I shoved the paper bag into the bathroom tool closet. That was a cursed item.
I doubted it would be found if it was just for a short while.
En route to the penthouse, I crossed the hallway lined with first-floor classrooms. A great many students had exited to the hall. Even teachers were standing around, gazing absentmindedly at the stairwell that led up.
“Hey, first years, get back to your classrooms!”
A teacher for another class cried out to no avail. Barely anyone was even listening.
The closer I got to the stairs, the more the boisterous atmosphere grew. I approached Class A. The stairs to the roof had been sealed off by teachers so no students could use it.
Almost all of Class A’s students were in the hall.
“Big trouble! Ryouko-chan… she holed herself up on the roof!”
“I saw from outside. She’s locked herself in?”
“I don’t know! The teachers are having a look now!”
“So they already found her.”
“Ichirou-kun, don’t tell me, back there…”
Her hands locked in front of her chest were lightly shaking.
“… Yeah, probably.”
That exchange that couldn’t escalate to a dispute ended up being the last trigger.
Was it my responsibility? You could call it that.
“You think Ryouko-chan’s going to maintain a siege?”
“It might be worse than that.”
“Is there any way we can save her?”
I couldn’t answer. I couldn’t tell what sort of saving Ryouko actually wanted.
“Satou! You’re back!” As Dorisen came down the stairs, he quickly singled me out. “That’s wonderful, I panicked when I couldn’t sense your aura on campus. Come with me.”
Accompanying the teacher who read his students’ auras, I was allowed down the stairs to the penthouse.
“The one on the roof’s Ryouko, right?”
“So it seems. She must have broken the lock the school installed to get on the roof.”
“What about the police?”
“That’ll have to happen after we get in touch with the principal, but we haven’t reached him yet. His phone’s off. But if possible, I don’t want to make a police matter of it.”
“I doubt this is the time to worry about appearances.”
Dorisen spoke in a terribly serious face.
“… If it becomes a police matter, she won’t be able to come to school anymore.”
“So you want me to do something about it?”
I’m beat. I threw up both hands like it was a hold-up.
“… I want you to look at the situation and decide what should be done. You’re the person who understands her best.”
Dorisen took the lead, pushing out the sealed-off door ever so slightly. The gap was around thirty centimeters. If I squeezed through horizontally, I’d barely be able to make it.
“This is as far as it opens. Have a look.”
I stuck out my head to find a large, looming iron grid.
What I had thought was a grill had been made from the locked legs of desks protruding up, down, left and right. Countless desks had been stacked like blocks in various orientations, fixed with wire into a sturdy grid barricade. The height was just around three meters.
“Inomata-sensei forcefully slammed into it, and somehow or another, we got a small gap. But we won’t be able to enter with our builds. How about it, Satou, won’t you go see how things are going over there?”
If I squeezed out the door and climbed up the desks, I might be able to make it to the other side.
“I can’t see through. The wooden desktops are blocking off too many points…”
There was no telling what was happening unless I went. That’s what it meant.
“Satou, can I leave it to you?”
“… That’s an order, isn’t it.”
For a moment, Dorisen made a pained face, but soon he had regained his usual brazen smile.
“I’m really sorry, but that’s right. You’re my best choice. I don’t want to choose the other options.”
A man who doesn’t run is cool. But I’m sure that was also part of his calculations.
“… I’ll give it a go.”
“Then could you equip this?” Dorisen stuck a small pin into my chest pocket.
“And this is?”
“A pin mike. I want to hear the conversation.”
“… Sensei, I think you’d be well suited for an occupation of deceiving people.”
“Isn’t teacher precisely that job?”
I crammed my body into the gap. It was far too narrow, I felt pressure on both side of my body. Squeezing only my left shoulder through, I groped around to find a hold and pulled the rest of me though. Taking care not to get caught on the doorknob, I climbed up the gap between the pend house wall and barricade.
With friction constantly rubbing against my back, as long as I brought my arms and legs to the right place, it wasn’t particularly hard. I clambered to the top. The barricade was three desks in breadth; I wasn’t in any danger even standing right on top of it.
