Sleeping Beauty, A Princess of Thorns (Part 6/7)

I will take this moment to remind everyone that this is unedited. I’ll probably go through it later.

「茨姫」”Episode 04: La Belle au bois dormant” from Volume 2 of ダンタリアンの書架/Dantalian no Shoka/Bibliotheca Mystica de Dantalian/The Mystical Archives of Dantalian.

Parts: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]

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Sleeping Beauty, A Princess of Thorns (5)

Thorned rose vines completely covered the window of the observation room and broke the glass. Through the broken window and brick, countless vines reached into the room.

“Is this the phantom book’s power…!?” said Huey, breaking into a sweat.

Dalian just stood there as she was and answered, “So this means the phantom book’s power is to manipulate plants…? Very interesting, but still that wouldn’t expl…”

“This isn’t the time to be impressed! We’ve got to get out of here!”

Huey yelled, swinging at the approaching vines with the axe he brought along, and rushing a reluctant Dalian, they made their way down the dark stairs.

“Ugh…!”

Right when Huey and Dalian had reached the entry hall, Huey let out a moan, and vines with striking speed wrapped around his right leg like a whip. As Huey fell to the ground, he was barely able to dodge other vines that leapt towards him. Hacking away the vine that caught his leg, Huey was able to get back on his feet, just as several more vines wrangled over the spot he fell not a moment before. If he hadn’t reacted that instant he probably already would be caught and unable to move. There was no room left for doubt. The vines around the mansion were clearly targeting Huey and Dalian.

“So I guess this is how the servants at the gate were killed… huh…” said Dalian, impressed.

“Like I said, now isn’t the time for that!”

Huey picked up Dalian and headed toward one of the windows in the hall. The path to the front gate had already been cut off. He found a spot that didn’t have many vines and broke through the window. Still carrying Dalian, he leapt through the window and into the front garden.

Though a little reluctant to part with it, Huey threw his axe at the vines that were flooding through the window behind him. The vines quickly snapped the handle into pieces. A human body caught by those things wouldn’t last a second. With Dalian in his arms, Huey ran searching for an exit.

Luckily, there was a part of the brick wall that had crumbled and it was easy to cross over. Breaking free of the summer house, Huey breathed his first sigh of relief.

By now the vines had completely covered the summer house and the whole building squirmed as if it were some giant monster. However, it seemed that as long as they were far enough away, the vines wouldn’t come chasing after them. The vines were probably a trap set for intruders, and weren’t given any power to attack out of their territory.

Catching his breath, Huey set Dalian down. Perhaps unhappy that she was being carried around like a piece of luggage, Dalian frowned, but she didn’t say anything. Instead, she looked down the pasture that sloped down before them. At the end of her gaze was a young woman in strange clothes. She had a turban around her head and a folkish cape around her shoulders.

“Talia!” Huey called after he noticed she was there.

And there the shaman stood, lit by moonlight, standing in the middle of windswept grass. She smiled, as if she were amused by Huey and Dalian’s frantic efforts to escape the summer house.

“I see you met our lady.” She looked back at Huey, waiting for him to regain his composure.

“Talia, you knew from the very beginning that Ms. Florence was dead, didn’t you…” said Huey, disgusted.

But Talia only smiled. “Yes, well no… Florence Carabosse is alive, though she’s no longer around anymore.”

Huey looked confused. Talia wasn’t making any sense.

“Did you… kill her?” Huey asked again.

Then Talia cackled with delight. “Me? Kill ‘Ms. Florence’? Of course not! Ahahahaha!!”

Then finally Huey realized that Talia was holding a book under her arm that was before hidden under her cape. It was an old book with a dark green cover. It had an eastern styled of threaded binding with a picture drawn in ink on the cover. It was a book fitting of the name “The Book of Deep Green”.

“The book…!” Dalian said in a sharp voice.

“So that’s the phantom book!?” Anxiety flashed across Huey’s face.

Talia wordlessly opened the book and casually flipped through its pages. Then, as if she found a particular part she liked, she stopped on one page.

“What do you plan on doing with us?” Huey asked, glaring at Talia.

But the shaman girl merely looked back with a kind smile and said, “Didn’t I warn you that it’s easy to get lost around here? That it was likely you’d never return?”

Even before she had finished, Talia’s outline had started to blur white in a mist – and it wasn’t just her. The grassy plain at her feet, and the landscape behind her was whiting out. Feeling the rush of damp air Huey froze.

