Prelude of Pearls: The 20th Prelude – The Dominator’s Departure
「Another world, you say?」
Aoyama Ren murmured in a serious tone, his hand stroking his chin in sombre contemplation as he echoed the phrase that escaped my lips.
Needless to say, it wouldn’t have been strange for the man to dismiss such a strange notion right from the get go.
And yet, the fact that he was seriously muttering it over proved that he wasn’t the type of senseless individual to disregard things simply because they proved to be outlandish.
「Hard to believe, isn’t it?」
I smiled wryly, unsure of what to say towards the man who took my word so seriously.
However, despite how improbable my insinuations may appear, it was an irrefutable truth that I had come from another world.
And after a week of lies and deceits, I was already tired of conjuring up pointless falsehoods.
「It’s not all that farfetched as you may think, J.」
Surprised by the imperial blue man’s statement, I couldn’t help but tilt my head, intrigued as my ears twitched in anticipation to hear more of what he had to say.
「If you don’t mind, let me tell you a story.」
I echoed, causing not just mine, but all eyes to fall upon the city’s head noble.
And, as we waited with bated breath, the man’s lips trembled in the chilly morning air.
「You’re aware of our goddess, Aogami, correct?」
「Err…the deity that those gangsters were worshipping while cursing the commoners?」
I inquired, trying to gather whether or not my thoughts had been associated with the right term.
Yet, it would seem that my words had accidentally been laced with a powerful venom, causing not only Ren, but Hiroko’s face to pale whilst subtly twitching in discomfort.
「Well, yes. I suppose that would be the right one.」
The imperial noble spoke, trying his best to reign in his conflicted feelings as he marched forward with his speech.
「There’s been a story passed down through the generations of Azur.」
Ren spoke, clasping both of his hands on his lap as he began to tell the tale of which he was referring to.
Honestly, the moment he did so, I was half expecting to hear some sort of prophecy foretelling the arrival of some summoned hero who saved a damsel in distress and was crowned king.
Yet, it didn’t take long for my expectations to be completely subverted in every sense of the word.
「It tells of a demon summoned from another world.」
I paused, shivering slightly as a merciless chill crawled up my spine.
「That’s right. A demon who bears the same symbol as our goddess.」
Ren uttered, his eyes never straying from my visage as he continued to convey the summarised contents of this generation-spanning fairy tale.
「And said demon, according to the story, seeks to overthrow the deity of Azur.」
In the face of these words, I froze.
But then again, could you really blame me?
After all, as the events of my arrival flashed through my mind, I honestly felt that my circumstance felt eerily similar to this so-called demon.
I mean, I was summoned against my will by a silver-haired girl who demanded that I take over the world.
And not only that, I was bestowed with the class of 《Dominator》.
Needless to say, it wasn’t exactly difficult to see the disturbing parallels between my situation and this Azurian legend.
And surely, if I could see these similarities, then it was highly likely that Aoyama Ren did as well.
「…………you aren’t saying-」
「J. In all seriousness, I need you to answer this question honestly.」
Suddenly cutting me off, the man of imperial blue lowered his head, his stern gaze prickling my skin as his sober demeanour caused a hush to reverberate in the white room.
And, sure enough, the inevitable came.
「Are you this demon?」
At first, I wasn’t sure what to say in the face of Aoyama Ren’s question.
Was it a joke?
—-with that stern expression painted upon his wise face? Unlikely.
But then what?
Did that mean he was seriously considering whether or not I was going to overthrow this goddess of theirs?
Well, considering how I was doubtful myself, I guess it wasn’t entirely outrageous.
But then what?
If I really was this demon, did he expect me not to lie about it?
Or did he have a similar skill to my ≪Cold Reading≫?
(………whatever the case, I’m gonna have to answer this question at some point.)
I muttered to myself, swallowing the saliva accumulating in my dry mouth as I ignored the stinging gazes of the onlookers, also waiting for my response to the imperial man’s question.
「Let me just say this.」
I spoke, my eyes solemnly glistening as they never dared to stray away from Ren’s visage.
And, with all of the sincerity I could muster, I moved my lips once more.
「Right now, I have no intention of harming you or your goddess.」
As my answer reverberated throughout the room of white, I peered into Ren’s eyes, understanding that all of my movements were being analysed by his critical gaze.
Yet, in all honesty, I didn’t really care.
After all, the words that had left my mouth were spoken with earnest.
I had no hostility towards this goddess of theirs.
In the first place, I had never even met this deity of theirs, let alone have any reason to want to overthrow her.
Furthermore, I had more important things to worry about at the current time other than world domination(?).
