Chapter 3: In A Daze
The same dream I have every night visits me once again. After rubbing my neck, I try to muster the strength to sit up from the soft bed, but give up. I feel as though someone put my brain in a cocktail shaker, it hurts so badly. I’m used to headaches, but this is exceptional. Judging from my ragged breathing and sweat-drenched clothes, I can’t have slept very well.
“Ah, you’re awake!”
Before I can even puzzle out whose bed I’m lying in, the sudden voice from beside me prompts me to freeze. With some difficulty I turn my head to find a young woman with black hair, clad in a long sweater.
“Yep, it’s me. Do you remember what happened?”
I watch her pour hot water from a kettle into a mug, then add something that resembles powdered ginger tea. After a few long moments, I began to piece together what had happened. A puppeteer had found me, then I heard a loud thudding, and after that Suzune’s voice–
“…Did you kill him?”
“No, I just gave him an unpleasant bump on the back of the head. At least I don’t think he died…”
“I see… Kh!?”
I break out in a coughing fit and curl myself up into a ball as quickly as I can muster. My throat is still raw, and my head feels ready to split.
“A-Are you okay!?”
Mother’s hand– that’s all that comes to mind when I see Suzune reaching out for me. I knock her hand aside and wall myself off with the blanket. My heart beats wildly, my entire body shivering. After a long moment, I realize where I am.
“Ah, no, um, it’s okay…”
Suzune must have been quite startled. I peek out at her to see her eyes wide open in shock. I let out a small sigh.
It seems as though my mana has returned to me somewhat, and I focus it on restoring my breathing. After a moment the shivering stops, and snatching up Shiro from where he rests by my pillow, I take a deep breath.
“…I simply don’t like being touched, that’s all.”
“…Sorry, I’ll remember that.”
Seeing her deeply apologetic expression, the blood finally seems to reach my brain. After closing my eyes and taking another deep breath, I can reply as usual.
“Not that such a dire transgression can be atoned for with a mere apology, of course. How utterly reprehensible.”
“…Um, you do realize I was just worried about you, right? Don’t you think you’re being a little harsh? As a human, I mean.”
“I happen to be a saint before I’m a human. I’d say that I’ve surpassed humanity altogether.”
“I get the feeling that’s one thing you really shouldn’t ‘surpass’, but okay.”
Suzune giggles, taking a seat at my bedside. She places the mug of tea on the side table.
“You had a really bad fever, y’know. I was worried for a while there that you’d never wake up. Fufu, I’m really glad you’re doing just fine.”
“My head and throat are both in rather intense pain, and I can hardly move a muscle. To think that you can look at a languishing beauty such as myself and say such callous things… you truly are a fiend.”
“You kinda have a dirty mouth, huh, Kagura-chan? Oneechan’s shocked. Ah, can you drink by yourself or would you like me to help you?”
“How exactly would you ‘help’ me drink?”
I shakily pick up the mug and bring it to my lips, taking a small sip. The gingery-sweet liquid slips down my throat, providing the relief I had so craved.
“Hmm… I guess I’d spoon-feed it to you?”
“…How lewd. As I thought, you’re truly a pervert among perverts. At least you don’t leave me guessing.”
“Lewd…? I mean, isn’t spoon-feeding the obvious answer? I’m not sure why you’d go so far…”
“I simply realized your ulterior motive, that’s all. You’re secretly planning on violating my jaw-droppingly beautiful young body, aren’t you? I can see right through your innocuous claims. The fact that spoon feeding is the first place your mind goes, of all things, is testament to your rapacious aims. My fears were clearly well-founded.”
“If anything, I’d say that you’re the one with dirty-minded ulterior motives for making a leap like that…”
“How rude! Me, lewd? Of course not.”
“I think you’re being a lot more rude than I am.”
I let out an overly-theatrical sigh as Suzune’s shoulders tremble with smothered giggling. My gaze drops into my ginger tea and I close my eyes.
“That was a joke, of course.”
“Fufu, I know,” she laughs. “It’s a good sign you’re already in a joking mood. I was so afraid I’d never see you again.”
“I think it’s safe to assume that your saving me is simply returning the favour, correct?”
“…That’s a blunt way to put it, but I guess you could say that.”
“What I fail to understand, however, is why you’re still in this city to begin with. Weren’t you being hunted last we met?”
