The Longing Of Shiina Ryo:Volume2 Chapter 3: Rin
After a month and a dark and really stormy night came the Festival, along with anxiety and stress. Specifically because of the ‘stormy’ part.
We needed our synthesizer backing tracks because, well, not one of us could play keys and especially not while playing any of our primary instruments. Still, the programmed lines added a lot to the intricate quality of the music and it would be very detrimental for us if we had to perform live without them, especially because that’s how the songs were recorded on our EP which would be launched after the show but was already in our respective playlists for the past two weeks.
The files got really heavy on the CPU and to export them the first time for the EP was hell, but having to do it again just for the synthesized tracks would not be much better. The reason for everything was because we, instead of doing it track by track, decided to arrange it in the way we would perform it in the set, one after the other. Therefore we assumed it would be okay to leave the computer on for the 12 estimated hours exporting the file.
The storm was strong enough to bring three fast intercalated blackouts. We were all at our homes when it happened which resulted in a lot of texting going on, but we all hoped that despite the obvious reset and having to restart the process all over again in the morning, the medium-priced No-break would take most of the damage and leave the computer with the project files unharmed.
Now Megumi was gone, as she stormed out the door saying ‘I have a plan’, Akane was sulking, Rin was angry at the school, at the electric company, and the heavens. I did my best to keep them together and functioning, and to some extent, succeeded. Most of our EP work was dead for good but we still had the mixed and mastered files on our mobile phones, personal computers and music players and also on the server of the Finnish audio engineer we hired; maybe we couldn’t post stems of it so it could ever be reworked it in the future and the live performance would sound really empty compared to the recording but it wasn’t the end of the world.
It was actually a good story for the future.
Megumi came back one and a half hours later with a loop pedal so we could record sections of audio and play the loops just by stomping on it, which would help us give the songs more body because we could just record the parts that previously belonged to synthesizers with the guitars, regaining some of the ambience we achieved on the EP. The rainbow girl said she borrowed it from a friend, but I managed to see the pawn shop ticket before she could hide it and I knew very well she had only one personal possession she could trade for this.
Her acoustic guitar.
I called Rin for a private talk so I could provide her that information and she agreed to get Megumi’s guitar back immediately, even though that would involve telling her father about the whole band thing. We came back to the room and started working on rearranging and tracking the loops for the best performance we could bring with those limited resources and were surprised by how, with some effects, it sounded much less cluttered and alive this way.
And then, when we were done celebrating, Rin proclaimed something that made me snap.
“I want you all to give your very best tonight. It shall be Saris’ first and last performance, after all.”
The shock made me sure my hearing comprehension had failed for a moment.
“Surely you heard correctly, Shin-tsu.” She spoke in monotone. “This band will be over as of the end of Ars Finita.”
The other members made no objections and it only made me angrier. It was obvious: they all knew this was coming.
“…Why are you doing this?” Frustration building up. “I thought you guys enjoyed this as much as I do!”
“We do,” said Akane in a surprisingly audible voice.
Megumi faced the ground and started talking.
“These have been the happiest days of our lives too, Shin-tsu.”
“Because these days will not last.”
Fury took over me when I heard Rin utter that.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“I am graduating soon and you cannot possibly expect me to live this rebellious ephemeral dream for much longer, especially as an adult. My family and its company will need me someday soon and playing technical music will not get me ready for this responsibility, so there’s a huge chance I will soon move to study abroad. I am terribly sorry if I led you all on, but then again I was fooling myself too.” She took a melancholic pause. “And even if you keep this without me, it’s only a matter of time before something similar happens, albeit different in scale, to Akane and Megumi, who are older than you and going to graduate next year.”
“But that doesn’t mean everything should just end! You guys are overreacting!”
“Yes, but what would come next, then? Playing occasional gigs in bars while settling for part-time jobs you believe are ‘temporary’, becoming the casuals you all deep down loathe so much until you do not have time or interest to rehearse or talk to each other anymore? Perhaps trying to be a full-time band but failing miserably for years because your style of music simply does not sell, and then realizing you wasted years that could have been used for self-improvement and studies in order to have an actual career like everyone we went to high school with and their little brothers? Or selling out and hating yourselves every single day for not being able to succeed by playing fair and doing everything you are able to? Even the best case scenario for us is to somehow go major with our own music style but eventually degenerating into predictable, uninteresting trash as time goes by.”
