“Therefore, I –”
“On this occasion –”
“Following the precedent –”
Zuruwarn, the god of space and creation, the god with the form of a grotesque, four-headed lion, was busy negotiating with a god of another world.
… Though these were supposed to be negotiations, Zuruwarn himself had started to wonder whether this really was negotiating at some point.
Could a repeated exchange of persuasive words, humble requests, trading offers, provocations and verbal abuse be called negotiating?
If the overall goal is to negotiate, then it could be called negotiating regardless of the way words are spoken in the process, I suppose? Zuruwarn thought.
The one he was negotiating with was the god of ‘Earth,’ the world in which Vandalieu of Lambda and the Bravers in Origin had lived their first lives.
Though the appearance of this god was grotesque even in Zuruwarn’s eyes, it was also tremendous.
At a glance, it looked as if every single god, hero, divine servant, fairy, ghost and deified historical figure from every religion, every legend and every myth had been gathered in a single room.
And yet they were all a single god.
There were countless worlds, and there were numerous ways worlds and gods could come into existence.
The most common way was the pattern of a god existing in the beginning and creating a world. The world that Zuruwarn came from, ‘Lambda,’ fell under this category.
The second most common was a god from another world leading his followers and migrating to an already-existing world. The Demon King Guduranis had led the evil gods in an invasion on the world of Lambda; if he had emerged victorious, Lambda would have fallen under this category.
And the least common was the one that applied to ‘Earth.’
Living organisms would spontaneously arise in an already-existing world, evolve, and then the god would be created by the religions of those organisms.
In a way, it was the purest form of religion.
“Judging from this –”
“We must also consider our position –”
“You are too noisy! Silence!”
“I want to request you to do something about it, just like this, I beg of you.”
That was why the ‘god of Earth’ was troublesome and complicated in various ways.
It could be bluntly described as someone with a huge number of personalities, with all of those personalities constantly displaying themselves at once. And his divinity only grew as the people of Earth prayed to new gods.
And because there were so many of these personalities, this god rarely influenced what happened on the world’s surface like the gods of Lambda did. It was in a state of gods and demons of different degrees of divinity being right next to each other. Their individual divinities interfered with each other, and in the end, it was only able to produce small miracles from time to time.
The gods who had lost their believers and whose legends and myths had faded away would slowly disappear as if melting or fuse with other gods, but it seemed that recently, the birth of all kinds of new gods was faster than the rate at which the older gods were disappearing.
Seeing that even the subjects of fearful urban legends and characters from anime, comic books and games were being added to the god, Zuruwarn wished he could share some of that creativity with the people of Lambda, but couldn’t the god suppress its growth a little?
The negotiations between the god of Earth a hundred thousand years ago and negotiations with the god of Origin went smoothly, but… I will not have many opportunities to experience such complicated negotiations, so perhaps I ought to enjoy this.
Zuruwarn, who was able to find enjoyment at any time, continued his negotiations with the ‘god of Earth.’
Murakami Junpei was sitting on a bench, eating a sandwich that he had bought while listening to the news coming from the radio at a food stall.
“Sensei, why are you still listening to that radio?” asked Tsuchiya Kanako, who was sitting opposite him.
“I told you before, didn’t I?” said Murakami. “If we use the internet, there’s a chance of being hacked, but if we use a radio, we can’t be hacked. Also, stop it with the ‘Sensei.’”
“Eh, but Sensei is Sensei, right?”
On Earth, Murakami had been the teacher in charge of the field trip. Also, he was the homeroom teacher of the class that Amamiya Hiroto, who was now Vandalieu, Naruse Narumi, Minami Asagi and Tsuchiya Kanako were in.
It wasn’t wrong for Kanako and Murakami’s other former students to refer to him as ‘Sensei’ even after being reincarnated in Origin, but Murakami himself didn’t like this.
“I’ve never taught you guys anything in this world,” said Murakami. “We’re even mostly the same age, aren’t we? I’ll tell you this now because I have the time to say it, but just because I was a teacher in my previous life doesn’t mean you should force that title on me now.”
