Prelude of Pearls: The 17th Prelude – Al fine
「……Celest. You find her?」
(……well, this is just great.)
Upon hearing Celest’s disheartened response to my question, I couldn’t help but express silent annoyance as I peered wearily towards the ceiling.
The shadows cast upon the roof riddled with cracks made the surroundings seem both infinitely spacious and horribly claustrophobic.
The damp liquid that seeped out from said cracks filled the air with a musty scent, infecting the atmosphere with pungent despair.
The quivering breaths of the maltreated souls echoed off of the solid walls, escaping through the rusty bars as they conveyed their owners’ misery to the other captives.
Needless to say, in the face of such a nauseous cage, I didn’t want to stay here for very long.
Which meant that it was necessary to find our target ASAP.
「What’s up, Takubi?」
Upon hearing my feline companion’s call, I made my way towards a certain cell, forcing Celest to also follow suit.
And as we laid our eyes upon the interior of the prison that had drawn Takubi’s attention-
-Celest released a sharp gasp as he covered his mouth in undisguised horror.
「………so this is your sister?」
I asked as my eyes traced the young boy’s line of sight, causing them to fall upon the petite body of a small child.
Dirt and soot soiled the little girl’s skin, red from the coarse, low-quality fabric that covered her feeble frame.
Hair that used to gleam with a rich gold was now dulled to a sickly amber, signifying that the frayed strands of malnutritioned fibre had been confined from the sun for far too long.
Murky pupils that had been ingrained with a relentless sense of hopelessness and suffering.
To be honest, the sight of Celest’s sister’s grief made me feel sick to the very core.
And yet, for better or for worse, my ≪Facade≫ skill ended up forcing my body to act indifferent in the face of such a despicable scene.
「C’mon. Let’s get her out of there.」
Not even bothering to wait for Celest’s response, I grabbed the blood-red keys and shoved them into the cell door, granting the young boy access to the cage that his sister had been shackled in.
Needless to say, paralysed by the shock, it took a moment for the boy to place strength into his feet and rush up to his injured sister.
However, when he finally did-
-Melanie was already halfway through death’s door.
「Onee-chan!!!! Don’t d-!!」
Before I had even realised what I was doing, my mouth uttered the words that triggered my one and only healing spell.
Naturally, the target of the spell, Melanie, was immediately soaked in my influence as each and every cell in her body was activated in quick succession.
However, this was where the drawback of my one and only healing spell reared its ugly head.
That is to say, rejuvenate can only speed up the target’s internal recovery.
AKA it uses up body energy.
Sure, it can cleanly heal even the most dire of wounds.
But in order to recover at all, a person must still have energy to use.
And a frail, young girl who was clearly on the brink of exhaustion, there was only so much that my skill could do.
「I-Is she gonna be ok?」
「……we can only hope for the best.」
I muttered, promising nothing to the boy as my eyes closed in silent resignation.
After all, with my current skill set, there was nothing I could do for this girl who was closer to a corpse than a human.
「Anyway, let’s get moving.」
「? W-Where are we going?」
A nervous Celest asked, unsure of what I was talking about as he looked at me with an incredulous expression.
Yet, due to the nature of what was to come next, I responded with an…evasive answer.
「……I need to do something.」
「U-Um, b-but Onee-chan is……」
「………I see. We can take a little rest first.」
Understanding Celest’s concerns, I decided that now would be a good a time as any to take a brief respite.
(Besides, I can use this time to recover my DP.)
I muttered as I glanced at my phone, quickly opening up the shortcut to the 【Dom-Link】 app.
Although I wasn’t exactly sure what had happened to me during that fight, it was clear that I had expended all of my DP without realising it.
And, seeing how this was basically my lifeline, it would be foolhardy to proceed further into the gangster’s den without recuperating at least some of it.
(Well, for now, I guess I’ll release the other prisoners.)
Glancing towards the other cages, I left Celest alone with his sister whilst walking around towards the prison cells in search of any other captives.
Yet, as I did so, the blood dripping from the jail keys continued to remind me of that night.
The night where everything began.
That night with Shell Noel.
