Honoo no Mirage - Volume 7 - Chapter 12

Published at 7th of February 2016 09:12:17 PM

Chapter 12

Chapter 12: Laughing Conqueror

Narita Yuzuru had been kidnapped.

Ayako heard the news from Chiaki late that night—after receiving word from Naoe that Takaya was likely being held captive within the Tsutsuga Mirror.

“What? How the hell did that happen?!”

“Sorry. I screwed up. There were too many of them.”

Chiaki was calling from a public telephone outside the Matsumoto police station. He’d been busy gathering intelligence right up until that moment.

“I had the police check the license plate, but the car was stolen. No surprise there. They’re looking for it, but it’s gonna take time. Narita’s got the Hakku Dharani bracelet on him, though, so we can figure out what direction he’s going with a Bell-Ringing Ritual.”

“Hold on, Nagahide! Start from the beginning! You said someone took him—so he’s been kidnapped? Do you know who did it? You don’t think—”

“One thing I’m sure of: they didn’t kidnap him for money—they were using a spell to strangle me. ...Hmm. Though I guess it could be some onshou short on funds for his war,” Chiaki replied calmly. Cool-headedness under pressure had always been one of his strengths. Takaya, on the other hand, would probably be tearing his hair out by the handful right about now.

“I’m pretty sure it was Date’s younger brother, the one Naoe said saved him in Yamagata a couple of weeks ago. But he was talking about his mother’s enemy or something.”

“Date’s...?” Ayako questioned in surprise. Date? But the Date vassal Katakura Kojuurou was with Naoe right now. “Are you saying that it was the Date who carried him off? That doesn’t sound right. Date is looking for the Tsutsuga Mirrors in Nikkou with Naoe.”

“Tsutsuga Mirrors? What’s that?”

“Huh...? Oh! Right! I haven’t told you about that yet!” Ayako recalled, and relayed the events in Nikkou in detail.

“What?! Kagetora asked Naoe for help from within the mirror?!”

“I got another call earlier from Naoe saying that he was heading for Odawara. Which means I have to go to Nikkou.”

“That idiot, what the hell is he doing?!”

BAM! Chiaki struck the phone box glass. Putting aside Yuzuru’s kidnapping for the moment, he yelled into the receiver, “So what, now Kagetora’s gone and gotten himself eaten by thetsutsuga, and you think this is all the Houjou’s doing?! That stupid moron! This is what he gets for blundering around like that, goddammit!”

“...Anyway, I think we can leave Kagetora to Naoe for now. Locating Yuzuru-kun is our first priority! Listen, I’m going to Nikkou to meet up with Katakura-san. Whether or not they have anything to do with it, I’ll probably be able to at least learn more than we know now. He said Kousaka was in Nikkou, too.”

“Whaaaaat?! That bastard Kousaka is there? What the hell was Naoe doing there alone? Why the fuck hasn’t he been keeping us in the loop about all of this?!”

“Anyhow, I’m heading out for Nikkou now. I got a contact address, so write this down. It’s the Japanese inn Naoe’s been staying at. Katakura-san should be there too.”

After hurriedly relaying the details and asking him to ‘stay in touch,’ Ayako ended the call.

“Fuck!” Fuming, Chiaki banged down the receiver and exited the phone box. “So now we gotta worry about Kagetora too?!”

...One little chink in their armor immediately led to this. Their enemies would certainly not go soft on them; this was an opportunity they would not pass up.

(Not to mention the fact that it’s his birth family this time.)

They were just asking the enemy to take advantage. Chiaki kicked the phone box in his frustration.

Why had Yuzuru been taken? To make use of his power? Whatever the case, they had to find him as soon as possible, or they would end up with a catastrophe on their hands. If anyone made use of that terrible power they saw in Sendai, all hell would break loose.

I shall take that jewel from you.

Chiaki ground his teeth as he recalled Mori Ranmaru’s words.

(Does Date’s younger brother have any connection to the Oda?)

It was not a pleasant thought. But Mogami, who had sheltered Kojirou, had in turn been backed by the Oda. It was not outside the realm of possibility.

