- "Malkuth (1)"
- "Malkuth (2)"
- "Malkuth (3)"
- "Malkuth (4)"
- "Nerve Tower"
- Epilogue "To You”
- Translator’s Notes
Author: Mariko Shimizu
Volume 3: Angel
“So I won’t ever die?”
“I suppose you could say that, roughly speaking.”
“But if my brain is destroyed…”
“That should be fine. The integrated circuit built into your model is the smallest chip available, so your entire body would have to be hacked into pieces smaller than one millimeter each.”
“All of the details have been written down here. One moment, please.”
I handed a printout of the story to my customer.
‘I am an android constructed for experimental purposes. As long as I have all of my essential components, I am invulnerable and do not feel pain when I am attacked.’
I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of this delusion since I frequently hand out variations on it, seeing as it’s popular with Baroques that have an inordinate fear of death.
“Here, take this.”
Satisfied, the customer paid the bill and left.
“Thank you very much.”
“Business is thriving, huh?”
Ruby came in as the customer was leaving.
“Ever since learning about the existence of Grotesques, hasn’t it seemed like the number of Baroques has been growing more and more?”
I made sure to shoot her an ugly expression. “What are you doing here?”
“Maybe I should try doing this too. Selling Baroques.”
Ruby deliberately avoided answering my question, impudently sinking into the couch reserved for customers instead.
“If that’s what you want to do, then go ahead.”
“Why not just show me how your business is run for now? In exchange, I’ll teach you how to shoot.”
“When the hell did you learn to shoot?”
“Never. But I think I’d be better than you.”
Being spoken to in this manner, it was hard to believe that this smartass drifter was the same girl who had been crying over a Grotesque all those nights ago.
“But don’t you need to know how to handle a gun? You never know when you might get jumped by a Grotesque, and besides -”
Ruby’s voice grew hushed.
“- haven’t you heard those scary rumors lately?”
I stood from my chair. I didn’t know where Ruby got her information, but I had learned that it was worth listening to.
“Oh, you’re making me coffee? In that case, I’d rather have some black tea.”
“You’re not getting anything. Just tell me already.”
I sat back down across from Ruby.
In an age where monsters stalking the streets had become commonplace, what was there to fear from scary rumors?
99 days had passed since the night Ruby and I had our run-in with the Grotesques before the government made an announcement. They simultaneously recognized the existence of Grotesques and announced the formation of the Special Hunters - a Grotesque Kill Squad. The new year had already come and gone.
The panic wasn’t as bad as I had been expecting. This was probably thanks to the repeated assurances that life within the usual regions would be fully protected by the Special Hunters. But perhaps everyone had become so accustomed to Baroques that they had little difficulty in perceiving Grotesques as just another distortion.
The Hunters sometimes arrived too late, but for the most part they performed their duties adequately.
Ruby and I had our IDs run by the Hunters because we had witnessed the Grotesques. I presented them with a fake ID and Ruby -
“I know a customer gave you some sweets the other day. Baroque Salesmen conduct some pretty crooked business, but you’re surprisingly normal sometimes.”
“It’s in the drawer behind the desk if you want to eat it. But you’re still not getting any tea. Just hurry up and tell me what you know.”
Ruby had thrown away the ID card she presented to the Hunters as soon as we left their company.
She said that she would never use that ID again.
Every Basic ID card is unique and can’t be altered that easily (obtaining a second ID was a struggle even for me) and yet how was it that she had made it 99 days after throwing hers away?
“Ah. It’s from Tears Bakery.”
Ruby took the brandy cake out of the drawer.
“... anyway, the angels.”
Ruby began to talk while picking bits of dried fruit out of the cake with her fingers.
“I hear that angels have begun to appear here and there. They’re about the same size as a human, except they’ve got wings growing out of their backs. A lot of them are men, but I’ve heard that there are some beautiful women too.”
It was so long since I heard those words that I was beginning to wonder if I had even heard them in the first place.
Sense Sphere. Angel. Grotesque.
The three words left by a boy who had visited my office, Fumi Miyasaka.
First was Sense Sphere.
This possibly referred to the mysterious spheres that seemed to be the cause behind people going Baroque.
I too had experienced their presence for just an instant, although I still didn’t know what they were.
Next was Grotesque.
Only their existence was definite. We still didn’t know anything about when, from where, or why they began to appear.
Their physiology and nature were all over the place, some were very aggressive while others were less so. Man-made weaponry seemed effective against them so far, but no method had been discovered for eliminating their root cause.
And then there was Angel.
“Anyone who sees an angel, they have to go through a series of trials. Then they say that if you pass the trials, you become an angel too.”
“Smells like a Baroque to me.”
“Right? But the Baroque kids get really scared when I tell them this story. Isn’t that strange? The Baroque don’t usually listen to what others have to say.”
“That’s all I’ve got for now. But when you listen to me with that serious face, I feel like you already know something about it yourself. For now, you’ll just have to figure out the rest on your own.”
I remembered the time I had seen the data on the Sense Sphere investigation report at Suzume’s place.
Back then, there had been a photograph of a man said to have proposed the Sense Sphere analysis system “Perception”.
He had carried fake wings on his back if I remembered correctly, but was there any connection between that man and the “angels” Ruby spoke of?
If Suzume were here, he might have hacked into the government’s secret files for me again.
But ever since my friend listened to the “Tarantella Melody” that Fumi brought me and experienced feelings of ‘being everywhere’, he had changed.
He’d been a misanthrope to begin with, but he hadn’t contacted me since then and I heard he even quit his job. I wondered if he was shut away in his room, desperately trying to restore the Tarantella Melody.
I hoped he hadn’t become affected by a Baroque.
“Ah. An earthquake.”
Ruby glanced around as the low rumbling sound began.
“Just like always.”
Earthquakes with strange tremors that made it feel as if the floor was slowly rotating had begun to occur frequently this year. They were different from normal earthquakes in that no epicenter could be located, just tremors of an equal intensity over a wide area. As usual, the cause was being investigated.
