Kara no Kyoukai - Volume 1 - Chapter Epilogue

Published at 16th of February 2016 09:00:35 PM

Chapter Epilogue

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It’s July 1998, and I celebrate a little in my head as I finish up the day’s
work early, just before lunch break. I say “work” but really, I’m just more
of a secretary to Miss Tōko than anything, mostly doing the odd job she
needs doing. I’m lucky to even get work at all, having dropped out of college
“Kokutō, isn’t today your weekly visit?”
“Yes, ma’am. Soon as I finish this up, I’m going there right away.”
“Oh, don’t delay on account of me. You can go early. There’s nothing
more for you to do here today, anyway.”
I have to say, Miss Tōko’s temperament when her glasses are on is much
more preferable. And after all, this is a good day for her too; since it’s the
day she cleans that car she’s so proud of to an immaculate sparkle. She
always likes doing that.
“Thanks, ma’am. I’ll be back in about two hours.”
“Bring me back a snack or two, all right?” She waves me a goodbye just
before I close the door to her office.
 Ryōgi is still in the hospital, still in a coma unable to do anything. I
still go to visit her every Saturday afternoon. She never told me about any
pain she was holding in, or anything she thought about. I don’t even know
why she tried to kill me. But at least she smiled in the end, even if it was a
faint one. At least she smiled, and that was enough.
Gakutō had it right a long time ago. I was already crazy. I guess that’s
why I am the way I am today even after a brush with death.
I still remember the last time we stood in the sunset lit classroom. Under
that burning, blood red sky,  asked me what part of her I believed in.
And I still remember my answer.
“I don’t have any basis, but I trust you. I like you, so I want to keep believing
in you.”
A premature answer, perhaps. I said I didn’t have any basis, but the truth
is, I did. I just didn’t know it at the time. She didn’t kill anyone. That, at
least, I could believe in. Because  knew how painful murder was. She,
above all others, knew the suffering that the victim and the murderer went
That’s why I believed: in , who couldn’t express herself, in Shiki,
who wasn’t given a chance to be a person, in , who was far from pain,
and in Shiki, who knew nothing but pain.

The three pieces now lie poised on the board.
One a mind entwined with a specter floating, and
on death, dependent.
One a life in paradox eternal , and in death, pleasure.
One a predator with origin awakened, and to death,
Three now swirl and dance, and in the spiral of
conflict they wait.
Part I: Lingering Pain
When I was little, I played house a lot. I had a pretend family, with a pretend
pet, a pretend kitchen, and I would cook pretend food.
But one day, a real blade had accidentally been mixed up in the artificial,
pretend ones.
I had never seen a toy that sharp before, and I used it to play, and in the
process cut myself deeply between the fingers.
I approached my mother with red soaked palms outstretched, and I
remember her scolding me for it, then crying and embracing me, saying “I
know it hurts, but we’ll fix it,” over and over again.
It was not her consolation that made me happy, but her embracing me,
and so I started to cry as well.
“Don’t worry, Fujino. The pain will go away once the wound heals,” she
said while wrapping a bandage around my hand.
At the time, I didn’t understand what she was trying to say.
Because not even for a moment did I feel any pain.
Lingering Pain
“Well, she certainly has her way of introducing herself,” the professor
The university science lab has that synthetic smell of chemical disinfectants
that reminds me more of hospitals. But the laboratory equipment
dispels any notion of that quickly. As does the white-coated professor who
Miss Tōko sent me to meet today, who now displays a reptilian smile of full
white teeth while offering a handshake. I take it.
“So you have an interest in parapsychology, eh?” he asks.
“Not really. I just want to know some minor things about the topic.”
“And that’s what you call ‘interest.’” He wrinkles his nose, satisfied at his
show of wit. “Well, it doesn’t matter anyway. I’d expect nothing less from
her associate. I mean, she asks you to hand her business card as an introduction.
She was always a unique one, and talented. I wish our university
had more students of her caliber.”
“Er…yes, I’m sure your student problems are important.” I’m starting to
see where Miss Tōko gets her ability to ramble so much from. “But I was
asking about—“
“Ah, yes, yes, parapsychology. There are many different phenomena that
fall under that label. Our university doesn’t really deal with it, however. I’m
sure you can understand when I say it’s treated as quack science by most in
my field. There are very few universities here in Japan still giving grants for
parapsychology studies. Even so, I’ve heard a few have had some marginal
successes, though the actual details don’t really—“
“Yes, professor, I’d imagine those studies are fascinating, but I’m more
interested in how people end up having them in the first place.”
“Well, to simplify, you can liken it to a card game. You play card games,
don’t you? What card game is the most popular right now?”
I scratch my head, deciding to go along with this man’s logic. “Erm…
poker, I guess?”
“Ah yes, poker. I’ve had my own fond memories with that game.” He
clears his throat for a moment, then moves on. “Let us say that human
brains are all playing a game. Your brain and mine are playing poker. Most
everyone else in society is playing poker as well. There are other games,
but we can’t play them. Everyone is in consensus that poker is the game
we have to play, because that’s how we define being normal. Are you following
me so far?”
“So you’re saying that everyone plays a boring card game?”
“But see, that’s what makes it better for everyone. Since everyone plays
poker, we’re protected by arbitrary, but absolute rules of our own creation,
and thus we can live in a peaceful consensus.”
“But if I’m getting you right, you’re saying the other games aside from
poker aren’t so clear cut?”
“We can only speculate. Say some other minds are playing a game with
rules that have an allowance for plants to communicate, and maybe other
minds prefer a game that has rules that say you can move a body other
than your own. These are not the same games as poker. They have their
own consensus, their own rules. When you play poker, you play by its rules,
but those playing by the rules of other games don’t conform. To them,
poker doesn’t make a lick of sense.
“So you’re saying that people not ‘playing poker’, so to speak, have some
mental abnormalities?”
“Exactly. Consider a person that knew no other game than the game
where you could communicate with plants. In the rules of his game, he
talks to plants, but he can’t talk to people. People who see him then brand
him as crazy and put him in the funhouse. If he really could talk to plants,
then that’s a person with paranormal abilities right there: a person that
plays a different game, follows different rules, than the game society plays.
However, I’d imagine most people with these sorts of abilities are still capable
of switching their mindsets, so that they can still live mostly unnoticed
in society.”
“Which makes the person that only plays the game where you can talk
to plants a crazy person, since he lacks the shared subconscious experience
and consensus inherent in playing poker, am I right? If he only knows
the other game, and can’t switch between the two, then he’s considered
mentally damaged.”
“That’s right. Society calls these people serial killers and psychopaths,
but I would phrase them more appropriately as ‘living paradoxes’: People
who, because they play by irregular rules of reality, make their existence
itself a contradiction to reality. People who shouldn’t be able to exist, who
can’t exist.” He pauses for a half beat to collect himself, then added. “This
is all hypothetical, of course.” As if he needed to say it.
“Of course, professor. Is there any way to correct a living paradox like
you said?”
“You’d have to destroy the very rules they play by within their minds.
But destroying the brain just equates to killing them, so there’s really no
easy way, or really no other way but to kill them. No one can just suddenly
alter a state of mind or ability like that. If there was, then that person him-
self would also be playing a different game with different rules. Something
like solitaire. I hear that game has some pretty complex rules in it.”
The professor laughs heartily, apparently immensely amused at his own
joke. I can’t say I share the sentiment.
“Thanks, professor. You’ve helped loads. I suppose now I know what I’ll
do when I encounter psychokinetic people.” I say it only half sarcastically.
“Psychokinesis? Like bending spoons, things like that?”
Oh, brother, here we go again. “Or heck, why not a human arm?” That
one was less of a joke.
“If we’re going by spoon bending, then you have nothing to fear. The
force required to bend a spoon would take days to distort a human arm. If
there was someone who could bend an arm, I suggest a hasty withdrawal.”
Now that he mentions it, now’s probably the right time for a hasty withdrawal
myself. “I’m sorry to cut this short, professor, but I really need to go.
I have to get to Nagano, and I’d like to do it today. Sorry for eating up too
much of your time.”
“Oh, no, it’s quite alright. Any friend of hers is a friend of mine. Come by
any time you need to. And send my regards to Aozaki, won’t you?”
/ 1 • 89
/ 1
Fujino Asagami, still in a state of confusion and disorientation, pulls herself
up in the middle of a darkened room. The silhouettes of people standing
and milling about, once so familiar, are now gone. The light isn’t turned
on. No, not quite right. There was no light in the first place, and darkness
stretches all over the room, with nary a peek or a beam of light seeping in.
She exhales a long sigh, and brushes her long, black hair lightly with
trembling fingers. The loose tassel of hair she once hung lazily on her left
shoulder is now gone, probably cut off by the man with the knife while he
was on top of her. After remembering that, she slowly surveys the room
around her.
This is– was –an underground bar. Half a year ago, this bar ran into
financial difficulties, and it was abandoned. Not long after, it became just
another abandoned establishment blending in the dying city, a haunt for
various delinquents and robbers. Much of the effects from its better days
still lay forgotten inside. In the corner rests a banged up pipe chair. In the
middle of the room, next to Fujino, is a single pool table. Everywhere in
the room, convenience store food is scattered in rotting, half-finished piles
with cockroaches scrabbling all over the remains, and a mountain of garbage
is stacked haphazardly to one side. In a corner, a bucket is almost
filled with urine, a communal container to compensate for the lack of a
working toilet. The combined stench of it all is potent, and almost makes
Fujino vomit.
With no light and no way to know where you are, this dark, secluded
ruin could have been in a skid row of some far off country for all anyone
knows. One wouldn’t even think there was a normal city on the other side
of the door on the top of the stairwell. The faint smell of the alcohol lamp
those men brought here is the only thing that maintains any sense of normalcy.
“Umm…” Fujino mumbles. She looks around slowly, as if this scene is
completely routine. Her body had gotten up from the pool table, but her
mind still has some catching up to do.
She picks up a nearby wrist, flesh showing tears and seemingly twisted
off from the arm. Wrapped lovingly and securely around it is a digital wristwatch,
and in glowing green text, it shows the date: July 20, 1998. The
time: 8:00pm, not even an hour after what happened.
All at once, Fujino is assailed by sudden, blinding pain in her abdomen,
and she lets slip a strained grunt. She staggers from the ache, and barely 
stops herself from falling face first to the floor by supporting herself with
her hands. As soon as her palms touch the floor, she hears a soft splash.
Remembering that it had been raining today, she realizes that the whole
room is flooded with water…and something else.
She takes a moment’s glance at her abdomen, and sees the distinct
spatter of dried blood—right in the place where those men stabbed her.
The man who stabbed Fujino was a familiar face to anyone in this part
of town. He seemed to be the ringleader of a crew that consisted of high
school dropouts and various drifters of similar minds and motivations.
They did what they felt: stick-ups, assault, robbery, arson, drugs, you name
it. They plied their trade in the forgotten maze of backlanes between the
buildings of the commercial district, where no neon glow or curious glance
could ever reach. They emerged from these alleys to the harsh lights of the
peopled avenues for only short intervals, to catch their victims through
coercion or force and had their twisted entertainment for the night. It is on
one such normal night that this crew and Fujino crossed paths.
It was a perfect setup. A student of Reien Girl’s Academy, and quite good
looking, Fujino became a prime target for the men. Perhaps fearing public
vilification, Fujino never told anyone of how she was victimized. This
fact eventually reached the ears of the men, however, after which whatever
hesitance they might have had about being found out disappeared.
They raped her again and again, bringing her to this underground bar after
school. Tonight was supposed to be another routine night, like always, but
their leader apparently got tired of just doing Fujino.
He brought out a knife, probably to bring something a little new to the
table. He’d felt offended by what Fujino did: how she just lived her days as
if they hadn’t done anything to her at all, as if what they did to her didn’t
humiliate her. He felt he needed more proof of Fujino’s humiliation and his
dominance. And he needed just that little bit of violence, that little ounce
of extra pain for that, hence the knife.
But Fujino didn’t even react, her face a blank expression, even when he
had a knife ready to dig deep in her face. This made him truly incensed. He
pushed her down to the table, and got to work.
Casting her eyes downward, Fujino looks at her blood-soaked clothes
and thinks: I can’t go out looking like this.
/ 1 • 91
Her own spilt blood is concentrated only on her abdomen, but she’s
soaked in their blood from head to toe. How stupid of me to get dirtied like
this. Her foot hits one of their scattered limbs on the floor, and it gives a
little shake in response. She considers her options.
If she waits one more hour, the number of pedestrians will start to dwindle.
And the fact that it’s raining only helps. It’s summer, so it’s not too
cold. She’ll just let the rain wash some of the blood of her, and go to a park
and clean herself up there.
After coming to this conclusion, she calms down. Walking away from
the dark pool of water and blood, she takes a seat at the pool table, taking
a count of the scattered limbs to find out how many corpses are lying on
the floor.
Four. Four. Four? No matter how many times I count, it only comes down
to four! A mix of astonishment and terror. One is missing.
“So, one of them managed to escape,” Fujino murmurs to herself. She
lets slip a small sigh.
If so, I’ll be caught by the police. If he’d already run to a station, I’ll be
arrested for sure. But could he really tell the police? How would he be able
to explain what just happened? Would he tell them how they kidnapped
and violated me, and told me to shut up? He’d need a cover story. And none
of them were ever smart enough for that.
She lights the alcohol lamp on the billiard table to get a better view. Its
flickering orange glow illuminates the entire room, making the shadows
twirl and dance. The story of violence in the room is quite visible now: sixteen
arms, sixteen legs, four torsos, four heads, and wet blood spatters in
every direction. Fujino is unfazed by the brutality of the scene before her.
No time to think on that. After all, the count was missing one, which meant
she still had something to do.
Do I have to take revenge?
Her body trembles as if to reinforce her lack of conviction. No more
killing, she tries to tell herself, as earnestly as she possibly can. But she
remembers what they did to her, and what they could do to her if she
doesn’t permanently shut the mouth of the one who escaped. Her body
trembles again, not in anger, but in something else. Delight? A relishing of
what is to come? And, for the moment at least, what doubt lingers in her
mind vanishes.
On Fujino’s blood tinted reflection on the floor, a little smile plays across
her face.
Lingering Pain - I
July is about to end, but not before it dumps a lot of business in my plate.
Starting from my friend who, comatose for two years, has finally regained
consciousness, to finishing my second big job since dropping out of college
and working for Miss Tōko, and even having my sister who I haven’t seen
for five years coming here to Tokyo for a visit, I’ve had little time to even
stop and take a breath. I don’t know if starting my nineteenth summer like
this is the good earth’s way of saying “nice job” or “Mikiya Kokutō needs to
be screwed over with greater frequency.”
Tonight is one of those rarest of nights, my night off, so I went with
some of my old high school friends to go drinking. And before I could so
much as glance at an hour hand, I’d noticed it was late and the train had
long since made its last run, leaving me with few commuting options to go
back home. Some of my friends took taxis home, but since my payday was
held off till tomorrow, my budget can’t cooperate. Left without a choice, I
decided to walk back home. Fortunately, my house was only two stations
and a block or two away, not too far a distance.
It was the 20th of July up until a few minutes ago. In the midnight of
the 21st, I find myself walking in the shopping district, which, seeing as
tomorrow is a weekday, sees little foot traffic at this hour. It had rained
particularly hard tonight. Luckily, it stopped just as me and my friends were
going home for the evening, but the asphalt, still wet, is emitting its potent
petrichor smell, and my footsteps make little splashes on the scattered
puddles of the streets and sidewalks.
While the above 30 degree Celsius temperature and the humidity of
the rain work to make this the most miserable stroll in recent memory, I
come across a girl, crouching on the sidewalk and putting pressure on her
stomach with her hand like she was in pain. That black school uniform she’s
wearing is one I’m familiar with. The uniform, made to resemble a nun’s
habit, is the school dress of that academy of ladies of refined taste and
upright morals, the Reien Girl’s Academy. Gakuto jokes that half the reason
for Reien’s popularity is precisely because of the uniform. Not that I’m one
that goes in for that kind of thing; I only know it because my sister Azaka
studies there. I know they’re a boarding school, though, which makes that
girl’s presence here at this late hour doubly suspicious. Or maybe she’s just
some delinquent that doesn’t like to follow school regulations.
Seeing as she’s from my sister’s school, I decide to lend a helping hand.
When I call out a simple “hello” to her, she turns to face me, and her black 
hair, wet from the rain, sways when she does. I see her gasp once, though
quite silently, as if trying to suppress it. Her face is small, with sharp features.
She wears her long hair straight down her back, and it separates
around her right ear to form a tassel that goes down to her chest. It seems
there is supposed to be a similar tassel on her left ear but it looks like it’s
been cut. That, along with her bangs, cut straight and clean in the school
prescribed manner, makes me think she’s the daughter of some rich, wellto-do
family with an eye for proper grooming standards.
“Yes, what is it?” Her voice is faint and her face is equally pale. Her lips
are tinted purple, the mark of someone with cyanosis. With a hand on her
stomach, she’s trying her best to look at me normally, but the little muscle
movements and the folds in the face that mark a person in pain are obvious.
“Does your stomach hurt?”
“No, er…that is, I…I mean…” She’s pretending to be calm, but she’s
already stumbling all over her words. She looks fragile, like she could suffer
from a mental break down at any moment, not unlike Shiki when I first met
“You’re a long way away from Reien Academy, lady. Miss the train? I
could call a taxi for you.”
“No, you don’t need to. I don’t have any money anyway.”
“Yeah, join the club.” Before I’d realized it, I’d already given her an impolite
answer. Try to salvage this one, Mikiya. “Yeah…so I guess you must live
near here huh? I heard it was a boarding school but you probably have
some special dispensation to go out.”
“Not really. My house is quite far.”
Right. Scratch that.
“So what are you, a runaway?”
“Yes, I think that’s the only thing I can do right now.”
Oh, man, that means trouble. I just noticed that she’s soaked right
through. Maybe she couldn’t find an umbrella or a shade the whole time it
rained, because she is dripping wet all over. The last time I was face to face
with a girl soaking wet in rain, I almost got killed, so I guess that’s why I’m
so awkward around this girl now. You never can trust girls in rain. Still, it’ll
be a waste of time if I don’t help her now.
“So, you want to sleep over at my place just for tonight?”
“…can I?” she asks, still crouching and looking desperately at me. I nod.
“I have a place all to myself, but I’m not making you any guarantees.
I’m not planning on doing anything questionable that might offend your
person, and as long as you don’t do any funny business, we can keep it that 
way. If that’s fine with you, then you can follow me. Now, since my employer,
in her infinite wisdom, has decided to delay my paycheck, I can’t give
you much money, but I do have painkillers for whatever’s bothering you.”
She looks happy and smiles. I extend a hand to her to help her up, and
she gently grasps it and stands. I notice, for a moment, that there are red
stains on the sidewalk where she was sitting.
Taking her with me, I start to lead her back to my apartment and get us
both out of this wretched night.
“There’s a short walk ahead of us. Tell me if you’re having a hard time. I
can at least be burdened with one girl on my back.”
“You needn’t worry. My wound has already closed up so it doesn’t really
hurt anymore,” she says. The hand that she has yet to remove from pressing
on her stomach, however, says otherwise.
