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Forsan et Haec Olim Meminisse Juvabit

Chapter Text

September 2011

It was raining. The sky was dark and stuffed with charcoal marshmallows of dihydrogen oxide in its liquefying form. They say every cloud has a silver lining. It’s a lie.

Clouds are not lined with silver. Clouds don’t rain water. They rain acid. That’s the truth.

I remember sprinting down the acid-coated pavement, and the splashes rippling from the soles of my boots. I remember holding an umbrella. It was pink. Pastel pink. Our favourite colour. I remember it was 4:30 pm, and I was going home. I remember clutching, holding treasures to my bosom, books and scores and reports. I remember the freedom of having wings. Wings on my feet, on my ankles, on my arm and fingers. Yet those on my fingers had no feathers, but thin gauze, like those of a bumblebee’s. In flight. I remember having dreams, when in them I waltzed  to the ¾ beat, and swung to the jazzy rhythm when the rhapsody is played. I remember being able to play, and believing in every lie they spoon fed me. I remember believing that every cloud has a silver lining.

It’s a lie. They don’t. They don’t even have a lining to begin with. They’re just carbonic acid.

I remember learning that, as I sprinted across the road to push the pink and yellow figure away from the incoming giant of a monstrosity, and feeling my body crushed beneath its tyres. 

I remember seeing Fate as I lost to the dark, peeling off my wings and tearing off my fingers, with that odious smile on her face.

I remember waking up immobilised, to the exact same smile, etched onto the face of the very person I saved.

They say we’re identical.

That’s a lie.


 

July 2013

It’s a pain to not be able to do anything without others’ help, especially when one had to be spoon fed by one’s mom at thirteen years old, in the face of one’s twin sister who unapologetically ruined one’s life and never did nothing but cause trouble for the family.

Take-out again. Nice.

I eyed the jug of milk on Urumi’s side of the table with disgust. It was taunting mercilessly with snickers, almost. Let me add another thing to the list on the first paragraph, so that one’s sister adores milk despite one being lactose intolerant, and hateful of anything containing dairy, especially Hokkaido 2.5 milk, and butter cookies.

We just sat there, staring at each other like the other is an evil loathsome cockroach in the guise of a blonde Japanese eighth grader in pink, while our mom shut herself in the kitchen, discussing “serious business” with Uncle Genzo. He probably got into legal trouble again, given that he was what you’d call a mafia guy, and Mom a barrister. Betting one hundred that he “accidentally” chopped up some drug dealer during some trade dispute again.

Ever since the incident two years ago, Urumi and I’s relationship took a turn for the worse, with increasing bad blood among us, not that it hadn’t always been that way. She thought I didn’t notice, that stupid wretch, that she had been jealous as hell of me since the moment she came out of our mother’s womb a minute after me, screeching like a harpy. And she had a good reason to. From a young age I was famous for my musical talent, especially for my piano playing. I have always loved music, and had never ever considered anything else to be my career. The knowledge of my presence, it spread like wildfire throughout the country, and soon enough I found myself in Hope’s Peak Elementary as the L’il Ultimate Music. Urumi, on the other hand, had never really done anything spectacular. The most remarkable thing about her was probably being my twin sister, and perhaps drawing and designing crazy contraptions and fashion accessories which look questionably inappropriate, and maybe for drawing genitals all over the blackboard in her classroom for a whole month before getting caught red-handed by the principal, thus nearly getting herself expelled.

All had been fine and dandy, though, until that day, and I had always been protective, maybe too protective in retrospect, of Urumi. Her recklessness, I’d always thought, would be the death of me. And was I correct about that.

After all, it was her jaywalking arse that got me into a two-day coma, before waking to find that I could never move my limbs again.

She stole away my life and was not in the least apologetic about it. I wouldn’t be surprised if she jaywalked in the rain in front of an effing dump truck to ruin me on purpose. In fact, I’m pretty sure that was what happened.

But physical barriers could not bar Tsue Akama away from the God of Music. I might not be able to play, but I continued composing. Sonata after sonata, symphony after symphony. Miss Kaedei, my class teacher at HPE, said I might -- might -- someday be scouted by the Main Course of Hope’s Peak Academy. Many HPE alumni attend HPA in high school, but most of them only go as far as the Reserve Course. To get into the main course, you had to be one of the sixteen most talented students in your age group, for instance, my cousin Fuyuhiko and his bodyguard Peko (and might I add they’re also the most shippable but dense couple in the century. I mean, come on! Confess already!). It was one in a million. That had never been my goal though. I just wanted to create a better world through whatever my talents allow me to do.

Unlike Urumi, who practically couldn’t survive without attention.

“Tsue, Urumi,” Mom emerged from the kitchen, clutching at her chest, her breathing weak, “Your uncle called.”

“We know,” Urumi chirped. “Mom, can we eat yet? I’m hungry.”

Mom didn’t seem to be listening, and as her face paled further I noticed something was terribly wrong. I winked at Urumi. Of course, like the dunce that she was, she couldn’t even take a hint.

“Moooommmmm I huuunnngryyyyy --”

“We’re not eating,” she looked calm, but her voice was trembling. So were her hands. “Urumi, go change your clothes and pack. We’re going to the police station.”

“Why?” I asked quietly, like a ninja maneuveuring around a chandelier. I didn’t know where the simile came from. The situation was dire as I could sense it and I couldn’t think straight.

She slowly wheeled me to my room and changed me with shaking fingers. I remember what she chose for me, a white shirt, a black skirt and a pink cardigan. We remained silent for a long while, until she started packing my backpack.

“... Tsue, your cousin… Natsumi… She has been murdered. Fuyuhiko… he… he bludgeoned the killer.”

...

Ho.

Ly.

Cow.

Chapter Text

February 2014

“I’m so glad Miyaji-kun shares his stories with me,” I observed, intrigued, as Maki clapped her hands and whispered, with a genuine beam on her fair face. I watched her pristine fingers flip through the pages of my terrible handwriting, her expressions reminding me of every time I read a Touko Fukawa novel, fascinated, fully immersed into the thrilling adventures and gut-wrenching heartbreaks, the struggles between men, within oneself. Right, I just remembered watching the news earlier this morning. They said she was one of the new students of Hope’s Peak Academy, as expected. She was the most talented young writer of the generation, the title is truly deserved.

If only I could be like her one day.

A tap on my shoulder awoke my mortal soul from those far-off fantasies. I turned to my friend, and quickly realised something was off.

“Miyaji-kun, I’m scared,” she pointed at the line where the antihero protagonist, Shinguuji, began dismembering his victim. Right, I totally forgot. “Read with me please. Maki will be braver.”

And we read together, as we had done every other morning since I moved to this beautiful scenic countryside. It was a tranquil village without the contamination and noise in Towa City, and, as my mother would put it, was good for my health. Most of the days Maki and I would read classic and contemporary literature, or shared with each other hidden gems we found in the local bookstore. On others we would tend her family’s garden, or write stories together, like today. I wasn’t like I hadn’t been doing this the rest of my life as I lived it in Towa, in Hope’s Peak Elementary, but doing it here, with Maki Harukawa, was different. In HPE the teachers gave you boring prompts and restraining topics to write on, and you had to avoid anything they might not like, but with Maki, I could write whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and had an actual confidante to share them with, in depth. My mother was also right, in that my illness had never once got me into any critical situation since arriving here.

Maki’s family was not really hers, but hers nonetheless. She was... different, and her parents, who abandoned her at Mr and Mrs Harukawa’s doorstep when she was four, were irresponsible and childish. No one knew who they were, for they were not from around here, and Maki refused to talk about them, nor her memories as a toddler. Mr and Mrs Harukawa are really nice people. They didn’t really like children before Maki entered their lives, preferring to raise rescued puppies and kittens rather than having children of their own. However, from the moment she stepped onto the traditional tatami flooring in the household, Maki was a princess. She had a unique way of doing things, and often kept to herself, but she was the sweetest person I’ve ever known. I guess my judgement could be biased, though, given most girls I had interacted with before meeting her were the kinds of spoiled brats like Kotoko Utsugi or psychopaths like Monaca Towa. They were insufferable. Harumaki, au contraire, was almost an angel. I was originally attracted to her because she knew things. A lot of things. While seemingly distant and loony, her brain was an encyclopedia, and I was pretty sure she could memorise anything at a glance. Not only that, she was also an avid reader, and we have a lot in common. To have someone with familiar interests in my life was a foreign notion to me, not to mention becoming friends and being trusting enough to share my innermost thoughts and ideas.

