Prelude of Pearls: The 18th Prelude – The Beginning After the End, and the End of Beginnings
A shivering Pearl uttered in disbelief, her brain unable to comprehend the insanity that had assailed her delicate ears.
Her mind faltered, continuing to reject the notion that threatened to stir her aching heart.
Her soul desperately clung to the belief that J was a villain, attempting to prevent Pearl’s vulnerable psyche would shatter into pieces.
And yet, the girl of innocence needed to know.
She yearned to find out the truth.
Because somewhere deep down, Pearl dearly wished to be wrong about J.
「W-What are you talking about, Shana-chan?」
A wide-eyed Pearl asked her hooded friend, her voice quivering as curiosity had possessed her entire being.
Yet, even though she wanted to be disproven, it seemed that the innocent automatically began to feebly refute the notion that the boy bleeding out on the floor was not who she thought he was.
「J-san…J-san kill—he rap-」
The girl of coffee whimpered, her entire frame convulsing in utter confusion.
An unsettling nausea crept along her skin, wrapping around the innocent’s neck in an attempt to wring out the remaining dribble of life from her soul.
An incessant buzzing rattled her skull, muddying her mind as the stress on her brain threatened to steal away her vision.
An unbearable thumping continued to wail against her sensitive chest, churning her stomach as it continued to pump a queasy liquid through her oesophagus.
Needless to say, Pearl’s condition was anything but normal.
Rather, it was downright horrific.
Then again, considering the trauma that she was going through right now, it was no wonder that Pearl showed extreme signs of mental instability.
And yet, in the face of such raw anxiety, Shana furrowed her brow in angst, her lips trembling as the revelation of her findings found itself stuck on the tip of her tongue.
Surely, there might be a better time for this—one might think.
When Pearl’s condition improved—when the group were no longer faced with the threat of death.
Perhaps then would be the ideal time to disclose what she had found?
But of course, to wait until such a time could risk losing the truth in darkness forever.
And Shana understood that her best friend needed to hear the truth more than anybody.
Which is why-
「We just finished analysing the semen in Shell Noel’s body.」
-the detective uttered thus as she struggled to move her parched tongue.
Upon seeing Pearl’s pupils contract slightly, Shana understood that she had successfully grasped her friend’s attention.
Yet, it was only after swallowing audibly before the detective made her dazzlingly dark reveal.
「The DNA doesn’t match J’s at all.」
Utterly stupefied by the detective’s findings, the girl of coffee squeezed out a pitiful reply as her eyes darted towards Shana’s own.
As she gazed upon her best friend’s stern face, Pearl could not see any falsities within her expression.
Those beady, charcoal eyes of hers locked onto the brown girl’s visage, emitting a faint light of solemn sincerity as they allowed Pearl to confirm one thing.
Shana Bonnet was not lying about her findings.
「B-But he said—-he said he–」
Holding her aching head, Pearl flinched away as she raised her voice in distress.
—and yet, it was because of her sudden sharp yell that the girl had garnered the attention of all in the near vicinity.
Including that of a certain man who glared at her visage sharply before moving his line of sight towards the corpse that laid by her feet.
「Hah! So that fucking traitor finally keeled over! And better yet, he was killed by that person’s daughter!」
An ecstatic Aoki bellowed, laughing hysterically as he covered his crazed eyes with the palm of his large hand.
Surprisingly enough, the boy with dirty blue hair who the world had deemed as quite the athlete, had strangely beautiful hands.
Yet, this did not matter to the young girl who cradled her head in her arms.
After all, what she cared about was not the imminent threat that stood before her, but the words that had freshly escaped his lips.
That person’s daughter.
These phrases continued to plague the innocent’s mind, echoing off the insides of her skull as they reinforced to her the ugly truth of her actions.
The truth that she had been deceived by the boy called J.
The truth that she had been mistaken once again.
The truth that she was responsible for the senseless loss of someone she cared about.
The girl of brown collapsed to the ground, her damaged psyche no longer able to maintain control of her bodily functions.
Her body crumpled lifelessly as she drooped her head, causing her once brown–now pink hair to fall into the puddles of blood that surrounded her.
