July. The time when the heat was becoming increasingly earnest——.
Ikuse Tobio and a friend were on the train returning from school——they were paging through magazines near the door.
“As I thought, the suspension of this one might be better.”
“If that’s the case, then wouldn’t it have been quicker to have gathered stuff at the junkyard near the riverbank?”
To Tobio’s opinion, his friend sighed with half-open eyes.
“Foolish. Such things, someone who doesn’t understand things like picking your own motorcycle parts shouldn’t be out riding one. If they’re shitty, then wouldn’t there be an unknown possibility of suffering severe punishment in a car accident? As ‘spected, no doubt ’bout it, by having saved purchasing money to insert brand new parts, that makes it all more romantic, doesn’t it?!”
His friend spoke passionately, his eyes glisteningly sparkling.
Recently, he seemed crazy about motorcycles, and in order to complete it he was gleefully working part time despite the school prohibition.
Incidentally, obtaining a general motorcycle license at his and Tobio’s school is also a school rule violation. If one is found out, getting suspended immediately was unavoidable.
However, it’s the second year of high school. It’s said that boys that age by nature have an interest in bikes and cars.
“Tobio’s should also get his license. The two of us could go touring! It would absolutely be fun!”
Recently, he had been frequently inviting Tobio to do so.
Tobio was not at all without interest. But……
“Ooh, that doesn’t sound bad…….But I’m not really in the mood.”
Tobio replied, smiling wryly.
“I see, it’s not easy to forget……”
His friend abruptly looked down at the floor of the car.
‘Still unexplained! Sinking accident of the Heavenly of Aloha issue. The case that casts a shadow on the United States’
Even as Tobio looks at it, a small shadow appears on his face.
Two months ago, Tobio was in the midst of that incident.
The sinking of the luxury liner that carried 233 of his fellow students. As a survivor of the incident, Tobio was chased everyday by the media.
Such is to be expected. If a ship carrying Japanese high school students caught fire in a maritime accident, it’s a big news story. It was top news at any station on a daily basis, with the media showing no regard while interviewing the survivors of the incident, as well as officials.
A joint funeral for the deceased classmates was carried out amid such an uproar. Tobio, who was attending as one of the surviving, was quite the newsflash during the funeral.
Several students other than Tobio who also survived were in no state to attend school for a while.
They were subjected to curious and also accusatory gazes but, even more so, there was a serious problem.
There would suddenly be no classmates who, until recently, had all been so lively. As many teachers were also lost in the accident, there weren’t many people at school who could offer consolation. That incident, given how public it was, meant time was needed to organize and accept such thoughts in one’s mind. The students who were left behind, being hunted by the press, had little choice but to stay home until the excitement over the incident died down.
“From that incident, isn’t it strange that they never found people who lived through it?”
To his friend’s question, Tobio lowered his gaze.
“Aah, only those who did not participate in the school trip survived. ……Among us, there is less than ten altogether, myself included.”
Those who had survived from the same school year as Tobio, they were all limited to students who had not been able to attend the school trip as well. Among both the students who attended as well as the teachers, there were no survivors.
When the ship broke in half, one side had sunk to the sea floor, while the other half continued to be searched. From here, the bodies of a few of the teachers were recovered, the only bodies that were found from those aboard. From that search, the corpses of students were not once found to be intact. The search proceeded to try and salvage the remains that had sunk to the ocean floor, but the sunken ship had ended up in an unexpectedly tight crevice, from which raising it was extremely difficult. As of now, there was no set prospect of recovering them.
Those on TV proposed a variety of theories for the sinking accident, while suspicious gossip was circulated about what the true inside story was. Every day there’s a shady commentator saying, ‘The cause is a secret weapon of a neighboring country!’ or ‘Supernatural phenomenon!’, ‘It’s the work of UFO!’ and the like, but all that talk just seems foolish.
——It’s because the cause of the sinking accident is still unknown.
Dubious theories are just a means of going with the flow while not facing reality.
However, the Japanese easily grew tired of the subject. Without any progress in the case, by the time a month had passed coverage of political corruption became the main issue, while news of the sinking accident gradually was treated as less newsworthy.
Maybe the bereaved families of the students not making any fuss is to blame. Although initially voices were raised saying “take a risk!” and such, as though they had given up, little by little it became an issue they didn’t want to face.
