01: From Memories in Apparent Dreams to Mobius (Marie Mizuguchi)
At some point, I’d transferred schools so many times that I’d lost count.
“I’m Marie Mizuguchi. I look forward to the rest of this year with you.”
I stuttered my words a little bit so that the boys would start making a fuss.
“Whoa, she’s really cute, huh?”
“Right? I like her.”
I was already used to playing the “friendly greeting” part beautifully.
(I’ll do better next time.)
My last attempt had been going so well. My ploy was to split the class into factions, cleaving everything right in two, and spur on the conflict without allying with either of them.
—You’re one of my best friends. But…
Drenched in all those clichéd little phrases, the two leaders of each faction got in a fight and fell off the roof. The railing on the roof had, for some mysterious reason, broken easily under them.
(I’d gotten so close to snapping them in two.)
But it all ended too soon, and the excitement of it screeched to a halt. It was far from the ideal ending I’d hoped for. All of the other students slinked back, and the conflict dwindled into nothing.
(And we’d just gotten to the good part…)
At that point, it was better to go back to square one than to try and fix this situation.
Was it suicide or an accident? While the entire school made a huge fuss about it, I made up an appropriate excuse and transferred schools. Lately, the old man and woman had started to just go along with it, and didn’t probe into why with any particular questions. Fortunately, I had good grades, so I had a wide range of schools I could transfer to.
“It must be tough to change schools at such an awkward time.”
Once my homeroom period ended, the girl sitting in the seat in front of me turned around to face me.
“I’m Sakura Kawakami. Nice to meet you, Mizuguchi-san.”
“Nice to meet you.”
“They could have at least let you finish final exams first or something.”
“Yeah. Something came up at home, though.”
“Ah. Did your parents have to change jobs or something?”
“No, I don’t have a father or mother at home.”
I said this with a smile so that I could watch the other person take a sudden breath and put on a sad face.
“Um…I’m sorry. I said something insensitive, didn’t I?”
Put on a friendly face, like drawing a picture.
“No, no, don’t worry about it.”
“I’m really sorry! Um…if you have any questions about the class or about the final exam, feel free to ask anytime.”
While we were having this conversation, the other classmates keeping an eye on us started to clump together.
“Next class is English, right? Why don’t you show her yesterday’s notes?”
“Oh, yeah! I doubt she’ll be called on today, though, she’s a transfer student.”
“You know our teacher, don’t you? There’s no plan for which student’s gonna get picked today.”
“‘Picking students like chess pieces’, or whatever it is.”1
I handled all of it with a modest smile. It helped that I’d cultivated a sort of model student-like aura.
(All right. Let’s get to crushing ’em all.)
I held back my cackling as I looked over the situation.
“Here’s my English notes. Wanna look at it?” said the girl in front of me — Sakura Kawakami — as she showed me her notebook. “My handwriting’s messy, though.”
I took it from her and flipped through it. It was the kind of handwriting that was definitely so hard to read that I couldn’t pretend otherwise, even if I wanted to compliment her. But there was no need to tell the truth.
“You write very cutely. Very round and girlish.”
“Huh…Really? My parents yell at me and say it’s hard to read, so they want me to write more neatly.”
“But, hm…Sakura, what’s this part here?” said another kid, peeking in. Sakura quickly hurried to close her notebook.
“Ah, no! That part…I just happened to fall asleep!”
“So why won’t you show it to Mizuguchi-san?”
The boys and the girls were all laughing around her.
I took another look at her.
She had a pretty decent-looking face. The bridge of her nose went right through her big eyes. Roughly-cut hair in a bob. She gave off the impression of someone who wasn’t completely finicky about her appearance, but her facial expressions were so apparent that she came off as attractive and eye-catching.
She was a bit careless, but difficult to hate. The popular kind of person who has lots of friends and doesn’t particularly treat anyone with discrimination.
“I’ll be fine, I think I know what to do from here. Thank you.”
“Yes. Thank you for your help. I’ll do what I can.”
Sakura suddenly turned to look at the classroom entrance.
A male student was looking at us.
“Gimme a second, sorry!” she said, leaving her seat.
“That’s her boyfriend,” someone whispered, even though I hadn’t asked.
“It’s Suou-kun. He’s from the class next door, but whenever we go on break, he always comes to visit.”
“Man, they’re so lovey-dovey.”
“Ah. But Suou-kun’s looking this way, wasn’t he?”
During that moment, I met eyes with the boy.
(He’s got a girlfriend, but he’s looking at someone else?)
As I tilted my head curiously, he quickly looked away.
He was definitely looking this way, no doubt about it.
(Is he seriously interested in me? You’ve gotta gimme a break, are you serious?)
A popular girl with a boyfriend, and yet the boyfriend is fickle.
So close, and yet so far.
“Sorry for cutting off in the middle of our conversation.”
Sakura had already returned, sitting back down in the seat in front of me again.
“Is he okay?”
“He’s fine! Just seemed like he didn’t have anything better to do. He was just asking how I was doing and stuff. Just the usual.”
“You have to at least say something like ‘see you later’, though! If you treat him so coldly, you’ll be tormenting him.”
“Huh? I’m not being cold, I just need to worry more about Mizuguchi-san right now.”
She laughed as she said this.
“We’re finally getting to have a proper conversation and all.”
“You don’t have to worry about me so much.”
“But I’m interested! I want to be friends.”
On the other hand, everyone else was obviously on my side.
“But did you see Suou-kun? He was watching Mizuguchi-san, wasn’t he?”
“He was! He was!”
“Huh?…Was he really?”
I continued to observe the situation while putting on a shy and modest face. Sakura shrugged her shoulders like it was nothing.
“Well, of course he was. Mizuguchi-san’s such a pretty girl, after all.”
“Huh! Man, you’re awfully chill about that.”
“Well, yeah. It’s fine, it’s fine! So what if he looks at her for a bit? He’s already plenty lovey-dovey with me!”
“Whoa, the PDA is real!”
Sakura laughed shyly and looked back at me.
“But, well, whatever, I’ll catch up with him later. I’m surprised he was staring at you so much, though.”
“No, it’s fine. I’ve had to transfer schools very often, so I’ve gotten used to it.”
“Huh, you’re used to it? Must be nice to be so pretty!”
A completely carefree laugh. Not a single sign of any hidden intentions.
(You really are an idiot, huh?)
She thought her happiness would last forever. She may not have used words to brag about it, but she was a self-confident idiot.
But this kind of idiot was always the best kind to lure into a trap.
I got chills thinking about her crying, and what her face would look like all twisted.
“Well, you two are also a perfectly good-looking couple, huh?”
“Aren’t you jealous, Mizuguchi-san?”
I nodded and laughed, and the bell rang.
(Things are looking good so far.)
It hadn’t taken long after my arrival at this school for my prey to approach.
From there, it took about a month to blend into the class.
Based on past experience, I’d figured out that I shouldn’t charge too quickly into it, but that it wouldn’t be good to let things sit around for too long. I had to come off as the kind of person with a reasonable amount of innocence and helplessness, who cultivated appeal once they realized I was actually a strong person inside.
“Whoa, Mizuguchi-san! You got another perfect score on that quiz!”
“I was lucky, that’s all. We’d just finished up at my last school, after all.”
“Yeah, but you said that during finals, too…”
“Man, you’re a whole tier above me.”
“Come on, guys, don’t say that.”
As I said that, I saw the chair in front of me pull back.
“Hey, Marie, we’ve gotta help them,” said Marie, turning around and laughing. “Let’s try again next time. I’ll help you guys study! Right, Marie?”
“Yeah, of course.”
At some point, she’d become the only one to stop calling me “Mizuguchi-san” and moved onto “Marie”.
“See? Marie says she’ll help, too.”
“Huh…There’s no point, it’s impossible.”
“Come on, guys. Don’t give up before you’ve even started!”
“Look, come on. Show me your mistakes and I’ll take a look.”
Somewhat careless but also cheerful, with good grades, constantly taking care of others. Someone capable of standing her ground. It was no wonder she was so popular with the other classmates.
(The type I hate the most.)
I wanted to step on her more and more.
“Hmm…um, here. So for this part, it’d be faster and quicker to use this formula instead. Try this.”
With that, Sakura wrote a formula on the edge of the paper.
“Oh, I see! Uh, so like this…”
“Right, right! See, you can do it!”
“Yay! So if I see the same kind of question, I won’t make that mistake anymore!”
“Hey, Sakura. Can you look at mine next?”
“Ah, not fair! Let me have my turn!”
Fortunately, all of our classmates were generally a bunch of morons.
“Huh? Marie, what’s up? You’ve got a huge smile on your face.”
As I was giggling to myself in silence, she was trying to drag me into this.
(Ah, I know this type. She’s the kind who looks out for others to bring up relevant topics so she doesn’t leave someone out. That kind of condescending bitch.)
But for her, that’s the sort of kindness she can take for granted.
She grew up with kind parents in a wealthy family, was always surrounded by friends, and had a bright and innocent sense of being the center of attention.
(Her parents have never threatened to kill her, nor have they beaten her up, nor have they ever starved her to the point of near death.)
We were in the same school grade, but there wasn’t much of a difference between us. Not in the sense of appearance or school grades. There was only one real difference.
People can’t choose where they were born.
Effort and talent mean nothing. For better or for worse, everything in your life is determined by that one thing forced upon you.
“…I’m glad I was able to transfer to such a nice class,” I said, putting on another shy little smile.
“Huh? What’s that all of a sudden?”
“Ah…Come to think of it, I heard there was some kind of incident at your last school, Mizuguchi-san.”
“Come on, don’t you remember? Our teacher keeps talking about it at every chance.”
It seemed like my homeroom teacher had concerns.
(And I’d tried to keep it quiet for as long as I could. Well, not like I can do anything about it.)
You can’t put a lid on other people’s mouths.
(Well, whatever. There’s no evidence that I was the one who set them up, not when they simply just fell off the balcony.)
It wasn’t a problem. At a time like this, I just had to take full advantage of the situation.
“Yeah…Things happened, and I got locked out of the class.”
I looked down, and the atmosphere around me changed in an instant.
“Sorry. I said something weird, didn’t I…”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Sounds like you had a hard time.”
“Not really. More that I couldn’t do anything about it.”
“That’s not your fault, Mizuguchi-san!”
