Come to think of it, I never did return that five hundred yen coin to Kai. On the way home from school, I made for the Inari Shrine.
“I wasn’t in any hurry.”
“We can’t be having that. Dad told me I have to be firm when borrowing and lending money.”
And from there, our time passed laid-back as ever. I nonchalantly explained the incident I’d been dragged into. I thought Kai would be interested in the details like only a Kai would.
He listened in with joy.
Once the story was over, he closed his eyes in deep thought,
“… So it’s finally happened, huh.”
In the eyes he opened resided an inhuman glimmer I had never seen before.
“The ‘Cage of Death Remnant’ has finally become able to interact with spiritual bodies.”
Cage of death remnant? Ori no Shiori? Orino Shiori?
Did something happen to Orino-san?
“That being the case, the plan’s success rate is still only around five percent.”
“Originally, the ‘Cage of Death Remnant’ was supposed to defeat an uho-weakened Tamane so she’d level up all at once. With the current one, defeating Tamane at full strength will be harsh, so I was thinking to adjust her power with the uho. I even got in touch with Tsuchimikado Senzou, and taught him a new technique to do it…”
He said with a bitter smile and looked at me.
“You got one up on me, Akira. I never even imagined you’d settle it like that. You really are an interesting one, you know that.”
The reason Tsuchimikado-san could come out with a new technique.
The reason Kai called me on the rainy day.
The reason he gazed at Orino-san so gleefully on that day of raining glass.
It felt like all my off feelings that remained were fusing together.
“But, well, it looks like the ‘Cage of Death Remnant’ grew a bit, so I’ll call it a success.”
I wonder what this feeling is.
This is almost as if…
As if all these recent events were set up for the sole purpose of having Orino-san defeat Tama-chan.
As if everything had happened on the palm of Kai’s hand.
“What are… you talking about…?”
My voice was shaking. A thorn of fear was born in my heart. The childhood friend before my eyes was no longer the childhood friend I knew.
“Mn? Oy, oy, I’d like to think not, but–”
“You aren’t under the misapprehension that I’m a Zashiki Warashi, are you?”
“You don’t think that a Zashiki Warashi used his ability to become friends before you know it to become Akira’s childhood friend, do you?”
Of course not.
I mean, there’s no way Zashiki Warashis exist.
“I guess that’s not happening. Because Akira doesn’t believe in that sort of thing. Ever since he met the lady in a strange suit in the park, he doesn’t believe… he doesn’t notice, does he? That’s right, that’s the Kagoshima Akira I know.”
His voice, his voice that had always been so clear grew muddled as if increasing in viscosity. His eyes continued letting off their vivid inhuman glimmer.
“I didn’t become your childhood friend with a Zashiki Warashi’s ability. I used a power that belongs to me alone to become your childhood friend. No, to make it that I always was, perhaps? The positions Daiki-kun and Yoshiko-chan held… I took them.”
— Weren’t your childhood friends Daiki-kun and Yoshiko-chan?
Orino-san’s words revived in my head.
“You weren’t the strange one, back there, Akira. It’s not like your memories were manipulated. The strange one was the Cage of Death Remnant. In this world, she alone can go, no continues to go against my ability– 《Finishing Stroke》.”
In this world, she alone— is the strange one.
She alone can go against my power.
Kai added on, Ahaha, he innocently laughed.
“What saved you from the glass shards was also my 《Finishing Stroke》, but it’s not like I manipulated luck. That’s not the sort of ability it is.”
“Try to remember, Akira? I gave you a hint. Apart from my painfully obvious fake name Shi no Sekai: The world of death, I gave you another hint.”
I thought back.
Kai’s words that stuck with me most these past few days.
… If you fail, try again, however many times it takes.
“You noticed? That’s right. I redid it. Again and again, until you were miraculously unharmed. I think I reiterated the world a good twelve times back there.”
He reiterated the world.
He looped it again and again until a miracle happened.
To make coincidence into the inevitable.
He continued rolling the dice until he saw the number he wanted.
Until I miraculously came out unharmed in that incident, again and again.
“… What’s with that? Eh?”
“《Finishing Stroke》 is an ability that exists outside the time axis and the law of cause and effect. As I exist outside the world, I can ignore all time paradoxes that might occur from leaping around time. To put it really simply, I’m able to remake the world however convenient to me.”
In his viscous tone, a gentle smile on his face, Kai continued on.
