Part 156: Ange's Choice II
Video: Battle for the Golden Land, Part 3
...These two witches, who possessed power on an entirely different level, may have been truly equal in strength. The battle could only be resolved by mutual consent, if one of them lost interest or found some reason for wanting to lose. Since both were putting their all into the fight without yielding a bit, they were absolutely and completely equal...
"...Lambdadelta... I'm glad... to have you as a friend..."
"Dammit, just a bit longer...! Just fall apart already, stupid magic circle...!"
Battler got irritated and punched the magic circle, but there was nothing he could do except continue to watch over it. After all, the only way to dissolve it was by waiting. However, the pair of them still felt relief, if only a little. Lambdadelta really was strong. Even in a battle this spectacular, she fought on an even footing. No, if you also took confidence into account, she seemed to have a slight advantage to Battler's eyes. She would probably manage to buy them enough time. Ange would take the key and return to the Golden Land. They just had to endure a bit longer...
...However, they had no way of knowing what Lambdadelta's fate would be after this. She had disobeyed the Senate, the highest-level witches in existence. A brutal fate probably awaited her. However, even knowing this, Ange had to step forward into the future, without looking back. That was the single duty given to her, the Witch of the Future.
"...?! Crap, are they enemy reinforcements...?!"
Lambdadelta and Bernkastel were glaring at each other, so they didn't notice. Heading towards them from the distance... were several emerald green glints. That light showed that they were enemies.
"But there's only a few of them. They won't be a match for Lambdadelta."
All of the cats so far seemed like fish in a school, giving the impression that they'd be terrifying as a group, but not much of a problem by themselves. However, there was something different about the lights approaching them now. They were approaching in a beautiful, ordered formation, like a constellation. Battler quickly realized that this was something different...
BGM: Grey Empty Smile
The black cats that surrounded her in a graceful and systematic constellation... were all wearing large capes with elegant designs. It looked as though great overlords from many worlds had been transformed into cats, leaving only their capes untouched.
What Battler imagined was quite true. That was exactly what had happened. These were the overlords from many worlds that formed Featherine's personal guard. Their bodies took the form of cats merely as a sign of respect to their master, who took the form of a human. These were entirely different from the pack of wild cats that served Bernkastel.
"Keeping the guests waiting in anticipation is an important factor when holding a party. It is, however, not something I am particularly fond of."
As she said this, her eyes flicked to Lambdadelta. The latter bowed hurriedly. Though Lambdadelta grinned, she was also sweating with a brow furrowed with tension.
"...How long it has been, Lady Lambdadelta."
"A pleasure to see you... Great Lady Aurora..."
"...This is no place to entertain one such as yourself. Did you get lost on the way to the party...? If so, allow me to guide you there myself."
"Th, that would be an honor, Great Lady Aurora..."
It is said that she surpassed the level of witches, becoming a Creator, and that, upon reaching this forbidden plane, she was cursed with a deadly ailment. However, in life, she once turned her pet cat into a witch. They say that this second witch wanders the sea of Fragments endlessly, searching for any Fragment that can revive her master from the pits of death called boredom, if even for a moment. And so, the cat revived her master. Revived the sacred witch who had reached heights none should reach...
Just as witches look down at and mock humans from a higher world, calling them pieces on a game board... So she looks down at and mocks the territory of witches from an even higher world, calling them pieces on a game board. If a witch's strength is measured by the height of the world they are capable of reaching... She was like a witch come back from the realm of the gods, the one who had touched the highest, forbidden heights and survived.
Was there any chance of winning against her? No. Not only could Lambdadelta not choose to win, she couldn't choose to lose either.
"*cackle*cackle*. The simple, naive way cats forget their errand partway through doing it is their true charm. Don't you think so, Lady Lambdadelta...?"
Lambdadelta didn't say anything, but hung her head low. From this position, it seemed that the key's seal would dissolve at any second. However, Bernkastel would probably find Battler and Ange before that. Once they got their hands on the key, they could leave this place immediately. Of course, this was assuming that they did so before Bernkastel and Featherine found them. Bernkastel... mustn't be allowed to move from this spot.
"I am the miko of the Great Witch Aurora... You haven't forgotten that the Witch of Theatergoing bestows her protection upon her Reader mikos, have you...?"
Lambdadelta still stood slumped over, without answering. The Witch of Theatergoing gave protection to her Reader mikos. If Lambdadelta attacked Bernkastel, who was a miko, then the great Aurora would follow her contract, prevent what she considered an attack against herself, and 'respond accordingly'.
"...Let's make a deal."
"Where is Battler hiding? If you come clean, we'll let all of this slide."
"Is the Witch of Miracles afraid of a tiny, little piece like Battler?"
