Let’s take for instance my favorite color, blue.
I didn’t have any particular reason, I always just kinda liked it.
It wasn’t anything anyone decided for me, but something that was naturally decided over the course of my life.
… Was that really how it was?
Could it be it was only I who thought it was naturally decided, and truth be told, by someone’s hand, I was controlled into liking the color blue?
There was a time I pondered such things in middle school.
Thinking back on it now, I do think it was a delusion of peak eighth-grade syndrome, but while only for a short period, there was a time I seriously considered it.
For example—ten years ago.
I believed in heroes of justice.
But one day, after meeting a certain individual, I completely stopped believing.
My view of life took a complete one-eighty degree turn.
As man does change—I changed.
A paradigm shift, or perhaps a change in faith, but whatever the case, my thought had changed.
I was sure it was a common enough occurrence.
For one to change their view while talking to someone, it can happen to anyone.
But it wasn’t that I was ‘forced to change,’ I was ‘convinced to change’. To the end, a voluntary change. That’s why I thought it was so. I was sure my thoughts changed by my own will.
It looks like I was wrong.
I wasn’t convinced, I was forced—even my own will truly wasn’t my own.
I, I, I—
“This isn’t some cheap brainwashing. The moment the Cage of Death Remnant wished for it, Kagoshima Akira’s character changed. From the sort of dreaming boy you can find anywhere—to an unnoticing man, he was set up as a singular character. Like drafting up the character settings for some manga.”
“… U, uu, uuuuu.”
Behind Kai as he mercilessly continued his words, Orino-san had collapsed into tears.
Regret, self-admonishment, apology… various emotions turned to tears and overflowed from her eyes.
“Orino Shiori. Surely you must care for Akira. Of course you would, I mean, you’re the one who made him.”
He continued relentlessly raining his words down on a weeping Orino-san. While his tone was condemning, at the same time, I also got the feeling he was growing desperate.
It even looked like he was perpetuating a childish harassment.
“To you, Kagoshima Akira must have been the ideal man. To someone who fought for the sake of the world, Kagoshima Akira could become the perfect ‘symbol of an everyday life to return to’, lending salvation to your heart. As you wished it, and as you made it. You made an innocent young boy out to be a man to your tastes, did you? Haha, it’s practically a reverse Genji plan.”
“That easily explains Kagoshima Akira seeing through Yomiga Eri’s perfect imitation today. It wasn’t the result of love or bonds or some convenient contrived power. If he was the ideal man for Orino Shiori, then at the very least, it wouldn’t be strange for him to see through a fake Orino Shiori with one glance.”
“Orino Shiori. Don’t you think you’ve done something terrible? Even if you didn’t know, you used your power to do something you can never take back. And yet, so late in the game, you’ll spout such ideals and deny your own power?”
“… Uu, uaaaaa.”
Her face still hidden, Orino-san continued to leak sobs. And for just a moment, after raising her face to look at me, she again lowered it deeply, until she was almost bowing.
“… I’m sorry, Kagoshima-kun.”
“Sorry, sorry, sorry… I’m sorry, I’m sorry… I’m sorry, I’m sorry… I, I, what I… hic, I’m sorry… Uu, sorry…”
Like a broken music box, she repeated words of apology.
“I… just… with Kagoshima-kun… u. UUuA, I’m sorry… sorry, sorry… forgive me…”
Her head rubbing against the ground, she pleaded at me in a tear-shaken voice.
A voice that made me want to reflexively cover my ears, and a scene that made me want t o reflexively cover my eyes.
And so. That’s why I cleared my ears and looked right at her.
My body naturally moved.
Standing from the stairs, I walked over to Orino-san.
In my mind, I mused if my experience from a few hours ago was doing its work.
My awakening was, in the end, just a misunderstanding, but seeing how my body could naturally start to motion, even if it didn’t go so far as awakening, perhaps I’d at least matured some.
It is when you want to cover your eyes you open them wide, and when you want to cover your ears you listen carefully.
That was something I learned not too long ago.
“Orino-san, raise your face.”
I crouched down in front of her. She slowly lifted it. Her face a right mess with tears entered my eyes.