“And your alternative is to kill the unborn, to give up while we’re ahead? That’s the cowardly way out!”
One bar pause.
“The soldiers who die at war are seen as brave by some, but in my opinion they were just as scared as the others who managed to come back. There is no glory in failure.” Rin was once again sharply calm, the most infuriating sight possible for me at that moment. “My alternative is to let this be what it really is: a rebellious ephemeral dream that will end up exactly as good as it started specifically because it ended shortly after it started, without having the time to become a flawed execution of the initial concept. Something we can be proud of and share the longing of it till the day we die: a band made of never-ending nostalgia for us to dream about.”
That was the last straw for me but when I looked around and saw my other two band mates who were showing no signs of resistance as I did to Rin’s ideas and views on morals, I felt like I was the only one trying to save a sinking boat. Unfortunately, no matter what I said, I could not fully disagree with them. We all took music and ourselves too seriously to let it slide to the status of a hobby but had so much going on in our personal lives that we couldn't make a career out of it, which would be already hard considering the kind of music we played.
“So, is this it? You’re all quitting on us? This was supposed to be influential and huge! Are you telling me we wasted time and effort on this just so we could self-produce an EP and make a single live performance? Have you all gone insane?”
They all looked disappointed, but I couldn’t tell if they felt this way about me or themselves. This kind of drama was less the end of a band and more akin to a bad breakup.
“That is a conceptual mistake: it is never ‘time wasted’ if you enjoy wasting it, Shin-tsu. I too fell in love with this project but I cannot afford to remain like that any longer if that is going to be in my way, and ultimately neither can you. This would only hinder us: no matter how much potential they have, high school bands never last long.” She looked into my eyes and for one moment I assumed Rin would break down too. “One can see this is not only about the band for you, but either way at some point in life you will have to learn to let things go.”
My mask and inner layers were directly hit and broken at that point. Was this what it was all about, letting things go? Why was it easy to everyone but me to just accept it as a memory, to sacrifice important things for something that wouldn’t last? Were they all idiots?
“…But how can I?” No longer in control of myself and without the strength to lie, all that was left for me was to join them as a spectator of my own monologue and be mortified by the truth that came out of my mouth, a truth I never wanted to admit. Regardless of my past experiences I still became attached to this, too much in fact. It was good, to finally feel like I was part of a group. “I thought I was too numb, too devoid of emotions to really care about anything. I’ve been losing since I can remember so I should be used to it by now, right? But it just keeps happening to me over and over again and it never gets any easier than this. How can I let the only thing I truly believed wouldn’t end on me simply vanish like this?”
Not my friends. Not my family. Not Ryo.
People have forsaken me so many times I cannot help but expect a relationship will end before it even starts, regardless of its intensity. Is it because of that? Is that the reason why the one thing I felt so honestly attached to is not a person but an abstract, juvenile concept such as a ‘band’? Is having nothing I can truly call ‘mine’ the reason why I cannot afford to lose anything?
…Just how broken am I?
As I pondered, warmness surrounded me all of a sudden and I didn’t need to open my eyes to confirm I was in the center of a group hug.
“By keeping the bittersweet aftertaste on your mouth as a memento, obviously.”
Knowing that I wasn’t the only one needing that, I decided to let the whole thing happen a little longer before making any significant movement.
“…Let’s do this,” I said when the time was right.
Everything from that point on was on blurry flash-forward and the only moment I do recall was furiously growling the title of the first song in the set sharing a microphone with Koukina Rin.
“WE ARE THE BLEEDING DARK!”
We got off the stage less than an hour later and moved our bodies slowly to the backstage, without saying a word before the door was closed and locked. Our band leader then broke the silence with remarkable lack of composure.
“Well, that sucked.”
In face of such a statement we could do nothing but follow her in the routine.
“I made so many mistakes I could as well have played other songs.”
“My blast beat was alright but coming back to the groove parts was harder than it should be.” “The crowd was almost blasé and we probably left a bigger impression by having the School Council president in our band than because of our music. They didn’t even ask for an encore, the uncultured swine.”
A brief moment of silence was followed by spontaneous yet somehow perfectly synchronized laughter.
“I’m going to miss this so much.”
