Part IV: A Hallow
Part IV: A Hallow
That which is discordant.
That which is hated.
That which is intolerable.
Accept these things and all others, and never know pain.
That which is harmonious.
That which is desired.
That which is permitted.
Reject these things and all others, and know nothing but pain.
One affirms, one denies.
Between two hearts lies the hollow.
Between two minds lies emptiness.
Between two souls, I reside.
4 • KINOKO NASU
A Hallow - I
“Hey, you’ve heard about the patient on the private room on the third
“Oh, who hasn’t at this point? The word’s been passed on from mouth
to mouth since yesterday, and even that poker faced neurosurgeon Dr.
Ashika had to show at least some surprise at that girl’s sudden recovery. I
couldn’t believe it myself.”
“No, no, I mean the story after that. What do you think the patient did
after she woke up from her coma? Promise me you won’t freak out or
anything, okay, but she tried to crush her own eyes!”
“Come on, that’s not true!”
“It is! Dr. Ashika’s trying his best to keep it a secret, but I heard the story
from one of his interns, so it has to be real. Apparently, she used her palm
to put pressure on her eyes in like, the three seconds that Dr. Ashika wasn’t
looking. What a horror show.”
“But with that girl in a coma for two years, she really shouldn’t be able
to move, right?”
“Yeah, but we basically exercised her limbs everyday to prevent the
disuse atrophy. Her family even paid the hospital a mountain of cash just
to make sure we do it. Still, it obviously can’t completely stop it, and her
body still has trouble moving. Probably why her attempt to destroy her
“Still, it’s a rarity for a person in bed rest for two years to even move, let
alone poke out her own eyes.”
“That’s why Dr. Ashika was surprised. Wait a minute; what do you call it
when the blood vessels in the eye bleed?”
“Subconjunctival hemorrhage, was it? Don’t tell me the girl got that
“You know it. It’s really supposed to heal by itself, but since the ocular
trauma was so hard, she’s temporarily blind on top of that. The intern told
me that the patient just wanted her eyes bandaged, so that’s what they
“What a shame. Even now that she’s awake she still can’t see anything.
Makes my heart tighten a little.”
“It does, doesn’t it? And there’s still the question of her aphasia. Seems
she still can’t speak, the poor thing. And since Dr. Alaya left last month
we haven’t had a therapist to handle her. But I hear Dr. Ashika’s calling
in someone he knows. Until she’s regained some of her mental faculties
/ A HALLOW - I • 5
we’re keeping her on a strict ‘no visitors’ policy. Even the parents are only
getting a little time to spend with her.”
“I see. That’s too bad for our little boy.”
“What? Which little boy?”
“Oh, you don’t know! There’s this little kid, right? Well, I guess we
can’t really call him a kid anymore, with his age and all. He’s the one who
brought that girl over here in the first place, and he still comes to visit every
Saturday. I’m really rooting for him to meet her again.”
“Oh, you mean that kid. The one everyone was giving nicknames to. I
never realized he was still coming. Hard to find that level of sincerity these
days, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, he’s the only one that’s been coming to visit her these past two
years. He even beat out her parents. Even I’m inclined to believe that part
of that girl’s miraculous recovery is because of him.”
“I never thought you were that sentimental.”
“That’s alright. Neither did I.”
6 • KINOKO NASU
Beyond and below lay only darkness. This void, lifeless place could only
mean one thing: I was dead.
Without anything to even clothe me, I, Shiki Ryōgi, floated, and then
sank slowly into the fathomless, lightless sea. There was no end in sight.
There was nothing in sight, neither light, and yes, perhaps even darkness.
This place was only a hollow, where all meaning ceased to be. A stygian
abyss that could not be put into words, and without words it shall remain:
a cypher called, simply, “ ”.
I fell deeper into the “ ”, and my naked body slowly acquired the pallor
of the grave, and it made me want to look away. In my mind, I knew that
everything in this place comes to be the same way.
“Is this death?” I whispered, though it came out so faint, I doubted if it
was even real.
Though time too had no meaning inside “ ”, I observed it. Like a stream
tracing out into the infinite, like the process of decay, I mark it. It was an
eternity. I plunged ever deeper, and cast my eyes farther, and in that eternity,
this place was still empty, devoid of anything except me. And yet, it
was all so calm and serene. It feels as if, in this place without meaning, the
fact that I existed at all fits me. Here lay entropy, the end of all things, a
place the living may never observe, but only the dead may enter.
I died. And yet I am still alive. I felt my mind about to lose its grip.
Two years. An instant, stretched out to an eternity. Both are accurate
measures of my time spent in this “ ”. Here, I touched death. Here, I fought
for my life. Here, I awakened.
The light breeze through the window and the sound of boisterous activity
outside my room stirs my mind to wake. I can hear nurses and patients
alike scurrying in the corridor outside. The sound of their footsteps and
the soft whispers of their conversations build to a low background hum,
always present at a hospital in the early morning hours. Compared to how
silent last night was, this sounded like some sort of convention, and a noisy
one, as far as I was concerned. I liked my waking hours silent. Thankfully,
in the secluded space of my private room, I’m sheltered from the worst of
It didn’t take long for a doctor to arrive and check up on me.
“How are we feeling today, Miss Ryōgi?”
/ 1 • 7
Silence. It stumps him, and for a moment, we are both quiet.
“I see. At least you’ve seemed to calm down since last night. Unfortunately,
since we didn’t get the chance to do it last time, I’m going to have to explain
your situation to you. Feel free to talk if you feel something’s not right.”
I didn’t really have any interest in paying attention to him, but since it
seems like he mistook my lack of a response for consent, it looks like I don’t
really have a choice in the matter.
“Then I’ll tell you straight out: today is the fourteenth of June 1998. Two
years ago, on the fifth of March, you were involved in a traffic accident, hit
by a car in a pedestrian crossing at night. Then you were brought here, to
this hospital. Do you remember anything that I’m saying?”
Silence from me again. The last thing I can remember is someone—a
classmate, maybe?—standing stock still in the rain. As for the accident,
nothing is coming to mind.
“Oh, don’t worry if you can’t remember it. When the accident occurred,
it’s likely you noticed the car and tried to jump out of the way. That’s why
there isn’t any serious damage on your body. On the other hand, you did
receive a strong hit on your head. You were already comatose when they
brought you here, but it seems there’s no brain damage. But your mental
faculties might still be recovering from your two year coma. I can’t say for
sure if your memories will return, but it’s looking that way, since last night’s
EEG detected no abnormalities in your brain activity. Anyway, the fact that
you woke up from your coma is a miracle in itself. There’s very little possibility
of that after two years, you see.”
Even though he makes a point to emphasize the length of my coma, it
still isn’t hitting home for me. For me, yesterday is still that rainsoaked
night, followed by a vast hollow of emptiness.
“And if you’re about to ask,” the doctor continues, “your eyes are mostly
fine. It’s just a blunt injury, which rarely damages the eyes in a permanent
way. We’re lucky there wasn’t anything sharp nearby last night. Another
week or so, and we’ll be able to take off the bandages so you can finally
enjoy the nice scenery.”
I detect a tiny hint of rebuke in his words this time. I suppose he’s a bit
frustrated with my little attempt to destroy my eyes. He was pretty persistent
last night in asking me why I did it, but I couldn’t answer then as well.
They’d think I was crazy.
“You’re locked into physical therapy sessions, one in the morning, and
another in the afternoon. As for visiting hours, I’m afraid we’re restricting
it until your body and mind are back to normal: an hour a day. Bear with it
for a while. Once you’re done, you’re out of here.”
8 • KINOKO NASU
Well, that’s a mood ruiner if there ever was one. Not having the heart
to voice my cynicism so early in the morning, I instead try to test my right
hand’s responsiveness by moving it, and find that there is no change. Trying
to kickstart it into action takes me a few seconds, and I can feel the joints
and muscles straining as I make the most minute, yet painful movements.
It almost feels like it isn’t my own hand. I suppose it’s what I should expect
after two years of disuse.
“Well, that’s it for this morning. Since you’ve seemed to calm down, I
won’t have a nurse watch over you all day today. If you need anything at
all—water, a book—just press the button next to your pillow. The nurse’s
station is right down the hall,” the doctor says in the gentle, practiced
words designed to put a patient at ease. Were I able to see, I’d probably
see him with a similarly rehearsed smile, one he probably practiced in the
bathroom mirror all night. I hear him start to open the door, but stops to
say one last thing. “Oh, yes, I almost forgot. You’ll have another doctor
starting tomorrow, for your speech condition. She’s a bit closer to your age,
so try to be less…stoic…around her. From what I see, you’re going to need
And so, after he left, I was alone again. I lie flat on the bed, arms over my
eyes that I myself asked to be bandaged shut.