“Now wipe away those tears.”
I said, holding out a handkerchief.
“Because I didn’t have a handkerchief on me at yesterday’s party, I couldn’t do anything. That’s why I decided to carry one today.”
After taking the cloth from me, Orino-san gripped it tight in front of her chest.
“… So you’re saying you forgive her?”
A low voice resounded beside me. Kai was making a displeased face.
“Akira. Your personality is in its entirety something thrown together by Orino Shiori. You were manipulated in a way most convenient to her, it’s something like an artificial program. Do you really have nothing to think in regards to this situation?”
“It’s not that I think nothing of it, but… yeaaah. Well, there is just one thing I’d like to say. One thing, or rather, just one word.”
I grasped the general situation.
It did seem my personality was something Orino-san made. I couldn’t judge from where to where had been manufactured, and perhaps my hobbies, my height, my voice and my tone, all sorts of other parts were all crafted by Orino Shiori.
Whilst standing on top of that fact, all I had to say could be summed up in one word.
Kai’s eyes opened wide. After that, his brow furrowed a bit.
“… So? Is that really all you have to say?”
“Yep. That’s about it.”
“And why’s that… confronting the fact your identity was overthrown from the root, why are you able to remain so calm? How do you accept a fact that negates yourself in its entirety…?”
“I don’t really have a good answer for that. Yeaah, well, I’m still me and all… even if Orino-san made me who I am, that doesn’t really change the fact that I’m me.”
And, I said.
“Humans in the end, to a greater or lesser extent, live exposed to personality manipulation and mind control, don’t they? For example, let’s say there was a person who admired a singer they saw on TV as a kid, and decided they wanted to become a singer… if you want to make it sound bad, you might be able to say she was brainwashed by the singer on TV, but that’s not something bad, is it?”
“… The 《Book Marker》’s rule over personality is something completely different. I simply termed it mind control to make it easy for you to comprehend, and its nature is far more malic—”
“Yeah, I’m good. No need for all the hard stuff.”
With a bitter smile, I shrugged my shoulders.
“My head’s about to blow out here. Anyways, I’m me.”
When I said that, Kai made an unbearable expression.
I turned towards Orino-san once again.
“Hey, Orino-san. A little while ago, those things I said to Oshiri-chan… was that you turned little?”
Then thinking about it calmly, I said some outrageous things.
And playing doctor…
… Yeah. Well, we’re at a serious scene for now, so let’s just let that slide.
“Back then, do you remember what I told you on the way back home? When you told me you were scared of not being you anymore?”
— If Orino-san stops being Orino-san, I have no way of knowing what will happen then. I might come to hate her, and we might stop being friends.
— But, if Orino-san stays Orino-san… if the most important part inside of Orino-san stays as it always has been, then I think I’ll always want to be with her.
Orino-san raised her face to look at me. I got the feeling that was the first time our eyes met today.
I took another look at her. Her eyes were clouded with tears, her face was flushed, and the traces of past tears remained. I saw the sensitive sort of girl you could find anywhere.
She hadn’t changed, I thought.
While all sorts of things dramatically changed, not a single part of her base had.
It seems Orino-san was an existence created by Kai. It seems she had some astounding power called the 《Book Marker》. It seems the choice of whether she inherited Kai’s objective to create the ‘neverending story’, or killed Kai and became the new god was approaching. What’s more, it seems Orino-san was the one who wrote up my character.
It looks like there are some complicated circumstances going around, but leaving aside that tiresome stuff.
“Orino-san, you’re Orino-san.”
“Orino-san, you’re Orino-san. It was important so I said it twice.”
“Orino-san, you’re Orino-san. It’s important, so I’ll say it as many times as it takes.”
There, Orino-san suddenly clung onto me, pressing her face into my chest, she wailed like a baby.
“Kagoshima-kun, Kagoshima-kun, Kagoshima-kun, Kagoshima-kun… Uwaaaaaaah.”
“Yep. That’s right. I’m Kagoshima Akira. And you’re Orino Shiori-san.”
I said what was obvious.
It was obvious so I said it.
