Baroque Interludium


  • Precognition
  • Empathy
  • Escape
  • Immortal
  • Translator’s Notes

Baroque Interludium

Scenario/Editor: Kazunari Yonemitsu
Author: Mariko Shimizu
In cooperation with the SoftBank Corporation

Volume 1: Precognition

    I believe people are like actors, performing on a stage called reality. And therefore, many suffer because the role they wish to play is different from the role they are assigned. Taking people who are sick and tired of the roles they’re forced to play and providing them with a delusional stage on which to perform the roles they’ve always wanted - that is the service I, Kitsune Kanazawa, provide.
    “So what you’re saying is, you get paid to take people on the verge of going Baroque and push them over the edge?” Ruby said, throwing herself onto the couch and thrashing her delicate legs back and forth like a child.
    “At least it’s better than being a drifter who loiters around other people’s offices. Move it. That couch is for customers.”
    “There’s only one other chair in here, and you’re sitting in it.”
    “And there’s a customer on their way.”
    Ruby soundlessly sprang to her feet. At the same time, a girl wearing pale green entered the shop. Her small face was beautiful and framed by long hair, but behind her lashes lay eyes that drifted through the air. A Baroque.
    “Oh no, I’ve made another mistake.” The girl suddenly collapsed on the spot.
    I took my time in helping her to sit upright, after which I had her swallow a pill I produced from my pocket.
    “This drug will allow you to speak without needing to inhale.”
    I’m very familiar with the strange ways in which Baroques introduce themselves.
    “Thank you. Yes, it’s easier to talk now. As I thought, Baroque Shops are amazing.”
    I responded by way of a reassuring smile. To be honest, the pill I had given her was… well, it doesn’t matter.
    “My name is Ami.”
    Ami was sitting neatly, with a hand on either knee. Her elegant manner of speaking and appearance were mature for her years. She might come from a rich family.
    “Excuse me, but please forgive me for not providing my last name.”
    “I don’t mind at all.” I gave her a knowing smile.
    In addition to this one, I have 18 smiles I regularly use in my line of work.
    “... Um, do you have Baroques for people who know a little about the future?”
    “Let’s find out.”
    I went to my desk and booted up the machine. Ruby was curled up under the desk, a broad grin on her face. It seemed she liked to hide under there and spy on my work while I had customers.
    “I need a keyword to search for, could you please be a little more specific about the nature of the Baroque?” I said while running my fingers across the keyboard.
    “Without any warning, a white glow will appear before my eyes. Beyond the light are transparent doors, through which lay multiple futures. I choose one of the doors. Then the events of the future I have chosen become reality.”
    “With 100% certainty?”
    “Even before coming here, I foresaw your face and this room. I also saw the faces of two other men. I chose your face as it was the youngest and most apathetic.”
    Ruby burst into laughter under the desk, but Ami, like most Baroques, showed no awareness of her surroundings.
    “But just as I entered, I saw what the next set of futures held. I could die, I could become terrified, or I could become a different person than I am now… ah.”
    Ami covered her eyes with the fingertips of either hand.
    “After I make my choice, I can see the other futures I didn’t choose. If I hadn’t come to you, I could have had a slightly happier future in which I got a songbird. I’m only ever able to choose the worst futures.”
    Only her shapely lips could be seen moving from between her hands, giving the illusion of a creature that was nothing but mouth.
    “Do you have premonitions about people other than yourself?”
    “I can clearly see terrible fates. A person who cherishes antiques, unaware that they are keepsakes of the dead, before long will suffer the fate of their previous owners… a person who tries to save their friend from the bite of a poisonous spider instead becomes the one who succumbs to its poisonous bite.”
    “But I assume these appear as multiple doors as well?”
    Ami’s hands dropped from her face. She looked at me with eyes which saw things I could not.
    “No. These fates can never be changed.”
    “Oh, I see.”
    Well, she was surprisingly rational for a Baroque. I printed out the completed story and handed it to Ami.
    [I am the sword that Maat wields in her right hand. It kills all who would defile Maat, purifying them. There is no scabbard worthy to sheath this sword. Swords have no hearts, and yet the scale Maat carries in her other hand tilts slightly to the right due to the sword’s pain weighing on it…]
    “The Egyptian goddess who governs the laws of reality.”
    “That’s right. Okay… yeah… yeah.”
    Ami read the story several times over and nodded.
    “This truly is my Baroque.”
    “I’m glad we were able to find it without incident.”
    “Thank you very much.”
    Ami bowed politely, paid the specified fee, and went home. I thought I could have gotten a bit more out of her considering how well she was dressed, but it would have been awkward since it had been such an easy job.
    “Why’d you go with Maat’s Sword?”
    “What that Baroque needed was a story she didn’t have to put any thought into. Precognition had become that kid’s core delusion, so it would be bad if it got overwritten.”
    “Hmph.” Some time ago, Ruby had tumbled back onto the couch which Ami had just been sitting on. “You don’t watch TV, do you?”
    “Not often. There’s more on the internet.”
    “I only caught a glimpse of that girl, but I’m sure she’s a famous TV star named Ami Tayura.”
    “Wow, really.”
    I wasn’t that impressed.
    “I’m serious, they’re always having specials about her ‘amazing clairvoyant abilities’. If she can tell the futures of other people besides herself, she might not be Baroque.”
    “Daytime television always appeals to nutcases like you.”
    “On TV they said she has a 70% accuracy rating, but maybe they’re deliberately saying it’s lower than it actually is.”
    “I get it. You know Baroque Shops do similar things, right?”
    Nine days later, a small box from Ami arrived at my address.
    Inside the box was a dead songbird and a letter which read “This is the weight on Maat’s scale.” Such gifts from Baroque clients aren’t uncommon. I gratefully hung the songbird by the window.
    “Did you know Ami died?” Ruby came up and immediately began to play with the songbird, poking it repeatedly with her finger. “Rumor says that Baroque girl was so shocked by the sudden loss of her precognition that she voluntarily ran into District Zero to be eaten by Grotesques.”
    “Looks like coming to you really was her worst option after all, huh?”
    “Considering the result, it seems she could have been making the correct choices all along.”
    Perhaps Ami, who could foresee terrible fates, had escaped the worst fate of all by only making bad choices up until that point. But it was my job to turn her regrets into a delusion. Even if she had been torn apart by Grotesques, she hadn’t suffered because she had been a sword without a heart. She had cut away even the slightest tinge of pain and given it to me as a gift.
    “If only I had known things would turn out this way back then, I would have asked Ami to see my fate too.”
    “Why’s that?”
    “Because only foxes are sly enough to pay heed to foresight.”
    I didn’t remember what I had said, but I got a great sense of satisfaction at seeing Ruby looking so bored.
    I tried to smile. Then I remembered I only have two types of smile I use outside of work and decided not to waste them. I gave up trying.