From that height, I gazed out over the roof in its entirety.
“… For real?”
I swallowed my breath. Like the instant a vivid painting entered my eye, my heart hit out just one large pulse.
Ryouko called it a temple.
when one hears the word temple, just what vision would them embrace? The Parthenon? Or could it be the temple city of the Mayan Civilization?
Ryouko’s temple held a different aspect from either of them.
It was just a vague resemblance, but she had something that harkened back to Cheval’s ideal. The Le Palais Ideal, or Ideal Palace, was a stone structure built up by a man called Cheval who, without any knowledge of stonemasonry, stacked up the rocks he found on the side of the road while working as a postman. It was a palace he made in his own garden. Worthy of an illusion drawn straight from a human’s heart, it boasted a hair-raising figure.
What Cheval had done in stone, Ryouko had accomplished with desk and chair.
“How am I supposed to believe this…”
The roof was now a rectangle cut straight out of another world. A stagnant crystal sprouting like fungus straight up from the green rubber-like floor. A bizarre, surreal landscape put together with nothing but mundane office supplies.
If you kept the image of a perfect palace in mind and focused your eyes, it began to resemble the feeling of Lego. Detailed yet uncanny. Ryouko had focused solely on stacking isomorphic blocks of desks, erecting steeples, casting bridges, sprouting pincushions, a trapezoidal structure resting in the center. I was filled with an urge to look away, and yet my eyes were fixed in place.
I couldn’t believe this was prepared in only a few hours.
She must have spent ages preparing all of this. For a long time now.
On top of the main alter positioned as if protected by the flood of steeples, there stood Ryouko.
Her robe fluttering, She turned, every motion brimming with dignity.
“The temple is complete.”
“Did you make this because of what I said!?”
“There’s a huge ruckus going on below!”
“Irrelevant. They are unable to perceive our side.”
“It’s exceedingly relevant!”
I searched out a path to Ryouko. The roof’s original flooring only remained on the outmost edge.
With paths and bridges prepared to every important point, it was somewhat like a maze, but with how jumbled it all was, I couldn’t see a route on first glance. At the foot of t eh barrier, overturned desk and chair legs were spread over like a bed of spikes. The broken desks had parts where their legs were snapped or twisted, making for plenty of places that would impale me if I fell. The usable routes were limited.
“I’ll be on my way!”
“Don’t come. Don’t enter the barrier.”
“You think I can listen to that? Let’s talk a bit.”
I descended to the other side of the barrier. I stepped on the only place where desktops formed an overpass.
“Don’t come,” Ryouko mechanically repeated. “Don’t come.”
“… I’m sorry about before. I said too much. But that doesn’t mean you had to do all this, right? I’ll help out. I can still help, so how about we slow down for a minute and have a good talk?”
The path led to the altar. While largely meandering, it was properly laid out.
With each turning corner, a new layer was added on.
“Hey, why did you do this?”
The witch standing up high no longer paid me any mind. She stood alone atop the temple, the highest structure on the roof.
“Hey, got you so upset? Haven’t you always only done whatever you wanted to? Why did you have to make it this overblown?”
“Explanation has been provided numerous times. A temple is necessary to return to the original world.”
“If you’re up to listen, I’ll tell you everything that’s going on with me. It’s not like we’re done for good. But this one is bad, I tell you. Even our teacher won’t be able to cover for you.”
“There is no need to be covered for.”
All of a sudden, I was faced with stairs leading down. There was only one road, so I could only move forward. With both sides sandwiched between desk-lattice walls, I descended into a deep, deep darkness. Ryouko left my sight.
She had even made a tunnel. Just how much passion and concentration were required to create this labyrinth… just thinking about it made me dizzy. Without the inexhaustible energy one under a delusion occasionally exhibited, it could never have been actualized.
”So this… is your ideal world…”
The tunnel gradually narrowed out. If any one of the higher desks collapsed, I wouldn’t be getting out unharmed. I couldn’t imagine Ryouko had any knowledge pertaining to construction. It was even less likely she drew up a blueprint. Growing increasingly anxious, I pressed on through the darkness.
