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Maria Otonashi's elder sister, Aya Otonashi, is dead. That's what the records say, at any rate.
I discovered this before the events of the 'Game of Idleness'. I had been doing some digging into Maria Otonashi's background, hoping to improve my control over my 'box'.
She is the second daughter of a high-ranking executive who worked for a large finance firm. The house she lived in with her family—her father Michishige, her mother Yukari, and her sister Aya—was part of a wealthy neighborhood in the Hyougo prefecture. The age difference between her parents was rather great; when Maria was fourteen years old, her father was already in his sixties, while her mother was just thirty-five. On top of that, Maria's mother was Michishige's third wife.
Clearly, Maria's family situation was rather…complicated. This held equally true for Maria's relationship with her sister Aya. Aya's birth mother was Michishige's previous wife. In addition, Aya was only three months older than Maria, and thus they were both in the same grade.
In order to avoid drawing attention to this state of affairs, Michishige sent them to different elementary and junior high schools.
According to my sources, the two girls were polar opposites.
Aya, the elder sister, really stood out. She was extremely bright, athletic, and popular to boot. No one was surprised when she took on prominent positions like president of the student council; every student knew her name.
Her little sister Maria, on the other hand, was quiet and reserved. Apparently, her failure to stand up for herself led to a lot of teasing while she was in elementary school. That might have been why she frequently complained of headaches or stomachaches, which allowed her to stay at home or seclude herself in the infirmary and avoid her cla.s.ses. Needless to say, her grades left much to be desired.
However, the true problem student was not Maria, who wouldn't open up to anyone and was frequently absent, but Aya, the seemingly superb student.
Sometimes, an overly gifted student can be a source of trouble, especially if she's fully aware of her gifts, and displays them unabashedly.
Aya was more academically talented than her teachers, and didn't hesitate to correct their errors. When bullying took place in her cla.s.s, she dealt with it far more effectively than any teacher could. When there was a disagreement with a teacher in cla.s.s, she singlehandedly refuted him even though that teacher was supposed to handle the matter.
Aya rapidly proved that she was sharper-witted than her teachers, and the difference in ability was so glaring that even her cla.s.smates were aware of this.
There was no way that they would respect such incompetent teachers. Aya had deeply undermined the authority of the entire staff, eventually resulting in disobedient behavior on the part of all her cla.s.smates. Their condition deteriorated—not blatantly, but in an uncanny manner that would not become noticeable until some serious incidents occurred.
For example, some of her cla.s.smates engaged in self-mutilation and attempted suicide.
Three teachers lost their jobs because they came in contact with Aya. One became a burnout, one attacked a student, and one fell in love with Aya and began to stalk her.
Despite their disparate personalities and different birth mothers, Aya and Maria seemed to be on good terms. They were often spotted chatting over the phone, or spending time together on weekends, holding hands. A cla.s.smate of Aya's who joined them from time to time told me:
"They were totally close to one another! And more than sisters or friends...twins? No, that still doesn't feel right. I guess what fits best would be...lovers?"
My investigation failed to uncover any dark side to their relationship. Considering the "complexity" of Maria's family environment, I came across remarkably few problems. There were no recorded incidents involving Aya's mother (whom Michishige had divorced after Maria was born), either, because she had been taken care of with a generous financial settlement. Apparently, Michishige was fully aware of his unconventional familial situation, and had properly dealt with it.
Of course, my knowledge is limited to what can be learned by reading doc.u.mented records and via secondhand inquiries. It's impossible to learn the details of what went on between them without actual firsthand involvement. However, it's definitely true that there was no obvious familial crisis, as was the case with Ryuu Miyazaki and Riko Asami.
However, the Otonashi family is no more.
Everyone except for Maria died in a traffic accident.
The details of that accident remain unknown because there were no witnesses; two cars collided head-on, and the driver of the other car died instantly.
Save for Maria, who had stayed home, they all died. That's an unchangeable fact.
Maria Otonashi was alone.
Unable to open up to anyone outside of her immediate and deceased family, Maria Otonashi was alone in the truest sense of the word.
After her parents' estate had been dealt with and custody of Maria awarded to Michishige's younger brother Kyohiko, Maria disappeared without a trace.
That is nearly the sum total of what I could learn about Maria Otonashi.
I don't know how she came in contact with the miracle of the 'boxes' after that, nor do I know what made her want to become a being that grants wishes and enabled her to acquire her 'Flawed Bliss'.
That being said, it had to be related to the loss of her family.
Their deaths transformed Maria and instilled an abnormal desire for self-sacrifice in her heart, indirectly giving birth to the transcendent person she is today.
Interestingly, she was given the opportunity to reinvent herself. Thanks to the repet.i.tions of the 'Rejecting Cla.s.sroom', she had all the time in the world to do so. She evolved into a copy of Aya of sorts, perhaps thinking that by becoming her perfect sister, she could fulfill her new goal.
Ah, armed with that stack of information, I should have understood the true nature of 'O' far earlier.
...No, not quite. Linking 'O' to a thing as earthly as her family had been problematic for other reasons.
The better you understand the supernatural, the more it loses its mystery. Unless you believe blindly in it and abandon all attempts to comprehend it, you will be unable to master a 'box'. You mustn't try to draw meaning from the mysterious.
However, the act of renouncing deeper thought is the very thing that I hate the most.
That condition contradicts my 'wish', so there's simply no way I could meet it. Since that keeps me from mastering a 'box', I thus had to set strict restrictions on the capabilities of my 'box'. But thanks to those restrictions, I was able to obtain a 'box' that I can actually handle—the 'Shadow of Sin and Punishment'.
Understanding 'O' was only a matter of time.
All along, it was just the initial letter of "Otonashi." And given that Otonashi uses her sister's name, I'm sure that the correct interpretation of that letter is as follows.
'O' stands for—
Otonashi, Yuuri Yanagi and I are still inside the 'Wish-Crushing Cinema', the 'box' that consists of a crimson movie theater.
The theater is so insanely sterile that it seems designed solely to erase dirty beings, and I feel its constant overbearing pressure. It keeps chipping away at my will and slowly crushing my 'box'.
