Part 64: GladioulPart 64 - Gladioul
OST: Tender Hearts
I sensed Rimi shifting behind me. The sound of her clothes rustling drew nearer.
"So please.... don't ignore me...."
Before I had time to turn around, she embraced me from behind.
I smelled her tender floral scent.
Her soft chest pressed against my back.
"It makes me so lonely when you're like that...."
Apparently I had retreated from reality again and woven myself a convenient delusion.
When I thought of it that way, my sense of hollowness grew stronger than my lust, and I couldn't even enjoy it as a daydream.
"I was lonely, too. It was hard for me.... you didn't contact me at all, this whole week...."
Rimi's movements were conveyed directly to me from my back. Each time she took a breath, her chest shifted up and down minutely. It was only to be expected, but it served to remind me she was living.
"Yeah, I'm sorry.... I'm sorry I couldn't be with you."
Rimi's arms went tighter and tighter around me.
"I still felt torn.... I didn't know what to do.... I figured I'd think about it a little...."
What had she felt torn about? What in the world was she talking about?
"For starters, I wasn't sure if it was okay for me to be with you. Whether we ought to stay in this kind of relationship."
"Say, Taku. In the beginning, I only wished for one thing."
"Yet why do people.... Why do I end up wishing and wishing infinitely...."
I didn't understand what Rimi was saying.
I couldn't come up with a reply.
Close by my ear, I heard the faint sound of Rimi breathing.
It would be strange if the denouement didn't come soon, but nothing happened as silence closed in around us.
The instant I realized that, tension shot through my body all at once.
I had a feeling that Rimi would forgive me even if I went ahead and pounced on her--
I gulped in a breath, and
As though startled, Rimi jumped away from me. The soft sensation of her vanished.
A complex feeling spread within me, partly a sense of having been saved, partly regret.
No, more than that, Rimi had heard Seira-tan's new-message voice. This was fairly humiliating.
Now that he mentioned it, I hadn't chatted with Grim at all lately. Even though we'd met up online practically every day in the past.
Because I'd also held back on playing ESO, it had probably been close to ten days since we'd last spoken.
Neidhardt: What're you saying?
Grim: New Gen, New Gen!
Neidhardt: How did New Gen end up as Moob Gen?
Grim: New Generation -> New Gen -> Bewb/Boob Gen -> Moob-Gen
Grim: It makes sense if you think about it
Grim: More importantly, the seventh incident!
"What's the matter?"
Noticing me catch my breath, Rimi got up and walked over.
She peered at the PC monitor from behind me.
"'The seventh incident'...."
It had happened again. New-Gen again. How long would it continue?
Would I be the next to get killed? The one after that?
"There's nothing for you to be scared of."
"No one's out to get you."
"It's all just paranoia on your part. Okay?"
Baseless words of comfort. That won't soothe my heart, Rimi.
That aside, Grim was practically the New-Gen case publicist. He reported every little thing to me.
Now, too, he went out of his way to paste in multiple links to news sites and so forth.
Apparently he was telling me to take a look at them.
I reluctantly clicked his links and bit down hard on my lip.
News-24 Presenter: "According to the police investigation, the three victims were all Shibuya residents: Fujita Kouhei, unemployed; Anzawa Saburou, a college stuent, and Takagi Ryou, a part-timer."
News-24 Presenter: "All three had been decapitated at the waist, and their respective upper and lower bodies were switched with one another and sewn back together with thread."
News-24 Presenter: "Each of them had a mysterious wound marked on their forehead, and the police is regarding this as a potential message from the criminal as they explore the various possibilities."
News-24 Presenter: "Bizarre murders have been taking place in Shibuya with some frequency for about two months now, and those working in the ongoing police investigation believe there is a strong likelihood that this is the work of the same criminal as well."
I remembered seeing those faces.
"It, it's them...."
"You know them?"
I'd offered up my wallet, but they'd used violence anyway,
And I lost consciousness, and Kozu-pii was there when I came to.
The three of them had lain collapsed, covered in blood....
I took my wallet out of my pocket and stared at it intently.
When I revived, Kozu-pii had been carrying it, and she'd given it back to me.
At the time, when I last saw their faces, they'd certainly been pummeled, and they were blood-soaked, but their torsos hadn't been sliced in half or anything.
