Utsuro no Hako to Zero no Maria - novelonlinefull.com
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I was never supposed to encounter 'O'. I'm a completely ordinary person who can't even fulfill his own wishes, let alone someone else's.
The supernatural being before me is only interested in Kazu. In his (or her) eyes, I'm just a human who's close to Kazu. I was only able to obtain this power because he (she) is trying to interfere with Kazu by influencing his environment.
Clinging to the 'box' I received so arbitrarily, I'm like a beggar frantically rifling through a garbage bin, desperate to find just enough food to get by.
Even so, I've decided to rely on this 'box'.
'O' watches me with a charming smile on his (her) face.
"'O', there's something that I fail to understand. I admit that Kazu is someone special. I also get why you would want to observe him. I just don't get why a superior being would care so much about a single human."
"What makes you wonder?"
"Well, I think your actions are strange for a being of such power. Simply by singling Kazu out, tailing him, revealing your intentions, you're lowering yourself to the level of a mere human."
"Is there a problem with that? Worship is of no consequence to me, so I'm fine with interacting with Kazuki-kun this way. First off, just by appearing before you and conversing like this, I inevitably lose some of my distance from humanity."
"What do you mean?"
"If I wanted to remain transcendental, I could easily display my power without saying a single word. After all, the mere act of making my reasons and intentions clear renders me less remote. Every word I speak brings me closer to the normal world."
After giving me this explanation, 'O' asks me softly:
"I wonder: do you wish I were supernatural? Perhaps you fear that your 'box' might lose its powers if the nature of the ent.i.ty that grants your wish turns out to be such a cheap trick? If so, I'm sorry that I'm not what you're looking for."
"Then what are you? If you're not a G.o.d, what else could you be?"
With no hesitation whatsoever, 'O' tells me what he (she) is:
"A direction called 'O'."
I fail to comprehend his (her) straightforward answer.
"A direction? What are you talking about?"
"You've only come in contact with a small part of my entire being. 'O' refers to a fraction of the giant ent.i.ty that 'I' am."
Hearing about an 'O' who's not 'O' all of a sudden leaves me bewildered.
"...Does that mean that you're like the arms and legs on a human body?"
"Not quite. Hm... let's take a large pool as an example. Pretend that the water is 'me'. Now take a cup and scoop some of the water into it. That's 'O'. The cup that's used to shape me is the direction known as 'O'."
"...What do you mean by direction?"
"As the giant being, 'I' do not have a will per se. Well, strictly speaking, 'I' do have a will, but you wouldn't be able to tell the difference. Therefore, 'I' did not originally have a vector. But once some part of the being takes on the name 'O', that part also takes on a special meaning. It's only natural that this creates a 'direction'."
"So that 'direction' is the reason you devote yourself to Kazu?"
"Exactly. I knew you'd be quick on the uptake."
This wasn't praise - 'O' was clearly mocking me.
'O' continues making fun of me:
"But because you're so quick on the uptake, you cannot control your 'box'."
I bite my lip. While I'm aware of my own shortcomings, having 'O' point them out so bluntly is hard to swallow.
"You are unable to perceive the 'box' as the 'box' that it is. In order to make it something that you can understand, you distort it through your own filter. What you think a 'box' is, is in fact something completely different. Ah, one more thing! You seem to think that I'm not interested in you at all, but you're mistaken. In contrast to Kazuki-kun, who has the ability to fully utilize a 'box', you fall short to a ridiculous extent. In a certain way, that makes you a very interesting fellow, too," 'O' says with another charming smile. "I'm sure that you'll be the first to understand my true nature."
Shut up already!
If 'O' keeps giving me hints, I might be able to deduce who he (she) really is.
Sure, 'O' can change his (or her) appearance at will. I have no idea what he (she) really looks like. I don't even know if 'O' is male or female.
But I do have a talent for seeing through deception and getting to the true nature of things. I've got too much brainpower in that area.
If I fully understand 'O', I will render myself unable to believe in the supernatural powers of my 'box'. I am only able to use those special powers because 'O' is a mysterious ent.i.ty.
Therefore, I won't distort 'O' with my interpretations.
I will admire and worship him.
By keeping my gaze averted from reality, I'll fulfill my wish.◆◆◆ Daiya Oomine - 09/06 SUN 12:05 ◆◆◆
"I was really shocked, yes. ...Yes. Yes. Of course I had heard of the 'Dog Humans,' but you know, I dismissed it as one of those things on TV. I never dreamed that a 'Dog Human' would show up in my own backyard!"
The LCD television is showing a woman whose face is obscured by a mosaic. The middle-aged housewife's voice has been electronically distorted, but her disgusted tone comes through loud and clear.
"What kind of person was X (name erased by an artificial sound)?"
"Mh... pretty normal, in fact. But he was definitely very quiet. When you greeted him, he would always mumble so quietly that you couldn't tell if he was answering or not!"
"Has he done anything that caught your attention?"
"...Well, yes. Lately, or rather, when his parents disappeared... what do they call those people? Shut-ins? I think he secluded himself at home. What he did for a living? ...Who knows? I have no idea."
"Could you elaborate on the disappearance of his parents?"
"Yes. ...Ah, but I should mention that his parents might have moved away without him. I just heard a rumor that they disappeared. I don't know any details. X was never on good terms with his neighbors."
"I see... Do you know what trait all the 'Dog Humans' share?"
The middle-aged woman is clearly taken aback.
"...Yes. They're all criminals, right? And their crimes tend to be rather serious."
"X's criminal record is unknown at this point, but do you..."
"I merely spotted X on all fours barking, that's all. I'm afraid I have nothing more to—"
The middle-aged woman probably ran out of useful information: the camera cut back to the studio and zoomed in on the moderator and a few commentators.
No one seemed to know whether to discuss this phenomenon in a serious or a joking manner. The partic.i.p.ants' awkward attempts at commenting on this utterly mysterious incident were just ambiguous nonsense.
I shift my position on my bed and smile scornfully.
Just as I planned, the variety shows have started to cover the "Dog Humans" every day.