“Does your stomach hurt?” I ask again, as much for her own peace of
mind as mine.
She shakes her head, saying “no.” After that, we continue to walk, and
she keeps her silence for some time. But after walking for a few more minutes,
she nods.
“Yes, it…it really hurts. Is it…all right for me to cry?” When I nod an affirmative,
her face turns into an expression of contentment. She closes her
eyes, looking like she’s dreaming.
She hasn’t really told me her name, and I haven’t told her mine, and I
feel it’s more appropriate that it stay that way. As soon as we reach the
apartment, the girl asks me if she can use the shower, to which I say yes.
She also wants to dry her clothes, so with the lame excuse of buying a pack
of smokes, I vacate myself from the premises for an hour to give her some
time. Man, and I don’t even smoke the damn things.
After an hour, I come back to find her already exploiting the living room
sofa by sleeping on it. With all indications pointing to tons of work tomorrow,
I decide to make good what little time I have left for sleep. I set my
alarm clock to 7:30am, and I’m off to bed. Before falling asleep, I take one
last look on her uniform, and can’t help noticing it has the littlest of tears,
just around her midsection.
I wake up the next morning to find her sitting in the living room doing
nothing. Apparently she was waiting for me to get up. Once she sees me
awake, she gives a quick bow.
“Thank you for what you did last night. I don’t have any way to
repay you, but I can at least thank you.” She stands up and makes for the
“Wait up, wait up.” I call after her while rubbing my eyes awake. I can’t
have her leave just like that when she waited for me to get up. “I can at
least get you a breakfast.”
That stops her. Food must really get to her. As I thought, she’s just as
hungry as anyone else would be after her ordeal last night. Now then, I’ve
got some pasta and olive oil at the ready, which makes spaghetti the obvious
choice for breakfast. I quickly whip up two portions of it and carry it to
my dinner table, and we eat it together. Since it seems like she’s not in a
talking mood, I turn on the TV to watch some morning news. It’s the usual
diet of homicide in the city, but this one gave me a strange feeling.
“Ah, strange whodunits with a tinge of the weird. Just the kind of news
that Miss Tōko would love.” If I had said that in the office, I’d probably
already be smacked upside the head with a projectile shoe. But the news
item is bizarre.
The reporter on the scene told the story. Seems four bodies were found
in an underground bar that had been abandoned for a half a year. All four
of them had had their limbs torn off, and the crime scene was filled with
blood. The scene is pretty close by, maybe four stations or so away from
where we were drinking last night.
I make a mental note of the fact that the news said that their limbs were
“torn off” and not “cut off.” Regardless, the news has nothing more on that
angle, and goes on to describe the details on the victims’ lives: all teenagers,
and delinquents who frequently hung around the neighborhood. It
seems they were slinging drugs too; corner boys. They have a citizen on the
mike now, commenting on the victims.
“Those kids knew what they were getting into, and they got it. I think
they deserved to die.”
And with those words, I turn the TV off. I hate it when people say those
things, and I hate it even more when the media goes out of its way to give
people like that the time of day. I turn back to look at my guest only to
find her with a hand on her stomach just like last night. She hasn’t even
touched her food. There really must be something wrong with her stomach.
She looks down, such that I can’t see her face.
“Nobody deserves to die,” she says in between ragged breaths, causing
her next words come out in whispers. “Why does it still throb? It’s already
healed over, but why—“
Suddenly, she stands up not altogether calmly, making the chair fall to 
the floor with a noise, and runs to the door. I start to stand up to go after
her, but with head still cast downwards, she raises a palm towards me, as if
to say I shouldn’t come near her.
“Wait, calm down. I think I can—”, I start to say, but she cuts me off.
“No, please. Now I know…I can never go back.” That face—a face of
pain and resistance, a face of contradiction—somehow reminds me of
Shiki. The girl calms down a bit, bows deeply before me, and then turns
the doorknob.
“Goodbye,” she says. “I hope we don’t see each other again, for both
our sakes.”
Then she opens the door and runs out. The last thing I see is her eyes,
because she looked like she was about to cry.
Lingering Pain - II
After my guest leaves as suddenly and unexpectedly as I found her, I try
to push it out of my mind. She was just a normal girl I found in the street
and, in a spark of altruism, decided to help. She had some kind of pain,
though, that much I can be sure, but the how eludes me at the moment.
Still, no need for me to think on it more than that. She’s gone, and there’s
nothing I can do about it. More importantly, I’m going to be late for work
if I don’t hurry. As soon as I finish up my morning rituals, I’m out the door
The place I work in isn’t exactly what you’d call a “company”, not in any
official capacity anyway. My employer is an eccentric sort of woman, the
kind of woman who buys an abandoned building only halfway finished
and makes it her office; a woman in her late twenties, a collector of old,
obscure trinkets, purveyor of ambiguous counsel, and all around weirdo,
Miss Tōko Aozaki.
Ostensibly, she’s a maker of dolls and puppets, but she seems to dabble
in all manner of engineering and architectural work as well. These are, of
course, her hobbies. I may have complaints about how she runs the place,
but she’s managed to keep this little enterprise of hers running before I was
there so she must be doing something right. Besides, I’m not about to challenge
the wisdom of my one and only source of income, especially when
I don’t have a degree in a time when actual job pickings are slim. In fact, I
should consider myself lucky to find any kind of work at all.
The building, which in the middle of my musings I have managed to
reach, is a four story structure, with the office at the top. Nestled between
the industrial district and the housing projects, it projects a feeling of emptiness
and solitude, like it doesn’t belong. The longer you stare at it, the
longer you gain this feeling of imposition, and going inside would be the
last thing on one’s mind. The building lacks modern 21st century luxuries
such as elevators, so I start to climb the staircase.
As I enter the room, one person alone sits atop Miss Tōko’s desk, a girl
that looks decidedly out of place among the stacks of discarded papers and
blueprints scattered all across the room. The girl in a fish-patterned indigo
blue kimono turns her head at my entrance, looking at me with listless
eyes, and I address her.
“Wait a minute. Shiki? What are you doing in this miserable dump?”
“Um, Kokutō? The owner of the place is right behind me, pal,” she says
in a tone of warning, while pointing behind her with her thumb.
Shiki moves aside to reveal Miss Tōko seated across the desk, a lighted
cigarette positioned in her mouth, and sharp eyes burrowing into me with
pointed glares. She wears the same simple pattern of white blouse and
black pants, a combination she has upheld so religiously since the day I met
her that you would think she’d wear the same thing at a funeral. She always
seems obliged to wear at least one orange-colored accessory though, and
today it is a single orange earring.
“Yeah, I’d say goodbye to your paycheck if I were you,” Shiki adds. I gulp.
“Hmph. The Lord Tōko Almighty forgives you for your transgression since
you arrived here earlier than I expected. Seriously, Kokutō. I told you there
wouldn’t be anything for you to do for a while so it’s okay to show yourself
around noon, and yet here you are.”
“Miss Tōko, you know I’m not that kind of person.” I can feel my wallet
practically coaching me the words in my head. It’s gets a bit lonely in there
with only the stored value train ticket and phone card keeping each other
company. “So, why is Shiki in this miserable dump?”
“Called her in. Thought there was a little business matter she could help
me with.”
For her part, Shiki seemed uninterested and withdrawn. She probably
went out last night again, since she’s rubbing one of her eyes. It’s barely
been a month since she recovered from her coma. We still find it hard to
talk to each other, but we’re taking it slow for now. Since she doesn’t seem
to be interested in talking to me right now, I sit myself down on my desk.
With no real work to finish, there’s nothing to do but chat.
“Did you happen to see the news this morning, Miss Tōko?”
“You’re talking about the news on Broad Bridge, right? I keep saying it,
but Japan doesn’t need a bridge that big, goddamit.”
What Miss Tōko is talking about is none other than the big ten kilometer
bridge construction project scheduled to finish next year. This part of town
is about a twenty minute drive away from the city port, a short distance.
The port is situated in a crescent shaped coastline that forms a bay, and
the bridge is planned to cross the gap between the extreme upper and
lower parts of that crescent coastline in one straight highway, supposedly
to divert traffic from the coast. The city’s development council made a joint
venture with some big construction company to “answer the complaints
of the community.” And of course, considering the history of the local
government, a public works project that big has to have some taxpayer’s
money mysteriously disappearing into people’s pockets. It’s a typical story:
the government makes public development projects to answer some new
“problem” the citizens have, which doesn’t exist except in their heads, and 
everyone gets money. Worse, it’s going to have its own aquarium, a museum,
and a gigantic parking lot for God knows what reason; you don’t know
if the place is a bridge or some weird amusement park. The locals had been
calling it the Bay Bridge since it started, but going from what Miss Tōko
said, I suppose it’s been officially christened as the Broad Bridge. It goes
without saying that Miss Tōko and I do not hold this project in high esteem.
“Well, yeah, you say that, but I thought you already had an exhibit space
there?” I comment wryly.
“That was just a complementary ‘thank you’ from the company. If it
were up to me, I’d sell it, but how do you think it would look for Asagami
Construction if I, the designer, refused the offer? But it’s a stupid location,
and it won’t make me a lick of cash.”
Uh oh. She’s talking about deficit again. This has to be going somewhere
I don’t like. I have to find out about this now or else she’s never going to
give me the money.
“Um, Miss Tōko? About the cash. Pardon me for being so blunt with it
but, you had promised me my salary today and—“
“Oh, yeah,” she stretches the word out in a long drawl. “That. Unfortunately,
I’m going to have to postpone your pay for a month.” She spits it
out like an unwanted curse, as if I was the one at fault for asking in the first
“But you had a million or some yen wired to your account yesterday!
How could it all be gone?”
“I spent it, how else?” Miss Tōko rebuts nonchalantly, sitting in her chair
and swiveling it from side to side making squeaking noises and adopting the
general annoying air of feigned ignorance one receives from self-important
people. Shiki and I just affix her with frustrated stares.
“But what on Earth could you spend that much money on?” I cry in
“Oh, nothing, just a silly little thing. A Victorian era Ouija board to be
precise. I don’t know if it works or not, but the hundred year value it has
makes it fetch a high price. And if it’s a numina container, then so much the
better. It’ll be a nice addition to my collection.”
I can’t believe how she’s taking all of this in stride. It would have been a

lot more convenient if she was just some two-bit illusionist with some hand
tricks, but her actual sideline is being a mage; like, the real deal. Which is
why she can talk all about esoteric topics such as “numina” or whatnot
while keeping a totally straight face. And yet she can’t even use her magic
to make up some convenient excuse for my lack of pay.
“Come on, Kokutō, even you couldn’t have resisted the bargain price. 
Don’t be so mad. At least now our wallets finally have something in common.”
Having been shown by her what miracles mages are capable of doing, I
was willing to be tolerant in how she handled things, but this was way too
much. “So that’s it, then? No pay for me this month?”
“Yep. All employees are to find other means of obtaining funding.”
I stand up, and make my way towards the door. “Then, you’ll excuse me
for leaving early, since I’m gonna have to beg, borrow, or steal money to
get by this month?”
“Early in, early out, huh? Just don’t get caught stealing or I’ll feel guilty.”
Then, she switches to a serious tone, as if to indicate the gravity of what
she was about to say. “By the way, Kokutō. I’ve got a favor to ask you.”
Thinking it’s the business between her and Shiki, I try to listen as hard as I
“What, Miss Tōko?”
Then smiling, she says “Can you spare me some money? I’m pretty
I pinch my thumb and forefinger together in front of me and say, “This
close to resignation.”
I close the door with resentment; cutting off Miss Tōko’s playful chuckling
soon after.
/ 1
After witnessing the amusing exchange between Tōko and Mikiya, Shiki
at last speaks her mind.
“Tōko, you were saying before we were interrupted?”
“Ah, right. I didn’t really want to take a job like this, but money comes
first. If only I were an alchemist, then I wouldn’t have to worry so much
about living expenses. Damn Kokutō for not sharing some of that money I
know he saves over,” Tōko says with indignation. She extinguishes her cigarette
on the ashtray. Mikiya is probably thinking something similar himself,
Shiki thinks.
“Well, about that incident last night—“ Tōko starts saying.
“I don’t need to hear any more on that. I get it, for the most part.”
“That so? Crime scene description only, and you can already read this
girl? Sharp one, aren’t we?” Tōko looks at Shiki with eyes laden with meaning.
Tōko has only described the details of the crime scene to Shiki, and yet
Shiki understands that the girl’s story is writ large all over that vivid scene:
proof, if anything, of her natural intuition when it comes to these matters.
Tōko knew she’d understand; they come from the same dirty side of the
world, after all.
“Our benefactor for this job has an idea who the target is. If you encounter
her, orders are to try and see if she goes along quietly. But if she shows
any willingness to fight back, any at all, then oblige her. ‘Least you’ll see if
those blade skills of yours have rusted some.”
“I see.” Shiki’s only answer. To her, the job was simple. Hunt her down,
and kill her. “What do we do about the body?”
“If you kill her, then the client has the means to make this look like an
accident. Don’t worry about the fallout on this one. She’s dead to the
world, as far as our client is concerned. Got no moral qualms about killing
dead people, right?” Tōko gives a little laugh. “So, you in on this? You ask
me, it’s tailor made for you.”
“I don’t even need to answer that.” Shiki starts to walk towards the exit.
“You’re eager to start. Are you spoiling for blood that much, Shiki?”
She doesn’t answer.
“Hey, you forgot this.” Tōko tosses a folder at Shiki. “Some photos and
the particulars on her profile. What the hell are you going to do without
even knowing what she looks like?” Shiki doesn’t catch the folder, and it
falls harmlessly to the floor.
“I don’t need a file on this one. You’ve told me where it started, and 
/ 1 • 103
that’s where we’re gonna start too. We’re all the same, us murderers: we
attract each other. And when me and this girl meet, there’s definitely going
to be some blood on the floor afterwards.”
And with a rustle of clothes, Shiki departs from the office, the coldness
of her glare the last thing peeking in through the small gap of the closing
Lingering Pain - III
Though I really didn’t want to resort to this, I am left without any other
alternative. I decide to contact an old high school friend to see if I can borrow
some money. I know what places he haunts. I go to the university I
dropped out of not two months ago and wait for him in the cafeteria. Just
a few minutes after noon, right on schedule, the large, imposing shadow
of Gakuto comes into view, easy to pick out among the crowd smaller than
him. Spotting me, he swaggers on over to my table.
“Well, look who decided to come back! How you hangin’, man? Here to
stay for good this go around?”
“Unfortunately, no. School treating you well?”
“Ah, you know, this here’s a game that needs to be played, so I play it.
How about you? If I know you like I know you, you ain’t gonna holler at me
just for a social call. What’s the trouble? How’d that job hunt go?”
“Great, actually. Got a job.”
“So what’s wrong?”
“The job,” I reply dryly. “My generous employer has decided that she’ll
forego the usual paycheck this month, so that leaves me hanging in the
Gakuto makes a face halfway between disappointment and genuine
bemusement. “That ain’t so bad, man. And here I was thinking it was gonna
be some profoundly life changing shit, and you drag your broke ass all
the way down here for extra dough? You sure you’re not some alien in
“Very funny. When you’ve got your back against a corner like this, you
can expect the same hospitality.”
“But to have money being the first thing out of your mouth; it just ain’t
like you. And anyway, ain’t your folks supposed to have your back on this
“Me and my parents haven’t talked since the big fight we had when I
stopped going to university. How can I go back to them right now like this?
It’d be like surrendering.”
“You got as thick a head as me sometimes, I give you that. Now, don’t tell
me you called your folks names and shouted in their faces or something?”
“I’ll thank you to leave that out of the discussion and focus on the real
topic. So are you gonna lend me some or aren’t you?”
“Damn, man, you in a fighting mood today. But there ain’t no need to
be, ‘cause I’m feeling awful generous. Plenty from our school called you a 
friend back then, Mikiya, and that includes me. If I put it out that you’re
in need of cash, we’d all be pitching in to help. So don’t worry, man. We
got your back.” Gakuto pats me on the shoulder. “Don’t misunderstand,
though, this ain’t charity,” he adds. “Friends gotta look out for each other,
after all.”
Seems Gakuto’s got his own favor to ask as well. He looks over the crowd
carefully to see if no one is listening in, then leans his head in closer to me
and whispers.
“The short of it is that there’s some youngin I want you to look for. Old
junior from back in the day, actually. Seems he gone and had his ass caught
up in some heinous shit, and he hasn’t come home yet.”
Gakuto continues to explain, mentioning the name of the person in
question: Keita Minato. Gakuto knows him as a member of the bunch that
got cut up last night in the bar, but apparently he’s alive. Whereabouts
unknown, but at a period of time after the time of the killings put out by
the police, Keita called up a mutual friend of him and Gakuto. The friend
then contacted Gakuto, saying Keita was acting strange and incoherent.
“He just kept shoutin’ that he was gonna die and someone be hunting
his ass down. After that, nuthin. Don’t even answer his cell now. Guy who
took the call says he was mixing his words and shit, sounding really doped
The fact that even a high school kid like Keita could purchase dope without
us so much as being surprised was just a fact of the times. Many of the
corners and alleys of mazelike Tokyo have quickly turned into open-air drug
markets, proof of the increasingly high demand for stimulants and depressants
that so many people turn to for the clarity and solace that they felt
society could not give them. However, when you’re the survivor of a mass
murder and you feel that the killer is coming for you next, when you’re a
person like Keita Minato in other words, your next fix should really be the
last thing on your mind.
“I kinda feel like I’m being thrown into the fire without a hose here. Do
you really think I can survive talking to these hoppers on my own?”
“I’ve faith. You always been like a bloodhound, finding people with next
to nuthin to go on.”
“This Keita kid—does he often do drugs?”
“Far as I know, no. Only them corner boys killed last night were married
to them acid blotters. But if what the friend’s saying be for real, he might’ve
had a change of heart. Come on man, you still can’t search your head for
Keita? He’s that kid that like to tail around your ass some in high school.”
“I kinda have a vague idea, yeah…” During high school, there were some 
juniors who liked to hang around me for some reason, possibly because
of me being friends with cool kid Gakuto here. “Well, if he’s just having a
really bad acid trip, then that’d be good…or at least better than what we’re
suspecting,” I mention with a sigh. “Guess I got no choice if I want to live
this month. I’ll check it out and see what I can do. Can you tell me about his
friends? Contacts, connections, anything?”
Gakuto reaches into his pocket to retrieve a small notebook, as if he
was just waiting for me to say it. There’re a lot of names, aliases, addresses
for hang outs, and phone numbers in that notebook, which means a lot of
ground to cover if I want this done quick.
“I’ll be in touch if I find out anything. If I manage to find him, I’ll try to
see him protected as best as I can. That good?” By protection, I mean in
the form of my detective cousin Daisuke. He didn’t have anything to fear
from him. Daisuke’s the kind of guy that can let you go for a drug abuse
charge if you were witness to a red ball murder, which this one could end
up as, what with the mutilation and multiple homicide. Far as Daisuke was
concerned, nabbing the users is small game and a waste of time. Gakuto
nods his assent, thanks me, and gives me 20,000 yen to start me off.