I had qualms of dropping out of HPE at fifth grade for health complications, but, looking back, that was really naive of me. Fate once had me on its leash, dragging me along, but now, I was myself, and my mind was truly mine.

“Miyaji-kun, are you counting the stars?” Maki pulled me back into reality again. “I like stars. If the ritual succeeds, Kiyo could climb the stars. Then he and Kokoro could be together again, with her one hundred friends.” She happily applauded, then halted. “Miyaji-kun! Maki forgot!”

“Forgot what?” Her impulsivity used to puzzle, and bother, me, but I knew better now. This was Maki Harukawa, and she did things the Harumaki way.

“Okasan boiled star anise water. We should try it,” She bounced off towards the dining room, clapping her hands, her long, silky braids flapping against her back as she did. As I stared at her an idea popped out of the blue: a quirky assassin with long black twintails, held together by red scrunchies, as red as the ribbons on Harumaki’s, katana in hand, getting lost in an anime conference? Crazy. I know.

Before I knew, she returned, bouncing, with two thermoses… thermosi? therma? Is the word even countable? Whatever. She set one down in front of me and began drinking from hers, making funny gurgles as she drank. I chuckled a bit as I pulled off my mask and began drinking as well. It was warm and soothing. I wanted to tell Maki I liked it, and to thank her mother for the treat, but she had moved on to another of her observations already.

“It’s star anise because it’s shaped like a star, but when we draw stars it’s five instead of eight. It’s inconsistent, like the zodiacs. Leo doesn’t even look like a lion, haha, hahahaha, hahaha…” she giggled and clapped excitedly. I smiled back.

“They say every zodiac has a personality, and that it is usually pretty accurate of the people born in their respective periods,” I remarked, pulling my mask back on.

Maki was quiet for a moment, her scarlet eyes sparkling and pensive.

“Maki thinks that stars are pointers,” she whispered. “They guide, but it is up to the heart to choose its way.”

The doorbell rang. Mr Harukawa must be at the door. Maki jumped and pranced out of the room again, waving her arms in the air.

I picked up the scattered sheets of my illegible handwriting, and scribbled her words on the last page.

The stars incline our fates, but do not bind us to them. It is the heart, the anima, that chooses our path.

Chapter Text

March 2012

 

“... She promised to write. To keep in touch,” I tossed the paper onto the rotting carpet. It rebounded a little, and lay flat on the puddle of rainwater from the broken ceiling the matron never bothered to fix. No one ever cares, nor would I care about the report of a Seiko Kimura being scouted to attend the prestigious Hope’s Peak Academy. She’s a liar. Ashamed of us. Hated us. I looked to my sister — the real one — who began fishing the drenched newspaper. “Don’t. She promised to save us, Mikan-chan. Where’s she gone now? She’s on the top of the world. We’re down here,” I was furious. So damn furious. So furious I could kill, and rip out her stomach, and suck out the blood, the life, from that traitor. I was that infuriated.

She fished it out anyway, and carefully lay it beneath that broken electric fan to dry. It had broken because of her, sort of, but she was the victim there. No one told those effing brats to stuff my sister’s head into that thing. They’re damn right lucky I had had detention and couldn’t be back in time to beat the crap out of them. But justice worked in my favour. It’s been a month and no one found the person who rigged their shower water to a, how to word it, faeces pipe. It was a magnum opus. A masterpiece.

Before you say anything, this is a wretched world we live in. Sometimes you just have to take the offence to defend yourself, and by sometimes I mean all the time. I thought things would get better when the cops arrested those alcoholic burnout demons for disturbance of the peace and drug trafficking and gang murder or something, when the court ruled against their guardianship of us. It wasn’t like we weren’t glad about that, but it wasn’t like we had any say in the matter either. It’s a rotten system. We’ve always been pawns in their game of chess. To be honest, it was about time they pawned us off for booze and dope, just thank the cops it never happened. But perhaps it’d be better if they just sold us off, I mean, this place was no different from the hell we came from. It’s like, a cooler Tartarus, but it’s still Tartarus. Still, no one gave a shit about us. Still starved. Still beaten. Still harassed. Oh, and new item acquired: secretly paedophilic officials getting off on us, in us, however you’d like to call it. I’m not going to be explicit.

That’s the reason I hated Seiko Kimura. She used to be our sister. She used to care about us, but she left, grasping at the first opportunity. The Kimuras were loaded, directors of that scientific institute thingy, and fell in love with Seiko the moment they came in here. Within a week she became a different person, acting like she was better than us, hanging out with that Andou bitch and her boy toy. In a month she was gone, promising to write. Another lie. Seiko Tsumiki died in 2009. I don’t know a Seiko Kimura.

“— WHO PUT PLASTIC WRAPPERS ON THE LOO SEAT?!!!!” It was the matron. Dang. That woman just couldn’t appreciate some potty humour.

Mikan turned to me, her eyes widening in fear.

“Kokichi, you didn’t…”

“Nishishi…” I grimaced. “Busted.”

The door flung open, and there she stood with her intimidating size, that walrus. 90% of it was pure blubber. If she was dead and we cannibals she’d make a great feast. She looked a gigantic six feet to someone my size, like a giantess, maybe Hela, maybe Satan.

“— TSUMIKI YOU DEVILISH LITTLE SHIT OF A RAT—”. Now that’s a new nickname. Hmm… 7/10. Could’ve been more creative.

I was about to retort when Mikan pushed me away and took the blow.

“Ma… Madam… I’m so… sorry!!!! It… it was me!! Kokichi didn’t… he didn’t have anything to do with—”

“SHUT YOUR PIEHOLE YOUNG MISS! I’VE ENOUGH WITH YOUR HEROINE ANTICS. EVERY. SINGLE. DAMN. TIME. MISSY. YOUR BASTARD KID BROTHER ISN’T GETTING AWAY WITH HIS CRAP THIS TIME!”

“... But… but, Ma’am… I… I really…”

“Nishishi, catch me, whore!” My heart was beating so fast and hard that it could explode any minute, but to feign confidence was a piece of cake, evident as I plastered on a grin and ran, the ogre chasing after me.

 

 

I stared blankly into the shattered mirror, and pressed another piece of tissue on my broken nose. New scars, old scars. Green bruises, purple bruises, black bruises. Scratches. Burns. A black eye. Blood crusts. Heh. It wasn’t that bad, I guess.

“Kokichi… I… Um… This is going to h-hurt a little… ok?” Mikan stuttered as she rubbed ethanol on my left arm. It fucking hurt, but of course I couldn’t show it. She’s on the verge of a breakdown. I couldn’t irritate her any more.

“Sorry, Mikan-chan,” It was the truth. “I won’t let you worry about me like this, never again.”

Her face fell, and a single tear dropped, trailed down her sickly face. She picked up the bandages on the bed she was sitting on, and gently wrapped it around my injuries.

“No, don’t,” she muttered weakly. “I’m so sorry… I’m sorry, Kokichi… I… I couldn’t protect you…”

I laced my other arm behind my head.

“Nishishi… Mikan-chan, you really believed I’d be repentant?

“It’s a lie.”

 


 

September 2016

 

That broadcast… it wasn’t true, right? It got to be a lie, could it not be…

Mikan-Chan couldn’t be an Ultimate Despair.

She couldn’t have done something as disgusting as to have a child with Junko Enoshima.

She couldn’t have been behind the Tragedy. I mean, she’s an Ultimate, right? That means she should be on Hope’s side, right? Plus, the sister I know… she’d never abandon… She wouldn’t become a second Seiko… right?

To hell with Seiko Kimura.

To hell with Junko Enoshima.

To hell with this despair.

I’m going to Towa City.

I’m going to find my sister.

I’m going to find Mikan Tsumiki.

 

Chapter Text

December 2012

 

Sometimes strange things just happen. For example, when your cousin six years your major gets lost on an illegal fishing boat and almost ended up in another country during summer vacation in the Kyushu Islands, then comes back unscathed, then gets hit on the head three times in a row by… coconuts?

And a nine-year-old you just stands there, wondering what the hell had just happened.

On retrospect, maybe that’s what got her to quit the light pop band and dive into this dreadful heavy metal thing, because, trust me, it’s insufferable. No one wanted to be treated to Hard Rock Hallelujah remixed with Santa Baby and Carol of the Bells on Christmas Eve. I’m not even a classical musician, but I totally feel them right now. This kind of contemporary music is an abomination. I reckon you’d have to be messed up in the head to appreciate that.

Yet, to be fair, who am I to say something like that?

