Utsuro no Hako:Volume1 27754th time (2)
I am probably worn out after the complete breakdown of my relationship with Otonashi-san and the sudden call from Kokone. ...I’m really just making excuses, though.
I had entirely forgotten.
That an accident would definitely happen at this intersection.
I am safe. I instinctively remembered once I came near the intersection, due to the immense shock I suffered from dying there once. So I have no problem ensuring my own safety.
But that's just not acceptable. After all, that means someone else is going to get run over in this unavoidable accident.
I had forgotten about it. And because of that, I was too late to save that person. Even though I knew that someone would get run over, I didn't stop it. 'Because I had forgotten about it' doesn't even qualify as an excuse.
I'm horrible. It's as if I killed that person myself.
Kasumi Mogi is there.
The girl I love is there.
As always, the truck is driving toward her at breakneck speed.
I am unable to save her from where I’m currently standing. No matter how recklessly I try to rescue her, there's no way for me to do it from this far away.
She is going to get stained in blood. The girl I love is going to get stained in blood. The girl I love is going to get stained in blood because of me. The girl I love keeps getting stained in blood, over and over, and it’s my responsibility, over and over, because I keep overlooking it, over and over.
I run towards the truck. In order to save Mogi-san? No. Certainly not. I can't endure my feelings of guilt and just wanted to feel like I did something. It's merely self-satisfaction.
Horrible. Just how horrible am I?
Then I see it.
The girl who I thought was past all hope of being saved gets pushed out of the way.
I didn’t do it.
I am too far away to reach her in time.
Thus, there is only one person who could have saved her.
The girl who continued fighting even when I abandoned my memories and acted like I didn't know her.
Even though she wouldn't make it in time to save herself.
But yet, she --
-- Aya Otonashi jumped out.
Ah, right. I remember.
I've already witnessed the exact same scene countless times.
This will all repeat anyway. Even the fact that she saved someone will disappear. All that will remain is the memory of the pain she suffered while dying. The fear of encountering death. The despair that emerges from knowing that she will have to repeat that experience.
And yet, Aya Otonashi jumped in the front of the truck. In order to save someone else from getting run over.
Over and over. Many thousands of times.
How could I forget?
There’s a loud crashing sound, but the truck just smashes through the wall with a huge roar. I approach Otonashi-san while still half-overwhelmed by the noise. Mogi-san is lying next to her, completely frozen. Apparently she's suffered quite a shock.
I look at Otonashi-san.
Her left leg is bent the wrong way.
She is covered with a cold sweat, but speaks with such resolution that she seems completely uninjured.
"Last time, I killed you."
Although speaking should be painful, her voice is clear.
"I thought everything would end by killing the 'owner'. I didn't want to do it. But at the time I believed that it was the only way to escape the 'Rejecting Classroom'. I was willing to throw away my humanity. I don't want to admit it, but I didn't mind back then. I thought that the shame I brought upon myself would also get reset and disappear after I escaped from the 'Rejecting Classroom'."
I finally understand why at the beginning of this loop, Otonashi-san acted as if she forgot everything.
She couldn't forgive herself.
For accepting my death when I got killed in that accident.
She was so repentant that she was about to abandon her escape from the 'Rejecting Classroom' and the 'box' she wass so fixated upon.
«Then why did you kill me?!!»
So very regretful that she wasn't able to object to these words.
Just how cruel have I been?
And those words weren't even true.
Last time around, I jumped out to save Mogi-san and died in the accident. I thought it was Otonashi-san's fault, just like I always thought Mogi-san's death was Otonashi-san's fault.
Because of my biased views, I blurted out something like «You killed me». I should have noticed this misunderstanding the moment she renounced the act of murder. In truth, she was merely unable to save me.
For some reason, this accident always occurs. Someone gets run over for certain. It's just pure coincidence that I was the one to die that time.
"Hmph, I can only laugh at my own stupidity. Guilt doesn't just disappear through forgetfulness. And to top it off, the 'Rejecting Classroom' did not end and I now have to cope with having become a shadow of my former self. I can't think of a situation where the word 'retribution' would apply any better."
As she says this, Otonashi-san coughs up some blood.
"Otonashi-san, don't speak if it hurts..."