“In dating sim terms, it’s the ability to jump to any route after I’ve already made my choice, perhaps? I used this power to become your childhood friend. I backtracked to your childhood, and spent ten years with you as your childhood friend. I watched you all the way.”
The questions congested to a stop in my head.
… What are you talking about I never thought you were a Zashiki Warashi then how old even are you are you human the hells the Cage of Death Remnant is Shinose Kai a fake name What’s your real name isn’t that ability of yours too broken no matter how you look at it you knew about Kikyouin-san and Tsuchimikado-san but that’s not because you were a yokai but because you leap around time your kinda like Kagurai senpai Kai, weren’t we friends—
I had so many questions that not a single one had room to escape my mouth, holding it up in silence.
“You really don’t know anything, do you?”
His pitying voice stuck into my heart.
“But I know everything, you know. About those girls you love as well.”
“For example, Kikyouin Yuzuki. She’s a true, honorable Onmyouji. The Tsuchimikado House carries the blood of the great onmyouji Abeno Seimei. She’s the eldest daughter of one of their branches, the Kikyouin House. The shikigami she handles are mainly pipe foxes, and the charms she’s best at are lightning attribute. Because the fair gold-pelted jewel faced nine-tailed fox, Tamamo no Mae’s only daughter Tamane raised her from when she was a baby, they’re bound by a strong sisterly bond. Her fighting style of pipe foxes and lightning is due to Tamane’s influence. Tamane is a fearsome youkai who had nine tails even when she was only just born, but before her powers could come to fruition, she was sealed by the Kikyouin House. Well, with this matter, I doubt the necklace will be necessary, but even so, she’s got appearances to keep up, so she probably won’t take it off.”
“For example Kagurai Monyumi. She is an agent visiting from the distant future. She fights the revolutionary army Reloader that wishes to liberate humanity from a society ruled by machines. Her brother four years her elder, Gakuta, is currently a stuffed animal. When it comes to the Kagurai House, they’re lined up with the Shakujii House and the Shingai House as one of the Inoue Big Three. Her brother Gakuta had a whimsy personality, but he was exceedingly skilled at what he did. That was a fact attested to by the number of people who grieved his death. Of course, the saddest of all was his little sister Kagurai Monyumi. The weapon her avatar currently uses, Lill Sordia is a memento from Gakuta. By the way, the name Monyumi is relatively common in her time.”
“For example Kurisu Crimson Kuria. She is a witch who came from another world. Her full name is Creastia Crimson Cridende Christopher Kurisu. Daughter of Kurisu Tooru and Allua Mills Cridende Christopher Shuley. The talented witch Allua was sung of as a flower out of reach, and she was particularly remarkable at fire attribute magic. Creastia inherited one hundred and twenty percent of her talent. More than a decade ago, in the battle of Togahr Ghoul that happened on the west coast of the Claure continent, Allua was excommunicated from the army of the Royal Capital Rhulein, while Kurisu Tooru lost his life. Ah, also, she’s actually fourteen. There’s no middle school in the area, so she faked her age to get into Adatara High School.”
“For example, Orino Shiori. She is a psychic affiliated with the World Unified Parahuman Research Facility, commonly called the Facility, and a Psychokinesis Special— just kidding. There’s no way that’s true.”
I couldn’t say anything. My mind wouldn’t turn, I didn’t know anything.
It’s just, I knew his flow had stopped.
The flow had stopped at Orino.
“The Cage of Death Remnant is… something I made.”
— Orino’s been here since she was born.
That’s what Masaki-san said. So why… what’s this sensation, as if something isn’t locking into place.
“Her ability isn’t psychokinesis. Her real ability– 《Book Marker》is too fearsome to even be compared to those measly parlor tricks. Albeit, it’s incomplete for now, so I can see why it might look like psychokinesis.”
“… In the first place, that facility itself was a tool I made to create the Cage of Death Remnant. An existence born in the cage called the organization, where countless deaths pile up like the dregs in your tea. Therefore, the Cage of Death Remnant. Orino Shiori. Don’t you think it’s a good name?”
I no longer felt the willpower to answer the question.
But my thoughts were finally catching up.
Everything I had written off as my imagination had stayed in my imagination so long it had reached the forefront of my mind. Ventriloquism and cosplay, playing exorcist and stomach pains. The seams all came undone as the dam burst open. The gentle curse the strange lady placed on me—melted away.
Yeah, I knew everything. I already knew.