They say I’m messed up too.

They say it is wrong to like another girl when you’re born one, even though you’ve known from the start that you are not. It is wrong, they say, to feel trapped by my growing chest and technicoloured dresses, and that I should be proud of who I am.

Logical fallacy there.

The thing is, I know who I am and who I’m not. I’m not proud of this body because it was never mine. I’m not ashamed by who I am. I just don’t want to be what I was born as.

But only Ibuki understood.

She would call them fools, because they only condemn what they do not understand.

Maybe we all are.

Maybe I should try and understand her too.

 


 

March 2017

 

The world has gone to hell, and I was part of the reason.

In my defence, I didn’t know how or what Ibuki had been planning, but still, a partial liability was on me. Perhaps the despair wouldn’t have spread like wildfire if I had never made any videos with her, then her influence wouldn’t have been as much, and… and…

By her suggestion, we started making skits and gaming videos together a few years back. Initially, it was just for fun, but as time passed, our channel grew, and it wasn’t long before the subscriber count skyrocketed. Typical of my cousin, she quit after an year or so, but I continued on. I initially used video making as a means to vent out my frustrations, to help promote Ibuki’s brand, and to share anime and games I like with fellow fandom communities. I never knew it would become my career, that I would have people and companies sponsoring my walkthroughs and game analyses, that I would be invited to fandom conferences around the world, collabing with my idols, even having a fandom of my own… It was surreal. It was wonderful.

Last September I came out, my family was appalled, but it didn’t matter. I had Ibuki, and I knew there were people out there who loved and supported me just the way I am, and that was enough.

Then the Tragedy happened, and Ibuki was in the centre of it.

I watched her write increasingly depressing songs with terrible suicidal themes, and witnessed her concerts of despair and death. There were shootings, bombings, massacres, and she encouraged them. There were people spiralling into insanity and sacrificing themselves to the Despairs’ crazy rituals, and there were the sane ones who hit the road, running for our lives, getting into hiding. They would do anything for despair, especially by destroying everything and everyone they used to care about, once upon a time, before this apocalypse.

I was lucky, in that my other uncle, a detective, had foreseen this coming, and created a bomb shelter from his house, where all that’s left of my family, our friends, and I, sought refuge. It was the safest place I’d ever been to since the Tragedy began, with metal plates and such barricades, and strange devices keeping us out of their reach. My uncle’s foresight was incredible, to the point that he had been stocking in his basement daily necessities for ten people that could last for a good seven years. We’ve twelve people in the place now, but by a frugal living, that would do. Sharing a room with two younger cousins, we totally rejoiced for finding that the WiFi was still working in here, and, having brought along my laptop, and discovered some old recording camera that my uncle had stashed away for years, we set to work.

Screw despair. If it could spread like wildfire simply because of some high school students, so would Hope. The most devoted followers of Junko Enoshima was but twenty or so people, each of whom’s influence barely covered a handful of countries. Over 80% of the world’s population were highly influenced by social media, especially by video platforms and fandoms, as far as I knew, and I’d had 75% of these people under my whim before this bs. And I was not alone. There were even more influential people I knew who hadn’t given in, Hifumi Yamada for example, as much of an annoying and obsessive perv he appeared to be, not to mention Ganesa Okanobu, that actor-singer-comedian-puppeteer-ventriloquist-talk show host girl with millions of bazillions of hardcore fans across every continent. With enough and combined effort, Hope must win against that blonde bear lover’s bull crap, put an end to this.

We’d been doing this for quite a while: 7 minutes a time, every other day, at least fifteen times a month, a consecutive six months. We reminisced on little things we that motivated us before it all went wrong, talked of little and big acts of kindness here and there happening around us, I did analyses of story-driven games and heartwarming cartoons I remembered playing, while Kiko and Akira did lighthearted skits or played the violin. We started doing it with the intention of healing the world, but in the process, we were, too, healing our own souls, ripped and torn and jaded.

Ring…

Ring…

What was that?

“Shui, is this your phone? I think someone’s calling,” Kiko handed me a dusty shadow of the device that had once been fused to my hands. It’s been a long while since we’d even used it, not to mention calling people. Who even did that anymore?

To be honest, I was surprised to even remember how to use that thing.

I swiped the green incoming call icon, and held it at my ear awkwardly. It felt strange. Alien, almost.

“Hello, this… this is Shui. Tokihara,” I greeted with caution. “Who may this be?”

“Nishishi…” came the reply. It was a light (and absolutely fake) chuckle. “Do you know a Kurisu Akiba?”

Akiba was a friend of mine in elementary school. I hadn’t seen her since graduation. She had moved to that Towa City or something for her parents’ engineering jobs. And from the tone if that guy on the other end, something was afoot.

“Yes,” I grit my teeth, preparing to cut off the line. “What do you want?”

“Awww Tokihara-chan, don’t be so stone cold!” The voice whined like a dying pony, and I couldn’t help rolling my eyes. “We are not foes.”

“First, don’t call me -chan. Second, what even are you? An asphyxiated horse? Spill.”

“Nishishi. Good one, Tokihara-chan. I’ll give that a nine, just because I’m holding out for a ten, for more and better to come.”

Unghhhhhhhhhhh.

“Cease beating around the bush. Who the hell are you? What are you doing with Akiba? What on Earth do you want?” Pardon my language, I was getting impatient.

The dying pony neighed for about half a day before getting to the point and answering my question. To be frank, I think Junko Enoshima should hack this conversation, because it was definitely the most despair-inducing conversation of the entirety of human history. Wait, I take that back.

“Nishishi… alright. I’ll spill,” Finally. “My name is Tachihiko Zaimura, leader of DICE. Ever heard of us?”

I have. The weird organisation that’s been popping up around the place in clown masks and straitjackets pulling silly harmless pranks while helping with the rebuild of infrastructures. Everything they did seemed contradictory, but the sure thing I knew was that they were battling despair with their own eccentricity (or possible genius). They called themselves evil cultists, but then their motto was to bring smiles and not kill. Strange group of people, but there had to be a reason behind that. It would be foolish to condemn those we do not understand.

“Oh my goodness! Tokihara-Chan really noticed me, Minori! Gimme your ten yen!” What the heck? “Ahem. Ahemhemhemhemhem. Anyway, as you’d have probably noticed, Tokihara-Chan, we are big fans of your channel. Have been, still are. We aren’t enemies, as we have a common one.”

“The Ultimate Despair.”

“Exactly,” he neighed again. “Nishishi. So what do you say, Tokihara-Chan? How about a collaboration? For the sake of hope?”

... 

...

“— Uuuueeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee???!!!!!”

The shriek erupted from my vocal cords before I knew it, and by the time I came to, both sides of the phone was drowning in voluptuous laughter.

“Shui? Kiko? What’s with the screaming? What just happened? Are you alright?” It my uncle’s voice. Robust. Calm. Concerned.

“N-nothing!” I cried back. He didn’t need to know.

“Alright then,” I heard his strong footsteps striding away from our room. Great. “You girls don’t curl up in bed any longer, heard me? Lunch in five.”

“Ni… Nishishi… Nishishishishsishishi…” Wonderful. That DICE guy heard everything.

“What.”

“That’s why I can’t call you Tokihara-chan, huh. Nishishi…”

Dang it.

Chapter Text

September 2016

 

Every translator is a traitor. However you choose to interpret it, it is true. Particularly in my case, I suppose.

I believe translation is a form of betrayal, of language itself. From my talent and profession, I have always been one.

I suppose working for both sides, while keeping a stowaway in your office, qualifies one’s status as a traitor as well.

He stirred. That poor lad.

The mob lynched his entire family, and the smaller of his siblings joined Despair’s ranks, to ‘hunt demons and build a paradise’, or some twisted nonsense like that. It was a risk to shelter him, but he was worth it.

“... NO! DON’T! STOP IT… NO…AHHHHHHHHHHHH!!”

I couldn’t afford to have his sleep talk awake anyone though, so I did what any person of sound mind would do to shut him up.

I splashed his mop of grass with the cup of lady grey I’ve been cooling on my desk.

He woke in an instant.

“Eungh! Toujou-san, did it not amuse you enough to drench my head three times?”

“Togami-san, Have you not exposed yourself enough to wail like a siren four times a night?” I bound the finished work neatly and placed it aside.

To be honest, I miss working freelance. Ministry work had always been too tedious for my liking, but what were the options? It was initially for the money, now this was the only surviving government building in town. The same couldn’t be said if I devoted my work to either side: Despair or Future. I was by birth a traitor, and neither could do without me anyway, so I chose the middle ground.