「Rather, all I care about right now is finding my friends.」
「That’s right. I’m not the only one who was sent to this world.」
I explained, informing those present of my current situation.
Needless to say, I didn’t go into too much depth such as bringing Silvia into the picture.
However, I made my contention very clear, summarising my objective in one simple sentence.
「I need to find them.」
「I see. But considering you’re still here, you don’t have any clues regarding their whereabouts, do you?」
「Only that they’re not here.」
I answered the noble, confirming what I knew of my friends’ location based on what I gathered from my conversation with Silvia.
Yet, as I did so, I was suddenly reminded of the other reason that I had gone through with my scheme.
That is to say, the promise that I made with Ren’s daughter, Aoyama Hiroko.
「Ah, right. I need to ask you something, Ren……san?」
「Ren is fine.」
The man smiled, allowing me to simply use his name without honorifics despite the clear difference in social standing between us.
Yet, in the face of his gracious generosity, I merely nodded before continuing to push forward my agenda.
「I need to borrow your transmission station.」
「Ah, yes. That was in the contract my daughter signed.」
As per the contract that I had written up with Hiroko, I was to have access to the Aoyama Transmission Station—the station that used 【Lucid’s】 unique aurora to send and receive transmissions from across the globe.
And of course, my plan was to use the unique properties of this station to contact my friends.
I mean, knowing our generation, the others have probably been holding onto their phones even in this world.
Which meant that if I could get my phone connected to this station, it was possible for me to contact the others.
……but of course, even though the goal was just within my sights-
「However, as unfortunate as it may be, the station is currently unusable.」
—my hopes were instantly crushed as a hollow ringing assaulted the surroundings glazed with white.
I turned slowly towards the girl of light blue, the corners of my mouth twitching uncontrollably as my face flashed a bright smile.
Needless to say, however, my beaming expression was anything but friendly as my ≪Facade≫ caused even the 《Ice Queen’s》 skin to shiver with frosty fear.
「What is he talking about?」
Upon hearing Hiroko’s pathetic attempt at brushing off my query, I glared at the girl, hurling a massive amount of concentrated killing intent that threatened to choke the weak and unprepared.
Luckily for the select few who began to suffer from my wrath, however, the man of imperial blue suddenly stepped in, diffusing the increased tension in the room.
「I apologise for my daughter’s ungraceful deceit.」
Hiroko turned to her father, shocked to see him lowering his head towards me, a stranger to their world of nobility.
However, unlike the girl of light-blue who frowned upon her father’s actions, I couldn’t help but look at him with awe, impressed with his respectful gesture of remorse.
「……well, it was my fault for not confirming in the first place.」
I scratched my cheek, admitting my negligence whilst feeling slightly guilty for my outburst.
Yet, this did not last very long as I soon steered the conversation back to the original topic.
「More importantly, would you mind explaining what you mean?」
「To put it simply, our transmission station requires some repairs.」
Ren raised his head, offering a summary of the situation as he crossed his arms over his chest.
「However, we’re waiting on some parts from Lavanda so that we can fix it.」
「……I see. So how long is that gonna take?」
I asked, desiring an estimate of the time that I’ll have to wait before being able to contact my friends.
However, the answer that I received from the imperial blue noble was……less than promising.
「Well, we’re estimating that it might take 6 months, thanks to the current tensions between countries.」
I frowned, somewhat unsure of how to respond to Ren’s time frame.
I mean, thanks to my travels in the guild, I was somewhat aware of the current diplomatic disagreements between each of the 7 Paletian countries.
However, I wasn’t aware that this political pressure would have such a……dramatic effect on shipment.
Dramatic? That’s right.
Considering that Azur and Lavanda were actually neighbouring countries, 6 months for a boat shipment was way too long of a wait.
「Ah, father! How about-」
All of a sudden, Hiroko barged into the conversation, stepping forward as she bent over and began to whisper something into her father’s ear.
Naturally, I had no idea what she was saying to the imperial blue man, especially since she covered her mouth to prevent any lip reading (not like I had such a skill in the first place).
However, my ignorance would soon be amended as Aoyama Ren nodded a few times before turning back towards my direction and calling my name.
「? What is it?」
I asked, unsure of what the two nobles were discussing in their hushed voices.
Nevertheless, it would seem that it concerned me as Ren’s lips parted once more.
「If you wouldn’t mind, could you go to Lavanda and pick up the materials from our contact?」
—a short while after the noble party’s intrusion, I simply sat in silence, reflecting on both the past and future as I emptied the coffee cup that sat in my hands.