“My name is—”, I whisper with dry lips still unused to speech, “Shiki
Ryōgi.” The same as before? Maybe not. Maybe she was killed, in
those two years of emptiness. All of the memories of someone named
Ryōgi are all there in my head, all ready for me to draw out. But what
of it? What use are they to me, who died once and awoke? I feel so…disconnected
to my past self. There’s no mistaking I’m me, but the memories in
my head don’t feel like they are. It’s like I’m watching a biopic. Main character:
Ryōgi. Weird ghost image caught in some of the frames: me.
I bite my lips until I’m sure I’m still awake. It’s all I have to make sure I’m
still here. I’m a puzzle with a missing piece close to my chest, and the hole
makes my insides feel as hollow as a cave with wind howling through it. I’m
missing my reason for living.
“And so? What the fuck does it matter?” I mutter to myself with as much
conviction as I can muster. And once I’ve said that, I feel less troubled by
it. Strangely, this feeling of disquiet and irritation that scratches and pulls
at my chest is sort of refreshing, in its own way. There’s anxiety. There’s
pain. But those are feelings that the sixteen-year old still held on to.
Me? I’m unimpressed. I don’t know why I’m still alive but I have no inten-
/ 1 • 9
tion of looking a gift horse in the mouth. Not like I feel alive in the first
place anyway. I’m just here, now; nursing an existence of being adrift on
10 • KINOKO NASU
Morning turns to night turns to morning again, and a new day comes,
whether or not I can see the sunlight. I am strangely relieved that even
without sight, I can feel the slow rise of morning. However, the reason
for this relief remains a mystery, since the nurse that took my morning
examination came and interrupted my thoughts. Before I knew it, she had
finished, and left me alone again, but that wasn’t the end of my day.
My mother and brother came to talk. They felt like strangers, and I
couldn’t come to grips with the reality that they were my relatives. Left
with no alternative, I managed to mumble little words to them, in the
manner that my memories told me would. It made my mother happy
at least, and my brother seemed pleased. It all had the air of some comical
farce, and we all played our parts to the letter.
Sometime past noon, I hear the door opening and a person step inside
my room. As soon as I hear the clicking heels, I immediately know that it
isn’t anyone familiar. I remember that I was going to get a new doctor starting
today, but before I could ask, the newcomer starts to speak.
“Hel—lo! Doing fine today?” says the newcomer, drawing out her hello
in an attempt at familiarity. A woman, judging from her voice. “Well, I must
say, I expected someone that looked more ghastly, but look at you! Your
skin is quite pretty. You’re just the kind of girl I can talk to, I think. Now
aren’t I lucky?” Her voice is young, maybe somewhere in her 20’s, and has
the kind of lilting, up-and-down quality of someone who is too cheerful for
her own good. I hear her make her way to the chair beside my bed and sit
“Pleased to make your acquaintance,” she continues. “I’m not a doctor
from here so I don’t come with an ID. Still, with your eyes covered and all,
I don’t think it’ll be much of a problem. I’m a speech therapist. You know,
for your aphasia and—”
“Aphasia? Who, me? I’m sorry; you must have me confused with someone
else.” And so I finally speak. She seems like a person worth messing
with, so I cut her off mid sentence. It doesn’t seem to faze her however,
since she responds with an “Mmhmm”, with what must have been an
accompanying nod of the head.
“Now, normally I’d be angry, but since I already know that your aphasia
is a misdiagnosis, I’ll let it slide. That Ashika is such a by-the-books doctor;
/ 2 • 11
he can’t handle special cases like yours. But hey, it’s not like you can’t
share the blame for that. Obviously you’re going to raise some suspicion if
you keep your mouth shut like you’ve been doing.” She makes a friendly,
amused chuckle. For some reason, I’m imagining her wearing glasses. She
just seems like the type.
“So they think I have aphasia?”
“Yep. After all, you did hurt your brain some in the accident, so they
must have thought that the part of your brain that puts words in your
mouth was damaged. But it’s not that isn’t it? You’re just a stubborn young
girl with some issues. That having been said, it’s beginning to look like I’m
not needed, but I don’t want to get fired a minute into the job. And since
my other job isn’t exactly overflowing with customers, I think I’ll keep you
Well, a minute into her job and she’s already proved herself to be an
annoyance I can hardly stomach. I reach a hand out for the button to call
a nurse, but the doctor is faster. I feel her hand reach it first and she deftly
maneuvers the wire from my reach.
“What the hell, lady?” I utter in indignation.
“Whew, that was close. If you tell Ashika now, the gig is up. Come on,
let’s cut a deal here. You pretend to have aphasia and I won’t ask you any
stupid questions, they won’t call in a new doctor, and I get to earn some
money on the side. That way we both benefit. How about it?”
Well, I have to admit, that sounds like a nice proposition, but definitely
illegal on some level. Still, I have to wonder what kind of person this woman
is when she can just belt out something like that without hesitation. I turn
my bandaged eyes to where her voice is coming from, hoping I am looking
straight at her.
“You’re not a real doctor, are you?” I ask.
“Right on the first try. I make a living as a…magician, of sorts.”
Oh, brother. This just took a turn for the crazy.
“Don’t have a need for a con artist.”
She replies with a chuckle. “I suppose not. A magician can’t fill the
hollow in your soul, after all. Only a regular person can do that.”
“W—wait a minute, what did you just say?”
“Oh, you must have noticed it. See, you’re all alone now.” The lilt in her
voice that I first perceived as cheerful now grants a menacing air to her
speech. I hear her stifle the urge for one last chuckle, and then standing up
and walking across the room towards the door. “Doesn’t look like you’re
in the mood to talk today, so let’s leave it at that for now. We’ll try again
12 • KINOKO NASU
By the time she said goodbye, the cheerfulness had returned to her
voice. The sound of the door opening and closing signal her sudden departure,
as abruptly as she’d arrived.
With difficulty, I put my right hand on my lips. I was speechless at what
All alone. A hollow in the soul. It is those words that make me remember.
Oh no. Oh, dear God no. How could I forget him?
I can’t find him. In my mind, I call out, over and over, and he, the other
me, doesn’t answer. Shiki Ryōgi is gone. He’s gone.
was once one of those people who suffered another personality,
sleeping and residing within her. The reason for it was simple. It was a
trait, passed down through generations in the bloodline of the Ryōgi. The
legends tell vaguely of some long past flirtation with the occult and arcane,
but I don’t know if that can be believed. This trait, which in a normal family
would have been cursed, was instead celebrated and honed, an indication
of a state of grace. Those born with it are treated as the heirs to the dynasty.
And so it was with , who was made the heir even over her older
brother. She was an aberrant case. The alternate personality will always
be a different gender than the actual person. Among the male Yang and
the female Yin, the male personality usually emerges as the dominant. In
those who carried the trait, all have been born male, but carried a female
personality within them. was the first female born. Inside her was
another, the man named Shiki.
For the most part, the one that controlled the body was still —me,
in other words. Shiki represented all of my more base aspects and all of
the thoughts I struggled to repress. lived only by continually stifling
and killing the darkness within herself called Shiki, over and over, until
it was the only way she knew how to act normally. Not that Shiki had a
problem with that. He seemed quite content to lie dormant the majority of
the time, while I call him out in times where I needed his particular brand
of aggressiveness, such as in sword sparring. Always, he would come to
surface, glad to have the chance to be out, but at the same time bored and
resigned to his role.
At first it might seem like a relationship between a master and a servant,
but the truth was much more complicated. In the end, and Shiki
were one person. Whatever did, Shiki also desired, and when
Shiki’s desires were suppressed, it was done entirely through his own
volition. Which was fortunate, since Shiki had what might be called…
/ 2 • 13
homicidal tendencies. Now, as far as I knew, he didn’t actually commit any
murder…maybe. But what’s true is that he continually dreamed of the act
of murdering his fellow man. expressly forbade it, and tried her best
to ignore it. But even as they ignored each other, they would never be
separated. Isolated as was from the normalcy of the outside world,
she was never lonely, thanks to Shiki.
But the time finally came when the cracks in that connection began to
show. It was two years ago, ’ first year of high school. Shiki had never
shown any desire to use the body, but it was the first time he had wanted
to surface and take control. From then onwards, suffered from gaps
in her memory, spaces where she couldn’t remember what happened and
what she was doing.
As for me, the memories from my freshman year up until the accident
are gone. I can only recall fragments, lost without context: me standing in
the scene of a homicide, throat dry, staring at the dark red blood.
One other series of images stands out: The memory of a classroom
bathed in sunset, giving it the same vivid red hue that dominates both
recollections, the classmate who destroyed , the one Shiki wanted to
kill, and the one last piece of an ideal, normal life that Shiki wanted so
much to protect. And since waking up from the coma, the name of that
classmate has remained out of reach, no matter how hard I try.
The hospital has its own rhythm, its own sort of respiration. The raucous
noise of the morning eventually dims slowly into the almost absolute
silence of the night. Occasionally, the sound of slippers echoing in the corridor
breaks the placidity, and is my only reminder that I am still awake. The
black shroud that blinds me now serves only to highlight how alone I am,
an entirely foreign sensation that never had. She was never alone.
