Part 144: Black Cat Scratch Marks II
BGM: Bizarre Divertimento
The power of Cornelia's seal formed a shield around the glass. The goat was blown back, unable even to touch the glass because of this power. Its weight made the earth tremble. They could feel that clearly, even inside. But that tremor had also drawn the attention of the nearby goats. A pack of goats started shuffling towards them, and a fight broke out as they each charged forward, trying to reach this new prey first. The window protected by Cornelia's seal would probably be safe. However, there were many windows in the great hall. For the first time, those windows became a source of terror instead of sunlight and a lovely view.
Getrude sealed another window. The goats trying to break in through that one were thrown back. But at the same time, they heard the crash of yet another window being smashed. Scattering fragments of glass everywhere, the massive goats broke through the window frame and entered the building.
"S, stay back. Everyone stay back!"
Those words really were coming from the goat's mouth. Along with a steaming, foul breath. However, it didn't get a chance to say any more. Forehead, neck, shoulder. Chest, side, gut, knee. The stakes of the Seven Sisters buried themselves in deep, one after another.
"What rough, unappetizing flesh for piercing!"
"I just couldn't bear to gobble up any more of these...!"
Their mouths were still stuffed with the bricks they had just been snacking on. Each time they chewed, it made a ghastly sound, like bones being crushed...
"...We will repel THEM."
"Chiester troops, prepare for close-range combat!"
"Hold up. You start firing away and we'll have all the other goats coming to join the party."
"...Let's fall back to the second floor. If we can seal the staircase, that'll buy us some time."
"Everyone, upstairs. Hurry!"
After sniffing noisily as though scanning the smells around them, the goats started chewing on whatever chairs, tables, or curtains were close by. The goats would chew anything to bits, as long as it was near them. If the others were careful not to attract the goats' attention, they would be able to escape from this place... The humans ran on ahead up to the second floor, while the fantasy creatures, who were used to fighting, guarded the rear. The goats were completely absorbed by their feast on everything in the hall.
...By now, they were even brutally chewing away at the portrait of Beatrice, which might be called the symbol of the whole Ushiromiya family...
"Good. Dlanor, seal all the staircases."
"Gertrude and Cornelia will handle IT. However, they need more TIME."
All over the mansion, there were loud beating sounds that might be called knocks and the sound of shattering glass.
"...Well now, ladies and gentlemen. It's time for work."
"Chiester Troops, halt all external tasks. Cancel automatic updates, accept no data, take no prisoners!"
"Eiserne Jungfrau of the Seventh District. By the territory lord's order, carry out your DUTY."
"...I'll lend a hand. Lion, you're in the way. Go up to the second floor."
"Leave this to us and go. You have your own job to do. Protect your family."
"I, I understand. Everyone, stay safe..."
The mansion was filled with the sounds of knocking, crushing, smashing, and chewing. The goats and their wave of destruction was drawing steadily closer...
"The other staircases are tiny, so they went fast. On the other hand, this staircase is huuuge. Looks like you'll have your hands full buying time."
Lambdadelta spoke as though it was someone else's problem. It only took a glance at her face to see that she had no intention of lending a hand. Even so, Beato didn't scold her.
...This was a game between Battler and Ange. Lambdadelta was only a theatergoer who had been invited.
"...Don't think badly of me. Even I'd die if I was torn apart by nothingness. Sorry, but I think I'll stick to being an observer."
"That's what you've always been. Though it is a shame that we can't ask for your help."
"...Nah, she's being nice. Doesn't want to steal our show."
"Heheh. Sure, let's say that's the reason."
As a Voyager Witch, Lambdadelta could retreat from this game board of Battler's if she wanted to. In other words, she was the only one who wasn't in trouble now.
"See you later. I think I'll watch this game between you and Bern 'til the end. I'll be rooting for you."
"As you munch on popcorn?"
"Of course. I think I'll have some soy-sauce butter flavor today."