After one month, those that had survived along with Tobio had each decided which school that had accepted them they would be attending. Among them, not one chose to continue attending Ryoukuu High School after all that they’d been through. Every one of his fellow student was no longer attending school there.
Thus the surviving students all scattered, fleeing from the media reporters as well as their previous neighbors from when they attended that first school, who had also watched them with unrestrained curiosity.
“That time crazy things were happening. Because of the mass media cameras every day was crowded in front of the main gate.”
As his friend recalled the scene, Tobio wore a bitter expression.
As his friend has said, he’d been asked to comment every day in school but none of them were used.
Initially treating him like he was hurt, but also giving him troublesome looks, he barely spoke to the students he encountered, and finally was granted some peace.
Early summer——as it entered July, the time of the incident was no longer talked about, his unease turned to composure, and he was able to calm down in his own way. And so for the first time he was able to deeply feel the loss of his classmates.
“Well, these thoughts must be painful, so isn’t better that that you devote yourself to adapting to this new life? Thinking about such unpleasant things, that certainly harmful to your mind and body.”
Hitting him on the back, his friend gives him words of encouragement. Tobio was thankful and obediently followed these words.
In the meantime, the train had arrived at the station where his friend gets off.
“Ah, well I’m getting off here. One more thing. Don’t worry and cheer up.”
He gets off the train and shows a guts pose to Tobio with a smile. Tobio gives a short reply of, “Ah, see you,” and shook his hand.
Tobio remained alone in the car and exhaled.
Tobio in his heart, apologized to his friend.
Between the new friends, a deep gap still exists. A gap that still did not feel filled.
While being jolted in the train, Tobio was gazing at the sky.
When he is alone, he has more time stare at something in a daze like this.
Suddenly taking out his cell phone, Tobio lowers his gaze to the mail screen. The majority of his inbox was used for preservation, to keep the past from disappearing.
The address, that of the friends who died in the accident. The mail was sent from them up until the day of the accident. While riding alone on the train, checking the mail has become a daily routine. Every time he sees the e-mail, the face of a classmate floated in his mind, causing him loneliness while providing a feeling of nostalgia. It is not possible to send replies to this mail, it’s simply accumulated. But even if they can’t send mail, it’s Tobio’s only point of contact with them.
And so he will continue to check them, as his finger stops on one of the e-mails. The sender, Sae——Toujou Sae. The girl who was Tobio’s childhood friend.
‘Boarding the airplane now. Looking forward to some comfortable air travel. See you later. And make sure you’re properly resting!’
E-mail that would have been sent from the airport. This was it, the last contact from her.
His new life had begun, the life he had become accustomed to, where Tobio, when he was alone, would often cry in his room. Because he would suddenly be attacked by a great sense of loss.
Even if he sent them emails, even if he were to call them by phone, Sae and his friends wouldn’t come back. They would never come back, those ordinary days.
Laughing together during breaks, laughing at their classmates who were prodded by the teacher after dozing off during class. Lunch break, the upsurge of stupid topics on the roof, spending time with noisy friends at karaoke and game centers after leaving school, the day-to-day memories.
Sae who had gone to the same school as him up through high school——. Since they lived nearby it was a common occurrence. She would always show him her unforgettable smile.
——Those ordinary days wouldn’t come back.
On the day she left for the school trip, Sae’s appeared to have such a lonely look as she left ——.
He’ll never again be able to hear the reason for such a face.
Something important had been lost forever. Something that Tobio cannot recover.
Tobio, rather than getting off at the station he would usually, got off two stations early.
He could stop by the bookstore, kill some time in the game center. He couldn’t go home yet. Since his parents were both overseas, even if he returned to his own home there’d be nobody there. For Tobio who had no siblings, even after returning his home would be a lonely place.
He was only able to live due to the money sent to him by his parents. He also did the housework himself. He also was learning to cook, to the extent that he could prepare his own bento. There was nothing about his lifestyle to be concerned about.
By not returning to his house straightaway, he wouldn’t be lonely by himself. If he were alone he’d be assailed by the agony.
Alone, returning to that large apartment, he would just think about his classmates more than during the day. Once such thoughts started in his head, they would persistently fill his mind until he left home the next day.