On top of that, we’re practically on the Sakagami Family’s doorstep. It most certainly isn’t the sort of place in which a fiend should feel welcome. She was lucky that she had encountered a mere werewolf before, and that a benevolent fiendslayer such as I should find her. The chances of that happening again are astronomically low– in fact, she should expect to be slain on sight.
“It’s rather insolent of you to risk putting the time and effort I invested in saving your life to waste. Unless, of course, you’re going to spout more nonsense about wishing to die?”
I sigh exasperatedly, all the while fixing her with an appraising look out of the corner of my eye. Suzune cocks her head to the side, as if deeply confused. Then, she puts a hand to her chin in a deep thinking gesture. One, ten, thirty seconds pass. Finally, she opens her mouth.
“I didn’t mean that, not at all. Fufu, it’s kinda weird. I can’t really explain it, it’s just like a strange kinda floaty feeling that’s just… there.”
“I guess I felt kinda… unsatisfied. It’s like, it felt like if I’d left then and there, I’d never see you again… y’know?”
Though I can hardly understand what she’s saying, the look on her face is simply blissful.
“…I’m impressed you can say something so shameful with a straight face. Perhaps you should have your head examined?”
“H-Hey, you were the one who asked!”
“Perhaps so, but who on earth would want to hear something so utterly, unfathomably embarrassing? Honestly, are you an idiot?” I take another sip of the tea while straightening Shiro on my lap. “Go on. You can continue.”
“Yes, finish your thought. You can’t have stayed behind, risking torturous death for just that, can you?”
“Um… yeah, that’s it.”
I feel that the term ‘simple of mind’ is reserved only for special cases such as this one. I’ve never met anyone so utterly stupid before in my life.
“…You’re an idiot, aren’t you?”
“What!? That’s so mean! I told you it was a weird floaty feeling, didn’t I!? What’s wrong with that!?”
“I never expected to hear something so inane, that’s all. You’re airheaded beyond the furthest limits of my imagination, and in a sense I respect you for that.”
“…You’re really, really rude sometimes.”
Even so, Suzune lets out another giggle.
“…Why are you so happy all of a sudden?”
“Nah, fufufu, I’m just having a lot of fun is all.”
“…You’re not the type who gets turned on by verbal abuse, are you?”
“O-Of course not! I just always wanted someone to talk with like this, y’know, about nothing in particular.”
“…You’re a strange one indeed. I suppose, though, that simply having the chance to talk to me must be the greatest of honours.”
“…You’re plenty strange yourself. I’m really confused as to how you can be that confident.”
“Being strange by a strange person’s standards must mean that I’m a perfectly normal, perfectly unstrange individual. I suppose I am rather extraordinary in that regard as well, aren’t I?”
“I’m not sure that’s how logic works, but…”
She gives up halfway through her retort and sighs exaggeratedly. I furrow my eyebrows.
I’m the one who should be sighing in this situation. I’m in a great deal of discomfort and pain, on top of which I need to play mental gymnastics with a weirdo. Me, of all people!
“…Why should I, downtrodden yet heroic and sweet as I am, have to spend such time with you? One of life’s great mysteries, to be certain.”
“What’s wrong? Can’t you tell such traits simply by looking at me?”
“No, uh, actually, looking at you… know what, nevermind. Are you tired?”
After quickly finishing the ginger tea, which I may attribute to my thirst, I feel my eyelids grow heavy. Though my vast intelligence is beginning to shine through once more, my head still throbs with pain, and one could hardly say I’m in peak physical condition.
“Yes, I suppose I am, a little. Or rather, that’s the root of my entire miserable condition.”
That’s my just deserts for draining myself of mana so utterly, I suppose. One might even say that I fit the stereotype of the bed-bound beauty to a T, as I’ve never had much physical strength. Fatigue tends to have rather vicious effects on my delicate young body.
“Ah, sorry. I shouldn’t have kept you talking so long right after waking up.”
“It’s nothing worth apologizing over. May I rest now?”
“Yeah, go ahead. Feel free to use the bed for as long as you need.”
I slowly lay down completely once more, and after briefly rearranging the blankets, I clutch Shiro to my chest. As I’m about to close my eyes, however, Suzune meets my gaze.
“…What is it?”
“No, it’s just, you’re really cute.”
“…Pervert. I’ll be quite upset if you try anything while I’m asleep.”
“So does that mean I can try something after you wake up?”