When a person suddenly loses his ability to speak and starts crawling about on all fours for no explicable reason - that's the "Dog Human" phenomenon. No variety show would want to miss out on such a sensational topic.
But no matter how much attention the topic gets, the underlying cause won't come to light. Many doctors and scientists are trying to get to the bottom of the "Dog Human" phenomenon, but regardless of their approach, they'll never discover that a 'box' is the cause.
Thus, the commentators inevitably disappoint the audience with trite conclusions like "they are just acting" or "they talk themselves into believing that they are dogs" or "it's a mental illness." Even the fishy psychic, who was probably added to the panel just for laughs, managed to do more for the audience by saying that "G.o.d has inflicted this on us as a trial for the conceited human race, in order to teach us that we are merely animals."
That's such bulls.h.i.t.
If you're discussing "conceitedness," then the idea that G.o.d would bother to put us on trial is far more conceited. I mean, do humans care if vermin are conceited?
Only a human could come up with something as absurd as creating "Dog Humans."
Just as I turned back to the TV, the moderator concluded today's "Dog Human" special report with some empty words.
"We hope with all our hearts that he will recover soon."
"We hope he will recover soon," huh?
The moderator won't be able to say that for much longer.
"X" aka "Katsuya Tamura" is really a criminal who has killed his parents - but his criminal acts are concealed from the public for now. Once his actions are revealed, that moderator won't be able to casually wish for his recovery anymore.
Right now, only Katsuya Tamura and I know about his crimes, but before long, everyone else will find out.
Public opinion can't ignore the fact that every "Dog Human" so far has turned out to be a felon, and the police can't ignore public opinion. So, the police will find some pretext to investigate, and will soon discover the bones of Katsuya Tamura's parents in his garden.
And then Katsuya Tamura will go where he belongs: to prison. No... perhaps he'll be sent elsewhere because of his mental problems, but that's besides the point. My goal isn't to punish criminals who would otherwise remain at liberty.
If the Katsuya Tamura incident goes according to plan... then I won't have to make any more preparations. The power of my 'box' can actually make anyone into a "Dog Human" - I deliberately use my power to find people who have committed crimes and only transform those criminals.
I do so in order to force public perception to equate "Dog Human" with "criminal."
"A mutt on four legs is a criminal."
Once that a.s.sociation spreads, "Dog Humans" will automatically be treated as lawbreakers.
What will be the consequences of my experiment in social engineering?
Being a "Dog Human" is as miserable as it gets. Everyone is disgusted by the sight of "Dog Humans" losing their senses, crawling naked on the ground, and barking. No one will pity them since they're not considered human anymore-especially because everyone will believe all "Dog Humans" are criminal sc.u.m.
Everyone will fear becoming a "Dog Human."
The public will realize that committing crimes might turn them into "Dog Humans." But without knowing exactly what causes the transformation, people will have no choice but to avoid criminal activity, and live perfectly innocent lives in order to avoid becoming the target of public scorn.
This will put a stop to crime.
Of course the absolute number of "Dog Humans" is totally insufficient. It is necessary to make people believe that criminals become "Dog Humans" with a probability bordering on certainty. In order to accomplish this, I will need to create more "Dog Humans" - legions of them.
Once my task is done, no one will be able to ignore this phenomenon anymore.
I focus on the TV once again.
The topic has changed and a new video has appeared on the screen. Some pedestrian probably used his smart phone to record it: the picture is blurry and the surprised voice of the video-taker can be heard in the background.
I can see the main street of the Kabukichou district in Shinjuku, where dozens of adult men and women have thrown themselves to the ground.
It's impossible to determine what kind of group they belong to at first glance because the men and women seem to have absolutely nothing in common: there are yakuza, office workers, transs.e.xuals, regular women, and so on.
They're gathered around a single individual, and they throw themselves to the ground before him with tears in their eyes.
The camera captures the person standing in their midst - a young man with silver hair and pierced ears who is looking down at the people around him with cold eyes.
Naturally that's me, Daiya Oomine.
Again, events are proceeding according to my plans. I was sure that someone would film it if I set up such a performance on a major street, now that camera phones are ubiquitous.
I even planned for the event to end up on TV.
The commentators at the studio frown at the video and make a.s.sumptions that totally miss the mark, like "is this some new cult?"
The truth is something entirely different, of course.
I created the "Dog Human" phenomenon and the collective genuflection with my powers.
No one at the studio has linked these two events yet, but there will be people who will a.s.sociate these two sensational incidents due to their simultaneous occurrence. People on the web have started to suspect some kind of relation between the two without giving it much thought, but they are actually on the right track.
That video is a precursor to my ultimate goals.
Once society can no longer ignore the "Dog Human" phenomenon, I'll teach the ma.s.ses just who it is that stands in their midst.
And at that point, my plan will start in earnest.
I leave the business hotel and walk along the streets of Shinjuku.
It's Sunday afternoon. Crowded. Unable to stand this huge ma.s.s of people, I'm struck by a dizzy spell.
I know by now that most people are sinners. My 'box' has forced me to come to the conclusion that legions of people are hiding polluted sludge within their bodies.
By now, a crowd like this feels no different than a wriggling garbage sack to me.
...Well, I've gotten used to that, too.
It's already September, but the temperature shows no sign of declining, making it as hot as it was during the middle of summer. I look at my watch. It's 2 p.m.
As the sun moves across the sky, my shadow slowly lengthens.
One after another, the people around me tread on the shadow that I've cast.
Which automatically activates my 'box'.
Every time someone walks into my shadow, my body gets penetrated by sins. Sins, sins, sins.
When I first started using my 'box', I was unable to remain standing. But by now, it's just a matter of routine. I'm no longer the man who broke under that disgusting feeling. I have already prevailed over my weakness.
This is just an unpleasant ch.o.r.e.
The ugliness that I'm feeling is just too much - I have to cry out.
What the f.u.c.k is this? What is this repulsive feeling, like someone threw vomit, foul salad oil and insect larvae into a blender and made me drink the results?
What kind of human sc.u.m bears such a horrible sin?
I rub my temples and turn to the person standing in my shadow so I can look him in the face.
What a surprise.
