01: From Memories in Apparent Dreams to Mobius (Marie Mizuguchi)
…she said, through her tears.
This must have been during my fourth grade or so.
A cute little girl with long hair she’d let down. A smart model student who always had a smile on her face. She was surrounded by rumors that her parents had high company positions, but she didn’t act like she had any kind of ego at all. The adults all liked her, and of course, our classmates did too.
“You’re one of my best friends. But then you do this!”
As she was yelling, the thought “hm, right, next time, I should act like this instead” crossed my mind.
“You’re lying. I’m not a thief.”
“So then why was the lost money in your bag?”
I knew it was a long shot, but I responded anyway. As soon as I did, she started bawling, huge tears coming out one after another from wide eyes. Ah, okay. Maybe I should have been the one to cry first —
“I don’t know! I wouldn’t do that kind of thing!”
As she screamed, the girls in our class started surrounding her and making a fuss.
“Yeah, Marie-chan’s the one who’s lying! She was the only one late to our PE class. I bet that was when she snuck it into her bag.”
“Teacher! I can confirm! Marie-chan was always saying a lot of bad things about her. She said her parents were rich because they were doing bad things.”
“She did! I heard her say that too!”
“And that one time she lost her shoes…I saw Marie-chan sneaking them out of the shoe cupboard1.”
At the time, I was still young and foolish. There wouldn’t have been enough motivation for her to steal someone else’s money. On top of that, she had too many people with too much trust in her. I should’ve targeted someone with fewer friends, some poor idiot more prone to groveling around.
But I couldn’t resist.
Among everyone in my class, she was the one who’d pissed me off the most.
“I trusted you, and yet!”
I’d failed at cornering the target I’d hated so much, but seeing her bawling so much still made me feel better.
“Ahahaha! You were fooled! Serves you right, you ugly rat!”
I laughed and laughed, and she cried so many tears you could put out a fire with them, making the fuss get even worse.
“Mizuguchi-san, please come with me to the staff room. We’ll need to call your family about this,” declared my homeroom teacher, lifting her gaze.
(Well, I guess that’s that, then?)
I’d had enough. They called over my grandma, who cried and apologized, and when we got home, my grandpa beat me up. Same as every other time I’d messed up.
But, well, whatever.
(I’ll do it right next time.)
Having dozed off while working, little miss Marie lifted her head and found that her window had already gone completely white with light.
(It’s already morning…)
I’d felt like I’d had some kind of dream, but now that I was awake, I’d already completely forgotten about it.
I blinked her bleary eyes a few times, and took a short breath.
(Time to head to school.)
Dragging and dropping the file for the new song I’d just finished into the server, I headed to the bathroom and changed out of my clothes without waiting for the upload to complete. After taking a light shower, I changed into her uniform.
A freshly laundered white shirt and a neatly tied necktie. A brushed-down blazer, a pressed-down knee-length pleated skirt, and black stockings. Carefully blow-dried hair in a loosely knit braid, tied up with a ribbon.
Being neat and proper makes it easy to come off as a model student.
For whatever reason, appearance makes up more than 80% of human judgment. It’s hard to overcome first impressions established by how you look during your initial meeting. On the contrary, maintaining your appearance makes it easy to manipulate how others judge you.
(But it really is kind of a pain.)
Going to school was helpful for getting a general outlook of what was going on in Mobius, but it sometimes really did feel annoying to have to go to school.
Why was this a school in the first place?
Any human brought to Mobius had the common trait of “being entranced by μ’s song”. This wasn’t limited to just teenagers. There should be a pretty high percentage of working adults.
But, without exceptions, all who came to Mobius appeared as students, and regardless of whether they actually did attend, there would still be a spot open for them at the school.
What was with the attachment to school, and especially high school? When I’d asked μ, she’d answered “because high school is the best time of a human’s life, isn’t it? You get to enjoy your youth!” like a total airhead.
(That’s such a dumb thing to think.)
If you were the kind of person who really thought your youth at high school was oh-so-brilliant, you wouldn’t be in Mobius to begin with.
(Well, there are people who get up there in age but are still obsessed with school-themed games and anime and can’t move on with their lives, so I bet it’s real nice for those folks.)
With my bag in hand, I headed out from the house. I heard that voice that pissed me off so much going “have a fun day at school, Marie-chan!”
(I’m gonna have to kill them again later.)
I’d gotten sick of the whole repertoire of slaughtering them. It kind of felt like I’d been in a bit of a rut.
Now that I was fully aware of Mobius’s existence, I couldn’t see μ’s artificial humans as anything but fakes. Killing something like this no longer gave me any more catharsis.
But simply having something in front of me that reminded me of those “parents” made my insides squirm.
(Well, it’s okay to acknowledge the reason they’re here for a bit.)
Even having this kind of filth around added to my creative motivation.
A while had passed since the entrance ceremony, and while there were some students who hadn’t bothered to show up since, a good number of them still came to school in the morning.
“I messed this up in reality, so I want to do a proper job of it this time” — I suppose a lot of them weren’t able to give up on this idea, so the ones who were willing to come to school were easy to control.
Naruko happened to be one of them as well.
“Good morning, Morita-san. You’re early today.”
“Heh heh, I’ve been doing a bit of research.”
“You mean, into the Go-Home Club?”
I’d tried to snag her with the question, but Naruko reacted with a bit of shock on her face and stepped back.
“Huh? Mizuguchi-san, did you…did you hear the broadcast about exposing the Go-Home Club?”
“Yes. Everyone was making a huge fuss about it. They were saying it was you with the scoop.”
