Demon Child, Chapter 11.
from Aili's translation of Ono Fuyumi's Mashou no Ko.
Hirose was roused in the morning by the sound of a patrol car. He could hear the piercing sound of a police siren in front of the apartment complex. When Hirose sat up, Takasato likewise awakened and arose as well. The two exchanged glances under knit brows. It was still dim within the room.
Hirose stood up and went to the kitchen see what was going on. He opened the window a sliver and peeked at the scene outside. A police car was stopped in front of the apartment and several figures were moving every which way.
"...What's going on?"
"I don't know."
For an instant, Hirose wanted to go outside to take a look, but when he thought of being encircled by the press, he felt unpleasant and gave up on that idea. People from here and there began to come together, and he could hear the sounds of shouting and commotion. Things aren't that simple, thought Hirose.
When he looked again, a large crowd of people had congregated outside. A number of figures that appeared to be gawkers looked up at the apartment. He could hear bits and pieces of conversation.
Hearing the voices from outside, Hirose turned pale and hastily closed the window. Takasato appeared uneasy.
"What's happened now?"
Hirose forced a smile and shook his head. "I don't know. I suppose we'll find out in the a little while. It's still early, so let's go back to bed."
After Hirose said this, Takasato laid back down doubtlessly. For a bit he tossed and turned uncomfortably, but after a time, Hirose began to hear the sound of his light breathing. He was probably tired. The pressures he had to face were too heavy.
It was the same for Hirose. Did he have a slight fever? His body felt a little sluggish. The coldness of the floor felt nice under his feet. Hirose sat in the kitchen for a while and enjoyed the cool feeling.
Before an hour had passed, the entire area around the apartment complex had erupted in a clamor, and soon after they heard a knock at the door. Hirose stood up, opened the door just a crack and peeked out. A uniformed police officer was standing outside.
"Please open the door." The police officer spoke assertively. Hirose silently undid the door chain. The middle-aged officer entered and stood in the doorway as he looked around the room.
"What's happened?" asked Hirose. The officer looked at him coldly.
"Reporters were killed, six of them."
Hirose held his breath. Though he had already anticipated this, he couldn't help feeling a shock hearing it for himself from the mouth of a police officer. Through the space of the opened glass door, they could see that Takasato had woken up.
"Did you hear anything suspicious last night?"
"No." Hirose shook his head. The officer turned to Takasato.
"What about you?"
"Is that so?" said the police officer as he turned to leave. As he exited the room, he looked back at Hirose.
"If you think of anything, please let us know," said the officer as he gave Hirose a menacing leer. "—I wouldn't mind a surrender."
Before Hirose could say anything, the police officer had closed the door. With his hands trembling, Hirose locked the door.
- - - - -
Before half an hour had passed, a tumult rose up outside. The two sat inside next to each other behind the closed glass door as the commotion outside grew gradually louder. After another hour, someone knocked on the door, or perhaps it might be better to describe it as someone pounding furiously at the door.
"Come out! Come out and explain yourself!!"
Hearing the person's angry shouting, Takasato stiffened up. Immediately afterwards, the sound of jeering erupted from the people in front of the apartment.
They found out the details from the morning news.
Six reporters who had been keeping watch in front of the apartment were killed. They all appeared to have been attacked by a dog or some such animal. Something similar had reportedly happened at Takasato's house, and the police and health officials had started working together in an effort to round up stray dogs.
He could still see the horribly disfigured corpses vividly in his head. Were it not for Takasato's intervention, the same thing would probably have happened to Hirose. Just imagining it gave Hirose chills running through his body.
The newscasters spoke with a more hostile tone than yesterday. Hirose was afraid they might mention that they caught some sort of sorceress or something, so he immediately turned the television off.
The relentless knocking on the door continued. Someone was beating forcefully on the door and striking at the window above the sink. Others shouted out condemnations, and sometimes someone would call out, "Come out!"
Before noon, people started to throw rocks, which clattered whenever they hit the door and the windows. After that, a fist-sized stone had broken the window and flown inside. The floor of the kitchen became littered with rocks, and some among them had strips of paper attached to them, one of which read "Disappear!" After he looked at this piece of paper, Hirose no longer felt like seeing any of the others.
After a while, the rocks no longer came from the base of the building, but were being chucked in from the passageway. A few of the stones broke the glass door and flew in front of their knees. Hirose couldn't take it anymore and picked up the phone. There was no sound coming out of the receiver he held by his ear. Hirose stared at the telephone. The telephone line had probably been cut.
Very soon, rocks were being hurled from the side of the weir as well, and they could hear indistinct jeering coming from that direction as well. After the glass window facing the balcony was shattered, the stones flew into the room one after another. Hirose took Takasato with him to hide in the bathroom. The two huddled there not saying a word as they heard the continuous sounds of destruction.
- - - - -
The police rushed there at around 12:30, but Hirose felt like it was an exceptionally long period of time. "It's okay to come out," they heard someone outside say. Hirose opened the door and saw a familiar man standing beyond the door. He remembered that this was the detective who had come to receive them when they went to pick up the remains.
They were brought to the police station and questioned as the victims of mob violence. When they finished filling out some paperwork, Gotou arrived, having hurried there with Totoki.
"Hirose, are you all right?" asked Gotou loudly as soon as he entered the small room in which they were sitting. Hirose put his finger across his lips and gestured to a chair by the window with his eyes. Takasato had fallen asleep leaning on the window frame.
"How's your physical condition?" asked Totoki quietly. "You're probably tired. It must be tough going through all of that."
The two others nodded. Gotou walked to the window and looked down at Takasato.
"Have they decided on a guardian yet?"
"I don't know. It isn't really the time to figure that out, since those relatives have all gone home. I have a feeling that it's going to be inconclusive."
Peering down at Takasato, Gotou murmured, "What'll happen to this child from here on out?"
Hirose didn't respond.
When Takasato was watching the news, he'd said softly, "I thought I told you guys to stop it." Those things didn't seem to consider Takasato's intentions. They just whole-heartedly carried out their own duties.
"At the very least, he should be put under the care of his relatives, move far away, and perhaps change his name, but...will that really change his current situation?"
As long as those things were with him, it didn't matter where Takasato ran off to. He believed that they would follow him closely and try to fulfill their mission. —If this was true, then Takasato's future had no hope to speak of.
Hirose thought back to his initial belief that they must be separated from Takasato. He was confident of this now more than ever, but he didn't know how it could be done.
Gotou sighed. He then looked back towards Hirose and motioned to Totoki with his eyes. "Totoki-san said he was willing to let you guys stay at his place, so go hide over there for the time being."
Hirose looked up at Totoki. "...Oh, we couldn't."
Totoki showed a relaxed smile. "It's okay. Please stay as long as you need to. I'm guessing you guys need some of your things. Just let me know and I can go get it for you."
"But, Totoki sensei..."
He smiled and winked as if to say, "Don't be silly."
Hirose bowed his head deeply toward Totoki. That he clearly understood the entire situation and yet was willing to extend a helping hand made Hirose feel extremely grateful.
Totoki's place was a studio apartment situated near the coast in the new town area.
