OmaeGotoki: Volume 2 006 - A Red Wind Howls
Sara’s home, the Central Quarter church.
After morning prayers have finished, Sara waves goodbye at the other priestesses, says “I’ll be back later, su!” and runs off toward the West Quarter.
One of the priestesses who looks after Sara, Ellen Enjena, watches her with worry as she runs off.
“She’s been spending an awful lot of time away from the church recently...”
She mumbles to herself, and one of her colleagues happens to overhear.
“She probably found herself a lover.”
“Really, stop joking like that. She’s still only ten years old.”
“Kids these days are pretty precocious, y’know. What if Ed or Johnny…?”
“If that’s what’s going on here then I’ll have to go kick their asses myself.”
Ellen clenches her fist, murder burning in her eyes.
Until they became paladins, Ed and Johnny were raised at the Central Quarter’s orphanage and have always been just like brothers to Sara. Ellen has been looking after all three of them since they were all just kids, and even now she drops by the West Quarter church frequently to check in on them.
“If this means that girl has finally made some friends outside of the Church, however, then I’ll finally be able to rest easy.”
“You’re always talking about how living in a closed-off world makes you short-sighted, aren’t you, Ellen-san?”
“Yes… especially with the Church as it is now, we’re in desperate need of people who can see the big picture.”
All the priestesses know that the Church is corrupt. The pope, maybe one of the cardinals started to make grabs for money and power, dragging the rest of the Church through the mud along with them. They not only banned the use of medicine but started raising the cost of healing, and even started recruiting paladins like never before.
The strain on the common folk is clear and grows greater by the day, but all that the priestesses can do is hand out discounts on healing.
“I hope Sara grows up big and strong.”
Ellen keeps on watching Sara run until eventually she passes out of sight.
Sara raises her hand and calls out a greeting to Ed and Johnny as they stand outside the church.
“What’re ya doing here again? Spend too much time wandering around and Ellen-san’s gonna get angry.”
“I’ll be fine, su. Unlike you I actually do all my work, su.”
“What’d you say!?”
Getting all stirred up, Ed starts vigorously ruffling Sara’s hair.
“Stop it, su! I didn’t come here to mess around, su!”
“I know, I know. Think of it as my way of saying hi.”
“Why do even your hellos have to be so annoyin’, su!? More importantly, what’s so important you had to send me a letter callin’ me out like that, su?”
Last night Ed had sent her a single sheet of paper with the ambiguous words [I found a thing, so come see me] written in his sloppy hand.
“Y’see, Johnny and I started looking into a few things, and…”
“Not here, Ed.”
“Ah… yer right. Let’s go somewhere a little more private, Sara.”
“Eh? Do we really gotta go that far, su?”
With a careful look at the church’s main building, the two of them usher her into the shadows nearby.
“The bishop doesn’t want any bad rumors to spread about this place, and he can be pretty scary when he’s mad.”
“There’s bad rumors ‘bout the Church around everywhere, su. I’m used to it, su.”
“This rumor is… a little different. It probably has nothing to do with that Ink girl you spoke of, but… well, think of it as an urban legend.”
“An urban legend, su?”
Generally speaking, an urban legend is formed when someone mistakes one thing for another or finds a fantastic explanation for the mundane and the tale of that misencounter is spread as a rumor. Especially in a world of monsters and magic, such rumors are quick to spread.
There can’t be smoke without fire, however --- at the root of the legend must lie a kernel of truth. Sara listens attentively to their every word.
“It’s basically just a ghost story. Supposedly they appear at night in the West Quarter… ‘round the church here, actually.”
Ed sticks out his hands and makes a ghosty gesture.
“Ghosts, su? What kind, su?”
“Children, supposedly. They’re said to be boys and girls younger than you are yourself.”
“D’you know how many, su?”
“Can’t say for sure. Supposedly they all have different hair colours, though --- one’s blonde, one’s white, one’s brown, one’s green, all sorts.”
“Those’re some colourful ghosts, su… What’ve they got to do with the church, su?”
Sara isn’t convinced of anything yet; it’s by no means rare for children to be wandering alone in the West Quarter at night.
Johnny puts his hands to his chin with a thoughtful look before continuing.
“That’s the oddest part of this whole business. Supposedly the kids are ‘victims of the Church’s human experimentation’ or something.”
“Where’d that come from, su?”
Sara of course knows that the Church is, in fact, performing such experiments and that such a thing is very possible, but it’s unusual to hear such an oddly specific rumor.
It’s almost as if somebody who knew the truth had purposefully leaked the information.
