Prelude of Pearls: The 16th Prelude – Verses versus Verses
「Nng. As expected of Hiroko-sama. To cast such terrifying magic so effortlessly, she must be a genius just like I am.」
「Hah?! Since when were you a genius?」
「Come now, Azuru-chan. We both know that my smarts come second only to my good looks.」
「Is now really the time to start gloating about yourself, you idiot?!」
Two of the 『Blue Tree Gangster’s』 pillars, Amachi Hiroki and Marine Azuru, continued to mouth off asinine chatter as they stubbornly launched attack after attack at the girl of light-blue.
Despite their bickering, however, the 《Enchanting Gunman》 and 《Mermaid Valkyrie》 were surprisingly well coordinated as their combined efforts caused a drop of sweat to slide down Aoyama Hiroko’s pristine skin.
(……to think that I’d be having trouble with these fools.)
The maiden of ice narrowed her eyes as she commanded particles of ice to parry the pellets fired by the egotistical gunslinger. However, the moment she did so, the woman was forced to swerve her body as spears of water were hurled in her direction.
(Despite their inane banter, they truly are talented.)
Hiroko frowned, biting her lips as she silently commended her two opponents. Even though she knew that they were no match for her individually, Hiroko could not deny that their cooperation could potentially cripple her if she let her guard down.
(Hmph. So long as I maintain focus, there’s no way that these two will be able to defeat me.)
The girl of ice murmured once more as she unleashed her serpents of frost onto the two nobles.
Having turned the entire warehouse into an arena of ice, Hiroko was able to summon sculptures of sub-zero crystal with absolute ease, permanently ensuring that her defenses could not be penetrated.
That said, in such a situation, Hiroko would never win.
Sure, she might be able to protect her frail body against the ruthless attacks of the combat specialists before her.
However, the onslaught of attacks would mercilessly continue if she merely defended.
Therefore, she needed to go on the offensive.
And yet, this in itself posed some problems.
For example, in order to return fire, Hiroko needed to use mana.
A resource of limited amount that coursed through her veins.
A resource necessary to defend herself from the barrage of bullets and blades that were sent her way.
And so, a dilemma presented itself before the 《Ice Queen》.
In order to win, she would need to attack.
With every attack, she would reduce her defence.
By reducing her defence, she would leave herself vulnerable to attacks.
And should she receive a single strike, Hiroko would lose.
With her intellect, it didn’t take very long for the maiden of frost to realise her predicament.
–and yet, the distress that Hiroko expressed was quite mild.
Rather, it was almost like she didn’t really care about this obviously game-breaking issue.
Or at least, that’s how it appeared based on the light-hearted tone of her thoughts.
(Oh well. I guess I’ll have to use that option. It’s such a shame that I’ll have to end their careers so prematurely.)
The maiden of light blue gave a slight smile, the contrast between the elegance of her expression and the darkness of her thoughts clashed to create a discomforting undertone within her visage.
However, this lasted for but an instance as the young girl’s lips quivered in the cage of crystal.
「Oh Goddess of Glaciers! I beseech thee! Quell the flames of fury with a hail of madness!」
Words of power flowed from Hiroko’s mouth as diamonds of crystallised vapour swarmed her body.
As if drawn by each syllable articulated by her lips, the shards of frosty water danced around the maiden as they formed a shield of thick snow.
Truly, it was a dazzling spectacle worthy of symbolising the beauty and cruelty of winter itself.
And yet, unable to simply stand there and allow the awe-inspiring scene to wash over them-
「Uh oh. She’s serious.」
「H-Huh?! H-Hang on a moment! What do you mean by that?」
-the two nobles aligned against the queen of ice panicked as the phenomenon before their very eyes threatened to swallow them whole.
「Simple. She’s releasing her Chant.」
Hiroki candidly stated as the bead of sweat that crept down his neck suddenly froze in the face of the blizzard’s pressure.
Needless to say, the chant that the no-longer haughty boy spoke of was exactly what it sounded like. A class of magic that involved reciting complex verses in order to call upon a great power.
