“You can’t see their Distortions? But, that has to mean all the villagers have Psychoment according to our theory so far…”
“We’ll see soon enough.”
I stared at the cigarette smoke I had just puffed out. If I had my smoking pipe, I could have used the white breath to grasp the truth of this festival and the situation a bit more easily. The pipe… And Vespa. It’s like thinking about overdue homework you procrastinated on the whole night. I walked back to the town hall.
Ezra waves her hand at me as if she were waiting for me to come back. Dewey is next to her.
“What’s the business, Miss Ezez?”
“You see, Miss Momo. It’s almost time for dinner, so they’re asking us to aid them with preparing food for the festival. They thought epicures like us would love to see the process firsthand.”
Oh dear… I’m not cut out for cooking.
“Oh! But Miss Momo is a terrible cook, what do we do?!”
…How I wish I could smack her upside the head.
“Ahaha, I’ll help you out by your side, so don’t be anxious.”
Dewey kindly spoke.
“And my wife is here to help as well.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Miyu. Let’s all work together to prepare the food!”
I can’t see any distortion from this person, either.
“I’ll try. Though, as Miss Ezez mentioned… I am not exactly skilled in the culinary arts myself.”
“Don’t worry too much about it. We make special kinds of food for the festivals.”
Miyu said, a special dish. Human meat would be too cliche for this case. Ezra and I followed the two into the kitchen inside the town hall. Around ten people are gathered in the kitchen, preparing ingredients for the food. The kitchen feels as snug as the rest of the village. The earthy smell of flour dough filled the air. Dewey and I stood before the kitchen counter. Ezra went to help Miyu with preparing ingredients. We washed our hands with soap. And I wore the apron Dewey gave.
“So, what are we going to make?”
“Bread and soup.”
“That’s rather simple for food served at a festival.”
“The plainness is what we’re trying to make here. Your mind becomes contaminated when you fill your stomach with delicious, extravagant food.”
…”Eating extravagant food contaminates the mind” is not an expression people would usually say.
“Contaminate the mind? That’s a novel way to put it.”
“Ahaha, you think so too, right? It’s what our town leader says. They work tirelessly for the mental soundness of our townspeople. This festival is a part of their efforts.”
“Will the mind become healthy after participating in the festival?”
“Of course! You’ll get to experience it as well, Miss Momo. During the festival, we wash away all the filth from our minds. Maybe that’s why our town hasn’t had any crime at all, unlike most other towns.”
While Dewey is speaking… something emerges from their chest. Tiny black arms crawl out. The Distortion is manifesting. What is this? Did the person just say something that provoked their own mind? Ezra and Miyu bring cleaned ingredients to us, and Dewey puts the ingredients in the pot, one by one. They wait for some time before adding each ingredient. Is there a specific order you’re supposed to follow or something?
“…Is this festival held every year?”
“No, it takes place monthly.”
“That’s a little different from most festivals I know. It must cost a tidy sum to stage it every month.”
“Haha, although we call it a festival, it’s actually rather simple and modest. We only serve bread and soup in these festivals, just like what we're preparing now. It doesn’t mean we put little care into cooking the food, though!”
A festival where the mind is cleansed, held once per month. This smells like a religious rite. Furthermore, this soup has no meat or any animal protein. It’s cooked purely with greens and vegetables. Carrots, potatoes, mushrooms, and more. It’s an average vegetarian food. Denouncing meat as an impure food is a belief commonly seen in many religious activities.
“Okay, Miss Momo. Let’s season the food with a pinch of salt now.”
A festival where the mind is cleansed. Townspeople whose Distortions cannot be seen. Dewey’s sudden manifestation of the Distortion. I need a few more clues to draw out an answer.
“Wait, Miss Momo! That’s sugar, not salt!”
The cooking is almost finished. I didn’t see any suspicious ingredients such as hallucinogens being added to the soup throughout the process. The festival is about to begin.