Unconsciously clenching my fist, I clicked my tongue as I began to curse the cruelty of this world.
Cruelty? Yeah, I think so.
I mean, think about it.
If Shell Noel was here instead of that shack.
If she had never met me and simply rotted here, shackled against the wall, then maybe……
Maybe she wouldn’t have died.
—although I realise that it was twisted of me to think this, it really couldn’t be helped.
After all, that night was filled with many regrets.
Regrets that I couldn’t afford to have made public.
No matter what the cost.
Suddenly roused by a shrill cry, Melanie’s eyes fluttered as she mouthed the name of her little sibling with a raspy voice.
While still weak, it was clear that the girl of yellow had recovered significantly from her previous condition.
Though the mere sound of her voice was enough for Celest to start bursting into tears.
「H-Hey, Celest! D-Don’t rub your face into my—your nose is running!!!」
The girl’s brow furrowed as she wrapped her arms around Celest. Despite her complaints, this gesture of consolation seemed to suggest that Melanie was quite the considerate character.
Yet, her dishonest expression couldn’t help but remind me of a certain, bipolar little sister.
「Heh……I see that you’re awake.」
Jumping upon hearing my comment, Melanie glared at me before raising her puny arms in an attempt to attack me.
「C-Celest?! What are you-?!」
「He’s not like them! He helped us save you!」
「Eh? H-He did what?」
-thanks to Celest’s intervention, it would seem that I was saved from the effort of having to defend myself from a rather abrupt beat down.
(……well this is just great…)
I grumbled as I met the girl’s sharp gaze with my own.
Although I had met her briefly about a week ago, I had forgotten that this girl had quite the rebellious personality.
And, from my experience within the Realm of Chaos, this meant that I’d be in for a world of pain.
「O-Onee-chan! You’re being rude!」
Surprisingly enough, Celest scolded his sister after noticing that her pointy eyes continued to drill holes into my skin.
Which ended up causing Melanie’s lips to pout in a strangely comical manner.
「………thanks for rescuing me.」
I remained silent, utterly unsure of what to say in the face of such an abrupt expression of gratitude.
That said, I had a feeling that, regardless of whether I said anything or not, Melanie’s next line wouldn’t have changed a single bit.
「D-Don’t get me wrong! This doesn’t mean that I trust you yet!」
Once more persisting in my silence, I narrowed my eyes as I stared at the two siblings of gold.
From what I could see, Melanie’s irises were still recovering from their murky state.
However, from within them shone a strong light.
A light of resolve that didn’t exist in Celest’s eyes of gold.
A gleam that told me that Melanie’s will would not allow her to bend itself to my will.
「*sigh* Well, whatever. Let’s go.」
「Sorry, but I’m going regardless. If you want to stay and take care of them, then stay.」
Deciding that the time to move was now, I gave this piece of advice to the uncertain Celest before breaking eye contact with Melanie and walking away in search of some clues.
And hopefully, I’ll be able to find out how in the hell Aoyama Aoki discovered what happened at the shack.
「So you ended up coming along after all.」
「S-Shut it! I-I’m only here because Celest insisted on following you!」
「O-Onee-chan! Y-You don’t have to tell him that!」
Hearing the golden siblings’ banter, I wasn’t sure whether to feel grateful or concerned.
Nevertheless, seeing how Melanie was in quite the weakened state, Celest and I purposefully slowed our pace so that she could keep up with us.
Though this also meant that we were going to be wasting valuable time.
(Well, the other option would be to carry her, but-)
Recalling the ex-captive’s reaction towards me, I highly doubted that she would simply allow such a thing to occur so easily.
And to be honest, right now, I didn’t want to deal with anything too troublesome.
Which is why I decided to say nothing as I surveyed the surroundings in hopes of finding a possible lead.
—it took less than a minute for me to find exactly what I was looking for.
「? W-Why have you stopped?」
Having almost bumped into me, Melanie raised her head before enquiring the reason for my abrupt halt.
That said, it didn’t take her very long to understand why my feet no longer moved.
After having walked through the labyrinth-like base, the three of us (and Takubi) strolled through the corridors filled with unconscious gangsters.