I had to hold down my laughter, and managed to bring out a bitter smile instead.
“But it was really tough being the only one who transferred to a different school…I don’t know how everyone’s been doing since then.”
“You can’t get in contact with them?”
“Well…everyone had such a hard time talking about it, so I haven’t gotten any responses. Maybe everyone’s having a hard time getting their feelings in order, or maybe they think I’m a traitor for ditching them in the middle of it all.”
Sakura suddenly hugged me tightly.
I couldn’t push her off me, so I had no choice but to stand there.
“You just said you were lonely!”
I had no idea what the hell she was saying, so I kept standing there, flabbergasted.
“They’re the friends you did everything with together, right? They shouldn’t think of you as a traitor…!”
“Yeah…I’m sure they’ve just got their hands too full and can’t respond.”
“Yeah. Like when you want to write something but just don’t know what to write, right?”
It seemed like they were all sympathetic to me.
“I’m sorry. Maybe I was just thinking too negatively about it,” I answered, not knowing if this was the right way to go about it.
(The hell are they all on? You do realize I’ve only been here for a month, right?)
Regardless of whether I’d been here for a month or a decade, there was no way in hell I was going to reveal my cards to these people. But even taking that out of the equation, this was a strange reaction to have.
(The hell do you guys think you know about me?)
They all seriously believed that “Marie Mizuguchi” was a respectable, compassionate person.
(Every single one of them is a fucking moron.)
They had no reason to believe this. And yet…
“Marie, you’re a good person. I don’t know what things were like back at your old school, but it’s obvious you were working so hard for everyone’s sake.”
I could even feel her arms shaking as they were hugging me.
(Could she be…trying to trick me?)
The thought crossed my mind, but I put it away immediately.
There was no way such a simple-minded idiot like this could put up this much of an act.
As I stood there staring in confusion, Sakura, still with her head over my shoulders, spoke in a feeble voice.
“You know, every so often, I started getting really worried. I thought, Marie isn’t actually laughing from the bottom of her heart…”
She’d startled me all of a sudden. Finally, she loosened her arms and looked me straight in the eye.
“Don’t feel guilty about hanging out with us. You should enjoy your new school life here.”
As she said this, the kids around us looked at each other with surprised looks on their faces.
“Ah, so that’s why Mizuguchi-san sometimes felt a bit distant with us…”
“But if something like that happened…of course she’d have a hard time really laughing because she’d remember the other kids having a hard time.”
As they discussed all of this, they looked back at me.
(They really are idiots.)
Or perhaps I was the idiot for being so on guard around them for a second.
“Um…I didn’t intend to come off that way…but I’m very sorry.”
This whole thing was utterly absurd, but it was best to just go along with it.
“No need to apologize. You’ve only been here for a month. Of course it’d take longer to have a clear explanation.”
“We’ll take it easy and be best friends, okay, Marie?”
—You’re one of my best friends. But…
“Huh? Best friends already?”
“That’s okay, right? I mean, why not?”
She said this as if to tease me, laughed, and finally the tense atmosphere diffused.
“Look, she’s blushing!”
“Oh, shut up. Look, there’s times like this when you have an epiphany and think, oh, I could spend my whole life with this person.”
“Whoa. Is that the stuff your boyfriend tells you?”
“Hey, hey, then what about us?”
“No, see, it means I love everyone!”
A laugh started to escape my mouth.
Once I’d started laughing, I couldn’t stop.
(What a joke!)
And if that was supposed to be love, it sure was cheap.
(That’s just too skewed of a direction for those words to make sense.)
The next line that came from her was so unpredictable that the depth of her idiocy made me want to laugh more than it made me upset.
“Thank goodness! We finally got her to laugh for real.”
Well, that was true.
It’d been such a long time since I’d finally gotten to laugh like this from the bottom of my heart.
“Thank you. I’m glad I could come to this class.”
I truly meant it.
(I can’t wait to see their faces when they lose faith in everything and despair.)
As we were all laughing together, the classroom door opened.
“Ah…There he is, your boyfriend.”
“It’s the epiphany boy.”
“Oh, come on, stop teasing.”
As Sakura stood up from her seat, the boy gave her a small wave.
The boy standing at the door — Takahiro Suou — was looking my way.
(He’s watching me again.)
When I deliberately turned my gaze back at him, our eyes met so firmly that he suddenly looked flustered and looked away.
“That guy’s really dedicated to his girl, isn’t he?”
“Especially nowadays, huh? He keeps coming to our class.”
“Yeah. But you know…” one person mumbled. “He was watching Mizuguchi-san again, wasn’t he?”
“…Was he? I’m not so sure about that,” I said with uncertainty, tilting my head. “I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.”
I hadn’t even started setting things up yet, and yet the cracks were spreading on their own.
(Perfect idiots for each other.)
If that was supposed to be love, it sure was cheap.
(No…that’s not quite it.)
“Love” in itself was cheap.
My head sloped over, and I woke up.
I’d suddenly started breathing heavily.
“The fuck…the fuck!”
I slammed my fist on the keyboard in front of me.
“The fuck was that!!”
A dissonant sound rang out through the air. I hit it over and over again, causing a mess of a melody to record itself on the screen each time.
These days, I’d been dreaming of a past that I didn’t want to see.
But, thanks to that, my music composition was going well. Every time I lost control, the machine would record it as-is without any issue, so it was easy to create a whole set of unpleasant noises without me needing to calculate them out. I just had to use them as a base to put a song together. It was the kind of improvisation that lent itself to a realistic kind of sound, and it was popular even among Digiheads.
But in order to do this, it meant I’d have to marinate in my frustration again.
(Gimme a break…)
Knead all the emotions into muck in the pits of my stomach and throw it out.
Hatred, envy, betrayal.
Wicked’s songs struck a chord with people because they brought shape to all of those thoughts and feelings that everyone had, the ones that they’d tried to keep quiet.
If I were living happily in peace, I wouldn’t be able to make music. I was the one who knew that best of all.
(I’m telling you.)
I told μ my wish and got the freedom I wanted. But I couldn’t shake off my despicable past. It’d cling to me no matter where I went.
(Could it be…that Mobius is showing me this, too?)
I remembered those airheaded words μ had said to me so innocently, and I couldn’t deny them. She’d said it to me, after all. She’d wanted me to write songs for her and for Mobius.
And so I’d told her my wish to escape from that darkness where I couldn’t move.
—I can do three, or even four!
—It’s no problem, I can grant any kind of wish you have.
So said the Devil.
So I’d keep writing songs in this place where I couldn’t proceed or regress, forever.
But in this stasis, there was a limit to how long I could keep writing songs like this. I had to admit that.
I needed this hatred. The hatred swirling around inside myself, the jealousy — the betrayal.
“Heh heh…Aha, ahahahahahahaha!”
The feeling in my chest was beautifully awful.
(The fact I still feel like this is the most annoying part of it all.)
I couldn’t redo the past. Everything that had happened in my past had turned into part of my flesh and blood, which led me to where I was now, and now I’d made a song about it. There was nothing left that I could possibly deny.
(Come to think of it…that was exactly when my songs started shooting up in attention.)
Back at my old school, I’d gotten my grandfather and grandmother to buy me music equipment, and started dabbling in music composition. By the time I’d transferred, I’d figured out all the know-how and was able to make things at a fairly high pace. Around that time, I’d made what one could call my signature song.
(That was definitely good fuel for my songwriting.)
Compared to back then, I’d gotten even better at composing. So in a sense, it was only natural that I could write even better, more exciting new songs based on my past.
(But this isn’t going to work at this rate.)
No matter how many songs I kept cranking out, in the end, it’d still just be continuous rehashing of the past.
(I need a new kind of sound.)
New kinds of songs, new kinds of sounds, new kinds of hatred.
(I need a kind of dissonance that nobody has heard yet.)
I glared at the wretched melodies reflected on the monitor and deleted all of it.
02: Mobius (Marie Mizuguchi)
After school, as I walked down the corridor, I could hear the Broadcasting Club’s program over the speakers.
“Hello, everyone! Are you enjoying your school life today?” echoed a cheery voice. “Right! How’s the preparation for the school festival going? We’re looking for individual exhibitors to present things beyond just the usual class offerings. For more details, please contact the executive committee! All right, let’s hurry up and get in the mood!”
Some awful noises started bursting into the air, drowning out the voice from the Broadcasting Department.
“Huh? What’s going on?”
“Equipment problems, maybe?”
As the students looked around at each other, a huge boom of noise suddenly filled the air.
(This is just a bunch of noise…ah, so it’s Ike-P.)
Seems like he’d jacked the broadcast.
“It’s Ike-P-sama’s song!”
“It’s so cool it’s scary!”
Some of the girls started shrieking on the spot. Probably another step closer to becoming Digiheads.
(There really are so many airheaded bitches out there.)
A stereotypical melody, with easy-to-understand words about love and romance, with some shock value lines tacked on at the end. If I had to say something good about it, it’d probably be easy for anyone to sing it at karaoke.
“I wonder if he’ll do a live concert.”
“Man, I really wanna go!”
“I’ve heard rumors about him hitting up a certain shop a lot, are they true?”
“I wanna know too! Maybe we can go and see Ike-P-sama!”
Accompanying the voice of an energetic girl, the verses repeated over and over again, and repetitive lyrics kept pouring out one after another. I couldn’t stand it anymore and left the school building.
(Seriously, how long is that stupid piece of crap song gonna go on for?)
—”Love” in itself is cheap.
In an irritable mood, I made my way right through the courtyard.
(I hate to compliment Thorn, but I’d at least rather put up with her music.)
“Hey! Hold it up right!”
I heard a loud voice yelling out, and lifted my head to see several boys gathering in the courtyard, working on something.
(Is that the signboard for the cultural festival?)
As I approached, I saw a sloppily patched-together cardboard arch made of painted plywood. The part resembling a pillar had a large number of balloons tied to it.
“On my mark, we’re gonna lift it, okay?” said a familiar voice.
(It’s the guy from the Go-Home Club…)
Kotaro Tomoe. With swept-back hair and a flashy T-shirt, he was so tall that it was easy to pick him out even from a far distance.
“Kotaro! The hell are you doing?”
“They needed help! I couldn’t just leave them like that!”
In response, one of the surrounding girls shrieked “that’s Kotaro-senpai for you!”, causing him to smile right back, shyly.
