The Let's Play Archive

Umineko no Naku Koro ni

by ProfessorProf

Part 106: Ange and Maria II

BGM: Apathy

So I'm sure she's in a good mood.

On the pages of the open diary... no, in the world of the diary, Maria onee-chan showed herself...

But I call her Onee-chan, so she affectionately calls me Ange.

"Uu-. Ange, you were slow getting here today. Was it packed at lunch...?"
"...Yes. It's always packed. Groups of friends set up camp in the seats, and they stay there even after they've finished eating. It's pretty fatal if you get to the dining hall late. I was on cleanup duty today."
"...Uu-! I eat fast! The faster you eat, the more you can play! Uu-!"

Maybe she realized I was holding a grudge because that duty had been forced upon me and shortened my lunch break by a bit. Maria onee-chan brightly changed the subject. Grateful for that act of kindness, I responded by saying I was a slow eater. Maria calmed me down, saying something about teaching me the trick to eating fast.

I read about it in her diary. No, I heard it from Maria onee-chan. She was ranked number 1 among the girls in the speed-eating ranking for her grade's newspaper. She was apparently very proud of that, but a little disappointed that her mother, Aunt Rosa, hadn't praised her very much for it.

"Uu-! Then, let's start our story for today. How far did we get yesterday? Uu-?"
"Umm... This far. Until you got Sakutaro as a present, Maria onee-chan. You promised that you'd tell me about Sakutaro."
"Uu-! Let's talk about Sakutaro! You know, Sakutaro is a reeeally cute stuffed animal! I'm sure you'd like him too, Ange! Uu-!"
"Yeah. Tell me that story. The only time I can relax at school... is when I'm listening to your stories during lunch break."
"Uu-! I'll tell you about it! Sakutaro was really, umm, umm!"

When I looked at Maria onee-chan, who was always in a good mood, it made my heart feel warm as well. As I listened to her tale, I began to get absorbed into her world...

BGM: Far

"Uu-! Good job with your work, Mama! I know you're busy, so even though you were late, I waited without crying. I was good and waited, watching TV!"
"Yes, you're such a good girl, Maria. As a present for waiting politely, you can order anything you want today. Of course, only as much as you can eat, okay?"
"Uu-uu-! Today, can I change my corn soup to onion gratin soup?!"
"Yes, that's fine."
"Uu-uu-! It's 200 yen more expensive, but can I change it to prosciutto pizza?!"

"Uu-uu-uu-! Then, then, can I have enchilada cheesecake for dessert?! And then, and then, the chef's choice fruit salad and kids' french fries! I want to drink melon soda too! Uu-uu-uu-! I'm a good girl, I'm a good girl! Mama praised me, uu-uu-uu-♪"
"*giggle* You're getting a little too excited. If you don't quiet down a bit, you'll disturb the other customers."

When Rosa gently admonished her, Maria stuck her tongue out and eased up a little. ...But it seemed that she was having a hard time repressing her excitement at being able to eat out with her mother after such a long time.

Rosa always tried to let Maria spend her birthdays at great restaurants. When Maria had been in kindergarten, they sometimes invited other kids from the neighborhood over and had a party at home. Rosa would make a wonderful cake and snacks and decorate the house herself, making it a huge celebration. But when they moved and Maria no longer had friends in the neighborhood, Rosa had started splurging at expensive restaurants instead.

However, today, they were in a normal family restaurant. It was also a little late in the day for a kid like Maria to eat there, even with a parent. Actually, she had gotten reservations at a fantastic place that would surely have pleased Maria. Of course, she had also prepared a wonderful cake with Maria's name written on it. But Rosa just hadn't been able to finish up her business... and had been forced to cancel. Since that plan had been traded for a local family restaurant, Rosa felt a little indebted to Maria. So she was prepared to spoil Maria a bit and let her have whatever she wanted tonight...

"Uu-. I can't eat very much, but I like to have a lot lined up. You know, like on a birthday table? If it's colored all over with red and blue and green and yellow, it makes you really happy!"
"...You're right. Having your birthday table be colorful can make you feel happy. Birthdays at my place were no match for yours, Maria onee-chan, but the cakes we bought at the Fumiya store in front of the station were always gorgeous..."

Ange thought back to her own birthdays nostalgically.