According to the imperial blue man’s story, the reason why the shipment of parts was so slow was due to the unreliability of cargo ships making it to and from Lavanda.
Apparently, thanks in part to the war that raged between Verde and Lavanda, there have been incidents where small ships were attacked before ever making it to their destination.
Of course, I inferred from this that the larger ships did not run into this issue of having their sails assailed.
The downside, however, was that in order to accommodate the rough times that the country faced, Lavanda’s large ships were mostly reserved for government use and other official business.
—and it would seem that the larger freights had a backlog shipment of 6 months.
But of course, like with any good system, there was always a workaround.
Apparently, passenger ships were not as terribly hindered by the war waged between the two continents.
Which meant that, so long as there was someone willing to go to Lavanda and pick up the required parts, the transmission station would be up and running again in less than 6 months.
Naturally, this so-called exploit had been identified by the Aoyama’s a long time ago.
However, being the reasonable lord that he was, Ren wouldn’t allow just anybody to take on this assignment.
Perhaps the fact that he had entrusted me with such a task showed how much he thought of my skills.
—then again, it might also be attributed to the fact that I was an utter stranger, useful and expendable to his cause.
But even if that was the case, what choice did I have?
After all, I needed to find a way to contact my friends.
And the Aoyama Transmission Station was my best bet at achieving that goal.
「……I guess that settles it then.」
I muttered, reaffirming my plan of action as I placed the cup of coffee onto the bedside table.
Yet, as I did so, I was reminded of the weight that continued to cling to my arm, causing my eyes to stray towards its source.
The girl of brown jumped, startled by my abrupt address as she looked at me with shock.
To be honest, I couldn’t help but feel that the startled Pearl was quite cute, her wide eyes sparkling with an adorable gleam.
That said, even though her charming looks threatened to shake my soul, I steeled myself, looking at the arms wrapped around my own before asking the following.
「Can you let go of me?」
Clearly upset by my remark, the innocent vigorously shook her head side to side as she gripped my arm even tighter, ensnaring my body as she relentlessly took away my freedom.
「Y-You gotta be kidding me…」
Exasperated, I couldn’t help but mutter my grievances aloud, hoping that this would somewhat deter Pearl from keeping me confined in her embrace.
Despite my wishful thinking, however, the girl of coffee shut her eyes tight, her slender limbs squeezing my limb without any restraint.
Of course, her clutch didn’t actually hurt me. If it had, I would’ve pushed her away a long time ago.
That said, it was true that the clinging girl’s persistence hindered my movement greatly.
「Look. Can you just let me go for 5 minutes?」
I asked the girl, causing her to shake her head once more before looking at me with stern eyes.
It was clear that she wasn’t going to allow me to leave her side.
—and yet, even though she was determined to stand her ground, there was one devious method I could think of that would get her to willingly separate herself from me.
「I……need to go take a piss.」
In the face of my outrageous proclamation, Pearl’s cheeks blushed furiously, her face resembling a boiled tomato as she quickly distanced herself from my side.
To be honest, even this overly dramatic reaction from the girl of coffee was undeniably heart-melting, so much so that I couldn’t help but feel the urge to tease Pearl for her innocent reaction.
Nevertheless, I refrained from making any further comments as I slowly stood up before lifting myself off of the bed and exiting the room in silence, all the while keeping a constant eye on the girl who continued to stare nervously at the floor.
And after having walked down the hall in order to actually take a tinkle, I walked right out the door of Shingen’s small clinic, causing a frosty fresh breath of winter to slap me across the face.
「*phew*………damn is it cold.」
I couldn’t help but comment, blinking whilst shaking off the powerful daze induced by the merciless chill.
Yet, even though it took me awhile to get used to the frigid atmosphere, I could feel my body relaxing as I basked in my newfound freedom.
(Well, whatever the case, I still managed to give her the slip.)
I muttered to myself, placing my hands into my pockets whilst slinging my bag over my shoulder.
Luckily for me, my belongings had been gathered near the administrative desk of the clinic, allowing me to quietly grab them as I made my exit.
Little did I know, however, that there was a certain someone that anticipated my preemptive……dispatch.
「Long time no see, Takubi.」
A warm purr reverberated through the frosty atmosphere, the source of the noise coming from the black ball of fur whose neck I was tickling gently.
Judging from Takubi’s reaction, the kitten was glad to see me in good health, joyously rubbing its cheek against my own as it continued to release a soft trill.
To be honest, after being hospitalised, it was refreshing to see the black creature, blissfully ignorant of our human problems whilst enjoying a carefree lifestyle.
