Prelude of Pearls: The 3rd Segue – Convictions and Contradictions
「Calm down, Pearl-san. Knowing him, he’ll be just fine.」
Unable to stand seeing this naive girl’s whimpering, I raised my voice in an attempt to snip Pearl’s concern in the bud. However, contrary to my intentions-
「H-How can you say that, Hiroko-san?! It’s not like you’ve known him for all that long!」
Pearl lashed out at me, glistening tears streaming down her face. While it was plain to see that she was experiencing severe distress, I couldn’t help but feel slightly defeated due to her strong feelings towards the young boy.
「Well, you do have a point there. Still, please keep in mind that shedding tears of sorrow won’t be doing him any good.」
「I-I know but……」
「*sigh* Don’t make that face. I’m going to look like the bad guy here…」
Upon seeing Pearl’s downcast expression, I felt slightly guilty about causing her to feel so depressed. However, this sensation didn’t last long as I began to reflect on J-san’s odd behaviour that he exhibited upon his return to the cafe.
(……he went out to earn some money, but……is that really all that happened?)
I muttered, questioning what had happened during his departure.
After all, the strange and powerful force brimming from within his body was not present when I had last seen him.
So whatever happened between then and now must have attributed to J-san’s newly obtained aura.
(Well, from how he was acting earlier, it seems like he hasn’t noticed it himself……)
Crossing my arms, I recalled J-san’s confusion regarding my attitude towards his demonic pressure.
(-?! G-Get a hold of yourself, Aoyama Hiroko!)
Upon remembering the oppressive aura that threatened to consume my entire being, my body trembled uncontrollably. It was almost as if my body was instinctively reacting to the pure terror evoked by the boy’s overbearing presence.
To be honest, I wasn’t even sure about the reason why I felt so terrified.
However, if I had to explain what it was that had caused me to tremble so pitifully…if I had to describe the sensation that had forced my body to listen to my instincts…
(……it was like I was being dominated.)
Of course, I didn’t mean this in the sexual sort of sense…rather, considering that I was usually the dominant in my relationships, I couldn’t exactly relate to the sort of submissive role that many females my age seemed to long for from their so-called prince charming.
No…I truly meant that I felt like my entire being had been taken away from my control.
It was like I wasn’t even myself anymore.
It was like I had to obey the king.
Naturally, I was aware of how stupid this sort of explanation sounded.
To be honest, even I felt that this sort of description was half-baked and somewhat surreal.
And yet……for some reason, that was the only way I could describe it.
(…………well, there’s not much I can really do about this weird sensation unless I ask J-san directly, now is there?)
Feeling fatigued due to the fact that I had spent so much time contemplating an ultimately pointless matter, I sighed before redirecting my attention towards the youth in bed, as well as the girl who was hunched over him…
「P-Pearl?! What are you-?!」
「……so? Did you manage to get any results?」
「Of course I did. Who do you think I am?」
「Hey! Don’t talk back to me like that, you wimpy brother.」
「K-Knock it off! Stop rubbing my head!」
After successfully committing a noogie against my arrogant little brother’s head, I backed away before deciding to focus on the business aspect of our trip.
「Well then? Come on and tell me the results already!」
I urged Shingen impatiently as I crossed my arms and sat down on the stool in his lab.
The moment our shift finished at the cafe, Shingen and I excused ourselves in order to allocate some time to investigate Shell Noel’s case.
Naturally, while I as the detective inspected the crime scene, my little brother had performed the autopsy on Shell’s body.
And what I found at the site was quite concerning.
From what I understood, Shell Noel died due to blood loss.
However, there was very little blood at the shack where she supposedly died.
「……well, I’ll tell you what I found, although you’re the one that’s going to need to make sense out of it.」
「Yeah, yeah, I get it already.」
Unable to hold back my anticipation, I callously brushed away Shingen’s words as I urged him to hurry up and give me a report of his findings.
That said, what he was currently analysing was not the corpse, but the murder weapon.
AKA, the knife that was lodged into the corpse’s chest.
「Alright. The short of it is that this knife is clean of fingerprints.」
「Well, that much isn’t really surprising. I doubt anyone would use a weapon for murder and not cover their tracks.」
「That is, if they don’t want to be found out for the murder.」
Upon hearing Shingen point this out, I felt something beginning to gnaw at my brain.
Needless to say, this poignant prickling was my detective’s intuition, attempting to guide me in my quest for the truth.