Volume 2: Empathy

    “D-do you think that fish will forgive me?” Mayu asked the stuffed elephant sitting on the desk.
    “Did you pick up all the pieces?” I answered on the elephant’s behalf, outside of Mayu’s view.
    “Yeah. Just like al-always, paper, I wrapped them in paper and put them in a box.”
    “Then the fish won’t be lonely either. Even though it shattered, it’ll remain by your side.”
    “You’re right. You’re right, you’re right.”
    Mayu got up from the couch and turned around. Sunken cheeks, black hair hanging over the right side of her pale, frightened face. The distant look in her left eye, the hallmark of a Baroque.
    “Thh-thank you. I’ll come back lat-er.”
    The wallet Mayu took out in order to pay the bill was worn and dirty from use. It must have had some kind of picture on it once, but it could no longer be made out.
    The money was perfectly good though.
    “What was it today? Penance over a broken fish plate?”
    Ruby’s face appeared from under the desk, where she had been waiting to see what was happening. She spread the small elephant's ears and lifted it into the air.
    “Yeah. Hey, don’t rip it. As far as that customer is concerned, the elephant owns this place.”
    From dolls and trinkets to fish painted on plates, Mayu talks with “things”, hears their voices, and avoids all contact with her flesh and blood peers.
    To Mayu, ripping up a doll is equivalent to murder, throwing away a broken plate akin to concealing a corpse. But as long as we live, we must continue to use things up. Mayu suffers from a constant sense of guilt and always speaks in a trembling voice.
    “Customers like that are rare, aren’t they?”
    “Repeat customers? Seems like it.”
    Mayu had been to the office three times so far.
    “I’m sure you already have a Baroque prepared for that kid. Why haven’t you given it to her?”
    “No need to rush things. She pays me every time she visits.”
    “Ah, sure. But isn’t that the kind of horrible thing a fox in a fairy tale would do?”
    “I’m just doing what’s right for the customer.”
    “If it were up to me, I’d give that kid a soap bubble Baroque. The souls of broken things don’t disappear, they just dissolve into the air. Like in a fairy tale.
    “And that’s why you’re a drifter. You don’t have what it takes to be a Baroque Salesman.
    I went to my desk and booted up the machine, adding a little Baroque to Mayu’s file.
    “... I’m going back.”
    Ruby threw the elephant at me.
    “Don’t get eaten on the streets.”
    From far off, the ‘BUWOOHN, BUWOOHN’ of a siren could be heard. It was already public knowledge that this was the Hunters signaling that a Grotesque had been sighted. The night city grew more dangerous every day, but Ruby left without seeming to care.
    Where she was heading back to, I didn’t know.
    Four days passed before Mayu returned.
    Her face and clothing were blackened by something like soot. I hurriedly placed the little elephant on the desk and moved around behind Mayu. She faced the elephant and burst into tears.
    “Ev-ev-ev-everyone d-d-died. They burned into a bl-black lump.”
    “Who burned?” my elephant inquired.
    “Car, the kids in the car. Hiding, I was hiding, yeah, and then I went to see, and fire, fire, they were all on fire.”
    Mayu certainly smelled of melted plastic and burnt hair.
    I waited in silence, letting Mayu cry herself out.
    After the clock on the post showed 12 minutes had passed, Mayu raised her face to the elephant and nodded.
    “Right. This time I will take revenge on that Evil Clear Spirit.”
    Mayu’s voice sounded firmer than ever before.
    This “Clear Spirit” was likely to be someone from Mayu’s family, maybe her mother. A hated evil spirit that sometimes came to take everyone away. This was sure to be Mayu’s mother clearing away her things. I didn’t know if the fire had been the mother’s doing, but if I let Mayu go home in this state, she might injure her mother as part of this “revenge”.
    “Please wait. Before you go, take this.”
