01: Mobius (Marie Mizuguchi)
Mobius was beginning to collapse.
The space that had once been empty was distorted into darkness, and the echoes were sliced into thin pieces like bolts of lighting.
(The hell is this!?)
The Go-Home Club had successfully defeated all of the Ostinato Musicians, and had taken the battle against μ to the Metaverse-Es.
(I can’t believe it.)
Thorn had fought against the Go-Home Club, lost, and died.
I myself was completely out of power, and there was nothing I could do anymore. Since Mobius was going to collapse sooner or later, I was sitting here doing nothing but wait for it to turn into dust.
Directly confronted with my losses again, I was reminded of him.
Now that I thought about it, the two were very alike.
(Both of them!!)
Staring at me calmly. With an expression full of pity.
And, most importantly, getting in the way of my plans, blocking off anything else I could have.
It was the same thing, all over again.
(If it hadn’t been for them…!!)
But this situation was beyond salvaging.
The Go-Home Club members were about to destroy this world of lies, face the pain of reality, and act like this was supposed to be a happy ending.
And yet here I was, trapped in this darkness with nothing in it.
“Dammit…You gotta be shitting me!”
With nowhere to keep cursing at, the only thing I could do was let it keep swirling inside me until it turned pitch-black.
“What? Is this supposed to be my divine retribution or something? You expect me to just take that crap!? This can’t be happening to me…”
As if I were vomiting it all out.
Again. And again.
But it was as if my internal organs were emptied out and hollowed, and all they did was twitch, and the nausea washing over me had no signs of going away.
This was nothing but anger. It was sheer anger at how absurd and unfair this was.
“It’s insane! There’s just no goddamn way! Why me…? Why me!?”
I screamed until my throat was wrung dry, and then I realized.
I fell from the pedestrian bridge, became unable to move, sank deep into the darkness of my consciousness, and had nobody to curse at but myself.
It was exactly the same as it had been back then.
(Absolutely nothing has changed.)
I was stuck there in shock, choking on the air.
(Not a single goddamn thing has changed.)
And suddenly, I heard μ’s voice, coming out of nowhere.
“Thank you, everyone — “
02: The Interval Space of Darkness (Go-Home Club President and μ)
It was only then I’d realized that I was fully standing there in the darkness, even though there shouldn’t have been any sense of up and down.
“We’re finally back…ah!”
μ, who was standing next to me, responded with shock.
“I can see you now!”
I scrambled to look at the rest of myself.
I could see everything from my chest to my shoulders to my arms and my elbows. I could open my palms and use my fingers to hold or touch anything I wanted.
“No way, goodness, I can’t believe it…I can’t believe a human soul can actually exist as an independent entity here! Was it because you unraveled everything in your heart and gained proper self-awareness? Does this mean our journey through Wicked’s past is finally over?”
μ tilted her head, clearly not very satisfied with any of the possible answers.
I’d confirmed all of the facts. Wicked’s plans had failed, and she’d fallen off a pedestrian bridge, becoming incapacitated. For that reason, she’d demanded that μ give her “a body that moved the way she wanted it to”.
And because the Go-Home Club was there to destroy Mobius, its existence was absolutely abhorrent to her.
“Anyway…about that boy from her memories. Was he really that much like you?” said μ, leaning her head curiously again. “I don’t think he looked much like you at all, but, somehow…”
μ looked back at me, tilting her head back and forth.
Well, it was true; we didn’t look very similar at all, at least in terms of appearance. But she’d probably seen us as “a similar kind of person”, and felt that I was “watching her” in the same way.
Everyone in the Go-Home Club, and all of the Musicians we’d met, had some kind of light and darkness in their hearts. It wasn’t just them; everyone in Mobius should have been the same.
Whenever I passed by someone, I’d always start thinking — I wonder what this person is dealing with? What are they suffering from, and why did they come to this world?
She’d probably felt my gaze unconsciously trying to figure out what was going on with her, and reacted badly as a result.
It was no wonder we’d never been able to have a proper conversation. My sheer presence continually reminded her of her greatest failure.
“So that means…you were watching Wicked closely every time you saw her, and Wicked was constantly wary of you from the moment she first met you? Feels like it all went to waste…”
Still leaning her head back and forth, μ had a very dejected expression on her face.
“Both of you were very interested in what was going on with the other, and because of that you couldn’t stop watching each other, right? So in any other situation, you two might have gotten along very well. And I…also wanted to sing her song. I wanted to sing it by actually understanding its meaning, much, much more…”
But would there ever be another day for her to be able to compose again?