Turns out it's a middle school girl with a black bob cut who could be best described as naive-looking. Even though it's the weekend, she's wearing her school uniform. Her pure looks are the opposite of a sinner's. In fact, she seems too pure to be part of this city's madding crowd.
Having heard my groan and seeing my contorted face, she gives me a suspicious glance. ...Tch, who do you think is to blame for this?
Our eyes meet, but she just tries to pa.s.s me by.
"Give up on your revenge. I pity you, but you reap what you sow."
The girl stops and turns to me. The reason for her lack of expression is probably that she has yet to realize the situation that she's in.
"You may want to punish wrongdoers, but the guys who pay for your body aren't the same as the guy who gave you AIDS. Nor are they somehow in cahoots. Their sins certainly aren't as grave as what you plan to do to them. I guess you don't agree with me, though."
Her eyes start to show some confusion, but she otherwise remains poker-faced. Maybe she's not good at expressing herself...
"So stop selling your body and spreading HIV."
With an utterly deadpan look on her face, she opens her mouth.
"...Please don't say such nonsense in public."
She speaks at last. I have to strain to hear her frail voice. Looks like she's also not very energetic.
"Don't worry! Look, there's no one paying any attention to us. You'd go nuts if you had to pay attention to every single person you pa.s.s on the street. This bunch wouldn't care if a wanted criminal were strolling by."
Well, it'd be an entirely different story though if someone started to act like a dog...
"How can you know what I'm doing...?"
"I don't. I merely sensed your reeking sin."
Her somewhat lifeless expression starts to change. Most likely she wanted to frown, but because she's so bad at expressing herself, she just squints a bit.
She turns away from me and dashes off. Looks like she's finally trying to escape.
"You can't escape. You're already under my control."
I close my eyes.
I close my vision. I close myself.
Back when she stepped into my shadow, I absorbed her sin. I now reach into the depths of my heart and grope for it.
A numbing pain pierces my innards.
While enduring this pain, I search within my mind for her specific thoughts. The dirty jumble of countless others' repulsive thoughts that are in my head, makes me want to hold my nose even when there's no physical stench. I imagine the contents of a witch's cauldron filled with poisonous plants and lizards.
The pain I feel is most likely a mere illusion: it's just my heart cringing. My heart is struggling with all its might against touching such filth, and causing me pain as a result. h.e.l.l, it's like a host of tapeworms squirming inside me.
While resisting the waves of disgust, I finally find her thoughts among all the others that I hold in my head. They resemble a "shadow."
Each of these shadow-like thoughts is someone's sin.
Reaching even deeper into this repulsive cauldron——I grab her shadow.
Several meters from me, the middle schooler crouches down.
I've finished taking control.
I open my eyes.
I try to forcefully suppress the numbness within me by pressing my hand hard against my chest, and slowly approach her.
"Ah, aaaaahaaaaaah!" she cries and convulses in pain.
Her response draws the attention of the people around us, but no one is willing to help her out. Everyone is either just ignoring her or watching helplessly.
"This distress is merely the result of your being directly confronted by your sins. You realize that, right?"
Without saying a word, she continues to cry.
"Don't worry. I'm not going to turn you into a "Dog Human." Only those who have escaped from their responsibilities by turning off their brains and no longer retain any feelings of guilt - are the real sc.u.m who are lower than mutts. That doesn't apply to you. You are suffering. You have just become desperate. This means that you still have a chance for growth. But I think you need to be monitored. Therefore—"
I throw the shadow of her sin into my mouth.
"—become a slave of your sin."
An incredible bitterness spreads in my mouth.
By doing so, I have subjugated her.
The 'box' I obtained: the 'Shadow of Sin and Punishment'.
In a nutsh.e.l.l, the power of my 'box' uses the feelings of guilt deep inside the target to bring him or her under my control.
But I have imposed additional conditions upon myself. In order to control someone, I have to directly confront their sins. This essentially means that I have to look at the ugliest parts of people's souls. For example, the middle school girl before me caught HIV due to prost.i.tution and despaired. As revenge, she has been selling her body to infect the men who have s.e.x with her. Despite the deep suffering she experiences due to the guilt of her acts, despite her pangs of remorse, she can't stop herself. Her sin has already taken on a life of its own, gone out of control and is damaging others as well.
I burden myself with these sins.
I even burden myself with the harmful ill will that is attached to these sins.
As a consequence, I also get attacked.
But only by doing so can I control my target.
—A 'box' can grant any 'wish'. But there is no one with a perfectly undistorted wish. A 'box' grants such distorted 'wishes' in their exact distorted form.
I'm no exception to this rule. Because of my burdensome sense of realism, I can't bring myself to fully believe in the power of the 'boxes'. I can't help but feel that, on some level, it's just a pipe dream.
If you use a 'box' thoughtlessly, your 'wish' will be twisted and not come true.
Fortunately though, I was aware of this rule. Thus, I decided against using my 'box' immediately after receiving it from 'O', and instead sought a way to master it.
Before long, I was given the chance to gain mastery over my 'box' within Koudai Kamiuchi's "Game of Idleness." I was able to become enlightened.
You mustn't try to grant your 'wish' directly with the 'box'. You have to 'wish' for the means to grant your 'wish'.
Imagine that you wanted to destroy the world. When you wish directly for that goal, the 'wish' automatically becomes vague and doubtful at the same time, preventing you from mastering the 'box'. Instead, you should take an indirect route and 'wish' for a switch that can trigger a nuclear holocaust. Such a 'wish' has enough force to destroy the world and is concrete enough to be easily visualized.
Of course that may still be an absurd 'wish'. You have to be able to believe that a 'box' has enough power to grant it. That said, I have already seen the unbelievable power of the 'boxes'. It's no problem for me to imagine something as basic as control over existing nuclear a.r.s.enals.
Even a realist like me can master the 'boxes' in this manner.
My true 'wish' is to "wipe out all those thoughtless fools." I refrained from trying to grant this 'wish' directly and instead asked for a weapon to do so.
That's the weapon I've chosen.
