The piano chased after the monster as loud bells alerting the city about the fire resonated throughout the darkness.
The people at the bottom of the hill seemed to pay no mind to the fire and continued to enjoy the festival. They must have thought that the fire on the hill was a campfire that Rodney had prepared. Or maybe they were brainwashed by a Fund to not worry about anything and just enjoy the festival, similar to the people who assaulted me and Ray earlier.
People were hanging on to the model steam locomotive and going around the hill in a circle. There were flames flickering above the walls that were placed between the hill and the town, but the townspeople continued to smile happily.
In the distance, I spotted the monster which had turned its direction towards the front of the parade that was going around the hill farther ahead of us.
“It’s slowing down.”
Despite saying that we should leave the monster be and get out of here a second ago, Ray was taking me with him in order to chase the creature down. Why did he suddenly have a change of heart?
Although I was being dragged along without a clue to chase that monster right now, even I could tell that something bad was going to happen.
Honestly speaking, even if I didn’t have any particularly fond memories of this city, letting a great calamity happen here didn’t sit right with me.
“The people are in danger.”
Ray said shortly and started to pound away at the keys. Once the tempo of the song had changed, Jack increased its speed. People finally noticed that a monster was approaching them and began to scream.
The people are in danger? Dear God. What did I hear just now? Those weren’t words that would ever come out of Ray Charles’ mouth. In truth, I wanted to scream about how unbelievable it was that such words could come out of Ray’s mouth rather than scream about the monster. Did he hit his head somewhere?
“It’s too far.”
We haven’t even halved the distance between us and the monster yet. The monster had already started to circle above the people’s heads.
“The same thing you saw back at the estate is going to happen again.”
Ray pressed down on Jack’s piano keys temperamentally.
“Gray used the Extreme Bounds of Nature Alchemy to strengthen his Fund’s power. It seems that not only was Bryshere Gray’s existence as a single human being erased, but he made the world’s will believe that everything he comes in contact with is also Gray himself. However, when he absorbed Aretha, the power to deny the laws of nature possessed by Flaskos flowed into him as well and made his Extreme Bounds of Nature Alchemy run rampant, which, in turn, broke the fail-safe that’s supposed to protect alchemists from the recoil of their alchemy.”
I only understood half of Ray’s explanation, but, to put it simply, Gray became like that after absorbing Aretha’s power.
“As a result, he was restored into that twisted form due to the inertia caused by the will of the world’s attempt to bring reality back to normal after the uniqueness of a person had been erased.”
Ray spoke quickly and ended his explanation.
“That’s too complicated. Tell me the conclusion. What exactly is that monster?!”
Ray scowled once I shouted at him.
“A Default, in other words, an impossibility. It’s what we call alchemists who become corrupted due to the recoil caused by leaving the bounds of nature. They lose their sense of self and become living calamities that follow bounds of nature which have been distorted and spread their rampaging alchemy around their surroundings. I forgot for a moment because of how small they were when I first saw them, but Gray uses a Hedge Fund.”
Ray adjusted his tinted glasses before he continued.
“In that monster’s case, as you saw back in the estate, it has the ability to turn any living being that touches its flesh or blood into another Bryshere Gray. However, it’s also bound by the contradicting law of nature that only one Bryshere Gray exists. Therefore⎯”
Right when Ray was about to finish his sentence, certain regions of the Default’s body started to swell here and there like a bunch of balloons. They were boils filled with pus. That’s the only way I could describe them.
The flying Default’s boils erupted, causing bloody pus and flesh to rain down on the civilians.
“We’re too late!”
Ray slammed on Jack’s breaks. My head slammed against the piano.
“Drive more gently!”
I shouted in Ray’s ear, but he didn’t say anything in response. Ray’s line of sight was fixated on the crowd of civilians whom we could clearly see in the distance. Once I followed his gaze, I also became speechless and froze in place.
What we saw was a great disaster.
The pieces of flesh that attached themselves to the people’s bodies consumed their sacrifices in an instant. The people underneath the Default transformed into an unidentifiable blob of meat that was a mixture of black clothes and flesh.
The Default flapped its wings and landed on top of the model train before its body melted like chocolate and seeped into the model. Be it the people who were hanging on to the model, the event marshals who were in the cars that were towing the model, the marching band, the choir, or the spectating civilians, they all came in contact with the flesh and blood the Default had scattered and turned into clumps of meat. The clumps of meat then crawled towards the train model which had become one with the Default.