“W-Well, yeah. Ahaha…”
Calling it a scoop, Naruko had leaked information about the Go-Home Club to the Gossiper social media network. Kagi-P, otherwise known as Kensuke Hibiki, had apparently gotten taken in by said information and tried to get a hit on them, but had been beaten at his own game and ultimately ended up switching sides to join them.
(What an idiot.)
But, thanks to that, it was now apparent that Naruko had managed to get in contact with the actual Go-Home Club.
(If I keep an eye on this girl, I can see how things are going with the Go-Home Club.)
At first, I’d thought they had to be eliminated as quickly as possible, but I’d changed my mind.
(I’ll personally dismantle their little heroic playtime.)
Trust. Solidarity. Friendship.
—You’re one of my best friends. But…
Even just imagining it got me excited.
(I found something fun to play with.)
I had to handle this with care.
(I’ll do it right this time.)
The trick was to not rush it. As long as I watched closely, I’d get my chance.
“By the way, Mizuguchi-san…”
Naruko was trying to whisper something to me.
“Mizuguchi-san, you can keep a secret, right?”
“Yeah. Mizuguchi-san, please help me! I want to see what’s actually going on with the Go-Home Club. Please!”
Saying this, Naruko put her hands together, as if she were praying to me.
(There’s always an idiot everywhere, it seems.)
I had to choke back the laughter into the back of my throat.
“Excuse me! Is Morita-senpai here?”
It was around noon when two first-year students peeked into the room.
“Oh, look who’s here! It’s Mifue-chan and Suzuna-chan!…Huh? Where’s Kotono-senpai?”
“The third-year classroom is closer, so she’s holding down our spots!”
“Oh, got it.”
Their faces were familiar.
I’d met them in the school corridor right before Kagi-P had betrayed us.
Mifue Shinohara and Suzuna Kagura. There were also three boys — Shogo Satake, Kotaro Tomoe, and the boy from the next class — the one who’d served as the representative for current students, the wretched boy who’d noticed the world wasn’t real because Kagi-P had toyed with him a little.
The Go-Home Club had six members. With the addition of Kagi-P, they now had seven.
(Well, anyway, how dare they snatch up a Musician as their insider and start sneaking around together like this.)
The Go-Home Club — or, in other words, a group of pathetic trash that remembered reality from where they were in Mobius.
Right now, they seemed pretty harmless, but it’d be dangerous to let them be. There was still the possibility of even more students noticing the cracks in Mobius and wanting to return to reality. Even just the act of dragging a small fry Musician to their side meant that they understood all of the details, so it wouldn’t be that hard for them to make it happen.
(But I have to tread cautiously.)
If I were to expose them around Thorn, she might forcibly drag them out and re-brainwash them.
(And do I really want that to happen?)
I’d gotten such a fun toy to play with after all this time. If I had to hand them over, I at least wanted to watch their friendship get torn to shreds first.
Plus, it felt nice to know something that Thorn didn’t quite yet.
(But, still, having to sit through lunch with them just for information gathering is obnoxious.)
Naruko had given me a breakdown of the members of the Go-Home Club and asked me for her help in information gathering.
“I wanna know what exactly they’re trying to do in this school! It obviously can’t just be normal club activities. Whenever I ask, they won’t gimme any specifics.”
“I don’t particularly think I would be of any help in your investigation, though.”
“No need to worry so much about it! You just need to come along with me and stick by.”
“Huh, is that all you need? But what help would it be to simply just stand there next to you?”
As I leaned my head curiously, Naruko continued, a little embarrassed.
“Well, look, see, I leaked stuff about them to Gossiper, right? So now they’re extra-cautious around me…I don’t think they’ll answer anything if I ask…”
She’d completely deserved that, of course.
“So if you’re with me, see…it’ll just be like friends talking to each other, and I think they’ll all loosen up a bit. Please!”
If Naruko found herself cut off from the Go-Home Club, it’d get harder to gather information about them, but I’d look suspicious if I responded too enthusiastically.
Once she’d tried to kiss up to me a few times, I finally nodded.
“I see. So it’ll be fine as long as I stay by you and speak normally with them. I think I can do that much…”
But despite my friendly-looking acceptance of her request, I felt a heavy weight inside me.
(Ugh…And I haven’t had much sleep, either. What a pain.)
Still, it wasn’t a bad thing to be able to share a secret with Naruko.
Being Naruko’s confidant for her secrets created intimacy and trust between us. Of course, knowing the same thing shouldn’t guarantee that the other person was trustworthy. It’s just an illusion you keep up to pat yourself on the back with, but playing your hand carefully can get very strong results.
“Okay, let’s go! I’m real hungry.”
“But are you sure it’s all right to have me?…Um, I don’t want to bother everyone.”
“You won’t be a bother! Right, guys?”
Mifue was looking at us from the entrance of the classroom, nodding as Naruko called to her.
“We’re just having lunch. Please come with us if you’re okay with it, Mizuguchi-senpai!”
Suzuna, who was next to her, also nodded. “Um…I think lunch tastes better when you eat it with more people.”
Naruko continued to pester me as she looked up in my direction.
(Way too transparent and desperate. What a moron.)
You’d think they’d be more suspicious of me, but the two first-year girls were smiling at me without even a single ounce of caution.
(They’re all morons.)
In spite of how disturbed I actually felt, I smiled gently back at them.
“Then, I’ll be happy to accompany you.”
I accompanied them outside the classroom, and we left the school building, still wearing our indoor slippers.