Once me and Gakuto go our separate ways, I start to make my way to
the crime scene. I’ll have to work this one at least vaguely similar to how
cousin Daisuke works cases if I would have any chance of finding Keita.
I know that I shouldn’t really get involved in this, but Gakuto was right.
Friends have to look out for each other, after all.
/ 2 • 107
/ 2
The sound of a ringing phone resonates in my empty apartment. I screen
the call, as I am wont to do when I’m tired, and sure enough, after five rings
it switches to the answering machine with a beep. Cue his voice: familiar,
yet still feels alien enough so soon after recovering from the coma.
“Morning, Shiki. Sorry to call you so early, but I’ve got a small favor to
ask if it isn’t too much trouble. Azaka and I promised to meet at a café near
Ichigaya station called Ahnenerbe around noon, but something came up
and it looks like I won’t be able to go. You’re free today, right? If you can,
drop by there and tell her I’m not coming.” The message ends there.
I roll my body sluggishly over to the bedside and take a look at my clock,
a digital green “July 22, 7:23am” on its screen; not even four hours since I
came home from my nightly outing. Christ, do I need sleep. I pull the sheets
back over my head. The summer heat doesn’t really bother me much. I’ve
been able to deal well with the heat and cold ever since my childhood days,
and it seems that trait carried over from my…previous life.
Just as sleep was about to take me again, the phone rang a second time.
This time, when the answering machine picked up the message, it was a
voice I knew, but definitely one you didn’t want to hear at just half past
seven in the morning.
“It’s me. Watched the news this morning? Probably haven’t. That’s all
right, I didn’t either.”
What the hell? It’s always been at the back of my mind, but now I can
definitely say that I have absolutely no idea what the fuck goes on in Tōko’s
head; it is an incomprehension that sometimes continues on to her speech
more often than I’m comfortable. It requires at least a few precious seconds
of cranial spelunking before you can start to understand what she’s
saying, a trait which always tends to leave you at a disadvantage when
talking to her.
“Listen up. I’m gonna phrase this in a way even your sleep-deprived
brain can process. Three interesting deaths last night. Another jumper that
hit pavement, and some girl who killed her boyfriend. I know, I know, same
shit, different day, right? But here’s something that’ll help you out:” she
pauses. “Our little killer struck again.”
Tōko hangs up abruptly, leaving me to wonder what she thought I would
feel when confronted with these facts. Did she expect me to feel a rush
of noble intention, and a renewed commitment to this job? How could I,
when I still see the world I just awakened back into in a hazy grey veil, when 
I am yet to even feel the world of my senses in a manner that seemed
coherent and real? Harsh as it may be to admit, but the deaths of these
people with no relation to me faze me less than the rays of the sun beating
down on me.
After sleeping in for a while more, I get up much later, only when my
fatigue finally gives ground. I cook breakfast in the manner that I remember,
after which I start to dress. I choose a light orange kimono, which
should be cooler if I’m going to walk around town all day. It’s then that I get
that feeling again, which causes me to bite my lip: a feeling that someone is
watching me do all of this from afar. Even my wardrobe choice is one from
a memory that I feel far removed from. I wasn’t this way two years ago. The
two years of emptiness created a rift, a boundary line between the past
and now, as if creating two very different people, yet sharing the same collective
memory. It felt as if the weight of that memory, those sixteen years
of life before the accident, kept pulling the strings attached to me. I know
it’s probably just an after effect of the coma, some brain damage from the
accident at the worst. I know that no matter how much I spit on this emptiness,
this fabricated dollhouse of a lie, in the end, it’s still me pulling those
damn strings. Hell, maybe it’s always been me.
By the time I finish dressing up it’s almost eleven o’ clock. I press the
“Messages” button on my answering machine, repeating the first message.
“Morning, Shiki…,” repeats the voice I have heard many times in the
Mikiya Kokutō. The last person I saw before the accident two years ago.
The only person I trusted two years ago. I have many recollections of being
with him, but all of it missing details, as if I was looking at a tampered
photograph, something in them not squaring with what I know. And one
memory is a gaping hole, completely gone: my last memory of him and
the accident. Why was  in an accident? Why was Mikiya’s face the last
thing I saw?
It’s the reason I still feel awkward talking to Mikiya: I feel like I should
know something important about him but it’s missing in my head, and
without it I won’t be able to carry out an actual conversation without
them. If only these memories lost to oblivion were stored in an answering
machine too.
“…tell her I’m not coming.” The answering machine stops and falls silent.
It’s probably just another after effect of the coma, but hearing his voice
softens the annoying itch in my mind. Problem is, that’s the itch that makes
me feel alive. It’s the itch that tells me to kill.
/ 2 • 109
It’s only a short forty minute walk to Ahenenerbe. The café sports their
unusual German name on a sign hanging above the entrance, which I
spare only a momentary glance at before entering the establishment. Once
inside, I immediately notice the dearth of customers, despite it being noon,
the hour when college kids frequent cafés to write a novel or do some other
boring activity. The café has little lighting. Its sole sources of bright light
come from the entrance and four rectangular windows placed on either
side of the shop, admitting the sunlight and silhouetting the tables and
customers sitting there in a dark, hard-cut outline. The tables further inside
the shop aren’t so lucky. It paints a nostalgic picture, as if some European
middle ages tavern had stepped out of antiquity into the modern age.
I spot a pair of gaudily uniformed girls in a table way in the back, and a
quick glance confirms that it is indeed Azaka Kokutō, along with another
girl. Strange—Mikiya never mentioned another girl. Oh well, no biggie.
“Azaka,” I call out, while walking briskly to their table.
Azaka herself is quite a character on her own. She goes to a fancy girl’s
boarding school, so she acts the part, complete with a tendency for being
ladylike. But you take one look at the way she carries herself and you realize
it’s all an act. At her best, she has an amazingly competitive streak in
her, as well as a boldness that is sorely lacking in many people these days.
In contrast to her brother, who endears himself to people by sheer likeability
and charm, Azaka is a figure who commands respect with a single, solid
look in her eyes. Those eyes now turned to me as she does a quick about
face at my voice calling out her name.
“Shiki…Ryōgi,” she says, each syllable uttered and spat out like an insult.
The lingering animosity towards me that she tries so hard to keep in is so
palpable I can swear I almost feel the temperature rise. “I have a prior
engagement with my brother. I have no business with you.”
“And it seems your brother has a prior engagement of his own,” I say,
egging her on. “He said he can’t come. You know, this might just be me, but
I think you just got stood up.”
A single restrained gasp. I don’t know if she’s shocked that Mikiya just
treated their promise like trash, or the fact that it’s coming from me and I
came down here to tell her.
“Shiki, you…you put him up to this, didn’t you?!” Azaka’s hands tremble
in barely suppressed anger. I guess it’s the latter, then.
“Don’t be an idiot. He’s done his level best to piss me off too. I mean
really, asking me to come all the way here just to send you away?”
Azaka glares at me with eyes full of fire. At that moment, her friend, 
who has until now remained silent, interrupts; and a good thing too, since
Azaka looks like she’s about to abandon her carefully cultivated demeanor
of placidity by seeing how well she could throw a teacup to my face at
point blank range.
“Kokutō, everyone’s staring,” the girl says in a voice as slender as a wire.
Azaka looks around the café for half a beat, and then embarrassed, she
sighs. “I’m sorry, Fujino. I don’t know what came over me. I just ruined your
day, didn’t I?” she says apologetically. I haven’t really looked at this Fujino
clearly up until now. Though she and Azaka look somewhat similar by virtue
of the uniform and their school’s grooming standards, their demeanor
cannot be more different. While Azaka has a hidden strength behind the
prim and proper façade, her companion Fujino looks, at a glance, more
fragile, as if she were sick and could collapse at any second.
“Are…you okay? You look kind of—“, I involuntarily say. She answers only
by looking in my direction. The way her eyes pass over me feels as if she’s
looking at something beyond me, like I was just an insect on the ground
to be ignored. My gut tells me she’s dangerous, and my mind itches again.
My reasoning tells me that there’s no way a girl like her could do anything
like what happened to the victims in that underground bar, and the itch
recedes. “Never mind, pretend I didn’t say anything,” I conclude.
That crime scene was the handiwork of someone who enjoyed murder,
and a girl like this Fujino could be someone like that. Reason says her hands
are too weak to twist and tear off their limbs like that anyway. I turn my
attention away from her and back to Azaka.
“Well anyway, s’all I got to say. Seeing as I seem to be messenger for a
day, is there anything you want to say to your brother?”
“Oh, you’d do that?” says Azaka, who then proceeds to clear her throat.
“Then please communicate to Mikiya my desire for him to terminate relations
with you. A woman the likes of you has no business being with my
brother.” Azaka leaves me a final, satisfied look before I go.
/ 3 • 111
/ 3
I watch as the girl in the orange kimono Azaka called Shiki Ryōgi walks
out the front door of the café without incident. Their verbal sparring was
tense, and I was sure that if they were armed, they’d have been at each
other trying to score a cut across the other’s jugular. While it didn’t escalate
to anything so dramatic, it still stifled me of all but one sentence.
That Shiki certainly had a…particular way of speaking. Azaka mentioned
her surname as Ryōgi. If she is, as I suspect, a child of the Ryōgi dynasty,
then that explains the unusually well-tailored kimono she wore.
“Lovely looking person, wasn’t she?” I ask Azaka.
“Well, I suppose,” she replies truthfully. That’s Azaka for you. She’d
argue with a person and cause a public commotion one second, and admit
without shame the same person’s better points the next.
“But only as lovely as she was frightening.” I say this firmly, with no sarcasm
or humor. “I don’t like her.” It catches both me and Azaka off guard,
which is only natural. I rarely, if ever, react sharply to other people, after all.
“That’s surprising. I thought you were the kind of person who wouldn’t
hate a dog even if it bit you, but I suppose I still have a lot to learn about
you, don’t I?”
Curiously, Azaka equated “hate” with “dislike”, which to me are two very
different concepts. I didn’t hate Shiki Ryōgi. I only felt that she and I would
never get along. My mind returns to the moment she and I locked eyes on
each other. My eyes look over her black hair, her white skin, and the black
emptiness in her eyes, all somehow ominous, as if looking at a cracked mirror,
and seeing the distortion looking back on you, changed. We both saw
what we were trying so desperately to hide behind our backs. She has the
blood of many on her, and a predatory countenance. My gut tells me what
I’ve been trying to avoid thinking: she is a killer, a cold-blooded murderer.
But I’m different. I’m better than her. I’ve never even so much as entertained
any thought of murder. I say it to myself, in the dark, forbidden places
of my mind, closing my eyes and calling it out repeatedly. Why, then,
does she not disappear? It’s as if, without even exchanging a single word,
Shiki has been indelibly burned into memory.
“And this was supposed to be our day off too. I’m really sorry, Fujino.”
Azaka renews her plea. I smile my practiced smile.“It’s all right. I wasn’t
really feeling up to it today, anyway.”
“Well, you are looking kind of pale, though it’s hard to tell what with
your skin already being so white.”
That wasn’t the real reason for my lack of enthusiasm, but I nod my
acknowledgement at Azaka all the same. More importantly, I know that my
body is continuing a slow slide from bad to worse, but I didn’t know that it
had reached the point where it showed.
“There’s nothing we can do about it today,” says Azaka. “I’m just going to
ask Mikiya myself, so why don’t we head on back for now?”
“Thank you for the concern,” I reply. “But wouldn’t your brother be at
least a little mad at what you just said to Shiki before she left?”
“Oh, it’s nothing to worry about. This is probably the thousandth time
I said it to him, so if he’s gonna get mad at anything, it would just be me
acting like a broken record about it. They say belief bends reality, so maybe
if I believe it hard enough and repeat it over and over like a really pathetic
curse, it’ll come true, right?”
I don’t know if she’s serious or just having fun, but I’m already used to
her being largely spontaneous, so I wouldn’t at all be surprised if that’s
something she just made up to make herself feel better. With a consistent
record as the top notcher in Reien Girl’s Academy, and a similarly consistent
placement on the national top ten rankings, it’s easy to see how the
stress of retaining her place can get to her.
Reien Girl’s Academy provides education anywhere from the first grade
to college level, and people usually go in there starting from first grade
until they graduate college. People like Azaka and me, who come in after
graduating high school, are quite rare. Both of us came from the same
school, and we applied at the same time, making her one of my very few
close friends in Reien. We usually go out on weekends and holidays to have
fun, but today was supposed to have been something else entirely.
Enduring the events and the memories of the past few days has proven
to be…difficult, and my depression isn’t so easily willed away. In the midst
of my difficulty, an old memory of mine came to mind. For some reason,
I found myself thinking about an old upperclassman, one who of the few
who talked to me when I was a freshman in a local junior high school. The
memory comforted me when even the company of other people couldn’t,
and I cherish it.
When I told Azaka about it, she immediately jumped at the opportunity
to try and find this upperclassman immediately. Apparently, her brother
knows the neighborhood surprisingly well, and it’s easy for him to search
for anybody. The truth is, I wasn’t too fond of bothering her brother like she
suggested, but once Azaka sets out to do something, especially something
she just decided in the space of a second, she follows through. Her brother
not being able to come today is regrettable but is fortuitous in a way.
/ 3 • 113
When I said I really didn’t feel like it earlier, the truth of it was that I
already met this fabled upperclassman two days ago. When I met him, I
was finally able to say what I couldn’t say three years ago. Maybe Azaka’s
brother not coming was God’s way of finally putting a lid on the matter.
“Let’s scram. I bet they’re thinking of throwing our freeloading butts off
their establishment just for drinking a single cup of tea and stealing a table
for an hour.” Azaka stands up, and even tries her best to hide how disappointed
she is at her brother not being able to keep his promise. Azaka
might have been acting the lady when she was talking to Shiki, but I’m one
of those people she can be herself around, and at her worst times, she can
talk like a sailor and lose all sense of formality. It’s not that she’s pretending
to be something she’s not, but it’s just something she does unconsciously,
like a filter she can use to weed out people who aren’t worth her time.
Azaka is a true friend, probably my only one. She shouldn’t be involved
in what is about to happen, which is why we’ll never see each other again.
“Azaka, you can go back to the dormitory without me. I think I’ll sleep
over at my parents’ house tonight.”
“You sure? I mean, I’m cool with it, but you’re gonna get in trouble with
the Directress if this becomes a habit. Don’t let it happen too often, okay?”
And with a flutter of her cassock, Azaka leaves the gloomily lit café.
When Azaka opens the door, my eyes suddenly catch the sign outside.
“Ahnenerbe”: “ancestral heritage” in German.
I never came to school again after what happened two nights ago. No
doubt, the school has already contacted my father about my absence without
leave. And when I come home, I will surely be subject to a strict questioning
as to what I have been up to in the past two days. And, like a child
who has finally acquiesced to the whipping, I will tell everything. My father
will then probably disown me, all because I cannot craft a single convincing
lie. Except for one lie, the one I told Azaka. That was simple and easy. Not
like home. Now I’ll never have a home to return to. Home, and each and
every part of it, is a lie.
My father now is mother’s second husband. The problem stems from
the fact that I come from the first. My father only wanted the house, land,
and title that my mother’s family would bring him, and to him I was just a
bonus, an extra, a spare. This consideration of my status led me to try harder,
to be a woman of faithfulness and virtue like my mother, to be a model
student my father could be proud of, to be a normal girl anyone could trust.
I wanted to be that girl so much, not for anyone’s sake, but for myself. It 
was an ambition that drove me and, like a charm, protected me, as much
from my father as it did from forcing me to think about a better life.
But the lie is over now. Whatever magic that unreachable dream granted
me for protection is now forever lost.
The sun slowly descends to rest, its light now visible only in the gaps
between the buildings, and it casts long, parallel shadows in the streets of
the darkening city where I continue to walk. The wave of people coming
and going, walking the streets in a great roiling mass, the traffic lights blinking
red to green to red again; I walk amongst all of them. Here and there,
among both the young and the old, you can see happy faces, picturesque
expressions of joy all around, and my heart tightens at the sight. It’s all like
a dream, another lie.
On a whim, I pinch my cheek, and feel nothing. I pinch harder, twisting
When I look at my hands, I see red on my fingertips. Even though I dug
my nails deep enough to draw blood, I still feel nothing, no spark of life. I
laugh, the exhalation coming out in little fits and starts.
Is it the soul that hurts when I saw the smiles of passersby, or is it, as
when people try to hurt me with words, really my brain firing neurons to
generate a predisposed reaction from me? A flash of pain to make you
understand that bad things are happening and it needs to stop. Whatever
the source of the pain, whether rejection, abuse, self-defense, or some
other cause, all these are already after the fact, and whatever justification
your brain creates for the pain is just like any other drug, a function to
make you feel better, to sober your soul about what was done, and what
has been done to you.
Though I do not know the common pain, I understand the wounds of
the soul, and the pain that comes with it. But that particular breed of pain
is hardly important, nothing more than a fleeting delusion you entertain,
because the pain of the soul is easily dispelled with the right words from the
right person speaking them, massaging them into a lie, and you forget the
pain because it was so trivial. Real pain is not so easily remedied, because
as long as the wound remains, the pain continues its course, throbbing,
pulsating, and proving if nothing else, that you are alive.
If the soul were real, if my soul could be touched, then maybe the
wounds on it can be real too, and pain, real pain, would follow. Like on that
night, when those boys violated me. I still remember: their low voices of
laughter, the shadows on their faces flickering in the light of the alcohol
/ 3 • 115
Being violated—
I remember the man lying on top of me, clutching something in his hand
raised above his head. It caught the light, and for an instant I saw the glint
of steel. I remember it falling fast, swung downward. Afterwards, I felt a
warm sensation in my stomach, and when my eyes looked downwards, I
see my uniform torn in the abdomen and wet with blood. After that, a haze
of violence and carnage, dealt not by them, but by me, my own doing. I end
their little lives and realize that the warmth in my stomach was what they
truly called pain.
My heart tightens again. An ethereal voice spoke in my ear, but it sounds
as if it’s coming from my own head. It tells me that there is no mercy, no
forgiveness, and it repeats over and over. My legs buckle, and the warmth
in my belly, now more like a scalding fire, comes again; an unseen hand
clutching my insides in an ever tightening grip.
The nausea is overwhelming, more so than usual. I should be slipping
into unconsciousness by now. An arm goes numb, almost as if it was suddenly
taken away, and only by looking at it do I know it’s still firmly attached
to my shoulder.
It hurts…so much.
Now, I know I am alive.
The stab wound that I know has been healed now suddenly burns again.
In a childhood long gone, my mother once told me that the pain would
go away once the wound heals. But now even that is a lie. Even after the
bleeding stops and the skin sews itself back on, the pain remains.
But mother, I don’t know if you understand, but I like this burning sensation.
There is no greater object that makes me realize I am indeed alive!
This is the lingering pain that I can be sure is no fleeting delusion.
“I need to find him…quickly,” I whisper to myself, the words coming out
in rapid, ragged bursts. The score must be settled, and the life of the boy
who escaped must be taken. It is the last thing I want to do, but there is no
other choice, if I don’t want to be hunted down myself as a murderess. And
now that I finally have the pain I craved for so long, it would be a shame
to end it like that. No, I’ll have more of this, this pleasure of finally feeling
My body moans and screams with an ache when I move it, but nevertheless
I manage to start dragging myself to those corner boys’ usual
haunts. Tears start to form and fall from my eyes from the sharp pain, but
right now, even the pain is almost like a beloved companion.