“Goodness…All right. Do whatever you like.”
Another boy from the Go-Home Club.
Naruko had said he “looked scary”, but it looked more like he was lazy and unmotivated.
(Definitely feels like he’s got some shadow looming over him.)
Kotaro and Shogo were the kinds of people you’d see very often in Mobius. Someone who looks abnormally bright and doesn’t show any of their trauma on their face, and someone who seems to have absolutely no motivation for anything.
(Come to think of it…I can’t see him anywhere.)
Him, the President of the Go-Home Club.
Someone who seemed to be neither overly stiff nor overly dark. He was acting as their leader, yet had a reasonable attitude and didn’t assert himself too strongly. He’d gained a strange amount of trust from the club’s regular members.
(The type I despise the most.)
I looked around for him, but he didn’t seem to be with them.
Shogo had suddenly caught sight of me. Now that he’d seen me, I waved my hand.
There was no point in hiding from him now, so I went directly up to him to talk.
“Oh, you’re Turtle’s friend, aren’t you?” Kotaro had also caught sight of me. “You guys aren’t together today, huh?”
“Not today. Morita-san seems to be busy with preparations for the school festival, so I haven’t seen her very much in the classroom as of late.”
“Ah, okay…actually, I remember her saying something about an exhibition, huh.”
“Oh, right, there was a whole big deal about winning the draw or something.”
“Are the two of you in charge of making this signboard?” I asked. The two of them nodded back at me.
“Yeah. Ain’t it cool?”
“It seemed to turn out that way before I’d even realized it.”
Kotaro was in a good mood about it, but Shogo had a very unenthusiastic look on his face.
“I was planning to not go to class today, but then Kotaro decided for me.”
His complaint made it very obvious he had no intention of being here.
“C’mon, why not? We’re getting to help people out, right?”
“Then you do it. Do it by yourself.”
“Don’t be stupid! I may be able to make it, but there’s no way in hell I could lift this up by myself.”
The two had very different personalities, but they seemed to be on good terms.
—You two are always so close.
—Even though you have completely opposite personalities.
I’d remembered something I didn’t want to. Probably thanks to all of my dreams lately.
“Oh right, Mizuguchi, are you doing okay now? When we saw you in the classroom the other day, you looked horribly pale.”
“…Yes. I’m all right.”
My discomfort had apparently showed up on my face.
(I can’t let myself get thrown off by this wretch of a man.)
My irritation was gathering more and more inside, but I quickly laughed it off.
“I apologize for that. Everyone was calling out to me…but I couldn’t respond.”
“Don’t worry about it. If you’re doing better now, it’s for the best.”
“Thank you. It seems I simply didn’t have enough sleep.”
“Huh. So even model students like you stay up late at night?” said Kotaro, prying in and pushing his head forward towards me.
(Get away from me, you tactless piece of shit.)
I gave a vague sort of nod and took a casual step back.
“When I’m reading books, I lose track of time…I’ve been thinking I need to keep myself more in moderation.”
“Oh, you like reading?” said Kotaro, pulling his head back. “Books get me all sleepy, so I can’t handle ’em at all.”
“I wonder if you’d get along with Suzuna.”
“Does Kagura-san also like books?”
“Seems so. I don’t know much about what she reads, though.”
When I’d observed her during our lunch meeting, she’d been inescapably shy, constantly gauging others’ reactions from start to finish.
(But…she does seem like the type who’d be easy to pry into.)
If I could figure out an opportunity, it would be good to interact with her a little.
“It’d be good if you two could be friends. I bet she’d get along very well with you. She’s a bit on the withdrawn side, but…”
“Haha. Satake-san, you’re like a parent.”
“Well, that’s ’cause Shogo’s been here for ages — “
“Oh, crap.” Kotaro pulled his head back in haste.
(Ah, he’s a dumbass, too.)
Only those who had “graduated” would know that the “school life” here was actually an endless loop of three years. This wasn’t something that should have been discussed in front of Marie Mizuguchi, who didn’t know anything about that (or, at least, wasn’t supposed to know about that).
(Seriously. Mifue Shinohara and Naruko, too. Why are all the Go-Home Club members all a bunch of careless idiots? It’s not that hard to keep a secret and feign ignorance all the time.)
For the time being, I acted like I didn’t understand and as if it had gone over my head.
“Next time I see her, I’ll speak with Kagura-san. That said, because we’re in different first- and second-year classrooms, we won’t have many opportunities to meet…Once we’ve finished our preparations for the school festival, I’d like to have lunch with her again.”
“You’ll probably run into her during the school festival, right? Like with us today.”
“By the way.”
Shogo had suddenly changed the conversation without warning.
“Mizuguchi, have you noticed anything strange recently?”
“Something strange? Such as…?”
“For instance, something suspicious, or something scary.”
“Not in particular.”
“Or maybe like, have you seen μ lately…?”
“μ?…Like the idol?”
“Like, have there been any rumors about a guerilla concert or something?”
“No…Not at all.”
Kotaro was utterly transparent as he shrugged his shoulders.
It seemed like he was trying to gather information for the Go-Home Club.
“Any reason in particular?”
Shogo shook his head lightly in response.
“Ah…no, if you haven’t heard anything, it’s fine.”
“I apologize for being unable to help.”
“Nah, it’s fine, really,” Kotaro added, hastily putting on a smile. “If you run into any issues, let us know right away and we’ll come help!”
—Come and talk to me about anything you want.
—I’ll help you out. After all, we’re…
“All right. But don’t push yourself too much, Satake-san. Morita-san has been saying…”
Both of them had a startled expression as they looked back at me.
“Ugh, did Turtle blabber off and say things she shouldn’t have!?”
“Um, Mizuguchi. When you said she’s been saying things, what do you mean by…?”
“Ah, no, she hasn’t said anything in detail. Morita-san says a lot of things, but it’s difficult to make anything out of it.”
Hearing me deny it with such a flustered attitude, the two of them sighed in relief.
“I apologize for saying something strange. That said…pardon the intrusiveness, but I was wondering if Morita-san’s absence from the classroom wasn’t purely due to cultural festival work, and that she might have gotten caught up in some kind of trouble.”
“Oh, Mizuguchi, you’re worried about her?”
“…Yes,” I muttered. “Morita-san seems to be having quite a bit of fun, and I’m happy to see that, but I’m also worried. Everyone is very kind…Recently, they even invited me to eat lunch with them. Most importantly, Morita-san seemed to be in very high spirits, so I’m glad to hear she’s getting along so well with everyone. Up until then, she hadn’t interacted very much with the other people in our class, and had mostly been on Gossiper.”
“Yeah, she was saying all sorts of stuff about us on Gossiper…”
“There are times when I worry she may be imposing too much on others, but…Morita-san is always in a good mood and tells me about many fun things. So I’m very thankful to be in the same class as her.”
“Wow, you two are real close to each other.”
“And yet you have completely opposite personalities.”
—You two are always so close.
—Even though you have completely opposite personalities.
“I hope Morita-san feels the same way.”
“Well, y’know. Shouldn’t Turtle be the one thanking you instead? You’re the model citizen who lets her be your friend.”
“But…well, yeah, if she hasn’t been coming to the classroom, of course you’d be worried.”
“…Yes. It’s a little lonely without her, but I would like to support Morita-san’s hard work.”
“Huh. You’re a real nice person!” said Kotaro, with a huge smile on his face.
(You dumbass. Of course I am, because that’s the show I’m putting on for you.)
I left the curses in my chest and continued.
“But…I don’t think I’m capable of doing anything for her.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” said Shogo. “I think the fact you take the time to hear her out should be a pretty reassuring thing for her.”
“…Do you think so?”
“I think so.”
“That’s good to hear, if that’s the case.”
I loosened my facial expression and the two of them followed, softening their gazes.
“I’m very relieved to hear you of all people say that, Satake-san.”
“Kagura-san, Shinohara-san, and Kashiwaba-san all said that you’re a very kind person who takes care of everyone.”
“Did they seriously say that?” said Shogo, sighing as if he were bothered about it.
(Well, I’m not lying per se.)
It’s much easier for people to accept “this person complimented you” and not be wary than they would being directly complimented.
(And yet…I wonder why he had him be the President instead.)
Even back during our lunch chat, the girls had been shaking their heads in confusion about this.
(Is there supposed to be something special about him?)
It really did seem like I’d have to be cautious about him.
“W-What about me? Did they say anything about me?” said Kotaro, leaning forward.
“Well…no, nothing in particular.”
“Huuuuh? Seriously, nothing?”
“Leave it there, Kotaro.”
“Man, you get to say that because they said something good about you!”
“It’s not that…”
I gave off a friendly giggle, and Kotaro sulked and pouted his lips.
(This guy comes off like a little brat.)
He had a tall body, but his gestures and facial expressions and everything about him came off as childish.
(…Well, there are a lot of people in Mobius who don’t look the same in reality.)
After all, μ would “grant any wish” that anyone had.
(She doesn’t always get it completely right, though.)
Even with Shogo, I got the impression that he was rather too calm for his age.
(Everyone here has got serious screws loose.)
We were supposed to be in paradise, but it was impossible to get by without putting on a nice façade, looking like you had it all together, and hiding your true feelings.
That’s why Wicked’s songs had so many fans. As long as a human truly is a human, regardless of age or gender, the darkness in their hearts would empathize with them and be moved.
“Um…Mizuguchi. Have you seen anything particularly strange or suspicious lately?” said Shogo out of the blue.
(Huh? If I say I saw Digiheads, would they invite me into the Go-Home Club?)
“Nothing in particular,” I said, leaning my head without letting my actual thoughts leak through.
Shogo quickly averted his eyes. “No…sorry. If you haven’t that’s fine. Don’t worry about it.”
The prerequisite for entering the Go-Home Club was “graduation”. If you couldn’t see the Digiheads and didn’t have any way to fight against them, you wouldn’t make it against the Ostinato Musicians. It was hard to believe anyone would be dumb enough to believe it if you tried to explain it with words alone.
For anyone who wanted to stay in Mobius, graduation was inherently dangerous. Mobius was held up by belief in μ in the first place, so if she didn’t have enough power, Mobius would collapse.
So for that reason, there were many students who didn’t want to wake up and face the truth. Even if it was an unconscious instinct, it was fairly impressive.