When I emerged into the courtyard, I saw Kotono Kashiwaba sitting by a bench, waving at us.
“Sorry to keep you waiting!”
“You really did take your sweet time!” said Kotono, laughing gracefully.
(What a bitch.)
A solid, put-together person with a strong sense of femininity. The kind of person I despise the most, the kind who makes me sick. First thing they always do is put on some kind of cute persona.
But I laughed back with her, not allowing a single one of these thoughts to escape.
“Hell. Um…should I call you ‘Kashiwaba-san’?”
“That’s fine. Please call me whatever you like, Marie-san.”
She’d suddenly skipped to my given name without bothering with the surname formalities.
“Oh, should I not do that? Did I make things awkward?” said Kotono, tilting her head a little at my surprise. I quickly shook my head in response.
“No…not at all. I was just a little surprised.”
“Oh, is that so? That’s good. ‘Marie’ is a very lovely name.”
“…Thank you very much. That’s the first time anyone’s told me that.”
“Your name means ‘jasmine flower'2, right? It’s the perfect kind of name for you.”
“Um, what kind of flower is jasmine?” asked Mifue. Kotono continued with a small smile on her face.
“A very lovely little white flower. In the language of flowers, it means ‘elegance’ and ‘amiability’…I imagine Marie-san’s parents probably wanted her to be a lovely lady like the jasmine flower.”
Kotono looked softly at me, and I let out a hesitant laugh.
(I feel like I’m gonna throw up.)
Both at this bitch, and at my parents.
“Man, how amazing it is to see two of the school’s most intelligent ladies next to each other!”
Naruko suddenly pointed her smartphone camera at us, making a huge show of it.
“Hold on, Naruko-san,” said Kotono, furrowing her eyebrows in annoyance. “You promised not to take our photos without our permission, didn’t you? You haven’t forgotten, have you?”
“Oh? Did I? Eh heh heh.”
“Well, whatever, let’s eat!” said Mifue, getting in between the argument. “I’m starving right now!”
“Indeed. Let’s continue our chat while eating.”
We all took our places at the bench and opened our lunchboxes on our laps.
“Ah, Kotono-senpai…your lunchbox is so cute,” said Suzuna, finally speaking up after having kept her silence with a smile this whole time.
“You think so? Thank you.”
“Can I take a photo of this?!”
“Yes, you can, as long as it’s only the lunchbox…oh, Mifue-chan, did you buy lunch directly from the school again?”
“I did! The school’s chocolate cornet3 is too good!”
A happy lunchtime where girls get along nicely with each other.
I really just wanted to take my lunchbox and chuck it all in their faces.
“Marie-chan, did you put together your own lunchbox?” said Kotono, still showing off her own very colorful and richly packed lunchbox. What a prim and proper way to try asserting her own dominance.
“No, my mother made it.”
The part I didn’t mention was that no matter how many times I killed her, the lunchbox would still be on the dining table every morning anyway.
“It looks very delicious.”
“But I don’t think it’s as nicely prepared as yours, Kashiwaba-san.”
Well, it’s brown and dirty-looking, so I chuck it in the trash every day —
“Then, why don’t we make our lunchboxes together next time?”
(Who the fuck would want that?)
…or so I thought, but I put out a surprised face instead.
“Is that all right with you?”
“Ah…that sounds nice,” said Suzuna, quietly piping up. Kotono laughed.
“Then, why don’t you also join us, Suzuna-chan?”
“Is it okay?”
I squinted at Suzuna, who seemed to be completely and utterly moved by this.
“I’d be really happy to…! I…I’d be happy to hang out with everyone.”
Suzuna, who normally seemed to be withdrawn and cautious, was clearly bubbling with excitement.
(Maybe she was the friendless type in reality?)
The thought of sitting in the kitchen getting all warm and fuzzy with friends made me sick.
“Huh! Well, if everyone else is doing it, I want in, too!”
Mifue, who’d gotten distracted by enjoying her pastry, raised her hand.
All these people all over the place, never able to do a thing unless someone else is doing it too. I seriously wanted to throw up.
“Ah…but then, I’m probably better at the eating part than the making.”
“Oh, Mifue-chan. Don’t say that kind of thing, we’ll make it together.”
“Yeah! Hey, why don’t we also make some for the boys, too?”
“Oh, I like that.”
“D-Do you think they’ll like it…?”
“Heh heh. Boys always like homemade cooking when girls make it for them.”
“Oh! By ‘the boys’, you mean like Shogo-senpai and Kotaro-senpai, right?”
Naruko had cut in without reading the friendly atmosphere at all.
“Hold it right there, Naruko-senpai. Please don’t go writing about this on Gossiper.”
“Nah, I’m telling you, I’m not gonna.”
“Are you sure?”
“Really! So? How’d you guys get to know each other?”
“Gah! Senpai, you’re getting too personal!”
“I’m just curious!” said Naruko, puffing up her cheeks.
“But, I mean. Kotaro-senpai’s the friendly type, but Shogo-senpai’s kinda hard to approach because he’s always got a real cold look on his face, y’know?”
“I don’t think Shogo’s all that scary. He does always have that kind of face, though.”
“I think…I think Shogo-senpai is a very nice person. He’s always taking care of us.”
“Ohoho, Suzuna-chan, could you perhaps be…”
“Ah…N-No! I, I don’t mean it in ‘that’ kind of way at all.”
As Naruko started speculating, Suzuna quickly shook her head.
(Naruko’s such a pain in the ass.)
Constantly trying to make everything into some kind of love story, making a big deal out of things that don’t actually mean anything. The kind of person who acts like everyone’s got their little special someone in the class.