    Heading over to the computer next to the little elephant, I called up the Baroque file I had prepared for Mayu and showed it to her.
    [My eyes are the lenses of a video camera. The images I capture are stored in a place managed by an old man who faces left. Inside my eyes, the futures of these images are erased and they become a part of history. There in the past, they can continue to sleep happily ever after. It is my job to lay them to rest. The old man who protects these secrets of the past, occasionally illuminating them for display, is my grandfather…]
    “Then, they’re in here?”
    Mayu parted her bangs. Her Baroque left eye watched the elephant, but the right eye which had appeared from under her hair looked straight at me.
    “Correct. Even the snowmen on the gloves you lost when you were seven and the girls on the candy wrapper that burned today. You can see them again any time you want.”
    “And if the Evil Spirit comes?”
    “I’m sure the old man will drive her away.”
    “... that’s right…”
    “Are you sure you want this Baroque?”
    “Uh-huh. Thank you.”
    Ruby came in just as Mayu left. She also reeked of smoke. Come to think of it, hadn’t it looked like she was going after Mayu the last time she left…?
    “It wasn’t me! The one who did it was some arsonist Baroque kid who was nearby… maybe.”
    “Why did you go after Mayu?”
    “Because I had time to spare and it would’ve been boring if that kid was eaten by a Grotesque before I got to see the Baroque you gave her.”
    “So you decided to be a bodyguard. And then Mayu’s precious things went up in flames, and you just stood around without a care in the world?”
    “But it doesn’t matter if reality burns as long as she has the Baroque you gave her.”
    “That’s easy for you to say now.”
    It certainly wasn’t love that drove Mayu to never throw away the things she hoarded. She was simply afraid that what she threw away would be sad or resent her. Yes, just as she herself hated the Evil Clear Spirit.
    But if Mayu’s new mission was to record the minds of objects and store them away in her delusions, then she would be released from that fear.
    “No more little elephant then?”
    “It’s yours if you want it.”
    “I’ll take it. To be honest, I’m a sucker for fairy tales.”
    Another four days passed, and a woman claiming to be Mayu’s mother stopped by with a cake.
    “Thank you so much. That kid finally got rid of her mountain of trash for me.”
    I ate a slice and found it to be surprisingly good. I hid it right away because I absolutely didn’t want Ruby to have any. But before I had the chance to sneak a second slice, Mayu died. Instead of a suicide note, she left behind a videotape.
    If I ate any more cake without watching the video, I’d be siding with the Evil Clear Spirit. I put the video into the VCR. Maybe it was just my dusty old player, but the picture was swimming with glowing specks.
    On the screen was a close-up of Mayu.
    “I’m moving in with my grandpa.”
    Having said those few words, Mayu turned her face to the left and drove a pair of scissors deep into her right eye. “No,” I heard a voice say from behind me. I turned to find Ruby watching the video, having entered without my noticing. I rewound the video and replayed it over and over again. Mayu died countless times, each time saying she was moving in with her grandpa and stabbing her right eye. I ejected the tape that contained Mayu.
    This black rectangle was Mayu now.
    “She really went to the world of objects, didn’t she?”
    I find the certainty of my work reassuring.
    I was glad the old man had been facing left. If she stabbed herself in the left eye, I doubt she could have died a Baroque. Curators of the past have always looked to the left.
    Ruby gave me an impudent sigh.
    “Kitsune, do you think it’s impossible for an object to have a heart?”
    “Another fairy tale?”
    “... no, here. I found it like this in the morning.”
    Ruby held the little elephant in her hands. The black button eye on the right side of its face had been gouged out. It was now a hole.