They'd been murdered after Kozu-pii and I left the scene....
It had to be "Shogun." He was--that old geezer was--challenging me....!
Dammit, how far was he planning to drive me into a psychological corner....
It felt like I was about to throw up. My stomach ached sharply, and I pressed a hand against my belly.
Rimi's hand, reaching out from behind me, pressed the power button on the monitor. The screen went pitch-black.
"You have nothing to worry about."
"I'm sure it's just a coincidence."
How could Rimi be so carefree.... It was impossible for so many coincidences to pile up like this.
"Hey, there's a restaurant I go to a lot. Wanna eat there?"
"It's cheap and tasty. I guarantee it."
"But a lot of the customers are old guys, so it's a li~ttle embarrassing for someone like me to go by myself."
"Ah, and also, you hafta go in the station to get there. Cause it's located in Shibuya Station."
"By the way, you can find it in both the platforms for the Yamanote Line's inner and outer circles, but I definitely prefer the inner circle's one."
I really wasn't going to be able to work up an appetite....
It felt like someone was holding a knife to my throat.
That sensation, I'd been told "I can kill you whenever I like." Let me go already.
What're you saying I've done that's so wrong? I'm completely sick of this stuff....
This hospital window lacked the metal bars found in those of Ark Heart Medical, where she had been in the past.
Beyond the window spread the sunset sky and the clustered high-rise buildings of Shinjuku. Several pigeons flew diagonally across the view, beating their wings furiously.
Ayase occasionally knitted her eyebrows as if she were suffering.
Her eyes were slightly sleepy and reflected nothing in them. Nor did her lips croon with the gorgeous voice that had drawn in the youth of Shibuya.
For the most part, her injuries had already healed.
The doctor had told her it was a miracle she had managed to get by with only a few scrapes, despite the fact that she'd fallen from such a height.
Even so, she had also hit her head hard, and she had been hospitalized here for over a week so they could study her condition.
But then, even if they said they were going to see how she was doing, it only consisted of a simple examination every two days or so, and the rest of the time, they essentially left her to languish.
She had an individual room without any other beds in it.
She didn't have many visitors.
Phantasm fans had come barging in on a daily basis, but the hospital banned them from seeing her, under the justification that it would inconvenience those around her.
There was almost no one else likely come to visit Ayase, who was estranged from her family.
The other band members had shown their faces once, but when they did, she had been the one to bring up the topic of breaking up. Since then, they hadn't made any attempts to contact her.
The door to the hospital room opened, and a white-garbed nurse came in.
Ayase languorously turned her face in the nurse's direction, and then, as if she had only just remembered it, pulled out the thermometer trapped under her arm.
The nurse looked at the digital numbers displayed there and wrote them down on the clipboard she had with her.
"A bit feverish, maybe."
"My head.... is throbbing."
Ayase grimaced painfully again.
"But that's one of the medicine's side effects. It'll get better sooner or later, even if you don't fret about it."
The nurse answered with a smile, now that Ayase had returned the thermometer to her. Her expression was soft, with the tenderness needed to reassure patients.
Ayase had been troubled by a dull headache ever since she first entered the hospital. It wasn't so strong that she would openly say it hurt her.
But she had the constant and unpleasant feeling that her brain was pulsing in her head, and it numbed her ability to think straight.
And her body, too, felt leaden.
Back then, she had been tormented by migraines 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and her emotions became unstable as she lost the ability to sleep regularly.
Memories she didn't want to recall. The sealed-away past. Memories from over two years ago.
Aside from the part where the window was, the walls were covered entirely in mirrors. Ayase was bound in the dead center of the room, made to sit in a crude, steel-crafted chair.
On her head was a type of headgear with numerous cords attached to it,
And her hands were bound behind the chair's backrest,
And her face was fixed in place with her chin tilted up slightly.
Nobody else was in the room.
Only Ayase's wild breaths and the creaking of the chair continued resounding through the room.
Drool hung from the corner of her mouth, and she let out a beastly cry one would find it difficult to associate with a girl of tender years.
It was a very quiet form of torture.
They only did one thing to her.
At even intervals of five seconds each, without any irregularities, a drop of water fell on her forehead.
That was all.