(Everyone here is made up of trash that’s trying to run away from reality. Trash like them is better off staying asleep and ignoring the truth.)
I wasn’t going to say that out loud, of course.
“I don’t know anything about what all of you are doing. Depending on how you look at it, it may be irresponsible for me to not look too deeply into it, but…” I said, choosing my words carefully. “But I get enough of an impression that you all are getting along well enough and making plans together. Morita-san, Satake-san, Tomoe-san, and also Kagura-san, Shinohara-san, and Kashiwaba-san…ah, and Hibiki-kun, right?”
“…Yeah, something like that.”
“And also, the boy from the neighboring class.”
“Ah, right, Minezawa too!”
“…Minezawa, as in Izuru Minezawa-kun?”
It was true that he fit that description as well. Since he had a fairly good-looking face, I recalled the girls constantly making a fuss over him.
(Right…Ike-P was making a bunch of silly complaints about him.)
It was usually something along the lines of hating how the girls made a louder fuss about him.
(He was saying at one point “it’s a bummer that bastard Minezawa isn’t a member of the Go-Home Club, or else I would’ve butchered him,” or something.)
If I sent a tip to Ike-P about this, there might be some interesting results.
(The Go-Home Club’s managed to grow into a nine-person group when I wasn’t looking…they’re growing too fast.)
Thorn had told us to bring them in so they could be brainwashed again, but it’d be too boring to leave it there.
“We don’t intend to leave you out of all of this, Mizuguchi. But…there’s this and that going on with it, so…we’re sorry,” said Shogo in a reluctant voice, snapping me out of my thoughts.
“Please don’t worry about it. It’s not as if you’re trying to leave me out because you want to be cold to me. Since you can’t tell me what it is, it’s not something I should ask about, right? I trust all of you, so I won’t ask about the details.”
If you want to be considered trustworthy, a quick and easy way to do it is to pretend that you believe everything the other person said, with no strings attached.
—Come and talk to me about anything you want.
—I’ll help you out. After all, we’re…
“But I truly do consider you all to be my friends, so I hope you can tell me about it sometime.”
Words are cheap, but powerful. You can use words to get through anything, no matter how dirty you’ve gotten your hands.
(You like this kind of person the most, don’t you?)
It’s easy to fool idiot girls, but it’s even easier to fool idiot boys. Being a girl, and moreover being considered a smart and talented one, lowers the hurdle considerably.
Sure enough, Kotaro leaned forward with a beaming smile on his face.
“Whoooooooa! Yeah, we’re friends! We can trust you, Mizuguchi!”
“Thank you very much, Tomoe-san.”
“Goddammit, man…I really wish Mizuguchi could join us.”
“Hey, you idiot, don’t say that.”
As I watched the two banter with each other, a smile crept across my face.
(Simple-minded idiot…but the tide is in my favor this time.)
If I came off as unnatural, I’d lose everything. If I came off as even slightly suspicious, I’d be in trouble.
Especially when it came to Shogo. He looked calm now, but when Kotaro had mentioned Izuru Minezawa’s name, he’d been frowning a little.
He didn’t seem to doubt me, but he also didn’t completely trust me yet. If he were too worried about Kotaro’s off-kilter remarks and too wary about the conversation we were having, it’d create a problem for future information gathering.
“Oh dear. I have something I need to attend to with the committee.”
“Ah, sorry for keeping you.”
“It’s no worry at all, I’m glad to have spoken with you.”
“Yeah, me too. I’m glad we could have another chat.”
“Please do your best with the sign, “I laughed softly, deliberately toning down my voice a little. “I haven’t come upon anything strange in the school so far, but…I’ll look out to see if anything seems off.”
I nodded lightly and turned my back on them.
(Hah, they’re seriously dumbasses!)
I was so happy I wanted to clap my hands.
(They got strung along by such cheap words. A total showcase of morons.)
—”Love” in itself is cheap.
Not just love. Trust, unity, friendship, all of them were unstable pipe dreams. I couldn’t get why people took it and wove it around as an excuse for things, like they were drunk on it.
I’d suddenly noticed the school had gotten quiet. It seemed like Ike-P’s recital of nonsense had finally ended.
(All right, I’ll head to the committee meeting room, and then I’ve gotta get home.)
I was in a good mood, and I felt like I could get out a pretty good song for once.
So when I saw him, that mood was a little spoiled.
Izuru was standing behind a pillar, and I’d missed him for being in my blind spot. I hesitated for a moment as I wondered whether I should ignore him, but I finally gave up and called out to him.
At a time like this, it was annoying to have to keep up the act of being a model student.
“Um…by any chance, did you have any kind of business with Satake-san and Tomoe-san?”
Izuru glanced at me and quickly turned away.
(That’s a really vague answer.)
But Izuru had said this in a bland tone with no sign of emotion, and he didn’t seem to have any particular interest in me.
“I didn’t have any plans or anything. Go ahead and talk to whoever you want, I don’t care.”
He’d probably been watching the three of us talking.
(I was being watched…)
—He was watching Mizuguchi-san, wasn’t he?
—He was! He was!
“…I apologize for being intrusive.”
I quickly bowed my head and got out of there, but I could still feel Izuru’s gaze following me.
I fled into the school building, wanting very badly to scream. I finally managed to shake off Izuru’s gaze, and I realized I’d been breathing heavily.
(He was fucking watching me!)
I couldn’t deny that I’d been so focused on Shogo and Kotaro that I’d failed to notice anything about Izuru behind the pillar.
(It’s fine…I did perfectly. I didn’t do anything weird that they could pick up on.)
I couldn’t get a read on Izuru Minezawa’s emotions through his eyes. I got bad vibes from him, but he didn’t make me feel sick either. It was at least far more preferable to the time when I was being watched by him.
(…I’ll show you I can do it right this time.)
As soon as I’d gotten back home, I started up my conference software and called Thorn.
“What’s wrong, Wicked?”
Thorn responded to the call so quickly that I was thrown off, immediately responding in her usual stale tone of voice.
“What the hell are you planning?”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t understand what you mean. Please be a little more specific.”
“I’m talking about the Go-Home Club. I’m talking about you. You already know what they’re up to, don’t you? So why aren’t you doing anything?”
“I haven’t abandoned this matter. I believe I told you to bring them to me so I can re-brainwash them with the mindphones. I intended to leave it in the Musicians’ hands. Do you have concerns?”
“I’m saying, you’re twiddling your fingers too much. They’ve gotten this far because you didn’t give us any specific instructions or do anything about it, even though you knew about all of this. Right?” I spat out, laughing at her. I’d wanted to provoke her, but Thorn’s expression remained the same.
“Well, my job is to stimulate better decision-making for Mobius…But that doesn’t mean I get to decide things for myself if μ does not wish for it. μ is borrowing Musicians’ talents, and that goes for you, too.”
“Are you trying to put this all on me?”
“No. I’m simply stating the facts. The Musicians who went rogue and were unable to stop the Go-Home Club were insufficient in their abilities. I will take responsibility for that, and I take it with severe gravity. But although μ lamented that fact, she is also not worried about it. She has placed a great amount of faith in the Musicians. In particular, your songs have the greatest amount of power among all of ours.”
“…I’m amazed how much I don’t care for being complimented by you.”
Unusually, Thorn laughed in response.
“How cold of you. I’m the one who recommended you to μ as a potential Musician, you know.”
“Huh? The hell?”
“She wanted to scout Doll-Ps who could bring forth great impact on the world. μ consulted me about this, and I scouted Musicians on her behalf. Of course, μ herself was the one to make the final decision, but both she and I have great expectations for you, Wicked.”
I really wasn’t enjoying this now.
(So you’re trying to butter me up? This isn’t gonna make me into your loyal dog, you know.)
She was supposed to be another Musician, the same as me, and yet she acted like she was single-minded with μ and got to wave her authority around.
“I’m not gonna let other people order me around. Doesn’t matter who they are…not even μ.”
Thorn gently shook her head.
“μ is not ordering anyone around. She simply trusts the Ostinato Musicians from the bottom of her heart, because they are an integral part of maintaining Mobius.”
“Sounds like empty words to me.”
“Thank you for your advice, Wicked. I will convey this to μ and the other Musicians. The Go-Home Club is dangerous and a threat to Mobius. It is possible they may be of great concern. Each of us will have to monitor the situation and act when the opportunity arises.”
“You’re saying that now after doing nothing this whole time? You don’t have to tell me that now of all times…I’ll be the one to crush them into dust.” I’d slowly built up relationships with them, little by little. I wasn’t gonna let her take that all from me in one swoop. “So you don’t need to stick your nose into this. I can handle it fine.”
Thorn, whose expression hadn’t changed during this entire conversation, smiled lightly.
“You’re quite passionate.”
“…Are you mocking me?”
“No, not at all,” she said, with such a calm smile that it made me want to murder her.
“I’ll ask you one more time. What are you planning?”
“I simply plan to support μ…I believe this is what μ chose me to do. That’s all.”
After saying this, she cut off the call.
(What a bitch…)
I barely managed to restrain myself from hitting the screen.
Thorn had constantly said the same exact thing from the very beginning.
—All of this is for μ.
(What a liar.)
The fact Thorn is in Mobius means she’s another person who lost faith in reality and was entranced by μ, so there had to be something dark behind her.
As I thought about it, I suddenly remembered.
(Wait…Shogo Satake…does he have anything to do with Thorn?)
There was one time she’d said “Shogo Satake is mine” with an unusual amount of firmness.
Now that I thought back on it, that was the only time I’d ever seen Thorn say something like it was personal. Otherwise, I never knew where she was, nor where my calls were going. She acted like a leader, yet behaved like she was μ’s servant.
(Selfless devotion to the goddess of song? Nah. There’s no point in trying to fool me like that.)
Nobody ever did something unless they got something out of it. Even if it were supposedly kindness with no physical reward, when you got to the bottom of it, it’d still from the ego stroke that came from “seeing the other person’s happy face”.
Wherever there’s light, there’s always a shadow behind it. There’s no such thing as a human without greed.
(…As long as they’re trying to “live”, anyway.)
Humans are always heading towards death from the moment they’re born. “Living” is simply trying to resist the act of falling. Even if you selfishly try to cling onto it and claw your hands at it, you’ll still be dragged away into the waves no matter how much you hate it.
