Part 155: Ange's Choice
Video: Battle for the Golden Land, Part 2
BGM: Bizarre Divertimento
By the time Battler and Ange reached it, it was falling apart like the sand in an hourglass. They tried punching and kicking it to make it break faster, but nothing they did hastened the process.
"...It looks like she broke it a while ago, but it'll probably take some time before it's gone..."
"Just a bit longer, I think. If we could just buy time for five minutes..."
Judging by the speed the magic circles were crumbling and the general appearance of the whole scene, it looked like it would be over soon. However, even if it was just five minutes, would that be soon enough now?
They turned around.
Even for Battler, who had seen Beato's fights many times over, the battle between Lambdadelta and Bernkastel was so mind-defying that he couldn't think of a single word to describe it. When he finally managed to find a word, it was 'a universe'.
Each time a battle between Lambdadelta and Bernkastel unfolded, a universe was created between the pair of them. Big Bangs would take place, universes would be created, galaxies beyond number would be born and erased, born and erased. Then, just when it seemed that a Big Crunch had occurred and that the universe had met its demise, there would be another Big Bang, and another universe would be created. It was like watching gods playing. The two witches created and destroyed worlds over and over again, almost as though two Creators were fighting to prove that their universe was the right one. If you let your guard down in the slightest, then just watching this would steal your soul. That's how it felt.
"Go back as soon as you get the key. I can't leave Lambdadelta on her own."
"You're going to jump into that fight?!"
"I can't leave her on her own."
"Their fight may defy common sense. However, they're perfectly and evenly matched. So... If anyone jumps in, even a single weak human like me, something might break."
A perfect balance maintained by two great powers can easily break by adding even a little strength to one side. However, actually rushing in there to add that little bit of strength would be literally suicidal.Like a moth flying into a furnace. It might burn up before it even reaches it.
"Once you get the key, go straight back to the Golden Land. We don't know how long they can hold out, remember?"
"...I can't go back alone, not when everyone is fighting."
"That's right, this is your fight. So fight. Though you regret not dying with everyone else, you must overcome that feeling and live in the future. That's what you decided to do, right?"
Ange had no words to respond with. Her brother and everyone else would probably die. So, she wanted to die in the same place and the same time as everyone else. However, that could not be allowed, and she mustn't wish for it. She had already made up her mind. She had sworn... to live in the future, without turning back to look at everyone's deaths.
"Of the two, one will lead you to the future. Don't worry. I'm sure you won't choose the wrong one now. Also, once you go through it, don't turn back until the door closes."
"Why can't I turn back?"
"When the door closes, you won't be able to see our fate anymore. In other words, we'll be shut inside the cat box."
"A fate inside a cat box... has endless truths."
"That's right. We might've lost pathetically, or we might've made a miraculous comeback and survived. In other words, if you, the Witch of the Future, are sent into the future without witnessing the end of our conflict, we'll still have a chance at victory."
"However, if you keep on looking at us, you'll see when we get annihilated. That'll put the odds of our defeat at 100%. So, to give us a miraculous victory, you must not turn back once you go through that door! Got it?!!"
"So, I'll go and help Lambdadelta. If you go back to the Golden Land after seeing me walk off like a hero, that's how my story will end for you."
"...The result of your battle will be sealed in the cat box. So, you can never 'lose'."
"Exactly. So don't look back. You'll have the key soon. Go back to the Golden Land like your life depends on it. So, real quick, I have one message for the you of the future. Don't forget it, and engrave it into your heart!"
"...No matter what happens, never abandon the hopes that keep you alive. All of us are always behind you. If you just believe, we can even speak to you! Believe it! If one thing is certain, it's that miracles happen when you believe!"
Surely, one of them had delivered a powerful blow. There were no further explosions, so surely, that strike had decided the match... When the smoke clears, who will be left standing...?
The magic circle sealing the key still needed several minutes to dissolve...
BGM: About Face
All that came into sight... was Bernkastel. There was no answering voice from Lambdadelta. If this was a sign of her victory, it did not cause Bernkastel's expression to grow any clearer.