It's probably my basic nature that lets me grant my 'wish'. Anyone else would probably have failed, unable to believe that they can control others. But I've always considered it possible to control others with my words and actions to a certain extent. While that might or might not be true, it doesn't matter, because my belief in the possibility of control let me grant my 'wish' without distortion. By imposing some strict conditions on myself, I solidified my 'wish' even more. After doing so, I was finally able to obtain my power.
But this power is terribly weak compared to my ultimate goal. It's a power that requires me to take a ridiculously roundabout approach. I have never hated my realist's mindset as much as I do now.
That being said, I don't really mind.
After all, this power feels extremely fit and proper.
And doesn't that mean that it suits me perfectly?
"Will you stop your pointless revenge?" I ask the girl who's still crouching and crying.
"Ahaahh," she pants incomprehensibly while nodding vigorously.
There's no doubt that this girl will stop her self-defeating revenge. There seems to be no special need to control her.
Since I'm done here, I walk away. Suddenly two men who look like college students stand in my way.
"...Hey, what have you done to that girl?"
The speaker's tone is calm, but both students are burning with righteous indignation and don't seem to plan on letting me pa.s.s. Apparently, they think that I hara.s.sed the girl.
"I haven't done anything. Right?" I say and turn to her.
She hurriedly wipes away her tears and stands up.
"Yes. Nothing at all," she says as she raises her head.
Even though she hasn't done anything unusual, the students shrink back.
After looking at her, I understand their response - no wonder they shrunk back when they caught a glimpse of her face.
Her smile is utterly unnatural - it looks as if the corners of her mouth are being pulled up by strings. A dull light is glittering in her eyes.
—Oh no, not that pattern...
"This man is a G.o.d."
All I did was stir up her feelings of guilt. I prepared to control her, but in the end I didn't. But it looks like she was able to reconcile her feelings because I sucked up her remorse and confronted her with it. I accidentally provided something akin to a perfect counseling session with instant success.
Because I accomplished this in a single moment with a mysterious power, she thinks I'm a G.o.d. It's a pattern that occurs from time to time when I use my 'box'.
With this newest development, the college students seem to have hit their limit and walk away with contorted faces.
I, too, contort my face and look at the schoolgirl. She is breathing wildly and smiling as if gazing at a celestial being.
For heaven's sake, don't call me a G.o.d. Stop that. Seriously. It's disgusting. It feels like someone stuck a finger down my throat. I'm not G.o.d-like, nor do I want to become a G.o.d.
"——Right. I'm a G.o.d."
I have to let them call me that.
I'm still a wimp. I haven't completely thrown away my "self" from back when I still believed in the benevolence of human nature, back before I started getting my piercings. That's why I suffer so much from burdening myself with other people's sins.
If it's normal for a human to suffer from doing that, then I must stop being human. I must become heartless. If choking Koudai Kamiuchi to death wasn't enough to overcome my weakness, then I just have to kill again. That's how important it is to erase my weakness.
I will transcend myself.
If I have to become akin to a G.o.d to accomplish my goal, I shall become a G.o.d.
I look at the girl who's worshipping me.
There's no special need to control her... but then there's no reason not to take control of her either. How can I become a G.o.d if I'm not prepared to steal her dignity and wreck her?
It's child's play to ruin her life.
Her life's as good as over anyway. Then—
"Abandon everything for me."
I touch the "Shadow of her Sin" that's within my chest and start controlling her.
She lets out a sensual moan and leans against me. As if begging to be dominated, she looks up at me with moist eyes.
"Rejoice. I can give even a filthy wh.o.r.e like you a purpose. Well, let's see. First of all, lick my shoes right now."
"Oooh, thank you so much! Thank you so much!!!"
Without hesitation, the girl starts to lick the soles of my boots.
"I'm happy. I'm so happy. What bliss it is to touch something you put on, even if it's just with my tongue!"
While bathing in the curiosity and scorn of the surrounding people, I think:
How stupid. Making her do something like that only makes me feel embarra.s.sed at best. It makes me sick. But I have to subdue everyone like that.
I have to let go of my insignificant personal feelings.
But I am still grieving.
I—touch one of my piercings.
By now, I have a total of six piercings in my ears. I felt the strong urge to create holes in my body, which is why I got those piercings.
For some reason, Kokone Kirino's face crosses my mind.
Even though I'm supposed to throw away my feelings for her, her face crosses my mind.
The Kokone Kirino in my thoughts, however, is not that superficial, Barbie doll of a woman who puts in contacts, constantly changes her haircut, and needs more than an hour every morning for her makeup.
The Kokone Kirino I see is that timid and sensitive girl who always used to follow me wherever I went. Back then, the self-conscious eyes behind her gla.s.ses looked only at me.
I shake off my mental image of Kiri's face.
Yeah, I know! My attachment to Kiri is the greatest obstacle to achieving my goal.
I gaze down at the girl who is still licking my shoes.
I will change the world.
I will revolutionize the world!
In order to make that possible, I must abandon Kokone Kirino.
I will also have to defeat my greatest enemy.
"I will go meet the zeroth Maria."
A certain simpleton who was transformed by the killer game and has resolved to pursue his goal with absolute determination.
That specialist in crushing 'wishes' will appear before me without fail. This time, he won't be drawn in by a 'box'; instead he'll take action of his own accord and attempt to crush my 'box'.
I will fight against you.◇◇◇ Kazuki Hoshino - 09/06 SUN 14:05 ◇◇◇
Kokone didn't change even after Daiya disappeared.
It doesn't matter if she expected Daiya to disappear; her lack of reaction was still extremely unnatural. This led me to the following conclusion:
Kokone's cheery personality is just a facade.
Not just right now, but for the entire time that I've known her.
Truth be told, I've long been aware that her cheerful att.i.tude is somewhat forced and fake. I also realized that even though Haruaki and Daiya knew her true self, they played along with her forced cheeriness anyway.
And I noticed that Daiya always seemed unhappy about the situation.
At the same time, I never thought Kokone's choice was that significant.
After all, everyone wears a mask to a certain degree when dealing with other people. Mogi-san, for example, told me that she had struggled quite a bit in the past to maintain her social contacts. "If Kokone is deliberately trying to become that kind of person, then there's nothing wrong with her choice."
That's what I thought.
