This is what she deserved.
After decades of agony, fighting and hoping for an end to the cycle, she finally realized that a happy ending was not what she was here for.
She was meant to suffer like this.
She was meant to watch them die.
After the sins she committed, of course she’d deserve it.
As the new world began, an entity looked down at her, its eyes filled with sorrow. It knew how helpless it was.
The shards of fate shifted, and she prepared herself to be whisked into another world with its own story, fate and tragedy.
Perhaps, this new Hinamizawa would surprise her.
“Fueee! I broke my drumstick!”
The music came to a sudden stop as Kanon cried out, and everybody’s heads turned curiously to see what situation had arisen. Sure enough, the blue-haired drummer was looking in dismay at the pair of drumsticks in her hands, one of them snapped in half.
“Waah! You really did!” Hagumi blinked in shock, “That’s too bad, I guess.”
“Ahh...how embarrassing…” Kanon’s cheeks tinted red and her eyes grew slightly glassy. Kaoru, who had walked up beside her, put a supportive hand on Kanon’s shoulder and chuckled.
“No need to be ashamed, dearest kitten. It just means that your playing was so fierce and full of life that your drumsticks couldn’t take it.” She twirled a lock of hair around her finger as she sighed, “So admirable, and very fleeting.”
“You’ll need to get a whole new pair, won’t you..” Kokoro frowned in disappointment, “And we can’t practice any longer either, can we?”
“Now don’t frown, sunny one.” Kaoru smiled in reassurance, “There’s a music shop around here, no? We can just take a stop down there and start practicing again tomorrow.”
“This town has a music shop?” Misaki asked in surprise. She was new to the small town of Hinamizawa, and since it was in a more remote part of Japan, she wasn’t really expecting there to be a place like a music store. Though if this sleepy hollow could host an odd lot of people like Misaki’s bandmates, there was sure to be plenty of surprises.
In fact, Misaki’s life had begun to have many surprises as soon as she moved to Hinamizawa. Beforehand, Misaki was a typical city girl who was just bored of life. She had no true bonds with any of her classmates, so moving schools was much easier than one would think. Misaki also had no extracurriculars or hobbies except for felting every now and again. She had no siblings so she pretty much spent all day at home, her nose buried in a book or eyes glued to a television show. It wasn’t until Misaki moved to Hinamizawa that her life had become so much more vibrant, which was ironic since it was a seemingly boring old town.
It had all began when she was dragged into an odd lot of friends as a DJ for their band. It was called Hello Happy World, and the band’s goal was to make the whole world smile. Misaki initially thought it was child's play, for the goal of “making the whole world smile” seemed to be incredibly cheesy and stupid, but it soon grew to be far more than that. Misaki went from just winging it to taking her DJing seriously, and every member of the band -- Kokoro, Hagumi, Kanon and Kaoru -- grew more and more as musicians. Soon the band had noticeable talent, and even held a few concerts in the town. Their bonds as friends grew as well, and soon Misaki found herself far more in love with life now that she had these bandmates with her.
It was only six months, but Misaki was very thankful that she moved to Hinamizawa.
“There’s a music shop down the street from here, I believe…” Kanon twiddled with her now broken drumstick.
“Let’s all go together then.” Kokoro declared. Everybody agreed unanimously.
The group of five left Kanon’s basement and made way to the music shop, all of them chatting away about various subjects and events throughout the day. Misaki was not much of a chatterbox, but she always found herself talking more around Hello Happy World than anybody else she knew. It was like the band was a different kind of home for her, one where Misaki could be goofy, loud and a simple teenager without the worry of judgement. It all made her time with these friends incredibly special.
The music shop was indeed close to Kanon’s house, and the group was able to find a new pair of drumsticks for Kanon in no time, though not without raiding the entirety of the store first.
Hagumi had a desire to test out every single bass the store held, while Kaoru found herself immersed in the classical music CDs, declaring to the shop owner how “angelically fleeting” each song was. Everybody knew that Kaoru actually preferred pop music to anything classical, though no one said a word. It became the unspoken rule to let Kaoru do her own thing, even if it embarrassed herself.
After spending a good hour bothering the store and its employees, Misaki finally brought it to the band's attention that the sun was setting and everybody should make their way home before it got dark. To the shop owner’s relief, everybody agreed.
“Goodbye, guys! I’ll see you all tomorrow!” Kokoro beamed at her friends and then ran off in the direction of her home, Hagumi close behind. The two lived with each other, so they were practically inseparable, always walking to and from school together and constantly glued to each other’s sides.
Kanon and Misaki’s homes were on the same path, so they often walked to and from school together as well -- occasionally taking a detour to walk with Kaoru. This time, however, Kaoru decided to walk on home by herself.
“It was lovely to be with you guys today,” Kaoru smiled handsomely at Misaki and Kanon, “Until next time, little kittens.” With a flip of her hair, the taller girl walked off as Kanon and Misaki waved goodbye.
“Welp, I guess we should head home too.” Misaki looked over at Kanon, who seemed to have something on her mind. Her eyes were wandering off, and her lips were puckered.
“Kanon-san?” Misaki waved her hand in the other girl’s face to get her attention, “Something up?”
“Ah! Sorry…” Kanon’s face flushed a little in surprise, “I was just kindof wanting to go somewhere…”
“I don’t mind going with you,” Misaki smiled, if she was being honest she didn’t want the fun to be over just yet, “Where is it at? Is it far?”