/ 4 • 117
/ 4
I go back to my apartment after my little parley with Azaka, trying to
catch up on my sleep. Only at night do I go out again. So far the job Tōko
hired me for is still in its early stages, and yet only two days after it adds a
fresh corpse to its tally, making it a total of five bodies so far: four in the
underground bar that started this whole mess, and the one that Tōko said
showed up last night, apparently at some random construction site in the
same neighborhood. I don’t really see it being related to the four originals.
But then, Mikiya did say to me once that these people tended to know
each other at least on a cursory basis if they’re in the same neighborhood.
They’re hoppers, alley kids, and drifters that are slinging, buying, and playing
the same game night after night, after all, he said. If so, last night’s fatality
may have known the bodies in the bar, at least by name or reputation.
My attention drifts back to the girl Azaka was with at Ahnenerbe. I’m
still mostly groping in the dark with the brand-new capabilities of my Eyes,
so I ended up accidentally seeing her lines— the traces of death that ran
over all things—when I looked straight at her. That was careless, even for
me. She looked normal enough, very much like your average stuck up rich
kid. But she was hiding blood in her past; of that much I’m sure. Her eyes
told her story well enough: hers was a liminal existence, tied by one fragile
string to one side of her life, and being pulled like a metal to a magnet to
the other, as if she belongs there. I mean, fuck, of all people, I should know
the feeling.
We read each other like two predators back there, and my gut tells me
she’s the one, but I can’t entirely be sure. I don’t see, or at least I don’t yet
see, a reason for her being someone who enjoys murder as much as I do.
But then, since when did killers in this town start needing a reason to enjoy
Hah, “enjoy killing.” I wonder what Mikiya would think if he heard me
saying that. He’d probably give me a stern telling-to, saying “murderin’ be
a purty steep crime, Shiki” while waving a finger in front of me.
What an utter idiot, I muse, as much to myself as to Mikiya who must be
half-way across town right now.
Mikiya once said to me that I haven’t changed from before. I wonder,

then, if I was always like this even before the accident: walking around
town aimlessly, a woman a little off her rocker searching for something to
I try to tell myself that no,  never had any liking for this sort of 
stuff, or if she had, it certainly wasn’t in her laundry list of priorities. This
was always Shiki’s line of thinking. Shiki, the man—yin, dwelling inside
the woman—yang. But then, where does that put me? Shiki was
here before, but he’s gone now. Dead, probably, or something like it. Then
that means this desire to kill isn’t anything else but my own, and I can’t let
some other personality take the fall for it. Tōko had the right of it I suppose.
This case does fit me like a glove. I mean, holy shit, I get to kill someone
with no strings attached!
It’s almost midnight. I ride the subway to a station I rarely get off at.
The city is sleepless tonight, the noise rising to the all too common chorus
of the streets: the melody of traffic and speeding cars; and then the
background vocals: the shouting and arguments echoing in the streets; and
now the percussions: the sound of bats and pipes and knives, setting the
tempo by claiming their share of screaming victims; and then the main
vocals: the siren wail of the police rollers; and always, the footsteps are
there, in some places a scattered rhythm, in some a low rumble, all of them
here in this labyrinthine city.
Here, from the exit of the station, I can see the tall cargo cranes and
stacks of shipping containers, themselves as tall as a house or larger, that
reveal the short distance to the port.
/ 5 • 119
/ 5
I don’t know where the last one ran off to, but I’ve thought of a way to
solve that problem. I was taken to a lot of places by those men. They had
hangouts scattered all over the neighborhood, places where they could
unwind before they did me. I might find out where the last one is hiding
by going back to these places and asking the people he knows there. They
must know. He can’t rely on his parents, or his school, or the police, so he
has no other recourse but his own kind.
Walking the city at night is something I’ve never gotten used to, and a
little part of me keeps saying that I should just go home and not bother
with going to these shady night dens, but the pain and the filthy memories
propel my feet step by step.
At a large karaoke bar, the third place I visited tonight, I finally manage
to meet a person who claims to be a friend of Keita Minato. An employee
of the establishment, he lets slip a dirty smile when we talk, and suggests
that we go to a quiet place to talk. Ditching his shift, we walk again. The
little voice tells me that this is another trap, another game we play before
he jumps me like the others. He knows how weak I am. He can smell it, and
the smile he made while we were talking was him reading me as easy prey.
He must know what Keita Minato and his friends did to me, and he thinks
he can do it too. That’s why he hasn’t a worry on his mind right now. Even
knowing all this, I ignore the voice and follow him. He’s my only chance at
finding my lost one, and I’m not going to pass it up.
We arrive at a lonely stretch of road. I grip my burning stomach even
tighter, and prepare myself.
It’s almost midnight. For the hundredth time tonight, I summon the
memory of me being violated, and my conviction is renewed, my steps
unyielding. The city whispers again tonight, the noise coming together in
its regular volume: the shudders in the air from the breaths of the pained,
the sighing release of the dying, and the whispers of the dead. This is a
place that bleeds, suffers, and dies every night, and for a moment I come
to an understanding with this labyrinthine city.
Here in this barely lit strip of road with this wretched man, I can see the
warehouses and silos, black silhouettes towering in the sky, that reveal the
short distance to the port.
Luck’s on his side tonight, thinks the young man. Keita and his buddies
were a talkative bunch, always consummate loudmouths talking about the
rich girl they kept banging over and over again every week. For his part, the
young man had long since resigned the matter to the back part of his brain
where he could filter out all their voices as just meaningless background
noise, just part of their routine. What they did in their spare time was their
business, not his, always had been. Keita and his group weren’t anyone
special, and every one had grown up in a different corner of the hood anyway,
so it wasn’t his job to butt in, and anyway the story had sounded
suspiciously embellished right from the start so he tended to take it with a
grain of salt in the first place. But then, the girl coming to his job on his shift
was just too irresistible a treat.
Oh sure, he knew she was the girl they were talking about. She fit the
bill exactly: rich girl from a rich kid school. Now, on a regular occasion,
he’d be on a payphone right now telling his crew about the find, to share
the fun. But as good a friend as he was, this was not an opportunity that
necessitated a lot of people. This was not, in other words, the kind of easy
alley gang bang he and four other boys would occasionally engage in. It’s a
whole different ball game this time, seeing as he recognizes the girl as family
to the owners of Asagami Construction, the daughter if he remembered
correctly. They’re the kind of upper crust clan who put a premium value on
appearances and the gossip about them in the local patrician society. Raping
this girl and threatening to divulge the dirty details to the public later,
maybe even with some carefully selected photos, was as good as him dipping
his hands into the family wallet himself; for this is a family that would
sooner settle the matter with money than drag the whole scandal through
the publicity of a trial. That’s why he didn’t call his friends tonight. To him,
this was a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth.
This is a solid caper, thinks the young man; a caper Keita and those dumb
fuckers never thought of. Despite being the leader of a semi-famous crew
in the neighborhood, the man Keita and the others followed were so dumb
they probably couldn’t figure out which way to point a gun if they shot
themselves looking down the barrel.
Fujino Asagami keeps pace with the man without a single word. It almost
makes him a little nervous. Bad idea to bring her to the usual places, he
thinks, so he heads to the warehouse section of the harbor. There’s little
light, and at this midnight hour, the longshoremen would be home and
there’d be no one guarding the place. When they enter the dark spaces
between the tall warehouses, he finally turns to face the girl. The sound
of the waves and the faint traces of light coming from the Broad Bridge 
/ 5 • 121
construction site nearby compound to the uneasiness of Fujino’s silence,
but the man shrugs it away.
“This should be far enough,” he mutters. “So, what did you wanna ask
about?” He figures he might as well answer Fujino’s question. Not letting
her voice her question, after all, would be in bad form.
“Er, yes. Would you happen to know where Mr. Keita is now?” she finally
says after a full five-second delay. Through all of this Fujino hadn’t been
making eye contact with the man. Her eyes, half-obscured by her well-kept
bangs, were downcast and seemed to alternate in interest between the
one hand she had on her stomach and the floor.
“Nah, girl, Keita ain’t been seen ‘round here last few days. I heard he
ain’t even got a place of his own, so he bounce around, crashing in a different
crib every week with his peoples. Far as I know, he ain’t got a cell either,
so you can’t connect with him.”
“No…I can contact him.”
She’s talking weird. She doesn’t know where Keita is even though she
can contact him? Did those guys fuck her so much her brain shut off or
something? That should make things a lot smoother for business later, but
he had to admit he’d been expecting a little resistance. He likes his girls
with fight in them.
“Oh, well, cool then,” he responds. “Then why dontcha just ring him up
and ask then?”
“That is…well…it seems Mr. Keita doesn’t want to tell me where he’s
hiding. That’s why I’m looking all over and asking his friends. Please, I’d
only like an answer. It’s perfectly fine if you don’t know.”
“Wait, hold the fuck up. Whatchoo mean he’s hiding? He gone and got
hisself into some deep shit, ain’t he?”
She was beginning to irritate him. Having not seen the news himself, he
considers for a moment the possibility that Keita raping Fujino had leaked
out somehow, a thought easily dismissed when he realizes that, were that
the case, it wouldn’t be Fujino herself coming for Keita, but the cops with a
wagon and a waiting interview room downtown.
“Oh, I see what this about now, girl. Now that Keita’s gone and dumped
you, you come hollering for another man, am I right?” The smile which
never left his face now turns into amused laughter. If he was really lucky
tonight and Fujino became his woman, he might not even need threats to
get the money. She’s no slouch in the looks either. Money and a woman:
what else could he call this but the Almighty himself putting some polish
in his life?
“We probably shoulda rolled over to my place. Or are you fine doing it 
The girl in the black uniform nods. “I’d like an answer before that,” she
“Bitch, shut yo mouth with that excuse. I mean, like I know where he
crashing at before he shoot up. I dunno, and I ain’t got a yearning to know.”
Fujino looks up, a content look on her face. Her eyes hold no warmth
now, save for a faint light in her pupils that was not there before, a light
that shines like a spiral. All normality seems to have left it. For his part, the
man is less focused on her eyes and more on the odd situation that is taking
place on one of his arms, which has started to move by itself. His elbow
starts to turn, the flesh there contorting, slightly at first but then more
severe, in the manner of something being twisted. A small creaking sound
of the bone accompanies the elbow twisting past the ninety degree mark,
but it doesn’t stop there. Within another moment, it finally breaks with a
single popping noise.
The young man manages a short, piercing shriek, his voice slipping out
like gas from a balloon at first, but then growing into a scream when his
arm breaks. Earlier he had kept praising his luck, but he’s one of those
who can’t distinguish between the good and the bad kind, and whatever
amount of good luck he had tonight has definitely run out.
In this narrow alleyway between two warehouses untouched by moonlight,
the first stirrings of tragedy begin to unfold.
Since the first twist, the man’s scream has gone from recognizably
human to something resembling the baying of some beast. His arms don’t
even look like arms anymore. They’re more like wire puzzles, or one of
those rubber bands twisted around to make paper airplanes fly. At any
rate, they’re not going to go back to anything resembling functioning arms
any time soon.
“H-h-help!” he shouts in vain. He tries to run away from the girl, who
only stands still before him, but finds his efforts to do so are hampered
by his right leg suddenly being torn to a bloody pulp from the knee, and
his body stumbling into air and slamming into pavement. Blood scatters
with a sickening splat, as if someone emptied a bucket full of it on the
concrete walls, the spatter looking like some obscene piece from a modern
art museum. Fujino Asagami, with eyes lighted by some flickering flame of
spiral behind them, watches the entire scene unfold.
“A…screw, she’s sc—, she’s screwing me, haha!” His words are almost
unintelligible. Somehow, amidst the blinding pain, he finds the will to laugh 
/ 5 • 123
at his own private joke. Fujino decides to ignore him and continue.
“Bend,” she whispers softly, like a curse, the same curse she’s been using
since she started this. Her friend once told her that belief bends reality,
that repeating something over and over like a curse might cause it to come
The man is squirming on the ground, with both arms twisted and with
one less leg, moving his head from side to side. The blood flowing from the
open leg has formed a red carpet on the ground, welcoming Fujino. She
steps into the carpet, her shoes dipping into it slightly. The sweet fragrance
of the blood around her resembled the hot, humid, and sticky air of the
summer so much. She emits a sigh as she looks down at the writhing mass
of flesh before her. That she has to do this is regrettable, detestable even,
but necessary, something she had intended to do right from the start. Fujino
knew from the way he was hitting on her that he was yet to be enlightened
by what happened at that underground bar. But it was only a matter
of time before he did, and when that happened, he would also remember
Fujino asking about Keita Minato. It wouldn’t take long before he put two
and two together, and start to suspect Fujino, maybe even report her to
the police. So this is something she truly has to do. And that besides, the
man had been asking for it. Though it was indirect, this is nothing less than
her revenge against the ones that violated her. Luckily, her ability to violate
them turns out to be much more potent.
“Forgive me—but I have no choice.” The young man’s remaining left leg
is ripped to shreds in a manner similar to its counterpart. The man, who
had been hanging onto a small thread of life earlier, expires with a final
convulsion that continues even after his death. Before, Fujino would look
at a body like this and she wouldn’t feel a shred of empathy. But now, having
finally known pain, she understands, and she sympathizes, and she is
glad. She knows now that to live is to feel pain.
“Only through this can I finally be normal.”
She was the one who made the man this way. She was the one who hurt
him. She is better than him, than all of them. This is what it means to live,
Fujino thinks; to be able to celebrate true happiness only in the midst of
such cruelty and suffering by becoming cruel as well.
“Mother, am I no longer human for going this far?”
The burning in Fujino’s stomach has become almost unbearable as her
heart pumps blood faster and faster, the beating the only thing she hears.
Despite the summer heat, a shiver worms its way up her spine.
“I never wanted to murder people—“
“Oh, I beg to differ.”
Fujino turns towards the sudden intruder. Silhouetted against the moonlight
reflected off the harbor waters, a single kimono-clad figure stands in
the entrance of the narrow alley: Shiki Ryōgi.
“Fujino Asagami, huh? It’s all in the name. I should have known you
were related to the Asakami dynasty.” Lightly, Shiki starts to walk towards
the alley interior. With narrowing eyes, she observes the scene of carnage
around her.
“When did you—“, Fujino starts to ask, but she already knows the
“Ever since you lured that lump of meat out here, I was watching the
whole time,” Shiki says coldly. That means she saw everything. She saw it
but didn’t try to stop it. Even knowing what would happen, she revealed
herself, ensuring that only one question races through Fujino’s mind: why?
“He is not a lump of meat!” says Fujino angrily, thinking Shiki’s casual
callousness going too far, even despite her own thoughts earlier. “He is—
was—a human being.”
“You sure? ‘Cause, at least to my understanding, he doesn’t look too
much like one right now. Fact is, you butchered him, and he didn’t die like
a human at all.” Shiki continues to advance, her pace quickening with each
step, boots clicking with each advance. “He probably was human before,
but humans don’t end their life that way. It’s a death removed from all
boundaries of common sense, and it deprives him of all meaning. You
deprived him of all meaning. You chopped him up good and proper just
like a, well…like a lump of meat. Good entertainment, though.”
The declaration makes Fujino truly disgusted at Shiki, a more potent
loathing than before. She says that both Fujino and the corpse are not normal,
an aberration, when if anything she herself is abnormal, considering
the way she observes the scene with an eyebrow cocked, as if this was the
grandest excursion of her life.
“No!” Fujino declares loudly. “I’m normal, unlike you!”
Shiki only responds with curious laughter. “Trust me, Fujino, we’re more
alike than you know. We’re birds of a feather.”
“And I don’t believe you.” Fujino’s eyes now fixate on Shiki, and soon
enough the power she had when she was just a child starts to manifest.
Her vision of Shiki becomes strangely distorted and warped—she need
only will it now to make it real. But as suddenly as it comes, it fades away
and dies. Both of them are surprised: Fujino at her ability losing focus, and
Shiki at Fujino’s sudden change.
“Again?! What the fuck is up with you tonight?” Shiki asks, voice rising. 
/ 5 • 125
She scratches her head at the wasted opportunity. “I could’ve killed you
right before now. Hell, I could’ve done it in the café. What a waste. You’re
useless to me right now.” After saying thus, Shiki turns on her heels and
walks away, the sound of her boots starting to echo as she goes farther.
“Listen, if I were you, I’d cut my losses and go home,” Shiki calls back
to Fujino. “That way we won’t have to see each other again.” After a few
moments, her silhouette too, disappears behind a building, leaving Fujino
still standing dumbstruck at the red carpet of blood. She was back to the
way she was before. Without pain. She looks down at the corpse again, and
finds that she can no longer feel what she had felt earlier. The wellspring
of pain she had felt was again gone, leaving only the memory of the crime,
and the words of Shiki Ryōgi, echoing like an accusation. We’re birds of a
“No. I’m different…from you,” she murmurs repeatedly, like another
curse. How she wished it was true. She hates what she is doing, and she
trembles at the possibility of having to repeat the process just to find Keita
Minato, for she truly feels, in her conflicted mind, that murder is the most
unforgivable of sins.
On Fujino’s blood tinted reflection on the pavement, a little smile plays
across her face.
Lingering Pain - IV
As the first rays of sunlight mark the early morning of July 23rd, I finally
learn the whereabouts of Keita Minato. It definitely took some doing: a
whole day of asking his friends and acquaintances, and from there, his
contacts, and then determining his usual turf and narrowing it down to
the hard-to-find nooks where he could hide. A whole day of good, straightforward
street work, in other words, to determine that he had apparently
made a long vacant room in a run-down six floor apartment tower in the
uptown projects his new home away from home. Right now, I stand outside
the front door of this room. A doorbell is affixed beside the door, and I am
surprised to find that it still works when I press it.
“Keita Minato,” I call out with a voice loud enough to carry inside. “I’ve
been looking for you for a mutual friend. Hope you don’t mind me coming
After a few seconds of waiting with no reply, I try the door, which turns
out to be unlocked. I walk inside, careful not to make any startling noises.
I pass a short and narrow corridor before coming to a wider space which
I can only assume was designed to be the living room, but judging by its
lack of any object related to a living room, or indeed any object at all, casts
some doubts on my assumption. No light is turned on, and only little cracks
in the closed windows illuminate the wooden floor with thin streaks of
sunlight. The floor creaks with each step, despite my efforts to to prevent
it. I can see two other rooms from where I am, probably a kitchen and
a bedroom, though from what I can see, the kitchen is in a similar state
as the living room, empty and barely lit by sunlight. The bedroom door is
closed, however, which makes it the first place I search.
I open the door to the bedroom and enter to find it in absolute darkness,
the storm shutters on the windows sealing them tight and preventing
any light from coming in. At the opening of the door I hear a tiny gasp
of breath from within. Only the bare token of light from the living room
allows me to see what’s inside: an empty room, like a box, all furniture
replaced by convenience store food plastic where cockroaches have taken
residence, a single cellphone on the floor, and a young man, the one who
gasped earlier, who looks to be about sixteen years of age.