But I must have been mistaken.
Otherwise the following incident would never have occurred.
"No, but seriously Kazu-kun, that was awful of you! I mean sure, it may be wrong to get Kasumi's hopes up by being too gentle, but come on, you understand the position she's in, don't you?"
It was after school when that incident occurred.
"You should know well enough why Kasumi wants to come back to school! Kazu-kun, do you even realize how horribly your behavior has affected her, especially after all the hardships she's borne while trying to recover?!"
Kokone was scolding me because I had left Mogi-san the day before to go to Maria's apartment instead.
"I want you to know: you're seriously mistaken if you think that she's okay just because she seemed cheerful after her accident! No one would be okay with their body in such a state! Kasumi is just trying to appear strong because she doesn't want us to worry!"
It was July, just before the summer holidays. Even though it was already past 5 p.m., the sun still shone strongly through the windows, keeping the cla.s.sroom brightly lit. It was probably quite hot, too, but I can't really remember.
Kokone was desperately trying to hold back her tears. I couldn't help but admire her empathy for her friend, as wrong as it was for me to be thinking about that while being scolded.
But I couldn't just nod and smile.
I understood Kokone's point quite well. Of course I want to be gentle with Mogi-san.
But I have already picked Maria.
Therefore, I made it clear that I would devote myself to Maria.
"Kokone, I have chosen Maria———..."
Kokone replied with another objection, despite being somewhat shocked by my unshakable att.i.tude.
"B-But that's no excuse for acting like that yesterday! Couldn't you at least wait until Kasumi's recovered further?! Treating her gently for a tiny bit longer shouldn't be a problem!"
I remained silent.
Not because I agree with Kokone, but because everything I want to say would only hurt her feelings.
In all honesty, no matter what she tells me, even if she hates me and never speaks to me again, my choice won't change. I consider Kokone a dear friend and I don't want to lose her, but that has nothing to do with my choosing Maria.
I understood what Kokone was trying to get at. But when would the perfect moment be? Does it even exist? Was I supposed to tell Mogi-san only after she'd returned to school? How about right after Mogi-san had completed an exhausting rehabilitation and finally fulfilled her wish of living a normal student's life by my side? Could that possibly be the best time to tell Mogi-san that I had chosen Maria?
Of course not.
Mogi-san would still suffer even if I held off on telling her about my decision.
"Say something, Kazu-kun! Please, don't hurt Kasumi any more than this!"
I don't want to hurt her either.
I wanted to tell Kokone that with all my heart, but as the one who was hurting Mogi-san, I had no right to do so.
I took out my cell phone. Kokone complained, "what are you looking at now?!" I just ignored her and found the picture that I was looking for.
It was an image of Mogi-san making a peace sign in her pajamas.
I was really fond of that picture. Mogi-san's sunflower-like smile always cheered me up.
Looking at it, I understood why I could have loved her in a different world and a different time. It was only natural that I would fall in love with a girl that gave me such a warm, loving smile. It was a very, very precious picture of mine.
Therefore—I deleted it.
Because I could not choose Mogi-san anymore.
I remained silent and continued to stare at Kokone. She seemed defeated by my steadfast look, and didn't say anything else.
As we were the only ones in the cla.s.sroom, it was completely quiet.
—Yes, there was a deep silence.
That's probably why those two girls from our cla.s.s thought that the cla.s.sroom was empty. Because of that mistake, they started trash talking Kokone on their way back to the cla.s.sroom from their club activities.
"Man, Kokone sure is acting s.l.u.tty lately."
...without having the faintest idea that the target of their malicious gossip was right there.
"Isn't she a real attention wh.o.r.e? Her whining about her gla.s.ses yesterday really p.i.s.sed me off. I mean, come on, we don't give a s.h.i.t about your face! If you don't want to talk to us, then just talk to yourself in the mirror!"
"Yeah, totally! It's so annoying that she's always talking about herself! Besides, she's not nearly as cute as she makes herself out to be. It's like day and night if you compare her face to Maria-sama's. I bet Maria-sama's at least three times as pretty!"
"Haha, Kou, you're so terrible!"
I recognized those amused voices. They belonged to two girls from our cla.s.s who had befriended Kokone. All three of them would often have lunch together.
"But you can't deny any of it. Isn't Kokone just relying on her make-up? Oh boy, she's so desperate to get popular with the guys."
"Mh... but she is popular... are guys really unable to see through all that BS?"
"Oh, they'll fall for you if you're somewhat cute and act overly friendly. I guess guys are also less shy if the girl is only somewhat cute, no?"
"And that's what makes her perfect!"
"Hey, I wonder if she thinks that everyone likes her? I mean, we just hang around with her because she attracts the guys."
"Yeah, she's really useful that way."
"But G.o.d does it stress me out. And she's gotten much less useful ever since our sharp-tongued prince has stopped coming to school."
"Oh, Mii-chan- Oomine-kun was your favorite, wasn't he?"
"He's got a hard sh.e.l.l, but in reality he's really gentle! He's overflowing with dignity and not vulgar in the slightest! I'm the only one who really understands you, my Daiya-kyun!"
"Oh cut that out, Mii-chan! You're only saying that because of his looks, aren't you!"
"You've got a point there. Ugly people deserve to die anyway!"
"But is Oomine-kun dating Kokone?"
"Mhh, if you make it past tense, maybe?"
"Aah, that could be. Maybe she managed to seduce him, but they broke up when he realized what she's really like?"
I wanted to cover my ears to escape from their unbearable slander, but how could I do so with their victim standing right beside me?
Their voices drew nearer, and at any moment, the girls would come face-to-face with Kokone. Unable to make a decision, I wanted to turn back toward Kokone.
She must be white as chalk and petrified. Maybe she's starting to cry... What should I do? Should I help her hide and wait for them to leave? After that I could go with her to Mickey D's, listen carefully to her woes and try to comfort her to the best of my ability...
But there was no need to comfort her.
She wasn't at all upset.
Kokone was—smiling in amus.e.m.e.nt.
At the time, I was baffled. I didn't understand how she would be able to maintain her composure in the face of such vile comments.