That said, it was only because of a certain person that Takubi could remain unaffected by my abrupt absence.
「Thanks for looking after Takubi, Shana.」
「It wasn’t for you. It was for Pearl.」
「Even so, thanks.」
I smiled wryly, rubbing my head as I expressed gratitude towards Shana, her delicate features currently plagued by a sour expression.
Despite having shone the light of truth onto my scheme shrouded in darkness, the aloof detective was still suspicious of me, distancing herself as she focused on the cityscape expanding down below.
Incidentally, so as to eliminate any chance that we’d be interrupted, the two of us (and Takubi) moved to a small balcony which overlooked the hustle and bustle of the city.
Though in exchange, the higher altitude heavily chilled the air, forcing me to put up a ≪facade≫ in order to prevent myself from visibly shaking.
「……I’m not going to say thank you for what you’ve done.」
「Why would you? I didn’t do anything worth thanking.」
I smiled wryly, answering Shana’s curt statement whilst gazing upon the froths of smoke that were expelled from her lips.
That said, I firmly believed that such praise was unwarranted.
I mean, out of all of the acts that I’ve done, most of them have inflicted pain and suffering.
And, in hindsight, all of them should have been met with reproach, not appreciation.
………but I digress.
After all, the past is in the past.
And now, I should be looking towards the future.
「………so you’re going to accept Aoyama Ren’s proposal?」
「That’s the plan.」
In the face of my terse answer, the detective of charcoal folded her arms, staring at me sullenly before she was swallowed in a sea of deep concentration.
That said, this contemplation did not last for long as the hooded girl reached into her pockets, pulling out a small device that somewhat resembled a phone, as well as a few bills of foreign design.
「Here’s the money for the parts, and a phone, courtesy of Aoyama Ren. In it, you’ll find a map and the route you should take to get to your destination.」
「Thanks. I’ll get on it right away.」
I nodded, showing my appreciation for the hooded detective’s assistance as I walked towards the exit.
However, just as I did so-
「Hey, hang on a minute!」
-Shana’s hastily called out to me, stopping me in my tracks as I turned towards the hooded girl.
「Are you planning on leaving now!?」
「Well, that’s the idea.」
I shrugged, returning a blunt reply as I surveyed the city shrouded in an icy mist.
The same city that housed a certain girl of brown and pink.
「If I stick around, then Pearl’s probably gonna catch up with me.」
Shana said, her face twitching as if she wanted to say something to me.
However, after a long period of silence, the detective swallowed, withholding herself from voicing her misgivings as she gave me the following advice.
「Well, whether you go now or later, you better return your guild weapon before you leave.」
Without thinking, I let out an ungraceful expression of bewilderment, utterly perplexed by Shana’s statement.
That said, it didn’t take long for the hooded girl to try and supplement her explanation, her contorted face clearly conveying her surprise towards my own.
「You know? The weapon you get when you first sign up with the guild?」
I continued to stare at Shana, my face blank as my mind raced relentlessly.
Sifting through my memories, I recalled the day that I first set foot in 【Lucid】.
And, after replaying the events in my head, I was suddenly hit with a revelation.
(………looks like I’ve got something else to do before I leave.)
I murmured to myself, stroking my chin in befuddlement as my eyes narrowed.
However, my contemplation was soon broken by a comment from the hooded detective.
「Ah, I had a look through the recruitment log. That’s why I know that you signed up only recently.」
Not bothering to correct Shana’s misinterpretation of my confusion, I offered a hesitant nod, deciding that it would be best to simply end this conversation before things dragged on too long.
「Well, I’m gonna head off then.」
I raised my hand, giving a curt farewell before resuming my departure that had been halted once before.
Yet, just as I was making my exit-
「………J. I know we’ve had our differences here and there. But-」
「It was fun, Shana. Thanks for everything.」
-I extended a final gesture of appreciation towards the hard-boiled, hoodie-loving detective, leaving her speechless as I turned away from the city of waking dreams.
Underneath the shimmering aurora that painted the skies with wisps of vivid hues, the city was submerged in the hushed calm of nighttime.
Despite the people that strived to stay awake, and the few others who had adjusted to the nocturnal lifestyle, the hustle and bustle of the city was absent, replaced with a dampened facsimile which failed to display the same liveliness.
And underneath the distilled lull that hung over the town, another one of these so-called imitations walked down a deserted street, failing to utter a single word.
Or at least, that’s how things were until the girl with blonde hair caught me in her sights.