“The shaking won’t stop…”
“It should die down soon.”
But the quake stubbornly continued.
Damn it, was there anything that wasn’t distorting?
People going Baroque, monsters appearing, even angels turning up, and now the ground was doing this.
“I feel like I’m on a ship. It’s nauseating.”
I was starting to get a little dizzy too. The desk lamp fell over and rolled away.
“Kitsune, I’m scared.”
At that moment, someone knocked on the door.
Volume 3: Angel
The ominous tremors ceased abruptly.
The Baroque boy with pale eyes slipped smoothly through the door - Fumi.
“Events are progressing faster than I had expected.”
His fingertips quivered. Just as they had when we met 165 days ago.
Why had he given me the Tarantella Melody disc?
Why did he know of the Grotesques back then?
The words wouldn’t come; there were too many questions.
“I’ve set fire to the world.”
But he was just Baroque. Probably.
“My fire is melting the world like butter.”
“And you don’t feel any remorse?” Ruby suddenly said to Fumi. The large whites of her big eyes, sparsely framed by scarce eyelashes, glared at him.
“I do. For Suzume Suzuki.” Fumi replied firmly. “He has been chosen by the Malkuth.”
“Malkuth? What the hell is that?”
Fumi jerked his head side to side, as if alternating between sanity and madness.
“Nuhr… Nerve Tower.”
The words forced their way through his clenched teeth.
“Sorry about that. It wasn’t your fault, though.” Ruby pushed past me and approached Fumi. She grasped Fumi’s trembling fingers in her small hands.
“Don’t forget your role.” Fumi shook off Ruby.
“But aren’t you the one who messed up just now?”
The two glared at each other once more.
The floor beneath our feet shook slightly. I wondered if they were aftershocks from the recent earthquake.
“You must go after Suzume.” Fumi said while looking at me.
“Suzume was bitten by the Tarantella on your behalf and contracted dancing sickness. I am handing you the end of the spider’s thread. Follow the thread to find the melody that will cure his sickness.”
“How do you know all this about Suzume?” I was finally able to ask.
Fumi turned as he was about to exit the office.
“But Kitsune, I know even more about you.”
“Are you really a Baroque Salesman, Kitsune?”
“More importantly, why are you following me?”
The elevator arrived. Ruby got inside after me. I pressed the button for the 12th floor on which Suzume lived.
“Doesn’t everybody know that you first have to encourage a Baroque’s feelings if you want them to open up to you?”
I knew that. But Fumi’s words weren’t delusions, they were fragments of the truth. That’s why I was heading to Suzume’s house. Fumi was no ordinary Baroque.
Nonetheless, Ruby had indeed spoken to Fumi without any difficulty.
“You don’t know Fumi, do you?”
“First time we’ve met.”
The elevator came to a stop. I headed for the large black door at the end of the hallway.
“Suzume. It’s me, Kitsune. Open the door, Suzume.”
“Kitsune, they often say at times like these that if you check the door, you’ll find it unlocked.”
“Pretty sure that only works in old dramas. These days, everyone uses ID cards or automatic locks with voiceprint recognition.”
“Well, should we try opening it with my ID then?”
Before I could say “But you threw your ID away”, Ruby had pulled out a card and inserted it into the slot underneath the doorknob.
A green bulb lit up. There was a soft beep and the heavy door opened a fraction.
Fumi… Ruby… Who on earth were these people that kept dragging me deeper into this case?
There was no one inside the pitch black room.
The equipment that had once been stacked to the ceiling now lay strewn across the floor in total disarray. The blinds had come halfway off and dangled from the window.
“What an awesome den.” Ruby said, impressed.
“Someone’s trashed the place.”
One by one, I booted up the surviving computers in search of clues. However, all of them had either been smashed or meticulously wiped clean of all files and programs.
Only one unit still worked properly.
It was the unit on which I had read the Sense Sphere data, as well as the one which had analyzed the Tarantella Melody disk. On the desktop was a file entitled “To Kitsune”. Upon opening it, I was met with a display that read “Please enter your password.” I didn’t hesitate. I typed in “BAROQUE”.
A message from Suzume popped up.
“To Kitsune. I pulled it off. Totally succeeded in recreating the melody that lets you be everywhere. If you want, you can listen to it too. But before that, I’ll show you all the stuff I’ve collected on the Sense Spheres.”
What followed was an endless stream of documents, images, and other files from various sources that Suzume had hacked into. Yes, even the material concerning the very first Baroque Murder - the Yumi Anzai “Afterschool Rooftop Murder” case of which I initially told you - was amongst the data.
“Whoever put this together wasn’t Baroque, were they?”
“Doesn’t look very interesting.” Ruby commented as she peered at the display from beside me.
“I don’t think it was made for you.”
I scrolled down the screen.
That is until I spotted the word “Malkuth” within the flow of words and scrambled to stop.
- The Malkuth. Currently a small-scale religious order. Unlike previous religious doctrines on salvation through faith in a God (such as the Buddha), the Malkuth instead teaches that only through fulfilling our obligation to protect God may we be healed. There are a limited number of people who possess the power to protect God. Therefore, the Malkuth does not actively engage in public outreach, but instead employs a soliciting method in which members occupying certain positions within the Order evaluate and select those they wish to recruit…
At the edge of the screen was a small Sparrow icon. A note from Suzume. I clicked on it.
“The Malkuth are terrifying. Beware the Malkuth.”
Then could it be that Suzume had been “chosen” by this Malkuth Order that he so feared and distrusted?
If one were to believe the contents of this document, the Malkuth were not so much a religious order as a secret society. And if they had discovered Suzume’s existence, a person who distrusted their organization and had the ability to acquire information on them, then…
“So those angels are the Malkuth then?” Ruby asked. “It fits perfectly with the rumors. The angels have chosen someone to join their ranks. And I’m sure that those who are chosen are made to undergo the Malkuth’s trials whether they want to or not, right? Besides, look at this.”
She knelt and picked something off the floor.
“See? It’s a feather from an angel, isn’t it?”