“That thing is trying to make everyone around it combine into ‘one’ being. At this rate, everyone in Omaha will be absorbed!”
The Default had completely consumed the model. What resulted was a train made of flesh and blood. Large eyeballs replaced the windows and the smokestack that had been spewing out steam was now shooting out bloody pus. Instead of the sound of a steam whistle, thousands of screams echoed throughout the sky and shook the entire city of Omaha.
The sound of bones being crushed and flesh falling apart.
Instead of being supported by wheels and pistons, the train from Hell started running on tracks that never existed while being supported by muscles and bones.
Once the Default had turned into a train, it began to destroy the town and consume the festivalgoers at random. There was no way that the powerless citizens could avoid the Default that was blocking their route like a moving wall and consuming everything in its path.
It gradually became faster and larger. In mere seconds, the citizens of Omaha were truly becoming ‘one’.
“The citizens have united, huh.”
“I guess we could call this an undesired union.”
“Even the two neighbors, Johnny and David, who were always at each other’s wit’s end, have become one too. Now they’ll stop bothering their other neighbor, Smith. A happy ending.”
“I don’t know. I was just spouting random names.”
The fact that he could make jokes even in a situation like this felt ironic to me. We have to stop it, but Ray and I are only following behind the massacring being that’s even consuming the remains. We couldn’t do anything.
Wait a second. Why do I have to stop that monster? As Ray had said, I thought the city had nothing to do with us. Aretha had already been eaten too. Why am I chasing after that thing?
The Default had already grown into the size of a high-rise building and was whirling around Omaha. The train monster used its boils like cannons and started shooting large blobs of flesh everywhere. Buildings exploded and fire began to spread. The fleeing citizens were caught by the Default’s lengthy tentacles and turned into piles of flesh.
The situation for the people who were luckily able to get far enough from the monster didn’t seem good either. The fire that was surrounding Rodney’s estate was blown towards a different direction.
Half of Omaha was on fire and the other half was covered in flesh. Hell on Earth. That’s how Omaha looked to me right now. The city that had been lively with people smiling and enjoying the festival was long gone now.
“Earlier, you said that if we left this be, then everyone in Omaha might become one, right?”
I asked Ray.
Honestly, I didn’t understand why Ray was taking the risk to stick right next to the Default like this. He even tried to overtake the monster a couple of times.
Since when did this guy start acting recklessly for the sake of public interest?
“How about we leave things like this? There are a lot of Republicans in Omaha, so this place doesn’t fit me that well politically. There are a lot of German immigrants as well, so it’s also culturally overbearing. In conclusion, I don’t want to become one with these people.”
Although Ray’s sudden desire to go monster hunting, even though he had stayed consistently rational until a short while ago, was very bewildering, I attempted to persuade him calmly.
As I was trying to persuade him, the monster headed towards the survivors who were trying to escape the hellscape that was Omaha by crossing the river to Missouri.
“Don’t be scared. You’re only half human anyway, so that alchemy won’t affect you.”
Ray reassured me as he lowered his head in order to dodge some bloody pus.
“No matter what happens, we have to stop that guy here.”
Words and actions that didn’t suit him. What should I do? I couldn’t get used to this situation because he was behaving so differently from the Ray I knew. Did his sense of justice finally awaken?
“I might be fine since I’m an existence that’s neither man nor money, but why are you risking yourself to stop that monster? This isn’t like you.”
Once I asked him that question, Ray gazed ahead and answered with a grim look on his face as he drove the piano.
“Obviously, I can’t let people just die⎯”
However, the instant the Default crashed into and destroyed a 4 stories shopping center (It was also a newly constructed building that was built in a Beaux-Art style, the most recent style that was trending!) that was in a prime spot located on an intersection that connected the large road that went south from the center of the city and the bridge that went over the Missouri river, which resulted in it having guaranteed traffic and a scenic view, right before our eyes, Ray’s body froze in place the moment he witnessed that.
He didn’t respond even when I shook his shoulder. Ray had a blank look on his face and his mouth was half open as if he had just received a huge mental shock.
I saw rage spread across Ray’s face.
“Do you know how much that was···. Of all days, why did this have to happen on the day I bought it?!”
“When did you buy it?!”
