Warning: This chapter contains harsh language and somewhat extreme themes. Read at your own risk.
Prelude of Pearls: The 13th Prelude – The Point of No Return
As my eyelids fluttered open, light leaked into my retinas, clueing me in on the fact that I had regained consciousness. Although I remember being subjected to some sort of weird experience, I couldn’t exactly remember it very clearly.
Unlike my memory, however, my body’s condition had improved significantly, thanks to the restful sleep that I couldn’t remember having. That said, while I was able to quickly recall the events that led to me passing out, something else required my immediate attention.
Namely, the girl whose face had suddenly appeared before my very eyes.
「……Pearl? What are you doing?」
I couldn’t help but ask the innocent girl, her body bent over the bed as a large portion of her torso was positioned above my own.
Unsurprisingly shocked to hear my sudden voice, Pearl’s body trembled before jumping involuntarily. Of course, seeing how she had upset her balance so abruptly, the girl of coffee ended up bending over even more, her head beginning to edge into my personal space as her face grew brighter.
「Thank goodness………I’m so glad you’re alright!」
Clearly expressing her unbridled relief, tears began to fall down Pearl’s cheeks as she buried her face into my chest.
And naturally, in the face of such a distressed young girl-
(-?! Wait, what in the-?!)
-I frowned, disturbed by the incomprehensible situation I found myself in.
Droplets of pearls spilt from the girl’s eyes, glistening with radiance before disappearing into the bottomless ocean that was my shirt.
And yet, dispelling the illusion of the pure, distilled awe inspired by this breathtaking scene-
A reserved, almost pitiful voice trembled from the parted lips of the noble with light-blue hair.
Though her brilliance was somewhat tamer than usual, I was perplexed by the absence of her strong will that became so vividly imprinted in my mind, despite our short acquaintance.
And, while I would have normally pretended to not notice, I felt that it would be best to investigate a little.
「…? Are you alright, Hiroko?」
I asked the subdued noble, raising my head in an effort to filter out Pearl momentarily.
「*Phew* I see you’re back to your normal self. I hope you’re alright.」
「Well, I’ll live…」
My voice trailed as Hiroko returned to her usual, perky self.
Seeing how the transformation from feeble to feisty was inexplicably abrupt, I wanted to ask the girl exactly what was wrong with her. That said, seeing how numerous sets of hostile eyes pierced my body with reckless abandon, I decided to refrain as now seemed like an inappropriate time to ask.
Incidentally, upon giving the room a quick glance, I ascertained that all but Shingen and Shana were gathered in this room.
As to where the hoodie siblings had disappeared to or what they were doing, I wasn’t sure.
That said, it seemed that Hiroko wasn’t about to give me a chance to ask.
「I see. In that case, I believe that we should take our leave. We’ll talk more about what happens next after you’re feeling better, J-san.」
The blue-haired noble flicked her dazzling hair of snow up into the air before leading her troops out of my bedroom.
Which left me alone with a broken down Pearl, sobbing in relief as she continued to bury her face in my chest.
「Thank goodness……oh thank goodness……」
Unsure of how to deal with Pearl’s current condition, I gingerly wrapped my arms around the girl’s trembling torso, my arms twitching with hesitation.
(……Pearl’s body…it’s kind of smaller than I expected.)
I commented silently, softly stroking the maiden’s back in an attempt to comfort her shivering figure.
As I did so, however, I couldn’t help but give off a wry smile as my muscles involuntarily relaxed. And, while I wasn’t exactly sure why I felt so at ease at this current time, I continued to bask in the heat that continued to accumulate within my chest.
『If there’s one thing that you’re not suited to be, it’s a villain.』
I clutched my forehead, attempting to control the sharp pain stabbing into my cranium. Flashes of white painted my vision as I groaned, staggering about in a spurt of dizziness.
「……? J-san? Are you alright?」
Seemingly noticing my unstable condition, Pearl craned her head up towards me, her swollen eyes filled with concern. While her tearstained expression evoked a strange sensation within my gut, I decided to ignore it as I shook my head, standing up before speaking the following.
