Last Embryo Volume 1 Chapter 9 Part 1
The branches of the Great Tree were being thrown about by the gust of the violent wind that was raging outside as the storm showed no signs of dying down anytime soon. But even so, as long as the Great Tree’s protector, the one who bestowed her grace upon it was inside of it, the 『Bull of Heaven』 would probably not dare to attack it.
Currently, Homura was making his ways through the maze of hidden passageways in the waterways beneath the City of Water. According to what he was told, all he had to do was to keep heading straight and he should reach the other side of the great waterfall that was falling to the river at the base of the Great Tree from the steep cliff above it. Right next to it there should be a door, and after going through them he would finally arrive at the audience room where 『Queen Halloween』 was supposedly waiting for him.
He walked along the dimly lit corridor for about 10 minutes before finally arriving at his destination. But even though this room was supposed to be a part of the Great tree itself, he would have never expected it to be located under its roots.
「I should be about three minutes late at best, since the setting sun has already started turning red. Damn, I hope she will treat it as being fashionably late and not as some kind of grave offense.」
He quickly remarked while putting his hand on the door. Right now, he could only hope for the outcome of this meeting to be as positive as possible. Even though they had literally no time at all to do it, Porol and the others did all they could to prepare him as best as they could, so if anything was going to go south, the Queen shouldn’t put the blame on them.
「If you want to return alive then do what the Queen says and no matter what happens, do not dare to disobey her.」 That is what Porol send him off with when he entered the web of tunnels, but if he won’t be able to negotiate getting himself, Suzuka and Ayato back to their home world then all it won’t be all that different than dying, but for now he preferred not to think about it. All he has to do now is to focus on the meeting itself and do everything in his power to make Queen Halloween accept his plea.
He pushed on the door, which were glowing strangely in the dimness of the rest of the corridor, and after they slowly opened themselves before him, his field of vision was flooded by the might similar to that of the morning sun.
When the dazzling light swallowed him whole, Homura had no choice but to close his eyes. Oh, and that 「swallowed by the dazzling light」 bit was by no means a metaphor, because the place where Homura found himself next was the one quite different from the rest of the Underwood. When the light finally subsided, he raised his head up into the sky. Then, he realized that he found himself in a castle separated from the rest of the world by a thin veil-like canopy. To be more specific, it looked like a castle’s courtyard with white walls and the canopy on top of them. At the base of both walls were the flower beds with the flowers from all 4 seasons planted in them. The marble floor looked so beautifully polished that you could practically see your own reflection in it, and it would make you think that stepping on it would be a crime. This place was so irrationally beautiful that Homura felt intoxicated just by looking around.
But even though he marveled at his surroundings, he still maintained the highest degree of vigilance, because his gut feeling was telling him that as beautiful as this place was, it was equally as deadly, like a giant mouse trap waiting to snap the unsuspecting mouse’s back, or to find a more fitting metaphor, like the Golden Demon’s lair, where monsters would besiege him the moment he strayed from the right path driven by his own curiosity. That is what his heart and mind were telling him at the current moment.
Threading carefully, he set his foot on the marbled floor. And when he did that, the flowers by the walls went through a dramatic change in color. It was probably meant to surprise anyone who would come to visit, but for Homura it had an additional effect: it completely cleared his head.
If somebody set up a trap for him, it would have probably activated the moment he took that first step. But the only thing that changed was the color of the flowers, as if their color scheme got shifted to another season. It was a very beautiful spectacle, but other than that, it served no other purpose, which meant that he could technically assume that the owner of this place had no intention to harm him.
And yet, somehow he was still convinced that he shouldn’t be straying from the path ahead of him no matter what. So he walked forward in a straight line without even attempting to look back, until he arrived at the center of the courtyard, separated from the rest of the room with another veil. With each and every one of his steps the colors of the flowers kept on changing, still posing no threat to him whatsoever. If not for the circumstances that brought him here he would definitely sit back and enjoyed that changing scenery, but he was here for business, not pleasure, so maybe another time. He grabbed the veil and shoved it to the sides with a quick and vigorous move.