As I resist this pressure, I am mulling over a particular question.
I look around.
We are in a completely dust-free red corridor that forms a perfect circle, and is connected to four theaters. Before us lies the entrance hall. A digital info panel is displaying the message "The movie Repeat, Reset, Reset has ended."
So far I have been shown three movies against my will.
"60 Feet and 6 Inches Apart"
"Repeat, Reset, Reset"
They each revolved around my past, viewed from the perspectives of Miyuki Karino, Haruaki Usui, and Maria Otonashi, respectively. It's a gorgeously produced presentation of my sins intended to exhaust me, so to speak. Given the number of theaters in this complex, there is obviously one movie remaining.
Its t.i.tle reads "Piercing at Fifteen," and it's scheduled to run from 22:30 to 24:00. My defeat is practically set in stone if I don't manage to stop everything before midnight.
But it's odd.
I thought that this duel had already been ended.
"Oomine, why are you frowning?"
Someone asked me a question because of the expression on my face.
...No. She is no longer that reserved and timid girl; I shouldn't call her that.
"Aya. I have a question." I speak her name tentatively, yet it feels oddly fitting.
Ah, no wonder. When I first met her within the 'Rejecting Cla.s.sroom', she was "Aya Otonashi" and no one else. The girl who is standing before me right now is the personality created during the countless time loops as she pursued her ideals, "Aya Otonashi."
It was beyond my power to call her "Maria" when we were trapped in those endless iterations. In the first place, Maria is a false name that should have sunken into oblivion; it was but a whim that made her mention it. No person named "Maria Otonashi" existed, nor did Aya ever intend to allow such a person to exist.
The miraculous feat of overcoming that intention was a feat that only Kazu could pull off, as one of the few people who could retain their memories across those iterations.
In a way, Kazu thwarted Aya Otonashi's plans and changed fate.
I, on the other hand, could not bring about such a miracle. It was impossible for me to remember the name "Maria" during those loops.
Therefore, she is and will remain "Aya Otonashi" to me, even if she borrowed that name from her elder sister.
Without displaying any special reaction to the way I addressed her, she replies, "What is your question?"
I describe the oddity that I have observed: "Why hasn't the 'Wish-Crushing Cinema' ended already?"
Aya raises an eyebrow.
"What are you talking about? It's because Hoshino hasn't destroyed it, that's plain and simple enough."
"Don't you see what I'm getting at? I'm wondering why he hasn't done so already. His will was broken the moment you abandoned your ident.i.ty as Maria Otonashi. Wouldn't he naturally give up on this battle? Why is the 'Wish-Crushing Cinema' still intact?"
Right, Aya Otonashi's presence here indicates that the fight should be over.
Because that means Kazu's scenario of absolute despair has come to fruition.
But why are we still here then? Why hasn't he given up?
"It seems that you understood nothing, Oomine. You are unaware of Hoshino's true caliber."
"What do you mean?"
"I simply mean that his will hasn't broken," she says without moving a muscle.
What's that supposed to mean?
Kazu's goal is to provide Maria Otonashi with an everyday life free from 'boxes'. But that's obviously not possible anymore, since Aya has decided to erase "Maria Otonashi" once and for all and enter the 'Cinema'. Kazu's goal has become impossible; he should know that better than anyone else.
And yet his will is unbroken?
"So—you mean—he still thinks he can rescue you?"
"Exactly. That guy is abnormal. He doesn't give up as long as he has a goal, whether it's actually achievable or not. I'm starting to believe that he's incapable of giving up to begin with."
Incapable of giving up...?
That's absurd. But as it stands, the 'Wish-Crushing Cinema' hasn't ended yet. In addition, I don't think Aya would misjudge Kazu's nature.
In other words, she's right.
Which means that...
This battle has always been focused on breaking his spirit.
Kazu isn't able to achieve his goal now that Aya has made her choice. He has effectively lost. I'm convinced of that, no matter what he thinks.
However, his defeat doesn't mean that I'll be victorious. If I don't do anything, we will both suffer defeat. If his will doesn't break and this 'box' isn't destroyed, I will have to watch the fourth movie, Piercing at Fifteen. After that, my 'box' will break whether I want it to or not, and if that happens, my attempt to make the world a more ethical place by producing 'Dog Humans' will go to waste.
As things stand right now, I will lose as well.
How did it come to this? Everything went according to plan. I even managed to nullify his Trojan horse, Yuuri Yanagi, and bring Aya Otonashi here. Nonetheless, I've reached a deadlock. I'm cornered even though I haven't lost... What on Earth is that guy? An undefeatable boxer or something?
I'm starting to understand why 'O' said that I couldn't win against Kazu.
"Otonashi-san." Yuuri Yanagi suddenly breaks her silence in order to speak to Aya.
I listen up in case her comments could lead to a solution to my current dilemma.
"In the last few minutes, you've stopped calling Kazuki-kun by his first name, haven't you?"
Despite getting my attention, all she has to offer is pure rubbish.
That really rubs me the wrong way.
"What about it, b.i.t.c.h? Had to confirm if Kazu's available now that he and Aya have gone their separate ways? You're a nuisance, so shut the f.u.c.k up."
"Eeeeh?! What's with that abusive language?! That's nasty! Beside, haven't you been treating me like air for far too long?!"
"Of course, your time in the sun's over. Aya is already Kazu's enemy, so your value's gone down the drain. Be a good little bog body and keep silent, or you'll just get us all bogged down."
"I-I'm not even allowed to speak?!"
I ignore her since any response would be a complete waste of time.
Though she's right—Aya has changed how she refers to Kazu. Most likely, now that they're enemies, she can no longer refer to him in such a familiar way.
"By the way, Aya, let me get this straight: Can I count on you for help? Kazu won't leave you alone as long as his will remains unbroken, so you also need to defeat him."
"Yeah, you can. I can't just turn a blind eye to Kazuki Hoshino. He may be unarmed, but I can't let my guard down. I still consider him the greatest obstacle between me and my goal."
"I guess so. So, I think it's a good idea to join forces until he's taken care of. What do you say?"