「Yeah, I’ll be ok…I think I just need a bit of fresh air.」
Feeling slightly tipsy upon grasping the Earth with my feet, I hauled my body towards the door in an attempt to head outside.
Yet, before I was even able to take a single step outside of the room-
「Umm…if you want to go outside, then do you mind if I take you somewhere?」
A crisp scent of distilled frost tickled my nose.
A gentle chill caressed my skin, tenderly rousing my body from its state of half-sleep.
Although I had no idea why I chose to comply with Pearl’s request, the wintry breeze cracking against my wimpy frame made me second guess my decision.
Needless to say, the air’s persistent lashing suggested that I was no longer within the comfort of indoors.
And, considering it appeared to be winter in this world, perhaps it was unwise to remain outdoors for a long time.
Yet, even though it wasn’t the most ideal of conditions to take a trip outside, I didn’t regret doing so.
After all, with this majestic view spreading before my eyes, how could I complain?
Shimmering lights continued to glimmer through the night, painting a breathtakingly gorgeous canvas of soft, yet radiant glows that melded into the mellow atmosphere. The various hues which streaked through the night roads, as well as the magnificent, towering landscape created a subtle, yet pronounced feeling of majesty and awe that one could not help but admire.
「It’s a great view, isn’t it?」
Taking out one of my earphones (that had Servant of Evil blasting through its speakers), I turned towards the origin of the voice, dazzled by the beauty of this strangely isolated place.
Of course, as I did so, I was hypnotised by the almost sickeningly sweet expression that formed on the brown-haired girl’s face.
Her brown, slightly swollen eyes that looked upwards towards me.
Her small mouth, upturned into an innocent smile of sincerity.
To be honest, it was almost alleviating.
I mean, after having worried myself to death about my life, my skills and levels, and all of this business regarding Aoyama Hiroko and her older brother, it was refreshing to see such a calm and soothing expression.
……and yet, something inside me couldn’t quite accept this girl’s honest demeanour so simply.
After all, this wasn’t the sort of attitude one would take towards someone they considered an enemy.
「Is something wrong?」
「Hm? Ah, nothing. Don’t worry about it.」
Brushing away Pearl’s concern, I returned my gaze towards the cityscape expanding below. In doing so, however, I was able to see a certain shack near the base of a bridge far off into the distance.
The shack where that incident occurred.
(………I don’t like this.)
I murmured as my face darkened.
After all, thanks to the association of my memories, I was able to recall that Pearl had come to this location once before.
Specifically, the time when I had blackmailed her into letting me into her house.
「Y-Yes?! W-what is it, J-san?」
Upon hearing my abrupt voice call out to her, Pearl flinched as she turned towards me, her previously fidgeting hands currently clasped tightly onto her skirt.
「Is this place special to you or something?」
I asked absent-mindedly, gazing at Pearl with narrowed eyes. From what I was able to see, the girl’s soft eyes bulged in surprise before growing downcast.
And, while I initially didn’t understand why such an expression flashed across her face, Pearl’s pursed lips parted, allowing me to revel in the reality of her dark expression.
「……yeah. My mother took me here several times when I was little.」
(Well, shit. I just stepped on a fucking landmine.)
Feeling myself sweat slightly, I couldn’t help but want to punch myself in the face. That said, being ignorant of my inner turmoil, Pearl began to approach as her hair swayed in the night breeze.
「J-san……I have something I want to tell you.」
With an unnaturally serious gaze, Pearl raised her voice. Unlike the last time we were here, however, there was a strange tenderness to her visage, almost as if the wrath she expressed a few days ago was but a distant dream.
「Y-You see, I’ve been hiding something from you all this time.」
Taking my strained silence as an affirmative, Pearl appeared somewhat nervous as she continued to press the tips of both of her index fingers against each other.
As Pearl’s voice trailed off, I gave her an inquisitive gaze, wondering what she was trying to say to me as the innocent maiden’s head dropped. Yet, the superficial lull was swiftly broken as the innocent girl raised her head before gazing at me with a wry smile.
And, in doing so, something strange suddenly occurred.