After Totoki took them to his place, he showed them around and told them the general layout of the neighborhood. Before he left, he even changed Hirose's bandages.
"I'm really sorry about this." Hirose and Takasato both said at the same time. Totoki laughed loudly.
"I'll set the phone to go to the answering machine, so don't worry about it."
"If you need clothes or anything else, just look over there. Please make yourselves at home."
"It's all right, there's nothing suspicious in there," said Totoki as he puffed out his chest. He smiled at Hirose and Takasato, whose heads were both hung lowly, and then left the apartment.
- - - - -
It was a bright and comfortable apartment. It was positioned on the fourth floor of an eight-story building, and from the spacious veranda one could see the sea nearby. Hirose opened the window widely. They'd been stuck behind closed windows and curtains for so long that this felt great. The breeze that blew from the twilight sea was extremely refreshing. Summer was about to end.
"Isn't it nice, Takasato?" said Hirose.
Takasato smiled faintly and nodded. He stood on the veranda and looked down at the sea. He hadn't said much since this morning. Hirose's heart ached as he thought about how Takasato must have felt about the additional deaths. Hirose forced himself to sound more cheerful.
"Here, we'll be able to eat a proper meal. After it gets darker, let's go get something to eat and take a walk.
As he said this, Hirose turned the television on just as the six o'clock news was airing. A magazine reporter who was sent to the hospital after being injured in the temple gate collapse had died.
Right as he flipped open the newspaper, he saw the news of Sakata's death.
Hirose looked up and saw Takasato also reading the news.
"It looks like it."
For some reason Hirose wanted to count the number of deaths that had accumulated since he start his teacher training, but he immediately thought it absurd and forgot about it. How many people were killed by them? Including all those in the past, he believed that it was a very large number.
Hirose suddenly thought of something and inquired Takasato.
"Takasato, you said that you could feel them around you since you were little, right? Did that happen before the spiriting away?"
Takasato thought it over. "...I don't remember really well, but I think it was only after."
"Did the injuries start afterwards too?"
"I think so."
"I wonder why." Hirose folded up the newspaper. "Could they have come back from that place with you? Murgen—is that Haku Sanshi? That's probably the arm you saw that first time. They attached themselves to you when you were over there."
Takasato looked troubled as he hung his head.
What happened in that lost year? Why had Takasato been taken into another world and what was his connection to those companions of his? Also, why did Takasato return? Why did they follow Takasato back? —His questions were endless, but unless Takasato's memory was restored, he would never be able to get any answers.
"What am I?" Takasato said dejectedly.
Hirose couldn't help but look down. He still couldn't say it, couldn't tell Takasato that he was King Tai.
"Why was I the one beckoned away?" Takasato murmured as if echoing Hirose's thoughts. "What's the meaning of my existence? Why did I come back? Was it of my own will? Or was it someone else's...?"
Takasato then looked at Hirose.
"To which side do I belong?"
For some reason, Hirose became very flustered.
"Of course you belong to this side," said Hirose in a hurry. Hearing this, Takasato looked down.
"It doesn't need to be said. You aren't unusual and it wasn't your fault. You accidentally entered that world—or they dragged you there and because of that, you were burdened with disaster. That's all," said Hirose firmly, but Takasato didn't look convinced.
"If I could only remember more..." he mumbled. "If I could at least remember how to go back."
Hirose didn't reply to him.
- - - - -
They waited until it was nighttime before they went out to eat. On the way back, they took a walk to the sea. Walking to the weir took them less than ten minutes. This area was unlike that around Hirose's place, which was closer to the mouth of the river. The water here didn't look as dirty. There was an area below the weir big enough to be called a beach. The sliver of a moon resembling a trimmed fingernail reflected on the surface of the silver, almost black, water.
"The realm that you went to, where is it actually?" asked Hirose as they walked on the beach. Takasato tilted his head in doubt. "Those things are probably creatures from that place, and when you returned, they came back with you for some reason. They exist to protect you. They'd said it themselves, so that must be true, don't you think?"
Takasato didn't answer.
"No doubt devotion to one's duty is good, but theirs is rather excessive. Especially lately..." Hirose smiled bitterly. Takasato suddenly stopped walking. "What's the matter?"
Takasato knit his brow as he thought hard about something.
"...Don't you think it's escalated?"
"Iwaki-kun, the people in my class, the reporters... I feel like recently their methods are becoming more and more severe..."
Hirose widened his eyes. "That's true..."
Or one could say that they accomplished things in any way possible. Even though a lot of terrible things had happened around Takasato, at a glance they all appeared to be simple accidents. Was it Gotanda that said these were all warnings? But recently, their actions have already gone beyond the scope of warnings. It looked more like bloodlust.
Hirose said as much and Takasato nodded.
"How long will this go on for?" Takasato murmured. "How many more victims will there be?"
"I..." Takasato was about to say something but stopped himself. Hirose pressed him to go on, but he shook his head. "It's nothing."
Hirose was suspicious as he looked towards the sea. The waves rocked back and forth like a cradle.
Why couldn't he say it? he thought.
He didn't know why he couldn't ask Takasato—Are you King Tai? He knew simply that it made him uneasy, but he didn't know why he felt that way.
Hirose was looking out over the sea when he suddenly focused on something. A very small and very faint light appeared at quite a distance in the open sea. Whatever was emitting the dim light looked as if it had sunk into the water.
"Takasato," Hirose beckoned. "What is that?"
Takasato looked over to the sea as well and stared in the direction that Hirose was pointing.
"It's so far... It's not very big, is it?"
"Do you think it's...seasparkle?"
It slowly enlarged as they stared at it. When it had become the size of a baseball, Hirose finally noticed it.
"It's getting closer."
It wasn't that it was getting bigger, but that the light was growing nearer. It became larger and larger before their eyes. It was moving at an unusual speed, but not as fast as a high-speed ship.
Closer up, the light was weak yet big. When it was even closer, they could finally see that it was a cluster of things that gave off a phosphorescent glow much like the soft light of a firefly. The faint white light proceeded toward the shore.
"Takasato, run!" said Hirose directly. It would be best not to stay here. Those things were coming straight to the beach.
"This is bad, they're too fast..."
Hirose grabbed Takasato's arm. "Takasato!"
Takasato stopped Hirose, who was holding onto his arm. "It'll be all right, because they're here. Please don't leave my side."
As Takasato said this, those things drew nearer, with a diameter surpassing five meters, white and crowded tightly together. They approached like lights gliding across the surface of the water. When they reached the shore, they washed up onto the beach with the waves.
It was a swarm of white-colored humans. The waves dropped the glowing people onto the shore. After washing up onto the shore, those things that resembled drowned bodies remained on the sand. The next wave came and piled bodies upon bodies.
"Are they corpses?" asked Hirose. Takasato shook his head.
"They're not bodies..."
They were definitely not corpses. Those things left on the shore started writhing convulsively. They wriggled their four limbs and scraped the sand. They raised their hairless heads like turtles and looked up at Hirose and Takasato.
Hirose took Takasato's arm and backed up.
The waves again and again washed those things up onto the shore, and again and again they piled on top of each other and lifted their heads up. The waxy bodies emitting a white glow crawled clumsily forward as if they were mere imitations. They resembled decomposing drowned bodies as a thick, miasma-like stench of saltwater rose up off of them.
