Utsuro no Hako:Volume2 May 2
 May 2nd (Saturday) 00:11
I wake to a rumbling coming from the desk.
I get out of bed and pick up the cell phone that's the source of the noise. I look at its LCD screen.
Maria Otonashi? Given the current state of affairs, why would she want to call me? Hasn't Kazuki Hoshino let her in on what's going on? ...Well, I guess he realized that even his lover wouldn't buy such an absurd story. That being said, she should still be able to notice that something's off without his saying a word... oh well.
Cutting short my train of thought, I take the call.
How could I resist the desire to talk with the girl I admire?
"Kazuki. Come to my room."
Wow. Does she always treat Kazuki Hoshino this way?
Okay, how should I react?
My 'box' will allow me to completely take over Kazuki Hoshino within a week. In order for me to do that, it would be best if I make as few waves as possible, which means that I should stay away from Maria Otonashi.
But I mustn't get confused: that's not my ultimate goal.
What I really want to do is torment Kazuki Hoshino so much that he scratches his neck raw in utter agony, make him succumb so thoroughly that he begs me to take his body as he prostrates himself before me, and make him an empty shell who exists solely to surrender his body to me by May 5th. That is my desire.
Why would I possess such a desire? Because doing so allows me to feel that I've become Kazuki Hoshino.
As long as I lack that feeling of truly being Kazuki Hoshino, I'm just a freeloader in someone else's body - which would be completely pointless.
That must also be the why I have to share this body with Kazuki Hoshino for a while—because otherwise, I wouldn't feel like I've truly assumed his identity. Heh, this 'box' is pretty well-made.
"Hey, how about replying?"
Yeah, there's no reason to waver.
Maria Otonashi is without a doubt very important to him. Losing her will be a terrible blow.
Therefore, Yuuhei Ishihara will steal Maria Otonashi from Kazuki Hoshino.
This is an absolute condition for fulfilling my absolute desire.
"Ah, I'm sorry. I was absorbed in thought," I say as I recall how Kazuki Hoshino normally speaks. "Um, your room? Sure, if you come pick me up."
Her phrasing suggests that Kazuki Hoshino visits her room on a daily basis.
"Why should I pamper you? Just take your bike."
"My bicycle is in bad shape right now, you see," I reply, trying to deceive her with a random lie I came up with on the spot. I don't know where she lives, so I'll be in trouble if she doesn't come fetch me.
"Geez, the guy tells the girl to come pick him up? Isn't it normally the other way around? ...well, whatever. I'll take my motorcycle, is that okay?"
"Do you mean... a moped?"
"No...? It's a full-fledged 250cc motorcycle."
Damn! There's no way Kazuki Hoshino wouldn't know about her motorcycle.
"Aah, I see; I didn't mention that I bought one.
That was close! ...No, there's no need to get nervous—she wouldn't see through me because of something that minor. Getting nervous is unavoidable to a certain degree, though, since I'm dealing with Maria Otonashi.
"Speaking of which, I'm actually not old enough to get a license, am I?"
She's unlicensed?! I guess I made the right decision by not pretending to know about it...
"Well then, I'll be at your place in 15 minutes. Wait for me outside."
She ends the call before I can respond.
"...Kazu-chan, who was that? I'm pretty sure I overheard a girl there, no? And why didn't you take the call on the veranda?" says a girl in her underwear—probably Kazuki Hoshino's sister.
I see. Kazuki Hoshino doesn't take his phone calls indoors in the presence of his sister. I guess I'll keep that in mind.
"Can't be Kasumi Mogi-san at this hour, either..."
Kasumi Mogi? Who's that?
 May 2nd (Saturday) 00:31
Exactly 15 minutes later, Maria Otonashi arrives on a massive motorcycle.
"Here," she says as she throws me a helmet.
I catch it, but don't know what to do next. However, because she keeps staring at me, I decide to just put it on.
"What are you waiting for? Hurry up and climb on."
I sit behind her as instructed, and hesitantly wrap my arms around her slender waist. Maria Otonashi, the girl I adore, remains silent.
In less than 10 minutes, she stops in front of a five story apartment complex. Though it is a pity, I obediently let go of her waist, get off the motorbike and briefly take a look at the building as I remove the helmet. It's a brick building that looks fairly high class and even features a fancy electronic entry system. The rent here must be quite high.
I doubt that she would bring her boyfriend to her apartment at so late an hour if she lives with her family, so I bet she lives by herself. And right now, she's taking her boyfriend to her room. Which must mean... well, the situation is self-explanatory. Obviously.
My heart throbs with excitement. She doesn't seem to care, however, and proceeds toward her room, taking the elevator and then walking straight up to a door that reads 403.
The first thing I notice upon entering the room is a light fragrance of peppermint. It's a ten tatami-mat sized studio apartment. It looks larger than it is because it's so sparsely furnished.
"What's so interesting about my room? It hasn't changed since you last came here, has it?"
"...Yeah," I reply, trying to appear calm, and sit down on a cushion.
After giving me a short side-glance, Maria Otonashi opens a closet and seems to be searching for something.
"All right, Kazuki, hold out your hands."
Hold out my hands...? Does she plan to kiss them or something?
"Get with the program already. Like this," she says as she holds out her own hands. I follow suit.
What was that? Even as I begin to wonder, I feel a tight pressure around my right wrist. I take a look.
"...Is this supposed to be a joke, Otonashi-san?"
"A joke? Surely you're the one who's joking. We do this stuff all the time, don't we?"
All the time...? Handcuffing me?
"Oh? You want to pretend to resist tonight? Wow... you are beyond help."
With a bewitching smile and a few skillful moves, Maria Otonashi forces my hands behind my back and snaps the handcuffs around my left wrist as well. Next, she applies foot cuffs to my feet and puts me down on the ground. I try to move my body. I'd probably be able to stand up, but beyond that my movements are tightly restricted.
"Today, let's also use this," she proposes as she takes out a piece of black cloth, which she then wraps round my eyes, cutting off my field of vision.
What a situation. My body is almost completely restrained, I'm blindfolded, and I'm rolling on the floor like a caterpillar – almost as if I were a soldier captured by the enemy.
...Hm? Aah, I see.
"Seems like the preparations are complete. Let's begin."
Maria Otonashi should have noticed that something is going on with Kazuki Hoshino, so there's no way she would be comfortable getting intimate with him.
If that's true—whom is her current treatment directed at?
"Well—" she continues "—you aren't Kazuki Hoshino, so who are you?"
Everything up till now was just a ploy intended to incapacitate me.
Brilliant. As expected from Maria Otonashi, and that's why I admire her so much. I'm really glad that my fears of getting disillusioned turned out to be unfounded.
"Why are you laughing? I don't think you understand the gravity of your situation."
I'll try one last protest just for the heck of it.
"No, no... Otonashi-san, you're being absurd!"
"Stop acting. It's futile."
Aah, so it was useless after all—but that just makes me laugh even more.
"You're a strange guy. Why are you so joyful, even though I just thoroughly deceived and captured you?"
"Maria Otonashi, may I ask why you think that I am not Kazuki Hoshino?" I ask point-blank, stopping with the acting.
"I listened to your voice recording while being aware of the 'box'."
Her blunt statement allows me to understand - not just how she saw through me, but also that she is a unique being.
"Okay, you know about my 'box' and you listened to my message, cool, but that's not gonna help you figure out whether you're dealing with me or Kazuki Hoshino, is it? Since when did you know it's me?"
"Since you said 'Hello' on the phone."
"...You're joking, right?"
Given our identical voices, it should be impossible to distinguish between us.
"Kazuki answers the phone with a 'Yes?'. He doesn't use 'Hello'. Of course, I wouldn't normally have taken heed of such a small change, but since I know that he is involved with this 'box', I naturally became suspicious. The only thing left for me to do was confirm my suspicions, so I spoke with care until you slipped up. I'll tell you something good: Kazuki has never been in this room."
"That is indeed a good thing." Because it would be unforgivable for someone as pathetic as Kazuki Hoshino to frequent the room of a noble lady like Maria Otonashi. "In other words, you deceived me to confirm if I really existed."
"Such a trifle barely requires confirmation. In fact, I wanted to confirm whether or not you share Kazuki's memories. Heh, it seems like you don't."
So she was already a move ahead in terms of confirmation.
I admit that this is an important point. If Yuuhei Ishihara and Kazuki Hoshino shared their memories, then there would be no secrets if she tried to work out a plan with Kazuki Hoshino. She wouldn't be able to cooperate with Kazuki Hoshino.
"Let me get straight to the point: who are you?"
"Can't you tell? I'm Kazuki Hoshino!"
"Stop messing around and answer the question."