Pearl’s brown hair continued to blow in the wind, fluttering as her hair melded into the surrounding darkness. While it was difficult to see due to the dim lighting, I could tell that her glistening hair began to overlap with some of the lights shimmering in the background.
And then, almost as if this coincidental overlap was the catalyst, Pearl’s hair began to glow softly within the surroundings absent of strong light. Similar to the glitter that painted her background, Pearl’s hair was illuminated with a subtle, soothing radiance that involuntarily attracted my gaze.
—It was only until the finale of her transformation did a nervous Pearl speak.
「………u-um, t-this is what I’ve been hiding from you.」
Although Pearl’s eyes were shut tight in a manner reminiscent of a little girl who was about to get scolded by her parents, I was clueless as to what could possibly warrant such strange behaviour, causing me to narrow my eyes as I investigated the girl’s visage.
Needless to say, the only thing that really stood out besides her peculiar behaviour was the flourish of pink streamers that stretch out behind her like silk.
「By this, do you mean your hair?」
Pearl’s eyes opened wide in shock upon hearing my question.
「J-san……does this not shock you? I mean, this is what I am?」
「……what? You’ve been hiding the fact that you have pink hair, right?」
「I mean, it’s not like there’s anything wrong with having pink hair. Rather, I think it makes you look pretty cute.」
After a long period of silence from Pearl, she chuckled before covering her mouth and bursting out into laughter. To be honest, I couldn’t really discern the reason behind her sudden mood swing.
(………it couldn’t be that, could it?)
I contemplated, trying to find justification for Pearl’s inexplicable demeanour.
However, upon realising that my mind wandered in a dangerous direction, I brushed away the thought before returning my attention towards the pink-haired girl, finally calming down after her fit of laughter subsided.
「As I thought, you really are weird J-san.」
「…? Was that not it?」
Upon hearing Pearl’s comment, I immediately began to realise that I had made an incorrect assumption, causing myself to express confusion towards the young maiden.
「No……you’re partly right, but that’s not exactly what I meant.」
Pearl sheepishly replied as she brought her hair to her lips, murmuring something before a sphere of light appeared in her hand.
「I’m a spirit contractor……and I’m also a hybrid.」
(Spirit contractor, huh?)
Upon hearing a familiar term, I was suddenly reminded about some of the documents I had read during my initial arrival to 【Lucid】.
Specifically, books concerning magic.
From what I noted, there were several different types of magic users in this world, each of which adheres to a specific magical system.
One of such magic was Mana Imbuement and Reality Augmentation. This was the type of magic system that my power resembled the most.
Essentially, Phenomenon Manipulators (as they’re called) imbue mana into physical matter and control it as they please. From what I understood, most of these types had quite a large Mana Reservoir, as well as high Mana Consumption.
If not for the fact that my miracle fuel was DP, this was pretty much an apt explanation of my ability.
However, this was but one of many types of magic.
And Spirit Contractors were mages who followed a different system of miracle making.
The principle of Spirit Commandment and Reality Augmentation wasn’t actually that far from imbuing mana. Casters would act like a commander, ordering contracted spirits to perform the magic on their behalf, similar to ordering little sprites to perform chores and the like.
Naturally, the actual process was probably a bit more complex than my summary made it out to be.
Regardless, I didn’t feel like being a Spirit Contractor was something to be ashamed of, nor was it something that would warrant the sort of anxiety that Pearl exhibited.
Yet, it was probably not this part, but the other detail that caused Pearl’s tension to rise so high.
Unsure of what this meant, I sent an inquisitive gaze towards Pearl, causing her pupils to contract in surprise.
However, despite her shock regarding the fact I was unaware of the term’s significance, Pearl shooked her head before responding to my question with a stutter.
「W-Well, my parents were from different countries. They had different hair colours.」
「I see……so? What of it?」
「-?! Y-You really don’t think that any of this is weird?」
「No, not particularly?」
I answered honestly, oblivious to what reason Pearl could have for feeling that these were significant facts.
(Well, I guess that might be a difference in culture that I have yet to understand, huh?)
I muttered to myself as I scratched the back of my head. Needless to say, it was sort of underwhelming that Pearl’s so-called confession had only revealed the fact that she was both a spirit contractor and a hybrid.