On closer inspection, several pure white feathers had fallen amongst the equipment strewn across the floor.
“This Suzume person has been taken by the angels.”
Volume 3: Angel
A vivid orange pillar of fire lanced upward, cutting through a sky blackened by smoke.
Nearly everything on the ground was annihilated.
As the shot zoomed in, torrents of mud could be seen around the pillar of fire, engulfing buildings as they flowed ceaselessly.
“Amazing, isn’t it…?”
Gigantic earthquakes and floods were occurring almost simultaneously in distant corners of the earth.
I don’t watch television often, but it was more effective in conveying information about this disaster than newspapers or the internet.
Ruby’s eyes were glued to the office’s television set.
“I wonder how many thousands just died.”
“I think it’s probably more like millions.”
“It’s like the end of the world for the people that lived there.”
“Feels like it just happened to come for them a bit early.”
The ‘BUWOOHN, BUWOOHN’ of the Special Hunters’ siren could be heard from the street.
Seems like another Grotesque had appeared. No matter how many were killed, the things just kept emerging to meander through the streets, one after another.
I withdrew my gun from the drawer and loaded it.
“Have you gotten any better with that?”
“I’ll give it a trial run. Let’s see if I can hit that potted plant behind you.”
“No, let’s not. I’m not getting killed over some trial.”
“What’s your problem? There’s a rule about never ever pointing a gun at someone, even if it’s empty!”
So I tucked the gun into my belt. Inside my coat was a knife.
I wasn’t able to prepare any dynamite, so I had packed a miniature flamethrower in my bag instead.
“We’re heading out?”
And finally, I put a portable disc player in my pocket. The ace in the hole Suzume had left me was loaded into it.
The restored Tarantella Melody.
“So you didn’t listen to it after all?”
But I had no doubt that in the future, a time would come when it would be needed.
Ruby got up and switched off the television.
The catastrophe on the other side of the globe vanished.
No matter what was happening to the rest of the world, for now helping out my friend was more important.
There was no longer any question about Ruby coming along.
I didn’t know what was going on in this girl’s head, but at the moment she was currently my ally. That was fine. I hung a sign on the door that read “Temporarily closed due to various circumstances” as Ruby and I set off.
To the Nerve Tower.
Obviously I had reported Suzume’s disappearance to the police. But with so many unexplained disappearances happening, the reality of them ever finding him was slim to none.
The nighttime cityscape had changed.
A man cowering next to a building. A woman with hollow eyes hugging random passersby. A Baroque endlessly shouting about being the devil incarnate while his forehead bleeds from a wound inflicted by an unknown assailant.
These were people who had flowed out of District Zero, following its shutdown at the start of the Grotesque outbreak.
And then there were the occasional glances of men and women who carried fake wings on their backs. Nearly all of the wings were quite small, like those of a Cupid, but very rarely you’d catch sight of one who wore magnificent wings that reached to their hips.
“Those are for high-ranking angels,” Ruby had said. “They say the size of the wings is determined when someone becomes an angel. The amount of power someone has to help God is seen as a talent, so the lower ranking angels will have small wings forever.”
“And the grunts are content with that?”
“Maybe they think it’s better to have small wings than be like us and have no wings at all?”
27 days had passed since Fumi informed me of Suzume’s disappearance.
The Order of Malkuth, whose adherents were marked by their wings, was visibly stepping up its presence.
Their activities were almost entirely secret, and yet there seemed to be many who wished to become adherents of the Order.
“Being chosen must feel amazing.”
“On the contrary, I think they make sure the chosen are brought into the fold. If I’m right, then aren’t there others like Suzume who are being harmed over their refusal to join?”
“But Cayo said that there isn’t anyone who’s not happy to become an angel.”
“Well of course an adherent is going to say something like that.”
Information on the Malkuth is hard to come by. Suzume’s hacked files just weren’t enough. The stories Ruby overheard, leaked by friends of the adherents, were invaluable.
My most pressing concern was whether or not Suzume had already been killed, but Ruby said that probably wouldn’t happen.
“After all, they abducted Suzume so they could make him an angel. It would be pointless if they killed him.”
“Even if that’s true, isn’t it possible that they’d brainwash him or… ”
I couldn’t be optimistic either way. After 27 days, it was almost definitely too late.
But up until now, there was no way we could locate the Malkuth’s headquarters with only our information to go on.
Ruby and I took a cab.
The driver pulled a long face when I told him our destination was outside of the usual limits, but I didn’t relent until he agreed to take us. Although one could say it was on the outskirts, it wasn’t anywhere near District Zero.
Beyond the tall fences lay the ocean, across which several long bridges had been built. Their destination was a man-made island rising above the waves.
A Cessna patrolled the skies above, its lights flashing with an intensity brighter than the stars.
“Pretty…” Ruby sighed, spellbound.
Through the fencing, a cluster of skyscrapers on the island could be seen, shining like a magic castle straight out of a fairytale.
A special area.
From government headquarters to the head offices of some corporate groups, all the central institutions of the country had gathered together on that island.
Was Suzume really over there? And how could the Malkuth, nothing more than an emergent religion, have its headquarters in the special area?
On this side of the bridges, however, was only a series of bleak concrete embankments. From the darkness between them, a thin boy appeared.
“So you came.”
“The Malkuth have been waiting for you.”
“Were you the one who sent this email?” I produced the letter I had printed out.
- An Invitation to the Nerve Tower
Thank you very much for your continued support of the Malkuth. As a small token of our appreciation in regards to your ongoing patronage, I would like to invite you to the Malkuth Headquarters. We would greatly appreciate it if you came to the address listed below as soon as possible. In addition, the code number required to pass through the gates is…
“No, I didn’t.” A curiously straightforward answer from Fumi. “I just came to watch. I want to see if you can complete your trial.”
“What the hell?”
“Kitsune, we’re surrounded!” Ruby yelled abruptly.
A crowd of figures carrying small wings on their backs had encircled us.