“Aargh, fuck fuck fuck! None of this would’ve happened if that blockhead wasn’t such a fucking flake!” Chiaki cursed as he climbed into his Leopard. The car with the Tochigi license plate had taken Yuzuru more or less straight east. The Bell-Ringing Ritual was a type of seeking spell using Mikkyou ritual implements. It was performed by ringing a vajra bell, whose sound (or, in this case, spirit-wave) reverberating from the target gave the seeker a general direction. The process was like activating a submarine’s sonar, with the chime of the vajra bell taking the place of the pinger and the seeker’s own sixth sense in place of the sonar system. Also analogous was the fact that the echo faded with distance; the seeker’s search area was limited by his reisa ability.

In Chiaki’s hand was a vajra bell tuned to the frequency of the Hakku Dharani carved into Yuzuru’s bracelet. It took time despite his preparations, but at last Chiaki heard the echo at the very edges of his range.

The reverberation had come from somewhere due east of Matsumoto...a great distance away. Which probably meant that he was somewhere in Tochigi.

(Nikkou, then?)

He started the engine, violently disengaged the side break, and stepped on the accelerator.




Ayako sped through the night from her home in Yokohama toward Nikkou, arriving at dawn but passing Naoe in the darkness. Her only stop had been at a gas station. After climbingIroha Hill, she descended to Lake Chuuzenji, where she located Asaoka Inn on a map and immediately set out to meet Katakura. Her body, tempered by several onshou tours, betrayed not a trace of tiredness.

“Katakura-san?” Maiko was there to receive her. The inn’s morning started early, as one might expect. But the real reason for Maiko’s dawn rising was her worry for Naoe, who had suddenly left for Odawara in the middle of the night. She had not slept a wink.

“I’m a friend of Nao...I mean, of Tachibana’s. Please let him know Kakizaki is here.”


Maiko looked Ayako over with open skepticism. She seemed bothered by the fact that Tachibana Yoshiaki’s friend was female.

(What a beautiful person...)

She appeared to be around Maiko’s age, but with her extraordinary and impeccable style gave an air of much greater sophistication. Maiko, who belonged to the class of people somewhat worried about a little plumpness around her lower half, felt herself unable to compare. She was wearing rough jeans at the moment, but even if she were to dress up, Maiko from the Nikkou sticks would hardly register as competition.

In any case, Maiko was already so full of thoughts of Tachibana that her aching heart was ready to burst. Was she the one he had called last night? The person he had described as being ‘too devious to defy’—?

(It probably is.) Maiko scolded herself for the depression threatening to overwhelm her, but it had rather the opposite effect.

“Just a moment,” she said brusquely, and went up to the second floor to call on Katakura.

Boy, that didn’t go well, Ayako thought, scratching her head. Since misunderstandings of this kind were a not-infrequent occurrence around Naoe, she decided to leave it be for the time being.

“Well...! Thank you for coming, Kakizaki-dono,” Katakura called from the top of the stairs, and Ayako looked up.


“Huh, here comes another one.” The unexpected interruption came from Kousaka Danjou, who had appeared behind Katakura. He seemed to have just missed Naoe. “So Kagetora’s been eaten by a tsutsuga, and Narita’s been kidnapped? Are the Uesugi just sitting around twiddling their thumbs?”

“Oh, shut up! Why are you here, anyway?”

“Information exchange. Regarding the ones behind the theft of the Tsutsuga Mirrors.”

“Let us talk inside,” Kojuurou interjected. “We must discuss the details. Asaoka-san, may I impose on you for some hot tea or coffee? ...Please bring a cup for Kakizaki-san as well. Let us take on such serious matters with calm in both mind and body.”




Though the inn looked like a Western-style house from the outside, and indeed had started out as such, Maiko’s father had remodeled individual rooms ‘for the hot spring visitors’ with tatamimats laid out in the Japanese style.

Katakura’s room, the innermost room on the second floor, was said to be Asaoka Inn’s best. The windows gazed out on Lake Chuuzenji and Mt. Nantai, and Maiko’s father boasted that no better view could be found in the entire Chuuzenji Hot Springs area. Maiko had apparently commandeered the room for ‘Katakura-san and Tachibana-san.’




Somewhat calmer after a drink of Maiko’s coffee, Ayako related Chiaki’s account of the circumstances around Narita Yuzuru’s kidnapping.

“Was it Lord Kojirou, truly?” Kojuurou looked dazed, disbelief written all over his face as Ayako finished.