(But I can’t say I mind how this is going.)
I was getting a proper understanding of every member’s relationship based on their temperaments. Who thinks what, and how they act. As long as I had a grasp of each person’s personality, I’d have no problem grinding all of their friendly little club activities into fine dust.
“I also think Shogo-senpai is a very nice person. He also isn’t very good at being affirmative, is he?”
“Right? He’s always a bit hesitant to take the final step at the end. So in that sense, it’s reassuring to have our rep help him out.”
“Ah! By ‘our rep’, you mean the boy from the class next door to ours?”
(They’re talking about him.)
The boy who was supposed to be giving a speech as the representative for current students at the entrance ceremony.
“He’s a second-year, but Shogo wanted him to take the lead really badly. And he’s got a really good head on his shoulders.”
“He’s always firm with his decisions and goes ‘we’re doing this!’ without hesitation, he’s always very reliable!”
“He’s always calm even when things go wrong…So when he’s around, it makes you calm down too. He reminds you to take a deep breath, and you feel better…”
“Huh, he seems pretty popular with you guys! So he’s actually the secret big shot?”
(…Don’t like that.)
He’d only just recently arrived in Mobius, and yet he’d done so little to already win everyone’s trust. The kind of person who didn’t come off as doing anything special in particular, yet managed to squirm into their pockets without them even realizing it.
“So he’s not just an ordinary hot guy. This just got real interesting! I’ll have to interview you guys about him sometime.”
Naruko really is a crude girl, but she has an excellent ability to catch onto a proper scoop.
(I may need to keep a closer eye on that boy than I’d thought.)
I’d seen him get caught up in Kagi-P’s cheap little trick and go running out of the gym, so at the time I’d thought he’d just been an unimportant small fry.
(But ever since he’d shown up, all sorts of serious things have started happening.)
That entrance ceremony had gotten the Go-Home Club to take action. Aria had shown up, and Kagi-P, originally one of the Ostinato Musicians, betrayed us for them, resulting in the club becoming stronger than ever.
(That kind of thing had never happened in Mobius before.)
He could easily be the key to the Go-Home Club’s plan of action.
“I don’t mind doing an interview, but please don’t go out of control with it, Naruko-san.”
“Of course! I’ll keep my promise with you, Kotono-senpai!”
“Man…Morita-senpai, are you sure you’re not gonna post it to Gossiper — “
“Ahaha…I’m serious, I said I wouldn’t do it anymore.”
It was a leisurely lunch chat where everyone was talking back and forth so much that everyone kept forgetting to keep eating. A farce of everyone pretending to be oh-so-good friends, with no real substance to it.
Still, I got very good results from this.
The girls may have been on and on about nothing but silly things, but they had some significance in light of where Mobius was at the moment.
The atmosphere within the Go-Home Club, and their mutual relationships. A person I’d need to pay closer attention to in the future. All of this would be important information for tearing their lovely little relationships to shreds.
(And yet they have no idea I’ve figured out this much.)
I laughed lightly and stood up.
“I think I’m done with my meal.”
“Oh, Mizuguchi-senpai? You haven’t finished all of it, are you okay?”
As Suzuna asked me this, I nodded.
“Yes. I think I’m full…I keep telling my mother that I can’t eat this much, but this keeps happening.”
“Ah, you’re the type who doesn’t need to eat much. It’s a waste, though. It looks really good!”
“Shinohara-san, would you like to have the rest?”
“Huh, are you sure?”
“Yes. I’m sure my mother would be pleased.”
I dealt with the leftover food by throwing it to the swine, and stood up from the bench.
I had a busy afternoon ahead of me. The song I’d uploaded to the server earlier was set to be broadcast throughout the school. After that, I had a meeting with the other Musicians to attend.
“I apologize. I have something I need to attend to right now, so I’ll need to excuse myself.”
“Huh? But don’t you need to take your lunchbox back?”
“You can give it back to me on another day, so please don’t worry about it. Then, until next time.”
I smiled and turned my back on them.
I headed straight to the school building, went into the bathroom, thrust my finger into my mouth, and threw up.
I clutched the toilet bowl, looking at the filth flowing around in it, and the thought crossed my mind.
If Mobius was supposed to have nothing but a person’s consciousness — their soul — in it, then what the hell had just come out of my mouth?
02: Mobius (Marie Mizuguchi)
The school held a cultural festival and a sports festival every year. It was optional for students in the same way class itself was. Despite that, a fairly large number of people tended to get hyped up about it.
(Hm? What’s going on there?)
It was Naruko. She was pacing around the hallway restlessly, holding some documents in her hand.
“Morita-san? Is something wrong?”
“Ah, it’s Mizuguchi-san!”
She rushed over in my direction, with a blatantly relieved look on her face.
“Where should I take these?”
“By ‘these’, you mean…an application to hold a program. Would you like me to submit them for you?”
“Huh, are you sure?”
“Yes, we’re holding a committee meeting after school today.”
“Oh, okay! Right, you’re a member of the school festival head committee. That’ll help me out so much, thanks!”
I took the printed papers from her. The program was summarized there with the name “Exclusive Scoop School Information Bureau!”
“An application for classroom use…so you’d like to use it purely for video screening, correct?”
“Yeah, I was thinking of doing an exhibition this year! I’m still figuring it out, but I was thinking of enlarging photos and putting them up…and also, showing people what kinds of tools I use for coverage and streaming.”
“It sounds very fun.”
“It’s a school event and all, so might as well. If I want a bigger audience, I have to make more promo videos!”