And it just so happened that, while wandering around aimlessly, a suspicious door was left open right before my very eyes.
(……this looks promising.)
I couldn’t help but comment as I stared at the plaque embedded in the door.
AKA the room that belonged to the 『Blue Tree Gangster’s』 head, Aoyama Aoki.
A disturbed Melanie cried out as she saw my sudden invasion of Aoki’s room.
Then again, who could blame her?
After all, this was quite literally the boss room.
It wouldn’t be strange at all for Aoki himself to be present.
Therefore, only an idiot would be so reckless as to enter without a second thought.
—-though seeing how I already confirmed the lack of any presence with my ≪Owner Observation≫, I’m glad to say that I’m not one of those idiots.
Upon entry, I simply stood near the doorway, allowing my eyes to take in the scenery that spread before me.
For a rundown warehouse that was both decrepit and abandoned, this room was quite……advanced.
Unlike the rest of the base’s walls that had sections of paint peeled off of them, this room was glazed with a glorious layer of clean white.
Several desks were lined up against the walls, all of which sparkled with a modern gleam.
And in the centre of this high-class fortress was—
「This is a…console?」
I muttered as I approached the strange device in the centre of the area.
Looking carefully, I could discern that a large screen had been mounted on the wall just behind it, as if indicating the two were somehow connected.
However, without hesitation, I instinctively began to operate the terminal in hopes of manipulating the large monitor.
Luckily for me, it would seem that the computers (if they were even called that) in 【Paletia】 were similar to the ones in my original world.
Even better, however, was the fact that I didn’t have to bother with a text-only terminal, allowing me to us the user-friendly OS to navigate the system.
However, whilst I was doing so-
「U-Um, J-san? What are you-」
-I was suddenly reminded of the two onlookers who had accompanied me in my trespassing.
(……crap. I’m gonna need to do something about these two, huh?)
Now regretting my decision to bring along some companions on my little sidequest, my mind began to race as I attempted to find some way to fix this mess.
–however, before I even settled on my approach, my lips parted as if it had a mind of its own.
「Celest. Melanie. You guys tell anyone about what you see in here, and I’ll hunt you down.」
Naturally, my abruptly issued threat plunged the surroundings into utter chaos.
Melanie glared at me strongly whilst unleashing a wave of killing intent.
Celest, in his usual nerve-wracked manner, tried to stop his elder sister from retaliating to my sharp statement.
Takubi, having perched themselves on my head, immediately began to puff their fur before leering at my potentially enemy with sharp, intimidating eyes.
And yet, in the midst of this discord, neither side took the initiative to break this stalemate.
–which only gave a certain someone the chance they needed to question this situation.
「……J-san. Is there a reason why we can’t tell anyone about this?」
「…when you see it……you’ll find out.」
Answering ambiguously to Celest’s question, I returned my focus towards the large screen before me, manipulating the windows as a particular folder caught my attention.
Echoing the name of the folder in my head, I immediately began to use the computer’s window explorer in an attempt to identify what it held.
And the folder’s contents……was both exactly what I wanted and totally unexpected.
(A collection of videos of their captives subjected to sexual torture……)
The moment my eyes gazed upon the folder’s contents, I felt my face cringe.
Was it because I was disgusted?
Was it because I was excited?
Or maybe it was because I felt nothing upon seeing the previews of captured women, their faces despairing at the cruelty of this world.
Either way, I soon forgot this vague sense of discomfort as my eyes scrolled through the various strings of text that presented themselves before me.
And buried among them was one particular file.
A file that immediately drew my attention.
A file labelled with the words Shell Noel.
(—-!!! It’s gotta be this one!)
I exclaimed inwardly, ensuring that I maintained my indifferent ≪Facade≫ whilst concealing my excitement.
Yet, despite my best efforts at dominating my cheek muscles, a smirk managed to surface upon my face.
But then again, could one really blame me?
After all, if this file was what I thought it was, then that means I would be able to eliminate all evidence of my crime.
Which would make everything that happened within the last week worth it.
All of the pain I put Pearl through.
All of the burdens I carried upon my back.
All of the terrible things I did.