The result of this situation continuing for two days without any rest was that
Ayase grew incapable of thinking about anything other than "the next drop to fall,"
And her senses became extremely fine-tuned,
And each time a water droplet struck her forehead
She had the hallucination that every nerve in her body was being torn apart,
The hallucination that every bone in her body was being ground to dust,
The hallucination that a long, sharp awl was penetrating her forehead,
The hallucination that every liquid in her body, her blood included, was freezing,
The hallucination that every inch of her skin was slowly rotting and falling away,
Breaking out of her reverie, Ayase clenched the sheets as she panted, over and over. She quaked at the revival of her shadowed memories.
The nurse from before had long since left the room. It was right around dinnertime, and she could hear pitter-pattering in the hallway.
Ayase inwardly ruminated over the nurse's words.
She didn't know whether this headache was truly a side effect of her medicine,
Or because she had hit her head when she jumped and fell, or if it were a hallucination brought about by her memories of the past.
As she wiped away the sweat seeping from her forehead, Ayase laughed self-disparagingly.
"I don't mind.... what they do to me now, after all this time...."
"I'll no longer go astray."
An almost-comforting sound of someone's shoes on linoleum.
It wasn't a nurse. The footsteps boldly approached Ayase's hospital room.
SFX: Knock, knock, knock
The knock on the door made Ayase press her lips together.
Ayase remembered seeing him somewhere before. Therefore, she regarded him with caution in her eyes.
"Nice to meetcha. Ah, you don't have to get suspicious or anything, all right? I'm--"
He was a detective from the police station. He had previously come trailing after Ayase, treating her as a vital person of interest in the New-Gen cases.
The detective scratched his head happily. His demeanor was quite carefree.
"Maaaan, that brightens my day. Having a beauty like you remember me."
"You must have a good memory."
Ayase flicked a look at her Di-Sword, propped up against the windowsill. It was far enough away that she couldn't reach it simply by stretching out her hand.
"....Hard to believe."
"Y, you're a sharp one."
The detective recoiled exaggeratedly. There was something theatrical in his attitude.
"Well, there's a little something I'd like to ask you about, Ayase-chan."
"Ah, here, if you don't mind, I'd love it if you ate some."
With an innocent smile, the detective held out the basket he was carrying and laid it by Ayase's feet without quite obtaining her consent.
"It's tasty. And.... expensive..... tohohoh."
"....I don't want it."
"Aww, don't say that. I even bought it for you and everything."
"Have your mom cut some up for you later, when she comes to visit."
Ayase felt nothing in particular, even in response to the detective's air of feigned innocence.
She'd severed ties with her parents when she was young.
Her parents were the kind of people who cared about appearances, and Ayase, who at the time had caused nothing but trouble, was inconvenient for them.
There technically remained a connection between her and them. Every month, money for living expenses got added to her bank account.
"I'm terribly sorry."
Though Ayase had at last begun to overcome how shaken she'd felt after her flashbacks, she didn't want to spend much time speaking with this detective, and so she moved to hasten the conversation.
"Nothing like that. Besides, you told us all about it before."
"Any doubts about you have been totally cleared. You're innocent. One hundred percent innocent."
"Have you got a mark?"
"--On the criminal."
"I can't tell you. It's a classified part of our investigation."
"It's a secret."
The detective was smiling. Trying to fool her with a grin.
When he smiled like that, she caught a glimpse of the parts of him that remained unrefined.
"When you look at him, it's hard to think he's a murder suspect."
"If he were the true criminal.... he'd be a devil in human skin indeed!"
"He's still a suspect, isn't he."
"Nah, that's not really the case, you know?"
Even as Ayase persisted in pointing it out to him, the detective laughed and denied it at once.
"Ah, you can't tell anyone about what I just said, okay."
"My bosses are gonna get pissed if I leak information. Well, but that's to be expected."
"I think you've met him once, but I wonder if you remember him."
"A scruffy-haired, unshaven old detective called Ban-san."
When they were questioning her, in fact, that older detective had spoken far more often than the young detective here now.
And his manner of speech had been considerably persistent.
"He's quick to yell 'Fool!' at me."
"For all that, he doesn't look up what he was originally supposed to be investigating, and instead he goes off to research all this stuff that doesn't make any sense."
"In the end, he forces me to go along with him, too...."