Aya keeps silent for a moment, but eventually opens her mouth. "...I detest that 'box' of yours, the 'Shadow of Sin and Punishment'. Your approach sacrifices others, which goes against my principles. While I do agree that we are alike, I won't ever agree with your approach."
"...So you have no intention whatsoever of cooperating with me?"
In that case, my hands are tied.
Kazu still hasn't given up despite the dire straits he's in. If there is a way to break his spirit, then Aya's bound to be part of it.
"No. I shall give you a hand."
It comes as no surprise that I'm relieved to hear her say that.
"Crushing him definitely comes first in my book. What I mean to say is that I feel no obligation to a.s.sist you—I'm just optimizing for my own goals. For instance, you're constrained by a time limit, but I'm not. That difference may end up hurting you."
"The same goes for me. I'll betray you if required."
"Okay, then how do we get started? I can't come up with an obvious way to break his spirit right now, but you can, right? Tell me: What is the most effective way to attack Kazu?"
"......" Aya remains silent.
I'm posing this question for two reasons. First off, she might actually be able to come up with something I overlooked, since she knows Kazu so well. The other reason is that I want to confirm she really has completely abandoned him.
While I'm pretty sure she has cut off all ties, I remember the depth of their relationship. It wouldn't surprise me if her feelings for Kazu were still present at some level. She might propose a half-hearted plan because deep down, she's still attached to him. If that's the case, she'll be a burden as a partner, and I'd be better off taking advantage of her as much as I can while keeping her away from Kazu.
However, Aya's reply is:
"I'll just have to forget about Hoshino."
It's a reply that rules out any lingering attachment to Kazu that I feared she might still possess.
"I can easily forget about him if I use my 'Flawed Bliss' on one of his friends. Nothing will remain of what he and I built up within that repeating world. That's all we have to do."
Her plan will—
Her plan will succeed.
Kazu only hasn't given up—and still has hope—because he knows that he's someone special to Aya.
Put differently, that's all he has left; without it, he won't even have a glimmer of hope anymore.
So they just have to become strangers. The special bonds between them just have to vanish.
Her suggestion makes my hands tremble.
How can she say something like that without flinching?
He and Aya were a team; they depended on each other, and they formed strong bonds. Deep bonds that shaped them into totally different people.
Nevertheless, Aya Otonashi proposed to trash those bonds without a second thought.
"Aya, are you really okay with that?" I ask offhandedly, but the answer is apparent.
She is. Otherwise, she wouldn't propose something like that to begin with. A superhuman like Aya feels nothing at all even if she has to forget about Kazu. There is no comparison between me and an ubermensch like her.
I didn't expect that. I would have been unsurprised if she'd said that she didn't care at all, but I didn't see that coming.
"Of course I'm not okay with that. If I were, I wouldn't have tried to stay with Hoshino for so long. I would be denying the truth if I refused to admit how dear he was to me. As long as I deny that, I can't oppose him."
Aya is clearly saying that it hurts to forget about Kazuki Hoshino.
But that doesn't make sense!
How can she make such a proposal? One that completely and utterly tramples her own feelings?
"It doesn't matter what Hoshino is to me."
"Because my feelings do not pose a threat to my plans."
"———" I hold my breath, because Aya is speaking with absolute conviction.
"I don't take heed of feelings that stand in the way of my goal. My mind is not that weak. My will shall not be swayed by my own feelings."
Seeing how transcendentally she behaves—how she can examine her own feelings from a completely detached perspective—one thing is evident.
She's telling the truth.
"I'm not a human. I'm just a being that grants wishes. In other words, a 'box'."
Of course that's just a figure of speech; Aya is by all accounts a human. She is merely saying that she lives her life with inhuman resolve.
But she really does live that way.
For Aya, the sole meaning of life is achieving her goals. She doesn't let her feelings or desires interfere with those goals in any way—not even for her dearest friend or to avoid her own death.
I also aspired to such perfection.
I also sought to create a perfect world.
But after seeing how she burst the boundaries of humanity, can I really imagine myself at her level?
It would have been easier to tolerate if she'd said that she were okay with forgetting about Kazu, because that's something even I could do by hardening my heart.
But that's not it. Even while experiencing such extreme feelings, Aya Otonashi can flawlessly pursue her goal.
I can't do that.
At the end of the day, I'm just human.
Even worse, I am—
Suddenly, the 'Shadows of Sin' within me start to go on a rampage.
Even worse—I might lose my ability to resist the pain caused by the 'Shadows of Sin', even though I accepted that pain in order to [control] others. The 'Shadows of Sin' shriek and rage whenever I leave them an opening. And they're only getting worse.
I clench my teeth. Aah, dammit! It feels like bullets are running through my veins. Why does self-inflicted pain hurt so much?
Will my 'Shadow of Sin and Punishment' break after I've watched the next movie? ...Haha, can I even hold out until the movie starts? Maybe I'll be ruined even before that. The pain is unbearable; awaiting my inevitable ruin is equally unbearable.
Why am I mediocre to the core?
Why was I born as a regular person, incapable of performing miracles?
I touch my piercing. I want to change. I don't want to revert to the fool that I used to be. I want to keep offering resistance against this G.o.dforsaken world.
But, in reality—
Light. Darkness. Sea. World. Hotel. Womb. Joined hands. Tears. Victory. World. Skin. Cold. Cold. Catcher's mitt on my left hand. Numbness. Difference in talent. Envy. Dream. Confession. Anxiety. Cigarettes. Burns. Shivers. Fear. Hatred. Hatred. Hatred. Hatred. Hatred. Hatred. Hatred. Sin. Punishment. Justice. Sin for justice. Piercing.
I touch my piercing again, breathing restlessly.
When did I create a hole in my ear? That thought forces me to recall the person I hate the most. Miyuki Karino.