“……I’m going to sleep now.”
“……Sorry. Couldn’t resist.”
In an attempt to avoid her rather embarrassing gaze, I turn away from her and shut my eyes.
“Ah, right! Is there anything you’d like to eat when you get up? I can make you congee or something.”
I don’t bother turning around to talk, but one thing comes to mind.
“If you could add extra egg, I’d be rather grateful.”
I close my eyes once more.
“Fufu, got it. It’ll be ready when you wake up. G’night.”
I hadn’t expected to hear that, of all things.
“…? Good night?”
“Ah… yes, good night.”
It’s been so, so long since I’ve heard those words. My, what an eye-opener. Even after closing my eyes, I can feel my heart flutter in my chest.
For the first time in a long while, I don’t dream.
〇 〇 〇
Weaving Thread with Thread, I manifest cloth from mana before my eyes. I’m quite used to the process by now, and as such scarcely a moment passes before a rabbit karakuri sits completed before me. I can’t mindlessly mass-produce them, as it takes a great deal of concentration, but I have quite a bit of time on my hands.
“Ohh… that’s amazing!”
I do rather wish Suzune didn’t have to exclaim after each and every little thing I make, however.
Now that I’ve sewn another karakuri, all I have to do is store it within my Pocket, an interdimensional space very similar to a storehouse, and should I need it I can deploy it with a thought. It is of course possible to store things not made of my own mana, from pens to pebbles, but objects constructed from mana are far more efficient to store and retrieve. Apparently the reason might have to do with the molecular density of physical versus magical objects, but that’s a point on which even the researchers are divided.
There are other limitations to the Pocket, of course, especially in terms of where one can store and retrieve things. The Pocket is most stable out of the sight of others’ but that is well-known to the caster; in my case, the inside of my skirt. The magic arts are in their purest form the induced conversion of mana from one state to another, and environments free from interference are thus the ideal location for it. As all humans possess the capacity for the magic arts, simply having someone else witness it introduces white noise, so to speak, and increases the chances of something going awry. Spatial magic in particular is infamous for its difficulty, and failure may result in part of the caster’s body being sent flying across dimensions or similarly unpleasant results. Not that a genius such as I would make such a mistake under any circumstances, of course.
The rabbit karakuri collapses on the bed beside me, like a cottonless stuffed animal. All it would take to bring it to life now is but a little mana. I cast a sidelong glance at Suzune to find her looking expectantly back at me. Letting out a small sigh, I connect a strand of Thread to the karakuri and it inflates like a balloon. It gives Suzune a little bow, and her eyes light up with joy.
“Ahaha, it’s so cute! It’s like it’s alive!”
“Puppetry is all about breathing life into the lifeless. Something as simple as this is the most basic of basics.”
“Oh, I see… it looks a lot different from all the karakuri I’ve seen before.”
“Most karakuri are made of cursed fetishes, after all. They may be stronger and easy to use, but I find their cost efficacy to be simply horrendous.”
There’s only so far one can go as a puppeteer with simple talent with Thread like me. I wouldn’t go so far as to say my native aptitude for the art is nil, but as a result of my desperately low mana stores, I could hardly fight as normal. That’s why I fight with numbers. One could say that I found an apt application of my natural talents, yet I would still far prefer more ordinary talent, so to speak.
“So it’s tradition to make karakuri out of mana, huh?”
“It’s a matter of efficiency, really. Mana-based karakuri use less mana, and lower usage means greater sustainability, so to speak.”
“Fufu, you really know your stuff. I really like the thought of really thorough preparation like that.”
“Victory can only be wrested from the hands of the goddess of victory herself, you know. Without such preparation, a sickly young beauty such as myself would have perished long ago.”
“Is that more professional wisdom?”
“That, or the mentality of a desperate novice.”
Using much the same methods, I weave together a musket, drop a silver bullet down its barrel, and hand it to the rabbit.
“I don’t remember you making a bullet out of mana…”
“Let’s call it an extra precaution. One can never be too prepared.”
I wave my finger and the rabbit crawls up my skirt and into my Pocket. I never can quite get used to the squirmy, furry sensation…
Well then, what next? I start to ponder my plan from here on out, but I stop myself. I’ve recovered to the point where I can create rabbits, yet I’m still far from a complete recovery. I should take care to not push myself too hard.
