- "Malkuth (1)"
- "Malkuth (2)"
- "Malkuth (3)"
- "Malkuth (4)"
- "Nerve Tower"
- Epilogue "To You”
- Translator’s Notes
Author: Mariko Shimizu
Volume 3: Angel
“I’ll be immortal?”
“I suppose you could say that, roughly speaking.”
“But you’ll be destroying part of my brain.”
“It should be fine. We’ll be including your personality. IC is the smallest type – the entire mind is engraved within just 1mm.”
“All the details are written down here, please wait a moment.”
I handed a printout of the story to the customer.
“I am an android constructed for experiments. As long as I have spare parts, I am immortal. I feel no pain when I am attacked.” I’ve written many arrangements on this theme since it’s always popular amongst Baroques who fear death.
“Well, here you are.”
The customer, satisfied, paid their fee and left.
“Thank you very much.”
“Looks like business is thriving.”
As my customer was exiting the shop, Ruby came in.
“Were you aware that the number of Baroques has been on the rise ever since people learned about the existence of Abnormals?”
“What’s your point?”
I shot her a disgusted look.
“I’m saying that the time has never been better to get into the Baroque Shop trade.”
As I expected, Ruby didn’t answer. Instead she rudely sat on the sofa that was intended for customers.
“Why don’t you just help yourself to that sofa then.”
“Why don’t you focus on learning a real skill? Maybe I could teach you how to shoot, Kitsune.”
“Since when can you shoot?”
“I can’t, but I’m still probably better at it than you are.”
It was hard to believe that this insolent freeloader was the same girl who was crying over an Abnormal on that night.
“You need a gun though, don’t you? We don’t know when another Abnormal might show up.”
“Have you heard the scary rumors going around?” Ruby whispered.
I stood from my chair. I’d learned that the information Ruby provided was worth listening to.
“Can you make me a coffee? If so, I’d prefer black tea if that’s possible.”
“No, I won’t. Hurry up and tell me.”
I sat down opposite Ruby.
What kind of scary story could she possibly tell me, when monsters lurking around town had become commonplace?
Ninety-nine days had passed from the night Ruby and I encountered the Abnormals. The government had officially recognized the existence of Abnormals – and at the same time – the Special Hunter Abnormal Death Squad formed to combat them. The new year had come and gone since then.
There had been less panic than I had expected. This could have been due to the Special Hunters repeatedly assuring the public that normal areas would be under their full protection. But perhaps it was because people, who had already accepted Baroques as part of their daily lives, simply saw Abnormals as yet another distortion.
The Hunters were sometimes late to a scene, but for the most part they performed their duties adequately.
Ruby and I had undergone an ID check because we witnessed an Abnormal, at which pointed I presented a fake ID and Ruby -
“I know you were giving pastries out to your customers not too long ago, Kitsune. Baroque Shops are surprisingly normal considering the shady business they conduct.”
“If you want to eat so badly, you can find them in the drawer behind the desk, but I’m still not going to serve you tea. Hurry up and talk already.”
As I was saying, as soon as we had parted ways with the Hunters, I threw away the ID Ruby had shown to them. I told her not to use it anymore.
Every person is issued a basic ID and forging them is not a simple task (even I struggled to get a fake ID), but why not throw it away if it meant getting to live another ninety-nine days?
“Oh. It’s just the sad kind of cake.”
Ruby took the fruitcake from the drawer.
Ruby began speaking while picking the dried fruit out of the cake with her fingers.
“Angels are all over the place. They’re the same size as a human, but they have wings on their backs. Most of them are men, but there are also a few pretty women.”
For the first time in what felt like many years, I heard those words again.
Sense Spheres. Angels. Abnormals.
The boy who had visited my office, Fumi Miyasaka, had left me with those words.
First came Sense Spheres.
I thought that perhaps this was referencing the mysterious spheres that caused people to go Baroque.
I still don’t know the true nature of those spheres as I only glimpsed them for a moment.
Next was Abnormals.
These I had witnessed much more clearly, but I still didn’t know when, why, or where they originated.
They had different shapes and characteristics; some were highly aggressive while others were less so. Man-made weapons appeared to work in dealing with them, but currently no method had been discovered for wiping out the root source of these creatures.
And then finally, there was Angels.
“Anyone who sees an Angel has to go through some kind of test. If you pass, you can become an Angel too.”
“Right? But when I’ve told this story to the Baroque kids, they all get really scared. Ordinarily, Baroques don’t care much for other people’s stories. Don’t you think that’s odd?”
“What of it?”
“That’s all I know right now. But I know that whenever you listen to me this seriously, you must also know something about the topic yourself. I’ll leave you to think it over.”
I remembered when I had seen the research data on the Sense Sphere at Suzume’s house. There was an image of the man who had invented the Sense Sphere detection system, “Perception”. That man had been wearing fake wings on his back, but was there a connection between him and Ruby’s “Angels”?
There was always the chance that Suzume could have hacked into the government’s secret files again.
But my friend had changed after listening to the “Tarantella Melody” given to me by Fumi – after he had experienced the feeling of “existing everywhere at once.”
He was already anti-social to begin with, but now he had quit his job and hadn’t contacted me since. Was he stuck in his room all alone, trying to get the Tarantella Melody to play again?
I kept hoping he wasn’t going Baroque.
“Ah, an earthquake.”
There was a low rumbling sound, and Ruby glanced around.
“They seem to be happening a lot lately.”
The strange quakes, which made the floor feel like it was slowly spinning, had been occurring frequently this year. What differentiated them from ordinary earthquakes was that there didn’t appear to be any epicenter, just a uniform shaking over a wide area. The cause was currently under investigation.
“The shaking hasn’t stopped.”
“It will subside, eventually.”
But the earthquake, persistent, continued.
The whole world really was becoming distorted.
First people started going Baroque, then monsters began appearing, eventually joined by angels, and now even the ground had begun acting like this.
