Part 66: Ghost StoriesPart 66 - Ghost Stories
The window was open. White curtains fluttered in the wind.
I idly approached the window.
It's not that I meant to look at anything. Nor had I thought of closing the window.
It truly was something I'd done for no particular reason.
For a second my eyes met hers.
I sank down in place. My body had started shaking.
I'd realized what it was that had just fallen.
She'd plummeted from above. And crashed.
If I looked down from the window, she would surely be there. Covered in blood, fallen, her brain fluids spraying across the ground.
My eyes had met hers the second before she died.
Like a moan. A scream surged from my mouth, unobstructed. I cradled my head.
Misumi-kun called to me, startling me.
I was standing in a corner of the hospital room, not by the window.
I ran to the window, frantic, and looked down. But Ayase wasn't lying there.
Haa, a delusion.... Finding myself close to crumpling weakly in place, I barely managed to keep myself up by clutching the windowsill.
He'd taken a volume from the shelf in hand and was looking at it intently.
"It's 'Gnu,' dude, 'Gnu.'"
"I didn't realize this mag was still running."
"Gnu" was a specialty publication that focused on general information about anything occult-related, like UFOs, aliens, psychics, religion, urban legends, strange phenomena, advanced ancient cultures like Atlantis, and OOPArts.
It made a lot of sense that Ayase, who only ever talked about weird stuff, would read this magazine.
"The paperback over here is.... what, 'The Gladioul Saga'? Sounds like a fantasy novel."
Where had I heard it again? I thought it'd been rather recently, but....
"Haa, if I were gonna go out with Kishimoto, I'd have match these tastes of hers. Seems like a lot of work...."
Had he still not given up on dating Kishimoto yet? Even though, she'd rejected him with an instant K.O. before.
No matter when I looked at it, it was a badass sword furnished with both beauty and cruelty. It was simply sitting there, but it gave off the same amazing sense of presence as ever.
Misumi-kun didn't appear to have noticed the sword. Ordinary people couldn't see it, after all....
If it meant I could get my hands on a Di-Sword without any effort, this wasn't the time to care about appearances. Desire rose within me.
I gulped and timidly reached my hand toward the sword. I gripped its handle.
But my hand passed through it. All my fingers closed around was air. I tried it again, but the result was the same.
I couldn't grasp it. I couldn't even touch it.
Did that mean this sword wasn't real-booted now? Because it hadn't achieved local shared recognition, it remained as nothing more than a delusion of Ayase's.
An illusion. A dream. An afterimage
Misumi-kun put on a puzzled face when he saw me.
We'd asked about the location of the hospital room at the nurses' station after parting from Rimi. Maybe she was wandering around somewhere, unsure of where to go.
"Cause she's not too bright, it wouldn't occur to her to ask someone, the way we did."
"....Sh, should look for her...."
I'd be insecure if Rimi weren't with me. I couldn't state for sure that even this hospital was safe.
If "Shogun" were peeping in on my thoughts, he must know about my being here.
"Yeah, you're right. I'm tired of waiting, and you've gotta be lonely without her. Haha."
"I'm asking you if you're going out. Haven't there been some real nice vibes between you lately?"
"....We, we're not going out."
My face went hot as I spoke.
I'd certainly envisioned it countless times.
I hadn't had any interest in the third dimension, but Rimi's existence was starting to occupy more and more space inside me.
But when Rimi said "I'll be there for you," she'd also said,
Of course she wouldn't think of becoming involved in a romantic relationship with an otaku creep like me.
Anyway, Rimi was dense when it came to that sort of thing.
Misumi-kun had gone down the stairs, so I decided to search on the upper floors.
Aging Patient: "Ami-chan! Where are you!? Ami-chan!"
In the hallway, I passed an aging inpatient who looked to be in his fifties. As he tottered along, he never stopped calling a person named "Ami-chan."
Ignoring him, I continued toward the far end of the corridor.
I didn't have that much resistance to the idea of walking around the hospital. It must've been because I'd often come here in the past.
Except, my heart pounded at the thought that "Shogun" might appear around corners in the hallway or from inside hospital bedrooms with flung-open doors.
