01: From Memories in Apparent Dreams to Mobius (Marie Mizuguchi)
Thinking back on it, getting hurt was just a usual part of my everyday life.
After all, I was getting beaten up every single day.
“You’re so goddamn obnoxious, I’m gonna fucking kill you!”
I don’t remember the context for any of it at all. I don’t think there was a particular reason. My father would come home drunk, throw random things around, smash them, and finally start beating me up.
And my mother would do nothing but sit in the corner of the room, staring, while I was being kicked around and beaten up. It was only natural. If she tried to interfere, the same thing would happen to her.
But before I’d realized it, my father was gone. It was only after I’d gotten older when I’d learned he’d gotten involved in a robbery that had resulted in injured victims, and ultimately taken away by the police.
Once my father was gone, my mother started beating me up in his stead. On top of that, she started inviting a strange man into the house, and she’d get himself drunk, start cackling together with him, and beat me up, only saying “sorry” after she’d gotten sober again.
At that point, I’d have preferred my father. Sure, my father absolutely despised me, but for a kid like me, it was harder to predict whether my mother would be hugging me or beating me up.
But it wasn’t long before those days ended, too.
“Don’t look at me like that!” said my mother, with a horrified expression. “The hell is that look on your face…don’t look at me like that!”
That morning, my mother yelled that and ran out of the house, and I never saw her again.
Had she finally lost all the screws in her head? Or was there something truly scary about my face? I still don’t know what it actually was.
After that, I was left in the care of my grandparents. My grandfather, who was strict about good behavior, and my weak-hearted grandmother put all of their heart and soul into raising me properly.
At least, purely for the sake of social obligations.
“Do I have to keep saying the same thing over and over again?!”
If I held my chopsticks the wrong way, or if I forgot to leave my shoes at the front door, he would say this and hit me.
The only thing that had changed was that my grandfather would never scratch or bruise me in places where others could see. No matter where I lived or whom I lived with, I would still get beaten up.
And my grandmother, the only person who never hit me, would try to dote on me too much and get beaten up by my grandfather for doing so.
“I heard Mizuguchi-san’s daughter went missing.”
“Again? Did she just abandon a tiny little kid like that?”
“Probably ran off and eloped with some guy somewhere…”
Every time I heard people talking about such heartless rumors (which were probably about as close to the truth as you could get), we would hide somewhere, and she would hold me and cry. And while I was there in my grandmother’s arms, I still had a feeling that even if my grandfather disappeared, my grandmother would start hitting me herself.
But I never felt particularly upset about it. From the very beginning, the entirety of my world was constructed this way, so that’s just how it was.
It was only right after I started going to elementary school when I learned that my home life was different from those of others.
My grandfather didn’t buy me anything beyond the base necessities. I went to school with a backpack that was so old and worn out that it was smashed flat, and clothes that were so old and worn out that they hardly fit anymore.
They never bought cute clothes for me like the ones everyone else had, nor shoes nor sparkly hair ties, nor nice pencil cases, nor a cell phone nor a game console. I never got to go out during holidays. I wasn’t allowed to watch TV, and I had no computer. I couldn’t keep up with anyone’s conversations at all, and I quickly became ostracized from the rest of the class.
When the leader figure kid in my class went “ew, get away from us, Marie-chan,” my inability to make friends immediately went from being an atmosphere problem to a certain fact.
“Don’t touch me. You’ll make me all gross and dirty too.”
“Hey, Marie-chan, you stink!”
There were people who mocked me upfront like this, but there were also people who whispered rumors to each other about me.
“My mom said I shouldn’t play with Marie-chan.”
“Oh, my mom said that, too!”
As the girls started chattering about this, the boys got on the bandwagon and started piling on me.
“Man, she really stinks!”
“Don’t come this way, you’ll spread your germs on us!”
I’d be piled on with insults, and sometimes they’d even throw things at me. I constantly had my shoes stolen from me.1 Sometimes I’d get hit by a mud ball, and when I got home, my grandfather would yell “the hell kind of woman are you, coming home all muddy like that!” and hit me again.
My grandmother couldn’t just sit there and watch, so she consulted with my homeroom teacher, but instead of calling my classmates to the student guidance room, they called me.
“We can’t have you causing trouble like this,” I was told by my teacher, who was sighing at me. “Your grandmother was worried and said that you’re being bullied, but that’s not true, right?”
