Alme found out for the first time that her real name was Lisa Panice.
She lived in a small dirty apartment in Fullbeck, making her living by washing dishes. No one had called her Parney. At the time she was a mere woman who couldn’t be called an actress.
Returning home after her work of dishwashing, Parney opened the mailbox at her door. There was nothing inside.
She was supposed to have received a notification today. It was supposed to tell her the result of an audition.
Was I rejected again? Parney muttered. She wasn’t able to grasp even the role of an extra.
In the middle of her narrow apartment was a big mirror. Parney practiced her acting in front of it. She read out aloud of a worn-out script, changed her facial expressions, and sometimes mixed it with gestures.
This was the only place where she could act out the main role.
“You’re so good, Parney-chan.”
A girl was talking to her. She was her housemate, who also dreamt of becoming an actress like her, a girl called Mel.
“Yes, thank you.”
She wiped off her sweat with the towel passed to her.
“Now look at my performance.”
This time Mel stood in front of the mirror and read the words of love written in the scenario.
She wasn’t bad, but Parney was better. No, when talking about pure acting ability, Parney was better than most actresses in the city.
However, she never got any work.
What she lacked was an opportunity. She didn’t have enough chances. That was what Parney believed.
She was born as an ordinary farmer’s daughter, and came to Fullbeck when she was sixteen. Seven years passed since then. Only her belief kept her going through these years. She already stopped correspondence with her family, and Mel was her only friend. She didn’t have a lover. She only had her dreams and needed nothing more.
Mel’s practice ended. She spoke while wiping off her sweat.
“Parney-chan, let’s someday play both of the leading roles together.”
“If I have the chance I will definitely recommend you, so call me if you get the chance, Parney-chan.”
Parney strongly nodded.
It was a small promise. But even that was far away for Parney right now.
Even Alme couldn’t imagine that woman becoming an enemy of the world later despite already knowing it as fact. She probably had some hidden skills.
No, she was the same as Alme once was. Winkeny and Boramot were also like that. Perhaps even Cigal-sama and Ganbanzel were like that.
Everyone was ordinary until meeting the Cult.
Parney practiced a role with only two lines for two whole months. She then headed for the audition.
“I am Parney Parlmanta.”
After saying that, the director, scriptwriter and the rest whispered into each other’s ears. Then, they said,
“23 years old… I see. The audition is over. We will announce the results by mail.”
At least watch my performance, she wanted to say but didn’t. 23 years old… she knew that relative to a starting actress she wasn’t young.
On her way back home that day, she bought a hotdog at a booth. She chewed it while leisurely walking back home. She came back to the cheap apartment complex.
Suddenly, she found a cat at her feet. Parney dropped her hotdog’s sausage in front of it. The cat sniffed it, but it apparently didn’t like something about it since it ran away without eating a single bite.
“What a spoiled child.”
Parney sat down on the stairs and munched on her bread that now had only onions in it.
Maybe it’s useless already. These crushing words floated into Parney’s mind.
At that time, a man came walking from the other side of the road. He held the cat from earlier in his arms.
“Is this your cat?”
“No, I don’t know it.”
Saying so, the man released the cat. With a bothered expression, the cat ran away at full speed.
“…Are you Parney Parlmanta-san?”
“Who are you?”
Parney glanced at the man.
“My name isn’t important.”
It sounds like the script from some drama, Parney thought.
“So what do you want?”
The man scratched his head and spoke.
“Right, so essentially, I’m your fan.”
Parney burst into laughter.
“What a great joke. Do you like women who are eating empty hotdogs?”
The man also laughed.
“No, I really am your fan. Parney Parlmanta-san. Everyone else in the cinema seems so dull after seeing you.”
After the jokes come the pick-up lines, Parney thought. But she didn’t feel like keeping it up.
“I’m mediocre. I understand it, so stop.”
“Are you giving up?”
“I don’t want to. But I’m mediocre. Hopelessly so.”
A piece of the hotdog fell from Parney’s hands. She sat on the stairs and cast her eyes down so she wouldn’t show her face to the man.
“The people in this world may think this way. But I know. You possess something extraordinary.”