“This feels like being on a boat. It’s awful.”
I was also starting to feel a bit dizzy. The contents of my desk began to roll around.
“Kitsune, I’m scared.”
It was then that someone knocked on the door.
Volume 3: Angel
The eerie shaking stopped suddenly.
“Is it over?”
The person who stepped through the door was the Baroque boy with the light-colored eyes – Fumi.
“Time has flown faster than I expected.”
Fumi’s fingertips were trembling. He looked exactly as he had 165 days ago.
Why did you give me the disk containing the Tarantella Melody?
Why did you know about “Abnormals” all the way back then?
There were too many things I had to ask, but no words would come out.
“I have set the world ablaze.”
On the other hand, he was just Baroque. Maybe.
“My fire has melted the world like butter.”
“So why do you look so sad?” Ruby suddenly said to Fumi. Long eyelashes framed her unwelcoming gaze as she looked at Fumi.
“Suzume Suzuki.” Fumi stated without hesitation. “Suzume has been chosen by the Malkuth.”
“Malkuth? What are you talking about?”
Fumi’s head began to shake his head back and forth, as if quickly travelling between sanity and madness.
“Nuh-nuhr, Nerve Tower.”
It was as if the words were leaking from between his teeth.
“I’m sorry. I know this isn’t your fault.” Ruby pushed me aside and approached Fumi.
Her small hands gripped Fumi’s shaking fingers.
“Don’t forget who you are.”
Fumi shook Ruby off.
“What makes you think you know me?”
The two began glaring at each other again.
The floor beneath my feet began to shake a little. Was the previous earthquake returning?
Fumi looked at me and said “You have to go after Suzume.”
“Suzume was bitten by the Tarantella on your behalf and has fallen ill. I’m handing you the end of the spider’s strand. Follow the strand to find the melody that will cure his illness.”
“How do you know Suzume?” I finally managed to ask a question.
Fumi glanced back as he was about to leave the office.
“I know Suzume better than you do, Kitsune.”
“Kitsune, are you really a Baroque Vendor?”
“Why are you following me?”
The elevator arrived. Ruby followed me inside. I pushed the button for the 12th floor where Suzume lives.
“If you want to get a Baroque to talk, you’ve got to stimulate and encourage their feelings. That’s just common knowledge.”
I knew that. However, Fumi spoke fragments of the truth and not straight delusion. That’s why I was headed to Suzume’s house. What he had said wasn’t just Baroque. However, I had to admit that Ruby had managed to engage with Fumi better than I had.
“You’re sure that you’ve never met Fumi before?”
“This was our first meeting.”
The elevator came to a stop. I headed for the big black door at the end of the hallway.
“Suzume. It’s me, Kitsune. Open up Suzume.”
There was no reply.
“Kitsune, usually when you need to open a door, you’ll find that they’re already unlocked.”
“They only work that way in old dramas. These days everybody uses ID cards or voiceprint recognition to unlock their doors.
“Well, let’s open it with my ID then.”
Even though I had thrown away her ID and told her not to use one anymore, Ruby produced a card and inserted it into the key slot below the doorknob.
The green indicator flashed on. A buzzing sound was heard before the door popped open slightly.
“I did it.”
Fumi and Ruby, why were these people dragging me further into this case?
No one was inside the pitch-black room.
The equipment that was usually piled up to the ceiling was now in complete disarray, scattered all over the floor. The blinds were hanging from the windows, as if partially torn down.
“What an incredible room.” Ruby said, sounding genuinely impressed.
“It’s been vandalized.”
I searched the room for clues and booted up each of the computers that had been left in the room. While none of them had been physically damaged, all of the files and programs had been meticulously deleted.
Only one of the machines had been left intact.
It was the terminal used to display the Sense Sphere data, as well as analyze the disc containing the Tarantella Melody. On the desktop was a file entitled “For Kitsune”. When I attempted to open it, I was prompted to enter a password. I entered “Baroque” without hesitation.
The message that Suzume had left appeared.
“For Kitsune – I have succeeded in replicating the melody that allows you to exist everywhere at once. I’d like it if you listened to it too, Kitsune. But first, I want to show you the material I’ve collected on Sense Spheres.”
A presentation of data and images began to play, including the document that Suzume had hacked into previously. The first Baroque Murder, the “Afterschool Rooftop Murder” – yes, the case involving Yumi Anzai that I first taught you about – was included amongst the data.
“You don’t think the person who put this data together was Baroque do you, because I don’t.”
Ruby was looking at the monitor from beside me.
“That’s not funny.”
“I think it was made for you.”
I continued to scroll down the screen.
As soon as I thought I saw the word “Malkuth” slide past, I immediately stopped. There it was – Malkuth. At the present time, the Malkuth was a small scale religious organization. Unlike traditional religions that believe in being saved by Gods (such as Buddha), the Malkuth teaches that it is God’s existence that must be protected. It is only through protecting God that we can be healed. Very few people are deemed worthy of having the ability to protect God. Therefore, the Malkuth do not openly engage in public outreach. Instead, specific members within the Order research and select individuals they wish to indoctrinate, eventually soliciting them to join...
On the edge of the screen was an icon of a sparrow entitled “Suzume’s memo”. I clicked on it.
“The Malkuth are terrifying. Beware the Malkuth.”
Was Suzume, who was afraid and wary of the Malkuth, “chosen” by the religious order?
If the content of the document were to be believed, the Malkuth were more of a secret society than a religious order. But if the Malkuth were to discover that Suzume had been collecting data on them out of suspicion…
“Are the Angels the Malkuth?” Ruby asked. “It fits perfectly with the rumors I was hearing. The Angels are people who were chosen to join them. Then that means whoever was chosen would have to go through a test whether or not they wanted to. And look at this-”
Ruby stooped down and picked something off the floor.
“This must be a feather from an Angel.”
When I looked closely, I could see some pure white feathers that had fallen to the floor and slipped between the mess of equipment.
