Kamisu Reina:Volume 1 Kazuaki Toyoshina
Chapter 4: Kazuaki Toyoshina
It was me who provided the picture for Shizuka Wakui's funeral.
I own more pictures of her than anyone else—more than she did even. Her smiling, her crying, her getting upset... they are all treasures to me.
I raise my head to look at the photo of Shizuka's lovely smile at the altar.
Ah, it's already been a year since she stopped smiling like that.
Ever since that incident a year from now, she hasn't shown that happy and careless smile of hers. Instead, her eyes dulled and her smiles turned into faint motions of her lips.
But I didn't mind. I was willing to wait by her side for her to regain the joy of living and had no plans of searching for another love.
The smell of incense hits my nose.
I feel like I turn empty as the smell soaks into my body; as if it silently bereaves me of myself. What remains of me is a translucent mass of untouchable void.
All colors around me are either black or white, or the green of our school uniforms. Even colors were stolen from me.
Most likely, I'm going to stay in this strangely isolated world from now on.
"Kazuaki," someone says. I turn around to look at a meek Kiichi.
"Of course I am. All of our classmates are."
As Kiichi correctly mentioned, our entire class is here. In fact, there are also students from other classes who used to be friends with Shizuka, students I don't even know and even a few students from other schools.
After that incident, Shizuka started to lose her friends one by one and stopped making new ones, until I was the last remaining person at school who was close to her. The friendship between girls is defined by how they relate to each other; at first, her friends accompanied her because of sympathy, but eventually they couldn't keep up with how she changed.
Nevertheless, many old friends have come to Shizuka's funeral and lamented for her sake. Right now, she's the heroine of a tragedy for everyone, which doesn't please me. She was supposed to be my heroine, not someone else's.
Therefore, I ignore them and gaze at the picture of her.
Why, truly why, could I not protect that smile?
Where did we make the wrong choice? What should I have done? Was my choice to embrace her wrong? Or was it too late by then anyway?
Why could I not protect the one thing I wanted to protect whatever it would take?
What am I supposed to do now that I have completely and entirely lost Shizuka—my other half—my hope, my purpose?
I am the same as that picture.
The smile depicted and I are but evanescent remnants of the past.
Shizuka's body was transported away.
I didn't get to see her face one last time because of severe damage to her corpse. Had I insisted, I may have gotten permission to take a look, but neither Shizuka nor I would have wished for that.
I mean, they said damage. Not injury or scars, boy, but damage.
Hahaha, Shizuka isn't a human being anymore. She's void. Seeing that would only sadden me.
The black and white and green colors have disappeared as I keep standing there, focusing my gaze on the door through which her body was transported.
"Kazuaki-kun," someone says behind me.
It's Shizuka's mother, a sorrowful expression on her face. She looks like that because of the loss of her daughter, of course, but part of her melancholy is probably due to sympathy for me.
"Let me give you this," she says as she holds out her fist. When I present the palm of my hand, she drops something on it.
It's a cross choker; a Christmas present I bought for Shizuka two years ago, saving up three months' worth of pocket money.
"Shizuka was wearing it when she passed away. I... I thought I should give it to you."
I don't look up as I listen to her words, and keep gazing closely at the choker in my hand.
She was wearing it at the bitter end? Even though she hasn't worn it a single time after that incident?
What's the meaning of this? Why did she wear it at the end?
"I'm sorry," she suddenly says.
I'm sorry. Words of apology.
Her mother apologized ahead of me.
She took my right to apologize.
It would have been so much easier to blame myself for having failed to ease Shizuka's pain, for having let her accept such a fate, for being responsible for her death. It would have been so much easier to apologize and crack under the weight.
But her mother didn't grant me that right.
She took up that position before me.
The only thing I have left now is—
—to cry my lungs out.
Kiichi and I are on our way to the Shikura public middle school. Normally, there's no reason why a high school student who is neither in a committee nor in a club would go to a completely unfamiliar middle school that requires him to take an express train just because it's slightly too far away to go by bicycle. Normally.
"He said he's waiting," Kiichi explains as he claps his cell phone.
"Okay, thanks man. We're better off if there's someone with us who knows his way around. I hear of a lot of suspicious figures around here lately, I don't want them to suspect us."
"Well, not like we're any less suspicious."
"Heh, sounds about right. What's your brother's name, again?"
"Yuji Kato it is, huh. Do you resemble each other?"
"I honestly can't tell, but for some reason, he's pretty popular with the girls."
"You don't look anything like each other, then."
"...Hey, what's that supposed to mean?"
Responding with a wordless grin, I insert my ticket and go through the barrier. Kiichi looks me in the face in a serious manner.
Aah, I see.
He doesn't understand at all; it's been two weeks since the funeral. I've already had a hard time when she was still alive, so it's child's play for me to put on a cheerful face like this.
"Hey, Kazuaki," he starts when we entered the train, still with a heavy-hearted mien. "I shouldn't be giving you sermons already, but you really shouldn't drag on Wakui-san's death forever, 'kay?"
"Well, dude..." he falters for a moment when I counter his advice dryly. "I know that you loved Wakui-san. Maybe it was mutual love even. But Kazuaki: You weren't a couple, let alone married. Just childhood friends. I mean, look at that cute midget girl who's hitting on you; she's the proof that you're popular. Don't waste that potential."
"Aah... you had that kind of impression of us?"
"Hm? But I'm spot-on, no? You obviously were on the way from friends to lovers."
"Oh come on, maybe that's what you thought."
"We were a couple."
"...What? For real?"
Ah, of course he wouldn't know about us. We've only known each other since high school.
"We already started going out in the 6th year of elementary school. Don't go telling this around, but we kissed and even made out with each other in middle school."
"...Did you take the next step?"
"No. She always insisted on waiting until we could marry, and I listened to her like a moron."
"I see..." he squeezes out and falls silent.
However, I continue with a stimulated sense of self-mockery.
"She was raped."
"Yeah..." he comments insecurely, with an ambiguous expression that makes it clear that he already heard of this fairly well-known story.
"What do you think is the first thing she said to me when she told me about it?"
"I have no idea..."
"I'm so sorry."
Kiichi glances at me for a moment, and silently lowers his gaze.
"We had no doubts," I continue, "that I would take her virginity, and that she would give me her virginity. No one expected the train to derail from that predestined path. After we had gone through that station, we would enroll at the same university, find a job, and marry. Finally, after death had part us, we would rest in peace in the same grave. It was an unspoken promise between us that we would follow this path."
"But that incident messed our plans up. That clear path laid out before us disappeared into thin air. That's why she... apologized, thinking it was her fault. Blaming herself for everything."
Kiichi is in complete silence, but I continue:
"She was so churned up inside that she couldn't even touch me anymore. No, maybe she just had androphobia, who knows. Anyway, she just wouldn't look at the new path I was trying to build for the two of us. Because of that, we returned to just being friends. Of course, I didn't plan to leave it that way."
"I see..." he simply says.
There's an oppressive silence between us for a while, underlining the tedious rattling of the train. The passengers around us seem to think of everyone else as mere scenery, fiddling with their cell phones or focusing on the music from their headphones.
I begin to speak again.
"I found one of her rapers the other day."
Kiichi's head jumps up. He looks at me with a raised eyebrow.
"...What did you do?"
"I killed him."
He completely loses his tongue.
"I tore off all his clothes, crushed his balls with a stone, beat him up until his face was no longer recognizable, stuffed his mouth with his own shit, peeled off his fingernails one by one, squashed his eyeballs... and while I was doing so, he kicked the bucket."
My gaze pinned on the pubs and video shops and fast food restaurants flying by outside the window, I answer him:
"'Course I am."
Fortunately, I don't know what they look like.
As the train starts to slow down, I look outside and think:
Come to think of it... I haven't had Gyudon in a while.
The Shikura Middle School is built amidst the living quarters; finally arriving there, we spot a bunch of students playing soccer and baseball in the cramped school grounds.
Five minutes after Kiichi gives him a call, Yuji shows up at the entrance gate, still in sports gear, subliminally remarking that he was in the middle of working out. With his large and athletic build it stands to reason that he would be popular.
"Let me cut straight to the chase: The three students who committed suicide were in your class, is that right, Yuji-kun?"
"Yes, we had quite the chaos going on here because of that."
"What do you mean?"
"Things like no one wanting to take the blame, getting a new class teacher, and so on."
Three students taking their lives is a big problem, indeed. Added to that, they're in the middle of puberty (not that I'm much older), too, which doesn't mix well and allows for even more problems.
"I heard the gist from Kiichi, so I'll delve right into the details: What do you consider the reason why they committed suicide?"
Yuji-kun ponders. "I think each had their own problems, really. The girl of the first incident didn't have any friends and wasn't exactly treated well in class, and the guy who killed himself next blamed himself for the death of the first victim."
"...Ah, so they didn't commit suicide independently, but rather the first suicide triggered a chain?"
"...That's my view, yes."
When I heard that three students had killed themselves at different times and in different places, I suspected the same irregularity as with Shizuka's case; after all, you wouldn't just commit suicide just because you are confronted with the topic.
If, however, their cases are interconnected and can be traced back, they may not be regular, but they're by no means irregular either.
It seems like this trace, which I tracked because I found that Shizuka was investigating these incidents, ends here.
"Can you show me your classroom, Yuji-kun?" I propose just in case.