“… In the end, on top of accepting all the facts, Kagoshima Akira accepts even the 《Book Marker》’s human nature manipulation… no. Yeah, so be it. It’s kinda getting idiotic to think about…”
Kai gave a slight smile.
“Really, whenever I’m with you, you always throw me off, Akira.”
But soon his smile vanished and looking down at me in Orino-san’s embrace, he spoke in an ice-cold tone.
“Then… what will you do? Even if you’ve forgiven Orino Shiori, that doesn’t mean you’ve forgiven me too, does it? If you think you can so unconditionally forgive the one who killed your comrades, that is by no means kindness, it is just insensibility.”
“Yeaah. Well about that.”
I tried asking what was bothering me.
“Is everyone really dead?”
“… What do you mean?”
“No, I mean, that’s just what Yomiga-san said, right? It’s not as if she actually showed the corpses or anything. And even if you say that all of a sudden, it would be harder for me to actually believe you.”
“… You’re just not accepting the facts.”
“Perhaps. Ah, but more than Yomiga-san, I’d much rather like to believe in everyone. Just this morning, I was surprised to find out Yomiga-san was quite the liar. She was even off parading around pretending to be Orino-san.”
I supported Orino-san up and stood with her.
Head on, I faced my childhood friend.
“As you said and as you aimed for, up to this moment, I really never did notice anything. Of course, there’s no surprise that I was actually pretending the whole time. Like an idiot, I couldn’t connect the dots—but you know.”
Self-depreciating, and yet proudly, I put it all to mouth.
“Just because I couldn’t connect, doesn’t mean I didn’t connect.”
I felt connected the whole time.
I was one who couldn’t notice, but I formed still the sort of unnoticing human relations.
I formed the human relations only I could form.
“That’s why I’ll believe. There’s no way they could die so easily.”
Kai glared at me with the eyes of one looking at a child who wouldn’t listen.
“Give it a rest already. They’re already dead. If you want and hopes of meeting them again, your only option is to revive them through the 《Book Marker》—”
From behind, I heard a belittling laugh.
This was, this laugh was—
“Gyahahah! It’s no good, I can’t hold it in anymore!? The hell’s with that brat’s face? Just how proud are you, making a bad pun out of ‘connect’, Gyahahah!”
“H-hey, Gakuta! Pipe it down!”
An exchange I was already accustomed to.
A one-man charade through ventriloquism—or so it looked, when it really was a comedy routine between brother and sister.
“Ahh, looks like it’s too late, Kagurai. That one totally gave us away. Well, it was getting’ to be a pain to keep hidin’, so isn’t this just the right time? Alright, Tamane, please get up.”
“FfaAAA… what, is it already over?”
That unnatural respectful tone for her sister—actually, the natural respect to her family elder.
“Kurisu, you get up too.”
“… Hmm? A-aah! I-I’m sorry! I wasn’t sleeping!”
“Apologize or make excuses, choose one… ‘n wait, can’t you do anything about those side effects?”
“Urk… I can’t. When I use that magic, I just get sleepy, I say.”
Naked except for a robe—or perhaps not, as she wore a garment composed of magic.
“Umm… alright, then let’s come out. No, still… can’t we make it a bit more dramatic? Like the sky suddenly splitting, and us thudding down from there…”
From behind the shrine’s main altar, without any particular theatrics, they just normally walked out. One after another, the people I knew appeared.
“Don’t tell me—”
Kai’s eyes opened wide in shock. It was the first time I had ever seen him so surprised.
Orino-san was in her own way making a face as if she couldn’t believe it. But soon, her expression sparkled.
Raising a cry for joy, she raced over to them. Not a ghost or a program, those girls in the flesh gently welcomed Orino-san.
That’s good… I felt relieved from the bottom of my heart. I said something cool about believing, but I was actually terribly anxious, and horribly afraid.
I almost cried tears of joy. As I was desperately holding back my tears, Kagurai-senpai came to tease me.
“Hey now, Kagoshima. What’s with that miserable face? Didn’t you say you believed in us?”
“Well of course I believed… that doesn’t mean I wasn’t worried… but how…”
“—So that’s how it is.”
Kai breathed a slight sigh. It was a sigh of acceptance and resignation.