“So he claimed, but that’s hardly proof. Nagahide has never seen the spirit vessel possessed by Kojirou-san. If Naoe had been there he would have been able to corroborate, but...”


Kojuurou frowned, sighing deeply.

“In truth, even we do not know what form Lord Kojirou has taken. As you know, after he and Lady Hoshunin re-awoke in this world, they took shelter with Mogami, who cast a curse on Sendai. We have been unable to find him ever since. My lord, too, is much concerned and dispatched many to search for him, but... We have heard naught but worrying rumors.”


“That Lord Kojirou has been working with the one called Mori of the Oda.”

“What? Oda?”

“Yes. If you consider that ’twas Oda manipulating Mogami from the shadows, perhaps such rumors are not without basis. Yet if that were the case, why did he not return to my lord? If ’tis not his intention to turn against my lord, why...?” a mortified Kojuurou wondered aloud, and Ayako regarded him with sympathy.

Even so, she had to be certain. “Then the Date truly have had no news of Kojirou-san?”

“’Tis quite true. If we had any knowledge of his whereabouts, we would have returned him to my lord’s side forthwith, for that is an outcome my lord strongly desires. Too, I cannot imagine any reason for Lord Kojirou to kidnap Narita-dono.”

“Can’t you?” Rumors abounded that the Date had set out to conquer the «Yami-Sengoku», and Ayako had her suspicions about how much truth they would be willing to give an enemy.

“The danger here is immense,” Kousaka interjected. “We don’t know what they will do with Narita Yuzuru’s power. What in the world have you people been doing? How many times did I tell you not to take your eyes off him? ...Humph! Like master, like servant. Are the Uesugi a bunch of incompetent idiots?”

“What did you say?!”

“They’ll probably kill a whole bunch of people or blow up a city, and it’ll all be on your head.”

“Wh! Wh-wh-wh...! Don’t you dare put the blame on us! What about you? If you know his true nature, just tell us already!”

“Humph! That’s why I call you incompetent. And you call yourself the best of the Uesugi at spirit-sensing?”

“You’re a monster!”

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Kojuurou interrupted before the exchange could escalate into something quite unpleasant. “For the time being, let us do what we can to aid in the search for Narita-dono. If it has anything to do with Lord Kojirou, I must not overlook this incident. I will apprise my lord of these events.”

Still glaring at Kousaka, Ayako nodded sullenly. Kousaka braced both elbows on the table and pointed out, “But it looks like we’ve got a few more problems to deal with now. If Kagetora-dono has fallen victim to the tsutsuga, there is a high probability that his soul will be tree-bound, and his face will appear in a tree as we’ve seen on the sacred trees at Futarasan Shrine. Doesn’t that make it even more imperative for Kakizaki-dono to find the Tsutsuga Mirror?”

“Katakura-san, do you have any ideas for locating the Tsutsuga Mirror?”

“Not yet... However, though Uesugi-dono has been devoured by the tsutsuga, I believe his situation is slightly different.”

“In what way?”

"Last night, when Uesugi-dono’s image appeared to Naoe-dono in the mirror, both Asaoko-san and I were able to see him as well—unlike Asaoka-san’s brother, whom we were unable to see even when he appeared to her. In other words, Shinya-san’s soul had already been bound to the sacred tree, and he was projecting his image before a particular person via the intermediary of the mirror, the source of the tsutsugas’ spiritual power.

In Uesugi-dono’s case, however, the presence in the mirror was remarkably different. Rather than a projection, it felt almost as if he himself were standing on the other side of the mirror. It is likely that someone in possession of greater spirit-sensing would be able to speak with him through the mirror. In fact, Naoe-dono received a telepathic message directly from Uesugi-dono inside the mirror."

“So you’re saying that it’s not Kagetora’s reflection in the mirror, but actually him?”

“That is my guess. The lore regarding the Tsutsuga Mirrors contains a story about a woman whose soul was locked away by the female Tsutsuga Mirror. It is from this tale that one might deduce Futarasan Shrine as the location of the mirror into which Holy Priest Shoudou’s magic transformed the female tsutsuga.”

Kojuurou told them the story:

"A bandit entered the shrine one day and stole the female Tsutsuga Mirror. Not knowing what it was, he gave it to his wife. But the instant his wife’s reflection appeared in the mirror, the mirror sucked away her soul.