“Hell if we know. Supposedly the kids’re all supposed to have these weird, twisted intestines instead of faces.”
The first thing that comes to Sara’s mind is that ‘ogre’.
It can’t be just a coincidence.
What that means, though, is that in the more than ten years since the facility at Enchide was closed, the Church was able to give that same power to humans.
Seeing her face pale, Ed gives her a worried look.
“What’s up? Not good with that kinda gross horror stuff?”
He pats her on the head as he talks. She gives him a disapproving look at being treated like a kid again, but she doesn’t try to knock his hand away.
“Supposedly the children underwent some sort of experimentation beneath the church and became able to use some manner of mysterious power.”
“D’you know what kinda power, su?”
Johnny shakes his head.
Whoever started the rumor might’ve been erased before finding out that much.
“I dunno if it’s worth calling a clue, but the kids are supposedly called ‘Spiral Children’.”
“That’s a pretty straightforward name, su. Um… Ed, Johnny, thanks for lookin’ into this for me, su.”
“C’mon, now, you don’t hafta bow like that. Don’t go taking rumors like this so seriously.”
Ed grins, showing off a row of shiny white teeth.
Sara can’t accept that it’s ‘just a rumor’, however.
Whether or not Ink has anything to do with the Spiral Children, it’s now clear that experiments are being performed on children in the West Quarter.
“I-I know, su… But I don’t think you two should get involved in this mess any more than you already have, su.”
“It almost sounds as though you’re already involved.”
Sara recoils slightly at Johnny’s piercing words.
“Ya aren’t in any danger, are ya?”
She’s a terrible liar, and she especially can’t just deceive her family so easily.
“That’s all the more reason to involve ourselves further, then.”
“We’re your brothers, aren’t we?”
“But… if you do that, then let alone bein’ unable to stay at the church, you might…”
“It’s no use trying to scare… hm?”
Stopping mid-sentence, Johnny extends a hand to the back of his head.
It felt like something just touched him, like tapping the back of his neck and slipping inside. Even now that squirming feeling remains.
“What’s up, Johnny? Did a bug land on you or something?”
“No, it just felt a little ticklish is all.” “I’m fine. Don’t mind me.”
Two replies come at the same time, both in Johnny’s voice but both different.
“What’s with that face, Sara?” “Are you afraid of something, Sara?”
Again, the same voice but different words.
Ed and Sara can both see it clear as day --- from the back of Johnny’s neck a second, identical head has sprouted.
“Huh? Something, something feels off.” “What’s gotten the two of you so scared?”
“I can’t seem to move all of a sudden…” “Is there something amiss with my body?”
As the two sit speechless in the face of such a horrific sight, a small white something falls behind Johnny.
Without any sort of warning, eyeballs have started dripping from the eaves of the church.
One of them climbs up Johnny’s body from his heel and embeds itself into his neck, and a moment later a third head sprouts with a wet slither.
All three heads start talking in unison.
“W-W-W-What’s g-going on? o-on? H-How s-s-strange, stra, Sara? Sara strange?” “Don’tbescareddon’tbescared. Scared, I’m normal, I feel a bit weird but I’m normal but” “The Spiral Children. Ru, ru… this is, wro… ah, ahh, ahh, ahh”
At this point he can’t even think properly. Johnny continues to mutter broken words as he starts drooling and twitching.
“The hell is…!? We gotta go, Sara!”
“Eh? B-But Johnny, if we don’t save Johnny he’ll---”
“Leave him! Just look at him, d’ya seriously think ya can do anything about that!?”
“We can’t just give up, su! Johnny, Johnnyyyyy!!”
Sara tries to reach out to him but Ed grabs her hand and starts running.
He wants to save Johnny, too, of course, but he doesn’t have any idea how to do that. Even if Sara cast recovery magic on him there’s no guarantee he’ll return to normal.
Why, not even the man himself knows.
“R-Ru… ru… sa… ra, ed…! …ru… runru…” “Gah… ghgh… hh, as lo… ng… as… y-you… gah, gyuh...” “Ahh… ahh… sor… I-I… w-w-wan… bhe… w-w-w-with… y… ua… ahh, ahh!”
Tears spill from all six of his eyes.
Maybe there’s enough of him left to feel ‘sadness’. Maybe there’s no meaning behind that fluid that pours down his face.
Whatever the case may be, he cries, desperately trying to extend a hand toward their backs. Even if he can’t reason any more, he doesn’t need logic to mourn the loss of a future with his loved ones.
The eyes, which at some point had started falling from the rooftop with even greater zeal, mercilessly pour into his body.
Powerless to resist, he loses his form and becomes nothing more than a twisted thing.
