Mimasaka, the commanding officer of the JSDF’s scouting team, turns around in response to the voice of his subordinate, and looks in the direction of the stairs descending to the tenth floor. Figures that seem to be humans are trying to drag their bodies up the stairs.
“We will provide aid! You two, come with me! The rest of you, get ready for treatment!”
“Preparing for treatment, roger!”
As Mimasaka runs over to the stairway, three men, and one woman, with tattered clothes crawl up the stairs, barely holding onto consciousness. At once, his two team members run down the stairs, and assist the people struggling up the stairs, lifting them up, and placing them on stretchers.
“This is, nasty…” One of the assisting soldiers mutters reflexively.
『Hey, you okay!?』
Mimasaka calls out to the eldest-looking man, who’s at the end of the line, the man answers only that, and faints.
“China’s scout team?”
“Their wounds are terrible. Anyway, let’s stop their injuries from getting any worse, get some potion ones!”
Mimasaka checks each of the four wounded as they’re carried off. When the last one is gone, he stares into the darkness of the nearby staircase, his dread of the tenth floor by night definitively reconfirmed.
Within the tenth floor’s nocturnal form, where the Chinese scouts had run into a catastrophe, and which the JSDF’s scouting team had reconfirmed as a threat, Miyoshi has been mowing down undead like it’s a game. I’m laying sprawled out on the sofa, wondering whether it’s about time for me to go to sleep, without a shred of nervousness.
“Hey Miyoshi, it’s about time to──”
──stop and go sleep, just when I was about to finish my sentence with those words, it happened.
I jump off the sofa due to Miyoshi’s flustered voice, and rush over to her side.
“L-Look at that.”
Something that shouldn’t be there, no matter how you think about it, is reflected on the monitor at the end of Miyoshi’s finger.
“…A western-style house?”
At the bottom of the hill, a graveyard was spreading out until moments ago, but now, a mansion, similar to that of a medieval noble, towers over there, and any trace of the undead has vanished in its vicinity.
“What’s that? Miyoshi, did you do something?”
Miyoshi vehemently shakes her head, and says that she’s simply killed the enemies around us, and apparently begins to examine possible explanations.
“Does it depend on the time? Is it upon the death of some kind of special monster? Or, does it depend on the number of monsters killed?”
“It’s also possible that we’ve been transported to another place…”
“The probability of that is low, since the surrounding terrain hasn’t changed at all, except for the appearance of that building of course.”
“Then, a hallucination or something like that?”
“Even the ultrasound sensor for mapping shows a response.”
In other words, that mansion, which suddenly popped up out of nowhere, has substance, and exists physically.
“The numbers don’t add up for its appearance to be a fixed time, or based on the lunar cycle. It looks like it was a zombie I defeated last when that appeared, but I can’t really say that it felt like some special monster.” Miyoshi explains while rewinding the recorded video feed of the surveillance cameras. “In terms of numbers…I think it appeared when I killed my 373rd zombie on the tenth floor today.”
373rd? Wait, you’re telling me you killed this friggin’ many!? Though it’s kind of a surprise that there’s so many zombies around in the first place.
“Is that some special number? Like 666 would be?”
“Well…373 is a palindrome prime number.” 1
“It’s a prime number that will have the same value whether you read it from the front or back.”
“But, there’s plenty of numbers like that, right?”
I mean like 11, 101, 131.
“373 is the 13th palindrome prime number counting upwards. Isn’t that kinda the Earthen culture you talked about, senpai?”
“…So, when all’s said and done, this is Golgota’s Hill?”
“Certainly, there are plenty of skeletons here,” Miyoshi says with a laugh.
Golgota, where Jesus Christ was crucified, means 『Skull』 in Aramaic-derived Greek. Me as a G-rank on Golgota’s Hill. That sounds like Armalite’s going to blow out fire. 2
“When it comes to western-styled mansions in graveyards, it’s standard for the opponents to be vampires, but…”
But, such monsters haven’t been found yet. It appears werewolves exist, but they won’t turn into humans. Inugami don’t exist in this world either. 3 Not yet, at least.
“So, what’re we going to do? I don’t know how long that mansion might stay there.”
A mansion that (possibly) appears after killing 373 zombies in a day, eh? Moreover, the monsters have vanished from the vicinity as if we’re being invited in…
“Not to mention crosses, we don’t have any silver bullets, holy water, or even garlic, but do we have any choice but to head over there to take a look, now that we’ve come this far?”
“From your mouth to god’s ears!”
After we carefully put our preparations in order, we leave our base car, and store it away, since we don’t know whether we’ll be able to come back. The undead, who were infesting the hill’s vicinity in such massive numbers, are nowhere to be seen.
While cautiously looking around, we descend the hill, heading towards the mansion. After a while we’re greeted by a slightly rusted, double-winged, iron gate, with complex motifs similar to flowers and ivies carved into it. Weird character-like symbols are drawn on the gatepost.
“Kinda like…cuneiform writing, but then again not. You can’t call them hieroglyphs either though…”
“They’re characters similar what you’d see in SoraHoto.” 4
“It’s a story about a modern high school student becoming the Tawananna of the Hittite Kingdom after traveling through time.”
“Hee, so you’re saying it’s writing of the Hittites? Oh, Arabic numerals have been written down below.”
“What a messed up combination.” Miyoshi photographs it with her smartphone while smiling wryly.
１０００００００００００００６６６０００００００００００００１ is written in small letters beneath the gatepost’s characters. What the fuck?
“Again a prime number, huh?”
“Eh? This is a prime number?”
“It’s a prime number famous in certain circles. Clifford A. Pickover has named it Belphegor’s Prime Number. It’s a palindrome prime number with a 666 caught between 13 zeroes on either side.”