People sit around tables for six in the town hall cafeteria. Bowls of the soup we made are placed on each table. A loaf of baked bread is put in front of each of us. Our table consisted of Ezra, Dewey, Miyu, myself, and lastly the town leader. Along with… a couple of life-sized wooden effigies. They’re the figures the townsfolk were making during the daytime. The effigies also have soup and bread placed in front of them. I looked around. There’s a stage at the front of the dining hall. On the stage is a steel chair. The cafeteria is structured in a way that people can see the stage from their tables.
“Sob, sob… Miss Momo… It’s completely devoid of meat…”
Ezra whines, sitting across from me. I ignored her. There are more important matters to address. I can now see the Distortion from the townspeople. The degrees of their Distortions are all mild and slight, like Dewey’s.
“I reckon not everyone in town has joined this festival?”
There are 57 people in this dining hall, excluding Ezra and I.
“No, that’s not the case. All the villagers have gathered here.”
The town leader answered. The town seemed to have about fifty households. If it’s true that these people are the whole population of the town, that would mean most of them live alone. However, if I take the wooden effigies into account, the total becomes 102. That isn’t far from my estimate. It’s even possible that these effigies are occupying the seats where other townsfolk used to be. Where have they disappeared to? I need to investigate that.
“You must be remarkably pure of heart, Miss Momo.”
The town leader spoke graciously.
“…I don’t see any filth in you.”
A mysterious phrase.
“Now, everyone! Let the harvest festival begin!”
The town leader stood up and announced with a loud voice.
“Let us laugh first!”
All the townsfolk burst out in laughter at the same time, including Dewey and Miyu. I laughed along. In a festival you’re joining for the first time, you have to observe the mood and the people and follow their behavior accordingly. Ezra awkwardly laughed. The collective laughing fit went on for ten minutes. When the town leader abruptly stopped laughing, the townspeople simultaneously quieted down. The town leader sat down. The Distortions of the people progressed a little.
“Let us eat the soup.”
The leader spoke with majesty. The soup has a clean, savory taste. The bowl wasn’t too large, so I could eat all of it before five minutes passed.
“Let us gush out our anger!!! You filthy, heinous bastards!!!”
The town leader lashed out at the wooden effigy sitting at our table. People all yelled profanities too vulgar for description at the effigies sitting at their tables. What are they upset about? Dewey and Miyu are doing the same, swearing with forbidding faces. Ezra and I followed suit. The townspeople’s Distortions progress further. Once again, when the town leader stopped cursing, the whole cafeteria fell quiet.
“Let us eat the bread.”
The town leader said, slowing their ragged breath. It’s an ordinary loaf of buttered bread made from flour. The loaf is about the size of a fist. It doesn’t have any particular flavor. The people quietly ate the bread.
I could hear a loud noise of teeth biting into something hard next to me.
Dewey started bleeding from their mouth. A black object was inside the bread they were holding. That seems to be what broke their teeth. …That thing feels familiar for some reason.
“…A round of applause!”
Following the town leader’s words, all the people clapped in unison.
“Dewey. Go to the chair.”
Dewey slowly rose from the seat and walked to the front of the dining hall. They climbed to the stage and sat on the steel chair.
“Let us all cry for Dewey, who will receive all of our filth…”
The town leader says, gritting their teeth and dropping tears. Everyone in the dining hall wails. The people cried their hearts out for Dewey. …Something starts happening. The Distortions of the townsfolk grow severe. The leader puts a tiny black box on Dewey’s head. That thing bears a close resemblance to the box we saw at Tae-young Produce Co. The only difference is the size. …I see now. I have to put a stop to this now if I want to save Dewey. My head is ringing from all the cries. The box begins to vibrate.
“Detective Moses… This is…!”
“Ezra! Pull Dewey out of the chair right now!”
“Got it, Detective!!!”
Ezra sprinted from her seat without delay.
This is similar to the case of Tae-young Produce Co; Distortions flow out of people. A stream of Distortions akin to a river is made. The extracted Distortions seep into Dewey, who is crying. Miyu screams as the Distortion manifests from her body. Her Distortion is then pulled out of her, flowing to Dewey. Dewey is taking up all the Distortions of the villagers. In their words, they’re receiving their filth. The place is filled with the sound of laments. Dewey’s body gradually swells in an unstable manner. …This is driving me mad.
