Part 46: Cursed Words
06/04 (MON), Morning
I wake up drenched in sweat. The gross and sticky kind, no less. Lethe is nowhere to be seen, so I assume it was another midnight departure. What in the world happened during that election? The moment Alan got his hands on that card, it shattered. It was Yu's regret card, too. I have that card as well, so I've got a bad feeling about this. I peek into my own book of cards, fearing the worst.
No way... What's going on here?!
I'm sure the distress in my voice is apparent. Yu's regret card has vanished. This has never happened before. If the card disappears, does that mean his regret has disappeared? That can't be right. His regret was about his mother's cooking, so it wouldn't disappear because I made him one dinner. Even if it did, I would've lost the card sooner. Shigetsugu wouldn't have had it, either. Which means...
There's only one possibility. That's why I decide to go back to Shigetsugu's house after school.
BGM: At Amecha Girls' University High School
06/04 (MON), Noon
School itself has started to get busy thanks to culture festival preparations. My class got started pretty late, comparatively, so the people in charge were running around during lunch to get things set up. Much as I think that they should've gotten it all sorted out earlier, I'm in no position to comment when I'm doing the bare minimum to help. I would be willing to help out if they asked, but they're making it pretty clear that they want to handle things themselves. And I get why. It's nice when you and a group of friends pull stuff like that off together. Naomi's class is probably doing much better than ours in that regard.
Welp, let's grab some grub.
Not a care in the world, huh?
It's awkward to sit in here right now, so let's make our way to the rooftop.
Whoa, hey. Watch what you're saying.
Why should I? They're the ones who turned down Mao's offer to help because of our being around her.
No worries. Makes life easier for me.
Something tells me that Miharu's a bit annoyed. Most likely because it's easy to guess how they treated Mao when she offered to help.
Besides, they're the ones that sorted our shifts out for us. Might as well thank 'em, really.
Well, so long as you're fine with it. Let's get going.
I nod and follow along behind them.
All three of us enjoy lunch on the rooftop, as usual. Times like these are when I can relax the most. Just as I'm enjoying my tonkatsu sandwich, a familiar voice calls out as the rooftop door opens.
BGM: Regular Ordinary Girlish Chat
Sorry... is Rinka here?
Yo, Naorin! Feels like ages since I last saw you!
Oh hi, Mao! Good day to you too, Miharu...
Miharu makes eye contact with her, but says nothing. Both Naomi and I understand why, so Naomi makes her business clear right away.
Um, I have some coffee coupons, so... here you go!
She hands three tickets to us. The word 'COFFEE' is printed in the middle in an oversized font. Beneath that, it says 'Amecha Girls' University High School Culture Festival'.
Our class caught the Principal's eye, so now they'll be selling these tickets at the reception. I got some spare ones, so I wanted to give them to you.
Nice! Guess they're going all-out to attract as many people as they can.
Plenty of classes barely put in any effort, like ours, so all the work your class did could serve as good PR for the school.
That's a fair point... I'm really happy for you, honest. All that work paid off!
W-We won't know that until the culture festival starts... This is all thanks to you! I didn't expect to get so hooked once you started teaching me...
So Naorin, you gonna do any cosplay?
Mao poses a new question to cut off the current conversation. Naomi's face burns a bright red in response.
C-Cosplay? You mean like what Miharu does...?
I'll have you know that's just my official work uniform.
S-Sorry! S-Someone did suggest we do that, but... I'm sure it wouldn't suit me...
Man... Have you ever heard of tropes?
Uh, I guess? Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing you on the day.
Mao shoots a wry smile at Naomi.
Oh, right. You free the Saturday after the culture festival? We're planning to head out somewhere again and figured you might wanna join.
I'm free, yes... A-Are you sure you want me to come along, though...?
I won't object. Neither will Rinka, I assume.
Yup. Dunno what we're doing, but it'll be nice to get out again.
What happened to my karaoke idea...?
I'll look forward to it! But promise me that you'll come along during the culture festival!
Naomi... No worries, we'll be there. Good luck with preparations.
I do my best to swallow the words I was about to say to her as she walks off. Miharu fires a glance at me as I do. I can only imagine the feelings behind her current expression.
You two should eat up before lunchtime is over.
