01: The Interval Space of Darkness (Go-Home Club President and μ)
“Thank you, everyone.”
I could hear μ’s voice through the dazzling white light.
Her voice was faint and weak.
But I wanted her to be able to smile.
I strained my eyes trying to see her, but by that point I was already fully surrounded by nothing but darkness.
I’d felt this “feeling of sinking into the darkness” before, when I’d been taken from reality to Mobius, and the faint nostalgic sense I was getting from it was probably proof that we really were returning to reality.
Everything to do with Mobius was finally coming to an end.
Such a short time, and yet one that felt so long. As I closed my eyes, images of everyone in the Go-Home Club I’d spent my day with, and the virtual idols Aria and μ, floated through my head.
I had no idea if I’d ever see them again once we all got back to reality. I wanted to talk with them about so many more things. I felt like there were things I’d forgotten to do — but as I was thinking that, I shook my head.
No, right now, I should just be happy that it’s all over. We’re still alive, so the possibility is still open. After all, even people like us, who are total half-baked losers in real life, managed to put an end to this whole ongoing crisis. After all that, another miracle wouldn’t seem so out of the question.
As I was trying to tell myself that, I slowly closed my eyes and let my body be swallowed up by the darkness — but then…
“Hey, you over there! Wake up!”
It was a voice that sounded much like a bell, one that was already nearby. I was so shocked that my eyes went wide open.
“Thank goodness! You actually heard me!”
μ was standing in front of me, even though we should have already parted with her.
I was still surrounded by darkness, and there was no sign of any light. I couldn’t see any of my friends, nor Aria. But in front of me was μ, whom I could see clearly even through the darkness.
“I was worried your consciousness might disappear completely, I didn’t know what I’d do if that’d happened…”
She put a hand to her chest in relief, and continued on.
“Well, you see. Everyone else made it back to reality, but you seem to be the only one who failed to transfer back,” she said, saying such a terrifying thing with no hesitation. “I thought maybe your soul couldn’t find your body, and that you were stuck in limbo, so I started panicking. But…I think I’ll have to try something different to see what’s going on with you.”
Her small hand lightly touched me, and a pale bluish-white light softly illuminated the darkness. As she stared at the light, μ said something unbelievable.
“Hm, it seems like…perhaps your feelings are still being held back by something in Mobius?”
I decided to return to reality, got my friends to help me, and finally made it this far. Everyone in Mobius had their own pain and feelings of loss, but none of us had any reason to doubt that “we wanted to return to reality”. Of course, that went for myself as well.
And yet, was I still afraid of facing myself — of facing reality?
“Ah, sorry, sorry. It’s not that. Your own desire to return to reality is undoubtedly real. Don’t worry about that,” said μ in a rush. Her timing was perfect, as if she’d seen right through me.
“Yes, that’s right,” said μ, with a reserved nod. “Here, your soul is completely exposed. Have you not realized that? You don’t have a body right now.”
Hearing that, a shock went through me, but I had no voice to yell out with. Of course I didn’t.
There was nothing but darkness from beginning to end in this place.
“It’s okay, calm down. You can still see me, and you can still hear my voice. So even if your body hasn’t manifested, you’re still here, so you’re still yourself.”
μ lightly traced her hand through the darkness, as if to demonstrate. I could feel the warmth of her palm, and the fact I could feel that made it clear that she was still tracing the outline of what was supposed to be “me”.
“You don’t have an actual body here, and there isn’t any visual information here that can define you as ‘you’. But it’s not just you; there’s no up or down or left or right in this world. It’s a bit like the Metaverse-Es, but, how do I put it…Right now, you’re drenched in a kind of energy soup. You’re being stirred together with a lot of other things.”
I immediately thought of being simmered in some kind of stew, and I felt like I’d become some kind of parsley.
“Y-You’re okay! You’re still a person! Huh? ‘Person’ …kinda sounds like ‘parsley'1, huh?!”