The sense of loss would violently corrode his mind. Rather than that, he had even thought of running away to his relatives overseas, but he had already made new friends, and it would have been agonizing to part with them as well.
In the event he had gone overseas, he wouldn’t had reunited with them anyways. Besides, even if he had gone it was unlikely he’d just forget about his classmates.
With those various thoughts, in the end Tobio finally decided to return later. As much as possible, he’d browse the bookstore, enjoy games at the game center. Only by doing so would the pain be alleviated.
6 p.m. passed, 7 o’clock arrived. The sun remained out for a long time in the summer, and so was still out even though it was as late as 7 o’clock.
Tobio, having lost the fighting game he was playing after reaching the final boss battle, while letting out a sigh decided to return home. At this time, the city was sparsely populated with people such as office workers that just finished work. Tobio was walking with hollow eyes.
It was when he got to the crosswalk. Suddenly looking at the sidewalk across the street, Tobio’s vacant eyes spotted something. Instantly, his eyes opened as wide as they could.
What he was currently seeing, it was a figure that was supposed to be impossible——. Seeing such a thing, Tobio’s heart started beating violently.
They had a relationship where each had watched the other’s growth from an early age. There’s no way he could be mistaken!
Before he could try to reach out, the pedestrian signal turned red. As one might expect, those people leaving work became like a wall, with no way to proceed.
Quickly change to blue! Sae is……,Sae is right there!
As Tobio watched, several men and women gather around Sae. Watching, Tobio was further startled.
Among the faces, one was a good friend from his class; that was the figure of Sasaki Kouta.
Sasaki was talking at length with Sae. And then, the group that includes Sasaki and Sae walked off to someplace.
I have to jump out! But, the signal still hasn’t changed.
He realizes Sae’s group will cross with the alternating signal. When the signal changed, the group that was walking was just barely still in sight. Wading through the crowd, Tobio started running.
She was alive——.
He did not yet know that the person was indeed her. It might be an illusion formed by his own desires.
But, her dead body had not been recovered from the sea. Corpses had not been found.
They might not necessarily be dead. There were 200 or more of them, so it shouldn’t be strange even if a few people drifted and ended up somewhere on the island! His lack of composure, his mind spinning due to the illusion caused him to think so.
Tobio crazily chased after the group.
As the sun went down, the color of dusk deepened.
Tobio was breathing heavily, as he chased the group. However, being caught by a signal again a few minutes ago, he had lost sight of where the group had gone.
Little by little, he proceeded to walk towards unpopulated streets.
As he advanced down the dimly lit road, the street became very quiet. At that moment, he spotted a figure enter a construction site area at the extremes of his vision.
He gave chase, reaching the front of the building under construction. It was a scene for the construction of a condominium. The entrance to the construction site was strangely open, making it easy to gain entrance.
Tobio, confirming that no one was looking, stepped into the site. He proceeded to enter the site filled with steel and wood.
Since the light from the electric lamps wasn’t meant to reach here, and because of the it was starting to get dark, visibility was very poor inside. Tobio turned on the mobile phone’s backlight, and continued walking while on its light.
It was when he was coming around the corner. Someone was standing there——.
Tobio was familiar with that rear profile. Although wearing a white shirt instead of the school uniform, it was one of the group that he’d been following, doubtlessly the back of the friend who had attended the same school as him until the spring of this year.
Gingerly, Tobio called out.
Despite being called, Sasaki continued defiantly walking towards the back. …….He began to feel worried about what was up ahead. ……He began to wonder if the individual was conscious, or even human.
“Sasaki……what’re you doing?”
Again, Tobio called out. Then the boy turned to face him. As his body turned back, the backlight that had been shining on his back now lit up his eyes.
Tobio let out an inarticulate sound and shrank back.
From behind him……something huge was chewing on something. The something noticed him, and began coming towards him. ……It was a creature resembling a giant lizard. The mouth of the creature was painted with blood. The tongue emerged with a slurping sound as it stared at him curiously. The boy standing nearby was certainly Sasaki. It must be Sasaki. Tobio was convinced.
At that moment, something rolled over. Shining his light at it, there was the amputated head of a dog lying there.
There were deep scars on the head. The skin around the eyeball on one side had been scraped away.
Tobio released a small scream, wincing at the sight.
