We woke up at ease the next day, ate something like brunch together, and by noon, Kurisu-chan had returned home.
I groaned in the living room much the same as a week before.
Before my eyes, a mountain of homework.
“This is bad…”
I don’t intend to blame Kurisu-chan for it, but in the end, I couldn’t do a lick of homework this week. I should’ve thrown out my pride as a senpai, and confidently opened the books in front of Kurisu-chan, I regret. This is truly what they mean by hindsight is twenty-twenty.
“Now let’s get to it. It’s about time I showed what I’m made of.”
I resolved myself, reached out and—my phone shook. I crumbled down.
What is it this time? Am I fated to never do my homework?
Feeling an irritation, I opened up the cellphone.
By Orino-san’s story, almost all the movie club members that accompanied her on the trip managed to make it back to Japan safely. Excluding only a single Saijou Mutsuki.
Having gone missing at the trip’s destination, he had still yet to get in contact.
It was unclear whether or not he returned to Japan, and taking it a step further, it was unclear whether he was even alive.
Blasting my bike off from my house, I arrived at Asahi Park in no more than five minutes. Getting my breath in order, I stepped off my ride. I looked around. I spotted him soon enough.
He sat at the table set I had used as a card game field not too long ago. While I say he was sitting, it wasn’t on the chair but the table. I did find it rare for the mockingly polite boy, but at the same time, it did seem fitting of him.
I called out to the boy of whereabouts unknown. He suddenly called me, and without listening to a single word I had to say, he one-sidedly called me out.
I thought I’d come and give my complaint. What were you doing this whole time? Orino-san is worried. I hear Kirako-san’s worried too. Of course, I’m no exception. Don’t go off recklessly on your own again. And for argument’s sake, I’m the older one here. If you’ve got some business with me, don’t call me out, you have to come to my place… or so, I planned to really give it to him.
But a single look at him, and those thoughts were all blown away.
I shuddered as I swallowed my breath.
“W-what happened, with those injuries…”
Saijou-kun’s form was far too painful to look at.
The glasses that could be called his trademark were gone, in exchange, an eyepatch sealed up his left eye. His head was wrapped in bandages, his right leg was affixed in a plaster cast. Right beside him was a crutch, and I presumed he had to use it to hobble his way here.
The clincher was… his left arm.
At first, I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. But the moment the wind picked up, my doubts changed to conviction. The long-sleeve shirt he wore took a large sway. His left sleeve where his left arm was originally supposed to be, swam through the breeze like a carp streamer.
It wasn’t there?
His left arm… wasn’t there?
“It’s been a while. Kagoshima-san.”
Turning toward a speechless me, he sent a smile no different than his usual one.
“Ahaha. Please don’t look so surprised just because you come across a one-armed person. It’s fine. Eventually, I’ll grow in a new one like a Namekian.”
“… Was it an accident? Or…”
“For argument’s sake, I cut it off myself. In order to escape the enemy, I tried leaving it behind like a lizard detaches its tail. In exchange for a life, a left arm is a small price to pay.”
I couldn’t tell what he was saying. It was too far from reality, my head was wholly failing to keep up. “Here,” he pointed at his eye.
“This one’s also all ruined. It was completely crushed. Glasses and all. Aaah, I really had a liking for those glasses.”
He continued talking in a voice, cheerful to an unnatural extent.
“So my losses total one pair of glasses, an eye, and an arm. Good grief, my character’s gotten a sudden upheaval. You think they’re putting too much into my setting? Losing an eye and an arm, it’s cool if it’s just one of them, but it gets dicey when you buy into both. What do you think, Kagoshima-san?”
“… What happened?”
Ignoring his stupid question, I enquired.
Saijou-kun erased his smile. His remaining right eye gazed at me.
“It was my complete defeat. I was hammered into the ground until there wasn’t an untouched inch of my body. It feels like the word defeat was carved big and grand in the depths of my heart.”
“You lost… to who…? Don’t tell me the founder? Did that bastard give you all those injuries?”
“I wish. In the end, I wasn’t even able to meet that person. These wounds are all from Utsurohara-san.”
“He stands at the summit of the lone four Rank Ses. A psychokinesis special. At present, the strongest psychic the institution has to offer… I never imagined that man would have connections to the founder. Well, that doesn’t really matter.”
“By which I mean to say, it all ended without me even seeing my foe’s face. That’s why it was a complete defeat.”
“What do you–”
“The surprise failed. There’s nothing more miserable than a surprise the recipient is already privy to. It truly was embarrassing. Ah, I feel like dying ten times.”
Saijou-kun left me by the wayside to mutter to himself. His body shook in humiliation and disgrace. Perhaps because he gripped it too hard, blood oozed out of his remaining right hand.