Yet, seeing how I wasn’t exactly sure what my senses were trying to tell me, I decided that I should focus on information gathering for the time being.
After all, if I don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle, it would be rather difficult to draw a conclusion.
「So? Is there nothing else that you found out?」
Turning towards my little brother, I inquired about whether that was all he managed to obtain from the analysis of the murder weapon.
「Well……about this knife……it was stabbed into the victim’s heart after her death.」
(……stabbed after her death?)
I muttered to myself as I brought my right hand to my chin.
Though my expression grew dark, I ignored the surroundings as I questioned exactly why the knife had been stabbed after and not before Shell’s death.
Yet, just before I could get into the particulars about the peculiar knife wound-
「? What’s wrong, Shingen?」
I turned towards my brother, tilting my head to the side upon hearing the unease in his tone.
Yet, as I saw his gaze locked onto the monitor before him, it didn’t take me long to deduce what had him so spooked.
「………you might want to check this.」
Shingen said as he urged me to look at his computer screen.
Taking a quick glance, it was obvious to see that the document on display was the autopsy report for Shell Noel.
Yet, as I took the mouse from my brother’s hand and delved deeper into the report, my eyes bulged as shock bubbled to the surface of my mind.
「-?! T-This is-」
My vision blurred as a strange sensation surged through my entire being. With that said, seeing how this feeling had festered within me for an entire month, I was already quite aware of its identity.
To put it simply, it was concern.
Concern for the safety of someone precious to me.
Unfortunately, even though I knew who was the cause of this severe anxiety, it didn’t help me a single bit with regards to controlling my body, overcome by tension.
(J-san……please……please be ok……)
I held onto J-san’s warm, rugged hand between my own, clenching it tightly as I shut my eyes in prayer.
Who was I praying to?
I didn’t know, nor did I care.
Whether it be the goddess that everyone in this country follows, or whether it be the deity that both my mother and I placed our faith in, I didn’t care.
So long as J-san returned safely, then I was willing to throw away the life that I had lived up until now………
(……eh? W-What did I just-?)
Realising that a dangerous and unnatural thought passed through my head, I did a double-take as I began to truly analyse my thoughts and feelings regarding this matter.
Do I really want to throw away my life?
Is J really that important to me?
To be honest, I wasn’t sure.
I mean, I truly loved my mother, as well as this house and everything else that I experienced within the past 18 years of my life.
And yet, once I lost my mother, I realised for the first time that I wasn’t actually living anymore.
Of course, this understanding could have only been made because I was able to experience what it meant to be alive.
And the one who helped me understand this was none other than J-san.
It was all thanks to the blue-haired boy.
It was all thanks to J-san.
(………thanks to J-san?)
Upon further reflection, I searched through my memories as I began to wonder……
(What exactly has J-san done for me?)
Although I couldn’t help but feel that my gaze had constantly followed the young man ever since he first appeared before me, I noticed that he hadn’t actually done all that much to enrich my life.
I mean, sure. He saved me from the nobles who attacked both the Takubi and myself.
Not only that, but he also saved me from the bullet fired off by one of Hiroko-san’s subordinates.
Yet, in spite of this, what else had this blue-haired stranger actually done for me?
He blackmailed me.
He took my home away from me.
And worst of all……he took my mother’s life.
(……but even if he did, there must be some kind of reason, right?)
Although most would surely call me foolish for thinking such a thing, I couldn’t help but feel like there must have been some sort of justification for J-san’s actions.
I mean, there was no way that the kind and gentle J-san I had come to know could ever kill someone without a good reason.
I mean, it’s not like he was a villain or anything.
That said, regardless of whether he had a reason or not, I would never know if J-san didn’t wake up again.
The very instant that my mind refocused on the welfare of my savior, I couldn’t help but become overwhelmed once more by a tidal wave of pure fear.
Fear for J-san’s precious, fragile life.
Fear for being left alone once more.
Fear for not finding out the truth.
Fear for regretting not telling J-san about who I am.
Fear for not being able to tell him my feelings.
「P-Pearl?! What are you-?!」
Upon feeling a hand placing itself onto my shoulder, my consciousness returned to reality, causing me to realise that my face had been brought extremely close to the unconscious boy’s lips.
「W-What am I-?!」
Before my brain could even process what had happened to me, I instantly flinched, retracting my body away from the blue-haired youth as my face flushed a vivid red.
