Part 115: Invitation to Fantasy
I accepted that the only power that could save me from those sad, painful days at Saint Lucia Academy... was the thing called magic, and I received Maria's introduction to the basics...
"...Imagine... a vast space... The scene from when I looked down at the mountain's base from a rest stop at the peak... Like this...?"
...Normal girls get over their fascination with magical girls when they leave elementary school. So seriously training to use magic at this age... was embarrassing even for me. But even that embarrassed feeling felt pleasant to me now. Right then, I was learning mental concentration from Maria onee-chan, in order to use magic.
But it wasn't going very well. It was about as hopeless as teaching a person to wiggle their ears by showing them... It seems that you need to imagine a vast space to gain the mental concentration for using magic. So I remembered the time from my younger days when my family had gone on a small vacation, when I had looked down towards the base from a viewing platform at a rest stop on a peak, and I tried painting this scene in my mental world.
"Your image is still far too foggy. There's no temperature in the air, and there's no wind. No smells, either. The world is still very thin. You can leave those for later, though, so for now, just imagine a wider space."
'Uryu. Why do you have to imagine a vast space?'
"From the time of their birth, Humans have inside of them a toxin that blocks magic. If that toxin isn't purified, you can't use magic well. One effective method of achieving this is to imagine a vast space."
"...Just now, I thought of the world as seen from the window of an airplane, but that didn't work. I can't even think of... a world more vast than that."
'In that case, Maria just has to teach Ange about the vast world Maria has...! Won't that make it easy for Ange to imagine as well? Uryu!'
"...That's right. And, I'm interested in the kind of world Onee-chan imagines when she uses magic. I'll use it for reference."
"Uu-, that won't work. The mental world must be vast and isolated. A world with no obstructions other than yourself. So, if you teach someone about that world, it won't be isolated anymore. That's why you mustn't reveal your mental world to anyone. And if you draw up a good mental world, you too must keep it as a secret only for yourself."
'Uryu... So stingy, Maria...'
"Thanks, Sakutaro. I guess there are no shortcuts in training. I'll make an effort. It's okay, I've been given plenty of hints."
'Uryu...! Do your best, Ange...!'
...However, Maria onee-chan showed me that she could fill her own world with happiness using a power that's impossible for me. I used to look down on that happiness as something empty. Because I didn't believe in magic, I also denied everything else, refusing to believe in the happiness that magic gave birth to. But slowly, bit by bit, Maria onee-chan's world grew happier. In the past, I'd disparaged it, thinking it too pitiful to look at. But... that might've been nothing more than jealousy. I was forced to admit that. And now, this was my first step in my search for happiness...
A vast space. A dry wind that could blow without being blocked by anything. Let me feel that wind blowing through my own hair. I see, even the ground might get in my way as I am now. Then, I don't need a ground. Brush the ground away, downwards, downwards. In other words, it was as though I had floated up, leaving the ground far behind.
After pushing the ground further and further downwards, the ground grew foggy and faint, and for the first time, it began to feel like the sky. Then, I understood its vastness. In that instant, I felt the vivid wind go right through even my body... in other words, blowing through me without any resistance.
"...Yeah, I get it. I get that I've been... released from all hinderances."
'You did it, Ange, you did it...! You've taken your first step into the world of witches...!'
"...This is... the world of witches...?"
"Yeah. So, let's try practicing the magic that you've always wished for, Ange. Magic that'll summon friends. A magic that'll create allies who'll save you from your loneliness, and thereby bring you happiness."
'Will Ange also be able to summon friends like me?! Uryuuryu!'
"...As she is now, it's still far to early for Ange to summon friends like Sakutaro from the sea of zero. To begin, let's start by practicing with friends that are easy to summon."
"...What will we start with...?"