“Suzume has been taken by an Angel.”
Volume 3: Angel
A bright orange pillar of fire cut through a sky blackened by smoke.
Nearly everything above ground was annihilated.
If you partially adjusted the screen, you could see muddy currents swallowing buildings next to the pillar of fire, one after another.
Huge earthquakes and floods occurred nearly simultaneously in remote corners of the world.
I rarely watch television, but in this case it was more effective than newspapers and the internet when it came to gathering information about the disasters.
Ruby sat watching the office television.
“I think the death toll is in the tens of thousands.”
“It must have felt like the end of the world for the people who lived there.”
“I’m afraid that this could be only the first such incident of many.”
The siren of the Special Hunters could be heard from the street.
Another Abnormal must have appeared. They continued to wander the city as if oblivious to the fact that they were being routinely killed.
I pulled the gun from my desk drawer and reloaded it.
“Have you gotten any better with guns?”
“Shall we see if I can shoot the potted plant behind you?”
“Absolutely not. I don’t want to be killed over some test.”
“What the hell! It’s a rule not to point the muzzle at anyone even if it’s empty!”
I holstered the gun in my belt, and tucked a knife inside my coat.
I didn’t have the means to make dynamite, so I settled by placing a miniature flamethrower in my bag.
“Are we going yet?”
I finished by placing a portable CD player in my pocket. Inside it was the trump card that Suzume had left me.
A recording of the Tarantella Melody.
“You didn’t listen to it after all?”
“It’s too dangerous.”
However, I was sure there would be a time when it would become necessary.
Ruby stood up and switched off the television.
The catastrophe consuming other parts of the world disappeared.
Whatever might be happening in the rest of the world, helping my friend had become more important to me.
I had no doubt that Ruby was going to follow me anyway.
I didn’t know what was on her mind, but for now she was on my side and that’s all that mattered. It would be fine. As Ruby and I set off, I hung a message on the door that read “Due to unforeseen circumstances, we will be closed for the immediate future.”
To the Nerve Tower.
Of course, we reported Suzume’s disappearance to the police, but with so many unexplained disappearances occurring, we knew they would probably never find him.
The view of the city at night had changed.
A man squatted near the corner of a building. A woman with vacant eyes hugged everyone that passed by, no matter who they were. Someone who was bleeding profusely from their forehead continually screamed about their Baroque, claiming that they were the Devil incarnate.
These were the people who had flowed out of District Zero in the wake of the Abnormal outbreak.
Amongst all this, you could occasionally catch glimpses of men and women wearing fake wings. Most of the wings were small like the wings of a Cupid, while in rare cases, others had wings that extended down to their waist.
“Those are Angels of a higher rank.” stated Ruby. “The size of your wings is determined when you become an Angel. They view the ability to help God as a talent, so the lower-class Angels will have small wings forever.”
“Is the lower class actually satisfied with that?”
“I wonder if they think that even small wings are far better than having none, like us?”
It had been 27 days since Fumi informed us of Suzume’s disappearance.
The Order of Malkuth, whose adherents were marked by their wings, was visibly stepping up its presence.
Although the activities of the Order were rarely disclosed, there seemed to be a great many people who wished to join their numbers.
“It seems like it must be a great honor to be selected.”
“On the contrary, I think that people who are chosen are forced to join. If that’s the case, don’t you think that there may be others like Suzume who resisted indoctrination and were punished?”
“Cayo said there wasn’t anyone who didn’t rejoice at becoming an Angel.”
“Well of course believers are going to say that.”
Information on the Malkuth was scarce to come by. The information hacked by Suzume wasn’t enough to go on, so the stories Ruby gathered, leaked by friends of recruits, were always valuable.
The most pressing matter was whether or not Suzume had already been killed, but Ruby insisted that it wouldn’t happen.
“It doesn’t make any sense that they’d kill him if they went to all the trouble of abducting him into their ranks.”
Even if that was the case, it’s still possible that they’d brainwash him…
Either way, I found it difficult to be optimistic. After at least 27 days, it was all too possible that we were too late. But with only Ruby’s reports and my information to go on, we hadn’t been able to track down the headquarters of the Malkuth ourselves.
Ruby and I flagged down a taxi.
The driver gave us a dirty look when we gave him an address outside of his usual route, but we coerced him into taking us there. Even if it was out of his way, at least it wasn’t District Zero.
The sea lay beyond the high fences. A number of long bridges had been constructed, leading to a man-made island floating offshore. The lights of a patrolling Cessna blinked with an intensity brighter than that of the stars.
“It’s beautiful…” Ruby sighed enthusiastically.
The cluster of skyscrapers on the island was visible through the fencing, their lights shining and making the buildings appear like a radiant castle straight out of a fairytale.
A special area. From government departments to corporate headquarters, all the central institutions of the country were concentrated on that island.
Was Suzume really in there? And why was the Malkuth, an emergent religion, allowed to have their headquarters in this special area?
On one side, a concrete dike had been partially and messily demolished to allow the road to continue through it. From out of a pocket of darkness formed by the rubble, a thin boy stepped out.
“The Malkuth have been expecting you, Kitsune.”
“Are you the one who sent this email?”
I produced a printout of a message.
───Guide to the Nerve Tower.
We humbly thank you for your continued patronage of the Malkuth. As a small gesture of our gratitude, we would like to invite Sir Kitsune to the Malkuth headquarters, so please come to the address listed below at your earliest convenience. The code number required to pass through the gate is...
“It wasn’t me.”
I suppose the letter had been too polite and straightforward to have been from Fumi.
“But I do wish to see if Kitsune can pass the trial.”
“What are you talking about?”
“We’re surrounded, Kitsune!” Ruby yelled shrilly.
A number of people with small wings on their back had surrounded Ruby and me.
It wasn’t entirely unexpected. If they were able to write me that email, then it makes sense that they knew I had been researching the Malkuth for the last 27 days.
