Prelude of Pearls: The 6th Prelude – Marionette
I woke up. Another day has passed.
I turn in my bed. A double bed. A bed too big for one person.
Nevertheless, it was a sensation that I was all too familiar with.
I mutter as my breath fogs up the chilly morning air.
(…what in the world are you doing, me?)
As I try to hold back the tears, I get out of bed. Just like I have been for the past month.
I walk to the bathroom and wash my face.
Although I had yet to splash water on my face, I can see a wet substance sticking to my skin.
As I spoke, I saw my tear-stained expression in the mirror.
I speak as I slap my cheeks.
I can’t continue to stay depressed. After all, I’m sure the police will find my mother.
As I get dressed, I head downstairs to the restaurant that my mother and I ran. I say ‘restaurant’, but it’s more of a coffee shop. Of course, I was the one who cooked. Although embarrassing to admit, I couldn’t make coffee if my life depended on it.
I make my way outside in order to buy the necessary ingredients for today’s cooking. After all, even if my mother was currently away, I still needed money.
I grab my bag and walk around the bustling city. As usual, it feels clustered. Clustered with people. Clustered with strangers.
I eventually find my way to the grocery store. I begin to pick up ingredients one by one, taking care as to not go over my budget.
And with that, I return home. It’s time to get ready for the start of my work shift.
Usually, my work hours will last from 8 AM to 8 PM. 12 good hours of work. Although it’s been tiring these past few weeks, I’ve somehow been able to keep up with the workload.
As I walk into the coffee shop, the scene that has encompassed most of my life entered my eyes.
Brown floorboards. White walls. The aroma of coffee ingrained into the building. The sun rays seeping in through the countless windows. The lights emitting a soft, warm glow. It wasn’t a fancy shop, but it was comfy. It was home.
The only thing that was missing was Mama.
「Excuse me. Is the store open?」
I hear a voice coming from outside.
「Ah, sorry! Come back in ten!」
I replied back to the voice as I swiftly began to set up.
Sure enough, I had set up everything in 15 minutes. Nice and quick. Now, I’m ready to start the day.
I cheerfully walk towards the door and flip the sign from [Closed] to [Open]. However, just as I was about to head back inside-
I noticed a youth with vivid, blue hair crouched next to the entrance of the door. From what I could see from his face, he looked annoyed.
「Ah! I’m so sorry!」
As I had completely forgotten about the voice that had called out to me earlier, I expressed my apologies. However-
「Don’t worry bout it. More importantly, is it ok to enter?」
-the youth simply disregarded my apology and asked thus as he stood.
「Ah, yes. I-It’s fine, sir.」
As I was taken aback by his slightly aloof demeanour, I replied with uncertainty.
Yet, the blue-haired man seemed to have been unaware of my inner turmoil as he simply entered the shop.
I followed after him as he sat down onto one of the barstools.
I cringe. It was obvious that I could not make coffee. After all, I never learnt how to make it.
As the youth’s eyes turned towards me, I stiffened. However, I had no choice but to tell him that I couldn’t complete his order.
「I’m terribly sorry. I cannot make coffee.」
「Eh? But don’t you have the ingredients?」
As the youth spoke thus, he looked over at the coffee counter.
A variety of beans and milk were lined up neatly along the counter.
Although I had left them there for aesthetic purposes, that did not change the fact that I was incapable of making coffee.
「I-I’m sorry. It’s not a matter of ingredients…」
「It can’t be…do you not know how to make coffee?」
At the youth’s direct question, I could only nod in embarrassment.
「…this is a coffee shop, right?」
「…yes, indeed it is.」
I could only hang my head in shame.
It was unheard of for a coffee shop to be unable to produce coffee.
「Well then, I’ll make the coffee so you don’t mind if I use your ingredients, yes?」
I was rendered speechless by the youth’s one-sided proposition.
「Ah, I’ll obviously pay for the ingredients so don’t worry.」
My mind was utterly confused. However, the youth seemed to be impatiently waiting for an answer, causing me to respond in the affirmative.
As the youth moved behind the counter, I surveyed the individual.
The youth had blue hair and blue eyes. He was relatively tall and slim, his frame being covered by a blue jacket and black shirt and trousers. Although the choice of clothing seemed to be quite simple, it strangely suited the individual before her eyes.
The youth also wore a knapsack over his shoulder.
The youth spoke as he placed a cup on the table.
I could only respond with an incomprehensible grunt.