I mean, I more or less already had my suspicions regarding Pearl’s true hair colour after I had seen the strand of pink hair that had shown up in my bag.
As for the spirit contract thing, though I was surprised to meet a considerably rare type of magic user, I wasn’t exactly caught too off guard considering that I knew she used magic to get that pamphlet away from me.
To be honest, I might not have felt so underwhelmed had Pearl not built the suspense so high.
Then again, maybe I was simply tired.
Whatever the case, seeing how the wind gnawed away at my delicate flesh, I decided that perhaps now was a good time to return to the cafe.
After all, tomorrow was gonna be a busy day.
「Well, whatever the case, thanks for letting me know. Let’s head back.」
I commented before walking towards the stairs, reflexively thanking Pearl for confiding in me.
However, after taking a few steps forward-
「…………as I thought……」
Realising that Pearl had yet to follow, I turned, causing my gaze to fall upon the maiden biting her lip.
And, while a strained silence permeated the pristine air, the weight of Pearl’s following words completely shattered my soul.
「As I thought, J-san. You’re a really nice person.」
It was like time had stopped for me.
To be honest, even I wasn’t expecting it.
I mean, how could I?
This girl………this innocent, pure and beautiful girl had just declared that the person who blackmailed her was a nice person.
「You’ve been so nice to me, a girl who isn’t good for anything except cooking.」
No…this can’t be happening.
「You saved me from those nobles……you also saved Takubi as well.」
Yeah, sure. I might have done that, but-
「You protected me from the bullet that was going to kill me. You saved my life.」
「And now……you didn’t even bat an eyelid when I told you who I am. What I was.」
Please………I’m begging you………stop this…
「J-san…I know we got off to a rough start, but I know now. I know that you’re an incredibly kind person.」
If you don’t stop……then I-
「So then why?」
I won’t be able to……I won’t have the strength to-
「Why did you kill my mother?」
After seeing Pearl’s eyes beginning to well up with tears, I suddenly felt all of my convictions crumble.
Becoming Pearl’s evil.
Forcing myself to act like the villain.
Making it so that I would continuously be blamed by this girl for her mother’s death.
All of it.
All of it seemed utterly worthless.
None of it mattered anymore.
Not after I saw Pearl’s tearstained expression.
(I……I just can’t do this anymore……)
(Am I really going to just give up now?)
Indeed. Having to act out the villain of Shell’s murder was already taking it’s toll on me.
No. It’s not like I can’t keep on being the villain of Shell’s murder.
Not to mention the fact that I hated to treat a girl like Pearl with such a horrible attitude.
It’s not like I particularly give a damn about other people, anyway.
I mean, sure. I might not be the best person in the world, but I certainly wasn’t an asshole.
I mean, sure. I could probably continue to play nice, even if I am an asshole.
As difficult as it may be to believe, I have a conscience as well.
It’s probably escaped your attention by now, but I won’t be staying here that long.
And assuming all of the guilt and responsibilities onto my shoulders……was apparently a burden too heavy for me to bear.
If I were to assume all of the evil, then Pearl won’t have to suffer anymore.
Long story short, I’ve had enough of keeping up with this lie.
To put it simply, I should keep hiding the truth.
It’s about time……
It’s about time……
I should just be honest with Pearl.
I should just get this over with.
I’ve done enough.
With this, it should be enough.
I’ve already had enough of this.
With this, she’ll have had enough of me.
And so, with a quivering breath, my lips parted as I made my confession.
And so, with a deep breath, I opened my mouth and spoke the following words.
「The truth is, I didn’t kill your mother.」
「Because she wouldn’t shut up after I raped her, I killed your mother.」
Pearl whimpered as she stared at me with shock. Her pupils contracted slightly as her face paled, her features perfectly representing her inner state of disbelief.
Yet, even if my eyes were able to catch and analyse Pearl’s current condition, my brain wasn’t focused on this at all as it was preoccupied with an entirely different, yet somewhat connected matter.
(W-What the hell did I just-?!)