"...Too bad, Lambda. And I thought we'd be able to build a universe together. It's too bad, really too bad."
...Bernkastel was still focusing all her nerves on the battle. So, she took no notice of Battler and Ange by the key. However, she would probably notice soon. And then, there would be nowhere to run. The last circle of the magic circle was starting to fade away. However, almost cruelly, the final circle went slower than the rest...
Seeing that, any hopes that it would dissolve in a minute, or maybe a few dozen seconds, were crushed absolutely. Battler readied himself.
"...Well, this fight probably won't work out as well as the last one, but it looks like I'm up now."
"You're great, Ange. I'm proud that you didn't try to stop me."
With tears still pouring down her face, Ange lovingly rubbed her cheek against the hand that had been patting her head.
"...I've got to gather the kitties again. I thought Battler would be with her, but I don't see him for some reason. After all, one guy like him would be about as annoying as a pebble in my shoe."
The smoke cleared completely, and they saw a huge cloud of candy bits floating around, like it was Lambdadelta's corpse. A star-shaped cookie bounced off of Bernkastel's head. It was missing one of its points, giving it a lonely feeling.
"...Lambdadelta. Live with me. We'll become a single universe, with you inside me."
Bernkastel chewed the cookie... and swallowed it.
Bernkastel's stomach suddenly swelled like a balloon. The bulge rose from her stomach to her throat, then exploded like a firework from her mouth. From Bernkastel's mouth spewed fireworks, sparks, fragments of candy.
"You really should fix those habits you've had since you were a cat. Here's a hint: if you find a piece of candy lying on the ground somewhere, don't pick it up and eat it."
Bernkastel doubled over even more, still spitting up an exploding firework. The birth of a small universe from that sweet had hit her directly from the inside of her stomach. Even Bernkastel couldn't withstand that. As Bernkastel repeatedly vomited fireworks so violently that it seemed her guts would spill out, her body flickered in and out of existence, and she glared at Lambdadelta with a terrifying expression. Her body was flickering because she had taken so much damage that even maintaining her form was now difficult.
"How slovenly, Bern. Your body's falling apart."
"*cough*, *cough*cough*, uuuggghhh, Lambdaaaaaaaaaaaa, *cough*!!"
"I sort of felt like losing for a bit. But I changed my mind. If I became a single universe with you, you wouldn't whisper to me of your love anymore."
"...True. I'm not the type to give food to a fish I've already caught."
"I know. That's why you shine so beautifully. You'll lead someone on, but never actually dote on them, just like a proud queen of cats."
"I'll turn you into a cardboard box and make you my scratching post!!"
The reefs, which resisted the ocean that was trying to cover them, were smashing waves left and right. The Seven Sisters of Purgatory and the Inquisitors of Heresy specialized at close-range combat, and were rapidly building a mountain of corpses. The witches fought hard too, but they would have preferred to fight at a distance if they could. Just relying on fantasy creatures wouldn't be enough. In these battle conditions, all of the humans were thrust right into the center of the fight.
Everyone in the Ushiromiya family displayed a fighting spirit equal to the witches and guarded their backs. Even humans are not powerless. They have guns. If the goats supported fantasy, they could use these as the ultimate anti-magic weapons. If the goats supported mystery, they could use these in a much more obvious way. Those .45 Long Colt bullets delivered fatal wounds to each and every goat they struck.
"If you tell an Ushiromiya to sink, you'll just make him fight all the harder!! Little girl, you have no idea what the Ushiromiya family is!!"
"You were dead even before 1986, weren't you?!! It's about time you stopped moving, gramps!!"
Erika's razor-sharp scythe buried itself in Kinzo's chest. It dug straight into his heart, but the daring smile on Kinzo's face didn't even falter.
"Hoh, was my death ever witnessed by anyone outside the cat box? I am indestructible ...indestructible!!"
A punch containing all of Kinzo's last spark of life sent Erika flying.
"Father, Father, are you okay?!!"
As Erika tried to deliver the finishing blow, Krauss stepped in between them, blocking the way.
"...I will be your opponent in Father's place."