I placed my hand on my gun. However, the adherents were just ordinary humans.
It was careless of me, not realizing that I wouldn’t be able to bring myself to shoot any of them.
From behind the adherents, the slow-moving shadow of what appeared to be a small mountain began to fall over us.
Its round head looked as if it had been forcibly attached to its round body, with ghastly eyes stuck on either side of its cranium in the manner of a fish.
Why was there an Abnormal amongst the ranks of the Malkuth? Furthermore, there were small wings growing from its shoulders.
Volume 3: Angel
“It is rather pitiful, but it is a great help to have around nonetheless.”
For a moment, I wondered if the Abnormal was speaking. As the huge, round silhouette approached, however, it became clear that the Abnormal was not the speaker – but rather the young man perched on its shoulder.
What had at first appeared to be wings growing from the Abnormal’s shoulders were in fact the wings being worn by the young man.
“He must be an even higher-ranking Angel.”
It was exactly as Ruby observed, as the youth’s wings were larger than any of those around us.
The young man spoke again, from atop the Abnormal.
“This man does not understand his destiny. Should he be allowed to continue going free?”
“No, he should not!” was shouted by every mouth of the assembled adherents.
“Then for the sake of God, swear to God that you will never go free!”
“So, will you ever go free?” the young man reiterated.
“No, I will not. I swear to God.”
“Swear to God that you will not go free!” The adherents’ words were a chorus.
I understood. This was a ceremony. Chanting about the futility of escape was a ritual to increase the violent atmosphere of the situation.
The adherents drew nearer to us.
They carried weapons resembling slender metal spears with pointed tips. Some of the tips were split into two prongs.
They were almost like pitchforks. Why were these Angels using the Devil’s trademark weapon?
“Those who trespass in the heart of God, submit yourself to purification for the sake of God’s safety!” The young man closed his eyes and began to speak quietly.
The adherents began to wave their spears in unison. I took a chance and pulled out my gun.
Before I could complete the motion, something like a whip flew from above and wrapped around my wrist.
It was the tongue of the Abnormal. The tongue, coated in vivid pink protuberances, extended like that of a frog’s.
The tongue pulled with great force, as if it intended to tear my arm from its socket. My feet left the ground. If things continued this way, I would either be swallowed by the Abnormal or swung around and smashed into the concrete of the embankment.
Ruby threw the knife she had been keeping in her pocket.
She threw without really aiming. We had confronted an Abnormal before, so she knew better than to waste precious weapons like that. Why does she never think before she acts? Before I could verbally abuse her, the Abnormal bellowed in pain and my arms were suddenly free. Surely it was just a coincidence-
“I’m something of a prodigy, you know.”
“You can use this, since I guess you’re okay with them.”
I tossed my knife to Ruby.
“Reika, Reika, calm yourself.”
The young man, from atop the creature, was trying to soothe the Abnormal who was suffering from the knife through its tongue. Reika? Did the Abnormal have a name?
The Abnormal did not respond, save for a few barks resembling the sound an elephant makes with its trunk.
“It can’t be helped…”
The young man jumped from the Abnormal’s shoulder to the fence of the embankment.
It almost appeared to me as if he had indeed flown using his fake wings.
Fumi beckoned the young man, who flew away from the fence and ran toward Fumi. When the young man turned back around, he was wielding a small gun.
At least I had assumed it was a gun, but it had a strange, rounded shape. With this firearm, he shot the Abnormal.
“Release control of Reika.”
With the sudden sound of burning flesh, the bullet struck the occipital region of the Abnormal.
There was that strange barking again, its eyes spinning crazily.
It spit something out of its mouth, tongue still flailing about. A syrupy black sphere. It struck the wings belonging to one of the adherents standing beside me.
The sphere ignited on contact.
“Wings, my wings!”
He screamed as his wings burned, but he made no effort to remove them.
“My Lord, God!”
The fire had spread to the body of the adherent. I rushed over to him in an attempt to peel the wings from his back, but I was stopped by the spear of another adherent.
“He swore to God that he would never be free. Free of the wings.”
“What kind of God are you talking about!”
“Kitsune, watch out!”
Ruby pulled me backward, just as one of the many fireballs ejected by the Abnormal sailed past.
Now free of the Malkuth’s control, the creature was going wild, indiscriminately attacking both friend and foe. In the chaos, I had neglected the contents of the bag I had brought with me and carelessly left it in the path of the projectile.
Inside the bag was a miniature flamethrower. Flames burst from the explosion. Just the glare of the flames alone was enough to burn the eyes. I closed my eyes against the light. Panicking adherents, attempting to escape, surrounded me on all sides.
I called out to Fumi, who was somewhere behind the young man and the Abnormal. I wasn’t intending to call for help. Surely too much had already been sacrificed for this to all just be a part of my trial. Two adherents were already burning.
A few of the adherents approached us, wielding burning spears.
My voice cut through the sound of the flames.
“Ruby, are you okay?”
“It’s getting a little hot. I’m having difficulty breathing.”
The smoke from the burning surroundings was getting intense.
Ruby was using her small frame and knife to avoid the adherent’s attacks, but I could already see her start to stumble. It couldn’t be helped. I tried to press the play button on the CD player in my pocket.
“Don’t do it.” Ruby noticed what I was doing and stopped me.
“Don’t release that until we’re inside the Nerve Tower.”
“What’s gotten into you?”
“Don’t use it now, not even if I die!”
I was left with no option but to fire my gun at the Abnormal. I was concerned that it might make it even more violent, but there wasn’t any other choice left. My sight was obscured by the flame and the bullet went wide.
“You’re the absolute worst!” cried Ruby.
“At this distance, at least I can hit you” I said as I pointed my gun in Ruby’s direction.
“Are you really going to shoot me so casually?”
I shot the adherent charging up behind Ruby. I had intended to aim for his arm but hit him in the shoulder instead. Despite the raging fire all around, cold sweat ran down my cheeks.