I was told all this with a smile that made all of this abundantly clear to me. My teacher had no intention of properly resolving the matter, and had no interest in even listening to me.
“I’m sure everyone just wants to get along with you and play with you, right, Marie? Why don’t you try being a bit more proactive in getting along with them?”
My teacher said these words that were neither poison nor medicine, and ultimately turned away, pretending not to see any of this.
Then, one day.
“Come over to my house and play with me, Marie-chan!”
One day, a girl who was my classmate but wasn’t particularly close with me suddenly called out to me, inviting me to visit her house.
“Okay? Let’s go to my place and eat snacks together.”
I kept quiet as I followed her, and I was welcomed warmly by her mother.
“Welcome. Please feel free to take your time.”
The house was well-kept, and I got to enjoy a homemade cake. My classmate invited me to her room and showed me her collection of dolls.
“I got this one for my birthday. And this one for Christmas!”
Since then, she started inviting me to her house every so often. At the very least, I understood that the people from this household wouldn’t yell at me or hit me. But…
My classmate would leave her shoes at the front door without arranging them neatly, and she didn’t even clear the plate after finishing her cake. She wouldn’t even put away the dolls after we played with them. But her mother wouldn’t yell at her or beat her up, and wouldn’t say anything beyond something like “goodness…” as she cleaned it all up.
It wasn’t just me. Nobody was getting beaten up in this house.
Just shortly after we’d started playing together, I secretly stole her favorite doll, pulled apart everything from the neck to the torso, and dumped it in the garbage dump at her apartment building.
(She’ll get yelled at for that, I’m sure.)
I wanted her to get yelled at for treating her things so crudely.
She might try insisting that she wasn’t the one who threw it out, but she wouldn’t be able to definitively prove her innocence. On top of that, we had two other classmates besides me over that day. Nobody had noticed what I’d done, and at the very least, there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that I was the actual culprit.
(This feels so good!)
I was excited with anticipation as I went to school the next day.
But that day, she didn’t say anything about the doll. I don’t even think she realized she was missing the doll in the first place.
“Look, Marie-chan! You’re the first one to see. Daddy bought this for me yesterday!”
With a beaming smile on her face, she showed off a sparkly plastic ring she was wearing.
(The heck is this?)
When I’d visited her place earlier, her mother had showed off her engagement ring. She’d probably asked her father “I want a ring like that, too.”
(But…no. This isn’t want I wanted.)
I wanted to see the messed up expression on her face.
“That’s just a toy, isn’t it?” I said, irritably.
It took only a second for her to look downcast. Seeing that, I felt a little better — and then…
(I’ve got an idea.)
Maybe I can get her in trouble this time.
“That’s a kiddy ring, everyone’s gonna laugh at you. You shouldn’t show that to people.”
“Do you really think so…?”
“Of course! Hey, why don’t you show everyone the ring your mom showed us the other day? I’m sure that’ll get everyone jealous of you.”
“Huh…But that’s Mommy’s important ring…”
“She said she always kept it in her drawer, right? She won’t notice if you borrow it for a bit and quietly return it later.”
I managed to persuade her after pushing her harder, and so the next day, she snuck the ring out of the house and showed it to her friends, with the lie “Daddy gave this to me.”
After our physical education class, she found her ring had vanished.
“You shouldn’t have brought extra things like that to school anyway,” said her classmates, implicitly blaming her as she cried.
“But…But Marie-chan said…”
Her expression was tormented as she desperately looked back at me, and before I knew it, I was smiling as I said “I bet your parents are gonna get mad at you.”
She started crying, all too easily.
After we told the homeroom teacher about it, we held a class meeting.
“Has anyone seen the ring?”
I raised my hand, stood up, and pointed to that girl who’d always acted like the class leader.
“When we were changing clothes for PE class, I saw her sneak it into her bag.”
“I didn’t do anything like that! You’re lying!”
Naturally, she raised her head and argued back. Without hesitating, I kept pushing on, with a calm expression on my face.
“But I really did see it. Go and check her bag.”
Reluctantly, our homeroom teacher searched through her bag, and there was the missing ring.
Just as I’d planned.
“I didn’t have anything to do with that ring!”
The girl, who’d always acted like she was the boss of the class, was red with anger, and then turned pale right after that.
“Okay, then, why was it in your bag!”
“How dare you…Gimme back Mommy’s ring!”
“Be quiet, everyone! Sit down!”
The class meeting had fallen into chaos.