As he did so, he felt as if he was going through an opened door. And at the other side of that door, was a warm fireplace, a bed big enough for several people to fit in, and a circular wooden table on top of which was a tea set that looked like someone put it there in anticipation of a guest. The window at the wall was giving off creaking sounds, most likely because of the storm that raged on outside. So at the very least Homura was able to confirm that he was still somewhere in the Underwood’s vicinity. Turning around towards where he came from, he got shocked when he saw that where the door once was now stood only a wall with nothing on it.
He only realized this now, but his body was covered with goosebumps all over. And then, he was hit with another realization. Looking all over the room, he was desperately trying to locate the whereabouts of the trap, but it was all for naught, because this entire space was already one giant trap. And he walked right into it, because je misjudged 『Queen Halloween’s』 way of thinking.
『Queen Halloween』, the one controlling the world boundary. That is how Kuro Usagi described her to them. But simply hearing about it and being at the receiving end of it were two entirely different things. In comparison to this, Suzuka’s Apport & Asport looked like a child’s poor attempt at performing magic tricks. But for Queen Halloween, controlling the boundaries of the world was as easy as turning a page in a picture book. If she possesses this much power, then she might as well treat the entire world as her own personal playground.
Before he realized it, another set of doors appeared before him. A blue one and a red one. It would seem so that the proper audience room was still up ahead.
(The blue one and the red one… damn it, which one is the correct one?!)
His heartbeat was becoming increasingly faster with every passing second, and he had difficulty breathing, and was hit by a panic attack, thinking that from now on he will have to search for the correct way ahead in every new room he stumbles into.
It would appear that by being late he brought the Queen’s wrath upon himself. But even so, forcing him to participate in some strange Gift Game without even explaining the rules to him or providing any hints was beyond unreasonable.
Looking around the bedroom for any clues whatsoever, his sight was naturally drawn to the antique clock resting on top of the fireplace. It should go without saying, but the time displayed by it was way after the meeting hour appointed by the Queen. Maybe that was her way of telling him that rude peasants who couldn’t even come to the audience on time had no right of meeting with her at all?
(Huh? No, wait, what’s wrong with this clock? Something is definitely… odd about it…)
He approached the antique clock while holding his right hand on his chest in an attempt to suppress his rapidly beating heart from bursting forth from it. Just as he suspected, the clock was not counting time properly as it should be doing. Moreover, the time displayed by its hands showed 3 minutes after midnight. 3 minutes… exactly the same amount of time that Homura was late to the meeting!
(Oh for the love of God!!!)
Hoping for his intuition to be right, he grabbed the clock and began to turn its hands backwards. One minute… two minutes… three minutes…
When he was done, the clock made a clicking sound.
「Welcome, Saigo Homura. I have been expecting you.」
Suddenly he heard a voice and sense somebody’s presence at the table behind him. Clutching his chest more firmly after almost going through a heart attack, Homura turned around to face the other person while his entire body trembled from top to bottom and refused to stop.
The young woman whom he saw when he turned around could most definitely be called an incarnation of the sun.
Golden hair with every single strand shining like the rays of sunlight reflected in the morning dew. Even though they were simply let down, going all the way from her neck to the bottom of her back, they looked like they were swaying like the grains of wheat in the gentle spring wind. Hypnotizingly beautiful eyes that looked like summer lakes with crystal green-blue water, offering comfort, yet deep enough to drown in them if one was not careful.
He might have not been a resident of Little Garden, but even so his soul understood perfectly that the young woman before him was no mere Divine Spirit, something born from the faith of humankind. Based on what Kuro Usagi told them about her the day before, she was the deification and personification of the Autumn Sun Festival from Celtic mythology, but that was nothing more than the representation humans made for her so that they could perceive her, a being from the higher plane of existence, in our mortal realm.
One of the most powerful being to ever arrive in Little Garden, the mistress of noon and night, life and death, the four seasons, as well as stars and their boundaries.
Celestial Spirit of the Sun, 『Queen Halloween』.
That Golden Queen was now silently staring at Homura, judging him.
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