More formally known as an Incantation, this type of magic was characterised by the words of power that needed to be strung together in order to form the incantation, as well as the extreme potency of the resulting magic that no normal spell could ever compare to.
But of course, there were various types of incantations that created different effects depending on the lines narrated.
For some, they may be granted the healing prowess to cure any wound with a single touch.
For others, they may call upon a force destructive enough to decimate an army.
—and judging from the surroundings, it was quite obvious as to which kind of Incantation Aoyama Hiroko possessed.
「C-Chant?! S-She has one!?」
「For those who have incurred thy infernal wrath shall be consumed by eternal darkness.」
「It would seem so, wouldn’t it?」
Towards a flustered Azuru, Hiroki could only sharpen his gaze as he leered at the maiden covered with snow.
Seeing how his usual arrogance had disappeared, it was evident that Hiroko’s chant wasn’t something to be taken lightly.
Especially considering the ominous words that spewed forth from within the storm of snow.
「May ye feast on the blight of life, and vanquish foes with an inferno of ice and sorrow.」
「W-What are we waiting for?! We’ve got to do something!」
Her mind in utter disarray, Azuru exclaimed as she turned towards the gunman.
Yet, in the face of her panic, Hiroki simply raised his rifle and-
Watched as the pellets he had fired were suddenly ripped to shreds by the onslaught of ice crystals that continued to gravitate around the Queen of Ice.
「……do something? Do what exactly?」
Demonstrating that there was no way to penetrate the invisible forcefield, Hiroki directed such a question towards the girl who could do nought but whine in insecurity.
Yet, seeing how Marine Azuru was both a close combatant and a water mage, it was plain to see that she was severely out of her element against this elegant maiden of frost.
Unable to offer up any ideas towards Hiroki, the valkyrie could only bite her lip as her body trembled in the cold.
However, not caring about the opposition’s struggle, Hiroko recited the final verse of her incantation, heralding the demise of the two idiots who had dared to cross her.
—it took but an instant for the icicle prison to suddenly burst alight with azure flames.
I cursed, anxiously jumping backwards in order to distance myself from the zombie’s swing.
Despite the fact that my opponent appeared to be as dead as a doornail, his movements were quite lively.
In a very bad sense.
With his muscles no longer bound by the limitations of the human body, each sluggish swing made by the man held a tremendous amount of momentum.
So much so that receiving a blow from such an intimidating strike would likely incapacitate me on the spot.
Upon hearing a high pitched wail, I turned my gaze towards a flying cat, sent airborne by the zombie’s punch.
Naturally, seeing how the kitten was so small and nimble, they seemed to manage to soften the force received by the zombie’s punch.
That said, the cat’s altitude was so ridiculously high up that my subdued heart was thrown into disarray.
I exclaimed, fumbling around on the ground as I caught Takubi with arms of fragile jelly.
Luckily, despite the fact that I received damage from the impact, my feeble muscles were able to soften the kitten’s fall, cradling the creature in a cot of comfort.
On the other hand, however, the cat was unable to indulge themselves in the luxurious crib made of flesh.
「You alright, Takubi?」
Unsurprisingly, an alarmed Takubi puffed out their fur before sending murderous glares towards the dead being.
And, while I could share the same sentiment as the kitten, I was much more concerned about something else.
Specifically, just how strong this individual before me really was.
「Takubi. Think you can hold him off for a minute?」
「Alright. I’ll be counting on you.」
Having accepted my unreasonable request, Takubi leapt into the air as they once again engaged the moving corpse, showing tremendous courage and valour in their approach.
That said, I could only wish the black cat luck as I retracted my blade and used the hilt for its intended purpose.
Deftly handling my phone, I opened my 【Dom-Link】 to find the following:
As I continued to stare wordlessly at my phone’s display, I was utterly stunned by the data that passed through my retinas.
After all, their values were very, very peculiar.
(What the hell happened to this guy?)
I couldn’t help but wonder, my eyes tracing the figures drawn beside the man’s parameters.