「It’s coffee. I’m paying for it so drink it.」
I stutter as I was unsure what to do.
「Um, may I ask for what reason?」
「You’re so formal that it’s a pain in the ass. Drink some coffee and relax a bit.」
I stood there, staring at the blue-haired youth. He was the first of those kinds of customers to ever say that being formal was a pain in the ass.
I couldn’t help but let out a small giggle. Unlike most of those customers, this one actually detested formality. I wasn’t sure whether I was amused by the irony or the intrigue of this individual. However, I did as I was told as I sat at the counter and began to drink the brown beverage before my eyes.
As I began to drink, I stared at the youth who was still behind the counter, making coffee. It almost seemed as if I was the customer and the youth was the one in charge of the shop.
As I mused over this silly idea, I felt my body grow less tense. I really haven’t had a good cup of coffee in a long time.
「Um, do you mind if I ask you something?」
As the youth spoke, my thoughts snapped back to reality.
「Ah, yes! Excuse me!」
I apologised as I realised that I had once again caused the youth to wait.
「You don’t have to be so straight laced. I don’t really mind it.」
「I-Is that so?」
As I realised that I was still speaking quite formally, I began to loosen up my tongue in an attempt to alter my manner of speaking.
「Well, anyway. Are you this store’s owner?」
「Nope. The owner is my mother.」
「He~. Do you know where she is now?」
I felt my face fall as the youth asked me this question.
I tried to come up with an answer. Yet, all I could do was just stand there.
It was as if time had stopped for an eternity.
-or at least it would have if it weren’t for what had happened next.
A man dressed entirely in blue entered the shop.
「Huh? The police?」
「Ah, excuse me miss. Would you happen to be Pearl Noel-san?」
「Y-yes. I am, but…」
As I answered perplexedly, I suddenly felt hope swelling inside me.
「Did you find Mama！？」
「Yes. We have found her, but…」
As the man spoke, he seemed to have displayed a grave countenance, tipping his cap.
「Shell Noel-san has passed away.」
I wasn’t sure what happened to me after that.
I was told that my mother had committed suicide after murdering 2 bandits in self-defense. I was also told that the site where her body was found was an utter mess, as if the site itself had been tampered with.
As I was utterly stunned by this information, the day passed by me completely.
The city, bustling underneath the aurora-filled sky was unfazed by the loss of my mother.
My eyes red and my vision blurred, I stood on top of a tall building as I faced the cityscape.
I wasn’t sure what I was thinking. I was only here because this was where I often came when I was troubled.
Perhaps I was hoping for the beautiful scenery to take away my sorrow.
Yet, all it seemed to do was add to my pain.
「Hey, you there.」
I jumped as I heard a voice behind me.
From the tone and manner of speech, it seemed to belong to a male. As I rubbed my eyes, my vision cleared, taking in the sight of a familiar blue-haired youth.
「…why are you here?」
I asked the youth.
「I could ask you the same, why are you here?」
As my mind was a mess, I could not come up with a suitable excuse. Thus, I simply stated the following-
「It’s got nothing to do with you.」
「But it does have something to do with me?」
「What are you saying?」
As I couldn’t comprehend the man’s speech, I returned a question. To which, the blue-haired youth took out a pendant.
No, not a pendant. A locket. A golden locket.
「W-why do you have that!?」
「Even if you ask me ‘why’…」
The youth spoke as he rubbed the back of his hair.
「…who are you?」
「It’s finally come to this, huh?」
The youth’s face contorts into an eerie smile as he spoke.
「Nice to meet you. I’m the one who murdered your mother. Call me J.」
A skill that allows the user to scare and/or deter those weaker than themselves.
Simply put, I was basically trying to frighten the girl.
To make myself seem evil.
Pearl (I think it was?) echoed, her lapse in speech clearly displaying how hard it was for her to process my declaration.
Well, I mean, who could blame her?
It’s not like I was telling her some idle gossip over a cup of coffee.
「B-But that policeman said it was suicide!?」
「If I didn’t kill her, then why do I have her locket?」
I raised the key item into the air, causing Pearl’s eyes to become fixated on its solemn glow.
Trapped in the clutches of anguish, there was no way Pearl could refute my statements.
Rather, in her vulnerable state of mind, it wouldn’t be hard for me to convince her that Shell Noel was killed by my hand.
I remember watching a video about the 5 stages of grief.
Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.
All of these were a natural process of coping with loss or sadness of some kind.