But on the other hand, as I kept my head hung, I stuck it out.
Every time I heard someone yelling in anger or crying, I could feel an enticing shiver circulating within my body.
It was the first time I got to actually “feel” something.
(Ah, this is amazing…)
Those calm and gentle days that had made up her peaceful life, the warmth of her daily life that she must have thought would last forever, all vanished before her eyes in an instant.
(And all I had to do was one little bad thing.)
I had to focus on holding myself back, or else the ecstasy in my voice would leak out.
(And you’d just gotten to know me…heehee, too bad for you!)
“Marie-chan, food’s ready.”
I heard a voice from downstairs. I’d snapped out of my reverie.
(I’m…in my room.)
I hadn’t been able to move at all until just right before then, and I thought I’d been deep within the darkness.
(…Right, μ did this.)
I looked around, but there was nobody there.
(Am I dreaming?)
But it was unusually realistic for a dream.
A study desk, a chair, a bookshelf. A computer and monitor, a keyboard, speakers that could all be used for music production.
There was nothing particularly special about this. Everything here was familiar to me. But…
(Was my room always like this?)
There was a strange, discomforting feeling that I just couldn’t shake no matter what I did.
“Marie-chan? Is something wrong?”
There was a light knock, and the door opened.
“I’m done making food. Come get it before it gets cold.”
I thought my heart might collapse in on itself.
I knew that face, of course.
But I didn’t know the person at all.
“Dad keeps complaining ‘why’s Marie taking so long?’, you know.”
Laughing, the woman in front of me opened the door wide.
(The hell is this?)
Confused, I followed the narrow corridor down to the living room, and then…
“You took your sweet time, Marie!”
An old man with his cheeks slightly tinted red lifted a glass of beer towards me. In the back of the room was a TV showing a baseball match.
(The hell is this?)
Three chairs surrounding a dining table. A vacant seat at the table, with a small flower-patterned rice bowl and red chopsticks set up right next to it.
I knew all of it well.
(Those are mine.)
It was my rice bowl, the one my drunken father had thrown and smashed.
The chopsticks my father had stepped on and snapped into pieces.
(What’s going on?)
—”I can grant any kind of wish you have.”
But I never wished for any of this.
“Come on, come and sit. Mom made hamburger steak for us today.”
“Hey, Marie, come and pour me a drink, will ya?”
I did as I was told and poured beer into his empty glass.
“Man, beer always tastes the best when my daughter pours it for me.”
“You’re working tomorrow, so don’t drink too much…Marie-chan, how’s the hamburger steak? Is it good?”
I carefully put a piece in my mouth, and found that it tasted exactly the way I remembered it. A hamburger steak made the way my mother did when she was in a good mood.
“Oh, right, Marie, we’re going to visit your grandparents next Sunday.”
“We haven’t seen them in so long, they’ll be so happy to see you.”
“So don’t make plans to go out with your friends then. Oh, and also.”
He put a small package on the table.
“I got this as a souvenir on my business trip the other day. Go ahead and open it.”
The square box was small enough to fit in the palm of my hand, and when I opened it, I saw that it had a sparkling plastic ring in it.
Saying nothing, I stood up and headed to the kitchen. I looked for the kitchen knife hanging in the cupboard under the sink — hung there carefully in the exact same place it would be in the house I’d once lived in — and grabbed it without hesitation.
“Marie-chan, what’s wrong — “
But before she could finish her sentence, I shook off her arm with all of my might, grabbed the woman, and flung her down. Her head hit the fridge behind her and bounced back like a rubber ball. I looked down at the woman, who was frozen with hesitation, and stabbed the knife into her chest.
The woman’s mouth moved repeatedly as if she were gasping for air, without a single sound escaling it. I repeatedly stabbed her again and again until her movements slowed down and her arms, which had been flailing around, fell to the floor. The corners of her mouth fell loose, and a disgusting-looking liquid started oozing out of them.
“Huh? What? What’s going on?”
I could tell he was coming, so I returned to the living room with the bloodstained knife. I quickly paced myself towards the terrified old man, snatched the beer bottle, and slammed it on his head. The drunken old man stumbled forward, and his head turned towards the sofa behind us. I quickly ran up to him and stabbed his leg.
I wasn’t going to let him escape.
“Shut the fuck up.”
The coldness of my own voice was ringing inside my skull. I was terrifyingly calm. The more I saw the old man desperately trying to appeal to me with that desperate expression on his face, the colder the edges of my skull felt.