“India likes expensive real estate the most!”
“Why are you bringing that up in a situation like this?!”
Aah, now I get it. When this guy left on his own earlier, it was to buy that building! He’s giving his little sister real estate as a birthday present! Damn people with sister complexes become dramatic when they have a lot of money, huh?!
“If I had known this would happen, then I would have bought some exceedingly high-priced plot of land somewhere else!”
Ray cried out and stood up from his chair. His hands were shaking as he took out his Catalogue and opened it. This was my first time seeing him make that face. Ray was extremely pissed.
It seems his merchant mentality didn’t go anywhere. There’s no way this guy would ever think about the public good.
Ray Charles is a person who would sell weapons to both sides during a war, stockpile a bunch of grain if a famine were to strike, and sell customized, luxurious oak coffins at a special price for his friends who have become bereaved.
I was wondering why a person, who would only move for the sake of his own gains and losses, would blabber about having to save people’s lives, but, as I thought, he just wanted another excuse to protect the shopping center he had bought today.
“How about reflecting on your own tendencies before complaining about my spendthrift habits?”
“Shut up! Can you not bring me down to your level? Real estates are an investment!”
“You’re going to give it to your little sister, aren’t you? If you consider the tax, the demerit is larger.”
“If I can buy India’s smile with a single building, then it’s the best possible investment!”
“Stop it, you lunatic!”
“In any case, I can’t forgive that monster. I’ll kill it using the strongest stuff I can use without my master’s permission!”
Ray fiercely pulled out 4 pages from his book. Once he opened the first two pages, a large and empty iron cylinder with a handle appeared along with a smaller cylinder that looked like a mug cup.
I asked on impulse. It didn’t look anything like what I would expect to see after the declaration Ray had just made. This was my first time seeing Ray, who disliked fighting, pull out a weapon to use himself. He must seriously be mad. This guy has a serious sister complex problem.
“If you look into the origin of New World alchemy, you’ll know that its roots go back to the research of Egyptian alchemists.”
As Ray stepped on the pedal and maneuvered Jack, he poured a type of black powder into the smaller cylinder with dexterous and fast hand movements. The black powder was gunpowder.
“1099, the Crusaders occupied the Holy Land and one of their leaders, Godefroy, reigned as the king. But that wasn’t enough to satisfy Godefroy, so he made plans to invade Egypt. An Egyptian alchemist, Abdallah Ibn Yasin, sealed a distortion created by alchemy into an object and created a powerful assassination weapon in order to stop Godefroy.”
Ray poured the rest of the gunpowder out of his small cloth pouch and into the cylindrical mug. After he used his finger to brush away the excess gunpowder in order to make a flat surface, he put the mug inside the larger cylinder that had a hole going straight through it.
“That cylinder is?”
It doesn’t look like a terrifying weapon at all. What exactly can you even do with that?
“No, this is called a Rocket Canister and it was used by the Qing Dynasty whenever they shot a barrage of flaming arrows. There’s no way I would approach that thing while holding a suicide weapon.”
After Ray finished with the gunpowder, he spread open the remaining two pages.
An oddly-shaped paper figure appeared in the center of the pages.
It looked like a sickle with a long handle.
No, its shape was too impractical for it to be a sickle. If anything, it looked more like an ornament.
“Yasin’s Confession and Baton of the One and Only God. Those are the names of the two suicide weapons which Yasin had created. Yasin’s Confession was successfully delivered to Godefroy and it managed to achieve its goal, but the Baton of the One and Only God was never used and was passed down for generations before it eventually entered my father’s hands.”
A green, crescent moon-shaped blade was situated at the end of a long ivory rod. If this were it, then it could have still been used to cut things, but there were two triangular wings attached to the handle, so it looked incredibly uncomfortable to swing around.
That wasn’t all, there was a very thin wire that connected the two ends of the crescent moon-shaped blade. Positioned at the center of the wire was a pentagram that was a little smaller than the crescent moon.
The star rotated freely on the wire. The image of the star rotating inside a crescent moon reminded me of those magic wands the fairies that appeared in folklore and as children toys would hold.
At the very least, it was clear that the purpose of the weapon wasn’t to cut things. That was an objective fact that anyone could tell.
“This is a suicide weapon?”
I was about to get a closer look and spin the pentagram, but Ray stopped me.