All of the guilt I felt.
The moment I deleted this file, all of my actions would have been validated.
And then my mission here would be over.
I would have successfully hidden the truth from Pearl forever.
I would have successfully become the Servant of Evil that I had made myself out to be.
「Ok, I found it. Now I just need to check it and-」
「*pant* *pant* *pant*」
With each step I took, I felt my legs tremble precariously, as if unable to support my fragile frame.
With each pocket of air I swallowed, my chest pounded as the burning of my throat continued to assail me with endless doses agony.
Needless to say, I had no idea why my body continued to scream at me with howls of pain.
Yet, deep down, I somewhat understood the reason behinds its rebellion.
After all, what I was demanding it to do……was something that might break me.
I guess this just goes to show how deeply my affections ran for this strange youth.
But it was too late now.
I had already made my decision.
Even if my heart can’t bear the overwhelming sorrow and dies.
Even if my mind can’t bear the overwhelming guilt and crumbles.
Even if my soul can’t bear the overwhelming misery and extinguishes.
I have to do what I set out here to do.
Otherwise, I will be crushed by unending regret.
Otherwise, I will be consumed by ceaseless rage.
Otherwise, I will never forgive myself.
And if I was going to lose myself anyway, I may as well take him with me.
「…when you see it……you’ll find out.」
That’s definitely his voice.
J-san……J-san is nearby!
Then that means……that means I-
At that moment, I was suddenly plunged into a sea of nausea, causing myself to keel over as I attempted to cover my mouth.
—-I simply was not fast enough.
My hand, inches away from my face, froze in place as the contents of my stomach spewed forth onto the ground.
Refusing to close, my parted lips quivered as a gooey liquid continued to repulsively flow through them.
Fortunately, I did not have breakfast this morning so I did not have much to vomit.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t exactly pleasant to feel my insides being forced out from my body.
(P-Pull yourself together, Pearl!)
I exclaimed inwardly, trying to control my shivering frame with my force of will alone.
And, though initially reluctant, my body began to listen to my orders, allowing me to regain control of myself once more.
(F-finally, I can move.)
I murmured as I dragged my exhausted limbs towards the door before my very eyes.
The same door that I heard J-san’s voice come from.
And then—-I opened it.
At least, I wanted to.
But the moment my hand touched the door’s handle, I hesitated once more.
Do I really want to do this?
Am I going to regret doing this?
Can I forgive myself for doing this?
The doubts that lingered in my subconscious suddenly sprung to the surface, causing my head to throb intensely in response.
And yet, I simply shook my head, shunning away all of them as I continued to repeat the facts to myself.
J-san killed my mother.
J-san raped my mother.
J-san betrayed my feelings.
J-san betrayed me.
My vision faltered momentarily due to the shock that my psyche received.
Yet, in exchange for my brief moment of blindness, my body was suddenly energised by rage.
Rage and desperation.
—-before I knew it, I had already pointed the gun in my hand at the blue-haired boy’s back.
I’ll never forgive you!
—it was over in an instant.
No. It took less than an instant.
From the moment Pearl squeezed the trigger, to the second that the bullet pierced J’s flesh.
The entire gruesome scene flashed in front of everyone’s eyes, leaving no room for anyone to react to either the culprit’s actions nor the victim’s suffering.
And, as if proof of everyone’s helplessness, the young man’s body fell to the floor lifelessly, fresh blood pooling out of the puncture wound located at the back of his head.
A look of horror surfaced onto Celest’s face as he gazed upon the fresh corpse that used to be his comrade in arms.
Takubi, understanding that their master was killed by the brown-haired girl that used to give them food, grew conflicted as they struggled to choose who they should side with.
And as for Melanie, all she could do was stare in disbelief at the culprit who had killed her saviour.
The girl with sickly skin whose knees looked like they would buckle in on themselves at any moment.
(I did it! I…I finally avenged Mama!)
Pearl spoke, wobbling as all of her strength had been sapped from her being.
It was clear to see that her actions had placed a huge strain on the coffee girl’s mental state.
After all, not only had it taken a physical toll on her body, but the girl’s thoughts were in complete disarray.