“Ah, come to think of it, you wanted to be a professional athlete instead of a teacher in your previous life?” said Kanako.
“That’s right,” said Murakami. “Being a pro tennis player and playing internationally was my dream. I didn’t have enough talent to push through my parents’ opposition to it, though.”
If the salesperson at the food stall or other customers were to hear Murakami’s words, they might have been bewildered. A sport by the name of “tennis” didn’t exist in Origin.
However, there was a sport that was played all over the world, involving hitting a ball between two people using racquets. But as the use of certain types of magic was also allowed, it was a battle of both physique and magic, so it was a sport with quite different rules from the tennis of Earth.
After being reincarnated in Origin and experiencing his second youth, Murakami had aimed to become a professional in that sport. Rodcorte had given him an aptitude and talent for magic, as well as physical abilities, reflexes and perception of moving objects that were superior to those that he had possessed on Earth. And by secretly using his cheat-like ability as well, despite having been an average tennis player during his school days on Earth, Murakami had become such a good player as a student in Origin that even professionals had reached out to him.
… But that was all in the past now.
“But you used to be an idol as well, right?” said Murakami.
“Uwah~!” Kanako gasped. “You’re going to bring that up, Sensei?”
“I’m not your Sensei,” said Murakami. “And don’t make up that tone, you middle-aged woman.”
On Earth, Tsuchiya Kanako had been an ordinary high school girl, but in Origin, she had been a well-known idol. But rather than this being due to reasons such as her having a far superior physical appearance to the one she had on Earth, being exceptionally talented at singing, dancing and acting or being powerfully promoted by her producers, it was all due to her cheat-like ability.
And this was all in the past for her as well.
The reason that their dreams had been cut short was because of Amemiya Hiroto’s activities. He had founded the nonprofit organization of the reincarnated individuals, the ‘Bravers,’ and openly announced to the world that they had special abilities. Because of this, it had become clear that Murakami and Kanako possessed powers that were different from magic, powers that couldn’t be explained by the principles that existed in Origin.
There was no way of proving that these two had used their powers during their matches and auditions, but with the existence of their powers widely known, they had become unable to work in their respective industries.
At the time, Amemiya Hiroto had said, “If we continue to only misuse our powers and that misuse becomes known, we will have too many enemies to survive in this world.” Reluctantly, Murakami and Kanako had agreed. It was true that there had been some people trying to investigate Murakami and Kanako to try and figure out the secret behind their success. Murakami in particular had been suspected by other players to be using some special magic that they didn’t know of.
Even if Amemiya hadn’t established the Bravers, it might have only been a matter of time before Murakami’s cheating was discovered.
And for a little while afterwards, the two of them satisfied their vanity through the Bravers’ activities. They received attention by doing things like disaster relief work, and the attention and applause they got when they put on shows displaying some of their cheat-like abilities was, in a way, similar to the attention that a professional athlete and idol would receive.
But two incidents shook the world and changed these circumstances.
The first was the death attribute extinction incident, in which the Undead at the secret laboratory in a military nation, which was now known by a different name, that had been exporting all kinds of products to the rest of the world. After this incident, the Bravers’ activities and nature as an organization changed.
They went from simply being heroes who rescued people from disasters to performing military activities and engaging in the killing of other human beings, things that they didn’t want to be involved in. Even if they used hollow justifications like saying that they were solving humanitarian problems, or fighting wars against terrorism, it didn’t change the fact that they were engaging in bloody battles to the death.
And the second incident was what the media, tabloid newspapers and talk shows had dubbed the ‘fallen hero incident,’ where Kaidou Kanata had been murdered by Shihouin Mari.
The crimes that Kanata had been committing were not such light crimes that some might defend him as a ‘dark hero’ or something of the sort; they were horrid, bloody acts that only scum would carry out.
Fortunately, they had come to light because Shihouin Mari, a fellow Braver, had murdered him. By painting her as the heroine of a tragedy, the public image of the Bravers worsening was avoided to some extent. But many began to doubt the ability of the leader, Amemiya Hiroto, to manage the Bravers. They were no longer the perfect heroes they once were in the eyes of society.