His physical prowess had been boosted to unreasonable amounts, while his technical combat attributes had fallen sharply.
It was like he had literally become brain dead.
—no. I guess I can’t really say it was like at this point.
After all, what was in front of my eyes was a true, bonafide-
I know I have been saying this since long ago, but I couldn’t help but reiterate the point once more.
This man without a mind.
This man without a soul.
The term zombie was most fitting for this creature without conscience.
However, it was precisely because of this lack of humanity that this corpse posed such an extreme threat.
「Well, looks like I’ve got no choice but to get a little creative.」
Preparing to engage the monster once more, I extended my blade whilst reaching into my pocket.
And yet, before I was able to prepare for the encounter that lied ahead-
An ear piercing shriek escaped Takubi’s mouth, causing me to gasp as I saw the injured kitten laid out flat on the ground.
That said, what caused me great concern wasn’t the fact that the cat had fallen over, but the merciless fist that inched ever closer to Takubi’s black fur.
(Shit! This isn’t good!)
I panicked, desperately mustering my influence in an attempt to protect the kitten from such a deadly blow.
And yet, the instant I did so, I knew.
I knew that I wouldn’t be able to erect a ≪Barrier≫ in time to protect Takubi.
—however, it was at that moment that a high-pitched voice penetrated the murky air.
A magic circle abruptly appeared between Takubi and Kaito, the manifested glyphs suspended in air as they glowed with a golden hue.
Naturally, while I was initially shocked by the sudden turn of events, I was grateful for the spell that ended up deflecting the corpse’s strike.
A spell that was cast by a certain individual whom my ≪Ownership Observation≫ skill failed to miss.
「J-J-san! A-Are you ok?!」
A frilly skirt fluttered in the breeze as strands of gold traced sporadic arcs through the air.
Seeing how I only knew one person who possessed such a unique hair colour, it didn’t take me long to identify this newcomer.
「Celest, huh? What’re you doing here?」
「U-Um, H-Hiroko-sama suggested that I keep an eye……I-I mean, she thought I should help you in case something w-went wrong.」
Having heard Celest’s little slip of the tongue, I could only offer eyes of pity towards the boy’s unease.
And, while I wanted to console the individual who had been thrust into the heat of battle, it would seem that circumstances wouldn’t grant me an opportunity to do so.
A battle cry could be heard coming from my furry companion, signifying that their fighting spirit had been rekindled. Shifting my gaze, I could see the agile kitten swiftly prancing about the battlefield as it launched attack after attack against the mindless zombie.
Each time the cat swiped its claws, blood and skin would fly into the air, shortly followed by the BGM of tearing flesh and groans of agony.
And yet, despite the obvious damage the corpse received, its eyes continued to shine hazardously as it swung its body with lifeless vigour.
「Anyway, we need to deal with this guy in order to save your sister, Celest. Mind giving me a hand?」
I asked while extending my sword once more, preparing to engage the soulless enemy.
Though the boy was initially confused by my stance (evident by his lingering gaze), he brushed away his uncertainty before responding to my plea with a strong affirmative.
Having heard Celest’s will to help save his sister, I clenched my fist before reaching into my pocket and withdrawing a few items necessary for the upcoming fight.
「Sorry, zombie. But you’re gonna have to drop dead here.」
-I made the following proclamation as I brandished my azure blade, ready to strike down my foe with an unexpected party of three.
A constant buzz overwhelmed my ears as the ringing drove me further and further towards desperation.
A ceaseless pressure assailed my head, causing my vision to blur as my knees buckled under the weight of my sluggish body.
Whilst in the clutches of agony, I never truly understood how far I had descended into the madness known as pain.
Yet, even if I did, there was no way for me to purge this wretched sensation that continued to cling to every pore of my being.
After all, there was no way she was going to let me rest.
Upon hearing the loud blast, my entire body shuddered uncontrollably. My arms, in particular, instinctively wrapped themselves around my head as they attempted to shield my head from the threat that presented itself before me.