"Because you're a witch of Mariage Sorcière, you are also permitted to use those employed by other witches in the alliance. For example, Sakutaro is my friend, but since you're in the same alliance, he's your friend too, and you can summon him. You wanna try summoning Sakutaro one of these days? When you're so lonely it gets tough, I'm sure Sakutaro will cheer you up."
I see. You could call Sakutaro a being employed by Onee-chan. So, as a witch in the same alliance as her, it's possible for me to summon Sakutaro too...
I met Sakutaro's gaze. How pleasant it would be to have him just be there by my pillow, so he could talk to me a bit on lonely nights.
"...If I call out, will you appear... and talk to me...?"
'Uryu-! I can't wait to be summoned by you, Ange! Uryuuryuuryu!'
Looking happy, Sakutaro pressed his head against me like a cat. Suddenly getting a cute younger brother... felt a bit confusing, a bit embarrassing, and a bit nice. Unable to understand why I couldn't honestly accept this feeling, I felt tears well up in my eyes.
"Right. I'll give it all I've got, Onee-chan."
"Then let's practice. Let's try summoning the furniture of Beatrice, a witch from the same alliance."
Hearing Beatrice's name gave me a slightly strange feeling. When it came to the crime on Rokkenjima, the public kept going on and on in a frenzy about how it was a sacrifice ceremony performed by a witch.
So, if the witch did commit that crime, that would make her the culprit who stole my family from me. However, Maria onee-chan said that Beatrice was a good witch. If I held negative emotions towards Beatrice, she'd get mad, leading to a nasty fight, and refuse to talk for a while. At this moment, Onee-chan was my only close friend. So to avoid worsening her mood, I'd decided to think of Beatrice as nothing more than Onee-chan's magic teacher...
Also, I believed that the crime was a conspiracy cooked up by Aunt Eva. I would definitely expose the truth about that someday...
"Ange, obstructions are entering your body again."
"...Sorry, I lost my concentration. One more time..."
I'd expect no less from you, Onee-chan... You instantly noticed that I was being overcome with idle thoughts. After shaking my head just once, I re-imagined the wind blowing through a vast space...
"But they're very energetic and fun kids. They might become your new friends, Ange. First, I'll show you how to summon them. Watch."
Maria onee-chan lifted both hands up to the level of her head... and quietly unified her mind. The state I wasn't able to reach except by meditating for a long period of time, she reached in the span of a few quick breaths. Then, a pale light began to gather in her palms, and one by one, the girls began to show themselves.
The way they were summoned one after another in a line was a masterpiece. Incredible. Just like the illustrations in Onee-chan's grimoire, the Seven Sisters of Purgatory...
The younger sisters were behind the eldest, Lucifer, who saluted Onee-chan.
"The Seven Sisters of Purgatory, right here...! Lady MARIA, it has been quite some time."
"Yes. Long time, no see. Is everyone well...?"
"We furniture are what we are because we are used. To us, being summoned after so long is truly an honor!"
"You look as delici-, I mean, cuuute as ever!!"
"Me fiiirst!! Kya-, today he's so fluffy, squishy, and cuuute!"
"Aaah!! Let me hug him too, let me hug him too!"
'U-Uryu-! Can't breathe! I won't run away, so let go of me, everyooone!'
"Hey, you all!! Are you trying to break Lady MARIA's furniture?! Anyway, get away from him, hugging is prohibited!!"
"...Even though you're saying that, it looks like you want to hug him the most, Satan-nee. *giggle*."
"Wh- I-It's not like I have any i-interest in something so fluffy, squishy and cuddly!"
"Hey!! Be silent in the presence of Lady MARIA and Ange-sama, you foolish sisters!!"
They were so energetic... I was shocked by their sudden burst of activity right after they appeared. And on top of that, I was surprised that the innocent Sakutaro was on such good terms with the Seven Sisters.
"...That's unexpected. To think that Sakutaro would be so loved by such shady people."
"They're fellow members of the same alliance. There's nothing to be scared of, right?"
"But on the off-chance that their mood worsens, it looks like they could finish Sakutaro off in an instant..."