“You definitely are not the only one.”
When it was her turn, Akane just nodded and I could tell it was not because of shyness.
We left the improvised backstage behind and as Megumi left to get food while Akane followed like the world’s happiest shadow, Rin and I met her father, who was clearly waiting for us to come out. I was ready for stern words and conflict, but it ended up being very… different.
“Certainly, I do not want you to run my company, Rin.”
He raised his huge hand and for one moment I assumed I would be a witness of familiar violence, but instead he patted his daughter on the head and made the School Council president look fragile and young like I have never seen her look.
“My greatest wish is to see you doing what you love and do best, be it music or ruling the world as a dictator. You are my only daughter and I could never force my own views of the world on you, let alone make you walk a path I chose. After all you are your own person and should not compromise your dreams because of anyone else.” His extremely deep voice was softer now and the soothing way in which he spoke made me feel jealous of Rin. “And I know the company I built is not what you want for yourself; that is a good thing indeed, because it is mine and I have no intention of leaving it for a long time and am willing to fight over it against any person on Earth. It seems you’re going to have to find your own business, lady. Just let me know next time, you got it? I will support you if you allow me to.”
“It has been a while since you called me that…”
Leaving that somewhat mushy father-and-daughter scene a tad too late for avoiding the puke in my mouth but still as smoothly as I could at the time, my feet guided me to the improvised backstage once more. If the man was going to reveal some detail that resembled the plot of a certain visual novel such as being the original owner of her guitar or something, I didn’t want to be there when it happened. We have enough problems as it is without facing plagiarism charges, so I walked away.
Then I met Shiina Ryo and a big, loud argument began as a prelude to the wicked happenings that were to come.
It all started when I kissed Ryo.
This might sound a tad too personal to you, but have you ever experienced the feeling of being so connected to someone in a perfect moment you no longer know when you end and that person begins? Like there’s an electric current passing through the being once known as two individuals directly, like the point where you merge with that person is a rectifier; both are one and this one is pure energy, thoughts meaning less than the constant flow of action shared. A matter of skin, timing and chemistry where absolutely nothing else matters, be it summer rain striking two lovers or the end of the world that surrounds them.
Well, it was nothing like that. Not at all. Nope.
Instead, I felt a similar thing to when Ayaka’s Shugoshin trapped me with the white card trick. It’s no wonder I was confused at first but it became absurdly obvious when I faced the monster in the warehouse: what happened to me in class definitely wasn’t just a panic attack.
One moment I was arguing pretty bad with her over God-knows-what and the other the school was gone. Everything around me shifted into a world of white, with no beginning or end; not the kind of blinding light you’re supposed to see at the end of the tunnel, but the misty one you’d get at walls that have been painted for more than mere months, on clouds in grey days, on office paper considerably cheaper than regular.
Definitely not what you expect even from a bad kiss.
To be alone in such a scenario made me feel like it was a dream; ‘surreal’ doesn’t begin to describe how it struck me. It was too distressing for my brain to compute at once, a dull uneasiness going through every muscle as recognition came little by little.
An outside as empty as one could be inside.
The solitude didn’t last long, for the shot of pain that exploded and sent me flying away was more than enough to let me know I was not, as a matter of fact, alone there.
“I hate you.”
A long-haired, black and white version of Ryo that seemed to be made of paper and ink stood before me with devilish eyes set to kill and her parasol held as a sword. Didn’t take a genius to figure out what was going on.
So they got her too, maybe that’s why my memories of that are so blurry.
Kouma’s words resonated in my mind: ‘What if you can’t save her?’, indeed. Even though I played the part on occasion, I was not a hero. I was not a good guy and had one of the worst personalities of all the people I have ever seen. I was useless and prone to use others, a good-for-nothing smug-faced bastard. I wouldn’t trust me to be able to save anyone’s skin but my own. I extended my retractable umbrella to its maximum.
Obviously, if I couldn’t save Ryo I’d just fight her. If I went this far to protect her, there was no way I could just pretend it wasn’t my problem even if that option was presented to me. If I can’t try when I can lose I am not worthy of winning.
So commence the last dance - I’m more than ready.
Then 'it' proved me wrong.