I cough a little before pulling my blanket up around me. Clutching Shiro in one arm, I take a long, slow sip from the cup at my bedside. Hot milk does wonders for the pain.
“So you like bunnies, huh?”
Suzune smiles at me. I can detect a teasing tone in her voice.
“…I don’t know what you’re thinking, but you’re wrong.”
“Fufu, I’ve been thinking about it ever since I first saw you. You act all cold and independent all the time, but that part of you’s really adorable.”
“What a horribly rude thing to say. I don’t ‘like’ rabbits, they’re tools for my work, nothing more. Stuffed animals are rather disarming, after all.”
“Oh really? You don’t like them at all?”
“Of course not. I’m not a child. I outgrew such infantile things ages ago.”
What a crude thing to ask. Even my divine levels of patience are tried by such a remark, but I maintain my cool almost perfectly.
“So I must’ve been hallucinating when I saw you playing with them the other day, huh?”
“……………I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“When I came back from shopping yesterday, you had a bunch of rabbits out, and I remember they were dancing and running around–”
“O-Of course I wasn’t! Shut up!”
“Weirdly enough, when I shut the door behind me, you seemed so determined to put them all away right then and there…”
“How did you– No, er, I was just testing them out to make sure they worked properly, and…”
“Hmm? Didn’t you just say you didn’t have them out?”
“…I must’ve remembered incorrectly. Come to think of it, I distinctly remember I might’ve been doing a test run about that time. For serious work purposes. I was not playing.”
“A test run?”
“…Is there something wrong with that?”
“Are you sure that’s the best excuse you can come up with?”
“…It’s the truth, not some pathetic excuse. Who do you think I am?”
She looks at me with an infuriating smirk. I feel greatly insulted, but a true lady wouldn’t fall for such a meager taunt. I end up turning my back to her and squeezing Shiro to my chest, killing any pathetic retort I could offer her in her process.
“Your ears are bright red, y’know.”
“…As if I would fall for such a trick twice.”
“Fufu, you’re a little too proud sometimes. You may as well just admit it~!”
If I did admit it, she’d lord it over my forever, no doubt. What a twisted woman, I sigh.
“…I’m going to sleep.”
How utterly unpleasant. At times like this, sleeping is the best use of my time. I close my eyes, but Suzune has the nerve to continue talking in a bubbly tone.
“Ah, are you pouting?”
“I’m not pouting! Stop treating me like a child!”
“You definitely don’t look like an adult…”
“I’ll have you know that I’m… er… in my mid-teens!”
“…What’s up with that phrasing?”
“Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, what does it matter how old I am exactly? I might not remember my birthday or anything of that nature, but I can assure you I’m not a child!”
The cheer is gone from her voice. I turn around to find a difficult expression on her face.
“Well? Are you going to say something or aren’t you?”
“No, it’s fine. That makes us the same, I guess.”
“…Right. You aren’t human.”
“Yeah… My memories are all jumbled up sometimes, so I can’t really remember how old I am or anything like that. My first memories are from somewhere around the Meiji Restoration, so my best guess is that I’m somewhere over a hundred.”
“You’re awfully energetic for a centenarian.”
“Ahaha, and you’re pretty cold for a mid-teen.”
“Call it ‘mature’, if you please – and at any rate, it’s far better than acting so youthful at your age.”
“I’ve always looked like this, so it’s not like it matters. I think even seniors these days just act like they’re so wise and concerned focused on the big picture… though I guess part of it might be that they know they’re getting close to the end.”
“Of their lives. They know that soon enough, they’ll be gone as if they were never there. That’s why I think they take a step back, watch over the younger generations, and pretend to act all mentorly. Not only am I gonna keep living for who knows how long, though, when it comes to people to watch over…”
Suzune trails off, redirecting her gaze.
“For me, there’s no point in focusing on the big picture or anything.”
I don’t have anyone but myself, she finishes with a sad little laugh.
〇 〇 〇
The bathroom is nearly ten tatami 1 wide, far too large for my tastes but plenty comfortable nonetheless. Maybe it’s perhaps I’ve been simply wiping my body off with a towel for so long that this bath feels so exceptionally comfortable. Or maybe, it’s because even before that I sufficed with only quick showers. Taking the time to bathe properly is indeed nice, from time to time.
And yet, there is one critical issue with the bath here.
“I guess not even you bring bunnies into the bath, huh?”
“…What on earth are you doing here?”