While he seemed to be feigning composure. His overly intense emotions leaked out of his entire body.
“When you get down to it, I was dancing on his palm through and through. My existence was let swim for no other reason than this scheme. I was simply used to lead Orino-san to another world… to awaken her.”
Saijou-kun spat out the words, laughing at himself.
“I noticed it the moment the gate was sealed off, but it was already too late. I recklessly went on a suicide mission, and at the end of the end, this is where I end up. There’s no salvation for my ilk.”
The words wouldn’t come out. His utterances were far too incomprehensible, but more than that, Saijou-kun was too scary; I couldn’t move a muscle.
He was scary. Everything about him was scary. The person before me made the eyes of someone who had lost everything in life. The one who scattered that cheery smile, that impertinent yet somewhat unhateable Saijou Mutsuki… was long gone.
The one here was a defeated man.
Having his own lack of powers drilled in to a detestable extent, a miserable defeated.
“Oh, I’m sorry for complaining so much. It’s not like I called you out here to have you hear that—upsie daisy.”
He said as he unsteadily stood from the table. But at present, on top of his one arm, one leg was in a cast. His balance crumbled, he was on the verge of collapse.
I reached out my hand, hurriedly supporting him up.
“And sorry. Right now, I’m simply getting my revenge, and this is childish harassment. My pointless struggle at the end of the end. What they call a Parthian shot.”
Something flashed between us.
It was more hot than painful. My chest was hot. My left chest felt as if it was blazing up.
Without even the time to feel nauseous, a liquid flooded up into my mouth.
A red and syrupy liquid.
Is this blood, I thought, as the pain finally came. A pain that broke my imagination. More painful than any injury I had received before. An agony amongst agonies.
Ow, ow, owow, owow ow, ow, owowow—
“It’s a good knife, isn’t it? It’s been made special; it cuts better than a surgeon’s scalpel. This is the knife I used to sever my left arm.”
The voice of Saijou-kun before me felt terribly distant.
There was a red speck on the eyepatch over his left eye. Not just the eyepatch. On his face, and his shirt and his cast, all over his body, a red liquid was splattered.
Oh, I see.
That’s my blood, ain’t it.
I folded at the knees. Crumbled. Fell like a puppet whose strings had been cut. Saijou-kun simply dodged me, he didn’t hold me up. For that sake, I collided relentlessly with the ground.
There was no pain. The pain had quickly disappeared.
Saijou-kun looked down over me. He stared fixedly. As if he was observing an insect.
“In a drama, whenever the heart is staved through, the knife is often thrust in vertically. I think they do it because it looks nice, but in all actuality, if you stab vertically, the ribs get in the way. You’re actually better off stabbing level. If you do that, you can slip through the gaps in the ribs, and even with minimal power, you can easily get the blade to the heart.”
While he was fluently unveiling some miscellaneous knowledge, a sea of blood formed. He must have severed some vital vessels along the way as well, the blood flowed to an idiotic level. It showed no signs of stopping.
A knife was stabbed into my left chest.
I have to pull it out. I have to hurry and pull it out. While my mind thought it, my hands wouldn’t move as instructed. Ah, but weren’t you not supposed to pull it out? If you pull it, the blood all comes out at once, so I read in a doctor manga that instead of pulling it out, you should just get to the hospital as-is…
Then I sure am glad my hands can’t move, or rather, I didn’t even have to remove it for this much blood, blood, blood…
Aah, aah, aaaa…
My consciousness was faint. I felt sleepy. So sleepy I couldn’t help myself.
“Huh? You’r’e already dead? That was easy. Well, I guess that’s what you get from a civilian who hasn’t received any training. I don’t even have to confirm the cause of death, it’s hypovolemic shock from bloodloss. What’s this, what’s this, when I try to kill, he really does die.”
“… But of course not. There’s no way it would end here. There’s no way he’d die. There’s definitely no way in the world this one would die.”
“You’re watching from somewhere, aren’t you? Hurry and come out—won’t you, God?”
Something flashed between us.
But at the same time, someone suddenly stepped in. By the time I noticed it, I was sandwiched in between someone and the boy.
Almost like a bookmark—that was stuck into the story.
Grey hair close to white, and a gray kinagashi close to black.
My childhood friend, Shinose Kai.
He was making awfully cold eyes. Silently, he lifted up Saijou-kun’s hand he had grasped. Something fell on the ground. It was thin and pale, a knife that looked like it was fashioned from a shard of ice.
Even once the knife had fallen, Kai didn’t let go of the hand. He put power into his slender arm, squeezing it tight.
Right after, a dull sound like a dead branch had snapped.
“That smarts, aarrgh…”
Saijou-kun raised a groan and retreated back. His right arm was bent in a strange direction. It was gradually swelling up, but with only one hand, he was unable to hold down his right arm.