At the time, I was sad, but now I understand how important I was to Dad. Of course, Mom also took very good care of me. In particular, her birthday presents were always in excellent taste, and she sometimes arranged for them several months in advance. Even though we always sent an invitation to Battler onii-chan, he didn't get along with Dad or something, so he kept not coming. So when he did come, I was really happy...

...The birthday parties when the whole four-person family gathered made for fun memories that I'll never forget...

Maria onee-chan peeked into my happy memory. As I sat quietly, wearing the origami helmet that Dad had made for fun, I was a little embarrassed. In my hand was a paper gun that Battler onii-chan had folded for me. And Mom was taking a commemorative photo. It was the happiest moment of my life.

"But your birthday's no worse, Maria onee-chan. And this is the day you get him, right? Sakutaro."
"Uu-! I was reeeally looking forward to it. I got so excited, wondering when Mama would show me the wrapped present in the corner of her bag."

For quite some time before then, Aunt Rosa had been making a stuffed animal to give Maria as a present today. Hearing that it was a cute lion stuffed animal, Maria onee-chan had already given it the name Sakutaro, even though she hadn't received it yet. Today, she was looking forward to meeting Sakutaro even more than her own birthday.

Aunt Rosa ran a clothing design company. It seemed to be some kind of brand name. What was it, Anti-Rosa...? It seems their catch phrase was 'I can't forgive the me of yesterday'. Unfortunately, I've never met someone who knew of that brand name. Maybe it wasn't that famous.

So Aunt Rosa was pretty skilled with her hands. I heard that she made some of the clothing she wore herself. So making a stuffed animal had to be well within her capabilities.

"Uu-. Actually wanted to call it 'Sakura'. But it's a male lion, so she told me to give it a boy's name. So I added a boy-like 'tarou' and called him 'Sakutarou'. Eventually, the last 'u' disappeared!"
"Why 'Sakura'?"
"Uu-! The main character in Card Master Sakura!"

It was the name of the main character in a TV anime that was popular at the time. The fact that she'd simply borrowed the name of a character she liked was... how should I say it... as innocent and cute as you'd expect from someone that age.

"Presents always come at the end, right? If you open it now, it'll get dirty. Hold on until the meal is over."
"Then I'll finish eating quickly! Uu-uu-uu-!"

As soon as she proclaimed that, she started tearing into her meal. Aunt Rosa got mad at her, saying that was rude. It seemed that she'd expected this would happen right away. I also thought that, given how straightforward Maria was, that was probably what she'd do, so it was kind of pleasant when my expectations weren't betrayed.

In the end, Aunt Rosa lost to her daughter's eyes, which were sparkling with anticipation, cleaned up the table, and took out the long-awaited wrapped present.

"Happy birthday, Maria. I wasn't able to spend much time on it, so I couldn't make it very well..."
"Uu-! If you made it, I'll be happy with anything! Uu-uu-uu-! Sakutaro-, Sakutaro-uu-uu-!"

Aunt Rosa spoke a bit humbly, but Maria onee-chan was happy even before opening the wrapping. I could really understand that feeling. It's not a problem of quality. Just the fact that it was a handmade present was more pleasing than anything.

"Can I open it? Can I open it?!"
"I wanted to wait until we got back home before doing it, but... just for a bit, okay? We'll just take a look and say hello, then put it back. You can give him a proper greeting once we get home. We're in public, so you can't fool around, okay? Can you promise?"
"Uu-! Promise, promise! So can I open it? Can I open iiit? Mamaaa."
"Yes, yes, just for a bit, okay?"

Before Aunt Rosa finished talking, Maria started unwrapping it.

BGM: Sakutarou's Adventure

What appeared was a slightly blank-looking lion stuffed animal, with cute round eyes and a white chest. It was about the size of a small pillow. It looked pretty big next to someone as short as Maria onee-chan, but it probably wasn't that large. From the perspective of someone who didn't know better, it would probably look like something cheap bought from a department store or something. But to Maria onee-chan, it was her mother's handmade stuffed animal, the only one of its kind in the world and irreplaceable.