"When will there be another chance to talk? I've already become accustomed to this level of pain. This is nothing. It's just momentary pain, so it's much better than slowly but surely getting eaten away by a disease."
You don't "become accustomed to" something like that!
"I didn't lose my memories, nor did I escape from the 'Rejecting Classroom'. Fufu... I probably knew deep down…that I wouldn't be released from the 'Rejecting Classroom'."
"It's simple. My tenacity won't release me that easily."
Otonashi-san stands up while tottering back and forth. She could have just stayed lying down, but I guess she can't stand to have me look down at her.
Her left leg is completely ruined. Otonashi-san coughs violently and blood flies forth. But she then stands upright using the wall for support and looks at me.
Probably because Otonashi-san got up, Mogi-san escapes from her expressionlessly petrified state and starts to move as well. She then timidly looks at me.
"Are you alright, Mogi-san?"
"......!!" a delayed shriek escapes from her mouth.
"W-What were you talking about... just now...? Mmhm, not just now, since yesterday... what are you two?"
...what? Who are you looking at with those eyes? Who are you looking at with those fearful eyes?
...I know. Her glance is directed at me.
For some reason, I'm unable to leave her alone. Without thinking, I reach out to touch her cheek.
"D-Don't touch me!"
Aah...you're right. What am I doing? Why am I reaching out toward her, even though I'm the one who terrifies her? Did I think that it would soothe her? How could I even think for a moment that I'd be able to make her calm down? ...There's no way I'd be able to.
"...what... are you...?"
I clench my fist. I can't explain anything to her. Thus, I have no choice but to endure her stare.
I'd love to explain the entire situation right now. Maybe she would even understand it.
But—I mustn't do so.
After all I have to fight. I have to fight against the 'Rejecting Classroom'.
And for the sake of that fight I have to refuse the fake everyday life produced by the 'Rejecting Classroom'.
I came to that determination when I took Otonashi-san's hand back then. So I reject it. The smile Mogi-san once gave me, her blushing face, letting me sleep on her lap—I reject all of that.
Mogi-san gives up on trying to understand what's going on when I refuse to break my silence, and she fearfully stands up.
She staggers backwards on shaky legs, begging us with her eyes to not chase after her. Then, she escapes.
I stare at her as she flees.
And make sure I don't avert my gaze.
Because this is supposed to be the outcome I desire.
"—I now grasp how determined you are," Otonashi-san says after observing our interaction. She’s still leaning against the wall. "Thus, I came to a resolution as well. I shall give up on my goal of obtaining the 'box'."
This troubles me. This definitely troubles me. I need Otonashi-san's power. Without thinking, I open my mouth to try to stop her.
Just as I do so...
"--Therefore, I shall lend you a hand."
I didn't expect that.
Lend me a hand? Aya Otonashi-san will lend me a hand?
"Why are you gawking like a gibbering idiot? I just said that I'll lend you a hand. Are you deaf?"
But this is as impossible as the sun coming up in the west and setting in the east.
"I lost my way. Your criticism was spot-on - by killing you, I became sub-human. No, even worse. I am a coward who abandoned my own goal and tried to run away because I didn't want to admit it. To put it plainly, I gave in to the 'Rejecting Classroom'. And I continued to run away while telling myself that there's nothing left to do for someone like me who's merely a defeated 'box'."
Although she is abasing herself, there is still fire in her eyes. I actually feel a bit relieved.
"But there's no reason to waver. I definitely did something to be ashamed of, but that's no reason to draw in my horns. Nothing will come from empty regrets. Therefore I won't run away anymore. So--"
She shuts her mouth, reluctant to finish her sentence.
But since I am almost scowling at her, she opens her mouth and states.
"So please—forgive me."
Aah, I see. That's what she meant.
This weird speech was supposed to be an apology to me.
Her entreaty is completely meaningless.
"I can't forgive you."
Upon hearing my blunt words, Otonashi-san looks momentarily surprised, but then her serious face returns right away.
"I see... getting killed is definitely something you can’t forgive. I understand."
"That's not it."
Otonashi-san frowns, failing to comprehend my words.
"What I mean is...I don't know what there is to forgive anyway."
Right. It's not like I won't forgive her. I just can't forgive her. Because nothing needs to be forgiven to begin with.