Besides, the strange, scream-like cries I heard once in a while from somewhere or other were bad for my heart.
The corridor was completely cream-colored.
Some of the hospital rooms had their doors open, and some didn't. I peeked into many of them to make sure "Shogun" wasn't there.
Two beds were lined up in all the rooms, with human shapes puffed up under the sheets. Patients were probably sleeping there. Except, their faces were in my blind spot, and I couldn't see them.
Few people were walking down the hallway.
The aging man who'd called "Ami-chan," and a single nurse: at present, those two were the only ones I'd passed.
The atmosphere was weighty. It wasn't unpleasant, but I got the feeling that I wasn't supposed to be here.
As I went further, the hall turned as if it were breaking to the right.
Moreover, as if the cream color throughout the rest of the hallway had been a lie, only the area at the end of the turn was coated in black paint.
For some reason-- My pulse quickened.
I became incapable of moving a single step away.
My vision shook dizzily.
I thought it was vertigo and closed my eyes, and when I rubbed the tops of my eyelids with my fingers, my eyeballs were twitching.
Icy chills came crawling up from my feet.
Forgetting to breathe, I stood in place.
I looked at the black before me.
It seemed as if it would suck me in. It seemed as if it would swallow me.
Everywhere, a deep black.
Even though, nothing should have been there. Someone was watching me from somewhere.
Using all the emotional strength left to me, I closed my eyes.
That instant, I became able to breathe, and wheezed as I retreated.
As I continued, I lowered my face, and went back down the hallway as though fleeing.
Panting, I hurried back to the floor with Ayase's hospital room.
When I touched the nape of my neck, sticky sweat had started oozing out. Not just my neck; my whole body was sweaty.
"God's gaze" wouldn't go away.
The difficulty I had breathing and my chills wouldn't lessen.
My mood withered all at once.
I just wanted to go home.
I wanted to have Rimi accompany me, and I wanted to shut myself up in my base.
For starters, far from being pleased, Ayase would get aggravated if the likes of me visited her in the hospital.
It was idiotic for me to tag along for Misumi-kun's visit, given his blatant ulterior motives.
Before "Shogun" and Yua appear.
They came and went without warning.
They pinned down my location with ease.
I had to stay braced no matter where I went.
I swayed along, aiming for Ayase's hospital room, holding a hand up to the wall as I went. Praying, that I would be able to join up with Rimi, I slowly creeped along.
I heard a nurse talking from ahead. When I looked up, two nurses were walking this way. One was still young, while the other was a plump, middle-aged lady.
Young Nurse: "Who on earth could he be looking for...."
Middle-aged Nurse: "It's a famous ghost story in this hospital."
Middle-aged Nurse: "They say there's an illusionary room no one knows about, and 'Ami-chan' is hospitalized there."
Middle-aged Nurse: "It's a rumor from years ago."
I faced down and waited for the two of them to pass me by. I held my breath to keep them from noticing my wild panting.
I could tell they were looking at me with unconcealed suspicion, but for now, all I could do was ignore them.
I should've reached Ayase's hospital room before this, but apparently I'd overshot it.
I clicked my tongue and wiped sweat off my forehead. I sensed someone watching me again.
The depths of my chest throbbed painfully. My ears were ringing, too.
I felt incredibly sick. My body was in the worst possible condition.
Though it hadn't been like this, when I arrived here. What was happening to me....?
It was amazingly agonizing, and I couldn't put up with it any longer,
And I went to seek help from the nurses in the nurses' station.
She stood with her back to me, seeming not to realize I was there, and muttered something as she immersed herself in her work.
She had a clipboard in hand. Something was written on the paper stuck in it.
"May the divine light save us May the divine light save us May the divine light save us May the divine light save us May the divine light save us May the divine light save us May the divine light save us May the divine light save us"
I'd met her a number of times before. Nurse Hazuki-san.
Of course, this was AH General Hospital's psychiatric department. It was natural for her to be here. I myself had been under her care twice in only the past month.
That was convenient; if I addressed her, she'd soon come attend to me--
SFX: Bring, bring, bring
Startled, Hazuki-san set her clipboard down and manipulated something on the switchboard by her hands. The sound of the call soon cut off.
