“Let’s head back, Odagiri-kun,” Mayuzumi said.
Yuusuke followed us like it was the most natural thing to do. At this point, I couldn’t even be bothered to deal with him. Ignoring him along the way, I returned to the subway and inserted my commuter pass. In the dim car, I glanced at Mayuzumi. She looked like a forgotten doll with her gothic lolita outfit. Yuusuke and I held on to the straps as the train rocked our bodies. I could hear the rock music he was listening to. It was still daytime, and the train passed straight through the city center and a busy district without stopping, but it was still relatively packed. Most of the passengers were women, perhaps on their way to university.
Mayuzumi opened her eyes. I thought she was asleep, but apparently not. She glanced at the ceiling and then looked around.
Slowly, she lowered her head, and whispered, “Odagiri-kun. Have you ever jumped into the sea?”
“The sea? No. I’ve been there before, but I only swam. Not jumped.”
Where’d this come from?
A smile appeared on her lips. The train’s rattling was grating to my ears. Suddenly, it became muffled.
“Then you’re in for a surprise.”
I swallowed as a sudden strange sensation struck me. My vision blurred momentarily, and something covered my entire body. It was as if the entire train had plunged into lukewarm water. The unbearable sensation made my arm tremble as I held on to the strap. My throat tightened; I couldn’t breathe. As I exhaled, I felt countless bubbles floating in the air. Despite my suffering, the child in my stomach started laughing.
It felt like I was being swallowed by the sea.
I couldn’t breathe.
“Calm down, Odagiri-kun. It’s an illusion. There’s air here. Nothing terrifying has happened yet.”
As soon as I heard her calm voice, I realized I could breathe. But the strange sensation that enveloped my body still remained. It still felt like I was under warm water. The child spun around in my stomach with glee. I pressed down hard on my belly in pain. The skin wriggled under my fingers.
The sticky, warm sensation on my skin felt like blood and amniotic fluid. It wasn’t surprising, then, that the child liked it.
The train gradually slowed down to a stop. There was not a soul on the train or on the platform. The deserted station looked somewhat red and blurry. Yuusuke tapped the strap once, let go, and whistled merrily. Mayuzumi disembarked onto the subway platform and whirled around. Her black ribbon bounced in an arc.
“Let’s go, Odagiri-kun. The cup has overflowed.”
Her parasol snapped open, and she smiled.
“The long-awaited war has begun.”
Once above ground, the surroundings became more bizarre. Above the familiar cityscape was a sky tinted a pale crimson. It was a strange shade of red, different from the colors of sunset, as if blood had been mixed with water. Countless goldfish were swimming in the air. Their fins, even redder than the sky, fluttered. They moved even faster than when the sky was blue, as though they were at home.
Every wall I saw bore drawings.
Strange graffiti painted in a mixture of red and black ink danced on the walls.
A strange beast was stirring on the walls of the subway entrance. A thin, muscled dog. When it laid eyes on us, it sniffed and shook itself. It moved half of its body off the wall. Its thin legs stepped on the road, and its red eyes turned toward us. As it bared its fangs…
Yuusuke hit it on the head with a baseball bat. There was a loud crack, and the dog’s head dangled. The next moment, the dog reverted back to ink, splashing down on the road and forming a puddle of black and red. Yuusuke swung his bat in the same manner just as another one came running across the wall and leapt from the inside. Brain matter splattered.
Droplets of blood flowed to my feet, and suddenly noise filled my vision. I saw scenes painted in gray. A truck coming straight at me. A bicycle losing its balance. An ECG. All sorts of images filled my mind.
And a voice, exploding in my ear.
It hurts. It hurts. No. I don’t want to die.
An old man’s voice, a child’s, a woman’s, a man’s. They all filled my ears. Unable to bear the piercing cries, I covered my ears and sank to my knees. But the voices did not disappear. They echoed straight into my head without passing through my ears. It was the memory of the owner of the blood. The invigorated child in my belly picked up the death throes of people randomly. The cacophony of screams rang in my head then vanished.
But there was one voice that would not go away.
Then it hit me. Among the chaotic screams and pain, there was one solid memory. A calm man’s voice reached my ears, oddly distinct amid the howls.
But they can’t stop me. I will create a God.
For one and one purpose only.
The noise faded away and another image appeared before my eyes. A peaceful, gentle scene.
A fair hand. A fair arm. A scrawny hand desperately squeezing back. Their beautiful fingertips. A gentle smile. Suddenly, the images were cut off. There was an expressionless Noh mask in my hand. I chose it because I didn’t know whether to cry or to be angry. I have killed people, betrayed my clan, and still, I cannot become a monster or a demon. I don’t think I can. Sorrow burns in my heart.
Will ■■■ forgive me? I doubt it.
Will ■■ forgive me? I don’t think so.
But I will still…
There was a sharp cry, and I was punched in the face. A small fist had hit me mercilessly on the cheek. A burning sensation made my face numb. Stunned, I looked down and saw Mayuzumi staring up at me. When our gazes met, her dark eyes slowly twinkled with a smile.
“Get a grip,” she said. “That anguish is not yours.”
She was right. The child inside my stomach burst into laughter in response. I was almost consumed by the images I glimpsed through the blood.
Consumed by what, though?
Whose memory was that?
“The suffering of others is not something we should understand any more than we have to.”
I nodded dumbly. Mayuzumi snorted and looked ahead. A beast was stirring on the wall. A goldfish swooped down from the sky and slammed against the wall, spattering red all over. The beast opened its mouth and devoured the goldfish. It disappeared deep into the beast’s throat. Then its body grew in size and split in two. My eyes widened.
They were multiplying without the help of an esper.
“I never thought he could do something like this. He’s pretty good. Now that the war has started, we have to go and get the clan head. We can’t just leave her there alone. We’re running, Odagiri-kun.”
Mayuzumi pulled hard on my tie. I lost my balance and fell to my knees.
“Can you carry me?” she asked casually. “Running on my own two legs is too much effort.”
“I saw that coming a mile away!”
I hefted her small body up, then started running. Mayuzumi nodded in satisfaction.