Naruko’s everyday chit-chat programs were no match for an Ostinato Musician’s music broadcast, but they still managed to get quite a considerable amount of views on a regular basis.
That said, I wasn’t sure if all of those views came from real humans.
“But every year, a ton of people wanna use the room for themselves, so it’s like a bloodbath competition out here…”
“Hopefully you’ll be able to make use of the classroom.”
“So then, what about you, Mizuguchi-san? Are you gonna do something?”
“My class will be holding a refreshments booth, so I plan to assist them there, but I have my hands full with work for the executive committee…”
“Oh, really? That’s too bad! If you were free, I was gonna ask you to be my screening assistant.”
“I would never be able to be a good enough assistant for you, Morita-san.”
“You totally could! You’re such a pretty lady! You’ve got tons of fans at this school, don’t you?”
I quickly shook my head, but in my head, I wanted to click my tongue in digsust.
(Your assistant? Don’t get carried away just because I helped you a bit here and there.)
The school festival was a busy time for the Musicians, too. The day of the festival meant a prime opportunity to play new songs and shake the school to its core, creating masses of Digiheads out of the students.
Each Musician’s power also increased proportionally to how many times their music was played. The ideal scenario was for μ to gain more power that way, but the even better one would be for there to be masses of Digiheads who could be swayed by my music.
(Well, no need to be so desperate about it right now.)
Sweet-P, the fairytale celebrity idol; Shonen-Doll, who did nothing but wallow in depression; Mirei, who made flashy songs without restraint; Ike-P, who made loud and meaningless songs; all of them had hardcore fans, but as far as total number of plays, they all amounted to the same kind of chump change.
At the moment, Thorn’s popularity outstripped us all.
(I’m gonna use this opportunity to break past Thorn for once. Her love songs are so damp and shallow…)
Sure, if she wants to admit that she’s got righteous anger, I’ll give her that, but you can’t convince me there’s any value in that kind of song.
(My songs — Wicked’s songs — should rightfully be at the top.)
Desire. Attachment. Shrewdness. The urge to destroy.
The ugly sludge inside every human being, scooped up from the bottom of their stomachs and exposed.
All they’d have to do is allow themselves to get taken away by the song, and they’d be certain to reach true pleasure.
(That is the true essence of humanity, after all.)
People would turn violent whenever they became Digiheads, and the reason was simple: μ’s singing voice released the instincts that they’d been suppressing.
Wicked’s music amplifies that last part, revealing people’s true natures.
“The Go-Home Club wanted to do something too,” said Naruko, snapping me out of it. “But I told them they shouldn’t do something to stand out so much. That’d kill the fun.”
“I see you’ve gotten very close with the Go-Home Club members.”
“Oh, right, I didn’t tell you yet, did I?” said Naruko. I tilted my head curiously at her. She laughed and added, lightly, “I actually joined the Go-Home Club recently.”
Seeing that I was surprised, Naruko had a sheepish look on her own face as she continued.
“I mean, we all ate together for lunch that one time, right? Weren’t you the one who said I should join the Go-Home Club? You said they seemed like the type to accept anyone who asked.”
I did say that. I’d figured that if Naruko joined the Go-Home Club, she’d start blabbering things about them.
“So I was waiting for a good time for it, but then finally this and that happened…which was a great chance for me to join!”
“So that’s what happened.”
“This and that” probably meant a fight against a Musician.
(Come to think of it, it did seem like something had fallen apart around Sweet-P and Shonen-Doll…Were they attacked by the Go-Home Club?)
I’d never had much contact with the other Musicians, and I didn’t have any interest in them in the first place. Frankly, I felt it’d be better for me if my rivals could all be taken out and crushed for me, so I’d have fewer to worry about.
(But then there’s Thorn…she told everyone to get in touch with her if something goes wrong. Can’t rely on that.)
All of us had been doing our own prep for the school festival over the last few days, so our regular meetings were on hold for the time being.
“You helped me out so much with all the Go-Home Club stuff, I’m really sorry I hadn’t told you!”
“No, no…it’s quite all right. Please don’t worry about it.”
I gave a shaky laugh and continued.
“But, why…? Did something happen? You said you were going to expose their secrets, right?”
“Well…I was, but things happened and it’s a bit hard to explain.”
“Ah, I see. That’s all right. I apologize for prying in too much.”
“It’s not that I don’t wanna talk about it, but…you’re probably not gonna believe me because of how crazy it sounds.”
Going by this, it seems like she’d “graduated”.
If I didn’t manage my reaction properly, I’d give myself away.
(But that means she’s gotten that close to the Go-Home Club.)
That meant there was more than enough good reason to keep her around. I put my thoughts back together and continued.
“Honestly, please don’t worry too much about it. I don’t understand the details, but…as always, I’d like to help you if there’s anything I can do. Please feel free to tell me anything.”
“Thank you so much, Mizuguchi-san…!”
Naruko thanked me with a strangely bright smile on my face.
“On the flip side, if you hear about anything I might find useful, let me know! I mean, I look like I know a lot, but I only know about data and facts. So feel free to tell me anything you got, okay?”
“I will. Thank you very much.”
“Also…um, I wanted to ask about honorifics.”
“We’re classmates so…we don’t have to use honorifics with each other, right? So you can just call me ‘Naruko’.”
(The fuck is this? That’s hilarious.)
She was disgustingly blunt, had no sense of tact at all, and was constantly staring at her smartphone in her hand, and yet she’s the one going “we’re classmates”.
(So she’s saying we should be all buddy-buddy now? Hah!)