And then, before long, Murakami and around ten other members left the Bravers.
He had invited those who had been his students on Earth, asking them if there was any reason to keep being heroes and deny themselves from the riches they could have for the sake of an organization that had no integrity or innocence.
That was when the radio delivered news that a terrorist bombing had occurred at the Bravers’ headquarters.
“By the way, did you manage to kill Aran and Izumi-san?” Kanako asked. “They’ve still only announced that there were ‘many wounded.’”
As Aran and Izumi had concluded after their deaths, this incident was a crime carried out by the Eighth Guidance, the terrorist organization that Murakami and his followers had joined.
“They should be dead,” said Murakami. “The ‘Gazer’ said it as well, didn’t he? That those two would be killed by my hands that day. And that ‘Enma*’ assured us that they were dead as well.”
TLN*: This word is read “enma” in Japanese but refers to Yama, the Hindu god of death who judges the dead.
The ‘Gazer’ was a former member of the Bravers who had left the organization with Murakami… or rather, been kidnapped by Murakami and his followers. She had the ‘Future Prediction’ ability, and though she couldn’t control it, it was a perfect prediction ability unlike the ‘Oracle’ and ‘Calculation’ abilities. It gave her premonitions of important, unforeseen events that involved her.
But she had been unable to withstand the grotesque images that she saw in her premonitions with the Bravers and turned to drugs; she was completely addicted and had essentially become a disabled person, long before Kanata’s evil deeds had come to light.
She had been kidnapped from the medical facility that she had been placed in, and now she was a puppet of ‘Pluto’… perhaps brainwashed, Pluto’s devout follower.
And ‘Enma’ was one of the Eighth Guidance’s members. For some reason, he apparently knew the names and faces of people who had died in the past. Since he wasn’t one of the people who had reincarnated from Earth, it was likely to be the effect of some kind of spell, but Murakami and the others didn’t know the exact details.
“There wouldn’t be any reason for Gazer and Enma to lie,” Murakami continued. “And we even used Kanata’s memento that we went to a lot of effort to preserve. If we failed to kill them it would be a big loss.”
“Definitely,” Kanako agreed. “Still, I wonder what Pluto-san and the others want to achieve? I thought it was revenge at first, but they seem too indifferent for that. But then, they don’t seem to be doing things out of a strange sense of justice, either. They kill people for reasons that I can’t figure out, but then they go and do charitable work as well.”
“Who knows,” said Murakami. “I don’t know what goes on in the heads of fanatics. Well, it’s fine as long as they keep letting us use them until our work is done.”
Having finished eating his sandwich, Murakami scrunched up the wrapping paper and threw it in a random direction.
“Is that a disrespectful act to avoid the Oracle?” Kanako asked. “Was littering a crime in these areas?”
“Yeah, you get fined for it,” said Murakami. “Well, you would if there was anyone enforcing it.”
The ‘Oracle’ answered the questions of its owner, Endou Kouya, but Murakami knew that the way it answered the questions was very inflexible.
That was why these two had killed Shimada and Aran with a bomb right after committing some minor crimes, and committed minor crimes again before disappearing.
And the two of them disappeared into the crowd now as well.
The international terrorist organization, the Eighth Guidance, was quite different to other terrorists.
Their actions were entirely focused on destroying institutions conducting research on death-attribute magic and murdering the researchers. And the murder of the Bravers. These were selectively-conducted crimes.
No matter what political or religious objectives terrorists may have, the reason the amount of support that they could receive was limited was because their crimes were carried out indiscriminately. Bombs, biological weapons, poison and, in Origin, magic. The victims caught up in the tragedies caused by these methods could be elderly people, children, pregnant women and even the friends, acquaintances and relatives of terrorist supporters who happened to be within the vicinity of such incidents.
In some cases, the terrorist supporters themselves could become victims. This was the reason.