Hirose and Takasato looked at them intently as they kept moving away until they backed into something solid. They were up against the bottom of the weir.
Hirose breathed heavily as he looked to the left and right. In the surface of the dark blue weir he found an even darker colored crack by his right hand, but it was hopelessly out of reach.
The cluster crawled forward and the ones in the front slowly surrounded Hirose and Takasato.
"...Sanshi," said Takasato softly. "Sanshi."
The swarm stopped advancing. In the mere arm's length that separated Hirose and Takasato from the others, there formed a small whorl. It sunk into the shape of a mortar and in it they saw a white finger. A pale arm then appeared at once as if reaching for the sky.
Before Hirose could even gawk at it, the sand around them began to churn. It roiled and spewed upwards, and two shadows leapt out. The pair, one white and the other red, landed in between Hirose and—rather, Takasato and the swarm.
The white one had the head and arms of a woman and the lower body of a white beast. The red one resembled an enormous dog. Its body wasn't covered with fur, but instead scales wrapped in a viscous fluid.
Hirose looked on in amazement at the two creatures. Their strange shapes were crouched down like threatening beasts. They were the ones who had shed so much blood to protect Takasato.
The swarm of drowned corpses vigorously shook their heads together and opened their rotting mouths. They made the motions of throwing something up, and facing the night sky they spoke up with mashed voices.
They called for someone with their groaning voices. They continuously sent their noisy and expansive voices up into the pitch black sky.
—Heer. [note: this "here" was written in katakana, so i spelled it differently intentionally.]
Suddenly, the pair of red and white disappeared. At the same time, the cluster of bodies lowered their heads and started scratching at the sand. Hirose and Takasato gaped as they all dodged into the sand and one by one vanished beneath the ground. When the sound of scraping against sand stopped, all that remained were funnel shaped holes everywhere.
After a period of time passed, they could hear the sound of the waves again.
"What...was that?" exhaled Hirose finally.
All that was left on the beach were traces of those things pulling out of view. They looked around timidly, but they didn't see anything. The beach returned to quiet and the white sand appeared frozen. The strong scent of seawater instilled in the sand rush up to their noses.
The smell of seawater.
Those things had come from the sea, so that they smelled like it was unavoidable, but it had nevertheless disturbed Hirose. Wasn't there a rumor before about the halls of the school tracked with mud? Before he realized it, Hirose had already tied the smell of seawater closely with a feeling of discomfort.
Hirose fell to his knees, and dug a little in the sand. When the sand was overturned, the smell became even stronger.
Things that came from the sea. Hirose looked up at Takasato next to him, and saw him simply standing in bewilderment. Might these strange sights have nothing to do with Takasato?
It wasn't until Hirose called his name that he stirred and looked back at Hirose.
"What was that?"
Takasato heaved a deep sigh and shook his head. "I don't know."
Hirose looked around once more. Countless holes had opened up in the desolate expanse of sand. All he sensed was change. Hirose felt as if something was swaying forcefully. Uneasiness flowed through his veins. That feeling matched the roar of the sea and the beating of his heart, and continued to shake the dimly-lit night.
Hirose woke up just before noon the next day. He propped himself up on the futon that was laid out on the floor and didn't see Takasato's when he looked to the bed next to him.
He surveyed the room, but still didn't spot Takasato. He turned the light on in the bathroom, and the ventilation fan started to spin but it didn't make any noise. Hirose got up and approached the veranda. He pulled the curtain aside and saw Takasato standing outside. He was leaning against the banister looking down.
"Takasato?" called Hirose.
Takasato jumped and lifted his head. It wasn't until Hirose called him again that he looked back calmly.
"What's wrong?" asked Hirose. Takasato shook his head and smiled faintly.
"Yeah." Hirose nodded as he went onto the veranda. Like Takasato, he looked down off of it. "Anything there?"
"No... I was just thinking that this must be higher than the roof of the school..." said Takasato as he smiled. He then went back inside the room. Hirose discontentedly followed him in.
Hirose picked up the remote control after returning to the room and was about to turn the TV on when Takasato said, "I think there's a fire.
Hirose looked back at him.
Takasato sat with his head hung. "Sensei's apartment, last night..."
Hirose hastily turned the television on. There was still a little time before the noon news report.
"When did it happen?"
"In the middle of the night...maybe around three?"
Despite this, it was probably in the morning paper. How many people? Hirose swallowed the words he was almost about to say. He thought it cruel to ask Takasato these sorts of questions.
They prepared only toast and coffee for lunch. Before they started eating, the news came on the television.
A fire had broken out just before three at the apartment that Hirose and Takasato had lived in until yesterday, and burned it to the ground. The origin of the fire was a gas explosion in a room on the first floor. Three people died as a result.
Hirose became dizzy as he watched the news.
—What a thorough retribution.
Had it been revenge for the rocks thrown or the piece of paper on the door? Of course, he could have predicted as much, but that didn't make him feel any less miserable.
For every person that dies, a path closes for Takasato. The bigger the disturbance, the less Takasato will able to find a place to live.
Hirose was sick to his stomach. What was the likelihood that Takasato would be able to stay? How possible was it for him to live at least peacefully and securely in this world?
"I'm sorry for all the trouble..."
"It's not your fault."
How many times had they had this exact same exchange?
Hirose looked around the room. You guys, the ones who said you were protecting him, the two of you, one white and one red, don't you understand that you're slowly killing Takasato?
- - - - -
Takasato didn't seem to want to talk at all that day. He answered when he was talked to, but it couldn't be considered conversation. He looked like he was trying his hardest to smile, but his efforts weren't successful at all. Gotou came in the afternoon. Hirose left all the post-fire procedures up to him.
That evening there was another fire. The one who called to inform them of it was the detective from before.
Half of Takasato's house had burned down. Some grade school students from the area had set the fire. A neighbor saw three kids running out of the house. They were immediately caught and confessed their motive for starting the fire. —They figured that as long as the house was still there, there would be a day when Takasato would come back.
They were afraid of Takasato returning to his house. After they watched the television news report about Hirose's apartment burning down, they got the idea that if Takasato's house had burned down as well, he wouldn't come back.
Takasato had no reaction when he heard this. They left the post-fire procedures for Takasato's house up to Gotou as well.
- - - - -
Hirose woke up in the middle of that night. Something had awakened him. He noticed that Takasato was staring fixedly at his face. Takasato looked so sad. Hirose wanted to talk to him, but he was so sleepy he wasn't able to say anything. Perhaps Takasato realized that Hirose had opened his eyes, as he lowered his head deeply facing Hirose. I'll ask him what's up when I wake up tomorrow, thought Hirose as he closed his eyes.
—Perhaps I'm just dreaming.
- - - - -
They were just about to turn off the television after watching the daytime and midday news programs when the news captions appeared with the report.
Hirose stood up, and Takasato yelled out. The subject of the breaking news was that the school had suddenly collapsed.
"Please go and see." Takasato looked up at Hirose. "Since I can't."
Hirose nodded and dashed out of the room. Before he reached the elevator, he felt as if he was treading on clouds.