That wasn’t to say I hadn’t anticipated this. The way the email had been written was obviously insincere, and after those 27 days, it was only to be expected that the Malkuth knew I had been investigating them.
I went for my gun, but realized these adherents were ordinary people. I couldn’t just start randomly shooting.
And there, unexpectedly, a shadow resembling a small mountain began to sluggishly rise up from behind the adherents.
A round head awkwardly stuck to a round body, with round and unnervingly fish-like eyes stuck to either end of its face.
Why was a Grotesque accompanying the Malkuth? More to the point, why were there small wings sprouting from its shoulders?
Volume 3: Angel
“Let us help this poor man.”
For just a moment, I thought that the Grotesque had spoken.
But as the bulbous silhouette drew nearer, I saw that it was not the Grotesque speaking, but rather a youth who rode on its shoulders.
What had appeared to be the Grotesque’s wings were actually the wings which the youth carried on his back.
“That’s a slightly higher ranking angel, right?”
It was probably as Ruby said. The youth’s wings were larger than those of the people surrounding us.
Once again, the youth spoke up from atop the Grotesque.
“He doesn’t know his own destiny. Should we let him go?”
“No!” the adherents shouted as one. “For the sake of God, bismillah! We will not let him go!”
“Let him go.” Again, the youth.
“No no no no! Bismillah!” The words of the adherents sounded like a chorus. “Bismillah! We will not let him go.”
Now I too understood what was going on. They were performing a ritual.
This sing-song exchange of “let him go,” and “we will not let him go,” was to raise the aggressive tension in the air.
The adherents continuously inched closer to us.
Each of them carried a weapon in their hands that resembled a long and narrow metal spear which tapered into a sharp point. Some bifurcated into prongs instead.
Pitchforks? Since when did angels use the devil’s weapon of choice?
“In order to protect You, our God, permit us to purify those who would corrupt Your mind,” the youth said quietly, eyes closed.
All at once, the adherents raised their spears over their heads. I drew my gun and attempted to ready it.
Before I could, something like a whip flew down from above and entangled my wrist.
It was the Grotesque’s tongue. It stretched as if it belonged to a frog, but the surface was densely coated in bright pink polyps. The tongue pulled back with tremendous force, as if it were trying to tear my arm from my body. My heels left the ground. At this rate I would either be swallowed up by the Grotesque or flung around and slammed into the concrete of the embankment.
Ruby threw the knife she had been carrying in her pocket.
She threw like she wasn’t even trying to aim. Just like the last time we encountered a Grotesque, she had wasted yet another of my valuable weapons. How the hell was she always so utterly careless? Before I could shout obscenities at her, there was a “BUOH” as the Grotesque let forth a bellow. Ruby’s knife had pierced the Grotesque’s tongue. Probably just a lucky throw, but -
“Am I a natural or what?”
“Just shut up and take this.”
I tossed my knife to Ruby.
“Reika, Reika, calm yourself.”
The youth appeared to be having no luck in soothing the thrashing Grotesque from atop its back, likely due to the excruciating pain in its tongue. Reika? Did the Grotesque have a name?
However, the Grotesque gave no response to this title except to bellow another “BUOBUOH” in a voice like a tantruming elephant.
“It’s no use…”
The youth leaped from the Grotesque’s shoulder to the top of the embankment fence.
It appeared to me as if he had truly flown on his supposedly fake wings.
Fumi beckoned to the youth. The youth leapt once more, this time from the fence, and ran towards Fumi. When the youth turned back around to face us, he was wielding a small gun - or at least what I thought to be a gun despite its strange, curved appearance - which he then fired at the Grotesque.
“Release control of Reika.”
There was a sizzling sound like burning flesh as the shot hit the Grotesque in the back of its head.
The Grotesque bellowed, its round eyes spinning crazily on either side of its head. The tongue went limp as the creature vomited something from its mouth. A syrupy black sphere.
It grazed past me but struck the wing of an adherent.
The sphere ignited on contact.
“My wings, my wings!”
The adherent screamed at the burning wings that he merely wore, and yet he made no move to cast them from his back.
The fire spread to his body. I instinctively rushed over to try and tear his wings off, but my way was barred by the spear tip of another adherent.
“Bismillah, we will not let him go.”
“In the name of God? What the hell kind of God are you talking about?!”
“Kitsune, watch out!”
Ruby pulled me backward just as the Grotesque began vomiting up a number of burning spheres. No longer under the Malkuth’s control, it seemed as if it would attack friend and foe alike. One of the spheres struck the bag I had forgotten all about.
Inside the bag was my miniature flame thrower. An explosion rang out as the flames erupted. The flash alone was enough to burn my eyes and, unable to stand the light, I clenched them shut. Even if I had wanted to escape, the adherents surrounded me on every side.
I frantically called out to Fumi who was near the young man somewhere behind the Grotesque. I didn’t intend to ask for help. But wasn’t this amount of sacrifice too great for just my trial? Two adherents were already burning. Others tried to come for us, their arms burned by the hot metal of the spears they carried.
At least the noise of the flames muffled their cries.
“Ruby, are you okay?”
“It’s a bit hot, I guess? But it’s hard to breathe.”
The smoke from the burning people and debris was oppressive. Ruby made the best of her knife and small frame to evade the adherents’ attacks, but she was beginning to stumble. It couldn’t be helped. I attempted to press the play button on the disc player.
“Don't.” Ruby noticed what I was doing and stopped me. “Only release that inside the Nerve Tower.”
“But you - ”
“Even if I die, don’t use it yet!”
I was left with no alternative but to fire my gun at the Grotesque. I considered that this might only make the creature more violent, but I had no other choice. The flames obscured my vision. The bullet missed.
I heard Ruby shout “You suck!” and I turned my gun on her, knowing that from this distance, the bullet wouldn’t miss.
“If you really want me gone, then why don’t you just shoot already?”
I shot the adherent that was coming up behind Ruby. I intended to aim for his arm, but hit him in the shoulder instead. Despite being surrounded by flames, cold sweat ran down my cheek.