I was thinking about how to reply when Naruko nervously looked up at me.
“Ah…Um. Maybe that’s overdoing it all of a sudden?”
Naruko laughed modestly in a way that was very unusual for her, trying to read my expression.
“No, not at all. It’s just that…”
I took a single breath and looked, gently, back at Naruko, reading her own face.
“Jumping straight to calling you ‘Naruko-chan’…is a bit embarrassing.”
A good way to calm someone down is simply to act the same way they do.
It’s a sign of “empathy”, that you’re just as happy or anxious as they are.
“A-Ah, right, yeah. Ahaha…” said Naruko, shyly, laughing in embarrassment.
It’s a good step. Push it a little further and act like we’re friends now.
(I’m going to use this moron as a foothold to crush the Go-Home Club with.)
But I had to do this all in moderation, so I continued.
“But I’ll try to take it little by little. We’re friends, so it shouldn’t be strange for us to call each other directly by name.”
Naruko’s eyes shined at the word “friends”.
She’d probably wanted to actually say “friends” instead of just “classmates”.
(But she probably didn’t want to say it like that in case I turned her down, right? Was she scared?)
What a joke.
“Friends…So we’re friends…”
Naruko’s mouth was hanging as she spat out words.
Trying to suppress a nasty grin coming out of my face, I opened my mouth, and then…
The classroom door opened.
I recognized the face of the boy standing at the entrance.
“Ah? Um, what’s up? Do you need something with our class?” said Naruko, speaking up in a cheerful voice.
There was no doubt about it. It was the boy who’d served as the representative for current students.
(And now, he’s a member of the Go-Home Club.)
Completely unaware of how wary I’d gotten, Naruko continued with her shrill, high-pitched voice.
“Ah, does your class have something they want to show off? Yeah, that’s cool! If you want, I’ll show it on the live show at the festival! Wanna talk about it?”
A desperate voice reeking of kiss-up.
(The fuck is this.)
“Ah, there you are, Senpai.”
Another familiar face popped into the doorway.
Kagi-P — An Ostinato Musician who’d turned traitor and joined the Go-Home Club. Thinking back on it, he was the one responsible for enabling the Go-Home Club.
(Because he had to get carried away at the entrance ceremony.)
The Go-Home Club had been hiding in the shadows and sneaking around before then, but now they had a “Club President” and were gaining momentum, hoping to defeat the Ostinato Musicians and making serious plans to leave Mobius.
“Senpai, I’ve been looking for you. I believe I asked you to spare me some time after school, yes?”
“Oh, Kensuke-kun. You two are really getting along now, huh?”
“We are. We’ve decided to put the past behind us,” he said nonchalantly, shrugging his shoulders.
As usual, things were going well for them.
“Besides, I’ve become Senpai’s responsibility. Right now, I’m here because of him. Or, in other words, he’s the one leading me towards a new path in life.”
“Whoaaaa, you’re so passionate about him!…Hey, did you hear that just now? He said you’ve gotta take responsibility for him!”
Seeing Naruko lean towards him, he responded with a mild laugh.
(The fuck is this relationship…)
It was so nasty it made me want to throw up.
He wasn’t thinking about the future of Mobius at all anymore, and much less his duty as a Musician.
—You’re one of my best friends.
(I’ll crush them all.)
Friendship, unity, solidarity — all utterly disgusting.
“Anyway, Naruko-senpai, did you want to discuss something?”
“Ah, right! We were talking about the school festival! Hey, since we’re all here, why don’t we make a proper plan?”
Naruko’s high-pitched, obnoxious voice got louder, she was bouncing up and down.
(I’m so fucking done with this.)
I was feeling so gross that I wanted to hurry up, go home, and go back to writing music already.
I really felt like I was being choked.
I suddenly heard a voice calling out to me. It was Kagi-P — Kensuke Hibiki.
“I’m Kensuke Hibiki. Naruko-senpai and I have been getting acquainted lately.”
He approached me and laughed, in a friendly manner.
(He shouldn’t know what my face looks like.)
But he’d heard Wicked’s voice before. I had to be extra cautious and deal with this carefully.
(Just in time for me to make use of you too, you laggard.)
I still needed to save my fun for later, so it’d be a bad idea for me to be exposed here.
“I apologize. I said something superfluous, so Naruko-senpai got excited…were you two in the middle of discussing something?”
“No, it wasn’t anything important. Please don’t worry about it.”
“Um, Senpai, may I ask something?”
Kensuke had said this all of a sudden, staring straight at me.
(Did he figure something out?)
This boy had been a Musician once.
(If he’s figured me out, it’s not that big a deal. If I’m caught, that’s that, I’ll just have to figure a way out.)
If push came to shove, I could take it to Thorn. If she really was our leader or whatever, I could push her enough to clean this mess up.
“What is it? If you have anything you’d like to ask about, I’ll be happy to answer.”
“Then, I’ll go ahead and ask…”
Kensuke had a wide smile on his face as he continued.
“Please tell me your name.”
“Huh…?” I blinked, having no idea what he was saying now.
“I just introduced myself, so I was wondering about your name…is it okay? Am I going too far?” he said, shyly shaking his head.
(He’s a fucking idiot.)
Or maybe I was the idiot for actually worrying about this.
“…I’m Marie Mizuguchi.”
“What a lovely name! Marie-san…ah, no, I’m overstepping my boundaries. May I call you ‘Mizuguchi-san’?”
“Yes, well…please call me whatever you like.”
Kensuke pumped his fist. He seemed so happy about it that I had to keep myself from furrowing my brow at him.