“It freaking hurts!”

“Paucas pallabris, Seiran. I’m working.”

He sighed. I would admit these are some of the times he actually looked cute, but these are hostile times with no room for personal emotions.

“It’s 3 in the morning, Kyuu. Get some —”

“頂。你再唔收聲我就放堆黑白熊趕你條尾出去分屍,明解冇? (Fuck it. Shut up or I’m calling up the Monokumas to chase your arse outta here and tear your limbs apart, understood?)”

I’m pretty sure he didn’t understand a word, but he did anyway. I wanted to feel bad about it, but couldn’t. That was exactly the peace I needed in this dystopian setting. To concentrate. To think.

I read the announcement through and through, trying to get it right. It was from the Ultimate Despair, and the grammar was awful, the script barely legible. That’s one thing, à mon avis, that Junko Enoshima miscalculated. The 78th Class would fare much, much better as her lackeys. I mean, at least they had people who could write with decency.

Not that it would be a good thing, anyway.

If every translator was a traitor, I might as well tweak their words to my favour. For the cause that I have deduced to be victorious in the long run.

 


 

August 2013

 

“So… your first time on a ship?” I walked towards the boy leaning on the deck, with the drink he’d requested. The wind tousled his green hair and teased his unbuttoned coat, and for a second it seemed as if he’d grown wings, with the garment’s tails flying behind him.

He looked back at me, his smile serene and genuine.

“Actually, yes. How’d you know?”

“You look like a caged bird, with wings newly grown, enjoying its first taste of freedom,” Handing him his soda, I added. “There’s an idiom I’d use to describe my first impression of you, Mr Togami: 劉姥姥進大觀園.”

“Is that Korean? What’s it mean?”

So he didn’t know either. As much as I hated to betray the language…

I smirked a little, and turned to leave. If he was worth half my time explaining he’d look it up himself.

“Come on, Toujou! Tell me! I demand it!”

“Fine. Here’s a hint,” I pulled out the hardcover book from my satchel and tossed it into his hands. “It’s from this book. Read the whole of it, and I’ll tell you.”

He bewildered gaze switched from the book to mine, and back, and forth, and back.

“But I don’t know the language it’s written in,” mhe muttered sheepishly.

I chuckled, and questioned his purpose of boarding my father’s cruise in the first place, if it weren’t to open oneself to new people and foreign cultures, to venture into what used to be unknown to oneself. If not for those reasons you might as well jump off the deck, go for a swim, I joked. I knew he was on board for his parents’ business, of course. That was only expected of a possible future leader of the Togami Corporation, and their children, and their children’s children. Ad infinitum. But it wasn’t every day you could challenge some Richie Rich like that.

I was not expecting his answer.

“I don’t know, Toujou-san. Maybe I should go for a swim, and find out for myself. Heck, would that be refreshing. How does it feel, by the way? Sorry for rambling, I’ve never actually swim before. Haply I should try,” with that, he started taking off his clothes and climbing the ledge.

I panicked in an instant.

“¡¿Estas loco?! Get down, you! Unnngh! Je plaisantais! Dio mio!”

When I finally got him down he fell in a heap on the wooden floorboards, and laughed, and laughed,  like a madman. He laughed, and told me things. Lots of things. Happy things, sad things, depressing things. Things I’ve heard from many an adult, from hollow men and hollow women, in their words, in their letters, but never from anyone my age.

How terrible it must be to lead such empty lives.

I caught a glimpse of red as he buttoned his shirt, then I realised it wasn’t alone. Fading pink lines adorned his wrists like Bohemian bangles. I shuddered at the revolting sight.

He noticed, and started talking about how he once tricked one of his many younger sisters into playing the choking game, so he’d have the courage to do… silly things. I was just glad his aunt found out in time to save their lives. He agreed, but just because she saved his sister. He was so close to freedom, or so he claimed.

You’re delusional, I said. Eres loco.

He smiled sadly, said he’d told enough of his story, and asked me to tell mine.

So I did. I told him how I grew up at sea, aboard this cruise. I told him stories of the people, 一forgotten faces, who come and go, come and go. All sorts of people, not unlike Agatha Christie’s Orient Express, except there had never been a single murder, as far as I knew.

He suddenly laughed, and said his could be the first.

I ignored him, and changed the topic to a linguist couple I once met. He was British and she was Chinese, and they had a beautiful baby daughter with pretty little brown curls called Saffron. Mrs St John’s maiden name was Yue. It meant the moon. Her middle name was Luna. It is Spanish for moon.

He nodded, and asked if I knew a piano prodigy, Tsue Akama. Her favourite piece was Debussy’s Clair de Lune, he said. They used to be classmates.

I asked if he liked her.

He used to, but they grew apart after she was badly injured in an accident, and ceased contact completely after graduation. Turned out her family were yakuzas. Her cousin killed a girl. His parents did not approve of their friendship. He tried calling her, texting her, writing to her. All to no avail.

He asked if I had any kids at school I liked.

No, I said. I’ve never had any classmates. I lived my life on the sea, and had been homeschooled by my father from the moment I knew things. I learned from the people who come and go. Confucius said among every three people aligned would there be a teacher of mine. It has a wisdom to it, I remarked, and wisdom has no boundaries. Not of time. Not of age. Not of anything. If you open your heart, it would be yours, to pass on to your blind fellows, the hollow and lonely.

His eyes cast down thoughtfully at his leather shoes. Clarks, I think.

But everything would change in September, I continued, and I would finally feel how it was like to walk upon an authentic piece of land. I told him how I met a Foreign Affairs Minister a few months prior, and how she had offered me a full scholarship and a part-time job at the Ministry, in the capital, after pulling strings. It would be in translation. I could speak some 30 dialects, I added, and write in about half of that.

I wish I was you, he said. Your talent actually meant something. You could use it to help people. You could save lives.

Don’t all talents? I questioned his logic.

All I knew were theories, he laughed again. They called him L’il Ultimate Geography, but this was the farthest he had ever been from beyond his house. It was a death cell in the guise of a gigantic flamboyant architecture. Innocence was born and murdered in there. He told me everyone in his dynasty were merely walking corpses consumed by their wealth. Hollow cusks digging their own grave beneath their feet. Some chose to escape, just to fall into a pit of sloth, wasting away on drugs and alcohol and sex. Some comply, continuing the endless cycle of torture. Others, like him, give up. There was no hope, but eternal darkness. A void filled with materials. Worthless stashes of coded paper and molded gold. Such was their world.

Olive eyes bore into mine, as a trail of tears slipped from his beautiful green lashes.

Take me with you, he cried. I would do anything to be free.

I picked up the book I’d given him, and stuffed it into his trembling hands.

“妄想にならない, 嵐様,” I hushed, and turned to leave, cheeks bright red, even more so than the hardback cover in itself. “Eres loco. Ich kann das nicht tun.”

He didn’t make a sound, but I could feel his tears streaming down my own, down my red hot cheeks.

“You can read that book, by the way. It’s translated.”

 

***

 

The day came when he joined the people who came, and left, perhaps to return in months, years, decades, perhaps not. He was no longer the depressed boy I first met on the deck. He was right. My work, it saved a life.

He wanted to give it back. I told him to keep it. He did.

He gave me his number, to keep in touch.

I watched him depart, and step ashore, tailing behind his grim relatives, until he was but a speck of green amid the crowds.

I returned to my cabin, and retrieved my phone.

“Salutations, Seiran.

“This is Kyuu Toujou.”

...

My fingers lingered on the keyboard, uncertain what to type for a long while.

Then I decided.

“Collige virgo rosas. Generose puer sic itur ad astra.

Chapter Text

 Part I

June 2015

 

As much as I hated to admit it, Despair had become our lives. We’ve all been shook at first — who didn’t? But now we’re all jaded. There was nothing we could do, but adapt to it. It didn’t matter which timeline you SHIFTed into, because Earth would be over by 2029 anyway. In the stead of Despair would be more despair, in the form of a suicide virus. At least in here we’d have hope to cling on, for more while. Compared to Radical-6, post-apocalyptic Despair is paradise.

I have no idea how I knew. I just know.

And it wasn’t just me either. Other kids in the home felt it too. Sora did. That psychic witch did. Even the Kashiwabara twins. They felt it too, among others. The flashes of consciousness flickering in and out before our very eyes. Alternative realities, Nona would call them, and she’d sidetrack to those philosophical dilemmas none of us ever really understood.