However, the Eighth Guidance was extreme in the selection of its targets. The only people it had directly killed were the employees of research institutions and the security guards, bodyguards and soldiers defending them. Only Shimada Izumi and Machida Aran of the Bravers had been killed, along with staff members who worked for the Bravers. Not a single scratch had been caused to anyone uninvolved.
And in addition to business with sponsors to secure funds to keep the organization going, the Eighth Guidance also engaged in philanthropic work that wouldn’t yield them a single cent in profit.
Most importantly, they did not desire new members.
Thus, the Bravers and people of the criminal investigation organizations who were specialized in dealing with the Eighth Guidance considered them to be something like a very peculiar cult rather than a terrorist organization.
“According to them, we’re a cult and I’m the woman who founded it. An interesting way of putting it, isn’t it?” said Pluto, a young girl with long black hair, wearing a white one-piece dress.
She was sitting on a sunbathing chair at the poolside, talking to the white-skinned man lying on the one next to her.
The man’s glasses gave him an intellectual appearance, but his beard and chest hair made him look wild. At a glance, he looked like an elite businessman being served by his young Asian lover.
But the index finger of his right hand was curled loosely around the trigger of a gun.
“Yeah…” he murmured quietly.
Ignoring him, Pluto continued. “What’s so interesting, you ask? Because I’ve never explained anything, warned against anything or given guidance to anyone,” she said. “There’s no such thing as a religious leader who doesn’t give instructions, is there? And I’m not a leader or guide or anything in the first place. I am treated preciously because my body is frail, and I am relatively attractive, so there are simply a lot of opportunities for images of my face to be sent to the media and displayed on the internet.”
“And because you’re so free, you do some work using your brain and have your say in all kinds of things. Then you’re a leader,” a man said as he appeared. His head from his forehead to the back of his head appeared to be swollen, and he was carrying a baby that seemed to be unconscious. There was a severed tube hanging from the child, swaying back and forth.
“Jack, that child is next?” Pluto asked.
“Yeah, I suppose it has cerebral palsy? I don’t know the details, but just like Jack*, it’s a friend that is neither dead nor alive.”
TLN*: This is the character called Jack speaking; he refers to himself as Jack.
“Then say farewell to that friend,” said Pluto.
As Pluto pointed her white hand towards the baby, something resembling black smoke rose from it and was absorbed by Pluto’s hand.
“Yeah, I’ll say farewell. See you,” said the man called Jack before disappearing silently with the baby still in his arms.
Taking no notice of this, Pluto touched the face of the man next to her. As her skin made contact with his, life rapidly drained out of the man. His skin was losing its tone, his eyes were sinking into their sockets and his cheeks were becoming hollow.
“S-stop it…” the man gasped. “We won’t get involved with you people, the Eighth Guidance, anymore. I’ll turn over a new leaf, I won’t kill anyone ever again, I swear, so please don’t suck any more… from… me…”
He was an assassin hired by a certain rich person, with orders to kill Pluto and retrieve her dead body.
The man had been known to be a capable assassin, but now he was a weak man in the position of begging Pluto for his life.
Pluto burst into laughter, as if she had heard a very entertaining joke. “Fufufu, when I asked you if you felt guilt over killing people, didn’t you answer that you’re just a tool to be used? Since you’re a tool, you don’t feel guilt. The one who paid money to use you is at fault, you said. Since you admitted that you’re just a tool, you can’t just stop working of your own will, can you?”
Despair spread across the man’s eyes that were watching Pluto’s happy laughter, and then they became hollow.
“That’s right, you’re dead. Good night,” said Pluto.
“Oh, he died?” asked Jack as he reappeared, showing his white teeth in a smile. “But that’s perfect; it looks like that child just now was the last one.”
Jack was known as ‘Jack-o’-lantern.’ Just like the Jack who tricked the devil and wasn’t accepted by Heaven or Hell*, he wandered the world… or rather, he moved around the world as if he could use the space-attribute spell, Teleportation.
TLN*: This refers to Stingy Jack/Drunk Jack/Flaky Jack/Jack of the Lantern, an Irish mythical character associated with Halloween. The jack-o’-lantern may be derived from this character. See Wikipedia for more information.