Lambdadelta vanished with a pop. As soon as she did, a black hole opened up in midair, and Gaap fell out of it.
"Let's go. Everyone, we're counting on you to hold this position...!"
When Gaap snapped her fingers, a large hole opened up under Battler and Beato, swallowing them both. When it spat them back out again, they were in an inky-black sky. Both of them were floating in the night sky. They could see Rokkenjima far beneath them. And, as soon as they realized this, they shuddered.
"...Th, this is...!!"
"It's not just a crowd. It's a sea."
"...People in the future really are amazing. Just how many of them have imagined the tragedy on this island?"
"They're nothing more than worthless drivel from outside the cat box...! Let's clean this place up...!!"
"Now look over there. It's hard to tell, but look at the shoreline."
"It's easy to make out the harbor. Look closely. See it...?"
"D, don't tell me...?!"
"...Yeah, you're probably right. They're eating it. Eating the whole island..."
As EVA yelled this to the heavens, hovering about the raging sea, hail fell down with a pale glow. Each one was a bottle with no label and a Fragment inside. They poured onto the island, were smashed to bits, and the Fragments inside them scattered everywhere. Every now and then, the Fragments would split in two, then split in two again, and every single one of them burst and gave birth to a massive goat.
To say it was like bamboo shoots springing up after the rain would be a vast understatement. The goats writhed about like bubbling, boiling water in a pot. They ate away at everything they saw. They didn't just eat the harbor, but the trees and rocks, the entire coastline itself. Hundreds, thousands, no, tens of thousands of goats continued to eat... They were chewing away at every bit of Rokkenjima, of this final game that Battler had prepared...
"Ahhahahhahahahahaha!! Too bad, Battler-kun! The future wants a tragedy on this island...! Even Ange wants the truth! We'll just chew up all the ostentation, illusions, and fantasy for them!!"
By now, Battler and the others had to admit it. The future wanted a tragedy. Even if the truth of this island had been a gentle, peaceful thing. The future didn't want that. The truth they wanted... was painting over the past.
"Just who are these people...? Are they really so determined to throw us into a tragedy...?"
"That's all I wanted to show you. Hopefully, this'll be useful for making a strategic decision."
"Yeah, thanks. Thanks to that, I feel just awful now."
"Then let's go to the study next, if you don't mind. Goldsmith wants to talk to you."
Gaap snapped her fingers, and another black hole swallowed them up and spat them out in the study.
"...Grandfather, we're in trouble. There's absolutely nowhere left to go...!"
"I know. And even waiting out the storm from here is not an option."
"Ronove and the others should be able to buy us some time, but that's all."
If they just holed up in the mansion and fought from there, it would only be a matter of time before the swarm of goats got them. Trying to repel a few of the goats who barged into the mansion would be like using a cup to bail water from a boat with a hole in it.
"We could fight defensively for a while, but then it would only be a matter of time..."
"We need to think of something while we fight. Can we escape?! Where to?! Is there any way for us to leave the game board?!"
"Outside the game board is outside of our territory. Only a Voyager Witch could leave it."
Only Bernkastel and Lambdadelta could do it. However, there was no way Bernkastel would help. Even Lambdadelta had already announced that she would be an observer instead of lending a hand.
"So, there's nowhere left to run."
"No, there is just one place."
"I see... Is that our only option now...?!"
"Indeed. The Golden Land is the most impenetrable place on this game board. If we wish to escape, it's that or nothing."
"These things are eating the cat box itself. For all we know, they might start chewing away at the Golden Land itself at any moment."
"...Nn, what should we do, Battler...?!"
"No point thinking about it. We're retreating. If we take too long to make a decision, even that road will be closed to us. Evacuate everyone. How can we open the door to the Golden Land?!"
"I just have to open it. However, an immense wave of the anti-magic toxin is emanating from that crowd of goats. It will take some time to open the door."
"So, we've only got to protect this study with our lives until the door's open. Just have to keep doing what we've been doing."
"There's one more problem. The door to the Golden Land cannot be shut unless two people close it from the outside."