"...It's because I am the Witch of Miracles. I won't forget that even a little pebble like him is capable of creating a miracle."
"After all, that little pebble has now been super-promoted into a Witch of Miracles."
"I'll ask one more time. Where is Battler?"
"...Too bad, Lambda. It looks like that's your answer."
Bernkastel turned her back on Lambdadelta. Then, she told her master that she was leaving to prepare the key, and she started swimming towards the key room. If I let her go... any further... she'll find Battler and Ange...
Battler readied himself. This time, it was his turn to become a sacrifice... Even though he was nothing more than a single pebble, he could still put out an eye.
A candy firework exploded right in front of Bernkastel.
BGM: Revelations (Instrumental)
"...That did it... Battler, Ange. The rest is up to you...!"
The cat overlords changed their formation, becoming a ferocious constellation that surrounded Featherine. Then, each drew the most terrifying of magic circles from their respective worlds... and began to chant.
"...I am slightly confused. My miko, and you too, Lady Lambdadelta. What sort of sideshow is this...?"
"...It looks like Lambda wants to stop me from going to get the key."
"Hoh. And what would the point of that be, I wonder?"
"If you still don't get the point, then you must be getting a bit tipsy, Featherine. Looks like you need a pick-me-up."
Lambdadelta bluffed as well as she could. Her fingertips were shaking slightly.
"I know it. Going by that rule, it looks like the two of us are gonna have to fight."
"Hoh. Have I or my miko caused insult in any way? If so, then please accept my apologies."
"But will you not tell me? I don't believe you have a miko at the moment. How long have you had one?"
"As for that... I've got a ton of them already...!! 30 or 40, I think. Maybe even more!"
"I, Lambdadelta, will handle any fight picked against one of my mikos, no matter who the opponent is...!! All of them are certain that a happy ending will come!! As the Witch of Certainty, I can't abandon people who work hard and believe with such certainty!!!"
"...Your tale would not be a disagreeable one. It would be worthy of my viewing. However, I am not a spectator at the moment, but a performer. I know that you are my miko's close friend, so I will give you one warning. Remove yourself from this stage. I will prepare a special seat for you in my audience seating."
"...I've been thinking about which is more interesting... your tale, or the tale I've been watching."
"...And your conclusion?"
"...Who are you talking to?"
As Lambdadelta pretended to joke around, she calmly glared at the one weak point. If she had a chance for a single attack, then a one-in-a-billion shot at victory existed. That horseshoe-shaped memory device floating around Featherine's head. Without that, she couldn't preserve her own memory. Destroying it was impossible, but if Lambdadelta could just jar it enough, she might be able to make it bug out. At least once in the past, Featherine's memory device had been damaged, and her personality and appearance had changed. However, she was aware of that herself, and probably wouldn't let that happen again no matter what.
"...Very well, Lady Lambdadelta. When you've finished your script, feel free to send it in whenever you wish."
"The script is simple. Just one line. 'The fantastic, cute Lambdadelta-sama... took out the evil mastermind Auaurora in a single shot!'"
"Foolish Lambda. I never realized how stupid you were."
"...The cats need not interfere. I will personally reward Lady Lambdadelta for the courageous tale she has submitted. You will be granted a fitting tale and a fitting ending for your bravery."
"Featherine Augustus... Auauroraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!"
Lambdadelta summoned magical power from her whole body and raised it in a mass above her head.
BGM: The Girl's Witch Hunt
"Your script will not be used. After all..."
Rather than time stopping, it was more like the flipping pages of a book had stopped. In this motionless world, closely packed letters appeared.
It was a tale, which had been written up to this very moment.
'"Featherine Augustus... Auauroraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!"'
'Lambdadelta summoned magical power from her whole body and raised it in a mass above her head.'
That was where the paragraph ended. In this frozen world, Featherine sat with her arms crossed.
"...How troublesome. It's been so long since I've written a fight scene. How annoying to have to suddenly write up a development like this out of the blue..."
When I get stuck writing, I try to write in reverse. In other words, instead of starting at the beginning, I start at the end and go backwards from there. That way, it's easier to set up foreshadowing, and I can write the story with my vision for the end in mind. The only downside is that I have to suddenly start at the climax without setting up the story first.
As Featherine said this, words were added to the massive group of letters that filled the frozen world. However, she was starting from the end, so there was a large gap between the new words and the old ones.
"...So, how will you lose to me? You should probably have a heroic end to suit your bravery. How about this? Lambdadelta gets blasted away by something, slammed against the bookshelf, and her limbs are snapped off as she dies and disappears into the darkness below. Yes. Quite a flashy way to go. Good. For now, that's how your final moments will be."