The stunned bandit begged anyone he could find for help, but he sought in vain, and was left to spend his days in tears and lamentation. Finally there occurred the strange case of a woman appearing in a mirror in the capital pleading for help, and Holy Priest Shoudou set out to resolve the mystery. He called the woman to his own mirror and learned the course of events from her. Then the holy priest said: ‘If the bandit repents of his actions...’ and placed the female Tsutsuga Mirror facing his own, thereby freeing the woman from the mirror.

In other words, when the woman was imprisoned within the mirror, she was shut away in the mirror world. Mirrors can act as windows to the mirror world, allowing those within to converse with those without."

“So that means Kagetora hasn’t actually been devoured by the tsutsuga? He’s just trapped within the female Tsutsuga Mirror...?!”

“Naoe-dono has gone to verify this hypothesis, using the images of Hakone Shrine at Lake Ashi he received from Kagetora-dono as clues. But if it is true that he is trapped within the female Tsutsuga Mirror...”

“...Then in order to free him, the male Tsutsuga Mirror will be needed?” Kousaka murmured, gazing out the window at Lake Chuuzenji spreading towards the horizon.

“—Naoe said that we must not break the Tsutsuga Mirror.”

“Kousaka-dono. Do you have any ideas regarding the location of the male Tsutsuga Mirror...?”

“As to that—I did use my specialty to perform a search for it. I sensed that the ‘mirror stored at Hakone Shrine’ was likely the male Tsutsuga Mirror formerly kept at Mt. Kunou. It was ceremonially transferred to another shrine in the early years of the Meiji Period, but that shrine was abandoned long ago and no longer exists. What concerns me, however, is the man who performed that transfer.”

“How so?”

“The man was a merchant from Tokyo called Shouji Jin’emon. He belonged to a family which oversaw Yoshiwara, the Edo red-light district. It was said that when Yoshiwara was first established, Shouji Jin’emon used the remnants of the Fuuma to secure its prosperity, and that Jin’emon himself came from the Fuuma.”

“Ah!” Ayako and Kojuurou exclaimed.

“If the Shouji family had a connection to the Fuuma...then the Fuuma was able to get their hands on the male Tsutsuga Mirror on the occasion of its transfer...”

“That sounds plausible, though it doesn’t tell us where the mirror is now. Another problem, that of Mt. Nikkou, faces us as well. Trees other than the holy trees there have had souls bound to them. These souls appear to be the unpurified spirits of Kegon Waterfall; they, too, have been devoured by the tsutsuga.”

“But what happens now that they’ve been tree-bound?” Ayako frowned.

Kojuurou, seated beside her, answered, “The trees within the shrine’s holy ground represent the divine spirits of the gods. Naturally, their spiritual power is quite different from the spiritual power intrinsic to trees. They can easily receive gods who descend to earth and fully manifest the power of their occupying deity... In a place where thousands of these trees grow, the earth itself carries extraordinary spiritual power, which in turn increases the retentive power of its sacred ground.” He concluded with great urgency, “For these past few days, the entire region ofMt. Nikkou has been gathering spiritual energy with terrifying speed: at a rate proportional to the number of tree-bound souls—that is, a rate hundreds—nay, thousands—of times faster than ordinary ground.”

Ayako gasped, face stiffening. Kojuurou clasped his hands together on the low table. “I do not know what they intend. I fear that if Mt. Nikkou continues to gather energy at this rate, even its sacred ground will not be able to support the inrush of power, leading to the destruction of the entire region.”

“Is their aim to destroy Toushou Shrine?”

“Perhaps. But if that is their sole purpose, there is hardly need for such exertion...”

All fell silent for a moment, sunk deep in their own thoughts. Kousaka stood. “Whatever the case may be, we must take immediate action. There have been more cases of unnatural deaths inNikkou City. My guess is that we’re dealing with multiple tsutsuga—and they’re no longer satisfied with the prey at Kegon Falls.”

“What did you say?!”

“It is likely the Fuuma have created more tsutsuga from the Mirrors. If we don’t act now, they may slaughter the entire population of Nikkou. There must be a way of exterminating them,” Kousaka said. He turned before reaching the door. “If you’re not even capable of that, Uesugi, you might as well take down your ‘Army of Righteousness’ sign.”