Fog. A thick fog had appeared out of nowhere, cutting off their vision.

“This fog, is it also part of the phantom book’s power?” Asked Huey aloud, unable to hide his bewilderment.

“Things have gotten complicated. Having our sight stolen away in a place like this is a problem,” Dalian whispered.

Dalian looked as if she was completely fine, but she had reached out and tightly held on to Huey’s coat. She was afraid of getting separated in the fog.

“At any rate, it looks like we should find a way out of here.” Huey muttered bitterly.

Talia had completely disappeared inside the fog, leaving only her laughter, a high pitched laughter that felt tinged with insanity.

“But where are we going to go?” Dalian looked calmly up at Huey, and then slowly looked behind them.

Huey, led by her gaze, looked back as well and gasped in surprise. Behind them was a forest – a dense, thick, dark forest. It was as if a giant forest had crept up behind them and now they were surrounded.

“Just what is going on?! Rose vines and mist are one thing, but the power to move an entire forest…!” Huey spoke under his breath with panic in his voice.

“Our escape route has been completely cut off.” Dalian said plainly.

First the darkness of night, then this unnatural fog, and now the windings of a deep and dark forest. It was almost hopeless to try and escape from the village. To top it all off, the shape of the land around them was complex and was riddled with sharp cliffs. Simply running around driven by fear was enough to put your life in danger. The land itself was Talia’s weapon.

Furthermore, it wasn’t yet clear what the power of Talia’s phantom book really was. Huey and Dalian weren’t even sure what her objective was.

“Dalian, could you lend me a book?” Huey said, removing the glove on his right hand. Set into the back of his exposed hand was a blood red jewel.

“It’s not like I won’t let you, but what do you plan on taking out?” Dalian asked.

“Didn’t you have a grimoire that called upon the four great elementals of Paracelsus? Can’t that summon a salamander?”

“You’re thinking of setting fire to the forest in this kind of situation?” asked Dalian, shocked as she looked around at the forest that had already completely surrounded them.

“I guess that would be a bad idea, wouldn’t it…”

“If you want to burn to death so badly, fine, but I’d rather you do it somewhere else, and not get me involved.”

“It’s not like that’s my intention…” Huey shook his head.

They could still hear Talia’s high pitched laughter. Huey and Dalian started walking, trying to move away from her, but unable to really see anything, it only whittled down their nerves and they couldn’t get very far.

“I guess as long as we don’t know what “The Book of Deep Green”‘s power really is, we can’t really find another phantom book to fight against it… I guess we could try to wait it out until morning, but… wh!?”

Huey, who had been grumbling, suddenly leapt back, his face grave. Right in front of him was a sharply pointed iron pitchfork. It had flown out of the fog and stuck in the ground right where Huey just was.

Huey leapt to cover Dalian and looked in the direction the pitchfork came from. The sound of metal clanging together and sparks scattered in the darkness. Dalian had deflected another pitch fork with her gauntlets.

Countless shadows of people emerged from the mist. This time it wasn’t Talia, but the workmen from the village. The men carried farming tools in their hands to use as weapons and were closing in on Huey and Dalian, and in their faces was fear, despair – and anger.

“Things really are starting to look bad aren’t they…?” said Huey, glancing at the forest behind them.

The forest and fog had already cut off Huey and Dalian’s means of escape; if they were attacked by the villagers now it’d be all over.

“It doesn’t look like they’re being controlled,” said Dalian, looking at the villagers’ faces.

“What happened everyone? Even if you’ve had too much to drink, this really is taking things too far,” said Huey ironically with a friendly smile.

Huey reached inside his coat pocket and gripped his folding military revolver. It was a powerful .455 caliber but he only had six shots. There were far too many to target.

Among the approaching armed villagers was the workman that Huey had talked with earlier that day. Even his face, which before had been cheerful and smiling, was now drawn with fear. Perhaps for that reason the impression the man gave off was completely different, his once young looking face was thin and filled with wrinkles. He looked decades older than he did before.

“It’s your fault…” he said with a rasping voice, “Since you escaped from the master’s summer house, we’ve…”

From the villagers came groans of anguish. It was as if frozen time had started to flow again, and all the villagers were rapidly aging. Specks appeared on their skin, their hair fell out, and their weapons fell from their emaciated arms. With clouded eyes they glared at Huey and Dalian, teeth falling out as they cursed them.