"My stomach's been hurting lately~"
"No, well, he's a good guy underneath it all, and he's got amazing intuition, and he's a sharp thinker, and apparently he helped a solve a bunch of tough cases in the past...."
When Ayase interrupted him, the detective smiled wryly.
"Ah, no. My bad. I didn't realize I'd started griping."
"I'd like you to keep everything I said secret. It's the biggest request I, Suwa Mamoru, will ever make!"
"Errr, the first thing is"
Ayase understood that he was referring to how she'd jumped from the school roof.
"I've talked about it over and over. To other detectives."
"I hadn't planned on dying."
"I only meant to carry my soul to a higher stage."
"Didn't you say something similar in your song, the one that's such a hot topic among all the young people out there?"
This was his second question. Ayase took a small breath.
"That poem isn't about New-Gen."
"I was inspired by chapter 3, verse 102 of the Gladioul Saga."
"Seven stakes, created from the black blood shed by Gladioul, are needed to block his resurrection."
"The stakes transform into swords and arrive in the hands of the seven black knights who have overcome celestial punishment."
"An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth."
"Only humans burdened by evil hearts can destroy the evil king Gladioul."
"It, it kinda sounds like a movie."
"I love that sort of epic setting!"
"It's not a 'setting.'"
"My final question, then."
The detective let Ayase's objection slide without comment. But she was used to receiving that sort of reaction.
Up until the present, there had not been a single person who believed Ayase's story.
The detective folded his arms and groaned.
This too seemed theatrical, but Ayase had no intention of saying so to him.
"Umm, this is an incredibly stupid question...."
"It really isn't the kind of thing a detective ought to be asking...."
"You could say it's totally childish...."
"If you don't feel like asking, then leave."
"My head.... aches."
"Ah, no, the truth is, Ban-san's been saying something weird."
"He's wrong, isn't he?"
"I can use magic."
Ayase answered without looking at the detective, instead gazing at her own hand laid atop the sheets.
"Hahaha, you sure are an interesting one, Ayase-chan."
"Haa, that so?"
"Well, not that it matters much either way."
SFX: A strange tune starts playing
Without warning, an electronic sound began ringing through the quiet hospital room. Flustered, he took his cell phone out of his suit pocket.
"Uwah, and it's from my lady, too."
"Heheh, I have a lovey-dovey girlfriend who I've been going out with for four years now~"
"D'you know about 'Spark Wars'? The ringtone just now was the theme song for one of the characters in it, Count Darth Spider."
She had no interest in movies and the like.
"To tell you the truth, I'm a 'Spark Wars' otaku~"
"Ah, not interested, huh? Sorry about that."
"Anyhoo, I'm off."
Ayase's eyes made no effort to see him off.
All they reflected was the sky transmuting from twilight duskiness to indigo blue.
"You.... dum-dum! I waited for you.... I waited for you this whole time...."
"I hate you.... so much....! But I love you so much!"
I dazedly watched Seira-tan move around in the monitor.
The latest episode of Burachu had aired late last night. The story was steadily heating up, and people had pretty high opinions of it over at @chan.
This was the third time I'd watched it. But not a bit of it entered my head.
When I looked at the clock, it was about ten at night. Rimi had gone home around eight.
She'd said kind words to me and encouraged me about this and that in the midst of my depression. Because Rimi was with me, today had been less lonely than the rest of the week.
But Rimi still refused to accept that the situation was all that serious. It almost seemed like she was avoiding the topic of anything related to New-Gen.
Maybe she found it to be obnoxious on my part.... Someone she knew had been injured in the earthquake, and she must have her hands full with that, and maybe she couldn't afford to bother with the likes of me.
Even today, he might murder me....
The reason why "Shogun" insisted on coming after me. If only I knew what it was, I would be able to come up with some small counter strategy.
"The most special among you is"
"The boy who gave birth to 'Whose eyes are those eyes?'"
The words one could now hear all over Shibuya. Online, they had become synonymous with the New-Gen criminal.
Words I had made frequent use of for a long time now.
"Shogun" must have known that when he decided to use them as a message for me. Or as a form of provocation.
As you might have guessed, the title was "Whose Eyes Are Those Eyes?"
I'd mostly forgotten the contents. I wanted to double-check what it said.
What had I written in that essay?