(And yet despite all this time, I still can’t see it in her face.)
The only conclusion was that she was deliberately trying to hide something.
(Speaking of hiding…I haven’t seen μ around lately.)
When was the last time I’d seen her? She’d used to constantly be in the Musicians’ faces all the time, but lately, I hadn’t seen her around at all. I hadn’t even heard anything about guerilla concerts.
(That’s why it really pisses me off I have to hear Thorn out like this.)
It was very likely that Thorn was planning something with μ as an excuse.
(Am I overthinking it?…Well, whatever. She can do whatever she wants.)
I took a deep breath and flung myself on the chair. I closed my eyes and took another deep breath.
(As long as Mobius is still here, it’s fine.)
And for that, I had to do something about the Go-Home Club. I didn’t need μ or Thorn to order me around for that.
(I’m gonna crush them myself.)
I’d been snooping around on their behavior for this exact reason. Even today, they’d accepted me warmly enough. And on top of that, I’d managed to make contact with the boys who were said to be hard to approach.
Shogo Satake, Kotaro Tomoe — Izuru Minezawa.
And those eyes that were watching me.
The eyes that were judging me.
(The Go-Home Club is really just full of people I hate the most.)
Frustrated, I knocked the keyboard off of my desk. It slammed into the floor, making an unpleasant noise, causing the keys to pop off.
Clenching my back teeth, I flung myself onto my bed.
03: Memories in Apparent Dreams (Marie Mizuguchi)
A few months had passed since I’d transferred in. I’d managed to completely familiarize myself with the class atmosphere, and I had a fairly good reputation among the teachers.
(But there’s only one person who dares to call me “Marie” with no honorific.)
A bright girl with good grades from a wealthy household, with many friends and even a boyfriend — Sakura, the girl at the center of the class, would casually refer to me as “Marie” and actively invite me to join her circle of friends. That part was a huge factor in all of this.
(Thanks to her, I was able to get a general idea of the entire class.)
The fun was only just starting to begin.
A girl called out to me in the hallway, waving her hand.
“We haven’t seen you around during lunch breaks lately. Where have you been?”
“I’ve been spending some time in the nurse’s office.”
“Huh, are you not feeling well?”
“Not really, just…”
I looked around and started whispering.
“Can you keep this a secret?”
“Huh?…Sure, of course.”
She looked at me with a bit of surprise on her face, then hesitantly nodded.
“Thanks. I can’t tell anyone about this right now.”
“So what is it? What’s going on?”
“There’s a girl in the nurse’s office I was asked to reach out to, so I’ve been eating lunch with her.”
As I said this with a bit of a sheepish laugh, she responded with a horribly disgusted expression.
“Huh…why’d they ask you to do that?”
“They said she might have an easier time talking to a transfer student, and she wouldn’t be as nervous around me.”
The class atmosphere was mainly controlled by how the center-of-attention students behaved.
And even in such a supposedly peaceful classroom, if you held your breath and took a closer look, you’d notice that there was a hierarchy after all.
(I’m really lucky, huh?)
I was internally jumping for joy when I heard that they’d driven a more weak-hearted classmate into the nurse’s office.
On the encouragement of my teacher, I saw a female student studying by herself at the window. When I tried talking to her, her thought process was slow to pitiful degrees, and she couldn’t follow the conversation at all, so it was no wonder that she ended up turning into somewhat of the class’s scapegoat.
“Everyone always wants to get on that girl’s good side. Because if they do the teacher will like them too and the boys will hang out with them. But…I’m not interested in that,” she’d said.
“So then why?”
Instead of answering why she was in the nurse’s office, she continued with what she wanted to say instead.
She showed me a cute stuffed plush that looked much like a rabbit, hanging off of her student bag.
“Do you know this? It’s a character from an anime,” she said, fixated on her own topic and shaking her head, and started talking about the anime. “She didn’t know anything about the anime at all, but she knew about the theme song. It’s a really good song. So I was happy. I had another one of these, so I gave it to her. She really liked that.”
The next day, she’d been invited to join the class.
“They invited me to hang out for lunch, or into their clique. But there were so many kids showing off around her…I couldn’t say anything right at all, so I left halfway into it.”
But no matter whether she accepted or declined the invitation, she still kept getting invited.
“I know she’s trying to be nice. But she’s honestly a bit annoying.”
Even Sakura’s groupies noticed, saying it was obvious she wasn’t going to join them.
“But she hasn’t noticed at all.”
She’d started off with this kind of light, harmless spite, but eventually, at some point, I found more ridiculous statements being sent to my Gossiper ID that I’d been using in my free time.
“The classroom atmosphere doesn’t really go well with me, so I haven’t had a lot of friends. It’s really a pain to be in that classroom.”
Once I’d started patiently hearing her out, the rest had come easily. She’d quickly started exposing all of the relationships going on in the classroom.
After all of her bad experiences, she’d studied the relationships around her so thoroughly that it was shocking.
—I really hate that girl. She’s always internally thinking about how she can beat everyone else.
—That girl came from the same middle school as her, and is always acting like her follower.
—That girl is involved in club activities, but since she’s the only one to be made a regular member after only a year, people seem to resent her for it.
—That girl was the one to confess to her current boyfriend, and it seems like they started dating from there…
—But he’d actually liked a different girl in the same clique before then.
She wouldn’t shut up. She’d constantly spill out secrets behind the pasts of all of the classmates who’d excluded her, one after another, and then would quickly tack on “don’t tell anyone I said this” at the end.
(What an idiot.)
If it’s a secret you want to carry with you to the grave, you shouldn’t be saying it in the first place.
If you’re not prepared for that and are just venting it out to get some catharsis, you should say it with the assumption that people will find out eventually.
(Well, I don’t plan on telling anyone just yet.)
I couldn’t immediately tell whether it’d be a usable weapon for me, but the more cards I had, the more likely one would be a trump card in the end.
“She seems to be dealing with a lot in the classroom, so the teacher asked me to go visit her by myself.”
Hearing this, my classmate frowned irritably.
“Our teacher’s so rude. You had nothing to do with any of this, and yet you’re being forced to do this,” she said, with the pretense of sympathy coming from the bottom of her heart.
—I really hate that girl.
—She’s always internally thinking about how she can beat everyone else.
“It’s not a big deal. We’re just chatting a little over lunch. Like about what we watched on TV yesterday, or what kinds of songs we like.”
“Sometimes we talk about what’s going on in the classroom, though.”
Hearing this, she responded as if she were being taken a bit aback.
(Too easy to read.)
She was concerned about how other people saw her. She really wanted to be the best out of all of them in the class, but she didn’t say so and kept her mouth shut.
“She won’t say anything in particular detail. Mostly that she’s scared to go into the classroom.”
She looked away, somewhat awkwardly.
(This kind of moron is the easiest one to control.)
Someone worried about her position in the class, and yet doesn’t want to be seen as a bad guy. A textbook depiction of a narrow-minded person.
“But she said it wasn’t because of everyone in the class per se. She said there were people who understood and were worried about her.”
Hearing my effective implication of “it’s fine, I know you’re not bullying her,” she smiled, nodded, and breathed a sigh of relief.
(She’s relieved because she thinks I don’t know anything about this.)
Even though she was still guilty by association of knowing and yet pretending she didn’t see it.
“So all I can do is stay quiet and hear her out.”
“Hey, Marie-chan. Have you told anyone else about this?”
“Not at all. This is the first time I’ve told anyone about this. I’ve told her I won’t tell anyone about it, so keep it a secret, okay?”
“Got it. I won’t tell anyone.”
Having heard this, her facial expression brightened up, and I could sense that she’d let her guard down.
(Hah, I got her.)
Trust, unity, friendship — and sharing secrets.
“Thanks! I knew I could trust you with this.”
“If you want, come and talk to me about anything you want.”
“I’ll help you out. After all, we’re…”
She looked around carefully, and then whispered to me in a low voice.
“…we’re friends, right?”
I was enjoying how utterly hook, line, and sinker I’d caught her that I laughed back.
It was in that moment when I noticed a gaze on me.
(…It’s him again.)
Takahiro Suou — Sakura’s boyfriend was watching me from a distance.
(He’s watching so closely that I might meet eyes with him if I’m not careful…)
Just like he did when he’d visited our classroom, he looked away as if to hide his behavior.
“Ah — it’s the boyfriend,” she said, muttering quietly. “He was watching you, wasn’t he?”
“Maybe he was looking for someone?”
“I mean, Marie-chan, you’re a pretty girl, so of course he’s gonna be interested in you.”
“No way. We haven’t spoken to each other even once. More importantly, he’s already got a girlfriend right there.”
Regardless of whatever his true intentions were, he still had the title of “someone else’s boyfriend”. If I overstepped my boundaries and acted too quickly, I could get myself in trouble, so shaking things up too terribly was a no.
I laughed and denied her suggestion, but she continued to push forward into the topic aggressively.
“Goodness. Marie-chan, you have no idea how much of a dangerous position you’re in. There’s already quite a few boys in our class who are interested in you, Marie-chan.”
I knew that much already, but I couldn’t say that, so I just laughed hesitantly.
“Also…maybe he’s jealous of you, Marie-chan?”
“Jealous? Even though I’m a girl?”
“There’s a lot of boys who want their girlfriends all to themselves. And you two are always so close, even though you have completely opposite personalities,” she said, beaming.
I put on my best act as if to implictly ask “I know you said that before, but am I really that close with Sakura?”
(Really, we’re just at the tip of the iceberg.)
I had to force a laugh down my throat.
“Well, we do get along, but…it was more that I transferred in and she happened to sit in front of me.”
“Ah. Well, yeah, our seating arrangement played a pretty surprising role in all of this.”
“Yeah. And then she showed me her notes.”
“She’s really persistent, so it’s hard to turn her down.”
“A bit, yeah.”
“Yeah, I really get that,” she said, with a huge, exaggerated nod.
Or, in other words, a sign of her trying to say “I’m on your side.”
I felt his line of sight on me again.
I tried not to turn around too quickly and see what was going on, and found that he was turning back to sneak glances at me again.
“Why don’t you go and try talking to him?”
“I’ll do it for you, then. — Hey, Suou-kun!”
She grabbed my hand out of nowhere and waved at him, rushing forward and approaching Suou.