“Keita Minato, I presume. I have to say, staying cooped up here’ll kill
you, not to mention the charge you’re gonna get for squatting.”
He scrabbles on his hands and feet backwards to the wall opposite the
door. While it’s only been three days since the incident, his face is already 
thin, almost emaciated, with hollowed-out cheeks and bloodshot eyes. It’s
obvious he hasn’t had a single hour of sleep between now and three days
ago. I know Gakuto’s friend said that he was taking drugs, but you don’t
need drugs to turn out like this. The recipe is all in the facts: a bloody tragedy
he wants to forget, and a need to hide. So he locks himself up in this
room, shuts the windows tight, waits in the darkness, and hopes for the
best…and slowly goes insane from the post-traumatic stress while doing
so. It’s a move of desperation, but it’s worked for him for three days so far.
“Who’s there?” he says with a quivering voice. I only take two steps
inside before I stop, careful not to provoke him into rash action. In his current
state, he’s liable not to trust anyone, so I decide to try just talking to
him for now to calm him down. “I said who’s there?” he repeats, this time
with more aggression. I raise my hands to indicate I’m not a threat.
“Relax, I’m a friend of Gakuto. We were schoolmates back in high school,
too. Remember anyone named Mikiya Kokutō?”
“Kokutō…Mikiya Kokutō? That you?” I must be the last person on his
mind he ever expected to find him here. It takes a few seconds for him to
recover from the shock, but when he does, he starts to cry. “Wh—why did
you come here?”
“A favor for the big guy. He asked me to go and find you, you know?
We’re both worried you’ve gotten yourself dragged into something way
out of your league.” I risk another step forward, but it only makes him
shake his head violently.
“No, nonono. I can’t go out. Not now. I’ll die.”
“You’ll die if you keep staying here too.” Keita’s eyes widen and start
to look at me with slight animosity. I produce a cigarette from my pocket,
light, then smoke it. I’m not a smoker, but it’s a gesture that often makes
you look composed and makes other people relaxed, obviously something
I need right now. “I know what happened,” I say while exhaling a puff of
smoke. “Keita, you know who did it, don’t you?”
He keeps his silence. “Then you won’t mind if I just talk to you for a
while, right?” I say. “On the 20th, you and your friends were at the Mirage
Bar at night, when it was raining. There’s lots of stories about what you’ve
all been up to, but I think I can put together the gist of it. Don’t worry, the
police don’t know yet. Rule of the street is that everyone lies to a cop, after
all.” Despite me saying this, Keita now displays a different type of fear from
before, the fear common to all who committed a crime that’ll land them
on a life sentence or a death penalty if they were found out. “Guess what?
Someone saw you go into that bar that night, and he told me that there
weren’t just five of you. You had a girl with you, a high school student. I 
don’t know her name yet, but it’s only a matter of time. Now unless she
can pull herself up from being stone dead, her corpse wasn’t present in
that bar when the detectives got there. And that girl hasn’t told the cops,
and hasn’t been seen since that night. Now is there anything you might
want to tell me about her?”
“I ain’t…I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Fine, then. You did it. Expect a wagon in ten minutes.”
“Wait—no! I didn’t do it! There’s no way I could have!”
“Yeah, I thought so. So the girl really was there, wasn’t she?” Keita nods
after a few moments. “But then we have a different problem. We’re looking
at something that a girl couldn’t have done alone. You sure you weren’t
“No. We ain’t stoned at the time.”
“Keita, I don’t need to tell you it’s impossible for a girl to dismember the
bodies of four guys.”
“But that’s what went down!” he shouts indignantly. “I ain’t lying. I been
thinking she was weird from the start, but man, she was crazy! She was
like a monster!” His teeth chatter as he covers his face with his hands and
recalls what happened. “She just stood there, calm like, while everyone
was being twisted and torn apart. I heard their bones snapping and breaking,
while I was there scared shitless. When two of my friends bought it, I
came to my senses and booked it the hell out of there. That Fujino Asagami
bitch ain’t normal. If I’d stayed there, she’d have killed me too!”
His voice says it all. It’s all too obvious with these sorts of people: a classic
case of sudden role reversal between the predator and prey. There’s no
better way for you to feel the difference between the killer and the victim
than to become the other one, and Keita certainly felt that difference keenly
that night. As for his story, well, it’s certainly one of the stranger ones
out there: a person who can twist and bend things just by looking at them.
Just a few months ago I would have discounted this story as an insane rant
at worst and an outright lie at best, but since becoming acquainted to Shiki
and her newfound Eyes, as well as Miss Tōko the mage, I don’t know what
I can deny as fictional anymore. Putting that aside for now, there’s still one
thing that bothers me.
“All right, I believe this story of yours about this Fujino being the killer,”
I say. Unsurprisingly, Keita is shocked.
“You…you do?” Keita stutters. “But anyone would say that’s a fucking
lie! Please, say it’s a lie and tell me I just snapped and people like her don’t
“Sorry, but…well, let’s just say I get to know the strangest people. Don’t 
try and think too hard on it. But what did you mean when you said Fujino
was weird from the start?” Keita slowly seemed to be slipping into a more
stable state of mind. His shoulders aren’t so tense anymore.
“Ah, yeah…yeah, she was weird because…it was like she was lagging
behind, you know? Like she was actin’ in a play and her reactions was
always late. Even when the Boss was threatening her, her mug ain’t change
one bit. We shoot her up with some of the good stuff, and it’s the same
story. Even when we beat the bitch up she look like she ain’t feeling it.”
When I was looking for Keita, a lot of the people I asked told me about
the girl and how Keita’s group had been treating her, but now when he
comes out with a confession, it leaves me stunned at how brutally they
treated her, not to mention how casual Keita is about it. What this Fujino
girl did is simply her long-awaited revenge against those who had been
raping her for half a year. Had these men been caught and arrested, it is
likely they would be convicted, but with some of them minors, and others
close to that age, it’s also highly likely a competent lawyer can cut their
sentences down to something more manageable than life without parole.
Minors like Keita can’t even get a sentence without parole. And in a decade
or two they’re back on the streets. Most police, even the relatively considerate
ones, would protest such an outcome. Some would say they deserve
the noose. And this Fujino girl, judging from the ferocity of her murder,
would definitely feel that that sentence would be the farthest thing from
justice. But what’s right in your gut and what’s right to the law are both
bedfellows who sleep with daggers beside them: occasional allies, but
more often enemies. That’s why there is little to be done about it.
“The girl looked mighty fine,” Keita continues, “but doing her wasn’t
any fun. It was like fucking a doll. But—yeah, there was a time when that
changed. This happened real recent. One of my friends is this crazy asshole
who got his kicks by beating the shit out of the bitch over and over and
seeing her not react. He change it up that day; brought a metal bat with
him. He whacked her upside the back, and her face was like, all twisted up
‘cause of the pain. I was actually kinda relieved, you know? Because then
I knew that you could actually hurt her. I remember that night ‘cause that
was the one night where she act like a human…to everything we did.”
“Alright, that’s enough. Shut the hell up.” Holy shit. It was getting harder
and harder to just listen to this guy without doing something to him. “I
get what you’re trying to say, so enough, alright? My cousin’s a city cop
who can protect you. Right now, the lockup is probably the second safest
place for you. Don’t worry, I won’t tell him anything about what you did.”
I approach him and urge him to stand up, but it only makes him retreat 
towards the wall behind him even further, his earlier uneasiness returning.
“No! I ain’t going to no cops and I ain’t going to no court. Even then,
she’ll kill me if I go out. If I’m just gonna end up in some cop’s body bag in
pieces, I’ll take my chances here!”
“She’ll kill you?” That’s a bit weird. If he goes out, Fujino will have to find
him first. It’s a bit too early to say he’s going to get killed, unless…he was
being watched. It’s only at that moment that the cellphone on the floor
beside Keita draws my attention.
“Fujino Asagami is calling you, isn’t she?” He flinches again at the sound
of the name, a sign of his quickly returning panic. “Does she know about
you being here?”
“I don’t know,” he answers with a queasy voice. “I had the Boss’ phone
when I ran. She called me after a while, telling me that she got everyone,
that I was next, that she’d find me. That’s why I need to hide!”
“Why haven’t you dumped that phone in the nearest gutter?” I ask,
though I think I already know the answer.
“’Cause she said she was gonna kill me if I threw it away! She said if I
didn’t wanna die, then I should keep it, ‘cause she was gonna let me go
as long as I had it!” Uh oh, he’s becoming more and more hysterical. “She
calls me every night, the crazy little bitch! She said she met Akino two days
ago, and then Kōhei yesterday. She said she killed them in exchange for me.
She said ‘isn’t this good for you?’ like she was singing it. Said if I value my
friends’ lives, then I should come out and see her, but why the fuck would
I do that, right?”
He starts giggling like a madman. I can’t imagine what it must have been
like for him, getting calls every night, the topic always about how another
friend died because of him. I can almost hear her voice through the phone.
I couldn’t find you today, so I killed another of your friends in your place.
Come out if you don’t want any more of your friends to die.
It’s fine if you don’t, but I’ll keep killing, and sooner or later, I’ll find you.
“What should I do, Mikiya? I don’t wanna die, not like the others. They
were screaming and screaming while blood was leaking out of their necks
and spilling outta their mouths like a towel being wrung!”
“You need to start by throwing away the phone. She’s doing this to gloat.
If she can’t get to your head, then her killing anyone is meaningless.”
“Ain’t I getting through to your head? I can’t! Keeping this phone is my
last chance at living!”
“She killed two people exactly because she knows you’re still keeping it.
And besides, you’ll end up dead either way if you stay like this, locked up
in this empty room.” I approached Keita, who at this point had wrapped 
his arms around his legs in a fetal position, and pull him up by the arm. I
discard my cigarette, smothering it with my shoe.
“Mikiya, please stop. The end is coming for me, and it probably be best
if you left me alone.” Then, as soon as he declares this with finality, he
recants just as quick and offers a new plea. “Oh nonono, I don’t wanna be
alone anymore. Please, you gotta help me!” The phone calls must have
really gotten to his head if he’s alternating between two polar thoughts
like this.
“Don’t worry, I will. I’m not giving you over to the police. I’m gonna take
you to the safest place in the city that I know, trust me.” No one else can
shelter Keita except Miss Tōko right now. I’ll have to put my trust in her as
well. With that, I drag Keita out of the apartment and we head as fast as we
can to Miss Tōko’s end of town.
Lingering Pain - V
I arrive at Miss Tōko’s office to find Shiki there as well. Me bringing an
outsider into Miss Tōko’s office quickly sends her into a panic, but I explain
the situation as fast as I can, and she begrudgingly accepts Keita Minato’s
plea for shelter. She takes him to her bedroom to let him sleep on a sofa,
and returns quickly to the office room where me and Shiki waited, me sitting
in the office room couch and Shiki leaning with her back to a wall. Both
of us say nothing until Miss Tōko is seated on her own chair. Then, almost
as if they had planned to beforehand, they say in unison:
“You big softy.”
“Yeah, I knew something like that was coming my way,” I reply.
“If you knew, then you should have had some second thoughts about
getting involved. You are such an easy mark for these people.”
“Well, what did you expect me to do, ma’am, leave someone to die? You
know the circumstances.”
Miss Tōko only responds with a curt wave of dismissal. She might be a
bit annoyed, but I know her well enough to say that she’s not the kind of
person who callously throws away an opportunity to help a person in real
need. Keita would surely be safe here, under Miss Tōko’s many means of
protection, and if I had to suffer her mild disappointment, then so be it.
Shiki is a different story, however. She’d objected vehemently earlier when
I brought Keita in, saying that this would only complicate matters, but Miss
Tōko had overruled her. I can practically feel the angry eyefuck she’s throwing
my way.
“Well, this is a special case, considering the circumstances,” Miss Tōko
says. “What do you plan on doing now? Don’t tell me you’re going out to
find Fujino Asagami and try to persuade her.”
“Realistically speaking, we can’t hide Keita Minato forever,” I reply. “Fujino
Asagami won’t stop the murders until he finds her, and that’s unacceptable.
I think the best course of action now would be to meet with her and
talk things over.”
At this, Shiki finally talks. “You know the reason we say you’re an easy
mark? This is pretty much it. You’re living in fantasy land if you think that’s
going to work.” While Shiki has never been one to massage her words when
she felt the need to talk, she was being especially antagonistic today. She
really must be angry at me. “You’re not gonna get through to her head, I’m
telling you,” she continues. “That girl’s too far gone. She won’t stop even if
she does get to Keita. He’s just an excuse to keep killing at this point, and 
when she’s done with him, she’ll find another excuse just as convenient.”
“Yeah, right, as if you know her.”
“Oh, but I do, and met her to boot. Azaka brought her along to Ahnenerbe
That catches me by surprise. How would Azaka know Fujino? The people
I talked to placed her around or above high school age, so it’s possible she
could be studying at Reien Girl’s Academy. Wait a minute—
“It’s a bit of a surprise that you’re behind on this one, Kokutō,” Miss Tōko
declares. “You still haven’t made any inquiries about Fujino Asagami?”
“I hope you’ll excuse me for not looking into a person I just heard of not
two hours ago, ma’am. I can’t very well drag a person with me around town
while a known killer is looking for him.” Something bothers me, and not
just because Azaka keeps terrible company and could have been involved,
but something else, like when you keep remembering something you want
so hard to put out of your mind. “So does this mean that she’s still going to
school?” I ask. “Why don’t we just ask the school?”
“No, that’s a dead end. She started cutting classes and not going home
since the night of the incident. She’s a wanderer now. I called Azaka up and
she says she hasn’t seen her since the day they met.”
“Wait. When did you check that out, Miss Tōko?”
“A little while ago. When Shiki told me last night that Fujino was with
Azaka, I called her right away, but it seems she didn’t notice anything was
out of place with her friend.”

The mention of Azaka and Fujino in the café again makes me think in
hindsight. Maybe if I had promised to meet Azaka a day later, or if I’d found
Keita a day earlier, a meaningless murder might have been avoided.
“That said, Keita Minato’s presence here isn’t totally useless to us,” says
Miss Tōko. “We can just use him as bait to lure her out. It might turn violent
after that, so I’d advise you to stay here with Keita.”
“Wait, what’s going on? Why are you so interested in Fujino Asagami
anyway? And what do you mean ‘violent’? What are the both of you planning?”
Miss Tōko exhales a sharp sigh and replies. “We might have to fight her,
if the circumstances dictate it. The truth, Kokutō, is that we have a new job,
and the client wants Fujino killed, silently and with no mess. And so our job
is to kill her before it all becomes public.”
Wait, hold on a second! It’s not like she’s killing indiscriminately! She can
still be reasoned with,” I reply abruptly. Now I finally understand why Miss
Tōko took Shiki under her employ. She has use for her talents, and this is it.
“There’s one thing you don’t know yet, Kokutō, something that makes 
that a difficult course of action. Right before I put Keita Minato to sleep, I
made him tell me the whole story. The ringleader of their little crew apparently
brought a knife that fateful night, and she stabbed Fujino with it deep.
Keita said that was the exact moment she made with the twisting. That’s
when her revenge started.”
“But I don’t see how that could be reason that she’s beyond negotiating
“The problem stems from that point, however. Fujino was stabbed on
the stomach the night of the 20th.”
“Stabbed in the stomach…” I mutter out of hearing of both Shiki and
Miss Tōko. Now I connect the dots. The night of the 20th, a student of
Reien Girl’s Academy, and a stab wound in the stomach. I try my damndest
to reach a different conclusion, but it’s useless. That’s where it all points to.
“According to Keita, she keeps calling him, saying that the pain from the
wound is what drives her forward. Any wound that produces that much
pain is bound to be obvious. You’d look paler from blood loss, your gait
would change from trying to accommodate the pain, things of that nature.
But when both Azaka and Shiki met her only two days from the night when
she was supposedly stabbed, none of them observed anything out of the
ordinary about her. I don’t know how but it seems like she’s made a full
recovery. Here’s my theory: every time she remembers being raped, the
pain from her stab wound returns. It’s just a phantom pain, the wound
being long gone, but to her it’s every bit as real and painful as that night.
And every time she feels the pain, she kills another. Who’s to say that won’t
happen if you happen to be talking to her?”
But at the same time, doesn’t that mean that if we can get rid of her
phantom pain, then we can talk to her? Before I can say this, however, Shiki
offers her own observations.
“You’re wrong, Tōko. Her pain is real, and it’s still in her body.”
“But how could that be? Are you retracting what you said about her
being unwounded?”
“Not really. Her stab wound’s completely healed, that much we can be
sure of. But, fact remains that she’s still in pain. Now I’m not saying she’s
got a rusty metal rebar stuck in her intestines or anything like that. It’s just
that, to my observation, her pain flares up and disappears on occasion.
I saw her when she was in pain, and she was holding her sides like you
would if you were stabbed, and that point she’s beyond any reasoning. But
then I also saw her pain disappear, as if she just completely forgot about
it, and at that point she just bores me. I can’t enjoy killing her like that, so
I just let her go.”
“Okay, Shiki, first off, she wouldn’t even last a day with a rebar in her
intestines.” Miss Tōko comments. “A wound that keeps hurting…even after
it’s completely healed, huh?” she muses, slowly and pensively. She takes
out a cigarette, her favored companion when thinking things over hard.
I, too, am puzzled by Shiki’s observation of Fujino Asagami. It’s natural
for a wound to hurt until it heals, but why would a wound that’s completely
healed suddenly come back from time to time? It’s almost like she could
dull her nerves and stay the pain, making it linger.
And then I suddenly remember the little trivial detail in Keita Minato’s
bizarre story, when I asked him what was so weird about her. It isn’t an
answer to her condition, but anything helps at this point. The recollection
comes so suddenly that I shout an “Oh!” unintentionally.
“’O’ was always my favorite vowel. It’s very well-rounded,” says Shiki in
“Very funny, Shiki. Actually, I remembered something Keita told me that
might be related.” Miss Tōko looks at me with an eyebrow cocked, curious
now. “He told me that they did all sorts of things to her, including beating
her to within an inch of her life, and she wouldn’t so much as make a
frown. At first, when Keita told me this, I thought that she was just a really
strong girl and that she just didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of
knowing that they angered her. But now I realize that isn’t it at all.”
“Oh, yeah right, as if you know her,” says Shiki sarcastically in a mockery
of my voice while looking sharply in my direction. “Sound familiar?”
“Okay, fine, maybe I don’t know her, but isn’t there a sickness that makes
you insensitive to pain? Maybe she could have one of those. I know it’s a
rare condition, but that would explain all of this.”
“It would explain some things,” Miss Tōko agrees, “but not all. If she was
really insensitive to pain, then the wound wouldn’t really hurt. That’s not
the way Keita described it, though. At any rate, we’d need to investigate it
for sure; whether or not it was congenital and things like that. Well, assuming
she is insensitive to pain, then was there anything that could have
changed that? I’m talking about things that mess up your nerves like being
whacked hard in the back or getting a large dose of steroids in the neck.”
“A hit on the back? Well, I don’t really know how hard it was, but Keita
told me one of his friends took a metal bat and swung it at her back at one
point.” I try to restrain my voice to hold back how angry the whole story
made me. Miss Tōko emits a strange laugh.
