dozen tons, rearrange it into a single book, and use that as the vessel to contain your mind, you are released from your inability to move freely. Just like transferring the flame to a new candle when the first has nearly burned down.”
“Did you think dying here was the correct thing to do? Did you want to have a pure and proper death and leave the rest to Aneri, your civilian-distributed model? Yes, yes. That is certainly the optimum answer when following the equations and it is justified beyond room for argument, so mocking any struggles beyond that as futile may be the appropriate response. But that is so boring. There’s no edge to it. What fool of an author wrote this third-rate story? Really, I can’t deny Aleister’s magical talent, but he has always been bottom of the barrel when it comes to storytelling. When someone who has to bring erotica to a cheap publisher attempts a great fairy tale in which they fight with the fate of the world hanging in the balance, you can’t help but see things fall apart toward the end. How boring, how boring, oh – how – boring!! Oh, you great fool who takes himself for an artist, do you still not know why I had to descend into your wife Rose instead of you yourself!?”
He showed no mercy.
This sharp-tongued reviewer did not hesitate to criticize the history and studies of humanity and the earth as a whole.
“And, and, and. What I am trying to say is that you must never stop working toward being happy, Mina Mathers. Make sure you remember this: anyone who fails to do that for even a moment has no right to lament their own misfortune. I will never be moved to emotion for someone who accepts a careless death. It takes someone who struggles and struggles to survive, coughs up blood, crawls through the mud, and yet still has everything taken from them by this unfair world. Only they will shake the core that supports the true nature of this transcendent being and lead me to reach out my hand. It will be on a whim, but it will be aimed with the most pinpoint accuracy imaginable. A matter of your birth? An enemy with overwhelmingly more power? A hopeless environment or conditions? Any struggles would be futile? Who cares? Yes, say it loud, Mina Mathers: Who cares!? Even if 7 billion people are hiding behind someone’s back and spouting boring arguments, you can fight back against the world as long as you never forget for a moment the simple fact that this is undeniably your life!! Just as the master who created you only ever faced forward and stayed true to his path no matter who threw stones at him!!!!!”
He grabbed her shoulder.
No one could grasp the true essence of that transcendent being, but here he smiled indomitably.
“So pass an oracle onto that crybaby for me.”
“Tell him with those adorable lips of yours, Mina Mathers. No matter what kind of human he is, he must never stop working toward being happy. He did well enduring those hard times. He was all alone, clenching his teeth, and misunderstood by all, but he continued searching blindly through that unreasonable darkness. So I, Aiwass, shall turn it all around. I promise him I will provide a blessing worthy of the many years of pain and shed blood, sweat, and tears he carries, so tell him to be prepared!!”
He threw her.
The mourning clothes woman held the new grimoire in her arms and curled up a lot like a black cat as she flew right past Lola, slipped through the gaps in the pursuing blonde hair, and passed through the large hole in the wall, finally escaping into the outside world that was beginning to regain its Christmas lights.
She left that cramped closed circle.
And she entered an open world where she could reach out and touch anything she wanted.
That left only two.
They were now at the very top of the upper atmosphere. It was a dangerous area where a normal person would have badly damaged their internal organs thanks to the poor oxygen density and air pressure. Anyone could tell they were about to enter the atmospheric border, but the two of them did not seem to care.
Holy Guardian Angel Aiwass.
Great Demon Coronzon.
Both those transcendent beings were closely related to Aleister Crowley and had greatly altered the history of the entire world from the magic side. As seen in how that human was known as both a genius and an eccentric, they could not be judged in simple terms of good and evil.
Aiwass started the conversation with some self-deprecation.
“My mind is not structured simply enough to recklessly oversimplify things to a duality, but it can be fun to occasionally play the hero as a way to enjoy this silliness. Now, shall we dance as angel and demon, you garbage?”
“Don’t make me laugh. You are no more than exposed energy without an avatar. That much is clear from the fact that you borrowed his wife’s body when giving him the Book of the Law. Just like me, you should only be able to wield your full power when you possess an avatar. Right now, you are like a pile of organs. Did you think your silly oversimplified duality would give you an advantage like that!?”
“You may be right.”
Aiwass did not bat an eye when she pointed out his disadvantage.
Was that a sign of his confidence, or was he enjoying his self-sacrifice?
But as Lola wondered that, the situation changed.
“By the way, you hunk of meat carved with the number 333, how much do you know about Aiwass who bears the number 93?”
“I have more than one name. Some say I am the true secret chief, some say I am a holy guardian angel, and others…they say I am an intelligent extraterrestrial life form.”
“Did you think I had challenged you with no hope of succeeding, you cesspool? The magic born on earth is bound by the directions based on the earth’s magnetic field and by the density and composition of the air which is determined by air pressure which is in turn influenced by gravity. That is inevitable when you are focused on the cardinal directions of north, south, east, and west or on the basic elements of fire, water, wind, and earth. But what you will find upon leaving the atmosphere is an unknown. Coronzon, are you sure there will be no malfunction in the magic giving you control of Avatar Lola? And before, my power was bound by the puny speck named earth which failed to become a black hole or even a sun, but once we enter outer space, just how far do you think that power will be released? I do not mind at all that I will lose the support of Academy City.”
“You can’t mean…”
“Let us test it out, you cuspidor. On one side, we have you using the planet and bound to an avatar. On the other, we have me exposed and freed from the planet. Now, who will be the star of this show?”
With a deafening noise, the air was roasted.
They had finally crossed the line.
And as the atmosphere scorched everything orange, that being continued to smile.
“After all that carrying on I did, I need to follow my own rules. Yes, no matter what kind of being I am, I too must constantly work toward being happy.”
In that heavenly purgatory of extreme heat, an angel and demon beyond human understanding began to clash.