Night 3: Boudoir
She was tired and she didn’t know why. Would it be better off if she was angry? Or sad? She didn’t know the answer to that. Her mind was muddled, her was head dizzy, and she wanted to throw up.
Guriko slumped down onto the sofa when she returned home and stared aimlessly at the ceiling. She took out a spoon almost subconsciously, the metal glistening and refracting the lamp's light.
Hino and Kio would probably be upset if they knew she fought Long-Armed Demon today – no, they’d definitely be upset. She had broken that most basic promise of ‘do not harm others’.
What should I have done then?
She was conflicted. She felt there were two of her, both of which believed in justice.
The Guriko who wanted to protect Rinne, protect the people in the school, and protect those in the town.
And the Guriko who decided not to harm others, who etched that resolve deep into her heart.
Though those two sides cannot be reconciled, they were nonetheless both my true selves. I had considered whether I still needed to fight, but I thought fighting was the best course of action at the time. There was nothing else I could have done. Besides, I still feel I was the only one who could defeat Long-Armed Demon.
“So you must choose your future before you meet Sterilization Disinfection. Will you live on as a monster, or as a human?”
The words spoken by the fake priest with feral eyes continued to echo within her mind.
She realized that the monster ‘Gankyuu Egoriko’ did indeed exist within her heart when she fought Long-Armed Demon today. She was truly happy when she fought Long-Armed Demon; she felt excellent when she dug out the other’s eyeballs. But Rinne… she was only standing behind Guriko, yet that was enough to ignite her desire to kill. Though it wasn’t the real Rinne, it looked exactly the same – and should therefore have been the same.
She just happened to realize –
That she was certainly not a human.
She was a monster who lived for a millennium in the darkness, knowing nothing else but digging out eyeballs. Even an inorganic thing can become a demon after a century, so this thousand-year-old ancient husk should have left humanity behind a long time ago.
Even her heart –
Had been that of a monster for a long time.
Guriko now understood that. Feeling depressed, she gazed lazily at the spoon, for its light was the only thing that remained eternally steadfast.
She had always gazed, beseechingly, at this light in her world full of despair, where nothing was ever important to her.
She could only feel alive when she dug out other people’s eyeballs and took their lives. A monster that gouges out eyeballs – that is who I am.
She remembered that. She actually remembered that.
To hell with this common sense and normal societal ethics training.
What a bore! That’s a training designed for a human.
Who am I? I am the Eyeball Gouger, a cruel monster who shouldn’t be living other humans. No, I am a creature more akin to that Long-Armed Demon.
Guriko gritted her teeth so hard that they creaked, and she rose up from the luxurious sofa. Standing in the large uptown apartment situated in the middle of the Kannonsakazaki CBD, she sighed softly in the dark living room with view of the night stars through its ceiling-height glass walls.
Yono had always been the outsider. I was adopted, and I had no place in the family. A thousand years ago, I managed to keep living under the name of Gankyuu Eguriko, and happened to accidentally find my place in the world thanks to Rinne and Sakaki. Then I just depended on them –
Countless eyeballs were crawling in the world within Guriko’s mind.
Those were the eyeballs that she gouged out from other people in the past. Those empty eyeballs that lost their light eons ago stared straight at her emotionlessly.
The eyeballs of those she killed before their Apples took root; the eyeballs of those who attacked her in their pursuit for the secret of immortality; the eyeballs of those who only accidentally became her enemy… those were the eyeballs of innumerable humans… and countless ‘Mushi’.
– I never deserved to obtain happiness.
I have no such rights. A monster should live like a monster, living in darkness till death. But I left the darkness, and I allowed myself to be surrounded by others’ miraculous gentleness. So, I feel that I am dirty, shameful, detestable. I’d rather die.
It was the first time she felt like this.
Ahhh, Rinne isn’t here. She's not here to smile gently at me while scolding me for these foolish thoughts.
The man with wolf-like eyes had suddenly appeared after she finished fighting and took Long-Armed Demon back. He had left Guriko with her face full of confusion as the only one standing at the battlefield.
Zekiguchi Nashinori – the man who claimed to have killed her a thousand years ago. Though she did not know his true identity, every one of his words left its mark on Guriko’s soul.
I lost my cool when I saw Rinne. I was lucky. Though I figured out a solution this time, I wouldn’t be so lucky had my opponent been stronger. I became weaker, much weaker than before. Since my physical abilities didn’t change, it wasn’t due to me having fewer Apples.
However, I still became weaker.
She gave Nageki’s unconscious body to a passerby and asked the man to call for an ambulance, then she returned straight home because of a sudden bout of annoyance. Now she was home alone. Her ‘parents’, Hino and Kio, had yet to return to this apartment especially prepared for the ‘common sense and normal societal ethics training’.
She had lived with the unnaturally excitable duo for three weeks already.
It’d be a lie to say she wasn’t happy. In fact, Guriko smiled much more often now.
But this is a fake life, a fake happiness. My true parents gave up their duties of nurturing me as a baby and discarded their child. My step parents didn’t even love me before the ‘Mushi’ killed them. That was all. Now, after so many years, I no longer wish to have parents.
In the lightless room littered with potted plants, Guriko gazed unblinkingly at the dark and dead TV screen. She felt terrible. She had felt nothing except an uncomfortable guilt and emptiness since her fight with Long-Armed Demon.
“Click”, the light was turned on.
Hino and Kio stood unmoving in the living room like wraiths, their faces devoid of any emotion. Startled and puzzled, Guriko still greeted them in her confusion: “Wel… welcome back. What’s wrong? Why so quiet today?”
Hino started to move soundlessly. Odd, what was with her doll-like face? Her face, which always blossomed with smiles, was currently looking blankly at Guriko as the older woman slowly raised her head.