“What do you say when you want forgiveness?”
I stomped on the foot I’d stabbed, and his scream pierced the air.
“Come on, say it.”
Spare me, I’m sorry, I won’t do it again, please forgive me — groveling and pleading with those words, repeatedly, again and again.
(Like how I did back then.)
So of course I knew what to say next.
“You’re so goddamn obnoxious, I’m gonna fucking kill you!”
I stabbed the knife into his flabby belly and twisted it in. Piercing into the skin and twisting it to get the internal organs in there. His shrieks and his screams rang out through the living room. I raised the kitchen knife again and again, until it finally fell from my hand.
When I’d lifted my head, I saw my reflection in the windowpane.
I was smirking.
I finally understood.
(I’ve always wanted to do this.)
How could I have not understood such a simple thing?
I picked up the beer bottle that had been tossed away and emptied, and slammed it on him, again and again. A grating noise emerged from the back of his throat.
I found myself breaking down in laughter, and snapped out of it.
The TV had been left on, and was now showing a comedy program. The baseball program had ended while I hadn’t been paying attention.
I slowly picked myself up from where I’d been sitting.
“…What’s going on?”
I’d muttered this without thinking about it.
There should have been a pile of flesh that I’d stabbed and chopped up in front of me. And yet…
“The hell is this?”
Lying at my feet was a black lump of something that I couldn’t clearly make out.
(He wasn’t human.)
Indeed — it was like a polygon model. When I squinted at it, it flickered and stuttered sluggishly.
I thought I’d really done it. And yet…
—”I can grant any kind of wish you have.”
Just like that, the alluring whisper of the Devil came right back.
(This isn’t a dream.)
I was in Mobius.
02: Mobius (Marie Mizuguchi)
The air outside cleared up, and cherry blossom buds began to open around the neighborhood.
(It’s almost time for the entrance ceremony, huh.)
School life never ended in Mobius anyway, so there wasn’t any point in graduating or enrolling. μ had created a gentle world where you could delay the need to grow up forever.
The alarm bell rang out like a cuckoo clock. It was time.
(What a pain.)
I sighed, closed the room window, and turned on my computer.
“You’re late, Wicked.”
The moment I’d opened up the video conference software, I was immediately hit with a scolding.
“Don’t order me around, Thorn.”
Even if it was sunny outside, the mood here was annoying and tedious.
“You guys could just start without me, you know. We have these meetings all the time, and you’re the one who does everything from beginning to end anyway.”
But Thorn, who didn’t seem to care about what I was saying at all, continued scolding me.
“Please be a bit more conscientious of your position as an Ostinato Musician.”
What a joke, I hissed, as I leaned against the chair and threw my legs on the desk. I’d blocked off my camera feed beforehand, so I could physically do whatever I wanted without worrying about getting lectured about it.
“Bleh. It’s always about us Musicians, Musicians, stop calling us that like we’re some kind of children’s play yard club.”
“Musicians” meant music providers — Doll-Ps — whom μ had emotionally connected with and gathered at Mobius.
(Or in other words, what happens when you gather up a pile of trash.)
So far, including myself, there were eight of us.
We all came to hate or were turned off by reality, were drawn in by μ, and came to Mobius without resisting her invitation. We’d dreamed of this endless, temperate paradise.
We were all unfit for society to some degree. And yet, here we were, asking to have some sense of unity or to be conscientious or something.
“Whatever, let’s just go ahead and start already,” complained Ike-P from the corner of the screen. Sweet-P nodded, saying “yes, please” in a cutesy anime character-like voice.
“Look, I don’t have time to be wasting here, I’m busy.”
“Oh, you’re busy?” said Mirei, who’d kept quiet up until that point. She laughed coldly. “How busy you are, relaxing and eating and sleeping all day. Truly on a level unfathomable to me.”
“Hmph! What’re you on about? Rich of you to say that when you’re the one who lies around telling everyone else to do things for you.”
“I told you, it’s called ‘outsourcing’. It doesn’t particularly matter who’s the one who does all the chores, so there’s no need for me to go out of my way to do them.”
“The hell’s with you saying all those kinds of complicated things?! I don’t get it!”
“Oh, looks like I said something too deep for your empty head. Sorry!”