Rino was unable to repent for what she had done. She didn't realize that she had done something wrong. I had to make that clear to her. I couldn't hold off on teaching her a lesson for what she had done to Kiri; doing so was the only way for me to live with the unfairness of the world. That's why I acted the way I did. I decided not to forgive her until she showed regret. But Rino wasn't aware of her guilt; she could only offer superficial apologies. Because of that, I couldn't forgive her, nor did I intend to. "Please tell me what I have to do!" Why can't you come up with that yourself? "I love you. I did what I did because I've always been in love with you, Dai-chan." Stop f.u.c.king with me. Are you trying to make me feel sorry for you? No, you're not, are you? You're blaming me. I'm the very thing that makes Kiri suffer, that's what you're trying to tell me, you piece of s.h.i.t. Before I knew it, I was beating Rino. I couldn't believe what I was doing. Attacking a childhood friend of mine didn't feel real. Resorting to violence caused my mind to separate from reality. Even though I could feel the violence I was doing, it was like an out of body experience. That guy beating Rino wasn't me; it was a stranger dwelling within me who had defied my control. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" You don't say sorry to someone who hurts you, d.a.m.n it!
Nothing was solved.
Nothing was solved.
There was no solution for anything.
I was completely powerless without a 'box'.
I know. I'm perfectly aware of the nightmare Rino went through in that hotel. I know how Rino feels about me. I know she has lots of strengths: she's cheerful, sociable, considerate, sympathetic, and she's delighted by good things and saddened by bad things. I know she's not a bad person. Yet, I can't forgive her. I can't. I can't forgive her. That's why a conflict occurred. Even though attacking her was anathema, I had to do it. Consequently, I fractured my mental perception of Rino and erased the part that caused the conflict. I forgot that we had been friends since childhood.
And so I cornered Rino.
I dyed my hair and got a piercing. I wanted to become a different person from the old "Daiya Oomine." If my sociability was the reason for what had happened to Kiri, I wanted to destroy it.
I don't need anyone to tell me that I'm n.o.body special.
I can't become like Aya Otonashi.
The only thing that distinguishes me from your run-of-the-mill person is that I look at things from a more abstract viewpoint.
And that's fine.
—That's perfectly fine.
I finally manage to push back the 'Shadows of Sin' and regain control of myself.
"What's wrong, Oomine?"
"A-Are you okay?"
Aya and Yanagi are talking to me.
...h.e.l.l, why am I so nervous?
I may still have weaknesses, but there's no need to be so pessimistic.
If I can't handle my feelings, I can just suppress and keep ignoring them. I don't have to confront them head-on like Aya does. I've always known how to sidestep my emotions, and thanks to my workaround, I'm able to think rationally. That's a great weapon. I should be proud of my qualities.
After getting a grip, I speak up again.
"Aya. Getting back to your proposal, I agree that we should make use of the 'Flawed Bliss' to defeat Kazu. Do you already have a specific plan?"
"No, not yet. I've only just come up with that idea, after all."
I thought so. Aya Otonashi is surprisingly bad at coming up with manipulative schemes. Her upright principles impact her ability to engage in indirect attacks. Yeah, even Aya has weaknesses; why bother comparing my strengths with hers?
"Can I ask you to share your thoughts, Oomine?"
"I'm pretty sure that making you lose your memory will prove effective. But there's no point unless we let him know about it, right?"
"He would find out about it soon enough even if we didn't, right?"
"Soon enough for you, maybe, but I don't have time. I need to confront him directly with your memory loss."
"Mm, fair enough. In other words—"
"Yeah, we'll have to use the 'Flawed Bliss' right before his eyes."
"While it is possible to slip into a 'box', it's impossible to get out. I'm in here now, so that means that we'll have to—"
"Call him into the 'Wish-Crushing Cinema'," I say as I complete her sentence.
That's the prerequisite for breaking Kazu's will.
"But how do we do that? It's much more beneficial for our enemy to hide somewhere safe and wait for your 'box' to break. Hoshino just needs to wait another two hours or so. I don't think he would risk coming here."
"That shouldn't be too much of a problem if we use my 'Shadow of Sin and Punishment'."
"Besides, who do you plan to use 'Flawed Bliss' on, Oomine?"
"It depends on what Kazu does next, but right now the three of us are the only ones here. Which means that there's only one real candidate," I say while looking at Yanagi.
"Great news, isn't it, Yanagi? You've just gotten a new role and regained some value!"
"Eh? Huh? Ah..." she mutters, turning pale as she realizes what I'm driving at.
Aya steps between me and Yanagi and takes on a protective stance.
"...Sorry, but I have no intentions of using my 'Flawed Bliss' on anyone who doesn't seek my help. Not even when it's required to defeat Hoshino."
I see. Her rules remain the same even when she's made up her mind—she doesn't privilege efficacy over avoiding the use of others?
...No, in a sense that was to be expected. If she acted otherwise, it would contradict her goal of making others happy.
"Okay. I guess I'll have to find someone else then."
I immediately realize that she won't give in, so I use some empty words to smooth this matter over for now.
Aya nods slightly. She seems content.
To be honest, it's a breeze for me to make Yanagi ask for help since I have absorbed her 'Shadows of Sin'. She suffered deep scars during the 'Game of Idleness'; since her sin is worse than most people's, simply rubbing a bit of salt into that wound will do.
Of course, Yanagi isn't the only candidate. I could use any of Kazu's friends to make Aya lose her memories of him.
However, I can't blindly hope that someone will show up. Yanagi is necessary since we need a guaranteed sacrifice.
After reaching that conclusion, I return my attention to our discussion.
"We'll bring Kazu into the 'Wish-Crushing Cinema' before the last movie ends, and then we'll use the 'Flawed Bliss' on one of his friends before his eyes. Now how do we actually accomplish this?"
"Yeah. You stated that doing so wouldn't be difficult; could you elaborate?"
"How to go about it, hm..."
How about threatening to kill Aya if he doesn't abandon the 'Cinema'? I don't know if the threat is credible or not, but Kazu is likely to obey if Aya's involved, even if the threat seems fishy.
So can I use the 'Shadow of Sin and Punishment' and communicate that threat to him? That would work, but it might be surprisingly difficult to reach him in the time I have left. Jeez, if I had the help of 'O' it would be no prob———
—Do you have a wish?
———No, wait. I'm forgetting something important. How did Kazu obtain the 'Wish-Crushing Cinema', anyway?
He obviously received his 'box' from 'O'. He asked 'O' for help in order to defeat me.