Volume 3: Escape

    “Kitsune, have you heard of ‘Baroque Maniacs’?” Ruby said. “It’s a place on the internet where people have fun exchanging information and pictures on all the different Baroques out there and where they live. Wanna see?”
    “No need.”
    I crossed to the corner of the room and rearranged the potted plants. There had been a lot of earthquakes lately, so they kept drifting slightly out of place. The door opened while I was trying to figure out a way to prevent them from sliding around. Looks like I had a customer.
    “... these…”
    A boy had entered the shop. He was injured and clutching his bleeding right arm as if to protect it. He was breathing hard.
    “Look after these.”
    The boy held out his wounded and trembling right hand.
    The tightly clenched fingers opened, revealing a pair of bloody keys resting in his palm.
    “Please come in.”
    I accepted the keys, took the boy into my arms and laid him down on the couch… but something was off. It was only then I realized, the soft feel of the body in my arms had not been that of a boy, but of a girl.
    “Who did this to you?”
    I came over with a cloth, binding the girl’s wound to stop the bleeding. I considered taking her to a hospital but thought better of it. If this person had chosen to come here instead of a hospital, then what she needed wasn’t a doctor. It was me, a Baroque Salesman.
    “It was those guys, obviously.”
    “And these guys are pursuing you?”
    The girl nodded.
    “What are they after?”
    “My Baroque. But of course, they can’t get at it without these keys.”
    The girl smirked and forced a laugh, that faraway Baroque look in her eyes all the while.
    “I’ve got to go. I’m leaving the keys with you. Whatever you do, don’t let those guys have them.”
    The girl wobbled to her feet.
    “When will I hear from you next?”
    “Five days from now, if they don’t get to me first.”
    “And your codename? Mine is Kitsune.”
    “I am Rie.”
    Rie left, leaning to the right and clutching her wound. I breathed a sigh of relief as I put the keys in a drawer.
    “Does that mean the people who stabbed that kid will be coming here?” Ruby, who had witnessed the entire thing, asked.
    “Who knows. There was something strange about that wound. It was located exactly where it would have been if she had done this. Here, look.”
    I mimed stabbing myself in the right arm with my left hand.
    “But there are people around here that could have done that to her, aren’t there?”
    “Well of course there are, there’s people like that wherever you go."
    Without paying it any mind, I began to work. I powered up the machine and created a new file for Rie.
    Before the five days were up, I would have to unlock Rie’s delusions and produce the Baroque that ‘those guys’ were after.
    The next day I returned from an errand to find that my office had been broken into, but in a rather peculiar way. Unnatural footprints stained the floor, forming a deliberate path straight to the kitchen in the back of the shop. The room was mostly just used for storage, besides being the office’s watering hole. Inside, I found all the cups broken, as if thrown violently to the ground. The stacks of old magazines had been torn apart and scattered across the room.
    But it seemed like only the kitchen had been touched. Upon inspection, the machine on my desk was unharmed.
    “Those guys again, huh?” Ruby came over and began collecting bits of broken cup.
    “Why’d they only search the kitchen?”
    “Well, probably because whatever they were searching for was in the kitchen.”
    But they hadn't found what they were searching for. This seemed more like vandalism than a search.
    “There’s traces of blood on the floor.”
    “It’s easy to see why there would be.”
    “Hey, should I follow the blood? If you look closely, it keeps going bit by bit.”
    “If you follow her, it’s going to look like you're in league with the guys pursuing her.”
    “Sounds like fun.”
    “Don’t get too involved in the customer’s affairs.”
    And then Ruby stopped coming by.
