“…But before that, we’ll have to handle this situation. I assume these creatures are of a similar nature to what was filmed in your footage.”
Vespa mused before charging into the Distortions. The creatures, each distorted in their own right, are slashed with the same blade leaving a yellow trail in its path. When Vespa lifts his right arm, the harpoon stuck in the wall returns to his hand. It seems his broken arm has completely healed up. He slashes one Distortion after another with flamboyant yet disciplined movement. A pointy tentacle rapidly extending from a Distortion gets sliced before it reaches him. A beastly paw swung at him falls to the floor as a trail of yellow light passes through it. After neutralizing each Distortion, Vespa thrusts his sword and harpoon into them to end them for good. The subdued Distortions soon restore their human form, albeit as corpses brutally slashed and cut. I suppose this is the law of the phenomenon taking its inevitable course. As they transformed back into humans, the Distortions that had been shrouding them scattered away. They’re most likely returning to the people who they originally belonged to. Vespa continues to advance without a hitch, creating yellow trails with his blade. If my prediction is correct, the most dangerous Distortion should be lurking in the deepest corner of this room; the victim of the first festival, who had to take up the Distortions of one hundred people. Their shape would be positively unimaginable. In our current state, there’s no reason to take a gamble by confronting such a being. All we need to do is find a way out of this dungeon.
“Hey, Vespa! The Distortions he—”
Zing. A yellow harpoon grazed my face and nailed itself to the wall behind me. Blood flowed from the cut it bore on my left cheek.
“Silence, Doctor Moses. I do not wish to converse with a person who broke my trust.”
…An obvious consequence.
“If you dare to run your mouth to me one more time before I ask first… My blade will slit your throat next.”
Nothing I say to Vespa will get through to him right now. I tapped Ezra on the cheek, who was still unconscious. There is no mask on Ezra’s face. Which means Dewey has a hold of Ezra’s Distortion among many others. For Ezra to come back to her usual self, Dewey must die. This is the causality. I cannot solve the Distortions here using my usual methodology. They are the Distortions of so many people merged into one; it’s impossible to face the pasts of each and every one of them. The only option remaining is to physically dismantle them like Vespa is doing. However, as a result… while Ezra could return to normal… we will have to kill all 45 people trapped in this cellar. Moreover, what will become of the townsfolk who will be subject to the accumulated backlog of their own Distortions pouring back into them at once? While it may be possible to solve their Distortions that only possess a single texture each as opposed to the amalgamations down here… Those Distortions will be severe to say the least.
Distortion of a singular pattern… Now I see the picture; it was that son of a bitch Han Hee-joon’s design to cause this. Distortions tangled with impurity are not what the Association needs. A pure Distortion manifested from a single person. If we took care of all the Distortions in this cellar, there will be 57 unmixed Distortions overground up for grabs. Saving everyone was never a viable option in the first place. There was no saving this town the moment the townspeople started passing their Distortions onto one another. The most reasonable choice I can make is to help kill all the Distortions in this cellar. And to solve the unmixed Distortions that will manifest in the town hall above with my methods. If I woke Ezra up and just ran away with her, I’d fail to save anyone. …I need my smoking pipe. But the pipe is in Vespa’s possession…
“YuRia, is there any equipment in your workshop I could use?”
“Huh? Are you going to use it yourself, detective?”
“Those gadgets were all made with Ezra seonbae’s strength in mind… The force will be too strong for you to handle.”
“I just need something that can land one huge blow. This prosthetic arm can deal with the recoil….”
“Wait here for a second, then. I’ll fetch something useful from my atelier.”
YuRia ran to her workshop. I searched the room for Dewey. …Ezra can regain consciousness once Dewey has been disposed of. With Ezra awake, I will be able to talk to Vespa without losing my head. Many times have I sacrificed the lesser for the greater in my life. Whenever I make such a choice, I can’t help but feel as if a corner of my heart were being cut out. I see a Distortion that appears to be Dewey crawling in a corner. It’s not hostile. It wriggles on the wall, spewing butterflies, bubbles, paint, and other things from its body.
“Here it is, Detective Moses. You can equip it on your right arm.”
YuRia handed me a giant glove. It looks like a power gauntlet made for Ezra.
“Careful, detective. That device was built specifically for Ezra seonbae to use.”
I put the gauntlet on.
“YuRia, how do I use it?”