Yet, as I overcame the initial shock, my cheeks blushed even harder as I reflected on how close my lips were to J-san’s own.
(W-W-W-Was I about to k-k-k-k-k-k-ki-?!)
Unable to even think of the word that represented the action J-san and I had almost taken, I felt a tremendous amount of steam erupt from the top of my head.
To be honest, it was almost as if the steam was expelled in order to lessen the strain on my overheating brain.
Well, considering my background, I guess that’s actually quite possible.
Regardless, as a continuous amount of white smoke poured relentlessly out of my ears, a voice snapped me out of my trance, causing me to jump in surprise.
「Pearl……I don’t really know the relationship between you and J-san all that well and, to be completely honest with you, I really don’t care.」
After dishing out this incredibly cold comment with frigid eyes, Hiroko removed her hand from my shoulder, flicking her hair as she began to speak the following.
「That said…don’t you think that you should at least respect his wishes?」
Even though I was being corroded by fear, I should never have done what I was just about to do to J-san.
I mean, what I was doing……would essentially be forcing him to accept me against his will.
And that…that would just be something that only a bad person would do.
But then again, the fact that I was trying to do such a thing to J-san in my state of unrest only allowed me to confirm my suspicions.
(As I thought……I really do love J-san…)
In spite of all of the wrongs that he’s supposedly done…I still love him.
So then…why? Why do I feel so conflicted?
………if J-san wakes up…
…no. When J-san wakes up…
I’ll confront him.
I’ll tell him everything……and then, I’ll get him to tell me everything.
That way……I can continue to keep on living with no regrets.
Mama……J-san……everything…I’ll put an end to everything.
A child with yellow hair unconsciously cried into in a dark, damp cell.
Her scrawny figure was covered by a dirty rag which revealed skin of an unhealthy gleam.
Her silent and unmoving frame was bound by both fatigue and chains; the obsidian metal serpent wrapping around her inflamed ankles and wrists in an attempt to squeezing the remainder of life out of its broken victim.
From her emerald eyes and adorable face, this girl was undeniably a cute, feminine child.
However, those pristine gems were now jaded and hollow, tainted by agony whilst dulled by torment.
It needn’t be said who this prisoner was.
After all, the fact that she continued to call out to her brother, despite the remnants of her mind being in disarray, clearly declared the girl’s identity.
The girl who was being held captive by Aoyama Aoki and his band of merry gangsters.
「Oi! You awake, you fucking bitch!?」
In response to the sharp sneer enunciated by a seductive voice, the girl continued to call out for her brother in her hazardous state of mind.
Which ended up causing the womanly voice to scoff.
「…is she dead? Well, I don’t really give a shit~」
The owner of the seductive voice sneered as her pale blue hair swayed in the breeze. Despite being indoors, the woman’s radiance induced wonder into the isolated surroundings, encompassing the atmosphere like the sky.
Unlike Aoyama Hiroko, however, this girl was significantly more sensual in her demeanour.
Her succulent figure, tamed by her apparels of darkness, would not fail to enrapture those who lay their eyes upon them.
And yet, despite the woman’s rare and exquisite beauty, she was by no means an unfamiliar face.
Tenjou Suzume. A girl who serves the head of 『Blue Tree』, Aoyama Aoki, as one of its 4 pillars. Born in the northern city of Meteal, she was a skilled gunman who moved to 【Lucid】 so that she could protect the man who she admires.
–which only made it so much more frustrating that she failed to defeat the noble whom she assaulted in an alleyway.
The man with deep blue hair whose powers and techniques were shrouded in mystery.
The woman muttered as she picked up her phone.
Despite the fact that she already reported her encounter with the youth to her boss, it would seem that he had other plans for the young woman.
And, just as Suzume had suspected-
「As I thought, this guy’s bad news.」
-her boss’s voice echoed through the receiver placed against her ear.
『I…want to die.』
『Alright, I’ll kill you then.』
「As I thought, this guy’s bad news.」
A blue-haired youth snarled, glaring at an image being projected onto a large screen.
He was currently rewatching the events that led to his subordinates’ deaths.
Though the corpses had been discovered only a few days ago, the man did not care.
After all, he was more intrigued by the familiar figure who was responsible for one of their deaths.
Then again, this wasn’t unexpected.
After all, this figure had also been responsible for knocking out his subordinates when they were trying to obtain his new merchandise.
And furthermore, this figure had clashed with the youth during the elimination operation of their mole.