I shall refer to the monster as ‘it’ for I cannot see it as the same as Ryo and I. It charged with unparalleled speed and I only had the time to open my eyes wide before the series of attacks began and the makeshift sword I held was destroyed with the first one. That’s when I knew my training was completely in vain.
I considered something after I watched the battle between Reikoku-sensei and that man, and this proved it: there was a varying level of strength among them especially depending on the kinds of attacks. Expecting to be able to spar or swordfight with every single one of them regardless of training was absolutely unrealistic. My speed that once looked absolute was now worthless: it hit me again and again from everywhere at all times because it moved in all directions where there was space to move, while I was bound by logic and gravity. I could feel the bruises being born near fresh lacerations and I knew the only reason why I wasn’t dead yet was because it was having the time of its life torturing me.
There were no limitations for the creature in this realm.
Absolute defeat crippled me more than it did, for I stopped trying to fight back or defend myself. Unsurprisingly it got bored and decided to finish the job after teasing a little more to see if the prey would get up one more time.
I didn’t, so it prepared the final hit.
If you don’t come back, this is how it ends. Will you?
…Never tell me to shut up or go away again.
I know your true name now.
Yes, you do.
Am I strong enough to defeat that Shugoshin?
This should be obvious by now: no, you are not.
Are you strong enough to defeat it on your own?
No, I am not.
…Then I suppose it's about time for me to stop fighting you.
You must accept the absolute truth.
I accept it; I probably always have, deep down. There is no hope, the suffering and despair will never end, and it might be the worst day ever: I know I cannot afford to keep denying those statements that are all the utmost truth any longer, but it is necessary to add they are also not for me. This is going to be someone else's truth, and together we sure are going to make him understand it well.
Because we are one.
Because we are none.
Because if light itself is corrupted then it's time for the dark to ‘shine’.
Because eventually, every single thing will fade to us.
And for that hideous flawed glow, the time is now.
I know that much; just make sure you meet my expectations because this is going to take all of my willpower.
"Come forth!" I opened my eyes as pitch black flames or rather the absence of flames enveloped my body. "THE DARKEST!"
It took a little distance because of the surprise element, but I knew it would take more than a last minute unexplained power-up to fight that monster, especially considering how bad I still was. The thing is, the reason why I had that voice that knew facts that I didn’t (and could not know, such as the ovation I received in Le Ciel Bleu being a standing one or the moment Reikoku-sensei would reach my house) and was ignorant to things I did, other than the physics-ignoring abilities and fast healing, was obvious in the setting.
I too was the host to a Shugoshin.
Getting up was hard because I had both a ruined body and information overload to deal with. All of a sudden, I knew about how my power was a ramification of the reality-warping abilities I showcased before by which I limited the broadness of possibilities to increase the actual energy of the power. My wounds started healing instantly but I realized the absence-of-flames grew dimmer.
It was really easy to get spent and I was in the middle of something so it was a matter of life and death to use this power the best I could. But how? Rather than energy, it was anti-energy. Absorbing others? Super punches? Trying to blast it off your fingers? I didn’t feel heat from it like most main characters do, but it wasn’t ice either.
It was ‘nothing’, and just that.
As I wondered, ‘how do you fight with nothing?’, the Shugoshin similar to Ryo already had the answer figured out: with ease.
First it came swinging the parasol against my face which I stopped by concentrating a good share of the absence-of-flames on my right hand, turning it into a claw and counter-attacking with enough strength to break it. Which only lead to me taking a kick in the knee, an elbow strike to the chest and getting one more attack that was similar to the position of holding a sledgehammer to my spine, at the end.
I fell to my knees, rolled over and concentrated on using the power as an energy blast with my left palm pointed at the creature. It landed but did no more than a small injury to the right thigh, which was no surprise whatsoever: while I’m no Physics expert, I don’t think energy just flies around in air without losing potency during the path. The payoff at long distance wasn’t worth it and at short distance it was probably irrelevant. I just had to try because I was running out of ideas and time.
A kick to the temple and I went down one more time, only to be kicked over and over again.
“GET UP! GO ON, GET UP! AREN’T YOU A WARRIOR? GET UP!”
I probably hurt its feelings by attacking it directly.
Serves you right for playing its game straight, you are no fighter or hero.
Oi, for someone with such a flashy name and an intro boast like that your power is really, really underwhelming when compared to others’.
I never claimed to be the strongest and a name is just a name.