'O' is on Kazu's side, not on mine.
I know for sure that 'O' gave him a 'box'. Unless they have become enemies since then, I have to account for the possibility that they're cooperating.
Let's pretend that I executed my plan to threaten him with Aya's death. Even if I succeeded in communicating my threat, isn't it possible that 'O' might reveal that it's just a bluff if she doesn't like the direction that things are taking? Can I rule that out?
No, I can't. That scenario is perfectly plausible.
So I'll also have to outwit 'O'.
'O' isn't quite omniscient, but she seems to be aware of almost everything that happens. If I blurt out my plan, chances are that 'O' will become aware of it. However, 'O' can't read minds. I can hide my intentions if I keep silent about them; she's no more than human in that respect.
In other words, I have to make Kazu come here of his own accord, while making 'O' believe that things are going well for Kazu and hiding my true plan from Aya.
...What the h.e.l.l? That's ridiculously complicated.
"Oomine, you've relapsed into silence. Are you having trouble coming up with a plan?"
I gaze at Aya's face.
Expressionless. A face that is concealing her feelings.
Suddenly, a few lines from Repeat, Reset, Reset come to mind.
"I know what such a 'wish' leads to. It ends in,"
"But what would I do if you learned about the 'boxes' and obtained one nevertheless? I would not take it from you. I'd oppose every other 'owner', but I might not oppose you."
"Maybe I'd team up with you again—No, that's out of the question. I wouldn't cooperate with you. Nor would I want to interfere in any way. Our aims just happen to lie in the same direction. We were never supposed to become partners. Yes, in reality, we are—"
"Kindred spirits, I guess."
"...How nostalgic," I mutter thoughtlessly, and immediately regret doing so.
Those sudden memories of what she said to me in that movie... no, during one of those endless iterations, are confounding me.
—What is 'Aya Otonashi' to me?
For Kazu, 'Aya Otonashi' is an enemy. He wants to bring Aya—no, in this context I ought to call her Maria—into his everyday life, and because 'Aya Otonashi' is the reason that Maria calls herself a 'box' and has given up on being human, she represents the greatest obstacle to his goal.
However, for me it's quite the opposite. I don't want her to be 'Maria Otonashi.'
Because Aya's goal and mine are similar? Because we're cooperating? Because we were also cooperating within the 'Rejecting Cla.s.sroom'? ...I feel like I'm still missing something. None of those possibilities feel quite right.
My need for her is more fundamental than that, which means that it must be related to my goal.
There's no need for me to be the one who accomplishes my goal. In the near future, I will break under the burden of my sins, and I won't have achieved my goal by then. But I don't mind. I don't mind as long as there is someone who takes on my will like Shindou, and the world eventually changes for the better. I don't care if I die, hated by everyone and treated like trash.
But in that case—
Aah... I got it. I know what Aya Otonashi is to me.
Aya Otonashi is my source of hope.
If she manages to fulfill her wish for a world where everyone is happy, my own goal will be achieved as well. If her wish comes true, mine does as well.
The way she lives her life makes me believe that her wish might actually come true, even though hers is far more difficult to achieve than mine.
She's so transcendent a being that even my 'wish' could be saved.
No, not only my 'wish'.
She could save every 'owner'.
She's a beacon of hope for every 'owner'.
That's why she has the same name as 'O'. She is a being that grants the 'wishes' of all people.
She is a n.o.ble being that has to be protected.
That's why I mustn't admit defeat.
I can't forgive Kazuki Hoshino for trampling on our 'wishes' for a reason as mundane as wanting to be with "Maria"; for such selfishness.
We have to crush Kazu.
"I just came up with a plan."
For the sake of all: I'll deceive Aya, 'O' and whoever else it takes, and throw Kazu into the depths of despair.
"Let's use Kasumi Mogi."
I won't let you regain the zeroth Maria.◇◇◇ Kazuki Hoshino - 09/11 FRI 22:03 ◇◇◇
How can I describe this paradoxical feeling?
Nothing has changed within me, and yet I have clearly changed.
All that happened was that I came to understand myself better; I've read my own manual, so to speak. But that was enough to change my world. My whole body feels refreshed somehow, as though someone has poured menthol into my bloodstream. My mind becomes clearer minute by minute and everything muddying up my thoughts has disappeared.
The haze that hung over the world is clearing.
Now I can focus solely on saving Maria.
That's the change that occurred within me after I obtained the 'Empty Box'.
"Uwa, what's wrong with that girl?"
That's the first thing Haruaki says, his face chalky white, after he enters this tunnel. We're under an elevated railway that runs along the river on the outskirts of the city. His eyes are fixed on Iroha-san. She's pa.s.sed out and is leaning against a wall covered with obscene graffiti that couldn't be further removed from "street art."
"D-Don't tell me you killed her... Hoshii?"
"B-But there's loads of blood...?"
Both the ground and the wall are splattered with a red liquid, as are her clothes and her face.
"That's just artificial blood."
Haruaki squats down, touches the red liquid on the ground, and sniffs it. At first he wrinkles his brow, but he realizes that I was telling the truth and nods lightly a few times.
"Y-Yeah, that's not blood. But still, how did this happen? Why is she out like a light?"
He closely examines her face and checks her breath and pulse. From where I am standing, it's hard to make out her face because our source of light is a dim lantern.
What have I done to Iroha-san? Explaining that would take way too long, so I decide to answer just the first half of his question.
"Daiya and Iroha-san tricked me into betraying Maria in her presence. I completely fell for it, and now Maria's inside the 'Cinema'!"
"So Maria-chan has found out about Daiya's 'box'?"
"I guess so."
Haruaki knows how serious this is, so he stands up with a frown and gazes at me.
"Why didn't you call me before it came to this? Don't you trust me enough to rely on me?" he asks in a threatening tone. His height allows him to be quite intimidating when he pressures me like this.
"I do! I just couldn't call you because I was told to come alone." Even as I speak, I realize that that's not the only reason. "...No, I wouldn't have called you even if I hadn't been told that."
"But why?!" he shouts, vexed beyond belief that he wasn't able to stand by my side in my time of need.
What a great, reliable companion.