And sure enough, this lifelessness…no. This complete and utter despair ignited a flame in Aoyama Aoki, causing him to crack his knuckles as he approached the girl with a fearless smile.
—yet, his advance was quickly cut short.
「Onii-sama! Don’t move!」
Agitated upon seeing her amused older brother close in on the vulnerable girl of coffee, Hiroko exclaimed thus as she poised herself, causing her icicles to shine with an ominous gleam as they sharpened themselves in conjunction with her hostility.
Bending to her will, the glowing crystal arrows elegantly floated in the air as their pointed tips continued to track Aoki’s position like how a raptor stalks their prey.
Needless to say, just a single one of these razor-sharp projectiles was terribly lethal, having the ability to rupture even the toughest of flesh within an instant.
Therefore, having several aimed right at one’s head would be quite daunting.
At least, for a normal person.
「If you come any closer, then I’ll-!」
「Shut up, Hiroko. You can’t hurt me anyway.」
Completely unfazed by the shards of frost, Aoki snorted sinisterly before brushing away his little sister’s intimidation with a sidewards glance.
One couldn’t determine whether he truly didn’t consider it as a threat, or he was just trying to play it off as something insignificant.
Regardless, Aoki’s lacklustre reaction sparked a vivid, almost instantaneous overreaction from the Ice Queen.
Unleashing a vigorous screech, Hiroko commanded her icicles to plunge themselves towards the boy with dirty blue hair, causing a vivid torrent of crystal spears to rip through the air that stood between their master and the enemy.
—-and yet, just before the pikes could pierce the man’s flesh, something unbelievable happened.
A shocked Hiroko gasped, unable to comprehend the sight before her as she winced in frustration.
That said, her surprise was understandable.
After all, seeing how Aoki had used his bare hands to catch and crush her magical missiles, there was no way she wouldn’t be frustrated.
And it was precisely because of this frustration that Aoki felt the need to open his mouth.
Just so he could reinforce his superiority deep into his sister’s soul.
「Have you forgotten, Hiroko? Even if your magic is top tier, you can’t even begin to compete with my bare strength, much less when I augment it with my own spells.」
「—!!!!! Damn it!」
Hiroko cursed as she leered at her brother, his scorn and ridicule haunting her as a sarcastic, demeaning smirk spread across his face.
However, the target of her frustration was not simply her brother alone.
She herself was also a victim of her rage.
Because she was weak, she could not stop her brother’s detestable rampage.
And that fact alone tormented her to no end.
「No way, buddy! I won’t let you touch Pearl!」
Shana stood firmly in between her friend and the boss as she prepared herself to fight against the ringleader of the group who oppressed her kind.
Yet, once again, Aoki cared not for his opponent’s grandstanding as he casually continued his approach.
「Fuck off, Commoner.」
Muttering such a phrase in disgust, the man of dirty blue walked past both Shana and Pearl as he headed towards the console in the middle of the room.
Needless to say, this act greatly confused all who were present.
And yet, the instant that everyone followed the dirty blue-haired boy’s line of sight, this bewilderment was completely dispelled.
Shana glared at the man with intense hostility, her teeth gnashing audibly as she let loose her murderous intent.
Yet, her desire to know the truth anchored her in place.
After all, the true events that transpired that night–that single night which propelled everything forward–were about to be revealed by the enemy before her.
And so, after lazily manipulating the console that controlled the large screen in front of everyone’s eyes, Aoki muttered the following before allowing the video to start.
「Heh. This is gonna be rich.」
「I…want to die.」
「Alright. I’ll kill you then.」
After having agreed to end the brown-haired woman’s life, I tightened my grip around the dagger that rested in my hands.
The same dagger that deprived that rapist of their life.
The same hands that were now covered in the blood of another.
The moment that that word entered my head, I was suddenly struck with a morbid realisation.
—no. To be perfectly honest, the notion was already embedded in my head long before I had this so-called epiphany.
Perhaps the reason why I was deluded into believing that it had just struck was because I had finally begun to cool down?
Or maybe it was because the effects of the adrenaline being pumped through my veins were beginning to wear off?
Either way, I could feel my body shiver as the gravity of the situation had suddenly permeated my skull.