"Sure. But please try not to catch anyone's eye. It's a hassle to explain ourselves."
Yuji-kun and I (Kiichi stayed outside) entered the school building. He then showed me around, guiding me to relevant places like their classroom, the landing of the stairway that leads to the roof, where the first victim was often seen, and so on. By the way, the place where I wanted to go most, the roof, was closed, perhaps because of those incidents.
"So? Did you learn anything?" Yuji-kun asks before the door to the roof.
"Hm..." As expected, the places didn't make an impression on me.
"Can I ask you something on the matter, too?" he responds to my silence.
"What is it?"
"Why are you investigating in the first place, Toyoshina-san?"
After giving it some thought, I reply, "I had a girlfriend."
"My brother told me something along those lines. He said she... committed suicide," he explains, faltering a little before squeezing out the word suicide. "Ah, do you suspect that it wasn't suicide but murder? And that it was the same culprit for the cases at this—"
"Haha, no, that's not it. To be honest, I think she had a proper reason to commit suicide."
"But then why?"
"A few days before she died, she started to behave strangely. Her condition abruptly worsened as if she had stepped on the gas and fallen from a cliff. In other words, I'm investigating the reason why she suddenly stepped on the gas, you know."
"But is there—" Yuji-kun starts, but cuts off mid-sentence, making a grimace.
"Ah, no, please forget about it. I don't want to be rude."
"It's okay, I'm curious."
He looks me in the eyes repeatedly before he finally gives in with a nod. "Um... I just wondered if there is a point in doing all this?"
A point, hm?
"I'm... I'm sorry! My tongue slipped!"
"No, it's okay," I assure him and add, "...There is no point, I suppose."
"None at all?" he asks in surprise.
"She did go to strange places in her last days, sure, and she started to become delusional. Maybe that accelerated her death."
"...It sounds meaningful to me to look into that, no?"
"Nope, not at all. I know for a fact that the reason why she committed suicide has nothing to do with all that."
"...No meaning... but then why do you go out of your way to investigate?"
I gaze at Yuji-kun. Looking at his genuinely puzzled face, I'm sure he has never lost a beloved person.
"Because I have nothing else to do, maybe?"
"But that's not true, is it...? Maybe it's a bit early, but you could start preparing for the university exams, or you could be—"
"No, nothing," I interrupt him with a firm voice, "I have nothing else to do."
The path I tried to rebuild was irreversibly destroyed. I'm only drifting away in an empty space now.
All I can do is follow Shizuka's footsteps, even though there is nothing ahead of them. It's simply the only signpost left to me, having lost ground.
It seems that Yuji-kun remains unconvinced, but so be it; there's no need for him to understand. If he does, it will be once he's in a similar situation.
I look around once more and let out a deep sigh. It seems that there's nothing to be found here. It's not so easy to find the fragments left behind by Shizuka.
I take her choker out of my pocket and gaze at it.
Shizuka, why did you put that choker on before you died? Is there a meaning behind that? Or none at all? I can't even tell that much, even though we've been together for most of our lives.
"Well, if that's all, shall we leave?" he proposes.
I nod in agreement. There's nothing to be gained here.
As I climb down the stairs, I remember that there was one other thing I was meaning to ask.
"Aah, before I forget: Do you happen to know that name, Yuji-kun?" I ask without any expectations.
"Um, lemme see... 'Reina Kamisu.'"
As I finish saying that name, Yuji-kun abruptly stops.
"...Where did you learn about that name?" he asks, surprising me with his reaction. His face is mildly tensed.
"Um, I heard it from my deceased girlfriend."
He stays silent, his gaze still fixed on me.
Huh? What's up with him? Did he know the name after all? No, that wouldn't explain why he would react like this.
Which means that...?
"I don't know a person by that name, but to tell the truth, I did come across that name."
Reluctantly, Yuji-kun answers me, "The victims mentioned it."
That means that...? Hold on, I need to think.
Yuji-kun heard the name "Reina Kamisu" from the suicide victims. Victims—that's plural. Furthermore, he doesn't know Reina Kamisu himself. However, that does still not explain why he would react in such a strange fashion.
"...You don't know Reina Kamisu," I start.
"And the other students who are alive don't know her, either."
"However... All the suicide victims, including my girlfriend Shizuka, knew Reina Kamisu."
Yuji-kun nods awkwardly.
"I'm not sure if all three of them knew her, but at least the first two victims did mention that name."
"The first victim referred to that name as her best friend, while the second one mentioned it in his suicide note as the person who drove him into suicide, mistaking Reina Kamisu for the first victim."
"He mistook her? How could that happen? How can you mistake the name of the person who drove you into death?"
"I thought so, too... but his suicide note is clearly referring to the first victim! I suppose he knew both of them, since they were close friends, and somehow confused them with each other."
"Yes, I know. That only explains why the first two victims mentioned that name, but not why your girlfriend knew her, too."
Shizuka and I have known each other for most of our lives because her family's house is just across the street. We have admitted the same schools from kindergarten to high school. In other words, she had just as little to do with the Shikura middle school as me.
There's no reason why a high school student who is neither in a committee nor in a club would go to a completely unfamiliar middle school that is slightly too far away to go by bicycle, but not that far away. Similarly, there's no reason why she would get to know the students from there.
"Shizuka was acquainted with 'Reina Kamisu' even though you guys don't know her and even though she had far less points of contact with the other suicide victims. And everyone who knew Reina Kamisu—"
"—is dead now."
The pieces are starting to come together, forming a ring that connects all of the victims.
An incredibly twisted ring that should not even exist.
Come to think of it, Shizuka and the other victims had no doubt proper reasons to commit suicide. But they only had reasons.
If for example they had actually been killed, they still would have had proper reasons to commit suicide.
In other words, the fact that they had reasons does in no way rule out the existence of a third person who may have influenced them.
No... don't jump to conclusions. I have to consider that Shizuka did some research about this school; maybe she learned about 'Reina Kamisu' in the process.
That being said... that would be an eerie chain of coincidences.
"Toyoshina-san," Yuji-kun starts, "I'll try asking around in school about Reina Kamisu tomorrow."
"Please do so."
Where will this ring lead me? I think as I gaze in the air.
Suddenly, my vision turns blurry as if a drop of water had fallen on my eyes. But that's how it's supposed to be. The world is full of mosaics that conceal the truth from our eyes. We don't really see anything. Perhaps, we arrive at what we think is the answer even though it's based on flawed logic. At the end of the day, three-dimensional beings like us cannot look across a three-dimensional world.
My vision is always blurry, I'm always blind.
Ah, just damn it. Someone tell me what I'm supposed to do! What did Shizuka want me to do? How can I escape fate? What is 1+1? Why is the earth rotating? Why is the earth round? What is gravity? What is magnetic force? What is the meaning of life? Who is Reina Kamisu?
I know that there's no clear answer, so just make up one for me. Just tell me the answer using a valid logic. There should be one, and if there is one, please tell me.
Give me the right answer.
Give me the right answer.
Save me before I drown in the swamp that I'm struggling against, that is drawing life out of me!
I see a silhouette on the landing where I was moments ago.
"...? What's wrong, Toyoshina-san?" Yuji-kun asks in response to the sudden gasp I let out.
"L-Look, there!" I groan as I point at Shizuka. He traces the direction I'm indicating with his eyes and narrows them.
"...Um, I see nothing."
I turn around to the landing once more.
Shizuka's not there. Of course not. She's dead. She's not among us anymore.
"...Sorry, forget about it."
"You must be tired."
"Yeah, I guess you're right."
I'm tired. Yeah. Absolutely.
Otherwise I can't believe it.
I mean, really, how could I otherwise believe that I, who loved Shizuka more than anyone else, would mistake someone for her.
Shizuka isn't among us. She's not here.
Therefore, that girl over there isn't Shizuka.
That girl over there with an absurdly beautiful smile, who resembles Shizuka, is—
"I'm pleased to meet you."
What was the most important thing for me within my school life?
The answer is obvious; and it's something that's already lost.
School right now is just like a hamburger restaurant that doesn't offer meat. They might introduce tofu instead, but that just doesn't cut it.
For me, at least, there is not a single thing of import at school. The only reason I'm still here is because of habit—a routine I'm programmed to follow— a daily ritual I conduct for my family. It's my duty to assume the role of a lazy student for the teachers, an upbeat friend for Kiichi and the others, and an admirable senior for Hozumi-chan. That being said, it's not just an act I'm playing; every moment I spend in these roles, I'm no one else but my true self. There is no falseness in that.
But whenever I'm not forced into one of these roles, I'm confronted with the gaping emptiness inside me.
Well, no surprise. My single most important role has become redundant, and the part inside me that was reserved for that role has vanished.
After my classes end, I start putting the chairs onto the desks to wipe the floor—which is just another routine I'm forced to repeat over and over.
As I'm doing my work, I suddenly recall my short encounter with Reina Kamisu that ended before I could even exchange a word with her.
She resembled Shizuka more than anyone I have ever met. And while she is definitely not a person, she's not an illusion either. Reina Kamisu has without a doubt interacted with Shizuka and the other students, and driven them into committing suicide. I am 100% convinced of that. However, that conviction unsettles me.
Be reasonable, Kazuaki. What makes me so sure that she is really who I think she is? There is nothing that supports my sentiment; I have no information whatsoever that would allow me to recognize Reina Kamisu. I don't know her appearance, her traits, her personality—nothing.