「What should we do, Boss?」
A seductive, feminine voice could be heard coming from over the speaker.
Needless to say, the voice coming from the phone was the boy’s subordinate: Tenjou Suzume.
Which, of course, meant that this youth was her boss.
Aoyama Hiroko’s older brother: Aoyama Aoki.
「Isn’t it obvious?」
The youth stared at the projector screen as he began to crack his knuckles.
His narrowed eyes continued to trail onto the figure of blue before him, leering at the daub sympathiser with disgust and hatred.
Even though Aoki had only met the boy once, he was already beside himself with rage as his body trembled in anger.
Though it was unsure exactly why he was so worked up, that didn’t change the fact that the man had set his sights onto the boy aligned with chaos.
And so, his lips parted as his cold declaration resounded in the darkness.
「We’re gonna kill him!」
A voice echoed throughout the surroundings that I was unable to observe.
With both my body and senses paralysed, I couldn’t even utter a single word, much less reply to this mysterious voice whose origin I could not determine.
「I know you can hear me. Hurry up and answer me.」
(Trust me, whoever you are. I would if I could.)
Feeling slightly irritated by the voice’s attitude, dark thoughts swirled in my head, failing to make their way to the surface.
Or at least, that’s what I had originally thought.
「Well, it’s about fucking time.」
(-?! You can hear me?)
「Yeah, of course I can. More importantly, I need to talk to you about that brown-haired chick you’ve got wrapped tight around your finger.」
-the voice scoffed at me, brushing away my confusion as it proceeded to move the conversation along.
(Hey, wait a sec! Who are you?)
「Hey, now. That’s a pretty cruel joke, even for you. I mean, there’s no way you’d go off forgetting about little ol’ me, now is there?」
Once again dismissing my words, the voice spoke sarcastically, uninhibited by morals as it answered my question in a roundabout manner.
Upon hearing this comment regarding the voice’s identity, I sank into thought, sorting through all of my memories in an attempt to find someone that even remotely resembled this individual’s character.
Needless to say, even after searching through all of my acquaintances, friends, and family, the number of people that came up was a whopping zero.
Rather, if I was forced to draw a parallel between this entity and someone from my past life, then I’d probably end up choosing some sort of vague antagonist from a story that I’ve either read, watched, or written.
And of course, those cliched characters never pop-up in real life.
「Anyway, enough about that. I’m here to talk about Pearl.」
(…? What about her?)
I replied calmly, suspicious about the fact that the entity was acquainted with the girl I was protecting.
Yet, strangely enough, the response I received from the invisible individual threw me for a loop.
「Don’t give me that. When are you gonna fuck her?」
Unable to even process a proper reply, my mind stalled, utterly bewildered by the question brought forth by the anonymous voice.
While I wasn’t sure whether it was the contents of the question or its callous delivery which sent my mind grinding to a halt, I didn’t care.
After all, my initial discomfort towards this entity was gradually growing into concentrated contempt.
(The hell are you saying?! I’m not planning on doing anything like that!)
「Hoh~, is that right? Even though she’s totally your type?」
(The hell would you know?!)
Growing defensive, I lashed out against the voice as blood rushed to my head, causing my cheeks to flare up in anger (and embarrassment).
Of course, if I had to say whether I wanted to “do” it or not with Pearl, then the answer was quite obvious.
I mean, the innocent and attractive girl had already lit my fire several times throughout our short period of acquaintance.
Yet, regardless of my impure feelings towards this girl, I had no intention of ever laying a hand on her.
At least, not against her will.
「……seems like you don’t want to talk about it, huh?」
「Well, whatev. No skin off my nose.」
Discerning that pursuing this subject further would prove too bothersome, the voice spoke aloofly, not neglecting to offer even the slightest apology for his forwardness.
「Let’s change the subject then. How long’re you gonna keep up this pointless act?」
(…how the hell do you know about that?)
I respond aggressively as I raised my guard.
While I probably wouldn’t have normally responded with such distinct hostility, the suspicious entity continued to grate on my nerves, causing me to involuntarily assume a combative stance.
「Heh. Who do you take me for? It’s painfully obvious just by looking at you that you’ve been spouting a load of bullshit since the very beginning.」
(……the fuck are you on about?)
「Oi oi, don’t play dumb with me.」
The voice grumbled with sarcasm, fueling my ever-growing distaste towards the invisible entity.