“What are you doing? You were watching us, weren’t you?”
Hearing her call out to him, he started looking back and forth between me and her as if recoiling in shock.
“Ah…No, it’s just…”
“If you’re looking for your girlfriend, she should be in the classroom right now, so why are you here?”
“Or is it something to do with us?”
“No, it’s not something in particular,” he said — and looked back at me.
We were now meeting eye to eye. He was staring at me as if trying to poke into me.
“Um…is there something you want?”
“Ah…S-Sorry! I-It’s nothing!”
“See, you really were looking at Marie-chan, weren’t you?”
“I-I wasn’t, I’m telling you!”
“So then what is it now?”
He fumbled around for words, and after a bit, looked down and breathed out a “sorry”. “It’s just, she keeps talking about a transfer student all the time.”
“What does she say?”
He started nodding his head slowly.
“Well, she’s always saying tons of good things about her. So I was wondering what kind of person she was…I was just wondering.”
“I’m really sorry. Anyway, I’ve gotta go!”
With his tongue in knots, he turned around and fled.
“Whoa…what just happened?”
As I said this in shock, she sighed.
“Look. She’s complimenting a girl who’s prettier and smarter than her in front of her boyfriend. She’s locking the fort down, isn’t she? She’s worried you’ll steal her boyfriend away from her.”
“Steal him…No way, I’d never do something like that.”
“Well, yeah. You wouldn’t do something like that, but she’s self-conscious, and trying to appeal to him by going ‘see, I’m a nice girl who compliments my friends all the time.'”
I could hear her own prickliness in her accusations of Sakura for being two-faced.
(Hah! This really is just the start of it all!)
I was having so much fun, I couldn’t stop here.
Things went surprisingly well after that.
I was praised by my teachers for my excellent grades and athletic abilities and generously used my position as a model student to help others, occasionally buttering other people up, and slowly got all of my classmates to gravitate around me.
Only “letting up” in careful amounts every so often — putting a little color on my lips, wearing a necklace that showed a little peek at my collar — laughing softly and quietly, as more and more boys started to look at me with a certain kind of fancy. I walked by them pretending not to notice, as I established myself as “out of everyone’s league”. The trade-off was that I wasn’t able to get on particularly close and friendly terms with anyone, but it also meant I wouldn’t have any of the girls trying to antagonize me, so I was fine with that.
I’d already gotten this far, so the rest would be a cakewalk.
—Marie-chan’s so smart and cute.
—She has this kind of better-than-you attitude, though.
—Yeah, I’ve been thinking that for a while now!
—Yeah, me too!
I’d gotten all the pieces in order, and I didn’t have to do anything after that. I just had to put on a bit of a concerned expression and smile.
“Hey, Mizuguchi-san. Did you print out the homework?”
Every morning, whenever homeroom was about to start, I’d end up having classmates gathering around my desk.
“Yeah, I did.”
“They’re gonna call on me today. Sorry, can I copy it?”
“Sure, go ahead.”
I pulled out the folder from my desk, and was responded to with light cheers.
“Ah, thank goodness!”
“Oh, can you let me look at it too?”
Several girls were sitting in the empty seats around me, holding their own homework printouts.
“Thank goodness, you saved me!”
“Man, Mizuguchi-san’s really smart.”
“I know, right? When I tried it, I only got about halfway into it before I got confused and fell asleep.”
“Oh, that’s a mood. Me too.”
“I’d do it myself if I were as smart as Marie-chan. I’d have it done in no time flat!”
I smiled bitterly as I responded to them with a bald-faced lie.
“Not at all. It’s all out of desperation. My grandfather’s pretty strict, so he checks over it before I go to bed.”
(Come to think of it, I haven’t even seen the old man around lately.)
Every time I’d moved up a grade in elementary or middle school, some kind of trouble would happen and I’d transfer to a different school. My grandfather had been strict on me at first, but he was concerned about how he would look in front of the neighbors, so he finally started ignoring me as if I’d never existed.
On the other hand, my grandmother would do nothing but try to guess what was going on with me from my facial expression, and would say “You don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to, Marie-chan.” She never ordered me to study.
(Well, I’m just glad nobody’s really complaining. The old hag will buy me anything I want, so I don’t have any real problem with this.)
Recently, I’d revamped my music production workspace. I had a pretty high-performance machine with a proper audio interface, and I could devote myself to music production more than ever before.
(I’ll use these morons as songwriting material.)
The foolishness of whatever “friendship” was, where “trust” could be ripped to shreds like scraps of paper.
I was full of endless inspiration, and as I put out more and more songs, I ended up regularly making the rankings with a consistent number of plays.
“Wow, your grandpa sounds really strict,” said yet another one of my tools, with an irritable tone and no idea about what was really going on.
“Yeah. He keeps saying ‘you have to study for the sake of your future!’ every single day,” I said, laughing nervously. My classmates all nodded in unison.
“My parents keep saying that to me, too!”
“But y’know, I bet our parents never studied that hard when they were our age.”
“I know, right?”
I listened to them all with a smile on my face.
“Good morning, Marie,” said a mild voice cutting in.
I pretended to not have heard her, while others around us exchanged glances and quietly giggled.
This was the “trend” that was going on within the class.
“Actually, now that you mention it, yesterday my parents — “
As she was biting her lips back, the conversation continued as if nothing had happened.
Even though she was looking at us as if she wanted to say something, not a single person looked back at her, because they knew they’d become the target if they went against the flow of the conversation.
(It hasn’t even been half a year yet. How pathetic.)
She’d used to be close friends with all of her classmates, and now she was completely left out from all of them.
At a time like this, having nice parents, a wealthy upbringing, and a bright and innocent personality would mean nothing for shit.
“…The bell’s about to ring, so please let me sit down.”
She desperately managed to squeeze that out, and the girls who’d gathered around me silently stood up one by one. It wasn’t long before all of them were gone.
There was a strange atmosphere left behind in the classroom, and you could still sense a bit of noise in the air.
“Did you show them your homework again?” said Sakura with her back to me, quietly. “If you do that, that won’t actually help them.”
“I know, but…” I said, also quietly.
(You’re so goddamn out of it. People think you’re annoying because you say shit like this. Have you seriously not figured that out yet?)
She was a bright girl with proper morals, one who’d tried to take charge within the class.
But people who are too bright will inevitably cast shadows on the human heart.
Envy and jealousy.
“I know, I get it, it’s hard to refuse when everyone asks like that.”
“…Yeah. I can’t bring myself to do it.”
Sakura still didn’t turn around to face me as she shook her head lightly.
“If things don’t work out, you’ll end up becoming their target, Marie.”
Just then, I heard her smartphone vibrating in my bag.
“Was she trying to say something?”
“what, were you planning on responding?”
“I keep saying you should tell her to bug off”
“You’re seriously too nice!”
Message balloons kept popping up, one after another, on the WIRE group chat.
(Man, it really didn’t take long for everyone to get so crude.)
Everyone was scolding me for being too nice to her, so I wrote back a modest “I’d make her cry if I did that.”
“what a joke lol that’s funny lol”
“btw did you see her skirt, she folded it up”
“she already has a bf but she’s making herself look hot for the boys”
“ew her fat thighs are sticking out”
“hurry up and send her to the nurse’s office”
“I know right”
I was the one who’d made this happen in the first place, but my classmates were undoubtedly the ones who were in control of the situation right now.
(So much fucking trash.)
The nasty feeling I’d been holding in my chest had completely flipped around, and now things were refreshing for once. As I was thinking about how to reply, my smartphone vibrated again.
“You don’t have to worry about me”
I saw Sakura gently putting her smartphone back in her bag in front of me.
(And here’s the dumbest one of all.)
I wanted to laugh out loud so badly that I choked on holding it back.
(Man, this is incredible!)
I didn’t get to see this kind of entertainment very often. It really was too bad that I was the only one getting to enjoy this.
(Hurry up and let me go home so I can make a song about this.)
A popular virtual idol singing about the darkness of reality with her clear voice, and the idiot audience cheering.
Every time I read responses saying “I didn’t realize it was possible for my own heart to be this dark” from grateful, enthusiastic people, it was always hilarious how absurd it was.
Even if she looked like a pure white angel, as long as she was singing through me, she’d be a demon scattering infectious filth everywhere.
The more innocent she looked, the more vicious and ugly she became.
She was the perfect toy for me.
(I have to make more and more.)
After I’d finished my school duties and started heading out, I saw it raining lightly outside.
It wasn’t pouring that hard, but if I went out without an umbrella, I’d get wet. I didn’t have much in the way of enthusiasm as I stepped out, but then I heard a familiar boy’s voice.
“Do you not have an umbrella?”
It was Takahiro Suou.
“Do you want to share mine?”
I feigned confusion as he opened his umbrella in front of him.
“Um…it’s okay, you can if you want.”
It was honestly a little annoying how he was speaking so softly. It set me on edge.
(…The hell is he trying to do?)
We’d never talked to each other since that one time in the school hallway.
(And even then, he was mostly just sneaking glances at me.)
I quickly looked around. My teacher had kept me late asking me for a favor, and it was raining. Even the sports club members who’d usually be running around like careless idiots had already gone home a long time ago, so we were completely alone.
“Thank you. I’ll come under.”
“Good. My place is walking distance from here, but what about you?”
“I have to take the train home.”
“Okay, I’ll walk you to the station.”
We kept enough distance each other so that our shoulders wouldn’t touch, and started walking side by side. The umbrella was small, and my left shoulder was getting wetter and heavier.
“So, uh. Do y’know what’s going on with Sakura these days?” he suddenly asked.
I looked up at him, but he wasn’t looking back at me for once.
“Well…I’ve been sending her messages, but she hasn’t been responding. I tried calling her, but she won’t answer.”
Made sense. He was asking because he hadn’t seen her around lately.
She was a girl with way too much pride. She probably felt the way things were going in the classroom and didn’t want her boyfriend to know she was being ostracized.
(Or maybe she can’t even keep herself together enough to talk?)
If she really were that heartbroken, she was mentally much weaker than I’d expected.
(Well, this must be her first time experiencing this. At the very least, she’s never been treated like dirt by her own family, nor kicked around and beaten, nor beaten up by her classmates in the classroom. She’s never experienced being curled up in bed, unable to tell anyone about it.)