“Hey, hey, let’s put a lid on it there. Scary faces like those aren’t good for such pretty ladies,” said Ike-P, who’d broken into the conversation without reading the room at all. His attempt to mediate only set the others on edge, and the atmosphere suddenly got even more tense.
“Gaaaah, that’s gross!”
“I really don’t understand why men like this keep attracting so many women. Are there truly so many idiot women like that everywhere?”
“Hoho! You guys don’t have to be so shy, you know!”
“You…really don’t get it, I’m insulting you right now, so take a hint, please,” said Mirei with a sigh.
“You fools, keep it down,” muttered Shadow Knife, quietly…before following it up with “Refrain from such frivolous conversation. Do not forget our noble mission to execute traitors who infest and run rampant in Mobius.”
“Right, says the edgelord!”
There was no sign of this stupid conversation ever coming to an end.
(Everyone here really is a worthless good-for-nothing.)
Sweet-P, buttering everything up with sweet fairy tales to sickening degrees; Mirei, with her intolerably pretentious and condescending attitude; Ike-P, the downright narcissist; Shadow Knife, the tryhard edgelord.
Their appearances were exactly what their songs would suggest, and everything was exactly as you’d expect.
But the one I really didn’t understand was Thorn.
“The graduation ceremony was completed successfully, and the entrance ceremony will be next week.”
As Thorn spoke calmly, I stared straight at her.
Her face was so lacking in expression that I couldn’t figure out her intentions at all. This woman was acting like the leader of the Musicians, but why was she so devoted to Mobius?
(This kind of person is the most suspicious kind. As long as I don’t know anything about the cards in her hand, I can’t reveal my true identity to her.)
Fortunately, μ, the one who invited me to Mobius, was the only one who knew what I looked like.
The more things I had as a secret, the better. If disaster ever struck, I’d have more options at my disposal.
“Kagi-P will speak as the representative for the new students, just as he did for the graduating ones. Please do a good job of it.”
“Thank you, it’s an honor.”
The one who responded by kissing up to Thorn was our newcomer Musician.
(This guy here is the type to enjoy the spotlight, and yet he has no sense of independence at all.)
He spoke moderately, hiding his face from the view of the camera. But the atmosphere of his charm was thick as he pretended to be an innocent model student. The cherry on top was his song lyrics, which had things like “I don’t want to grow up” or “I’m right here” or “nobody understands me” or other things that were all about begging for attention.
(This brat has absolutely nothing suspicious about him.)
That said, he was still more cautious than the four others who were completely fine with exposing themselves and saying what they thought, and I could understand his actions of cautiously kissing up to Thorn more than I could Shonen-Doll, who hadn’t been saying a single thing for a while other than a creepy “heehee”.
“We are bringing in even more new students. All of us must focus even harder on writing songs,” said Thorn, continuing on in her detached tone. “We need to acquire more Digiheads than ever before, and help μ become more powerful than ever before.”
Mobius was maintained by negative energy produced from the hearts of fanatics of μ’s songs, who hate reality. The more people who empathized with μ’s songs, the more powerful she became.
And on top of that, the values associated with each song were directly tied to the powers of each Musician.
(I have to compete with these losers? With music? Dumb.)
Generally speaking, Musicians use their songs as a form of self-assertion and self-affirmation. They’re doing it to show off their abilities, so they make them as outlandish as possible and brandish it like a proclamation.
But for me, my music was my calling card for my own criminal actions.
(Such a shame I have to be lumped in with this trash.)
I didn’t need to be super-popular. I just needed to work on making more and more songs. My music had a sort of appeal to negativity, which would gradually infect and slowly erode the hearts of anyone who listened to it. Those who became fixated on it would gladly go along with it even if I let them do whatever they wanted.
“Teehee. Leave it to me. I’ll look for any cute new students who catch my eye and invite them to a dreamy-cute tea party!”
“I haven’t offered a resort package in a while, maybe I should do that? We could also have a dinner show by the pool.”
“No need to try so hard. All the girls will be all over me anyway.”
As the Musicians were chatting themselves up, Thorn continued.
“We intend to be more proactive in having μ do more live performances from here on out. μ has great expectations of all of you,” said Thorn with her usual lukewarm voice.
The screen went dark, and the meeting ended.
I let out a single yawn and pressed my weight on the chair. I closed my eyes and started musing in my head.
The seasons changing without incident, daily life with no real disturbances, and the same familiar faces every day.
(New students will be coming this semester.)
Laughter involuntarily escaped my mouth.