It was Monday, daytime. There were going to be a lot of students at the school. He ran, hoping that they—the members of the prep room and the teachers—were going to be okay. Before the elevator door closed, he prayed for this, and when the elevator descended, he suddenly recalled the dream he'd had the night before.
He'd forgotten about it up until now, and he wasn't sure why he had thought of it. Thinking back, he wasn't certain if it was a dream at all. He pondered this, and when the elevator reached the first floor, Hirose sprinted out of the apartment complex and looked back toward it for some reason. It was an eight-story building, and the eighth floor verandas were lined up facing the roof.
Hirose suddenly thought about when he saw Takasato on the veranda yesterday morning.
—What was he thinking about at a time like this?
Hirose started going at a jogging pace as he tried to shake the memory, but he couldn't.
Takasato had been standing on the veranda looking down. Hirose abruptly felt the same dissatisfaction he had felt at the time.
Takasato's posture as he looked down, the lines of his extended elbows and of his tensed shoulders, did all of it suggest something?
—I was just thinking that this must be higher than the roof of the school.
Takasato couldn't have been to the roof of the school. He was probably just imagining it when he said that. He must have thought of those unfortunate students as he stood high up.
Hirose clicked his tongue.
Something made him uneasy, extremely uneasy. An unpleasant feeling was eating away at him.
He turned around and ran back toward the apartment. As soon as he decided to do this, the uneasiness took over his entire mind. Hirose forgot about his injuries and ran as fast as he could.
- - - - -
He didn't see Takasato in the room. Hirose ran to the window. Seeing that the window leading to the veranda had been locked from this side, he couldn't help but sigh in relief.
He should be here.
Hirose suddenly thought of the roof, but then he remembered Totoki saying that the roof of this apartment complex was inaccessible.
If that was the case, then where had Takasato gone?
He then thought of the emergency stairs. The emergency exit was locked from inside, but there was nothing stopping someone from going outside. Hirose turned around.
He ran straight through the fourth floor hallway and gently pushed the door for the emergency exit open. A strong gust of wind suddenly rolled through. Takasato wasn't on the landing. Hirose opened the door as quietly as he could and leaned on the handrail as he looked up. As soon as he did, his body froze up.
There was someone on the highest landing.
Hirose almost couldn't help but call out, but hurriedly suppressed it. He felt an intense queasiness as if something strange had passed through his throat. He let go of the handrail and ran upwards. The metal staircase clanged every time he took a step.
Hirose took off his shoes. He went barefoot to lower the noise of his footsteps, and then ran up the stairs as quickly as he could.
- - - - -
It was quite a feat for Hirose to run up four stories without catching his breath. Hirose pleaded in his head as he went up the last flight of stairs. He then saw Takasato holding onto the handrail of the landing while looking down.
The handrail was low. If Hirose made a sound, it would be enough for Takasato just to tilt his center of gravity. Hirose held his breath and muffled his footsteps, praying that Takasato wouldn't feel his presence. He bent down low and when he climbed halfway up the staircase, Takasato stepped over the railing.
Hirose contained the beating of his heart, not remembering how he had gotten up the rest of the staircase. When he screamed loud enough to shake the landing and came to his senses, Takasato's body had fallen on the inside of the railing.
"You...!" Hirose didn't know what he wanted to say. His right hand was clutching Takasato's arm. It came back to him that it was he who had pulled Takasato back. "Why did you...?"
He couldn't move his right hand. With his left hand, he slapped the face that had fallen onto the landing and was looking back at him with widened eyes. He himself felt that this reaction had been like a child losing his temper.
He angrily struck the completely unresisting Takasato, and then clung to him tightly. Hirose comprehended the feelings behind his choosing to climb up here, so there was no way he could let Takasato jump.
"Please understand," said Takasato quietly.
Hirose lifted his head. He was shaking so much his teeth were chattering.
"This was my only choice."
Hirose raised up the body that was pinned under his own. He grabbed Takasato's arm with a hand that was still stiff and immovable and pulled him up.
It had reached this point and Takasato's calm voice carried sorrow. This voice was telling Hirose that he had thought this through before deciding on it.
Hirose grabbed onto the emergency door, but it didn't budge. Then he remembered that the door couldn't be opened from outside, and so he took that weakly resisting arm and went up the stairs.
"If you jump, I'll jump too."
These were the words that came out of his mouth on impulse. So crude. He didn't think there were any words cruder than that. In an instant, the arm in his grasp tightened up, and then Takasato obediently followed Hirose down the staircase.
Hirose's legs were trembling. After every step down, he felt as if his knees were going to crumble. When they made it after some difficulty to the landing one flight down, Takasato called to him again.
Hirose sensed a change in his tone and looked back apprehensively. He saw simply Takasato looking up at the landing they had been at.
A woman was standing there.
It was a young woman, about twenty years old, or was she a little bit younger than that? For a moment, he thought a resident of the eighth floor had come out, but he didn't remember hearing the emergency door opening. The door was made out of a heavy metal. Leaving aside the door opening, Hirose knew that there was no way the door could close without making a sound.
The woman opened her mouth.
"You must not die."
Hirose turned to look at the woman.
"Who are you?"
The woman didn't answer his question.
"If you die, he will also die."
Before Hirose could ask her who she was again, Takasato spoke up.
"Who are you?"
She didn't say anything but appeared sad.
"What do you mean by that?" asked Takasato. "Anything is fine. Please tell me anything you know. What am I? What's going on? What are those things that are following me around?"
She looked hurt.
"If you can't remember, then it's best if you didn't know."
After she said this, she put her hand to the emergency door. The door was opened by her effortlessly.
"Here." She gestured inside. Hirose was bewildered, but he grabbed Takasato's arm and climbed up the stairs once more. The woman held the door open and waited. When they walked in, she stood aside to let them pass. When they went by her, they could detect the faint smell of seawater.
Hirose walked through the doorway and threw Takasato inside. Unconcerned for a staggering Takasato, Hirose closed the door. The surprised woman's face was before their eyes.
"Who are you?" Inside, the sound beat against the door behind them. "Who the heck are you?"
She looked down, and then looked back up.
"I am Renrin. I cannot say more than that."
"Is that your name?"
The woman nodded.
"What on earth's been going on?"
She shook her head, probably meaning that she couldn't say.
"Will you please tell me if there's a way to save him?" asked Hirose. She answered by casting her eyes downward. Hirose closed his eyes and sighed.
She murmured in a whisper. "...I did not know things would come to this. They understand only justice. Please, forgive them."
Hirose couldn't reply. He wasn't able to understand clearly the meaning of her words. "Them?"
"Haku Sanshi, Gouran."
He knew that she was referring to those creatures. "What are they?"
She shook her head and didn't answer Hirose's question.
"Please run away."
Hirose tilted his head in doubt. She looked at him seriously.
"King En will come forth. Taiki has lost his horn, and nothing can be done about that. A greater calamity will occur. Please leave him behind and run away."
Hirose suddenly reached out his arm. The woman drifted away from it like a cloth fluttering in the wind.
"What do you mean by that?"
The woman shook her head.
"What the hell do you mean by that!?"
She shook her head once again, and then turned around. As if she hid behind something that couldn't be seen, her figure disappeared without a trace.