But the girl I met there is Reina Kamisu.
Why did that answer pop out and click with me? What is the meaning of this?
Senpai. For students in lower grades everyone's a senpai, but from the context of my daily routine I can deduct that this refers to me. I turn around to the the window adjacent to the corridor.
"Hey, Hozumi-chan," I say. She answers me with a smile. "And Yoshino-chan," I add, spotting her friend next to her, who in turn bows her head silently.
Yoshino-chan hardly ever talks to me. I suppose she's uncomfortable in the company of the other sex. In fact, when I met her alone on the corridor the other day, she ran away from me like lightning. Of course, that incident got me thinking a little, but against my concerns, it seems like she doesn't actually dislike me.
"You're looking dark. Is something wrong?" Hozumi-chan asks with a smile.
"Hm?" While I don't think that they know her, I decide to give it a try nonetheless. "You don't happen to know Reina Kamisu, do you?"
"Rehna… Kameesu?" she repeats like a parrot and turns her head to her companion. Yoshino-chan wordlessly shakes her head. "Is she famous or something?"
"From our school?"
"Hm? Then why did you think that we might know her?"
"I didn't expect you to be familiar with her. Just asking, really."
Right, they can't know Reina Kamisu. All who know her are dead by now.
All who know her are dead...?
Including me? Haha, aptly put indeed but not funny.
"Okay then, I have to get going."
"Ah... um, do you mind if I tag along...?" Hozumi-chan asks.
"No, I'm sorry, but..."
"Okay..." she says with blatant disappointment.
In order to soothe my conscience, I explain myself, immediately regretting that slip of the tongue.
"There's something I want to investigate."
There you have it: Now I got her curious. Should I answer her...? I know that she has a crush on me, so she would probably follow me along everywhere if I were honest to her. I don't want to torment her by giving her false hopes.
However, I then notice that telling her the truth would actually be helpful in that matter.
"I'm investigating those recent suicide cases."
As I thought, her face darkens in response to the word "suicide" and the memory of Shizuka Wakui looming behind.
Hozumi-chan's approaches have declined after Shizuka's death. Originally, I thought that she would secretly welcome her death and try everything to take advantage of the gap in my heart.
I was wrong.
By that I don't only mean that Hozumi-chan was in fact sad about Shizuka's death; she was also sensible enough to notice that Shizuka's value to me hadn't changed a bit. And because of that she was let down. Probably.
"...But they don't talk a lot about those incidents on TV, do they?" she says, getting a grip on herself.
"Yeah. Suicide's not a special topic anymore, after all. Besides, I think there are some regulations because it could give people bad ideas."
"I have a feeling that it only gets into the news if it concerns a celebrity or if it's some real bad incident..."
"Real bad..." mutters Yoshino-chan, joining our conversation for the first time today. "Hozumi-chan? Do you remember that incident at the Junseiwa high where several students jumped off a roof?"
Yoshino-chan has the habit of talking to me via Hozuki-chan.
"Hm...? Well, of course. You're always reminding me that you picked our school because of that incident, aren't you? Your middle school was also there, right?"
Yoshino-chan went to the Junseiwa School? But that's a textbook example of a girls-only school for rich ladies. No wonder that she's so sensitive to boys.
Anyway, now that she mentions it, I remember hearing about that incident quite a while ago, although it had slipped my mind until now.
"Could you me more about it?" I ask her.
"E, erm... I heard that it started with the student council president jumping from the top of a building... Several other students then followed her and jumped off as well..." Yoshino-chan replies looking elsewhere and gradually growing quieter as she speaks.
"How long ago was that...?"
"A little more than three years... I... think..."
I'm surprised I could forget such a huge debacle; or did they really regulate the media so that that incident wasn't made famous?
Yoshino-chan, noticing my confusion, adds with a flushed face, "The media did not point out the number of suicides because that would harm the long history of the Junseiwa School."
"I want to learn more about that incident. Do you know of someone I could ask...?"
"My sister was there at the time, so she might be able to provide information. But..." Yoshino-chan says.
"It is a topic that she hates to talk about. So much that she has not even told me about it. I doubt that she will be of any help."
"Are you sure?"
Perhaps her sister was not entirely unrelated to the mass suicide. Although considering the scale of that incident, it might very well be possible that there was something that concerned the entire campus behind the scenes.
For example—Reina Kamisu.
"Can't we just ask one of her friends if your sis doesn't want to talk, Yoshinon?" suggests Hozumi-chan as she interrupts us.
"I'm afraid that my sister didn't really have any friends in high school," Yoshino-chan answers her with a bitter smile—behaving entirely different than when talks to me.
"Then how about this: I'm sure your sister has a graduation album, right?" I ask.
"Ah, um, yes..." she nods in a tense manner.
"Could you show that to me?"
She doesn't seem bent on it.
"Just snatch it when she's not looking, Yoshinon!"
"H-Huh?! You're joking, right...?"
"Please, Yoshino-chan," I ask as well, holding my hands together like in a prayer. She seems to be rather troubled, but I can't be choosing my means.
"M-Mmm... I will try."
"Yay! Thanks a bunch."
"B-But there are no addresses and phone numbers in there...! To prevent data abuse because it is a famous school..."
"Okay. But even a photo might give me a clue."
"A clue...?" Hozumi-chan asks with a slightly trembling voice. My face when Shizuka told me about those "humanoid energies" must have looked the same as Hozumi-chan's now.
A clue concerning Reina Kamisu; that's what I'm looking for, but I can't tell her that. Unlike Shizuka, I'm perfectly aware of how I appear from an objective viewpoint.
I have discovered a non-human being that promotes suicide, which is neither a ghost nor an illusion, but an enigmatic phenomenon. Moreover, that being is not only incredibly beautiful, but also resembles Shizuka. And she's the one who killed Shizuka!
Yeah, there's no way they would buy that.
I turn my glance at Hozumi-chan, who's sending me a worried look. I have to come up with some excuse. I could tell them that my first love went to that school, and that... no, they can tell it's a lie from the flow of our conversation. Besides, they know that Shizuka was my everything.
Hozumi-chan is growing even more worried. Quick!
It just happened that Kiichi showed up from behind them. Thank god.
"What's the matter?" I ask in the most casual voice I could produce.
"I just got an e-mail from my brother. He wants you to contact him."
"Yuji-kun wants me to contact him?"
Did he get around to asking the other students about Reina Kamisu?
After getting Yuji-kun's phone number from Kiichi, I walked away from the group (Hozumi-chan seemed not amused) and hid inside a compartment in the restroom—we are not allowed to openly use our cell phones at school—and called the number.
"Hi, this is Toyoshina."
"Ah, hello Toyoshina-san."
"Kiichi told me that you wanted to talk to me. What's up?"
"Yes. As promised, I asked around my schoolmates about Reina Kamisu today."
"Oh, thanks a lot."
"Don't mention it. Anyway, I found someone who might know her."
"For real?! But what do you mean by 'might'?"
"You'll understand. I managed to persuade that person to stay at school until you arrive, so may I ask you to come around in the course of the day?"
"Okay then. We're waiting. Drop me a message when you arrive. See you."
"Okay, thanks again. See you."
I end the call with a sigh of relief.
There's someone else besides me who knows Reina Kamisu...? Someone who's also "going to die?" And to that person she also looks like my Shizuka?
"Huh...?" I gasp with a certain doubt in my mind that appeared when I imagined how Reina Kamisu must appear to other people.
Reina Kamisu resembles Shizuka.
...That's strange. It could be a plain coincidence, of course, but I can't help but feel that there's more to it. Why does she resemble Shizuka?
Did Shizuka's Reina Kamisu also resemble herself?
I don't think so. My gut feeling tells me otherwise.
Wouldn't it be more plausible to assume that Reina Kamisu is customized to look like Shizuka in my eyes?
Those jeans look great on you, but they're a bit too long, aren't they? Let me cut them down for your size. Let me adjust them to you.
However, what are the implications of that assumption if it's correct?
Reina Kamisu is not defined by her visual data. What does this imply? What is she ultimately, anyway?
My brain can't follow my train of thought. I lack the immunity against incomprehensible phenomena. I start to repeat her name meaninglessly in my head. Reina Kamisu, Kamisu Reina, Reina Kamisu, Kamisu Reina. Again. Reina Kamisu, Kamisu Reina. Again. Kamisu Reina, Reina Kamisu, Kamisu Reina. Loop. Reina Kamisu, Kamisu Reina.
I leave the restroom, only to find Hozumi-chan waiting by herself for me, her look still discontent.
"What's the matter...?" I ask.
"...Senpai. Are you going somewhere today?"
"Did you listen?"
"I did, but I couldn't quite follow because I only heard your voice."
"What is it?"
"—Who is Reina Kamisu?"
She gets right to the heart of the matter, leaving me speechless for a moment.
It seems like she could filter out the crucial keyword from our phone conversation...
"I've always been concerned with you, Senpai, that's why I can tell that this 'Reina Kamisu' is at the core of your worries, and that all your worries are connected to Wakui-senpai in some way or another. Please be honest with me. Does that 'Reina Kamisu' have something to do with Wakui-senpai's death?"
"...Where's Yoshino-chan?" I ask as I avert my gaze from her and search for her companion.
"She went home. I told her that I couldn't tag along today," she answers my question, her strong and fixed look forbidding me to look away from her.
