Having lost the upper half of his body, the man collapsed to the floor. His internal organs spilled, like a bucket tumbling. I stared in shock at his sudden death. In my arms, the child was laughing.
Mayuzumi smiled, waving her arm. Her red parasol returned to her hand. She rested it on her shoulder.
I recalled the words she once said to me.
“This is only a guess, but I think that a monster without a mother can’t be controlled. It’s like a tsukigami that had lost its vessel. If possible, Asato wants to get the monster while keeping you alive. Otherwise, there’s no point in letting you live. Put it another way…” She chuckled. “It’s quite interesting, really. I just didn’t notice it until now. There’s no point in telling you right now, so I’ll refrain from doing so.”
So this is what Mayuzumi was talking about, I thought as I looked at the child in my hands.
As her parent figure, the child listened to me.
The child burped, as if it had eaten something delicious. I quickly rubbed her back, and she laughed. Yuusuke had stopped in the middle of the floor, looking up at me with relief in his eyes.
Asato was standing behind him, his face devoid of expression. He was regarding me with the same look as the fox mask. I realized then that that was his true face.
He clapped loudly, as if commending me. “I see. I see. I didn’t think you could get out of that place, Odagiri. I didn’t even consider you’d recognize that thing as your child. Now I did expect that guy to die, though I didn’t think he couldn’t kill an Azaka.”
His teeth chattered. Asato had discarded his usual easygoing attitude. He glared at Mayuzumi, his face filled with hatred.
Mayuzumi responded with a fearless smile. “What now, brother? It’s you versus me, Odagiri-kun, who has now control over a demon, and Yuusuke-kun.” She twirled her parasol.
Honestly, I didn’t think she should count Yuusuke in when he was still down on the floor.
Asato gave a small smile as he took one step back.
“Are you trying to escape, brother?” Mayuzumi grinned. “I’m an Azaka, while you are not. You can run away, but you can never close this gap between us. No matter how many times you try, the results will be the same.”
Asato running away.
I wasn’t going to let that happen. Not this time. I tried to move, but the child in my arms was too heavy. A strange sense of vertigo struck my whole body.
Asato laughed. “Not really, my little sister.” His dark-blue parasol spun.
“When I was born, I was the one to take the name of Azaka.” The red parasol twirled round and round. “You were simply unaware of my existence. You were never an Azaka.”
Dark blue and red swirled together. They both held each other’s gazes, grinning.
“I’ll see you later, my little sister.”
“Until we meet again, brother.”
Only the dark blue parasol closed.
Asato was nowhere to be found.
I managed to take a step forward, but my legs got tangled, and I tumbled. Plopped down on the floor, my body convulsed.
The child stroked my face, as though worried. I could feel my body rapidly growing colder. Someone peered into my face.
“Huh? Uh, Azaka-san. I think his HP had gone down to negative.”
“For the record, Odagiri-kun,” Mayuzumi said, “you’re still dying. If you move too much, you will die for real.”
You could’ve told me that earlier.
I had no control over my tongue, so I couldn’t speak. My vision blurred. How many times had I fainted? It was beyond pathetic. I felt like clicking my tongue. In my wavering vision, I heard a soothing voice.
“Good work, Odagiri-kun. You should get some sleep.” A pale hand touched my cheek. She smiled at me. “See? You can do it if you try.”
I didn’t do anything.
I was played around like a fiddle and struggled to find my way out.
So please don’t give me that look.
I’d feel better if she made fun of me.
Like she always did.
Darkness took over my vision.
Holding a hand wet with amniotic fluid, I walked through the darkness. The child was leading me somewhere. Someone was crying in the pitch-black darkness. A skinny woman was shivering, hugging her shoulders. She looked up to the heavens and cried out, as if to say she was cold.
She looked lonely as she trembled.
She looked pitiful as she cried.
She was looking at the apartment in the distance, her eyes fixed on a single unit like she was staring at some paradise that was out of reach. I realized then. This place that was dark as night was the road in front of the apartment. It was the place where Shizuka committed suicide by throwing herself off the building.
I wasn’t sure exactly where this place was. Was it my dream? Or did I enter another’s dream? Or was I in the spirit world that was connected to the dreamworld? Maybe I was in the afterlife.
But I knew one thing.
She had been here all along, ever since that day.
Ever since she jumped to her death.
Holding the child’s hand, I slowly approached her. Reluctantly, I touched her back as she cried.