Was it broken?
Did Kai break it with nothing but grip strength?
“A, aaah….. a, aha, ahaha, ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah!”
His groan changed into a laugh. While his expression looked pained, even so, Saijou-kun laughed. It was a laugh of madness.
“Looks like I’ve finally been graced with the honor of your face.”
The boy covered in wounds prattled on.
“As I thought, to you, Kagoshima Akira is your lifeline—your key individual, literally so. The key, and a vital role. If I tried to kill this man, I trusted you would surely save him.”
I simply stood between the two. It felt like I had been completely left behind.
I couldn’t follow where anything was going.
“In your plan to artificially raise Orino Shiori, this man fit to be the singularity point at the center was an absolute necessit–”
Finally, Kai opened his mouth.
“That was up to a short while ago.”
His voice was calm to an unnatural extent. I couldn’t feel the slightest human character. While he usually made a gentle smile, today his expression was terribly cold.
“The cage of death remnant is already completed.”
“Raised in a world of psychics, she came into contact with onmyouji and youkai, she experienced the technology of the future, she experienced a country in another world. And this time, to tie it all together, I had her transcend dimensions. The process I prepared was all carried out in turn. All that’s left is to leave a little time… and ‘that’ will awaken”
And Kai directed his eyes at me for just a moment.
“That’s why Kagoshima Akira is no longer needed. I don’t need that one anymore.”
As if gazing at a toy he’d grown tired of, a manga he’d read enough times to grow sick, cold enough to send shivers down my spine, sharp eyes.
My chest throbbed in pain.
When it wasn’t as if I had been stabbed with a knife, it hurt as if I had been pierced.
I felt I had been abandoned.
I felt I had been betrayed.
When I hadn’t swallowed down a single piece of the situation, I was wrapped in a sense of loss as if God had abandoned me.
“… or so it should have been…”
Kai’s eyes narrowed, he made a self-deprecating smile. He ran his hand like a comb through his gray hair.
“Why did I end up saving him, I wonder. When I saw the moment Kagoshima Akira would lose his life, my body went and moved on its own. I thought I would abandon him, thought I would turn my back, and yet—I couldn’t stand to watch it. I’ve seen the instant life disappears again and again, and yet…”
His voice that questioned himself was faint, ephemeral, as if it would disappear at any moment.
To Kai’s inner conflict, “I couldn’t care less about your game of friends,” Saijou-kun rejected it in a voice with no leisure to spare.
“If you’ll let me introduce myself again. It’s a pleasure to meet you, and an honor to finally lay my eyes upon you. I’m surprised to see you’re far younger than I imagined.”
“Don’t say what you’re not even considering. I’m just matching this body to Kagoshima Akira. You’ve at least researched that much, haven’t you?”
In regards to Saijou-kun’s snarls, Kai spoke from up high. While both seemed to be rearing for a fight, it went without saying who held the advantage.
A fight between an adult and a child, or perhaps god and man.
“My name is Saijou Mutsuki. What’s yours?”
“Shinose Kai is the name I use for Kagoshima Akira, so it’s not how I’d introduce myself to you. I’m no cat, but I don’t have a name yet. I didn’t have anyone to name me.”
“I’m sure your developers… the fine ladies and gents of the Inoue Big Three simply felt too inferior to name you. Don’t you think they saw it as blasphemous to give you a name?”
‘Inoue Big Three’. I had heard it somewhere before. Where was it again? As I recall, a little while ago, when I happened to catch sight of the mail delivered to Kagurai-senpai—
“You’ve done your research. You really are a prodigious talent.”
And without wondering at all how it came to pass, Kai began talking about himself.
What he’d never talked to me about, who he was.
“The ‘Mini-Garden’ plan started up in an era far ahead of the current one. Saddened by the knowledge of the eventual demise of their race, what the humans began—a plan to make God with their own hand and plead for salvation.”
An imagined god cannot save mankind.
But a manufactured one can.
Not particularly intrigued, Kai added on.
“Hahah, they sure think of some interesting things. Just because they can’t do anything on their own, they make a god, and have that guy save them… to make this world as a whole that god’s mini garden.”
“My thoughts exactly. I’d appreciate if they considered what I’d be going through, having to tag along with that farce.”
“So you’re… the god dropped down into the world by the Mini-Garden plan. Not the Creator, a so-called creation.”
“I’m the god born by the hand of man. A synthetic… failure of a god.”
While he was laughing, his smile was terribly sorrowful.
“The one they gave a power that could rule the world and an undying body… the one they shoved an unreasonable demand of world peace onto, a miserable, unshapely god.”
“I see, then the plan you’re proceeding right now would have to be an extension of that Mini-Garden plan. But if I may, could I ask you something?”