“Kitsune… were you really trying to kill me? Could that have been a trial?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I thought maybe you were already part of the Malkuth.” Ruby said reluctantly.
I tried to respond but had to take another shot. The spear of one of the adherents went flying away.
“No matter the case, I don’t have any bullets left for you anyway.”
I couldn’t afford to reload now. I picked up the spear that had fallen earlier. The Abnormal approached me through the flames. Its tongue, still pierced by Ruby’s knife, extended toward me.
It was then that I heard the sound of something flying through the air. Hearing it made me feel as if I had just heard a voice telling me to get down. I immediately grabbed Ruby and threw myself to the ground. There was a deafening explosion, after which I couldn’t hear anything for a while due to the force of the blast.
Things began to fall on my back, and all around us.
When I cautiously raised my head, I saw that the falling objects had been hunks of meat and a steady rain of deep red blood. The smell of smoldering flesh was made all the worse by the ever-present flames.
The Abnormal was no longer anywhere to be seen, save for the blasted viscera that littered the ground. However, what was raining down on us was not only bits of flesh.
White feathers drifted lazily downward. Some unlucky adherents must have been caught up in the blast.
The flames started to subside, in large part due to the Abnormal blood shower. I began to hear the wailing siren of the Special Hunters. It appeared they had fired some kind of counter-Abnormal missile.
A car had pulled up. Among the faces that got out, I recognized one.
It was the first Special Hunter Ruby and I had met, the young man who had smiled
casually as he murdered an Abnormal, now wearing a deep red uniform as he strolled around.
The surviving adherents were sitting in a stunned silence. I got up slowly.
I noticed that the winged young man had disappeared somewhere, along with Fumi.
Volume 3: Angel
This was the second time that I’d been saved by a Special Hunter. The foam from fire extinguishers was being sprayed on the fires, the whole area illuminated by spotlights rather than flames now. The Hunter’s custom vehicle also appeared to be equipped with a water pumping system, which was being utilized to remove the Abnormal’s blood that polluted the road.
“We meet again.”
Task had also remembered us.
“Looks like you graduated from being a mercenary to an official Hunter.”
“I still feel like a mercenary though.”
Behind him, the Hunters were recovering the bodies of the Malkuth devotees who had been burned to death, along with the Abnormal’s remains. However the survivors, many of whom were wounded, were left alone.
“Can’t you help that lot?”
Task glanced behind him.
“Some of the Malkuth higher ups are on their way to pick them up.”
“What happens if they die while we’re waiting?”
“The Hunters and Malkuth are neutral parties, we don’t interfere with one another.”
“Don’t they count as civilians?”
“No. Their basic ID is deleted once they join the Order.”
It’s just common sense these days that ID cannot be deleted in any situation other than death. Even if a person wishes to have their ID revoked, their request won’t be accepted.
That the country would so easily comply means that the country must be completely ignorant as to what happens within the Malkuth. Or could it be that their influence over the country extends even further than that? It was a possibility.
“I’m only telling you all of this because I like you guys for some reason. My contract’s more important than my feelings though, so I can’t tell you anything further.”
Task pulled out a portable terminal.
“I’m going to have to report that you were attacked by an Abnormal. According to your ID last time, you’re ─── ah!”
I had kicked Task in the wrist, causing him to drop the terminal. Things could get ugly if my counterfeit ID was discovered.
Ruby was already running. I’m not proud to say it, but running away is one of my strengths (unlike shooting).
Before we could be noticed by the other Hunters, Ruby and I had gotten over the fence and were running on the concrete walkway which was currently 10cm under the tide.
“Stop at once!”
His old-fashioned warning was followed by the droning Hunter siren.
“Stop or I’ll fire!”
“Do you think he’ll kill us?”
Hunters were only hired to hunt Abnormals. As Task had said, as glorified mercenaries they couldn’t do anything that wasn’t contained in their contract.
“I hope you’re right.”
Ruby and I arrived at the gate to the bridge that led to the Special Area.
We climbed the iron pier, cooled by the night air, before we stood looking up in front of the gate. “Please enter your access code.”
As the voice of the machine made its request, iron lamps mounted on either side of the gate began to glow. Immediately below one of the lamps was a keypad. I had lost the email, but I memorized the numbers contained in it.
The steel gate began to make a heavy noise.
“The Hunters are coming.”
Their specialized vehicle was heading toward us. Task was visible leaning out one of the doors and aiming his gun at us. Ruby and I slipped through the gate. I immediately started running, but Ruby paused to press a button mounted near the side of the gate.
I shielded Ruby and pulled her to the ground. Task’s bullet grazed the wall near where she had just been standing.
“What the hell were you doing!”
“I changed the code.”
The front gate began to close. It seemed unlikely that the Hunters would get out of their car and run the remainder of the distance. The iron gate slammed shut with a clang, separating us from the Hunters.
“I only changed some of the codes though, so it’s just a temporary measure.”
Ruby and I continued to run down the bridge.
“I wonder if Task was really prepared to kill us.”
“Who knows, it might have been a tranquilizer gun.”
I had seen enough of Task as he was aiming at us to notice his pained expression.
“It wouldn’t have mattered if I’d been killed though.”
“What is wrong with you?”
I remember her saying that it didn’t matter if she died all the way back when fighting our first Abnormal.
“Can I ask you something? I know you’re not just some ordinary freeloader. Why did you approach me in the first place? Why did you come here with me?”
“... maybe you should ask him that.”
At the end of the bridge was a massive door, against which Fumi was leaning.
“Please excuse my shaking.”
Fumi wore a pair of black earbuds. A small microphone extended from the earpiece to his mouth. Two more pairs were waiting in his hand, and I assumed they were some sort of intercom.
“You’ll be in danger if you enter here without wearing these.” He gave the earbuds to Ruby and me.