The absurdity chasing them drives ever closer to them. Not content with simply devouring Johnny, the eyes continue to proliferate and fill the road as they hunt their new prey.
“Johnny… this can’t be happenin’, su… Johnny…!”
Sara calms down enough to be able to keep on running forwards, but the sorrow continues to eat away at her core. The tears continue to spill down her face. She’ll probably never forget that horrific sight as long as she lives.
“Dammit, dammit, dammit!! The hell’s going on!? This doesn’t make sense!!”
Ed is struggling to face the truth just as much as she is.
Johnny was his family, his best friend. He was certain that they’d continue to polish their skills and continue to grow as paladins and as people, but that future and those dreams were crushed in an instant --- all because of those horrific eyes.
“Why… Why’re they comin’ after us, su!?”
“How should I know!? Was talking about that rumor really so bad!?”
If that was the case, though, the Capital would be knee-deep in corpses by now. The reason must be something else --- or maybe it was just a coincidence they were attacked just then. Regardless of what the reason may be, all they can do now is keep on running.
Running in full plate is incredibly wearisome. Ed throws off his gauntlets in an attempt to lessen his load even a little, but all it does is make him feel a little better.
The eyeballs continue to pour in from all directions, slowly sealing off their escape routes as they run.
“It’s my fault, su…”
“Haa!? What nonsense are ya spouting now!?”
“This is all because I asked you for help, su!”
“Stop with the crazy talk, Sara!! Stop pretending this is all yer fault and shouldering every else’s burdens like they’re yer own!”
Ed raises his voice at her angrily. This is probably the first time he’s ever seriously scolded her.
“Johnny wasn’t planning on dying today, but y’know what!? I bet that more than anything he was glad he was the one standing there instead of you!!”
“Uu… uuu! …B-But…!”
“Even after they did that to him, he was still trying to tell ya to run! He’s probably swelling his chest with pride, and... and being all proud of himself for protecting his lil’ sis until the very end!!”
Ed grits his teeth.
Terror and burning hatred are clashing in his chest, reason and emotion --- but because Sara’s there, because there’s someone there that he needs to protect at all costs, he comes to his conclusion.
He stops running.
“That’s why --- I gotta do what I can to protect ya, too.”
He’s made up his mind.
Drawing his sword, he turns to face the horde of eyes.
“Stop it, su… Please, don’t leave me alone, su! If I lose you, too, I don’t know what I’d do, su!”
Her voice is painful to his ears.
His resolve wavers, his chest grows tight, and he considers continuing to run with her.
“I don’t want this, either… I wanted to watch ya grow up, wanted to be there as yer family when ya get married… I was really looking forward to poking fun at ya on yer big day…!”
Even so, his decision remains the same.
Johnny died saving her, and at this rate he’ll end up dying with her after all --- unless he stops here and serves as a decoy for her.
“Haaa! Seryaaa, haaaaa!!”
He swings his sword at the mass, crushing dozens but leaving nothing more than an insignificant dent in their numbers. They reach his feet and start writhing up and into his body.
“Guh… kh, hahh… this feels awful…!”
He starts sprouting more legs. He can’t possibly run now.
“I wanted to see ya put on a dress and makeup, and then after ya become unbelievably cute I wanted to tell ya ‘It doesn’t suit ya at all!’ and ruffle up yer hair, get yelled at…”
He starts walking forward on his unnatural new legs, determined to buy her another minute, another second, even.
“But… ahh, I guess I can do that from the other side… I won’t be able to be right there with ya but I’ll be watching ya every step of the way…”
“Stop decidin’ everythin’ on your own, su!!”
“If someone doesn’t stop ‘em they’ll get us both!”
“Please, just come with me, su! I don’t care if they catch us both, su!”
“Not gonna happen. This ain’t the first time I’ve just done what I wanted, so deal with it! Get outta here, Sara. Just… just remember somewhere in that frizzy golden head of yers that ya had two unbelievably cool older brothers, ‘kay…?”
Sara bites her lip so hard she draws blood as the tears pour down her face.
She can’t accept this, no matter what.
“Please, get outta here.”
Hearing Ed say it in such a kind voice, however ---
No matter how sad she is, she can’t let his resolve go to waste.
This is the end.
Sensing that, she gives voice to her true feelings, yelling it at the top of her lungs so that he’ll hear her no matter what.
“I… I… Ed, Johnny, I love you guys, su! I don’t care how many years, decades pass… You’ll always be my family, su!!”
Ed laughs a little, embarrassed.
Seeing that look on his face, she’s finally able to turn and keep running.