It was the same premonition that led me to saving Maho, when Mahiru bombed our family house to pieces of flaming rubble, burying everyone alive. The first and only time I had been and would ever even remotely be grateful for Himura-sensei’s awful detentions. She kept us, that kid who bleached his hair white and I, in that creepy old building until 7 at night. He was a strange guy with no friends, and rumour had it that his dad was in a cult and murdered and mutilated like seven people before committing suicide, or some bullshit like that. I took none of it. Detention was hell, and I remembered joking with that kid about hell. He’d usually grimace and let out a sullen laugh when I said things like that, but that time, he didn’t. He just sat there, tense, turned off, like he wasn’t really there. Didn’t know what got into him at the time, but now I know.

Because it was then that I heard it.

My siblings.

They were screaming.

And Maho’s stood out.

From her, not exactly a scream, I guess. It was more of a faint, but sharp “nyehhh”. The kind she’d make when she felt unease or pain. Like that time she bumped face first into the glass pane of the shopping mall near our place when she was four, or that other time she was stung by jellyfish when we visited the Okinawa beaches in summer. I felt our hearts racing at the speed of light, pounding as if they were on a treadmills, and for a second or so I lost sight of where I was. Both the teacher and the kid and all the desks and chairs blurred out, replaced instead by visions of fire, burning planks and rubble, fumes and smoke arising from within. For a moment Maho and I were one, as we dug and fought our way through the fire, the flesh on our arms peeling, bleeding from the scorching heat, for a ray of light, a sight of day beyond this hellish torment, to survive.

We had to survive.

Burnt corpses of people we recognised lain across the lava, crisp from the explosions. They were all lives, faces we knew, and loved. Maho cried. But I felt the awful sting of cool water on her melting face, and I held it. We were close. I knew it. Just turn over another piece of ruin, and we’ll…

She stopped. Relented.

“Maho! Hold on! We… we…” I remembered crying. In response was another weary “nyehh”. “Come on! Let’s get outta here! You have to… you have to…”

Our minds seemed almost connected as one, as, draining whatever little energy I had left, I puppeteered her battered, worn out body through the ruins, seeing through her eyes. Finally we reached the surface, and the connection ceased, all of a sudden.

And I was lain on a comfortable, familiar bed, knuckles white, cold sweat dripping from my forehead, chills down my spine, staring blankly before the blur in front of me, a shadow looming above. It was that other kid.

“You’re awake,” His ice-blue eyes bore into me. Apparently sensing my confusion, he quickly added,  “You’ve been out for quite a while, and Himura told me to bring you here. This… modern architecture. What is this place anyway? Where are your parents? What—”

If they let him in here, he must be one of us, right? Then it shouldn’t matter much for me to explain…

I was about to give a ten-hour exposition on how and why my I haven’t been living with my family for, like, four years, as well as the out-of-the-world experience connecting with Maho, when —

“Himitsu! Is your sister alright?” A green-clad girl with a large crimson bow holding her long ponytail barged in, her identical twin trailing behind her. “Nona felt something, and we thought it was her, but—”

“We had Sora get the old radio working, that mechanic genius, and it said your area was completely demolished by the Ultimate Despairs, and only a little girl survived… She’s fine right? Please say she’s alright…”

My heart sank. I didn’t know then, but I felt I somehow knew the outcome of that either way. Still, it devastated me. I pretended to conceal the despair, and nodded, silently praying to whatever god there is on earth that Maho would live.

“I didn’t know she was your sister, Muse-kun, but that girl’s fine. Actually, I should’ve guessed with her ginger hair, huh? Anyway,” Mr white hair piped in as he stood up from his enticing position, “reliable news says she’s in that Cradle Hospital now. It’s the only one still operating around here, after all.”

You don’t know how great the feeling was, to have relief flood your senses and hope, even the falsest of them, drown out the despairing reality.

“I’m going, seeing that you are not alone in this... peculiar facility,” His nonchalant voice droned on, as he turned to leave.

Ennea slipped between him and the door with her crazy speed, and blocked his way, demanding for his identity and whereabouts.

“I’m going to Cradle, Muse, need I bring something for your sister?” He rolled his eyes in slight annoyance. Not much, just slight.

“You don’t need to, like, go there for me, punkass,” I laughed uneasily. “I take care of my own siblings.”

“By leaving them behind at home and going to a peculiar X-men institute alone? Only saving your favourite sister with your morphogenetic field powers when the rest burn to death? I think not,” Kurashiki’s smile darkened, his gaze so intense it was formidable. The twins and I, we all shied away, shielding our sight from those sharp, penetrating eyes. His grin widened as Ennea backed away and he took hold of the metal knob.

“I have a sister to care for too, you know.”

Chapter Text

March 2016

 

The ways of the gods have always mesmerised me. Atua’s way, in particular, is a strange one. He allowed Despair to spar with Hope when He could have easily prevented it, when He could have easily squished the strawberry blonde pig into black and white guacamole with blotches of pink mixed in between with His pinky finger. He is Hope and chose not Hope to be on His side. I may be a messenger of the gods and He Himself, but still there are things a mortal oracle could never fathom. The mysteries of faith. They have always been fathoms beyond my reach.

I do not choose a side, for I am a mere messenger of Their divine words, a medium with gifts endowed through which the immortals deliver and mortals see. I do not know whether Despair or Hope is right, for both has given me sight, and the truth. I have grown up in Hope, which let me flourish and gave me contentedness in beauty and serenity, but Despair let me gain insight into those in turmoil, living in the dark, pulling us together by an unknown force. Despair took my home and my tranquility, but gave me a living and a chance to see the world, when I travel through the country, relieving pains of those who needed my aid. Séances, however intricate, could never have raised the dead, but it gave closure, and an inner peace, a Hope to balance out the night. It let me mature. I used to have everything and in present have nothing, but there is nothing to be sad about. Despair let me leave seclusion and into human. Into their lives I live and learn and see. I call the dead and mourn the living. I live with peace and peace I shall pass on to the distressed, and ease their cares with the gods’ blessings unto me.

Today I conducted another séance. It was a strange one, I must admit, but with all that is going on now… All I could do is trust that the gods will lead us onto the righteous path. My clients are a couple a bit younger than I am, around thirteen or so. The girl’s parents requested me, as I passed their village, to do something for their daughter, who was in depression after watching the live broadcast of that forsaken heck of a killing game, the one with Hope’s Peak’s 78th class doing the… unmentionable. The poor girl was convinced that one of the students was her long-lost sister who left her in this village when she was barely a child and more of an infant, and had been traumatised by the thought, especially since the young lady’s life had been brutally ripped from her. The boy, an alumni of HPA’s elementary, appears calm and collected, but it is evident that he was, too, distressed at what he had seen, and the stress had not done well to his health. He was very brave, nonetheless, and looked over his friend like a guardian angel, albeit without wings.

The ritual did not go as smoothly as imagined, and for a long while the gods had refused to answer my calling for a nineteen-year-old Yasuhiro Taeko from the twelve-year-old Harukawa Maki claiming to be her sister. Usually cases as such, with little memory and no mementos even, would take a few hours, but this took the whole day. In short, I felt a disturbance, a foreign feeling. As if the deceased did not wish to reply. Perhaps, I told them, there were suppressed memories that couldn’t be made through, for instance, she might not have registered that she was in the realms of Hades. It could also be that it was a suicide, in which case the gods would take longer to pass through her message, as the soul that had abandoned life by choice is abhorred by the gods, for all life is equal and precious, not something to be joked with, to be put on the line for mere excitement.

“Good,” the boy laughed sullenly. “That Despair Enoshima would never see the light of day again. No one will ever mourn her. Serves her right.”

A part of me, I guess, hoped to affirm, but it was not possible. After all, it had just been a few days since I had approached a Remnant base to assist two of them, the former Ultimate Nurse and Ultimate Gymnast, in locating their lost siblings. They were not bad people, and, too, were struggling against everything that has been happening around them, and their own actions in particular. I didn’t feel like they wanted to find the children to harm them, but, with certain motherly instincts, to ensure their safety. But what do I know? The gods’ ways are not easily interpretable. I could’ve led the children to their deaths for all that I know, but their faces, the Remnants’ faces, became serene when I relayed them the divine words. They were peaceful with a newfound tranquility that seemed to never had been present in their memories. I mourned them as I called for the children, and I long for the day of salvation, especially for them, the wronged comrades of Atua.

My thoughts returned to the séance when I remembered. I remembered something that could provoke an answer from Yasuhiro’s lost soul. It was something I had encountered when calling for those children. One of them refused to be known by his name of birth, but one that he had coined for himself when he fled on the road. The same must be for the girl’s sister. I remembered her being introduced as something else, something European.