Kanon’s eyes instantly sparkled and she hastily shook her head, “Oh no, not far at all! It’s right this way, actually!”
“Aah, Kanon, wait--!” Misaki hastily picked up her pace to go after Kanon, who had quickly walked off to go wherever she was planning. Wherever it was must have had her very excited, which made Misaki quite curious. Kanon was shy, but generally cheerful. Despite this, it was rare to see Kanon get as giddy as this before.
As the pair walked, the sun began to sink lower and lower beneath the green mountains, and the summer’s heat began to dwindle. The path Misaki and Kanon were taking also grew more remote from the town, which made Misaki’s curiosity spike even more. Perhaps they were going to a nice creek in the woods? Or a special abandoned building?
When they arrived, Misaki wasn’t quite expecting to end up at a garbage dump.
“Hm?” The drummer tilted her head innocently
“Do you want to tell me why you brought me all the way out to this garbage dump?”
“Fueee!” Kanon blushed and averted her eyes, clearly embarrassed, “It's an old construction site...i-it’s not strange, is it? I just like to go looking around at the different things people dropped by here, you know? Sometimes you can find some really cool stuff…”
“You think I’m weird, don’t you? Aaah, I’m sorry…”
“N-no I don’t think you’re weird ,” Misaki stammered and put a hand on Kanon’s shoulder in an attempt to calm her down, “I guess I just wouldn’t expect a girl like you to be doing stuff like this, that’s all.”
“A-ah…” Misaki’s words seemed to slightly reassure the shorter girl, and she sighed, “Yeah, I guess it would be a bit surprising, haha.” She smiled at Misaki sheepishly, then looked back at the vast wasteland piled with various items, mainly pieces of wood, cardboard, metal, rubble and an occasional old toy or broken down car. After examining the scene a bit more, Misaki could kind of understand why somebody would want to go exploring here. There were enough scraps to build a cool fort or create some fun contraption. Suddenly, Misaki wondered if anybody else in Hello Happy World would want to come out here. Kokoro and Hagumi would definitely find lots of entertainment down there.
“You can stay here, Misaki-chan! I’m gonna go look around.” Kanon said before swiftly jumping down and around the rubble leading into the trash dump. Misaki watched as the drummer gazed around, looking in cardboard boxes and peaking under boards of wood.
“Initially I thought she was one of the more normal ones, but I’m starting to doubt that…” Misaki chuckled to herself and took a seat on the dirt ground.
Some time passed by and Misaki’s mind began to drift off, thinking about this and that. For a moment Misaki wanted to join Kanon on her little scavenger hunt, but she seemed to be quite in the zone and Misaki didn’t want to bother her.
When Misaki’s eyes began to wander, she caught sight of a figure walking towards her. It seemed to be one of a younger woman, probably in her early 20s. She appeared to be carrying a camera.
Despite her better judgement, Misaki observed the lady snap a few pictures. It didn’t take long for her to notice that she was being watched. The woman looked over at Misaki, froze for a moment, and then gave a friendly wave. Awkwardly, Misaki gave a small wave back, but instantly stiffened when she saw the lady lift up her camera in Misaki’s direction.
I-is she taking a photo of me?
Misaki kinda sat there with her hand half raised, not knowing what to do. She may be good with her friends, but other than that Misaki was quite awkward. Her heart dropped when she saw the lady lower her camera and walk in Misaki’s direction.
She’s coming over here, isn’t she. Godamnit, that was so awkward, how the hell am I supposed to know what to say?! Misaki’s mind rushed and her ears grew hot as the lady got closer and closer. Soon Misaki could make out her face. It wore a friendly smile.
“Hello! Are you from Hinamizawa?” The woman asked once she approached Misaki.
“Y-yes...um, shouldn’t you ask before you take pictures of people?”
The woman giggled, “Ah, sorry about that! I was just messing with you. I usually only take pictures of birds.”
“Anyways, my name is Hazawa Tsugumi. I don’t live here, but I come here often to take photos of the wildlife and stuff. I’m pretty familiar with the locals here, so I’m guessing you’re new?”
Misaki nodded, “Mhm. I moved here a few months ago.”
“Ah! Well it’s very nice to meet you.” Tsugumi grinned. Misaki attempted to smile back, though the awkward vibes were still there, and it was making Misaki’s skin crawl.
“Misaki-chan!” A voice called from behind the pair, they both looked back to see Kanon waving from the bottom of the dump, “Sorry for making you wait! I’ll be done in a little bit!”
“Soon I’ll be saved…” Misaki muttered under her breath, thankfully quiet enough so the photographer couldn’t hear.
“Oh, somebody else was with you?” Tsugumi’s eyebrows raised in surprise, “What is she doing down there?”
“Beats me.” Misaki shrugged, “For all I know she could be checking a dead body she chopped up or something.”
Some silence followed.
It wasn’t the same awkward silence Misaki experienced with the woman earlier, rather it was a much more heavy silence. A certain feeling began to permeate the air, though Misaki couldn’t tell why. Perhaps her sarcastic joke was a little too morbid?
Misaki opened her mouth to apologize, but Tsugumi spoke before her.
“It was awful what they did to that man…”
A heavy, sinking feeling settled in Misaki’s chest, and she quickly became aware of the nighttime chilliness that creeped over the summer’s heat.
“They weren’t able to find one of his arms, right? And one of the killers is still loose…” Tsugumi’s brown eyes focused on the ground as she frowned, “How morbid.”
Just what the hell is she talking about?