“Oh, I just figured you might be able to use a little extra help, y’know? You’re still recovering and everything.”
“No matter how poorly I fare, there is not and will never be a need for you to help me bathe.”
I let out a small sigh before sweeping my gaze about the room. The walls and tub are made of marble, and not only is it wide but the furnishings are quite exquisite indeed. Either Suzune is extraordinarily rich, or…
“…Speaking of which, you made this ‘house’, didn’t you?”
I’ve at least experienced her spatial distortion before. No matter what door I open in this ‘house’, I always find the room I wish to go before my eyes. Not ten minutes ago, I’d opened the bedroom door to find the changing room before my eyes.
“Ah, yeah. It’s not as impressive as it seems, though… There’s only the bathroom, a bedroom, a kitchen and a toilet. It’s not exactly worth bragging about.”
“On the contrary. I’m quite surprised.”
Spatial magic is hardly easy, after all, and keeping it self-contained is all the more difficult. Even a genius of the modern age… no, of every age such as myself has some trouble with it, and were I challenged to replicate this feat I would have no choice but to admit defeat. Linking spaces and creating spaces are two separate dimensions of difficulty.
“Really? Fufu, I’m kinda happy to hear that!”
I consider pointing out how she not only mentioned it like it was no big deal but she clearly believes it to be no big deal, but I decide against it. You often hear of such cases — of those geniuses who wield power beyond that of mere mortal ken.
The water smells vaguely sweet, and the steam that rises from it is tinted red. Either Suzune’s producing the effect as we bathe or she added something special to the water. Either way, it’s decidedly pleasant.
“…I’m really good at making a ‘place’ for myself, y’see.”
“Everyone’s got their own aptitudes for magic, right? Like, some people are good at fire magic but bad at water magic.”
What one likes, one will do well, in other words. Simple interest is the greatest of motivators, and thus one will naturally do better in such fields. The same applies full well for magic. In my case, that happens to be puppets and things related to them. While I’m substantially above average when it comes to use of my Pocket, I’m quite clueless when it comes to other forms of spatial magic. When it comes to magic especially, the caster’s personal preferences are critical, and in most cases interest can translate directly into strength.
“Everyone has their own ‘knack’, so to speak.”
Simple immersing oneself in an art without even considering it ‘practice’ is the quickest route to mastery. That precisely is the true identity of ‘talent’, I believe. I suppose there’s not much difference between the two of us after all.
“Fufu, that’s a pretty good way to put it. Close your eyes for just a second, Kagura-chan.”
A splash echoes out beside me. Suzune, who had been by my right shoulder a split second before, is now at my left.
My eyes fly open in shock. She grins at me from my left.
“Yep! I changed my ‘place’ from your right to your left.”
Normally, teleportation would require a rather elaborate ritual, complete with a magic circle. Instantaneous teleportation is especially difficult. I’ve met a number of spatial magic prodigies in the past, yet none have come close to such a feat.
“That’s about all I can do, though. I can only really use it for running away…”
“Stop boasting, now. Even that much is a true talent.”
“Fufu, thanks. Nobody’s ever told me that before.”
She giggles, pulling her body just close enough to mine that our shoulders touch. My heart skips a beat. What on earth does she think she’s doing, touching a maiden’s skin with such ease? I chill runs down my spine, and I resist the urge to push her away… or rather, I shouldn’t push her away for something so minor. I recall swatting her hand away before and hug my knees to my chest. I’ll just conquer this aversion little by little. I do have the benevolent heart of a saint, after all. I try to keep my unease from showing on my face, redirecting my attention to the pale crimson water before me. Something so trivial is nothing to her, surely. To continue picking at trivial things like this would mean to besmirch my own good name.
“…I’ve always wanted a ‘place’ I could call my own, y’know.”
“Like a place in a family, or in a village, or even in a country. A place that could just let me be who I am.”
She smiles, a faraway look in her eyes.
“All I can seem to do is make ‘places’ like this, though. What I want isn’t a physical place, more like a place for my heart…? Fufu, I can’t really explain it.”
Some part of her expression, however, seems intensely lonely.
“Magic can’t work miracles, you know. I wouldn’t place much stock in made ‘places’ like this. Even if you were to create a ‘place’ by enchanting others’ hearts, such a place would surely be hollow and meaningless.”
“I’ve found it’s easy enough to find a ‘place’ for yourself, should you desire it. The only problem is whether or not you can accept where you find yourself.”