Hirose wavered for a bit, but ultimately decided not to go to the school. Even if he rushed over there now, he wouldn't be able to help much. It wasn't as if he could help every single person. Thus, he couldn't leave Takasato's side.
"Please understand," repeated Takasato. "The ones who started the fire at my house were kids."
"Quiet." Hirose grabbed onto Takasato's arm and didn't let go.
"They were still in grade school."
Hirose ignored him. This was his ego. He understood that. "Didn't she say that you mustn't die?"
"Who was she?"
Hearing Takasato asking him this, it suddenly came up in Hirose's mind.
How did that woman know Takasato? How did she know Haku Sanshi? Hirose remembered hearing Sugisaki mention the name Haku Sanshi.
Was Renrin the woman who appeared in those ghost stories?
Then there was an inconsistency. Why was the woman looking for a kirin? Why was she looking for Haku Sanshi? How did Takasato know that she was looking for someone?
—Naturally, there must be a link between Takasato and the woman.
"Renrin, she said."
Takasato looked at Hirose. "Ren...rin?"
"She also said that Haku Sanshi and Gouran only understood justice, and asked that we forgive them. She wanted me to run away too. King En was coming, so run away, she said. Taiki had lost his horn and nothing could be done about it."
Takasato widened his eyes, and then looked down as if he was thinking about something. Success, thought Hirose. At the very least he was successful in distracting Takasato.
It was then that the telephone rang. It went immediately to the answering machine. After the message that Totoki had prerecorded, Hirose heard a voice he'd urgently wanted to hear. He picked up the telephone.
Takasato lifted his head and looked at Hirose.
Gotou's usual voice came through the telephone receiver.
"Did you watch the news?" began Gotou.
"I did, but I couldn't have been any help there."
"Are you all right?"
"I'm one of the good guys who almost died! I disregarded the deputy headmaster's directive and snuck out to eat, so I survived."
Hirose sighed in relief and was at a loss for words.
"The school's in terrible shape. The courtyard sunk down and buildings collapsed, but it's not clear right now the extent of the damage. Half of the main building remains intact. Totoki-san is unharmed."
Hirose nodded. He could hear the sound of sirens and people shouting from the other side of the telephone.
"I don't know anything else. Anyways, the phone lines are busy, so I'll hang up for now. I'll come by again in the evening, or I'll give you a call."
Saying this, Gotou hung up the telephone.
"Is Gotou sensei okay?" Takasato looked into Hirose's face.
"Yeah, Totoki-san's fine too."
After Hirose said this, he turned on the television. A bird's eye view of the school appeared on the screen.
The courtyard had caved in severely, and the buildings built around it had collapsed as if they had fallen towards that hole. The destruction was astonishing.
Takasato gasped. Hirose said strongly, "Don't overthink it."
"But nothing." Hirose's tone remained firm. "A lot of people died there. At a glance, it looks tragic, but those who are going to die have no choice but to die. The meaning isn't any different from that of one person dying. Someone can't comfort themselves on the death of their own child by saying that so many other students have died too, right?"
Takasato hung his head, not appearing to accept this at all. Hirose himself knew his words were nothing but sophistry.
This was an enormous disaster that occurred because of only one person, a great catastrophe that came about from a small problem akin to taking a tumble. Hirose searched his memory, trying to recall where it had all started. At least Takasato had spent a long time in peace—much more peaceful compared to the current situation—while he had been passively ignored by those around him. How did things get to this point?
Was this it? Was this the "great calamity" that the woman was talking about?
Nevertheless, thought Hirose, this wasn't Takasato's fault. No one had the right to deny him his existence, nor could anyone place the responsibility of these misfortunes on his shoulders alone, let alone require that he atone for it with his death.
"How goes the solution to your mystery?" Hirose looked at Takasato whose eyes were closed. "Don't you want to remember? There were some important clues in what that woman said."
Takasato shook his head. Did he not know, or was it that he no longer cared one way or another?
"I thought you wanted to remember. Didn't you say you thought you had a promise that mustn't be forgotten?"
Takasato didn't answer.
"Renrin, Gouran, King En, Taiki, they're all a bunch of words I don't know. Can you explain them to me?"
Takasato hung his head low and answered Hirose's goading question dejectedly, "I don't know..."
"Think. You should know." Hirose opened up the sketchbook and handed a pencil to Takasato. "She mentioned Haku Sanshi and Gouran. Is Gouran the name of the griffin? Do you think it's the kirin?"
Hirose knew that Takasato didn't feel like thinking about it, and couldn't help but sigh. If he wanted to put an end to the situation, the surest way would be to consent to Takasato's actions. If Takasato disappeared from this earth, the ever-expanding disasters would probably stop. However, Hirose couldn't consent based on this reasoning.
He had to turn Takasato's attention to something else. No matter what, Hirose had to find a way to save Takasato before he rushed to a solution.
Hirose turned off the television and asked Takasato to lift his head. He finally said what he had been unable to say for so long.
"—I think you're King Tai."
Takasato opened his eyes and looked up at Hirose.
"Haku Sanshi asked me before, 'Are you an enemy of the king?' If they're protecting you, then you're the king, and isn't King Tai that king?"
Takasato's eyes went wide and for a moment, he didn't say anything.
"Am I right, King Tai?"
"No," he said reflexively. "I'm not King Tai."
"Takasato." That can't be. Hirose carefully explained to Takasato the process by which he came to this conclusion, but Takasato still shook his head.
"No, I'm absolutely sure I'm not."
Takasato shook his head obstinately. "There's no why. I just know it's not right."
"Then who the hell are you?" Without thinking, Hirose raised his voice. "Why else would they protect you? Isn't that the so-called covenant? They're protecting you in return for something."
"That's not it," plead Takasato impatiently. "I'm not King Tai. It's not me. He..."
Takasato cut himself short suddenly.
Hirose clutched his arm and looked into his face. "'He'?"
Takasato was dumbfounded.
Takasato was staring into space, and then slowly turned toward Hirose's face.
"He's my master."
"How could I have forgotten...?"
Takasato stood up and walked to the window. Hirose hurriedly grabbed his arm.
"I'm not going to die." Takasato looked at Hirose with eyes lost in thought. "I pledged my loyalty to the king. I swore not to abandon him and not to disobey his royal command."
"...Do you remember it now?"
Takasato shook his head, and a slightly rueful smile floated to his face. "That's all I remember... But that much is enough."
His expression was resolute as he stood by the window. He put his fingers on the glass and gazed at the sea.
"But I swore never to leave his side."
It was a promise exchanged in that lost year. Was this the promise that he should never have forgotten?
"I have to return to the king's side." Takasato's sense of urgency made Hirose look up at him. "I have to find a way to go back."
"What kind of promise was that?" Hirose didn't know why, but he felt as if he'd been backed into a corner with nowhere to go. "Didn't you break the promise by coming back here and leaving the side of King Tai?"
Hirose went on and on. The more he said, the worse he felt.
"Maybe he let you go, or maybe you ran away from him. —You must have run away, or else Sanshi and them all wouldn't be here. They've chased you here, haven't they? It's the same with that Renrin woman. You're being pursued by the world that you escaped."