I could tell from her gaze that she would not let go of me today anymore, and inside her clear and beautiful eyes, I could see myself: an exhausted, cowardly, idiotic, remorseful, hopeless reflection of myself.
How can she like me with those ever so clear and pretty eyes of hers? You must be blind, Hozumi-chan...
Confronted with her pure eyes, I realize that I owe her some sincerity.
"What is it?"
At this rate, she is not going to ask. She will just follow me to the Shikura middle school and she won't give up on me. She's not even thinking of giving up.
Hozumi-chan is a lovely girl. She can experience as many wonderful romances as she wants. There's no reason for her to constrict herself because of me; she could easily find a love where she can behave more freely and naturally.
I can't leave her at this.
That's why I feel that I owe her a sincere yet cruel answer to her feelings.
"I can't see you as someone of the other sex," I say. Her eyes open in response to my contextless relevation. "I never will. You will never get a special place in my heart."
"My heart belongs to Shizuka alone. I'm hers from head to toe, and for all eternity. The two of us were one. You can't replace her. You can't satisfy me by any stretch. Do you finally get it? This is the kind of person I am. I will never be what you want me to be, never."
Hozumi-chan is left completely speechless and just keeps opening and closing her mouth. Insecurely she gazes at me, her head crimson, her fist clenched, and her body trembling.
Hozumi-chan is in puberty—the period of life where you are overly self-conscious and afraid to be hurt by someone, or god forbid, by someone you like.
Despite all that, I didn't keep back from hurting her so horribly.
Was there no other way? Perhaps. But I felt that only by using harsh words could I answer her strong gaze.
Hozumi-chan. Too strong feelings always lead to ruin, whether they are beautiful or hideous. Remember that.
Just look what has become of me now that Shizuka's gone.
"Do you still want to come with me, Hozumi-chan?"
The answer is obvious. I don't expect to be hearing anything from her, looking at her insecure and hurt look.
Which is why—
Hearing a determined and quick answer struck me as way more unbelievable than the existence of Reina Kamisu.
"I do want to come with you," she repeated.
Even though she must be horribly hurt.
Even though she can barely hold her tears back.
Even though her voice is trembling hard.
And yet she managed to regain a strong light in her eyes and answered my question with a determined voice.
That moment I realized—
—This was the answer I was looking for.
This is what I was supposed to do back then.
I'm buried beneath an avalanche of remorse. Unable to move and speak, all I can do is remember that day over and over. Surrounded by cold remorse.
On that day, I embraced Shizuka.
"...Don't touch me."
Until now, I thought I had committed a mistake. I thought that everything was already too late by that time.
But I was wrong.
The real mistake I made was—to let go of her.
I was supposed to keep embracing her, no matter how much she struggled to break free. I was supposed to cling to her no matter what... like Hozumi-chan did to me.
"...Don't touch me."
I gave up because of those words, in the illusion that I could not do anything to stop her tears. I fooled myself into believing that everything was too late.
I simply was a coward: I feared to be hurt any more because she'd rejected me. I pretended to share her pain when I really couldn't do what I wanted to, what I was supposed to.
I was the only one in the position to achieve something, and yet I didn't take action.
I take her cross choker out of my pocket.
I've finally realized why she'd worn this at the very end, what I was meant to do. At last.
As I hold tight of her choker, I think:
—Forgive me for not being with you all the time.
I look at the blushed girl in front of me. I misunderstood her. I thought that I was just a replaceable part in a clumsy, pubescent love story she pictured to herself. But that's not true. She's just like me.
"Let's go, Hozumi-chan."
It's a shame that you still can't save me.
Because you aren't Shizuka.
Thanks to the e-mail I had given him beforehand, Yuji-kun and another boy were already waiting for us before the entrance gate when we arrived at the Shikura middle school.
As maybe expected, that boy's look turned out to be... vacant. He just gazed into space while Yuji-kun and I were greeting each other.
"And who are you?" Yuji-kun asks Hozumi-chan.
"My name is Hozumi Shiiki. I'm one grade below Toyoshina-senpai... and older than you, mind you," she adds because of his somewhat cheeky attitude toward her.
...Well, it's not that obvious if you look at your height...
I turn my attention toward the boy who may know Reina Kamisu. Upon realizing that a self-introduction is in place, he mutters without a shadow of a smile:
"I'm Atsushi Kogure."
"Frankly, I don't know anything nor would I remember if I did," Atsushi-kun starts. "I suffer from amnesia."
Amnesia? Sounds like the protagonist of some drama show.
Having heard of it so many times in fiction, I don't feel a lot of surprise even though it's the first time I'm confronted with amnesia in reality.
I give Yuji-kun a questioning look. He nods. It seems like he's telling the truth.
No wonder that his look is vacant. He is vacant in the true sense of the word.
"When did you lose your memory?" Hozumi-chan asks.
Earlier in the train, I disclosed all my thoughts to Hozumi-chan—that was my way of paying her respect—and she believed me, at least by the look of it. Believability aside, she realized that I wasn't lying to her.
"Around last month," Atsushi-kun answers indifferently.
Last month... that's around the time Shizuka's delusions got out of control.
"Unless my memory fails me, it happened between the second and third suicide case," Yuji-kun adds.
"I hear that there are different kinds of amnesia. What about yours, Atsushi-kun?"
After a short thinking pause, he answers, "I can't tell why I've lost my memory, but apart from the basic everyday knowledge like language, I've forgotten everything. At first I thought the large scar on my chest was the reason, but I heard that I've already had this when I was little."
"Did you forget your name?"
"Yes, I did."
"I see... I'll keep my fingers crossed that you regain your memory." Hozumi-chan says in an attempt to cheer him up. However, Atsushi-kun shakes his head.
She inclines her head, puzzled.
"My mother... or my aunt, to be precise, advised me not to regain my memories. Besides, I feel absolutely certain that they won't return."
"Why are you so sure?" Hozumi-chan asks, still puzzled.
"There's no actual reason. I just feel that way... I think that Atsushi Kogure died."
"Died...? But you're here, right before our eyes."
"No, I'm not exactly Atsushi Kogure. His personality died back then, and I was put into his body instead as a makeshift subtitute because the vacancy had to be filled. I'm another person. I'm just using his name for convenience's sake."
I try imagining myself without any of my memories, even without those of Shizuka.
No memories of Shizuka? That's not me. That's not Kazuaki Toyoshina, but an entirely different person.
Okay, Atsushi-kun has a point.
"All right, let me get to the point—"
"About that," Yuji-kun cuts in. "Atsushi won't admit to knowing Reina Kamisu."
Now that he mentions it, though, it's obvious that Atsushi-kun wouldn't remember knowing Reina Kamisu if he has lost his memory, unless he met her during the short time span after that.
However, seeing the expression clued on his face, I have absolutely no doubts that he must have come in contact with her at some point in time: The blank look on his face has disappeared. Instead, he is gritting his teeth and furrowing his brow.
He definitely knows her. And the misfortune she brings.
"...Atsushi-kun. You know Reina Ka—"
"I don't," he cuts me short with a visibly bad temper.
...It doesn't look like he'll answer me this way. Let's see if I can trick him into giving me the info I need.
"Oh, I see, so it was Reina Kamisu who erased your memory," I say, provokingly.
His eyes widen for an instant! and his face becomes even grimmer. I must be near the mark.
"Okay, Atsushi-kun. One more thing—"
"I...!" he interrupts me again, shouting this time. Embarrassed by our surprised glances, he continues, "I don't remember anything. Really."
"It's just that that name sends a chill down my spine."
"Still, your reaction isn't normal."
"Even if I did come in contact with that Reina Kamisu... no, I probably did. Or more precisely, 'Atsushi Kogure' did. But I don't know anything. Atsushi Kogure no longer exists, so leave me be! Why does everyone keep asking me those questions?!"
"Hm?" I mutter, puzzled by his concluding sentence. "Do you mean us by 'everyone'?"
"Of course. And that strange girl that suddenly talked to me the other day."
"Who are you talking about?"
"I don't know who she is! Well, not that I know anyone at all. She suddenly walked up to me and said, 'As I thought. You died, didn't you?' I guess we met somewhere before..."
As I thought. You died, didn't you?"...?
"What impression would you get from Atsushi-kun if you passed by him on the street?"
"Huh? Uhm... not a special one... at most, I would feel that he's a somewhat unusual person."
"...Agreed," I nod.
Hozumi-chan's right. The girl he met was indeed strange; what she said is not something you hear a lot from strangers. Odd people like that are rare, but I remember hearing something to the same effect only recently..
It seems like that girl mistook him for a dead person; in other words, she thinks that she has the ability to perceive dead people. As ghosts? As humanoid energies?
A fit of disgust assaults me from inside my chest, sending a burning, black lump up my throat. I feel nauseated, my fingers are trembling, my eyes are burning, my throat is sore.
"Do you... know her name?" I ask as I press my hand against my chest.
"Why do you care?" Atsushi-kun snaps back.
He pisses me off.
"Just fucking tell me!" I yell, surprising not only him, but also the other two. That pisses me off just as much. "So?! Do you know her name or not?!"
"...She did tell me her name... I think she called herself Watarai, or Wakui... ah, her first name was Shizuka."
So this is where it started?
With this, I can finally connect the dots of this warped ring.
There's no doubting it:
Shizuka became infected with "Reina Kamisu" from Atsushi-kun.