“Where is it? That sorta thing.”
Saying this, the man pointed to Parney’s chest.
“No-one else possesses the purity of your feelings. You mustn’t give them up. Your dream is this world’s treasure. You mustn’t lose it with such a foolish misstep.”
After saying so, the man went away.
The next day a letter arrived. It came from the director of the auditions held the previous day.
He said that he wanted to see Parney perform. Moreover, this wasn’t as the minor role she auditioned to, but as the leading role. He said that he was taking off the actress that was supposed to become the leading figure and wanted to use Parney instead.
“Parney-chan, wooow, that’s amazing!”
Her friend Mel was as happy as if it happened to her. But Parney’s legs were shaking.
She immediately recalled the man she had met the previous day. Was this his doing?
She didn’t know him. She knew no powerful people in the city that could do this.
Parney took out her best dress, and adorned with every possible accessory she could find, she made her way to the movie company. She didn’t feel happy at all. She was only scared.
It’s too strange. It’s impossible.
What was going to happen to her from now on? If she woke up in the morning to find out it was a dream she would be happy.
She was getting close. She wanted to turn back her heels and go home.
“She came! That person came!”
Dozens of reporters gathered in front of the movie company. Camera flashes rained down on her.
Showered by that light, Parney forgot all about her fears and confusion.
Several dream-like days passed along. During that time, Parney hadn’t seen that man who held the cat and came to her even once.
For some reason, the situation turned out as if Parney was a genius actress that suddenly appeared like a comet. It seemed that everyone forgot about the countless auditions she failed till then.
No, those became her forbidden past. They were all forbidden from saying it by someone.
A terrifying power was working for Parney’s sake.
Several months passed. Parney’s busy days came to a break and she returned to her apartment. She found that man squatting at the roadside.
Parney grew closer. He pinched a thin piece of ham with his fingers and fed it to a cat. Although it was a stray cat it didn’t seem alarmed at all and purred at the ham dangled by the man.
The man raised his face and said.
“Is that the cat from then?”
“Yeah. We get along.”
The cat noticed Parney, stopped eating and ran away. It hates me, huh? She thought.
Alme, who was reading the Book, knew that man. He was someone she couldn’t possibly forget.
“Who are you?”
“I cannot name myself. Since I am normally called by my official position, I would like for you to do so as well.
Overseer of Paradise. Please call me like that.”
She couldn’t tell it when she had previously met the man, but she noticed the strange reality around him. She couldn’t remember his face. Parney could only understand he was a Magician.
“How do you feel now?”
The Overseer of Paradise asked. Parney answered frankly.
“I feel the best.”
“There aren’t a lot of people who would answer that. Most of them will… no, everyone except you will probably only feel confusion and fear.”
“…Is that so.”
“That is why I’ve chosen you.”
Parney once again asked the same question as before.
“Just who are you?”
“We are… the Indulging God Cult. Those who aim for Heaven.”
The Indulging God Cult. She heard about its existence in her apartment that didn’t have Mel in it.
She couldn’t just suddenly believe in the Overseer of Paradise’s story. Even when he showed her a Book in which Heaven was depicted, it was too soon.
“Why me? Do I really have enough value to go to Heaven?”
“You do. You have a clear form of happiness within your heart. You have no hesitations or doubts.
You are qualified enough to become a True Man.”
“Try and ask your own heart. You desire acting more than anything. You wish for everyone to applaud you and die within that applause.
These feelings of yours are unyielding.”
He was right. That had always been Parney’s dream. It was everything in her life. She had nothing else, but these feelings alone were unshakeable.
“Right. You should understand now. You have the qualifications to become a True Man.”
Saying this, the Overseer of Paradise pointed behind him.
When she turned around, several people entered her narrow apartment. Were they waiting outside?
“Let me introduce them. They are the False Men who will serve you.”
Amongst them, a man with eyes like a hound stepped forward and kneeled.
“Parney Parlmanta-sama, please tell us everything that you desire. No matter how petty that wish would be, we would throw away our lives to grant it.
My name is Zackie Mylon.”