Divine Selection is in my thoughts more often than I'd like these days, but Mao's comment ejects it from my mind for a little bit. Another day spent eating lunch together with friends under a blue sky. Another day spent casually treading the thin line between the life I want and the reality I must face.
06/04 (MON), Evening
Once school is over, I catch up to Miharu on her way home.
What's wrong? It's unusual for you to approach me like this.
Miharu's already aware of the situation after her help in fending off Numeral XI. I don't want to skimp on the details, so I make sure she gets the full story about Saturday night.
BGM: Intel Investigation Underway
It's about what happened to that card last night.
Sorry... I have a shift scheduled. As much as I'd like to discuss this over tea, I'm afraid I don't have the time.
I know, so I'll be brief. You know the circumstances surrounding Numeral IV, so I just want your take on the matter.
You said you had his regret card, didn't you? The same that Numeral XII chose last night. I assume yours disappeared as well?
I nod, and then Miharu continues... We both offer our thoughts on why and how the card could disappear like that. Both of us seem to have the same idea, too. Miharu tries to make her way to the station after that, but I stop her again. There's something that's been nagging at me that I need to talk to her about.
That's not all, though. Something's been on my mind ever since Shigetsugu, the one eliminated last night, divulged a certain story to me.
And what sort of story was that?
Hmm... One about how different people can share a connection. It got me thinking about how, despite all the people we meet throughout our lives, we never have the right to force them into anything.
This is about Naomi, I assume?
What gave me away?
This is you we're talking about. You're not sure if practically forcing Naomi to distance herself from Divine Selection was the right choice, are you? Let me make this clear. My opinion on the matter won't change. Allowing her to involve herself puts her into treacherous territory.
But at the same time, Rinka... you're correct. It's not my place to dictate what you two decide. Heh... Let's not forget that we're both acting of our own volition. I'm perfectly content offering my life to you, much like how you get involved with participants you hardly know.
Yeah... you're right.
It's so obvious, now that she mentions it. Everyone's acting of their own accord. Miharu chewed me out for it, but that never stopped me from getting involved with Keiko, Sonya, or Shigetsugu and Yu. I stuck by my choices.
That being said, Naomi's got her hands full with the culture festival. If you plan to discuss things with her, I suggest doing so afterwards.
Yeah, I know. Thanks.
Looks like Miharu knew exactly why I tried to stop Naomi, just as I figured. I might be the type of person to act before I think, but this time around, I knew it'd be best to do the opposite.
After parting ways with Miharu, I end up near Shigetsugu's house. I made sure to tell her I'd be doing so, to which she offered the warning, Just be careful. Number IV's regret card is gone. That much is a fact. I wasn't sure if I had it in me to elect Yu, but that's irrelevant now that I don't have all his cards. The time will come when I have to steel myself for the inevitable. I won't be able to keep myself safe should Yu end up gathering all my information, either. That's why I made my way here- to confirm whether or not our guess was correct.
It isn't long before the reality of the matter will overturn that logic, however.
I stand in front of Shigetsugu's house, mouth agape. That might not be the right way to put it. The house I've become so familiar with is no longer there. In its place, an empty lot. Not a single trace remains of the place Shigetsugu spent his final days. A gust of wind blows through the lot, as if to accentuate the emptiness I feel. At the same time, I notice a familiar figure.
Why didn't you elect me?
It is Numeral IV. Yu. His appearance hasn't changed since we last spoke, but his voice sounds somewhat younger.
I asked you to kill me. I begged you to. But you didn't... Why?
He somehow sounds even more serious than he did Saturday night.
Will you kill me during the next election?
I'm... not sure.
That's all I can muster. He casts his gaze to the ground before replying.
I knew it. You won't elect me even if I tell you my regret.
His voice grows deeper than before. His eyes are as empty as they were in the Court of Fate.
You still don't know what you should do... Don't worry. I'll make sure that you kill me.
Your memories came back, didn't they? That's why your true regret replaced the one that we knew. Just what was locked away within your memories?
Hell on Earth.
I'm not sure what he means, but it doesn't seem to matter to him. He turns his back to me before continuing.
I hope you're prepared to face what happens next.
Wait...! There's still more I...!
He ignores my plea.
You'll be the one to-
I fail to catch his final words before he leaves. But the tone of his voice had changed yet again. It felt as though each and every word he said pierced me. As he fades into the sunset on the horizon, it reminds me of someone marching into a blazing hellfire.