"Oh? If it isn't the incompetent investing expert. It's pretty impressive how you managed to find all the worst bets and lost your money so quickly."
"And yet, at least I remember to tie my shoes."
Krauss's left uppercut made Erika float in the air. Not by magic, but by the simple laws of physics. For an instant, Erika saw the moon...
"I may have been incompetent as an investor!! However, any of my college friends will attest to my talent as a boxer!! I will not allow you to discredit every part of the Ushiromiya family, little girl!!"
"Y, you... damn small fryyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!"
"At the school festival, I introduced Kanon-kun to everyone!! Saku, and Hina, and everyone else!! All of my friends can testify to that!! Don't make assumptions about our relationship based on your own imagination!!"
Jessica's body blow made the goat's massive body cave in.
"Splendidly done, Milady! To think that you could wield such power in a tight spot like this...!"
"Well of course. After all, I'm thinking it doesn't really matter if I die. This is the first time we've worked together, with you at my back. Too bad it isn't cutting the cake...!"
Jessica laughed embarrassedly. She looked even more relaxed than she had on the stage at the school festival.
"If we can't cut a cake, then let's cut something else."
"You always try to sound cool with every thing you say...!"
"But I like it that way!!"
The massive bodies that rushed at them, trying to deny their relationship and their very existence, had two choices: to be sliced or struck. Each time one of those bodies hit the floor, it became proof that the two of them existed.
"George-sama, look out!!!"
The goat's log-sized fist buried itself in George's face. This was the middle of a massive, confused battle. There was no way to dodge an unexpected attack like that.
"...An anti-social shut-in, is it? Very well. Say what you wish about me."
George had indeed been hit with a fist right to the center of his face. However, he didn't bend over backwards. Not even an inch. The goat started to wonder what it was he had hit. Hadn't he punched a human made of flesh...? It was as though... he had slammed his fist into a steel wall... and it was his fist that was hurting... However, the goat was too scared to move his fist from George's face. After all, if he did, the expression on that face would probably be too terrifying.
George's hand... knocked that fist away.
"You could probably get testimony from my old classmates from school. Yes, I was an anti-social person. However, there's one more thing that they'll tell you, something far more important."
George was only grabbing the goat's massive fist in his tiny hand. However, that fist was being crushed as though it had a vise around it... Even though the other hand was so tiny, the goat couldn't even move its fist.
"...Ushiromiya George never fought for himself, no matter what happened to him. He was a coward, who ran away from all threats. Everyone will tell you that. However, they won't tell you that he never got into a fight."
I accepted the fact that someone as pathetic as me would be bullied.
The goat's broken teeth flew through the air. George's furious feet split the heavens.
"...Sh, Shannon approached George for his money, and..."
A goat's filthy finger touched Shannon's back. That finger... exploded and boiled away.
"My love for George-san is true and pure. George-san must have kept all the letters I wrote him. Read those, and you'll have your proof."
"...Y, you can write anything in a letter... The contents of a letter are no proof of true lo..."
A blazing red light charred the goat's entire body. Shannon slowly turned around, her face full of rage and contempt.
An absolute barrier rose up around Shannon, burning up the goats around her with its flames.
Maria smiled, showing her teeth, and performed her job without even looking at her hands. Then, she tossed the fully loaded rifle straight up into the air.
Rosa, who stood back-to-back with Maria, caught it without turning around. No, that wasn't quite it. Maria had passed the gun to her mother perfectly without even looking back. Rosa's head was pointed at the ground... as she stroked the frigid trigger with her index finger.
The crowd of goats, cowed by Rosa's ferocity, didn't get any closer to her.
"Then I'll deny it. Being the serial cheater you are, you were always off playing around with a man and leaving Maria all alone!!"
"Nothing like that is written anywhere in Maria's diary. Kihihihihi."
"Y, you should know better than anyone else...!! Rosa didn't love you! She was a crappy mother who regretted even giving birth to you!!!!"
BGM: The Excecutioner
For a moment, she didn't realize what was happening. Was that cold feeling on her back... the ground? Huh? Why am I... lying down...? And wasn't the moon full? Why isn't it now...? Come to think of it, my teeth... hurt. There's something cold... and hard.