"It's all right. The witches of the alliance and their furniture are all friends. So Sakutaro can play without worrying. Of course, that goes for you and me too, Ange."
Member witches must respect each other's magic and creations. Even the sisters, who were normally shady and belligerent, treated fellow alliance members as friends. So, to the Seven Sisters, Sakutarou was a mutual friend. He was loved by all of them, and they were even trying to steal him away from each other.
This scene as they squeezed him and loved him was a bit charming.
"...I see. They're fellow members of Mariage Sorcière, after all."
At a glance, you'd think that Sakutaro's casual atmosphere and the Seven Sisters' shady one would be like water and oil. It looked like they definitely wouldn't be compatible. And yet, they were interacting in a friendly way like it was completely natural... If this wonderful alliance could join all the peoples of the world together, I wonder if everyone in the world would be able to become friends right away.
"All you Seven Sisters, listen. Right now, Ange is in the middle of magic training. So I want everyone to lend their power."
"Certainly, Lady MARIA. But what specifically?"
"The magical power materializing you will move from me to Ange. In that state, I want you to be by her side all the time. You just have to talk with her."
"...My apologies, but I wonder if Ange-sama's magical power will be able to easily summon all seven of us around the clock..."
The oldest sister, Lucifer, gazed at my complexion as she advised this, speaking reservedly.
"That's the kind of training it is. Ange has more talent and magic than everyone imagines. It'll be pretty tough, but I think it's worth it for Ange to take this challenge as she is now. Ange, starting now, I'll move the magic power materializing them over to you. In other words, it will become as though you had summoned them."
So, what Maria onee-chan was trying to say was something like this. To keep the Seven Sisters materialized, you are continuously burdened with a significant amount of magical power. Maybe you could say it was like training while wearing a weighted wristband.
'Uryu... Doing all of the Seven Sisters would be pretty tough... Isn't that asking a lot of Ange all of a sudden...?'
"Thank you, Sakutaro. But this is training to become a witch. I want to see how far I can go."
...The seven of them certainly do seem boisterous. But even if this is for training, having them with me will surely distract me from my loneliness, at least a little. I understood it would be an ordeal, but wanted to give it a shot.
"Don't overdo it if it gets tough, okay?
And everyone, if it looks tough for Ange, take it easy."
"Certainly. Get it, everyone?!"
"Well then, Ange-sama. For now, we, the Seven Sisters of Purgatory, will become your furniture. Lady MARIA, if you would."
"Yeah. So, Ange, can we start?"
"...Sure. I'm a little nervous."
'Uryu... This might be tough all of a sudden... If you feel like you're getting a headache, lower your magic power immediately...'
"Okay, I'll move the source of magic power over to Ange..."
In an instant, the inside of my head felt very heavy. This is... Yeah, it's tough... Until then, the inside of my head had only been used for myself. It was almost like it was now being used for seven other people. If they just stood there and blinked once or let out a single sigh, that would put a strong pressure on my head...
"...Lady MARIA, my apologies, but perhaps the burden from all Seven Sisters at once might be too great after all."
"...I-I'm okay... ack..."
"...No... It won't work after all. You're using all of your energy to materialize them. There's no point if the burden is such that you can't balance it with your everyday life. And anyway, this is a bit unrefined for a witch."
'Uryu... That's why I said doing so many suddenly was impossible... Everyone, erase yourselves for a bit...'
"Right. It seems it'd be better to lower the number of people. Asmo, erase yourself."
"Me agaain? I'm opposed to youngest-sister-bullyiiing!! Disappear starting from the top every once in a whiiile!"
"That would mean I'd have to disappear second, right?! No, no, nooo!"
"Don't make a ruckus, Asmo and Levia-nee!! That kind of disturbance will become a burden to Ange-sama!!"
"The noise you're making is also a burden, stupid Satan!!"
"...Aah, ack... gah..."