And having just lost her mother, Pearl was definitely filled to the brim with disbelief.
Unable to accept that her mother was gone.
Unable to accept that she had killed herself.
Her doubt and rejection didn’t take long to manifest itself into a more tangible form.
「T-then you really?」
Her eyes bulged, staring at me as if I were a monster.
「Yeah. I killed your mother.」
As I coldly repeated my statement, Pearl’s eyes widened as her contracted pupils vigorously convulsed in rage. Even though her visage had completely shifted from her depressing sorrow to a brilliant rage, tears continued to stream down her reddened cheeks as she grabbed me by the collar.
「WHY!? WHY DID YOU KILL MY MOTHER-!?」
My collar screeched painfully in her suffocating grasp.
Nevertheless, I needed to keep up this villainous [facade].
「Who cares about that? I didn’t come here to talk about that woman’s death.」
…………I really wanted to punch myself for saying such heinous words.
However, I couldn’t afford to be any more lenient with my speech as I needed to maintain a certain amount of leverage.
「S-Stop screwing around!」
It would seem that my indifferent comment sent Pearl into a frenzy, her visage becoming filled with unbridled fury and uncontrollable anguish.
While I understood where she was coming from, all I could do was inwardly empathise with her, swearing silently under my breath as I utilised my ≪Intimidation≫ skill.
Pearl flinched in the face of my sharpened words, her grip loosening.
It would seem as though even in this world, a gun still meant the same thing.
Shut up and listen to what I say.
To clarify, this was a pistol that I had bought with my earnings, intended to be used to give me a means of fighting long range in case I couldn’t use magic.
With that said, it wasn’t loaded.
Then again, Pearl was oblivious to this fact.
「……what are you planning to do? Are you going to kill me? Just like my mother?」
The brown-haired girl’s animosity and disgust flared, piercing my conscience.
Her simmering skin scalded the barrel planted on her head, causing my uncertain hand to twitch subtly.
Yet, I had no choice but to continue with this farce.
「……nope. Doing that would be a pain. I just want to make a deal with you.」
Although her anger and sorrow stubbornly persisted, doubt and scepticism lingered in her eyes, causing her lips to quivering.
「Yeah. I’m gonna be living in your house for a bit.」
「L-Live!? Do you really think I’ll allow that!?」
Pearl snapped back, her body visibly trembling.
While I couldn’t see how much nerve I must have had to demand such a thing, if I was in her shoes, I’d probably look like a complete and utter asshole.
『Master, you have obtained the trait 《Asshole》.』
(……I really want to fucking kill whoever designed this system.)
Hearing a detached voice echo in my earphones, I cursed.
It was plainly obvious to me that I had just earned myself a new trait. After all, I’ve been hearing this obnoxious ring throughout the entire week I was training.
Yet, this timing was incredibly inappropriate.
(……forget it. Just focus.)
In any case, now wasn’t the time to scheme the death of this system’s designer that may or may not exist.
Right now, I needed to concentrate.
Concentrate on my newfound power.
Domination Points (DP).
The facet of my powers, allowing me to manifest and maintain control over phenomenon.
To put it simply, it was basically my MP.
However, unlike the traditional trope of converting Mana into spells, I harnessed DP to influence reality.
When I used ≪Volt≫ the other day against those gangsters, I created a spark by using DP to control the flow of electrons, moving them through the water that lay under my feet.
However, this was not the only implementation of my power.
If I vibrated the molecules in the air, I could create fire. ―― ≪Flame≫
If I dropped the temperature in the atmosphere, I could create ice. ―― ≪Freeze≫
And if I controlled light-
The manipulation of light is a powerful thing. With it, I could change my appearance to some degree.
And with this skill, I dyed my pupils with a piercing blood red, reminiscent of a figment of fiction that was quite near to me.
Why? Well, besides trying to appear cool, I was using colours to influence Pearl’s mind on a subconscious level.
In my past world, I learned that certain hues would induce certain behaviours in people.
Red denotes quick reaction, danger, warning, and anger.
Blue was often associated with tranquility, logical reasoning, relaxation, and calm decision making.
While I wasn’t expecting this to give me a significant edge, I decided to use all of my available skills to ensure that Pearl followed my instructions.
After all, if I wanted my plan to succeed, I needed to gain access to her home.
「You really don’t get it, do you~?」
My words contained a sharp edge. I looked down at the girl with a narrowed gaze.