It must've been some patient summoning her, since she hurriedly flew out of the nurses' station.
Why hadn't she taken any notice of me? Even though, I'd been in terrible pain close behind her.
I couldn't stay standing. I was horribly dizzy.
Finding a stool where Hazuki-san had previously been standing, I sat down on it.
My head ached. Similar to during the earthquake last week.
But I thought.... the nature of the pain back then had differed.
I wanted to drink something. Perhaps because I'd been panting repeatedly, breathing alone was enough to make my throat hurt.
I looked around idly.
As she helped examine me, Hazuki-san was always writing something down on this clipboard, a gentle smile on her face.
I'd thought it'd be temperature measurements or the names of medicines for prescriptions.
Which was why I couldn't comprehend why it was drawn there.
I'd seen this crappy doodle--
Where? Where had I seen it....?
A tingling sensation at the back of my neck.
I took the clipboard in hand. Several papers that looked like patients' records were held there.
I flipped the first page.
The exact same crappy drawing was on the second page.
I turned still more pages.
The same on the third page.
And the fourth. And the fifth. And the sixth.
All of them were scribbles repeating the same drawing.
It was the second time Aoi Sena had visited this place.
The first time had been several days ago. After happening to come across Takumi with Kozue in the shopping district, she had covertly tailed him. And so she had pinpointed this location.
"Kozu-pii doesn't like burglars~. Fumyuu--"
She said coldly and perfunctorily, without turning around to look at the slump-shouldered and dismal-faced Kozue.
Sena had come here with the intention of stealing into Takumi's room.
Sena had reached that conclusion after speaking with him several times.
There was a clear dividing line between him and "ordinary" Gigalomaniacs like her and Kozue.
Either way, the ambiguity of the existence known as Takumi nagged at Sena insistently.
She was searching for a man called Hatano. It was possible that Nishijou Takumi was connected to him in some way--
There was no positive proof.
But if he were even a little suspicious, she would confirm the truth with her own eyes and crush away each possibility one by one.
By doing so, Sena believed she would reach her target without fail.
The door was padlocked.
Sena let out a small snort and swung down her already real-booted Di-Sword.
The padlock smashed to bits instantaneously.
"Takumi-shan's gonna be mad at you when he comes back, you know....?"
Sena had confirmed that Takumi had left school and headed toward the station with two friends.
Besides, she wouldn't care even if Takumi caught her. If that was what it took to achieve her aim, Sena thought nothing of being hated or having people report her to the police.
Sena grimaced and groaned at the disastrous state of the room's interior, so much like a garbage heap.
"You seem to enjoying this, Kozue?"
"Do you think we should taaake off our shoes?"
"So Takumi-shan's a perveeert. Amaaazing."
She turned on the power without a moment's hesitation, and ran her eyes across the items on top of the desk as she waited for it to start up.
Furrowing her eyebrows, she picked up an essay he had left there.
"It's 'Whose eyes are those eyes?'!"
Kozue, peeking at the essay from behind Sena, bounced in place in her overexcitement.
"Takumi-shan was the 'Whose eyes are those eyes?' guy after all!"
"Kozu-pii was righty-right right-right! Right-pon!"
In stark contrast to Kozue, Sena disinterestedly skimmed the essay, and casually looked at the other side of the paper.
A split-second later, her eyes went wide with shock.
"It says I r 2."
Her expression was harsher than usual, and the hand with which she held the essay was trembling minutely with rage.
"Nishijou Takumi.... he was the culprit, the one who brought Ir2 into the world....!"
The inside of my head clouded with fog, interrupting my thoughts, I left the nurses' station and wandered the hospital interior. I attempted not to think about what I'd just seen.
Before I knew it, I was on a stairway landing, and Misumi-kun was standing in front of the window there, looking outside.
"Ah, I guess you're always pretty pale, though. Haha."
"Were you running around looking for Rimi? Well, that'll do ya in. Don't you go overboard, now."
Wiping my sweat with my hand, I made a frenetic effort to appear calm.
"I found Rimi and Kishimoto, dude."
So he said, but I didn't see them anywhere around here. As I looked, he inexplicably pointed outside the window.