“Wait, what exactly—“ Misaki planned to request context for what the photographer had just said, but Kanon’s voice cut her off.
“Misaki-chan, I’m back!”
The teenager whipped her head around to see Kanon standing there, a bit of dust on her summer skirt, but she was beaming nonetheless.
“Oh! Since your friend is back, I should probably get going.” Tsugumi gave a friendly smile to Kanon, who grinned back. The exchange was natural, so Misaki guessed that they were already familiar with each other.
“Bye, Tsugumi-san!” Kanon remarked as the woman made her way back up the dirt path. Misaki stared after her, mind still churning.
What exactly was Tsugumi talking about?
Why did she assume that Misaki already knew?
The heaviness in Misaki’s chest started to sink.
“Is everything alright?” Kanon asked, concern swimming in her eyes. She looked at Misaki long and hard — long enough to where it felt a tad abnormal.
“Yeah, everything is good.” Misaki shook off the strange feeling and focused her attention on her friend, “Did you find anything down there?”
Kanon’s eyes lit up and she gave an enthusiastic nod, “Mhm! I found this cute plastic jelly fish…hmmm…” The girl’s lips pursed and her eyes furrowed, clearly showing some distress.
“What’s wrong?” Misaki asked.
Kanon let out a woeful sigh, “I found this cute jellyfish toy, but it’s stuck underneath these large beams of wood. I couldn’t get to it.”
“Ah, I see…” Misaki felt a little pang in her heart when she saw Kanon frown. She resembled a disappointed puppy who had just lost its toy. In a way, it was pretty cute.
“Well, if you want I can help you dig it out tomorrow?”
Kanon looked at Misaki in surprise, “You’d do that?”
“Duh,” Misaki smiled, “You’re my friend, are you not? I’ll help you out.”
Kanon’s surprised expression turned into a gentle but beaming smile. She giggled happily, “That’d be wonderful, Misaki-chan.”
“It’s a plan then.” Misaki grinned back at her friend, then glanced out at the field of trash.
“Say Kanon-san,” Misaki asked after a bit of thinking, “Was there anything big that happened here in the past?”
“Something big…? Hmmm…” Kanon rested her hand on her chin as she thought.
“Oh, there was a period of time where they were planning to build a dam here.”
Misaki’s eyebrows raised in surprise, “Oh, is that so?”
Kanon nodded, “Yeah, the whole city would have been flooded. People didn’t like that, so through lot’s of protesting and fighting the dam plan was scrapped. Nowadays it’s called the Dam War.”
“Dam War, huh…” Sounds pretty dramatic.
But suddenly, Misaki began to think.
“…During this dam war, did any kind of accidents happen?”
Kanon blinked, “Accidents?”
“Yeah, like somebody getting hurt during a riot, or somebody getting k—“
Misaki’s brows furrowed.
“Nothing? But I heard—“
“Fuee, I’m sorry, Misaki-chan.” Kanon suddenly gave Misaki a sheepish look, “I only moved here a year ago, so I don’t know that much…”
“Aah, that’s okay, Kanon-san. Don’t worry about it.” Misaki gave Kanon a quick pat on the shoulder, “How about we head home? It’s pretty dark out right now.”
Kanon grinned and nodded, “Mhm! Sounds like a plan.”
Hinamizawa only had one school, therefore it had children of all ages. At first Misaki wasn’t very familiar with it, but she soon adjusted and began to enjoy her cozy school. The teacher was gentle and kind, and Misaki enjoyed helping out the younger students with their learning. Since all of Hello Happy World was the oldest, many of the younger kids looked up to them. Kanon and Misaki were the only ones who genuinely helped with the education, however. Kokoro and Hagumi spent more time playing with the children, while Kaoru was there to simply fascinate the children. They thought she was the coolest in the world with her poetry and words of wisdom — all of which Kaoru didn’t actually understand.
Sometimes after school, Kaoru would host “reading sessions'' with the younger kids. The guitarist would perform a dramatic reading of a book of the childrens’ choice. It was something the kids loved; even Hagumi and Kokoro would sit down to hear Kaoru dramatically read The Tortoise and the Hare or Where the Wild Things Are. Misaki was obviously far too old for something like childrens’ books, but she would hang out in the classroom to hear Kaoru read nonetheless. Kanon would join her and giggle at Kaoru getting into character while the kids’ eyes would shine with fascination.
Today was one of those days where Kaoru would read to the children, and as usual Misaki sat herself at a desk in the far back of the room, half paying attention and half wandering in her own thoughts. She thought about what she had been told last night.
Apparently there was a murder here. A gruesome one.
It wouldn’t bother Misaki so much, as murders were something that happened everywhere, but something about what she learned felt...off. For some reason Misaki felt like she shouldn’t have learned such information, or that somebody didn’t want her to know.
“A toy jellyfish? I guess that’s why Kanon ran off so fast…”
“She thought it was cute, though if I’m being honest I wouldn’t expect a jellyfish to fall into the ‘adorable’ category.”
Kanon had ran on ahead to the dam construction site as soon as school ended. Misaki and Kaoru trailed on behind, idly chatting away.
“Ah, about that construction site,” Misaki began, “Was there anything that happened down there?”
“Well…” Kaoru’s eyes wandered off as she began to think, “There was supposed to be a dam built there, which was met by a lot of protest by the villagers.”
“Mhm, I heard about that.” Misaki nodded her head.