Still lying on the ground, I shrug my shoulders.
"I'm not messing around with you: I'm Kazuki Hoshino. That's the identity my 'box' entitled me with."
"...What do you mean?"
"Just what I said. My 'wish' was to become Kazuki Hoshino, and a 'box' grants any wish, doesn't it? Therefore, I am Kazuki Hoshino. I can't call myself anything else."
My words temporarily silence Maria Otonashi.
"...to become Kazuki Hoshino, you say? That's crazy... Why Kazuki of all people? I don't think Kazuki Hoshino's body is particularly desirable..."
"Because you're by his side," I immediately answer.
"Yeah, I've always admired you. The girl of my dreams would be by my side; that was reason enough for me to want to become him."
Maria Otonashi lets out a sigh.
"...I never would have guessed that I am the primary reason for all of this," she complains, but regains her composure right away. "I understand that you insist on being Kazuki Hoshino. However, I can't call you that."
"Then just call me Yuuhei Ishihara."
"Yuuhei Ishihara? Never heard that before. That's not your real name, is it?"
"Hmph, whatever. But you'll tell me one thing: how do you switch with Kazuki?"
"What's the point of asking about that?"
"I don't need to answer your questions."
"Well then, I don't need to answer yours either."
"You're pretty bold for a guy who's bound hand and foot, aren't you?"
"I'm not going to fall for that! You can't do anything to me—hurt me and you'll effectively be damaging Kazuki Hoshino's body."
"Forms of torture that have no lasting impact on the body are a dime a dozen, but well... I couldn't use violence anyway..." Maria Otonashi says in a whisper.
"No, never mind... anyway, you don't plan to tell me, do you?"
"Hm, to be honest, it wouldn't make a difference, but I'm not telling you."
"It wouldn't make a difference?"
"Heh, of course not. No matter what you try, Kazuki Hoshino is going to disappear on May 6th unless you directly deal with my 'box'. In light of that, what difference would such a trivial bit of information make? I mean, you can bet I'm not going to tell you how to defeat the 'box'! Or do you want to try killing me? Go ahead, but that'll also send Kazuki Hoshino to kingdom come!" I say as I laugh in an exaggerated fashion.
How's that, Maria Otonashi? You never imagined your situation was that hopeless, did you?
But for some reason, she lets loose a silent laugh.
"...Why are you laughing? Are you so desperate that you can't help but laugh?"
"Hopeless? You call this a hopeless situation? Fufu... this level of menace is like a mosquito compared to what we fought against last time. The problem I'm facing right now is that you won't tell me how you switch with Kazuki, right? How is that hopeless?"
"I told you that you can only solve this matter if you kill Kazuki Hoshino—did I lose you?"
"That's why I was laughing. Because—that's a lie."
I'm left tongue-tied.
"I know that you want to distract me, but I'm afraid I can't be deceived by such a lousy lie."
"...Why do you think it's a lie?"
"You said it yourself—you're Kazuki Hoshino. But Kazuki Hoshino doesn't possess the 'box', hence, he can't be the 'owner'."
"What's with that wordplay? You can't escape from reality!"
"You still don't get it? Okay then, listen up and try answering this question."
Maria Otonashi says firmly:
"Do you really believe that it's possible for a soul to dwell in someone else's body?"
"You can't respond right away, hm?"
I don't know why, but...I have a feeling that by hesitating I committed a fatal error.
"'Boxes' grant 'wishes' completely, but a person who thinks more or less rationally wouldn't be able to believe that such a 'wish' could come true. And as I suspected, you don't believe in your wish from the bottom of your heart, either, judging from your reaction to my question. The 'box' incorporates the doubts of the 'owner' when it grants a 'wish'—therefore, the 'owner' was not able to take over Kazuki Hoshino."
"Which means that the 'owner' continued to exist as before after failing to take over Kazuki's body—separately from you."
Ignoring my silence, she asks me: "So what are you, when you're not the 'owner'?"
I can't answer.
"If you don't know, let me tell you: you are an artificial being generated by the distortion of that 'wish'. You're just a fake copy of the 'owner'. Yes—merely a 'fabrication,' so to speak." She smirks briefly before she continues. "And since you're just a 'fabrication,' I have no real interest in you."
I see. So that's why—I don't possess the 'box'.
But so what?
The reason I put this 'wish' into the 'box' in the first place was that I wanted to dispose of a bastard like myself anyway. I'm not the 'owner'? I'm a fabrication? That's great!
It's precisely because I am nobody that I can without doubt become Kazuki Hoshino.
"...why are you laughing, Yuuhei Ishihara?"
"Hehe, it doesn't matter! However, there's something I want to ask: so I am a fabrication—I'll admit that—but who are you to be able to perceive that?"
"Who I am, you ask...?"
For some reason Maria Otonashi is at a loss for words.
"......you are a fabrication. And I am—"
"What are you brooding about? I'm just asking because I want to know why you're so knowledgeable about the 'box'."
"...Ah, oh, that's all?" Once she understands my intent, her voice rapidly regains its usual firm tone. "I'm a 'box' myself. And since I'm a 'box', it stands to reason that I'd be well versed in the characteristics of 'boxes'."
"...You're a 'box'? Is that some kind of metaphor?"
"Interpret it as you please."
A 'box', huh? If she's telling the truth, then that would really make for a perfect match.
"By the way, there was something I had to tell you, wasn't there?"
"...what are you talking about?"
"Oh? Yesterday night, didn't I promise that I'd tell you directly today? Since the date has finally changed, I'll say it now!"
The smile on my face is so broad, it sucks that I can only show her half of it because of the blindfold.
"I love you, Maria Otonashi."
She called herself a 'box'.
I think that makes us a perfect match, really I do - as an object to conquer, and as an enemy.
 May 2nd (Saturday) 07:06
I wake up in an unfamiliar room in handcuffs.
My head feels all muzzy since I just woke up. I'm in a white room and I smell something pleasant. A shower is running somewhere nearby. My back hurts, and I see a futon. I'm also in foot cuffs.
What is this?
My wooziness is instantly swept away. I hurriedly try to stand up, only to fall over just as quickly.
While supporting my smarting nose with both arms, I sit up and take another look around. I see a large bed, a table, a laptop and speakers on the table, and an intimidating-looking book. Overall, the room seems sparsely furnished. The sailor suit hooked over the closet doorframe suggests that I'm probably in a girl's room.
Did Yuuhei Ishihara get me into this situation? Yeah, of course it was him.
I hear someone turn off the shower. After a while, a hair drier starts blowing. I assume the occupant of this room is in the dressing cubby.
Which means that a girl is...? There's a naked girl on the other side of this wall? What's with this situation... And what on earth have I, no, what has Yuuhei Ishihara done to that girl?!
The sound of the hair drier stops and the dressing cubby door opens.
"U-Uwa!!" I utter as I hurriedly avert my eyes, seeing that she's wearing nothing but a white shirt.
"Ah, you woke up?"
My brain freezes the moment I recognize that all-too-familiar voice.
"Eh?" A familiar face awaits me when I instinctively look up. "Ah, Otonashi-san...?"
"Who else looks like me?"
In response, I look over her entire body. Yeah, it's unmistakably Maria Otonashi.
Then I suddenly realize that I'm staring at her, and she's only wearing a thin shirt over her underwear. Again, I hurriedly avert my eyes.
"S-Since you know that I'm here, please be a bit more careful!"
"What's the cause for panic? This is hardly anything to fret about, right?"
...that just sounds wrong coming from a girl's mouth. It's like something that Haruaki would say when he teases Kokone.
However, before I have a chance to say anything, she preempts me with a shocking comment.
"First of all, didn't you seen far more of me just yesterday? A skimpy outfit like this should hardly faze you anymore!"
"I never imagined you would do that as soon you entered my room, especially after you seemed so well-behaved at first. Geez, you really gave me quite a shock."
"What, what are you talking about...?"
But I can't deny the facts - everything about the situation I'm in suggests that she's telling the truth. After all, I'm in her room, she just took a shower, and is walking around scantily clad—
"Y-You're joking, right?" I ask anxiously.
"Yeah, it's a joke," Otonashi-san bluntly answers.
"...Uh-huh, I see. So you're Kazuki Hoshino. Your idiotic reaction when your mouth gapes wide open is quite hard to imitate, after all."
What's this feeling of vexation that's rising up inside me, even though she turned out to be joking - just as I had wished...?
"......Otonashi-san. The fact that I'm here without knowing how I got here, means that you talked with Yuuhei Ishihara, ri—huh?"
As I spoke while lying clumsily on the ground, Otonashi-san had moved nearer. She was so close that I could smell a pleasant scent radiating from her long hair... probably shampoo or some conditioning treatment or something.