But now Shiki is gone, and his loss is keenly felt. In fact, the only way I
know I am me and not him right now is because I can’t feel his presence.
“Probably the worst way to know your identity: identifying yourself
because of what you lost, because of what you aren’t. “ I take a shot at
some good, old-fashioned self-loathing, but it isn’t helping. I wish I was
just a little sad. That at least would be a change from the hollow soul that
the “doctor” said I had. Like the husk of some old ship, its worth nothing
without anything inside it. If so, what goes inside?
A whispering, coming from somewhere in the room. I can feel air rush in
from the corridor outside, can hear the almost inaudible creak of the door
14 • KINOKO NASU
opening. I try to tell myself I’m imagining it, but I turn to the direction of
the sound all the same.
A flickering, almost numinous white haze. I shouldn’t be able to see it,
but it makes a mockery of that statement. Amidst the complete darkness,
it’s the only thing I can see. It stands, vaguely like a human, but without
bones to hold it up, in a state of being somewhere in between liquid and
gas. It travels towards me, flowing and spreading at the same time in a
disgusting motion. I am helpless, unable to move my body, so I can do
nothing but wait for it.
At least it has a form I can comprehend. Things without form are the
truly frightening things. At least, with a shape, your mind can understand
it. I don’t sense any hostile intent from this spirit, if that is even what it is.
It’s even strangely comforting. For how different are we really, this thing
that doesn’t live, and me who has no reason to live?
The spirit caresses me in the cheek, at which point my entire body
freezes, the sensation feeling like someone pouring ice water on my spine.
It hurts, but I can’t move. I can’t even scream. I can only witness it. We stay
that way, unmoving, from midnight until the sun starts to come up. At the
crack of early morning, I feel it melting away, like a desiccated slug. As soon
as I feel the icy grip loosening, I fall into deep sleep.
/ 3 • 15
Several days have passed since I first woke from the coma, but the
doctors have seen fit to keep my eyes bandaged for now. In a marked shift
from the noise which I had come to think was standard hospital policy, this
particular morning is so peaceful I lose myself taking in the little motions of
the day. I can hear the birds chirping outside my window, feel the daylight
shining through it, and I allow my lungs to be filled with the crisp air.
Yes, compared to the world I was in for two years, this world is truly a
sight to behold. But with each morning that I wake up to the sprawling
life of the world, I think: this world is only as happy as people are alone.
The safest way to live is to be alone, but why can’t people think that that’s
Once, I had a perfect setup. I didn’t need anyone else. But the circumstances
have conspired to make me wait for the part that I seem to lack,
and if current trends are any indication, I might have to wait forever.
But what, or who, exactly am I waiting for?
My conversations with the “speech therapist-slash-magician”, such as
she was, became a daily affair. In a hospital life full of batteries of tests and
therapy sessions, it’s become something to look forward to; a welcome
respite from the day-to-day banality. Now, as always, our conversation
takes a turn back to my past, and as always, she is positioned in the chair
by my bed, talking in her own carefree manner.
“Mmm, now I see. So it’s not that Shiki couldn’t control the body, just
that he showed no desire to do it. You—well, both of you—are proving to
be quite the amusing couple.”
She had come suspiciously armed with some very extensive knowledge
of my background, some of which I know for a fact only a few people know.
She knew the curse behind the Ryōgi dynasty, the most tightly kept secret
of the family. She knew of my limited involvement in the serial killing that
wracked the city two years ago; details which I would normally be much
more secretive about, but I’ve long since resigned myself to the outcome
and consequences, though the crime and perpetrator remain ambiguous,
even inside my head. I find not having to think about it has made for a less
stressful thinking environment.
“There’s nothing amusing about having a dual personality,” I impulsively
16 • KINOKO NASU
She clicks her teeth in disappointment. “A cute label, but not accurate,
I’d say. Both of you exist simultaneously, each of you having your own will:
a recipe for dissociation. And yet, you both perform the same actions.
It’s complicated, and the label ‘dual personality’ doesn’t do it justice.
Something like ‘composite independent personality’ seems more fitting.”
“Hey, tack on a ‘republic’ in the end there and it’ll sound like some new
“Ah, well, I never said I was good with names. Still, I do find it weird that,
according to you, Shiki always slept, even though he didn’t need to.”
A matter only I could probably answer. It had always been that way.
Shiki had always liked to dream, to be off in some astral adventure somewhere
in his own imagining, an act that had never shown any interest
“So, is he still sleeping now?” she prods playfully, but I find that I can’t
answer her. “Then he really is dead, isn’t he? He took your place as the
consciousness that died during the accident, and the memories that he
took in became lost to oblivion. Explains the gaps in your memories, at
least. And without those memories, the knowledge of how involved you
were to the serial killing two years ago might be lost forever.”
“So I’m assuming the suspect is still at large?”
“Indeed, but you know how this city plays. We say ‘oh, dear’ at a serial
murder we see on TV, and then go back to eating our dinner. To most of
the city in the last two years, it’s become some sort of bad joke. The rest
have just forgotten.” She laughs, leaving in doubt how much of her statement
she actually believed. “Shiki still puzzles me, though. If he hadn’t
done anything, it would have been the consciousness that died. What
reason would he have for taking your place like he did?”
“To be honest, it’s still something I’m thinking about,” I say with hesitation.
“But enough about him. Did you bring the scissors I asked for?”
“Sorry, but Ashika and the rest of his minions didn’t allow it. You have,
um…well, a history with your eyes, so they’re not allowing anything sharp.”
Well, I can’t say I didn’t expect anything less. I’ve been doing pretty well
with my physical therapy, and I’ve even been able to move my body. They
said it’s the first time they saw someone recover so fast with just two PT
sessions every day. As a sort of celebration, I asked for a pair of scissors
from the good doctor.
“What were you going to use the scissors for anyway? Flower arrangement
on your bedside table?”
“Hell no. I just wanted to cut my hair, that’s all.” The hair problem has
been bothering me ever since I woke up from my coma. It’s become quite
/ 3 • 17
long in the span of two years. Every time I move my head it keeps tickling
my neck and back, and is probably the strongest proof I have of how infuriatingly
burdening long hair is.
“You should have just said so, then! It’s easy enough for me to call in a
hairdresser if you don’t want to talk.”
“Thanks, but no thanks. Can’t stand ‘em. I will not be held responsible
for what I do when someone other than me does things to my hair.”
“Oh, I totally know what you mean. We women do have to take care of
our hair. You know, I really am jealous of you that your hair growing longer
seems to be the only indication that you’ve aged.” I hear the sound of her
standing up. “So! Since I couldn’t bring you scissors, let me just leave you
with another thing. It’s not much, but I’m sure it’ll be fine. It’s a stone with
some rune inscriptions on it. Think of it as a protective charm. I’ll put it
over the door, so it’s important that you not let anyone take it off.”
Now I hear the sound of her dragging the chair to the door, after which
she must be using it to put the rune in place. Then, she opens the door.
“Well, guess that’s it for now. Someone else might be coming tomorrow,
so do be a good girl until then.” She departs then, leaving me only with
those strange words and the rune.
Night has fallen, and midnight has past, but my usual visitor hasn’t
revealed himself yet.
Each midnight, without fail, the hazy spirit comes. Tonight proves to be
the exception. Each night, as with the first, it had always given me a loving
caress, always on the cheek. It was painful, and perhaps even dangerous,
but I couldn’t care less even if he did choose to eventually kill me. It’d probably
be a much simpler affair.
In the dark, I brush the bandages wrapped around my eyes lightly with a
finger. It won’t be long now until my eyesight recovers. There remains one
thing to do before that happens, however: to destroy my eyes; this time,
with no room for error.
Without sight, I cannot see them, but it’s only a matter of time before
they are revealed again. If having sight means to keep seeing those…things
that must not be seen, then the choice is obvious. It’s much, much more
preferable to never see the world than to ever see those things again. Still,
maybe there is some other way. It’s the last resort until I can find some
other means to live.
Man, I am pathetic.
The of the past would have destroyed her eyes without a single
18 • KINOKO NASU
word or thought to the contrary. I, on the other hand, am hesitating. Not
enough will to live, but not enough to die either. If that spirit ever gets it
in its head to kill me for some reason, I probably won’t cheer it on, but I
probably won’t raise a hand in defiance either.
/ A HALLOW - II • 19
A Hallow - II
For most everyone else in the world during the laid back days of early
June of 1998, it was as calm and easy a summer as any other. For Tōko
Aozaki, it was the season she would first come to know the intriguing
personality known as Shiki Ryōgi. It all began when Tōko had just taken in
a new hire, impressed by the boy’s ability to track her down despite her
preventative efforts. As fate would have it, this new hire apparently had a
yarn to spin about his friend, the previously mentioned Shiki, and as a way
to pass the time on a particularly lazy afternoon, Tōko decided to listen to
Apparently this Shiki was in a coma, brought on after a car accident.