Then, as if someone suddenly switched her on: “Wow, Guriko-chan! There you are!”
At the same time, Kio also burst out: “Ahaha, I didn’t notice you at all! Are you hungry, Guriko? I’m cooking dinner today. What do you want to eat? I’ll make it for you!”
They spoke with unnatural light-heartedness.
That was odd. Though they had always acted in a funny manner, something about them just now gave her a worrying impression.
Guriko sighed. She didn’t want to talk to them anyways.
She closed her eyes, crossed her arms, and leaned back into the sofa: “I won’t be eating dinner tonight. I don’t feel like it. Sorry, please just have it between yourselves.”
As a result, Hino jumped rather exaggeratedly.
“Are you alright, Guriko-chan? You’re not eating! You’re not eating! Ohh, I’m so surprised that I said it twice! Wha, wha, what’s wrong, are you sick? Are you not feeling well? Aaaah, Guriko-chan! Guriko-chan is going to die?!”
Guriko shut her eyes more forcibly, and replied coldly with a displeased expression: “Be quiet. I can have mood swings too.”
She couldn’t talk like this. Her mood wasn’t stable enough.
“So leave me alone.”
“No! If anything happens to Guriko-chan, then Mom will die!”
“Dad won’t be able to work either! Guriko, are you really really alright? Do you need to see a doctor? Or do you –”
What’s that? How can a monster like me have parents?!
She suddenly felt a nameless rage building up inside her, felt an irritation that had no cause. She was probably letting her anger out on them. The duo were genuinely worried about her, but she somehow found their attitudes annoying. With a sharp and sour tone, Guriko rebuked coldly: “Shut up! Stop yelling so loudly!”
Honestly. Please, stop being so nice to such a crass kid. Hino showed a worried expression as if she were truly troubled. She approached the cold monster and placed her hand on Guriko’s forehead, saying: “No fever, at least.”
– An action that could really make Guriko believe the illusion that Hino was truly her ‘mother’.
That’s enough, stop!
I don’t have that right. I’ve killed many people, I’ve eliminated many many people. They were someone’s parents, someone’s children.
A month ago, some people gently accepted this monster – me. They were Usagawa Rinne and Sakaki Guryuu. But I – I – I am obviously a monster, a monster who doesn’t deserve happiness.
Compared to the Guriko living such an ordinary life, the Guriko who fought fellow monsters in a bloodbath like today’s is much closer to my true self. I am a demon, just like the Long-Armed Demon who had killed ten people.
“Don’t touch me!”
Guriko screamed and flung away Hino’s hand due to an incomprehensible rage. Shocked, Hino’s face paled and she slowly stepped away. The room was immediately immersed in silence.
Hearing Kio’s voice, Guriko put her hands to her face and moaned. She couldn’t take this anymore.
“Stop it. That’s enough, stop it! It hurts to pretend to be a family. It hurts!”
The monster that gouged eyeballs denied all that she now possessed.
I don’t want to think any more. I’m tired. I’m dizzy. I want to throw up. I want to die.
Noah’s Ark is a rather famous myth that came from the Bible. Put up your hand if you know about it. Oh, that’s a surprisingly large amount of people. It’s probably not because the Japanese all started to believe in Christianity, but because we knew of it from games or manga. Right. Look closely, girls, the boys with their hands up right now are the fabled otaku who’re into games and anime. Oi, you over there, don’t put your hand down! There’s nothing wrong with being an otaku! I like those things too!
The Age of Gods was an age when even the plants spoke and the existence magic was commonplace. During that time, humans – the descendents of Adam and Eve – fell into unsalvageable corruption. They stopped trusting others, indulged in wanton pleasure, and were content with just satisfying the desires of the flesh – and they even slaughtered each other. They had silently – but undoubtedly – fallen.
Beholding such a scene, God was enraged, and called upon a great flood to eliminate all of humanity. That is the myth of Noah’s Flood. Oh? What’s wrong, Your Majesty? You look like you want to say something. I see. Do you desire so much for me to publically declare my love? Alright, I’ll take a deep breath in and say it out loud. Usarin-kakka, I – love – you!
“Kya~, Sensei, please don’t do this! Why is Sensei so excited today? What happened in the story afterwards?”
No need to be embarrassed.
“Sensei – I would hate you if you do that! Um, Sensei, I have a question. If all humans died in that flood, then we wouldn’t have been born,”
Ahaha, Your Majesty is being too polite. Looks like you’ve put some distance between us. Now I feel lonely. Anyways, God wasn’t that cruel. However, judging from how He decided to mass slaughter humans, we can definitely question whether He has any sense of morality. But you are right, it wasn’t simply a slaughter. Hmm… it’s like a reload in one of those games you otakus are so fond of. Hey, otaku there, don’t space out. Now, God created a mighty boat, the ‘Ark’, which was powerful enough to withstand the flood. He made the most outstanding man on earth – Noah – go on board with his family.
All other animals were supposed to be killed together with humans as well. Perhaps God felt that to be too cruel, so He saved one pair of each animal and sent them on the boat. Therefore, the Ark that carried the husbands and wives that would create a new world set off, and all that was left behind perished in the flood.
In a world that had all its civilizations utterly annihilated, the residents of the Ark began their lives anew after the flood receded– that is the myth of Noah’s Flood. This was probably meant to teach us ‘if we do evil, then God will punish us’. However, if a flood powerful enough to destroy all the races of the world was actually unleashed, then Earth itself would have been eliminated. Without plants, the producers, it would become a dead and grey world. There would have been no food left on the Ark, so carnivorous animals would have begun to devour herbivores. The Ark would then have devolved into a hellish scene of slaughter, bathed in blood –
Oh? What’s wrong, Your Majesty?”