(I……I’m going to kill someone again.)
I thought as my gaze wandered towards my soon-to-be victim, an act that I soon realised to be a grave mistake.
The woman with unfocused eyes and unattended hair entered my view, causing me to study her figure bathed in the silky rays of moonlight.
Her droopy head.
Her slender frame.
Her downcast expression.
None of the lady’s features gave any impression of hostility whatsoever.
This woman had given me no room to villainize her.
She had given me no reason to justify killing her.
(But……is this really ok?)
I paused, deciding that now would be a good time to double check my moral compass as my mind buzzed with doubts and worries.
Despite having had no qualms about killing the man from earlier, I was now extremely hesitant to raise my dagger.
(She………she hasn’t done anything wrong.)
She is merely a victim in this entire ordeal.
A poor victim who, after having been plunged into the depths of despair, desired death.
A death which I could grant to her with a simple swing of my dagger.
But……but even so…
Even if she wants to die in this rundown shack.
Even if she herself requested for her life to be taken away.
Even if she resents me for not following through with my word.
(…can I really kill this sort of person?)
It would seem that I’ve really been living a peaceful life in the other world, huh?
Even with those stupid assignments, and deadlines that I constantly have to meet, it was a pretty good life, huh?
A life so lacking violence that I can’t even help a single woman rest in peace.
I’m avoiding the question, aren’t I?
The question regarding whether or not I could kill this woman?
The answer to that question…would be an absolute negative.
Who in their right mind would be able to steal the only thing this woman has left—her life?
Definitely not me.
No way in hell.
I stared down at my hands, swearing through closed teeth as my blood soaked palms trembled in fear.
In my old world, I never would have thought that the mere idea of killing an innocent would have me so shaken.
And yet, here I am, whimpering pathetically as I cowered before the responsibility of taking the blameless life of another.
But then again, what else could I do?
I’m a fucking half-asser.
In utter silence, I stared at the young man who had saved me.
The boy whose deep blue hair sparkled in the moonlight.
The boy whose entire being shuddered in the wake of the duty that I had bestowed upon him.
Craning my head slightly upwards, I peered into the youth’s face, my eyes tracing his delicate features that were cascaded in shadows.
Yet, despite the darkness, I could tell.
I could tell that the boy’s face was distorted by fear.
Honestly, the boy’s ghastly expression shook my very core.
After all, his horror reminded me greatly of a certain child who meant a great deal to my life.
—and because of this, I understood that there was no way I could burden such a person with the task of ending a life.
I feebly raised my voice, attempting to draw the boy’s attention.
Yet, in the face of my sudden call, the boy jumped, dropping the knife in his hand as he looked at me with a startled expression.
In all honesty, if the current atmosphere wasn’t so dark, I might have said that he was kinda cute.
However, I refrained as I weakly rose to my feet, attempting to bring clarity to my shaking voice as I addressed the hesitant youth.
「S-Sorry about that, young man. I…don’t think I’m ready to die yet.」
「H-Huh? U-Um, w-well…I-」
Justifiably flustered, the boy stammered as he turned towards me with a pale face.
It was hard to believe that this was the same youth who had mercilessly cut down the men who did such horrid things to me.
Yet, he was undoubtedly my saviour.
And so, he deserved my undying gratitude.
「Thank you…for saving me.」
I bowed, expressing my thanks towards the blue-haired man’s actions.
—that said, the boy did not act arrogant like the noble he was, nor did he graciously accept my blessings.
No. All he did was gape as his expression warped even further, as if my thanks was something profoundly abnormal to him.
「Um…sorry, young man. Do you mind if I had some time to myself?」
Taken aback by my sudden inquiry, the boy’s frame shuddered as his eyes darted back and forth.
However, in the end-
「O-Oh, yeah…sure. I’ll just step outside for a bit…」
-the man simply nodded awkwardly before turning around and walking out the door.
Which left me and the blood-covered knife alone in this abandoned shack.
Naturally, my eyes couldn’t tear themselves away from the glistening blade of silver.
The apparatus that was capable of draining life away within seconds.
—and I gingerly picked it up as I stumbled to my feet, walking towards a certain orb that faintly shimmered in the shadows.