She was in a persistent vegetative state, where the chances of waking up
are below zero with the decimal numbers going into extreme lengths. It
seems that he also heard, from the nurses’ gossip at least, that Shiki hadn’t
aged a day since her coma, a little detail that Tōko had been immediately
“Really now? Even the dead haven’t seen the end of entropy yet.” she
had said, trying to hide the curiosity in her voice. “Sounds a bit like…magic,
“I don’t expect you to believe it, ma’am, but it’s true. There’s not a spot
of the last two years on her. Still, enough about my personal hang-ups. I
don’t suppose you have any curious coma stories to match mine, do you
He hadn’t expected Tōko to take him seriously, but nevertheless, she
folded her arms and tried to dig up a story. “Let’s see now—there was this
story from some far off country where a woman got married then promptly
fell into a coma when she was twenty years old. God knows what the
reason was, though. Rude of her, huh? Anyway, her particular case lasted
for fifty years. Heard of it?”
“Can’t say I have,” said the boy, shaking his head. “So what happened to
her after she woke up?”
“A surprisingly healthy mental state. Almost like she never even went
into a coma! Can you imagine? She started recalling past memories, names;
the whole deal. Sad that it didn’t do anything to make the husband happy,
“What? Why would the husband be sad after her wife recovered?”
“Well, it’s more the wife’s problem, really. Her mind was as fresh as it
was before the coma, but her body’s taken the atrophy train to seventy
20 • KINOKO NASU
year old land. She wanted to run, go exercise, do athletics, but she obviously
couldn’t, and she couldn’t really understand why. The fact that she’d
aged fifty years just didn’t register as the truth in her mind. The husband
on the other hand, felt so bad for the wife that he actually said, with tears
coming out of his eyes, that it might have been better for everyone if she
hadn’t woken up.” She said all this as she relaxed in her chair, swinging
it from side to side lazily. “How about it, huh? Now that’s a story I don’t
expect you to believe. Hope it helped contextualize this entire thing for
After Tōko told this story, the boy fell silent, prompting her to speak and
prod him into conversation again.
“Oh, but has a bad premonition suddenly crept into the little man’s
head?” Tōko asks with a playful grin from cheek to cheek decorating her
face. The boy nods in assent.
“It’s a thought I’ve never wanted to entertain, actually: the thought that
Shiki might not actually want to come back.”
“Ah, but what’s this?” Tōko suddenly said, putting a hand on her temple
and pretending to be a psychic. “I sense a reason behind this. We’ve got
a lot of time to kill, so please, do tell.” The boy seemed angered at this
approach, and turns away.
“I’d really rather not, ma’am. You know, it wouldn’t hurt to be a bit more
sensitive to people.”
“Hey, you’re the one that started talking about her in the first place,
friend. Don’t start telling stories if you don’t like where they’re leading. I’m
only asking to pass the time, and because every time Azaka calls me, she
always keeps yapping on about this ‘Shiki’ person. I mean, how on Earth
can we women gossip when I don’t even know the first thing about the
As soon as Azaka’s name is mentioned, the boy frowns in dismay. “I’d
been meaning to ask at some point, ma’am, but where and how exactly did
you and my sister meet?”
“Long story short, we met when I was on a trip to investigate a little case
I was working on. We met, and due to circumstances beyond my control,
she ended up finding out about me being a mage.”
“Well, whatever. I would ask that you please refrain from pulling her in
too much into your world, though,” he said, the suspicion clear in his voice.
“She’s at a very delicate and impressionable age.”
Tōko couldn’t help but chuckle at that. “You don’t know the half of it. I
won’t butt into your family problems, you have my word. And in exchange
for that, let’s go back to our previous topic and get me interested in this
/ A HALLOW - II • 21
Shiki person.” She lights a cigarette and leaned forward on her desk, the
head cradled in her hands positively beaming.
Seeing there was no talking Tōko out of it, the boy could only sigh as he
started to tell the story that began two years ago, on the snowy night when
he and first met. In high school as classmates, had showed no
interest in making nice with the rest of the student body, but it was the boy
who struck up a friendship with her. But in the second half of freshman
year, around the time the serial killer started making him or herself known,
became more aloof and withdrawn, a matter eventually explained
when she eventually revealed to him that she suffered a split personality,
one of which had a taste for murder. If and how she was connected to the
serial killings was never found out. In a rain-soaked night colder than any
that had come before, encountered an accident before the boy’s very
eyes. The boy and the girl were whisked away to a hospital, where she still
resides in a coma.
At first, Tōko listened to this story as one would listen to any half-truth
told over a beer, but as it progressed, the smile was slowly wiped from her
face. At last, the boy finished relating the story, wearing a solemn expression
of that told of how delicate a subject this must have been for him.
“So, I guess that’s the long and the short of that particular two-year old
story,” he concludes.
“Well, she isn’t some vampire in torpor, I can tell you that. Still, now I
might have some idea…” Tōko’s words descended into the particular brand
of murmuring she has when she’s pondering the solution to a hard problem.
The smile that had disappeared from her face now returns, though
this time as a sly curl of the lips. “Remind me again what character you use
for her name.”
“It’s ‘’ as in ‘sūshiki’, or ‘formula’. Why? Is there anything special
“Or, alternatively, the ‘’ as in ‘shikigami’, that unique Japanese style
of goetic theurgy. And on top of that, she’s a member of the Ryōgi dynasty.
I’m beginning to see what this is all about, and it stinks of magic.” Unable to
contain herself, Tōko extinguished her cigarette on the ashtray and stands
up. “The hospital was in the suburbs, wasn’t it? I’ll be back in a few. I just
need to go see about this sleeping beauty of ours.”
And without waiting for a reply from the boy, Tōko left her office, along
with the boy, unable to think of anything except how exactly she had found
herself in such a favorable position. She felt like she could almost feel the
subtle rifts and changes in the skeins of fate, shifting to bring her here, at
this singular point.
22 • KINOKO NASU
A Hallow - III
The miracle of Shiki’s recovery happened only a scant few days after
that. According to the new hire, Shiki’s parents had not even been allowed
to talk to her for some reason, which meant that visits from him would
be decidedly impossible. Because of this, the boy seemed to dive into the
paperwork a little more readily, a little more fervently than Tōko had yet
seen, perhaps as some means to distract himself.
“It really is far too dark in this office,” Tōko mentions, to break the silence
they had kept since the start of the day.
“Well, I could get a light for you, if you want, ma’am,” he replies, monotone,
without sparing even a glance to Tōko. She got the sense that he was
thinking of something with the kind of anal diligence that were allowed
only to absurd thoughts; half-baked ideas that one leaves to linger in the
mind long enough to entertain the notion that they might actually be halfway
sane. With this in mind, Tōko finally spoke to him frankly.
“You’re free to stop looking so glum about it anytime, you know. Shiki,
I mean. And don’t even think about sneaking in there at night just to see
“I’m not thinking anything of the sort, ma’am. Besides, there’re far too
many guards around that place: a pair in the front door, and a handful
patrolling the grounds.”
Mercy me, thinks Tōko, incredulous, he’s already counted the guards and
patrol routes. I just took him under my wing, so far be it from me to allow
him to be a criminal overnight. With a shrug of resignation, Tōko spoke. “I
was going to play this one close to the chest, but you’re leaving me without
much choice here. I’ve pulled what strings and favors I can to get hired as
a temp therapist in the hospital where your friend is. You hear that? I’m
going to find out about Shiki Ryōgi for you, so don’t you go running off
doing something that’ll get you arrested. It’s the least I could do after hearing
you tell that story when you didn’t want to in the first place.”
She sighed in what might have been an attempt to place a last bit of
indifference to the whole situation. The boy, however, stood up, walked
towards Tōko, and grasping each of her hands with one of his, he shook
them up and down. Not realizing this was his way of expressing his gratitude,
she gave him an awkward look, saying, “Right—weird. Gotcha.”
“This is so surprising, Miss Tōko! I didn’t think you’d have it in you to
possess the compassion of the average person, ma’am!”
“Now see, you could’ve taken this in quiet celebration. But instead, you
/ A HALLOW - III • 23
had to go and destroy your chances of ever having a raise.”
“Oh, sorry, slip of the tongue,” he says quickly, trying to gloss over it as
fast as possible. “So that’s why you’re wearing a fancy suit today. Yes, quite
stylish. It looks so good, I almost don’t recognize you.”
“Um, well I always dress this way, but fine, feel free to keep up the
compliments. Lord knows I don’t get enough of them.” Sensing that the
boy would barrel right on through whatever she said, Tōko quickly tried to
get back on track. “So, with that business out of the way, I expect you not to
do anything as stupid as your age might imply. Something’s not right with
that hospital, and I’m not sure what, but you don’t need to get involved in
it. You just stay here and do some crosswords or something while I’m out.”
Those last sentences put a damper on the boy’s otherwise infectious
enthusiasm, and when he finally calmed down, he asked, “What do you
mean something’s not right?”