“Kitsune… maybe killing me actually is the solution. What if that’s the whole point of your trial?”
“What are you talking about?”
“After all, the Malkuth want you for - ”
I fired again, interrupting Ruby mid-sentence. A spear was knocked from the hands of an adherent.
“I don’t have any bullets left for you anyway.”
I didn’t have the time to reload right now. I picked up the fallen spear. The Grotesque passed through the flames as it continued to approach. Its long tongue, still pierced by Ruby’s knife, stretched out for me once more.
Just then, the “WRRRHN” of something flying through the air could be heard. I faintly registered someone yelling to ‘get down’ in the distance. I immediately took Ruby into my arms and dove to the ground. Then came the gut-wrenching sound of an explosion and the shock prevented me from hearing anything else for a short while.
Something was falling on my back and everywhere around us.
As I gingerly opened my eyes, I saw that what fell from above was a rainstorm of viscera and bright red blood. The stench of flesh smoldering in the flames had also become worse.
The Grotesque was nowhere to be seen. It had been blown apart and turned into these scattered hunks of flesh. But the flesh that rained down on us wasn’t only from the Grotesque.
White feathers also fluttered through the air. Some unlucky adherents must have been caught up in the blast and blown to pieces.
The spread of the flames was slowed by the massive quantity of Grotesque blood raining down from above. A familiar “BUWOOHN, BUWOOHN’ could be heard. So the Special Hunters had launched some kind of projectile at the Grotesque, just as I thought.
A car pulled up. There was a face I recognized amongst the people that emerged.
The first Special Hunter that Ruby and I had met, a young man who killed Grotesques with a smile on his face, wore a handsome rouge uniform as he strode toward us.
The surviving adherents sat on the ground in a daze. I sluggishly pulled myself to my feet.
I caught a glimpse of the youth with the wings - you - disappearing off somewhere alongside Fumi.
Volume 3: Angel
It was the second time that I’d been rescued by the Special Hunters.
The ambient firelight was replaced by the white glow of work lights as fire-extinguishing foam scattered over the area. The Hunters’ specialized vehicles were also equipped with some kind of pump that sprayed water to strip away the Grotesque blood defiling the streets.
“We meet again.”
Task had also remembered us.
“Looks like you’ve gone from being a mercenary to an official Hunter.”
“Still feels like being a mercenary though.” Task said with a smile.
Behind him, other Hunters were collecting the Grotesque’s remains alongside the corpses of the Malkuth adherents who had burned to death. But the surviving adherents, many of them wounded, were left alone.
“Shouldn’t you be helping them?”
Task glanced over his shoulder.
“Higher ups from the Malkuth will probably come for them eventually.”
“What if they die before then?”
“The Hunters don’t interfere with the Malkuth.”
“Aren’t they citizens, and therefore under your protection?”
“No. Once someone is reported as a convert, their Basic ID is erased.”
“That can’t be…”
Everyone knows that a Basic ID cannot be erased, not even at the holder’s request. The only exception is upon death.
To erase Basic IDs so casually would have to mean that either the government had no control over the Malkuth, or that the Malkuth held a certain amount of control over them. However…
“I’m only telling you all this because I like you for some reason. But my employment contract is more important to me than my personal feelings, so - ”
Task pulled out a portable terminal.
“I’ve got to report to the top brass about your run-in with the Grotesque. According to your previously submitted ID, your name is - agh!”
I kicked Task in the wrist, causing him to drop his terminal. Things would get ugly if my fake ID was exposed.
Ruby was already running. I don’t mean to brag, but I’m also exceptionally skilled at getting away (as long as fighting isn’t involved).
“My bad, Task.”
Before the other Hunters noticed, Ruby and I had climbed over the fence and ran atop the ten centimeters of concrete between the fence and the ocean depths.
The usual warning, followed by the ‘BUWOOHN, BUWOOHN’ of the siren.
“Stop or we’ll open fire!”
“Do you think they’ll kill us?”
Hunters were only supposed to hunt Grotesques. If they were mercenaries like Task had said, then they wouldn’t do anything to violate their contracts.
“You’re probably right, I guess.”
Ruby and I came to the base of the bridge which led to the special area. Clambering over an iron pier which had chilled in the night air, we stood before a towering gate.
”Please enter the passcode,” a mechanical voice announced as a lamp on the iron gate post lit up. There was a series of numbered buttons just below it. My printout had long gone, but I keyed in the code which I had committed to memory.
The steel doors began to open with a crash.
“The Hunters are here.”
The specialized vehicles were approaching. Task climbed into the car’s window frame, leaned forward, and aimed his gun at us. Ruby and I weaved as we struggled through the still opening gate. I took off running as soon as I was through but Ruby stopped to push buttons on our side of the gate.
I threw myself over Ruby to protect her. Task fired and the bullet narrowly missed us.
“What the hell were you doing?”
“Changing the code.”
The gate, only partially open, was closing. It was highly unlikely that the Hunters had the time to get out of their vehicle and run through the shrinking gap. And with the boom of steel, we were walled off from the Hunters.
“But I only changed a few patterns, so it’s only a matter of time before they get through.”
Ruby and I ran across the bridge.
“I wonder if Task really was going to kill us.” Ruby said.
“Oh come on, it could’ve just been a tranquilizer gun.”
Besides, Task’s face had looked somewhat troubled as he aimed for us.
“Maybe getting killed wouldn’t have been so bad.”
“What the hell’s gotten into you?” She had said something like that before, during our fight with a Grotesque. “Can I change the subject? I don’t buy that you’re just some drifter. So what did you approach me for? Why have you stuck with me all this way?”
“...you’ll have to ask that guy.”
Having crossed the bridge, we came to an even larger gate. Fumi was leaning against the steel door, waiting for us.
“Sorry, I’m feeling a bit dizzy at the moment,” he said.
Fumi had black pads placed over his ears. A small microphone extended from one of these pads, curving out in front of his mouth. He held two more pairs of these intercom devices in his hand.
“It’s dangerous to go inside without these,” he said, handing the intercoms to Ruby and me.