The orb that they had used to record my shame.
The same orb that I was going to use to record my final words in this world.
「Pearl……my dear, lovely daughter.」
My lips quivered as a cloud of mist frothed into the frosty atmosphere.
Strangely, even though my skin felt cold, it would seem as though my body continued to maintain its warmth despite the trauma it had been subjected to.
……then again, the source of this warmth might have something less to do with my body and more with what was inside it.
「I’m sorry. I don’t think I can watch over you anymore.」
I began to speak apologetically as I addressed my one and only daughter.
Yet, there was no amount of remorse that could possibly make up for what I was about to do to the girl I so dearly cherished as my child.
「Please understand. I don’t want to leave you all alone.」
I sobbed once more as streams of tears endlessly flowed down my rosy cheeks.
However, the salty, ice-cold liquid only served to sharpen my anxious mind, filled with strong, conflicting emotions that threatened to make my head spin.
And yet, despite having been plunged into a realm of chaos, my mind understood exactly what I had to do.
「……but this…this has to be done.」
I squeezed out a painful spurt of air once more, pumping strength into my vocal chords as I gripped the dagger in my hand.
Despite having been soaked in blood, fragments of silver shone through the viscous fluid, sparkling in the moonlight as they reminded me of a certain person from my past.
However, this meant nothing to me right now.
After all, he was no longer here.
「I……I cannot allow what is inside me……to be brought into this world.」
I stammered through heavy tears, forcing my cheeks to grow tense as I attempted to put my daughter at ease with a smile.
And, while I wasn’t sure how successful it was, I knew that I was running out of time.
……I really don’t want to die.
But if I don’t…if I don’t, then—
「So please……Pearl…forgive me…」
I spoke, begging my daughter for her mercy.
Yet, the moment these words passed over my lips, I was reminded of the many memories I had of my precious Pearl.
Her earnest smile that often formed when told that her cooking was delicious.
Her nervous expression that appeared whenever she met a new person for the first time.
Her intense, unbreakable seriousness that possessed her whenever she began to make food.
All of these moments…these jewels that I kept locked away deep within my heart forced a torrent of rain to flood from my eyes once more.
(…ah. Why did this have to happen?)
I thought to myself, questioning the cruelty of the world as my eyes turned towards the ceiling.
I mean, Pearl had finally grown up into such an attractive woman.
I wanted to keep watching her, guiding her through the hardships of life as I supported her ambitions to the best of my ability.
I wanted to see her fall in love, to find the man of her dreams, and to see the faces of my grandchildren.
But most importantly of all…
I didn’t want things to end this way.
A nauseous gushing of liquid erupted from my wrists, rapidly sapping away my strength as white began to fill my vision.
Yet, strangely, the last thoughts that lingered in my mind as I was on the verge of crossing over into the afterlife were not about my daughter.
No. They were centred around the boy who had so generously assisted me in my final hours on this Earth.
It was strange.
Despite being a noble like the ones who captured me, the boy had selflessly put his life on the line, risking both death and imprisonment just to save me.
And it was because of this strange man’s actions that got me thinking.
If only……if only all nobles were like him…
『Maybe this sort of thing would never have happened……』
A stagnant silence loomed over the room, causing all to be stunned as Shell Noel’s final words echoed off of the concrete walls.
Naturally, having been shown the truth of what had happened on that fateful night, everyone present was absolutely dumbfounded.
—including the one who was the most affected by the reality, obscured behind all of the lies that she had so blindly believed in.
A distraught Pearl gasped, covering her mouth with both hands as her legs buckled underneath her weight.
Her face wrinkled as an unbearable amount of confusion, anguish, and terror continued to assail her entire being.
And yet, in the face of the innocent girl’s soul-crushing appearance-
The blue-haired man who had inflicted such despair unto her abruptly burst into a fit of depravity.
「Just you wait! It gets even better from here!」
Aoyama Aoki declared, his crazed eyes glowing hazardously as they continued to stare at the screen which now projected the image of a fresh corpse.
However, what he brought attention to was not the death of the woman covered in red, but the individual who had suddenly entered the room.
The figure of a lone boy with deep blue hair entered the frame, his entire body shivering as sounds of gagging and wheezing filled the enclosure.