「Oh? Hey there, J! It’s been awhile since I’ve seen you! How goes the hunting?」
Alicia waved her arms in large motions to gather my attention, her eyes flashing brightly as her enthusiasm shattered the stagnant atmosphere.
Yet, unfortunately for me, I could not share Alicia’s delight in this after-hours rendezvous.
Noticing my stern countenance, the girl with yellow hair paused, concerned as she sent me an inquisitive gaze.
However, in response to this tense atmosphere, I merely stood there, my eyes constantly studying her features as I unleashed the following question.
「Alicia. Why didn’t you give me a Guild Weapon when I first signed up?」
「……huh? D-Didn’t I?」
The girl of yellow asked, her quivering voice filled with utter incomprehension as her eyes blinking uncontrollably.
Yet, I was not swayed by her ≪facade≫, continuing to look upon her with scrutiny as I started to ≪read≫ her expression.
After reflecting on the flow of events that occurred during my first day in 【Lucid】, I concluded that there could only be one reason why I didn’t have a guild weapon, much less any knowledge regarding its existence.
It was because my only point of contact with the guild throughout the entire week I had been there was none other than Alicia.
I mean, think about it.
In hindsight, this position of hers was so convenient that she could manage and maintain what information I gained regarding guild operations.
From the types of missions I took, to the people that I worked with.
I wouldn’t be surprised if she had been manipulating everything behind the scenes, controlling how I levelled up and what kind of skills I learned.
—though of course, this was all merely a hypothesis.
Which is why I decided to confront the receptionist of gold.
To confirm whether or not this theory of mine was fact or fiction.
「…w-well, I must have forgotten to do it. Ahaha, sorry about that.」
Alicia chuckled, clearly trying to brush off my suspicions with an apology.
However, this only served to dig herself into a deeper grave.
「Don’t try to hide it. I can ≪read≫ your face.」
I declared, my eyes continuing to ≪observe≫ and ≪analyse≫ Alicia’s body language, even after they had seen through the girl’s averted pupils.
However, I felt no need to point out her mistake.
And, from what I could see, neither did she.
In the face of my proclamation, the girl of yellow fell silent, her golden locks now covering her face as darkness settled into the surroundings.
It needn’t be said that both her behaviour and appearance was entirely out of character for the clumsy, yet happy-go-lucky receptionist.
However, what truly clued me into the girl’s broken ≪facade≫ was what happened next.
「You’ve exceeded my expectations, Mr Dominator.」
All of a sudden, a low growl escaped Alicia’s lips, her green eyes glistening through the shadows cascading across her face.
Yet, what drew my attention was the girl’s raised hand, frozen in the air as the sounds from her snapped fingers continued to reverberate throughout the desolated streets.
In the face of the intruder that emerged from the shadows, I couldn’t help but flinch, instinctively lowering my centre of gravity as I leered at the striking figure limping into the moonlight.
A foul stench emanated from its disfigured frame, the nauseous properties of the deathly odour threatening to send me to an early grave.
The fragments of skin that resembled green sewerage lingered on the entity’s bones, exposing decaying organs and rotten muscles from the various holes riddled throughout its body.
Two, beady black holes were embedded in the front of the thing’s head, no longer housing eyes as they leaked tears of black and green mush.
Although I had never seen this…abomination before in my entire life, I was somehow able to discern its identity from the remaining strands of blue attached to the figure’s head.
This monster……was the undead that should have been slain by my hand during the raid a few days ago.
This monster……was Aomine Kaito.
「That’s right. You recognise him, don’t you?」
Alicia smiled, placing a hand on the back of the broken zombie as her eyes shimmered with a dangerous light.
Despite being drenched in a morbid, suffocating ambience, the receptionist clung to Kaito, her tongue seductively poking out of her lips as she ran it up and down the undead’s skin.
And of course, I looked upon the surreal scene in horror as the following notion clearly implanted itself inside my confused cranium.
This girl is batshit insane!
「Oh dear? What’s wrong, Mr Dominator?」
「-?! Who are you?」
I couldn’t help but flinch in the face of the yellow-haired girl’s snicker, preparing myself for a fight as I struggled against the hideous miasma which strangled my very core.
However, instead of answering my combative stance, Alicia simply smiled at me innocently, her eyes shining with a foreign, murky green pigment that almost mirrored the hue of the undead’s skin.
「In a way, I’m a similar existence to you.」
The girl of yellow suddenly raised her hand mysteriously, gently placing her dainty fingers atop her head before cracking a dark grin.
Yet, before I could even come up with a guess as to why Alicia would make such a strange gesture-
-the receptionist grabbed a clump of her golden locks, yanking her hair out as a bundle of green strings gracefully fell down to her shoulders.