I exited out into a shaft. A ladder had been formed by meshing chairs together.
I reached a place where the sunlight poured down. The top part of the temple.
“When Ichirou refuses to return with The Researcher, he ventured so far…”
One level higher than the terrace-like place I stood, there was Ryouko. Checkmate.
A meter apart. There was nothing left to separate us. As I would climb onto the stage in the gym, I pushed both my hands down against it, built some momentum—
“Don’t come, Ichirou!”
The scream rampant with emotion stiffened my limbs.
I suddenly sensed the boundary line. It was there, right beneath hands. Meaning, that single step up. I could tell it was dangerous to cross that line. I figured it out with some thought. If this temple was the landscape in Ryouko’s mind, then it might just be her heart itself.
Ryouko took a step back.
The highest point of the temple consisted of sixteen desks. I recalled cleaning the classroom, when we pushed the desks against the back for floor access. She had made a foothold of three by three, with the remaining seven leading to the depths in a straight line, Ryouko was headed for that back path. While I felt something was off, I couldn’t tell why. For the time being, I tried out conversation.
“What is it? Why are you running away?”
“… Because Ichirou became a person of that side.”
Her sunken voice quivered here and there, sounding terribly unreliable. Ryouko was tired, she was nearing her limit.
“That’s right. I’m from this side. You knew that from the start.”
“That’s wrong. Ichirou was different. Another Ichirou was hiding. I could see it, that’s why,” Another step, she retreated back, “I wanted to return with you. I wanted you to see.”
“What did you want me to see?”
I noticed, this wasn’t a line from the delusional setting’s Researcher. Ryouko’s own words were not coming down to me. A rapid chemical reaction kicked off in my brain. Joy, anger, surprise, happiness, irritation.
“… The temple was a facility to return, was it?”
“This is definitely something. It’s on an epic scale. I knew you put work into your costume, but this is something else. You’ve got me. I’ll praise you. I’ll acknowledge you’re amazing. But… where do you intend to return with this?”
“To the world I used to be.”
“It doesn’t exist. You know that too, don’t you?”
Ryouko silently took another step back. A warning signal began ringing in my heart. It was dangerous to continue this conversation, my instincts shrilly cried out. But why?
“You’ll perform a ritual and return… I get it up to that point. But what if you can’t return? What if, after the ceremony, there’s nothing but a boring reality waiting for you? What will you do?”
Will you be able to endure that?
“After the ceremony, reality will disappear.”
Ryouko retreated back another desk’s worth down the passage. She was growing further and further away.
Without crossing the boundary, I slid my right hand to the side. While I didn’t have a perfect view, I probed out what portion of the roof Ryouko was standing over. And my leisure vanished all at once.
“Are you an idiot!?
The green fence surrounding the roof ran right below her. I understood. The temple had been built along the fence.
And the passage—this was the identity of that off feeling— protruded out beyond it. Like a diving board into a pool.
Naturally, if she fell from that passage, her landing point would no longer be the roof.
The height of the school added on to the temple was roughly twenty meters. It was amply high enough to destroy the human body.
My lips shook. An emotion interwoven out of irritation and confusion almost made me empty my bowels.
“What’s with that!? Why does it have to be that way!?”
There’s no way, I thought.
When it came to this girl, I never thought she was the sort to run to death.
“So you wanted to die…?”
“It is not death,” said the usual tone that spoke of her absurd delusions. “In order to return, it is necessary to convert any individual differences adapted to this side. Freefall is the most adequate state to perform that ritual. The transfer will be complete before collision with the ground.”
“Do you believe that? Seriously, that nonsense?”
No matter what delusions she held, she must know in the depths of her heart they were a downright lie. To actually jump was an impossible option unless she really was depressed enough to die.
Then did Ryouko seriously believe in another world? That there really was a place different from here, that she could reach it? That a place born naught but from imagination, the strange scenery taking root in her heart actually existed? There was no possible way—I thought, then remembered.