“If it weren’t for us uniting like that, then Hinamizawa would be underwater by now.” Kaoru smiled to herself, “It is a fleeting story of our village coming together.”
“I can imagine.” Misaki deadpanned. If only Kaoru could drop her habit of throwing the word “fleeting” into every sentence.
“Also,” Misaki looked at Kaoru as the question came to mind, “Were there any violent crimes that happened because of the protesting and stuff?”
Kaoru’s walking became a bit slower.
“Like, an assault or murder?”
Kaoru had stopped walking and was looking at Misaki with her usual, handsome smile. Though the smile seemed almost too natural. Like it was meant to deceive.
“I-I see.” Misaki stammered, a tad confused. She’d understand Kanon not knowing much about the Dam War since she wasn’t even in Hinamizawa when it happened, but...Kaoru should know, right?
Maybe a murder didn’t actually happen in Hinamizawa. Perhaps Tsugumi was mentioning something else.
“Well, it seems that this is where we part.” Kaoru’s voice stopped Misaki’s thoughts.
“Ah, I guess it is.”
“Farewell then, little kitten.” Kaoru winked, “Until next time.”
When Misaki arrived at the construction site, Kanon was already there, struggling to lift a chunk of wood. Misaki couldn’t help but smile at the sight. Kanon was willing to work so hard just to get an old toy out of a trash dump. Misaki found the determination both admirable and cute.
“Kanon-san!” Misaki called out from the top of the pit. Kanon’s head whisked around and her eyebrows raised. She grinned when she saw Misaki.
“Ah, Misaki-chan! Hello!” She called back. Misaki made her way down the pit to meet Kanon, climbing down old concrete and metal beams. While the construction site was pretty cool, it could also be a huge safety hazard. Misaki felt slight anxiety as she took each step down.
“So, where is this jellyfish thing?” Misaki asked as she reached the bottom. Kanon pointed at a little opening within a stack of wood beams and metal.
“It’s in there. I tried to reach in the hole to get it out, but it’s too far in…”
Misaki walked up and attempted to reach her arm in the opening. Perhaps her arms would be long enough to take out this toy so the pair wouldn’t have to do much work. She reached and reached, but the most Misaki could muster was touching the end of the toy with a single finger.
“Damn,” Misaki huffed, “It’s really stuck down there, huh.”
“Fuee…” Kanon sighed, her expression losing hope. Misaki couldn’t have that.
“Ah, it’s okay! I can get it out, I just need some kind of saw or axe…”
Suddenly, Kanon’s eyes lit up.
“Misaki-chan, just hang tight, okay? I’ll be right back.”
Misaki cocked her head, confused. Before she could ask anything, Kanon immediately ran off, hastily making her way out of the pit.
“Just off with no explanation, huh…” Misaki sighed, but didn’t bother to go after Kanon. If she wasn’t back in thirty minutes, Misaki could assume that she was lost and would then start searching for her.
Misaki stood there, not quite knowing what to do to pass time. Perhaps she could explore, but she couldn’t go far. Misaki didn’t want to get herself hurt. Lord knows what stuff was stuck down here.
She gazed around and even peaked in some old boxes or behind a lump of concrete. After snooping around a bit Misaki couldn’t find anything worthy of being entertaining. She sighed and just sat down on the ground.
As her eyes wandered, she spotted a dusty old pile of newspapers.
“Well, it’s not like anything else here is worthy of my time.” Misaki shrugged and walked over to the stack. The newspapers seemed to be in fairly good condition, and must have been dumped there recently. Despite being in good shape the dates on the newspapers read to be from several years ago. Interesting enough, Misaki thought.
“It was awful what they did to that man…”
If there was a murder that happened here, perhaps Misaki could see something about it in these newspapers?
Misaki picked up a random one from about four years ago and flipped through the pages. It all seemed pretty boring to her. Politics, a robbery, ads for small businesses in the area….
Then Misaki picked up another one.
HINAMIZAWA DAM WORKER LYNCH DEATH
Misaki felt her heart drop.
A murder actually happened here. And it was recent, too.
But Kanon and Kaoru both said nothing happened.
“Nightmare tragedy at Hinamizawa Dam…” Misaki read to herself, “Lynched and hacked to pieces. They beat the victim with hatchets and pickaxes in cold blood. Further, they cut the corpse in six parts with an axe…”
This was the same murder Tsugumi was talking about.
“Not all parts of the body have been found, and one of the murderers is still on the loose…” Misaki murmured the words on the newspaper, a pit growing in her chest. It was the exact same murder Tsugumi was talking about, to the very last detail. Furthermore, it happened in Hinamizawa during a major event that both Kanon and Kaoru knew about.
“Could it be that they lied?”
As Misaki murmured the question, a loud cry of the evening cicadas filled the air. Accompanied by the slowly setting sun and the gradually cooling temperature, a skin crawling chilliness took over her body. The cicadas cried louder.
The atmosphere served as a warning. A warning for Misaki to turn back, that she had stepped into forbidden territory. The territory of something sinister, but far closer to Misaki than she would think.
The sun sunk deeper behind the Hinamizawa mountains, and Misaki sat frozen in the trance of the cicada’s summer song.
The entire world stopped when Misaki heard a loud bang behind her.
She yelped and whisked around at such a speed that her back hit the ground. She looked up to see Kanon holding a giant axe.
“Fuee!” Kanon gasped and immediately dropped the chopping tool, “Misaki-chan, are you alright?”