Ah, but hindsight is 20/20. Having witnessed her subsequent behavior, I can guess why she was so amused.
What Kokone felt at the time must have been—
—a sense of superiority.
The two girls opened the cla.s.sroom door. Once they saw Kokone, they stiffened in a ridiculously abrupt manner.
"O-Oh, you were here?"
In contrast to their stiff faces, Kokone's countenance remained perfectly normal.
"Yes, I was."
They were confused by how calm she was.
"So that's what you think of me. I'm a little dense, you know, so I didn't notice. Honestly, I'm sorry! I'll try to change for the better, I promise."
"U-Um, yeah, Kokone..."
"I know, I know. When you speak ill of someone, it's easy to go a little overboard, right? But that's only because you get carried away, not because you actually feel that way. Yeah, I know."
She seemed quite forgiving of their cruel comments. While they were still wary, their faces started to relax a bit.
"E-Exactly!" "We just got carried away," they said while making up excuses. Kokone's smile remained unchanged.
"But you know, because I heard what you said, some awkwardness will remain... you do understand that, right?"
"But I've got a solution: why don't you let me say some things in return? Then we'll be even and we can go back to being friends!"
"Y-Yeah, you're right. Say whatever you want."
After her "friends" agreed to her proposal, Kokone opened her mouth and spoke.
She looked them straight in the eyes and spoke clearly and precisely.
"Drop dead, you ugly b.i.t.c.hes."
Their eyes widened in disbelief.
"You're as nasty as a pair of b.i.t.c.hes in heat. Your faces are so ugly, there's not a single person in the entire world who you could stand next to make you look better. You said that all I'm good for is attracting guys? Say that again when your own G.o.dd.a.m.n mugs aren't too ugly to get the job done! Even if you want to use me as a guy magnet, what's the point - not even a blind man would be interested in a bunch of b.i.t.c.hes as ugly as you!"
As Kokone's words began to register, one of the two girls turned red with anger, while the other one turned pale with fright.
"Hahaha, I can't help laughing! I mean, you realize that you've acknowledged my superiority with your stupid envy, right? Is it that painful to be so inferior? Please don't overdo it, okay? I'm not that perfect. At any rate, let me tell you this: you're worthless b.i.t.c.hes whose only purpose in life is to make me look even better."
The angry glint in her eyes that had been piercing them disappeared abruptly, and a cheerful smile reappeared on her face.
"All right, now let's forget everything and be friends again!"
Those girls haven't spoken a single word to Kokone ever since.
While recalling that incident, I'm using my sister Luu-chan's laptop to watch a Youtube video of a weird group of people in Shinjuku.
By now I know:
How Kokone was able to say such cruel things to those two girls, while shedding tears for Mogi-san.
I used to think that Kokone's goal was to actually internalize the superficial, cheery image that she tried so hard to project. But that's not true. In fact, now I'm sure that Kokone was forced to act that way. It was somehow her only choice, even if it meant straining herself to the utmost.
Without stressing herself like that, Kokone could not stay herself.
And I suspect those two girls had accidentally encroached upon a forbidden part of Kokone's personality.
Therefore she snapped.
So far, I haven't discovered what's' been driving her internal conflict.
But I bet Daiya knows the truth.
"Ah, I've also seen that video! He's an amazing boy, isn't he? So charismatic for someone his age."
While peeking at the screen, my "roommate" made a comment that totally missed the mark. I turn around.
"...Hey, that's my Umaibō, isn't it?"
While I'm saying that, Luu-chan opens a package of Tonkatsu-sauce-flavored Umaibō.
"But you're using my computer, right?"
"Yeah. But that's irrelevant."
She reluctantly took out her wallet and pressed a 10-yen coin into my hand.
...That's not what I meant... whatever.
While munching on the Umaibō, she adds indifferently:
"I wonder if it's people like that who revolutionize the world?"
I return my gaze to the laptop screen.
Daiya might be trying to destroy the world with his 'box'.
And if he's using a 'box', he will definitely get Maria involved.
Once that happens, Maria's regular life will be lost and she will once more be overtaken by "Aya Otonashi."
—won't let that happen. No matter what.
During the "Game of Idleness," I realized that my enemy is the "Aya Otonashi" who has possessed "Maria Otonashi" and is leading Maria to her death. For Maria's sake, I must free the world from 'O' and 'boxes'.
I have to stop Daiya.
I'm no 'owner'. Depending on what Daiya's 'box' is capable of, I may not have anything to use against him.
So how am I supposed to protect Maria?
There is one extremely simple solution.
It's a method that I want to avoid with all my heart, a method that would require me to betray my former self. Ah, but why do I still care? I have prepared myself to get my hands dirty. In fact, I already have besmirched them by abandoning Koudai Kamiuchi.
Even if I have to obtain and use a 'box', I don't care anymore.
Let the clash of 'box' versus 'box' begin.
A clash of my 'wish' to crush the 'boxes' versus Daiya's 'wish'.
I don't know what Daiya's 'wish' is. But it's definitely something he will fight for with no holds barred.
But whatever it is—
"I can't stand it."
All 'wishes' that have to depend on a 'box' are utter s.h.i.t. No matter how important that 'wish' is to Daiya, it's s.h.i.t. I'll beat it to a pulp and wipe it out, leaving not a single stain.
Even if I have to kill Daiya.
"...Kazu-chan, you have been a little scary lately. Your eyes just took on a bit of a murderous look, you know?"
I ignore Luu-chan's ramblings, and shut down the computer.
I have come to a resolution.