The blanks were being filled up with the outline Featherine spoke of. At the same time, Lambdadelta's figure was wiped out. After crossing her arms and thinking again, Featherine pointed in a random direction. Then, Lambdadelta appeared, blasted away by 'something' and slammed spreadeagled against the bookshelf Featherine had pointed at.
"...Well now, I must write up the fierce battle that leads to this end, but as you can probably tell, I'm a little tipsy at the moment. I'll fill that part in later, when I have some time to go over it nice and slowly."
"...For now, let me off with this. I promise to add in a heroic fight to your liking later on..."
Before she could even blink, she was suddenly here, being slammed against a bookshelf.
"...W... h... a... t... i... s... t... h... i... s..."
She couldn't comprehend the 'something' that Featherine had killed her with. However, that was only natural. After all, Featherine herself hadn't decided what the 'something' was. However, Lambdadelta did understand one thing. She was already dead.
Streams of blood dripped from the corners of her mouth. Then, lines of blood appeared on her wrists and ankles, her elbows and knees. She looked like a marionette doll of herself.
"...W... h... a... t... k... i... l... l... e... d... m... e..."
"...Y... o... u... m... o... n... s... t... e... r..."
Still pinned against the bookshelf, Lambdadelta let her head slump. Her wrists, ankles, legs, arms, neck. Each split into a separate part, and the marionette shaped like her lost its strings, falling in pieces into the depths below. Nothing remained. It was all swallowed up by the darkness beneath them...
"A monster, she says. Quite a compliment, for one such as I. *cackle*cackle*cackle*, ahhahahahahahahahahaha."
"Ange, don't look. You can't look...!!"
Shedding tears of vexation, Ange closed her eyes tight. She must not look. The Witch of the Future... must not accept Lambdadelta's defeat...
"She hasn't kicked it! She was brave, and that's all there is to it...!!"
"I know...!! That Lambdadelta... would never lose...!!"
BGM: The End of the World
At that moment, there was a slight sound, and the golden key that hung in the air... shook. The seal had finally broken. Battler grabbed at it immediately. However, at exactly the same moment, a magical tremor spread throughout the vast key room.
That tremor... seemed to have shaken something inside my pocket. I stuck my hand in... and found that the Fragment Lambdadelta had given them to return to the Golden Land... had shattered.
"...D, dammit, Lambda's Fragment...!"
"...You were so close too. Now, there's nowhere to run."
"If Lambda had been a little cleverer, she probably could've bought you 5 more seconds. Then, you would've taken that key and escaped to the Golden Land. Looks like the miko suffers too when the master's a fool. Ahhahahahahaha."
Featherine quietly showed her surprise. To truly surprise her was no easy task.
After taking Battler's right fist to her face, she fell. Bernkastel's body immediately split into dust and reconstructed itself in front of Battler. As though nothing had happened. However, she was holding her cheek. She couldn't undo the fact that she had been hit. For the first time in a hundred years, she had let someone tread on her shadow without wishing it.
Her face was gradually filled with shock. And Battler's? It couldn't be seen. His outstretched right arm was blocking it, so his expression couldn't be seen...
"...Take it back."
"T, take what back...?"
She didn't let the next strike hit her. Bernkastel vanished like mist, then reappeared a short distance away. However, Battler only missed by a hair's breadth. Not because she had intentionally made it so, but for real.
"...It hurts... it hurts, it hurts..."
Finally, she truly began to feel the pain of being punched in the face. For too many years, she had forgotten the very concept of pain. Very slowly, it was coming back to her.
"It hurts! It hurts, it hurts, it hurts... aaaaaaghghhhh!!"
Bernkastel writhed in anguish, holding her cheek. The feeling forgotten for centuries seemed to be hitting home hard. Battler looked at her. Their eyes met. Once again, Bernkastel remembered the emotion she had forgotten for hundreds of years.
"...Does it hurt?"
And then, a shudder. What Battler saw before his eyes, was Bernkastel shuddering for the first time in centuries. To Bernkastel's eyes, it hadn't even looked like Battler rushing at her and punching. It was as though... she had been sucked towards where he stood with his furious fist raised. When her eyes had opened wide in terror, Battler's massive fist had been all that she could see.
Of course, he wasn't capable of hitting her. Bernkastel was just like a shadow. She dodged by moving instantly and leaving an afterimage, but mere teleportation wasn't enough to escape from Battler's furious pursuit. True, trying to hit Bern was like enviously trying to hit the reflection of the moon on water with a stone. No matter how often you hit it, you can never smash the moon's reflection. However, Battler hit it. And again. Over and over. To prevent the moon from showing on the water's surface again. A fiercely thrown pebble sent ripples across the water's surface. It broke through the moon's reflection, broke through the water's surface itself, leaving even the bottom of the pond bare, breaking through everything.