“I’d always wondered about the lovely person hanging around Naruko-senpai. I hope we can continue to get along.”
“Yes…I also would be glad to.”
“Ah, also, while we’re here, can we exchange WIRE IDs?”
“Um, my ID is…”
“Kensuke-kun! What are you and Mizuguchi-san talking about?”
Naruko had suddenly broken in.
“Nothing at all, we’re just introducing ourselves.”
“Man! You’re getting all mushy around her just because she’s a pretty girl…boys just gotta be boys, huh?”
“Oh, goodness, Naruko-senpai. Don’t say that. I’m only speaking with my heart.”
“Well, your face is totally showing off some ulterior motives there!”
“Please, stop. Otherwise Mizuguchi-san will misunderstand my intentions. I can’t have her starting to despise me.”
Kensuke was getting so nosy that I was starting to get really pissed off.
“Goodness, no, I’d never despise you.”
“Really? Thank goodness.”
“Really. I would love to keep getting along.”
I had no choice but to take out my smartphone and exchange WIRE IDs with Kensuke.
What a fool I was for thinking he might actually expose me as Wicked. I’d been hesitant about making him another pawn, but he really was completely harmless. If he were somehow acting, it’d be such good acting that even I’d have to give it dues.
“Mizuguchi-san, don’t force yourself around him too much! If he says something weird, let me know right away!”
“Something weird, you say…how cruel.”
As I was sick and tired of hearing this stupid conversation between Kensuke and Naruko, I felt a gaze coming from somewhere.
He — the Go-Home Club’s President — was looking straight at me. He noticed my gaze, and immediately gave a slight polite nod.
A gentle face and an amicable smile.
(Had he been watching us this whole time?)
Looking at Kensuke? Or Naruko? Or —
(Was he watching me…?)
—He was watching Mizuguchi-san, wasn’t he?
—He was! He was!
—Well, of course he was. Mizuguchi-san’s such a pretty girl, after all.
(Same as back then.)
I could feel an unpleasant sense of sweat oozing on my back.
“Something wrong, Mizuguchi-san?”
I raised my head to see Naruko looking at me in concern.
But I didn’t allow the words to escape my mouth.
“You look pale.”
“I’m sorry…I started zoning out.”
“I’m somewhat low on sleep…that might be why. I think I’ll have to take it easy. I’ll go to the nurse’s office.”
“Should I come with you?” said Kensuke.
I put up with the feeling of nausea as I shook my head.
“I’ll be fine on my own.”
I wanted to tell them to fuck off and leave me alone, but it only made it as far as my throat.
“What’s going on?”
“Whoa! She’s totally pale!”
I recognized the face of the Go-Home Club third-years — Shogo Satake and Kotaro Tomoe.
(Of all times, it had to be now?)
I wasn’t in the mood to be dealing with even more of them to deal with.
“She started looking sick all of a sudden.”
“Then why are you just sitting here?! Hurry up and do something!”
“We are hurrying! We’re just not as fast as you about it, Kotaro-senpai.”
“I think we’ve met before. You’re Naruko’s classmate…are you all right?”
He was about to grab my shoulders as I reflexively stepped back.
“Ah…Please excuse me. I need to take my leave.”
I slipped out of the classroom. I could feel tons of eyes staring at me from behind, but I ignored them all.
(Stop looking at me…!)
I pushed it all aside with my entire being.
—It’s fine, it’s fine!
Those disgusting memories were coming back, one by one.
Another one. And another.
—So what if he looks at her for a bit? He’s already plenty lovey-dovey with me!
—Whoa, the PDA is real!
—Well, you two are a perfectly good-looking couple, huh?
—Aren’t you jealous, Mizuguchi-san?
“Shut the fuck up…!”
I couldn’t make it to the nurse’s office, so I ran into the bathroom and crouched over on the floor.
(Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up!)
03: The Interval Space of Darkness (Go-Home Club President and μ)
Everything suddenly went dark, and I couldn’t see anything anymore. Right then, I could hear μ’s panicked voice ringing out in the air.
“W-What happened just now…We were locked out of the space all of a sudden…”
μ collapsed on the spot. I also had to breathe out after having held so much of it in the back of my throat — despite the fact I didn’t even have a body.
“Everyone in the Go-Home Club was there. So that’s how you all were spending your days…”
μ seemed to be somewhat relieved and happy as she said that.
“Everyone was getting along so well, and they all looked so happy! I’m glad…”
That was right when our club was finally taking shape. Kensuke, who had once been an Ostinato Musician, had become one of our members, and once we’d defeated Sweet-P and Shonen-Doll, Naruko had also joined the Go-Home Club.
Meaningless chit-chat. Seeing us like that took me back to all the pointless conversations we’d had. I’d missed it.
“When I learned that everyone wanted to leave Mobius…I started getting really lonely,” said μ, blinking with somewhat teary eyes. “I’d been working so hard on it, but everyone wanted to leave, so maybe it was actually a completely useless world…But you guys still had times when you could laugh like that. So it wasn’t a complete mistake on my part…You still got to have fun sometimes, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time…it’s okay for me to feel that way, right?”
μ gave us a place that was kind to us, where we could find friends important to us, to help us cope with the pain of reality.
The memories we had of those days are still irreplaceable and precious treasures.
If we hadn’t all met each other, then we may not have been able to hold fast to that decision to return to reality, not all the way to the very end.
We used that warmth as our weapon to make our way back to reality.
So no matter how pitiful we were, we were able to gain the confidence to confront that reality, because we spent our time there.