Takasato shook his head in surprise. "That can't be."
"I couldn't have left the king voluntarily."
"How can you be so sure?" Hirose was pointing a finger at Takasato, though he didn't understand why he was feeling so strongly about this to be acting this way. "They've chased you here, and that's why so many strange things happen around you. They're trying to destroy your footing here, so you can't stay here any longer."
Takasato tilted his head uncomfortably and peered at Hirose.
"Why are you saying that? Sanshi and the others said they were protecting me, didn't they?"
Hirose didn't speak. It was true. Sanshi and Gouran were only protecting Takasato with a devotion nearing insanity. It wasn't a loyalty to Takasato, but rather a loyalty to the king. The king had tasked them to protect Takasato.
"Why did Sanshi ask me if I was an enemy of the king?"
Takasato cocked his head. "...I don't know."
If King Tai and Takasato had a master-servant relationship, then naturally their interests were concordant. Did they suppose that Takasato's enemies were also then enemies of the king?
"...Was Iwaki an enemy of King Tai?"
If King Tai was a king from over there, then the Iwaki of here couldn't have been his enemy. Not Iwaki nor any of the rest of the students were enemies of King Tai.
Hirose heaved a deep sigh. So that's why Renrin said that "they understood only justice." They had no idea that none of the people here could be considered enemies of the king. They knew only to consider the enemies of Takasato the king's enemies as well, and to get rid of them.
It was a misunderstanding. Everything from the beginning was just a big misunderstanding.
"How absolutely absurd."
Takasato looked at Hirose silently.
Gotou came after night fell. Suspended over the sea was the scar-like sliver of the moon. The wind blew strong, and the clouds were beginning to drift as if dashing.
"Gotou-san, what's the situation at the school?"
Gotou grimaced. "All the people in the courtyard were wiped out."
Takasato closed his eyes as if he himself had been injured.
"The classroom building and the special classroom building were almost completely destroyed. The people in the student activities building and the people in the gym for the guidance counseling orientation are all okay."
"What about Hashigami?"
"Nozue and Sugisaki, and what about Tsuiki?"
Gotou shook his head. "They haven't been found yet. We don't know if they're alive or dead. Anyways, there's a desperate rescue operation going on right now, but it looks like a typhoon is coming. If we're unlucky, they'll have to temporarily suspend rescue efforts tonight."
Gotou smiled bitterly and mentioned that there hadn't been a typhoon forecast. His eyes were full of fatigue.
They were showing views of the ruined school on the TV news. The reporters were probably shooting the location from a helicopter. Under the bright lights, the rubble drew thick shadows as the scene rotated. The rescue operation was now still continuing in the strong wind. The buildings facing the courtyard had all collapsed. Half of the classroom building had been destroyed, and a third of the special classroom building had crumbled. The places where the class six classrooms and the chemistry preparation room had originally been had toppled as if trampled over. The upper level ceiling had fallen to the floor, and the rubble was protruding from the small cracks. The parts that remained just barely retained their original shape.
There was probably little hope that the students present in the classroom building survived. The condition of the prep room was a little bit better, but the shelves inside had been filled with chemicals.
The picture on the TV changed as they started to run the names of the casualties: first a long list of those with minor injuries, then a short list of those with serious injuries, and then an even shorter list of those who'd died. However, the number of people still exceeded thirty, and the number of missing surpassed the number of the deceased by three times.
Hirose groaned. There was no doubt that the reason for all of this was their harassment of Takasato. Half of the main building was gone. The headmaster's office had become a part of the wreckage, and a number of the faculty, including the headmaster and the deputy headmaster, had been in there at the time for a meeting.
However, a lot of students who'd died in this incident had gotten involved for no reason. A great number of lives were lost because of a foolish blind acceptance. Things had not progressed so far as to require such a severe retribution.
Those things had escalated things as if drunk on blood. Or perhaps something had changed the situation—
Hirose was staring at the screen in a daze when Takasato suddenly turned toward the window and stared out of it. Outside, the lowly-hanging clouds were moving at a dizzying speed.
Takasato abruptly stood up when Hirose called his name. He walked to the window and placed his hand on the glass.
"What's the matter?"
Takasato opened the window. In that instant, a warm, humid wind gusted inside and the air in the room became wet. In the moist wind that was almost dripping with water, Hirose heard a sound.
He perked up his ears. There were bits and pieces of some faint sound muddled in the wildly-blowing wind. It sounded so distant. It was a weak call carried upon the wind from far away.
"...What is that?"
Takasato concentrated on hearing the sound. Thick clouds rushed their way from the sea. Hirose kept trying to hear the sound, and he heard a beckoning noise.
Hirose turned to look at Takasato. Something was calling to him. The sound came from the other end of the sea, or perhaps from the bottom of it. The calling continued without stopping.
Gotou became apprehensive. "Do you...hear something?"
Takasato suddenly turned around. He ran from the window and made as if to leave the room. Hirose chased after him and grabbed onto Takasato's arm in the entranceway.
"Don't go outside."
Takasato struggled in Hirose's grasp. "They're calling."
"It's the sound of the wind."
Takasato opened the door and the forceful wind gushed inwards, roaring from the window to the door. The wind carried the faint sound along with it.
"They're calling to me."
Hirose held onto Takasato's arm and reached for the door in an attempt to close it. Takasato stopped him.
"I have to go."
"It's just the wind."
Takasato shook his head.
"It's just the sound of power lines or something."
"It's a voice, and it's calling to me."
"It's waves crashing."
Takasato twisted his arm forcefully and threw off Hirose's grip.
"It isn't a voice, Takasato!"
The blustering wind surged. Takasato slipped out and the door slammed after him.
Hirose had been staring at the door as if caught in some sort of spell when the sound of Gotou's voice stirred him.
"Hey, Hirose. What's going on?"
Hirose dashed toward the entranceway and shouted behind him, "Please stay here!"
"Stay here? Hey, Hirose!"
Hirose ran. When he got to the elevator, he saw that it was already on its way down. He hurried to the stairs and flew down them. After he exited the apartment complex, he stood in front of it and looked around.
Because he was injured, this had all taken him a while to accomplish. He didn't see Takasato.
—Where did he go?
The voice that called to Takasato was itself a powerful clue. Hirose ran toward the water. Strong winds continued to blow from the sea. He knew some sort of force was filling the atmosphere.
By the time Hirose reached the weir, running and jogging by turns, the wind had become so strong it almost knocked him over. Rain had begun to mix with it, and its slender droplets felt like needles jabbing at his skin.
Hirose ran along the weir, looking all around him and at the beach. He couldn't open his eyes very wide because of the wind. He put his arm in front of his face as he searched the beach for any sign of a person. When he had run almost as far as his legs were going to take him, he finally saw a silhouette on the beach.
He jumped down from the weir and fought against the sand and wind as he ran. He grabbed onto Takasato as he stood at the shore.
Takasato was taken aback.
"What's going on?"
Takasato tried to get out of Hirose's grasp.
"Please go back to the room."
"You're the one who should go back. It's too dangerous out here."
The waves crashed, sending sea mist high into the air.
"It's unsafe, so please go back."
"Then you're coming with me."