His certain willpower... broke through to a miracle. A backwards kick that Battler shot out without even looking behind him... split through empty space.
"...Take back your ridicule of my brave friend."
"Uuh, ghh... ggggghh..."
The Witch of Miracles fell. For the second time, she fell. Once, it would have been a miracle. Things that happen more than once aren't miracles anymore. Bernkastel understood. Battler... was capable of hitting her...
Then, she fell, was slammed against the floor, got up on her hands and knees, and vomited. She threw up violently over and over. Her face was covered with pain and vomit and tears and snot. Then, she looked up at Battler with a furious expression... and howled. And she wasn't howling at Battler.
"Forgive me, but I am busy writing Lady Lambdadelta's final moments right now. I cannot come to your aid. Why don't you all give her a hand?"
Featherine's guard, the cat overlords, now formed a different constellation. Then, each drew a magic circle and began chanting.
"Each one fought for the very existence of their country, their planet, their universe!!"
"What about you?! Ahhahaha, at best, you've just been playing around with your little sister and some imaginary witch!! These main characters are on a totally different level from you!! Eat this and die, take it to the gut, scum!!!"
The many spectacular magical spells displayed the beginning of a universe, the creation of planets, then their destruction and the universe's end, all in an instant. After that, not a speck of dust should remain...
However, when the smoke cleared, there was a person standing there. It stood there... its hands in its pockets... and its head hanging quietly. Its face was in shadows and couldn't be seen.
"What... the hell...?"
Battler... seemed to be completely uninjured. Not only were his clothes not burnt, but his hair hadn't even been disturbed.
"Wh, what the hell?!?! Stupid cats, that didn't work at all!!"
The cat overlords silently shook their heads, sending a short report to their master.
"It seems that no one can interfere with their tale. Forgive me, my miko. It seems the cats have reached their limit."
"...A, and you call yourselves overlords of many worlds?!! Didn't you all used to be main characters in some game board?! And this is the best you can do?! You're pathetic!!"
The cats knew. From the very beginning... They had known that, with him as the main character on this board, they wouldn't be able to interfere.
"...My miko. Creating a tale on the game board is a privilege extended only to the Game Master. Since that has been established, then being the mere writer that I am, I must respect that rule. I shall return to my position as a spectator."
"Y, you useless master...!!!"
"...Battler. I apologize for the ridicule your friend suffered at the hands of my miko. And I see that the right to weave your game belongs to you, the Game Master. You will weave your own game. That is as it should be."
"However, my miko is now a Game Master in your game. It seems the two of you opened the game board at the same time. It is rare to have two Masters for a single game, but this miracle pleases me. After all, I can rest assured that this will make for a proper final game for you both."
"...Stand up, Bernkastel."
"...I see... So, you're saying that if two Game Masters are going to fight, they have to do it by the rules of the game... *giggle*, *giggle*giggle*. Why didn't you just say that in the first place...?"
Bernkastel slowly got to her feet and made her body melt away like mist. Then, she appeared in the air once again, facing Battler.
"Onii-chan, I'll fight too."
"Watch from there. And this time, understand what I wanted to teach you."
"How's that?! Aurora!"
"...I will be your witness. If you defeat my miko, I promise to return you all to the Golden Land."
"*giggle*giggle*. Assuming the Golden Land still exists, that is."
"I... believe in everyone."
"That's right... Beato... and everyone else... won't lose...!"
When Bernkastel snapped her finger, Erika appeared with a bow.
"...Sorry, Erika. I shouldn't have kept you waiting when you came bearing good news."
"The Golden Land has been totally destroyed. I'm here to report that it has collapsed and fallen into the sea of nothingness. Not just the humans, but the fantasy creatures as well have been completely annihilated."
"Liar!! I won't believe it!"
"...Then allow me to make you believe it. Take this, my master."
Erika humbly presented an object wrapped in cloth. It shone with a golden light.
"...What's this? A golden apple?"
"This is the heart of Beatrice, master of the Golden Land...!"
Bernkastel pinched it between two fingers, held it aloft, and gazed at it.
"I, it's okay, Onii-chan... We didn't see Beato get defeated...! This is some sort of trick they're using on us. A trick to make us lose our morale...! Or maybe it's a trick of Beato's! She changed herself to pretend that she's been defeated. There's no way that Beatrice... that everyone... that the Golden Land could be destroyed...!!"
"*giggle*... *giggle*giggle*giggle*, ahhahahahahahhhahahahaha!! That's true. If the Witch of the Future believes that, you might be able to make it so... So, let me show you. Look closely, Witch of the Future from 1998."
Bernkastel... threw the golden heart into the air like an apple. Then, with the blood-red blade of the scythe that appeared in her hand, she split it...