“…No,” I denied.
I waved my arms wildly and slapped Mayuzumi’s hand hard, sending her parasol flying to the side. It must’ve been painful, but she didn’t say anything.
Her smile remained unchanged.
“I-I don’t want to be killed by your hands.”
I meant it. The means shouldn’t matter if it resulted to the same death.
But being killed by her hands was the one thing I didn’t want to happen.
I didn’t want to die just for her amusement.
I wasn’t giving the baby in my belly to anyone. I would take her with me to the grave.
“I will never die because you told me to.”
Mayuzumi kept her smile. Silence filled my ears; my ragged breath was the only thing I could hear. Mayuzumi rose abruptly. She picked up her parasol and turned on her heel.
“All right. I’ll respect your wishes,” she said under the red shadow. “I have no intention of bending your will to take the child away from you. I don’t want grudges or curses laid against me. Murder is the most troublesome thing in the world.”
Because killing someone is a lot like digging your own grave.
It’s not the same as strangling someone who wants to die.
Her heavy boots trampled on the damp tatami mats, each step leaving a trail of blood. Mayuzumi walked away without turning around. Suddenly she closed her parasol.
With a swish, the red shadow disappeared. Her small figure was out in the open. On her head, adorned with a headdress, a black butterfly spread its wings.
She was facing forward.
I couldn’t see her face.
“But you see, Odagiri-kun. To you, I was certain death that came abruptly. To which you responded no. You’re free to bottle up your emotions and make the ludicrous claim that you’re in hell now.”
Her dignified figure looked beautiful. With a calm voice, she went on.
“But you should rethink what that means.”
Mayuzumi walked away without looking back. Yusuke glanced at me and grimaced. His expression was neither mocking nor hateful. The words he once said to me rang in my ears.
“Believing there’s a way out of hell is just wishful thinking.”
“That goes for both me and you.”
Yusuke quickly followed Mayuzumi out of the apartment, slamming the door behind him. With the lock broken, the door would open with a slight push.
Would I manage to die before Nanami came? I didn’t want to cause trouble once she found me.
But I didn’t want to actively kill myself either.
The truth was I just didn’t want to move.
I burst into tears. Curling up, I cried like a child. I felt so miserable. I was so annoyed at my gloomy state.
Mayuzumi Azaka had left. She would never show herself to me again.
And that would have been fine.
I had always wanted to get away from her.
But just the thought of disappointing her made my stomach churn. My tears felt warm in the summer heat. Clenching my fists, I pounded the tatami mats with all my might.. But the sound was weak.
Listening to the fox laughing in my mind, I closed my eyes once more.
Yes. I was just being a whiny bitch.
I couldn’t go anywhere anymore.
How much time had passed since then? Curled up on the tatami mats, I closed my eyes. I couldn’t even sleep. Suddenly, my ears caught an odd sound.
The small sound of a doorknob being turned. But that was all. Nothing happened after that. It must have been my imagination. If it was Nanami, she would have called my name. I closed my eyes tightly and tried to immerse myself in the nightmares once more.
Suddenly, I sensed the wind rise.
The bangs sticking to my forehead stirred. Coolness that I had not felt for a while caressed my cheeks. I noticed the pure scent of ink. There was only one person I know who had that scent.
What was she doing here?
The fan carried a gentle breeze. She looked at me with a forlorn smile.
Shirayuki stopped moving her fan. Slowly, she ran her brush across the white surface.
“It has been a while. It is nice to see you again.”
The room, filled with stagnant air, resembled a tank of filthy water. The sight of her sitting there looked terribly bizarre. Her figure, clad in white, was as unreal as a dream.
Was this reality?
Regarding me sadly, she said, “I did not want to go as far as to break down the door to see you. I had hoped that you would recover on your own, and that you would walk again without doubt in your mind.”
She closed the fan and opened it again. Words disappeared, and she wrote new ones.
“But you are still grieving.”
She was right. I was grieving. I kept regretting things I could do nothing about, over and over.
Lamenting and grieving was pointless. It didn’t change the fact that I was to blame for everything.
Still, I couldn’t help myself.
“Grieving over the fox’s drivel.”
My eyes saw words I did not expect to see. There was a sharp glint deep in Shirayuki’s eyes.
It was pure anger, gleaming darkly.
“Your legs are not broken, and your arms are not pinned into the ground. Why are you lying down? Why did you believe that fox’s words so easily?
The words suddenly turned more crooked. Shirayuki moved the brush at a tremendous speed. Turning the scruffy letters towards me, she narrowed her eyes.
The fan shut and opened. She slammed her brush.
Her anger was directed at me.
“Answer me, Odagiri Tsutomu.”
I thought my eardrums had gone numb. Reproachful words entered my vision. I didn’t know the reason behind her rage. Why would she be mad at me?
“Why…?” I muttered.
Why did I believe him?
Because what he said was true.
“Had I done nothing, had I not let go, no one would have died.”
Makihara, Aya, Akari, Higasa. If I didn’t butt in, they would still be alive.
They all died because of my egoistic behavior. I drove them to a corner, and I let go of them easily. I criticized people I shouldn’t have, and I brushed off the arms that clung to me.
That wasn’t all.
“Back then… I…”
I repeated the facts that the fox told me. Spoke the truth he whispered to me with a smile.
My own undeniable malicious intentions.
“Deep inside, I wanted them to die instead of me.”
Back then, I knew, and I understood.
My stomach churned. Gastric juices and graphic red spewed across the tatami mats. Tears streamed, and my throat hurt. Shirayuki’s eyes widened. She regarded me with a steely gaze.
Foxes are liars. And they’re masters in using dark intentions to hurt people.
But sometimes he told the truth. There was no escaping his words.
Because they were sincere, and in a way, honest remarks.
“Asato… Asato was right about everything. It’s all my fault. For spewing stupid moral nonsense, I drove people to a wall. Was it fun? It was. I’m sure. I had a lot of fun, acting like I’m the only one who understood, always playing the victim, offering my hand despite not having any intention of holding on.”
It was childish righteousness, making a fuss despite not being able to do anything.
Large tears spilled down my face, marred by dirt and sweat. My eyes hurt as I rubbed my face with my dirty hands. I spewed the words out like I was confessing my sins. Not that Shirayuki would forgive me after listening.
Still, I continued my monologue. I just hoped she would turn her gaze away.
No one would pay attention to me.
And that was fine.
“The fox spoke the truth. It’s all my fault. I don’t actually care about anyone but myself. I knew about Shizuka’s feelings for me, but I ignored them, cornered her, and destroyed her. Then I conceived a demon. I suppressed my emotions, but I still thought I could maybe do something, that I could still help someone. And look what happened! I don’t even have the courage to die for others, but I’ve killed people without batting an eye.”
It would have been better to just watch from the sidelines.
“It’s much worse than Mayu-san’s amusements.”
You blamed Makihara, so the sea rose.
You let go of her hand, so she died.
You showed Akari a bit of kindness, so she perished.
That was fun, wasn’t it?
“The fox was right about everything!”
No amount of denial could change that fact.
There were no excuses.
Shirayuki was watching me with quiet eyes. This was the end of everything. She would be leaving the room soon. I closed my eyes tightly. But no matter how long I waited, her footsteps never sounded.
I felt a small impact on my head. Cautiously I opened my eyes.