“Sensei, does this have anything to do with our class? Right now is Math class…”
There there. All knowledge has something to do with classwork. Yes, it all has something to do with the class of ‘life’. What? What are you guys laughing at? I just said something brilliant!
Having finished all her classes, Usagawa Rinne walked alone on her way home. The strong wind blew her hair in all directions and the gravel of the country road, sharp like bullets, hammered against her exposed flesh.
But Rinne paid no attention to the wind or the gravel. Looking troubled, she only mumbled to herself.
“Should I call? – can I call? – ”
Guriko didn’t come to school today.
She didn’t see Guriko this morning. She didn’t think that person would skip school. However, the girl with the wolf-like haircut didn’t show up even as the final bell rang. Though she acted like a derelict, Guriko never skipped school. A strong sense of unrest had been stirring within Rinne ever since the weird detective spoke to them in that café last night.
With a single ‘wait here’, Gankyuu Egoriko had disappeared.
Rinne waited till midnight for Guriko, but she never returned.
It’s alright. Guriko is strong.
I believe she’ll definitely come back.
But she didn’t even come to school today.
She thought that the worst shouldn’t have happened. She felt that – Guriko wouldn’t have –
Even so, Rinne couldn’t help but think of Katsumi. They had promised a meeting only for Katsumi to be murdered by Long-Armed Demon. Did Guriko… get killed by Long-Armed Demon too, just like Katsumi?
Rinne was extremely anxious, so anxious that she would have gone mad. She wanted to discuss it with Sakaki, but he seemed to be unnaturally busy because of his work at school.
She shouldn’t bother him.
But she was so worried about Guriko.
She could’t depend on Sakaki forever. She must find some way herself. She couldn’t always take advantage of Sakaki and allow him to pamper her. She couldn’t always be content with letting others protect her.
“I’ll make the call.”
Having made up her mind, Rinne walked into a street lined with shops. Taking cover from the wind, Rinne ducked into an alleyway between two shops and took out her cellphone after quietly sitting down.
Rinne was very poor. She shouldn’t be able to afford something like this. In fact, Sakaki bought it for her, and he also covered the phone bills. Embarrassed, Rinne refrained from using it frequently. But now it was different. It wasn’t the time to dally.
Though she didn’t know where Guriko now lived, she did give Rinne her new phone number. Rinne would now have to make a gamble, and pray for Guriko to pick up the phone. Rinne had taught Guriko how to use a phone and how to answer it the last time they were together. Guriko would at least pick it up, right?
Dialling the number that she had saved into her phone, Rinne puffed out gasps of white steam while she waited for the phone to be answered. The air was freezing cold deep in the dark alley. With the frozen blade of the wind cutting into her skin, the sound of the gale roaring through the alley seemed even noisier.
Rinne now regretted making the call before she got home.
But that couldn’t be helped now. She kept waiting and prayed for Guriko to answer.
It went on like this for a long time.
Perhaps no one was home. Just as Rinne was about to give up: “ – hello, this is the Itsuwara household.”
An unfamiliar female voiced answered.
Itsuwara. They should be Guriko’s foster parents who were living with her. She would probably know if Guriko was home or not.
It was a phone call, but Rinne still composed her posture and bowed formally.
“Ah, hi… hello. I’m, um, I’m Guriko’s classmate. My name is Usagawa Rinne. Is Guriko-chan home?”
In just the blink of an eye –
The female voice, which was previously mixed with apprehension, suddenly became excited.
“Woah! Friend? Guriko’s friend? Kio, Guriko’s friend showed up. Ah, he’s not home. His loss. Yes yes! Hello! I’m Guriko’s mom. I’m Itsuwara Hino!”
With the other talking with such an unstoppable vigour, Rinne didn’t know how to respond. Stunned, she sat there for a few seconds, her face blank with shock.
Picking herself up again, she spoke to Hino, who was screaming excitedly on the other end of the phone: “Hello again, um – Guriko-chan today – ?”
Hino’s voice, saturated with happiness, became even louder with barely a pause.
“Guriko is very cute, isn’t she? She was feeling a little down yesterday for some reason. My yelling made her angry, and we almost had a fight. But she sneaked into my room late last night and gave me a birthday present! It was a kaleidoscope! Isn’t it cute? She didn’t apologize to my face, but she put it on my table. This is such an ingenious idea! She’s so great at making me happy! I would forgive anything she ever did. I love her! GurikoLove! Shortened to GuriLove!”
She went on and on like a rapid-fire cannon, and Rinne ended up being even more confused. Anyways, it seemed whatever Guriko bought yesterday was the gift she gave to Hino. Now that she mentioned it, Guriko did say something about her parent’s birthday.
Guriko bought her present yesterday. Since she gave it to her mother late at night, then it meant she returned home safely.
This, at least, made Rinne breathe a sigh of relief. Keep inquiring after Guriko, she asked Hino: “Then… this means Guriko-chan is safe and sound?”
“Safe and sound? What do you mean safe and sound?”
Hino answered incredulously.
“Usagawa-san, my Guriko is as cute as ever today! The only one with a problem is me, who can’t think straight because of how cute Guriko is!”
That sounded… really impressive.
“Oh? Should I pass the phone to her? Guriko said she doesn’t want to go to school today and stayed in her room without even coming out to eat. But hey, everyone has those moments, right? I used to pretend to be sick and skip school when I was a student, too. The school actually thought I was a weak girl because I did it so often, and the boys even visited me to see how I was doing. Usagawa-san, a physically weak girl will have guys wanting to protect her. That’s a very popular type! You should make it your goal! Tell you what, one of the boys who visited me is now my husband! Ahahahaha!”