And then, while I was indubitably startled by her newly acquired hairdo, the girl of
yellow green chuckled before she proclaimed thus.
「I’m also a person who came from another world~」
(What the hell?!)
I couldn’t help but exclaim internally, finding myself dumbfounded by this revelation as my brow furrowed into a perplexed expression.
But then again, could you really blame me?
After all, not only had she deceived me at the guild, but she had even hidden her true hair colour.
And to top it all off, she was just like me—a citizen of another world.
How could I not be taken aback by the complete absurdity of this situation?
Rather, if my ≪Forced Calm≫ skill hadn’t kicked in a while ago, I probably would have lost it by now.
But alas, with my cleared mind, I understood that I was at a severe disadvantage.
I mean, Aomine Kaito was hard enough to beat when Takubi and Celest were helping me out.
Add in the fact that I’m still recovering, and that I knew next to nothing about Alicia’s combat capabilities, it didn’t take a genius to understand that fighting now would be an extremely stupid idea.
And so, instead of lashing out against the girl of green, I clenched my fist, standing up straight as I erased my hostility before voicing the following question.
「……why did you do this, Alicia? What do you want from me?」
I asked with narrowed eyes, still having next to no clue about the receptionist’s purpose for having deceived me.
Don’t get me wrong. Thanks to this little exchange, a lot of doubts had been answered quite cleanly.
And yet, in spite of this, only one crucial mystery remained.
AKA Alicia’s motive for going through with her actions.
「What do I want from you? Nothing, really. After all, you’ve given me everything I could’ve asked for.」
The girl of green beamed, her gaze wandering towards the disfigured lump of flesh standing precariously in the moonlight.
Yet, this innocent charm was soon overshadowed by a sinister chuckle, echoing ominously throughout the deserted streets as the shrill laughter filled the midnight skies.
Climbing onto the back of the creature that she had summoned, Alicia saluted me with glee as a shroud of mist enveloped her surroundings.
However, before I could even move a muscle, the charming tinkle of a wind chime reverberated through the frigid atmosphere, causing my skin to stand on edge as the receptionist winked at me one final time.
「Until we meet again.」
-and just like that, the shrewd receptionist of green vanished into the magical fog, leaving only enigmas in her wake as her wispy voice dissipated into the frosty winter air.
「………man. The hell was that?」
Strolling through the empty streets, I couldn’t help but comment thus as my head began to churn, racing as it desperately tried to make sense of what had just occurred.
And yet, after a few minutes of solemn contemplation, I was aware that continuing my internal debate was pointless.
Not because there was no value in resolving my misgivings, but because there was not enough information for me to come to a satisfying conclusion.
「Oh well. No use worrying about that now.」
I shrugged, reluctantly shelving the matter away for another time as I examined the phone that I was given.
Though it took me awhile to get used to the interface, it wasn’t terribly difficult for me to pull up the map of the world, as well as the route I was to take to reach my destination.
(I see. So I’ll be travelling by boat, huh?)
I muttered, vaguely remembering the fact that Aoyama Ren mentioned something about passenger boats.
Though I wasn’t entirely averse to travelling by ship, I was aware that they could be quite time consuming when compared to other modes of transport.
Which is why, despite being somewhat unprepared, I wanted to depart from 【Lucid】 quickly so as to not waste any time.
………and yet, just as I was about to set out so I could do the job that I had been assigned-
-a shrill cry stopped me in my tracks, causing me to look back as the sight of an exhausted young maiden drew my attention.
Her brow was covered in sweat, causing her elegant pink locks to stick to her skin.
Her limbs trembled in fatigue as her legs desperately tried to support her weight, shivering under the immense pressure that they had to endure.
Her chest, expanding and deflating rapidly as her lungs forcefully hoarded as much air as they could manage.
Needless to say, the dizzy, wheezing girl who had called out my name could have only been one person, and one person alone.
「Hey, Pearl. Nice night, huh?」
I gazed quietly at the black canvas in the sky, allowing the majesty of the mystical radiance to wash over my entire being.
Yet, in the face of my pitiful attempt to change the subject, Pearl tugged at my sleeve, her timid eyes staring at my back with uncertainty.
「J-san……why did you-?」
Pearl’s anxious voice echoed softly in the atmosphere, hesitant as she began to avert her eyes, either out of nervousness or embarrassment.
Yet, as she did so, the pink-haired innocent made a passing glance at the object which rested in my hand.
The phone that displayed my travel route to Lavanda.