I'm really glad that we were able to become friends.
"It's the other way around! I'm really relying on you."
"For real—I've been relying on you this whole time…"
Otherwise, I wouldn't have pulled him into this affair to begin with; I wouldn't be blaming myself for telling him about the 'boxes'
"...I-If you trust me, then why didn't you...?"
"You were with Kokone, weren't you? I wanted you to keep protecting her! You know why, don't you?"
"Ah..." Haruaki scratches his cheek abashedly. "Right... We thought that Daiyan would attack Kiri next."
"Yeah, chances were that this affair was just a red herring that Daiya set up."
Yes. We were sure that Daiya would aim for Kokone. We thought that Kokone was in more danger than Maria or I.
We had good reason to think so.
We thought that Daiya would have noticed by now that I'm not the 'owner' of the 'Wish-Crushing Cinema', and once that happened, he would attack its 'owner' before anyone else.
In that scenario, he would have attacked Kokone before Maria.
But he didn't.
"So Daiyan still hasn't realized who the real 'owner' is?"
"Looks like it."
The 'Wish-Crushing Cinema' exists for the sole purpose of destroying Daiya's 'box'.
He should have grasped its nature when Yuuri-san entered the cinema, because it's still only his past that's being displayed.
But then why hasn't he noticed that I'm not the 'owner'?
It's certainly possible that I would obtain a 'box'; as a matter of fact, I intended to reach out to 'O' and defeat Daiya with a 'box' if worse came to worst. Again, that'd only be in the worst case scenario, but I did plan for that contingency.
But even if I did obtain one, I wouldn't be able to wish for something like that. My 'box' would never be something like the 'Wish-Crushing Cinema.' I can't choose a 'box' that only saves Daiya.
I mean, such a box is only possible for someone who thinks about no one but Daiya from the bottom of his or her heart, isn't it?
It's impossible unless you're someone almost blindly fixated on Daiya, right?
There is no way I could deal with that. I consider him my friend and value our friendship, but I'm afraid my feelings for him are not strong enough to leave me blind to the rest of the world. I'm unable to embrace a 'wish' that is limited only to him and no one else.
If he had properly confronted himself with the question of who the 'owner' of that 'box' is rather than avoiding the issue, he would have realized as much.
But he couldn't.
Because his 'box' has led him astray.
If he can't even realize who the true 'owner' of the 'Cinema' is, it's clear that Daiya's methods are flawed. If he can't even recognize the person who has such strong feelings for him, it's clear that he's mistaken. Because Daiya is trying to become cold-hearted, he is deliberately shutting that person out of his mind. He's closing his mind, blinding himself.
Nonetheless, he claims his ultimate goal is oh-so-lofty?
He claims that he wants to correct the world even if he has to pay with his life?
Such a person could never accomplish anything of value.
A blind man wants to lead the way? I bet he'll end up wandering off in the wrong direction—he's only going to make things worse.
And for that he wants to deprive me of Maria?
Who does he think he is?
I look at Iroha-san, unconscious and covered in crimson red stains.
She was also wrong. She also tried to take Maria away from me.
That's why she got her just deserts.
I told Haruaki that Iroha-san's alive—and that's true—but I did steal her raison d'être. She might not be able to recover, as the miserable image she presents may well portend.
But so what?
Yeah, I'll do the same to Daiya.
His despair will be orders of magnitude greater than Iroha-san's, for his 'wish' originates from within himself. He won't be able to recover when he finds out that his 'wish' won't ever come true. On top of that, he's responsible for Koudai Kamiuchi's death. A cruel reality is awaiting Daiya once he can't escape anymore.
But I'll crush him.
I don't give a s.h.i.t about a blind man's 'wish'. It's his own fault if he dwindles into misery when his 'box' is crushed. You madman—you reap what you sow, don't you?
Give Maria back to me already, you blind b.a.s.t.a.r.d.scene 4: Piercing at Fifteen 1/3 1. RIVERSIDE - DUSK A broad river, viewed from midair, is glowing in the evening light. Two junior high school students in their last year, DAIYA and KOKONE, stand out from the crimson glow of twilight. They walk hand in hand while looking straight ahead. KOKONE (MONOLOGUE) Daiya and I have been together for as long as I can remember. DAIYA squeezes her hand. KOKONE (MONOLOGUE) He's present in my every memory. She releases her grip on his hand. KOKONE (MONOLOGUE) The only way to move on from the past is by parting from him. 2. KOKONE'S ROOM - 17:00, HALF A YEAR AGO The two of them are sitting on KOKONE's bed, still wearing their school uniforms. KOKONE Mm... ahh... DAIYA pulls his lips away from hers. KOKONE is wearing gla.s.ses, and her hair is raven black. She casts her eyes down in an embarra.s.sed manner. KOKONE (MONOLOGUE) It's all thanks to Haru-kun that my relationship with Daiya finally changed. Only after seeing Haru-kun and me together did Daiya become aware of his feelings and ask me out. But in my honest opinion, it took him way too long to get here. DAIYA entwines his fingers with hers and begins stroking KOKONE's hair with his free hand. His gentle smile charms KOKONE and she presses her head against his chest. KOKONE (MONOLOGUE) After all, I've always been in love with him, from the time we played house as kids. I was perfectly aware of my own feelings and his, even though he had yet to notice them himself. DAIYA puts his arm around KOKONE. KOKONE (MONOLOGUE) Before going out with Daiya, I told Rino that I'd always loved him. She gave me a suspicious look and asked whether that was truly romantic love, but I definitely think so. At least in my memories, I've always felt that way. I've always hoped that he would reciprocate my feelings. The camera pulls back to show a full-on view of KOKONE's room. The setting is muted. Brown and white objects like her desk, a sound system and plush toys are scattered about. KOKONE (MONOLOGUE) My room is saturated with Daiya. When I listen to love songs, his face would come to mind, and when I read a romance manga, I would identify with the feelings of the protagonist to the point of tears at times. I would sometimes write 'Kokone Oomine' in my notebook while studying and smile to myself. I was always thinking about Daiya in this room. DAIYA Kokone. KOKONE Mmm? KOKONE (MONOLOGUE) Just recently, Daiya has started calling me by my first name. I'll never forget the first time it happened. Oh, his tomato-red face has been forever seared into my memory, from that time he failed miserably at suavely saying my first name. DAIYA I love you, Kokone. Forever. KOKONE Mm. I believe you. DAIYA smiles happily like an innocent boy. KOKONE smiles in response. KOKONE (MONOLOGUE) I really do, from the bottom of my heart. Not because I'm blinded by love, but because I can feel that he must be telling the truth. KOKONE traces DAIYA's lips with a finger. KOKONE (MONOLOGUE) I would give up anything for his happiness. 