"Two from the outside...? What do you mean...?"
As soon as he said this, Battler realized. This must be an agreement made between the three witches who are one...
"Normally, there's no need to go to the trouble of shutting the door... We can't do that this time, though."
"Me, the territory lord, and Beato. It does seem to be the safest choice."
"Indeed. If it's just the two of us, we might even be able to protect ourselves."
"Okay, open the door...!"
Beato waved her pipe, leaving a golden trail behind as she sliced the air vertically.
If you looked closely, you could see that the string was getting thicker, very slowly. The door to the Golden Land certainly was opening, but so slowly that you couldn't even tell if you weren't careful.
At this rate, it would probably take quite some time before it grew big enough to let a person through...
"Grandfather, Gaap, we'll need you to be our inner line of defense!"
"Yes, there may be goats climbing up the outer walls...!"
"Very well. My rifle is hungry for some prey!"
"Understood. It'll be fun dropping those things into the Abyss."
Video: The Siege
BGM: The Executioner
"...I'll let you have the next one."
Countless massive goats, which had forced their way in from rooms and windows all across the mansion, wandered about in search of something to chew. Several of the goats noticed the group of people huddled around the staircase and lumbered closer, but they were pulverized by merciless attacks. Ronove's shields easily halted the charging goats, and Virgilia's magic spears were pinning the giants against the walls.
Dlanor's and Will's blades were also slicing easily through goats. The pinpoint strikes of the Seven Sisters of Purgatory could pierce the vitals of and finish off any opponent, no matter how large. The Chiester Sisters were holding their own too. They had blasted enough goats to bits with one shot from their high-caliber firearms that you couldn't count the kills with both hands. Given a limited number of opponents, they were more than a match for these goats.
However, they weren't just up against a crowd, but an entire sea. It was like a pebble trying to face the approaching waves of a stormy sea...
"You run out of bullets and you're nothing but rabbits. Laaame!"
"I don't wanna hear that from a bunch of seven paperweights that can only kill one person at a time nyeh."
"Yeah, keep them coming!! Don't let us get bored!!"
The hall was filled with massive goat corpses. As if in fear of this sight, the goats that came in one after another formed a wall, keeping their distance.
"...Perhaps they think they're no match for us."
"I wish that were TRUE, but it seems to be little more than wishful THINKING."
"What're those guys doing...? They're looking at us... and whispering to each other."
"Apparently, they have enough intelligence to talk with each other and cooperate."
Then, they nodded at each other as though deciding something, and the whole group stirred.
...What are they doing? It almost looks like they're lining up in a different order...
"The enemy is changing its formation...! It appears that the individuals with greater destructive power are being gathered in the front lines!"
"And so what? Let's go!!"
"Wait! Something's wrong...!"
Lucifer took aim at one of them, going for its forehead. The other six sisters followed her lead, trying to pierce the vital organs all over the creature's body. However, there was no sound of pierced flesh. The Seven Sisters of Purgatory were knocked back, unable to cause even the smallest wound.
"Wh, what?! What just happened?!"
"...Those guys are talking about something."
The goats kept whispering the same thing, over and over, as they slowly approached the Seven Sisters. All of them whispered unanimously.
"...The Seven Sisters of Purgatory... are fantasy creatures... personifying stakes for ceremonial sacrifices..."
"...They're actually paperweights... They're actually paperweights..."
As they whispered curses that denied the Seven Sisters' existence, the goats lumbered closer.
"Get back, Purgatory troops!! We'll cover you!"
"It's time you learned a lesson, goats!!"
The golden bows of the Chiester troops mowed down the wall of goats with shower of bright golden bullets. Some of the goats were torn to pieces, but some of them seemed completely unaffected. Then, the goats who were uninjured all whispered as one.
"...They're actually rabbit dolls... Maria's imagination, fantasy, fictional beings..."
"...All of the crimes can be explained by mystery... All fantasy is irrelevant..."