“Be careful. The moment it activates, a supernova will occur and set everything within a 16-yard radius ablaze.”
I immediately backed away. Even if I could turn into coins and bills, explosions were my natural enemy.
“If you don’t want to get roasted by the backblast, don’t stand behind me.”
Ray carefully inserted the Baton of the One and Only God into the Rocket Canister. I hastily changed my position. If he had such a bizarre weapon, then he should have used it sooner.
Ray got down on one knee and shouldered the Rocket Canister. Once Ray locked on to the Default that had turned into a train, he put his finger on the trigger of the Rocket Canister handle.
Ray wet his lips and moved his tongue around quickly as if he were trying to loosen it.
“Back up. The words are hard to pronounce and this thing will explode if I say them wrong.”
A serious look returned to Ray’s face as he glared at the Default.
He backed Jack up in order to establish a safe distance between us and the monster before bringing us to a sudden stop. I almost fell off because of the inertia, but I managed to hold on to the piano’s lid. Ray aimed the Rocket Canister at the Default again and opened his mouth.
Once Ray cried out in a language which I didn’t understand, the silver pentagram within the crescent moon started to spin at a tremendous speed.
“Return to Allah’s embrace!”
A large number of flames and black smoke burst out from the rear of the Rocket Canister once he pulled the trigger. At the same time, the Baton of the One and Only God shot towards the center of the Default’s body as it slowly began to move again.
Then, there was an explosion. A sun had appeared above the dark street. Boom. The shockwave split the clouds.
The Default was buried underneath the flames. The blinding light turned the night of Omaha into midday. It was so bright that I thought I would go blind. Even if my eyes were closed and shielded by my hand, my vision still became completely white. The skin-burning heat from the explosion still managed to reach us even though we had retreated a safe distance away.
I was finally able to open my eyes once the light had faded. The river had evaporated and there was a large crater in the ground. The dirt and stones that had melted due to the high temperature pooled at the center of the crater and emitted a gloomy, crimson glow.
Once the sun had vanished, the silence of night fell over Omaha once more.
The crisis had passed.
The Default was gone. It had literally disappeared without a trace. There wasn’t any burnt flesh or pus scattered here and there. The extreme blaze had turned everything to ash.
“This is revenge for my little sister!”
Ray shouted as he put the Rocket Canister away.
Wait a second, your little sister is fine, isn’t she? The only thing that was destroyed was your feelings for her that you wanted to give to her as a present.
“Is it over?”
I asked Ray, but he didn’t answer.
I didn’t feel any relief from this outcome.
Mainly because the realization that I had lost Aretha had surfaced on top of the pool of my consciousness after the crisis had passed.
My emotions, which had become dull after watching thousands of people die, were coming back to life. Losing Aretha impacted me much more than knowing that thousands of innocent lives in Omaha had died knowing nothing did.
I laid my upper body on the Grand Piano’s lid. I’m not sure whether I was sad about losing my future income or about losing Aretha. No, I know very well what I was sad about. I regretted sending Aretha to Rodney’s estate by herself the moment I witnessed her transform into Gray, after all.
I couldn’t protect Aretha on two occasions. I couldn’t keep her safe despite having promised to do so. Even though I had promised to go see another festival with her, I wound up breaking that promise. I was powerless. I shouldn’t have promised her anything. I shouldn’t have met her at all.
I ended up wasting my feelings again. It seems my spendthrift habits haven’t improved one bit.
As long as I’ve acknowledged this fact, I couldn’t treat Aretha’s death as someone else’s, and I couldn’t fill her empty space with dirt or oblivion.
Ray tapped my shoulder.
“It’s nothing. I’m just a little tired.”
I couldn’t bear the belated regret that had washed over me. Where did things go wrong? If at that time, we didn’t go to the bank and headed towards Rodney’s estate instead, then Aretha’s story wouldn’t have ended.
Guilt weighed down on my back heavily. I couldn’t raise my body.
There’s nowhere to go. If Aretha is gone, then, as expected, we don’t have a destination to go to next.
Ray sat back down on the piano bench. I heard the sound of the cushion being pushed down.
“···She was an impressive gal.”
A slow melody started to flow through the piano.
Maurice Ravel’s Pavane for a Deceased Infanta.
What poor taste.