I began to wonder if this could also be a trap, but Ruby quickly put hers in.
“If you don’t use them, you’ll be driven Baroque by the screams of God. Or would you find that acceptable?”
This was coming from Fumi, who should have already been Baroque, but right now he looked almost ordinary and sounded much more intelligent than he normally did.
I did as Fumi instructed, who then entered a code into the door. We entered the special area.
As we entered, an involuntary groan escaped my lips. The buildings and roads were so new that they practically glowed white, and the cityscape itself was a showcase of the most cutting-edge technology and architecture.
Despite all of this splendor, the streets were littered with raw garbage. The carcass of an Abnormal, still bleeding, lay by the side of the road. Beside it was a human corpse that had yellowed until it resembled butter. The stench was appalling. All people and vehicles were absent from the boulevard, other than the occasional wandering Baroque. Due to the intercom earbuds, not a sound could be heard.
As we turned the corner, we came face to face with a slender purple form. Fumi quickly drew a gun and killed the creature. I noticed that it was the same rotund model of gun that the winged young man had been using.
“There are many distortions here because of how close we are to God.”
I heard Fumi’s words over the earbuds.
“Even though the Malkuth have managed to protect God, this country still suffers from human-level distortions. Although the ground does shake from time to time.”
“You seem to be very well informed, Fumi.” I said through the microphone.
“Tell me, what are Sense Spheres?”
“They are everywhere, just like God.”
“And the Angels?”
“The guardians of God.”
“Those who placed too much faith in God.”
“Then, just what is God?”
Fumi looked up and smiled slightly.
“God is God. The same God Kitsune is already aware of.”
I looked over at Ruby, who had been silent for some time now. Her eyes were downcast, her face white and expressionless.
“I know that you two were already acquainted. But when you met last time, you said it had been for the first time, Ruby.”
“You can have acquaintances that you haven’t met in person before.”
Ruby answered without looking at me.
“So, you’re saying that everything I’ve experienced since Fumi gave me the disc-”
“It was all part of your Malkuth trial.”
Fumi stopped walking.
“Were you also one of the Malkuth’s underlings?”
My words continued to grow louder, but Ruby didn’t answer.
“This is it, finally, your last trial. Suzume is waiting for you inside, Kitsune.”
Fumi looked up at the building in front of him.
“Welcome to the Nerve Tower.”
Volume 3: Angel
The Tower was round and narrow, made of multiple thick columns that were all braced together.
Entering the interior of the structure felt like emerging into a dark, cramped cavern. Only the columns near the center of the structure continued deep underground. Fumi crossed over the iron plates of the scaffolding and opened a door built into one of the columns. Inside was a spiral staircase that descended into the darkness below. We travelled downward, like spinal fluid flowing through a spinal column.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of, Kitsune.” assured Fumi. “What do you think your trial has been in aid of; why we so courteously invited you here? Or do you find it unlikely that we simply wish to give you a pair of wings?”
“Come on, surely I’m to be some sort of sacrifice.”
“Would you be scared if that were the case?”
“Suzume would be in trouble if I was.”
“There’s nothing to worry about. We are elated. There is no pain, no suffering, no sadness here.”
“Even though he has no wings, Fumi is a distinguished Angel.” Ruby spoke.
When I looked closely, I could see Ruby’s eyes drifting aimlessly. Baroque eyes.
Why, if she was wearing the earbuds that protected one from going Baroque?
“Ruby and I share one dream, a common motivation between the two of us.”
The stairs just kept going and going. Fumi occasionally had to help Ruby when she missed a step.
“Ruby had to leave here and be deployed because you didn’t listen to the sample disc I left you.”
That information helped explain why Ruby could live so easily without an ID. Maybe.
“Was the story about the wounds on her back also a fabrication?”
“The ones on Ruby’s back that look like an Angel had its wings torn off.”
Fumi eyed Ruby suspiciously.
“Perhaps we do not share the same dream after all.”
“It is merely a Baroque shared between Kitsune and myself.” Ruby’s words sounded like music. Was it the darkness that created the illusion of her face being incredibly beautiful in that moment, or was it just the fascinating quality that Baroques possessed?
“There have been many unexpected developments in your case, Kitsune.”
Although the stairs still continued downward, Fumi stopped partway down and opened a door. The dark and cramped corridor of the stairwell opened into a bright, wide open space that did not at all feel like a subterranean area.
I did not immediately recognize him in the white robe he wore, as the garment which resembled a labcoat was not his trademark black attire, but it was unmistakably Suzume.
“I knew you would come.”
For some reason, his hair and face were dripping wet. However, his eyes and manner of speaking were solid and easily distinguishable from those of a Baroque.
“Did you read my message?”
There was no furniture in the room, so Suzume sat on the floor which was colored the same cream hue as the walls. I could see his long legs extending from beneath his white robe.
“I did. That’s why I came to save you.”
“Save me? Did you really think I’d gotten myself into something that I needed your help to escape from?”
“Through the Tarantella Melody, I learned of the existence of God and the Angels. It was then I knew I had a more important role to play than even that of an Angel.”
“So you were brainwashed after all.”
Despite the severity of the situation, all I could do was smile bitterly at Suzume’s words, since they were not entirely unexpected.
“I certainly haven’t been. After savoring the sensation of the Melody, whose perception of the world wouldn’t change?” Suzume said without a hint of embarrassment.
It didn’t make any sense to me. It didn’t matter if everything up until now had been arranged by the Malkuth. I had believed it was important to find Suzume so I could save him. But if Suzume came here of his own accord, was it I who had been bitten by the spider and contracted dancing sickness? Was the melody that could heal the disease in my hands from the very beginning?
Suzume stood up.
“Have you decided yet? Let us go to God.”
I looked behind me. Fumi was nowhere to be seen, despite the fact that he should have come inside along with me. Ruby had collapsed like a puppet whose strings had been cut.
I helped Ruby into a sitting position.