Kousaka shot a glance back at Ayako gnashing her teeth before walking out of the room. As the door of honey-brown wood slowly closed behind him, grim expressions settled on the faces of the remaining occupants.

Outside, dawn had brightened to day, and Lake Chuuzenji glittered in the beams of sunlight piercing through gaps in the heavy clouds. When Ayako left the room to move her motorcycle into the parking lot, she saw Maiko standing at the entrance, apparently waiting for her.

“Is something wrong?”


Maiko looked uneasy. She hadn’t intended to eavesdrop on their conversation, but had unconsciously paused at the mention of ‘Naoe,’ the name by which they referred to Tachibana.

“Can you tell me...what Tachibana-san intends to do with the Tsutsuga Mirror?”


Maiko lifted her chin resolutely as Ayako hesitated over her answer. “Has Tachibana-san changed his mind about breaking the Tsutsuga Mirror? Is he not going to save my brother?!”

“Tsutsuga Mirror...? So you’re...”

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“My brother is dying! He will die soon if the Mirror isn’t broken! Tachibana-san promised to find it and save him—is he going to break his promise instead? Will he let my brother die for the sake of the one who is trapped inside?”

“Wa-wait a minute,” Ayako soothed, attempting to calm an emotional Maiko, “he hasn’t given up on your brother.”

“Then why is he now saying that the Tsutsuga Mirror must not be broken...?!”


“Does that mean he no longer cares what happens to my brother? What if Shinya dies because of the delay...!”

“That won’t...”

“But he promised me! He promised to save my brother! How could he be so cruel? My brother should come first! His promise to me should come first!”

He had given her his promise.

She could not allow somebody else to take precedence over her brother. How could he be so cruel as to place anything above his promise to her? She had nothing else of him, nothing but this single precious thread stretching between them. She could not bear his simple dismissal of it.

“Asaoka-san.” Ayako could easily sympathize with Maiko, given that her brother’s life was at stake. She even understood the ulterior feelings hidden within Maiko’s desperation; she was coming on so strongly because her feelings for Naoe were genuine.

And yet...

Ayako hid a soft sigh from Maiko.

“Asaoka-san. You...also saw the boy within the mirror, right?”

“Who is he? Someone Tachibana-san knows?”

“I suppose you could say that...” Ayako paused to think for a moment. “...Yes. But Naoe wouldn’t leave anyone trapped within the mirror, which certainly includes your brother. He would look for the best way to save them both. —At least, that’s what I would say if it were anyone but that boy trapped in the mirror...”

“What do you mean?”

“I... in this case, I believe the question of who he’ll save is already moot...” A look of anguish crossed her face, and she covered her mouth with one hand. “...I think Naoe is going to break the Tsutsuga Mirror...”

“What?” Maiko was startled by a response completely contrary to what she had been expecting. Made increasingly uneasy by her own words, Ayako turned to the mirror on the landing as if seeking just a tiny sliver of hope.




After eating breakfast with Katakura, Ayako sat alone in the guest room prepared for her, dazed. Extermination of the tsutsuga needed to begin immediately, but anxiety lay so heavily upon her that she could not get herself to start moving.

(Naoe is going to break the Tsutsuga Mirror.)

Though Ayako could not say why she believed it, she knew it to be true.

(With Kagetora still trapped inside.)

Why was she so convinced?

How could that possibly be right? she asked herself. Surely Naoe would save Kagetora even if it meant giving up on Shinya. Kagetora was the one person he would give anything, sacrifice everything, to save. Why, then, did she feel such unease?

They shouldn’t have allowed Naoe to leave on his own. Though Ayako wanted to believe that he would never go through with it, something in the back of her mind whispered, (Naoe is going to break the Tsutsuga Mirror.)

“What should I do...?!” Ayako muttered at her reflection in the room’s full-length mirror. “I don’t know what to do about Naoe, or about you...”

She stood from the bed and approached the mirror.

“I don’t know anymore. Come out, Kagetora. You can see and hear me, can’t you? Show yourself! Tell me what to do!”

No reflection appeared but her own. Ayako shook the mirror in frustration.