That said, the reason why all who bore witness to this film for the first time were so affected by it was not because of the horrid tones that continued to tickle their ears.
No. It was because of the unbelievable sight that had been carved into their retinas.
The sight of Shell Noel’s murderer, struggling to hold down his vomit in the face of her corpse.
「KUHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! WHAT AN IDIOT!!!! THAT TRAITOR CRIED FOR A FUCKING COMMONER!!!」
Holding his pained stomach, Aoki howled once more as he mocked the boy on-screen for showing such sensitivity towards the so-called commoner.
Yet, the boy of dirty blue was not done.
After all, he needed to finish driving home the most ironic point of this tragedy.
「And now, that commoner’s own daughter ended up killing him.」
Pearl’s entire body shook as a ripple of nausea surged through her frail veins.
All of these compounded negative emotions preyed upon the girl’s blood, sucking her veins dry as Pearl’s complexion grew paler and paler.
—a sight that seemed to please the sadistic noble quite significantly.
「That’s a nice look on your face, isn’t it?!」
The youth commented as a sinister smirk formed across his rugged mug.
「Let me take a closer look.」
「Y-You! You think I’d let yo-!!??!」
Immediately moving to protect her friend, Shana readjusted her posture in preparation to engage the approaching enemy.
And yet, in a single instant-
「Out of my way.」
Aoki simply shoved the detective to the side with a simple wave of his hand, as if making a mockery of the hooded girl’s resistance in order to crush any remaining hope inside the hearts of his enemies.
A tormented Shana winced in pain, biting her lips as she cursed Aoki through her teeth.
And yet, no amount of insults could stop the gangster from nonchalantly walking up to her best friend and grabbing her chin in a forceful, brutish manner.
「Now. Let me get a good look at your despair.」
The demented youth licked his lips, deranged as his anticipation of the girl’s despair was clearly expressed by his sickeningly senile smirk.
It needn’t be said that Pearl was in no condition to refuse the boy’s advances as her damaged mind was plagued with the harsh realisation of killing her mother’s saviour.
That said, even if her mind was not present, that didn’t stop Aoki from relishing in the despondent expression that had been branded upon her delicate, sleep-deprived face.
「Theeeere we go. That’s exactly what I wanted to see.」
Delighted by the innocent girl’s heart-wrenching expression, Aoki jeered, his vulgar demeanour causing chills to creep down everyone’s spines.
His large frame writhed in excitement, the repulsive sight threatening to make one gouge their own eyes out.
Needless to say, Aoki’s pleasure at seeing Pearl’s suffering was enough to incite pure, utter disgust.
And yet, what the delinquent said next only served to strengthen this animosity.
「As thanks for showing me something so hysterical, I’ll kill you last.」
In the face of this proclamation, a switch was flicked in Aoyama Hiroko’s head.
A switch that caused her mind to rapidly accelerate in response to the threat that lay before her.
And with her profoundly sharpened thought process, Hiroko was able to discern that she had no chance of winning against her brother were she to hold back.
—no. She had no chance of defeating her brother, period.
That is, not if she were alone.
「Shana, if we don’t work together, this’ll be the end of us!」
「I know, damn it!」
Hiroko quickly quipped, calling upon the detective to aid in her endeavours to rid the world of the psychopath before her.
And naturally, the hooded girl responded in the affirmative to the noble’s request, standing up as she prepared herself for combat once again.
「Heh. You better make this interesting for me, Hiroko!」
Aoki growled, answering the hostility directed towards him with a fearless grin as he cracked his knuckles in an intimidating manner.
Needless to say, this plunged the surroundings into a tense standoff, where both sides continued to stare each other down, waiting for the first person to make a move.
—–and yet, no one could have predicted that that individual would be the one to break said stalemate.
Despite the fact that Shana had called out to her, the brown-haired girl simply continued to sit there, her eyes empty as her fragile frame began to move by itself.
To be honest, seeing the innocent’s body move soullessly without any commands was kind of freaky.
It was almost as if she were a marionette.
Broken and heartless.
And Pearl, in this state of unawareness—-
—-had currently stuck the barrel of J’s pistol against her head.