“I see. So it wasn’t a complete mistake…No, it was thanks to you guys that Mobius could be something other than a mistake. So, thank you. But…”
μ was searching for the words to use.
“Hey, what kind of girl did you think Wicked was when you first met her?”
μ was looking in my direction, but I didn’t know how to respond. I was at a loss for words.
The first time I’d seen her was before we’d fought Kagi-P. But I hadn’t had the time to have a proper conversation with her, and all I knew was that she was Naruko’s friend.
“She got along quite well with the girls in the Go-Home Club from the very beginning.”
Mifue and Suzuna had always been close, and Kotono was the kind who always took care of others. Naruko hadn’t been a member of the Go-Home Club yet, so they were a little wary around her, but it was nice to see that the girls could all still enjoy lunch together like that. They were enduring the truth behind Mobius, so they might have wanted to enjoy the brightness of daily life as much as possible.
“If you didn’t know anything about the situation, it really would come off as a nice, fun little lunch session…wouldn’t it?”
Only if you couldn’t hear the voice of Marie’s heart.
The other four couldn’t have possibly imagined that Marie was holding those thoughts in the pits of her stomach.
“They were all smiling together…and trapped there in the middle was Wicked, as if she were all alone…What was I doing back then? If I could talk to her, I’d want to tell her to try getting along with the others instead of shutting herself in…”
μ looked down in sadness.
μ had interacted closely with the Musicians. So of course, her regrets about this issue were deep.
But I was the same. She’d been right in front of my nose, but I hadn’t sensed any particular unnerving signs from her.
Yet she had such strong and intense hatred. How had we missed it?
—I’ll crush them all.
While μ was using her powers to let me see Marie’s past, my consciousness had been almost perfectly assimilated with Marie’s.
That’s how I knew those feelings were real.
“Wicked seems to have been particularly focused on you.”
I’m the one who kicked up a fuss at the school entrance ceremony, so I probably must have left quite the impression. And then I ended up becoming the President of the Go-Home Club, so that probably contributed to her being wary around me.
“Back then, right before Wicked left the classroom…why were you looking at her? What were you thinking about?”
I remembered going to visit the classroom next door. I’d been made into a member of the executive committee for our class, so I’d gone to consult…
“Hm? What’s wrong?”
That’s when I suddenly remembered.
I remembered that I’d decided to ask her about the school festival, since she was the executive committee representative for the next-door class.
“Huh? So you went to the next-door class to talk to Wicked?”
I didn’t know who the executive committee member was, so I started off by asking Naruko about it.
“But then Naruko got ahead of herself, so you didn’t have time to talk to her, right?”
She was so aggressive about it that I couldn’t get a word in. And then on top of that, Kensuke had barged in.
“That’s frustrating to hear. That would have been your chance to talk to Wicked otherwise.”
But I don’t think we could have had a particularly deep conversation at that rate.
—I’ll crush them all.
Her voice, seething with hatred, was still ringing in my ears.
—Stop looking at me!
I’d definitely been looking directly at Marie back then.
“Hmmm…I feel like I’m about to remember something…”
Come to think of it, I could hear someone’s voice.
But it wasn’t one from a member of the Go-Home Club. It wasn’t even Marie’s own voice.
“Whose voice was that?”
Maybe it’d have something to do with the dreams she seemed to have every so often?
“Yeah…I think it’s from Wicked’s past. Whenever her mind wavered, it seemed like her memories would be recreated in the form of dreams.”
Mobius was something that could be said to be created with the power of the mind, so her own personal feelings of instability might have brought up her dreams.
“Maybe. So whenever we try to synchronize with her feelings, she might be constantly bringing up her past. As far as Wicked is concerned, we’re foreign objects. I don’t think we’ll be able to get closer when she’s too self-conscious. So we probably fell out of sync with her and ended up locked out…”
It felt like being slapped right in the face.
“Wicked hasn’t noticed our presence, and yet she’s rejecting us so harshly.”
What on earth made Marie react like that towards me, when all I did was look at her?
What could possibly be plaguing her so badly?
“There are still so many things I don’t understand.”
Even if we kept going with this, we might still not be able to understand everything.
And even if the truth were to be revealed, we couldn’t change Marie’s past. Everything would still lead to the same ending for her.
If she were watching us now, she’d laugh at us, saying that we’re doing this for our own self-satisfaction.
And yet, I didn’t want to turn back without understanding anything.
I wanted to know.
“Yeah, let’s keep going!”
μ stood up again with vigor.
“I still don’t know what I can do for her from now on, now that I know this. My own feelings are still uncertain, and yet I still may not be able to understand others’ feelings all that well. But we want to know more about Wicked, and we want to understand better. That’s why we’re here. That should be enough. And I need to get you back to reality too, so I can’t turn back here. Besides, you guys were the ones who told me that all of this means something.”
As if to say “…right?”, μ held out her hand. Her smile seemed to be flowing all the way down from her heart.
“I want to make everyone happy” — such a thought had been her driving force, a purely honest thought, and perhaps an overly reckless one.
But she was different now.
After fighting against the Go-Home Club, μ was finally able to face humans directly for real. I could sense that from her now.
- “Shoe cupboard” = Since it’s considered inappropriate to wear outdoor shoes indoors, Japanese schools will have a getabako (下駄箱) at the front for them to be stored in.
- The “mari” part of Marie’s name is written 茉莉 (normally read “matsuri“), which refers to the Arabian jasmine flower.
- “Chocolate cornet” = A spiral shell-shaped pastry with chocolate filling, and a common pastry in Japan.