The lizard begins munching on the dog. ……The sound of the chewing he heard earlier must have been……the sound chewing on the rest of the dog!
In front of him Sasaki remained expressionless, staring at Tobio, his neck slightly inclined. The chest of his white shirt has been stained red by the spray of the dog’s blood.
Sasaki——. He was Sasaki. It was the same classmate, the one he’d always go to karaoke and arcades with. But while he had always been wearing a prankster’s smile, he was just staring at Tobio emotionlessly. “Sasaki,” he wanted to call out again but his voice wasn’t working. It’s probably because his body and mind have been paralyzed with fear.
“You……what are you doing?”
Tobio, who was somehow able to squeeze out those words, was questioning the feeling of whether he was caught up in a friend’s practical joke.
Sasaki let out a sound. It was at a volume that you couldn’t hear unless you were focusing.
The next moment, right before his eyes the boy put on an otherworldly smile. His thin mouth open, eyes narrowed, gazing at Tobio with an eerie smile.
The lizard, which had eaten the dog, halted its meal and approached. It is impossible to feel any emotion from those eyes, whose appearance was that of an animal which has cornered its prey.
As Tobio’s whole felt numb and cold, that thing, which looked like Sasaki, slowly opened its mouth.
He heard what sounded like a ripping whoosh of air, followed by a dull snapping sound from behind him. Turning to face there, he found that the wood that had been propped against the wall had been cut in half. Tobio heard an additional wind noise, and turned back.
Tobio looked back to the front, where from the lizard’s mouth a long slovenly tongue had extended wriggling sinuously like a tentacle. Something like saliva dripped along the tongue onto the ground.
At the tip of the strange tentacle, there was a hard object similar to a claw or fang.
Tobio noticed that his cheek has been cut. As he stroked his cheek with his hand, it became covered with blood. It had got him near the ear.
It was a creature that exceeded the common sense of at least Tobio. It was about 3 meters in size. At a length like that, it was reminiscent of the komodo dragon, though not even he could recall it as having such a strange tentacle instead of a tongue.
The thing with the appearance of Sasaki approached, smiling eerily, while saying so. The lizard monster in front of Sasaki responded.
Tobio instinctively grabbed the steel rod placed at his feet. Holding the steel in his trebling hands, he faced towards the monster.
“I-if this is joke stop it, Sasaki.”
Although he tried to smile by forcing the ends of his mouth to rise, the muscles in his cheeks had completely tensed up in fear.
While Tobio held up the steel rod, the lizard monster approached with no intervention. Tobio responded by stepping back little by little.
He could not look away from the monster’s eerily wriggling tongue. Intuitively, he knew that he’d be dead the moment he looked away from the tongue-like tentacle.
He didn’t know how far the tongue can stretch, but thought it wise to take this opportunity to open up some distance. This was the verdict Tobio reached.
He gradually edged back little by little to gain distance.
(It’s absolutely not a good idea to look away form that tentacle)
Tobio put a hand in his pants pocket.
He felt something hard with his hand. It’s the extra coins you exchange for at the game center.
Tobio picked up the coins in his pocket, and tossed them at the lizard monster. The coins one could easily pay for caused the lizard monster’s tongue to drop, resulting in a gap that felt he could escape during.
He changed his posture for escape and he immediately started running, but the tentacle which had stretched entered his sights. Tobio reflexively braced to defend himself with the cylindrical steel bar against the extending tentacle. But the tentacle coils around the bar.
He tries to shake of the tentacles wrapped around the bar, but an incredible force is applied on it.
His resistance was in vain, as the steel in Tobio’s hand was removed by the tentacle. At Sasaki’s instruction, the monster lizard threw the seized round bar far away. A dry, metallic sound was heard.
Returning to Tobio, its original prey, the monster lizard drew steadily closer step by step.
Tobio shrank back, enveloped in terror. He tries to escape again, but his leg was immediately caught by the tentacle, causing him to immediately trip and fall. As he tried to stand up, he watched as the lizard monster drew closer.
Watching this scene, the person with the appearance of Sasaki sneered. The lizard monster’s tongue made sinuous movements, aiming the fang-like tip at Tobio.
I’m done for!
Having concluded so, something came between Tobio and the monster at breakneck speed.