“You scared the shit out of me!” Misaki shouted, which made Kanon flinch. Instant guilt washed over Misaki and she inhaled deeply.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to yell. I’m okay.”
“Ah, that’s good.” Kanon loosened up a bit, “It wasn’t my intention to freak you out like that.”
“No worries, no worries.” Misaki sighed and got to her feet, “Now, how about we get that toy for you, hm?”
Kanon looked at Misaki in a strange way. On the surface it seemed to be a mere smile, but something more was lurking in those eyes...like Misaki was being examined. The uneasy feeling stuck with Misaki as she chopped away at the wood and dug out the toy jellyfish. The whole time Kanon watched, but it felt like Kanon was observing more than just Misaki at work. She was examining her demeanor, each word she spoke, her mannerisms, each time she glanced around or accidentally made eye contact. Kanon was watching it all. It made Misaki feel cold.
“What the hell is a Cotton Drifting Festival?”
“We take the cotton from old kimonos or worn out blankets, thank them, and then hold a memorial service down stream!” Kokoro chirped and took a bite of her food. It was lunch time, and Hello Happy World was eating at their routine location in the back of the classroom.
“That…” Misaki furrowed her brows, “That sounds pretty boring if I’m being honest.”
Kaoru shook her head, “Nonsense. It is a very romantic ceremony.”
“Plus,” Hagumi perked up, “They have lots of games and food like any other festival would! It’s very fun!”
“Kokoro is performing a dance there, too.” Said Kanon, “She’s been practicing for the past month. We’ll all be there to support her!”
“Ah,” Misaki smiled at Kokoro, “I guess I can’t miss it then, huh?”
Kokoro beamed, “It’d mean a lot if you could come, Misaki!”
“I guess I’ll be there then.”
As Misaki was told, the festival was far more entertaining than it initially sounded. There was a wide array of booths with different games and treats for the band to enjoy. Kokoro had to prepare for her performance, so Kaoru was the ringleader of the group of four. All the way until sunset, the teenagers raided every stand, playing games and stuffing themselves with the various treats the stands had to offer.
At sunset, Kokoro was to perform a dance at a ceremony. This was all new to Misaki, so she was not quite sure what to expect. Part of her was a little worried for Kokoro -- she was quite an eccentric person and was known for pulling surprises in just about any situation.
But much to Misaki’s surprise, the dance went smoothly. It was the most graceful and reserved version of Kokoro she had seen. She was dressed in a miko’s dress and carried what seemed like a fancy version of a rake. The crowd watched as she twirled around and raked out a blanket of cotton, which would later be used for the cotton drifting ceremony.
“Did I do okay?” Kokoro asked as the group made their way down to the river.
“You were so pretty, Kokoron!” Hagumi chirped, “I wish I could be graceful like that!”
“It was a fleeting dance, Kokoro-chan. You were as beautiful as the sun setting above. It was wonderful.” Kaoru said in her usual poetics. Misaki rolled her eyes, but smiled.
“Yeah, you did good, Kokoro. Nice job.”
The actual cotton drifting was simple enough. People would take wads of cotton and drift them down the river. It wasn’t necessarily entertaining, but Kaoru was right when she said it was a romantic setting. The cotton floating down the river reminded Misaki of stars twinkling in the night sky. She also liked the quietness of the atmosphere. It was calm and peaceful, resembling the nature of Hinamizawa.
“The cotton is supposed to absorb all of the bad energy from your body,” Kanon explained at the river bank, “After that, you just throw the cotton into the water.”
“Ah, makes sense I guess.” Misaki responded as she watched Kanon drop her own wad of cotton into the water.
Later on, Misaki somehow ended up losing not just Kanon but all of Hello Happy World. She had no idea how, they were all in the same area. They seemed to have wandered off without letting Misaki know. She felt a little agitated, but this was honestly nothing new. The band would always wander off to pursue their usual wild shenanigans, and Misaki just couldn’t keep up. Misaki assumed they were just probably back at the main center of the festival.
As she made her way back up the river, Misaki caught sight of a familiar face accompanied but somebody else.
That’s...Tsugumi? And she seems to be with another person as well…
“Ah, Misaki-chan! Hello!” Tsugumi seemed to have noticed Misaki’s staring. Not knowing what else to do, she walked towards the photographer and her companion.
“You were with your group of friends during the whole festival, no?” Tsugumi asked as Misaki lessened the distance between them, “Where are they at?”
“Uh, we kinda got split up.” Misaki shrugged, glancing at the unfamiliar face next to Tsugumi. She had green eyes and short, grey hair. She was smiling at Misaki with an expression that almost appeared smug.
“Misaki-chan, is it?” The other woman finally spoke, slightly startling Misaki, “Nice to meet you. Did you enjoy the festival?”
“I guess.” Misaki replied, awkwardness sneaking into her tone.
Who is this person? She weirds me out…
“Were you able to become part of Hinamizawa?” the lady asked.
“Um..I guess. Though there seems to be a lot I don’t really know.”
“Like what?” Asked Tsugumi.
“I guess about the dam construction and stuff…” Misaki thought back to Kanon and Kaoru’s strange behaviour when she asked for details about the Dam War, “Hinamizawa was almost underwater, so it must’ve been a huge incident, huh.”
Tsugumi nodded, “Mhm. It turns out that there was some scandal and corruption discovered during the protests. Once that was figured out, the dam construction plans got cancelled.”
“I see…” Misaki murmured.