Still, it wouldn’t hurt if you were a little stronger.
One could say water is not ‘strong’ when it stands still, but few dare defying the fury of the oceans when there is a storm happening.
Except this thing here is closer to a cup of water than an ocean if we’re talking about proportions.
Make your enemy choke on it then; it is still a matter of approach.
Right. This doesn’t change the fact I’ll probably die this time, though.
Change your approach.
But… I gave my best shot. I gave it all.
Shut up, you piece of trash human: how dare you say that was all you could do?
Can you think?
Can you feel sorry for yourself? Can you think about how weak and hopeless you are in comparison to the universe around you? Can you wish for things to be different? Can you move? Can you breathe?
Then you still have energy left: you did not give it all.
But I’m tired, and if I couldn’t beat it before how could I have a shot now? I’m much weaker and I was found wanting to begin with. What do you want me to do? To rise as a nail and stick out only to get hammered down more?
A few months in Japan and you already became a conformist? You ran for years just so you could have this heaven and now you’re giving up on it because you couldn’t take an enemy down as easily as you imagined? Will you stain your hands with the blood of innocents once again? Is it okay just because you won’t live long enough to cope with the trauma this time?
You don’t understand! No matter how many of them I defeat, how many cases I solve or how many people I save, it’s all the same: more and more trouble will come my way until I can no longer handle it.
No, you don’t understand: you don’t stop punching because the enemy doesn’t fall, but the opposite. If the target does not go down, it’s one more reason to keep on punching: you punch and punch until it does. The punches will not affect only your enemy, but you too: your bones will break and your flesh will bleed easily and in the same way they will recover, but not to the same state. Your bones will grow thicker, your muscles will develop, and your mind too will become stronger but there’s one thing you need to do to start that process.
To fight back: one can manage to resist passively, but you can’t fight back that way. Either you fight back with aggression as your intent and means or you don’t.
But I might die. Everyone might die because of my mistakes and weakness. Someone already did, for heaven’s sake.
So? The thing is, all of you will eventually die either way: you are fated to that the moment you are born, period. What you are doing so far is giving up, it’s the cowardly way out.
If in the end it’s all the same, why should I bother?
Yes, you are going to die, and dying is forever; thinking about it right now is just suffering by anticipation. But life is limited, a single shot you get at doing what you want and ascending to a higher level regardless of whether you start as the richest woman ever or a poor excuse for a man. Why on Earth would you people consider wasting it or being okay with passing through those few years living like a dog, I have no idea.
This speech is very nice and everything, but that doesn’t change the fact I don’t have the strength to win a proper fight against that creature. I just can’t do it.
…But you just said…
Don’t have a proper fight, if you can’t win one. Humanity sure is slow to learn, but you’re something else. You don’t fight storms; you find a way to predict them and to some extent, control them. You don’t swim against the ocean; you create vehicles that allow you to navigate through it, devices to warn you when you should defend your people from it and dams to tame its tremendous strength, getting hydroelectric power on top of that. Don’t just stop punching, you idiot: punch differently!
…One more time. I know what you mean now. Lend me your strength one more time, I know what to do.
You’d better. And I won’t lend it to you. I am the strength, and I am yours.
I felt the power rush through me and it wasn’t like I was possessed as in Ayaka’s case; rather I was feeling whole at last.
“As I decay, something new is born.”
Without hesitation, without thinking at all, I advanced. I stepped in walls that weren’t there and moved freely like it was a world made of floors. Walking, increasing my pace and then galloping at lightning speed on thin air. Directions were tolerated no longer, for I could push my legs forward and move backwards or sideways if I wanted to at that point. That sub-universe was nothing but vectors and fractals and it was my domain.
In rare form, unchained like the drift, all was allowed to me.
The speed and overall mobility of the monster were finally matched if not surpassed and it showed whenever we’d meet and spar midair rather than just clash inside those seemingly endless boundaries. Every hit I delivered generated a noise that struck me as the characteristic one of glass breaking while every attack the creature landed was accompanied by a sub-frequency bass wave that resonated in my chest. That improvised percussive symphony was insane, and that was the biggest understatement I had ever listened to.
Maybe that fight could not go on forever because of my stamina, but it surely was going everywhere.