I hesitated thinking it could be another trap, but next to me Ruby quickly put on her intercom.
“If you don’t, you’ll be instantly driven Baroque by the screams of God. Is that what you want?”
The boy that said those words should have been Baroque, but right now he looked incredibly average. No, he looked quite a bit more intelligent than the average boy.
I did as he said. Fumi keyed in the code number for the gate, and at long last, we entered the special area.
A low groan escaped my mouth as I entered. Buildings and roads so new they practically shone, it was a cityscape befitting an ultramodern capital city.
But the streets were defiled, as if they had been strewn with raw garbage. I registered the still bleeding corpse of a Grotesque slumped on the ground. A human body lying beside it, yellowing like butter. The stench. A main street devoid of vehicle or pedestrian traffic, with the exception of the lurching Baroques milling about. But due to the intercom, I couldn’t hear a thing.
Around the corner, a slender purple Grotesque attacked without warning. Fumi quickly drew a gun and shot it dead. The gun was rounded, just like the one the winged youth had carried.
“The distortion is more intense here because we’re nearing God.” I heard Fumi’s voice say over the earpad. “But the Malkuth have been managing to help God, so only human-level distortions have occurred in the rest of the country. Although I suppose the ground does shake a bit, doesn’t it?”
“You sure seem to know everything, don’t you, Fumi?” I said, also speaking into the microphone. “So tell me, what is a Sense Sphere?”
“They can be found everywhere, just like God.”
“Those who help God.”
“Those who expected too much from God.”
“So what is God then?”
Fumi raised his eyes to me and smiled slightly.
“God is God. The same God you already know.”
I looked at Ruby, who had been silent for some time now. Her face was pale and expressionless, eyes downcast.
“You already knew Fumi back then, just as I thought. But you said you hadn’t met him before.”
“I think it’s possible to know someone you’ve never met in person,” Ruby answered while continuing to not look at me.
“So what you’re saying is that everything I’ve been through since Fumi game me that disk - ”
“ - has been a Malkuth trial, yes.”
Fumi came to a stop.
“Were you also one of the Malkuth’s pawns?”
My words grew louder, but Ruby did not respond.
“So here we are, at the final trial. Suzume is waiting for you inside here.” Fumi said as he looked up at the building that stood before us. “The Nerve Tower."
Volume 3: Angel
It was a small, circular building in the shape of a tower which seemed to have been perforated by a number of thick pillars.
The inside of the structure was a dark, cramped hollow. Only the central pillar of the structure continued deep underground. Fumi crossed over the iron scaffolding and opened a door built into the pillar. Inside the central column, a spiral staircase wound its way into the abyss. We descended the stairs like spinal fluid flowing down vertebrae.
“Don’t be afraid,” Fumi said to me. “Why do you think the Malkuth granted you this trial and invited you here so courteously? You don’t believe it was to give you a pair of wings, do you?”
“Who knows. Perhaps it was to sacrifice me?”
“Does the thought of that scare you?”
“It would bother me if that’s what happened to Suzume.”
“Don’t worry. We are blessed. There is no pain, no suffering, no sadness.”
“And who’s this we?”
“Even though he has no wings, Fumi is an elite angel,” Ruby stated. Looking closely, I could see Ruby’s eyes drifting slightly through the air. Baroque eyes.
She was wearing the intercom that protected against going Baroque, so why on Earth was this happening?
“We. That’s because shared between Ruby and myself, there's only enough dreams and logic to go around for a single person.”
The length of the stairs was dizzying. Fumi helped Ruby when she occasionally lost her footing.
“Ruby was forced to leave this place because you didn’t listen to that disc.”
Maybe that was why Ruby was so well-informed and could survive without an ID. But…
“Were those scars on her back a fabrication too?”
“The scars on Ruby’s back, the ones that look like an angel had its wings torn off.”
“It seems that’s one dream we haven’t shared,” Fumi said as he eyed Ruby suspiciously.
“That’s just a Baroque between Kitsune and me,” Ruby replied in a sing-song manner. Was it an illusion created by the darkness which made her face look incredibly beautiful in that moment, or was it merely the bewitching charm that Baroques possessed?
“There’s been an awful lot of unforeseen developments in your trial, hasn’t there?”
The stairs still continued downwards, but Fumi stopped to open a door. The dark, cramped world we had been inhabiting opened up into a bright, wide-open space which didn’t feel like it was subterranean at all.
At first I didn’t recognize the man wearing a doctor’s white lab coat because it wasn’t his trademark black attire - but it was definitely Suzume.
“Knew you’d come.”
For some reason, his face and hair were dripping wet. But both his gaze and speech were firm, clearly not those of a Baroque.
“You got my message?”
There was nothing inside the room, so Suzume sat on the floor, the same cream color as the walls. His spindly legs were suddenly visible underneath his coat.
“Yes. That’s why I’m here to save you.”
“Save me? You really think I’d fuck up bad enough to need rescuing?”
“While I was investigating the Tarantella Melody, I learned of the existence of God and the Angels. And I learned that I had a more important role to play than that of a mere Angel.”
“So they brainwashed you after all.”
I couldn’t help but laugh bitterly at Suzume’s words, which were so out of character considering the situation at hand.
“Who’s been brainwashed? Isn’t it only natural that your world would change after basking in the sensation of listening to that melody?” Suzume said without a hint of embarrassment.
I was lost. I didn’t care if everything up until now had been orchestrated by the Malkuth because I had known my priority was to find Suzume and help him. But what if Suzume really had come here of his own volition, and I was the one who had contracted dancing sickness from being bitten by a spider? And had the melody - the cure for my condition - been in my hands from the very beginning?
“Shall we go?” Suzume stood up. “Have you decided yet?”
“To the place of God.”
I turned around. Fumi, who had come in with me, was nowhere to be seen. Ruby had collapsed on the spot like a ragdoll.
I lifted her into a sitting position.
“Either way, looks like she already went on ahead without us,” Suzume said.
“What, like her soul? You’re saying it just slipped out of her body?”