“You know what? That could actually be it. The way you and Keita
describe these guys, it’s likely they fractured her back bone and that somehow
jolted her nervous system back into working condition. Then, with 
Fujino still disoriented as to what that new sensation was, they violated
her. So her first experience of pain was a confused flavor of blunt force
trauma and rape. Knowing this, I’m surprised you even sought shelter for
Keita Minato. I’d have left him to die on the spot,” Miss Tōko says with a
grin. Normally, I’d have opposed her attempts at verbally annoying me, but
I’m too worn out in thinking about this bizarre case to offer her any more
coherent a counter to it than to hang my head and focus my eyes intently
on the floor.
“So, do her back bone and her insensitivity to pain have any relation?”
I ask.
“There certainly is. The spinal cord is a conduit for all sensations. Problems
that lead to pain insensitivity, such as syringomyelia, usually originate
in the spine. Now let me paint a scenario for you. See, there are two types
of senses: your superficial sense is what you feel outside, such as touch,
pain, and temperature. Deep sensation is pain, pressure, and tension felt
inside. Now, can you describe to me what it would be like if you had no
sensation whatsoever?”
“I guess it’d be like if you can’t feel what you touch and can’t taste any
food, right?”
Miss Tōko nods her head and smiles, clearly enjoying this exercise.
“Exactly the sort of answer someone used to sensation would give. We
think that because that just because they still have bodies, that their experience
is largely the same as ours, if perhaps less visceral. But that couldn’t
be farther from the truth. Understand, Kokutō, that to have no sensation is
to lack the ability to truly assimilate experience.”
I don’t really understand. I mean, she can still hold things and talk to
people. It’s just that when she touches something, it’s probably a less visceral
experience, right? Why wouldn’t she be able to assimilate experience?
It’s not like she doesn’t have a body. I’d think it’d be worse to have a
part of your body cut off, in fact.
It’s then that I realize it. She doesn’t have a body. Or at least, it’s something
close to it as to be indistinguishable. She feels nothing. The only way
to prove to herself that she’s touching anything is to look at her hands. It’s
the same as reading a book, lacking the tactile sensation of the characters.
Running, for her, is just like moving the point of view in a camera in
some movie. She doesn’t feel the soil on her feet, or the sharp, sometimes
painful, rebounding of force, or the wind on her skin, or the wild pain on
your muscles as your heart struggles to pump blood. Only her eyes say that
she’s running at all. That’s what having no sensation is like: to be without a
body, as if you’re ethereal, floating like a ghost; to not feel alive. “Seeing is 
believing” is doubly applicable to someone like her.
“That’s…pain insensitivity, huh?” The words almost eave my mouth in a
shiver, so shaken am I by the thought.
“Now you’re catching on,” Miss Tōko says, as if she’s been reading my
mind. Knowing her, I wouldn’t put it past her. “Now, assuming that Fujino
Asagami was temporarily cured of this affliction when she was struck across
the back with a metal bat, then that would have been her first experience
of pain. Her instinct might have been to lash out. How ironic that her return
to sensation transformed her into a killer.”
“To me, the worst thing that Keita and his friends did is that Fujino now
equates the pain to living since it’s her first and only sensation so far. So
she’s out there, right now, seeking more and more pain because it makes
her feel alive. They’ve irreparably damaged her soul,” I say.
Without waiting for Miss Tōko, Shiki offers a disparaging laugh as a
retort. “Oh, please, her soul? Can we not go there?”
I admit, in my mind, that perhaps I put it a bit too poetic and sentimental,
especially for this crowd. I don’t think I have an answer that can satisfy
Shiki, but fortunately Miss Tōko does.
“Come now, Shiki. Surely you’ve heard of those incidents where people
die from mental stress. It might be true, it might not be, but if it’s true for
the person, then it can be hurt as surely as you can stab a person’s hand.”
Shiki, looking even more sullen than before, folds her arms across her
chest. “Oh, so now you’re with Mikiya here on how to handle Fujino Asagami?
Is no one hearing me when I say that she is a walking bomb waiting
to explode?”
“Keep your hat on, Shiki, I’m still with you on that score.” After saying
that, she turns back to me again. “Listen, Kokutō. What I’m thinking is that
she’s never come to love or hate anything precisely because she can’t feel
anything. I’ve already told you how different she sees the world from us.
It might not be wise to apply common sense to her. The unfortunate circumstances
of her recovery combined with the abilities it gave her compel
us to use haste in this situation. It’s unfortunate, and I understand your
hesitation, but that’s what it is.”
That last sentence rung out like a final declaration. “Please don’t talk
like that when you haven’t even met her.” Unable to stand being here any
longer, I stand up.
“I could say the same to you,” she parries.
“We’re all assuming that her insensitivity to pain was there from birth.
What if that isn’t the case?”
“You’re the one that brought it up,” Miss Tōko says, without a hint of 
rebuke on her voice. How could she be so indifferent to Fujino Asagami’s
plight? “Actually, now that I think about it, there could be certain scenarios
where Fujino would be the victim. The question is which was first?” I wanted
to ask Miss Tōko what she meant by that, but she spoke it in a murmur,
so I probably misheard it anyway. “Mmm…I’m not sure. What do you think,
Shiki?” asks Miss Tōko to the girl who now has her back turned on the two
of us.
“I’ll go with whatever you come up with. I don’t care either way. I just
want to take Fujino out. The thought of her killing another person makes
me sick.”
“No honor among murderers, huh? I guess your kind really can’t tolerate
each other.”
I decide to be on my way to get a head start on this case. “So I guess I’ll
follow the paper trail on Fujino Asagami. My own way if I have to. Can I see
anything you’ve got on her?” Miss Tōko hands me her file. I can see that
her surname changed from “Asakami” to “Asagami”, roughly around the
time she entered junior high. Her mother remarried, meaning her father
right now isn’t her real one. She also lived in Nagano Prefecture during
elementary school, before she moved when entering junior high. I guess
that’s as good a place as any to start. “I’m gonna be gone for some time. I
might not be back tomorrow. Is that alright, Miss Tōko?”
“No problem. You’re part of the job now after all.”
I had one last question to her, one that had been bugging me since Keita
told me about it. “Miss Tōko, what Keita said, about Fujino being able to
move things with her mind; is that parapsychology stuff true?”
“I’m surprised you’re still a doubter at this point when you have me and
Shiki right here. One look at that murder scene should tell you that Fujino
has powers of some sort. The term parapsychology encompasses a lot of
subjects, so if you want to learn more about it, I can point you to the closest
thing to an expert.” With that, she takes one of her business cards and
writes the address of this “expert” on the back.
“So you don’t know anything about it?”
“No. We mages study the Art of magic as a discipline, but what she has
is a result of the lineage and upbringing of her dynasty, one that has been
kept secret from mages, and thus, one that has no field of study or history
apart from their own. She’s the kind of magic user I hate: one that got her
power from a petty dynasty scrapping together what little potential they
can muster in their magical lineage, with no training in the responsibilities
it implies. Unlike better men, she didn’t deserve it.” Her last sentence was
surely no lie, as it was said with her glasses on, the time where she is least 
I take Miss Tōko’s business card, and then approach Shiki, who’s been
whiling away the time by looking outside the window. “Well, see you later,
I guess. Don’t get reckless while I’m gone.”
“You’re the one being reckless here. Shame there’s no cure for stupidity,”
she snaps back. She nods, though, and grumbles an “I’ll try,” almost
With that, I leave the office, relieved a little bit at Shiki’s reassurance.
She’s been quite agitated to go after Fujino Asagami, and I suppose I can
understand why. I hope it doesn’t come to violence, but if it does, and they
fight, I wonder if Shiki will finally realize that she’s never liked murder. She
and Fujino Asagami are more alike than even the both of them realize.
As for my own safety, well, I’m gonna have to say I’ve got great odds.
I’ve only tempted death once. Shiki’s forgotten all about that incident ever
since she woke up from the coma, but it’s probably better that she doesn’t
know. I haven’t told her that she’s the one that almost killed me.
I probably never will.
/ 6
It is the 24th of July, a day after Mikiya Kokutō went out of town to follow
the paper trail on Fujino Asagami’s past, and it is a day that has so far
proven to be, by all estimation, rather uneventful. The only really newsworthy
stories for the day are an incoming wallop of a storm predicted to
make landfall this evening, and a traffic accident involving a seventeenyear
old driving without a license.
Shiki Ryōgi whiles away the lazy morning hours by staring outside the
window of Tōko Aozaki’s office. Her eyes are fixed on the sky, so blue and
cloudless today, with the sun alone being it’s only noticeable feature. It
seems almost a bad joke that this otherwise stereotypical summer day
would soon be disturbed by an invasion of storm clouds. The soundscape
is less than idyllic however, as the noise of heavy machinery from the iron
factory a few blocks down rings in Shiki’s ears without any sign of letting
up. She glances at Tōko, somewhat impressed at how she can still conduct
the telephone conversation she’s in right now without any hint of distraction.
With her glasses on, and the receiver in her ear, she spouts a steady
stream of words.
“Yes, I’m inquiring about the accident…I see, so the driver had already
died before the collision...his head twisted off?...well, with no passengers
in the vehicle it does seem like an accident…that’s quite alright. Any detective
would have a hard time with a moving sealed room case, after all…oh,
thank you, but that’s all I needed to ask. I must apologize for bothering you
like this detective Akimi. I’ll make it up to you somehow.”
Tōko on the phone with her glasses on is a show of politeness, a far cry
from her usual harsh tones. After hanging up the phone, she adjusts her
glasses just a pinch to lie below her eyes, enough to say that they no longer
cover them.
“That’d be the seventh now, Shiki. She’s definitely taken the lead from
the serial killer two years ago.” Shiki moves away from the window towards
Tōko’s desk. A shame. She’d wanted to see the storm clouds gather in the
“Can’t say I didn’t warn you,” Shiki states bluntly. “Now she’s killing people
that she doesn’t even know.”
“Seems that way. This ‘Shōichi Takaki’ fellow”, she says—the name of
Fujino’s latest victim—“seems unconnected to Keita Minato as well. This is
a murder unrelated to her so-called revenge.”
Shiki grinds her teeth in impatience. She grabs her red leather jacket and 
/ 6 • 141
dons it over her white kimono in a single, rough motion. “If that’s the case,
then I’m sure as hell not sitting around here. Any ideas where I can start
looking for her, Tōko?”
“No clue. I can figure two, maybe three areas where she could be hiding.
If you’re going to try and find her, you’re just going to have to hit all of
them.” She produces three small cards from her desk drawer and tosses
them to Shiki, who catches them out of the air. Shiki gives them a quick
“ID cards from Asagami Construction? Who’s this ‘Sōren Alaya’ character?”
The cards each have a magstripe on them, indicating they’re used for
“Those’ll get you into the construction sites that Asagami Construction
currently have their hands in. The name’s from a long gone friend, since I
couldn’t think up a random name at the time I had those made, but never
mind that. Fujino Asagami must be hiding in a place she thinks is secure,
and there’s nothing more secure than the family business. She’s got cards
like that too, I imagine, to sneak into the places at night. If she’s hiding
anywhere, it’s probably going to be in those places. This is going to mean
trouble, so if you’re going to do it, do it before Kokutō comes back.”
Shiki glares at Tōko, her normally empty eyes now giving the mage a
piercing look. It is a wordless objection at the last advice she chose to
impart, but in the end Shiki turns around to leave. She’ll follow Tōko’s lead
on this one, even if that means leaving Mikiya in the dark. Shiki leaves the
office in no particular hurry, the gentle clacking echo of her boots audible
even after she walks out of the door. As the little footsteps fade, it is now
Tōko’s turn to look out the window.
“Kokutō’s too late on this one, huh?” the mage murmurs to herself. “Two
storms out there tonight, and I don’t know which of them will come and
which of them will break first.  might not last the night alone, Ryōgi.”
/ 7
Past noon, the weather starts to take a turn for the worse when dull,
ash-colored clouds slowly begin to creep along the sky. The wind is picking
up as well, and the people on the streets quicken their paces, all of them
seem to be talking about a coming storm. While I walk, burning pain shoots
through my abdomen even as I clutch it tighter. Preoccupied as I was with
my hunt for Keita Minato’s friends, I heard no news about the storm. It
will make it difficult to search, so I decide to call it off for tonight. I spend
the last, fleeting hours of the afternoon making my way across town to
the port, and I see the city slowly lower its tempo over the hours, and the
volume of people steadily decrease.
Though it is only 7:00 in the evening in summertime, the sky had long
since become dark. Even the seasons grow mad at the coming of the storm.
My body shares the sentiment, as it continues to become sluggish and my
reactions become slower with each passing day. With effort, I finally arrive
at the Broad Bridge, Father’s pet project, which bridges this coast and the
one across the bay. With four lanes on either side and passages and walkways
for people underneath, it is quite the structure. The “basement” is a
shopping mall. The main entryway into the bridge is guarded, but I know
the same isn’t true for the shopping mall entrance. Having made my way
there, I take one of the cards that I stole from the manor, and swipe it
through the receiver.
The door opens welcomingly to a dark passageway. The structure and
the interior design of the mall had already been finished, but the lights
were yet to be connected, making the entire thing look like a subway station
about to close up for the day. The lack of light made the mall promenade
stretch onward for what seemed like an interminable distance, with
shops of various products flanking it. After walking about five hundred
meters, however, the surroundings abruptly change, indicating that I had
reached the parking lot. The wall that divided it and the mall was unfinished,
so I didn’t notice it. As a matter of fact, the entire parking lot was still
under construction. The iron rebars on the walls, exposed as they are like
a person’s bones, make the entire structure look fragile. Some of the wall
sections are, as yet, unbuilt, making the room exposed to the outside if not
for the simple tarpaulin covering the breaches.
It’s been an hour since I entered the bridge interior, and the storm is
already raging. The howling wind is especially audible here in the parking
lot, where the violent flapping of the canvas, the roar of the waves, and 
/ 7 • 143
the pitter-patter of the raindrops like machine gun fire combine to make a
cacophony I can barely endure. It was raining that day too, on the night of
my first murder. I let the warm raindrops wash over me and watched as the
dirt, the grime, and the slick blood trickled from my hands. And then I met
him, the man who I had last met in junior high, who had shared with me
only a single conversation.
No other memory do I treasure more than the day I first met him, when
the horizon looked almost ablaze in the sunset. A cross-school event had
only just finished, and I was still in the school playing field because of a
sprained ankle. Not being able to feel pain, I could try to move, but I saw
how swollen my ankle already was, and if I tried to push it any further, I
knew it would get to the point where I would damage it beyond recovery.
And I didn’t want to call out for help, either, because they would all ask me
the same questions, asking me about the pain I didn’t feel, like I’m some
sort of attraction. So I just sat there, alone, staring at the setting sun with
a vaguely disinterested expression on my face, praying that no one would
notice. No one should ever notice. Not mother, not father, not my teachers,
not my friends, no one. I need to be the Fujino that they wanted, the
Fujino that was normal.
Somebody tapped me on the shoulder. I never felt it, but I heard his hand
land close to my ear. I turned around and there he stood; an upperclassman
from another school. His unassuming eyes are of someone refreshingly
ignorant of my condition, and yet, on that first time I met him, I think
I must have hated him for bothering me.
“Does it hurt?” he said, and I dreaded what would come next. The curiosity.
The prying. The false praise that implied fear and disbelief. I shook
my head no. He glanced at the name tag on my PE uniform, examined my
sprained ankle briefly, and then finally frowned at me. I knew that he was
going to ask something I didn’t like next, so I just closed my eyes, determined
to just ignore the thoughtless questions that were going to come
from someone normal. I didn’t want to hear them. But instead, he said
something altogether different.
“Not too bright, are we? Listen, you’re not supposed to hold the pain
inside, but show it outside. That way, people can help you, little Fujino.”
 He carried me to the nurse’s office without so much as a complaint, and
there we parted ways. I might have fallen for him then, for how he worried
about me and my suffering like no one else did. It’s a memory that seems
more and more like a faint dream with each throb of the pain. The same
pain that now brings me back to reality, and dispels the thought from my
mind like melting ice. It almost feels as if I’m not…worthy to even remem-
ber it, sullied as my hands are in the blood of many people. But the rain
has helped me before, like holy water absolving me of sin, and there is no
better rain than the one this huge storm brings.
I drag my slowing body to the parking lot ramp leading to the upper
portion of the bridge, yearning for the sweet sensation of the summer rain
on my skin.
Lingering Pain - VI
The rain has made shallow puddles form on the four lane asphalt road
of the bridge, many of them ankle deep. The raindrops fall in harsh angles
with no sign of respite, and the wind howls so fiercely, it almost seems
able to topple the street lamps like weak trees. The sky above and the sea
below are both fields of total blackness; the lights from the port and the
city already so far off and unreachable as to seem like looking at the moon.
A figure can be seen walking in the distance. The black uniform she is
wearing gives her the appearance of a raven, blending into the night and
barely visible. Her purple lips breathe heavily with each step she takes.
When she steps into the light of a street lamp, she comes upon a phantom
some distance from her, who now speaks.
“I finally found you, Asagami.” In the midst of the storm’s chaos, the
phantom stands, almost ethereal in her white kimono. The red jacket worn
over it, flapping in the wind, looks more like a scarf of blood from a distance.
Under the light of the lampposts, they look at each other.
“Shiki…Ryōgi,” says the raven.
“I told you, you should have gone home like a good little girl. But you’ve
tasted blood and found a liking to it. All the killing, all the murder, you’re
enjoying it, aren’t you?”
Though separated by ten meters, and dampened by the noise of the
wind, their voices carry towards each other clearly.
“Are you not describing yourself?” accuses the raven. “I find no pleasure
at all in what I have to do.” Breathing heavily, the raven affixes her gaze
on the phantom, then covers her face with her left hand, the eyes peering
out between the fingers shining with hostility and murder. In answer, the
phantom readies herself, knife on her right hand.
“Like they say in this country, ‘third time’s the charm.’” The phantom
makes a bored laugh. The raven will certainly do for tonight. “Ah, how alive
I feel now. We’re murderers you and I, birds of a feather. Just stay the way
you are now, and this’ll be quick.”
And with those words, the phantom and raven both move towards each
other, whatever chains holding them back now released.
In a sudden burst of speed, Shiki starts to sprint towards Fujino, her
pace seemingly unhindered by the wet asphalt and the rain. Only three
seconds to close the distance with Fujino, enough time to force her fragile
body to the ground and drive a knife through her heart. But Fujino need
only look at her target, and on this score, she has the advantage. The three
seconds prove to be decisive.
A faint light glitters in Fujino’s eyes. She focuses on Shiki’s left leg as the
axis of rotation, and in only a moment, the spell starts to manifest. In that
same instant, Shiki feels the pull of the unseen hand on her leg, and with
an explosion of force, jumps quickly to one side, making water splash in the
opposite direction. But if the spell slackened due to that, it was not to any
reasonable amount. This spell was no projectile. As long as Shiki remained
within sight of Fujino, she couldn’t escape it.
I may have underestimated her, goddamit, thinks Shiki. She runs again,
and in an attempt to escape Fujino’s line of sight, her path describes a circle
around the girl in black.