"...If you praise me that much, it's actually embarrassing. I couldn't take much time, so I couldn't make anything that good. I actually wanted to make one so big that you couldn't wrap your arms around it..."
"No, this is good! With this size, we can always be together. We can go out together. Sakutaro, I'm your Onee-chaaan, uryu-☆"

"Uu-! We can't go to school together, but me and my best friend are always, always together at home. You know, Sakutaro is reeeally innocent and cute, and always nice to me. He supports me when I'm feeling down, and plays a lot with me when I'm feeling good! So I'm never lonely anymore. Not lonely when Mama's busy with work and I'm all alone, not even when no one plays with me at school. Isn't that right, Sakutaro, uryu-☆"

BGM: Mystic Forest

Compared to the other kids in her class, Maria onee-chan's tempo was always a little slow. Her sensibilities and ways of viewing things were a little peculiar... and a little too idiosyncratic for her to blend in. Her grades were low as well, and since she was talkative about everything related to the occult, her specialty, she was treated like a weirdo by everyone else in class. If you were touched by Maria onee-chan, you'd be cursed... Stuff like that.

Apparently, everyone in her class acted like she was disgusting, made fun of her, and avoided her. If a boy bumped into Maria onee-chan, he'd start rubbing that part against the other boys, as if he'd gotten some scum on him. They'd pick up her stuff like it was something filthy and chase the other boys around with it. It seems the girls thought even speaking to her was unpleasant, so they ignored her all the time, only giggling and sneering at her whenever she made a mistake.

"...It looks like bullying is the same in all eras. Humans really don't advance at all, do they? If only they'd just get wiped out."
"...I'm sad when I'm bullied, but I think it can't be helped."
"It can't be helped...? Why not...?"
"After all, there's a rule that says every class has to have a single bullied kid."
"...That's a horrible rule. I'd like to find the person who made it and hit them over the head with a brick. Using the corner, of course."
"If I wasn't there, then there'd surely be a new bullied kid chosen in my place. By staying strong, I can protect that kid."

As she said that, she smiled faintly.

According to her, from the beginning, a witch had resided in that place called a school. No, she says that any place where a lot of people gather will have a witch residing there. The witch tries to steal the students' souls through death by disease or accidents. Apparently, she sometimes also corrupts those souls, leading them down that path of evil. She says that an angel came, not content to let that continue.

"...And the angel... tried to finish off that witch. The witch was powerful, and the fight took seven days and seven nights, but even then, it still wasn't over. The tired-out witch asked for a truce and proposed this."
"I heard about that one before. 'Until now, I've made half of the students in the class become sick or injured. But in exchange, I've protected the remaining half of the students from sickness and injury. Therefore, if one member of the class becomes a sacrifice to me and is made into the 'bullied kid', I shall protect all of the other students from sickness and injury', right?"
"Uu-. The angel thought about it. Compared to half the class meeting with misfortune, having only one person be unfortunate would be much better. Then, the witch said that she'd protect the safety of all the other students, using her powerful magic."
"If there are 40 students in a class... and the 20 victims are reduced to 1, then 19 people are saved. It's actually a reasonable proposal."

I wonder if there's some theme behind this fairy tale. If it's a creation by Maria onee-chan, a nine-year-old girl, that'd be pretty impressive.

"The angel decided to accept that proposal. So, through that single sacrifice, 19 people were saved. That's why my role's important. The witch is protecting 19 people."
"...Because we become sacrifices? ...Well, I don't remember ever being thanked by those 19 people."

...Maria onee-chan's idea was too compassionate. Both of us are suffering from a very similar type of misfortune. And yet, maybe a small difference in our way of thinking changes how peaceful our hearts are.

"So, you aren't sad, Maria onee-chan...?"
"Uu-. I'm not sad at all. After all, I'll be together with Sakutaro from now on. Right, Sakutaro?"

"Look, Sakutaro says he's happy too. Uu-☆"

Maria onee-chan hugged the Sakutaro stuffed animal, playing both sides of the conversation herself. I don't understand it. But that's exactly why I want to reach Maria onee-chan's level. So I was intensely drawn to her tale and her words.

"Ange, is it tough because you're all alone...?"
"...It is tough. But... just the time I can be like this with you is different. Because I'm not... all alone."
"Then, if Sakutaro also becomes your friend, it'll be even more fun. Uu-! Then starting today, Sakutaro is Ange's new friend! Right, Sakutaro?"

BGM: Apathy

Skillfully moving the stuffed animal like it was a puppet, Maria onee-chan expressed Sakutaro's emotions. She was controlling him, but the charming way he waved his short hand and cocked his head to the side... made it feel like he really was a new friend called Sakutaro. Of course, looking at it with cold eyes, it would only appear that Maria onee-chan was comforting me when I was grumpy. But a soul had definitely been sent into that stuffed animal. The soul of Maria onee-chan's love. So I acknowledged the existence of a being called Sakutaro inside that stuffed animal.