"Atsushi-kun. Spit what you know about Reina Kamisu," I urge him again.
"...I don't know anything for crying out loud."
I grab him by the collar.
"Nothing, you say? Are you shitting me?! You know her! If you don't, remember! Want me to jog your memory, eh? I hear a shock treatment works miracles?"
"C-Calm down, Toyoshina-san!" Yuji-kun urges as he grabs my arm.
"Hands off!" I yell, glaring at him.
However, he doesn't let go of my arm. He's strong. It hurts. FUCK. IT HURTS. Let go of me, jackass! I have to learn the truth about Reina Kamisu! Whatever it takes! Why would I let a little shit like you stop me?!
"S-Stop it, senpai!" Hozumi-chan grabs my arm as well.
What? You team up against me? Just when I thought you've understood me a little, Hozumi-chan. What a mistake. You're just a stranger, after all.
"Hands off, bitch!"
She lets go of me.
What?! If something like that already scares you off, then don't try to stop me from the start! Don't follow me around from the start! What?! Don't look at me with such teary eyes—
I let go of Atsushi-kun.
"—I'm sorry," I apologize. "I'm sorry!" I apologize to the three of them.
I'm despicable. Horrible.
Not only did I lose my composure just because Atsushi-kun happened to associate with Reina Kamisu and got rough with him, I also hurt Hozumi-chan again. She's never going to forget that I insulted her. She's never going to forget this temporary burst of hatred against her. With the single word "bitch" I have hurt her more than the sharpest blade could, even though I was aware of these consequences.
I'm scum. A lowlife. Trash. A maggot. I should just die.
There is a silence among us; everyone keeps their mouth shut.
What? Where are your reproaches? Cut out those looks of sympathy! They only remind me of my own foolishness...
"Toyoshina-san..." Atsushi-kun breaks the silence. "I really do not remember Reina Kamisu."
"Yeah... I believe you. I'm sorry."
"No, it's okay. I may not remember her, but I do spot a horrifying... specter every so often for a split second."
Could it be that this is...?
"Judging by my fright, it might indeed be Reina Kamisu. However, that is all I know. The only other thing I can tell is that—"
"—she is absurdly beautiful."
—It's her, Reina Kamisu.
The specter that is following him around, and that erased Atsushi Kogure's memory, is doubtlessly Reina Kamisu.
You only get that absurd impression from her; at least, I haven't met any other people of such beauty up to now.
In other words, "Reina Kamisu" is a phenomenon that gives off the impression of being "absurdly beautiful."
She's a phenomenon that creates the exact same impression in all of us.
"...Senpai?" Hozumi-chan taps me. I bend down to her height. "Looks like the two of you met the same Reina Kamisu, doesn't it?" she whispers into my ear.
I answer with a whisper as well, "What makes you think so?"
"Well, because he got the same impression as you."
"Hozumi-chan," I start and proceed to correcting her, "It's the other way around."
"Hey, why don't you let us in on what you're whispering?" Yuji-kun interrupts us.
"Never mind," I say and turn at Atsushi-kun. "Atsushi-kun. Could you tell us what impression you got from the strange girl that talked to you?"
"...Well, I suppose you could say she was fairly pretty."
"Was she your type?"
"No, not at all," he replies without hesitating.
"Okay, so did she look anything like the specter you're afraid of?"
"...I'm pretty sure she didn't, although I can't give you my word on it."
"I see...," I mutter and give Hozumi-chan a look. She seems to be puzzled by the discrepancy of facts. "Yuji-kun? Can you tell me more about the three students who committed suicide?"
"Sure, I'll try."
"Give me as much details as possible, please."
"Hm... I didn't know them too well, though..."
"I don't mind, just tell me what you know," I reassure him.
"Okay. The first victim was Fumi Saito, a student that didn't stand out at all in class. She was falsely accused of having stolen someone's wallet, and that's probably why she eventually killed herself."
I doubt that the true reason was that straightforward, but that doesn't matter right now.
"She didn't have any friends, except for Reina Kamisu, to whom she was very close," I add.
"Though there's no proof that she really was friends with Reina Kamisu, but it seems that way judging by her statements."
"Got it. What about the second one?"
"The second victim was Kyouhei Kimura. Committed suicide because he blamed himself for Saito-san's death."
"He must have been craving for forgiveness from Saito-san. But she was death. Therefore he apologized to Reina Kamisu instead."
"...? Toyoshina-san?" Yuji-kun asks, dumbfounded.
"The third victim was Yuu Mizuhara. She was involved in the suicide of the previous two students, and that fact strained her mentally to the point that she claimed that a ghost had killed the other two. She was under the delusion that she would be killed as well, and then committed suicide."
"She was cornered. She didn't want to admit the blame. That's why she resorted to making up another cause—a ghost. A ghost that is Reina Kamisu," I add yet again.
"...What's up with those comments, seriously?" Yuji-kun asks.
"Oh, just ignore them. By the way, Atsushi-kun?"
"You suffered quite a lot in the past, didn't you?"
"So I heard."
"And you died. Through Reina Kamisu."
"...Maybe you can say that."
As for Shizuka... it's obvious: She was yearning for a reason for her misfortune—and had Reina Kamisu provide her with one.
They all imposed different roles on Reina Kamisu.
More importantly, I highly doubt that the appearance required from her for those roles would be the exact same in terms of stature, age, face, and so forth. And yet, both Atsushi-kun and I thought that she was "absurdly beautiful."
All right, so Reina Kamisu, as I perceive her, resembles Shizuka. I know for a fact, however, that while Shizuka certainly didn't dislike her own looks, she didn't consider herself all that pretty.
Now, what if we assumed that Reina Kamisu was the exact same person for all of us? Would we all find the same appearance "absurdly beautiful" despite the difference of tastes?
Right, as I said: It's the other way around.
She gives us the same impression only because she looks different for everyone. "Reina Kamisu" is specifically adjusted to look "absurdly beautiful" in our eyes.
Hold on, but then why—
Why is it that we all call this phenomenon "Reina Kamisu" when she appears differently for everyone?
The answer is—
"—Yuji-kun. Atsushi-kun. Let's call it a day," I say with a wave of my hand, take Hozumi-chan's hand while she's still baffled, and turn around to take my leave.
"Ah, hey, wait a sec!"
"What's the matter, Yuji-kun...?" I ask in response.
"It sounds like you found something out about this Reina Kamisu; would you mind telling us?"
"...Just silly musings, really."
"I don't mind, so...?"
I waver. If I say nothing, chances are that he will keep nagging me about it. After all, he must be terribly eager to learn the truth behind the name that keeps coming up in the recent miseries of his classmates.
And that's exactly why it's dangerous to tell him.
"I noticed that there's a fitting other word for 'Reina Kamisu.'"
"Which would be...?"
Yuji-kun remains unimpressed.
"What noun describes a beautiful woman that appears before people who are to die? 'Angel' fits the bill nicely, no?"
"I guess so..." he says without an additional remark. He still seems discontent, but I can recognize a sign of resignation in his face.
Good. It worked. That should put a stop to his interest in my findings regarding Reina Kamisu.
"Okay then, goodbye," I say.
"Yes, goodbye. Hope to see you again sometime."
I briefly wave my hand toward them. Yuji-kun waves back but Atsushi-kun has already turned away from me.
Could you say that he got away with a black eye? Or did he die as he said himself?
Anyway. An 'angel' I called her...?
What a laughable yet strangely fitting simile. If she showed up with a halo above her head and a pair of wings on her back, I might actually believe that blatant lie myself. It would be so much easier if I just went with that and quit thinking.
"Senpai..." Hozumi-chan suddenly starts to speak after a while. I already knew what she was going to ask. "Can you tell me the truth?"
And then I regretted revealing everything to her earlier in the train.
"TV", "tissue", "contact lenses", "dog", "baseball", "banana", "cloud", "atom", "light", "Ukraine", "Hozumi Shiiki", "Reina Kamisu".
They're all just terms given to objects for convenience's sake. The convenience of using them is not their only purpose, however; names bind concepts, they shape concepts, they draw attention to concepts, and they bring them to life.
"Reina Kamisu"—a multifarious phenomenon that kills her observers.
That is how I define "Reina Kamisu", while ignoring the lack of evidence, reasoning and common sense.
Well, well, there is one question that presents itself: While it is still acceptable to say that this phenomenon assumes different roles and eventually kills whoever perceives her, there is absolutely no justification to link the phenomenon to the name "Reina Kamisu". However, even though the phenomenon varies for everyone, we all call it by the same name without any hesitation or doubt. She never called herself that, either.
I take the stairs to the second floor and notice Hozumi-chan standing by the door to my classroom. As I approach her, she notices me as well and we greet each other.
"Senpai. I brooded all night over your hypothesis," she immediately gets to the point. "As you said, the victims were already aware of the name 'Reina Kamisu'. The name comes first. Saito-san and Kogure-kun and Kimura-kun and Mizuhara-san and Wakui-senpai and your paths have all crossed somewhere. Which means that you all had the opportunity to learn the name 'Reina Kamisu'. I agree with the conclusion that you've drawn from that, Senpai."
"—You become infected with Reina Kamisu by learning her name."
"I'm sorry," I apologize.
Hozumi-chan shakes her head, "Don't worry. I wished for it myself."
Right—I made the mistake of telling her the name of "Reina Kamisu". I was careless. I seem to be constantly giving her trouble.