“Don’t even think you can esc—“ Fujino starts to say, but is cut off when
she sees Shiki take her run all the way to the bridge’s guardrail and leaps
forth and downward. A second or two later, Fujino hears the sound of window
glass breaking: the roof of the parking lot, right below the bridge.
“How reckless of her,” murmur the purple, smiling lips. While she had
slipped away for now, Fujino had kept her vision on Shiki’s left hand, and
she could swear that she saw Shiki’s jacket sleeve twist. If she was right,
she had destroyed her arm.
“I…am the stronger one,” Fujino says, even as the pain in her stomach
too grows stronger with her proclamation. Taking the ramp and descending
back to the parking lot once again, she attempts to hold back the pain.
Her score with Shiki Ryōgi must be settled here, tonight.
To Fujino, the parking lot seems darker than before. Her eyes are still
adjusting to the extreme darkness, and it makes navigating her way more
difficult than she had expected. Construction materials are also stacked
and scattered haphazardly all over the place, and one or two times Fujino
almost slipped and lost footing trying to make her way through the convoluted
mess. Though only a scant few minutes since their first encounter,
Fujino has failed to find any trace of Shiki. Already, she regrets her decision
to follow Shiki down here, as all the obstacles make for good cover
and concealment for the knife wielding woman. Even if Fujino knew where
Shiki is hiding, as long as she couldn’t actually see her, Fujino’s spell would 
only hit what Shiki was hiding behind.
In that brief clash on the bridge, Shiki had already read Fujino’s
spell, and withdrew to a place where she could have a fighting chance. It
makes Fujino realize how disadvantaged she is in fighting. Even so, I am
the stronger one, she thinks. If I can’t see her, then I’ll strip this place bare.
Randomly, Fujino starts to destroy anything that might offer cover. Support
pillars, stacks of iron poles, guardrails, wall partitions—with each twist and
crack of concrete, Fujino’s pain throbs faster, and the tremors in the building
grow stronger.
“Okay, now you’ve officially lost it,” resounds a voice in the shadows.
Fujino turns toward it, the sound seeming to come from behind a pile of
construction materials. She destroys it in a blink of an eye, only to see Shiki
dart out of it to the side. Wasting no time, she rushes towards Fujino.
“I have you!” Fujino exclaims, and sets her sights on the phantom clad
in white. Shiki continues her charge, her bloodied and battered left arm
There is a moment’s hesitation from Fujino, and then she works her
spell. With a sickening crunch of ripped sinew and bone, she bends Shiki’s
already wounded arm, and finally breaks it. But when Fujino casts her eyes
on Shiki’s neck to finish the job, she finds that the girl is but one solid pace
from her.
Shiki’s knife catches light for an instant and glints. She thrusts straight
towards Fujino’s carotid artery in a graceful, merciless path, the glint on
the blade seeming to leave a silvery thread as the cold steel travels through
the darkness.
But Fujino saw Shiki smiling malevolently, even while her arm had
already been viciously destroyed. Terrified at the sight of it, Fujino had
moved long before Shiki’s thrust had even started, and she was already
ducking under the knife when it neared her.
Clicking her tongue at her miscalculation, Shiki recovers from her missed
attack, readies her knife for another strike, and starts to spring towards the
offensive again, but not before Fujino recovers from her daze and weaves
her spell at Shiki’s torso.
“GO AWAY!” yells Fujino, unleashing her attack at the same time. Shiki,
for her part, decides that she missed her chance and evades the pointblank
blast by a hair’s breadth. It only takes her a leap and a moment’s
sprint to recede back into the shadows that concealed her well only seconds
ago. A good opponent: she knows when to retreat. “Is she crazy?”
murmurs Fujino between deep, ragged breaths; for once not borne from
her stomach pain, but from the rush of adrenalin and the nervousness 
starting to set in. Her vision darts from shadow to shadow, scanning them
for movement. She never saw where Shiki chose to hide, and she has no
idea when and where she’ll choose to strike from again.
Fujino feels the nape of her neck, where Shiki had almost hit her. As
it turns out, the knife had nicked her flesh there a little, a wound making
itself known when Fujino lightly brushes a finger over it. I destroyed her
arm, but why didn’t she stop? She keeps replaying the moment in her head:
how she crushed Shiki’s arm and she kept on coming, her eyes, her sadistic
grin. Shiki was enjoying this. I’m panicking, even though I sent her running,
and yet she enjoys herself! It almost seemed as if she was actually happy
that I destroyed her arm.
I’ve not enjoyed a single one of my murders, but she’s different. All the
fighting, all the murder, it must be like a drug to her, and the more extreme
it is, the more enjoyment she gets out of it.
And yet, Fujino tries to dispel from her memory how sweet she thought
the fragrance of blood was on her first murder, how soft the touch of blood
on her hands were, and how they gave rise to a feeling beyond words that
gripped her heart. The pain that she felt seemed like life to her, and it only
seemed logical for her to discover herself in the pain of others. Though it
is a sensation she has tried to escape since that accursed night, she finds
that the pain of others stimulates her, as it makes her imagine the pain
they go through. There is no better thing that makes Fujino feel alive than
this fascination and feeling of control. But these are thoughts she dare not
entertain and tries her hardest to deny.
If, like me, Shiki feels disconnected from her own life, then what does she
do to compensate for that disconnection?
“Ah, fuck, that did not go too well,” utters Shiki to herself, out of sight
behind a pile of debris that was once a wall, courtesy of Fujino’s crude
method of searching earlier. The left arm that Fujino had twisted was long
dead. Shiki had thought that since it was just a pile of useless flesh anyway,
that she’d use it as a shield and bet it all on one decisive attack, but Fujino
accidentally gained a new lease on life thanks to her unexpected cowardice.
Shiki takes off her jacket and uses her knife to cut off a sleeve. With
some creative application of her mouth and remaining arm, she wraps the
sleeve around her left upper arm, fashioning a crude dressing to stem the
bleeding. She can’t feel anything from it anymore, and the thought that she
might never be able to move it again gives her a momentary chill, but also 
a strangely gratifying sensation. Keep it up Asagami! You’ve been handling
this fight like a pro so far, thinks Shiki. Then again, that sensation just might
be her consciousness slipping due to rapid blood loss. Well, Mikiya always
said I was as stubborn as a mule. At the very least, it’ll clear my head some.
This fight with Fujino is exactly the kind of experience Shiki signed up
for, a battle where one slight misstep can mean curtains for both of them.
The excitement Shiki draws from the tension of mortal combat is like a
drug. And to Shiki, who constantly feels imprisoned in her own unreliable
memory, this is the only thing that can affirm the small spark of life still left
in her, and allow her to declare it as her own. Base and primal perhaps, but
it gets the job done. If Fujino Asagami seeks pleasure in murder, as Shiki
thinks, then Shiki uses it to feel alive again.
Shiki listens to the echo of Fujino inhaling, then exhaling…a pause,
and then it repeats—strained, deep breaths that betray her pain and her
trepidation. Though Fujino is yet to be injured, her breathing is as labored
as Shiki’s. In the darkness, the cycle repeats itself, creating a sort of metronomic
rhythm: they inhale and exhale at the same pace, their hearts

simultaneously pump blood in their adrenaline-fueled bodies, and their
thoughts are mutually focused on each other, twins on the swaying cradle
of the Broad Bridge, rocked and buffeted by the storm. And for the first
time, Shiki feels some semblance of affection towards Fujino, so much so
that she feels the need to wring the life out of Fujino with her own hands.
Even though I know there’s no need for me to, Shiki thinks. She’s known
since meeting her in the café that she was already damaged goods, and
quite close to dying outright. There was no real need for her to come here
and fight her. But that’s how humans live. Shiki thinks back to what Tōko
said some time ago, that humans are creatures who give meaning to meaningless
actions, and derive purpose from it.
And like this situation, some people would scorn it as meaningless, while
others would derive purpose from it. Where does one begin and another
end? You establish your own boundary while the consensus of others ultimately
determines it. The world is full of such empty boundaries. That’s
why the ones who get to decide where the edge lies are the ones who toe
the line: like me, or Mikiya, or even Fujino. We aren’t so far from each other,
Fujino and me. But this place isn’t big enough for both of us psychos.
“Another dance, then,” Shiki whispers again. “But this time, with my
Eyes seeing the strings in your special effects magic.” Shaking her head to
bring back some bit of the consciousness she’s already lost with the blood,
Shiki stands up. Her right hand holds the knife with a firm grip.
If Fujino won’t back off herself, then Shiki will just have to eliminate her.
Shiki reveals herself to Fujino, emerging from behind her cover a stone’s
throw away. Given that her body temperature is already over 39°C, Fujino
can’t be blamed for not thinking that her condition isn’t giving her any hallucinations.
She blinks once, just to confirm that what she’s seeing is real.
“You’re insane to come out of hiding like that,” Fujino says. She wastes
no time, immediately focusing her will on working the spell. Her vision
begins to distort. She wills one axis of rotation each for Shiki’s head and
legs, and bends. Like cheap cloth, Shiki’s body is torn apart into so many
bits and pieces.
Or at least, it was supposed to be.
Before any such damage could be dealt, Shiki raises her right arm, and
with a single slash, excises Fujino’s “distortion.” The points of rotation Fujino
had created are warded away by the knife, dying as easily as any living
“Things without form are difficult to see,” Shiki begins to say. “But thanks
to you firing that spell all over the place too much, I can finally see it. Your
spell’s nimbus is a spiral of green and red. Really quite beautiful, if I do say
so myself.” Fujino has no idea what she’s saying. The only thing she knows
right now is the primal instinct of prey: if she can’t stop Shiki, she’ll kill her.
In her mind, Fujino repeatedly utters her pathetic curse, trying to will it
into reality.
Bend! Bend! Bend! Bend!
With each repetition, a new manifestation of the spell appears in the air
in front of Shiki, but she dispels it each time with a swing of her knife, and
each time the pain in Fujino’s stomach is pushed further and further to its
“What…are you?” Fujino and Shiki lock eyes. Fujino sees only a deep
emptiness, and Shiki sees only fear.
“There’s a flaw for everything in the world,” says Shiki. “Air, intent, and
even time. Humans need not even be said. If there’s a beginning for everything,
then there’s also an end. My Eyes see that end, the death of everything.
And once I see that death, all anything needs is a single, light push,
that sends it barreling off into entropy. Magic, just like yours.” With those
sinister Eyes, Shiki glares at Fujino. “That’s why, if there really was a God,
he would fall just as easily against me.”
And with that, Shiki runs at Fujino, every footfall barely touching the
ground; an ease of movement that belied her injured state. As Shiki
approaches, she tackles Fujino and, sitting on top of Fujino with both legs 
straddling her body, she pins her to the ground. With her executioner now
so close to her, Fujino’s throat trembles.
“Are you…going to kill me?” Fujino asks, her mouth quivering. Shiki does
not offer a response. “Why are you going to kill me? I’ve only killed because
I was in pain.” At this, Shiki laughs.
“Still in denial? Then riddle me this: why are you doing that same smile
you did back when we last met? Even now, you look like you’re enjoying
yourself. Why is that?”
“That’s impossible.” Fujino almost hesitates to say it. Slowly, she places
a hand on her cold lips. Without a doubt, it’s bent into the rictus of a smile.
She tries to remember what her face looked like in the puddles of blood
borne from her murders. Did they, too, reflect a smiling face? I always felt
something every time I committed murder. Was it happiness like Shiki says?
Even when I was violated, I felt no pain, so did I turn to murder to pleasure
“In the end, this is all so much fun to you. You can’t help but be attracted
to causing pain, and that’s why you’ll never stop suffering. You’d keep killing
without a reason except for yourself.”
“That’s…the answer?” murmurs Fujino. She can’t accept it. She doesn’t
even want to think about it. I’m different from you, she keeps repeating in
her mind. But Shiki’s reply destroys everything.
“Hell, I should know. I said it before, didn’t I? We’re similar, birds of a
Shiki raises her knife, and Fujino cries out one last, desperate call: a
scream, as hard and as strained as she can perform at the top of her lungs,
for one last pathetic curse.
And as if in response, the parking lot building trembles with the force of
an earthquake. In the moment before Shiki’s knife falls, Fujino’s mind wanders
to the outside, to the raging storm, and the violent waves in the bay.
Resisting the burning sensation her fever has in her mind, she envisions
both ends of the bridge, like a view from on high. One axis of rotation for
either end—
And then they bend.
A tremor resounds, like scores of thunder all happening at the same
time. The walls and the iron bars inside them groan and scream, while the
ground itself cracks and tilts in upheaval. Similar cracks slowly snake their
way across the ceiling, with little pebbles falling away from it. Though the 
entire structure is collapsing in on itself, Fujino can only stare. Shiki had
been on top of Fujino until a moment ago, when she inadvertently slipped
when the floor gave way, as if the ground itself swallowed her up. If Fujino
didn’t move now, the same thing might happen to her. She knew, though,
that with the athletic ability Shiki had so far demonstrated, it is likely she
survived. It would only be a matter of time before she returned to the
Outside is the storm, and below her, the bay. Though burning with fever
and burdened with a body that seems adamant to refuse her mind’s commands,
Fujino manages to will herself to stand up. Slowly, she begins to
walk, extricating herself from the parking lot towards the shopping mall,
which has so far sustained little damage. Still, the once rectangular promenade
is now bent in places.
It only takes her a few steps before collapsing face-down on the floor.
It’s taking her an enormous effort to even breathe, let alone move her legs.
Her head is in a daze, and her sight is failing her. The only thing she feels
right now is the one thing that has been her constant travelling companion:
the violent pain inside her body. I’m going to die, thinks Fujino for the first
time in her life. It hurts so much, I can’t take it anymore. If living on means
enduring this searing ache, then perhaps it’s better to just die.
Stunned and lying prone on the ground, Fujino coughs, and this time,
blood comes with it. With her quickly fading vision, only the slow spread
of the blood she’s vomiting is clearly visible. Red blood, like the blood red
memory of a time long past: the burning horizon etched in her mind, forever
lighted by the setting sun.
“No, I don’t…want to die,” she whispers weakly, fighting her earlier
thoughts while reaching an arm out in front of her. If her legs won’t cooperate,
then her arms will just have to do. She makes slow progress crawling
on the ground, inch by bloody inch, but she is driven forward by her fear of
death, and its white phantom harbinger. The only sensation that Fujino can
feel now is the lingering pain.
It hurts.
It hurts.
It hurts.
That simple declaration is the only thing Fujino can bring to mind. Now
that she has finally gained a sense of pain, ironically, she has grown to
detest it. The pain feels like a hundred different needles all in her stomach,
but Fujino can’t allow herself to die now. Not now, when she has done
nothing, but so much more is left to do. Too pathetic, too empty, too miserable.
The needles bury themselves deeper, burning her stomach like an acid.
She’s losing more ground to it every second, clawing at life madly, searching
for something that can make it easier.
It hurts.
It hurts.
It hurts.
It hurts.
It hurts.
My life, my words, my memories; I want all of them to linger on like the
pain of a scar.
The words echo in her mind, echoing the pulse of the pain. It’s the same
pain as the one she used to make the other people suffer, the realization
of which is the most painful thing of all. The weight of the blood she has
spilled presses so heavily in her mind that she cannot even bring herself to
an empty apology. Her body convulses, and the blood in her throat is the
sign of the last gasp of pain. When she vomits the blood, her vision, and
what little light she sees, starts to sink into darkness. Her mind only brings
her back to that rain-soaked night, when he met him again, and he asked
her if her stomach hurt. To that memory of him, she speaks the desire she
has kept for so long, a thing she wished she could have said much earlier.
“It hurts—so much…so much that I could cry.”
And to the memory of her dear mother, she asks a final question.
“Mother, is it all right for little Fujino to cry?”
Alone and in sorrow, all Fujino can do is cry, but somehow, doing that
eases the pain. He was right. You’re not supposed to hold the pain inside,
but show it outside. I’m glad I met him again, so he couldn’t see me like
“It hurts, doesn’t it?” someone says to Fujino, barely audible at the
edge of her consciousness. Almost blind, Fujino can only just make out
Shiki standing next to her, knife still in hand. “If it hurts, then you should
have said so earlier.” The words ring out like a farewell. Yes, that’s what he
would have said too. If I could have only said it on that day three years ago,
if I just let everything out, what could have happened? What path would I
have taken? I can’t even imagine a better life now. I’ve committed so many
sins, taken so many lives, all for the sake of my own pleasure, that I can’t
bring one to mind.
Fujino stops her breathing, and in those last few seconds, the pain
finally fades. She never feels the knife swooping downwards, piercing her
Lingering Pain - VII
The storm is just hitting the height of its ferocity when I get back into
town. Braving the rain, I immediately make my way to the office, and when
I enter, Miss Tōko greets me by accidentally letting the cigarette in her
mouth fall off because of her surprised look.
“Well, that sure was fast. It’s only been a day,” she remarks.
“As soon as I heard there was a storm coming, I came back before they
stopped public transportation.”
“I…see,” Miss Tōko says with apprehension. Her eyebrows are scrunched
up in a look of consternation. Did something happen? Before that, however,
there are more pressing concerns she needs to know about.
“Ma’am, I’ve checked back on stuff about Fujino Asagami, and found out
that her pain insensitivity is acquired, not congenital. She was normal until
she was six years old.”
“Wait a minute, that can’t be right. Look, if she wasn’t born with the
damn condition, then it has to be something like syringomyelia, but that
causes you to have physical complications, which Fujino doesn’t have. A
rare case like hers where only the pain sensitivity is gone can’t be anything
but congenital.”
“I know. Her doctor said the same thing. Let me explain a few things,”
I reply. It would be nice to tell her the whole story I learned from going to
Nagano, but since we don’t have time I’ll just have to go over the more
important parts, when Fujino was still a part of the Asakami family.
“The Asakami family, Fujino’s original family, was a well-known dynasty
in Nagano, but they fell into bankruptcy around when Fujino was twelve
years old. Fujino’s mother than remarried into the Asagami family, a distant
branch of the Asakami’s. The Asagami’s, for their part, only wanted
the Asakami land, and shouldered the debt only for that purpose. In her
childhood days, Fujino was still sensitive to pain, but the people I talked
to said she also had a strange power. She could make things bend without
touching them.”
Miss Tōko lights up a cigarette and inhales a long one. She sits down
behind her desk before waving the cigarette at me, motioning me to continue.
“She was treated like a demon child, and was shunned and even abused
by most of the other kids, verbally and physically. But when she was around
six, the power went out of her for some reason, along with her sense of
pain.” Miss Tōko narrows her eyes in interest, and I see the subtle begin-
nings of a smile playing at the tips of her mouth. “I found out that the
Asakamis hired a personal doctor for Fujino around that time too, but no
one could tell me who he was, and the Asakami manor was unoccupied
and abandoned, so I couldn’t ask there.”
“Wait, are we done? Don’t tell me that’s all the dirt you got?”
“Patience is a virtue, ma’am, so let me finish. I followed up on some
police and local government records and found him pretty easily. The doctor
was a guy named Akita. He’s an unlicensed doctor, which I guess is just
how the Asakami’s preferred it. Took me the better part of a day to pry a
story out of him.”