“There was also a dismemberment murder, right?” Misaki asked suddenly. Something felt like asking about this was a bad idea, but she had this uneasy feeling about this murder ever since she saw Kanon and Kaoru’s reactions to it being mentioned. They denied it, and yet one definitely happened. Why did they want to hide it from Misaki so badly?
“There was.” Tsugumi nodded, her expression growing solemn, “It was about four years ago, this time of year. It was during the Cotton Drifting Festival, too.”
“It seems the elders didn’t doubt that it was the works of Oyashiro-sama’s curse.” the other woman said suddenly. Misaki raised an eyebrow.
“Ah, you see," Tsugumi said, "Oyashiro-sama is the guardian god of this village. People believed that it was punishing the dam construction planning to submerge Hinamizawa.”
“Since the dismemberment murder, it’s happened every year.” The grey haired lady said.
"What do you mean ‘it happened’?” Misaki asked.
Tsugumi glanced at her companion, then narrowed her eyes and looked back at Misaki, “Every year, somebody dies on the day of the Cotton Drifting Festival.”
“Every year?!” Misaki’s gasped, not expecting Tsugumi to give such a response.
Tsugumi nodded, “There’s a pattern too, you see. Each year the person who dies is somehow related to the dam construction.”
“The first victims were a part of the family who was in support of the dam. They fell off a cliff while on vacation and drowned in the water.” Tsugumi’s friend began, “They found the corpse of the husband, but his wife’s body was never found.”
“The next year on the night of the festival, a shrine priest suddenly died of an unknown illness. His wife drowned herself in a swamp the same night. They never found her body as well.”
“And then last year…” Tsugumi continued, “A housewife whose family was in support of the dam construction was found beaten to death. They never found the culprit.”
“It seems like whenever somebody dies, another person disappears…” Misaki murmured, not really knowing how to feel. She didn’t know whether or not she should believe that this was legit. Sure, the deaths might have happened, but them all happening on the same night must be a coincidence. People die every day all the time...there’s no way such a silly curse could exist like that. Not in a town as relaxed as Hinamizawa.
“Bingo!” Said the weird lady, “You’re pretty smart, aren’t you?”
Misaki just gave the woman a look and then glanced over at Tsugumi, who seemed completely used to this woman’s behavior.
“I’d stay safe tonight, Misaki-chan.” Said Tsugumi, “No telling what might happen. Keep an eye on your friends, too. Make sure they aren’t up to anything that’s no good.”
Misaki thought of Kanon and Kaoru.
Could they be up to something “no good” tonight?
That’s stupid. They’re both so innocent. Misaki shook off the absurd thought, They couldn’t hurt a fly, let alone plan a murder.
But still, Misaki felt uneasiness throughout the rest of the night, even when continuing to enjoy the festival with Hello Happy World. She couldn’t help but keep an eye on Kanon and Kaoru, monitoring their actions and checking for any strange behavior.
If they wanted to hide the murders from Misaki, it meant that they knew something. What that information was Misaki didn’t know, but when she thought back to Kanon’s eyes gazing at her at the dam construction sight, Misaki could tell that it was something not good.
The next morning carried on with Misaki’s usual routine. She walked to school with Kanon and Kaoru and met Hagumi with Kokoro along the way. Once they got into the classroom, Misaki took a seat at her desk. It was then that she noticed the hushed whispers of the children around her.
“..It was on the same night.”
“They couldn’t find the other woman, right?”
“Ah—“ Misaki snapped out of her trance to see Kanon looking right at her, concern and curiosity on her face.
“You were scowling. Is something the matter?”
Misaki shook her head, “Mm-mm. Nothing is wrong.”
Though that was a complete lie.
“Oh, okay…” Kanon said, though she looked unconvinced, “Anyways, Sensei is asking to speak with you.”
Sure enough, the teacher did want to speak with Misaki, but it wasn’t for what she’d expect. The teacher quietly led Misaki out of the classroom and down the hallway to the school’s exit. Standing there was a young woman with long, grey hair. Her eyes were a golden yellow, and her expression seemed oddly plain and void of any real emotion. Misaki could feel her eyes watch as she got closer to the woman.
“Uh…you asked for me?” Misaki asked awkwardly as she came face to face with the woman.
All of a sudden, she reached into her pocket and pulled out a police badge. Misaki’s heart lurched.
“I’m Minato Yukina. Would you please come outside with me to talk?” The woman asked. Misaki nodded silently. At the approval, the police officer made her way out of the school building, Misaki trailing behind.
“You can relax, you’re not in trouble.” Yukina said as the pair made it outside, a good distance from the school.
“But still, if a police officer wants to talk to me, then something wrong must be going on, right?” Misaki replied. Yukina gave Misaki a look. It was hard to read, though it appeared rather solemn.
“I have a few questions I need to ask you.” The woman began and reached into her back pocket. She pulled out what seemed to be several photos, and faced one of them to Misaki.
It was a photo of Tsugumi.
“Do you recognize this woman?” The police officer asked.
“Y-yes, she’s Hazawa Tsugumi. But what does—“
“How about this lady right here?” The Yukina showed Misaki another photo, this time of the odd short haired lady who was accompanying Tsugumi the night of the Cotton Drifting Festival.
Slowly, Misaki nodded her head, “I recognize her too, but I don’t know her name.” Misaki looked at the officer, “They were both together at the Cotton Drifting Festival last night, and I talked to them a bit as well, but that’s really all.”
“...Were they involved in something?” Misaki asked hesitantly.