Honestly unable to believe what I had just said, I could only stand there motionlessly, silent as I dwelled in the aftermath of my shock. Of course, the fact that I had spoken something completely different from what I had intended was the main reason behind my astonishment.
It was like, for that instant, I was no longer in control of my body.
(A-Anyway, I need to set things straight.)
Realising that my contemplations can wait for another time, I returned to reality as I noticed Pearl’s lips tremble with hesitation.
「W-What did you say?」
An anxious Pearl asked, her faltering voice clearly conveying both her distress and confusion. Needless to say, in an attempt to set things right again, my lips parted and-
「I said that she wouldn’t shut the fuck up after I raped her so I killed her. Didn’t you hear me?」
Once again overcome by shock, I felt my absolute bewilderment being expressed by my visage. At least, it would have had my ≪facade≫ skill not activate automatically, causing my features to contort into an expression of overbearing ridicule.
Pearl’s voice quivered as a chill spread throughout her body. Her pupils dilated slightly as the light within them dimmed, signifying that the vulnerable girl’s mind was gradually descending into the depths of despair.
Needless to say, in the face of such a heartrending expression, I wanted to quickly comfort the girl on the verge of tears.
And yet, even if I fully intended to correct this misunderstanding, it appeared that my body wasn’t of the same mindset.
「Yeah. She was a fucking whore, that bitch. After doing a couple of rounds, I quickly got bored of her so I knifed her.」
(S-Shut up, me! What the hell do you think you’re doing?!)
Understanding that I had already crossed the line a long time ago, I cursed as I lashed out, scolding myself for the actions that I was currently taking.
「N-No……i-it can’t be-?! But you were so nice to me!」
「Kukukukuku. Really, you’re so fucking gullible.」
In the face of my unrestrained rampage, streams of tears had already begun to fall down her face.
Yet, now wasn’t the time to be worrying about the girl with pink hair.
After all, unless I stopped myself from continuing down this path, Pearl’s condition would only grow worse.
「I was just using you. Using you for my own gain.」
Shut up! That’s not true!
「B-But you saved me from those nobles! You saved my life twice!」
「Hah?! Are you an idiot?! If you died, then the police would start questioning me, right?」
Shit! Stop it already! What the fuck is going on with me!?
「B-But what about that time with Hiroko-san? You saved me then as well!」
「Yeah. Cause I needed you to work your ass off in order for us to make money. I couldn’t just have you die on me, right?」
Damn it! Just stop it! ≪Forced Calm≫! ≪Forced Calm≫!
「N-No way……t-then everything you’ve done? E-even your kindness towards Takubi?」
「Like I said earlier, it was all an act, you stupid bitch!」
GOD DAMN IT! WHY ISN’T WORKING?!!
「You’re so fucking gullible. Why don’t you pull your head out of your ass and start doubting people?」
FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! JUST STOP IT ALREADY!!!!!!!!
「As I thought, you’re just as worthless as that whore. No wonder you’re her daughter.」
「-?! TAKE THAT BACK!! MY MOTHER ISN’T A WHORE!」
「Yeah, you’re right. She’s lower than that.」
DON’T! IF YOU DON’T STOP THEN-!!!!!
「She wouldn’t even make a good cock sleeve, much less a prostitute.」
As a sharp sting assailed my left cheek, my eyes strayed towards my right side, causing them to fall upon a trembling, outstretched hand. Needless to say, it wasn’t particularly difficult to imagine exactly what had just occurred during my brief lapse.
That said, instead of reflecting on the past, my confused mind was practically enamoured with Pearl’s visage, soaked in tears. Even though her countenance was blurred by anger and sorrow, the pink-haired girl’s beauty was almost captivating, to the point where it shone brilliantly even amongst the sky clouded with an unsettling darkness.
「DON’T YOU DARE TALK ABOUT MY MOTHER LIKE THAT!」
Her face smothered with tears and drool, it was clear that Pearl was no longer capable of controlling her body as a mixture of rage, misery, and despair ravaged her being without mercy.
At this point, I was already overcome by a thick and suffocating guilt which threatened to strangle every fibre of my being. Yet, seemingly unaffected by this mental anguish, my left hand shot out, catching Pearl’s right arm in a tight grip.