I will fight against Daiya.Jump up↑ A thick sauce is manufactured in j.a.pan under brand names such as 'Bulldog', which reflect its English origins, but this is a brown sauce more similar to HP Sauce rather than any type of Worcestershire Sauce. Jump up↑ Umaibō (うまい棒) or "delicious stick" is a small, puffed, cylindrical corn snack that resides at the bottom of most j.a.panese convenience store candy shelves. scene 1: close-up goodbye 1. HOTEL EXTERIOR - NIGHT The hotel is fairly large and looks like a business hotel. Night has fallen, but it's not quite pitch-black yet. 2. HOTEL ROOM A basic room without much in the way of furniture. It is decently sized. KOUDAI KAMIUCHI, a second-year middle school student, has brought MIYUKI KARINO here. She is surrounded by a group of men with blatantly obscene smiles. Her face has blanched with fear. Behind the men is a double bed. MIYUKI K-Kou-chan! Ignoring MIYUKI, KOUDAI closes the door. Without missing a beat, MIYUKI tries to escape. One of the men blocks her way. Searching for a place to hide, she instinctively rushes into the bathroom. Fortunately, there's a lock on the bathroom door. MIYUKI locks the door. She sits down in front of it. Her breathing is rough. The men's silhouettes can be seen through the partially transparent door. MAN 1 Come here, my sweet Miyuki-chan! MAN 2 Don't be frightened! C'mon, let's have some fun together! MAN 3 Do you even know how much we paid for you!? While the men pound on the door, MIYUKI’s lips tremble. She embraces herself tightly. She makes several false starts as she frantically tries to open her school bag. MIYUKI finally pulls open the zipper and takes out a cellphone with many cellphone straps attached. She starts to type with trembling fingers. 3. CELL PHONE DISPLAY "Help! Weird men are trying to". A pale MIYUKI is writing on her phone. Suddenly she stops. The camera pans down to the end of the message, which simply says: "Help me." 4. AT RINO'S (FLASHBACK) Cut to a blushing, smiling, elementary school-aged MIYUKI who is having her hair ruffled by DAIYA OOMINE. Next to her is KOKONE KIRINO. She is standing close to DAIYA and has an uneasy expression on her face. 5. BATHROOM On the verge of tears, MIYUKI continues to type. The camera zooms in on the cell phone display: "Help me Dai-kun!" She presses a b.u.t.ton. "Your e-mail has been sent." ◆◆◆ Daiya Oomine - 09/09 WED 08:10 ◆◆◆
If a movie were made of my life, those cinematographers would discover that it's no use waiting for the new screenplay to write itself; the story of my struggle to transcend my own limitations may be original, but it would not be well received. Topics like 'boxes' and 'O' are way too implausible for the average moviegoer.
If anything, I think that the scenes involving my past love life would attract a lot of viewers. Ah, but in that case, they'd have to tack on a happy ending. Let's say I die from a terminal illness; Kiri has to come to terms with my death, and moves on. How does that ending sound? A few decades ago, it would have been a hit.
Unfortunately, in reality I didn't die. Life went on even after tragedies struck and left behind permanent scars.
The story of Daiya Oomine has long since ended.
The curtain has fallen.
Therefore, I should bring everything that remains of my human life to an end.
In order to do so, I returned to school.
"Oh Kazu-kun... why don't you just admit that you were fascinated by my beauty?"
"Time to open her eyes, Hoshii! 'No. I only stared at you because I mistook you for a giant dung fly.'"
Kiri and Haruaki are joking back and forth although cla.s.ses are about to start.
I try to join in while sitting at my desk:
"I've always used the word 'bloodl.u.s.t' without much thought, Kiri, but thanks to you I finally understood its true meaning. I'll no longer misuse it in the future. Thanks."
"Eh? Aah, did my brilliance make you unable to stand your own wretchedness and cause you to feel bloodl.u.s.t toward yourself? Well done!"
What a superficial, fake conversation. It's the same as copying some popular song by looking at the score.
It's painful to watch them carry on in this blatantly false fashion.
I disappeared for a long time. On top of that, I obtained a 'box' and changed. Plus, some people in our cla.s.s may have seen that Shinjuku video and noticed my starring role. And, I came back all of a sudden at the end of the summer holidays. There's no way I could smoothly reenter daily school life after a single day.
The lukewarm atmosphere Kiri used to strive for doesn't exist anymore. As further proof of this, some of the girls are avoiding her.
Most likely, the everyday school life would have broken down whether I came back or not. Maria Otonashi's arrival and the various 'boxes' Kazuki Hoshino has gotten involved with have opened up various hairline fractures in it. Nonetheless, Kazu may have been able to maintain the peace if he had chosen to do so - but now that he has overcome the 'Game of Idleness', Kazu won't bother with something so futile anymore.
This false everyday life is ending.
And I will deal it the killing blow.
Yesterday I brought several dozen students under my control. This school marks the starting point for my scheme.
If everything affected by a 'box' is "distorted," I will cover the entire world in "distortion."
I use my cell phone to write a message to a certain murderer. One of the students under my control had gotten me her contact info.
"This is Daiya Oomine. I want to talk, so meet me on the rooftop during lunch break. I'll make sure the door is open."
Student council president Iroha Shindou accepts my request, and appears on the school rooftop during the lunch break.
"Long time no see, Oomine-kun. Hmmh? Ah, even that isn't true. I guess this is the first time we really get to talk?" she says. "Can't you choose a better place to confess? I'm sweating like crazy."
I was expecting her to still be recovering from the 'Game of Idleness', but... this girl has the guts to casually converse with someone she opposed in a fight to the death. That's Iroha Shindou for you.
That only reinforces my decision to call her out.
"You do remember killing me, right?"
My blunt question causes her eyes to widen for a split second, but she quickly laughs it off with a "you look pretty alive if you ask me!"
"Looks like you do."
Shindou purses her lips and scratches her head. She may seem cool, but she really isn't. The look on her face shows that it's only an act.
"Well, let me jog your poor memory. You should be smart enough to know that that incident was neither a dream nor an illusion. But I believe that there are certain gaps in your memory. Do you remember the ident.i.ty of the culprit?"
Shindou hesitates slightly, and answers contemptuously.
"...it was Kamiuchi, right?"
"Right. And since you remember that, I'm sure you have also wondered how Koudai Kamiuchi was able to do something like that," I say. Then, I mention a certain word. "He had a 'box'."
Shindou is waiting for me to continue. However, I keep my mouth shut, convinced that I’ve already said enough.
Seeing me maintain my silence, she scratches her head.
"Umm... Haven't you cut your explanation a bit too short?"
"Didn't I say enough for you to understand at least some of what was going on?"