「-?! W-where are you going?」
Fumbling over words, Pearl’s eyes opened wide as her grip on my arm grew ever tighter.
Yet, in response to the increased pressure that I felt upon my arm, I decided to take a firm stand, presenting the map I was given to her before making my declaration.
「To Lavanda. Where else?」
「-?! T-Then that means…」
Utterly bewildered by the news, Pearl raised her voice frantically as her flushed face was covered in cold sweat.
However, as if she was cooled off by the liquid which drenched her entire body, the innocent suddenly grew tamer, pausing as she tried to quell the raging emotions that surged through her pounding heart.
「……d-does that mean you’ll be leaving 【Lucid】?」
The girl of innocence inquired, her eyes looking up at me as her pupils of strawberry sparkled with undeniable insecurity.
An insecurity that I instinctively knew was caused by my abrupt departure earlier that day.
「…‥well, that’s the plan.」
Shaking away my guilt, I carefully delivered my answer to Pearl’s question, clearly stating my intent so as to dispel the girl’s concerns.
That said, it would seem that my nonchalant demeanour only served to strengthen them instead.
「C-Can’t you stay here?!」
My brain lapsed momentarily, completely taken aback by Pearl’s suggestion as I sent her a blank stare.
However, it would seem that my utter astonishment failed to register itself in the innocent’s agitated mind, causing her to unconditionally disregard my disorientation as her speech grew more and more fevered.
「T-The outside world is dangerous! A-And with Aoyama-sama around, you’ll be safe here!」
Losing herself in hysteria, the girl of pink strawberries continued to plead with me, desperately trying to deter me from leaving the city of 【Lucid】 before finishing up her argument with the following.
「U-Um, and if you can’t find a place to stay, y-you’re always welcome to my home.」
「……well, that does sound appealing.」
I murmured softly, mulling over the points Pearl raised as my expression grew clouded.
To start with, I was already aware that the outside world was dangerous, thanks in part to my travels in the guild.
Monsters of all shapes and sizes infested the fields and forests, claiming the Paletian wilderness as their habitat in a similar manner to parasites.
Furthermore, if my encounter with the 『Blue Tree Gangsters』 was any indication, I might have to look out for noble extremists who were aiming to take my life.
Seeing how Aoyama Ren often acted to both ward off monsters and enforce the law in this city, it was easy to say that I’d be protected within 【Lucid’s】 borders.
And as for accommodation…well, Pearl herself had already extended an invitation for me to stay with her.
To be entirely candid, this wasn’t a bad deal.
Rather, if one were to view the situation rationally, this was a pretty damn good arrangement.
「That said, I’m sorry. It looks like I’m gonna have to decline」
-I couldn’t bring myself to accept such a deal, causing a heartbroken Pearl to choke in the face of my refusal.
「Well, I kinda want to travel. See how different this world is from mine.」
I chuckled, understanding that a part of me was actually enjoying this bizarre situation in which I found myself in.
I mean, don’t get me wrong. Being sent to a random world against my own volition was by no means something I wanted.
That said, even I had to admit that (after spending about 2 weeks in this new world) I found this new experience quite exhilarating.
A lot more exhilarating than writing up reports and dealing with uncooperative team members.
「Besides, even if I stay here, someone has to go and get those radio parts, right?」
I added, understanding full well that this burden wouldn’t go away, even if I were to give up my role and stay at 【Lucid】.
Yet, while I hoped that this would dissuade Pearl from trying to convince me to stay, she raised her voice once more as her words brought forth another wild idea.
「……i-in that case, let me come as well!」
Pearl’s pupils visibly contracted, shaking as she looked upon my immediate veto with horror.
Her entire frame shivered, clearly conveying just how shocking my harsh disapproval of her suggestion was.
And, while I certainly felt guilty about using such a forceful tone with the young girl, I did not withdraw my stance.
「W-Why can’t I come with you!?」
「You said it yourself. It’s dangerous out there.」
I replied, using Pearl’s argument as a means of justifying my outright denial of her proposition.
However, upon doing so, I was reminded of the object that hung around my neck, causing me to reach around the back of my head before taking the item and handing it to the girl of strawberry pink.
「Besides, don’t you have to look after your mother’s cafe?」
Upon seeing me returning her mother’s pendant, the girl began to suffocate, her downcast eyes glistened like deep-sea pearls as tears flowed down her cherry-red cheeks.
I cursed, kicking myself internally as I realised just how stupidly careless my actions were.
I mean, thanks to the necklace that I had suddenly taken out, Pearl was forced to recall the extreme trauma that she had been subjected to throughout the duration of the past week.