A clicking sound makes me realize that Otonashi-san is removing my foot cuffs. ...well, that's nice, but couldn't she have at least given me some warning?
After removing the foot cuffs, Otonashi-san kneels in front of me.
I follow her example and also get on my knees.
She slowly opens her mouth.
"Kazuki, who am I?"
What is she saying out of the blue?
She's Maria Otonashi, obviously, but why is she asking a question like that right now?
"Think back to the 'Rejecting Classroom.'"
Now that she mentions it, I remember a similar scenario when she had me write her name.
At the time, Otonashi-san asked people to identify her by name, in order to have someone write 'Maria'—a name that could only be known to someone who retained their memory across those repetitions.
So why is she bringing that up?
To confirm my identity. Otonashi-san is asking in order to distinguish me from Yuuhei Ishihara, because she'll be able to confirm that I'm me if I say her secret name.
Therefore I spit out that name. The name she once used in the 'Rejecting Classroom', which only I can remember.
But the very act of seeking confirmation means that she doesn't know who I am right now? I have to go this far to make her recognize that I'm me?
That's somehow—very mortifying.
"Aya Otonashi, huh?" she murmurs in disappointment.
"...was I wrong?"
"No, you're right. I just didn't expect that you would be able to come up with the answer so quickly. That's all."
"Okay... I guess? But now you understand that it's me?"
"For the time being, yeah. As you may have noticed, I'm up to date on the current situation and have already listened to the voice file that Yuuhei Ishihara recorded."
"I have also spoken with Yuuhei Ishihara."
"...What was he like? Did you learn anything?"
"Hm, I can't say for sure," Otonashi-san answers.
"Ah, but wasn't he vicious? After all, you even had to use foot cuffs."
"Of course I considered that possibility and used them for that reason. No... it's more accurate to say that I applied them because of you, Kazuki."
"How did you react when you realized that you were restrained? What actions did you take?"
"Well, I was confused... and even took a tumble."
"I was aiming for that reaction."
"......Feeling like bullying me?"
"No. I thought I could observe the moment when Yuuhei Ishihara switches back to Kazuki Hoshino by waiting for that agitated reaction. Though in the end, I missed the opportunity because I was taking a shower. It's a real pity that I missed your funny reaction."
I see, so she did feel like bullying me.
"Okay then, that's it for now. Kazuki, we're leaving."
For some reason, Otonashi-san looks at me and rolls her eyes.
"We're taking you home, of course. Hey, what time do you think it is?"
I look around and see a clock. It's 7:15AM.
"Or do you want be late? It's time to go to school."
Our school only lets us off every other Saturday, so we still have to go to school this Saturday morning.
"What's with this 'Hah?' Do you plan to go to school empty-handed?"
...She has a point. We have to go to my place.
"......Um, can I go home on my own?"
"What are you talking about? How could you go back on your own when you don't even know how to get there from here? Regardless, you'd never make it in time on foot. I'll give you a ride on my motorcycle."
I'm in trouble...
I mean, even though it wasn't my fault, I slept over without getting permission from my parents. When I come home in the early morning, how will that look? I check my cell phone, and sure enough, there are several calls from my mom in the call log. This is bad. If on top of that I bring a girl home with me—
"Otonashi-san... could you please hide when we reach my home...?"
Otonashi-san gives me a bewildered look. Naturally, my intentions aren't getting across...
Looks like I'll have to slip into my house and get ready without getting caught by my mom.
 May 2nd (Saturday) 07:34
My attempt to return on the sly ended in absolute failure.
"That was a failure," Otonashi-san murmurs as we walk toward the station. We left the motorcycle near my house.
"......indeed," I concur with a sigh.
My mom caught me right at the foot of the stairs.
Of course, a sermon followed.
I can't blame her, though: she had every right to get angry at me since I stayed out overnight without permission. I can't blame her, but—
As I meekly listened to the lecture, Otonashi-san naturally became tired of waiting outside.
Unsurprisingly, mom concluded that the sudden appearance of Otonashi-san was the reason for my delinquency, and began to stare at her. To my surprise, Otonashi-san reacted with a soft smile and said the following:
"It's not like Kazuki was out enjoying the nightlife or partying. He was together with me the entire time until the morning. I didn't bring any other people to my room. We were completely alone, so please be at ease."
...that's just pouring oil on the fire in such a situation, isn't it?
My mom—still far from letting go of her children—froze so completely she almost seemed pitiful. Otonashi-san totally misunderstood the situation and continued with a frown, "...? As I said, Kazuki didn't go out anywhere and just slept in my room. That's totally acceptable, right? Aah, but I did have to get a bit rough, so my apologies."
Mom silently glanced at my wrist. The reddened marks left by the handcuffs still remained.
She collapsed at that point.
As Otonashi-san lept forward to hold her up, she finally understood with an "Aah!".
"I see. We are a boy and a girl in our teens, huh?"
"How can I face her from now on...?"
As I remember that scene, I sigh deeply.
"What are you talking about?"
"Huh? Didn't you say 'that was a failure' just now?"
"Yeah, I was talking about the motorcycle."
Yeah, she's on a totally different page.
"I gave you a ride on the motorcycle, right? If I count Yuuhei Ishihara, that's technically two rides. That's what I'm referring to."
"Try imagining what might have happened if Kazuki Hoshino and Yuuhei Ishihara switched places while riding. I wouldn't be surprised if you let go of my waist and fell, similar to how you were surprised by the handcuffs."
So that's why she left the motorcycle in front of my home.
"By my standards, that's quite a careless failure... I'll be more careful from now on."
"Yeah. ...By the way, Otonashi-san. Could you tell me now what happened while you were with Yuuhei Ishihara?"
As soon as I ask—
And looks at me.
Why such a face?
She opens her mouth, still expressionless.
"I cannot tell you what happened."
"Why? Didn't I tell you that already?" she explains and spits out her next few words with a cold look. "I won't trust you anymore."
She did tell me. I indeed remember those words. There's no way I'd forget. But—
"Isn't that no longer the case...?"
After all, there's no mystery anymore. Otonashi-san now understands the reason for my previously inexplicable behavior.
"Don't make assumptions. You still don't get it, do you? First off, Yuuhei Ishihara could have been lying. Maybe he does in fact have full access to Kazuki Hoshino's memory and can use both of those personalities for his benefit."
"Indeed, I might be overthinking things. But there's still no proof to the contrary."
"Let's assume that Yuuhei Ishihara was completely honest about the characteristics of the 'box'. Even so—"
Otonashi-san suddenly claps her hands, causing me to instinctively shut my eyes.
"Now assume that an identity swap occurred in that instant. I have no means to rule this out. So I would be talking to you as Kazuki Hoshino, not realizing that you actually switched to being Yuuhei Ishihara. We don't know when you switch identities, so I might inadvertently disclose an important plan to Yuuhei Ishihara. That's why it's dangerous for me to tell you everything - it's basically analogous to the situation with the motorcycle."
Indeed, that's right. ...But I am Kazuki Hoshino.
"Here's another example—you consider yourself Kazuki Hoshino, right?"
"Of course I do!"
"But what if you were just someone who's convinced that he's Kazuki Hoshino?"
"That's impossible" is what I was about to say, but then I stay silent.
What is there that proves I'm really Kazuki Hoshino? My appearance? My personality? My memory? But then what makes Yuuhei Ishihara Yuuhei Ishihara? After all, he also exists in the same body.
No, that's wrong.
I am Kazuki Hoshino. I'm not mistaken. I will absolutely not doubt this.
"That was just an example. Don't dwell too much on it. But Kazuki, you understand why I can't trust you, right? I have yet to comprehend this 'box'—the 'Sevennight in Mud'. Until then, I can't trust the personalities that dwell within you."
So when will she fully grasp this 'Sevennight in Mud' and start trusting me again? Not while Yuuhei Ishihara dwells within me, right?
She doesn't trust me.
Even though Otonashi-san is supposedly my ally, my ally doesn't trust me.
The train station comes into view.
"Why are you just standing there? There's not much time left before the train arrives."
"...why should I go to school?"
Being with Otonashi-san made me completely forget about that problem. Normally, I would of course go to school; no, even if I were involved in affairs that stood between me and my everyday life, I would still go just to express my defiance. As things currently stand, however, the more time I spend at school, the more I'm going to erode my by-this-point practically nonexistent place there.
"To collect information about Yuuhei Ishihara. There's no doubt that he is closely related to us. In the first place, only our school's students have contact with both you and me. The importance of collecting information from our school should be obvious."
"But there's no need for me to be present, is there...?"