“Clench and unclench your fist twice, and then make a fist. Throw a punch once the gauntlet turns red.”
What I can do for them is to end them in a single blow and make it as painless as possible. Dewey may not be aggressive for now, but they might retaliate fiercely if I provoked them. I closed and opened my hand as YuRia instructed. The glove vibrates, releasing hot steam. My hand was always forced. Even when there seemed to be choice, there was always a “right answer” I was obligated to choose. The glove was heated. Streams of steam escape, creating an intense noise. Vespa turns his head to catch a glimpse of me, then goes back to slashing Distortions. I threw my fist at the wall.
The sounds of crushing flesh and exploding mechanical parts rang through the cellar.
I grabbed a painkiller from my pocket and injected it in my chest.
Dewey returned to human form, or at least, their lower half did. No one will be able to tell that this cadaver was Dewey’s with its upper half missing. My face and clothes are smudged with bits of flesh and blood. The prosthetic arm has been reduced to pieces from the recoil, its components scattered all over the floor. My right shoulder was gone along with the arm. As YuRia expected, the force of the device was simply too strong for my body. …It served its purpose nonetheless. A mask appeared on Ezra’s face. I shambled to her and moved my left hand with as much strength as I could muster to wake her up.
“Gasp! What happened to your arm this time, detective?! Oh, detective… You’ve done it again! Getting yourself hurt while I’m away…!”
Ezra scolded me in a tearful voice.
“It’s not like I voluntarily walk into harm’s way. Okay now, I need to get my pipe back from Vespa.”
“Vespa…? Yeesh! Wha, how, what is he doing out here?!”
He’s made it quite far already. Talk about inexorable.
“I’ll explain the details later.”
Ezra can't manifest Psychoment like the last time, because YuRia couldn’t use her workshop to make more pendants. But we can still bluff.
“Ezra, stay alert and ready yourself for combat. A harpoon will come our way in a moment.”
I quietly whispered to Ezra, and she nodded as she put on her combat glove.
A flash of yellow light caught my eye. Zing. A harpoon came hurtling towards me. Ezra quickly deflected it by kicking its shaft with her right leg. The harpoon fails to reach me and gets stuck on the floor.
“I believe I warned you not to speak to me…”
Vespa was standing in front of me before I knew it. He is covered in bits and pieces of Distortions as well.
“Do you wish to… put a conclusion to our conflict now?”
Vespa said, sweeping up his rumpled hair. He looks haggard and gaunt, but he doesn’t appear tired at all. His eyes still gleam with energy.
“Think you can handle us in that condition?”
Shaking dust off her hands, Ezra boasted.
“Don’t be mistaken. I’m not offering you a deal this time. This is a threat.”
I looked into Vespa’s eyes.
“If you don’t follow my orders, you will die here. Besides, we’re in District 11.”
“Haah… Did you just say District 11…?”
Vespa lets out a deep sigh. It’s understandable that this news would hit him like a bolt from the blue. Then again, we merely did what we could to survive, and Vespa hunted us in order to get his work done. I shouldn’t let emotion get in the way of this factual matter.
“…What do you want this time, Doctor Moses.”
Vespa took the pipe out of his coat and tossed it to me. I caught it with my left hand.
“And my right arm?”
“I ate it. After all, I had to survive by any means.”
In that instant, Ezra charged at Vespa with incredible speed. Ezra struck Vespa in the right cheek with her fist; Vespa instantaneously retaliated by striking his left knee into her chest. The two got into a melee, unfazed by each other’s blows. What a doggish mess.
“It’s like the fight between a golden retriever and a doberman.”
YuRia put my thoughts into words.
“Ezra, that’s enough!”
I’ve lost my right shoulder. Even if I got my arm back, it would no longer be possible to attach it to my body. And I’m not a purist when it comes to body parts, either. Ezra took a quick step back and stood in front of me.
“Vespa, you said you saw the footage, right?”
Vespa replied, spitting a bloody sputum onto the ground.
“The beings here are much the same as the creature in that video you saw, in essence. People with the know-how call them ‘Distortions’. These are not ordinary Distortions, however. They were artificially created, and are in fact Distortions of multiple people mixed together. It would be easier to understand if you view them as something similar to the infamous Pianist.”
“…Are they not similar to the monsters in the Outskirts anyway?”