A Pavane for a dead princess? Who knew he would mock me this unscrupulously. This damn, empathy-lacking bastard. He was performing a song that was so appropriate for this situation that it was laughable.
I bit my lips and slammed my fist on the piano’s lid.
Was it embarrassment that was tormenting me or was it regret?
It was at that moment, Ray’s left hand that was smoothly following an eight-beat rhythm hit the wrong key. I lifted my head and looked at Ray.
Ray’s line of sight wasn’t directed towards me or the piano, but something far in the distance. Once I followed his gaze, I was seized with terror.
On the street where nothing used to exist, there was a large, squirming pile of flesh under the moonlight. It soon increased in size and returned to its train-like shape.
“I see. Since it absorbed Aretha, a Flasko···.”
Ray stood up from his seat with a stupefied look on his face as he watched the Default regenerate.
“A Default that can’t die.”
Among the properties which Flaskos possessed, they had the power to deny death. God’s bad joke was breathing life back into the monster’s body.
“You asked me where we were going earlier, right?”
Ray asked quietly as he stared at the squirming blob of flesh.
“I just happened to be thinking about that as well.”
“How about we run away?”
“I was going to say that first.”
The flesh increased in volume and soon became the size of a high-rise building. At first, it moved around as if it were searching for any survivors near it, but it eventually started to slowly slide towards our general direction as if it had discovered me and Ray.
“It’s heading our way. Let’s get out of here. I don’t want to become a clump of flesh.”
Ray urged me, but for some reason, my feet didn’t move that easily. I don’t know why, but I was frozen in place staring at the Default.
“Aretha is dead, Bill. Get rid of any lingering attachment you may have left. Just because it still has the power of a Flasko, doesn’t mean that Aretha is going to come back.”
I know. I swallowed the words that had come up to my throat.
“It’ll catch us if we don’t hurry now.”
Ray warned me; however, I had something else in mind. I recalled the words that Aretha had said right before she disappeared.
‘Wake, me up.’
Wake her up? What did she mean by that?
I looked around at the hellscape that was surrounding us as I thought. If this is a nightmare, then it would be great if someone could wake me up soon. Is Aretha also having a nightmare?
“Hurry up. If you don’t come with me, then I’m going to leave you behind.”
I ignored Ray’s words.
‘Wake, me up.’
Once more, Aretha’s voice echoed throughout my head.
“Hey, Bill. Are you listening to me?”
Ray’s voice became rougher.
‘Wake, me up.’
I lost my temper and yelled at Ray. I wasn’t sentimentalizing about the past. I could clearly hear those words in my head. It was a similar sensation to the time when my head had turned into coins on the train where I met Aretha for the first time and heard the voices of the passengers.
‘Wake me up. Get me out of here.’
I could definitely hear it. I might have gone insane.
“Did something happen?”
“I hear Aretha’s voice.”
Ray looked into my eyes with a baffled expression on his face.
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I’m aware that it sounds ridiculous, but I’m not just hearing her voice.”
I felt a burning pain on my left arm.
This sensation, it was the same as back then.
The pain I felt half a year ago when Ray’s master turned me into a being that’s neither man nor money. Moreover, the sensation I felt when I promised Aretha that I would protect her and also take her to see another festival.
I rolled up my sleeve and showed it to Ray. The brand on my left arm that displayed the total sum in my body was releasing bright flames as if it were on fire.
“This distortion···. Why is it doing this?”
$470. The number was glowing.
‘Take me to where I want to go. Help me collect the other wills. Keep me safe until I receive my inheritance. 10 percent of the inheritance is the pay you will receive once all of these conditions have been fulfilled.’
The promise I made with Aretha. Aretha was calling for me.
“Is she requesting for the contract to be fulfilled? Don’t tell me···.”
Ray looked back and forth between my left arm and the Default.
“Something happened just now.”
Ray’s glass eyes started to emit an even stronger light.
“If so, then⎯”
Before I could even set forth on this hope, the thousands of mouths attached to the monster’s body screamed.
TL note: Thanks for reading the chapter. We’re reaching the finale of volume 1. There’s only 1 chapter left and then 2 epilogue chapters after that. I really thought I’d get this chapter out sooner, but, unfortunately, my classes and the work I’ve been receiving from my professor has been distracting me. I’m done with a good portion of the work my professor gave me, so hopefully, I can focus on translating this next chapter this week.
I’ll see you guys in the next release.