“I can feel the resonance of magic there, a ward maybe, put up by a
mage other than me. Whoever it is, his or her objective probably isn’t Shiki,
or they wouldn’t have waited so courteously for two years for me to pop
into the picture.” A lie and Tōko knew it. The machinations of mages were
often marked by their forethought and patience, and there wouldn’t have
been a reason for any mage to act before Shiki awakened, but now she has.
The boy need not know all of that, and fortunately, it seemed that Tōko
bluffed it well enough for him to be satisfied.
“Um, ma’am, when you say a ‘ward’, you mean something like what
you’ve set up on this building, right?”
“You got the gist of it. Wards are nifty little spells centering around
controlling a slice of space. Some mages like to conjure up actual physical
walls, but others are a bit more subtle, veiling a place to induce a mental
urging on anyone that doesn’t know or have business with the mage to go
away. Best part? People never notice it. To them, it’s just some gut feeling
that they should stay away. The perfect spell to hide the fact that this place
is the sanctum of the best mage this side of Tokyo,” she said with a flutter
of her hand, the boy reading no irony into what she said. “Of course, you
managed to get through and find me and I didn’t even know you. But hey,
that’s why I hired you, didn’t I?”
“Then is the ward in the hospital a dangerous spell or something?”
“Read between the lines, friend. Wards are rather benign as spells go—by
themselves anyway. It’s always been used to protect hallowed ground from
the prying eyes of the outside world. It originated from Buddhist thought,
as far as I know, but now it refers to spells that act as an occultation to the
mage, making him or her extremely difficult to find. Good ones don’t get
24 • KINOKO NASU
noticed. The best ones just go out-and-out creating a small demarcated
space that’s removed from all normal perceptions of ‘space’, essentially
a small, temporary—yet functioning—pocket universe. But that’s some
straight up high-level thaumaturgy, done only by archmages; though as far
as I know, there’s only one such individual in Japan.”
Now that Tōko was talking about the Art, a subject she rarely tackled in
the presence of the boy, she took on a pointed countenance that looked
even more serious than her usual expression. Being a mage was her other
job—her real job, if one could even call it that. She continued:
“Still, while it may not have been that extreme, that ward in the hospital
is still very well woven, whatever effects it may have. I almost didn’t notice
it at first. I knew someone once that could have worked something like it,
but it really could have been anyone deft enough in that aspect of the Art.
I guess it fits their specialty, but mages who specialize in wards do tend to
distance themselves from most outside affairs, so I can’t imagine someone
like that meddling in this.”
That ward in the hospital wasn’t just some cheap spell from an amateur,
though, thought Tōko. It was different, pointed inward maybe. Maybe to
veil the hospital from any unwanted attention? The mental urging telling
those inside to ignore anything abnormal, so someone could operate with
Tōko told none of this to the boy. He still needed to be kept out of any
unnecessary meddling from things beyond his ken. She mentioned only
enough to be polite, and make it clear to him that this was a matter far
above him. Tōko took one glance at the wall clock and stood up.
“Well, guess it’s about time I showed my face over there,” she said, and
started to walk towards the door.
“Miss Tōko, please just take care of Shiki for me,” the boy says behind
her. Without turning to look at him, she gave him a grunt of acknowledgement
and waved a hand in goodbye, but a last question from the boy gave
her reason to hold her steps for a moment. “Oh, just a trivial question,
ma’am, but who was that expert in wards that you knew?”
She dug into her memory for a moment, then looked over her shoulder
“Oh, just an old friend. A monk. There’s really no need to worry about
him. The last time we met was on long-past times, in different continents.”
/ A HALLOW - III • 25
It has been six days since Tōko first filled in as a speech therapist for
Shiki’s case. She had just come back to the office from the hospital, and
she was about ready to just sit down and relax until the day ran out. She
looked out the window, the setting sun outside baking the walls of her unlit
office into a crisp red, forcing her to slacken her orange necktie; a sign of
the coming summer heat.
Each evening she returned to the office with an update on Shiki’s progress,
an act the boy learned to be thankful for.
“She does PT two times a day, and a battery of brain examinations after
that, and both leave her pretty spent. You don’t need to be troubling her
further by going there, so have the patience to wait a little longer and you’ll
be able to see her then.”
“Will she be fine with just two physical therapy sessions a day? I mean,
she was in a coma for two years after all.”
“I’ve heard that they exercised her joints everyday while she was in a
coma. These are trained professionals, friend. Trust them to do their job.
Hers is a ‘rehabilitation’ in more than one sense, as she needs to realign
herself with society as well. How she recovers physically is only a question
of time.” Tōko paused to produce a cigarette, promptly putting it into her
mouth and lighting it. Shiki Ryōgi, was, to her, an enigma, a puzzle to relish
the formulation of a solution. And every time she talked to Shiki, every
time she came back to the office to tell the boy, she found herself pondering
the greatest puzzle of all: Shiki’s identity.
“Her mind, however…well, that’s an entirely different story. She’s drifting
farther apart from her previous self each day, I suspect.”
“It’s the amnesia, isn’t it?” the boy said hesitantly, but also with conviction,
as if he’d been preparing himself for this revelation for the past two
“I’m not entirely convinced it is. I don’t see anything wrong with her
personality. It’s just that...well, I don’t know how you’ll react to this so—”
“Don’t worry, ma’am. I think you’ve inured me to these things by now.
Please, spare no detail on my account. What exactly is wrong with her?”
Ironic, then, that sparing details was exactly what she had been doing
in the last few days. But, she thought, perhaps it’s best that he know now.
“Her other half that you told me about, the other personality known as
Shiki she kept inside her, has vanished. She probably can’t even be sure
herself whether she’s or Shiki. When she awoke, Shiki was already
gone. And maybe, that’s why her soul now feels empty, like a sinkhole.
We mages know better than most the consequences of the soul, and the
hollow she feels now is a hell of a burden, inexpressible but keenly felt.”
26 • KINOKO NASU
“But, why did Shiki disappear?” he inquired calmly. All told, he’s taking
this quite well, thought Tōko. Maybe he really has steeled himself for it.
“I’m only speculating here, but if you’ll entertain it: Two years ago in that
accident, the girl you know as Ryōgi died. But Shiki took her place
and died in her stead. ‘Reborn’, such as it was, in her mind was a wholly
new individual, molded by her memories and experience but unable to
truly feel them. She still probably spends her nights there in her dilemma,
unable to grasp the sensation that she is someone that is more than the
sum of her parts.”
“If she’s a different individual like you said, does that mean she can’t
remember anything that happened before?”
“No, no, she remembers just fine, with the exception of the memories
that Shiki himself made. She suffered what might be called a ‘death of the
mind’. Think of it as her taking a little trip and gaining new experiences.
She’s still the Shiki you know, but changed somehow by the journey of her
soul. I suspect that’s why her growth stopped when she slipped into the
coma, as she entered a liminal state of being alive and dead, due to the
dual existences of and Shiki: a paradox that reality couldn’t resolve.
Her memories will be a source of continued anxiety, I assure you, as she
will be unable to remember many of what made her dual existence unique,
and what she does remember she can’t process as her own. Her personality
is one of synthesis, of the past and the present mixed together.”
I make it sound like it happened involuntarily, Tōko thought, but it probably
wasn’t; to compensate for the one she lost, as a way to retain her
identity as a Ryōgi, she changes herself. If that’s true, then she’s a fool. She
needs companionship, not mimesis, to fill the hollow that Shiki left behind,
even if she doesn’t know it yet.
Tōko let this remain unsaid, and continued. “But even if we hypothesize
that she’s a different person, the truth is that she’s still Shiki Ryōgi, even
if she can’t feel the same way. Time will pass, and with time, her soul’s
wounds will heal, and she’ll eventually recognize that fact. A rose by any
other name and all that jazz. See, a rose doesn’t change just because you
put it on different soil or water it another way. So don’t start slashing your
wrists in the bathroom because of it.” She added in a whisper, “In the end,
a hole has to be filled with something. For her, the memories won’t do.
She needs to make new memories, new experiences; a new hallow for her
soul that she herself can create.” Tōko looked squarely at the boy, ensuring
there was no mistaking who she was referring to. “And it’s your job to
get her there. You just go do your thing, make contact and conversation.
It’s the thing she needs the most after she gets out of the hospital, which
/ A HALLOW - III • 27
should be soon.”
She chucks the cigarette she had been smoking violently out the window,
and then raised her arms to stretch her back, the bones producing a satisfying
“I really shouldn’t have bought a brand of smokes I don’t know. That
was a horrible smoke right there,” she said to no one in particular. The boy
couldn’t figure out if the long sigh she made afterwards was caused by her
hatred of the cigarette or of the difficulty of her job, and decided that it
was perhaps best not to ask.
28 • KINOKO NASU
As my usual morning examination comes to its usual boring close,
I glance at the desk calendar beside my bed and realize it’s the 20th of
June. That makes the duration of my stay here a mere seven days, counting
tomorrow when I get out of the hospital. With the gradual recovery of my
body, they saw fit to finally cut me loose. And that includes the bandages
on my eyes, which will come off early tomorrow morning.