    Four days passed. Rie’s Baroque was complete but she had yet to contact me. I logged on to a darknet for fellow Baroque Salesmen. Information on potential Baroque customers was traded here.
    Searching for Rie’s name, along with a ”delusion of being pursued” keyword, yielded data on three people matching that description.
    One of them had already been killed by a Grotesque and the address of the other was too far away for her to be visiting my office. The last person’s data, a Rie Saitou, had to be the Rie that I was searching for. I was certain of this fact because her data matched the Baroque I had written so perfectly.
    I headed out immediately, grabbing the printout of the Baroque and the two keys I had been entrusted with.
    Rie’s house was directly in the center of the usual city limits.
    I thought she had run off somewhere, but Rie’s voice answered when I knocked.
    “It’s Kitsune. I’ve brought the you-know-what.”
    Rie opened the door a crack, through which she extended a slender arm. It was still wrapped in the cloth from before. I placed the Baroque in her hand.
    [I am a youth accompanied by two lions. The black is a lion of instinct, the white of resolve. These lions are at once my allies and parts of my own body, kicking up sandstorms as they run past me, guiding me to victory. I will forever travel in the company of lions…]
    “Lions are fast, right?” I said.
    “Those guys will never catch up with me, will they?”
    “Are you satisfied with the lions?”
    “Yeah. Animals are more reliable than humans. They never lose sight of you.”
    Rie weaved through the crack in the door. She proceeded to pay my fee.
    “Thank you. Those guys will never catch me now that I have this.”
    And just like that, Rie ran straight outside. I was left alone, so I entered Rie’s house through the door she had left ajar.
    It was empty inside. All I could hear was the low buzz of a machine. I entered the kitchen without hesitation. Ruby sat, captive, in the shadow of a gigantic, continuously buzzing refrigerator. Her ankle had been shackled to a water pipe with a pair of handcuffs.
    “Would you look at that. Got too involved with a Baroque, just like I warned you about.”
    I took one of the keys I had failed to return to Rie and unfastened the handcuffs.
    “But that kid was nice to me. She kept me fed and everything.”
    “Probably only because she was bored and alone.”
    According to Rie’s file, both of her parents were missing. Apparently her parents hadn’t cared much for their child in the first place. The file said that Rie, being raised in such a cold household, was a girl who was often left alone to indulge in delusions all by herself.
    You don’t have to be a Baroque specialist to know that delusions of being pursued are the product of a desire to be pursued. Rie wanted to be captured by ‘those guys’, to belong to them, just as she had captured Ruby. But it seemed Rie’s happiness was guaranteed now, for instead of ‘those guys’, the delusional black and white lions would be by her side.
    Ruby stood up, holding on to the fridge for support.
    “Maybe that kid trashed the office kitchen because it didn’t have a refrigerator.”
    Looking closer, I could see that this kitchen’s refrigerator had a keyhole mounted in its door. I had a bad premonition.
    I inserted the other key Rie had left me into the refrigerator. The door opened. Two gigantic, black masses tumbled out.
    “Oh no…!”
    Ruby sank to the ground, covering her face. I cursed silently, clicking my tongue. Rie’s delusional pursuers, “those guys”, were not her family. It was Rie’s own feelings of guilt over having gone too far in her search for a family.
    “... are you telling me Baroque Salesmen can make mistakes?”
    Even while trembling, Ruby couldn’t keep the sarcasm to herself.
    “It doesn’t matter as long as the customer is satisfied. Besides, I even mistook that customer for a boy at first.”
    In any case, it was already too late. Rie had escaped into the world of her own delusions. I left the dark purple bodies of the two abortive lions - the discolored corpses of what I feared were Rie’s mother and father - where they were.