“Spi-nal cord in-ju-ry…it’s a very grave kind of injury, isn’t it?”
Her spine being damaged meant that commands from her brain wouldn’t reach the rest of her body, and she’d lost access to all of her motor functions. Once it was broken, it would never be able to heal. The doctor had said it’d leave her “severely disabled”, so it was a very grave situation indeed.
The average life expectancy of one who suffers a spinal cord injury is about 5% shorter than that of a healthy individual — She’d never be able to make another song again, and she’d be likely to live the rest of a human lifespan lying in bed, unable to move.
If she were to return to reality, the only thing remaining for her would be a fully bedridden life. That was why she was so obsessed with ensuring Mobius’s continued existence.
We’d destroyed the only world Marie could live in.
Even if we hadn’t done anything, Mobius would have collapsed anyway, but it was undeniable that we in the Go-Home Club had done everything with a selfish desire to go home. We hadn’t had the space to think about anyone who could only live in Mobius, and nowhere else.
And I doubted Marie was the only one. We’d robbed the world from many people out there who couldn’t do a thing in reality.
Our situations weren’t even remotely on the same level. I’d thought I could get rid of this feeling stuck in my chest if I’d gotten to know her better, but now I just had a bad taste in my mouth that I couldn’t get rid of and a lump in my chest.
“Oh! Hey, look over there!”
μ suddenly called out in a loud voice.
In the darkness, where μ was pointing, I saw her, crouched over and barely taking up any space.
μ took off and started running there. I followed right behind her.
μ called out her name and rushed over, but she didn’t budge at all, still sitting there clutching her knees.
“Hey, Wicked. Are you okay? Does it hurt anywhere?”
My ears were pierced by a low, shrill voice.
But μ did not falter.
“…You’ve always been in pain, huh.”
μ softly sat next to her as she remained there cowering.
“Your father hit you, your mother and grandfather yelled at you, and you always knew that your world was far removed from your friends’…all of that must have hurt, all of it was pain for the heart.”
“Don’t give me that crap.”
Her low voice was still lashing out at us.
“I’ve heard it a million times. Don’t give me your pity. It makes me wanna throw up.”
“You’re not wrong.”
The words had suddenly left my mouth.
“You talked…!” yelped μ in shock.
I was surprised myself, but I continued addressing Marie.
“People with bad relationships with their parents, people who can’t make good friends no matter what they do — all of that is common. If you’re looking for someone who’s gotten a worse lot in life, you’ll find it anywhere, easily — everyone’s living with some kind of pain. You’re not special.”
As I said this, calmly and quietly, Marie slowly lifted her head to look at me.
“You’d be shocked to know how much even I’ve gotten hurt by things people have casually said. But we don’t notice how much it’s hurt us, and we start overthinking the things they said so casually, and it only hurts more. You’re not special. You’re not different from any of us.”
“The hell is that?” Soft words of protest were leaking from Marie’s mouth. “…The hell. Don’t lump me in with the rest of you.”
“Some people are strong. I bet there’s a lot of people out there who can keep living, thinking none of it is a big deal at all. But I don’t have it in me to pretend to be that person. I don’t think anyone in the Go-Home Club can, either. And that goes for you, too.”
“Don’t lump me in with you!”
Marie suddenly lashed back at me, but I couldn’t feel the mysterious sense of dread I’d gotten from her in Mobius anymore.
“We’ve all had to take things that hurt us and worn us out.”
We fell over and wore ourselves out on the little things, and were shocked and terrorized by the pain of failure.
That’s why we all ran away to Mobius.
“It’s impossible to truly understand everyone out there. But if someone were to see your past and claim it’s not a huge deal, that person would be no friend of mine.”
“Shut up! Shut up!…Stop looking at me!”
Marie’s face was scrunched up as if she were about to cry.
“The way you look at me…I hate it…You look at me like you’re trying to figure me out…You know you can’t do that…Nobody can do that.”
Marie had never been able to cry. She wasn’t able to feel the full extent of the pain she was bearing, and she wasn’t able to feel the full extent of the bitterness she was enduring, but seeing herself cry allowed her to finally take notice of her own pain, like a little girl.
She spit out the words and pressed her forehead against her kneecaps.
“I failed, and Mobius got destroyed, so now I have to go back to reality, where I get to be a breathing piece of meat. You guys don’t have to worry about that…”
“Hey, Wicked…don’t cry.”
μ gently embraced Marie from behind.
“I didn’t understand it at all…I didn’t realize pain could be this awful.”