That being said, I'm pretty sure that learning Reina Kamisu's name alone does not automatically make her visible to you. This is supported by the fact that she hasn't shown up in front of Yuji-kun and his classmates even though they've heard her name.
There must be some sort of condition. As a matter of fact, the reason why I wanted Yuji-kun to lose interest in the matter was to prevent him from accidentally fulfilling that unknown condition. Wake not a sleeping lion (Reina Kamisu). The best protection against Reina Kamisu is losing one's interest in her.
"Senpai," Hozumi-chan says with eyes that let me foresee what she's going to say. "Let me warn you: it's useless to try telling me to back out of this matter."
As I expected.
"...I won't," I mutter, and she responds with a happy smile.
"Oh, Yoshinon!" she calls out, still smiling brightly. Her eyes are directed at Yoshino-chan who is trotting toward us. "Morning Yoshinon!"
"Morning, Hozumi-chan," she replies.
"Hey," I greet her as well.
"G-Good morning... Toyoshina-senpai."
Again that difference in attitude.
"What's the matter, Yoshinon?"
"Ah, er, I only saw your bag when I went to our classroom, so I thought you might be here." With these words, Yoshino-chan scours her own bag and takes out something resembling a massive book.
With a blushing face, she holds it out to me.
On a closer look it seems to be a graduation album.
"Um... I sneaked into my sister's room and borrowed her graduation album..."
Now that she mentions it; I completely forgot that I asked her to bring her sister's album from her time at the Junseiwa School.
"You're a master thief, Yoshinon!" Hozumi-chan jokes.
"Ew... she wouldn't have allowed me to take it otherwise... Um, Toyoshina-senpai, may I ask you to return it to me in the course of the day?"
"Yeah, fine by me. Sorry for bothering you," I apologize to her.
"A, n-no! It was a pleasure!"
It was...? Oh, I should just be thankful.
"All right... I guess I'm off to the library. I want to take a look."
"Huh? What about school?" Hozumi-chan asks, surprised.
"To be honest, I don't have time for that now."
After hearing my response, she (somewhat unsurprisingly) counters, "I'm going with you!"
"...Are you sure?" Yoshino-chan asks.
"Of course. I'm sorry, but can you tell them that I've overslept or something?"
"...Okay, I got it."
Since I'm well aware that it's no use trying to persuade Hozumi-chan, I keep out of their exchange of words.
"Okay, let's go senpai."
After saying goodbye to Yoshino-chan, we head together to the library room. As we walk there, I sneak a peek at the thick album.
Well, I don't expect us to discover anything in this album. It's unlikely that the group suicide over there is connected to Reina Kamisu in any way. Even if she were, I would be surprised to find anything valuable in an album.
However—I was entirely wrong.
Within a mere 5 minutes after taking a seat next to each other, we spotted something.
The heart of the graduation album, the group picture of all members of the class, contained several parts that differed significantly from the rest in terms of size, exposure, background, and so on.
Because of our prior knowledge we can tell why that is. Most if not all of these parts belong to—
—the suicide victims.
"I don't want to sound silly, but..."
"Aren't there too many pretty girls over there at the Junseiwa School? I'm kind of jealous."
Honestly speaking, I was too focused on the disagreeing parts to notice. Now that she mentions it, though, I can see that there are indeed a lot of pretty girls in the photo.
"Not only wealthy but also cute and clever... that sure makes me doubt if God really doesn't give with both hands, as the saying goes," she comments.
"I don't think that you need to hide, though, Hozumi-chan."
"Ah, don't mind me. You don't have to pay me lip-service."
That wasn't meant as lip-service.
"Anyway, it's only normal that there would be lot of pretty girls at a renowned all girls' school," I say.
"Why? Because only those sorts of girls aim for such a school?"
"I suppose that's not exactly wrong, either, but consider this: looks are heavily influenced by the genes of one's parents, right?"
"And here's the point: Bigwigs almost exclusively get themselves beautiful wives," I conclude.
Hozumi-chan claps her hands together once.
"The scales fell from my eyes."
You actually wondered about it?
I decide to let her be and flip the page.
—I stop midway.
"What's the—" Hozumi-chan asks, only to cut off when she sees the picture I found.
I continue in a mutter in her place.
That name is written there indeed, but we would have held our breath—and be enchanted—either way.
Because the student depicted—
"—It's almost absurd how beautiful she is," Hozumi-chan remarks.
Precisely. She stands out even among the many other pretty faces. If one were to compare her with a diamond, the other students would be crude stones in comparison. As much as I hesitate to admit it, Hozumi-chan wouldn't leave the slightest impression on me if she stood next to the girl in that picture.
For a while, I am completely taken aback by the photograph and the sheer beauty of the Reina Kamisu in it.
But in reality, that isn't of any import; the picture poses a problem that is much more severe.
"I don't get it... why can we see Reina Kamisu in this picture?"
Hozumi-chan gives me a puzzled glance.
"Reina Kamisu is just a phenomenon. She does not possess a body."
"...Maybe she shows in pictures?"
"Even if that were true, she wouldn't get an entry in an album unless someone actually perceived her."
"Which means that..."
I look at the picture again.
She does not resemble Shizuka; but she does resemble the "Reina Kamisu" I know.
"I think we're on the same track, Hozumi-chan."
Those two Reina Kamisus are not equivalent to each other; that's clear just from their looks.
They are, however, both absurdly beautiful.
"—the Reina Kamisu in this picture is a human."
In the end, we didn't attend our classes and instead went straight to Yoshino-chan's address without any notice to her; we wanted to question her sister about Reina Kamisu.
How come the girl in that picture was also called "Reina Kamisu"?
It might be just a coincidence; that would be the most plausible explanation.
The name given to the phenomenon might just have happened to match that of an existing person. But then again, Reina Kamisu is by no means a common name. Moreover, the real person is brought into connection with a group suicide, while the phenomenon entices into suicide, and on top of that, they're both absurdly beautiful and look alike. That's about as crazy as pulling off two royal straight flushes in a row at the beginning of a poker match, but still more down-to-earth than winning the lottery jackpot.
However, I don't know about Hozumi-chan, but at least I discarded that possibility rather quickly.
Because I've actually seen "Reina Kamisu".
I'm certain that anyone who has seen her will agree with me: There is a definite link between the girl in that picture and the phenomenon that shares her name. That's more certain than that bull dogs and chihuahuas are of the same species.
"By the way, the buildings around here are quite something, aren't they?" I say with astonishment.
"I was surprised, too, when I first visited Yoshinon. Would you believe me if I told you that her mom showed up with a Porsche to fetch us?"
"A Porsche? Not bad."
"But Yoshinon's still normal; I heard that a large part of the households in this vicinity have their own limousines and drivers."
Limousines, hm? Sounds like a distant world to me.
Now why would so many inhabitants of that comfy distant world end their lives? They were blessed with both wealth and beauty, and must have been devoid of worries. They had everything that is needed for a happy life.
However, "happiness" is entirely subjective.
A single issue can be perfectly enough for an individual to become unhappy. For example, if the boy or girl you fancy gives you the cold shoulder, you might feel hapless even in a blessed environment. Such an environment amounts to nothing when it comes to fending off the feeling of misfortune.
Therefore, if there was a cause of some kind, it's entirely possible that even an inhabitant of that distant world committed suicide.
—Reina Kamisu. Did you create that cause? Will you seduce me into suicide as well, as you did with the students of the Shikura middle school?
I try to recall "Reina Kamisu" as I remember her; an absurdly beautiful girl that resembles Shizuka.
What is the role I give to Reina Kamisu? What do I need? Who do I need?
—Who do I need?
Reina Kamisu: a phenomenon that takes on various roles. Who resembles Shizuka.
"Senpai? What's wrong?" Hozumi-chan asks because I suddenly stopped.
Who do I need?
The answer's obvious: Shizuka. I only need Shizuka.
Having finally found the puzzle piece I was looking for, my rusty faculty of thought is set in motion again and starts to restlessly hunt down answers. Answers, answers, answers... the answers I seek sum up like a snowball.
This leaves me with one more thing that I need: confirmation. Something to prove my answers.
I see now! I found out, Reina Kamisu!
I raise my head with conviction.
As I thought.
Behind Hozumi-chan, next to a house that looks like a pompous show house exhibition—
—I see Reina Kamisu.
"I see. So we only have to wish for her to show up. Because—"
I put on a grin.
"—Reina Kamisu is here."
I walk past Hozumi-chan and head toward Reina Kamisu.
"Senpai!" she shouts out, visibly anxious about my strange behavior.
"Stay away! You must stay away!" I command her as I turn around and scowl at her.
She steps back because of my hard tone.
Yes, that's the spirit.
I do not care about Hozumi-chan anymore. She's no longer needed.
"Don't get in my way!" Leave us alone.
This is what I wished.
This is what I wished Reina Kamisu to be.
"I missed you, Reina Kamisu," I say as I catch her in a dark back street.
She responds with a smile—an absurdly beautiful smile, much like Shizuka's.
"Let's begin with the reason why I didn't notice you up to now, shall we?"
Reina Kamisu listens silently to me.
"You are a phenomenon that only becomes perceivable by us becoming aware of your existence. There seem to be multiple requirements for that, like knowing your name, but it's safe to assume that I've fulfilled those, since I've seen you once before. Then why is that I haven't been able to see you ever since?"
I am almost glaring at her as I continue.