A bit of mild bullying didn’t hurt. If you try to debase yourself, they’ll use the opportunity to step on you, but if you don’t react, they might get bored of you and lay off. But…
(You’ve never been in this kind of situation before, haven’t you, you dumbass?)
If you stay quiet, people will keep beating you up, again and again, and if you don’t speak up, nobody will notice.
Forget being stubborn and trying to endure it. The best thing to do is to throw everything out and run away. It’s not something to be embarrassed about; it’s a necessity if you want to survive and protect yourself.
You can’t fight against a mob of people with only a shiny weapon and your pride intact. That kind of thing only exists in fairytales.
(I’m not a fucking kid, so all of that means nothing to me.)
I was on edge.
“You’re probably thinking I should just go and ask her myself, but…” he suddenly said, snapping me out of it.
“No, I get it. Sometimes it’s hard to ask about these things no matter how close you are.”
“You seemed to be really good friends with her, so I was wondering if you knew anything.”
“…Sorry. I don’t know anything.”
“I see…Oh, no, you don’t need to apologize.”
He looked up at me after saying this.
“Well, besides that…can we talk for a bit? Maybe we’ll figure something out while we talk.”
“Hopefully I can come up with something helpful.”
“We can talk about anything. Doesn’t matter if it’s irrelevant. I want to talk to you in particular.”
Shocked, I turned around and looked back at him.
As usual, his gaze was fixated straight on me.
(Me in particular?)
Sakura had a ton of friends. Or, well, she used to, anyway. At the very least, there were certainly tons of people who’d known her for longer than I had during this past half year. He should know I wouldn’t have much to offer. And yet…
(Was he just using her as an excuse to talk to me?)
I was about to crack up.
“Um…sorry, that was really sudden, wasn’t it? If it’s too much, then…”
“No, it’s fine. Really. I don’t see why not.”
“Really? Okay. Thanks.”
He quickly got his words out and finally looked away. Taking in the situation, I found myself looking down again.
(I’d look suspicious if I were too calm during all this…)
With the awkwardness still hanging in the air, we continued walking.
The station was at just at the right distance for us to walk at a leisurely pace. It wasn’t the kind of distance that would allow for some particularly deep conversation.
Have you gotten used to the school yet? Where do you live? What kind of family members do you have at home with you? By the point we’d gotten to talking about upcoming midterms, we were out of time.
“Thank you for sharing your umbrella.”
“No, thank you for walking with me.”
It was strange for him to be the one thanking me.
(We didn’t end up talking about Sakura at all.)
As soon as we were just about to start talking about her, he’d suddenly switch to another subject, to the point it almost seemed like he didn’t want to talk about her.
“See you later.”
“Ah, Mizuguchi-san! Wait!”
He’d called out to me the moment I’d tried to turn my back on him.
“Um…can I ask for one more thing?”
“Hm? What is it?”
“Can we exchange WIRE IDs?”
Once I’d gotten off the train, the rain was finally starting to pour. My place wasn’t even five minutes walking distance from the station, but I still ended up completely wet.
“Oh dear, Marie-chan, you’re so wet…You should have called me, I’d have come picked you up.”
I ignored the old hag mumbling things at me, threw my bag down at the entrance, took my wet clothes off in the hallway, and headed to the bathroom holding my smartphone in a waterproof case.
(Ugh, you’re so fucking annoying. Stay away from me, your goddamn breath stinks.)
I twisted the faucet and felt the temperature of the water rise a little, and the mirror and glass didn’t take loud to completely fog up.
I soaked my head with hot water until all of the tension in my body from the rain had evaporated, and the stiff voice I’d been suppressing in my stomach came up through my throat.
I was in such a good mood that my laughter burst out, hitting the bathroom tiles and echoing in the small space.
“The fuck is that? Seriously! What a moron!”
The sight of him staring so fervently at me was still embedded permanently in my eyes.
“That’s the person you want to be with for the rest of your life? A man who starts hitting on other girls just because he can’t get in touch with you? Ahahahahahaha!”
The steam was so thick I couldn’t breathe, and it was so painful I had to crouch down while leaving the shower like that.
“Hah…Ahaha. Holy shit…idiots in every single direction! I was about to burst into laughter in front of him!”
I’d intended to quietly provoke him into taking action, but I hadn’t expected him to approach me before I’d even done anything.
“Love” really is cheap.
“Ah…ow. Man, how stupid can they get? Idiots everywhere. It’s all happening too fast.”
I was enjoying myself, but I couldn’t enjoy it too much. It’d also be a problem if things went too fast. Someone with good intuition could easily get suspicious, but more importantly, I’d have less time to enjoy it all.
(It’s already a pain to have to start from scratch as a transfer student.)
Balancing my time as Wicked and as a model student, juggling both of them for the sake of “fun”, kept me pretty busy.
I only had three years in high school. I’d already wasted quite a bit of time and effort in transferring to another school and slowly making it into my playground.
Music production was going going well. I needed to keep the flow going.
(I’m gonna have to pick up the pace a bit.)
I put the plug on the drain and sat there as the hot water piled up, and started washing my hair, deep in thought.
(I have to time it for things to happen in the most dramatic manner.)
I had to make it into a proper show.
I had to make something incredible that would serve as the culmination of my high school life — no, of my entire past and history.
(I’ve got all of the right materials in hand…)
It’d be an opportunity to add things that I hadn’t been able to do yet.
(Things I haven’t been able to do yet…)
The word drifted to the back of my head, and suddenly my head cleared up so quickly it felt like it might burst.
My mind was flowing with all kinds of strategies, putting things together like a puzzle to create a path to a dead end.
(Pushing someone to commit suicide…It’s doable.)
Inducing someone to choose death, without even laying a single finger on them.
If I could just come up with the kind of despair that would lead to that outcome —
What kind of song would I make if I could pull that off?
Once I’d finished washing my hair and body, the bathtub was full of water. I soaked in it, and suddenly found myself humming a lovely little tune.
I turned on the recorder on my smartphone and hummed it again.
The sight of him staring fervently popped up in my vision again.
(I’m gonna make a masterpiece out of this one.)
My spine tingled even thinking about the moment when everything would be torn to shreds.
That’s why I had to slow things down a bit. I needed to spend more time preparing and perfecting it. The more I endured it, the more pleasure I’d have during the payoff.
(I’ll make it into a real show.)
The bathroom echoed with a voice that was so bright it didn’t even sound like me.
(I’ll really do it right this time.)
04: Mobius (Marie Mizuguchi)
A peaceful afternoon in the classroom, disrupted by a sudden shockwave of sound.
“Whoa! That scared me…”
“Oh…wait, this is a Wicked song, isn’t it?”
“Huh, I haven’t heard this one yet.”
“No way, they’ve made another new one?”
The students were chattering back and forth.
“Okay, but this song is incredible!”
“Huh…It’s so loud and chaotic.”
“Yeah, the melody here gets me…kinda nervous…”
“You guys just don’t get it. You just need to get used to it! It’s like the song just beats everything out of you!”
“Yeah, yeah! Add in the lyrics and it’s just totally divine!”
“I know, right?”
“It’s a total ear worm.”
“Oh, they put the video URL up on Gossiper!”
“Huh, where? Push it forward!”
“Wicked’s been pretty prolific these days, huh?” muttered Naruko, staring at the Gossiper screen. I vaguely replied “huh, really?” while paying closer attention to the listener reactions.
(Quite a few people here are probably gonna go Digihead in a bit.)
I’d gotten a pretty good response to my new song’s guerilla broadcast.
(If I can get a new song out by the time of the school festival, I’ll get a whole crowd at once…)
I instinctively started yawning.
“Oh! Mizuguchi-san, have you not been sleeping well lately?” said Naruko, laughing.
I wanted to click my tongue irritably at her, but I just gave her a mild, hesitant laugh back. I tried to keep my words ambiguous enough that she could assume I’d been up late reading or studying.
(She doesn’t have a single clue about what I’m up to. How nice it must be to be so stupid.)
Things were going well with song production, but there were only a few more days left before the school festival.
(And I had to have that dream on top of that…)
Whenever I dozed off to sleep, I’d end up sleeping poorly and having nothing but unpleasant dreams full of flashbacks to my past.
(The fuck was that?)
I didn’t want to see any of it, and yet I kept having to see them in excruciating detail. I knew how it was all going to end, and yet I had to remember and see all of those things that weren’t even fun to watch.
That frustration was seeping into my songs, becoming spice to flavor and complement them, and making it exponentially provocative.
“I think you’re the first person I’ve ever seen yawning at Wicked’s songs. Wicked would be super disappointed to see their hardcore song getting you all sleepy,” said Naruko, giggling. “Well, I’m relieved you don’t seem to be into this kind of thing either.”
“Ah…Well, um. I mean, it means we have similar tastes!”
What she actually meant: she was relieved I wouldn’t be turning into a Digihead.
Naruko had confessed to me about joining the Go-Home Club, but she never elaborated into what she was specifically doing with them.
(Although she’s being horribly sloppy about it.)
She was so obvious that it was almost disappointing.
“What kinds of music do you like, Morita-san?
I changed the subject, and Naruko’s face softened in obvious relief.
“Hmm…I like μ’s voice, and I check on videos with her, but I haven’t been keeping up lately. Anything with μ in it gets a crazy number of views, though.”
“When you say it gets a high number of views, that means it’s popular, right?”
“Yeah, yeah. It’s seriously amazing. Even my show doesn’t stand a chance…”
Naruko suddenly cut herself off.
“Hm? What’s wrong?”
“Ah…No, it’s just…yeah.”
She choked out a stilted response, and continued.
“It’s just…now that I’m talking to you again, I realized I’m back in the same old classroom again.”
“Come to think of it, it’s been quite a while since we last spoke with each other.”
“Yeah, I’ve been busy with stuff…”
“For the Go-Home Club?”
Naruko gave a small nod back.
“I have a lot of fun spending every day with the Go-Home Club, and in the classroom…I keep thinking, I wish I could do this forever. I know I shouldn’t, but…”
Naruko looked down.
(Huh. Four-Eyes is acting different today.)
I was out of focus from lack of sleep. I wanted to save as much energy as I could. But if something were to change course with the Go-Home Club, I couldn’t just sit out and watch.
“Did something happen?” I asked, with worry in my voice. Naruko suddenly snapped out of it and raised her head.