“I’ve been had. I never even imagined I would be betrayed by you.”
A bitter smile on his lips, he gazed at Yomiga-san standing still to the side of the steps.
“Using your 《Book Marker》, you perfectly concealed their presence to hide them from the enemy search function Orino Shiori and I carry out unconsciously. Even if you’re incomplete, with your power, you should be able to do that much. Slight as it may be, the only thing able to oppose the 《Book Marker》 is one with the very same 《Book Marker》.”
Yomiga-san kept her silence, she hid her face a bit.
“… I don’t blame you. Your resentment is inevitable. I’ve put you through quite some pain for the sake of my goal.”
“—My apologies. Master.”
Still hanging her head, Yomiga-san spoke. It wasn’t in her usual indifferent tone, but a voice shaking in anxiety and conflict.
“I—was unable to kill those girls. I did not intend to betray, and I do not resent you. Even now I am thankful that you afforded a role to a failure wannabe such as myself.”
However, Yomiga-san said.
“The moment Kagoshima Akira told me, ‘You’re Yomiga-san, not Orino-san’… I was happy. I was happy enough to cry. Yomigaeri—Yomiga Eri. It is my name my master thought up for me.”
“… I thought it up on the spot, it’s just a bad pun. Same as my Shinosekai.”
“Yet still, I’ve been called by it time and again.”
A tear passed down Yomiga-san’s cheek. Not a fragment of her usual coolness remained, she bit her lip and sniffled her nose.
At first, I’m sure it was just a name for convenience.
I’m sure it was no more than a fake name. But once repeatedly called so, that name began to hold a true meaning.
“I… don’t want to be someone’s replica or alternative anymore. I want to be a single human called Yomiga Eri. And—master, I want you to become a single human called Shinose Kai… if I killed them, let alone a human, you might not exist anymore…”
Kai didn’t say anything.
At a glance, the two confronting one another looked like a scene of separation. A servant requested release from their master, they demanded independence.
But by no means did this mean a separation.
More so, it was the opposite.
Yomiga-san’s attitude and words brimmed with thoughts for Kai. Precisely because she thought of Kai more than anyone, at this very moment she was trying to part from him.
“… Haha. For things to not go my way to such an extent, it’s actually refreshing.”
With an unnaturally cheery smile, Kai spoke. The power left his body, he slumped into a seat on the ground.
“Why won’t it work out…”
His face down, he leaked his words for the ground. Those were his true feelings he carelessly spilled, and I thought of them like the screams of his heart. Everyone’s gaze showered down on a sunk down Kai. Eventually raising his face, he looked up at me with pleading eyes.
“Hey, Akira. What am I supposed to do?”
From there, he slowly looked over everyone else.
“Anyone, someone please tell me…”
No one could answer his question. With grave features, they gazed at a god who had lost his direction.
Unable to watch him after he’d lost any and everything, I ended up opening my mouth.
Presumptuously—I turned to God and gave my opinion.
“You don’t have to do anything, do you?”
Kai looked at me. I continued on.
“For example, there are plenty of people out there who complain at Japan’s politicians, right? ‘Get a grip,’ ‘the hell are you doing,’ ‘and you’re supposed to represent our country?’ just like that. But see, if you told those people, ‘Then why don’t you do it?’ I’m sure they wouldn’t be able to say anything anymore…”
If you were suddenly made prime minister someday and they told you, you can do whatever you want, just make Japan better, most people would end their term without accomplishing anything.
“Umm… it might be easier to understand if I put it in manga or novel terms.”
I was rambling on the spot, so it did seem my words lacked coherency. But I said what I wanted. This might be the last time, after all.
“For example, let’s say there’s someone who complained because they didn’t like the work. You should’ve done this, you should’ve done that, someone who gave out such selfish orders. But just because of that, giving those people ‘the right to freely change the story’… would likely be meaningless.”
The right to change your favorite manga or anime however you liked.
At a glance you might think it’s a right like a dream.
Increase the parts for the character you like, pair together your favorite couplings, kill the characters you hate, develop the story however you want to, keep on adding new settings—
If they did that… I’m sure they would no longer be able to like it anymore.