He put his mouth to Parney’s feet. Even a princess would probably not receive that sort of treatment.
“He is a loyal warrior of the Indulging God Cult. His mission is to protect you.”
Next, an old man walking with a cane also kissed her feet.
“He is Olt Gowla. He will market you around the world.”
The Overseer of Paradise said. One after the other, the False Men kissed Parney’s feet and pledged allegiance to her.
Finally, an old woman came up.
“…Parney-sama. I might not be able to be of use to you like everyone else. But please, keep even someone like me in some part of your mind.”
“Are you also from the Indulging God Cult?”
Saying this, she prostrated herself before Parney.
“Parney. You are not alone. The happiness in your heart shall become that of everyone in Heaven.”
Right. Her happiness was to be shared with others. It wasn’t hers alone.
Parney talked to the False Men.
“I can do nothing but act. So I think I would need you all to help me in many things. Since I’m going to do my best to become happy, please come with me to Heaven.”
Everyone raised passionate voices. The Overseer of Paradise watched them in satisfaction.
Parney continued working without rest. She read scripts until late at night, and when it became morning she would fly to the film studio and perform. She happily lived the sort of life that would make a normal person give up in a week.
“Parney-sama, take care of yourself.”
The warrior Zackie, who became her close aide, said so to her.
“I suffer more when I rest. I can act. The audience is waiting for me. I anxiously wait for that every single day.”
Those were Parney’s true feelings. That’s why she was a True Man.
Her fame grew day by day. It was hard to find critic articles that did not praise her. She cut those off one by one and then shredded them. She would do so every day she found the time to.
“It’s a big hit again.”
“Won’t you soon grow tired of being praised?”
“What are you saying? Don’t say such stupid things.”
“Please forgive me. That is why you are a True Man.”
Parney moved away from the cheap apartment she used to live in to a large mansion. She was also happy about that, but compared to just being able to act, it was a trifle bit of happiness.
“Is there anything else you want other than acting?”
“Nothing at all.”
“But it is our mission to meet all of your desires. No matter how small they are, we must grant them.”
“Well then, that’s troubling.”
Parney thought for a while, and then spoke lightly.
“I know. I want to meet my family.”
“I haven’t seen them in a long while. They didn’t even send me letters. I want us to live together. Then, I’ll bring father and mother along to Heaven.”
That much of a wish should be grantable. All of her wishes could be granted because she was a True Man. However, Zackie’s reply came in a voice that sounded like he bared his fangs on her.
“…We cannot grant that.”
This was the first time he defied her.
“Even for you True Men who can do anything there are things that you mustn’t do. You cannot leak the existence of the Indulging God Cult.”
“If the populace will come to know of the existence of Heaven, everyone will want to ascend to it. Heaven will then become sullied, and lose its meaning as Heaven.”
“Only people chosen by Lascall Othello can ascend to Heaven.”
Parney gave up on her wish. She soon forgot of that conversation, but Zackie’s fanged voice remained engraved in her mind.
One day, she questioned the Overseer of Paradise when he came to visit.
“By the way, I’ve wanted to ask this for a long time, but don’t you have any wishes?”
“Aren’t you the leader of the Indulging God Cult? Don’t you have anything that you want to do like me?”
“No, I’m but a False Man. True Men produce happiness for the sake of God, and I’m the one who gathers those to aid them. It’s a different role.”
“Hmm, is that so.”
He was a mysterious man, but gave an overall favorable impression. It also wasn’t bad that he liked cats. Thinking about it, she didn’t know his name.
She recalled the name that Zackie said some time ago.
“By the way, Lascall Othello.”
The Overseer of Paradise looked around.
“Did Lascall come here?”
“Isn’t your name Lascall?”
“That is a misunderstanding. Lascall is a different person.”
“Oh. So, who’s Lascall?”
“Have you not met with Lascall yet?”
“No. I don’t know him.”
“Because he only comes on a whim.”
“Who is he?”
“He is one with the duty to bring Books to God. He is the one who carries the happiness we produce to Heaven. That is Lascall.”
While reading the Book, Alme was thinking. I finally found out his goal. Is that his true identity?
Parney spoke to the Overseer of Paradise.