“Ah, sorry! I said something weird, didn’t I…ahaha…”
“No, I’m the one who should apologize. I was prying into something I shouldn’t have.”
“Huh? No, no, not at all!”
“But you didn’t seem to be doing very well…so I was worried. I haven’t seen you in the classroom very often lately.”
I broke eye contact with her and felt her gaze loosely following me, but I didn’t raise my head.
“I’m sorry. I’m imposing on you quite greatly, aren’t I?”
“No, no, no you’re not. Thank you for worrying, but…I don’t think you should worry about me with that.”
I could see her clearly from my peripheral vision.
“Of course I’m worried. After all…”
I finally raised my head and smiled.
“You’re one of my best friends.”
Naruko’s eyes were slightly blurry and watery.
(Man, I feel like I’m gonna throw up…gah, this is so gross! I’m tired, but this little rat is making me say this kind of shit.)
But there definitely had to be a reason why Naruko had suddenly gotten so shaken up.
(Hurry up and thank me and tell me what you need to say, you piece of trash.)
There was a pause for around ten seconds, and then Naruko finally opened her mouth.
“T-Thank you, Mizuguchi-sa…no, I mean, uh…”
Her voice was murky and restless.
“Marie…-chan,” she said after a bit of hesitation, blushing a little.
(Whoa…I really got her.)
Shameless, rude, and insensitive. The kind of person who could pick up on any kind of rumor no matter how many complaints she got — and yet such a bitch was actually this kind of person. She was just a plain old loner freak who couldn’t make a single friend. I’d only done this little for her, and yet she was on the verge of tears.
“Ah, uh…sorry! I shouldn’t have been so direct, huh?”
“…No, it’s no problem at all.”
I quickly shook my head and smiled a little back at her, and Naruko sighed in relief.
“Um, I actually wanted to call you directly by name for a while. But…y’know. It’s difficult to switch all of a sudden…ahaha.”
“…I understand. It feels like quite an abrupt change.”
With an embarrassed smile, Naruko called me “Marie-chan” again.
“Thanks for worrying about me so much! I…I’m kinda worrying about things too much. Y’know, I just…I’m just worried about what might happen in the future. But thanks to you, I’m feeling a lot better about it!”
“I haven’t done anything for you in particular, though.”
Naruko slowly shook her head.
“You are, I keep telling you. You’re always in the classroom and you always smile at me and talk to me. And you hear me out no matter what I have to say…so even that makes me feel better.”
As I continued listening to the bland nonsense she was spitting out, the guerilla broadcast of my new song came to an end.
“Oh, the song finished.”
“…Yes, it has.”
“Huh…hm, maybe Wicked’s song was making me feel all weird,” said Naruko, folding her arms. “I don’t usually get all up in arms about things that haven’t actually happened yet. But it’s fine! I’m feeling much better thanks to you.”
She’d returned to having herself together in the blink of an eye.
(Dammit. And I’d even gone out of my way for her.)
I was already dealing with lack of sleep, and now I had to feel like all of my work here was wasted.
(But hey, this isn’t a bad situation to be in.)
My new song had been received well, and I’d managed to escalate Naruko’s degree of misunderstanding. I should have a much easier time using Naruko to ruin all of the Go-Home Club’s relationships.
Why wasn’t this unpleasant feeling going away?
With Naruko back in high spirits, I left the classroom with her.
“Marie-chan, do you have any plans for today?”
“Not in particular. I’ll be heading home and resting.”
“Oh, right. You haven’t been getting enough sleep lately, right?” She started staring at me. “Yeah, you really look kinda pale. You okay?”
“I’m fine,” I said, brightly, then forcibly lowered my voice. “Are you going to meet with the Go-Home Club today?”
“Yeah. I have to look into a lot of stuff for them. I really wonder if they’d be able to function without me — “
A student was waving at us from the other side of the corridor.
“Huh, it’s Kensuke-kun!”
Next to him was a familiar face from the neighboring classroom.
Kensuke Hibiki, and him.
According to Naruko, he was an important figure in the Go-Home Club who’d gained the trust of all of its members, with the virtuadoll Aria by his side.
“Geez, Kensuke-kun, have you been clinging onto him again?”
“‘Clinging’, you say…what slander. That’s defamation. Right, Senpai?”
As he was brought into the conversation, he smiled awkwardly with obvious concern.
And then, he turned to look at me.
(I really can’t stand him, so, so much.)
Why the hell did he have to make me feel so awful?
“Anyway, Naruko-senpai, you haven’t forgotten that we’re supposed to be meeting after school today, correct?”
“You say that, but you’re always getting sidetracked by your information gathering and showing up late.”
“Well…information is like raw meat, you gotta get it fresh. If I run into any by chance, I gotta do what I gotta do!”
“Well…you could simply stop looking at Gossiper all of the time.”
“You saying I should shut down my business? You know I can’t do that!”
“Goodness, goodness. Mizuguchi-san, please say something to her.”
He’d suddenly pivoted the conversation to me.
“Hey! Don’t say weird things like that and drag Marie-chan into this!”
“I don’t think I said anything particularly strange.”
The two of them were now both staring at me.
(Do whatever the hell you want.)
Honestly, I just wanted to get away from these morons as quickly as I could.
(And go home and take a nap and make my new song.)
“Hey, look. You’re both smiling!”
My shoulders reflexively fell back.
(He was definitely…watching me.)
A chill ran through my spine.
“Well, that’s not me, but you, Naruko-senpai — “
And for some reason, he was reaching for me.
His eyes were straight on me, and he was reaching right for me.
But I couldn’t move. My body had seized up, and the floor and the ceiling were spinning —
Why was I looking at the ceiling?
The moment I realized this, I felt myself being tugged at the arm, and my field of vision went blurry.
Everything in front of me went black.
05: The Interval Space of Darkness (Go-Home Club President and μ)
I blinked, and found myself in the darkness again.
“We’ve been synchronized with her for quite a while now…” muttered μ, sighing. She crouched down, clutching her knees. Her fatigue was so apparent that I was starting to worry.
“Ah, sorry, sorry. I’m fine.”
She straightened her back and looked back at me with a smile.
It really was a pain to have all of my thoughts transmitted to her against my will.
“Really, I’m fine. More importantly, everything suddenly went black when you guys were talking to her…What happened to Wicked?”
I’d been casually looking on at the conversation between Naruko and Kensuke, and Marie had suddenly started staggering forward in front of me. I’d rushed forward to grab her and carried her to the nurse’s office while she was unconscious.
I had no idea what was actually going on at the time, but it seemed like she really had been short on sleep. She’d slept for a little while there, and eventually woke up.
“I see…So she really was very tired.”
She was a member of the school festival executive committee, and had taken on all of the little jobs related to it. That alone would have made her incredibly busy, but she was also cranking out music behind the scenes, making her even more tired.
“I’d heard that a school festival would have lots of people gathering in one place…I probably said something that encouraged all the Musicians to push themselves too hard.”
The gloominess in μ’s voice was all too apparent.
But I didn’t think Marie was pushing herself because of anything μ had asked of her. To Marie, composing music was like a calling card for her crimes, and something that seemed necessary to her in order to live at all.
Something that came to her as naturally as breathing.
Like how a flower will still drink up the water in a vase, even after having been plucked.
Betraying others, getting pleasure out of it, and spitting out music in return.
Those moments were when she truly felt alive, and so she had to do it all in order to continue living.
With all of those thoughts gathered in my head, I let out a sigh. If she were to hear those words, she’d probably scream at me with malice in her face.
She’d say something like “don’t say such pathetic fancy-sounding words!”
I wanted to understand her. I’d said that, but I also wanted to find something beautiful in all of this. I wanted to believe that her point of view wasn’t all about disgust and malice, and I was desperately looking for an answer that would support this belief.
All of the evidence that we’d seen from her perspective was pointing to the contrary. It was just my selfish wish that I was clinging onto.
“You’re thinking about some really tough things. Wicked was, too. — Ah, come to think of it. You really became good friends with Kagi-P! I’m so happy to see that.”
I wish I could have said it was because he’d admired me, but looking back on it, he was probably just following me as an excuse to get to see Marie. So of course he’d kept coming to see me so often, even though it wouldn’t accomplish anything else.
“Heehee. Well, Wicked really was a very pretty lady. Besides, it seems like he really didn’t realize Wicked and Marie were the same person at all.”
Still, it would be too harsh on Kensuke to blame him for that. Even putting aside the fact he had no idea what Wicked looked like, Marie’s acting had also been too perfect. It was only natural for him to have never realized.
“I felt so sad when I heard that he’d left the Musicians, but…I’m glad to know he was having fun with you all.”
For a while after he’d joined the Go-Home Club, I kept getting this feeling that I was being watched. He’d acted friendly towards the other members, but he’d been constantly observing me from one step away, as if asking himself:
Was it the right choice for him to join the Go-Home Club?
Was it okay to have hope and keep walking forward into the future, or was it safer in the end to give up on reality?
It felt like if the scales had tipped even a slight bit, he would have left us, and there was an unwavering sense of seriousness as his eyes had burned straight into me.
“I think he wanted you to give him the hope to believe in the future,” said μ, with a smile. “And the way I saw Kensuke just now, he really was your friend.”
In the end, all of us were united as one. I truly wanted to believe that.
“Oh, there’s no doubt about it. It’s a fact. And, after all, you guys will definitely be able to brighten up your future. See, at first, I thought it was only natural for everyone to hate reality, because the Metaverse-Es was full of everyone’s thoughts about that…”
“But now, I know that’s wrong. You guys taught me that. Even if there’s pain and suffering, that comes with what we know as reality. And none of us get to have other people decide whether we’re happy or not, right?”
μ suddenly got up again.
“Okay, I’m fine now. Let’s keep going.”
Following the red light that was sinking into the darkness, μ headed towards it with light steps. There was a sudden gap right in front of us, but beyond that, there was a faintly emerging red light.
μ squeezed my right hand, even though it didn’t actually have a form.
What was Marie thinking when she woke up?
And what was it she truly wanted? Was she able to obtain it?
Those thoughts were circulating in my head.
I wanted to be sure.
“Come on, hurry up!”
μ was waving at me.
I took a breath and moved forward.
- This scene here refers to calling on students via their student seating number, with the “chess” in question being the Japanese variant, shogi.