“What is happening to them!?” exclaimed Huey, taken aback.

“They’re probably the people that lived at the foot of the mountain,” said Dalian, emotionlessly.

“The villagers that had gone missing? So, the inhabitants of this village were the elderly people of that other village rejuvenated?” said Huey, as if things were starting to make sense.

The elderly people from the village at the foot of the mountain that suddenly vanished were brought to this village, and lived as Talia’s neighbors. They forgot the past and believed that they had regained their youth…

“So that’s why there were only young people in the village… but then, just what is this place?” Huey asked himself as he looked down at the aged villagers which had fallen to the ground and stopped moving.

Still, there was no time to just stand around and think. The fog was getting thicker. At this rate it would soon be impossible to move around at all. There was no guarantee that Talia wouldn’t make another attack. Before that happened, they needed to move to a place where there was a little more visibility. Huey took Dalian’s hand and walked on into the dark forest.

The time they spent walking through the white darkness of the fog lead only by the light of the moon felt like an eternity, but the end of that darkness came suddenly.

The fog cleared and even the forest’s trees suddenly disappeared. Instead what spead out before them was a grassy pasture plain, and…

“How…” Looking up at the tall building in the middle of the plain Huey froze, dumbfounded.

It was the Carabosse summer house, covered in vines, clock tower and all.

Confused by the fog and darkness, though they had gone at great lengths to get out of the forest, they had only circled around and ended up in the same place.

“Talia…”

A high pitched laughter reached an exhausted Huey’s ears. The shaman girl was standing in front of that mansion of thorns. She had unwoven her turban and gave off a different impression. Her beautiful golden curled hair danced in the wind and shone in the moonlight. Her elegant posture was less like the shaman of a mountain village and more like the daughter of a wealthy family showing herself among high society. Curling her well shaped lips into a grin, she continued to laugh with wide open eyes.

“Ahahaha! Hahahahaha!! It’s useless, you can never escape! You people who came to steal Father’s precious book can wander this place for all eternity!”

“…Father’s book?” Huey paused at Talia’s words.

The original owner of “The Book of Deep Green” was John Carabosse. If she called him “Father” that would mean…

“I see…” Huey muttered, glaring at the girl as she kept laughing.

“Last month, that was you who was seen at the village at the foot of the mountain, Tal… that would make you the real Florence Carabosse!”

“Ahahaha! That’s right, I am my father’s most beloved daughter!” She hugged the phantom book in her arms and smiled blissfully.

“That makes Father’s most precious book mine. I’ll never give it to you!”

Huey frowned. “So then, the one that was killed at the mansion was the real shaman Talia…”

“Of course. And now I’m Talia. That weak and pitiful ‘daughter of the master’ is gone forever!”

Talia’s empassioned voice rose higher and higher, and in her eyes the light of insanity reflected in her eyes. Raising her twisted laugh even higher, she continued.

“Father always comes to see me… I’m the only one he loves! That filthy, boorish shaman is not Father’s lover! Father doesn’t come to see his lover, he comes to see me!!!!”

Talia opened the phantom book and immediately the world around Huey and Dalian changed.

“What!?”

The plains that separated Huey and Dalian from Talia turned dark. A giant fissure had opened up in the earth.

The area surrounding Huey and Dalian had turned into a dizzying series of sharp cliffs. There was nowhere to run in any direction. Before they knew it Huey and Dalian were left on a narrow patch of land surrounded by a canyon. On the cliff faces were countless thorned rose vines reaching up towards the peak. With nowhere to go, this time they would be caught for sure.

Now completely cornered, Huey let out a sigh, Dalian staring wordlessly at Talia’s book.

“Huey, I give you permission to open the gate.” Finally, Dalian’s clear voice rang out.

She reached for the collar of her dress and exposed a large portion the upper part of her chest. The lines of her thin collarbone showed upon her white skin, and below that was a large lock. It was a roughly fashioned lock held with chains bound to a leather collar around her neck, but the lock itself was embedded in the center of her slender chest.

Huey wordlessly raised his right hand. In his hand he grasped a single key, a golden key set with a red jewel. Old letters were engraved on the blade of the key, words that Huey read aloud, as if he were a knight vowing loyalty to a princess, or perhaps a sorceror chanting a spell…

“I ask of thee… Art thou mankind?”