……When nothing happened even after waiting a few seconds, Tobio curiously glanced towards the monster. ——Then, the elongated tentacle was bisected, and the lizard monster raised a wordless shriek.
“I won’t let you do it so easily.”
Suddenly, he heard the voice of a young woman from behind. The owner of the voice, along with the sound of footsteps, appeared alongside Tobio. The girl was clothed in the school uniform from somewhere. Her age was about the same. Her hair was tied up in the back.
For Tobio it seemed like he had seen this female student before somewhere, but……probably because of the confusing situation, he could not properly remember.
As Tobio glanced at the girl, she took one step forward.
“I’ll be your opponent.”
So she said to the lizard, holding her hand out front. Responding to the girl’s provocation, Sasaki instructs the lizard monster with his hand. The lizard tried to attack her with its long tongue. ——In an instant, there was something that continued to pass between Tobio and the girl at tremendous speed. It disappeared into the darkness while grazing the monster’s side at recklessly high speeds.
An instant later, the monster’s tongue quietly dropped. There were cuts in its neck, going from its head down to the ground. Its body lost all strength, and it collapsed onto the ground.
As though he had lost consciousness at the same time, the person who looked like Sasaki also dropped on the spot.
Still encompassed with fear, Tobio was in too much of a confused state to understand what had happened. The lizard monster——it died. An organism like the one with the severed neck, it should not exist. Even if it did, at the very least it would defy common sense——.
From the darkness ahead, flapping was heard, like that of large birds of prey——a bird that looked like a hawk came flying in their direction. The bird, having perched on the girl’s arm, played with the girl. The girl also stroked the bird’s head saying, “There, there”. Earlier, what passed Tobio was apparently the bird now perched on the girl’s arm. If that’s what happened, then was it this bird that defeated the monster?
He was still doubtful, but Tobio now was relieved to that he had survived. He sighed quietly.
——But, his relief was fleeting, as Sasaki who was lying on the ground became enveloped by a mysterious luminous phenomenon. It also enveloped the now deceased lizard monster. It was a blue light, which was being emitted from something circular on the ground, which was carved with unfamiliar characters. ……As if, it seemed to be something like a “magic circle” often seen in games and manga. The thing similar to a magic circle gave off a more dazzling brilliance that would make one want to cover their eyes. ……After the flash ceased, he looked at the location, where the lizard monster and Sasaki were no longer to be found.
……After a phenomenon akin to being pinched by a fox (TN: i.e. being at a loss of what to do), what had unfolded before Tobio’s eyes left him so taken aback that words failed him completely.
Not at all surprised by this phenomenon, the girl asks as she looks at Tobio’s face.
“T-that’s me……And you are……?
Tobio replies so. She seemed somewhat familiar. But he cannot remember clearly. It was certain he’d seen her somewhere……
“I’m Minagawa Natsume. You really……do not know…… We’ve never spoken directly, so even your name and face didn’t match up. If I hadn’t seen your photo”
The girl, who called herself Natsume, took out her cell phone from the pocket of her skirt, and showed him the screen. Evidently, there seems to be a picture of Tobio as a cell phone image. This was what Natsume had wanted to convey by showing him her cell phone screen.
At the bottom, along with a familiar landscape, he had been photographed talking with old friends.
Seeing it, Tobio understood intuitively.
“You, you mean——“
When Tobio was about to say it aloud in surprise, Natsume continued his words while wearing a complacent smile.
“Uh huh, I’m a Ryoukuu High School second year survivor just like you.
“For me, I’ll have one rich vanilla cream with syrup and something from the drink bar. Errr, what do you want to order Ikuse-kun?”
“No thanks, I’m good.”
Tobio shook his head.
“Well then, if you’ll excuse me.”
Responding to Natsume’s order, the waitress goes towards the kitchen.
After the encounter with the person who looked like Sasaki and the attack of the lizard monster, the two of them visited a family restaurant. Natsume had said, “Since it’s a long story, let’s go somewhere else where it’s calm,” and brought Tobio here.
After she had returned to her seat having selected her drink from the drink bar, Tobio opened the conversation.
“What did you mean?”
To Tobio’s question, Natsume responded with a light tone. With a slightly annoyed attitude, Tobio furrowed his brow and asked again.
“What was all of that? What’s the story behind this?”