I ended up noticing.
There were plenty of things I wanted to say, but this was my first question.
“Why was it me… why did you become my childhood friend.,,?”
I was supposed to be the sort of normal kid you could find anywhere. There couldn’t be any reason for Kai—no, the something before me—to stick his eyes on me.
On a side character like me, with no hopes of being the main character of anything.
“Ten years ago,” he spoke, “You met a single girl. You met the lady in the strange suit at Gentle Breeze Park. You’ve already noticed her real identity, haven’t you?”
Enduring the constricting pain in my chest, I managed to squeeze out my words.
“… That person was Orino-san, wasn’t it? She was probably dragged into Kagurai-senpai’s time leap, and just happened to appear before me.”
“We have a winner. As I thought, you’re actually quite clever. The type who gets a flash of everything when you notice one part. The first step was simply sealed off, so you could never notice.”
He spoke merrily.
“That chance meeting ten years ago was one large event in your life. But you see, it was also a special event to her.”
Not just for me, for Orino-san as well.
That meeting ten years ago was special.
“Right after that, she managed to breach the jamming equipment of Masaki Souhei. She had broken a single wall. From that day, I had my eye on you. I used 《Finishing Stroke》 to become your childhood friend, and continued observing you… as a result, it hit me.”
He smiled. It was neither sweet or bitter, the smile didn’t suit him.
“Kagoshima Akira was indispensable to the growth of the Cage of Death Remnant. Through you, she becomes able to touch multiple worlds, through you, she grows just as I want her to.”
Like the world of those girls.
“This time, if she defeated that fox, she’d immediately be able to take another step up, but… well, so be it. It’s interesting to see where this one will lead.”
I moved my shaking lip to speak.
“What exactly do you want to do…? What’s your objective?”
“My objective? That’s simple. I’ll complete the Cage of Death Remnant, make her
《Book Marker》 my own, and create the 《Neverending Prologue》.”
“Your face says you don’t get it. Yeah. It doesn’t really matter. I was purposely speaking in a way you wouldn’t get.”
Gently. Kai stood. More gently than I thought possible for a human, yet also quietly and unsteadily.
“Let’s hope the day comes where you understand everything.”
He said as if it wasn’t his problem and peered into my eyes.
I couldn’t move. It’s not like anything was being done to me, and yet I couldn’t move a single finger. I couldn’t avert my gaze from those pupils letting off a bewitchingly beautiful glimmer.
“The reason you can become the singularity point existence that joins multiple worlds is surely because you don’t notice. Normally, once you touch a single world, that world will draw you in. You’ll never be able to escape it. Kurisu Tooru who lost his life in another world is a good example.”
“In order to complete the Cage of Death Remnant, you cannot notice.”
“… Don’t you think it’s a bit late for that?”
I had already noticed.
I had wasted all the thoughts and hopes they placed on me.
I had turned that lady’s… Orino-san’s wish to nil.
“The reason I taught you so much today is because I wanted to see what sort of face Akira makes when he notices. That’s all. It really was just a whim, a passing fancy that had me let you notice. Yeah. You surprised me with a better face than I thought. There was some worth in talking to you.”
I don’t know anymore.
I don’t know what’s what.
But I felt exceedingly irritated. From the depths of my chest, a simmering feeling was building up. What I… what we held dear was smashed to bits on this guy’s whim!
“Oh, how scary, how scary. Hmm, so you can make that face too. It’s the first time I’ve seen it, Akira’s angry face.”
The feelings in my chest exploded, before I noticed it, I was clenching my fist. For the first time in my life, I wanted to hit someone. But far before I could move, Kai grasped my head. Covering both my eyes with his left hand, he pinned me down to the stairs.
“I’m sorry, Akira.”
The voice that rained down carried an extremely sorrowful ring to it. My eyes were covered, so I couldn’t see his expression. Drip by drip, something fell to my face.
Was he crying?
“… You were just dragged in. For the game of a shoddy god. I won’t tell you to forgive me. But give it up.”
“I believe in you, Akira. If it’s you, I’m sure you’ll be able to complete her—and so.”
“I really can’t let you notice.”
The next instant,
A faint light ruled the world.
That same sensation I tasted a few days ago.
The sensation that space creaked, time distorted, and the world bent out of place.
Every component that made up this world was put to work for the sake of a single human existence. For a certain someone, a story development far too inconvenient had taken place.
And tasting that peculiar sensation…