“That’s not true, μ. You understood it very well.”
μ looked right at me in response to what I’d said.
“Mobius was there for us when we were at our weakest. Because Mobius was there, we were able to stand up and decide to do better again in reality. I’ve said this many times, and I’ll say it again. Mobius gave us the opportunity to overcome that pain. We needed Mobius.”
Tears were accumulating in μ’s eyes, making them sparkle.
“…I’m happy to hear that.”
μ blinked, spilling a drop of light.
She had the most dazzling smile I’d ever seen her wear.
“I’ve made so many mistakes and caused everyone so much trouble…you and Aria and everyone else said so many kind things to me, but I was so deep in regret and shame that I couldn’t really accept those words. But now, I think I can truly believe them. And so…I’m very happy. Thank you. I went back in time with you so I could get you back to reality, but thinking on it further, I think it was also a very necessary journey for myself, too. So — “
μ lowered her head and looked back at Marie.
“I don’t think I want to bring Wicked back to reality when she’s so exhausted like this. I want to do something for Wicked in the same way Mobius did something for all of you.”
It was a breathtaking and amazing sight to see her like this.
“I can say I understand your feelings all I like, but…”
Mobius was already long destroyed.
And then, μ made a shocking proposal.
“How about I make another Mobius, just for Wicked?”
μ responded with a huge nod.
“One just for Wicked, not for a ton of people at once. I think I can do that much right now. And I won’t make any mistakes this time.”
μ continued staring straight at me, with a voice overflowing with determination.
“We just need to give Wicked a little more time. I want to give her heart a place to rest.”
I looked back at Marie. She was still crouching there, saying nothing.
Her wounds and pain wouldn’t make up for all the horrors and pain she’d inflicted on others. The lingering pain was both her reward and her punishment for all of her sins. And yet, she was sitting there, crying. Even if she wasn’t saying it in words, she’d realized her mistakes. That, perhaps, could be enough to serve as her first step towards salvation.
(And besides…μ is just like us.)
She made a huge mistake, was hurt by the pain of her failure, and still had lingering regrets.
But she’d overcome so much, and she still didn’t want to give up without doing something about this. She wanted another chance.
“Yeah, I think it’s a good idea.”
A world where you could redo things whenever you noticed a mistake or failure. Even I would want something like that.
It may not be the beautiful, perfect world we’d envisioned at first, but I wanted to believe we could find that new place out there somewhere.
“I trust you with your new world, μ. Especially after you’ve come this far.”
Not a world made to trap anyone in it, but a small world made just to help heal Marie.
“If we’re supposed to call reality ‘real’, then it’ll still be a ‘fake’ world, but…it’ll be a very gentle world.”
μ’s expression was suddenly full of brilliance.
My field of vision was suddenly flooded by a blinding light.
” — !
The light was so dazzling that I had to close my eyes.
And suddenly, μ was there, in the pure white space.
Even here, it was hard to tell what was up and what was down — but there was now a dazzling light filling everything.
“The darkness is gone, huh…so you can go back to reality for real now.”
I rubbed my eyes and blinked several times, but once my eyes were finally accustomed to the brightness, I could still see μ laughing gently in front of me. And there was Marie, with her eyes closed as if she were sleeping, softly held in μ’s arms.
“Leave Wicked to me.”
μ smiled and pointed ahead.
I followed her finger and saw a whirlpool of light shining even more brightly ahead.
“Go ahead. There’s a new future waiting for you there.”
Her kind words encouraged me forward, and I started walking — and then suddenly came to a halt.
“Huh? What’s wrong?”
As μ stood there with a puzzled expression on her face, I looked back at her, walked back towards her, and held out my right hand.
“Hey, μ, can you shake hands with me?”
Even if we were to part here, μ would always be here in the Metaverse-Es as a singer. The Metaverse-Es would always be one step away from reality. So in that sense, the rest of my life would still involve walking together with her.
“Are you saying you see me as your friend?”
I nodded back at her. She took a moment to pause, and then took my hand.
“Thank you…We’ll work hard, together!”
The teardrops in her eyes were swelling and getting bigger again.
“Oh, goodness…I wanted you to remember me smiling all the time…when did I become such a crybaby?”
She used her free hand to wipe away her tears.
“Hey, hey. What’s with the huge smile on your face?”
“I was just bragging to myself that I’m the only one who’s gotten to see μ crying such beautiful tears.”
“Oh, you! Well, I was just thinking that I want everyone to be happy. But I don’t know what ‘happiness’ really is, because it means something different depending on the person. It’s a difficult thing, isn’t it?”