‘That’ obviously referred to the earlier encounter with Tobio’s friend——the incident with Sasaki and the lizard monster. What was that monster? That was what Tobio was asking. Natsume, who was sitting across from him, at least knows something about that monster.
“As you saw, it was a monster and its master.”
Natsume answered without hesitation. Before Tobio can ask another question she continues.
“The being that looked like our classmate created that monster, which is called an ‘Utsusemi’. See, they’re a type of prototype independent-avatars——or so it would seem. Them and their monsters, collectively they are called ‘Utsusemi’.
As she says so, she wets her finger on the glass of iced coffee that had come and writes the katakana characters for ‘Utsusemi’ on the table with the water.
Not familiar with the word, Tobio put on a confused look.
“Uh huh, Utsusemi. Well that’s the official name or so I’ve heard……But well, they——and that girl as well, the Utsusemi all have the appearance of the Ryoukuu High School sophomores that went missing the day of the accident.
Tobio was speechless. Natsume retains a serious look as she continues the story.
“While I don’t know the exact details, our 233 fellow students that were in the maritime disaster, currently, each and every one of them is paired up with a monster like the one we met a short while ago.”
She just kept saying one incredible thing after another.
Since the joint funeral, he had encountered other survivors of the accident. But he’d never met her before at Ryoukuu High School.
Having met someone with similar circumstances, this was beyond Tobio’s ability to comprehend.
Seeing the perplexed look on Tobio’s face, Natsume sighed and put a hand in her bag.
“I know it seems strange to suddenly be saying such strange things. Anyway, since you’ll be hearing it all again at a later date, for now——“
She took a white round object out of her bag. It was about the size of a softball.
“My role is to make sure to give this to Ikuse-kun.”
Natsume put the white round object on the table. Tobio gingerly picked it up.
It seemed to be quite an ordinary round object. But, at that moment, the round object began to pulsate in time with his own heartbeat.
Letting out a pathetic cry, Tobio dropped the round object on the table.
“You have to be careful with it. You don’t want it to die.”
While scooping her spoon into the rich vanilla cream the waitress had brought, Natsume unhesitatingly said something ominous.
She happily scooped the vanilla cream into her mouth.
“Die, what do you mean?”
The worried Tobio protested Natsume’s ominous choice of words.
“The Utsusemi, it would seem, were intended for us students who survived the trip by not participating. In fact, weren’t you also just targeted? I have been targeted recently as well.”
“Such a ridiculous story, how could I possibly believe that?”
“It’s selfish not to believe Ikuse-kun, particularly considering you were attacked. If I hadn’t come along when I did, it would have killed you.”
He recalled how Sasaki and the monster unexpectedly disappeared while wrapped in the light from the magic circle looking thing.
“……That light take took them”
“Un. Somehow, upon defeating the monster, it causes the owner to fall unconscious ——when that happens, they both disappear along with that luminous phenomenon. It’s like fantasy.”
She chuckled and laughed. Tobio felt a sudden sense of understanding.
Natsume pointed her spoon at him.
“So, that ‘egg’ is important. Shouldn’t it be a valuable weapon for powerless normal high school students like us?”
Natsume looked out the window. Following her gaze Tobio also looked outside the store. In the branches of the trees by the sidewalk where people came and went, the bird from earlier was perched. The bird looked around while seeming jittery. From the sharp glint in its eyes could it felt as though the sun hadn’t gone down.
“Well, since we can’t stay inside forever and my hawk-chan doesn’t see anyone sneaking around outside, should we leave soon?”
Natsume, having finished her rich vanilla cream, stood up.
Natsume drew Tobio who still had questions for her, and stood facing him. As Tobio was embarrassed by her sudden actions, she drew her mouth close to his ear while smiling complacently. Entering Tobio’s nasal cavity, there was a sweet scent coming from Natsume’s hair.
“Later, I’ll visit you at home.”
She whispered something profound in his ear and then left.
The completely stunned Tobio slapped his reddened face. He shook his head to clear his thoughts.
“……Hold it, she knows where my house is?”
Voicing such a question, he gazed at the round object she had brought.
Would something be born from it?
Earlier, the pulsation he felt with his hand, it had been quite vivid.
With that eerie thought, Tobio put the alleged ‘egg’ into his bag.