"Your presence greatly modifies the prevailing conditions. Today is the last day of school before the long holiday. We mustn't let this opportunity escape," she says.
She said that in order to obtain the 'box', she doesn't care if my everyday life gets destroyed.
I misunderstood her. I had considered her an unconditional ally.
But that's not correct. I mean, Otonashi-san isn't working to help save me, but in order to find 'O' and obtain a 'box'.
So what am I to her? Most likely—
—just bait for 'O'.
"...Kazuki, I understand that going to school must be depressing. But you realize that this is the optimal course of action, don't you? Refraining from action while aware of your options isn't like you," Otonashi-san says to me reprovingly.
Surely she's just pursuing her own goals.
Otonashi-san doesn't trust me.
However, since I'm not able to see Yuuhei Ishihara, or to directly oppose him, I need to depend on a supporter. And she's the only person who comes to mind.
To trust a supporter in this situation is effectively entrusting her with my life. I have no other choice but to blindly believe in her. If Otonashi-san wanted to ruin me, she could entrap me without difficulty.
"...what should I do at school?"
But still, she's the only supporter I have.
"Let's see, for example—"
She proposes various possibilities, all of which I agree to. As anticipated, she easily comes up with a number of effective plans, but her very facility is what I'm worried about if she... were to betray me.
"Do you also have something in mind?"
One thing occurs to me:
"How about changing what we call each other?"
"...What do you mean?"
"Instead of «Otonashi-san», I'm going to call you «Aya» from now on. Yuuhei Ishihara doesn't know that name, so he definitely won't call you that. Therefore, calling you «Aya» proves that I'm me. How does that sound?"
Otonashi-san remains quiet.
"Is this plan a nonstarter?"
"No... I think it's quite effective. Let's try it," she agrees, though still slightly displeased for some reason.
But still... «Aya Otonashi», huh?
«Aya Otonashi» was the name of an illusion that doesn't exist within our everyday life.
Furthermore—it was once the name of my enemy.
Those were the thoughts that flashed through my mind at once.
 May 2nd (Saturday) 08:11
I realize that the atmosphere turned frigid as soon as Otonashi-san and I entered the classroom.
Of course no one greets me.
Daiya's behavior I expect, but Haruaki doesn't say hi either. Kokone's seat is still empty. Maybe she's going to be absent today. ...Because of me? —Of course.
I guess even Otonashi-san did not expect me to be in such an awful position. She darts a sad glance at me. But then she pulls herself together, focuses on my classmates and claps her hands twice.
Our classmates' gazes focus on her immediately, probably because they were already paying attention to us.
"Does anyone know someone named 'Yuuhei Ishihara'?"
Upon hearing this, several students exchange suspicious looks.
Otonashi-san said that the probability is high that the 'owner' would be one of my classmates. Since it wouldn't make sense to pursue control of an unknown person's body so far as to use a 'box' for that purpose, I suppose she's probably right.
But isn't the 'owner' the Yuuhei Ishihara dwelling within me? Or does she mean that another entity exists separately from him?
I don't really get it.
However, for the time being, I agree that just asking the class about the name «Yuuhei Ishihara» is reasonably effective.
"Hey, you, what are you up to?" Miyazaki-kun addresses us while casting an awfully disdainful glance at me.
"You again? What? Do you know Yuuhei Ishihara?"
Miyazaki-kun sneers at us and replies with something unrelated to Otonashi-san's question. "You've got some nerve to still be together like this after what you've done."
What is he talking about?
I look at my other classmates. Anger dwells within their eyes. Their anger is probably the result of some form of righteous indignation.
In other words, they cannot forgive me for being together with Otonashi-san?.
"What's your excuse, Hoshino?"
I'm stuck since I don't know why they have a problem with us being together, and I can't ask about what Yuuhei Ishihara has done.
My only choice is to remain silent.
Miyazaki-kun reacts to my silence with a plastic sigh.
"Whatever. I won't broach this subject again! ...That's my view, anyway." Miyazaki-kun starts saying scornfully, "My mom's lover... ah, need some context? Yuuhei Ishihara is my mom's lover.."
He suddenly spit it out.
"...Miyazaki. Will you tell us more about Yuuhei Ishihara?"
"Whoa, whoa... surely you realize how hard it is for me to speak about him, right?"
"We have our reasons. Isn't my bringing up the name 'Yuuhei Ishihara' reason enough to tell me more?"
Miyazaki-kun frowns, but agrees ever so reluctantly with an "...okay, fine."
Because the subject is so delicate, he urges us to move to the corridor to continue the discussion.
"Well, it's not like I'm hiding anything—" With these words, Miyazaki-kun begins his tale.
His parents divorced during his first year of middle school because their feelings for each other had changed; both of them found new lovers and chose to live with them instead. His mother's new partner was Yuuhei Ishihara.
Miyazaki-kun's mother and father didn't want to bring him into their new households since he represented their old lives. They didn't rub it in, but it was impossible to hide, and Miyazaki-kun sensed their feelings.
He didn't know why his parents chose to split up and reject him, but as their son, the circumstances didn't matter: He had undoubtedly been betrayed in an almost unforgivable way.
Eventually, after some argument, his father took custody of him. But it was impossible for him to build a new household with his father and his father's new lover as well. After he refused to live with them, he began to live alone in an apartment during the second year of middle school, receiving only living expenses from his father.
During middle school, he considered himself to be the unluckiest person on earth; he was part of an unhappy family situation that might appear in cheap dramas, but is so seldom found in reality.
Therefore, he naturally bore a grudge against his parents, who were responsible for this situation, against his father's new lover, and against Yuuhei Ishihara.
"They should all just die if you ask me," Miyazaki-kun curses at them in an emotionless voice.
"I understand your feelings, but you shouldn't say such things."
"Why, thank you very much for your wisdom," Miyazaki replies with a sardonic laugh. "Have I said enough yet?"
"...Yes. Thank you for speaking with us about this delicate matter," Otonashi-san says.
"Heh, that's not like you."
"I was just thinking that you sure have your troubles, too."
"Thanks for the sympathy."
The bell rings.
"Okay, I'm returning to my seat. Oh, one more thing Hoshino—" As he enters the classroom, Miyazaki-kun looks at me for the first time since we started discussing Yuuhei Ishihara. "Don't get me wrong. Just because I answered Otonashi's questions doesn't mean that I accept what you've done. You've gone too far."
With these words, he walks to his seat.
The rest of the class favors him with smiles of approval for the vitriol he directed at me.
Most likely, he deliberately waited to say his piece so that everyone else heard him.
......That's just cruel.
I lie on my desk and cover my head with my arms.
"Kazuki, I'll return to my own classroom. You haven't forgotten what I told you on the way here, right? Give it a go."
I reluctantly raise my head, take my cell phone and send Otonashi-san a blank e-mail.
Otonashi-san checks for the e-mail and nods. I then erase it from my sent mail folder.
"Don't forget to send these e-mails during class!"
Send me an e-mail every 10 minutes - that was Otonashi-san's instruction.
This way, she's able to probe the process by which I and Yuuhei Ishihara switch back and forth.
After all, Yuuhei Ishihara isn't aware of what we're doing and won't send any blank e-mails.
Well, since we don't fully understand the 'Sevennight in Mud' yet, this is hardly a reliable method.
"Still need anything?"
For just a second, Otonashi-san looks astonished, but she doesn't say anything and leaves the classroom.
...Yuuhei Ishihara is Miyazaki-kun's mother's lover? This is the person controlling my body? Somehow it doesn’t make sense that a random adult would have any interest in the body of «Kazuki Hoshino».
Suddenly, my cell phone vibrates inside my pocket. I immediately take it out and open it. A new e-mail has arrived. I open my inbox.
The name «Maria Otonashi» is displayed.
Hm, perhaps she forget to mention something? Or maybe there was something she couldn't say out loud?
The e-mail contains a single phrase. It's a very simple phrase, probably written with the possibility that Yuuhei Ishihara might be in control in mind.
Why has Miyazaki-kun been interfering with us since yesterday? One reason immediately comes to mind:
---Because Miyazaki-kun is an ally of Yuuhei Ishihara.
That may be why he approached us so forcefully: in order to keep Yuuhei Ishihara informed about what we're doing.
I mustn't believe what Miyazaki-kun says, since he might have ulterior motives. I guess that's what Otonashi-san was trying to convey with this e-mail.
It's true that I don't really think that Yuuhei Ishihara is the same person as the Yuuhei Ishihara controlling me. But on the other hand, I also don't think that everything Miyazaki-kun told us was a lie. The feelings he demonstrated while speaking about his family situation seemed genuine.
I return my gaze to my cell phone. I read her simple e-mail once more.