vol.3 “ESCAPE” END

Final Volume: Immortal

    “There is no need to fear for your lives within the city limits thanks to the efforts of the force that has been assembled. In order to show…”
    Following the government announcement, a predictive CG demonstration of a Grotesque hunt carried out by Kill Team members - the Hunters - was broadcast.
    “Amazing, isn’t it? It’s like something out of an old monster flick,” Ruby said, captivated by the television.
    “So that’s a Hunters’ uniform, is it?”
    If their strategy was to downplay fear of the Grotesques, I think they could have done quite a bit worse than these manufactured, crimson bodysuits with weapons hanging from their belts.
    But not even the government could deceive the Baroque.
    In the six days since the existence of Grotesques was announced, 13 customers had stopped by.
    “I’ve already died three more times. My body can’t handle another death.”
    “There’s a small grim reaper near my ear, nagging me to ‘join him, join him.’ ”
    And so on. Nearly all the Baroques were concerned about death or being murdered, so each time I would give them a Baroque about being immortal androids that couldn’t be killed by Grotesques.
    “Is that really okay? Just giving out the same Baroques over and over?”
    “There isn’t time to make anything else when I’ve got so many customers. And besides, none of them have complained so far.”
    There came a knock at the door.
    Ruby hid under the desk.
    “Would this shop buy my Baroque from me?”
    The girl who had entered was wearing a black mourning dress. Her long, golden hair was shrouded in a lace veil and she carried a white handkerchief in her hand.
    “I regret to inform you that we do not buy Baroques at this establishment.”
    “Not even an immortal Baroque?”
    “I’m afraid not…”
    I tried to ascertain the identity of my customer. There was a good chance they were Baroque due to the slight trembling of their fingertips, but I couldn’t see past their veil.
    “I may not be able to buy it, but how do you feel about bartering? We can prepare a Baroque of equal value to your own.”
    “... that’s fine. Here is my Baroque.”
    The girl produced a black envelope and placed it on the desk.
    “My contact information has been written inside, so get in touch with me when you have the Baroque.”
    The girl left just like that, still without showing her face or stating her name.
    “She looked like she was returning from a funeral, didn’t she?” Ruby’s face appeared from under the desk.
    I opened the black envelope.
    [I’m a descendent of an immortal bloodline. What defines us is our family name. When a ship carrying a thousand people is swallowed by the waves, when a mountain erupts into flames that engulf the city, and when demons attack the people, it is that very name which never dies. Those who obtain power will be granted this name and become immortal. But any mouth which misspeaks the name will be silenced…]
    “Hmph. This is well thought out.”
    “How so?”
    “In order to claim the immortal name, you need power. In other words, some kind of condition must be met. This Baroque is, so to speak, just a prologue. If I’m going to barter with it, I’ll have to prepare the second part which contains the name and immortality requirements. But if I don’t get the details correct - ”
    I upended the envelope and the desiccated corpse of a black spider silently fell out.
    “The immortal name will become the incantation of a curse, silencing those who misspeak it.”
    “Will you die if you don’t guess the name, Kitsune?”
    “That mourning dress… perhaps she was returning from the funeral of the last Baroque Salesman who failed to figure it out.”
    “No way is that going to happen! You dying over something like this isn’t part of the plan.”
    “And what plans would those be, exactly?”
    “Hey, you absolutely have to guess that name, okay?”
    “I hope I can.”
    But my deductions went nowhere. I looked for patterns in all of the Baroques I’d dealt with so far and did research on legends involving immortality, but I came away with no conclusive leads. Ruby was anxiously watching my progress, but I didn’t think my life was in any danger over this mystery a Baroque had brought in. In the unlikely event this was a real curse, it seemed a fitting end for a Baroque Salesman.
    Before I knew it, seven days had passed. On the morning of the eighth day, the girl appeared, wearing the same mourning dress as before.
    It had been a strange day due to the thunder which had started in the early morning.
    “I heard you were able to complete the Baroque?”
    “Uh… no.”
    I didn’t remember contacting her. But then Ruby appeared behind the girl.
    “I’m the one that called her. Hey, the name that makes you immortal is the vampire Miraluka, right? The power you need comes from blood and a night-blooming rose.”
    “Idiot, why did you do that?”
    Even Ruby should have known the answer wouldn’t be that simple. The girl bit her lip in annoyance.
    The girl shook out the white handkerchief she held in her hand. A pitch-black spider emerged and landed on Ruby’s exposed knee. She instantly collapsed on the spot. A poisonous spider. Ruby’s delicate limbs trembled and convulsed, her pupils seeming to grow larger.
    “What the hell are you doing?!”
    “How fucking dare you feign ignorance.”
    The girl’s outburst gave me a flash of insight and I headed over to the machine to put the finishing touches on the Baroque I’d been writing.
    “About what?” I stalled.
    [I am the angel’s trumpet that heralds the time of resurrection. My sound purifies defilement and calls people to the eternal country. Resurrection is impossible without destruction. The trumpet calls the people to dance, dance over the corpses of those who knew their destinies and perished, dancing all the way to the eternal country…]
    “The condition for the name that holds the power of immortality is the sacrifice of another. Only after sinking a ship carrying a thousand people or sacrificing your countrymen to demons will that name become immortal. Only through stealing the names of the sacrificed may one’s life be extended. You who have killed Ruby now bear the name of Ruby.”
    “Dear customer, are you sure you want this Baroque?”
    The girl lifted her veil. Although she acted the part skillfully, those eyes did not belong to a Baroque.
    After placing money into my outstretched hand, the girl turned and left. Her golden hair shifted across her back as she removed the veil, and a small pair of fake wings peeked out.