“I can’t do anything without you here! What are you trying to accomplish? What is it you want from Naoe? Don’t you want him to save you? What about Yuzuru-kun? Tell me!”

The mirror remained blank. Ayako shouted, half sobbing, “Come on! Show yourself to me! Please, Kagetora! Is Naoe the only person you’ll allow to see you?!”

The indifferent mirror silently reflected Ayako’s tear-stained face.

“I’m alone here, and I don’t know what to do! What’s happening in Nikkou? What is the Houjou trying to do? Where is the male Tsutsuga Mirror? You can hear me, can’t you?! Please come out! Please answer me, Kagetoraaa!”

Nothing happened. Wiping at her tears, Ayako sighed in defeat and returned to her seat on the bed.

Of course it wouldn’t be that simple.

Kagetora was not omnipotent. If he even was Kagetora as she had known him; more likely, it was ‘Ougi Takaya’ wandering within the mirror.

(I guess we have to give it our best shot with what we have.)

Somehow they had managed while Kagetora had been missing. They had gotten by then, and they could do so now. She knew that intellectually, but it was harder to convince her subconscious not to rely on him now that he was here. His commands were never wrong; his leadership ensured that they accomplished their missions to perfection.

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But he was no longer the Kagetora on whom she could depend absolutely. She could not help but think that the old Kagetora no longer existed.

He was ‘Takaya’ now, not ‘Kagetora.’ ‘Takaya’ was still too young for all the responsibility ‘Kagetora’ had borne. ‘Kagetora’ no longer existed in this world. Here, too, they had to find an answer for themselves. That was how she would have to think about it.

But...could they really do this?

(I have to go.)

Pulling herself together by sheer force of will and pushing the uneasiness away, Ayako stood. She didn’t have time to sit around and brood—she needed to act! She needed to assume that there would be no help from Kagetora this time around. Ayako picked up her motorcycle key and helmet and headed for the door. At that moment—


The voice came from behind her, and she stopped still. She turned. No one was there.


She heard it again, very clearly this time: someone was calling her name.

“Kagetora!” she responded at once. “Is that you? It is you, isn’t it? Kagetora?!”

She rushed up to the mirror, repeating his name over and over again. But the mirror continued to reflect the room, steadfastly mute. Deciding that it was just her imagination, Ayako moved despondently away. That was when a dim silhouette appeared behind her, resolving itself steadily into an upright figure.


Her voice trailed off into startled silence before she finished the word.

For it was Takaya standing there and calmly looking out of the mirror at her.

No, the shape was Takaya’s. But this was not the Takaya she knew. His cold gaze speared into her.




“Can you hear my voice?” Kagetora asked.

“Ye-yes!” She peered at the mirror, unconsciously straightening. “Kagetora, is that really you?”

Her higher spirit-sensing ability allowed Ayako to hear Kagetora’s voice with more clarity than either Naoe or Chiaki could achieve. To communicate with the outer world, it appeared, Kagetora needed someone of Ayako’s sensitivity.

“Where are you? Are you really trapped within the Tsutsuga Mirror?”

There was no immediate response from Kagetora.

“Did the Houjou do this to you? They’re responsible for everything happening in Nikkou, aren’t they?”

Kagetora nodded in confirmation. He said, “I want you to abide closely by what I tell you now.”


Kagetora continued, “A man will come to you tonight. Go to meet him.”

“A man...? What...?”

“One of the Houjou. I will give him no choice but to seek you out. You must see him,” Kagetora explained. “He will give you information about the Houjou. Then he will begin his own course of action. Before he leaves, you must make sure he has a mirror.”

“I can just give him one, right?”

Kagetora nodded, utterly calm. Completely composed, despite the circumstances. But then again, that was what made him Kagetora.

“There is no need for worry. Just follow my instructions,” Kagetora told her.

Quiet acceptance of that statement, however, was beyond Ayako. “No need for worry?! What are you talking about? What are you even thinking? What happened to Naoe? What if he goes and...!”

Kagetora didn’t respond. Something like a faint smile suddenly appeared at the corners of his lips.

“Kagetora, you...” Ayako stammered, dumbfounded.

He only commented: “The man coming to meet you is someone with whom you should be well-acquainted. He will never be able to betray us.”


But his image had disappeared with a flash even before she finished her question.

Just before he vanished completely—

He left Ayako a name.