Shizuka looked up. Crying like a child, she asked me like she did before, “Will you save me?” She wasn’t even aware that she was dead. “Will you save me?” she repeated.
Fear stroked down my back. But I swallowed it hard, and went down on my knee.
“Mama?” the child asked.
I embraced Shizuka. “I’m sorry. I can’t save you anymore.”
Tears streamed down her face. Her body trembled, and she tried to scream. I hugged her even tighter.
“But I’m not going to forget about you.”
Shizuka lifted her face swollen from tears. Staring into her eyes, I nodded.
I was sure I would never forgive her. I felt sorry for her, but I couldn’t forgive her. Every time I would think of her, the fear that crawled up my spine and the hatred that I had for her for ruining my life would never go away.
“I’ll remember you. Here.” I gave the child a gentle push.
Tilting her head, she asked, “Mama?”
Shizuka’s eyes widened. A soft smile filled her face. She embraced the little child’s body tight in silence. A dead woman was hugging a monster that should never have existed. It was a terribly twisted scene.
Yet it was also beautiful.
Lastly, I muttered, “It’s okay now. You can stop crying.”
The dream faded away.
Shizuka gave one last, familiar smile.
Tears trickled down my cheeks. Mayuzumi was taking off her lab coat, revealing her usual gothic lolita attire. I got up and looked around. I saw familiar furnishings. The couch that Mayuzumi always slept on. A desk with chocolates scattered on it. I realized I was back at the office.
The child was nowhere to be seen.
“Uhm, Mayu-san. Where’s Uka?”
“Uka…? Ah, you gave it a name. A good idea. A name can define a creature’s existence. By giving her a name, she’s not just a monster, but she’s also your daughter. Unfortunately, I put her back inside you. She’s still there, as she always had been.”
I touched my belly. I could feel something pulsating inside.
The demon was squirming about like always.
“It’s your child, but if possible you should keep it inside and not use it. Its existence is very unstable. It will drain your life force, and more importantly, it gets bigger every time you use it. I doubt that once it’s fully grown, it will still have a human form.”
It was impossible for a demon to take a human form.
While it looked like a child, it was nothing but a monster.
Even as she shared this cruel fact, Mayuzumi grinned. “But I think you’ll be fine. You may count on it when you’re in trouble. Keep it mind, though. Every time your stomach opens, you will be on the verge of death. But it will help you.”
I caressed my belly, tracing a trail of blood. I still couldn’t bear its constant squirming, but I didn’t hate it enough to want to punch it.
Remembering its sweet voice, I gave my belly a caring rub.
I never wanted to conceive it.
But I was glad to see that scene.
“Yuusuke returned to his place,” Mayuzumi said. “He said he was going to take his student life seriously. Though I don’t know if that’s true or not.”
“He was probably lying. I really doubt he can be a normal student.”
I wouldn’t be surprised if that young man appeared at places with oddities carrying his iron bat. His image popped into my mind—Yuusuke brandishing his bat under the moonlight. That look fit him perfectly.
“The main family will handle the killings,” Mayuzumi added. “A lot of clan members died, but good thing there were survivors. I was told to return home.”
“And you said no.”
“That’s right, Odagiri-kun. Because this place is my home.”
Why listen to them when she was already home in the first place?
Mayuzumi began swinging her white legs idly.
Mayuzumi Spiritual Detective Agency.
As always, the room smelled of chocolate.
There’s Mayuzumi, and then there’s me. The air was filled with a stifling sweet aroma. Everything was back to normal.
But there was one thing bothering me.
“What happened to Asato?” I asked.
“Who knows? I sure don’t. He’s fixated on the Azaka name. And to you as well. But he will never have them. So his only choice is to destroy them.” She flashed a cat-like grin. “He might come back. And with a very elaborate stage prepared.”
His expressionless face, with the fox mask on his head, came to mind. My vision wavered. I felt dizzy just picturing him with his dark-blue parasol. My pulse raced, and I clenched my fists tight.
“Now, then. You’re all healed, Odagiri-kun,” Mayuzumi said, as if changing the atmosphere.
For once, she actually sensed the mood. She approached the window and pulled the curtains open.
Warm light spilled into the room. White flowers glittered against the blue sky.
Cherry blossoms were still in bloom.
“In recognition of your services, let’s go see some flowers, shall we?”
The cherry blossoms were beginning to shed their petals.
Watching the flowers fall like snow, I smiled faintly. “How many pieces of chocolate do you want?” I slapped my knee and stood up.
The spring in my memories was gently coming to an end.