「Wait, Pearl?! Don’t do it!!!」
Shana howled once more, desperately trying to stop her best friend from committing yet another mistake.
But it was no use.
After all, Pearl’s mind was no longer here.
Her conscious continued to fall deeper and deeper into the abyss as regrets and guilt ravaged her frail soul.
I killed J.
I killed mama’s saviour.
I killed the one I love.
I killed my only reason for being alive.
A person like me doesn’t deserve to live.
I want to be with J.
Grim thoughts such as these continued to assail Pearl’s psyche, severing any and all of the rational thought that she had left.
And so, in a cruel twist of fate, the girl’s body subconsciously raised the pistol to her temple.
The same pistol that Pearl used to take J’s life.
The same pistol that he had used to save hers.
And now, it would be the same pistol would be used to take such a sinful life away.
It was unclear who the girl’s meagre utterance was directed towards.
Yet, in her final moments, the teary-eyed girl stared at the collapsed boy who she cared for so dearly.
The anomaly that had turned her world upside down, and inside out.
The youth known to her as J.
I’ll be with you soon.
—-it was at that exact moment when the despaired marionette pulled the trigger that would remove her from the cruelty of this world.
A sharp sound rang out through the dark enclosure, accompanied by the sounds of hushed surprise from the bewildered audience.
The vibrant timbre of searing flesh resonated like strings as they were supported by the percussive crackling of bones and organs.
Fresh blood spurted from the girl’s now dented skull, covering the onlookers in a thick coat of red nausea.
The sub-zero air was tainted by a vile taste of death, assaulting the witness’s taste buds as they forced many of the weak willed to regurgitate the contents of their stomach.
And then, with a final thud, the marionette collapsed to the floor, signifying the end of the symphony that represented Pearl Noel’s life.
—-at least, that’s what would have happened had the girl’s attempt at suicide been successful.
An utterly confused Pearl woke from her trance, baffled by the fact that she had failed where her mother succeeded.
But then again, could one blame her?
After all, reason would dictate that Pearl’s life should have ended the moment she pulled that trigger.
「…tch. And here I thought you were gonna kill yourself.」
A disappointed Aoki commented, sneering at the fact that Pearl’s attempt to drown out her regrets had failed.
However, it was not this comment, but the next that had caught Pearl’s attention.
「Looks like you lucked out on bullets, huh Cross Breed?」
It would make sense that Pearl wouldn’t have been able to kill herself if the gun in her hand no longer held bullets.
After all, with no pellets in the chamber, the pistol would fail to fire, resulting in a blank shot that would be (relatively) harmless.
And yet, this revelation merely caused Pearl to grow even more confused than she already was.
The girl questioned herself internally as her mind began to churn once more.
Working into overtime, Pearl began to search for the discrepancy that continued to lurk in the deep recesses of her mind.
That said, it didn’t take her long to find the origin of her discomfort.
That is to say, the fact that she had left the cafe with a fully loaded gun.
(This…this shouldn’t be…?!)
Uncertain and uneasy, Pearl fumbled with the pistol that she held in her hands, her sweaty palms trembling as they had great difficulty opening the bullet compartment.
And as luck would have it, the magazine—-was not empty.
(This gun…has bullets loaded…)
Pearl observed, her hands slowly placing the magazine back into the pistol as she felt her face stiffen.
After all, despite her best efforts, the mysteries surrounding her failure had only increased in magnitude.
But of course, the surprises would not stop there.
(…so then why-)
A sharp sound rang out through the dark enclosure, accompanied by the sounds of hushed surprise from the bewildered audience.
The vibrant timbre of searing flesh resonated like strings as they were supported by the percussive crackling of bones and organs.
Yet, the victim of this indiscriminate carnage was not the girl who had attempted to take her life just moments prior.
The one who was the target of this slaughter was none other than the perpetrator behind this entire incident.
「*cough* What the……fuck just…」
And so, it was in this pathetically mundane, overly simplistic, and extremely unreasonable manner that the final boss of this invasion and the mastermind behind Shell Noel’s death was felled.
|The 17th Prelude – Al fine||XCrossJ’s List of Movements||The 19th Prelude – Answers|