    “Ruby,” I addressed her motionless body. Had she chosen to sacrifice herself in order to protect me? But then -
    “Well done there. Good for you!”
    Ruby sprang to her feet and appeared to grin.
    “Didn’t you get poisoned?”
    “No way is a spider’s - no, a Tarantella’s - poison enough to kill me.”
    That word was trying to remind me of something. Tarantella. Dancing all the way to the eternal country. Dancing sickness. The angel’s trumpet. The angel wings on the back of the girl in the mourning dress. A girl who approached me pretending to be Baroque and tried to kill me… was this a trial bestowed upon me by the angels?
    A trial. A captive friend, a thin boy with pale brown eyes, a Nerve Tower, a youth who had thrown away his wings.
    “Make it stop.”
    I shook my head to clear the images from my mind.
    I’m an ordinary Baroque Salesman and Ruby is a drifter who loiters around my office. The world is gradually distorting more and more, but I’m just me, living out an ordinary life one day at a time.
    I don’t want to remember any stories that may or may not have happened.
    But I asked a question that had suddenly begun to weigh on me.
    “Ruby, you wouldn’t happen to be my delusion, would you?”
    Ruby laughed, her features blurring.
    “That’s right. You, me, everyone, we all only exist within a Baroque.”
    “I see…”
    My heart had been coming apart at the seams, but it once more began to slowly saturate with delusion.
    “It’s nice to be immortal, isn’t it?”
    The Ruby in my delusions would never die from the spider venom that drove people Baroque.
    “I ended up with a good Baroque.”
    Just like always, I crossed to my desk and saved a new file to the machine.

the final volume “IMMORTAL” END

Translator’s Notes
  • It’s worth reiterating that Kitsune’s name means “fox” in Japanese, as these chapters make repeated reference to it.

  • Mayu’s “Evil Clear Spirit” is described using a word that can mean “to be transparent” (like a ghost) or “to leave a gap in something” (as in creating gaps in Mayu’s stockpile by tidying up). I did my best to preserve the dual meaning but it gets a little lost in translation.

  • Considering “Empathy” released almost concurrently with the PS1 port that introduced Thing Thing (aka “The Collector” in the Atlus dub), there is a nagging similarity between him and Mayu, from their love of inanimate things to the bangs covering their right eyes. However, this connection is likely coincidental or merely referential, as Mayu is typically a girl’s name and she uses the gender neutral “watashi”, whereas Thing Thing uses the masculine “boku” (although Alice does this as well). That and the whole being dead thing.

  • The word “tarantella” is derived from the name of the “lycosa tarantula” spider whose poison was once believed to only be curable through music that induced dancing frenzies. For more information on the historical roots of the Tarantella Melody and dancing sickness, please see the translator’s notes for “Baroquism Syndrome Volume 1: Sense Sphere.”