What a high-spirited person. Rinne sighed, and then casually urged Hino with her polite tone.
“I see. Then, can I please speak to Guriko-chan?”
“Sure! Leave it to! Um…”
Half way through her sentence, Hino fell silent as if suddenly deep in thought.
“Um, I didn’t catch it completely. What’s your name again?”
A pause, as if thinking, but more like she was straining to recall something.
“Rinne. Ah! Ahhhhh! Usawaga Rinne! Right! I was about to say that your name sounds familiar! You are the girl who was in Guryuu-san’s arms, right? Now I remember; you were in the file. Hmm? Since you’re Guryuu-san’s lover, doesn’t that make you the future matriarch of the organization? Oh my, I was so rude. I’ll pass the phone immediately. Duuuuuuu –”
With an odd onomatopoeia, Hino’s voice drifted further and further away.
It was a wireless phone, and the Hold button wasn’t pressed. Rinne could hear the sounds of Hino walking towards Guriko’s room. Hino was loud, and she could even hear a mysterious tune sounding like “Lalalala – lalalala – Guriko Guriko it’s for you!”
Soon, Hino seemed to be at Guriko’s room. Rinne could hear vague conversations and the sound of knocking for a while. Guriko seemed to have genuinely locked herself in her room. But at least she was safe. That was good enough. Rinne was relieved.
She was her savior. She was her important friend.
It was so wonderful that she was alright.
Still wearing her school uniform, Rinne released a long sigh of relief in the alleyway. She still hadn’t lost her sensation of temperature, and sitting on the ground for so long made her feel the chill all the way to her bones.
After a while, she heard the sound of a door opening, and Hino’s incomprehensible yelling.
She finally heard Guriko’s low and deep voice, a voice that she was already missing after one day.
Rinne smiled and replied with a bright and happy tone: “Ah, Guriko. This is great. You’re safe!”
“Yes, I am safe. What’s up? Ah, ah – ” As if she suddenly recalled something, Guriko stuttered: “Sor, sorry. I left you in the café last night… were you worried about me?”
“Of course I am!”
It was a tone full of mock anger. Rinne, however, felt more settled than ever.
“But it’s great that you’re alright, Guriko-chan. What happened yesterday? Why didn’t you come to school today?”
Guriko was silent.
Then, as if beseeching for help, she said with a lonely voice. “Hey, Rinne.”
It was a weak sound, one that she rarely used. “I’m scared.”
“Scared of what?”
Rinne’s expression also became serious as she listened to Guriko.
“What happened, Guriko-chan?”
“I fought Long-Armed Demon yesterday.”
Emotionlessly, Guriko recited what had happened.
“Although I won, I also realized my own cruelty. I’m a monster. Of course I’m a monster, a monster that gouged eyeballs. Rinne, I realized something. I’m not human. I shouldn’t be going to school. I shouldn’t stay with humans.”
It was a pained sound as if she was forcibly squeezing those words out of her mouth.
“I… I don’t know when I’ll end up like Long-Armed Demon.”
Guriko’s voice was distant and wavering as if she was about to disappear. Rinne couldn’t help but reach out her hand. However, there was nothing in front of her. There was only the cold wind blowing along.
So far away.
Guriko was so far away.
“So… Rinne,” Guriko mumbled in a low voice: “Perhaps I won’t see you again. Perhaps it’s best if we never again meet.”
She hung up the phone. The sound of a disconnected line came beeping through.
Rinne screamed in surprise: “Wai, wait! Guriko-chan! Guriko-chan?”
What was that about?
Rinne called out. However, any words would be meaningless for an already disconnected phone call. Rinne’s face paled, and she sank into silence while tightly holding onto the phone.
Guriko called herself a monster.
Just what happened last night? Rinne felt scared, and hugged the phone to her chest. Terrifying. Guriko said she won’t see her again.
I don’t want that.
And Guriko isn’t a monster. I like her, and so does Sakaki. And Hino – she also appeared to care for Guriko a lot.
'If she was so cherished by everyone else, how can she be a monster?
Rinne heard a sound coming from next to her.
“… you’ll catch a cold if you sit here.”
An incredulous person stood there.
She had a mask that completely covered her mouth, but she wore a revealing and feminine outfit incongruous in the winter.
Her hair was in a long braid, and bangles and chains chimed on her arms.
This incredulous woman sniggered, then said with a voice as sweet as honey: “You were screaming just then, weren’t you? You couldn’t reach someone’s heart with your words, right? That person is very important to you, isn’t it? Are you sad…? Or lonely…? But it’s best if you can treasure this emotion. If you start to feel happiness even from experiencing misfortunes, then you’d truly become a monster. That’s what I think.”
Hearing her vague but incredibly touching words, Rinne stood up with surprise written all over her face and turned towards her suspiciously.
Rinne didn’t take well to those with odd appearances.
Though she felt a little scared, she still spoke: “Is there something I can help you with?”
“Oh! Ahaha, right – we haven’t met before. Little wonder that you’re so alarmed.”
The mysterious woman put her hand to her cheek gracefully, and smiled charmingly.
“My name is Saibara Mina. It’s only a small matter that I need your help with. Can I borrow your phone? The spread of cellphones made phone booths disappear one after another, which is inconvenient for people like me who don’t have cellphones. Though I don’t dislike the idea of completely eliminating such useless items – why, I even prefer this idea – but simply destroying these items without reason is not a commendable method either.”
It was as if she deliberately used difficult words. Rinne didn’t understand all of that.
Anyways, it seemed she just wanted to borrow her phone.
Rinne would usually have refused her out of caution. However, though the other was now smiling, Rinne got the feeling her anger would be terrifying indeed. Rinne nodded, and decided to listen to her for now.