Then, she figured it out. She was lying sprawled on the ground, with a gun barrel shoved into her mouth. And the thing splitting the moon... was the angry king of wolves protecting its child.
The gun barrel exploded inside her mouth, shattering her medulla oblongata. But it was only her afterimage.
"What a terrifying woman you are. Are you really huma-"
Erika, who had escaped death at the last moment by leaving an afterimage, found a metallic flash right before her eyes, which had been there even before she reappeared. The fountain pen went right through Erika's eye, crushing it. Of course, that was another afterimage. However, when Erika escaped and reappeared somewhere else, a heel was already there waiting for her... From the goats' perspective, several afterimages of Erika seemed to be appearing at once, all of which were pierced by Rosa at the same time...
"Mama's really strong, kihihihihihihihi!!"
"...Wh, what the hell..."
And so, Erika couldn't reappear anymore. At the very least, not within Rosa's range of attack. Erika put a lot of distance between her and Rosa, reappearing in midair.
"...What... are these people?! What... the hell?!! ...?!?!"
Erika's animal instincts made her turn her head slightly to the side just in time. Where her head used to be, there was an odd shower of sparks. It wasn't magic. It was a real physical phenomenon cased by lead smashing against lead. To think that two bullets shot from different angles... could have flown with impossible precision at where her head once was... so that both of them hit and bounced off each other like billiard balls.
"You know, we're pretty good at clay pidgeons. Flying along in a straight line probably isn't a good idea."
The two of them spun their rifles in exactly the same way at exactly the same time, reloading them in a way that put old westerns to shame, then pointed them back up at where Erika was in the sky.
"Y, you monsteeeeeeeeeers!!"
Once again, their accurate shots plunged through the forehead of Erika's afterimage, bouncing off each other like billiard balls with a shower of sparks. This time, Erika appeared far behind them. She had to admit it. She had been forced to escape to a place outside the range of those guns fired by humans.
Then, the light from the moon was blocked. The place that she had fled to so rapidly exploded, sending chunks of rubbish flying. A massive long sword had been plunged into the ground. It was Dlanor's sword.
"...Oh... If it isn't my old friend...!"
She had dodged by a hair, but this bulky, brutal longsword was more of a cannonball shaped like a sword than something for cutting with. Even though she dodged it, the blast of air pressure made her eardrums throb. Dlanor was serious. She seriously intended to smash Erika to bits.
"What's with the scary face?!! Can't you try and act a bit, I don't know, cuter?!"
"...Do you find this ENJOYABLE? Destroying people's dreams and ILLUSIONS?"
"Of course it's enjoyable! What do you expect an intellectual rapist to do?!"
"You are an EVILDOER. And yet, I used to believe you were the sort of evil that could be sympathized WITH."
"I never asked for your sympathy."
"...Not cutting you down immediately upon our MEETING... That sin of mine is what helped bring this day to PASS!!"
Dlanor's hair bristled with rage. Seeing this expression on the one she had once called a friend... pinned Erika to the spot.
"Whoa, wai-, !!!"
The force of anger that welled from Dlanor's whole body struck Erika. Or rather, the swirl of blasting wind from Dlanor's massive longsword sent her flying. The cannonball with a blade repeatedly cracked the ground just after Erika leapt away. So, it almost looked as though Erika was jumping backwards, smashing the earth beneath her with each jump.
"...Friend of mine, rest in PEACE!!!"
The great longsword split the air again, pulverizing the ground. However, this time, Erika was nowhere to be seen. Where did she escape to?
Practically speaking, she had run away. Fully aware of this, Erika howled, her face contorted with humiliation. Her shoulders heaved with her breathing, and she had even forgotten to fix her hair...
The scythe fell from her hand and landed with a clank to the floor. That sound brought her back to her senses.
The warships that had flown into the Golden Land opened their gun ports one after another, then they all fired at once in a scattered mess of cannonballs. The hundreds of explosive rounds they fired would negate the concept of any thing or person they touched, smash them into little bits, and set them ablaze with flames. The battlefield full of writhing goats became a fiery hell.