I scoop up some water in both hands, looking down into it. My face is reflected there, just as it’s always been. Exquisite. Refined. Elegant. Prideful. My own face, almost as that of a doll–
“Yes, I suppose that’s the issue. Whether you desire such a ‘place’ or not, whether you hate it or not, as long as you can bring yourself to accept it–”
–A place to belong can mean everything.
I close my eyes before continuing.
“I suppose it’s much like the bluebird of happiness. As long as you wish for it, you’ll be able to find it, and with it happiness. It’s all smoke and mirrors in the end.”
The water slips between my fingers, revealing my palms.
“…Are you happy right now, Kagura-chan?”
“I wonder? I’m not especially content, nor am I discontent. I’ve always felt as such, so I’ve never put much thought into it. After all–”
“All I want for you, Kagura, is–”
I remember his words and smile faintly.
“–As long as I can love myself, I don’t need anyone or anything else.”
“…Wow. And you’re really happy like that?”
“Naturally. The words of others are nothing more than meaningless whispers in the wind.”
Just noise, nothing more. I don’t need anyone to survive. I’ll act for myself, accept myself, critique myself — so long as I remain perfect, I’ll never so much as falter.
“…I could never do that.”
“Of course you couldn’t. This is how an ultra-beautiful super genius thinks, after all.”
“That’s not quite what I meant, but… Fufu, you might be right. I just want to be accepted and treated decently.”
“That’s why when you saved me, Kagura-chan, I was so happy I didn’t know what to do with myself.”
Her shoulders shake slightly with giggles. Feeling her movement beside me, I narrow my eyes but slightly.
“When I saved you, I of course wanted to return the favour, but more than that…”
“I just wanted to talk with you again. I wanted to talk with you about nothing in particular, and I wanted to see if it was really as fun as it looked. I guess that was pretty calculating of me, huh?”
“…You went out of your way to save my life for a reason as simple as that?”
“Fufu, sorry. It’s even more fun than I’d hoped, though.”
“I wasn’t blaming you, per se. I’ll be here until I make a complete recovery at the very least, and I’m generous and gracious enough to grant such a simple wish if you insist.”
I can hardly respond any other way. I need a proper safehouse more than anything right now, and talking nonsense with this woman is hardly a steep price to pay.
Suzune, however, pouts her lips and shoots me a sharp look.
“There you go with that horrible phrasing again. Fine. What would you like to do?”
“That’s… why do you ask?”
“It’s not fair if I’m the only one having any fun. We can do what you want to do, and in the process I’m sure I’ll have fun, too.”
“…What utter nonsense.” She truly is a strange one. “I don’t have anything I like doing, really.”
When it comes to what I personally enjoy, all that comes to mind is puppets and dolls. I could hardly reply otherwise, and it aptly summarizes me, but at any rate. I hardly expect she could offer me anything I enjoy.
“This is more serious than I thought!”
Just then, I hear a loud splashing sound. I look up to find her right in front of me, staring straight into my eyes.
“You’ve got to have something you want, right?”
“Something I want…?”
“Yeah! Like wanting to eat something tasty, or wanting some new furniture, or wanting to go out somewhere… There’s gotta be something.”
She seems rather worked up, somehow. I slide back against the wall of the tub.
“Really? Not anything? You don’t even want sweets or anything?”
“I’ve never really had sweets before, so…”
“What!? That’s terrible!”
One would think I had just professed to being a serial killer. Why should she be so worked up over such a trivial matter? My head won’t stop spinning.
“You don’t have any sense of adventure, Kagura-chan! Don’t you want to try some of this, some of that, y’know!?”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand, and, um… your face is awfully close…”
“What does that have to do with what I’m saying?”
“N-Nothing, I suppose…”
“So you have no problem with it, right?”
“Um, no, I don’t have any… er, I don’t not have a problem… um…”
My words won’t come out properly. With her nose nearly touching mine, I can hardly focus on anything else. Honestly, I’m not sure I understand her boiling point…
“I was wondering why you seemed so cold and lonely. So that’s it! You were stumbling over the first step towards your hopes and dreams the whole time!”
“I was stumbling…?”
“Yes, you were!”
I can’t seem to calm down. My eyes begin to spin. Suzune, on the other hand, only draws her body closer.
“Looks like I need to reeducate you.”