She silently handed the phone over – and Mina smiled alluringly.
Then she started dialling out a number without further ado and waited for it to connect.
Rinne felt awkward. Crossing her fingers, she looked at Mina. The other woman was dressed extremely scantily; didn’t she feel cold?
She should be able to feel temperature, right?
“Hey, meat doll?”
Rinne’s thoughts instantly froze with Mina’s utterly incomprehensible sentence.
What did she say? Meat doll?
Rinne stared at Mina. She couldn’t tell whether the other woman noticed this or not with Mina still speaking softly into the phone.
She didn’t tell the person on the other end of the phone her name, either.
“Right – it’s time to get to work. I helped you to find someone. What? I’m at the shopping district now. Me? Hey, I told you my speciality is elimination, not murder. Got it? Besides, if that person happens to run away, it’s best to hide my true identity. Why don’t you think this through with that thick brain of yours? If you end up acting like an idiot, then I won’t hold up my end of the bargain either.”
Mina finished speaking, disconnected, and returned the phone to Rinne with a smile.
What was that about? Rinne felt an uneasy aura.
Scared of digging deeper into this, Rinne hurriedly packed away her phone and nodded softly to Mina: “Er… I’ll get going then.”
“Ahh, I see.” As if pleased, Mina smiled. “Thank you. Take care then!”
She left these words, and gently waved her goodbye.
Rinne’s home was beyond the shopping streets close to the school, and at the end of a bumpy country path.
This apartment building stood alone in a deserted area, surrounded by empty land. Thanks to its incredibly atrocious conditions, the rent was also astonishingly cheap.
Even if she saw other residents, they would not usually communicate with each other. The only one that she had developed any real rapport with was the musician onee-san living next door.
Directly in front of Rinne’s door was an old washing machine that the previous owner didn’t take away.
The neighbor that stood in front of the washing machine tilted her head to one side as she looked up at Rinne. That tilting movement was her habit. Even Rinne, who had gotten used to it, still found it hard to discern whether it meant agreement or disagreement, apologies or gratitude.
“Welcome back, Ring-bell.”
Her voice was low with an odd pronunciation.
Her bleached hair waved in the wind as she stood still in her cheap and dirt-stained dress. She seemed to be of foreign descent, and her irises had a cloudy violet sheen.
“Break-nee, are you doing the laundry?”
“Ring-bell, I’ve been considering it for a while, but Break-nee is just too strange. This washing machine is yours. Sorry for using it without asking your permission.”
Break-nee apologized emotionlessly. She was very shy, introverted, and quiet. Since she rarely changed her expression, it was hard to read her true thoughts.
But Rinne felt she wasn’t a bad person.
Rinne made a small wave with her hand, and lowered her gaze.
“Ahh, no, this washing machine isn’t mine. It belonged to the person who lived here beforehand.”
“Really? That’s good.”
Break-nee tilted her head, and pressed button after button with experienced ease according to the washing machine’s complicated operating system. Then, she abruptly turned and left for her room.
Before she left, she opened her door a crack, and looked over with a tilt of her head, her face full of confusion: “Ring-bell, what happened to that girl Guriko?”
Didn’t I tell her?
Though she felt a bit sad, she replied: “Ah – um, Guriko didn’t have any family, but there are now people who are willing to be her foster parents. She’s now living with them…”
She tilted her head, and frowned as if deep in thought.
“This may be dangerous. I am very weak, and I can’t protect you.”
Break-nee said something incomprehensible.
“Take care, Ring-bell. The world is full of dangers, even today.”
Rinne still didn’t understand. Break, however, had already returned to her room.
What a mysterious person.
Rinne gazed at the turning washing machine as she thought this. With a sigh, she inserted her key and entered her home.
This tiny room, with the kitchen and the bathroom squeezed in, was packed full with things.
Though Rinne tidied the room almost every day, she couldn’t help with the fact that the room was simply too small.
Rinne turned on the air conditioning to chase away the stuffy air, took off her jacket, and changed from uniform to casual clothes.
She felt so tired.
She found it hard to sleep ever since Katsumi died. She always felt anxious, and even accidentally fell down a slope. She had sunk into a swamp of melancholy.
It couldn’t go on like this.
It was her bad habit to be so pessimistic.
Maybe she would cook to feel better.
What was left in the fridge? As she thought this, Rinne walked to her sink next to the wall to wash her face, then moved to the fridge.
Her fridge was only a quarter as big as a normal one.
Rinne wanted to have some barley tea first, so she took a cup and soothed her throat, which was dry in the cold winter air.
It was very, very tiring.
She shook her head. She ran out of fish and meat; it seemed today’s dinner will be a simple one. Then, feeling that it was too early to cook dinner, she glanced at her watch.
She didn’t have work today, and could afford to rest well.
Though she might get yelled at, she wanted to call Guriko again. It would be too sad to just part ways like that.
Just what was wrong with Guriko?
What happened between her and Long-Armed demon?
She couldn’t reach her answer no matter what, and she paced in her room as her thoughts roiled.
“ – creak.”
It was a very minute sound.
Rinne thought she was hallucinating, and looked at her phone.
“ – Creak, crack.”
Looking up, she glanced all around her. Somehow, an ominous feeling crept up within her. Her face paled, her body stiffened, Rinne called out in a low voice: “Who is it?”
“ – Creak.”
She realized it was the window.
The window next to the sink, which she always found it hard to close.
The window – with a crisp sound – creaked apart on its own.
A crack formed on the glass. The window split into two. Then, the glass surface shattered into fragments and showered down.
The paranormal scene made Rinne stumble backward in fear. Turning toward the door, she tried to flee as quickly as possible.