"It's because I started to consider you a phenomenon."
Her cheeks move slightly, but apart from that she stays absolutely silent.
"When assessing a mysterious phenomenon like you from a perspective that is grounded on common sense—and only then—it becomes impossible to admit your existence. Basically, common sense imposed a filter on me that operated in my subconsciousness and prevented your data from getting to me. In order to perceive you nonetheless, it's thus necessary to either remove that filter or to shift one's perception of you to something different from a phenomenon."
This time around, Reina Kamisu gives me a clear response. She nods.
"You appeared before me with a certain role. I am aware of that role by now. One part of it is to help me arrive at the answer I was looking for," I explain while thinking back at the burning question that plagued me at the time of our first encounter. "But let me ask you something first: Who is that Reina Kamisu in the picture I saw? How is she related to you?"
"She's a person called 'Reina Kamisu'."
I heard her voice for the first time; it's as beautiful as expected.
"Is she someone else than you?"
"Yes, I suppose she is. In the sense of being a different being."
"What to you mean by different being?"
She replies to my question with a smile, "She is what you might call my roots, you know."
Seeing that I can't quite follow her, she expands on her explanation, "...Why do you think I was given the name of 'Reina Kamisu'?"
I consider her question. The phenomenon said that the person was her roots, her origin. In other words, the person named Reina Kamisu existed first? So the phenomenon came to be only recently? That doesn't sound plausible to me. I feel that the phenomenon she represents has always existed, just without anyone finding a way to perceive her—
"—Oh, I got it."
"Your name made you perceivable, just like we become explicitly aware of the concept of air by giving it the name 'air'. Put another way, the phenomenon Reina Kamisu exists because we gave it that name."
That explains why she spreads through her name.
"But why 'Reina Kamisu' of all names? Was there no alternative?"
If the Reina Kamisu in that album was a normal person, then there is no reason why "Shizuka Wakui" or "Hozumi Shiiki" or "Yoshino Mitsui" couldn't serve as a namesake.
"That's because her existence was singularly close to mine."
"Close...? Do you mean you blended into other people's perception of her? Similar to how a non-technical person won't be able to differentiate between a computer screen and a TV?"
"You've guessed right."
"But then... in what way did the human Reina Kamisu resemble you? In the way that she also caused others to commit suicide?" I ask.
"That's not correct. When people correctly perceive me, they tend to despair. I'm not responsible for that."
"Then what else makes her similar to you?"
"Just look at me. It's our outward appearance."
"Your appearance?" I frown. "I admit that the photo of your human counterpart resembled you, but your appearance is variable. It changes depending on the observer. It's not possible to resemble something that doesn't maintain its shape."
"But you just admitted that we resembled each other, didn't you?"
My eyes widen. I nod.
"Let me summarize," I say.
"Don't let me stop you."
"You're beautiful. Absurdly beautiful."
"And that's also the impression you make on everyone as a phenomenon."
"That's not quite correct," she argues.
"What do you mean...?"
"I don't give off an impression of beauty. I am beauty itself."
"...I'm afraid you lost me."
"Have you ever heard of the Theory of Forms?"
"I'm familiar with the name, but I don't know what it means exactly."
"For example, take an elephant and picture it to yourself."
I do as she told me and imagine an elephant. The first thing that comes to mind is its long trunk, followed by a picture of its large ears and tusks. The elephant is big and gray and has thick skin. It uses its trunk skilfully to pick food.
"Are you done?"
"So where did your image of an elephant come from?"
Of course from the information stored in my brain. However, it's impossible for me to tell from which elephant exactly that impression originates. It might be one of the elephants I've seen in the zoo in my childhood, or it might be one from the TV or a book, or perhaps even from someone's description of an elephant.
"All right," she continues, "now imagine you saw an elephant right before you. Would you recognize it as one?"
"All right," she says, "now imagine you saw a beautiful person right before you. Would you deem her beautiful?"
I sneak a peek at Reina Kamisu.
"But how do you decide whether or not a beautiful person is beautiful?"
"By—" I pause to consider the hint she's given me. "—comparing her to my image of a beautiful person and see how close she is, maybe?"
...So is it like this...?
"Reina Kamisu, you are my very image of a 'beautiful person.'"
"Right, I am your archetype of beauty. That's why I look more beautiful to you than anyone else."
I see, that's why Reina Kamisu resembles Shizuka; after all, Shizuka constitutes a great deal of my image of a beautiful girl.
Okay, it looks like I was slightly wrong with my original hypothesis. I thought that Reina Kamisu's resemblance to Shizuka originated from her second role to me.
"My existence is detached from space and time, and is to be found in the world of Forms. Not that the Theory of Forms expresses precisely what I am, but it's close enough. I'm only using this term because there is no other name for it, just like there is no other name for me. But I do indeed exist on the back side—or front side!—seen from you."
"In other words... you live in another world?"
"I don't know if it's really another world, but I suppose for the current mankind, who only believe what they see, it actually is another world. My being is entirely dependent on you, so if you define me as non-existent, then there is no world for me to live in. What will never change, however, is that I do exist."
"...I think I roughly understand what you are. But then I have a hard time comprehending how the girl in that picture could resemble you."
"Why don't you try to reverse the equation?"
"Don't think that Reina Kamisu resembles me—think that I resemble Reina Kamisu."
I don't get it. Isn't that exactly the same thing, except for the order?
Except for the order...?
The Reina Kamisu in the picture was a real person, and therefore had a constant appearance. The Reina Kamisu in front of my eyes, on the other hand, changes her visuals depending on the observer.
The human "Reina Kamisu" had an appearance that nearly everyone would find to be beautiful. That said, so many men, so many minds. In theory, it's perfectly possible that she's ugly in someone's eyes.
The phenomenon, however, must absolutely always be absurdly beautiful. That's her definition.
To rephrase this: there might be a person who considers the person "Reina Kamisu" as ugly, but the phenomenon as beautiful.
The reverse is impossible.
If I combine that fact with the fact that both the phenomenon and the person look absurdly beautiful, and similar, in my eyes...
"Don't tell me—"
I already knew that there was another condition apart from knowing her name. Those conditions are necessary to mix up the human Reina Kamisu and the phenomenon.
In other words, people whose image of beauty does not match the looks of the human Reina Kamisu are not able to mix those two up.
Put the other way—
"Only people whose image of beauty does almost precisely match the looks of your human counterpart are able mix you two up and create a link between the name and the phenomenon."
That is the second condition.
Reina Kamisu nods and adds to my explanation, "And as you mentioned beforehand, I will appear besides everyone who longs strongly enough for me, or more precisely for a replacement of somebody, to override the filter that is their common sense."
"But most people will eventually regain their common sense," I continue her intent, "and become unable to place you in the role they gave you. Which means that they will either lose what was vital to them, or despair because they notice that what they believed in was fake. And as a consequence—"
"—they are likely to commit suicide."
Reina Kamisu—so far I considered her evil in itself.
But I was wrong.
She is neither good nor evil; she just exists. She is just a purposeless phenomenon that is forced to appear whenever she is given a name.
That is the truth behind Reina Kamisu.
"Kazuaki Toyoshina," she says and I raise my head. "What role do you give me?" she asks with a smile resembling Shizuka's.
"...You planning to give me false hopes, just to make me despair in the face of the truth?"
"Perhaps. But you're not like the others, are you?"
"Not like the others? How so?"
"You are able to perceive me even though you realized that I'm a phenomenon. That's a remarkable difference, isn't it?"
I'm already aware of what she really is. I'm not like the others who fell into despair as they approached the truth behind her being. The way to salvation is not going to abruptly break off.
If I give her the role of the person I crave for, I will be able to wallow in a soft dream.
Shizuka does not exist in this world anymore.
Then what should be my decision—?
There's nothing to waver.
I take the cross choker out of my pocket. I've already noticed what I'm supposed to use it for.
I take a step toward Reina Kamisu.
I won't return. I don't need to.
My final step—
—is stopped by that voice.
Didn't I tell you to stay away? To not get in my way?!
I turn around and glare at Hozumi Shiiki.
Though unsettled by the anger in my look, she continues to speak, "...Who were you talking to, Senpai?"
I don't answer her.
So at the end of the day, she won't recognize what's important for me; she won't take take the same path no matter how much she feels attached to me. She isn't worth much to me: neither is she able to substitute Shizuka, nor is she able to make up for her in the slightest.
"Reina Kamisu. Let's meet up tomorrow."
"That place. I'm sure you understand, right?"
Reina Kamisu smiles at me.
I ignore Hozumi-chan again. Instead I take the graduation album out of my bag and hand it to her, "Return this to Yoshino-chan, okay?"
Wih these words I turn away from her.
"Senpai!" she calls out to me from behind. "I... I... what... what do I have to do?! What do I have to do... to walk the same path as—"
"Hozumi-chan," I interrupt her. "Stop bothering me or—"
With my back turned toward her,
"—I will kill you." I spit words of rejection.
I walk away.
I throw everything away.
I throw away even the foolish but gentle girl who has treated me ever so warmly.
I can no longer see anything.
I can no longer hear anything.
Therefore I can absolutely not hear the weeping behind me either.
"Let's get married when we've grown up."
That's the typical promise made between two childhood friends. You hear it so often in manga or anime or games and so forth that it's become a cliché. It's the most straightforward way to ensure an unbreakable bond between the protagonist and the heroine.