“He must have already left me.”
“What, like a soul leaving your body?”
Suzume turned back around to look at us.
“That is a word unknown to anyone guided here by the Tarantella Melody.”
“Unknown word? What, soul?”
“STOP IT.” Suzume held his head and shouted.
“It’s no good! Cancel the trial!”
As his words echoed around the room, the cream-colored ceiling opened up like a planetarium and two people descended. The pair were carrying wings of various sizes.
I had met one of the winged youths before coming here (yes, you). The other was a nervous looking young man who resembled Fumi, a man I had seen long ago in the data concerning the invention of the Sense Sphere detection system.
“In the end, this man was a non-standard failure.”
According to his wingspan, this was a much higher ranked member of the Order.
“If this is your decision, why did you not make it sooner?”
He looked at me and Suzume, as if comparing us, and then back at you.
“Come now, it’s no different than it was with me. Isn’t this within the margin of error?”
Do you remember looking at me when you gave that response?
“If we end up with a worthless God, then there will be calculation errors.”
Your face changed a little when you looked at me, however your superior didn’t so much as raise an eyebrow.
“If there is an error, then it must be corrected.”
He produced a round gun.
“Are you going to kill me?” I asked Suzume.
“Considering the amount of people required to conduct a trial, we will not be able to replace him any time soon.”
“That is true, but he is not the first, nor will he be the last.”
Suzume was trying to say something, but he was ordered to leave. You also tried to say something to me, but were silenced.
“I will go back and do my best for God.”
Suzume looked at me as he was pulled away.
“Kitsune, did you really come here unaided by the Tarantella Melody just to help me?”
“I owed you.”
I was responsible for carelessly letting Suzume listen to the disc and getting him involved in all of this.
“And besides, I’m also an inhabitant of this world. I wanted to learn what had caused the distortions within our world, just as naturally as I wish to comprehend my own feelings.”
Suzume gave me an ironic smile. After all this time, he was still the Suzume I had known all along.
A section of the cream-colored wall suddenly opened. You and Suzume disappeared through the aperture. The room looked blank and featureless, but in actuality, it had doors everywhere.
“Won’t you pray first?” I asked.
When the young man had tried to kill me earlier, he had begun praying in earnest. Something about purity and disturbing God.
“A prayer? That would be pointless.”
For the first time, his face appeared to cloud.
“Pointless? You’re a high-ranking Angel and you’re denying the value of your own teachings about prayer?” I countered.
“I said a prayer in my head just now, so that should be fine.”
With that, he swung the gun toward me and pulled the trigger.
“Guess there’s no distracting you.”
Ruby, who had been in my arms, suddenly sat up.
The bullet pierced Ruby’s chest.
Volume 3: Angel
He continued firing. I threw the knife I had given Ruby when she had been protecting me. The knife cut into his arm and took a chunk out of one of his wings. White feathers danced through the air, momentarily distracting him as he turned to check the damage. I lunged at him.
He tried to respond, but by mere chance his wings were blocking his view, allowing me to seize the round gun from him. The firearm was surprisingly light. I pointed it at him before he could regain his balance.
He glared at me while holding his bloody arm.
I picked up Ruby with one arm while keeping the gun trained on him with the other.
She did not answer. The delicate fingertips of her small hands were turning purple. Her white eyes were open, staring at nothing. Ruby was already dead. I shut my eyes and spoke sincerely to Ruby.
“No matter if you were a tool of the Malkuth or not, I enjoyed our time together.”
I set Ruby’s corpse down on the ground, before standing up and turning my back.
No more running away. I confirmed its presence by feeling my chest pocket. I’d been through a lot of rough moments, but the disc was still loaded in place.
Ruby had died to protect this.
I held up the disc player as I said:
“This is a copy of the Tarantella Melody. I know you Malkuth used this to brainwash your believers. But I’ve learned something else. The cure for dancing sickness was to dance until you faint. In other words, a human brainwashed by this Melody can awaken from their conditioning if they listen to this Melody again. Am I wrong?”
He raised his eyebrows slightly.
“Brainwashing? Do you still think that’s what we’re doing?”
“You wouldn’t be able to tell if you had been brainwashed.”
I tried to press the play button on the player. At that moment, the man got up and fled to the wall, where he slammed his hand onto its surface. The wall crumbled away where he struck, and from within the interior of the wall, a red ray of light burst forth.
I was knocked to the floor. From above me, I could hear his voice proclaiming my stupidity. The lights went out. I did not let go of the gun, but it would be useless to shoot it in this visibility. The light flickered for just a second, and I heard rustling sounds accompanying approaching footsteps. The adherents had arrived.
What should I do, release the Melody?
(As you are now, take 26 steps to your right)
At that moment, I heard a voice coming from the earbud intercom – and it was only then that I realized that one of the buds had slipped out.
(If you extend your hand, the entrance to the spiral staircase will open. After you’ve descended around the staircase 31 times, open and go through the door you find there.
I yelled involuntarily in my shock, but got myself together and began running to my right while counting the number of steps I took.
The adherents continued to approach, screaming mantras all the while. I counted as I ran down the stairs while speaking with Ruby’s voice over the earbud’s intercom.
“I watched you die.”
(I am dead. I will die very soon.)
“How are you speaking to me?”
(Fumi and I shared a consciousness, so the last remnant of my mind that exists within him has seized control of his body. Existing within Fumi is repulsive, but – behind you!)
I turned and fired the gun. The adherents that were close by fell, which in turn caused the adherents behind them to trip and begin tumbling as well. Some of the adherents carried guns, but no one was shooting them. Perhaps they were trying to avoid damaging the Tower in case any shots missed. As the name of the Nerve Tower would imply, the Tower itself may be the connection joining the entire system together. That gave me an advantage.
I had descended around the staircase 29 times.
I suddenly felt a weight slam into my shoulder. Something had struck me from behind. Was it one the adherents’ weapons? Regardless, I continued running until I had descended around the staircase 31 times. I opened the door.