In order to establish a certain dominance, I intentionally catered my body language so that I subdued the girl before me.
To show her that I was in charge.
「W-What are you saying?」
Pearl shrank backwards, her reddened face suddenly drained of all colour as it was reduced to a blank canvas of fear.
「You know what this is, right?」
I voiced a rhetoric, returning the unloaded weapon back into my pocket. I then turned around, unguarded as I approached my knapsack (placed further away from our argument).
While I normally wouldn’t take my eyes off of a potential murderer, it was clear that she wasn’t going to leap on me anytime soon.
Curiosity had bound her into a state of precarious paralysis.
Her body a puppet; My actions the puppeteer.
As I slowly approached my bag, taking my sweet time, I was carefully building up her insecurity.
Her anxiety continued to grow, forcing her to submit her body to the one in control of the delayed reveal: The puppeteer.
However, there was a limit to how far I could push this marionette.
Carefully gauging the time, I reached into my bag…
…and pulled out a sheet of paper.
A piece of paper that I had found within the locket I took from Shell Noel’s corpse.
After walking back to Pearl, I presented the parchment to her, ensuring that she could read it, yet not reach it.
Although I felt like I was dangling a carrot in front of a horse, I ignored the weird sensation as I waited for Pearl to realize what I was holding.
The deed to her cafe.
The ownership rights to her home.
Shocked, Pearl covered her mouth with both hands as her coffee brown eyes opened wide.
「Do you get it now? Your house is my possession.」
Triggered by my words of mockery, Pearl leaped forwards, her outstretched arms grasping for the parchment.
Yet, I had already predicted her spontaneous movement.
I whipped out my bullet-less gun, pointing the barrel at the girl’s head once more.
「Sorry, but I can’t let you do that~」
As her fingertips brushed against the ‘prize’ in my hand, Pearl froze, her eyes glaring at me with open hostility.
「T-Then the police-!?」
「If you get the police involved, I’ll incinerate this deed until it’s nothing but ash!」
I spoke, igniting a blue flame on the tip of my finger.
In the face of my threat, Pearl could do naught but tear up.
If I burned this deed, her restaurant would no longer belong to anybody. While I wasn’t sure how real estate worked in Azur, it was reasonable to assume that Pearl would lose a place to live.
However, that wasn’t the only issue here.
「If that happens, your mother’s home—-the proof that your mother lived would simply disappear. Are you alright with that?」
As Pearl’s body shivered, I finally realised what I was doing to this poor, vulnerable girl.
No. I definitely knew exactly what I was going to do to this girl that cared so deeply for her mother.
I was perfectly aware of the actions that I had taken and what sort of impact it would have on this girl, her trembling legs no longer able to support the burden resting on her delicate shoulders.
Perhaps the human condition was what caused people to avert their eyes from the ugly, distasteful truth.
Unfortunately for me, it appeared that my conscience had prevailed, drowning me in guilt that came with the act I had just performed.
I wasn’t going to bother sugarcoating it.
Using what’s available to you.
There were many ways one could disguise such a distasteful act.
Regardless, that’s effectively what I was doing.
In order to further my own goals, I was manipulating this vulnerable girl into submitting to my demands.
While I often joked about manipulation with my friends in the chaos, I always knew that there was a line. A limit.
A point that I should never cross.
I mean, I’ll admit that I was satisfied when I used my wit and cunning to subtly nudge a certain neko-imouto and elegant narcissist into clashing heads.
That said, I often made sure that no one was harmed by my little antics.
And yet…here I was, using my skills to reduce this pure girl into such a depressing state.
All of the vigorous rage that she displayed earlier completely evaporated.
The smile that I had seen the night prior had also disappeared.
All that was left was a girl who yearned for her mother.
(……even so, I can’t just wallow in self-pity forever!)
I was going to cause this girl insufferable pain. This much was inexcusable.
However, if I backed off here…if I didn’t accomplish my goal, all of this pain would be for nothing.
Though I may be deluding myself, the truth was that I had no other choice but to go through with my actions.
「So? What’re you gonna do? It’s fine for me to live in your home, right?」
On the brink of despair, Pearl uttered, her affirmation barely audible to my ears.
Pearl lost consciousness, as her limp body collapsing in on itself…
…almost as if she were a marionette that had her strings cut.
|The 5th Prelude – An Interrupted Cadence||XCrossJ’s List of Movements||The 7th Prelude – Nobility|