...Ah, maybe she meant something else entirely. Maybe she didn't mean "«don't believe» «what Ryuu Miyazaki said»".
Instead, I mustn't believe—in anything.
I can only discover what Yuuhei Ishihara has done while controlling my body by hearing about it from others. But I have no one else as an ally. Even Miyazaki-kun, Haruaki, Kokone, Daiya and Aya Otonashi aren't my allies.
I erase the e-mail. I'm supposed to immediately delete any e-mail from Otonashi-san.
I clench my fist.
Why don't I have a single ally when even Yuuhei Ishihara has one?
 May 2nd (Saturday) 09:05
I'm surprised to find Kazuki Hoshino in class. I was sure he'd still be handcuffed in Maria Otonashi's room. It honestly astonishes me that Kazuki Hoshino came to school despite the terrible situation he's in.
Did Maria Otonashi make him do it because she wanted to gather more information? If so, she's heartless.
The outcome won't change either way.
Kazuki Hoshino's everyday life will still be destroyed.
After all, I arranged things so that Kazuki Hoshino's everyday life will be destroyed just by his being with Maria Otonashi.
Why did I confess to Kokone Kirino? Naturally, to destroy Kazuki Hoshino's everyday life.
But the reason that I chose this specific method is just part of my revenge. I mean, how can I forgive him? Having such a close female friend while being blessed with a lover like Maria Otonashi?
Thus, I chose to destroy this relationship by making a confession.
My method had immediately borne fruit. On top of that, the repercussions were tremendous. The confession to Kirino was far more explosive than I had expected.
I got beat up by Oomine. To tell the truth, the statement that brought this situation to a head, was not even made with the intention to offend her.
I merely said:
«Come on, let me hear your reply!»
I said it simply to sound out the situation between us.
But Kirino got shocked for some reason and broke out in tears, and Oomine overreacted and hit me.
Why did this happen? I didn't understand at the time, but in retrospect, it's obvious. Kazuki Hoshino and Yuuhei Ishihara don't share any memories. For example, let's assume that Kirino had already given Kazuki Hoshino her reply to his confession when I asked her that question. How would she have responded to those words? I can't say for sure, but I bet they would have hurt her feelings.
However, I still don't know why Oomine reacted so strongly. I had heard rumors about his having special feelings for Kirino. I hadn't been able to confirm them through personal observation, but those rumors just might be true.
I didn't directly witness what I'm about to describe, but I realized this subsequently after talking to Haruaki Usui.
It seems that when I was attacked by Oomine, most of the members of class 2-3 were assuming that the quarrel started because Kazuki confessed to Kirino.
The fly in the ointment was that Maria Otonashi then showed up.
Kazuki followed her outside without hesitation, as if he were clinging to her. He completely ignored Kokone Kirino's feelings—those of the crying girl he had apparently confessed to.
And even after this incident, Kazuki Hoshino kept accompanying Maria Otonashi as if nothing had happened.
It's only natural that his classmates were enraged when he deserted the oh-so-popular Kokone Kirino. However, since Hoshino had no other choice but to rely on Maria Otonashi, he couldn't act independently.
Kazuki Hoshino is gradually losing his everyday life.
Not through my direct actions, but due to his own behavior.
Heck, this is just too great.
I inform the teacher that I need to visit the restroom and walk out into the corridor - where Maria Otonashi is already lying in wait. She speaks while frowning: "Why are you smiling?"
I suppose I started grinning without realizing it?
"Probably because you were waiting for me, Otonashi-san."
"Hmpf, trying to act like Kazuki Hoshino, Yuuhei Ishihara?"
She could detect that I'm Yuuhei Ishihara that easily?
No, that's not what's so amazing. She rushed to class 2-3 right after our identities shifted.
Probably because she realized that Kazuki Hoshino had switched to me.
I assume they made some kind of arrangement to alert her to the switch.
"Follow me," she says.
"Where do you plan to lead me?"
She smiles faintly in response to my question.
"What do you mean? Didn't you announce your destination already?"
"You're going to the restroom, aren't you?"
 May 2nd (Saturday) 09:14
"You're really OK with this? If people knew that you're in here with Kazuki Hoshino, wouldn't that be a serious problem?"
I've been led into a stall in the girls' restroom.
"...Heh," Maria Otonashi sneered at me when she had seen me entering mindlessly.
What on earth is she thinking? It's true that the third floor restrooms in building two are hardly ever used, since only special classrooms are found here. And they're even emptier while classes are being held. But even so, I don't understand why she went out of her way to bring me here.
"I guess so. We'd get suspended from school. We'd get singled out by our classmates."
"You're already somewhat out of despair? If so, shall I make some noise as you wish?"
"Feel free to do so," she says coolly and sneers at me. ...Apparently she saw right through my bluff.
Kazuki Hoshino's situation is going to become my own. I may have damaged his everyday life more than originally planned, but there's no way I'd want to put him in an even more problematic position.
"Okay Yuuhei Ishihara, open Kazuki's cell phone."
"...What's this all of a sudden?"
"Open an image file - the third one from the top in the data folder."
I feel the urge to resist, but since picking a fight over this would be pointless, I obey her.
I open the image files. It's a picture of a lovely girl in pajamas, probably self-shot.
"Tell me, who is this?"
"...Why are you asking me that?"
"I won't tell you since it would place me at a disadvantage."
What a frank answer.
I look at it again. It's a girl I don't know. Telling her that would probably be to my disadvantage, I suppose.
I shift my attention to the background. It's definitely a hospital room. Come to think of it, there was a major accident nearby about two months ago. Maybe she's the victim? The name of that victim was... I don't remember.
...I really don't know, so I'll venture a guess.
I try saying the name the underwear-only girl, Luka Hoshino, mentioned previously.
"I'm afraid you're wrong."
It didn't work, huh? I smile bitterly.
"I didn't know her name—so what?"
"It's a lie."
"Saying you were wrong was a lie. It is indeed Kasumi Mogi. But it seems you have never seen her in person," Maria Otonashi says, utterly poker faced.
"......aren't you being unfair?"
"What does that mean? You are naïve to think that a correct guess would work out for you. Well then, I'll pose a different question. How are Kazuki Hoshino and Kasumi Mogi related?"
I have no clue what she's trying to accomplish with all these questions. Well, I guess she's deliberately concealing her intent from me.
I grope for an open-ended answer.
So Maria Otonashi won't let me get away with such a vague answer, after all.
"What can I say when I don't even know Kasumi Mogi?"
This is only natural. It's an obvious answer since I already told her that I don't know that girl. This answer should be perfectly safe.
"You don't know Kasumi Mogi?"
Nevertheless, Maria Otonashi speaks as if I made a fatal mistake.
"...Didn't I say so from the start? I've never seen the girl in this photo."
"Yeah, you've never seen her. You said that. But how is 'never seen' equivalent to 'do not know'?"
"...You're being cryptic. I have never seen her, so there's no way I'd kno—"
—wait, that's not true.
"I see. I now have a fairly decent grasp of your true identity. You are not a member of class 2-3."
......that was what she'd been shooting for.
«Kasumi Mogi» probably hasn't come to school because she's been hospitalized, so I've never seen her. The students of class 2-3, however, know about her even though they have never seen her. It's only natural that they would know about the person whose seat is always empty.
Right, the intention of those questions was—to narrow down the pool of suspects.
"Hmph, to be honest, it seemed likely that Ryuu Miyazaki was the 'owner'. But since you're a member of class 2-3, I guess I was wrong."
Why is she bringing him up?
Don't tell me that he acted on his own because I was unable to give him instructions today while captured by Otonashi-san?
"You... no, to be accurate, the 'owner', has to be someone who's not our classmate but knows us well. I don't think there are many people who know that much about us. He is a person Kazuki and I can easily recognize, right?"
Of course, I don't reply.
"Furthermore, I have another idea. It's about Yuuhei Ishihara. Ryuu Miyazaki called Yuuhei Ishihara his mother's lover. I was trying to understand why he mentioned that, and I came to the following conclusion. Right—"
Maria Otonashi declares.
"—Yuuhei Ishihara does not exist."
I hold my breath.
"That name was randomly chosen all along. But either you or Ryuu Miyazaki decided to use that to your advantage. You tried to conceal the identity of the 'owner' by making us think that «Yuuhei Ishihara» really exists, right? And you chose a messy relationship involving a lover because it would be hard to investigate such a matter, right?"
He doesn't exist, thus we can conceal him—huh? I see. She's almost right.
But she's still off. Yuuhei Ishihara is indeed Ryuu Miyazaki's mother's lover. However, you could also say that he doesn't exist anymore.