Suzume looked back at me, suddenly defensive.
“That word is unknown to anyone who comes here under the guidance of the Tarantella Melody.”
“What unknown word? Soul?”
“STOP IT,” Suzume screamed while clutching his head. “It’s no good, I knew this would happen! Call off the trial!”
Just then, a sound rang out above our heads. The cream colored ceiling opened up like the canopy of a planetarium and two people descended. Both bore wings of different sizes. One of them was the winged youth I had met before coming here (that’s right, you). The other was a nervous looking young man who bore even larger wings - yes, he looked a bit like Fumi. This was the man who had developed the Sense Sphere investigation system which I had seen in a data file long ago.
“As I thought, this man failed beyond all expectations,” Suzume reiterated.
Given the size of his wings, this young man must have been a very high-ranking member within the Order.
“If that is your decision, then why did you not make it before all of this?”
He scrutinized Suzume and I, and then turned back to you.
“Come on. It was the same with me, doesn’t this fall within the margin of error?” I wonder if you can still remember the way you looked at me as you said that.
“Then wouldn’t your false God end up with errors too?” My words made you pale slightly, but your superior showed no reaction whatsoever.
“If there are errors, then we will correct them,” he replied. I noticed he was holding a rounded gun at the ready.
“Are you going to kill him?” Suzume inquired. “There don’t seem to be many people who are eligible for the trial. It will take time to replace him.”
“That’s right. But this man was not the first, nor will he be the last.”
Suzume tried to say more, but you were ordered to lead him away. You also seemed as if you were about to say something further to me, but instead urged Suzume to be silent.
“I’ll go back and devote myself to serving God…” Suzume looked at me as he was pulled away. “Did you really come here, without listening to the Tarantella Melody, just to save me, Kitsune?”
“I owe you.”
It was my fault for recklessly letting Suzume listen to the disc and getting him involved in all of this.
“And besides, I live in this world too. I wanted to know the mystery behind its distortion just as well as I know my own mind.”
Suzume gave me a wry smile. Just as I thought, he was still the Suzume I had always known.
A section of the cream colored wall quietly opened, and you and Suzume disappeared behind it. The room appeared to be empty, but it apparently had entrances and exits everywhere.
“Won’t you pray?” I said to the man pointing a gun at me. “When that youth tried to off me a while ago, he said a real nice prayer. ‘Permit me to purify those who would corrupt the mind of God’ or something.”
“Prayer? Worthless.” His expression darkened for the first time.
“It’s worthless? You’re a high-ranking member and yet you deny your own doctrines on prayer?”
“I just said a prayer to myself so that should be fine.”
He aimed at me and pulled the trigger.
Ruby had been in my arms this entire time, and at that moment, she suddenly leaned forward.
The bullet pierced Ruby’s chest.
Volume 3: Angel
He prepared to shoot again. I shielded Ruby as I threw the knife she had been carrying. It sliced through his arm and part of a wing. White feathers fluttered in the air and he briefly turned away to check on his wings. I leapt for him.
He tried to put up a fight, but luckily the feathers obscured his vision and I wrenched the round gun from his grasp. It was surprisingly light. I aimed the gun at him before he could regain his footing.
He glowered at me as he clutched his bleeding arm.
I kept the muzzle pointed at him with one arm while I held Ruby in the other.
No response. The fingertips of her delicate hands had already turned purple. With the large whites of her eyes still open, she had breathed her last. I closed those eyes as I internally spoke to her.
Whether or not you were a pawn of the Malkuth, it’s been fun up until now. Thank you.
I set Ruby’s remains down on the floor and turned away.
I wouldn’t look back again. I checked my breast pocket to be certain. I’d been through quite a lot, but sure enough, the disc was still there.
Ruby had died to protect this.
“The Tarantella Melody.” I spoke as I took out the disc. “I’m aware that you Malkuth use this to brainwash your followers. But I know the cure. The cure for dancing sickness is to dance like a lunatic until you pass out. In other words, people who have been brainwashed by this melody can be brought back to their senses if they listen to it again. Am I wrong?”
He slightly raised one eyebrow.
“Brainwashing? You still think that’s what we’ve been doing here?”
“Let’s find out.”
Right as I tried to press the play button, he turned and fled. The man slapped the far wall. It crumbled away around his hand - and a red beam of light came flying out from within the wall.
I tumbled to the floor. From somewhere above me, I could hear his voice calling me a fool. The lights went out. I hadn’t let go of the gun, but firing it now would be next to useless. The lights began to flicker back on, accompanied by the sounds of rustling wings and approaching footsteps - the adherents.
What should I do? Release the Melody? (From where you are, run 26 steps to your right.)
Just then, there was a voice over the intercom which had partially dislodged from my ear.
(If you hold out your hand, the entrance to the spiral staircase will open. Then descend around the staircase 31 times and open the door you come to.)
“Ruby?!” I cried out involuntarily, but immediately began to run as I counted my steps.
“Don’t let him get away!”
The adherents came after me, shouting these phrases as if they were a mantra. I counted as I ran down the stairs, talking with Ruby’s voice over the intercom.
“You died just now, didn’t you?”
(I did die. Soon, this me will die too.)
“So how are we talking right now?”
(I’m taking control of Fumi using what remains of me in our shared consciousness. He doesn’t like it but - behind you!)
I swung around and fired the gun. The adherent who had nearly caught up to me collapsed backward, causing those behind him to begin falling as well. Some of them also seemed to be carrying guns, but no one was shooting. Maybe that was it - were they trying to avoid any damage caused by stray shots? As the name “Nerve Tower” implied, maybe this whole tower was a single interconnected system. That gave me the advantage.
I had already descended around the spiral 29 times.
My shoulder suddenly grew heavy and began to throb. Something had struck me in the back. One of the adherents’ weapons? But I continued to run without caring, opening the door I came to after exactly 31 rotations.
The exhaustion and pain in my shoulder brought me to my knees as soon as I was through the door. If they came for me now, I was finished. But none of my pursuers made any attempt to open the door.