The suicide scandal of soldier syndrome. Unable to recognize death and death, there really were those who lightly tested it out as a means to separate their souls.
Looking back, when I sent the letter to my princess, despite understanding somewhere, “It probably won’t reach,” wasn’t I immersing myself in a foolish hope, “But it might”?
When a dream far too strong boards a feeble heart, the boundary line grows endlessly ambiguous. Past life and present one, reality and fantasy, life and death become lenient. In all her panic, Ryouko had unhanded what faint rationality she had, crossing over the boundary of life and death, that which was to never be lost sight of.
A formidable foe.
Satou Ryouko… no, the Carbon-Based Activity-Body from another world, the Blue Witch, The Researcher was a powerful foe the current me had no means of crossing blades with.
“Give up on returning! Can’t you just spend the rest of your life here?”
“Ichirou, I ask, do you honestly think this world is enjoyable?”
“That’s,” she threw me a question I couldn’t lie to. “… You’re right. I’m a human who can never adapt to what it means to be a normal high school student. But I’m doing my best, can’t you see!?”
“I can’t do my best.”
“Because it’s narrowminded.”
Yeah, well— unfortunately, I had to hand it to her on that one. She was right. We were all competing in our own narrowmindedness.
If we weren’t narrowminded, we would be scared, far too scared to bear. We wanted to feel at ease with everything fit in its mold. If you stand out, you get stuck with the label of creepy.
But all I, all we really. For god, for magic, for monsters, for mysteries, for miracles, for legends, for the end— something to reassure us to live on. No one wants to go to karaoke when we know we’ll never enjoy it, or spend a fortune on fashion, or wag our tails at people we don’t even like.
“In the end, Ichirou never showed me. I was sure we were the same inside.”
Touching a hand to her chest, she scooped out the lake of her heart. She was sure to scoop out some rusted filth. Yet what her palm wrapped around radiated a transparent glimmer.
“The warrior in Ichirou is long gone. In that case… I… I…”
I never knew. Her heart’s jewel wouldn’t rust. It was even like a curse to her.
And Ryouko cried out.
“Alone—there is nothing left but to return alone!”
Ryouko brushed various parts of her body as she recited her chant.
“To return… return… to the world it should be… Ateh Malkuth Ve-Geburah… couldn’t have been wrong… there’s no way I was wrong… Ichirou was definitely supposed to be on this side… so why…”
Swinging her staff, she mumbled, she muttered.
The warning signals were ringing again. It was a bad idea to instigate her now. But even if I didn’t instigate her, Ryouko would jump. Should I contain her by force? Impossible. She could jump from the diving board far faster than anything I tried.
Even so, there was just one method to deliver words to her heart.
But, choosing that would be the end, I was already—
It was too late for that. Looks like you can’t run from fate.
In that case, to the end—No, don’t intend to let it get to that.
One single last time. Why not have a battle.
“Ryouko, can you wait there for a bit? I’ll be right back.”
“To return… return… mission over… return… once she is back, the Researcher will have her memories wiped at the biological enhancement center, and she won’t feel anything anymore… it won’t hurt anymore…”
“I’ll be right back! Just five minutes! You got that, wait five minutes!”
I retraced the way I came. My buttons flew as my shirt was caught up by desk legs. Protruding splintered wood grazed my face, forming a wide abrasion. Blood trickled bit by bit, dying the top of my shoulder.
It took one minute to return to the penthouse.
Dorisen pulled me aside.
“Satou, should I call the police?”
“Please give me just a little more time. I’ll be right back! Don’t let anyone else in!”
I ran. I sprinted at full force.
I raced past the classroom. Without calling out to Kobato-san on the verge of tears, I made for that boy’s lavatory. For the first time in my life, I felt grateful to Ooshima. To think she would procure it for me today of all days. Her strong malice had established but a single small miracle.
Treatment came with some pain. But that was none of my business.
I’ll just have to give Dorisen and myself, and Ryouko and the school, everyone some painful memories to cringe over. Suck on that.
And I—was ready for battle