Yukina gave Misaki a look that almost seemed to be out of sympathy. She sighed.
“The lady you didn’t recognize is Aoba Moca. Last night she went missing.”
Misaki froze. The whispers if her classmates rang through her head.
“Hazawa Tsugumi, on the other hand, was found dead on the side of the road last night.”
“Dead?” Misaki gasped, trying desperately not to yell, “What do you mean dead?”
The officer blinked, “Dead is dead. Her body was found shortly after the festival ended last night. Her estimated time of death was at around 10pm.”
Yukina looked at Misaki again, this time her eyes full of solemn meaning, “That would be thirty minutes after you talked to her and Aoba Moca last night.”
Misaki stared, her head becoming light. Thirty minutes. She was talking to two people only thirty minutes away from their death and disappearance. Misaki was probably the last member of Hinamizawa that they talked to. The ground beneath Misaki seemed to sway, and suddenly she felt nauseous. She gulped as cold sweat formed on her back.
“I don’t understand…”
“The matters of Tsugumi’s death is quite odd.” Yukina continued, “It seemed she clawed out her own throat, eventually bleeding to death.”
Misaki shuddered as her confusion became more profound. Clawed out her own throat?
“It’s likely due to some kind of drug, though there hasn’t been an autopsy yet.” Yukina said. She put the photos back in her pocket and crossed her arms.
“Now, most of the villagers here will be explaining this as another doing of Oyashiro-sama’s curse…”
“…And honestly I don’t care if you do too. I’m just doing my detective work. Now, I have a few more questions to ask from you…”
Yukina continued to inquire Misaki about various things that had to do with the night of the festival, and Misaki answered, her mind still in a haze. She felt like she was suddenly whisked into a different dimension. A person she knew just died, and another went missing. She was with them only thirty minutes before. What would have happened if Misaki stuck with them longer? Could she have prevented Tsugumi from clawing out her own throat? Could she have known where Moca had disappeared to?
But that was just the small part.
Moca and Tsugumi told Misaki themselves that each year during the Cotton Drifting Festival, a person dies and another one goes missing. This was due to Oyashiro-sama’s curse.
It seems that this year the curse took its rounds once again.
Misaki couldn’t wrap her head around it. She didn’t believe in curses or blessings and all of that stuff. It all made no sense and wasn’t backed by any fact. These deaths had to be a coincidence. There’s no way that there’s an actual god reigning down a curse on the people of this village. It had to just happen by chance. It was all a coincidence.
And yet these coincidences happened five years in a row.
“Thank you for your time, Misaki-san.” Yukina said as she wrapped up the interrogation, “It helps a lot.”
“No problem.” Misaki replied.
“You can head back to your classes now.” Yukina gave Misaki a nod farewell and turned to make her way off.
As Misaki turned around, Yukina suddenly called for her again.
The teenager shifted her head to face the officer.
“Do yourself a favor and don’t tell anybody we talked today.”
Misaki’s eyes narrowed, “But why?”
“You may never know whose involved.”
Familiar faces flashed in Misaki’s mind. She suddenly had the feeling that keeping this meeting a secret was a good idea.
Recess was easily Hello Happy World’s favorite part of the school day, and they were always known for going all out with whichever activity they decide to ensue. Misaki was on the far more relaxed side when it came to actually playing, yet she would gradually find herself getting into things as well. Misaki didn’t discover that she had a competitive or playful side until she played with Hello Happy World.
“Hagumi, you can decide what we get to play today!” Kokoro chirped as the band and the rest of the school kids ran outside. Hagumi’s eyes sparkled with thought as she hummed to herself.
“Mmmm, I kind of want to play some baseball, but do we have any bats?”
“If I recall correctly, there might be one in the closet at the back of the school.” Kaoru remarked.
Misaki groaned, “That sounds like a pain to get out. Maybe we should play something else?”
“Huh? But I really want to play baseball…” Hagumi frowned and her eyes glittered with disappointment. Misaki glanced around and saw the rest of the band wearing the same sullen expression.
“Ugh. I’ll go get it.” Misaki sighed. Everybody’s faces lit up in unison.
It was funny how Misaki was the one who ended up with the task of actually getting the bat. Everybody else was so enthusiastic about playing, shouldn’t they go dig around for that bat instead? Why did Kaoru not offer to help? After all, she was all about pleasing those around her. Misaki huffed to herself, though it was good natured. It’s not like Misaki minded doing these little favors for her friends anyways.
One of the curious things about Misaki’s school was that it had this random closet in the back. It was stuffed with random knick-knacks that had gone unused as the time went by. If somebody lost something, they would usually go back there to find it. In a way, it was similar to the dam construction site that Kanon was so fascinated with.
Misaki was expecting it to take forever for her to find a baseball bat in the closet of junk, but instead it only took a little glance around the room, and there it was. It was placed on the top of an old bookshelf in the back of the closet. Misaki wasn’t exactly tall enough to reach, so she had to jump a little. She was able to snatch the end of the baseball bat and pull it down, but a bunch of the other junk came tumbling down with it.
Misaki swore under her breath and coughed as the objects collapsed around her. Dust fluttered throughout the room. Once the clatter stopped, Misaki looked at the mess she made.
Well, it wasn’t too bad. Only a few things fell, and the closet was messy enough to where Misaki could probably let everything just stay where it was. But her better judgement made her kneel down and begin to pick everything up.
As Misaki was cleaning up, she stumbled across a small, rectangular box that seemed to have fallen when Misaki grabbed for the baseball bat.