"We've got lots of people who won't accept the existence of magic!"
"And that means?!"
"No magical attacks will have any effect on them!"
"D, does that mean all of our attacks will be completely useless?!"
"...Endless Nine nyeh. If they don't accept that we exist, our attacks can't hurt them nyeh."
"Is that possible...?!"
"We'll have to test it."
The crowd of goats dashed into it with a terrifying force. While some goats were blown away by it, several of them slipped right through the magical barrier.
"...Ronove is a creature of magic, a creature of fiction..."
"...Genji is Ronove's vessel... An imaginary version of Genji..."
"I see, so even my attacks will not affect some of them."
There was no longer any point in Virgilia trying out her magic spear. Now that some of the goats had decided that her existence was fictional, she could no longer hurt them. Even these great demons and great witches, as well as high-level furniture and weapons, were overcome with fear of the crowd that surrounded them, a crowd that would not be affected by any of their attacks...
"...Wh, what are we going to do...?!"
"...W, we'll keep fighting until the end. You do not have permission to die in battle...!"
A shriek from one of the goats became a signal for the wall of them to break. They pushed forward with gaping mouths and foul breath, each trying to reach their prey first, trying to return these fictional creatures to nothingness.
Virgilia leapt in front of and held several of the Seven Sisters, who had fallen on their butts, overpowered by the ferocity of the approaching goats. However, even Virgilia was a fictional creature to these goats. They could chew through her like cotton candy.
Ronove threw himself at the oncoming goats. Even he would be chewed apart easily. Knowing this, Ronove leapt forward.
"...Even if my magic no longer functions, I am still the fiercely passionate and loyal man I always was. And furthermore, did you expect that I would simply sit by and watch a lady die?"
"...Ronove is fantasy... Ronove is fantasy..."
Ronove slammed his right fist into the side of a goat's face. As soon as he pulled it back, he swung his left leg into the goat's gut, then spun around into a reverse roundhouse that caught the goat again.
Ronove knew. He could do less damage than a mosquito bite against those who didn't accept his existence. This was the height of anti-magic defensive power, Endless Nine.
"...Ronove is fantasy... a fiction... an illusion...!!"
The goat swung its log-like fist with a sound like a storm. Ronove dodged by a hair. If he had been an instant slower, the massive arm would have crushed his head like glass.
"Ronove...!! Stop this, run...!!"
"I, Ronove, cannot help but rise to the challenge when I see a woman in a pinch. A bad habit of mine."
Ronove grinned and tried to act tough.
There was nothing he could do here and now... except becoming a shield to buy time. He had already chosen to abandon his life for this.
"...Ronove is fantasy... He couldn't exist... he couldn't exist..."
"...Those of fantasy do not exist... Do not exist..."
"...Fantasy is all... ridiculous... ridiculous..."
The goats kept coming, trying to feast on Ronove. None had any pretensions of making this a one-on-one fight. Nothing mattered except chewing apart fantasy. Even just a nibble. As they gnashed those ruthless jaws and fangs, they gathered around Ronove...
Ronove's foot hit something, and he stumbled. In the same instant, several massive arms reached out and lifted him up.
"What are you doing, Chiesters? Shoot them!!"
"...We would've done that already if it'd have any effect nyeh..."
"Everyone, please stand back. I should be able to buy you some time as they savor my flesh. However, I think they'll find that Ronove has quite a few little bones in him."
An elbow rammed itself into the massive, hideous jaws that were trying to chew Ronove's head. Of course, the goat did moan, but that did nothing but deprive just one goat from his right of getting the first bite of Ronove's head. Many jaws opened wide, trying to crush him and throw him down into those heartless stomachs, which would permit no cheerful fantasies to exist...
"...I won't accept fantasy... won't accept..."
"...It's possible to explain everything with mystery... possiblllle..."
"Fantasy is faaaaaaake, everything is mysteryyyyyyyy...!!"
The Seven Sisters used this chance to fly forward and grab Ronove, dragging him back.