But she heard the low voice of a girl.
“ – You.”
The entire window had disappeared.
The frosted glass, which previously only gave a vague outline of the outside, was completely destroyed. In the space previous occupied by the glass, a girl poked out her head and smiled innocently.
It was a terrifying and inhuman appearance.
One of the girl’s eyes was covered by an eye-patch, while the other was bloodshot red. Despite such a pitiful appearance, she continued smiling innocently: “Haha, haha –”
It was very scary.
Screaming, Rinne sprinted towards the door. It wasn’t far from her.
She remembered what happened a month ago.
Demons, ghosts, and monsters were not opponents that Rinne could hope to deal with on her own.
She could only run. Without Guriko or Sakaki beside her, she could only run.
Her shoulder was suddenly clutched by something.
No way – Rinne turned around.
“I won’t let you escape again!”
No one was behind her.
But Rinne’s body was controlled by an incredibly strong force, and she was thrown out of the broken window. She screamed as her sight span. Flying through the window, she landed hard on the tarmac road near the rubbish dump outside of her house.
“Uuuuuhh – ”
She couldn’t breathe.
It was very painful. Rinne had barely lost any of her sense of pain.
Her sight became dizzy due to the impact.
Meanwhile, in her whirling sight –
“How was it? Long-Armed Demon’s two arms are very very long, right?”
– stood Long-Armed Demon.
The name echoed in her ears.
Could it really be –?
“Zeki-kun already told me your name and what you look like. Usagawa Rinne – I won’t make any mistakes again. I won’t let you escape again. I, Long-Armed Demon, must have your Apple.”
An unnaturally cruel and dark will emitted out of that bloodshot eye.
“I won’t get it wrong again, I won’t fail again! Long-Armed Demon will push you into the deepest abyss of hell and take away your Apple. Otherwise, Zeki-kun will abandon me!”
Rinne was terrified of this screaming girl from the bottom of her heart. She tried her best to force her limp legs to stand, and to run.
She mustn’t turn around. She must escape – she must escape.
Otherwise, she’ll be killed.
She’ll definitely be killed.
She is my opponent, someone who wants to have my Apple and targeted me because of my Apple.
Like ‘Mushi’ and Snake, she would probably use all she can to take away my Apple.
I can’t die here.
I want to keep living with Sakaki and Guriko.
I’ve already decided that a month ago on the day that Guriko returned to us.
“You think you can run away?”
Long-Armed Demon muttered this as ‘something’ erupted out of her body. Fortunately, the unpredictable attack didn’t hit Rinne. Instead, it blew up the tarmac road, and fragments of bitumen scattered everywhere.
If she was hit by such a thing, there was no way she could come out in one piece.
Was Katsumi killed by this horrifying force that defiled logic?
Remembering her dead friend, Rinne bit hard on her lips to hold back her anger. With a heavy push against the ground, she started to run again.
She was scared. She was anxious. She didn’t have the battle prowess to avenge Katsumi. The least she could do was to avoid being killed in the same manner.
Having probably heard the ruckus, the door opposite Rinne’s apartment opened and Break poked out her head incredulously.
“What’s this big noise I heard?”
Rinne was running on the uneven road in front of the apartment block. Raising her head, she glared at Break.
“Break! Go hide! And call the police – no, contact Sensei first! He’d call the police!”
“Ring-bell, what’s going on? Police?”
Besides Break-nee, who was looking utterly puzzled, the girl with no arms and an eye-patch quickly caught up.
Though Break-nee was frightened, she still realized Rinne was in some sort of danger, and asked: “What’s wrong?”
“Hmm? You’re gonna stop me?” The demonic girl turned her head.
Rinne raised the cellphone she still clenched in her hand, and threw it towards Long-Armed Demon’s face. It hit her. Though Rinne wasn’t good with sports, she managed to hit her –
“Meow!” As if the phone was sucked towards her, it landed squarely on Long-Armed Demon’s forehead. With a strange sound, she looked towards Rinne: “What? You want to fight me? It doesn’t hurt! So it doesn’t matter!”
But it looked painful.
Long-Armed Demon’s gaze shifted away from Break-nee, instead staring angrily at Rinne and began to run towards her. That was good.
Having perhaps registered Rinne’s serious expression, Break-nee closed her door and retreated back into her room. Done. Now all Rinne needed to do was the escape.
Rinne ran on the uneven dirt road, and the gravel and the bumps in the road made it particularly difficult.
Where should she run to? Her enemy seemed beyond reason. If she ran towards a place with many other people, she may well be endangering other lives.
She couldn’t do that.
Then, where to?
“I said you can’t run anymore!”
She suddenly felt she was floating.
Rinne’s feet became entangled in something, and she fell forward uncontrollably. How – ?
Turning her head, she saw that she was still very far from Long-Armed Demon. There was no way for her to have touched Rinne.
Did she throw something? It didn’t look like it.
Then – what was this –
Neither Snake nor the ‘Mushi’ she faced a month ago possess any special abilities. They were not too different from humans.
But she was different. Long-Armed Demon was different.
She was genuinely supernatural.
“How was it? Long-Armed Demon’s arms are very, very long, right? A puny human like you cannot escape –”
It was an odd sound.
At the same time, an unimaginable pain assaulted Rinne’s legs.
They were broken.
Rinne held back her tears and screams, and moaned as she knelt on the ground.
Both of her legs were broken –
The incredible pain that roared in her brain made her mind even clearer. No, she couldn’t escape. Both of her legs were broken. She could not escape.
Yet, she couldn't…
No, that was not an option.
I can’t die. That is a promise. I’ll be with Sakaki forever, living together, being happy together.