μ giggled. It was nice that she got to enjoy this, but I was feeling a little uncomfortable at the fact she could read my mind so openly.
“Sorry, sorry. I know you can see me, but in actuality there aren’t any boundaries here. I’m not particularly trying to read your mind or something, but I end up knowing what you’re thinking anyway. Hey, is it okay if I try poking you a little deeper? I might be able to figure out why you still can’t go home.”
I had no reason to be against it, and, besides, it didn’t seem like there’d be any way out of my current situation unless μ could help me.
I held my breath — which is a strange way to put it, since I didn’t have a body in the first place, but nevertheless — as μ’s hand softly pushed through the darkness. There was a chill, as if my body was stiffening. I suppose that’s how it would feel to have someone directly touching your heart.
After a little while, μ let out an “ah!”
“Oh, I see. You were worried about her.”
The image of her came to my mind faster than I could even ask whom she was talking about.
“So it was about her…about Wicked.”
Wicked — one of the Musicians chosen by μ. One of the Go-Home Club’s strongest opponents to stand in our way.
In confronting her, I’d learned of her true identity as Marie Mizuguchi. She was our classmate, who appeared to be unassuming, intelligent, and gentle.
She betrayed all of us in the Go-Home Club, cursed at us, and attacked us while showering us with scorn and abusive words. Even then, I could still remember the bitter feeling I’d had in my heart. I couldn’t believe that Wicked and Marie were actually the same person. But after that, I didn’t get to talk to her very much about it.
“So you want to know why she betrayed you all like that.”
μ, you’re the one who chose her as a Musician. Would you know anything about this?
But μ, who figured out what I was thinking, shook her head.
“I don’t know anything about her, besides her wish. Wicked wished to be able to continue on with her usual reality. But I don’t know why she’d want such a thing…”
μ suddenly fell silent, and started muttering to herself.
“Ah, that’s right. That’s why it didn’t work. You can’t make people happy just by giving people what they want…” she said, as if cursing herself for being such a fool, and smiled with her regrets showing on her face. And then, she said:
“I bet you’ll be able to return to reality if you get to understand her properly. If you want to do that, can you help me with one more thing?”
She looked directly at me, even though I didn’t have a body to look at, and continued.
“I think I can use my power to forcibly send you back to reality. But…I want to know too. No…I feel like I need to know. What was she thinking when she came to Mobius? Why did she choose to do what she did?”
μ — the one who had once said “I’ll grant any wish you have” but never made it through to the essence of the problem — was now trying to confront the concepts of the past and reality, with everything she had.
As I looked back at her in shock, μ laughed, bashfully.
“I was able to start thinking this way thanks to you guys.”
It was in that moment when I clearly understood.
It was a good thing that we, Aria and the Go-Home Club, pulled off what we did.
And the disappearance of Mobius would not mean the end. It was the first step in walking forward from here — so that’s why it’d require a bit more effort to get home.
If I could take that important first step forward with μ, there was no more trustworthy person to do it with.
μ spread her arms and gave me a hug within the darkness.
From where we were making contact, there was no more boundary between us as we meshed together.
“We can’t change the past, but we can still try to understand it better — with my powers.”
As μ said that, the darkness began to twist upside down.
The strong lashback made me realize that we were “upside down” in a place where direction didn’t even make sense in the first place. If we didn’t keep ourselves together, we’d be swept elsewhere in the blink of an eye.
But I wasn’t afraid.
No matter what kind of darkness I was in, I knew I wasn’t alone.
“All right, let’s go! We’re going back to Wicked’s beginnings!”
We took off and began flying.
The flow of time reversed, and we headed to the past.
02: Memories of the Past (Marie Mizuguchi)
Within the darkness that seemed to stretch out eternally, the groaning feeling I had was like a curse.
(The hell is this!?)
The curse of nobody being able to hear me.
Because my body wouldn’t respond to anything I wanted it to do at all. I couldn’t even lift a finger, let alone raise my voice.