By the time I got through the door, I was exhausted. My shoulder hurt, and my knees were shaking. If I was attacked now, it would be all over – but no one tried to open the door I had passed through.
Inside the room, machines had been embedded into the walls and ceiling of the room, all twinkling with blinking indicators. In the center of the room – which was smaller than the previous one I had been in – stood Fumi, hair wet, and you, pointing a gun at me.
“Another trap… no, a trial?”
I couldn’t help but laugh.
“Was all that about taking control of Fumi through a shared consciousness just a lure to get me here?”
You answered my question slowly.
“The Angel in charge told me to do that.”
I tried aiming the gun, but I knew I couldn’t beat you with my injured shoulder.
“However, I haven’t been instructed as to when I should kill you. I also have to admit that I’m curious to see what will happen if you’re allowed to act as you please.”
You touched one of the machines. A transparent brown lid opened, revealing a slot in which a disc would fit perfectly.
“You can play the reconstructed Melody with this. If I’ve been brainwashed by the Malkuth, then you will also become conditioned once you listen to the Melody, and thus your life will be spared. If you’re wrong and you aren’t converted, then I will kill you in order to protect God.”
Fumi was speaking to me, but it was Ruby’s voice that I heard over the earbud intercom.
“This person is like both you and me, Kitsune. We all failed the Malkuth’s system, this person is-”
“Silence. The world will burn if you say another word.”
Fumi’s voice was interrupted by Fumi. A shared consciousness. I was a little scared, but there was something I had to do before I had the chance to think about it.
I placed the disc in the device. The Tarantella Melody began to flow throughout the Nerve Tower. It was unexpectedly simple and repetitive, like a nursery rhyme. The gradually increasing tempo, however, made you want to dance.
You covered your ears and fell where you stood. The room pulsed and distorted with the rhythm, making the Melody resemble an alarm.
“Emergency, emergency, contagion detected in the deepest levels of the system. Circulatory fluid purge commencing.”
“You have to get out of here Kitsune. The Tower is about to flood.”
I could hear Ruby’s voice again.
“What are you talking about? What about Suzume, Fumi…?”
“I’m long since dead. Suzume… he can run if he wishes to escape.”
“I am a high-ranking Angel, so I will remain here. God needs us.”
Fumi hadn’t changed at all, even while listening to the Melody.
I stumbled across the swaying floor and opened the door. The sound of water could be heard coming from far below on the spiral stairs. Before I left, I looked back once. You were about to get up. Fumi was waving his hand.
“I’m glad you failed, Kitsune.”
I couldn’t tell which words were Ruby’s and which were Fumi’s anymore. I ran up the stairs, pursued by water. The Melody was finally swallowed up by the water, as was I.
I had a vision then. The water all around me was the tears of God.
Ruby opened her eyes while floating in the water.
The wounds on her back had sprouted real angel wings. The small wings grew quickly until they were as tall as Ruby herself. She spread her wings in the water, and used them to climb toward the light of the world above.
I felt a selfish feeling of satisfaction.
I didn’t know anything about God or the world itself, but at least I had managed to entertain this girl for a short time before releasing her back to where she belonged.
It was my Baroque. After selling so many people their Baroques, I had finally found mine.
The Tarantella Melody was audible even in the water.
I felt my consciousness gradually mix with the sound and dissolve into the water.
Volume 3: Angel
"Epilogue "To You”"
I was discovered unconscious by Task and his men, who had remained behind guarding the bridge. Allegedly, I had been carried out of the Tower by a young man that Task did not know.
When I heard the story after I woke up in the hospital, I asked if it was the same young man who had been wearing the large wings. When Task had asked him if he was with the Malkuth, the man had responded that he had “discarded his wings.”
When I had recovered, Task interrogated me over the issue of the fake ID, but said that he would not follow up the investigation in compliance with the Malkuth non-intervention policy.
Yes, the Malkuth did not perish.
If anything, the number of adherents visible in the city appears to be on the rise.
In this series of unnatural catastrophes and bizarre events that defy comprehension, I wonder if their wings are meant to symbolize an escape from this unsteady reality. Seeing as the wings are fake, why can’t we all just ask them to give us a pair?
I haven’t heard anything from Suzume yet.
As for me, I’m lying low as I’m likely to be under surveillance after the fake ID incident, amongst other factors. My normal activities, let alone access to special areas, is likely to be subtly limited.
As long as I live, I will never set foot in the Nerve Tower again. I just hope my friend is safe.
The only thing I can do now is to sit alone in my office and write this long, long email to you.
You still have some questions. Are there many things you still don’t understand about the Malkuth? Or maybe about what Ruby was about to say?
No, it’s fine.
I’ve already listened to the Tarantella Melody. The words you read are likely already the product of a Baroque mind. However, your story is just about to begin. I wonder where you are now?
If this email reaches you, no matter where you are in the world, I would like to hear your answer.
I hope to read your reply, before the world burns.
or continued in the game "BAROQUE"
I was not able to understand what Ruby refers to the fruitcake as. Kitsune correctly identifies it as fruitcake (lit. “brandy cake”), but Ruby calls it “tiazu keki” in katakana (implying it is a loan word). All I could find in my research was “3-tier cake” (which is clearly not what she means) or perhaps “tears” cake (i.e. she finds it sad and disappointing). I went with the latter because it was funny and also the only thing that made any kind of sense in context (despite it being a leap of logic on my part).
- The Malkuth’s initiation chant of swearing to “never go free” initially reads (based on the context) as swearing to “never be free (of the Malkuth)”. However, the ambiguity of the statement allows it to be repeated verbatim later when the adherent is burning alive. Based on the new context, in this scene it reads as ‘he swore never to be free (of the wings)’. I did my best to preserve this, but English is much less vague than Japanese, so it was impossible to maintain the natural feel of this twist reveal.