「I know everything that’s happened, as well as what sort of twisted shit that you’re trying to pull here. Of course, I also know all about what you’re so desperately trying to hide from everyone.」
(………who the hell are you?)
I asked the suspicious individual, no longer able to subdue my curiosity.
Naturally, while I was always sceptical about this entity’s identity, their latest comment had rendered me unable to turn a blind eye any longer.
However, as unfortunate as it may be, it appeared that I wasn’t going to receive the answer that I had initially hoped for.
「Don’t give me that. You should already know who I am. Besides, don’t think that you can squirm your way out of this by changing the subject.」
「Yeah, that’s right. You’re just trying to run away from answering the question.」
Even though I raised my inaudible voice in an attempt to object, for some reason, I couldn’t outright reject the notion that I was ducking away from giving a proper answer.
「Well, at least you’ve got the guts to admit it. That said, are you really going to keep up with this farce?」
Reading the implications behind my trailing voice, the entity continued to ridicule me as it repeated its inquiry once more. Of course, there was nothing compelling me to reply to this question at all, much less whether to give an honest or false answer.
However, for some reason, I couldn’t help but spill my thoughts out into the open.
(………it’s not like I actually like doing this, you know…)
「Oh, I’m definitely aware of that. If there’s one thing that you’re not suited to be, it’s a villain.」
「If I had to say, then being an asshole definitely suits you better.」
「Then again, it’s not like you’re trying to become either of those things.」
(…………you’re just going to ignore me, aren’t you?)
「You know, you’re full of contradictions, aren’t you?」
(…? What makes you say that?)
Deciding that it wouldn’t do me any good to critique the entity’s persistent disregard of my comments, I, instead, raised a question regarding what the voice meant by me being filled with contradictions.
「Yeah, you’re not fooling me with that. You of all people should be aware of how ironic all of this is.」
「Wait…are you serious?! Man, you must really be out of it if you can’t even figure this out.」
(Look, just spill it already.)
Growing pissed at the entity’s tone, I became unusually irritated as my thoughts lashed out towards the unknown individual.
Instead of reacting to my animosity, however, the voice disregarded me as it simply stated the following.
「In your attempts to be kind to her, you have to make her hate you. Yet, in being kind to her, you’re actually making things harder for her.」
(………what’s that supposed to mean?)
In the face of these cryptic words, I felt my mind go blank for but an instant. Yet, upon quickly regaining my composure, I raised a question towards this entity who had analysed my current situation in a manner similar to an editor nitpicking at someone’s use of a word or phrase.
「Heh. Well, you are pretty dense so I’m not expecting you to understand that just yet.」
(What’s that supposed to mean?)
「In any case, why don’t you just be honest with her? It’s not like you to give two shits about other people anyway?」
Ignoring the question about my so-called insensitivity, the entity blatantly challenged my actions, pointing out a legitimate discrepancy that even a scumbag like myself had picked up a long time ago.
Placing the matter of whether my actions towards Pearl could be considered kind aside, it was true that I wouldn’t normally associate myself with a girl of her nature, much less try so hard to help her in this twisted and contradictory manner.
Nevertheless, even though it was unlike me, I had already made my resolve.
A resolve that I wasn’t going to back away from so easily.
「Well, if that’s what you want, then I’m not going to stop you.」
(…are you an ESPer or something?)
Having my thoughts read once again, I couldn’t help but snarl at the entity that I was talking to.
…actually, considering that they were reading my thoughts instead of hearing my opinions, it probably made more sense if this person was some sort of psychic.
「Look, whatever you wanna do is fine by me. I’ll support you through it. That said, are you sure this is how you want things to play out?」
The voice reverberated once more, raising this question in a nonchalant manner.
Yet, even though the delivery of the question wasn’t anything special, there was a peculiar weight behind these words that I couldn’t shake off.
To be honest, it was haunting.
Not just the tone of the individual’s voice, but this entire situation.
It was surreal.
Surreal yet familiar.
I don’t know why I felt this way.
That said, this didn’t change the fact that I was forced to acknowledge the significance of the entity’s question.
And so, seeing how I had already steeled myself once before, I reaffirmed my convictions before the following words flowed from my mouth.
「Yeah. I’ll make sure that I live on as Pearl’s enemy until the day I die.」
|The 12th Prelude – Prejudice and Pretences||XCrossJ’s List of Movements||The 13th Prelude – The Point of No Return|