"Come on, say hi to Sakutaro too, Ange. Come on, you say hi too, Sakutaro-☆"
'Uryu...? Is Ange... a scary person...?'

As Sakutaro timidly looked at me, he unexpectedly met my gaze... and hid behind Maria onee-chan's back in surprise. Maria onee-chan really is good at playing with stuffed animals.

"It's okay, Sakutaro. Ange isn't scary, she's a really nice girl. Uu-☆"
'...H-Hello. I'm Sakutarou... Uryu...'
"*giggle* ...Pleased to meet you, Sakutarou. I'm Ange. I'm glad to have a new friend."

I held out my hand as though asking for a handshake, and Sakutaro's short hand was stuck out towards me, lightly touching my index finger. After all, when a human and a stuffed animal shake hands, their sizes are too different. This greeting by touching each other's fingers was our handshake.

"Uu-☆ Now, Ange and Sakutaro are already friends! Two people are more fun than one, and three people are more fun than two. Uu-!"

Therefore, even before she met him, his existence was sublimated into a personality. Even at the first moment they met, they were already friends. Of course, that wasn't anything extraordinary in Maria onee-chan's eyes, although I don't think she'd personified and loved anything quite as much as Sakutarou. She loved the things she owned very much, treating them just like friends or beloved pets.

Maybe Aunt Rosa hadn't let her keep a pet at some point in time, so she felt like treasuring objects instead. And maybe she was so isolated that she'd been forced to find a friend nearby. Because of all that, what happened that day wasn't anything extraordinary from her perspective. Even so, Sakutarou... no, maybe I should call it 'Sakutaro' like Maria onee-chan. There's no doubt that Sakutaro was a stuffed animal... no, a friend... whom she loved more than anything... or anyone.

"Uu-! Playing with Sakutaro! Sakutaro, knock it off, *giggle*giggle*!"

It was already about 9:00 at night. Rosa had asked because this wasn't a good time to have a friend over, and she'd been just a little surprised, but when she thought about it, Maria didn't have any friends who would come over to play, did she...?

Even so, to think that she'd have so much fun playing with that stuffed animal. Rosa was very pleased that Maria had liked her birthday present so much.

"Sorry. Mama just can't get her work finished tonight... The next season's lineup is having a tough time. It looks like we're finally starting to get orders bit by bit, and I want to somehow give it a bit more impact so we can answer to their expectations..."
"So, you're spending the night? Sure, okay. Do your best, Mama!"
"R-Really? Thank you, Maria... Thanks for being understanding about Mama's work..."

Rosa was surprised that Maria had accepted so easily that she wouldn't be able to come home from work. To Rosa, having to tell Maria that she'd be coming home late or staying overnight was a huge burden. Maria would start crying about how lonely she was on the other end of the phone, and it took a lot of time and effort to calm her down. To think that Maria would accept it in such high spirits...

Is this also thanks to Sakutarou? Rosa was once again pleased that she'd given her daughter such a good present.

"Uu-! Shopping with Sakutaro, shopping with Sakutaro...!"
"H-Hey! Not Sakutaro, have him watch over the house!"

From Maria's manner of speech, Rosa got the feeling that Maria might've gone shopping with that stuffed animal without her knowing about it. Rosa's forehead creased, and after sourly saying that Maria definitely mustn't do that, she hung up.

'Uryu-... Can't go shopping with Maria... Staying home alone...will be lonely...'
"Why did Mama say not to go shopping with Sakutaro...? Uu-..."
'Uryu... ...I'm sure that if Maria was seen with me, it would be embarrassing...'
"...Embarrassing? Why?"
'Mama says not to take me outside a lot. And she usually says Maria can't do it because she's too old...'
"Uu-? But I'm not embarrassed at all to be with Sakutaro, right?"
'I'm a lion, but I'm a stuffed animal.'
"You're a lion and a stuffed animal, but you're my friend. So let's go out together☆ Just when Mama isn't around, as a secret. Uu-? You aren't saying that you're embarrassed, are you?"
'I'm not embarrassed, but...uryu, the people outside are a little scary...'
"Is that it?! Then, I'll make it so that you can go outside without being scared! Leave it to me, I've got something that's really useful...!"