“Is Lascall more important than you?”
“Rather than him being more important, he’s a different kind of being in the first place. You shouldn’t ask about him more than that.”
“The ones who know the location of Heaven are me and Lascall alone. If it would become known to our followers, people who want to cheat and go directly to Heaven will appear. If people who are not followers will know the location of Heaven, the Cult will be finished. That is why we must keep Lascall a secret.”
“I see. So I’ll stop.”
Parney was obedient. The Overseer of Paradise glanced around.
“Perhaps Lascall is somewhere around here. He occasionally appears when people are talking about him.”
“That is indeed so.”
At that instant, a voice came out of the floor. A man suddenly appeared as if gushing out below.
He seemed to be around forty years old. Parney saw that he was half bald and had a hook nose.
His moderate build body was wrapped in a black suit, and he held a strange dagger made of stone in his right hand.
This was the first time Alme has seen Lascall. She burned his appearance into her mind.
“That was somewhat anticlimactic.”
Parney said while smiling.
“He’s somewhat shabby. Like a normal person. I was expecting someone like a dashing young man or an amazing old man.”
“How harsh of you.”
The Overseer of Paradise smiled.
“I am terribly sorry.”
Lascall Othello said with a serious expression.
“Parney-sama, when you obtain a satisfying life and a satisfying death, let us bring your Book to Heaven. I shall look forward to that.”
“I also asked the Overseer of Paradise about this, but don’t you want to be satisfied as well?”
Lascall shook his head.
“If this world is like a movie, then I am someone like that movie’s audience. I merely observe and at times lend a hand.”
After saying so, his greeting ended, and Lascall disappeared.
Did he omit anything? Thought Alme while reading the Book.
After that the happy days kept going without any change.
One day, however, a clear crack appeared in Parney’s happiness. It was caused by an abrupt visit.
It was in the room where actors read their scripts for a certain movie. Parney found an unexpected face there.
She was the friend who shared an apartment with her before she joined the Indulging God Cult.
“It’s our first time working together.”
Mel innocently came to speak with her. It’s been a long time, but her smile remained as it always was. But what about Parney herself? Did she change?
“I was looking forward to this.”
If one of them ever became a star, she would recommend the other one – they once had this sort of promise. However, Parney hadn’t remembered Mel at all.
Mel didn’t seem bothered by that. Did she forget? Or did she not mind? Parney couldn’t say.
“I’ll start reading the script. Do you remember it, Parney-chan?”
“Wow, you beat me. Even though you have more lines than me…”
Parney was acting the lead part of a queen. Mel was playing a minor role – the lover of the king. However, during the filming, Parney only followed Mel with her eyes.
When the filming started, her innocent face changed. Her eyes became sharp as a leopard’s and her mouth hid a strong and silent ambition.
At the instant the camera started rolling, her expression changed to that of a vulgar and voluptuous woman.
Eventually, Parney noticed she wasn’t just following her with her gaze. She was simply captivated by her performance.
Was that her natural talent? No, that’s wrong. She had been polishing it for a long time. After Parney left that cheap apartment, Mel polished herself to crawl up to her.
But what about Parney herself?
Just as she thought so, she suddenly lost strength in her legs.
Zackie supported her body. After seeing her condition, he spoke to everyone around.
“Excuse me, she seems to be unwell. We shall leave for now!”
Parney returned to the dressing room while supported by Zackie. There, when no one other than Zackie could see her, tears started rolling on her cheeks.
“…Did Mel not come here?”
After a while, as she calmed down, Parney asked.
“She came to visit earlier, but I drove her away.”
Parney wiped off her makeup and tears.
“Is she hindering you?”
She read his intention from his way of speaking. Parney spoke while glaring at him.
“Zackie, if you kill her I’ll quit being a True Man.”
“I really mean it.”
Parney now understood. She wasn’t special because she was a particularly good actress. She was special because she was happy.
If she were to lose that happiness, everything will end. If she wouldn’t be a True Man she will have nothing left.
Ever since then, her acting ability began to deteriorate. Together with the collapse of her confidence, she developed a fear of being abandoned.