A cannonball smashed the arbor. The once-beautiful garden maze was burned down bit by bit and the fleeing gold butterflies were wrapped in flames, burning into nothingness like little scraps of paper. This was no longer a battlefield where two sides fought for victory. It was just a confused, hellish pot.
The once-beautiful rose garden was filled with explosion craters, and its rose petals were scattered about without pity. Flying bits of flesh, blood, fangs, jaws. Shrieks and half-crazed screams. And even amidst this hellish swirl, the goats and the dead continued to fight. As seen from atop the boats, this was, without a doubt, hell.
"All ships!! Drop anchooooooooooors!!"
When Erika yelled, the goats on the boats ran around frantically, and one by one, massive anchors hanging by chains were thrown from the ships' bows down into the earth below. Those anchors smashed through not only the ground, but the bottom of the Golden Land itself, digging in with their wedge-shaped tips.
"Oh, Beatrice-san!! What a huge battle this is! I was worried that I wouldn't be able to find you!"
Beatrice landed on the front tip of the warship, facing off against Erika, who stood on the bow.
"You will not be forgiven! I'll finish you myself right here!!!"
Beato jabbed with her pipe. It transformed into a beautifully intricate, long and golden sword.
"Very well, bring it on. Let's settle this."
Erika threw her scythe up into the air. When it returned to her hand, it had become a sword similar to Beato's. The nearby goats crowded around Erika, trying to support her.
"Stay out of this. Anyway, you all need to start lifting the anchors! Tear up the Golden Land by its roots!!"
Aye aye, sir! The goats bowed and rushed to their posts. Several dozen ships had lowered their anchors, digging into the base of the Golden Land. Soon, they were going to pull them up, and try to tear the Golden Land to pieces.
BGM: The Executioner
Beato raised her sword, bowed in the ancient fashion, and waited for her duel opponent. Erika kicked off her shoes violently and slowly walked up to the tip of the boat barefoot. Then, in accordance with Beato's rules, she bowed back.
A duel on the prow of a ship that pierced the sky. Below, the crowd of goats was being blasted away by the indiscriminate cannonballs, burned up and crushed in the panorama of this world's end. By now, it would be stupid to wonder whether anyone from the Ushiromiya family was still all right. Yes, it truly was the end of this world. The end of the Golden Land. Ground to dust, filled with flames. The golden rose garden was burning spectacularly, with bits of flame and golden splashes flying about. The ground creaked as fissures ran through it. Through the base of the Golden Land. All of the ships started pulling up their anchors at once. Crowds of strong goats used all of their monstrous strength to lift them.
The anchors that dug into the Golden Land's base... spread cracks throughout the entire Golden Land. Not just the ground, but the air itself was filled with cracks, and shards of gold fell down everywhere. The Golden Land's end was adorned with the flames of hell and streaking gold fragments, with fiery red and ephemeral gold.
Atop the boat's prow, Beato and Erika looked down on this, their swords crossed and sparks flying between them.
"The Golden Land may meet its end. I may perish as well. However, no one can erase the fact that we were here!! Ange reached the answer! The Witch of the Future has a mission and hope, and will soon go off on a new journey!! We have already succeeded...!! Too bad, Furudo Erikaaaa!! This battle ends with our victory!!!"
A duel between the master of the illusion called the Golden Land and the witch who controlled truth. The earth split behind them. The Golden Land was torn up. The cat box known as the Golden Land was ripped apart, and the nothingness below peeked out through the cracks. The scrambling crowd of goats fell through the gaps and were swallowed by the sea of nothingness. Beato's friends were among them. They helped each other, lent a hand to each other, unwilling to sacrifice anyone until the final moment. Still, what a romantic and fragile illusion is the end of the world.
The ground shattered and sank. It fell apart into the ocean of nothingness. None could survive. None could be saved. This was... destruction. As the friends fell into the sea of nothingness, they looked up one last time... and prayed. They prayed that the master of the Golden Land would leave proof that the Golden Land had indeed existed. However, Beato didn't look down at them. They wouldn't have wanted her to.