What the reader sought after wasn’t something like that.
“Kai. I don’t know when, but you said it before. Humans are all readers of a book called ‘self’… in that case, humans are just right to complain about it.”
It’s impossible for there to be a book where everything’s perfectly to their tastes.
For every character you like, there’s a character you hate, when you thought it was a boring story, there might be a surprising reversal, when you thought a new setting that was just an afterthought was added on, that was in itself surprisingly interesting—
It’s a repeat of damn boring, and decent enough.
That is what makes—a novel.
Just because you can do anything, that doesn’t mean you should do anything.
Just like that, the theory the What-if Booth is the strongest crumbles all too easily.
“Even if God doesn’t do a thing, I’m sure this world can get on.”
“So I don’t have to do anything, eh…”
After muttering in a fading-out voice, Kai opened his mouth wide and raised his voice in a laugh. Nice and clear, it was a laugh as if the demon had fallen away.
“Hahahah. That’s harsh. You’re completely denying my very existence.”
“… Well, perhaps. But does it really matter? Your dream didn’t come true, and everything you’ve done may have been pointless, but that doesn’t mean you have to die, does it?”
“What would you do if I told you I wanted to die?”
“Then of course I’d stop you. We’re friends, childhood friends at that.”
Kai started laughing again.
Throwing down everything he held, he laughed with his body and soul. It was a form of Kai I’d never seen before, and I presumed this was the first time Kai had ever laughed like this.
“You’ve got me. It’s my complete loss, Akira.”
I don’t really remember what happened after that.
No, let me say this.
From here on are—the things I don’t remember.
Kurisu-chan was still under the side-effects of her magic, she immediately fell sound asleep.
Kagurai and Kikyouin closed in on Kai once he declared his defeat, “Let me get a punch in,” they asserted. While Kai solemnly accepted that harshness and kindness, Yomiga-san stepped in at the last second to save him.
And of all things, she suddenly confessed to Kai.
Wailing out, she embraced Kai with all her strength, speaking of love with such force it made me embarrassed to listen to.
Because of that, the mood turned real dubious.
The serious mood to smack him and settle the score had completely gone off somewhere.
Well, seeing Kai’s face red and bashful was fresh and interesting.
Just judging from that reaction, perhaps Kai was a virgin. Well, lasts bosses can be virgins now and again… or so I thought something so pointless when,
“Kagoshima-kun, here, thank you.”
Orino-san returned my handkerchief. Her tears had already stopped. While she made her normal gentle expression, she did look somewhat anxious.
“… What should I do now?”
While it felt like it was all over, there was still something left to do.
Orino-san was still equipped with her power.
And I was left having noticed.
“Orino-san. I’ve been thinking, but is that power able to erase itself?”
A power to do anything.
In that case, it should be able to erase that very power.
Of course, that was faultfinding, or rather, a theory that stabbed into a contradiction of words, so I didn’t know if that was really possible.
“Yeah. I think it can.”
Well there you go.
“… But is that alright? 《Book Marker》 is a power he spent an uncountable amount of time and effort to make, and many sacrifices have been paid for the power and yet…”
“You think it’s a waste?”
“No. Just a little irresponsible…”
“Both you and Kai have too strong a sense of responsibility. I think you can be a bit more self-serving here. It’s fine to think about the world, but before that, you need to think about yourself.”
Orino-san gave a small nod.
“So about what we’re going to do specifically…”
“I’ll leave it up to you.”
I said, and lowered myself onto the ground. A great many things had worn me out. There, Orino-san plopped into a seat beside me.
“Is it fine?”
“Well why not?”
“… Hah,” Orino-san breathed a slight breath and smiled. “When I talk to you, Kagoshima-kun, it starts to feel downright idiotic to think too hard.”
“Was that praise?”
And for a little while after that, we spoke about things that exceedingly didn’t matter. We didn’t talk about anything specific. I said I’d leave it to Orino-san, but I could imagine what she would try to do.
My relation with her—my relation with these girls, as I thought it should be as it is. That was what they wished for, and what I wished for as well.
I stood and looked at the sky.
“We should be getting back to our everyday lives.”