That is to say, the woman who continued to scream hysterically as her fingers conducted the deadly instruments into performing a symphony of flying metal.
「C’mon, you fucking Cross Breed! Get the fuck out here so I can pump your body full with lead!」
The woman’s chaotic laughter echoed throughout the abandoned lot, terrifying me as it morphed into a grisly melody supported by an orchestrated insanity.
(I-I’m so scared!)
My thoughts in disarray, I could do nought but cower as my tensed arms locked themselves even tighter around my fragile head.
In my state of mind, however, I didn’t care about the shield that protected me from the surroundings filled with despair.
In my state of panic, I didn’t care about the cage that bottled up the dread that swirled around in my mouth.
Right now, all I cared about was running away from everything.
All I wanted was to be rescued from this horrible nightmare.
(Mama! J-san! Please help me!)
I called unwittingly into the abyss, hoping that one of the ones I loved would answer my call.
–the ones I loved?
(N-No! W-Why am I still-?!)
Shocked once more by my resilient obsession with the blue-haired youth, I questioned my heart once more.
However, each time I thought of him, my heart would be set ablaze.
Glowing with a fiery light of passion.
Scorched by the excruciating torment of betrayal.
A sudden throbbing sent shockwaves rippling through my fragile frame.
The beating of my heart.
The pounding of my head.
I wasn’t sure which of these was responsible for the violent percussion that etched itself into my very being.
And it would seem that I wasn’t going to get much time to find out.
「-tch. If that’s how you’re gonna play, then I’ll just destroy everything around here!」
My mind went blank as my ears twitched, attempting to salvage the echoes of her hushed speech.
Yet, as my conscience snapped back to reality, I was forced to deal with a whole new issue that presented itself before me.
「Oh Idol of Wind! Heed my call! Temper my rage into a vivid tempest that eliminates all who stand in my way!」
Immediately recognising the power behind the woman’s words, a grave realisation suddenly appeared in my mind.
I was going to die.
Although I had only been shown the potential of the strange miracles known as incantations, that was enough for me to become fully aware of the danger that some of them posed.
A spell that could destroy mountains in one blow.
A spell that could level entire forests in the blink of an eye.
It wasn’t strange to say that these incantations were works of the gods themselves.
And as such, there was no way for me to defeat such dark arts.
(A-Am I going to die?)
Once more, I repeated the revelation that had appeared before me only a few days ago.
Yet, unlike then, things were different now.
After all, previously I was but a mere puppet, going through the motions of living as my reason for existing in this cruel world had been stolen from me.
But now…now my body was driven by something much more concrete.
An elusive emotion that continued to drive the intense pounding of my heart.
(No……I can’t die!)
No matter how painful it is now…no matter how scared I am.
I wasn’t allowed to die.
Not until I finish what I came here to do.
The woman’s frenzied voice spread through the air, clinging to the air like parasites.
The world turned to black.
「Celest. I need you to support Takubi and me. Can I count on you?」
「I-I’ll try my best!」
The boy of golden blond nodded in response to my request, his hair swaying with tense resolve as a peculiar long rod was raised above his head.
Although somewhat gaudy and unwieldy, the identity of the object in the youth’s hands was more than apparent.
A magician’s staff.
Throughout my short career as an adventurer of the guild, I had met and worked with various types of people.
And some of them possessed staves similar to the one held in Celest’s hand.
From what I could tell, these staves were not mandatory for using magic, but helped facilitate communication between mages and their mana, resulting in more efficient spell casting.
Or at least, that’s what I was told from some of the mages I met.
In any case, though I was unclear about some of the details, there were also mages like Hiroko with exceptional innate abilities that rendered a reliance on external tools pointless.
And logically, that would mean those who required staves to fight were not as adept with the art of spellcasting as one might think.
「If it gets difficult, prioritise Takubi’s protection, got it?」
Issuing a secondary order, I laid out some precautions just in case something went wrong.
After all, if Celest wasn’t able to handle things, I needed to ensure the protection of our hardest hitter–or so was my intention when I conveyed my message.