Ludenberg. How could I forget?

And it was the key. We contacted and they talked. A lot. It was pretty awkward at first, but it gradually transcended into a sweet sisterly reunion. Eight years worth of laughter and tears all was condensed into hours’ conversation. Taeko had regained her lost two years in the afterlife, while through her we learnt of Maki’s first four. She was irresponsible, but responsible too, knowing that achieving her dream would be at the cost of the safety of those nearest to her. Hope’s Peak changed her. It gave her an ambition, a meaning, besides constant success and betrayal. She found love with a boy, an upperclassman. With him she is reborn, for they assisted each other in accepting themselves for who they truly were. There was a period, not long before the Tragedy, when they shed their pretenses and were accepted as they were. He is alive, I told her, but not that he, like his class, had fallen. She was in peace, and that’s all she needs in the present. Not another blow. The gods have their way. If it must be made known to her spirit, it will be anyway. That’s all I could do to soothe her furrowed brow. Genuine smiles do look better on her pale but rosy cheeks, framed with luscious black bangs like her sister.

After all had been set I was invited by the family to stay for dinner, and we talked about other matters. I remarked the rarity of their village being almost unaffected by all the havoc in the urban wastelands surrounding it. Mr Harukawa just shrugged and attributed it to the mercy of their deities. I nodded in agreement, the gods always have their own ways, and to reserve this beautiful landscape as an oasis, a refuge, must be part of their plans. They asked about me, too. I tried to laugh it off, being somewhat uncomfortable with the topic, but did anyway, influenced by their enthusiasm and interest. *sigh* But I didn’t tell them everything of course. Just that my parents met when my father was on an exchange programme to Japan then moved together to California, that I do have a Japanese name (Yonaga Seiseki), and yes, my mother was Yonaga Ichika, the former Ultimate Itako. I also told them of some incidents I’ve encountered in my cross-continent journey in the past year, but that’s all. They didn’t need to know the rest.

They invited me to stay for the foreseeable future, to which of course I declined. This was not what I was here for. Not for luxury and stability, but to bring peace amid the maëlstrom. I am La’akea Kaela, oracle and medium, servant of the gods and of the people among the people. I call the dead and mourn the living, and call the living and mourn the dead. Faith is with me and Faith is all I need, not Hope, nor Despair. Faith is all I need.

Tomorrow I’ll be making my way back to the overseas branch of my mother’s alma mater. Her former principal has requested my presence.

Chapter Text

April 2014

 

“Well, well, well. If it isn’t the L’il Ultimate PE — EX-L’il Ultimate PE — herself,” a boy with spiky blond hair took the seat beside me, eyes gleaming with malice. I’m no dumb chick. I see a degenerate, I leave. So I rose.

“Hey hey! Where are you going, L’il Ultimate? Can’t stand us commoners? Are we too rough for your calibre? Oh, wait, how did a shining piece of diamond like you end up in our midst anyway? Right, because she was an expelled murderer who killed her own parents! Ha, ha, guys! Look! She’s cringing! She must be so appreciative of our com—”

— WHAM!

Lies. Lies. Lies.

My fist swung before my brain could process anything. What was it? Could it be shame? Could it be anger? Could it… no. I’m powerful and therefore fearless, and justice was on my side. It was defense. He was going to hurt me. I did what I should. He lit the fuse, so he should bear the explosion. It was right and just.

But what had happened? What was that they saw? The others? First day of the semester in Stone College Junior High, a boy took a seat beside a girl, tried to hit off a friendly conversation, to which the girl rudely ignored and left, and when the boy continued to attempt conversing with her, she punched him in the face. Badly too. No one knew what he said, neither did he, for he had a truth of his own. And no one believes a culprit. No one believes a girl who tried to save herself, and others, from evil giants, and succeed in doing so.

They mourn the weak who had not the strength for self defense, and condemn those who do, because they fear.

Poor degenerates. Who knew they are such fragile beings, to be threatened by children. Are girls with voices, with fists, with books, such terrorising pictures? If we were indeed, they should be afraid of their own ferocity.

Long story short, I became the threat and he the victim, and I served a week’s detention right off the bat. Marvellous. It wasn’t that bad, really. Things were bad, but they got better over the summer. Staying in my aunt’s shrine, worlds away from degenerates, was heaven. Everyone here were women or children, fresh and pure as the clear running waters in brooks and lakes, where we lead a simplistic and independent lifestyle. Once in a while, inevitably, kannushis from other shrines would come and hold meetings and stuff, but as full as they were of dirt and grime, they were still clean, compared to the least of degenerates.

Degenerates like him.

He hurt me and he hurt Sorou. He hurt Sorou and I hurt him. I didn’t know my strength. She bled. He bled. I bled. I made him bleed. Sirens. Medics. Cops. I don’t even know what. Three went in and hours passed. Days passed. Days passed and one came out. Expulsion. Lawyers. Courts. Flashes. Headlines. Guilty. Appeals. Not guilty. Burials. Inheritance. Whisked away to a new place. A better place. What is better? Is this better? I don’t even know.

I swore to myself it won’t happen again. Not here, that there had been a change of scene. Not now, that I know my strength and hold no fear. But it still happened. I want to place all blame on them, on those fucking degenerates, but who was to say I wasn’t at fault? I made myself the villain they despise, I fulfilled their rumours like a prophecy, proving myself an irrational, violent woman who had problems keeping herself together, a threat to others. Of course they expelled you from Hope’s Peak Elementary right before you could graduate. Of course he hurt you — to keep you in line. Of course he killed Sorou — a punishment. And you killed him, the man caring for you after your mother died, keeping your ass sane. That little degenerate told the truth, and so you hurt him. Of course you’re getting punished. Bad girl, Amakou. Good job, Amakou. Good job indeed.

Something wet trickled down my skirt, glistening in the setting sun.

Was it that late already?

Was it raining?

Was it blood?

Oh.

Just a breaking soul.

 


 

January 2016

 

Happy birthday to me. Happy death day to me. Happy death day to Amakou. Happy birthday to me.

Meh. Fuck it. Fuck them. Fuck this bullshit.

Fuck that degenerate.

Michi assumed leadership the second the younger Owada left for Hope’s Peak. Good for him.

What a world we live in, when crime by bullies is a valued talent and that by the helpless are persecuted. Good for him.

Not that I was in any place to say anything. The former form of crime was what I’ve been living off of for a year now after all.

Good for me.

How did I even get here? Stupid Amakou Sachuu, how did you manage to dive head first into this dumpster fire of stinking adrenaline-driven pile of failing degenerates unhesitantly, just to regret everything a year past? Why leave, elope from, the sanctuary that was a woman’s heaven, with a boy you barely knew who proved himself an unworthy dick? I don’t even know. Honestly.

What do I know?

We all came with our stories. Some ran away.  Some for fun. Some abandoned. He was the latter. For some reason his presence always made my heart skip a beat. Was it his tragic backstory? Or his strange similarity to the guy I punched on the first day at middle school, spiky blond hair and shit? Who knew. All I knew was that I was dumb and blind enough to run away with him into this purgatory of never-ending nerve-wrecking excitement. We do twice the work and those corn cob snobs get thrice the credit. Had to teach myself to bike to keep up. But it was fun. I guess. Snobs turned to snob when dude got his sugar brother killed. No one questioned anything he said. He had power and he was fearless, and in his fearlessness lies were made truths.

Days passed. Months passed. It was wonderful when I was with Michi, before I saw his true face. No, no, he didn’t hurt me none. We just got frisky one Friday night and made me feel fearless. Like I had overcome my past. But none could do, as the present relates. Good for you, Amakou. Good for me.

We fought. We’ve been fighting for quite a while now. A lot of things didn’t quite work out, and my jealousy towards Owada hadn’t helped. For a long time I’ve been suspicious of their relationship. Something wasn’t right between them. They seemed like bros, but they were more, cornstarch and my Michi. They had this Brokeback vibe and it didn’t sit well in me. How could this be? How could I be but a beard after all we’ve gone through together? I couldn’t stand it and confronted him.

Then he hurt me.

So I hurt him. And told him of the news.

Abort it, he said. I refused and he hurt me more. Be grateful, woman, he said. We feed you and keep you and all you do is cause trouble on us, he said. Now you’re preggers abort it or get your shits outta here, he said. It was nice fucking you but fuck you, he said. Same here, I said.

9 January 2016.

I left.