Hirose tugged at Takasato's arm, slippery from the rain. Takasato shook his head.
"I'm begging you, please go back to the apartment. I have to find out why someone is calling to me."
Hirose silently pulled on Takasato's arm. He wasn't pulling very hard, but the strong wind coming from the sea was helping him out.
"Why did so many people have to die!?"
"There's no good in thinking about it."
"What the hell is going on? Why was there so much blood spilled? I just can't let it go on like this!"
Hirose didn't want to let it to continue either, but he couldn't just leave Takasato here. It wasn't because it was dangerous—Hirose had come to this realization. With Haku Sanshi and the others around, it didn't matter what happened; they would probably protect Takasato. Hirose knew in his heart that there was something else making him uneasy that didn't allow him to release Takasato.
He tightened his grip on Takasato's arm. If he let go, something unbearable would happen. This feeling became stronger and stronger.
As he clung desperately to Takasato's arm, a voice suddenly rang out.
"Please release him and run away."
He turned around to see where the voice was coming from. The wind blew the rain onto his face. The woman was standing there.
She spoke to Hirose. "Please run away, King En will be appearing shortly."
"What does that mean?"
She shook her head. Her long hair was flapping about in the wind. "There will be a flood. The king is crossing over, so this is unavoidable. Please leave him and run somewhere high up."
"Stop this nonsense."
"Please." When the woman was finished speaking, she twisted her body. It could only be described as twisting. She suddenly distorted and her entire outline melted. The melting lump slowly lengthened and started to glow. It was as if something was turning itself inside out. There then appeared the form of a beast.
His vision was clouded because of the wind and the rain. The faint glow added to the blurriness of the shape, but he could still tell that it was a beast with a king's yellow coat and that her back emitted a glow of intricate colors. Her legs ended in hooves like a horse, and she had a mane of gold.
The beast seemed to want to say something as she looked at Takasato, and then she gently rose up into the air and soared into the sky. She flew across the sea as though she didn't feel the effects of the wind and rain, and disappeared as if she had melted into the curtains of rain.
The two remained silent for a while. It wasn't until the wind became even fiercer and pressed down on them that they came to their senses. What was that just then? As Hirose turned to ask about it, he saw that Takasato was stunned as well.
"Takasato," called Hirose, but he didn't respond. Hirose called to him once again, louder this time, but Takasato remained silent. He was looking in the direction of where that beast had disappeared when his lips moved.
"I...remember," he mumbled, and then closed his eyes tightly. "I'm not a person."
He said this as if he had finally found happiness.
He finally turned to look at Hirose.
"Taiki is my name. Taiki—the kirin of King Tai."
"...What are you saying?"
Takasato smiled warmly and gazed at Hirose. "I'm not a person, I'm a kirin."
"Stop talking nonsense." The emotion that suddenly rose up within Hirose was anger. How could he accept this? Hirose impulsively spoke coarsely. "You are a person."
He didn't know why, but Hirose just felt angry. He was unable to maintain his calm.
Takasato shook his head tranquilly.
"I'm a kirin. King Tai is my master. Haku Sanshi is a nin'you sent by Renrin to join me here, and later she and Gouran were responsible for protecting me."
Takasato nodded. "There are twelve rulers and twelve kirin. Renrin is King Ren's kirin, and King En has Enki."
"That's silly." Hirose couldn't help but yell. "That's stupid! That can't be!"
Takasato was looking back at Hirose.
"A kirin? A beast? You? Don't you have the body of a person? Didn't you have parents? People can't give birth to animals. That's impossible."
"I'm a taika."
"Taika...?" asked a baffled Hirose. Takasato nodded.
"I was never a creature that belonged here. I fell into this world by mistake and grew in the womb of a person... That's a taika."
"It can't be." Hirose's cold attitude made Takasato sad. "If you say you're a kirin, then transform for me."
Takasato shook his head. "I've lost my horn, so I can't. That's also why I can't return on my own."
The word "return" pierced Hirose's heart.
Takasato nodded. "I have to return. I have to go back and help my king. Because I lost my memory, I've wasted a frightening amount of time."
"You...won't go back, will you?" Hirose felt as if he was being chased by something. He refused to be captured. In order to escape, Hirose could only continue speaking. "You're a person. It doesn't matter what you were before. You're just a person now. You were born in this world and you lived here. Even if you returned there, you'll just end up back here. You...will be back."
Takasato shook his head. "I won't be coming back. This was an accident."
Hirose opened his mouth and wanted to yell at him, but he didn't know what to say. "This can't be."
These words he repeated lacked determination. He knew he was just being insistent.
"I have to return."
"They'll come get me."
The thin yet strong raindrops pounded Hirose's body, falling on the clothes that were sticking to his skin. The tall waves struck the beach and fell apart at Hirose's feet.
Takasato nodded. "Yes. She said that King En would appear and cause a flood. Please go back to the apartment."
Takasato pointed to the shore, but Hirose didn't move at all. He couldn't move.
Takasato's return to the other world was good for Takasato himself as well as this world. This was what Takasato had hoped for, and this world was probably hoping for the same thing. Since this was all so, then shouldn't Hirose see Takasato off with a smile?
Despite thinking this in his head, Hirose hadn't been able to realize it and still didn't move. Regardless of the wind and rain blowing at and hitting him, he stood fixedly in this spot.
Hirose was still unable to move. In order to avoid the battering of the wind and rain, he hung his head and realized that at some point the waves had reached his feet. The sea spray from the crashing waves wet his eyes. —It was then that he felt a presence behind him.
He looked back and a person's face was right next to his own. Surprised, he screamed and ran to Takasato's side. It was a bald, white head. —It was the face of one of those corpse-like things that they saw the day before last. Before he realized it, the mob of corpses had already crept up behind him.
The only difference between now and that other night was that the group of them had surged forward from the direction of the weir this time. They walked slowly with collapsed postures. When they reached Hirose and Takasato, they bent over with their heads down and then thrust their arms forward. They crept on all four like turtles into the leaping surf, and returned to the sea. Before long the entire mob had completely disappeared into the waves.
Hirose heaved a deep sigh of relief. He then looked around casually, and in the distance, he saw through the haze of rain, a large beast moving about. Its size was almost as big as a cow, but he couldn't clearly tell what the animal looked like. He looked around reflexively and saw that at some point the beach had become churning with mysterious animals. Their shapes twisted about as if fused with the blustering rain and the darkness, and each and every one of their bodies was frighteningly warped.
Hirose suddenly took hold of Takasato's arm and pulled at it in an attempt to run away, but Takasato stood fast.
"...There's no need. They're harmless. They're returning as well."
For some reason, these words cut deeply into Hirose's heart. He pulled impulsively at Takasato with his entire body.
"Sensei!" Takasato struggled vigorously in an attempt to stay where he was. "Please, let go of me!"
Hirose tugged at his arm, not uttering a word. Takasato lost his footing and fell over. Hirose pulled him up and started running toward the weir. He tripped up a little suddenly and noticed nearby the smell of seawater, stronger than that from the sea wind.
—The smell of seawater.
Hirose stopped and jumped back cautiously. A trace of red passed in front of his toes. It was a miracle that he was able to dodge the attack.