However, it seemed that the boy had some misgivings towards my suicidal declaration.
「No complaints. Just take care of it.」
I harshly cut the boy off, a grave expression corrupting my face as stern blue beads continued to lock themselves onto our prey.
At the time, it never really occurred to me that the radiant blue glow was not coming from the blade in my hand, but my pupils filled with a bitter sharpness.
Nevertheless, though slightly intimidated, Celest swallowed before returning a firm nod, suggesting that he would listen to my orders for the time being.
(Good. Now I need to get things set up on my end.)
Thinking thus, I withdrew my hand from my pocket, taking out a square piece of leather which captured an azure glow within its glossy black finish.
Naturally, this object in my hand was one that I had brought from my own world. Something that one needed to have with them in order to survive in society–a wallet.
However, the reason why I had brought out this everyday item was not because I wanted to pay my dues.
「Takubi, make me an opening!」
Answering strongly to my plea, Takubi launched themselves towards the corpse once more, allowing me to open my wallet and take out a set of thin cards.
Credit cards, business cards, coupon cards.
It didn’t really matter what purpose these pieces of plastic held to me in my past life.
After all, right now, they served an entirely different function.
Like coins in the palm of my hand, the cards shimmered brilliantly as their newfound gleam extended into the shape of a small, makeshift blade.
And so, after having infused my DP into the pieces of earthly plastic, I was now ready to start my assault.
(Now all that’s left is to wait for an opening.)
Returning my gaze towards the battlefield, my focus locked itself onto every sluggish movement of the rotting corpse.
—it didn’t take long for my constant vigil to return some satisfactory results.
The zombie unleashed a howl of misery as a viscous goo flowed from his eyes.
At the same time, the cat who was previously on the dead noble’s face jumped backwards, their claws tracing beautiful arcs in the air as the same goo followed its movement.
It was obvious that Takubi had been the one to greatly wound Kaito.
–which meant that I needed to finish him off so that Takubi’s valour would not fall on deaf ears.
「Celest. Take care of Takubi!」
「E-Eh?! Ah, u-understood!」
Although Celest’s reply was slightly shaky, I did not pay it much mind as I lunged forward with great speed.
In one hand, my sword-phone glowed as its malleable form grew firm.
In the other hand, my card-daggers glimmered as they rested within the confines of my clenched palm.
With blades in both hands, I kicked the ground with vigour and conviction as my frame barrelled towards the burly body of the deceased.
As if urged the air forced through my pursed lips, the sword-phone’s blade immediately grew sharper as the length of the azure aura abruptly increased.
To be honest, the acceleration of the azurian advance was so bizarre that it seemed like the blade was desperately trying to run away from my phone.
Yet, regardless of what it appeared to be, the result of my sword’s extension would not change.
Tearing through flesh, my sword–well, at this point, it was more like a pike–stabbed through the man’s shoulder before pushing and pinning his body against a nearby wall.
Of course, my sensitive ears had managed to pick up the crackling of bones and some other nasty sounds that were too gruesome to be identified.
And yet, among the subsets of tones that rang from the corpse’s body, the most disturbing one by far had to be-
-the screeching bellow of anguish which caused the walls to quiver like jelly.
Although slightly intimidated by the howling zombie, my mind was disturbingly calm as it carefully calculated the movements my body needed to take so that I could subdue the monstrosity.
And, as if a slave to my mind, my body faithfully followed as my left hand threw the cards into the air.
(Man, I wish I practised this skill a bit more.)
I muttered in resignation, noticing that my left hand’s attempted pass was quite sloppy. Naturally, while not much of a big deal, the consequences of my inadequacies simply made it that much more difficult to catch the cards.
(Oh well. Not much I can do about it now!)
Reflecting on my shortcomings, I brushed my worries aside as I briefly used ≪Ownership Observation≫ to help me capture the positions of my airborne daggers.
Quickly ≪adapting≫ to the situation, I used a ≪Wind≫ spell to blast the daggers towards the corpse rather than catch them with my hands.