Was it still back at my parents' house?
I suspected an essay that old might've gotten chucked in the trash ages ago.
Except, since long ago, I'd had a habit of putting everything important to me in a big empty tin that used to hold candy, which I called my "treasure box."
And so the essay, too, might be inside it.
What should I do? Go to my parents' house? But--
"Haa, I.... I'm no good, so beyond helping...."
"Kyaa! Why're you here!?"
"Th, this, um, it isn't what it looks like! It's not like street vendor soba is my favorite food in the world or anything."
"Hey, what're you smiling at, you dummy! Ooh, I'm so mad!"
"Roar out, Samurai Condenser!"
I rolled onto my back, letting Seira-tan's lines wash over me as I gazed up at the ceiling. A bleak ceiling made of exposed metal plating.
A square, reddish-brown tin. It was about the size of B5 paper. The word "Shortbread" appeared in white on the lid.
There was no mistaking it. My "treasure box."
So I'd brought it here from home.
Not that I had any memory of doing so.
I was quick to bring the can down and open its lid.
Inside were test answer sheets, handwritten essays, torn-out sketchbook pages and the like.
There were few trinkets, and pretty much everything was paper.
I took all of them out of the can and began searching for what I had in mind.
I soon discovered it. Because after all, it was right on top.
You couldn't have said the letters there were well-written, not even out of flattery.
Here.... I wondered if some weighty secret were hidden here in this essay.
Something "Shogun" would have good reason to be picky about.
The meaning of what the old homeless guy had said: "the most special among you."
I caught my breath nervously and began reading with great care, so as not to overlook a single word.
"Whose eyes are those eyes?"
Class 4-3 Nishijou Takumi
I dream a lot. In my dream, big me visits little me in a time machine. Big me does not look like little me at all. The time machine has a lot of buttons, and I think a shower or shampoo or something comes out if you push them.
I asked big me to show me how it works and he said we could go see dinosaurs or even cavemen.
He asked what I am bad at in school and I said I am bad at math. He told me there was a switch that would make me super good at math. He got really angry when I tried to use it. I think he said I need to earn it by trying hard.
He only got mad that one time, so he was nice and it was fun after that. He told me about the girl I marry. That's a secret.
I also asked him about God. He told me God is real. I think God is real too. God is watching everywhere. Mom said you go to hell if you do bad things. I can never ever do bad things. I have to be kind to my little sister too.
Mom told me it was not God that watches you do bad things. She said it was a scary man. The scary man is the whose eyes are those eyes monster. You go to hell if he sees you.
God's eyes and whose eyes are those eyes are in the skies and the house and the walls and the ceiling and the school and there are a lot of them and they are watching me all the time. I think I should do good things because of that.
It embarrasses me because they still watch even when I need to use the toilet or take a bath.
Also, since I was *really* little, I could dream when I closed my eyes even though I was not sleeping. The inside of my head was like a video game or manga.
Every time I do it, the whose eyes are those eyes monster comes out, so I do not like doing it. I asked Mom and she said not to do it.
But while I am writing this essay I asked big me in my dream about the time machine and he said he knew all there was to know. He said he would not tell me anything though because I am just a kid.
So from now on I want to do tons of really good things so I can beat whose eyes are those eyes. (The end).
"I don't really get it...."
The only thing I grasped for sure was that I had sensed "God's gaze" back then.
Maybe I'd been quite the weirdo as a kid.
In any case, it was simply impossible to try reading something into these incomprehensible contents.
It seemed like it'd be more of a handful than deciphering hieroglyphics.
Come to think of it, I'd love scribbling at the time, hadn't I.
For instance, I'd always draw little mustaches and sunglasses on the facial photographs of the great historical figures, appeared in my social studies textbooks, and I'd use the corners of my notebook for flip-book drawings.
"Drawing" became more and more fun to me, to the point that eventually someone bought me a sketchbook.
Meh, not that anyone had ever praised me as being good at art.
It was cryptic, but it included just one thing
I'd seen very recently.
"I r 2...."
Was it an equation or something with a separate significance, or no more than a meaningless string of letters and numbers?
I didn't know.
"Whose eyes are those eyes?" and "I r 2."
Two key phrases found in an essay I'd written years ago. Key phrases I myself had forgotten.