While he sought confirmation, Saijou-kun pressed forward without waiting for a response.
“I understand that your goal was to awaken Orino Shiori’s power. If your powers are omnipotent, then hers must be almighty. I understand your desire to take hold of it, painfully so.”
However, Saijou-kun went on.
“What are you even doing? With that far too elementary, fundamental mistake?”
“That’s the only part I can’t understand. I don’t think, nor do I want to believe by any means that you’re stupid to the extent you’d make such a folly. What exactly— are you trying to accomplish?”
“What I want to accomplish? That goes without saying.”
The usual one I knew, his bitter and sweet smile.
“A god exists to make people happy, you know?”
That was… the same view I held.
Eventually, Kai slowly held up his hand.
“That should be about enough. I have nothing more to say to you.”
“You won’t let me take the secret with me to hell?”
“Unfortunately, that’s an impossible request… you’re not going to hell.”
A bewitching light dwelled in Kai’s eyes. An inhuman glimmer that made me doubt his humanity. Unstable and uncertain, yet a contradiction with an overwhelming sense of presence. In order to overturn everything, god-like was the only term I could use to describe it.
“Saijou Mutsuki. I shall show you my respect.”
The air trembled at his stately voice.
“You did a splendid job as my ‘enemy’. You were more remarkable than I expected, and sly greater so… In the long, long time I lived, you’re the man who got closer to me than any other.”
It was such untainted respect, a eulogy with nothing extraneous mixed in.
“Which is why… I shall dispatch you with my own hand. You are a human who must be put to an end here and now.”
“’Tis an honor. For thereupon it gives meaning to my fighting back”
Saijou-kun didn’t move. While he looked like he had given up on any and everything, still, even so, he didn’t fold to the enemy before him.
And… the oracle spoke.
It happened in an instant.
It truly was sudden, he vanished without a trace.
The space where he was up to a moment ago was left gaping, wide open.
“Eeh…? W-where is he? Where did he go…?”
“He didn’t go anywhere. He simply disappeared. Saijou Mutsuki no longer exists anywhere in the world. Not the past, the present or future. His existence has been completely erased from this world.”
Kai indifferently answered.
“To express it more precisely, instead of disappeared, he never was.”
“He never was?”
“Saijou Mutsuki was an abandoned child. He was endowed with his Telepathy ability from the moment he was born; his parents knew there was something wrong with him, they abandoned him as soon as they had the chance—meaning, as long as he is a single human, his parents must exist. Just now, I leaped to the past, made it so his parents never met—and made it so he was never born.”
That was, well, quite a simple story.
The parents never met, so the child was never born.
Because he was never born, he never existed to begin with.
“… Wait, there’s no way you could possibly do that. Rather, that’s totally the grandfather paradox right there… if Saijou-kun never existed, then you would never have been able to erase Saijou-kun in the first place–”
“As I exist outside of the world, ignoring those contradictions is my convenient ability.”
I didn’t get it.
But I could at least understand that it was made that Saijou-kun never was. His possessions, the knife and crutch had disappeared as well. All traces of him were gone. He had, word for word, disappeared from the world without a trace.
And one other thing—
“Your memories should soon correct themselves along with the world as a whole. To make it so everything’s consistent.”
I could instinctively tell this was Kai’s doing.
This man… had killed Saijou-kun.
“… Hey now, don’t glare at me like that. It’s not like I killed him or anything. Without the slightest pain, Saijou Mutsuki merely left the stage like an actor who had lost his part to play. I haven’t done anything wrong. And that man tried to kill you, you know? I protected you, I should be asking for your gratitude.”
“… Don’t screw with me.”
When he just killed a human being… snatched away their existence from the root.
In a sense, he had led him to a result worse than death, yet without shying back, he says he hasn’t done wrong?
“You can really, really say something like that…!?”
“If I really could—this whole thing would be a whole lot easier.”
“I know. I know…”
Kai looked at me. In that instant, the suspicion in my chest faded with a puff. The various pitch-black emotions seething up all retracted in.
He was crying.
Quietly, quietly to no end.
Shedding tears of anguish, he was far too transient, far too weak, as if he would break at the slightest touch.
“Someone like me’s a god, they say. Isn’t it laughable?”
“But it’ll soon be over. Just a little longer, and it will all be over.”
“… Wait, wait Kai! Anyways, just bring Sai–”
–jou-kun? Back? Back to what?
Was it Raijou? Was it Saijou?
Was it Matsuki? Was it Yayoi?
I can’t remember. Whoever he (she?) was, was rapidly being lost from within me. That person’s sociable smile, their somewhat detestable light tone, their cheeky attitude, their glasses, their clever head, their noble ambition, their wound-ridden form, it all crumbled away.