And never turned back.

One way or another I ended up in Ganesa Okanobu’s couch. You know, the new teen idol rivalling Sayaka Maizono? Blue hair, weird glasses, plain face. Sprung into stardom after winning some talent competition with her hand puppets. Former L’il Ultimate Home Economics. Old friend. Good times.

Ugh.

Whatever.

Things will get better.

I’m powerful and fearless.

It must get better.

Chapter Text

March 2011

Father, I don’t want to go.

I don’t want to go into that room.

I don’t like the people in there. I don’t like your friends.

I don’t care if I could win over Sayaka Maizono in that pageant if I went. I never wanted any prizes and I never wanted everyone in Japan to know my name and my talents. I just want to go home, Father.

Mother, Father is making me go, but I don’t want to go. He won’t listen to me, but he listens to you. Mother, please, tell Father I want to go home.

Mother, please! I beg you! Father!

I don’t like your friends! I don’t like that room! I don’t like what they do and the games they play!

Please… please… I want to go home.

Let me go home…

 

May 2016

“Yes, yes… mmhmm… huh… yeah… I don’t know, really… hmm… I guess that’s fine… oh… Hey, bring me some of those too, ya know? Yeah… right-o… Thanks! Mmhmm… ok, see ya.”

“Who’s that, Ganesa?” Amakou grunted, lifting herself from the sunken armchair with much effort. Apart from the morning sickness, occasional nausea and topsy turvy appetite, she’s been doing well. Same for the embryo. So much better, in fact, than when I first met her since her untimely expulsion some two, three years ago.

“It’s just Akama. Piano freak. You remember her, right?” I chuckled grimly as I put away the tattered flip phone now serving as our only access to the world. A world we do love and miss. Missed. For myself at least. I can’t say the same for the young, dishevelled mother-to-be, staggering into the candle-lit corridor, her left arm wrapped over her waist. Electricity hadn’t run out over here, yet, but we thought we might as well get ourselves used to the squalor.

“Ngh,” She mumbled, reaching for the handle to the bathroom. “What about her?”

“Well, she and her sister are stopping by this city in search for their lost cousins. They need a safehouse,” a heavy sigh escaped my parched throat, not that I intended it to. The past few months had not been easy

“Ngh… Whatever…” more groans. Vomiting. A sigh. Another groan. “Ha… Miss Ultimate Philanthropist does love filling her… stupid life, which, I must add, is only… barely working out… with every dreaded parasite she encounters, huh?”

I could hurl a million nasty words if that were anyone else, but my tongue felt numb when the thoughts reached its tip, barring it from its impending spew. No. I cannot let the negativity in the atmosphere get me down. The world out there’s unfair and ugly as it is, and it wouldn’t hurt at all to add one more voice in righteousness. Yet, isn’t that the more reason we need a different voice? Something… feeling. Empathetic. Something… kind. In its own way.

Yes. I want to choose kind.

If I am that exasperated and depressed right now, imagine how terrible she must be feeling! Nah, to say the truth, I doubt I’ll ever be able to even fathom. Fourteen is when you should be pampered and annoyed by your mother, retorting her overbearing but well-meant concerns with your quick witty tongue and dodging her disciplining efforts with your agile moves, and hanging out with a hoard of friends without a care in the whole damn world. Fourteen should not be being trapped with a former upperclassman in a cramped little apartment with no electricity, clean water, communication, or any sort of entertainment, barely keeping yourself alive, in constant fear of being discovered or turned in and brutally murdered, and having a growing foetus to care about on top of all this crap!

It has been three months since Amakou resurfaced from the pits of hell, barely skeletal, drenched in rain and sweat and blood, lying on the street opposite my agency. I had never been on good terms with her, to tell the truth. She was irritable and obstinate, and almost the greatest troublemaker in class, always running her mouth off and getting herself into situations she could not resolve. I was a haughty child who took so much pride in her own responsibilities and sobre propriety, a kind of feigned, worldly maturity forced out from mingling with the stars, under the garish limelight, from too young an age. No, we never got along.

Yet, in the past months, we saw each other in a new light. At least I did. I learnt of our similarities, a forgotten, suppressed past we both shared. But where I was salvaged she had no one to lean on, and that was where our paths diverged.

I was eleven when I met her. It had been going on for two years then. She was a substitute teacher at Hope’s Peak Elementary, the former Ultimate Ventriloquist, standing in for our class teacher, who had been on leave for reasons I couldn’t seem to recall. She convinced my parents to take a break, and I began spending every afternoon with her, late into the night, training. Voice, acting, puppeteering, dance. It was the happiest days of my life. Well after she left, well after my graduation, I frequented her studio and numerous performances, at one point or another I moved out of my parents’ house and moved in with her, like a full-fledged apprentice. Two years ago, I reentered the spotlight with her encouragement. The dark offices no longer intimidated me, nor did the sordid stares from rival and predator, for I was well out of the past’s shadow, confident in my stride, and protected by her authoritative company. It was then that I swore to myself, that I should harness every talent I possess to attain respectability equivalent to hers in the near future, so that I, too, could salvage innocent souls, and protect them with my presence.

Yes. That would be where our paths diverged.

I took a seat at the plastic stool by the fold-up table, in that pathetic excuse of a dining room we fancied into existence, watching my roommate listlessly browse the yellowed pages of one of the books I kept upon my nightstand. I couldn’t make out the title, my sight having gotten worse by the day, even more so deteriorated by the lack of natural light in this clustered area, but judging from its length, it could have perhaps been poetry, or something Hemingway. This was a side of her I had never known, or perhaps a side she had just recently been forced into developing. It didn’t matter. The same newfound appreciation would well in my stomach, too great to form into words. I observed, under the dying light, her habit of clutching at the jade she strung around her neck in scenes of suspense and action, the way she holds every book by its spine, and flips every page with her index and middle finger, instead of the usual thumb and index. There was an endearing quality to it. Again, I couldn’t seem to put it into words.

But in death all that varies in life are rendered equals, and all is fair to civilians in war. Some rise, some fall, but still, in the end, we converge at this moment. And no matter how our lives cross another’s we shall again converge at death, under the stolid gunfire and bombings and utter chaos constituting the Tragedy.

My constant rival, from pageants to variety acts to idol races, converged in our stardom, diverged in my recess, then converged once more through the Hope’s Peak scouting, diverged again when she took the plunge and had her pitiful demise broadcast to the world, triggering the series of mutual killing, and, in the outside world, suicide after suicide. I hope we do not converge, until I died a peaceful death, well into my hundredth year to heaven.

Amakou, pitiable soul, I hope we do not diverge until then, either.

 

Chapter Text

July 2017

 

“Good morning, Mr Hinata, Miss Nevermind. Looks like you’re doing much better today.”

It was a dull observation, but a decent greeting nonetheless. And it would have to do, because I really had nothing more profound to say to these… these… these…

I don’t even know what.

It is unfair how they get to survive again and again and again, even with the many sins they’ve committed, the many innocent lives they’d claimed, real and virtual, direct and otherwise. Whereas the good, the righteous, the unaware, every person who’s done no evil, seen no evil, heard no evil, spoke no evil, all have to perish. In their defence you could say they were manipulated, brainwashed, puppets on Enoshima’s strings, but that changes nothing. What is it that gave them this special right? What do they have to deserve to live in all this luxury and tranquility after the atrocities they have done? What makes them above us? What is it? What is it? This is all so unfair.

Of course, as I should have known by now, nothing has ever been fair. Life is a joke. A cruel joke. Nothing has ever been fair.

It’s so unfair that you lived, among all people, despite all circumstances. How terrible of you. How terrible.

“Thank you for your care, Shikiba-kun, we’re quite well,” The blonde woman beamed. No one told her to smile, no one gave her the right, but she did anyway. Disgusting. So disgusting. “The migraines are becoming less severe, and that’s all thanks to you and your medicine!”

“Same here,” the man chimed in, his olive green eyes twinkling with a newfound glow. They unsettle me. I really have no idea what it was, but they greatly unsettle me, as if he could, with such nonchalance, pierce into your trembling soul and extract every secret buried in its depths with ease. I involuntarily shuddered. I loathe this. “Those pills you invented are definitely more effective than all those painkillers Togami tried to have me shove down when we just woke up. And I’ve been through worse.”

I nodded curtly and muttered a stiff “you’re welcome”, not even trying to hide the apparent flush up my ears anymore, not after too many embarrassing incidents. I do not know what to answer. Never did, even less so now, before these… ugh! God! I seriously don’t know.