But she couldn’t move. With tears in her eyes, Rinne turned her head.
“Why, why are you doing this?”
“Reason? Why are you asking a demon for reasons?” Long-Armed Demon roared, and yelled out incomprehensible things with unstrained rage: “Long-Armed Demon doesn’t know the reasons either! I was almost killed for no reason! My two arms were cut off, and Zeki-kun saved me just as I was about to die! I finally understood then – we don’t need reasons! That man killed my family and took my arms for no reason, too! He didn’t even tell me his reason when I twisted his arms off him and drilled a hole into his stomach! There was no reason. He just felt happy doing it!”
With a heinous expression, Long-Armed demon screamed at Rinne, who lay motionless on the ground.
Rinne felt a sense of pressure, as if her shoulder was held tight by invisible fingers.
Invisible arms – was this Long-Armed Demon’s power? Though Rinne understood it, she was powerless against it. The pain was making her thoughts disjointed.
She felt Long-Armed Demon was just a poor kid.
A little child who had lost her way, and was crying alone.
“There are many such demons in this world! I finally decided what to do after I understood it. I don’t want to be a human that others want to kill. I want to be the one who kills – to become a happy demon! Then it won’t hurt! Then nothing would be taken away from me!”
Her clavicle was instantly snapped with ease.
“I’m Long-Armed Demon. I’m not a creature like a human. So I won’t cry! And I won’t feel pain –”
Both her legs, and her left shoulder –
Were completely devastated. For a moment, Rinne blacked out.
Her snapped bones pierced her skin, peeking out of her flesh. Her clothes were soon dyed crimson with the blood that seeped out.
The beating of her heart mirrored the pulse of her agony, passing spurts of pain throughout her.
I still don’t want to die.
And, also –
For some reason, I feel –
… She is just a poor girl.
I don’t know anything about her. I don’t know who she really is, or how she grew up.
But I can still tell a few things from her words.
It was as if she was very similar to how Guriko was when Rinne first met her. Though she was strong, she was actually very fragile.
No, she was in danger because of her strength. She would exert her monstrous strength to continue walking along the thorny path that she accidentally set foot upon, until she reached the point of no return.
That would be such a pity.
Rinne wiped the tears she shed due to the pain, and looked at Long-Armed Demon.
“That’s unforgivable. Who made you like this? The pain of having something taken from you, and the pain of taking from others – you should understand that sorrow better than anyone else, right?”
Long-Armed Demon was startled.
“Huh? Huh? Human… why would a human creature look at Long-Armed Demon with such eyes?”
Her face swathed in confusion, Long-Armed Demon bit on her lower lip hard.
“Don’t look at Long… Long-Armed Demon with those eyes. Long-Armed Demon didn’t do anything wrong! Don’t look at me with such kind eyes!”
Long-Armed Demon was screaming. Her face, however, was becoming more and more fuzzy in Rinne’s eyes.
This hurts. No, she was far too weak.
She couldn’t help anyone. She kept relying on everyone. Then… she would probably be killed here, having accomplished nothing.
I don’t want to die. Rinne wiped away her tears with her palm. The blood that sprouted out of her shoulder dripped to her fingertips. Traces of sticky blood clang tightly to the skin of her cheek.
There was a sound.
“Bam – bam – ”
What was that?
Long-Armed Demon looked in surprise. Lowering her torso, she readied herself for battle.
Still kneeling on the ground, it took Rinne a lot of effort to turn her head to look behind her.
Like a lump of meat, and also like a doll.
“Bam – Bam –”
It was a strange existence made of intertwining lumps of black and red meat, something that ordinary humans wouldn’t be able to bring themselves to gaze upon. It glistened with a moist sheen in the gradually darkening light of the dusk, and emitted a revolting scent like that of blood and rotting meat.
There were long, thick strips of meat, twisted and banded together to make a human shape. It was like a doll whose body was made of innumerable ropes of meat. There were bulges on the ropes of meat that were tied together, bulges which then converged into limbs and finally completed the figure.
There were no ears, nose, or mouth on that face. Only a single, giant eyeball existed there. And from that face –
– poured out a low sound that crawled towards Rinne.
As if also scared of that sound, Long-Armed Demon maintained her pose, her eyes wide open.
The strange meat doll slowly reached Rinne, then stood unmoving beside her. Call it wishful thinking, but Rinne felt as if it was protecting her.
Long-Armed Demon probably also reached that conclusion. The ends of her lips tilted up, and she declared provocatively: “What? I don’t know what you want. But if you want to stop Long-Armed Demon, then I’ll kill you!”
The meat doll didn’t answer.
Maybe that ruined her mood.
“Hmm.” A heinous expression briefly surfaced on Long-Armed demon’s face as her invisible power exploded out: “Then die!”
It exploded. Unsurprisingly, the head of the meat doll exploded after having been penetrated by an invisible arm.
The red and black pieces of meat that fluttered down from the sky landed one by one on the uneven road in the middle of the wasteland.
It was over. I’ll be killed.
However, just as Rinne and Long-Armed Demon both understood the fact that the meat doll was now dead –
The meat doll, which had remained docile so far, suddenly stretched out its right arm in lightning speed.
Long-Armed Demon had perhaps let down her guard, and was standing defenselessly. The arm pierced her thigh and emerged out of the other side.
Blood spluttered everywhere.
“Urgh!” Long-Armed Demon finally reacted. Her face twisted as she retaliated: “Ahhhhh, it hurts! I hate pain!!”
Her invisible power exploded again and again.
“Die! Die! Why don’t you die!”
With every blow, more broken fragments of the meat doll flew out into the air. Its arm, feet, and abdomen were all reduced to dust, and showered down on the ground.
But it did not die, and it did not fall.