「-?! L-Let go of-?!」
「Heh, you’re a fucking feisty one, aren’t ya?」
My face contorted into an expression of ridicule as my raised left hand suddenly shot downwards. Needless to say, Pearl’s arm had also followed as it remained unable to escape my strangely strong grasp.
「W-What are you-?!」
Obviously distraught by my sudden action, Pearl’s lips quivered as blood drained from her face. From what I could see, a poignant fear had settled into the core of Pearl’s frail frame.
Yet, aloof to both Pearl’s distress and mine, my body remained firm and steady, in a manner that was both bewitching and disturbing.
And then, after all of the horrible things I’ve said……
My body, detached from my agitated consciousness, had yet to be satisfied by the havoc which I had already caused to the pink-haired girl’s psyche.
Why? How the hell would I know the god damn reason?!
All I knew was that my hand dragged Pearl’s body forward, my left arm wrapping around her lower torso as my right thumb and index finger firmly grabbed Pearl’s chin.
And then, as my tongue caressed my lips, my face approached Pearl’s own before the following words came out of my mouth-
「I wonder what a whore’s daughter would taste like~」
Unable to bear the abuse to her heart any longer, Pearl couldn’t even scream as a silent anguish came flooding out of her mouth. As it did so, the girl struggled, prying herself from the grasp of my fatigued, disobedient body.
And then, just like that, Pearl began to run.
Without a single word.
Without a single glance.
She simply just ran.
Fleeing away from the scene, tears trailed through the air behind her as the hurried footsteps of the vulnerable, manipulated pink-haired girl resounded throughout the wintry atmosphere.
And then, just like her spirits which had been plunged into the abyss known as despair, Pearl’s figure descended into the darkness of the night.
I wordlessly stood in place, motionless as I didn’t even dare to look at the retreating figure of the pink-haired maiden.
During my stunned stupor, however, a sharp pain assaulted my head, causing me to reflexively cover my forehead as I winced in pain.
Naturally, this reaction allowed me to understand that I had somehow regained control of my body again.
Yet, now………it was too late.
Far too late, really.
What has been done………can not be taken back.
What I have done……………what I did to Pearl.
It was truly fucking despicable.
As Pearl’s horrified visage flashed through my mind, I felt another headache assault my senses. Rather, it appeared that the pain in my head was only continuing to grow stronger as time went by, causing my already foul mood to plunge deeper into the bottomless abyss.
I cursed through my teeth as I was reminded of the despair visible on Pearl’s delicate features.
To be honest, it was painful to look at.
I mean, I really hated to see someone experience that sort of anguish, even if I was sort of an antisocial prick.
I didn’t start this whole plan so I could see that sort of expression on her face.
I didn’t want this to happen.
I had already had enough. I wanted to end this stupid farce and let Pearl know the whole truth.
So then why?
Why did I end up doing something so ridiculously evil?
…………ah, I see.
Now that we’re here, I guess it’s better if I just accept it.
I mean, after that sort of display, there’s no way that Pearl wouldn’t think of me as her enemy.
(So I guess……I guess nothing’s really changed, huh?)
As this dark revelation struck me, the headache that I had dealt with throughout the entire day had strangely subsided. It was quite peculiar, yet, almost appropriate at the same time.
After all, just like the migraine, my mind was cleared of any and all hesitation that plagued it.
(………well, since it’s come to this, I may as well go all out……)
I spoke to myself with a somewhat dejected tone. Despite having acted quite aloof throughout this entire ordeal, this statement, in particular, felt the most hollow and lifeless to me when compared to everything else that I had experienced so far.
Nevertheless, I knew that nothing would come out of basking in gloom and misery.
Therefore, I simply walked.
I walked towards the stairs that would lead me to tomorrow.
I walked towards the cafe that would serve as my resting place.
I walked towards the depths of depravity.
Pressing onwards, despite the significant toll my mind experienced, was all I could do.
After all, in this twisted, insane situation……
There was no longer any turning back.
|The 3rd Segue – Convictions and Contradictions||XCrossJ’s List of Movements||The 14th Prelude – Truth Hidden Within Lies|