It’s amazing how little of importance you can gain, and how much you can
lose in as short as a week’s time. Akitaka and my parents probably haven’t
changed a bit, but they feel like strangers. But it’s me that’s changed, and
with it, everything. I can only lie here and watch as it happens. I let my
hand brush lightly over the bandages covering my eyes. For all that I lost,
this is the only thing I gained.
Death: Maybe it’s a time and a place. But it’s also a concept, formless
and shapeless. I lived through it, and now I can literally see it. When I
opened my eyes for the first time in two years, the first thing I took notice
of wasn’t the nurse who rushed to my side in astonishment. It was a line,
running across her throat. It only took a moment for me to see the rest: a
line in every person, in every wall, even in the air itself, all of them across
everything I could see. They were never still, always flowing and slithering
in accursed serenity. Then I realized that these weren’t just lines. They
were cracks and fissures to that oblivion of nothingness I had been in. I
was filled with an irrational fear then, a fear of the possibility of that outer
darkness pouring into the world I had just returned to. The nurse talked
to me, but I couldn’t hear the words, only seeing the lines, and the things
they were attached to crumbling and dying, breaking apart piece by piece.
It was that vision that provided the impetus for me to try destroying my
eyes. My arms moved, half through my own volition, half through instinctual
fear, and every muscle hurt like hell. I was still weak, and because of
that the doctor was able to stop me from crushing my own eyes. Jury’s still
out on whether that was a good thing or not. They never seriously asked
me why I did it, chalking it up to the fact that my mind was still recovering,
and all sorts of involuntary impulses could happen then.
But now my eyes are almost good again, a fact that I couldn’t deny any
longer. I’d do anything not to see a world like that a second time. Neither
the world I’m in now, or the world of “ ” in my sleep, a place more disgusting
and repulsive than any place I’d ever seen. I still can’t bear the thought
of ever returning there, though I’ve since consigned it to a bad dream.
/ 4 • 29
Yet these eyes tied to that oblivion are proof enough of how real it was.
I point my fingertips at my eyes. They’re only inches away from each
other now. All that’s left for me to do now is make a fast, clean stab, like I
always did in sword practice—
“Hold that thought, friend. Never been told to look before you leap?
Whoops, poor choice of words.” From the door comes a woman’s voice. I
turn my head towards it. I didn’t have time to remember who she is exactly
but whoever she is, I can hear her voice coming closer. I don’t seem to
hear any accompanying footfalls, however. The person stops right beside
“Arcane Eyes of Death Perception, huh? Destroying that’d be a huge
waste, Shiki. In the first place, even if you destroy it, reality will still make
you see what you were meant to see. Curses come home to roost too.”
“Who the hell are you?” I ask. I hear the sound of her trying to stifle
laughter at my angered inquiry, and a rough click, like a lighter spitting out
“A mage. One you’d do well to listen to. Those Eyes are a tool, and like
any tool, you need someone to teach you how to use it.” As she speaks,
I slowly recognize her voice. The tone is altered somewhat, but it is definitely
that speech therapist, here for our daily sessions.
“How to use—”
“Damn right. Better than not knowing anything and fucking everything
up right? You have eyes capable of manifesting death, Arcane power the
likes of which the Celtic god Balor held.”
What. The. Hell. I have absolutely no idea what this woman is saying.
“Arcane Eyes usually only become permanent through a ritual performed
on the eyes, but you, you’ve had them ever since, didn’t you? Your little
brush with death was just the kind of thing that would have awakened it.
From what I hear from reliable sources, it was always your nature.”
I know what she’s saying, and my memories say the same thing.
was always one to look past appearances, and always read a person’s character,
though she never truly intended to do so. I couldn’t possibly begin to
speculate as to how she could have known about that, but she continues
to talk like she knows every bit about me.
“That was the way rolled, and I suggest you start doing it more
often too. Understand that everything has a flaw, a fundamental lie. Then,
understand that everything is driven to entropy, to be pulled into chaos
and break down. You’ve been brushing that boundary of death for so long
that you’ve been able to comprehend it, your eyes allowing you to observe
these flaws like a microscope would, seeing lines no one else can see. What
30 • KINOKO NASU
you’re seeing is a thing’s death, its end, and you can touch and mold it
with your will. Practically speaking, there’s not much difference between
you and old Balor now, is there? If you really feel like putting extra fingershaped
holes in your Eyes, then you can sell them to me instead, and I’ll
happily extract them from you for study.”
“Well, you said I’ll still see them even if I do, so I don’t see why I should
hand them ove—“
“Then you do listen to people after all. Then hear this: the mundane
life? Ain’t gonna happen. And quit your bitching already. End of the line for
your dream. Wake up! Open your eyes to my world, the secret world. You
were meant to be here. The happiness of the everyday isn’t for you.”
Her declaration carries a confidence that rides with finality, and it’s a
sudden and unexpected conclusion that my mind still refuses to accept.
“But…I don’t even have the will to live anymore.” I manage to utter. A
weak reply, but it’s all I can bring to fore.
“Oh, let me guess, because your soul is hollow?” she says in a mocking
tone. “And yet you don’t want to die. You know why? Because you’ve seen
that supernal realm that no third-rate Kabbalist can even begin to conceive
of, you ungrateful little brat. Look, I’ll break down your existential crisis for
you. You were inseparable once, but now that’s no longer true. Shiki’s
gone. Big whoop. You’re a different person now. You mutter that you don’t
have the will to live while you entertain the thought of not dying. You say
you have no reason to be alive, yet you’re scared of death. You’re a regular
Neville Chamberlain aren’t you, sitting on that boundary. Is it still a wonder
why your soul is so hollow?”
“How dare you even talk about me like you know me! I don’t—” When
I finally find the strength to protest, I am cut off again, not by her, but by
me…seeing her silhouette through the bandages…as well as the lines she
spoke of. Death itself twines around my fingers.
“Guessing you saw the lines again, judging from your reaction. You let
your guard down too easily, is why. The stray wraiths in this hospital are
happy to have you. You don’t get your shit together soon, they’ll have a
comfortable new home in your body.” She must be talking about the white
haze. But I haven’t seen it around lately. “Oh, they’re going to get friendly
with you. They’re ghosts, you know, parts of the soul fettered to this side,
something keeping them from passing on. They aren’t sentient, least not
like us, but they’re instinctual things driven to return to corporeality. This
hospital has a lot of them. Practitioners of the spiritual Arts usually protect
themselves from being possessed when dealing with ghosts, but to someone
with as hollow insides such as yours, it’s as easy as stealing a car.”
/ 4 • 31
She says it with such contempt that she almost seems to be enjoying the
entire affair. If all of that was true, why did it not possess me in the past? I’d
never offered any resistance, after all.
“You’re pathetic, and make a mockery of the rune ward I put extra effort
into casting here to protect you. I guess we’re not seeing eye to eye here.
All right, you can go do…whatever it is you do from now on for all I care.”
After she spits out those words, I hear her stand up and make for the door,
but before she closes it to leave, she leaves me one last question. “But are
you really going to waste what Shiki sacrificed himself for, Ryōgi?”
As it has become with the questions she liked to bring up about my past,
I could not produce an answer, and my evasion only makes me feel like
there was something I missed, something I still couldn’t find the reason for.
Night has fallen and darkness has crept into my room. This evening, no
footsteps can be heard in the corridor outside, and the silence is kept as
dutifully as in a deep mountain. In my head, I keep replaying my conversation
with the therapist, specifically her parting words.
Why did you take ’ place, Shiki? The question echoes in my head,
but Shiki isn’t there to answer. Why did you disappear? What could you
have possibly gained in return? You always liked to dream, always liked to
sleep, and yet, on that rain-soaked night, you threw that away and died.
You’re the me I can never meet, who I never could meet.
I slowly fall into sleep, racking my mind for a memory, any single scene
that could explain why he did what he did. As always, no luck.
The door to my room makes a low creak: someone is opening it. Slow,
heavy-set footsteps draw closer. The nurse maybe? No, it’s already past
midnight. A visitor? But who could possibly come at this late an—
A hand wraps itself lovingly around my neck, cold to the touch. In an
instant, strength enters it, squeezing, choking, and my neck begins to be
crushed, little by little.
32 • KINOKO NASU
With a moment’s pressure, Shiki breathes a single moment’s pained
gasp. She can feel the air in her throat slowly being cut off as the fingers
tighten their caress. Shiki can only wryly observe.
At the rate this guy is going, my neck’s gonna be crushed before I have
the air wrung out of me.
Though unable to see, Shiki attempts to offer her attacker a solid look
directly to the face, so close that she can smell the scent of…it. Whatever
this thing is, it isn’t something that is still alive, judging by the smell. Shiki
can feel it now, the corpse looming above her, its grip not slacking for even
a second. She grasps both arms, attempting to ward them off, but to no
avail—the difference in strength was clear.