Maria started fishing around her messy room. Rosa often told her to clean it up, but Maria apparently didn't like doing it. However, Maria herself knew more or less where everything was. So much so that if it were to be cleaned up, she would have trouble finding where anything was.

BGM: Sakutarou's Adventure

Maria proudly held it up high. Sakutaro looked at the knapsack, which was gaping open, squirming as though saying 'Are you serious...?'

'Uryu, Maria, you aren't saying...'
"Uu-! This way, we can go shopping together, and Sakutaro won't be scared!"

Maria held Sakutaro up and started stuffing him into the knapsack. At first, she tried to stick him in head-first, but then he'd be upside-down and suffocate. So she pulled him out and tried pushing him in again, feet-first.

'Uryu-...! Tiiight, craaamped, daaark. Uryu-! Urk.'
"Look, it's all right. If you stick your head out, it isn't cramped, it isn't dark, and it isn't scary. And it's a good view. Uu-!"
'Uryu, you're right. ...Is it okay for me to go shopping with Maria like this...?'
"Yeah, it'll be fine! What should we get for dinner tonight?! Come on, let's go out, Sakutaro! Uu-!"

"Yeah, it's a lot of fun. Even things that would be lonely and boring alone all become fun with Sakutaro. Any Human friend would have to go home when it gets late."
"But Sakutaro doesn't go home, so we can be together all the time. He'll watch TV with me, be together even in the futon, and even hold my hand on scary nights when there's thunder. He'll chase away the monsters in the closet and under the bed. Sakutaro is reliable!"
'Uryu. Since I'm a lion, I'll show my courage and chase away any monsters that scare Maria. Uryu-, rooar.'

They were so close that it made me a little envious.

I'm supposedly older now than Maria onee-chan was then. But Maria onee-chan really is my onee-chan, and I still haven't reached her level. If only I had a friend close by like Sakutaro.

"Sakutaro and I are your close friends, right? We're aaalways by your side. It's just that your magic is weak, so you can't perceive us unless you open my diary like this."
"...Perceive? You know some pretty difficult words, Maria onee-chan."

According to her, this world is full of magic and spirits. And they're as natural and nearby as a light breeze.

"You don't normally notice or see the wind, but when incense smoke or something draws trails, you can see it, right?"
"...Right. And even if you can't see it, it's always nearby."
"That's it. We're always really close by to you, Ange. Gods and spirits and guardian spirits... are always right next to us. But if you aren't conscious of them, you can't feel their existence. Like wind that can't be seen with the eyes. But they certainly are near us, and if they draw trails in the smoke called magic, anyone can see them."

I thought I'd only be able to meet Maria onee-chan while this diary was open. But from what she says, she's always with me, and I can meet her at any time if I truly desire to.

"...Only I... can tell it's there?"
"Yes. After all, the power of a witch resides in you, just like me! If you study hard, you too will definitely become a great witch in the future."
"...A witch. I wonder if that'd be fun."
"Uu-! It is fun. If you do that, you'll be able to know that Sakutaro and I are always by your side, even without opening the diary. If you do that, every day will become fun! If you do that, I'll introduce you to many other friends. If you do that, every day will get busy and very lively."
"That might be fun. ...I do have the grimoire you left behind, Maria onee-chan. I'll try reading it seriously sometime soon. If I do that, I won't be all alone anymore, right?"
"Uu-!" 'Uryu-!'

Maria onee-chan and Sakutaro said that at the same time, happy that I had developed an interest in the world of witches.

BGM: Cage

Well, it was that time of day, after all. Everyone in the shopping district was either a shop owner lowering the shutters on their shops, or an employee rushing, or else staggering, on their way home. Amidst all that, Maria, who was in a good mood like someone on a hike, probably looked quite merry. Every once in a while, passing employees would glance at her back with the eyes of someone seeing something out of place. Office ladies giggled at the cute stuffed animal poking its head out of the knapsack.

The supermarket had been closed for a while by this time. However, convenience stores, which had been growing in popularity lately, stayed open until midnight. It was very convenient for Maria, whose mother's return was often late.

She pointed to a sweet bun she had eaten before, explaining to Sakutaro that this one was delicious, and that one was pretty good too. Sakutaro seemed to be enjoying it a lot.