(What kinds of human relationships shall I blow to bits next?)
It wasn’t a wish that I wanted μ to grant for me. It wouldn’t work unless I was the one to do it myself.
(Should I try isolating some poor little model student from others?…Nah, probably not.)
It’s good as a warm-up, but it doesn’t quite hit the spot.
(I wanna have a little more fun.)
Even if we’re in some kind of utopia, as long as people are in it, you can’t get rid of strife and conflict. Wherever there’s joy, there’s always going to be some kind of despair beneath it.
(It’s great, isn’t it?)
Just thinking about it made me shiver in anticipation.
“Marie-chan, food’s ready.”
I could hear a voice from the other side of the door.
I chuckled to myself, stood up, and hummed a merry tune to myself as I opened the door.
Our so-called in-name-only “spring break” ended in the blink of an eye, and we reached the day of the entrance ceremony.
(Now, where should we start…)
Homeroom period ended, and I took a look around the classroom, where I saw her, fixated intently on using her smartphone and not realizing that I’d caught sight of her.
She ate gossip for dinner and had a fair amount of reach, ranging from subtle changes in Mobius to even the silliest of things.
(She’s a surprising force to be reckoned with.)
Even though Mobius was a rather small world that was nowhere as huge as reality, it took a lot of effort to be able to grasp the entirety of it.
(Information gathering like this can’t be handled on an individual level.)
Staying only at the highest, shallowest level and letting others handle it would be what Mirei called “outsourcing”.
Besides, Naruko was a fairly excellent source of information, and also easy to exploit because she’d bite immediately if you showed even the slightest hint of having some juicy gossip for her. I’d already managed to break several relationships based on her information.
(She herself has no idea she’s responsible for any of it, though.)
No reason to not keep her as a close contact.
Hearing me call out to her, Naruko looked up.
“Oh…it’s you, Mizuguchi-san. What’s up?”
She responded to me casually, making no effort to hide the fact that she was more interested in whatever was on her smartphone. But the moment she heard what I had to say next, her eyes suddenly widened with glee.
“Did you hear the rumors about the current students’ representative today?”
“Huh? I haven’t heard anything at all. No way, Mizuguchi-san, do you know something? What kind of person is he?”
She reacted just as I’d expected. Satisfied with this, I continued, casually.
“He’s very good-looking and seems to be very cool. Someone said they saw him hanging out in the staff room.”
“Seriously!? Whooooa…I can’t believe I’m only hearing about this now!”
Naruko let out a full-on groan, and leaned forward.
“Hey, hey, anything else? Have you heard anything else?”
“Sorry. This is all I know.”
“Really? Oh well…I’ll have to write about it on Gossiper.”
As she said this, she looked back down at her smartphone.
“Thanks, Mizuguchi-san. It really helps to get these kinds of tips!”
“No, no, I just happened to come upon it by chance. I’m normally not really paying attention to others around me…You’re the one who’s impressive for doing things like this.”
“Huh? N-Nah, you’re flattering me too much!”
If I went out of my way to stroke her ego like this, I wouldn’t have to poke into this and that, and she’d give up information without extra prompting.
“But, you know…lately, there hasn’t been anything that’s super newsworthy. I’m kind of in a rut these days…”
As Naruko muttered this, I was about to reply with a “yeah…” but swallowed it immediately.
(She still doesn’t realize she’s in Mobius…)
Most students weren’t aware that they’re trapped in Mobius. Naruko was no different. Because of that, she had no concern about the entrance and graduation ceremonies that were in name only, nor that she didn’t know what the second-year student representing the current students — someone who should be in the same class as her — even look like.
(But sometimes, she’s strangely sharp.)
Someday, the day might come when Naruko would realize that Mobius wasn’t real.
(I have to keep observing her carefully.)
Such incidents would sometimes happen. Despite having been invited personally by μ, some idiot would return to their senses and start yelling “send me back to reality!”
Humans are very prone to peer pressure. Just like an apple; one bad apple would spoil the entire bunch.
Mobius was created out of feelings of devotion towards μ. If left unchecked, this kind of behavior could lead to its collapse.
(You can’t just casually say you’ll return to reality like it’s nothing.)
We absolutely could not allow Mobius to be destroyed.
I had to keep an eye out for dangerous factors and eliminate them immediately if the time called for it. No need for Thorn to order me to do so.