As I maintained focus and sped up my pace I realized why the monster did not seem as undefeatable at that point and got slightly mad at myself for not considering the possibility first: a creature moving that fast and freely could not and would not rely on vision. Vision is useless if you have to change angles and point of view every second.
So 'it', or most likely all of the Shugoshin, used heat, which my power canceled. Not a particularly heroic natural defense, but perfect for someone like me. If it concealed me enough to force these monsters to use more natural means to search for me limiting their abilities that much, it was better than I could ever hope for and gave me a lot of insight on how I should fight.
A clash and a retreat on both sides.
“Y-your plan is to defeat me, the entity who created this glorious realm, with mere brute force? Nonsense! You don’t stand a chance!”
“Just my kind of battle then!” Quickly I jumped, advancing both forward and to a higher infinity at high speed and pulled my right arm enveloped by the pitch-black absence-of-flames back midair to gather some strength. All that goes up has to go down and I could tell even inside that sub-dimension that law was truth; that was an important part of my potentially suicidal plan. “Clench those teeth, Ryo!”
I came down from the illusory space falling like a comet or an angel, but all the resistance I found only made me want more and more to emerge victorious from the confrontation. The Shugoshin bit his inferior lip, strong and fast enough for a small spray of blood to fly and taint the imitation of air. Indecision no longer was present in his face and in its place a burning lust for battle spawned. It seemed genuinely happy and for some reason I could relate to that feeling.
Perhaps because I am human and that is what really drives us.
What my inhuman enemy didn’t see coming until the last second, however, was the bait and switch.
We, humans, are tricky creatures by nature, living beings that use ruses and tools to achieve what we can’t do on our own and while that kind of intelligence might not be all there is to us when it comes to separating us from other species, it certainly is what brought us safely to the state where we find ourselves currently: our world is a massive deathtrap composed of a million smaller ones just waiting to be triggered by nature, and we certainly built a few deathtraps ourselves much to our children’s dismay, but so far we survived all those ordeals. The planet seems to hate us and that doesn’t mean that we should stop evolving.
Or, even if we should give up, that we will.
A direct, fair blow would be a stupid strategy and too much of a risky gamble. While I can see why it would appeal to some people, that’s not how I fight unless it’s the last option left. To appeal to the enemy’s battle lust, however, is a good way to make sure you can predict its behavior. It helped that the creature shared a mind with an idealistic writer; I’ll have to grant you that: a duel like that was most likely what the Shugoshin wished for the most. The button was just there waiting to be pressed.
So I triggered it, I played along and delivered to my public. It wanted the promise of a fair battle with high stakes, ‘manly speeches’ and boasting. The clashing of final attacks was an absolutely necessary scene in order to complete the story for someone with that kind of mindset. Fantasy craves and screams for scenes like that, which is exactly why I was sure to feed that illusion until the punch landed and my arm was completely shattered.
If I didn’t know what would come next I would have allowed my body to give in and pass out because of the unbearable pain. But I did for a fact know, and the knockout mechanism would not get the best of me.
For one split second I saw the creature grin with absurd pleasure only to realize it was too easy and move its head to face my flying left arm that went against it like a guided missile engulfed by the black non-flames. It finally realized I had transferred the power to my other arm which held Ayaka’s pantographic knife and sacrificed the right one to create a ruse.
I needed the time to draw and unfold it and the monster just gave it to me.
I was no fighter, indeed; if I ever learned how to fight it would be so that I didn’t have to. To embrace what I was good at instead of accepting a role others forced upon me, of being someone else’s hero or knight in shining armor because the plot demanded so was ridiculous. Who I was, what I was, that constant would never change and always take me back: as back when I was a kid, I was the destroyer of all things magical. Maybe I could not cope with murder, but this creature was not human and it would not qualify.
So return her to me.
Ryo is 『mine』.
The grin didn’t fade as much as it shifted briskly, a contortion visibly painful but nothing compared to what the knife in my remaining hand did to the back of the creature with Ryo’s face. I had just lost a good portion of my arm yet the attack still made me feel sorry for the monster when it connected.
I had become, in all senses of the expression, a cheating backstabber.
Mankind’s answer to Mystery.
A 『born killer』 who cannot murder.
A soundless and inexpressive chock happened followed by a deafening supersonic wave spreading through the whole realm, and then it really was all over.
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