Did ya hear that, Johnny? She said she loves us. I never thought I’d hear that cocky little brat be so honest with herself…
Her feelings come across loud and clear, even without voicing them. Even if they’re not connected by blood, all three of them can feel their bond clear as day.
Hearing those words aloud, though, brings with it its own sort of happiness.
I still don’t get why any of this is happening, but… I guess it’ll be okay. As long as she’s okay I won’t have any regrets… no, that’s a lie. I have regrets. I have a whole shitload of regrets! Unlike Johnny, I don’t even have a girlfriend… I’m gonna die a virgin. I can’t even laugh at that.
Ed and Johnny are both still young. They have so many regrets they don’t know what to do with them all. Forget their hopes and dreams, they were even looking forward to the simple plans they had for tomorrow.
If by dying here she lives, though, I’ll hafta be content with that. If I’m not, then an end like this’ll be just too empty to bear.
He’ll have to let go.
He did the greatest good he could in the worst situation possible.
All that’s left is to go out fighting, to struggle even though he knows it’s pointless, and fight his fate to his dying breath.
“We love ya too, sisteeeeeeeeeerr!!”
He swings his sword around him like a man possessed.
Until the moment his body warps beyond recognition, until his last moments, Ed’s soul continues to burn.
Sara desperately keeps on running, gritting her teeth to hold back her emotions, rubbing her eyes, and sniffling with every single step.
The streets in front of her are foreign, her destination unknown, but she doesn’t stop.
Her family died.
The people closest to her are dead.
No --- what they suffered was a fate worse than death.
“I… Why am I… the only one… ughu… Ed… Johnny…!”
No matter what they told her, the guilt still weighs heavily on her mind.
She has no proof. She wants to believe otherwise.
The timing was far too perfect for anything else, however.
When she first laid eyes on those eyes she’d felt that something about them was similar to the ‘ogre’ they fought near Enchide. They might be one of the fruits of the Church’s research --- it might well be the power of one of the Spiral Children. It might be that someone or something is trying to end anyone and everyone looking into the Church’s secret affairs.
If she’s going to put the life that Ed and Johnny gave her to use, she’s got to make it out of this mess alive and get that information to Flum no matter what.
“Hahh… kuh… fuu… w-which way, do I go now, su…?”
She has no idea where she’s headed, but she can faintly spot the top of the wall that encircles the entire Capital. If she can make it there, she’ll be in the slums.
If the Church sicced those things on her to keep her from talking, then she should be fine if she can only make it someplace with a lot of people.
Normally she’d never go anywhere somewhere so unsafe, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Once she makes it to those wider streets she should be able to just follow the wall along to the West Gate, and from there onto the road that stretches straight across the Capital from west to east. From there she knows how to reach Flum’s house.
Sara starts sprinting towards the wall.
The eyes chasing her start to grow in number and continue to fall from the rooftops like rain.
Since Ed served as a decoy the numbers had thinned a little, but now their numbers have spiked again…
“Ed, thank you, su…”
She doesn’t have the time to mourn him yet, though. Looking back, countless eyeballs cover the ground, the walls, even the rooftops, all of them fixated on her. No matter how many times she sees them it never becomes less terrifying.
“You stole them both from me… and it’s still not enough, su!?”
They can’t even understand her words of hatred. No, since they seemed to respond to their conversation about the rumor whatever’s controlling the eyes must be able to hear her. In that case, the fact that the eyes only continue to draw ever closer to her seems to be their answer.
Whoever’s controlling the eyes must be truly a twisted, merciless, unbelievably evil, despicably cruel, absolutely monstrous mass of pure malice.
Still sensing the presence of her countless pursuers, she runs with all her heart and soul. As her fatigue starts to build she catches her foot on the rough cobblestone beneath her and almost falls.
Slowing down means death.
She manages to keep moving her feet as her hands make brief contact with the ground and she keeps on running.
As she runs she turns all her fear and anger into a cry and releases it.
The number of eyes pursuing her only continues to grow as they fall from rooftops, roll out of houses, even popping out from drainage channels, coming out of nowhere like maggots and filling the street to the brim.
She doesn’t look back. Even if she sees her pursuers it won’t change her hopeless situation. Ignoring her screaming legs, shutting her ears to the whimpering of her lungs, forcibly sewing up her heart on the verge of breaking, she frantically pumps her arms and keeps moving forward.
As she slowly but surely draws ever closer to the slums the air around her changes, replaced by the scent of raw garbage --- but that stench brings with it relief.
I’ve finally made it to where there’re people, su!