“You could say that. Point is, simple physical force may not be enough to deal with some of them. There’s no guarantee that their attacks will be physical, either. Didn’t you feel it as you progressed further in?”
“How should we terminate them, then? Kill them with fire?”
“No. You’ll need the powers of my smoking pipe. YuRia, I could use a twining ribbon.”
“Yes, Detective Moses.”
YuRia went into her workshop.
“…Doctor Moses, what is the purpose of taking up such an occupation?”
“To learn about the Distortion.”
“Are you saying that you acted out of simple curiosity. You’re rather selfish. Thanks to you, I have lost quite a few things.”
“I won’t deny it. I'm a selfish person as you said. I only act for the sake of self-satisfaction. You should know that neither of us are following some noble cause to begin with. You aren’t seeking sympathy from me, are you?”
Vespa glared at me and put on a faint smile.
“You’re right about that. We were simply doing our jobs.”
“Detective Moses. Here it is. I worked as fast as I could to make it.”
YuRia shook my leg to grab my attention, and handed an orange ribbon to me.
“Ezra, tie this ribbon to my pipe for me.”
I held the smoking pipe adorned with the orange ribbon in my hand. I missed this sensation. I blew a white breath into the pipe. The white smoke shrouds Vespa and Ezra, as well as permeating into his yellow hwando and her gloves.
“What is this, now…”
“It’ll protect you from psychological damage some Distortions will inflict. And the attacks you perform will leave more than just a physical impact.”
This is a method devised by YuRia and I. Based on the capability of the white breath to protect one from mental attacks, we perceived the idea that it could perhaps be used in an offensive way to cause the same kind of damage. The preparations are complete. We will head deeper into the cellar and take care of every Distortion in this place. And solve the Distortions of the townspeople above.
“Vespa, when this is over, I’ll do what I can to straighten out your situation.”
“…You certainly have a way with words, I will admit.”
“Well now, let’s head into the deeper areas.”
Vespa and Ezra led the way, with YuRia and I in tow. The Distortions assumed more disordered shapes the deeper we went. Ezra crushed them with her fists, and Vespa cut down the ones in his way one by one. The areas we passed through were littered with the bodies of people who were freed from the Distortion in death. I placed my hand on my forehead. I still haven’t grown indifferent to the weight of actions like this. It feels as though I am constantly committing sins. Despite that, we must advance.
With Vespa and Ezra’s forces combined, the Distortions are easily dealt with. Soon enough, we are faced with the one final Distortion remaining, inhabiting the deepest area. In spite of the white breath coiling around us, merely looking at it makes my head pound. It takes the form of a sphere of flesh that floats in the air. I cannot begin to imagine the desolation and anguish this person may have felt, storing the Distortions of one hundred people. Vespa throws a harpoon at it right away. Blood spurts from the wound it left on its body. However, the harpoon couldn’t dig deep into it. It’s only stuck on its surface. Dozens of arms radiate from the globular Distortion at once in response. The arms are all shaped differently, each composed of different types of matter. Vespa swiftly severs the arms and tentacles coming at us. Ezra pulls back and loads up strength on her arm, then lands her fist on the harpoon stuck on the Distortion for a smashing blow. Propelled by the impact of the punch, the harpoon managed to tear a sizable hole in the Distortion’s body. The gigantic heart lying at its center was exposed. That needs to be destroyed. The hole is slowly closing up.
“Ezra! Stop that open wound from closing! Vespa, cut the arms trying to grab Ezra! YuRia, tie a penetrating ribbon around my pipe!”
Ezra jumps into the Distortion to forcefully spread the rupture open. Vespa wards off the threats approaching Ezra. YuRia jumped from my shoulder onto my arm and tied a purple ribbon around my pipe. I took a deep, violet breath. The pipe assumed the shape of a matchlock rifle.
“Detective! The walls are closing in too tightly!”
I struggled to brace the gun against my shoulder using only my left arm.
“Doctor Moses, we need you to act quick.”
I have only one shot, and I must make it count. I put forth all of my concentration.
I pulled the trigger.
The bullet flew past Ezra’s head and hit the Distortion’s heart. The spherical Distortion squirmed and boiled for a short while, then blew up with a deafening blast. A stream of Distortions poured out from where it was and flowed away.
Covered in blood and flesh, we stood before the corpse of a young person whose heart was punctured.
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