"I'm gonna have the three-colored one! With just this one, you can eat bean jam and cream and strawberry jam! But there's sometimes greenish-brown bean jam or white bean jam. There should be one kind of bean jam."
'Uryu-! Looks like having different things inside makes them interesting. Uryu-!'
"Next, I'll have a fruit yogurt! There's fruit in it, but it isn't a sweet, right? Yeah, I'm sure Mama will be fine with it. Do you want one too, Sakutaro?"
'Uryu? Is that really okay...? What about the money?'
"Uu-, no problem! Look, it's Shotoku Taishi-, uu-! So I can buy you whatever you want too, Sakutaro. Let's eat together! Would you like some yogurt too, Sakutaro?"

When Maria made to grab another one of the same fruit yogurt, Sakutaro bent his head slightly, worried.

'Uryu... But...I can't eat a big one, so a small one will be fine.'
"Uu-. Then how about a small yogurt? It's 30 yen. That's cheap."
'Uryu! That's good enough for me. Yogurt with Maria!'
"Yogurt with Sakutaro! Uu-!"

Maria put the three-colored bread and the two yogurts into a shopping basket and brought them to the register. The man running the register had been in charge of the tobacco shop that had been here until last year.

"Mama said it's okay, so it's fine! Mama always comes home late because of her work, but we aren't lonely. Right, Sakutaro?"

The man working at the store took a can of leftover soda or something from behind the register and packed it into the bag with everything else.

"Thank you mister! Uu-! Isn't that great, Sakutaro?!"

Since she had been told not to buy soda, she couldn't take it back home. So she decided to drink it on her way back and not bring the empty can back home. With the vinyl bag with the sweet bun in it around her elbow, holding the knapsack with Sakutaro in it with that same arm and drinking her soda, the two of them walked home...

'Uryu? ...Uryuuryuuryu, uryu-!! Gaah. ...Uryuuuu, you're mean, Maria... Nasssty...'
"It sure is, uu-uu-."

Of course, it's not like she could actually make a stuffed animal drink soda. She just put the can to Sakutaro's mouth and pretended to tilt it. But it was fun for Maria to share the taste of this weird drink that she had gotten for free with Sakutaro...

There was a huge moon in the sky. At times, that moon had been clouded by tears when she'd been unmanageable during Rosa's overnight stays... and when she'd been scolded by her mother. But this moon was very warm, and it seemed to watch over the two of them as they enjoyed their trip home by themselves...

Maria and Sakutaro. Ange watched the two of them go from behind.

She looked so... warm from behind. After looking at the backs of Maria onee-chan and Sakutaro together, it became very hard to remember all of those long nights when she'd cried because her mother hadn't come home... I couldn't say it to Maria onee-chan, but if I'd been in the same position, I may have given a stuffed animal the name Sakutarou, but it wouldn't have been anything more or less than a stuffed animal.

Anyone can make a relationship that only distracts you from your loneliness. But Maria onee-chan was different. Sakutaro isn't a stuffed animal or a toy. He was a real friend, and far from just distracting Maria from her loneliness, he changed the nights without her mother into a fun time where they could play all by themselves...

Was it because Sakutarou was a special stuffed animal? Because her mother had made it herself? Because it was very, very cute? Probably not. If there's a secret here, it doesn't lie within Sakutarou. I think it probably lies within Maria onee-chan.

BGM: Apathy

"Uu-. Knowing magic means that you notice a lot of friends right beside you that you didn't notice before. It's as fun as having a bunch of new toy shops pop up all over the neighborhood!"

...If even I, locked up in an academy without a single friend, had power like Maria onee-chan, I wonder if I could make my days just a bit richer. I wonder if I'll be able to honestly shed tears on nights I feel like crying, to smile on gray nights.

"Yes. You can. You can do it. After all, you also have the qualifications to become a witch."
"...The qualifications... to become a witch."
"I have the qualifications to become a witch too. So I've still got a lot more studying and training to do. I'll definitely become a wonderful witch, flying in the sky on a broom, drawing rainbows with my cane, making candy fall from the sky. I can definitely do it. Then, I'll show you too. It'll definitely be like a scene from a wonderful dream."

Maria onee-chan said that, making an absolute promise with her smile.

Because, in reality, on that desolate night, when no flower of a smile could possibly have bloomed, her magic surely gave birth to a smile.