Sara doesn’t slow down even after she reaches that open street, making a wide turn to the right. She probably looks very out of place there in her clean white robes, but she ignores the gazes of all the passersby.
“I should… hahh… be safe here… su…”
She slows down a little and turns to look behind her.
“Hahh… ah… hahh… ah… eh?”
Shoulders heaving, she cocks her head to the side in confusion.
Her eyes fly open, her jaw hangs slack, and she bears witness to something so ghastly it may well be a vision of hell itself.
“This… I didn’t…!”
She didn’t hear any human voices as she ran. She figured that if she went somewhere that was heavily populated the eyes would give up the hunt.
She was naive.
Even now, the eyes continue to pursue her, burying innocent after innocent as they go.
“The hell’s this..? H-Hey, stay away… Don’t come any--- uwaaaaaaahh!!”
A man who happened to be passing by grows two arms, three, no, more. He stops where he stands in shock, and an instant later the eyes break over him like a tidal wave and he loses his humanity.
“Eeeeee!? O-Origin-sama, please protect me in my hour of need…! Please, I beg you, Origin-sa… ma… oghoh, u, buh… geh.”
One woman stops and kneels in the street, a holy symbol of Origin clasped in her hands as countless eyes sink into her torso. An instant later she inflates like a balloon. At first she had tried to cry out in terror, but as she loses even that freedom only foamy drool escapes her lips. As the eyes continue to pour into her, however, the drool is quickly replaced by wet pink internal organs as they start pouring out her mouth with nowhere else to go.
“No, stay awaaaaaaaay!! Don’t come any closer, a-at least spare my child…!”
“Mommy! Mo… megh.”
“Go away! Go awayyy!!”
“momy, hlep” “help… mommy, hel, he, hel…” “he, hehe, mogh, guh, hel”
A mother tries to pull her child out of the way in vain as eyes enter the boy’s neck and grant him two extra heads. She lets go of his arm for a moment in terror, but seeing the flood of eyes about to hit them in earnest she embraces him in an attempt to shield his body and they both get warped.
They show no mercy.
They show no desire to hide themselves.
Even if this is one of the Church’s secret projects, it’s far too violent, far too indiscriminate.
“I-I’m sorry, su… I’m sorry, su… I’m sorry, su…!”
They don’t care if they involve innocents, but their ultimate goal is still those who know too much. All they’ve been doing is eliminating obstacles interfering with their pursuit of Sara.
She turns another corner into a narrow alleyway. The screams of the eyes’ victims still reach her ears, but she’s powerless to save them. There’s the option of stopping running and letting them envelop her so that passersby can escape, but such excruciating self-sacrifice is too much to ask of a ten-year-old girl.
All she can do is dig her nails into the palms of her hands and fight back her tears as she runs.
Run, run, run ---
She runs at random, desperately looking for someplace, anyplace that doesn’t have people.
Sara doesn’t know how far she’s run already. She’s already well surpassed her physical limits --- her muscles are in agony and only her determination to keep on moving forward keeps her feet moving. Her chest hurts with every dry breath. It’s only a matter of time until she hits her true limit.
They have no limit, however. Every time she thinks she’s left them behind they seem to reappear out of nowhere once more. She’ll have to run even further, even faster --- assuming it’s even possible to lose them, that is.
Her fate was likely decided the instant she heard of the Church’s underground facility.
“Hahh… kahagh… a, ahh…”
A powerless voice escapes her lips. She continues to turn, turn, turn again, avoiding large streets and seeking narrower and narrower alleyways.
Finally, she arrives at a dead end.
She puts her hands to the cold stone walls around her and slumps to her knees.
A dead end.
She feels a faint pinprick of happiness at the thought of not having to run anymore.
“Ed, Johnny… you saved me, but this looks like the end, su. I’m sorry, su… Looks like I’ll be headin’ over to that side, too, su…”
She slumps to the ground, back to the wall, arms and legs stretched out. She gets her robes dirty, but they soon won’t be any use to anyone, so there’s no need to worry about it.
She watches the eyes slowly closing in, seeming to lick their nonexistent lips as they approach their prey. Even though there are more than enough of them, the mass only continues to grow, continuing to fall from the rooftops, roll up from the sides… they’re quite thorough, if nothing else.
“Ahh… I’d lived this long so I was really hopin’ I’d be able to get away, su…”
Images of her fellow priests and priestesses from the Central Quarter, Ed, Johnny, Flum and her friends, and even all the innocents who were engulfed flash through her head.
Thanking everyone who’s helped her up until now, she closes her eyes and turns her face to the heavens.
A gentle, clean breeze unfit for such a filthy alley caresses her cheek.
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