“See, now you might really get paid this month. When I eventually fire
you, Kokutō, you might want to consider being a detective. I’d even hire
you from time to time.”
“Gee, thanks,” I reply in sarcastic monotone, and then continue the
story. “Seems this doctor was more like a pharmacist, since he only sold
medicine. Asprins, indomethacin, steroids, stuff like that. He didn’t know
how Fujino became pain insensitive either, because apparently the father
did it himself.”
“Wait, what do you mean? That Fujino’s father cured her by himself, or
administered the medicine by himself?” A subtle difference, one I recognize
by nodding my head.
“The latter, of course. The father apparently had no intention of curing
Fujino of her pain insensitivity, but the doctor diagnosed her all the
same. He said the possibility of her having something called ‘neuromyelitis
optica’ was high.”
“Neuromyelitis optica…Devic’s disease, huh?”
“I’m sorry ma’am, but you’re going to have to enlighten me on this one.”
“It’s a type of myelitis, and another disease where your senses slowly go
numb, apart from weakening your legs and a gradual degradation of eyesight,
all the way until you’re blind. They usually give you steroids early on
to treat it, and indomethacin to lessen the pain.” Miss Tōko giggles lightly,
the same kind of laugh she always does when she comes up with a solution
to a difficult problem. It’s always a bit scary, kind of like the professor
I talked to yesterday. “Now I see. Yeah, no wonder she became like that.
Hers isn’t congenital or acquired, but something artificial. She was made to
lose her sense of pain. I see what that family tried to do now. Exactly the
opposite of what the Ryōgi dynasty does.”
I try to brace myself for the wave of half-monologue, half-dialogue that
she is inevitably entering, and ask for more clarification. “So what exactly
is this ‘indomethacin’ stuff?”
“A drug for pain relief. See, whatever kind of wound you get, you get
pain, and it’s a reaction to outside influences that are impeding you. Your
body produces some chemicals that stimulate some nerves that send a
signal to your brain saying ‘Oh my God, I am going to die,’ and that’s how
you get pain. Aspirins and indomethacin work by controlling your prostaglandin
production, and in turn your arachidonic acid, which sensitizes
your neurons to pain. A large enough dose of indomethacin can basically
take away your pain.”
Miss Tōko says all of this in almost one breath, and her face has that
rare look of enjoyment that she finally has an opportunity to explain all of
this. Honestly, though, these “arachidons” and stuff all sound like dinosaur
names, and it’s really all Greek to me. “So in other words, it’s medicine that
numbs you to pain, right?”
“Well, not exactly,” she replies. “Opioids would probably be much better.
Stuff works like endorphins in your brain: gets you right up, and makes your
central nervous system work smooth as butter, but—” I glare at her sharply
to indicate that she should probably hold back on explaining more medical
terms. “Oh…well, we’ll leave that subject alone for now, I guess. Point is,
Fujino’s father knew that her power was tied to her sense of pain, and he
wanted to block it I suppose, but Fujino’s capability for sensation had to go
with it. That’s why the father made Fujino OD on painkillers. Quite unlike
the Ryōgi dynasty, who until this day still perform tireless rituals to get
heirs close to magical potential. Sadly, the only result is that Fujino’s power
wasn’t snuffed out, only suppressed for a time, and now it’s coming back
in a big way. Kind of like when the mages around northern Africa sew their
eyes shut, the paradigm being that it prevents mana from ‘leaking out’,
except with Fujino it’s possibly less disturbing.”
Surprisingly enough, I recognize some of what Miss Tōko is saying. The
same dubious rumors circulated when I was in Nagano: of the old Asakami
family occasionally producing children who, like the professor put it,
played an entirely different card game. These children, born with supernatural
capabilities, were shunned. So they finally resorted to medicines to
artificially dull the pain, and the powers.
“The worst part is how she can never go back to normal,” I respond.
“Whether she’s taking the medicine and loses her power, or not taking
them and getting the powers back. The professor you referred me to called
her a ‘living paradox’, because she doesn’t have the necessary subconscious
ability to assimilate experience like others do, like you said, and so
she can’t sympathize with anybody. If only she was still pain insensitive at
on that night, then just maybe she wouldn’t have started to kill.”
“Come now, let’s not denigrate pain,” Miss Tōko says, cutting me off.
“You blame one thing, you make sure it’s the wound. No matter how much
it hurts, we need pain. Do you think you pull your hand out of the fire
because it’s on fire? No, you pull it out because it’s hot and it hurts. If
we didn’t have pain, we wouldn’t pull our hands out until it’s a smoldering
stump. Just look at Fujino Asagami, who, as soon as her sense of pain
returned from being struck in the back, proceeded immediately to defend
herself. For the first time, she recognized those people were dangerous,
and were hurting her. Still, killing them might have been going a bit too far.”
“Ma’am, my question from the last time we met still stands. Isn’t there
anything we can do to help her? Can’t she be cured?”
“A wound you can’t cure only means death. Unfortunately, I think that’s
the case we’re dealing with now.”
Sometimes I really have no idea how Miss Tōko can say things like that.
She just put a human life on the spot, and here I am thinking she can still be
saved, if only we understood the nature of her pain, if only we—
“Kokutō, I’m going to say it once more, with feeling. Hers is the kind of
pain that can no longer be healed. Well, it’d be more accurate to say that
she wasn’t wounded from the start.”
“Wait, I’m…not sure I know what you mean.”
“Tear your mind away from trying to be the good guy for a second and
think about the wound itself. When was the last time you heard a deep
stab wound fix itself up in two days?”
“Well, sure that’s true, but…” Wait. If what she’s saying is true, then
haven’t we been operating from a mistaken perspective all this time? I
must have the most puzzled look on my face since Miss Tōko is covering
her mouth with a hand, barely holding back her laughter.
“While I applaud you for researching Fujino Asagami’s past, you neglected
looking up what she’s been up to in the present. She’s been seeing a
doctor in the city for a month or two now, but she’s neglected to show up
in the past twenty days.”
“Whoa, wait a minute. A doctor, here in Tokyo?!”
Miss Tōko cocks an eyebrow in surprise. “Kokutō, you’re good in investigation
and following a lead, but you miss out on some of the most obvious
things. The thing that people insensitive to pain are most scared about is
something wrong going on in their bodies. Lacking pain, they don’t have
the benefit of an early warning system on most of the weird hijinks a body
can get into, so they go visit a doctor, much more often than an average
person, just so they can get a look-see.”
I have to admit that I missed that one, so driven was I to find out any-
thing in Fujino’s past that might tell me something about her motivations.
Fujino acting in secret means that, at the very least, Fujino’s parents don’t
know what Fujino has become now.
“To bring us back to Fujino and the mystery of her wound,” Miss Tōko
begins again. “Fujino killing her abusers was the result of a simple misunderstanding,
Kokutō. Those boys forced Fujino down, and their leader
brought out a knife. Fujino thought she was going to get stabbed—and
she really was going to!—but she had already recovered her sense of pain
at that point, and she probably unconsciously used her power. Between
the stab and the twisting, Fujino’s was faster. What I’m seeing is that she
twisted the head off of that guy like a fucking screw, and the blood spatter
struck Fujino, making her think she was stabbed.”
I shake my head, trying to rid my mind of the visceral images Miss Tōko’s
story is conjuring up. “There’s something wrong with that story. If Fujino’s
sense of pain had returned, then she wouldn’t make that misunderstanding.
There wouldn’t be any pain if she wasn’t really stabbed.”
“Fujino was in pain from the start, really,” Miss Tōko immediately replies.
“I made the doctor that Fujino saw recently show me her clinical records.
She’s has chronic caecitis, more commonly known as appendicitis. The pain
in her abdomen isn’t from a knife, but from inside her body. If her sense of
pain returned right before she was stabbed, the pain in her stomach told
her mind that she was already stabbed. It must have happened so fast,
Fujino was confused. Having been raised for most of her life not knowing
pain, she didn’t even check to see if she actually was stabbed, because she
didn’t have the experience of hurting real bad before, and the steps that
people normally take in those situations. She’d look at her stomach and
interpret the lack of a wound as a sign that it was already healed.”
“So it’s all just one big misunderstanding?”
“The wound itself is. But it doesn’t change the facts: Fujino’s been
pushed over the edge. Ignoring whether or not she was even stabbed, the
fact that the leader had brought a knife that night meant that he was serious
about killing Fujino. The only way she could have escaped that bar was
to kill them. Unfortunately for Fujino, Keita Minato escaped. If everything
was settled on that night, she might not have gone this far.” Miss Tōko
snuffs out the cigarette she’s smoking and reaches into her pack for a fresh
one. “Like Shiki said, she’s beyond help now.”
“Both of you keep saying that, but why is she?” I say, anger rising in my
“Shiki was probably talking about the mental side of things. Fujino’s
quest for revenge against the five people who violated her is, while mur-
der, still somewhat justifiable. She crossed the line when she started killing
people unrelated to that incident. It’s the lack of any sense or reason
behind it that truly made Shiki after Fujino’s blood. Despite having a taste
for murder, I think Shiki still understands the weight of death, and the toll
murder takes on someone. Notice how she doesn’t just slaughter people
on the street willy-nilly. Fujino indulged her more primal passions, and
Shiki can’t forgive her for that.”
Is Fujino really indulging, I wonder, or is she just running away? Miss
Tōko continues:
“That’s Shiki’s reasoning, but I’m talking how she’s ‘beyond help’ physically.
Appendicitis, when left alone, can rupture your appendix and cause
peritonitis. The inflammation results in extreme pain, probably comparable
to being stabbed with a knife. Then you start getting fevers, cyanosis, shock
from low blood pressure, all that good stuff. When it reaches the duodenum,
you can die in half a day. It’s already been five days since the night
of the 20th, and the appendix should long have ruptured now. Sad, but
it’s terminal—she’s gonna bite it.” She says it clinically, with all the weight
and delicacy of someone reporting on a science class. I’ll never be able to
understand how she does that.
“Maybe if we hurry, we can still find her and—“
“Kokutō, the client for this job is Fujino Asagami’s father. The patriarch
of the Asagami family told me himself. They can’t risk a scandal like this
leaking out to the public, not with their well cultivated business reputation
on the line. The father must’ve known the family secret, and recognized
the true nature of the incident on the bar as Fujino’s doing. He hired
us to take her out, a ‘monster’ by his own words. Strange, isn’t it? The
father is supposed to shelter their daughter. But now he’s the one taking a
check out of his wallet to let us kill her. The world really is against her.” She
concludes with a long, exasperated sigh. “We finish this job tonight. Shiki
already left.”
Unbelievable. I tried to stop this, but now it’s actually happening.
“Son of a bitch,” I utter inadvertently. Whether it is directed to myself,
Miss Tōko, Shiki, Fujino’s father, or Fujino herself, even I don’t know.
Lingering Pain - VIII
I eventually convince Miss Tōko to at least go out and find Shiki, and so
we head out in her car. With Broad Bridge being the largest construction
project that the Asagami’s are involved in, and with plenty of places to
hide, we conclude that it’s the likeliest location for Fujino to seek refuge,
and the likeliest place for Shiki to be. Miss Tōko runs red light after red
light in her off-road buggy, and when we near the bay shoreline the bridge
comes into view, looking like a giant squeezed and twisted it with his hand.
Nearing the front entrance, we’re stopped by a security guard. Miss Tōko
starts to argue with him while Shiki, with bloodstained left arm, emerges
from the corridor behind the guard. Wordlessly assessing the situation in a
glance, she braces and delivers a running tackle to the guard, dealing him a
particularly nasty blow to the head. He is knocked out instantly, a victim of
Shiki’s particular style of negotiation. She greets us.
“Yo. Somehow, I thought you’d be here,” Shiki says. Her face is pale,
whether from the cold rain or the blood loss, I couldn’t say. I had a mountain
of things to say to her regarding this whole ridiculous hunt, but when
I see her at the brink of collapsing, I’m at a loss for words. I try to extend a
hand to support her, but she swats it away with her own.
“Might as well have finished it with one hand tied behind your back, I
see,” says Miss Tōko, surprised. Shiki grants her a glare of dissatisfaction.
“Tōko, that girl had a last surprise. She developed some sort of remote
viewing spell in the end. That and her other power makes for a dangerous
combination if left alone.”
“Remote viewing? Like scrying or clairvoyance? That is bad. She’d be
able to hit you with a spell even if you were hiding behind cover. Wait—‘if
left alone’?”
Shiki sighs. “Well, her pain insensitivity switched back on at the last
moment. Fucking unbelievable. Without pain, she just denied me the pleasure
of seeing her suffering face. So I said to myself, ‘what the hell, why
don’t I just kill her disease while I’m here’. So I saw the lines on her disease,
cut ‘em, and here we are. If you hurry and get a hospital on the line, she
still might make it.”
At first I thought I didn’t hear correctly, but the only thing I understand
is that Shiki didn’t kill Fujino Asagami. I immediately pull out my cell phone
and dial the number of Fujino’s doctor that Miss Tōko gave me, just to
make absolutely sure they’ll send out an ambulance. I’m not entirely sure
they could make it in this storm, but if it comes to that, I’d take Fujino to 
a hospital myself. Luckily, her doctor happily replies that he’ll come immediately,
saying that he’d been worried about the missing Fujino. He might
have even been crying while talking to me. I’m glad to know she has at least
one person on her side in this world.
Oblivious to my joy, Miss Tōko and Shiki are having another one of their
odd conversations behind me.
“Nice job stemming the bleeding with your sleeve,” says Miss Tōko,
admiring Shiki’s handiwork.
“Yeah, and since it can’t be fixed anymore, I killed it too for good measure.
Figured since you were a puppet maker mage, you’d be able to make
an artificial arm.”
“No problem, but that’s coming out of your paycheck. I always thought
you looked a bit too normal compared to your Arcane Eyes of Death Perception.
As an added bonus, I’ll even imbue it with the ability to touch
ghosts and other things in that state of being.”
I wish they’d stop talking about all that occult stuff. Gives me the creeps.
“They said they’re sending an ambulance. It’ll be a lot of trouble if we stay
here, so do you wanna go?”
“With pleasure,” Miss Tōko replies, shivering in the rain. Shiki remains
silent. I’m hoping the reason for that is that she wants to see Fujino Asagami
off properly.
“I’ll have to stay here, since I’m the one that contacted them and have to
give them a situation report. Both of you can probably go.”
“In this miserable rain? You’re a strange one, aren’t you, Kokutō?” Miss
Tōko gestures for Shiki to follow her. “Shiki, let’s scram.”
“I’ll pass, thanks.” Shiki replies, which promptly has Miss Tōko smiling
mischievously at us all the way back to her buggy.
“Shiki, make sure not to kill Kokutō just because you couldn’t take a shot
at Fujino, all right?” She starts the car, and though I can’t hear her from
here, I see her laughing even as she backs it up and drives away. In the
shade of a nearby building, me and Shiki seek shelter from the summer
rain, and before long, the ambulance arrives.
We watch as the EMTs load Fujino into the ambulance. From our distance,
I can’t get a good look at Fujino, so I can’t confirm whether or not
she’s the same girl I met on the night of the 20th, as I’ve been suspecting.
Somehow, I think it’s for the best.
Shiki, wet and cold from the rain, has her empty eyes fixed intently on
Fujino Asagami. The night is slowly shifting into dawn, and while listening 
to the sound of the rain, I air a question.
“Still can’t forgive her, right?”
“She’s dead to me. Got no business with the dead,” says Shiki frankly,
but without malice. So she’s decided she no longer cares. That might actually
be the best possible result for both their sakes. Shiki throws her glance
in my direction. “And you? You’re the one that keeps saying that murder is
bad no matter what the reason, right?” It almost seems as if the question
is directed as much to herself as to me.
“Yeah, but I sympathize with her. To be honest, I’m not feeling anything
towards the corner boys Fujino killed.”
“Well, isn’t that surprising. I was hoping I could hear the dulcet tones of
your familiar generalizations.” I don’t know if Shiki wants me to be angry at
her or not, but it doesn’t matter. She didn’t kill anyone. I close my eyes and
try to listen to the sound of the raindrops falling.
“Well, take it or leave it. I still think that, despite her losing her way,
she’s still a normal girl. When she looks back on this, she won’t be selective
about what she chooses to remember. She’ll remember what she did,
warts and all. And even if she does give herself up, the case is absurd. No
one can prove she could have done the murders, and she won’t be punished
by society. But that’s what’ll make it so difficult for her.”
“How so?”
“Because I think sins are things people individually carry, a burden that
we ourselves make for our own fair share. Our sins become heavier the
better our wisdom and common sense, and the greater our happiness. The
same goes for Fujino Asagami.”
“Man, this is why we call you a big softy. So you’re saying a man without
wisdom and compassion doesn’t know the weight of sin?”
“I suppose. But see, there isn’t a person in the world that doesn’t know
the weight of a sin. Maybe some people to whom the weight of sin is light
instead of overbearing, but the weight is felt all the same, a small sin in the
scope of their similarly small compassion, but enough to plant the doubt
in him. And soon enough, that doubt grows into something they regret.
Though the size differs for each person, each sin carries the same purpose.”
Even for Keita Minato, whose fear of his own sins almost drove him to
madness. He has fear and anger, but also regret and guilt. He might never
be able to atone, but he can try, at the very least. “It certainly seems easier
to not be blamed by society for your own sins, but if no one will judge you,
then you carry it yourself. The memories never let the seed go away. You
yourself believe that the soul doesn’t exist, Shiki. Guess that means that
you can’t heal the wounds in it either.” I conclude with a smile. “And if no 
one forgives you, you can’t even begin to forgive yourself. The wound in
your soul only keeps growing, never healing, like Fujino’s lingering pain.”
In a rare show of contemplative demeanor, Shiki remains silent and
actually listens. Without prior warning, she steps out of the shade of the
building roof and lets herself be washed over by the rain. “Alright, Mikiya
the Poet. You say there are no truly bad people, since compassion and wisdom
always makes them remember their sins. But what about me, who,
need I remind you, isn’t particularly compassionate or wise. Can you let a
person like me run free?”
“Well, there’s no curing stupidity. Guess I’ll have to carry your sins in
your place,” I say earnestly. Shiki glances at me blankly, looking very much
surprised before casting her eyes downwards.
“Now I remember. You always used to joke with a straight face back in
the day. I swear,  was terribly annoyed at that.”
“Well, I think I can carry the sins of at least one girl with me,” I argue. In
a rare show of humor, Shiki chuckles.
“I’ll tell you one more thing,” she adds. “I might have burdened myself
with a sin today. But in return, I found out how I wanted to live, and what
I want. It’s vague and fragile, but for now, it’s all I got. And it turns out it’s
not as bad as I thought it would be, and that makes me just a little happy.
It’s a little, teensy, weensy bit…of homicidal intent that’s leaning in your
That last sentence makes me grimace a little, and yet Shiki still looks
beautiful smiling under the rain. The storm is already subsiding, and by
morning it will all probably be over. Me and Shiki spend just a few more
precious moments there alone, Shiki, smiling, letting the summer rain
wash over her like a salve of forgiveness, and me just looking at her.
It is the first real smile she showed me since she woke up less than a
month ago.