Fortunately, the beasts on the wall were not that powerful. Consuming blood allowed them to divide themselves, which used up most of their power. A hit from Yuusuke’s bat easily turned them back to blood and ink.
What’s more, every time they split, their bodies seemed to crumble a little, as if they could not multiply successfully.
“Propagation is the greatest challenge for living things. Temporary creatures drawn to life are incapable of duplicating the ego, which means they lack the most important part of living organisms. To overcome that obstacle is commendable. The method is simple, though. Just cellular division, similar to what single-celled organisms do.”
Mayuzumi munched on a piece of chocolate. While in my arms, she tore the wrapper with her teeth and licked the candy nonchalantly.
“I believe these beasts are simply there to tip the scales. The fact that blood is only taken from the dead means the defector wants to minimize casualties. You’re slowing down, Odagiri-kun. Are you okay? You’re more capable than this.”
I didn’t have the energy to spare for a response. The apartment was about a ten-minute walk from the station. Sweat was pouring out of my entire body just from running up the gentle slope. My head throbbed and I felt like throwing up. I wasn’t exactly physically fit to begin with. What’s more, the child in my belly picked up memories blindly from the collapsed beasts. She should be commending me for not just dropping her as she sat coolly in my arms.
Numerous images flashed before my eyes. It was as if my vision had become a broken television. Staring at the multiple channels all mingled together made me sick. Reality and memory overlapped, making it difficult to even move my legs properly. Using the sound of Yuusuke’s bat as a guide, I ran, swallowing the warm gastric juices that rose in my throat.
Scenes of death seen through strangers’ eyes. Screams, shock. Always mixed among these was someone’s memory. Their own blood seemed to be incorporated equally through all the blood that was collected.
I have painted cranes before.
A beautiful crane should have flown out from the wall and into the air. But it did not. A small paper crane fell from the wall instead. The same paper crane that ■■■ folded with their ashen fingers in the past. Apparently to me, a “crane” does not refer to an elegant creature that soars through the sky, but an imitation that ■■■ folded for me. Even here, traces of ■■■ remain. In my mind, ■■■ is still alive. I picked up the paper cranes that fell to the ground and weeped. Crying was my only option. It was all I could do.
You are here, in a place like this.
Yet you are nowhere to be found.
The hands that fold the crane are long gone.
So I must summon. Gods. I’m sure. Don’t exist. Therefore. For honor. They will hate me. It is not hubris born from almightiness. Nevertheless. Reach the pinnacle of the supernatural. I don’t. No reason. Go this far. I just.
I’m just ■■■.
Would they laugh?
I was panting hard. My tongue was sticking out, and drool trickled down my mouth, but Mayuzumi said nothing. Then there was a sudden silence. The noise faded. I realized that we had arrived at the entrance of the apartment building. Yuusuke pulled me by the arm and pushed me into the elevator. I fell to my knees with Mayuzumi in my arms.
Tears spilled from my cheeks. I felt terribly sad, but I didn’t even know what was making me sad. Stirred by some emotion I could not comprehend, I held Mayuzumi and cried.
Why did ■■■ die?
Are they no longer in this world?
Mayuzumi’s body was warm. It must’ve been painful for her, but she didn’t say a word. I bawled my eyes out like a child until the elevator reached the fifth floor. As soon as the doors opened, Yuusuke turned around. There was a deep gash on his cheek.
“Let’s go, Odagiri-san,” he said, not bothering to wipe away the red that was flowing down his cheek. “Can you wipe your tears?”
Rubbing my eyes with my fists, I stood up. Mayuzumi jumped down from my arms and started walking down the corridor. I could see the red sky. A pure crimson, like blood, completely different from the colors of sunset. A goldfish leaped high into the air and fell from the sky. Not paying it any attention, Mayuzumi opened her parasol. Blood dripped. Mayuzumi looked straight ahead.
Numerous goldfish were swimming in the air.
We were almost at the office.
The door slammed shut. At the same time, Mayuzumi opened her red parasol and turned her body halfway around. She set the parasol down facing the door. She then strode across the room, unfolded three more parasols, and placed each one facing the windows. There was a cracking sound, and the strange sensation that clung to my skin vanished. Like a receding tide, the change was glaringly apparent. The nausea and the pain in my stomach brought me down to the floor. I groaned. Mayuzumi glanced at me as she shouldered a different parasol.
“That blood was collected from hundreds of people, Odagiri-kun,” she said. “You looked into all those memories through the demon in your belly, so it’s no wonder you were overwhelmed. Narrow it down to one channel only. And watch objectively—those tears are not yours. That sorrow does not belong to you. You don’t need to cry.”
The sadness that filled my chest slowly dissipated. Emotions of others don’t stay in the heart for long. I stared blankly at the tears in my hands.
“It’s not something you should cry over either.”
She was right. These feelings were not mine to grieve for. Because I don’t know the slightest thing about this sorrow.
But I couldn’t imagine how I could narrow down all the overlapping memories to just one. The nausea had not abated. The dizziness remained. I couldn’t even walk outside at this point.
“Mayuzumi-san,” Yuusuke said. “What’s with these things? Do they have any effect?”
“Don’t touch that,” Mayuzumi warned. “I put a lid on it so the goldfish can’t get in.”
I looked up. Yuusuke was poking at a parasol with great interest. Then a question sprang in my mind. Mayuzumi should not be able to physically seal the door.
How was she doing this?
“Don’t you see?” she said. “This place is on the verge of merging with the spirit world. Which makes this my domain. Putting a lid on it is easy.”
A white silhouette passed through my vision. When I turned around, I saw Shirayuki, dressed in a kimono, just emerging from her room. Wearing a white kimono with an arrowhead tucked into the sash—her official battle attire, most likely—she was staring at Mayuzumi.
“Clan head. You seem to get it,” Mayuzumi said. “This world is now leaning toward the spirit world. It’s the result of too many creatures being drawn on the walls. I mentioned it earlier. The scales have tipped. This world cannot hold so many creatures created using supernatural abilities. There are too many drawn creatures this time, which upsets the balance of the real world. The tilted scale, in an attempt to regain its balance, moved excess weights to the other side—to the spirit world. We too, the cause of all this, were transferred to this side. What a huge pain.”
Mayuzumi approached the window. Outside the glass, goldfish were drifting in the air, unable to enter. It felt as if we were in an aquarium. The red sky looked like blood filling the tanks instead of water.
“The streets look like ruins,” Mayuzumi murmured as she took out another piece of chocolate from her pocket. “This is probably what the defector wanted. With this, we can enjoy a one-on-one combat without any interference. Also, he only drew blood from corpses. I suppose he didn’t want any more casualties, though. How very soft.”
Mayuzumi’s lips curved. She snapped off a piece of chocolate with her teeth. “This makes it easier than when my brother came at us. I just didn’t think that Odagiri-kun would be affected by it.”
The tears had stopped falling, but the headache still remained. The gray, noisy images played in my mind once again. I could hear a child’s laughter as the gastric juices within me rose.
Shirayuki opened her fan. “We cannot just stay here. Let us head out.”
I gleaned urgency in the uncharacteristically crooked letters.
“No,” Mayuzumi disagreed as soon as she read it. “As you can see, Odagiri-kun is not feeling well. It’s best to wait until he feels better. We don’t stand a chance on our own.”
Shirayuki turned to me. She bit her lip hard and gave me a sharp glare. I could see impatience and a hint of anger in her gaze.
Her eyes said: “If only you weren’t here.”
She was clearly desperate—cornered, like a wounded beast in chains.