「J-san? Are you here?」
All of a sudden, the figure of a girl with light blue hair suddenly burst into the room, breaking the silence that permeated the atmosphere.
Shortly after her, a girl and boy of charcoal followed suit, intruding upon the enclosed space as they accompanied the young girl who, unlike them, was not wearing a hoodie.
Needless to say, these three individuals were Aoyama Hiroko, Shana Bonnet, and Shingen Bonnet respectively.
And it would seem that they were looking for a certain individual.
The boy who was no longer here.
Hiroko was the first to speak, unsure of what the innocent girl of brown was doing in this location.
After all, she had not been invited to this little invasion of theirs.
And even if she were, that wouldn’t explain the ominous piece of lead that Pearl held in her palms, nor the smoke that relentlessly continued to pour out of its tip.
However, even amongst all of these unanswered questions, what Hiroko asked did not have anything to do with such minute details.
「W-Why are you crying?」
-the tears that streamed down Pearl’s face was much more important than any of those trivialities.
「-?!?! Nee-chan!! Look!」
Having quickly surveyed the surroundings for anything suspicious, Shingen identified the reason behind the smoking barrel, causing him to direct his older sister’s attention towards a specific location.
And sure enough-
「!!! Pearl, you didn’t?!」
Shana immediately grasped the situation upon looking at the corpse that used to be the boy called J.
Being the detective that she was, it didn’t take her much effort to put two and two together.
Yet, she still directed this question towards her friend.
After all, she didn’t want to believe that her best friend could be a killer.
——the response Pearl gave, however, practically declared her guilt.
「Shana, I…I avenged Mama! I got r-rid of the person who did those terrible things to her!」
Stammering in her speech, Pearl’s voice shook vividly as her bulging, tear-filled eyes conveyed her crazed state to the newcomers.
Which, naturally, only served to display how much she was hurting right now.
An angered Shana exclaimed, her clenched fist threatening to punch the girl who was so obviously distraught.
Being the detective that she was, there was no way that Shana could forgive a killer.
This time, however, everything was different.
After all, the culprit this time around had two victims.
The murdered corpse, and the culprit’s own feelings.
And it was because she had hurt herself by committing this crime that Shana grew so unbearably outraged.
「Listen here! There’s something really important you need to kno-」
「NEE-CHAN!! LOOK OUT!!!」
Immediately after having been called out to by her little brother, Shana immediately leapt towards Pearl, covering her as the area she was just standing exploded without warning.
「*cough* *cough* Damn it!」
Hacking on the dust that was forced into her throat, Shana cursed through her teeth before turning towards her best friend.
「Pearl, are you ok?!」
「Y-Yeah, I…I’m fine…」
Heaving a sigh of relief, Shana turned towards the entrance to find that a certain girl with light blue hair stood between them and another individual.
An individual whose eyes flashed with an intimidating blue light.
「Heh. I leave for just an hour and I’ve already got rats scurrying around my base.」
The entity spat out, his blue hair swaying in the darkness as he glowered at the intruders.
However, after scanning the vicinity, the man’s eyes returned to the individual before him.
The only one in the entire room who he deemed worthy enough of talking to.
「And to think that my dear little sister would be here as well.」
「-! Onii-sama, you scum!」
Retaliating immediately with an insult, Hiroko began to conjure up icicles as she made no attempts to hide her animosity.
Yet, it was at this moment that Shana began to resume her conversation with Pearl.
「Pearl, look. About J-」
「W-What about him!?! I…I killed him! I killed my mother’s killer!」
「Look, Pearl! Shell Noel didn’t-?!」
「That’s right! If it wasn’t for J-san raping and murdering her, then she would still be with me! I wouldn’t have to be alone any-!」
A crisp sound permeated the air, causing all eyes to shift towards the two girls of black and pink.
That said, Shana simply disregarded the stares as she uttered the words that Pearl desperately needed to hear before she had sinned.
「Pearl, listen to me!」
「J didn’t kill your mother!」
|The 4th Segue – Right and Left||XCrossJ’s List of Movements||The 18th Prelude – The Beginning After the End, and the End of Beginnings|