3. RIVERSIDE - DUSK KOKONE steps into the river without removing her sneakers. KOKONE (MONOLOGUE) My world was warm. Warm like Daiya's body. That gentle world I lived in gleamed lightly, just like a French movie I had once seen, and made me feel as though I was surrounded by the purest bliss. Step by step, KOKONE walks further into the crimson river. KOKONE (MONOLOGUE) But I was mistaken. I didn't realize that other people didn't live in the gentle world that I dwelled in. I didn't know that the world others saw could be cold, stained, or fierce, and that coming into contact with the worlds of such people would also— Some garbage floating down the river touches KOKONE's soaked body. KOKONE (MONOLOGUE) Stain my own world. DAIYA quickly follows her into the river. KOKONE (MONOLOGUE) Daiya...Don't tie yourself down with your promise to love me forever. Your happiness is more important to me than my own. I'll do anything for you, so— She gets embraced by an equally soaked DAIYA. DAIYA Kokone, don't worry. I'll stay with you. KOKONE trembles in his wet embrace. KOKONE You're cold. DAIYA hurriedly lets go of her. KOKONE (MONOLOGUE) Should I keep you from becoming happy, I'll make it easier for you to throw me away, okay? ◇◇◇ Kazuki Hoshino - 09/11 FRI 22:15 ◇◇◇
We should avoid Daiya's [servants].
While we still didn't know what to do next, we left the underpa.s.s to avoid coming across any [servants]. It would be a bad idea to stay there any longer.
We had no choice but to leave Iroha-san behind. Of course we didn't want to, but the artificial blood would have made us look way too suspicious if we carried her home; plus, we would lose precious time. I regretted it, but she'd have to hang on for two hours until we could put an end to this battle.
Haruaki suddenly and uneasily says, "......Um, Hoshii, I'm not sure if I should tell you, but..."
"Mm? What's the matter?"
"You've got one h.e.l.l of a scary look right now! I bet you've gotten really cross with Daiyan, haven't you? Leaving that senior girl behind makes perfect sense, too, but you were totally cold when you did it..."
I didn't notice myself...but I guess it's true. Something's definitely not right with me at the moment, considering that I just silently called Daiya a blind b.a.s.t.a.r.d.
"I guess it's natural to lose it when he stole Maria-chan from you, but if you don't calm down, you might lose ground, no?"
Calm down, Kazuki. Calm down and come up with a way to get Maria back.
"And to be honest, I still want to help Daiyan...although I know it won't be easy."
Truthfully, helping Daiya had completely slipped my mind. I was ignoring everything except for Maria.
Of course I also want to save Daiya if possible, but if I think about Maria right now, I can't help but get angry at him. I can't keep myself from thinking that such cheap pity would only get in my way.
On the other hand, if I avoid thinking about Daiya, I might end up defeated. But yes...I'd better think about something else now, about something that lets me forget about my anger. And that's— "......Kokone."
In that case, the first thing that comes to mind is Kokone Kirino.
Two days ago on the evening of September 9th, Kokone called me into her room.
It was the first time I'd seen it. The room was steeped in dark colors and seemed superficially stylish. However, it also made a strange impression on me. In a way, the room seemed to lack coherence and its style seemed fake; a room like that really didn't suit Kokone. I could sense some sort of artificial obligation on her part that drove her to live in such a room.
Well, I couldn't help thinking that way, knowing what I did about Kokone.
That room represents her transformation.
And it stands for—forgetting Daiya.
"...You don't need to hide it anymore. Tell me what happened to Daiya."
Kokone has decided to abandon her denial of Daiya and engage with him instead.
The first thing I thought upon hearing that was:
I had planned to tell her about Daiya either way. No... I had no other choice. Disregarding Kokone or keeping her in the dark in a fight against Daiya would be impossible.
Thus, I was grateful that she had made up her mind and prepared herself of her own accord. After all, the things I had to tell her were sorrowful topics that I would have rather kept silent about.
—The mistake that Daiya committed in the past.
—The pain that Daiya is suffering in the present.
—The tragic end that awaits Daiya in the future.
That knowledge would surely cause her to blame herself.
That knowledge would surely sadden her.
That knowledge would surely keep tormenting her.
But I told her nonetheless.
I told her everything about Daiya.
Kokone lost her voice that day.
When I finished my explanation, she just kept gazing at the wall behind me in a completely dumbfounded manner.
Since all she would do was breathe rhythmically without displaying any other reaction, I left for the time being.
The following day, she told to come to her bedroom once more. When we greeted each other, I noticed that her eyelids were swollen, but apart from that she looked like she always did.
But once I had closed the bedroom door, she immediately started undoing her shirt b.u.t.tons.
It was all so sudden that I couldn't react properly. I should have looked away, but I just stood there, flabbergasted.
With a deadpan look throughout, she finished removing everything from her upper body except for her bra. She then turned around and showed me her back.
I almost asked what I was supposed to look at.
But I noticed on my own.
First, I noticed the "mark" below the hook of her bra.
It was a burn scar, most likely inflicted with a cigarette pushed against her skin. And not just once; there were so many grim and violent burn marks all over her back, it looked as if someone had dumped a giant heap of trash on a pure white snowfield.
And all those burn marks formed meaningful phrases; the obscene kind that you'd be hard pressed to find in even the filthiest of public toilets.
My feelings were squashed.
Those marks had an immense impact.
Tears began to stream, unbidden, down my cheeks.
Thoughts like "poor Kokone, it must have hurt, they won't ever completely disappear, that must be why they broke up" only came up later. At that moment, my only possible response to the sight of those marks was to burst into tears.