“I-I think you’re overreacting somewhat…”
“No, I’m not! This is a critical moment! I need you to regain your peppiness!”
“I’m not sure I need any ‘peppiness’… and besides, nobody says that anymore…”
“You get what I mean. Anyhow, I’ve already decided! At this rate I’m just going to lose a fight I know I can win!”
“What exactly are you fighting…?”
“Life, that’s what!”
A halo practically manifests itself behind her, and I let out a heavy sigh. I’m not sure what someone who isn’t even human to begin with could teach me about ‘life’ or any such nonsense. I shake my head and pry myself free and away from her. My heart rate finally begins to lower.
“It’s official. We’re going on a date.”
I must have misheard her. She can’t have said what I thought she said. I cast her an appraising look.
“As soon as you’re feeling better, we’re going on a date.”
It seems as though I had, in fact, heard correctly – and not only that, she’s beaming as though it’s the best idea in the universe. There’s no room for compromise in her smile or her words. It appears to have been decided.
◆ ◆ ◆
I try to shake her, but Mommy won’t come down. The rope goes creaky-creak, and she looks like she’s in pain. I decide to leave her alone.
When I woke up, I found Mommy hanging from the ceiling. She won’t talk to me, either, but that’s okay. She always ignores me. When night comes and Mommy doesn’t leave for work, I feel kinda happy, and I spend my time hugging my bunny rabbit and humming to myself.
I ask her if she wants dinner, but she doesn’t respond. I make dinner anyway, but she doesn’t eat it. I eat alone, but I make sure I don’t disturb her. After that I clean up and go curl up in my blanket like always.
Mommy still won’t respond, so instead of bothering her I go to sleep. Normally she gets angry if I just go to sleep like that, but today she doesn’t say anything.
When I wake up, there’s an old man there. I’ve never seen people besides Mommy not on TV before, so I’m really surprised. While I was sleeping, Mommy got down from the ceiling, crawled into bed and put a sheet over her head.
“Are you Kyouka’s daughter?”
“Ah… that lady who lived with you. Is she your mother?”
“Yep! Um… who’re you?”
“I’m your mother’s father… your grandpa, I suppose.”
I don’t get anything he’s saying, but I nod anyways. He’s smiling, but he looks kinda sad. Mommy makes that same face whenever she hits me, so I feel kinda scared.
“Tell me, what’s your name, little one?”
“Yes. What did she call you?”
I don’t get his question. He shakes his head and reaches out to me. He’s gonna hit me! I cover my face with my hands.
I must’ve said something bad. For some reason, though, the hurt never comes. I peek through my fingers and I see he has his hand stretched out half towards me. He looks really sad and he sighs. I stand there trembling for a little bit, but when he sees I’m looking at him, he slowly lowers his hand.
“…I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. I’m not going to hurt you, so you can relax.”
“Grandpa’s never going to hit you, he promises. Can you trust me?”
I don’t know what I should say. If I stay quiet, though, he’s gonna get angry. I hug my bunny rabbit and nod. He looks down at my bunny, Shiro.
“Do you like stuffed animals?”
I nod again. Suddenly, he smiles.
“Can I borrow him for a moment? I promise I won’t hurt him, either.”
I hesitate. Mommy gave me Shiro. I don’t wanna get hit, though, so I look at Mommy and give Shiro to the man. He points his right pointer finger at Shiro and smiles.
“Grandpa’s a wizard, and he can make dolls move. Look!”
Shiro hops out of his hand. He stands up on his back legs and gives me a little bow. I’m super, super shocked! I take a step back. Shiro’s never moved on his own before.
“Look, he’s happy you’ve always taken such good care of him. He says he wants to thank you.”
“Of course. He can’t move on his own, but I’m giving him a little hand with my magic. I can hear his voice, too.”
Shiro hops onto my shoulder and rubs his cheek into mine. I’m surprised, but really happy. I don’t know what to feel. Shiro then hops down onto my lap like always and looks up at me. I give him a big hug and look up and Grandpa. He looks happy, too.
“Shiro can talk, too?”
“Yes, and he says he loves you.”
Shiro squirms around in my arms to look up at me again. I’ve never been so surprised before!
“Do you want to talk to him, too?”
“Of course. With a little practice, you can talk and play with dolls all day like Grandpa does. If you’d like to learn, I’d love to teach you.”
He laughs and puts his hand on my head.
This time, I’m not so scared.