Well, there is the last story. High stakes this time.
“Today as well, according to the squad’s reports, there is no reason for anxiety for all of you citizens living in the standard area…”
The government broadcast continued, now showing a CGI model of some meta-being extermination squad members.
“Amazing, it’s like one of those old monster movies”
Ruby was glued to the TV.
“That’s just because of the uniforms they are wearing”
Their bodysuits were fully red, with rifles dangling down their backs. If they wanted to make people believe that meta-beings were no problem for their squad, they did a pretty good job, I thought.
But Baroques wouldn’t be deceived by that. It had been six days since the government had officially revealed the existence of meta-beings, and in that time, thirteen customers had come to visit me.
“At least three of them must have died by now. If this keeps up, it won’t be good for you”
“Stop jinxing it”
To most of them, I had given the Baroque of being immortal androids, so that it didn’t matter to them whether they died or were killed by a meta-being.
“Is it really okay, to give the same Baroque to so many people?”
“I’m busy with too many customers now, I can’t help it. Besides, not one of them has complained yet”
Right then, I heard a knock on the door.
Ruby hid under the desk.
“May I buy my Baroque in this shop?”
The girl who just entered the office was wearing a black funeral dress. Her golden hair was hidden by a black veil, and in her hand she was holding a white handkerchief.
“I’m very sorry, but we don’t sell here”
“Not even an immortality Baroque?”
I tried to ascertain whether she was truly a a customer. From the slight trembling of her fingers, a Baroque seemed possible, but I couldn’t see her eyes because they were hidden behind the veil.
“But though we don’t sell, we do make trades. The customer’s Baroque, for a Baroque that matches them”
“… fine. This is my Baroque”
She produced a black envelope and put it on the desk.
“There is an address written inside, so you may contact me if you can find a matching Baroque”
Without ever showing her face or even giving her name, the girl left.
“That girl looked like she was coming back from a funeral”
Ruby popped her head out from under the desk.
I opened the black envelope.
“I’m the heir of a house of immortals. Our symbol is our very name. When a ship of a thousand passengers is swallowed by the waves, when a town is submerged by the firey inferno of an erupting volcano, and when demons hunt down and kill people, the survivors always carry our name. He who is blessed with the power of our name becomes immortal, but the mouth that utters our name will forever be sealed…”
“Mmh, not bad”
“What do you mean?”
“In order to obtain the power of the immortal name, there must be some kind of requirement. In order to find this Baroque, you must also find that requirement. You can’t do the former without doing the latter first. But if you don’t find the right answer”
I turned the envelope upside down. The mummified body of a spider fell down without a sound.
“The wrong name becomes the cursed word, and the one who said it will be silenced”
“So if you can’t say the name, you will die?”
“Maybe that girl was dressed that way because she was coming back from the funerals of the Baroquemongers who have failed thus far”
“No way! Kitsune, this is not how you want to die!”
“And why would you know how I want to die?”
“Hey, you must absolutely find the immortal name!”
“If I can”
But I couldn’t make any progress. I examined the patterns of all the Baroques I had seen since, and various legends about the conditions to immortality, but didn’t make any breakthrough. Ruby kept desperately asking for updates, but I never thought I was going to die from the riddle brought by a Baroque. And if by some chance it really became a curse, then it would be a fitting end for a Baroquemonger.
Seven days without any progress passed, and at the dawn of the eighth day, the girl in black appeared again.
It was a strange day, it had been thundering all morning.
“I have heard my Baroque has been found”
I never contacted her. But then, Ruby appeared from behind the girl.
“I called her. Hey, your immortal name is the vampire Miralka. Your power comes from blood and the rose that blooms at night”
“Idiot, why did you-”
It couldn’t have been such a simple answer, even Ruby had to know that. But the girl simply bit her lips bitterly.
The girl waved the white handkerchief she was carrying. A black spider landed on Ruby’s bare legs. Immediately, Ruby collapsed. It was a poisonous spider. Ruby’s body and limbs started shivering, and her lifeless eyes grew wider.
“What’s the meaning of this?”
“You ask even though you already know”
The situation suddenly gave me a spark. I walked to my machine, and finished the Baroque I was working on.
“What about this?”
“I’m the angels’ trumpet, announcing the time of rebirth. My music cleanses corruption, guides people to the eternal kingdom. Resurrection is unavoidable. Knowing fate, crossing over the bodies of the perished, the trumpet makes everyone dance. Makes them dance all the way to the eternal kingdom…”
“The requirement for obtaining the power of immortality is sacrifice. Sinking the boat with a thousand people, or slaying one’s own brothers, makes their name immortal. Because the name of the victim is taken, and succeeds one’s own. So, you who have killed Ruby, from now on your name is Ruby”
“Is this Baroque fine?”
The girl lifted her veil. Her eyes were hidden well, but they didn’t show any of the signs of a Baroque.
She put some money in my hand, then turned around and left. Behind her golden hair, you could vaguely see a pair of small fake wings.
I called out to the lifeless Ruby. Did she choose to sacrifice herself to protect me?
“Whew! That went smoothly”
Ruby stood up quickly, and grinned at me.
“How did you survive the bite of a poisonous spider?”
“The venom of a spider… of the Tarantella, won’t kill me”
That name awoke memories in me. Tarantella. Dancing all the way to the eternal kingdom. Dancing sickness. The angels’ trumpet. The small wings on the funeral girl’s back. The girl had approached me under the pretense of a Baroque. Did an angel try to kill me as some kind of trial?
Trial. An abducted friend, a boy with light brown eyes, Neuro Tower, a man forsaking his wings.
I shook my head to chase away the thoughts.
I was a simple Baroquemonger, and Ruby merely a loiterer who spent her time in my office. Even as the whole world was being swallowed by delusions, my days were going on with nary anything out of the ordinary.
If any weird and unique adventure had ever happened, I had no memory of it.
Still, I asked with worry.
“Ruby. Could it be that you are my own delusion?”
Her silhouette getting gradually fuzzier, Ruby grinned.
“Yep. Me, Kitsune, everyone, we all only exist inside a Baroque”
My heart, which had almost burst open, was once again calm inside the delusion.
“Immortality is nice”
The Ruby of the delusion couldn’t die from the venom of a spider that gave people their Baroques.
“I’ve found a pretty interesting Baroque”
Like always, I went to my machine and created a new file.
Were you expecting that ending? I suppose it doesn’t make a lot of sense, given the plot of Syndrome, and cements Interludium’s status as a side project.
Kitsune’s memories in the last part are most likely referring to the Prologue novel. I will need to make my way through that someday. Maybe scan it and try my luck with some OCR program for the more difficult kanji. It could be a good idea to waste my summer days. Maybe also go back to these stories and fix the translations a bit, since they are pretty rough at the moment.
But there will be time for that. For now, hold onto your Baroques, and good night.