The Seven Sisters started arguing over who should erase themselves first. The energy from that fight all became a burden, forcing Ange to bear an even greater headache...
But even at that level, Ange was still far from comfortable. In the end, once six of them had erased themselves, I was finally able to calm my breathing. With my magical power, forget the Seven Sisters, just one person is my limit...
Mammon, who had won all of the rock, paper, scissors matches and was permitted to remain until the end, grumbled.
'Uryu... Mammon, you shouldn't say things like that... Ange is still just starting her training. Are you all right, Ange? Is your headache okay...?'
Sakutaro stretched up on his tiptoes, trying to pat Ange's head. Watching this, Maria scratched her head, acknowledging that this sudden training had been too difficult.
"Uu-. Maybe that was a little too much. I'd be perfectly fine with this much though. The more friends you have, the more fun it is."
"...Now I'm even more aware of how incredible you are, Onee-chan..."
Apparently, when one reaches Maria onee-chan's class, one can summon enough people to perform in an orchestra. For a witch apprentice, that's awe-inspiring...
"Are you okay? Ange-samaa?"
"...I'm sorry... It looks like summoning you is the most I can do."
"Well, I guess I'm okay with that. After all, of all the Seven Sisters, I get Ange-sama all to myself. What do you think, Ange-sama? If it's just me, will it be a burden for you?"
"No, I think I'll be able to manage you alone somehow..."
"Great! Then please train a lot and cultivate your magic power a bunch. Then someday, for sure, please bring the Seven Sisters together and let us serve you. Promise?"
I see, that definitely fits with her being Greed. But maybe you could also call it having a positive attitude.
"...Yes. I promise. I have to be able to do at least that much someday."
"Thank you, Ange-sama! I, Mammon of Greed, will surely serve you until that day...!"
My headache finally abated, and I relaxed both hands, which had been clutching at my head. Then Mammon stuck out her hand, helping me stand back up...
'Uryu? Ah. Maria, Ange, it's about that time. If we don't return to the room, you'll be scolded.'
I hadn't expected Sakutaro to talk about the time. I was brought back into reality. As though the light had disappeared, the vast world sunk into the darkness, and I was in a tiny, tiny bathroom stall, sitting on a toilet... Onee-chan's grimoire was open on my lap.
I looked at the clock. It was almost 20:00, time for lights out. If I show up late for the roll call before lights out, not only will things get pretty annoying, but it'll cause trouble for my roommates and floormates. I couldn't care less about causing them trouble, but I don't want them messing with me later...
*sigh*... My free time by myself is already over for today. I'll sleep, wake up, tomorrow will begin, and another long, long gray-colored day will repeat again. I closed the grimoire and rose from the toilet seat...
At that time, Onee-chan appeared again and spoke.
BGM: Moonlit Night
I'd forgotten. The moment I'd returned to reality, Mammon's materialization had stopped... One more time, I created a strong image of the existence of Mammon in my mind...
"...I'm sorry. I got careless."
"It's been incredibly long since I've materialized in the human world, so I'm interested in absolutely everything. I'm getting a bit excited. Where is this?"
"...The Saint Lucia Academy dormitory. This is a stall in the shared bathroom. Each room has its own bathroom, so no one comes here. It's quiet, and perfect for reading books."
"So in this dorm, you have to hide in a toilet stall even to read a book? Do they burn books or something?"
...I have a two-person room, so my roommate is always there. Our relationship is gloomy and it feels like I'm always getting ignored. The atmosphere's bad, so I really can't relax there. And, as long as I'm not there, she can do what she likes, call her friends over and chat away. It's more convenient for them too if I don't return until just before lights out.
There's also a library, but there's a group that uses it as a meeting place, and they're always talking behind my back. So I don't like to go there. During lunch, it's the bushes behind the school building. During the night, it's the stall in the shared bathroom in the dorms. Those are the only hideaways where I can find peace...