No, it was more than that. The scattered pieces of flesh crawled slowly on the ground, like ants swarming upon a piece of chocolate, and all returned to the core of the meat doll.
Seeing this terrifying scene, Rinne couldn’t help but scream out. What was that? How was this possible?
Long-Armed Demon didn’t seem to understand, either. Despite knowing it to be useless, she kept using her power over and over.
The meat doll’s torso was torn and blown up into a million pieces, and it would recover instantly.
That was an immortality that even Rinne could not achieve, the ultimate end.
Just what was this meat doll? Why –
“Yes, my question is…”
A female voice that was sweet as honey and mixed with some familiarity sounded.
Right beside the continuous battle between Long-Armed Demon and the meat doll, without being noticed by anyone else, leaving no signs of her approach –
“Why are you protecting Usagawa Rinne, meat doll?”
Saibara Mina stood there.
Her hair was tied into a long braid, her mouth covered with a mask.
In her hand, there was a simple spray paint can.
“Who are you?”
Long-Armed Demon’s arms stopped attacking, and she glared at Mina with alarm.
Even Rinne felt the uncanny aura that she seemed to exude. It was an intimidation that she never felt in their first meeting. It was a sense of control that allowed no rebellion or violation, as if the mere acts of breathing or the beating of a heart required her permission.
Saibara Mina’s eyes smiled as she hugged herself.
“Oh, hahaha, wait a second, lovely Long-Armed Demon. For now –” shifting her gaze to the meat doll, she spread her hands: “I have a question I must ask. Meat doll, why did you disobey my command and refrain from killing Usagawa Rinne?”
Rinne understood then.
Neither Mina nor the meat doll were herores that came to save her.
She understood. It was over.
Guriko was sleeping. Hino had made sure of it.
Her heart was at breaking point, having been burdened with so many thoughts. For such an emotionally unstable child, the best thing to do was to coax her into sleep. Once asleep, the human brain would cure the broken and rotten parts of the mind on its own, and would heal the sick heart.
The only thing Guriko lacked was sleep.
That was what Itsuwara Hino believed.
Therefore, she put Guriko to sleep.
Hino regularly visited the hospital for her own conditions. The doctors had prescribed some effective sedatives for her.
Guriko seemed to have no resistance to modern medicines. With the mattress wrapped tightly around her, she fell asleep hugging the pillow.
That muttering voice did not come from Hino’s mouth.
But from the slender girl who shivered as she tightly hugged the pillow.
“Sorry, sorry, I’m still alive, I’m sorry…’
“You don’t need to apologize.”
Hino murmured. She gently caressed Guriko’s head. The messy wolf-like haircut was damp with the cold sweat, feeling slight hot under Hino’s hand.
Gently, Hino bent down and whispered to Guriko: “It – wasn’t your fault.”
Of course, Guriko couldn’t hear what she said. She only kept on apologizing with an anguished expression on her face.
Hino sighed and looked at the clock hanging on the wall, which had hands all made up of spoons.
She bought this because Guriko had looked at it with such a rare look of longing.
Why did she love spoons so? Hino knew that Guriko would sometimes space out while staring at a spoon.
Was she a spoon fanatic? Everyone has different hobbies. Hino wouldn’t force her to change, but she somehow felt this to be an unhealthy obsession.
“Kio is so slow. He should be home by now.”
Confused, she muttered to herself while thinking of all the possibilities.
“Did he have to stay behind for work?”
That sounded right. It felt so lonely. Hino would feel anxious whenever he left her side.
She wouldn’t know what to do.
Tears soon welled out of Guriko’s eyes as she mumbled while sobbing in her sleep.
“Kill me… kill me, kill me, kill me.”
It was a sad and anguished sound, a weak voice unimaginable for Guriko to utter during her waking hours.
“Let me die, let me die –”
Hino did not know what pained Guriko so much.
All she knew was that, every night, Guriko would be haunted by her nightmares.
Hino felt so sorry for Guriko, but she couldn’t enter her dream to save her.
As she smoothed Guriko’s hair, she wondered –
Why would I cherish Guriko so much, when she’s not my child? Is this emotion genuine? For me, who had faked everything, is it still possible to love someone else? This child, this fake child; though I tried my best to pretend to love her –
Could that emotion be genuine?
Hino silently raised her arm.
If I am to put my hand over Guriko’s neck right now and squeeze –
Hino’s fingers touched the skin on Guriko’s neck, but she couldn’t put any strength into her hands.
The blood beneath her fingers was endlessly pulsing along the arteries in Guriko’s neck.
She was alive.
However, contrary to Hino’s stalled actions, Guriko was urging her to commit to the action from the depths of her dreams.
Hino placed her hands around Guriko’s neck, and sank into quiet contemplation.
Why can’t my fingers tighten?
Why can’t I do it?
Why… am I crying?
I don’t understand, and Kio isn’t beside me.
As Guriko muttered to herself, tears also gleamed in her tightly closed eyes.
The last rays of the setting sun poured in through the curtains, and gently enveloped the stationary duo.
“Don’t cry, Guriko-chan.”
With a sudden feeling of fatigue, Hino let go of her hands on Guriko’s neck as she weptwith Guriko. Almost unconsciously, she muttered the true thoughts in her mind: “Mom is here.”
Was it a coincidence? Guriko sighed with contentment, temporarily left his nightmares, and stared to breathe evenly.
“I – I –”
Hino couldn’t bear it any longer. Putting her hands to her face, she screamed with frustration.
“I… can’t do it!”
Tears welled out without end.
These tears and this emotion were the only truths that the fake Itsuwara Hino could feel.
Silently, the boudoir simply enveloped this pair of fake mother and daughter in its melancholy.
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