The smile on μ’s face was the complete opposite of the word “difficult”.
“I’ll keep supporting you. I’ll keep pushing you forward. I’ll always be with you. So keep living to find your happiness!”
I tried to yell something back in response, but I swallowed my words. Saying “goodbye” didn’t seem to quite fit.
It wasn’t a farewell, after all. It was the beginning of everything that lay ahead.
I’d face forward again — and keep walking.
“See you again!”
I let her bright voice push me forward, and I kept moving, without stopping once.
Towards that strong, brilliant point of light.
“Excuse me. Where would Marie Mizuguchi’s room be?”
I’d headed to the neurosurgical ward, and was at the nurse’s station.
“Do you have any business with her?”
“I’m just here to visit.”
The nurse seemed a little taken aback, but didn’t press the issue further.
“Room 10 — just around the corner of this hallway.”
I quickly bowed and headed there.
I’d used the traces of those memories — Marie’s uniforms from her past and the description of the incidents she’d gotten caught up in — to hunt information down on the Internet and through newspapers in the library, and I’d finally arrived at this hospital.
“Huh? You said you’re Marie’s friend?”
Before arriving at the hospital, I’d stopped by the school Marie had attended. After school had ended, I’d stayed there watching the school’s gates for a while, before I’d finally come across the person in question, “Sakura Kawakami”.
I went ahead and called out to her, and asked her a flurry of questions.
“Were you one of Marie’s old classmates?…Also, did you hear anything about her having transferred schools several times?”
My heart was throbbing, but I put out a white lie so I wouldn’t look suspicious.
“I heard a rumor about her getting in an accident, so…I wanted to go visit her.”
I tilted my head in curiosity, and she gave a vague laugh in response.
“Ah, well…what I mean is, I’m glad she has a friend who can go visit her.”
“Do you know the name of the hospital she’s at?”
She asked me to give her a second, took out a piece of paper, and wrote down the name of the hospital.
“Here you go. I don’t remember the address.”
“That’s fine, I can look it up on the Internet. Thanks.”
She looked away, as if something were weighing on her mind.
“It seems like she hasn’t woken up at all, so even if you go, you probably won’t be able to talk to her…”
“But you’re still sure you want to go see Marie?”
Seeing me nod, she looked up again and sighed in relief.
“Okay…Ah, oops, sorry.”
She quickly wiped her eyes.
“You know, I’ve never been able to bring myself to go. I…wanted to be Marie’s friend, but some…difficult things happened before and after the accident. I really did want to go see her, very badly, and there are so many things I want to tell her, but…I was too scared and I couldn’t go…I was with her when she got caught up in the accident, but I couldn’t do a single thing, so…”
She desperately got out all of the words, suppressing her tears as they threatened to burst out. She was sniffling so much that the passerby students were giving us strange looks.
“Sorry, I started crying…”
“I’m the one who should be sorry. I’m the one who started talking to you out of nowhere and asked about a lot of harsh things.”
“No, that’s not it…I’ve actually wanted someone to talk to me about it for quite a while.”
Come to think about it, what happened to her boyfriend — Takahiro Suou? I looked around, but I couldn’t see anyone who looked like him.
Had they broken up because of the incident? Or did they just happen to not be together that day? Was it just the topic of Marie that had become a taboo?
(Seems like everyone else is still fighting their own battles.)
Sakura, and Suou, and everyone else in Mobius.
“Thank you for hearing me out. It’s a bit of a weight off of my shoulders.”
“I’ll tell Marie what you just said.”
Her tears hadn’t stopped, but she was still able to laugh —
Reflecting on this and that, I walked down the silent hospital hallway and stopped at the room at the end.
(Here it is.)
The nameplate had “Mizuguchi” written on it, and the room’s sliding door was slightly open.”
“These numbers don’t look good at all.”
I could hear a voice and a huge sigh nearby. I peered inside and saw a man in a white coat.
“I don’t think we can expect any further recovery.”
“Okay, but also…is her grandfather okay?”
The man seemed to be the doctor in charge of her treatment. Next to him was a woman, probably the nurse, who was whispering to him very loudly.
“He keeps asking when she’s going to die already. I heard she’s got some complicated family troubles, but is she really their granddaughter? There’s something weird about it, no matter how you look into it.”
Right, I’d seen that in Marie’s past.
Marie’s grandfather had physically abused her when she was young. If they let him do whatever he wanted, he really could cut off her treatment.
“Well, I’m sure they’re doing their best in their own way. At that age, it’s hard to take care of someone like that. What about her parents?”