The head of a red beast burst out of the sand. Hirose made to move backward, but something was forcefully keeping Hirose in place. It was a pale woman's hand reaching out from the sand.
—I can't put a stop to Takasato.
He thought this hopelessly. I can't put Takasato in danger. I can't hurt him. I can't stand in his way. If Takasato wants to go, Hirose could do nothing but send him off silently. Or else he would meet with retribution.
With half her body coming out of the sand, the woman held onto Hirose's legs with both her hands. He couldn't even think about shaking her off, since he wasn't even able to budge at all. The red beast had emerged from the sand entirely. Its claws could easily tear Hirose apart with ease, and its jaws could probably chew through him with less energy than it took to blow dust away.
"Gouran." A firm voice rang out. Before Hirose knew it, Takasato had arranged himself between him and the creatures. "Stop. He's not an enemy."
The red beast shook its head in indecision.
"Sanshi, too. Release him. There's no need for this."
The hands that were wrapped around Hirose's legs didn't let go though. The red beast named Gouran also got into position and displayed his sharp teeth.
"This person is not an enemy. He's been helping me. You should understand that, shouldn't you?"
After a moment, the hands around Hirose's legs released him. Hirose shook off the hands and retreated a couple steps. He could plainly see that the one called Sanshi and the creature called Gouran were both confused. The beast was still clicking his teeth together.
"Gouran, stop," commanded Takasato again, and then he knelt down. He reached out to the animal. "What happened? Can't you tell the difference between good and bad anymore?"
Gouran's body shrunk back a little bit and it hung its head. It stretched its bloody-pus-colored head under Takasato's hand, and Takasato placed his hand upon it gently. Gouran approached him, and Takasato embraced the strange beast.
Sanshi climbed out of the sand and lowered her head deeply. Sanshi's head was in front of Hirose. When he realized she was bowing to him, he was taken aback.
Takasato looked back toward Hirose. It was unmistakably his human figure hugging the strange beast. The image rendered Hirose speechless.
Hirose was different than Takasato. Gotou had said it. Hirose had silently conceded to this point in his mind. Yet he had never imagined the difference—between those who belonged to this world and those who belonged to another—to be so great.
He now understood what was making him feel so uneasy. He was afraid of confirming this difference. This was the real reason behind the behavior that even Hirose hadn't comprehended.
Before he realized it, the tide had reached his feet. The frothy surf powerfully carried away the sand beneath his feet.
Takasato stood up and looked directly at Hirose. The red and white creatures disappeared as if dissolving into the rain.
"Please run, to a place higher up."
Hirose couldn't move. He simply whispered, "...don't you have any attachment to this world?"
Takasato looked at Hirose and was about to say something, but then lowered his head. "...But I still have to go back."
"Don't go," Hirose blurted out. "Why must you go back? You don't have to."
Takasato shook his head. "There's...no longer any place for me in this world."
"If you need a place, I'll make one for you. —Don't go."
Takasato shook his head just the same.
"Then what about me?" Hirose reached out and the rain hit his outstretched hand. Both his arms and legs were trembling from the cold. "Takasato, what about me?"
"I can't drag you into this anymore."
Hirose grabbed onto Takasato's arm with his extended hand. "...Are you just going to leave me behind?"
Takasato widened his eyes. Hirose's face contorted. Takasato's realized it, he thought. He's discovered my polluted ego.
He stared at Hirose for a while, and then closed his eyes and sighed sadly. The wind tore his deep sorrow into a thousand pieces.
Hirose could no longer control his expression. People as people are just this tainted. Hirose held onto Takasato and tightened his grip.
"—I can't go back! Yet you're going to leave me behind and go back by yourself?" He shut his eyes. The wind blew his wet hair against eyes. "Are you going back by yourself, Takasato!?"
This was said by Takasato. Gotou had told Hirose before that he could probably understand Takasato. He was able to understand him. Hirose was probably the only person who understood Takasato. And now, Takasato was the only person who understood Hirose.
"Only you can be brought back to your native land."
Hirose had lost his own native land, but he was shackled to this one. The lone compatriot for a foreigner that could only reminisce about his native land.
"Then what about me? I'll be left here all alone. What about me?"
Hirose revealed the truth. He no longer had the words to cover up what his heart truly thought.
"Why is it just you!?"
Hirose wanted to save him. He really wanted to save him. He wanted Takasato be able to proceed to a peaceful future, and thus did all he could toward that. His mind remained unchanged now, but somewhere hidden deep in his heart, he felt an ugly jealousy toward Takasato, who brought back to his own world.
—People as people are just this tainted.
The strength left Hirose's arm. Takasato used the hand that Hirose released to cover his face.
One whose heart was as pure as Takasato's couldn't understand. Even Hirose had always wanted to return.
Takasato covered his face with one hand and pointed to the side with the other. He gestured to the shore as a command to Hirose.
Takasato lifted his head and looked sternly at Hirose. "Please go. Because you are human."
Hirose hung his head.
—He knew. Hirose had not been chosen. It was certainly because he was so impure that he could never be chosen.
Takasato gave a push to an immobile Hirose. At his urging, Hirose began to walk forward. Coming from the sea, the wind and rain seemed also to press at his back.
He didn't want to be sent back to the apartment. If he couldn't return, then he hoped that everyone would stay here together.
Somehow or other, everyone was abnormal. Those with a physical deficit or those with a mental deficit, everyone was some kind of deviation from the norm. The abnormal had dreams of their hometown, dreams that were empty and stupid, yet at the same time sweet.
"I want to return," murmured Hirose once more, but it was no more than grumbling. However, for Takasato it was a right he could proclaim with his body and mind. He had a world he could return to, and Hirose did not.
Takasato wasn't a person, but this wasn't important to Hirose. Takasato had always been abnormal, and Hirose could never become the kind of abnormality he was. He could only be a person.
Thus, Takasato could be chosen, but Hirose couldn't. Takasato could return, but Hirose was stuck in this world forever. There were no other worlds to which Hirose could return.
From atop the weir, it looked as if Takasato was watching over Hirose. Hirose stood still. Takasato pointed behind Hirose.
Hirose started dragging his feet forward. He didn't have the energy to run. He no longer cared if he lived or died. When his legs were weak and his knees were about to give out, a fair wind pushed on his back and a faint voice was carried to him.
"—Please...go to the mountains."
Hirose looked back. Takasato was watching him. Hirose saw his outline standing with his back to the roiling surf. Takasato cried out the same thing once more.
Takasato deeply, very deeply lowered his head.
Hirose nodded again. He then broke into a trot in the middle of the rain that washed across the surface of the road. The wind blew and with its push, Hirose finally began to run.
- - - - -
—That day, the flood tide that struck the vicinity swallowed the entire neighborhood and resulted in over 200 deaths and scores of missing.
In the few days afterward, people were prohibited from going to the seaside on days that the wind blew strong, because corpses from deep in the sea would wash ashore.
After the passing of five, ten days, the lengthy list of the missing would be cleared line by line as the long list of the dead continued to grow. However, after a month, there was still a name yet to be removed.
After the passing of the typhoon season and into the season of frost, that name alone remained.
—There was only one person.