After all, Yuuhei Ishihara is already dead.
"Was that it? If so, is it my turn now?"
Maria Otonashi scowls. I guess my sudden question is making her wary.
"...What do you want to discuss?"
"The topic should attract your interest, I think! Perhaps it's even something you've sought with all your might."
I smile as I speak
"I'll explain how the 'Sevennight in Mud' works."
 May 2nd (Saturday) 10:00
I look at each object within my field of vision, collect data and regain my identity as Kazuki Hoshino. The sky. Concrete. The ground. Sand. Maria Otonashi. My hand. Kazuki Hoshino. This place is the rear of the school building. I am—me.
I'm getting used to it, since I've switched identities several times already. But precisely because I'm getting used to it, I notice:
This is a temporary death.
I completely vanish during the time when I'm not myself. I don't even dream. This is a «death» that approaches me step by step. If I don't destroy the 'Sevennight in Mud' by May 5th, I'm going to disappear forever. In other words, I'll «die».
"Kazuki?" The girl in front of me asks. I nod silently, but realize that this won't suffice and add "Yes, Aya."
Otonashi-san looks at her watch and frowns.
I notice a worn-out electric guitar lying at her feet.
"This thing? I brought it over from the light music club."
It's a really old guitar, but since all the strings are new, I suppose it's still in regular use.
...I bet she took it without permission.
"You know, I fiddled around with the guitar inside the 'Rejecting Classroom' to kill time."
Otonashi-san picks up the electric guitar and starts to play. She does so quite skillfully. In contrast, I can barely play an F-chord. She quickly stops playing and holds the guitar out to me.
"Play. I know that you received your sister's guitar as a hand-me-down."
"Ah, no... I can't play very well, you know?"
"I don't care. Play the guitar while I'm speaking. If you do so, I'll know when you switch to Yuuhei Ishihara."
I see. So that's why she brought this guitar.
I'm a very poor guitar player, so it's kind of embarrassing, but I eventually start playing a famous song from a classic rock group that I remember from my practice book.
"I'm surprised you know that I've got my older sister's guitar."
"There's nothing I don't know about you," she boldly says.
"...Did you not forget anything you learned within the 'Rejecting Classroom', Aya?" That question suddenly pops up in my head, so I ask her as I continue to clumsily play the guitar.
"Mh well, I remember everything. ...no, to be exact, I definitely forgot some things since there was such a long stretch of similar occurrences. But I basically remember almost everything."
Otonashi-san frowns and looks at me.
"Was your experience different, perhaps?"
"Yeah, I don't remember much about it. I've lost the feelings that accompany the remaining memories, so I'm rather oblivious as to the details of what transpired. It's like how you can't remember the face of every person you pass by in town."
After hearing what I have to say, Otonashi-san's eyes widen, and she stands completely still.
"Eh? What's wrong?"
Seeing her obvious distress, I become all the more perplexed.
"So you remember almost nothing of what we did together inside the 'box'?"
Otonashi-san remains silent for some reason. As I wait for her to continue, I look at her, but she hurriedly averts her eyes.
"Now that you mention it, it's entirely plausible. There's no way you'd retain your memories the way I did, because you aren't an 'owner'. I see, everything finally makes sense. So that's why—" she continues murmuring with eyes averted "---that's why you call me Aya."
Otonashi-san regains her gallant expression and scowls at me.
"Oi, Kazuki. You stopped playing the guitar."
I hurriedly start playing again. Since I've lost my place, I start from the beginning of the song.
"Geez, because you were babbling about trivialities, I couldn't get to the important stuff."
"Sorry. So back to relevancy?"
"...Hm, let's see. Since I still don't know whether I can believe what Yuuhei Ishihara told me, I'll leave that out for now. I want to discuss this new 'box' while I'm still confident that you're Kazuki Hoshino."
I nod and tell her to begin.
"You should understand that there are different kinds of 'boxes'. It might be a flawed explanation, but just to keep it simple, there are 'boxes' that operate internally and there are 'boxes' that operate externally. While the 'Rejecting Classroom' was more of an internal 'box', the 'Sevennight in Mud' is more of an external 'box'."
"...? What's the difference?"
"An internal 'box' arises if an 'owner' considers his 'wish' to be impossible in the real world. For example, Kasumi Mogi, who was the 'owner' of the 'Rejecting Classroom', didn't believe that it was possible to relive the past. So she created a space removed from the real world where she could believe in her 'wish'. Mogi crammed herself and her classmates into a 'box' where she could believe that her 'wish' was possible."
I nod while continuing to play the guitar.
"An external 'box' arises when an 'owner' believes that his 'wish' can occur in the real world. The 'owner' of the 'Sevennight in Mud' seems to believe that his 'wish' can be granted through the power of the 'box'. Indeed, taking over a body may seem plausible in real life, which means that there's no need to create a special space outside of reality. That's linked to why I still cannot properly perceive this 'box'."
"I don't really get it, but if one can't believe that the miracle of the 'box' can occur in the real world, it becomes internal, and if one can believe in it, it becomes external?"
"Yeah, pretty much. If we rated them numerically with a maximum score of 10, the 'Rejecting Classroom' would get an internal score of 9 and the 'Sevennight in Mud' would get an external score of 4. The higher the external score, the more that 'box' will affect reality."
It's obvious that the influence of the 'Rejecting Classroom' was almost nonexistent, since the classmates involved can't even remember it.
But that means the 'Sevennight in Mud' is different?
I notice the cruel nature of my current situation.
I'm scorned by all of my classmates. Furthermore, my relationships with Daiya, Kokone and Haruaki have all been destroyed.
"So—so—, my ruined everyday life—"
"Yeah, it won't return."
The hand I was playing the guitar with comes to a halt.
The sounds coming from the guitar vanish.
It won't return? My everyday life won't return? My everyday life was corroded and is now beyond repair?
So—it doesn't exist anymore.
The thing I want to regain doesn't exist anymore.
The moment I realize this, my sight turns black as if all the breakers of this world had been turned off in a single blow. I mean, I no longer have any goal. It's pointless to destroy the 'box'. I completely lose sight of everything.
I don't care anymore.
I start staggering away. Otonashi-san says something, and I say something in reply. I have no idea what she said or what I said, but I don't care.
I want to scream.
But even when I scream, there is no one who can rescue me.
 May 2nd (Saturday) 11:00
I'm in a convenience store for some reason. I'm holding a weekly manga magazine. I check the time on Kazuki Hoshino's cell phone. I should be in my third period class right now... so why am I in a convenience store?
I look around, but Maria Otonashi is nowhere to be seen.
What could this mean? Don't tell me they broke up?
I worry that this might be a trap, but I can't ignore this opportunity to get in contact with Ryuu Miyazaki.
I enter his phone number from memory. The phone rings repeatedly; well, he should be in class, so he won't be able to answer the phone right away.
I cancel the call and clear the outgoing call log. Ryuu Miyazaki immediately calls me back.
"Hello? Ryuu Miyazaki?"
«......hey, why are you using my full name?» Ryuu Miyazaki asks, seeming a bit ill-tempered.
"I am no one. «Someone» you remember might have called you something different, I thought this was most natural for the current me."
«...Is that so. So, you have something you want, don't you? What is it?»
"Don't you mind that you have classes right now?"
«...You're the most important thing.»
"What a thing for the class committee chairman to say…But I'm happy that you feel this way. Okay, I'd like to discuss how we should proceed..."
«I don't think we should talk about that at school. Why don’t you come to my apartment?»
"I don't mind... But you realize that I can't say whether 12:00 is my turn or not, right?"
«That's why I proposed my apartment. We just have to restrain Kazuki Hoshino in that place before 12:00. 13:00 is your turn again, isn't it?»
"I see. So let me teach you a nice way to restrain someone! It's actually how Maria Otonashi tricked me, you know—"
I explain what she did with handcuffs and footcuffs.
«Cuffs, huh? Sounds good. So can you buy some before we meet?»
«You know where I live, right?»
"Yeah. Later then."
I end the call and clear the call history with a few quick motions.
Ryuu Miyazaki's apartment, huh?
Now that I think about it, this'll be my first time there. Until now, I held back from going there myself. How ironic that I'm only able to go there now that I am in a different body.
 May 2nd (Saturday) 11:47
Ryuu Miyazaki's apartment is in a two-story wooden building, two floors lower than the complex that Maria Otonashi lives in. It isn't self-locking either. I walk to the door on the second floor and ring the bell.
Ryuu Miyazaki promptly shows his face.
I hand him a brown paper bag containing a pair of handcuffs and footcuffs. Ryuu Miyazaki accepts it with almost no change in expression.