“Oh, that’s right!” said Naruko, suddenly piping up. “There’s one thing that’s popping up right now. Mizuguchi-san, have you heard any rumors about the Go-Home Club?”
“Go-Home Club…I don’t think so?”
“They’re something like some mysterious organization that acts behind the shadows within the school. I only heard about it from a post on one of my livestreams, though.”
Naruko was running a livestream show on the Internet. She’d accumulated a large number of viewers by broadcasting information about happenings within the school and allowing people to send things in anytime.
“What kinds of things does this club do?”
“I don’t know anything in detail, but it’s exciting, isn’t it? The whole idea of a secret club is so cool!”
As usual with Naruko, she was too simple-minded to come up with any convincing motives.
“Maybe they destroy the evils lurking within the school! Or at least, wouldn’t that be cool? Then my show will get super popular and I’ll get so many more views!”
Naruko was on a roll, saying things that would be extremely disturbing to anyone else.
(But…this might actually be something important.)
I had no particular reason to think so. But even though it was easy to dismiss this kind of thing as nonsense, in my experience, Naruko’s intuition was too sharp for that.
Well, that was the same for my own intuition, too.
“That’s somewhat concerning.”
“Huh, really? Kinda rare for you to say that kind of thing.”
“Yeah. I didn’t think you’d be interested in rumors and such.”
“Well, I’m not that familiar with rumors very much…but I enjoy listening to you telling me about all sorts of things like this, Morita-san.”
“Really? You think it’s fun?”
Naruko gently nodded, and suddenly broke out into a smile so huge it was a little shocking.
“Ahaha…now I’m a bit embarrassed. Nobody’s ever said that kind of thing to my face before.”
I had to catch myself from bursting into laughter.
(Whoa. Maybe Naruko was some kinda loner freak in reality.)
I managed to hold back the laughter, put on the sweetest and most gentle smile I could, and said, “And, after all, it’s happening at a school I’m attending. So if something is going on, it concerns me.”
“Ah…yeah, Well, yeah…”
“I do hope something frightening isn’t happening…”
“Oh, you don’t have to worry about that kinda stuff. I mean, they’re calling themselves the ‘Go-Home Club’, right? Sure, they’re shady, but if they really were some kind of evil organization, they’d have a scarier name!2
“If I hear anything, I’ll come straight to you and tell you about it.”
“Got it, thanks!”
I was patting myself on the back for how well I’d snagged her hook, line, and sinker on such a refreshingly stupid pretense, and accompanied her side by side to the gym.
And there, I received my answer immediately.
My exact hunch had come to pass.
“What on earth is going on?! Calm down!”
The high-pitched voice of the vice principal was countered by a ruckus from the students.
“Oh, what’s going on?”
Brimming with curiosity, Naruko, who was next to me, was hopping up and down.
“Ugh! Times like this, I really hate being short!”
Ignoring the voice of the vice principal telling him to come back, a single person was fleeing the gym.
The representative for current students, a second-year — the handsome-looking one from the rumors — had suddenly jumped off the stage and vanished during the middle of the ceremony.
I quickly took a look around. Most people were vacantly tilting their heads, but some of them were staring in the direction of the student who had run out.
And, on the stage, there was a student with a smile on his face.
Class representative for the new students, first-year student, Kensuke Hibiki.
(Kensuke…oh, so that’s Kagi-P?)
At the time, I hadn’t been paying close attention, but they did say at the meeting that “Kagi-P will be in charge of the speech.”
(Ah, so he intentionally “exposed” himself while he was on stage.)
The grotesque appearance of one in Mobius.
Mobius was strongly influenced by μ’s songs, and when one of its melodies shakes up someone’s inner self, the emotions they’d been accumulating like mud in their stomachs break through the skin and harden, turning them into something strange — a Digihead.
In Mobius, where reality is inverted, the monster slumbering inside the pits of the stomach revealed its true form.
(But Digiheads are invisible to any student who has forgotten about reality. Even Digiheads themselves don’t realize that they’re Digiheads.)
In other words, only those who already realize that Mobius isn’t real would be able to see Digiheads as a threat.
And since we Musicians can control our own appearance in Mobius, Kagi-P probably deliberately exposed his appearance as a Digihead on stage, for the purpose of drawing out dangerous elements that would notice his unusual appearance.
(Pretty bold of him.)
Or perhaps he did it on Thorn’s advice? Either way, it didn’t matter.
“Something wrong? You look like you’re feeling sick or something.”