"Looks like you're overestimating me. I'm not good at drawing conclusions or anything, you know? ...But a 'box', huh. From your wording, I a.s.sume that it's the tool that brought about that killer game? Or should I think of it as a tool that, among other things, has the power to create such a game?"
As I expected, Shindou was able to draw plenty of information from just a few comments.
Not only that, she even moves on to conclude:
"So? Could it be that you've also got one of those 'boxes', Oomine-kun?"
Heh, who are you saying is not good at drawing conclusions?
"Yes. While it's not specialized for creating killer games, I do possess a 'box' right now. Well, I suppose it wasn't hard for you to guess as much, since I raised the subject after calling you out here."
"Uh, well, I just realized that the air about you has changed, and that makes it clear that something must have happened."
The air about me has changed?
Hardly a surprise, I guess, after everything I’ve done since becoming an 'owner'.
"And what exactly is a 'box', now?"
"It's an item that can grant any wish."
"Any wish? Not bad. But most of the time, you can't take something like that literally, can you? It's bound to be some sort of cursed object. Like a piece of equipment you can't take off from some famous RPG. Ah, let me clarify: I have enough common sense to reject that 'box' story. But because we'd get nowhere like that, I'm proceeding on the a.s.sumption that it exists," she says. With a disparaging att.i.tude, Shindou adds, "That aside, what was your wish, Oomine-kun? Requited love? Now aren't you cute!"
"A worldwide revolution."
Shindou abruptly falls silent.
"...are you serious?"
Unsure of how to react, Shindou replies without any expression at all:
"Hah... whatever. I'll take your word for it. So that means that you're trying to stand at the vanguard to change the world using that power? Listen, Oomine-kun - I don't think you're up to that task, and I don't think you're well-suited for it to begin with."
She sure doesn't mince words.
Still, her evaluation is perfectly natural since she really only knows me from the 'Game of Idleness'.
As an NPC, all I did was reject contact with others. I didn't support anyone else. A person who wants to "stand at the vanguard" should have protected the other players like Shindou did.
If asked which one of us would make the better leader at that particular point in time, everyone would have voted for Shindou.
But exactly because of that, I must surpa.s.s her.
That's why I called her out—
—to the sunny rooftop, where I cast a thick shadow.
"Let me tell you how I am going to change the world."
"Yeah?" Shindou replies half-heartedly. "You know, I'm really not interested to be honest. I'll lend you an ear if you insist, but can't we at least go to the canteen? I'm burning up out here."
"Aha. Goodbye then. You already know my e-mail address, so drop me a line. Make sure you make the subject 'my *brilliant* plan to change the world.' Pft. You've definitely watched too much anime, Oomine-kun. If you sent me such an e-mail, I wouldn't even open it, let alone read it."
She turns away from me, but I get right back in front of her.
"Hey. I know I’m so charming that you don't want to let me go, but girls don't like pushy guys, you know? If I were Yuuri, I'd cry in front of my admirers and tempt them into giving you a beating."
Shindou dodges around me.
But that doesn't matter anymore. I have already achieved my goal.
I have already made her tread upon my shadow.
The sin of murder flows into me.
Now that's a fierce one...
I'm having a hard time standing upright.
When I was dealing with that middle school girl, there was a strong feeling of hatred, but this new sin is just razor-sharp. That's one h.e.l.l of a stimulant. Just one moment of carelessness and that piercing sin will easily tear my innards to shreds.
But I absorb even such a sin.
"Shindou," I say toward her back, "Drown in your own sins."
I grab the shadow of sin that I have just received and—
Moments before reaching the door handle, Shindou suddenly groans. Her face distorts in pain and she sinks down to the ground, as if her heart were being crushed. She’s drenched in cold sweat. Shindou is feeling the same cutting pain I am feeling.
Suffer. This is your sin.
I look down at her while she scowls up at me from her crouched position.
"What... have you… done?!"
"Despite your composed appearance, it seems you haven't gotten over it after all. You just became good at hiding it, huh."
"I'm asking what you've done!"
"I merely made you recall your guilt."
"Oh well. Let me give you an explanation about my 'box', the 'Shadow of Sin and Punishment'. It's a 'box' that enables me to subjugate humans and control them at will. Once I swallow people’s 'Shadows of Sin,' they recall the moment of their life when their pangs of remorse were at their very worst. To be exact, they recall the feelings they had at that moment. In your case, it's the murders you committed during the 'Game of Idleness'."
"...T-These feelings are from… back then...? No… wonder they seemed kind of familiar," she says while getting teary-eyed.
"You have been [subjugated]. I can now control you at will."
Holding her chest, she stands up and a.s.sumes a hostile att.i.tude.
"Do you think [subjugating] me like this will prove your oh-so-high caliber or what?"
"There'd be no point to that, would there?"
Shindou wrinkles her brow.
"...T-Then what do you have in mind?"
"The power of the 'Shadow of Sin and Punishment' is triggered through shadows. See my silhouette on the ground? That's it. This shadow, which has gotten darker than black because of the countless sins that have mingled inside it, is my 'box'. But this 'box' doesn't belong to me alone. It is shared among all people whose sins have been absorbed."
"...Does that mean..."
"It means that you can use it, too."
Shindou widens her eyes.
"Hold on. In that case, have you called me out here because you want to...?"
Quick on the uptake as ever.
Guessing what I was going to say, she continues:
"You want to make me your ally?"
I answer by daringly lifting a corner of my mouth.
I want to increase my chances of winning against Kazuki and his companions. For that purpose, I need the unbending will of Iroha Shindou.
"That being said, if you disagree with my intentions, you’re not going to cooperate. Therefore, I'll explain what I plan to do."
"...Yeah, yeah, I got it. Just do something about this pain!"
"Impossible. That pain has been yours from the start. I merely woke it up. Do something about it yourself. Otherwise, you're not worthy of my power, and I'll just take advantage of you as a servant."
"You half-a.s.sed visual kei wannabe...! Tch, yeah-yeah, I got it! Don't underestimate me, okay? As long as I know where these feelings come from, it's a f.u.c.king piece of cake to get them under control! Wait a sec until I can clear my head again. I'll tear that plan of yours apart with my words alone!" she