However, his teleportation destination could only be beside members of the Eighth Guidance or those who were seriously ill in unconscious states, with not long left to live.
However, he was also able to teleport with the patients, and then return them to the place they originally were.
He had just done that, bringing a terminally ill baby here before returning it.
“That was the last? But I wanted to gather a little more ‘death.’”
Pluto. By stealing the ‘death’ and vitality of others, she could heal those who were on the verge of death and push the cost of this act on another person’s vitality.
The truth was that most of the philanthropic work conducted by the Eighth Guidance, as well as the medical treatment that gained them funds from its sponsors, was done through this power of Pluto’s.
“Still, you’re horrible. Did you forget that I said that I’ll be using it later so you shouldn’t suck up so much?” complained the man who was supposed to be dead as he got up. And then he moved his neck and shoulders around and made clicking noises, as if checking the condition of his body. “Ah, my body’s so stiff. The black assassin that I was in before, the one who used to be a marine, was in much better condition.”
“I’m sorry, ‘Shade,’” said Pluto. “That one is white and has bad eyes, so I didn’t think you’d like him anyway.”
“His eyes? I don’t think they’re that bad, but… these glasses are just for show, huh. They’re a prop for his disguise.”
The assassin… or rather, Shade, who had possessed the assassin’s corpse, put his glasses down on the poolside table.
Shade had once been ‘protected’ by the Bravers and then later accommodated at a laboratory, where he was turned into a life-form consisting of a mind without a body, similar to a spirit. He was capable of possessing very freshly-deceased corpses and use their bodies as his own.
Pluto let out a disinterested noise.
“You don’t seem very interested,” said Shade. “So, what you said just now is an excuse after all?”
“More importantly, what about the other people here?” asked Jack. “Did you kill them properly? Jack is curious.”
“Yeah, Berserk and Baba Yaga worked hard,” said Shade. “Valkyrie was happy, too. I suppose she’ll be staying inside with Isis for a while?”
This mansion that included a pool did not, in fact, belong to the Eighth Guidance; it was the property of a boss of a certain criminal organization. This boss, whose organization was known to be a militant organization, had tried to seize Pluto’s power, so Pluto and her allies had retaliated.
“Jack thinks that he should have stayed satisfied with paying money and having his illness cured by Pluto,” said Jack.
“It’s because of that greed that he was running a criminal organization,” said Pluto.
“That’s a narrow way of looking at it, Pluto,” said Shade. “After all, we’re a criminal organization, too.”
“In that case, it’s not a narrow way of looking at it, it’s the truth,” said Pluto. “We’re greedy, after all.”
The objective of the Eighth Guidance… was to die.
After living hellish lives in the laboratory, they had been saved by codename: ‘Undead’… Amamiya Hiroto, who had gone on to become Vandalieu. Everything the Eighth Guidance did was to act in accordance with his will.
But Pluto and her companions had only been in direct contact with the ‘Undead’ for a few minutes, and they hadn’t even exchanged any words. They had simply been saved; their wounds had been healed, their missing limbs restored and even the side-effects of the experiments had been removed to some extent, and then they had been set free. During all of this, the Mana surrounding the ‘Undead’ had flowed into them, fusing with them and becoming a part of them. That was all.
From these few actions, Pluto and her companions had guessed the will of the ‘Undead,’ combining even their own desires and delusions with it to produce what was the compass guiding their actions.
They had attacked death-attribute magic research facilities so that there wouldn’t be any more victims like themselves.
The reason they were so thoroughly selective about their targets was because the ‘Undead’ had limited its victims to those that it had desired revenge upon.
They targeted the Bravers because they had treated the ‘Undead’ as a monstrosity and disposed of it arbitrarily.
And finally, they would die.
They would die and go to the same place as the ‘Undead.’ That was their wish.
Pluto and her companions had no idea what kind of intentions the ‘Undead’ had when it saved them. They didn’t know whether it had felt sympathy for them, felt some kind of sense of justice or whether it had intended to use them as pawns afterwards; they didn’t know anything.