Kokone turned around to face me. Ignoring my overflowing tears, she cheerfully said:
"You're a lucky guy, Kazu-kun, aren't you? Getting to see a hot girl with E-cups in her undies!"
While she joked like always, Kokone was...crying.
So our talk continued as we both sobbed.
"A childhood friend of mine named Rino did that to me," Kokone said as she reb.u.t.toned her shirt. "As you know, Daiya had great looks and superb grades; he was very popular back in the day—to the point where some people called him the prince of our school, in fact. He wasn't always so gruff and didn't used to have silver-dyed hair and piercings. Oh, I was such a poor match for him. I looked really drab, with my totally unstyled black hair and lame, oversized gla.s.ses. Pretty much a plain old run-of-the-mill girl. You'd totally laugh if I showed you a picture! ...Although I can't laugh myself."
I shook my head.
"It doesn't matter if you're a good match or a bad match! I'm sure Daiya didn't care."
"Mm, he didn't mind at all!" Kokone finished b.u.t.toning up her shirt and looked at me. "It's the girls who had fallen for Daiya who cared."
I started to realize how those marks might have come about.
"...Did that girl you mentioned, um, Rino, care about whether you were right for him?"
"Mmmm, not all that much, I think?"
"Err, let me tell you one thing at a time. First off, a couple of things about Rino: She's one year younger than me and was also one of Daiya's childhood friends. The thing is, she'd also liked Daiya for a long time, although I fell in love with him first. But she gave up on him and started dating a boy named Kamiuchi. The person...Daiya killed."
That was a surprise. I hadn't known about their backstory. Daiya's reactions to Koudai Kamiuchi within the 'Game of Idleness' seemed relatively mild, all things considered.
But given the final outcome, it's easy to suspect that their common history might have driven Daiya to choose a murderous resolution to that game.
"Kamiuchi did a horrible thing to Rino, and I don't really get why he did it. Rino was still deeply hurt, so she tried to ease her wounds by demanding Daiya's attention.
But you know, Daiya and I were already a couple by then. He loved me, not her. He was gentle with her, but they'd never be more than friends. When Rino realized that, her wounds got even worse. She kind of went psycho after that. She somehow got mad at me because in her mind, I'd s.n.a.t.c.hed him away from her."
Kokone was still crying, and paused to blow her nose.
But the flow of tears didn't stop.
"Rino claimed that she only started dating Kamiuchi because I'd stolen Daiya from her, so I was responsible for what Kamiuchi did to her. At that point, Rino really believed that I was to blame for everything."
"And that's why she did that to your back...?"
"Yeah, but I don't think she would have gone that far if she had been alone."
"Which means that there were..."
"Right, there were several people involved. You see...I think the problem was that there were lots of people around Rino who could share in her hate and escalate it even further. It was unfortunate that no one realized that Rino was out of her mind, so things escalated from there."
I finally understood what she had meant earlier.
"The girls who thought that you didn't suit Daiya?"
"Yeah. They didn't just have a problem with it...they seemed to think that I had committed an unforgivable sin. I was some kind of wicked witch who was keeping their prince all to myself!"
...What the h.e.l.l?
I don't get it. An unforgivable sin?
Kokone and Daiya were a couple in love. That's all.
"What the... but that's stupid, no matter how you look at it. You didn't do anything wrong."
"It doesn't matter whether I was wrong or not. A bunch of people were annoyed by me, so they wanted to do something about it. That's all. It doesn't matter if they were just jealous. It's much easier to attack someone you don't like if you tell yourself she's evil."
"How could they think you were evil when you hadn't done anything wrong?"
"That's simple; they just created some trumped up reasons. You know, things like 'ew, that girl doesn't greet us properly' or 'she's arrogant' or 'she's acting like a b.i.t.c.h' or 'she wants to use Daiya to show off' or 'she seduced him with her body'. They come up with whatever they feel like. And then when they had their group trash-talkathons, they could egg each other on and make me out to be a figure of evil. People instinctively do stuff like that without really thinking about it. They create a fake enemy and then take the offensive to vent their annoyance."
Suddenly, the two cla.s.smates who had spoken out against Kokone came to mind.
As far as I could tell, they were also badmouthing Kokone out of jealousy. They got ticked off because she's popular with the boys and vilified her to relieve their irritation. It might have also p.i.s.sed them off that Kokone was on good terms with Daiya.
Considering her history, no wonder Kokone freaked out.
"You know, Rino only went so far overboard because she was encouraged by the people around her. They weren't even aware of how evil their acts were. They thought it was right to teach a devil like me a lesson. Who knows, maybe they even thought they were performing an act of justice? One thing is clear: They didn't realize what they were doing. And that's what made them lose touch with reality."
"What the...that's obviously just ridiculous if you possess even the slightest bit of objectivity..."
"But they couldn't see that. They had stopped thinking."
"Yeah. It's the thing that Daiya often rails about."
It's the thing that Daiya detests.
He thinks that it's the mindless fools who destroyed their happiness, and because of that, he wants to create a world without them using a 'box'. So that what happened to Kokone won't ever occur again.
"I think it was about a month later that they finally came to their senses. A few of them even apologized to me after realizing what they had done. But what's the point? Why would I forgive them? My burns won't go away thanks to an apology, will they? There would have only been a point if they came to their senses before doing that to me! How dare they try to relieve their guilt by apologizing? ...When I said something along these lines to them, they actually complained that I was horrible for treating them like that when they were apologizing. Well, f.u.c.k'em, those filthy wh.o.r.es!"
Of course, Kokone was still crying while spitting out such vulgarities.
"I can't return to who I was, no matter how much they apologize. I can't return to the time when I didn't hate anyone."
"My relationship with Daiya won't return, either."
But there was one thing I didn't get.
"Why did you need to split up? He still loved you even with those silly marks on your back, didn't he? I mean, didn't he care for you? Why did you have to split up?"
Kokone grew silent.
She gazed at the ceiling as she sniveled. I gathered that she was trying to organize her thoughts.
Only then did I realize that my question might have been cruel. Was there really a point in asking her t