Machinery had been embedded into the walls and ceiling of the interior, various gauges twinkling with blinking indicators. And at the center of this room, smaller than the last chamber, stood Fumi - his hair soaking wet - and you, already pointing a gun at me.
“Another trap… no, a trial?”
I couldn’t stop my insane laughter.
“You hijacked Fumi’s consciousness to lure me here?”
“An Angel above me said to do it.” You casually answered my question.
I tentatively attempted to raise my gun as well, but knew I could never beat you with my wounded shoulder.
“But I wasn’t told when to kill you, and I’m curious about what will happen if you succeed in what you want to do.”
You touched one of the machines. A transparent, light-brown lid opened, revealing a space just the right size to fit a disc into.
“You can play the Melody here. If I am being brainwashed by the Malkuth, then listening to the Melody will release me and your life should be spared. But if you’re wrong, I will kill you in order to protect God.”
Fumi was the one speaking to me, but what I heard over the intercom was Ruby’s voice.
“This man is one of us Kitsune. We failed the Malkuth’s system, and this man…”
“Shut your mouth. Say anything else and the world burns.”
Fumi was interrupted by his own voice. A shared consciousness. I was a little horrified, but before I could think about it, there was something I had to do.
I placed the disc in the slot. The Tarantella Melody began to flow throughout the Nerve Tower.
It was unexpectedly simple. Repetitive, like a nursery rhyme. But I felt as if I wanted to break into dance as the tempo gradually grew faster.
You covered your ears and collapsed on the spot. The floor seemed to pulse and vibrate to the rhythm, and an alarm rang out as if singing along with the Melody.
“Emergency, abnormality detected in the deepest level of the system. Circulatory fluid breach.”
“Get out of here, Kitsune. The tower is flooding.” Ruby’s voice again.
“What about you? And Suzume, and Fumi…”
“I died a long time ago. Suzume… should be able to make it out on his own if he decides to.”
“I’m an elite angel, so I will remain here. God still needs us.”
Fumi was always going to be Fumi, even after listening to the Melody.
I leapt up onto the lurching floor and moved to open the door. The ‘thud thud thud’ of water could be heard coming from far down the spiral staircase. On my way out the door, I turned and took one final look back. You were trying to get up. Fumi waved his hand as if to say ‘bye bye’.
“I’m glad you were a failure, Kitsune.”
I couldn’t tell which words were Ruby’s and which were Fumi’s anymore. I just kept focusing on running up the stairs while the water pursued me. Each step of the staircase seemed to collapse under the Melody until at last, I too was engulfed by the sound and water.
Then came a vision. The water was the tears of God.
Ruby should have been dead, but she opened her eyes as she drifted through the water.
From the scars on her back, genuine angel wings were born. These tiny wings quickly became taller than Ruby herself. She spread her wings in the water and climbed into a world of light.
I felt a selfish sense of satisfaction.
I couldn’t understand a single thing about God or the world, but I succeeded in entertaining that girl for a short time before releasing her back to where she belonged.
This was my Baroque. I sold Baroques to other people, but I was finally able to obtain one of my own.
The Tarantella Melody could be heard even through the water.
I felt my body and consciousness slowly begin to mingle with the sound and then dissolve into the water.
Volume 3: Angel
Epilogue "To You"
Task said that he and the other Hunters were awaiting orders on the bridge when they found me, still unconscious, being carried by a youth who Task hadn’t seen before.
I had awoken in the hospital and listened to his story.
“Was he wearing wings?”
“When I asked him if he was with the Malkuth, the boy said he had thrown away his wings.”
Upon my recovery, Task questioned me about my fake ID and a number of other matters, but he had not pursued the youth at all in accordance with the Malkuth non-intervention regulations.
Yes, the Malkuth were not destroyed.
The number of adherents I see in the streets seem to be increasing faster than ever.
Are their wings meant for escaping these constant natural disasters and bizarre incidents that defy human comprehension? To leave the ground of this disquieting reality? Can we not help ourselves in wishing for wings, even if they are fake?
Still no word from Suzume.
But now I fear that I’m under heavy surveillance over my fake ID and other matters. My normal range of activities, let alone access to special areas, are likely to be subtly restricted.
It seems I will never again go to the Nerve Tower as long as I live. I hope my friends are safe.
All I can do now is sit alone in my office and write you this long, long email.
You’re the one who saved me, aren’t you?
You seemed hesitant about something. Was it over your suspicion of the Malkuth? Or maybe something Ruby was about to say - no, nevermind.
It’s too late, I’ve already listened to the Tarantella Melody.
The Baroque I had to tell you about is over.
But your story is only just beginning.
I wonder where you are now?
If you get this email, I want to hear your response about every place, every realm you’ve been to.
Hopefully before the world burns.
or continued in the game "BAROQUE"
“The Spider’s Thread” which Fumi claims to be offering Kitsune is a reference to Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s short story of the same name, in which the Buddha lowers one such thread down to a sinner, so that this criminal may attempt to climb his way out of hell and up into paradise. Things don't go so well, and the sinner's own selfishness causes him to fall back into hell.
- The Malkuth’s initiation chant is actually a slightly rearranged version of Queen's “Bohemian Rhapsody”. There’s no such thing as a 1:1 translation between Japanese and English, but many sources translate the “Let him go/we will not let him go” lyrics by Queen exactly the same way as the Malkuth’s chant. The Malkuth originally use the phrase 神に誓って (“swear to God/in the name of God”), which is identical to many Japanese translations for Queen’s use of “Bismillah!” (a Muslim saying that means “in the name of God”). I chose to use “Bismillah” here as 1) the literal translation reads awkwardly as “For the sake of God, I swear to God…”, and 2) Japanese readers are likely to be aware that they’re reading Queen lyrics and I wanted to preserve that sense of familiarity. To clarify things slightly, I added Kitsune quoting ‘Bismillah’ back at an adherent in English (“In the name of God?”) directly before his “What the hell kind of God are you talking about!?” outburst.