To that question, Dalian answered, with a rasping voice that seemed as if it came from out of some ancient container.

“Nay, I am the world, the world inside the gourd.”

Huey slid the golden key into Dalian, who let her voice escape in pain. The lock in the middle of her chest split like the gates of a castle. What was hidden behind it was an empty void. In other words, a large hole had opened up in Dalian’s chest. The hole was surrounded by a dazzling swirl of light, and the void contained within continued endlessly inside of her slender figure.

“What in the world…?” Talia said, awestuck. This time her voice wasn’t tinged with insanity, but fear.

“I’ve heard of this from Father before… ‘The World in the Gourd’, the otherworldly library sealed within a container, the mystic archives of Dantalian!”

“With nine hundred thousand, six hundred sixty six phantom books sealed within these archives, the gates unto wisdom are now opened,” Dalian muttered emotionlessly.

Huey thrust his arm into the void inside Dalian’s chest, and when he withdrew it there was a single book in his hand – an old book with a faded cover.

“When you changed the entire landscape right before our eyes, you had gone a step too far. Thanks to that we now know the true nature of ‘The Book of Deep Green’.”

Dalian looked at the ravine that had opened by her feet.

“The true name of that phantom book is ‘Shanhe Sheji-tu’ a sacred text used to give birth to illusory landscapes in order to confuse and control those who enter them. It is a phantom book from the pure land that was received in the legendary era from an Eastern goddess.”

Huey sighed. “A phantom book that brings about illusory landscapes huh… So the fog and the forest and even the rose vines were all an illusion?”

Dalian nodded. “But even if they’re all illusions, to those whose souls are caught in the phantom book’s magic, there is no difference from reality. They will be wounded if they touch the rose vines’ thorns, and if they fall off a cliff, they will die.

“Ahahaha… hahahaha! Isn’t it wonderful? As long as I have this book, no one can hurt me. After all this is the book Father left for me!”

Every time Talia turned the pages of the phantom book, the outline of the landscape surrounding Huey and Dalian twisted. The phantom book allowed its holder to create a world of illusion, just as they wished it. That was the true nature of “The Book of Deep Green”.

The villagers at the foot of the mountain were drawn into an illusion created by the phantom book, and became part of the illusion themselves. If Huey and Dalian hadn’t come to the village, they might have lived forever in that illusion.

“Once I am able to read this book a little better, I’ll even be able to bring Father back to life! I won’t create him a dirty lover, he’ll be my true Father, only for me!!” Talia said in an intoxicated voice as if she was dreaming.

Looking back at her Dalian quietly said, “You would never have the right nor ability to.”

Huey opened the book he had taken from inside of Dalian. It was a book written in an Eastern language. On its cover was a symbol in the shape of a human eye. It was the same symbol drawn on the stupas of Tibetan Buddhism a symbol called “The Eye of Truth”.

Huey stumbled through a single verse written in the book, and in that instant the landscape around them shattered like glass and started to twist. The world invaded by illusion undulated like a kaleidoscope, returning to the way it should be.

“The ‘Bhuta Tathata’ scripture that has been passed down in western regions of Asia – it removes all kinds of evil, breaks illusions, and is one of the lost apocrypha of primeval Buddhism.”

Dalian looked at Talia with pitying eyes. Talia froze, watching her illusory landscape crumble.

“That phantom book never chose you, and thus your illusions are easily shattered.”

Hearing Dalian’s cold words, Talia tottered backwards and the phantom book fell her hands as she lost her former drive.

“This can’t be true…”

The deep chasm separating Talia from Huey and Dalian had disappeared. All that was left was the original gently sloping plain. Huey approached Talia and quietly picked up “The Book of Deep Green”. All of the illusions throughout the village, all of the effects from the phantom book were completely gone.

“You’re lying… Father gave it to me… my…”

Talia turned around, the summer house was there standing tall against the night sky. Perhaps it standing there, without any of the vines that were there before, reminded her of when her father was alive. Talia started running towards it.

But wasn’t paying any attention as she ran, and this time a real cliff opened up before her feet.

“Talia!” Huey yelled.

Talia’s cape waved in the wind. There was a moment that seemed to stretch out for an eternity – and then immediately afterwards, she fell.

Shortly after, a sickening sound like a ripe fruit being crushed was heard. Then, the village fell into silence.

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