I take off my shoes and enter the room. It's about the size of six tatami mats. The room is very small, but he's been keeping things neat and tidy. I'm amazed at how much space his computer takes up. I sit down on the floor.
"Ah right, I've been waiting to complain. You acted on your own and told Maria Otonashi some unnecessary things, didn't you?"
Ryuu Miyazaki smiles wryly. "That 'you' didn't sound kind."
"That girl picked up on your attempt to conceal our link. She already noticed that you and I are working together."
"So it's as I expected."
I raise an eyebrow because he seems to speak without a qualm.
"...I don't get it. So you deliberately revealed that you're my ally?"
"Well, I guess so?"
Hey... that sounds like a really lame excuse.
"Maria Otonashi suspected me just because I tried to reach out to Kazuki Hoshino. We're up against a really impressive gal. Therefore, I concluded that I wouldn't be able to deceive her."
"But there's no need to go out of your way to tell her!"
"...Your goal is to make Kazuki Hoshino submit, right?"
"It is—but so what?"
"Otonashi will definitely block your efforts, because you cannot attack Kazuki Hoshino directly. In other words, you can only attack Kazuki Hoshino via Otonashi. But as you know, she's brilliant. So any attack through Otonashi would be easily parried."
"Well, you have a point..."
"So instead I came up with the idea that you just need someone who can attack Kazuki Hoshino directly, instead of using Otonashi. Of course I'm the only one who can do it."
"For this reason, it's best to clearly demonstrate that I'm your assistant. But if I had made it too easy for her to find out, she would have been suspicious. That's why I did what I did!" he says indifferently.
A wry smile spontaneously floats onto my face. I didn't think he'd been so thorough. I already consider him to be reliable, but he is even more reliable than I imagined.
"I already have a plan!"
"Tell me more."
"We'll show him a corpse." Ryuu Miyazaki says.
"Do you really think that will make him fall into despair? Well, of course he'd be shocked after seeing a corpse, but…well..."
Ryuu Miyazaki's mouth curls up upon hearing my objections.
"'You killed this person just now.' How about telling him something like that?"
This is—most interesting.
My mouth instinctively starts to curl as well.
"I'll make Kazuki Hoshino fall into despair. Don't worry." Ryuu Miyazaki declares this, ransacks the bag and throws the cuffs at me.
 May 2nd (Saturday) 12:00
Who is the guy in front of me? I peer at him and notice the sharp gaze of Ryuu Miyazaki, only without the filter of his glasses.
Why is Miyazaki-kun...?
I'm cuffed, hand-and-foot, in a small room that I have never seen before. The gravity of my situation is quite clear.
What exactly did I do before I switched? ...I can't remember. When I had realized that my ordinary life wouldn't return, my sight went black—and then I ended up in this room before I knew it.
"This is my room. I restrained you."
"Why, you ask? Didn't Yuuhei Ishihara explain it to you? It's to make you surrender."
In other words, Miyazaki-kun is acting for the sake of Yuuhei Ishihara, and not for himself?
"Hoshino, has Otonashi explained the details of this 'box'?"
I shake my head.
"So she kept it secret, huh. Well, that's probably a wise decision. Yuuhei Ishihara said that he had told her with the expectation that she'd inform you, you know?"
Come to think of it, I think she was about to tell me something that she had heard from Yuuhei Ishihara.
"I'll explain it to you instead! ...haha! Things are really so much more straightforward now that I've revealed my enmity."
"Never mind that. ...so, you know that this 'box' will erase your existence within one week, right?"
"Yes ...But may I ask something first?"
"What is it?"
"I cannot trust anything you say. After all, you're my enemy, aren't you? I can't just accept your explanation at face value since you've been trying to deceive me from day one."
"Quite right." Miyazaki-kun readily accepts my words and doesn't show any unease.
"I've started to wonder if I have what it takes to be a con artist - that's my new discovery. But I'm only going to tell you the truth now. Feel free to verify it on your own. If you don't want to listen, just cover your ears. ...Well, you can't really do that because of the handcuffs..." Miyazaki-kun says emotionlessly. He approaches me and hands over a piece of paper cut out from a notebook.
|7th day End|
"This is a note that Yuuhei Ishihara gave me."
Which means that Yuuhei Ishihara wrote it. His handwriting, and his rounded letters, is surprisingly neat.
"Today's the fourth day."
«09-10» is all that was written on the fourth line. Though there are always three number pairs, this line only has one. There were none after that, either.
"What on earth do those numbers mean...?"
"Hoshino, haven't you noticed that your time decreases day by day?"
"Kazuki Hoshino's time gets stolen by Yuuhei Ishihara bit by bit everyday! This note is a listing of the hours that have been stolen from you. For example, «00-01» means that the time from 00:00 until 01:00 has been stolen from Kazuki Hoshino by Yuuhei Ishihara."
I take another look at the note. The pair of numbers, «09-10», can be found on today's date row. Which means that Yuuhei Ishihara controlled my body today from nine o'clock until ten o'clock. Indeed, I wasn't conscious at that time.
"So he just steals three hours of my day? It doesn't increase?"
"...hey, you ought to think a little more before you speak. I said 'the time gets stolen,' That time isn't stolen only that day. That time stays in the possession of Yuuhei Ishihara thereafter. For example, the hour that has been stolen from you between 00:00 and 01:00 won't be Kazuki Hoshino's again."
I still have trouble understanding.
"Gosh, do you still not get it? Mh... maybe it's easier if you divide one day into 24 blocks and imagine having three of them stolen every day. Your blocks decrease to 21 on the first day, 18 on the second day, 15 on the third day. And on the seventh day, there will only be 3 blocks left. The moment the date changes to the eighth day, none will remain. In other words: Game Over."
I finally understand.
I also understand why he explained this to me. You'd think that teaching me about the 'Sevennight in Mud' is a disadvantage for Yuuhei Ishihara. The reason he taught me anyway is—
"Ah, it seems like you noticed. You get it, right? Therefore, this can't be a lie. A lie yields hope when you realize that it's a lie. On the other hand, when you realize that a cruel fact is really true, you fall into even deeper despair. And you have to realize, if you think back a little, that this is really what’s happening to you, right?"
Right. My body tells me that it's the truth, too.
"Shall I do the math for you? Kazuki Hoshino has 7 blocks left today, including the time now, 9 tomorrow on May 3rd, 6 on May 4th, and 3 on May 5th. Counting just your full blocks, that’s 24 altogether. Do you get it? You don't even have one day's time left!"
Miyazaki-kun spoke in order to corner me.
"To corner you by telling you the truth. This is why Yuuhei Ishihara revealed this information. Thus, I'm telling you the unvarnished truth."
"I still have four days left." I really had been thinking that way. But that was a big mistake. The direction of the battle has already tipped in Yuuhei Ishihara's favor.
When considering the time we spend in this body, Kazuki Hoshino has already become the minority existence.
Furthermore, Yuuhei Ishihara has Ryuu Miyazaki as his partner.
Oh. It really is hopeless already.
"I'm surprised that you're so composed."
Now that he mentions it... Despite this hopeless situation, I feel calm.
Which is... understandable.
After all, I already fell into despair, even without this latest piece of bad news.
"Hey, Miyazaki-kun. May I ask you something?"
"What is it?"
"Why do you assist Yuuhei Ishihara?"
My question seems to have been unexpected—Miyazaki-kun keeps silent.
"You wouldn't assist him if there weren't a really important reason, would you? Furthermore, if Yuuhei Ishihara told you that he's controlling my body, you wouldn't readily believe such a thing. Right?"
...Mhh, yeah. Let me try to trick him.
"Here's a reason - for example—you are actually Yuuhei Ishihara."
An ridiculous argument which would be cause for great amusement if it were wrong.
But Miyazaki-kun maintains his sharp gaze and keeps quiet.
"......I'm Yuuhei Ishihara, huh? Well—"
Miyazaki-kun smiles bitterly and continues.
His unexpected words make me lose my speech.
"Honestly, I was already tired of it. I would never have dreamed that hiding it would exhaust me like this. So I want to explain where I'm coming from to get some relief."
Miyazaki-kun sighs. He seems very tired.
"Hoshino. Is there something that's important to you?"
Maybe «there was» would be more accurate. My everyday life has been destroyed, after all.
"So you should be able to understand my feelings. In my opinion, a truly important thing is not something you take care of with utmost devotion nor something you concentrate your lovey-dovey love on. I think a really important thing is something that becomes your stem. So if it is lost, you end up broken as if your spine were removed and end up an empty shell. Therefore, a truly important thing is—equal to oneself."
"Your «that's right» just now didn't imply that you are Yuuhei Ishihara, right?"