Out of curiosity Misaki opened it. What was inside was quite surprising.
It was a pair of drumsticks, one of them with the name “MAYA” engraved in the wood.
“Looks like somebody left their drumsticks here.” Misaki said to herself. She didn’t recognize the name, so whoever these belonged to must have graduated or transferred schools. Still, it was pretty fascinating that there was a student who went here that also did music like Hello Happy World did. Maybe one of her bandmates knew this person before they left. The drumsticks didn’t seem that old, so it was possible.
After a game of baseball and a few more hours of classes, Misaki had the chance to ask Kanon about this Maya person.
“Mhm?” the drummer replied. It was the end of the school day, and she was helping cleaning up by stacking some chairs. Misaki still sat at her desk.
“Do people transfer from here often?”
“Sometimes.” Kanon replied.
“Was one of the students who transferred named Maya?”
Kanon seemed to stop for a moment, but quickly went back to stacking one chair on top of the other.
“I wouldn’t know.”
“What do you mean?” Misaki asked, her eyes narrowing.
Kanon turned to face Misaki and smiled sheepishly, “I transferred here right when she left, so I never really got to talk to her. Sorry.”
Misaki smiled at Kanon reassuringly, “No, it’s fine. I just saw her old drumsticks in that closet earlier today, and I thought it was pretty funny that there was another drummer who went here, that’s all.”
“Ooh, I see.” Kanon raised her eyebrows, “That is a strange coincidence, huh. I wonder if we would have been friends since we share the same hobby.”
Kanon chuckled and Misaki did as well, though she felt uneasy. Twice now Kanon has used her moving to Hinamizawa late as an excuse for not knowing something. First about the dam murder, and now about this transfer student. Misaki already knew Kanon had lied about her knowledge of the dam murder, so could this mean Kanon was hiding her knowledge of this transfer student as well?
But why? This was just some random kid, right?
Part of Misaki wanted to just brush it all off. Kanon was too gentle, too sweet to deceive Misaki. After all, Misaki always felt that her and Kanon had a far more special connection than they had with the rest of the band. Initially they bonded over being the only two in Hello Happy World with common sense, but over time Misaki had developed a sort of softness for Kanon. After all, Kanon was the first one to have an actual conversation with Misaki when she was new to school, understood Misaki’s loneliness, and helped her ease into the craziness of the band. It was because of Kanon’s gentle nature that Misaki could loosen up and truly enjoy her new life in Hinamizawa.
Why would somebody as amazing as that want to deceive and lie to Misaki?
Unless that amazing, sweet girl was part of the deception.
“Kanon…” Misaki began as the two were walking home together.
“Hm?” The shorter girl looked at Misaki questionably.
“You guys aren’t keeping any secrets from me, right?”
Kanon tilted her head, concern filling her eyes, “N-no, never. We would never lie to you, Misaki-chan.”
Misaki pressed her lips together. How badly she wanted to believe it, but…
“I think you’re lying.”
Silence follows. Kanon stops walking. She isn’t looking at Misaki and instead has her eyes focused elsewhere. They were unreadable.
No words were exchanged except for the singing of the crickets and cicadas in the distance. Misaki started to become aware of the air’s humidity, and sweat caused her shirt to stick to her body.
“And what about you, Misaki-chan?” Kanon said suddenly.
“Aren’t you lying and keeping secrets from us as well?”
Do yourself a favor and don’t tell anybody we talked today.
Misaki gulped, “I—“
“Aren’t you lying and keeping secrets from us as well?” Kanon’s voice shifted from soft and sweet to deep and intense. Misaki could feel a sinister rage carefully wrapped up in that voice, delicately held together by Kanon’s slow manner of talking. The summer’s humidity became overbearing, and the cicada’s humming grew steadily louder.
“O-of course I’m not!” Misaki spluttered.
“You’re lying.” Kanon said.
“What makes you think I’d lie?” Misaki tried to not let her voice raise, for it would give away her paranoia, but that task became harder and harder with each accusation Kanon threw at her.
“When Sensei asked to speak with you, she wasn’t the one you were really talking to. You were talking to that other woman, weren’t you?”
“Who was she?” Kanon asked.
“I didn’t know her either.” Misaki looked at the ground.
She was watching us.
“Why would a stranger need you?” Kanon asked.
“I-I wouldn’t know!”
Why would she be watching us?
“Then what were you guys talking about?” Kanon asked.
“N-nothing that had to do with you!”
“Thats a lie!” Kanon screamed, turning to Misaki with her eyes flashing in terrifying fury. Misaki’s blood went cold but she didn’t dare move, not knowing what would happen if she retaliated in any kind of way. The darkest part of Misaki’s mind imagined the worst.
“Just as you have secrets and things you have to hide, we do as well, Misaki-chan.” Kanon said, her voice suddenly back to normal. She looked at Misaki long and hard, her expression appearing gentle but her eyes terrifyingly cold.
Misaki didn’t say a word.
Kanon blinked, and then gave Misaki a warm smile, “Well, this is where I’ll have to go home.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Misaki-chan!” Kanon gave Misaki a friendly wave and casually walked off.
Misaki would normally say her farewells as well, but instead she stood there, cricket chirps and summer cicadas roaring in her ears. The summer’s atmosphere was overwhelming, threatening to swallow Misaki whole.
Just as you have secrets and things you have to hide, we do as well.
Whatever that secret was, Misaki felt like she just got a cruel glimpse of it.
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