In demonology, Belphegor is one of seven princes of Hell. It’s said he’ll help people to discover something.
“Is that a reference meant to tell us that we’ll find something important here?”
“I wonder. All of it might be simple ambiance, kind of like flavor text. However, it’s definitely true that it’s a rather clever setup.”
Prime numbers in an incomprehensible world. Belphegor in a place that looks significant. And an array of 13s and a 666.
“Assuming that it’s kind of like the magic crest you had carved into the orb cases, doesn’t it seem like the dungeon creator has a profound knowledge of religious studies and math?”
It should have been recorded on video, but just in case, I photograph it with my smartphone, too.
Once I touch the iron gate, which appears to be firmly shut, it opens with a shrill screech. As if it’s inviting visitors of its own accord.
“Isn’t it way too clichéd for it to screech like that at a time like this?”
“Well, it comes in a package with the eerie silence and the fog wafting in the area.”
I feel like it’s the opening day of a haunted house.
Ahead of the wide front yard lies a big, two-storied, western-styled, mansion, with a spire on top. It stands there with an overwhelmingly unrealistic presence. I know by just looking up at it. It must be that. That what 『stands』 silently there while embracing darkness inside the building, having gone crazy. 『and whatever walked there, walked alone』. 5 I’m sure we’ll be able to hear sound effects of Kubrick’s Shining the second we peek inside the mansion through the open door.
You should turn around and go back ── my inner self screams at me.
After living at the Belasco House 6 and being turned into nourishment for the mansion, we’ll turn into photographs, decorating the wall above the fireplace. I’m 100% sure it’s that kind of mansion. But you see…
“I guess that means Sudara Bushi is right.” Muttering that, I step into the front yard. I fully understand, and yet I still can’t hold myself back. 7
“…That’s what I thought you’d say.” Miyoshi sighs, obviously having given up, and follows me.
At that moment, a huge, black bird spreads its wings on top of the spire, and raises a screeching cry. With that cryas a signal, the black panther-like statues, which possess wings and are positioned at every corner of the second floor, turn alive, and look in our direction all at once.
“Those are gargoyles, and assuming they follow Earthen mythology, they’re going to attack us as soon as we try to enter the mansion or something? The one on top of the spire is a big crow?”
“I’m pretty sure it won’t make any difference with it crying 『Nevermore!』 8. Anyway, senpai, rather than that, it’s about those things around the edges of the eaves…” Miyoshi tells me that while looking spooked.
Edges of the eaves? The instant I follow her eyes, I feel a chill traveling down my spine. Many round things are squirming around on the edges of the second floor’s eaves. Looking closer, those are eyeballs. Just like the black panther’s faces, all of them turn in our direction as if observing us.
“H-How gross…but, are those possibly monoeyes?”
“Weren’t they monsters floating around alone? I don’t think you can describe that over there as anything but…a colony, can you?”
“Make sure to pay attention. If those come attacking, we dash.”
“Dash, you say…to where?”
To where? The mansion’s interior is an unknown area. I’d like to avoid being eaten after being offered on a silver platter. Having said that, even if we run outside the premises, I don’t know whether we’ll be able to get away if they come chasing after us.
“Now that you mention it, we’ve got no place to retreat, do we?”
“Senpai…” Miyoshi glares at me like I’m a moron.
“Okay, okay, for the time being it’ll be outside. Outside the gate.”
If I keep attacking them while running away, we’ll be able to get away eventually…I hope.
While scared by the countless eyes looking down on us from atop the roof, we quietly keep walking, moving to a spot several meters away from the mansion’s entryway.
“Did automatic doors exist during the medieval times?”
“There are stories about Heron having built some in ancient pre-era Egypt.”
Once we get close, the double-winged front door in front of our eyes opens widely without a sound. It’s as if it’s telling us that it’s waiting for the miserable sacrifices to enter, after having come all this way to be imprisoned.
“This is the moment where we should turn around and…”
When I turn around in the direction of the gate, the large, black bird, which should have been on the spire, is now sitting on the gatepost and tending to its feathers, even though I never even saw it move. I feel like I can see the world fully reflected in its large, jet-black eyes, that lack any white, after being bent by their spherical shapes. And then the bird cries with a loud voice.
“…go back, it seems? I suppose that means the chance for that is now gone.”
“Senpai, I feel like…we’d get attacked if we were to turn around and go back.”
“What a coincidence, so do I.” With those words, I put on a smile while looking up to the roof.
Humor is a valid method to fend off fear. Having said that, it’s no use for us to indefinitely stay all jittery here. While being careful of what’s going on above our heads, we walk into the mansion.
- Palindrome refers to words and numbers that read the same when reversed, like 12321 or “A man a plan a canal Panama”
- Author’s Note: Quote from Golgo 13
- Author’s note: Reference to Kazumasa Hirai’s “Wolf Guy” novel.
- Another author’s note, this time very Japanese…SoraHoto -> An abbreviation of Sora wa Akai Kawa no Hotori, a manga by Chie Shinohara, called “Anatolia Story” in the west. Reading “Sora” as sky (ten) was quite difficult for the book readers. Even when looking at the front cover of the book, there were no ruby or romaji added to the title. Only when I saw an advertisement of the flowery comic after diligently skimming through the end of a book, I was able to grasp that “sky” was meant here.
- A quote from Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House.” It’s a phrase at the end of the beginning act.
- A reference to Richard Matheson’s “Hell House.”
- Sudara Bushi is an old song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ZnSzleli54. The “I fully understand…” is a part of the songs lyric, the catchphrase.
- A reference to Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”