But wait, thinks Shiki, isn’t this what I’d wanted all along?
She stops resisting, and halts her breathing. If I’m going to choose to die,
might as well make it as fast as humanly possible. After all, existing without
really “living” is the worst thing you can do to anyone. It’s only right for me
Her strength ebbs as she surrenders herself. Though only a few seconds
have passed, to Shiki, times seems to be stretching itself out painfully.
Cold, wooden hands dig into her skin. The flesh tears, and warm blood
seeps forth as proof of life.
I’m going to die, just like Shiki.
And I’m just going to throw that life away, like trash.
The thought makes Shiki pause.
Did Shiki really want to die? I never thought about that. Of course he
never wanted to die! But—he had to. To protect something. And he wouldn’t
have wanted me to die too. After all, death is such a lonely, fruitless thing;
dark, ominous, and more worthy of fear than anything else.
“No!” Shiki manages to cough. In a moment, she resumes her resistance,
grabbing hold of both arms as before, and puts a foot on her attacker’s
belly. “Anything but to fall into that place again!”
And with all the strength she could manage on that one leg, she kicks
the corpse upwards and away. The blood and skin on Shiki’s throat make a
wet sound as the hands that held her slip away. Immediately, she stands up
and gets herself away from the bed as fast as her feet could carry her, but
the corpse is close behind. Its hands struggle in the unlit room, trying to
find solid purchase on Shiki’s body as he tries to grapple her again.
From what Shiki can tell, the corpse’s body is that of an adult man, two
/ 5 • 33
heads higher than her. She fumbles as best as her blindness can allow, but
she is hard pressed to resist, her hands being as busy trying to feel herself
around the room as warding off the corpse’s attacks. She retreats, and
retreats once more, until she leads herself back-first into a wall.
The light bump on her back reassures her: it is a hard rap on the glass
window. The corpse approaches, and Shiki hears the sound of its arms
cutting through the air, which Shiki manages to intercept with her own,
stopping them at least for a while. With the window at her back and the
corpse in place, all was according to her hastily thought up plan. There is
one last consideration that gives her a moment’s hesitation—what floor is
“Don’t hesitate!” she tells herself, and releases the arms of the corpse
as hard as she could manage. Immediately, they gun for her throat again,
but Shiki is faster. Using her now free hands, she opens the window. With
the force of the corpse’s grapple and approach, they both fall out of the
window, entangled with each other.
In an instant, me and the corpse are out of the window and in open
air. In the next instant, I grab it by the shoulder and force it downwards,
reversing our positions. With him below me to soften my fall, we descend
together. A second or two later, it hits the ground, and I feel the force of
the impact sharply but without lasting pain. I jump away from it, the hands
and feet that support my landing scattering some dirt in the hospital’s yard.
Judging from the sound of foliage just before the fall, the corpse had
fallen on some sort of flower bed a meter or so away.
That was an amazing landing, if I do say so myself. So amazing in fact,
that my body is frozen in place, likely still catching up at having just fallen
three floors. The smell on the wind is that of fresh leaves and trees in the
courtyard. In contrast to the excitement of the last few seconds, the night
is deathly silent. Unmoving, I feel only the throbbing pain in my throat. It
tells me that I’m still alive.
As for the corpse…well, whatever it is, it isn’t done yet. If I don’t want to
die, then I know what I need to do.
Kill. Before it kills me.
With that thought, the cavernous emptiness that had until moments
ago gripped my heart fades away. All my doubts, all my worries, disappear
all at once.
“That’s all?” I whisper. It’s only then that I awaken, for real this time.
How stupid and foolish I was, to brood as I did, when all along the answer
34 • KINOKO NASU
was so fine and simple.
“Catty in more than one sense, aren’t we?” says a voice from behind
Shiki, a voice she recognizes as the therapist’s. Shiki does not turn to meet
her, still shocked from the fall.
“You again? Kind of late for therapy, don’t you think?” Shiki asks.
“I’ll have you know I was standing guard,” answered the self-styled mage
nonchalantly. “It all had to come to a head tonight, before you got out, one
way or the other. These ghosts wanted your body but couldn’t get it, so
they possess a dead body to take care of that problem.”
“Please don’t tell me this is all because of that weird stone you left in
“Oh ho, so she remembers. No, it’s not the rune’s fault, but I will admit
this is a mistake I did not foresee. I erected a ward that should have kept
ghosts out, but then they get themselves a corporeal body to circumvent
that. They usually aren’t that smart, neither with the body, or their dogged
determination to have you specifically. I smell strings behind this.” The
mage chuckles, as if this was all some grand game she was playing with
another of her kind, and she had just made a small tactical mistake.
“Well, now’s your chance to rectify that. Why not show me some of the
magic up your sleeve, mage?”
“Don’t mind if I do.” With that, the mage snaps a finger. In the air, her
hand moves as if to conduct a mudra, manipulating the cigarette she holds
to describe a symbol made out of straight lines in the air, which finds itself
suddenly projected onto the still-staggered corpse. It is rune script, her
conduit to arcane power, and through it she sets fire to the rotting body,
putting flame to it from afar. “The Ansuz I have is too weak for this,” she
grumbles, seemingly disappointed. The reason soon becomes clear.
The flames embrace the corpse, but it only starts to stand up, unmindful
of its current state. The bones on its leg are clearly broken, and yet once it
stands it continues to advance, shuffling and dragging itself towards Shiki.
It is not long before the flames extinguish themselves, the power animating
“Are you telling me he’s still standing? Are you a real mage or are we in
the part where you try selling me bridges?”
“I think I preferred you more docile. This is difficult, and definitely not
my area of expertise. If it was a regular human, bam, end of story. But since
it’s a corpse, it doesn’t really mind if it loses an arm or a head. You’d need
an incinerator to stop him, or maybe a particularly devout monk could—”
“Let’s make this quick, shall we? Long story short, you can’t do it.” The
/ 5 • 35
mage shoots Shiki an annoyed glance at what she just said, her pride forced
to submit to her inability.
“Don’t think your newfound talents are going to save you from that
thing for long, too. It’s already dead. While you can kill people, you’re a
long way away from unmaking the death-touched. We’ll fall back for now.”
The mage retreats a step. Shiki, however, remains unmoving, though not
through any injury from the fall. She is only smiling, as if this ridicule in
itself was enough to stop the approaching enemy.
“Dead or whatever you wanna call it, that body is moving, still ‘living’,
right? Then—” Shiki finally lifts herself up, standing now with back bent in
the manner of some ancient predator. She puts a finger to her neck, feels
the texture of her torn skin, and of the life blood flowing out of it, the
traces of strangulation still left. And yet, here I stand, alive. The sensation
of it is almost orgasmic. “—whatever it is, I’ll kill it,” she finishes.
The bandages that blinded Shiki come loose and drift away on the wind,
at last revealing in the midst of the black night her spellbound Eyes. In an
instant, she puts energy into her legs, breaking into a run, every kick of her
legs scattering the soil beneath her feet.
She sees everything now. She sees the corpse and how it raises a hand
to strike her as she approaches. Shiki is only barely able to duck under it.
Most especially now, she sees the lines, no longer as threatening as before,
but inviting, throbbing and pulsating to an invisible rhythm. She sees the
lines on the corpse, and with one hand traces one of their number, stretching
from right shoulder to left hip. Though her hand seems to slip easily
into the line, the attack costs her a broken finger, a minor inconvenience
compared to the injury dealt to Shiki’s enemy, who is now cut in half.
Like a puppet being cut from its strings, the thing collapses in a heap,
its one arm the only part of it still able to move, grasping Shiki’s leg like a
writhing insect. Without mercy, Shiki quickly stomps on it with her foot.
“What a useless piece of death you are,” she spits out, more indignant
than she has ever been. “Begone from my sight!” She laughs a silent laugh
and thinks, I’m alive! All that worry and trouble, gone like bad lies, and the
only truth is that I live.
“Shiki!” calls out the mage from the distance. She throws a thin, silvery
object at the ground near Shiki, and before it lands it catches a glint of the
moonlight. A knife, plain and unadorned. She retrieves it from the ground
and sets about its first task. She looks down at the persistent half-body
clinging to her for a moment before bringing the knife down on its throat.
The corpse stops moving almost instantly, but the mage calls out again.
“You idiot! Stab it right in the heart!” But it is already too late. Faster
36 • KINOKO NASU
than her rebuke comes the white haze that Shiki once knew, floating back
into ethereal existence the moment Shiki brought down the knife. At once,
it beats a hasty retreat…not away, but into Shiki’s body. She falls to her
knees as if in a trance. In the moment that Shiki lost herself to the ecstasy
of murder, it is then that they make their move to possess her, when the
sense of self is weakened.
The mage draws closer to Shiki. “She didn’t finish it, the damned fool.”