Oh. But you do, don’t you. You always can if you tried hard enough. You still have it in you, no?

The Novoselian leaned towards her friend and muttered something in his ear, warranting a pretty distasteful smirk on his face.  The emerald irises danced scarlet, raising every hair of my being. I could feel my breathing hasten and shallow, despite the huge effort to make it deep, my ankles locked and buckled, ready to sprint for my life at any time, once the signal is flagged, once triggered.

It is one thing being shy, another being scared, a even greater difference being encased within a memory, an excruciating experience, that haunts you for life. You cannot choose at once, even when you had all the power and freedom in the world. All your instincts could raise is the message to flee, far away from everything that reminds your prey’s mind and soul of that predator’s snare. Even when you’ve escaped, after you’d been freed, your body can never adapt to the way it used to be, before all was torn down and broken.

Oh God, that scarlet. That smile. That gaze.

Him.

Run, Kyoukai. Run. Before he implodes your guts  like he did your brother. Before he takes you back and takes more lives through your fettered hands.

Run.

“Shikiba-kun, to be frank, I’m —”

Run.

“— Santa must be really —”

RUN.

I cannot bear to wait for him to finish his sentence, nor did my pounding mind had any remaining capacity to register his words. My heels simply turned, and like a blind, raging bull, or rather, a frightened game, I burst through the ward’s door and took off. Through the pallid corridors and down the creaking stairs, into the wide open of the sand and the sea and everything in between. Anywhere. Anywhere from him . And maybe her, too. SHUT UP! I DON’T KNOW!

It doesn’t matter how much therapy Miss Kimura and Miss Gekkogahara helped me through, how much support guys like Mr Naegi and Miss Kirigiri are giving me, or how many different types of drugs and anecdotes I’ve developed to curb any diseases spreading or just to alleviate any dreaded symptoms surfacing throughout the past years. Nothing matters. Whatever I do, no matter how much they’ve done for me, nothing can wash the blood off my hands and the voices out of my head and his horrid red stare and tentacle-like black hair and slender white hands moulding my whole person to his whims. It doesn’t matter what I’m trying to do, truth will prove that I’m one of them, despicable, descpicable… I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT! Despicable MONSTERS, who watched their own brothers get thrown off a five-storey building during the Reserve Course riots and feel nothing whatsoever, then being silently glad for him entering a coma, not because he lived but because you’re the only one left awake to receive recognition and doting, justifying themselves and blaming their puppetmaster for pushing the final button that removed said sibling from the face of earth, even though they have voluntarily done it… So much, so much… until everything hit home.

Then you regretted, huh?

Shut up. Stop asking me. I really don’t know.

You must have. You should have. Aww, too bad. You can’t change anything now. All will be futile.

Shut up.

Hmm…? So you think you’ve control, right? How interesting. Since when has the wee little kitty became master? Hmm…?

Stop it.

Wash it off as you may. But I’ll stay. I’ll always be here, whether you like it or not, my kitten. I’m always here.

I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know!

The voice never stopped. He never did. He never will. Even in this sanctuary secluded from the rest of the world, far, far away from him… There is no escape. There was never an escape. The sun could shine as brightly as it wanted, and the waves could splash and clasp with the horizon as it pleased, those people could smile and laugh and cry all they want, but none of that matters. The dark will continue to creep up into me, until its malevolence has had me suffocated, and taken over my empty shell completely. No matter how you fight it, no matter how much hope you hold against its sour, black face…

God. This is so unfair.

I really don’t know.


 

May 2017

 

“... We’ve been trying to locate them for a while now, and so far there’s only… Indeed, we’re all on high alert here. The kid may seem harmless, but God knows what they could’ve done to him. We’ll be keeping watch. Close monitor… Yes, Madam. Hasn’t been able to speak. Probably out of shock and trauma, seeing as the vocal cords are perfectly fine… It may take a good while before he could get on his feet though. Literally. They crushed it pretty bad. Didn’t want to miss any chances, seems like… Yeah, as expected, sure, but he can’t be over 14. That’s just too cruel… Sure, Madam. I’ll see to it.”

Five hundred seventy nine.

Five hundred seventy nine days since they took me. One day since I’ve seen the light, in five hundred seventy eight.

The light mesmerises me. I never knew that someone could be so glorious, so alluring, and yet so repulsive and scorching, all at once. I would rather have it off, I’d rather stay in the dark. That’s what I’ve learnt to know and be accustomed to. I can hate it with all that I have left but nothing changes the fact that the dark, with its horrid voices and red, red omens, will always give more comfort than any source of brightness. I cannot choose to return to the life I once knew. The dark, the blood, has been ingrained in my guilty conscience. Oh God. I’ve done so much wrong. I’ve wandered so far away lost and alone and in fear that I cannot possibly ever find my way back. I am a sinner. A monster. Undeserving of all this… all this… GOD I DON’T KNOW!

Why hadn’t they left me to burn in the pits of hellfire in the midst of that burning shack, in that aftermath of self destruction? They say they act in mercy and hope. Do they know saving me would just foster the despair? The darkness is in me, it is a carcinogen corroding my soul day by day by day. Five hundred seventy nine had passed. It’s only a matter of time before I give into it. I cannot control myself. I cannot know how.

“Oh, you’re awake, Shikiba-san,” It was the voice outside. Soft, high-pitched, yet with a strange calmness to it. You would think it came from a little girl, but that cannot be further from the truth. That was the voice of the hospital quarter’s errand boy with dark curly hair. The son of one of the nurses, roughly my age, with a strange affection for all sorts of weird things, as far as I’ve heard. Some people say he would never hurt a fly, even going to the point of letting those insects breed in the iron hut on the balcony, leading to a brief quarantine in the early Tragedy days. This entire morning alone was filled with his boasts of having a cockroach taxidermy collection hidden somewhere in the headquarters. I wanted to gag, but ran out of the strength to long ago. I have lost the ability to be fazed, save by the light.

“I’m really not sure what would be the gentlemanly thing to do, but I hope this could make you feel better,” the boy deadpanned in a tranquilising manner, holding out his palm. On the top were three red pills. So red, almost scarlet, like…

God. Please. No.

“Shikiba-san, is there something wrong? Is it something I said? Oh jeepers, I’m terribly sorry. That’s must be very uncivilised of me. Still, please, I swear, taking these will make you better.”

This voice. The near-indifference, the reassuring quality, it…

No. Wake up. They’re gone now. You’re not going back. Never again. You’re safe now. Safe. You know that word?

No, you don’t. And you never will again. Can you hear me?

Who are you?

Who do you think I am, kitten?

I— I don’t—

Right. Of course you don’t know. You cannot know. But I’ll be here. Always here. Like a good Master.

Shut up.

Being defiant now, aren’t you? You think you’re far away now that those stupid hopemongers have found you, no? But Despair will always win. You know that. Soon. Soon you’ll be back. And I’ll always be here. I’m always here for the good little kitty who brings home the fattest rats and poisons their runts. You cannot choose. It is all made to be, kitten.

Stop. Stop stop stop stop stop—

“Shikiba-san? Is everything alright? Are you crying? Did you remember something? Is there anything I can do to help? Oh no, have I spoken too much? I must be making you very uncomfortable! I… I’m sorry for being so uncivilised… Please let me help you… here, have a napkin— and please, please take these—”

“These pills won’t work.”

“Huh?!” His face went white. He’s nearly squeaking. Lost it. How adorable.

“TTP-7630, CMS-2101, SSM-5413, GSD-0948, YNX-2329. Those are the antidotes. Take them to Kimura,” I heaved. My throat is still parched. Too parched to speak the way I’d like to, the way I used to. But it won’t do. I cannot choose.

“... May I ask… May I ask what for?”

“Despair Syndrome 32. L-S7C9. 6D-9B. FBR0. Ryohabara’s Disease. That’s the worst ones around now, right?” Right. And I should know. “You have no reason to trust me, but you have one shot.”

Here are my babies I must smother. If I did, I should be able to… I should be able to…

Get rid of me? You’re so cute.

Get out.

Upon your death.

Then be it.

All talk.

Shut up.

“I’ll take it then, Shikiba-san,” the boy bowed courteously, and began to scurry away. Then he stopped dead. “But what about you? You need treatment too. Do you have any medicine of your—”

“AOL-1229. That should do the job.”

“Shikiba-san, that’s poison! I can’t give it to you!”

Smart. How adorable.

Too bad I have no choice.

“Then I’m not taking anything. It is only fair.”

Oh, naïve kitty. Life is never fair.

Shut up.