But in real life there is no meaning in such a promise.
When we grow up, we don't remember those childish promises anyway, and even if we do, they have long since expired because we didn't even know the real meaning of marriage. Only a hopeless fool would take that proposal seriously and ask a girl out on that pretext. Even if two childhood friends date each other, a promise like that does not count as a memory but as a funny story.
We are constantly growing up, leaving behind the past. Therefore, it's essential to always live in the same time as the other party in order to keep such a promise intact.
At the beginning, neither of the two might know what the difference between boys and girls is, and what it means to get married or to become a couple. From there, they have to keep walking and growing up together, and they will slowly but surely come to understand what it means to find a partner for life. When they do that and still continue to treasure the promise of getting married when they've grown up—and only then—that promise acquires significance.
I consider that a miracle. It's impossible not to withdraw such a promise after getting to know every good and bad trait of the other party, or the dirty differences between boys and girls, or the appeal of the other sex. Maybe they become aware of their feelings for each other after parting ways once to find themselves other partners, but it's impossible to constantly hold the belief of belonging together and getting married. I am positive that it's safe to say that such a thing is impossible. That's why I consider it a miracle.
And our relationship was founded on such a miracle.
Though made possible only because of a narrow view and foolishness, I felt quite comfortable with that kind of relationship.
It was extremely dear to me.
With those thoughts in mind, I look around our park.
Here we sat together in a swing. Here we unsuccessfully tried to build a tunnel with sand. Here we did our first forward upward circling on the horizontal bar. The jungle gym I fell from has been removed by now, but this place is still doubtlessly the park that we considered ours.
This is where I spent time with the little Shizuka.
This park shaped us, protected us, and—destroyed us.
Yeah, that's right.
Even the dearest of places may stab you in the back.
Yeah, that's right.
Reality treats saints and sinners all alike, attacking them mechanically, randomly, without any consideration and selection.
Yeah, that's right.
Anything and everything in this world with the exception of Shizuka betrays me.
I feel the content of my pocket with my hand. The cross choker is there. I'm fine.
I close my eyes. Because I don't want to see.
I cover my ears. Because I don't want to hear.
I close myself to the world. Because I don't want to believe.
There is only one thing I need to see now: the phenomenon that exists around me with an appearance similar to Shizuka's.
Reina Kamisu is waiting for me at the center of the park.
"Are you done saying goodbye to your friends?" she asks.
"There is no one I have to say goodbye to."
"I see..." she notes with a slightly sad smile.
"There is someone I need," I say with averted eyes.
"I'm helpless without her. I can't move on at this rate."
"I do absolutely and unconditionally need Shizuka Wakui."
As I turn to her, I ask, "Do you also have a person who you need?"
After a short pause, Reina Kamisu replies, "I suppose that would be you, Kazuaki Toyoshina."
"...I see. You're right. You're dependent on me, after all."
"...That's also part of the reason."
"I assume it's due to the role that you gave me, but I seem to... be extremely fond of you. I can't help wanting to be by your side."
"...Do you possess feelings?" I ask her.
"But... those were conceived by me."
"Yes, but they are not false... or would you call feelings that someone created in you false?"
I answer with a weak smile, "I wouldn't."
"Right? I do feel the same as a common human when I manifest in front of you, even though I may purely be an idea."
"Even though you exist solely for the sake of someone else?"
To be honest, I think that we may resemble each other. I was dependent on Shizuka, too, and lost my place to be when she died.
"We're much alike," I say aloud.
"...I suppose you're right. We'll get along just fine," Reina Kamisu smiles at me. "I only exist to fulfill the role you gave to me. I will become who you need and stay by your side."
"...As my lover?"
"Yes. We will walk side by side for all eternity. You will abandon this world and only concern yourself with me. I know that this is your wish. That this is your happiness."
"You're absolutely right."
With those words, I take the choker out of my pocket.
"That's a lovely choker," she remarks.
I silently put the chocker that Shizuka wore at the very end around Reina Kamisu's neck.
"How is it?"
I gaze at her without letting go of the choker, and reply:
"It looks great on you."
Upon hearing my answer, Reina Kamisu,who resembles Shizuka, smiles.
Suddenly, I wonder where I will be going. Where Reina Kamisu will be guiding me.
I turn my attention at her again; the choker suits her greatly.
I remember ordering it on the Internet because I was too embarrassed to enter a jeweler's shop. I was astonished when I noticed that the actual thing looked quite different from the pictures, but Shizuka loved my present nonetheless.
When she put it on, she laughed and joked, "Maybe I'm a bit too young for this?" I then told her not to strain herself, but she assured me that she wanted to wear it.
It's a shame, but the choker did not suit her.
I still won't let go of the choker.
Oh boy, God remains cruel to me.
"Don't call me that!" I shout.
Reina Kamisu has feelings and is attracted to me on top of that. She's no different from a human.
"Otherwise it would sound like Shizuka were calling my name, no?"
But I'm the one who set up this scene. I wished all this.
"What do you mean...?" she asks.
It's what I wished for in order to win.
"—You are Reina Kamisu and no one else!"
At her last hour Shizuka wore this choker. It never really suited her. It was a token of our love.
And with this choker, I—
—strangle Reina Kamisu.
At once, her beautiful face that resembles Shizuka's distorts with pain.
Despair shows in her face.
"Don't you get it?" I ask without loosening the choker. "You can't become Shizuka, nor can you replace her. You can't satisfy me by any stretch. Being similar to her is by far not enough. If you really were to replace her, you would've had to be as alike as two peas in a pod."
"...B-But... but then... what is my role...?"
"The answer is staring you in the face."
I strangle Reina Kamisu's neck so hard that she can no longer say a word. She moans painfully.
"If your role isn't to be my lover and substitute for Shizuka, then it's your role to be—"
Reina Kamisu. I will never forgive you.
I detest the enemy that tormented Shizuka and me.
I detest the park that betrayed us.
I detest the fate that left us with this outcome.
I detest all those non-existent enemies.
That's why I give that role to you, Reina Kamisu.
That detestable role belongs to you.
"Reina Kamisu, you are—"
"—a monster that must die."
You may be a phenomenon—an intangible phenomenon—but I can still kill you.
Don't you agree?
After all, enemies exist—
—to be killed.
I don't care if the entire world gets distorted by the erasure of Reina Kamisu.
I don't care if killing her solves nothing.
It will make nobody happy, not even me.
I'll do it only for me as I go to hell, because it's the only thing I can do.
"Please, die already!"
—kill Reina Kamisu.
I can clearly feel her neck as I strangle her. The sensation of killing; the realization that her life drains.
I can clearly feel it.
I feel something dwindle away. Maybe it's something that's insignificant to others, something invisible, but my gut feeling rings an alarm bell.
But as much as I try to catch it, it will just run through my fingers.
Whatever it is, it cannot be made undone. Never.
And before I know it, I have arrived where Reina Kamisu was supposed to guide me.
Reina Kamisu—is no more.
The choker has split apart.
...I don't care anymore.
There is no enemy anymore.
There is no Reina Kamisu anymore.
Reina Kamisu is nowhere.
I return from the boundary of worlds and I find myself in another unfamiliar world.
It's the normal, rational, empty world, which I'm supposed to know only too well. Yet, this world strikes me as unfamiliar.
But it's reality. The hard truth.
Therefore, the sight before my eyes is real.
"Why didn't you listen to me?"
I assigned Reina Kamisu the role of my enemy; but in order to confront and have her fulfill that role, there was a need for me to unlock the filter of my common sense.
That's why I closed my eyes, covered my ears and closed myself to the world. I needed to warp the original data into shape.
My memory was manipulated so that I would kill my enemy, Reina Kamisu, by manipulating the flow of information in a way that would present her death as my first priority. The system revolves entirely around her role.
Reina Kamisu is a phenomenon.
She can't physically kill anyone, and no one can physically kill her.
But Reina Kamisu was my enemy.
She had to be killed. I had to physically experience the sensation of murdering her. There was a need to feel her death with my own hands.
As a result...
Didn't I warn you?
—That's why I told you to stay away from me.
I look down at her. Her face is so distorted with pain that it's painful to look at it directly—and yet there is an undeniable glimmer of satisfaction in her face.
It's enough if Reina Kamisu takes on others' roles, so why did you think of taking on the role of Reina Kamisu?
Was keeping up contact with me so important to you? Did you prefer opposing me over being left behind?
You're incomprehensible, Hozumi-chan!
I, yes I, am only concerned with Shizuka and no one else. You can't become Shizuka, nor can you replace her. You can't satisfy me by any stretch.
Why did would you want to stick to a guy like me to the bitter end...?
It's a shame. Really. You were so close.
You almost managed to change me—
I look up at the sky as I feel that my fight is over.
Hey Shizuka, I won!
I won against Reina Kamisu and Hozumi Shiiki!
I will continue to love you!
But I feel lonely. Incredibly lonely.
There's no one by my side. I don't allow anyone to be.
I'm sure that it will stay that way, with me continuing to remain here.
Please, anyone, warm me up.
But I won't allow anyone to do that.
I don't care if you're a ghost, or a fake, or a humanoid energy even.
Don't leave me alone.
But Reina Kamisu is no more.
The being that could replace you is no more.
She is not here anymore.
I'm all alone.
The only thing left to me is—the invaluable symbol of Shizuka and my connection.
The cross choker I gave to her. No—
—the remnants of it.
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