She dug her fork in the cake. Cutting out a small piece, she looked up.
“Also, yesterday’s victim was a distant relative of mine. The same circumstances as the others. Her body was dressed in a gothic lolita outfit, with a red parasol. Do you want to see the photo? A family member took it this time. The body’s mutilated, but the image is clear.”
Without even waiting for my response, Mayuzumi tossed me a photo. It was indeed a clear picture. Intestines and liver drenched in blood, sticking out from the abdominal cavity, gleamed.
I’m eating. I don’t want to see it. Just stop.
Biting down on my lips, I stared at the picture. The image was sharper, but the content was the same. Then I noticed something odd.
“Mayu-san, is this woman older than the other victims?”
“Yes. Sharp, unusual for you. Mayuzumi women barely age. She looks young, but she was in her late thirties. Well, I can imagine what the killer was thinking. It doesn’t mean much to us.”
Compared to the past victims, this victim was clearly older. Mayuzumi’s lips twisted into a grin, as if she knew the reason for this. But she gave no explanation.
“It’s complicated, so I won’t answer your questions. Anyway, you should eat. Our cook is very good. If you don’t finish everything, you’ll be punished.”
I no longer had any appetite, though. I let out another sigh and looked at the garden. The sun was almost completely down. The orange glow gave the garden an ominous look.
Everything seemed soaked in blood.
Mayuzumi felt around her neck and handed me something.
“Here. You can have this.”
She placed a glass ball in my palm. It had a metal clasp and a thin string. Apparently, it was supposed to be worn around the neck. There was red liquid inside the glass.
The crimson—almost black—fluid wobbled.
“Did you always wear this?” I asked.
“Not usually, no. It’s not even something you can mass produce.”
The liquid inside captivated me. When I held it up to the setting sun, a shiver ran down my spine. Reminiscent of promegranates, it was beautiful but ominous. The color was familiar.
“It’s my blood that’s in there,” Mayuzumi said flatly.
A chill ran through my fingertips. I dropped the ball by accident, and it fell to the table with a hard thud.
“What are you doing?” Mayuzumi said. “You have to take good care of it. We can’t make a lot of this.”
“Uh, oh, yes, I’m sorry.”
I picked it up again. Other than the fact that there was Mayuzumi’s blood inside, it looked like a normal accessory. But it was still creepy.
“What do you want me to do with this?” I asked.
“What are you saying? There’s only one use for a pendant. You wear it around your neck.”
She wanted me to carry the blood around. I thought she was joking, but her eyes were serious. She probably had some reason in mind, so I quietly put it around my neck.
Satisfied, Mayuzumi nodded. “It’s a catalyst. By using the soul in my blood as a medium, you will know how I’m doing even if we’re apart. Unfortunately, the other way around is not possible. Drawing your blood won’t do anything.”
The blood shimmered. Taking in my puzzled gaze, Mayuzumi smiled.
“This is an exception,” she added. “That corpse was probably Asato’s doing. I think perhaps you’re getting dragged into my fate. So take it with you. I’m sure it’ll guide you in the dark.”
Her lips, moist with chocolate, arched softly. Watching her, I repeated her words in my head.
You’re getting dragged into my fate.
“Oh, did I not mention it before?”
Cocking her head, Mayuzumi brought a chocolate-covered fruit to her mouth. The black syrup dripped on the white plate, leaving what seemed like bloodstains.
“Every Mayuzumi Azaka is destined to be killed.”
“My grandmother was stabbed to death by a man who held a grudge on her, and my mother was killed by a servant. All of the Mayuzumi Azaka up until now have been killed. The First, in particular, was killed by one of her own servants, a man who blindly loved Mayuzumi Azaka and worshipped her like a god. Since then, those who bore the name Azaka have all been killed. It’s the fate of those who inherited the purest demon blood in our cursed family. It’s only natural to assume that I’m next. After all, I’m the best Mayuzumi Azaka there is.”
I listened quietly. I understood what her words meant, but I couldn’t imagine it. Mayuzumi, who laughed at people’s deaths and reveled in tragedies, was destined to be killed. I found it very hard to believe. The mermaid incident crossed my mind. Back then, I thought she was dead. But even as I held her motionless body, I couldn’t accept it.
“Mayu-san. Aren’t you afraid?”
A banal question. Mayuzumi responded with a lovely smile.
“I once thought that from the moment I was born, no one but me should bear the status of Azaka. I have never once feared my fate.”
Yeah, makes sense.
This girl did not fear fate, nor would she assume her death to be special than others.
“I am Azaka. I wasn’t made an Azaka, I was born an Azaka. What do I have to be afraid of?”
She would probably smile even in the face of her own death.
Like how she took pleasure in the death of others.
I turned over in my futon. I could hear Mayuzumi breathing like a young child behind me. As I closed my eyes, thoughts of Asato, Mayuzumi’s fate, and other things ran through my mind. I should keep my energy up, but I couldn’t sleep. When I tried to think of something else, I remembered the female servant glaring at me. She was against the idea of me and Mayuzumi sleeping in the same room.
“For the record,” Mayuzumi had said, “I chose him. You don’t seem to trust him, but there’s no better bodyguard than him. Are you doubting my word?”
I didn’t have much combat experience, but Mayuzumi had stood her ground. When the servant still didn’t back down, she added, “Rest assured. He’s impotent.”
Now that’s just rude, you lying little shit.
If I wasn’t before, I was now completely wide awake. Feeling annoyed, I sat up. The frustration of not even being able to say anything back had returned now of all times. I couldn’t really ask for a different room. What would Mayuzumi Asato do next? How would the serial killings come into play? There were too many unknowns. Mayuzumi and I should stay as close to each other as possible.
I wondered when the fox would show up.
Thinking about it made me feel suffocated. I rose to my feet and opened the sliding door to let in some fresh air.
The garden was pure-white. Cherry blossom petals were dancing in the air like snow.
The moonlight made for beautiful, dreamlike scenery. The sky was dyed a soft white. The cherry blossoms in the garden were blooming out of season, scattering thousands of petals.
I saw memories of the distant past.
Blood dripped onto the pavement. Enduring the pain in my stomach, I lifted my head, and saw a red parasol.
A person was there.
Standing in front of the moonlit pond, the hem of her deathly white kimono flared. She bent down and touched the surface of the water. A silvery ripple formed on her slender fingertips.
Slowly, she looked up.
Large eyes peeked out from her short, black hair. She was wearing a warm smile.
It was a familiar voice.
Next thing I knew, I was down in the garden. Barefoot, I faced her. She looked at me with a soft smile on her face.
A dream, I knew. A special kind of nightmare. A beautiful scene like this couldn’t possibly be real.
“…Shizuka,” I called out in a shaky voice..
She nodded, smiling.