“Who knows…They haven’t been here even once. Maybe they’re dead, or they’re divorced…something like that? Either way, no reason to expect anything from them. Can’t we transfer this girl somewhere?”
“Keep your voice down! If someone hears you, we’ll be in trouble.”
Should I leave or stay? After contemplating it for a moment, I knocked on the door a little harder and opened the sliding door.
” — Ah, sorry.”
I apologized, pretending I’d just arrived and barged in.
“This is Marie Mizuguchi-san’s room, right?”
“Um, who would you be?”
“I’m a friend.”
The nurse had a surprised look on her face, and responded with a cold tone.
“We’re in the middle of our rounds, so please wait outside.”
“It’s fine, we’re almost done here, we just need to finish up the blood draw. You can sit down and wait on the chair over there.”
I gave a light bow, pulled up the chair, and sat down on it.
Suddenly, the nurse raised her voice. “Huh? Did she just…”
“Hm? What’s wrong?”
“No, it’s just…I could have sworn I just saw her smile at us.”
“Let me see.”
The doctor looked over and moved her neck around.
“Hm…Well, her complexion does look a little better.”
“…Only in appearance, though.”
The nurse grabbed the arm that was laying limp over the bed. She shoved a blood sampling aspirator into her thin, white arm. She was barely even watching, and I saw her immediately yank it out with a violent gesture, saying, “oh, oops.”
“Thanks for your help.”
After hurriedly cleaning up the equipment, the nurse quickly left the room.
“Well, the visitation period runs until seven PM.”
The doctor left the room as well, with a friendly laugh on his way out.
But I could still hear the nurse hovering near us from the other side of the door.
“So what are we gonna do about rehabilitation?”
The doctor responded without a single ounce of care towards how loudly they were talking.
“Well, yeah…there’s not much hope of her ever recovering, so we don’t have to work too hard on her. Well, if we don’t see any huge changes with her for a while, we should probably recommend transferring her to another hospital. No point wasting a bed on someone with no chance of recovery.”
I could hear the footsteps getting further away. I held my breath and waited, and finally let go when they were far enough.
(As usual, reality is cruel.)
I looked back at the bed.
The person sleeping on the bed was, without a doubt, Marie Mizuguchi.
She had a bloodstained piece of cotton taped to her arm. Even considering that she’d just gotten her blood drawn, she was bleeding an unusual amount. This didn’t seem to be a particularly efficient or respectable hospital, especially given the attitude the doctors and nurses had. It was a terrible thought for me to entertain, but I wondered if Marie’s grandfather had deliberately sent her here hoping for her to die.
I approached her and gently took her hand. I wanted to convey some kind of warmth as it lay limp on the bed.
“I came to see you, Mizuguchi.”
04: The New World
The school bell rang, and I left the classroom.
“To all cultural festival executive committee members, please head to the A/V room after class.”
As soon as the broadcast finished, the neighboring class’s door opened.
I made eye contact with the girl who had just walked out of it.
I greeted her and struck up a conversation with her, as she kept her head slightly lowered.
“I’ve seen you around quite a bit lately.”
She laughed, amiably. There was no sign of the tense air I’d often gotten from her before.
“You’re going to the cultural festival executive committee meeting, right?”
“I’m also in the committee.”
“Did you not notice?”
“I didn’t…I apologize. We probably were there together quite a few times, and yet…”
As Marie bowed her head in mild embarrassment, I laughed.
“Let’s head to the computer room together.”
We walked side by side, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
Ever since my visit to the hospital, I’d started having dreams of meeting Marie.
At first I’d thought it was just an ordinary dream, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that μ was secretly guiding me to come see Marie in her world.
A world that was just as real as Mobius, but a very calm world.
The school was almost exactly the same as it was when we were in Mobius. But the one key difference was that Marie had no memory of it at all.
(But…well, that’s for the better.)
Every time I ran into Marie at the school, she would smile back at me.
That was enough.
A huge yawn came from Marie as she walked next to me.
“Have you not been sleeping well lately?”
A little embarrassed, Marie wiped the edges of her eyes with her fingers a bit.
It was such a cute gesture that I couldn’t help but stare back at her.
Curious, Marie tilted her head.
(Good. She doesn’t have that scary feeling in her gaze anymore.)
I sighed in relief, quietly so she wouldn’t hear me, and smiled back at her.
Still embarrassed, Marie added one more sentence.
“I’ve actually started composing music late at night.”
She said it quietly, as if sharing a secret with me, and smiled.