(Dammit…You gotta be shitting me!)
With nowhere to keep cursing at, the only thing I could do was let it keep swirling inside me until it turned pitch-black.
(What? Is this supposed to be my divine retribution or something? You expect me to just take that crap!? This can’t be happening to me…It’s insane! There’s just no goddamn way! Why me…? Why me!?)
As if I were vomiting it all out.
Again. And again.
But it was as if my internal organs were emptied out and hollowed, and all they did was twitch, and the nausea washing over me had no signs of going away.
This was nothing but anger. It was sheer anger at how absurd and unfair this was.
(Seriously, what the hell is this?)
I remembered getting in a fight and falling off a pedestrian bridge. But the next thing I remembered was being trapped here in this darkness, unable to move an inch.
(It’s his fault…)
Within that darkness, there was no sense of the passage of time. It could have been days, months, or maybe even years.
Perhaps it would have been easier for me if I could just lose consciousness completely. But no matter how long I waited, there was no sign of that happening. Even so, I didn’t even entertain the possibility that it’d have been better to die. All of the fury and hatred boiling over in me — that whirlpool of resentment was exactly what kept me attached to the idea of living.
(If it hadn’t been for him…!)
From out of the darkness, she appeared.
“Found you! You’re Wicked, right?”
She’d appeared in such an out-of-place fashion that it took me a moment to realize that I recognized her.
Pure white pigtails, wearing a pure white costume.
A character made for voice synthesis software that can sing the way the user dictates. The virtual idol μ.
“…Huh, that’s new . So the Devil looks like this, huh?”
Up until now, I hadn’t been able to make a single sound, and none of my cursing had made it out of my mouth, but my voice came out perfectly fine this time.
“No, no. I’m not the Devil! It’s me, μ!”
“You’re a dumbass,” I spit out, clicking my tongue.
(Only the Devil would be so disgustingly sparkly.)
Humans aren’t that stupid to believe something like that. I’d been through so much hell and seen so much deceit that I knew accepting her invitation would lead to my own destruction, so I couldn’t let myself be suckered in all that easily.
Something beautiful and alluring becomes something that drags you down because you can’t resist.
So of course the Devil would be even more beautiful than any kind of angel. That’s just basic logic.
“…So? Whaddya want from me? Why do you even know my name to begin with?”
“I’m looking for Doll-Ps! I want to make something for everyone to enjoy together!”
“I want you make lots of songs for me!”
“What a joke. I’ll pass.”
Well, it’s certainly true that I’d made a lot of songs and written lyrics for μ to sing.
But I’m not here to take orders from other people.
“Please don’t say that, please? Please?”
“I really need more songs if I want to bring in tons of people. Please come to Mobius with me! I’m begging you!”
I tilted my head at hearing an unfamiliar word, and the Devil nodded with a bright smile on her face.
“It’s a gentle world with nothing but happiness, where you won’t have to deal with anything you don’t like. Any wish you have will come true.”
I was about to say “I’m not stupid enough to believe that,” but my mouth shut itself halfway into it.
“Well, I got that part. So then, what if I told you I had a whole three wishes I needed you to grant?”
“Do you have three wishes?” She gave me a blank expression in response, tilted her head, and then laughed again.
“I can do three, or even four! It’s no problem, I can grant any kind of wish you have.”
Yeah, this really is the Devil. Or maybe some mischievous fairy who likes playing pranks on people for fun.
(This is fucking stupid.)
There’s no way that kind of thing could be possible.
(Have I finally gone insane?)
I must have gotten so pissed at being trapped here that my head made up some kind of illusion.
(But…well, this is exactly what I need to kill some time.)
Even if it was some kind of illusion, she was the first person I’d gotten to talk to in a long while. Plus, I wanted to take that stupidly carefree face in front of me and see what happens when I cause her some trouble.
Because I’d been trapped here for way too long.