The reason that Pluto and her companions were offering everything they had to the ‘Undead’ that had already been destroyed despite this was because for them, there was no higher being than the ‘Undead.’
None of the members of the Eighth Guidance had any blood-related family members. They were all orphans and children who had been sold, gathered at the laboratory for the purpose of carrying out research into death-attribute magic.
As guinea pigs, they had suffered cruel experiments, been assigned numbers and isolated in cage-like rooms. They felt grief over the changes that their bodies had been forced to undergo. No matter how much fear they felt or how much they begged for mercy, they could only listen to the footsteps of those who would ruin them.
After the annihilation of the ‘Undead,’ they had been unable to do anything, and the Bravers had sent them to international organizations to be protected. Yes, protected.
They had been managed by numbers, separated from their companions that they were now aware that they had, locked up in cage-like rooms and had their bodies tampered with by researchers who repeatedly said, “This is all to help cure you,” as if these words were some kind of incantation.
And it was only because of the Mana that the ‘Undead’ had given them that they had been able to escape this new hell.
Justice was never applied in relation to Pluto and her companions; only unrelated people were punished and unrelated people were saved.
But love was only ever poured elsewhere; no hope shone for them. Despite that, despair was always lurking nearby.
Despite them being exploited for humanity’s sake, they hadn’t been included as members of humanity.
It was as if they were foreign objects in this world, wasn’t it?
The sole exception was the ‘Undead.’ Even if him rescuing Pluto and her companions had been a foolish act in the literal sense of the word*, it was the greatest sign of love that they had ever received.
TLN*: Literally, the word for “foolish” here means “no love for others,” so it would also be interpreted as “indifferent.”
If they could become closer to such a being, even death would be bliss… no, death was the only bliss.
“But we can’t simply die,” said Pluto. “Because that would mean throwing away the lives that person gave us. So let’s fight as much as we can and kill the Bravers who killed him.”
“That’s why we accepted Murakami and the others as well, isn’t it? Jack hates them all except Gazer,” said Jack.
As Jack said, the reason they had welcomed Murakami and the other former Bravers into the Eighth Guidance was in order to fan the flames of hostility between them and Amemiya Hiroto’sremaining Bravers.
There wasn’t anything happening behind the scenes; it wasn’t a complicated, large-scale conspiracy. There was nothing of the sort.
This was just the Eighth Guidance’s plan to drag as many down with them as possible.
“Jack and Gazer get along well, you know,” said Shade. “What will we do? Are we going to spare her?”
Gazer hadn’t been directly involved in the incident with the ‘Undead,’ and though she had essentially been in a half-dead state, Pluto had even gone as far as to regenerate her dead brain cells. Shade thought it possible that Pluto wouldn’t mind sparing her.
Considering that she was suicidal, even if they let her go, it was likely that she would go and hang herself or cut her own wrists.
But Jack shook his head. “Jack doesn’t want to. Jack wants to take her with us; that person will definitely like her, too. He’ll forgive us.”
It seemed that Jack wanted to take her with them because they got along well.
“I see, then let’s take her with us,” said Pluto. “But you have to tell her properly that she mustn’t commit suicide until then.”
“Yeah, alright! Jack will tell her not to cut her wrists anymore!” said Jack.
Jack had said that the last time as well… Incidentally, Gazer had made her tenth suicide attempt yesterday. Pluto and her companions were actually impressed that she hadn’t died for real yet.
“Has Enma confirmed that the one who died is the real boss and not a double?” asked Pluto.
“He has,” said Shade. “It’s the real one, he said. The double died in a struggle three months ago.”
“I see. Then shall we go back? After we choose a souvenir for Ereshkigal* who’s been waiting for us,” said Pluto.
TLN*: In Mesopotamian mythology, Ereshkigal was the goddess of Irkalla, the land of the dead or underworld.
“Maybe the dry-cured ham that was in the fridge will do?” Jack suggested.
The final day that the Eighth Guidance desired was drawing closer.
“When that time comes, we’ll definitely know if that dream was just a dream or something that will come true. Ah, I’m looking forward to it,” said Pluto.