"Of course not. If I were him, I would never permit such detestable behavior."
But he is supporting such behavior on the part of Yuuhei Ishihara, because Yuuhei Ishihara is so important to him.
"If this is his wish, I'll make it happen. I'll do anything to protect him, even if it's wrong."
His attitude is neither proud nor stubborn. He bitterly bites his lips and his eyes show resignation, but his will is utterly unwavering.
"...I understand what you mean! But why is Yuuhei Ishihara so important to you?"
Miyazaki-kun mutters a "...hm" and continues.
"Probably... no, not probably. I'm sure of it. He's so important to me because—"
He spits out some words, seeming displeased.
"—I'm his older brother."
"Older brother? Huh?" I couldn't immediately comprehend his interjection. "So you were lying about your relationship with Yuuhei Ishihara? ...huh? But...eeh..."
"Yuuhei Ishihara is my mother's lover. That's true."
"...umm, so, Yuuhei Ishihara and Yuuhei Ishihara are completely different individuals to begin with?"
"Yeah. Using that bastard's name made everything more complicated, but you're right."
"So your younger brother's inside me, not Yuuhei Ishihara..."
Is Yuuhei Ishihara so important to Miyazaki-kun that he calls himself Yuuhei Ishihara, just because they're blood related? ...no, I can't really understand this level of emotion. I have an older sister, and of course she's important to me. But I'd never do anything like this for Luu-chan.
"Didn't I tell you about my family environment." Miyazaki-kun says, without directly addressing my question.
"Everything I said was true, except I concealed that I'm his brother. The divorce destroyed my life. Children have to rely on their parents, but my parents told me «We don't need you!». That I'm a hindrance. That I'm trash. That I'm a mistake. My entire life was destroyed. It may sound clichéd, but I was in total despair. I no longer felt human anymore."
He smiles in self-derision and continues.
"But I wasn't the only one who no longer felt human. My brother, who remained in my mother's custody - that other non-human saved me. I guess my dependence was unhealthy, but I came back to life thanks to it. He became my stem and I could no more live without him than my spine."
He scowls at me.
"I don't ever want to be no longer human again. I will protect—myself."
I thoroughly understand that Miyazaki-kun's younger brother is precious to him.
"...But I can't comprehend it."
Miyazaki-kun wordlessly urges me to continue.
"How will he find true happiness by becoming Kazuki Hoshino? I don't think you're helping by protecting him. I believe he has to find the right way to be himself."
"You're right, I guess."
Surprisingly, Miyazaki-kun agrees without hesitation.
"Don't bother to spell it out! I know. I'm aware of all that, but it's already too late!"
 May 2nd (Saturday) 14:00
I discover why it's «too late».
Though I can't come to terms with the sight before my eyes that quickly, it was definitely too late.
"These are the corpses of my mother and Yuuhei Ishihara."
I'm in yet another residence unknown to me. I see a normal living room without any noteworthy features.
…Except for the red liquid that’s been splashed everywhere.
I look at the bodies.
There's the corpse of a middle-aged woman. Her head is split open, her brains are scattered everywhere and her head has been reshaped into a crescent moon.
There's the corpse of a middle-aged man, which was probably the real Yuuhei Ishihara.
His head is split open, just like the woman's. In addition, his limbs are bent at bizarre angles as if his joints have been completely destroyed. It's a gruesome scene, suggesting that someone held an enormous grudge.
At any rate, it really stinks in here.
The stench causes me to calmly observe the corpses, and I make a mental leap. Why—is this here?
"This is his attack on you!"
A fluorescent lamp palely illuminates the two corpses.
"These murders were committed with Kazuki Hoshino's body. You know what that means, right? As long you're Kazuki Hoshino, you won't be able to get away from the sin of murder. When you get caught by the police, Kazuki Hoshino will be punished."
His voice already echoes from a distance and doesn't quite reach my ears properly.
Miyazaki-kun looks at me, but then faintly sighs.
"......was the scenario we planned to use to corner you, but let's scrap that. As I told you before, despair that was born from a lie will become hope when the truth is revealed. Those corpses are the cause. The cause that made him want to take over your body."
What if murdering these two people was the trigger that made him want to steal my body?
Based on Miyazaki-kun's statements, I suppose he considers his life to be full of misfortune. What would he 'wish' for if he obtained the 'box' after such an incident? I doubt he'd want to regain his life.
He wouldn't want to be himself anymore. Therefore, he would want to steal another man's body.
"...I understood how the 'owner' ended up making such a 'wish'! But.. I don't really understand why you'd help him realize this 'Sevennight in Mud'. Wouldn't it be better to tell him to destroy the 'box' and turn himself in...?"
"If he went to prison, I wouldn't be able to be by his side anymore, would I?"
Indeed. But still, surely going to prison is still better than becoming another person?
"You look like you still don't understand...ah, I see. There's no reason you'd know this. Say, have you never wondered: if he's inside you, where is his original body right now?"
Come to think of it, that never came up. I assumed that he vanished since he's inside my body.
"I'll answer that question! Take out your phone."
That's all I need to hear to understand what's going on. I take out my cell phone, open the data folder and check the voice files. There's a new one.
I play the file.
«My original body? I've already killed it!»
I stop breathing.
So he committed suicide after killing his mother and Yuuhei Ishihara? Why engage in such a foolish act...!!?
«I mean, isn't it just a hindrance? I have no need for that body —I'm not that kid anymore!»
......Wait! So in other words ---
"It's too late; got it? I can't protect the person I want to protect anymore."
—Right, it's already too late.
Not only for Miyazaki-kun, but also for me.
After all his original body died. Which means that the 'owner' died. Which also means that there's no way to destroy the 'box' anymore.
In short—the ultimate outcome of the 'Sevennight in Mud' cannot be prevented anymore.
It's too late. We are entirely too late.
"My only choice is to make the 'Sevennight in Mud' come true." He spits out these words so plainly that I immediately realize that he's choking off his emotions.
He distinctly says: "So, Hoshino—I think I'm going to erase you."
He slowly raises his pale head; his eyes are—blank.
"I'll completely mow down your will to resist."
Without looking in my eyes, Miyazaki-kun continues to speak.
"But I can't rest after doing just this, because there's Maria Otonashi to deal with. So I've been thinking about making you surrender and stopping Maria Otonashi. I've been thinking about how to do both at the same time."
Miyazaki-kun's mouth twists slightly, and he continues.
"Capturing Otonashi. But by having you do it."
"...And this makes me surrender?"
"Yeah. Think about it: if we capture Otonashi and confine her until May 6th, she can no longer endanger us—that's obvious enough. If Otonashi can't make a move, the 'Sevennight in Mud' won't be averted."
So betraying Otonashi-san is equivalent to abandoning my last resort.
It would mean that I've surrendered.
"So let's move on to the execution—Hoshino, I'm going to confine you within my room and use you as a trap to capture Otonashi. I'll drag you along, no matter how much you resist. I won't hesitate to use violence. Well, resistance will be pointless once you switch identities again."
"Then... why don't you just wait until I switch?"
"If I did that, you might try to rationalize what happened by saying that you were held against your will. Unless you betray Maria Otonashi of your own accord, it's meaningless. After all, we have to make you surrender completely."
"So what are you gonna do? Wanna try to resist?"
Miyazaki-kun takes a pair of brass knuckles out of his pocket and puts them on. The look in his eyes clearly indicates that he's not bluffing.
Should I betray Maria Otonashi—no, Aya Otonashi?
What is there to betray? We don't trust each other right now. Also, Miyazaki-kun might not have noticed yet, but I've lost my will to resist ever since I found out that my everyday life has been lost for good.
Should I fight against Miyazaki-kun? No way. Why should I choose a painful and pointless path?
But I still can't say it.
I can't say a sentence as simple as "I will betray Otonashi-san."
Why not? I don't get it. Nothing will change if I don't say it. I have already given up and when the time for the switch comes, I'm going to be imprisoned. The outcome won't change. Still, when I try to vocalize my betrayal, there's a burning pain in my chest.
Miyazaki-kun hit me. I fall to my knees and can't even speak.
Miyazaki-kun's expression remains blank as he looks down on me. He won't listen to anything I have to say. He will strike without mercy if I show any signs of resistance.
I know. I can only choose betrayal.
Isn't that OK? After all, Aya Otonashi's an enemy.
He grabs my shoulders and makes me stand up. He holds his fist against my defenseless stomach.
"Come on, let me hear your words of betrayal!"
This has no meaning, so there should be no reason to hesitate.
"You may—imprison me."
Why does my heart seem to break when I say those words?
 May 2nd (Saturday) 23:10
I'm dreaming the same dream once again.
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