"...Hoshino, what are you saying? I..."
"You killed me?"
"Are you kidding?"
I smile spontaneously.
"I am here!"
Right. This is plain and obvious.
"I am right here, Otonashi-san."
However much responsibility she may feel, she didn’t do anything that can’t be undone.
I don't understand why she's feeling so much responsibility anyway. She is not the creator of the 'Rejecting Classroom' after all. Otonashi-san just got involved in it—
—no, that's not correct.
Otonashi-san isn't just a victim. She is a ruler who grasped our personalities and analyzed all of our behavioral patterns. She knows how the ripples in the pool will expand by throwing a stone in a particular place. She is a ruler of at least the same degree of power as the creator of the 'Rejecting Classroom' himself.
But because of this power, she feels responsible for the events that occur. Because she thinks that bad things could be prevented if she acts properly.
Therefore, since she couldn't, and didn't, prevent someone's death, she feels like she's the killer.
But Otonashi-san said it herself. Death within the 'Rejecting Classroom' is just a show.
"I really don't mind. But if you insist, how about using a certain magic word?"
Otonashi-san freezes with a frown on her face. After a few moments, she finally moves again and looks downward.
Her shoulders tremble. Eh? What? What does that mean? I get nervous and sneak a peek at her.
—She's laughing! On top of that it's some really explosive laughter!!
"H-Hey! Why are you laughing? Sorry, but I don't get it!?"
Otonashi-san continues laughing out loud for a while, my protests notwithstanding.
Geez... what's this about? I'm actually confident that I said something 'cool,' but it seems that my words are no more than a laughing matter in the end...
Otonashi-san finally stops laughing, returns to her usual gallant expression and speaks to me with pursed lips.
"I have experienced 27754 'school transfers'."
"...I know that well."
"I was convinced that I had grasped your behavioral patterns completely by now. But I couldn't predict your statement just now at all. Can you imagine how amusing this is for someone accustomed to eternal boredom?" she says, looking delighted.
I still can’t grasp her intentions and incline my head.
"Hoshino. You're truly amusing. I haven't met anyone like you before. At first glance you look like an ordinary person with no special beliefs, but actually there's no one who is more attached to everyday life than you. For exactly this reason you're able to clearly distinguish this fake everyday life from the real one-even better than I can."
Better than Otonashi-san?
"That's not true. I can't distinguish it clearly at all. After all, my heart hurts when the accident happens, even though I know it's going to be reset..."
"Of course. That has nothing to do with your special trait. For example, when you watch a movie or read a book, you also feel discomfort when the characters experience misfortune, don't you? It's the same here."
Is it really like that? I wonder.
It's so sudden, I don't understand what she's apologizing for. Before I know it, the delight has disappeared from her face.
"Really, I'm ashamed of my own impotence. I'm sorry."
I just feel uncomfortable when someone so obviously my superior apologizes earnestly to me. I falter as if she were criticizing me. I'm really pathetic.
"That was just a simple apology, but you're okay with that, right? I just have to continue to understand you, grasp your motivations, and direct you. This is what you desire from me, right?"
"Apologizing, huh? It’s certainly necessary, but I feel like I haven't done it in years."
...I'm sure she really hasn't.
"Well then, it's time."
"For the end of the 27,754th 'School Transfer'. And the beginning of the 27,755th 'School Transfer'."
"Aah, I see."
I accept this strange phenomenon with surprising calm.
I look around and see that people have gathered about because of the accident. Many among them are wearing very familiar uniforms. Kokone is present and is watching us. Otonashi-san and I have been talking with each other while ignoring everyone else. Well, I guess I can understand why Mogi-san was so scared. A casual chat between me and a blood-stained Otonashi-san must certainly appear disturbing.
I offer my hand to Otonashi-san.
Without hesitation, she takes this hand; the same hand that someone else has refused.
My heart gets crushed by an overwhelming power, like it’s being squashed by a vise. The sky starts to close like a coin purse. Despite being closed, the world turns white. White. White. The ground becomes unstable and tastes sugary for some reason - not on the tongue, but on the skin. That sensation doesn't feel bad, yet it feels disgusting. Finally, I understand that this event marks the end of the 27,754th iteration.
We are surrounded by soft, sweet and pure white despair
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