I opened the door to the stall... and went out. I turned around, signaling with my eyes for Mammon to come with me.
"...I don't really get it, but I realize it'd be hard to call this place pleasant for you, Ange-sama. Let's go out quickly. I hate the air here."
"Really? I think the air here is the most decent."
When it came time for lights out, we had to change into uniform pajamas that we hated and called prison clothes, line up in the hallway, and go through the dorm leader's roll call. On the off-chance that someone was late, we would take collective responsibility, and all of the floormates would have to undergo punishment in the form of volunteer work... As long as I avoided this, the girls would look at me coldly, but they wouldn't get in my way. That alone was enough for me.
Mammon looked at the passing kids and the furnishings of the dorm with interest. Without paying her any particular attention, I hurried back to my room. In front of my room was my roommate, who had already changed into her prison clothes, chatting with some kids from the room next door. When they noticed me hurrying back, the topic of their conversation noticibly changed. They lowered their voices, stealing glances at me. I acted like I didn't notice, went into my room, and changed. Then I hastily went out into the corridor. Everyone was already lined up.
"You think so too? That's what I think. And unlike prison, you don't get out early for good behavior."
...After bad-mouthing the place, I noticed something. Having someone to listen to your complaints... feels surprisingly good.
Fortunately, Mammon's form can only be seen by her summoner, me. And of course, there was no need to speak out loud for this conversation. All I had to do was speak inside my mind, so no one could listen in. Magic... and the friends it creates... might actually not be so bad.
"All of these people are sheltered brats. Feels like they aren't even alive. Kyahahaha."
"Stop it. If you're seen by some chance, it'll be pretty bad, right...?"
"Humans without a fragment of hopes or dreams are like a lump of anti-magic. There's no way they'll be able to see me."
" "Hah, you lower life-forms can't even see. *giggle*giggle*!"
"...Are you okay being around so many Humans with that magic-resisting toxin?"
"I'm fine as long as you continue to make me materialize, Ange-sama. Although, since you'll probably have to keep concentrating to materialize me, there's a chance you'll neglect your daily life. Look, that girl you're sharing a room with is calling you, right?"
She's probably trying to push a few more chores onto me. My roommate, who never even looked me in the eye normally, was smiling at me unpleasantly. But it'll be easier to have the weekly duty pushed onto me alone, rather than doing it together with her. That's a small price to pay to have her continue to ignore me non-stop...
Even so, with a completely shameless excuse, she sidestepped the issue for some reason and insisted on flipping the situation around, as though I should've come forward and done it of my own initiative. One of the special traits of this academy is that it's full of girls who don't know how to ask a favor.
"Yeah. I hope you do, one of these days."
...Yeah. Having a friend nearby all the time to complain to... makes me happier than I thought it would. It really was lively with all the Seven Sisters gathered together. I'm sure just watching them mess around will be a lot of fun. I want to gain enough magical power to summon all the Seven Sisters at once, and soon. So I'll train much, much more, and finally summon... the thing I really want to find.
"...? What is it you really want to summon, Ange-sama?"
Mammon noticed my conversation with myself inside my head and asked about it blankly. I hesitated to talk about it, but then figured that there was no reason to hide it and told her.
"So you mean... the souls of the dead...? Calling a resident of another world is summoning, but calling back the souls of the dead is called resurrection, and they're completely different. Resurrection is supposed to be a very high-level magic."
I know. So much so that even Maria onee-chan can't do it at all. But that's the thing I want to find with magic... the most.
I've been warned that it's a very difficult, high-level magic. So great that, in the worst case, I might not necessarily reach that point even after training for my whole life. Furthermore, I have no vessel. A vessel is vital for making magic succeed, whether it's summoning or resurrection. Because I don't have that, a magic that would already have been difficult is now hopeless. That's right. I have nothing to remember Dad or Mom by. However, by an extraordinary coincidence... I do have something to remember just Onii-chan by.
And that's... this.