Ezra stormed out to save Dewey, but she soon falters and kneels down. Even Ezra’s Distortion is about to be pulled out. What happens if the Distortion is extracted from a person? Will the mental scars associated with it be erased…? No, this is not the time to think about such things. I smashed my right elbow on the table. A blade extends from my prosthetic arm. The dining hall is still echoing with sorrowful cries.
“Stop what you’re doing this instant!”
I held the blade of my prosthetic arm at the town leader’s throat.
“Everyone! Let us rejoice now! Rejoice!”
The town leader shouted without so much as a flinch. The townspeople cheered. Their shouts of joy could be better described as screams.
“Let us bid farewell! Make their parting a joyful one!”
As soon as they finished their words, the stage floor beneath Dewey opened, causing them to fall through the gap. A dull sound was heard moments later. Judging from the interval between the fall and the echo, the basement space isn’t deep below. The stream of Distortions follows Dewey into the space below the stage. The trapdoor begins to close. The screams of bliss continue.
“Ezra! We need to go after Dewey!!!”
I ran forward and helped Ezra up.
Curses. The trapdoor is about to close. I used all of my strength to get up to the stage carrying Ezra, who was on the verge of fainting. I pushed her down the opening before making the fall myself.
I fell on top of Ezra. We thankfully didn’t fall from a height too high. When I looked up, the ceiling was already shut on us. I can still faintly hear the cheering of the townspeople.
A putrid smell stings my nose. I had a look at my surroundings.
“Detective Moses… Look over there.”
YuRia said, her voice shaking.
…You’ve got to be kidding.
I placed my hand on my forehead.
This is a prison.
The Distortion of Distortions. This isn't the Distortion of a single individual; it’s an amalgamation of people’s Distortions. There are forty five of such Distortions down here. They match the number of wooden effigies I saw above. These are multiple Distortions coalesced into large masses; I cannot begin to speculate the cause or abilities of these entities.
Dewey moans and squirms. Their flesh expands and bursts. From the ruptures, arms and legs grow out. A swarm of butterflies come forth. Soapsuds pour out.
Utterly unfathomable Distortions start crawling in our direction.
I don’t have my pipe with me. Ezra is lying unconscious.
Fortunately, there’s a door behind us.
“…YuRia, can you open your workshop now?”
I quietly spoke.
“Huh? Yes, I can!”
“Then summon it now!”
“Understood, Detective Moses!”
YuRia hopped out of my shoulder and touched the steel door.
Now… If I could open this door…
I pulled the knob of the steel door. However, it won’t budge. I used a Fairy I’d been keeping in the inner coat of my pocket and gave it another try. The steel door still refuses to move. That means this door isn’t a locked portal that leads to another space. This is functionally closer to a wall. It has been sealed from the outside, defined as a door that won’t ever see its intended use.
The Distortion is getting closer to us.
I kept forcefully pulling the door knob with all my might. My right arm was stretched tight. I have nothing else but the motor strength of my prosthetic arm to rely on. This is an expensive arm Ezra picked for me. Hoping that Ezra’s choice of prosthetic limb was correct, I pulled the door knob using all of my strength. Steel chafing against the door frame produced a loud, grating noise. The ear-piercing screech drew the attention of a bestial Distortion, which then started running toward me. Dammit… The screws on my right arm squeak. The joints connecting the prosthetic arm to my shoulder are starting to break from the strain, blood leaking from the opened gaps. …This hurts like hell. I shut my eyes tight, and squeezed out my strength one more time.
KRRRANG!!! With a roaring metallic noise, the door swung open.
A flash of yellow light bolted across the room in a straight line.
A gaping hole was made in the body of the beast-like Distortion that had almost reached me.
The yellow harpoon got lodged in the wall on the opposite side of the room.
Vespa stands in front of the opened door, with matted hair and a haggard look.
He looked around for a bit before drawing his yellow hwando.
“…Doctor Moses. You will have to take responsibility for what you’ve done.”
Glaring at me, Vespa spoke in a deep voice.
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