"...I wonder if... I can become a witch."
"You can. ...You're a bit older, so your soul is bound a bit more by gravity. That might make training tougher than it is for me.
But you definitely can. After all, you're already touching a small piece of magic."
"I am? Magic...?"
"Yeah. Come on, look. In a world where I don't exist, you summoned me, and you're talking with me."
"...This is... magic...?"
"Yeah. You've expanded the Fragment of my soul that I left in my diary, and you're reviving me right now. I also said it a short while ago, right? Since you managed to reunite with me and have a conversation, since you're able to smile every once in a while, you must have some magical talent, Ange. Your Maria onee-chan guarantees it. Uu-!"
"...You said it a second ago, Onee-chan. I thought I could only meet you while the diary was open, but you're really nearby all the time, right? If I had more of the power of magic, would I be able to see you...? And, just like now, would I be able to talk with you, Onee-chan...? At any time...?"
"Yeah. We can talk at any time. I'm there by your side to say good morning, and even during class. Let's talk together during dull classes to distract you from your boredom. I'll also be there to talk to you during meals, so let's always be together like this during lunch break."

"...Even when I close the diary, Maria onee-chan... you'll be by my side, right?"
"Yes. I'll be there. So if you try to 'see' me and try to talk to me, I'll definitely be able to answer. If you 'look' strongly and try to talk, that is."
"...I'll... give it a try."
"It isn't easy, okay? It isn't going to go well all of a sudden, got it?"
"...I understand. I'm sure it won't be easy. But I... want to be like you, Maria onee-chan..."
"Uu-. I understand. Then, look at me well. Look closely."
"Slowly open and close your eyes. You can't shut them for a long time all of a sudden. After burning my form into your eyes, try to make it blend into the inside of your eyelids..."
"...Yeah... I'm doing it."
"Once you can visualize me even when your eyes are closed, without changing anything, slowly and softly close your eyes again. How is it? Can you still 'see' me?"
"...Y-Yes. I think... I can probably see you..."
"Then try opening your eyes for a second.
Now for the real thing. Calm your heart, and close the diary. At that time, my form may disappear for a second. But calm your heart, and don't get anxious. And then, try to make the me that's blended into the inside of your eyelids blend back into your eyes. Slowly visualize me in the empty air. In the empty air, 'see' me."
"...Yeah, I'm okay. Then, I'll close... the diary."

When I did so, a gray reality filled with dull air unfolded. Of course, Maria onee-chan's form disappeared.

Give it all you've got, have courage. Take the first step into the world of witches. I felt like Maria onee-chan was cheering me on inside my heart.

She's cheering me on? Really? Or do I just think that she is...? No, that's wrong. It's because I think this that I cannot 'see' her. Maria onee-chan is always by my side. And even now, she's definitely there, cheering me on to do my best...

So I mustn't ignore it like it's my imagination or the voice of my own heart... I believe... that Maria onee-chan is there. I mustn't doubt. I believe. Onee-chan said she'd always be by my side. I must not doubt that...

But looking at that empty space, by the empty back wall of the school building, amidst those almost heartlessly boring rays of sunlight, calling out her name was unexpectedly difficult... The chains of common sense that had clung to me until today sneered at me, telling me that calling out to the empty air was ridiculous... It was almost like being told to take a step forward off the roof of a skyscraper overlooking a sea of lights.

...It's Maria onee-chan saying it. It's all right, she's saying that I'm someone who can do it. Stop thinking that you might fall, or that it'd be foolish to take a step off a roof, and free yourself from those chains of common sense...

I steadied my breathing. I concentrated my mind. Make the vivid form of Maria onee-chan in the empty space before you...rise to the surface.

...Understand magic, and 'see' Maria onee-chan...

At that time, I was answered by a rustle in the bushes and a wild cry, and I came to my senses. It looked like I wasn't the only one behind the school building. No, since I'd been so immersed in the world of the diary, I hadn't noticed someone coming. I recognized a group of three beyond the bushes. They were kids from my class. From their appearance, it felt as though they'd come behind the school building to gossip about someone or talk in secret.

I hurried out of that place. Because if it became known that I'd been alone in a place like this, mumbling to myself, it'd become a pain again...

"...She said it, right? She said it, right? She said Maria onee-chan or something, right?!"
"Isn't that creepy? She isn't seeing spirits or something, is she?"

I could hear the shrill, loud laughter from behind. Irritated and feeling that Maria onee-chan had been made fun of, I left that place at a quick pace, and then a jog once I turned the corner.

...And I might've made it to Onee-chan's world with just a little more time... It was frustrating, aggravating... Why does everyone get in my way...? I haven't gotten in anyone else's way, not even once...!