And, of course, within this collection of bad memories was the pinnacle of her despair—the death of her mother.
「……I’m sorry for your loss, Pearl.」
Attempting to make amends for my mistake, I extended my condolences, gently taking hold of the pink-haired maiden’s hand before wrapping her dainty fingers around the pendant.
However, even though I had royally messed up, I could do nought but push forward.
「But even so, you need to live out your life.」
I stated softly, delivering my contention before releasing Pearl’s hand from my clasp.
And, after surveying her entire body in an attempt to make sure that she was (relatively) ok, I continued my train of thought once more, trying to drive the point home as I spoke in a low growl.
「Fighting for your life every day. Not knowing whether or not you’ll live until you get home.」
That’s no way to live.
Unable to control my trembling body, I inhaled sharply as my entire being focused on J’s words.
……no. What had caught my attention was not his words, but rather, the implication behind them.
The implication that I had a life to go back to.
「S-So you want me to stay here, safe and sound at home?」
I heard a murky cry escape my lips, signifying to me that my body no longer obeyed my will.
Yet, no matter how much I tried to reign in my disobedient voice, vile words continued to flow from the darkest depths of my heart.
「With no one to talk to? Just taking care of that cafe all by myself?」
(Stop it! Please!)
I pleaded with my body, trying to regain control before my surging emotions caused me to say something I could no longer take back.
I mean, I could see where J was coming from.
He meant no harm from his statement.
Rather, he was only trying to do what was best for me.
And yet, while my head fully comprehended J’s intent, my heart seemed to think otherwise.
「That’s no way to live either!」
My frustrations exploded, causing me to hurl a pathetic wail towards the boy with blue hair.
(I’m sorry, J. I…I didn’t mean to……)
My mind continued to profusely apologise to my mother’s saviour, causing me to shut my eyes tightly as I expected harsh criticism to come from the unnoble-like noble.
—however, it was not scoldings, but appeals that passed over the blue-haired man’s lips.
「Look, Pearl……please don’t make this hard on me.」
It was at that moment in which the world stood still.
The instant I echoed that word, even my ears could pick up the turbulence which throbbed relentlessly within my voice’s faint resonance.
And with it, came a flood of emotions that overwhelmed my rational self.
Who was it that had to deal with the anxiety caused by her missing mother?
Who was it that was unconditionally blackmailed with the deed of her home?
Who was it that was manipulated into trying to take the life of the man she loved?
「How do you think I feel! After everything that’s happened……」
Don’t you dare tell me not to make things hard!
—-luckily for me, I couldn’t bring myself to voice this last complaint.
That said, it was undeniable that the darkness within my heart had taken control of my entire being, forcing me to raise an angered voice towards the servant of evil.
However, the fact that my actions had been swayed by such a sinister emotion was not the worst of it.
No. What horrified me more was the fact that my rational self indulged in such a corrupt sensation.
—just like when I decided that I would take J’s life.
「………alright then. I’ll let you come with me.」
All of a sudden, my body froze, unable to move as my entire being focused on the words that emerged from J’s lips.
And, as the realisation of what they meant finally sunk into my brain, the grim, gloomy sensation that governed my soul was suddenly dispelled, instead replaced with a mysterious energy that I could hardly describe.
I shrieked, my body jumping as I felt my heart soar higher than the heaven which my mother now rested in.
That said, perhaps my elation was a little bit too premature as J’s following words caused me to flinch slightly.
「However, only on one condition.」
「C-Condition? I-I’ll do anything!」
I exclaimed once more, shaking away my misgivings whilst stating clearly that I was willing to abide by whatever the blue-haired youth demanded of me.
After all, no matter what he wanted from me, I would be fine so long as I could be with him.
So long as I was with J, I didn’t care what happened to me.
「……how about you listen to what it is before you decide?」
Upon hearing J’s startled words, I realised that my face was dangerously close to the blue-haired noble, causing me to blush as I retreated away from his personal space.
And, while an awkward silence savagely consumed the frosty atmosphere, it didn’t take long for this lull to be broken.
「*cough* Anyway, as I was saying.」
I shook my head up and down, vigorously showing my acknowledgement as I anxiously waited for the boy’s words.
「If you want to come with me, then…」
I repeated, my eyes locked onto J’s mouth as I urged the boy to continue.
Yet, it was only after the silence of the night had seeped into every fibre of my being that J spoke once more, his words causing me to sharply inhale as his condition lingered in the crisp, winter air.
「You’ll have to become my slave.」
|The 19th Prelude – Answers||XCrossJ’s List of Movements||Afterword|