"Long ago, without telling Dad, I went with Mom to meet Onii-chan, and we went to play at an amusement park. This is a prize from the crane game there."
I know it's cheap, I realize that it doesn't match my style, and I get that it's too childish. But this hair accessory is the only thing that makes me feel as though Battler onii-chan is by my side. The glass case had been filled with plastic capsules packed with fun-looking things. It seemed that each capsule had some cute accessory in it. The game was to grab those with the crane, but I was young and it was too hard for me. I tried it several times, but I didn't even get close.
Mom said that whatever was inside was probably cheap anyway, and we didn't even know what we'd get, so there was no point in getting all upset over it. But whether it was something cheap or not wasn't the problem. The process of grabbing happiness with my own hands felt really important and sacred to me. So I wanted the cheap thing inside more than anything.
With his arms that were longer than mine, Onii-chan grasped the happiness that I couldn't reach. Onii-chan really was coordinated. It seems he often played with his friends at the arcades. After only one or two attempts, he grasped that thing on the other side of the glass with the crane that I hadn't even been able to touch... and threw it into the exit chute.
For several days, I felt like opening the capsule would be a waste. Then, one day, I finally opened it up. And what revealed itself inside... was this pink-jeweled hair accessory. Since that day... It's been a symbol for Onii-chan.
Since I was young, I felt that having all four of us gathered, including Battler onii-chan, was a precondition for a happy family. So I wanted Onii-chan and Dad to make up quickly. In my own way, I'd treated this hair accessory as a charm for bringing my whole family together. So I always used to wear it. I wanted to feel my reliable, fun, and wonderful Onii-chan by my side all the time... and let him live in our house.
"One day, I'll surely possess the high-level magic to revive the souls of the dead. And the only key... the only vessel... that can make that successful is this."
"...I see. I did feel an incredible magical power from that hair accessory. So that's what it was."
"Magical power...? There's magical power in this thing Onii-chan gave me...?"
"Maybe I should say that it resides in you, Ange-sama. Your strong desire to call your brother gives you magical power. Resurrection certainly is a high-level magic, but there can be no mistake that you're steadily and unconsciously climbing the stairs towards it."
"...I'm glad. It's nice to hear someone other than myself acknowledge that."
In that sense, even though these words came from a shady demon girl who controls one of the seven deadly sins, they made me very happy.
"Well, I can't guarantee that you'll obtain the resurrection magic before your life is over. However, your power as a witch is proportional to the height of the mountain you dare to climb. If you don't lose heart, I'm sure you'll rival even our former master, Beatrice, as a Great Witch someday."
"...I wonder if I can. I wonder if I can become a Great Witch and revive Onii-chan... no, my family."
"The Witch of Resurrection, Lady ANGE...!"
"Kyaah, wonderful! A Witch of Resurrection is a very rare kind of witch. Having a master like that would make me pretty proud. Actually, I'd love for that to happen. Because furniture's worth is also proportional to the class of its master! Please pass Beatrice-sama up and become a peerless Great Witch! As a representative of the Seven Sisters of Purgatory, I'll support you from the bottom of my heart! Kyaha!"
...I'd thought that if a magical friend were to appear for me too, a cute kid like Sakutarou would be best. But even this fifth sister of the shady Seven Sisters who controlled the seven deadly sins... was enough to calm my heart so much all by herself. Maria onee-chan has probably known that since long ago. That's why she recommended the world of witches to me over and over and over again. And I kept on stubbornly rejecting her...
I should've given in and started my training as a witch sooner. A year for a child is worth ten years for an old person, right...? Now I find my past self, which only ever complained, deplorable for wasting my precious time. Long after I turned off the lights and slipped into bed, Mammon continued to talk to me alongside my pillow.
I promise. One day, for sure, I'll develop a magical power that can summon the Seven Sisters. And I'll let them have a lively and fun time. The seven of them make a single whole. None can be left out.