It seems, however, that Shiki still maintains some tenuous control, as she
holds out an outstretched arm towards the mage. Don’t come closer, it
seems to say, and the mage finds herself complying. Now with both hands,
Shiki grasps the knife, fingers clinging to it like the symbol of life itself, and
positions it point-downwards above her own chest.
Determination returns to her hollow eyes. Her lips are still as she grits
her teeth and brings the knife slowly downwards until the tip touches
lightly upon the skin of her breast. She tells herself in her mind that neither
her body nor the hallow of her soul have not yet been plundered by any
“Now there’s nowhere for you to run,” she speaks to no one but herself.
Shiki directs the spellbound sight of her Arcane Eyes inward to see the
death of the spectral thing that plagued her, willing and weaving her magic
to kill it and only it. Believing only that she won’t be injured from what she
was about to do, she gathers her strength.
“I’ll kill the weak part of me. And you will never have Shiki Ryōgi ever
She presses the knife downwards, the blade sliding smoothly through
The few seconds that pass before she moves again carry the air of a
ritual, and when she does move, she withdraws the knife from her chest.
No blood runs from her breast, nor are there any traces of it on the blade.
But she feels the phantom pain of that knife all the same. She takes a swing
at the air, violently, as if to remove the invisible taint of the spirits on the
blade, and then speaks to the mage.
“I remember what you said. You said that you’d teach me how to use
these Eyes.” Her voice, once so quivering and unsure, now settles into a
confidence. The mage, seemingly satisfied, nods her assent.
“Make no mistake, friend. This is a transaction. You’ll learn to focus your
talent, but in return you’ll help me with my work. I recently lost my familiar,
so I need another pair of helping hands.”
“Right,” Shiki says without even turning to look at her benefactor. “Does
that mean I get to kill people?” The question makes even the mage shiver
/ 5 • 37
in spite of herself, but she tries to remove her reservation in her answer.
“Then you have me. Do whatever you want with me. After all, it’s not as
if I have any direction in my life.” And with that, she falls unconscious, tired
from the fighting, and from the pain on her chest, a look of melancholy on
her face just before she collapsed.
The mage lifts her up in her arms, staring for a long time at Shiki’s sleeping
face. In contrast to her countenance only moments ago, her face is
now tranquil, enough to create the illusion that no life ever flowed through
those cheeks. Before long, the mage offers her own words, not caring
whether Shiki hears her or not.
“No direction, huh? Unfortunately, you’re wrong again.” She begins to
detest the peace on Shiki’s face. “Because a hollowed soul means you can
put as much as you can back into it. Where else can you find better prospects,
you lucky bastard?”
She clicks her tongue in annoyance, for these are words that she thought
she’d forgotten how to say.
38 • KINOKO NASU
Slowly, slowly, I slip into dream. But even in dream the question remains:
The man known as Shiki no longer exists, but what did he gain, and what
did he hope to protect, by disappearing as he did? In dream, Ryōgi’s
memories provide the answer like a parting gift.
He died to protect a shared dream, a dream of finally finding his—our—
own slice of peace. And he thought we had found it. He believed in him, in
He died for me, and for that boy, and he left me with this deep, abiding,
Warm sunshine forces open my eyelids, and I remember now that my
Eyes are no longer covered, no longer blind. It feels like I’m lying down on
the bed. That mage must have put me back in my room when I fell unconscious
last night, set things back to right.
Completely still, I absorb as much of the morning atmosphere as I can
manage, taking in the warm yet fleeting sunlight, as if to let it wash out the
darkness that possessed me last night. I feel the languor of the morning,
feel it melding the dreams of my twin existence to create one fleeting life. I
want so much to cry for Shiki, but I’ve decided to cry only once from now
on. He represents something I’ll never be able to return to, and this isn’t
the time and place for tears, and so my eyes are dry.
Besides, he would have wanted to disappear without anyone crying
I hear a voice coming from beside my bed, and when I turn my head to
look toward it, there sits a familiar friend, his appearance unchanged even
in the face of two years. The black, unadorned hair he keeps, and the similarly
black-rimmed glasses: both are exactly as they were, as if he stepped
out of past and into present.
“Do you…still know who I am?” he asks with marked hesitation. He
didn’t need to.
Yeah, I know. You’re the one that waited, the only one that cared enough
to watch over me.
“Mikiya Kokutō, right?” I respond, almost in a whisper. “Last name still
/ 6 • 39
sounds like some French poet to my ears.” He smiles as broadly as the day
we met the second time in school. I wonder, though, if he still remembers
the promise we made.
“Nice day out today. Perfect weather for getting out of the hospital,
don’t you think?” Faintly, I can see the tears behind his eyes that he is so
desperately trying to hold back and sound as natural as he can. It’s a touching
sentiment. He chose to smile rather than to cry.
Just like Shiki chose to recognize solitude instead of becoming solitary.
Though I still don’t know which of the two I should side for.
“Guess there are still things I didn’t lose,” I mutter as I look at him
contentedly, the sunlight streaming in through the window behind him
half-obscuring his smile. I know that such gestures aren’t enough to heal
my empty heart, but still…
It was still the same smile I remember, unchanged neither by time or
In a room that had seen no alteration in years, in days locked in stasis, a
girl shivered while she lay on top of her bed. The door had not admitted a
visitor in quite some time, but today it opened for one such a man. Steps
echoed in the room, there one moment, and gone the next, choosing when
and if they made a sound. It was him, no doubt about it.
He stood high, with a cruel body and constantly clouded eyes that bore
the weight of an eternity’s reckoning. Those grim eyes only looked at her,
but still she felt the dread that passes through a prisoner when she sees
her warden. The room felt emptier with him in it, and even the girl, who
longed for death, had to acknowledge the deathly fear that shook her.
“You are Kirie Fujō, are you not?” His voice was ice, flowing and crashing.
Though blind, Kirie Fujō attempted to look towards her visitor and ask
“Are you that friend of my father’s?” The man did not speak, but Kirie
knew the answer all the same. This was the man who had paid for her stay
here in the hospital, when Kirie’s family had all died. “What brings you
here? You know I can’t do anything for you.” She tried to hold back her
trembling as she spoke.
The man remained motionless, but spoke. “I have come to grant your
wish. Do you desire another body, free of this prison?” Kirie heard some
harmony of magic in his impossible statement, and she thought that even
that absurdity could be made possible.
After a beat of silence, the girl nods her assent, throat trembling, and the
man lowers his head and raises his right hand in answer. And it was here he
granted her a dream and a waking nightmare. But before this moment, she
put to him a question.
“What—who are you?”
/ BOUNDARY GOETIA • 41
She left the abandoned underground bar behind her and started on her
way. Each step was heavy, and each ragged breath brought her closer to
collapse. As she progressed, she had to lean on street light posts and the
walls of buildings to stop herself from falling over.
Earlier, in the bar, she had been struck in the back with a bat by one
among the five that violated her with regularity. She felt no pain. Only a
dull heaviness from the thought of being struck. She held a pained expression,
not out of anguish but by the expectation of anguish that she thought
should be present. She had planned to endure the regular humiliation and
go home to her dormitory in silence. But tonight, with her mind and body
sluggish and unresponsive, the way home seemed to stretch on interminably.
She passes the display window of a shop in the commercial end of town
and sees how pale she has become in her reflection. Without a sense of
pain, she only knows that she’s been hit in the back, and that the injury is
bad. She has no idea to what extent. She walks on, not knowing her backbone
has already endured a crack.
The hospital is out of the question. Even if she went to the doctor that
her parents didn’t know, he’d still ask questions, and that would blow the
whole thing open. She was never good at lies. Besides, the distance to his
clinic was much too far.
“What should I do?” Desperation evident in her whisper. Too tired to go
further, she starts to fall towards the sidewalk—
—until a man’s arm stopped her fall.
Astonished, she looked upwards, seeing a man with hard set eyes. He
“You are Fujino Asagami, are you not?” His was a voice that brooked no
refusal. It was the first time that the girl, Fujino Asagami, felt such a fear
as to freeze her in place. “Your spine must be healed, elsewise you cannot
move freely.” His words spoke of improbabilities, and yet brought home
with clarity the reality of Fujino’s situation.
She wants it. She wants to go back to her dormitory, the only place where
she had ever found peace. Her eyes are clouded with meek desperation,
and they meet the man’s own. He wore a long coat despite the summer
heat, and its features were a solid black. His anachronistic cloak and rigid
gaze somehow brought to Fujino’s mind the image of a monk.
“Do you wish me to heal you?” he finally asks, but he phrases it more like
a demand than an inquiry. Fujino didn’t even notice herself nod in assent.
“Then let it be so. Your body’s defect I do now scatter.”
And it was here that his face was ever still as his right hand touched
Fujino’s back lightly. But before this moment, she put to him a question.
“Who are you?”
But before this moment, he put to him a question.
“Who…who the hell are you, man?”
The man in the black cloak remained motionless as he answered. His
voice seemed then to be powered by some demiurgic force, and through
him that force spoke, resounding through the alleyway with the whispering
“A mage. My name is Sōren Alaya.”