The outpatient clinic and the hospital itself were in different buildings. Although there appeared to be passageways connecting them, they'd been constructed to stand slightly apart from each other.
The hospital wing had more floors, and from this stairway landing, we could just barely look down at the roof of the outpatient wing. It was arranged like a garden, with red flowers blooming in thick plantings, and must have been a restful place for patients.
Rimi and a pajama-clad Ayase stood facing each other in the very center of the garden. It seemed as if they were talking about something.
The two of them.... weren't supposed to have been acquainted.
"Don't they look weirdly serious, somehow?"
Almost as if they were glaring at one another--
Even looking from here, we could pick up on the fact that it was a blow into which she'd put all her strength.
Ayase was leaving Rimi. Since she was walking toward the passageway between the buildings, maybe she meant to go back to her hospital room.
"Was that.... a bitch-slap?"
I nodded jerkily. Rimi, left alone there, stood in place without moving.
"Is there some kinda grudge between them?"
I hadn't heard about anything of the sort....
The previous poorness of my physical condition had mostly improved. The presence of "God's gaze," too, had vanished.
That sickly feeling of mine began to seem like it hadn't been true.
Misumi-kun, walking ahead of me, let out a small sound.
When I looked up in reaction to him, Ayase was in the middle of walking straight toward us.
She'd hunched over a little, and her line of sight was lowered. Her footsteps were feeble, and her countenance looked pale. And yes, she wore a bleak expression.
Ayase ended up bumping heads with us right in front of her room.
Why was she smiling now?
Because she'd heard about the disturbance at O-Front and knew of how I'd shamed myself? Or because she had simply taken a liking to me?
The former would be devastatingly depressing....
"--Rather, Kishimoto-san, you're cute even in pajamas."
He'd already activated his verbal playboy skills. What a fast reaction.
Was she doing a good job of hiding it, or was it purely that she'd dumped the thing with Rimi off her back in the short period between then and now? As usual, I couldn't read what she was thinking.
"Taku, we sure were right to visit her at the hospital. I'm feeling pretty good about my chances today!"
Misumi-kun struck a small victory pose out of Ayase's sight. Breathing violently through his nose, he charged into the hospital room. I reluctantly trailed after. Truthfully, I wanted to hurry up and go home with Rimi, but....
Then again, I wasn't brave enough to call out to Rimi now.
I didn't know why it had happened, but she must be feeling down after having someone else strike out at her so hard, and I didn't have the words to encourage her.
What audacious behavior. I unthinkingly reeled back at Misumi-kun's aggressive posture.
When she looked at me straight on, I became unsure of what kind of face to make in response. In the end, I hung my head.
"If you need anything, don't hesitate to ask. I'll go running to buy it for you."
He focused intently on Ayase's hand. It seemed like he was scheming to hold her lithe and slender hand.
Ummm, would it be okay for me to leave, I wonder....
"Ah, do you read novels and stuff? Personally, I love the Gladioul Saga. Have you heard of it, Kishimoto-san?"
Without answering Misumi-kun's inquiry, Ayase called my name.
Sh, she'd gone occult on me all of a sudden.... I guess even the ruckus over her failed suicide attempt wasn't enough to change her fundamental nature.
Quietly. Simply. Ayase spoke.
About a "setting" I could only think of as being some middle school student's rebellious fantasy.
"The wickedness in you is tremendously powerful."
"Which is precisely why you have the makings of an ideal black knight."
"All the suffering you are now experiencing is a divine punishment. A trial sent down by the Great Will."
"When you overcome it, your Di-Sword will be summoned to your hand. Without fail."
"And it shall appear--"
"They're real. Both Gladioul and Di-Swords."
"'Kamaitachi'--the Japanese word for razor-sharp wind spirits--stands as proof."
"Nonexistent phenomena don't remain as words in posterity."
"Do you know its etymology?"
"'Kamaetachi.' A brandished sword."
"It means our Di-Swords."
"Believe me. Takumi."
"We'll defeat Gladioul. Together."
I'd seen it when I first looked up Di-Swords. It had said the Di-Sword was a sword that originally appeared in pseudepigrapha and other forms of literature discussing the legend of Gladioul....
Positive, Negative or Neutral?