Naruko was tilting her head curiously, so I responded to let her know I was listening.
(We have enemies.)
There are people who are starting to pull Mobius apart by the seams.
(Better hurry up and bring them down.)
My spine had chills from the sheer delight of it all.
03: The Interval Space of Darkness (Go-Home Club President and μ)
I could feel the inside of my body — despite the fact I didn’t even have a body — quivering to the point I snapped back to where I was in the darkness.
μ was crouching, her breaths heavy.
“I’m fine. I’m just a little tired.”
Her weak attempt to laugh it off wasn’t helping things. I at least wanted to pat her back or something while she was in so much pain, so I was frustrated at how I couldn’t do anything for her.
“I’m sorry. I’m not strong enough to keep synchronizing with the past for so long…But having you watching over me…it kind of makes me feel a little better.”
Well, thinking back on it, μ’s powers are sustained by the feelings of support she gets from others.
μ’s devotees — Digiheads — had lost control of themselves thanks to the power of her songs, but those feelings should have still been pure.
“Thank you for having faith in my songs.”
It’s not like I could doubt their power even if I wanted to.
“I want to escape the pain of reality” — μ and Mobius accepted us with kindness. Everyone who was trapped in Mobius, myself, everyone in the Go-Home Club, and all of the other students, all of us were attracted to and found solace in μ’s singing voice.
And it’s exactly because we were healed by that warmth that we gained the determination to face reality again.
“But, still…I can’t believe Wicked had those kinds of things in her past.”
μ’s voice was getting progressively more somber.
“I was the one singing on Wicked’s behalf, so I should have been the one who was closest to her heart. I guess I didn’t really think about the real meaning of the way she used the word ‘pain’. I’m a poor excuse for an idol.”
I tried to shake my head in response, but remembered that I couldn’t do that.
Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t move. But I could understand her pain so well that it made me upset.
Still, it wasn’t easy to say that μ had come to understand her — Marie’s — heart.
“Hey…what should I do? Should I stop here?”
μ was looking around nervously.
“I want to understand Wicked better. I still feel that way, but…I’m kind of starting to wonder whether we really should be peeping into her life like this.”
I understood what μ meant. After personally witnessing such horrible violence, how were we supposed to react to that? In all honesty, it was hard to even find words to describe it.
But all of us had that mud in the pits of our stomachs. Anyone in that world could become a Digihead. Our mistake was trying to find a simple, easy-to-understand reason for it all in the first place, wasn’t it?
“Yes, that’s right…after all, I created Mobius because I wanted to help those lost souls who were suffering from the pain of reality.”
Having said that, μ gave a firm nod.
“I was the one who decided to take a look, so I’m going to see this through. I have to keep pushing on forward.”
μ’s determination solidified my own determination.
I want to get as close to the bottom of this as I can, to the point where even I’m convinced, and return to reality.
“Yeah! Let’s do that.”
μ finally smiled again.
“Now that I think about it, this is really amazing, isn’t it? We so close and yet so far from each other that whole time, and we’re finally working together for real.”
Well, that was certainly true. There’d never been a time when we could speak so calmly with each other, understanding each other’s feelings so well, like this.
Given how devoted she was to all of it, it was only natural that so many people, including myself, had been so drawn to her.
But that devotion to her cause was exactly what made her suffer from feeling the contradictions within humanity. She’d willingly brought it onto herself, but the pain and suffering she’d taken on was unimaginable.
“Also, that moment we saw earlier…that really brought me back! It was right after that, right? That’s when you and I met in Mobius for the first time.”
We did. And then, after that, the members of the Go-Home Club reached out to me.
“I just happened to remember what I was thinking back then. You know…”
μ seemed a little embarrassed, and then whispered quietly in my ear.
“You know, back then, you seemed so uneasy about it all, and I couldn’t just leave you alone like that…I was thinking, I really wanted to talk with you more.”
I remembered thinking I should say something, but not being able to say anything.
It was just like the way I was now, without a body. It was truly shocking how inconvenient it was to be in this situation.
- Japanese schools have students take their shoes off at the entrance, so a common way to bully a victim is to steal their shoes so that they can’t go home with them.
- “Go-Home Club” (“kitakubu“, 帰宅部) is a common slang term referring to people who don’t join any clubs and go straight home (or to a job or prep school) after school. Because Japanese schools have a high emphasis on club activities as a part of school life, the term is usually used in a mocking or self-deprecative manner.