Needless to say, the lightweight plastic was easy enough to move with a simple breeze.
Which, of course, also meant that when struck with a strong gust of wind, the daggers would receive a tremendous amount of momentum.
The daggers mercilessly sliced through the air as their deadly dance drew ever closer to the zombie.
And with a loud *splurt*, the daggers had hit their mark.
(Two out of three, huh?)
I couldn’t help but click my tongue as I noticed one of the cards implanted into the wall had yet to be dyed in toxic goo.
That said, seeing how the other two projectiles were impaled cleanly into the canvas of death, it was fair for me to say that this battle was o-
An overbearing screech assailed the atmosphere as the sound of torn flesh and rotten gums plunged the surroundings into chaos.
Craning my neck in panic, it didn’t take me long to understand the situation I was in.
After all, what approached me was the horrific remains of an aggravated zombie who tore its arms of just so it could break free of its confines.
I instinctively swore as my mind understood the significance of the monster’s escape.
That said, before I could even finish my breath-
-the monster’s dislocated jaw had already made a spring for my vulnerable neck.
I hastily assessed as the world slowed.
Having come face to face with this monstrosity, my usual composure had been completely blown away.
With a paralysed body and thoughts that were imprisoned within my skull, I could do nought to combat this threat.
I could do nothing to stop this attack.
All I could do was wait for my demise.
………like hell am I going to let that happen!
『I am the one who dominates.』
Unable to understand what had just happened, I blinked as I reflected on the words that had involuntarily passed over my lips.
After all, despite the succinct nature of such a verse, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it held some kind of……importance than just what could be seen at the surface.
It was almost like……some sort of chant or something.
A chant that threatened to drag one closer to madness.
(……but something like that would be ridiculous, right?)
I murmured meekly, somewhat uncertain of my claim.
Uncertain? Yeah…I guess so.
After all, somewhere deep inside me, I knew.
I knew that what I was saying……was somewhat flawed.
And even if it wasn’t…there was no denying that a horrific scene began to spread itself before my recovered vision.
A layer of fresh blood coated the walls, oozing through the concrete-cracks as they emitted a rancid fragrance.
A vivid pile of organs squelched as they tumbled across the floor, sliding across the fresh paint as nauseous bubbles frothed from their exposed lacerations.
Scraps of tissue and skin were propelled towards the ceiling, marking the roof with their owner’s trademark goo before descending towards the carpet of red gelatin.
To call the surroundings gory would immediately be shot down as being an understatement.
However, the reality of the horror was not due to the clear carnage that had taken place here.
But rather, the true horror was the fact that I was standing in the middle of such a bloodbath.
「………what in the world?」
Somewhat unsure of what to do, my gaze wandered, causing me to find a pair of black and gold staring at me with anxious eyes.
The way they looked at me…looked oddly foreign.
Not in the sense that I didn’t recognise it.
But in the sense that they treated me like I was foreign.
Like they didn’t know who they were looking at anymore.
(……what am I doing? I……I don’t have time to waste on this.)
My thoughts somewhat hesitant, I ≪calmed≫ my disoriented mind as I realigned myself with my original objective.
After all, in order to keep my agreement with Hiroko, I needed to ensure that Melanie Ambrosia was safe.
…yeah. That’s right.
I need to make sure this plan succeeds.
Anything else can wait until this entire ordeal is done.
–is how I continued to deceive myself into neglecting the very big anomaly which had just occurred.
「…c’mon, Celest. We’re going to save your sister.」
I murmured as I grabbed the keys to the cells, all of which now shone with a glossy red hue.
「E-Eh……? B-But J-san?! Y-You-?!」
Ignoring the concerned young boy, I began to walk towards the hallway of cells, causing my frame to become dyed in shadows.
That said, seeing how I was already bathed in blood, sinking into the darkness didn’t really make much of a difference to me anymore.
Or rather, I guess it would be more appropriate to say-
-that I had already been consumed by evil.
|The 15th Prelude – Molto Attaco||XCrossJ’s List of Movements||The 4th Segue – Right and Left|