“As if you could do that.”
“I can, I really can,” said μ, with a huge smile on her face.
Even an illusion in my own head was trying to piss me off.
“Hmm, I really wonder about that…”
μ tilted her head again, clearly looking very concerned.
“Hey, what can I do to make you believe me?”
“Because I really want you to come to Mobius.”
“Man, you’re persistent!”
I spit this out so roughly at her that she was taken aback, but she still kept hounding me. “But…hey, please…”
“If you’re gonna make all these claims, show me proof first.”
“Words are cheap, you know. If you’re gonna ask someone to do something for you, you gotta show that you’re being honest about it first. So grant me one of my wishes. Hm, let’s see…first, let my body move the way I want it to. If I can’t even do as much as move here, it’s all off the table.”
“Huh? Really? That’s all you want?”
The Devil reached out a hand and laughed.
“You already can stand and walk — see?” she said, taking my hand.
(I…have a hand.)
I’d thought there was nothing at all within the darkness, but there, I could vaguely see a thin, emaciated hand.
(It’s my hand.)
When I put pressure on my fingers, μ would return the pressure back. As if pushing away the darkness, I clutched harder onto μ’s hand.
From what I could feel, she felt soft, gentle, and warm.
(Ugh, why does this feel so gross?!)
I almost burst into laughter, but I barely managed to gulp it down before I could.
I didn’t want to risk even the slightest chance of allowing her to hurt me.
(I’ve had enough of being in this place.)
Seriously, even hell would have been preferable.
“See, it’s just as I told you!”
The Devil was laughing, with a smile.
So I gave her back a smirk.
“…Fine. I believe you.”
“Really! So, then…”
“Yeah. I’ll go with you to this Mobius place…Just because I promised. Got it?”
03: The Interval Space of Darkness (Go-Home Club President and μ)
And in an instant, we were back.
“This is the memory from when I first met Wicked,” said μ, her voice rather crestfallen. “Why…why didn’t I hear her out properly? I should have felt her pain when I held her hand, and yet…”
Simply being “visible” doesn’t actually mean being truly “seen”.
It’s just like with voices. You may hear the sound of a voice, but you won’t process it as words unless you try to hear it.
“…You’re trying to make me feel better, right? You’re very kind,” said μ, her gaze softening a little.
I wasn’t trying to go out of my way to make her feel better, though. I was being harsh on myself.
I hadn’t bothered to hear her out, either. That’s why things inevitably ended the way they did.
If I could have gotten closer to her, the same way I’d gotten close to everyone in the Go-Home Club, would I have been able to hear her out and be there for her?
“No, it’s not your fault…well, this isn’t the time to be fretting over all of this. We managed to get a hold of Wicked’s timeline, so we should be happy about that…Oh, do you see that over there?”
μ pointed into the darkness.
I squinted my eyes and saw traces of small, glowing red lights, connected by dots and lines into a thread.
“That’s the trail of Wicked’s past and future. You can see certain points shining much more brightly here and there, right? Those mark her most important memories.”
Looking back at the one μ was pointing at, I saw that it was bathed in a poisonous-looking red light.
“That’s the memory we just looked at. The stronger my feelings, your feelings…and, most importantly, Wicked’s feelings are, the more vividly we’ll be able to see that point in time.”
We were following her own memories, so we wouldn’t be able to see anything she hadn’t seen. But I could feel the feelings she’d been holding in her heart so well that it hurt.
She’d been cursing herself like this.
And in order to be saved, she’d taken μ’s hand.
“It must have been so hard for her…”
At a time like that, μ’s offer should have been like a guiding light to her.
But why? She hadn’t responded with a radiant smile, but rather with such a foreboding expression.
“…The human heart really is complicated after all.”
As μ tilted her head, I gave her a bitter smile and nodded.
But in any case, we had to keep moving.
- The soup metaphor is originally a pun on “human” (ningen) and “carrot” (ninjin).