Zaregoto - Volume 2 Chapter 8

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ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 5 1


“Wawawawa, it’s Ii-chan!”


Kunagisa Tomo were sitting across from each other, drinking


cola out of cans.


She had Hawaiian-blue hair, the small frame of a child,


and a 100 percent undiluted smile. It was the first time I had


seen her in awhile. Since Golden Week, in fact, so almost a


whole month. But it felt like it had been ages.


It was as if I had returned to where I belonged.


Perhaps this was what they called nostalgia.


“Wawawa, Ii-chan, what happened to your hands? Is it just


me, or did they get a lot fatter?”


“The skin’s hardening. It’s Flictonic Cliple Weber Syndrome.”


“Ooh, I see.”


“No you don’t. Actually, there was a string of various incidents.


Including my face injuries, it’ll be about two weeks


until I’m fully recovered.”


“Hawawaa. Wowee, Ii-chan, cooool. You’re dyn-o-mite,


Ii-chan, yayyy. Did you have a run-in with Nenbutsu no Tetsu


or something?”


“No. Let’s not talk about that guy.” I sat down to join


them, effectively forming an isosceles triangle with myself at


the peak. My eyes shifted towards the object of my fears.


“Hello, Jun-san.”


“What’s up, Main Character?” She grinned, cola in hand.


She looked like she was up to no good, as usual. On the other


hand, she seemed to be in surprisingly high spirits. But


Aikawa-san’s moods changed like mountain weather, so it was


hard to really pass judgment on such things.


“What are you doing in Kunagisa’s top secret headquarters?


Come to find out more about the prowler?”


ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 5 2


“No, no, nothing like that. The prowler thing’s been settled


for the time being.”


“Really?”


“Yup,” she nodded.


“We were just talking about that now, Ii-chan. You wanna


participate too? Three heads are better than two.”


“Nah, not really interested.”


I was lying, though.


Still, I guessed this meant Zerozaki hadn’t gone to America


after all. Maybe Aikawa-san had caught up with him at the


airport and put an end to things once and for all. If so, he had


my condolences. He had had such a gallant departure only to


follow it up with a big flop. That’s just too shameful, Zerozaki


Hitoshiki.


“Hey, Kunagisa-chan,” Aikawa-san said. “Sorry to do this in


your own house, but would you mind leaving us alone for a


moment? I’ve got something to talk to Ii-chan about.”


“Hmm?” Kunagisa said, scratching her head. “Is it a secret


something?”


“Yeah.”


“Hmm. Okay.”


She stood up and tip-tapped out of the room. Most likely


she would head off to some computer in another room and


start working away. Unlike me, whose only way of passing


time was Eight Queens, Kunagisa had a near limitless supply


of methods.


Left alone with Aikawa-san, I was first to speak. “You


know, I can’t help but notice you just kicked Kunagisa out.”


“Indeed I did. You wouldn’t want her to be present when


we’re having a serious talk, would you?” Aikawa-san said unapologetically.


“You ought to be grateful to me. Don’t get so


ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 5 3


angry. Geez, I set Tomo-chan aside for two seconds and you


lose your cool.”


“Then why won’t we just go somewhere else to talk?”


“No can do. I’m a busy woman. Tomorrow I’m needed in


Hokkaido. I’ll be heading there as soon as I leave this place.


To be honest, I wasn’t sure I’d get to see you.”


Just lucky, I guess.


“So . . .” Realizing that there was no way to talk my way


out of anything with this woman, I gave up and encouraged


her to begin. “So what are we talking about this time?”


“First, an update on the Zerozaki case,” she said. “I’m sure


you’re interested to know, right? I won’t let you say you’re


not.”


“Well, as much as the next guy, I guess. But what did you


mean, it’s been ‘settled’?”


“Last night, I finally found that little snot. We had a little


round two.”


“And?”


“We came to a friendly agreement,” she said. “He’ll stop


killing people, and in return, I’ll leave him alone. It’s a


bargain.”


“Is that good enough?”


“Sure. My job was only to stop the Kyouto prowler. Nobody


ever said to catch him. To be honest, I’d rather avoid


getting into a killfest with the ‘Zerozaki Ichizoku’, so this is


good enough for now. For now.”


For now.


I didn’t want to think about the meaning lurking within


those words. This was undoubtedly a domain with which I


didn’t want to get involved.


ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 5 4


“Then I guess that means that at the very least, there won’t


be any more prowling incidents in the city of Kyoto huh?”


“Exactly. And if it hadn’t been for your cooperation, it


never would’ve come to this conclusion, so I suppose I ought


to express my gratitude,” she said, sounding much like an actress.


“Reallyyoudon’tsaythat’sgreatlet’sgogetKunagisa.”


“Hold it right there,” she said, interrupting my attempt to


weasel out of a discussion. “You know, I had a nice little chat


with Hitoshiki-kun . . .”


“You did?”


“I did,” she said, scooting toward me on her knees. “We


talked about you, and you, and you, and you . . . you know,


the usual stuff.”


“That’s creepy.”


That bastard. What had he gone and blabbed to her about?


To Aikawa-san, of all people. Then again, I did the same


thing. Maybe this was what he meant about having “a few


ideas up his sleeve.”


“But you know,” she said, looking truly impressed, “that


was some smart detective work you did. Even I was taken


aback. Who would’ve thought that Aoii Mikoko had killed


Emoto Tomoe before you even left her apartment, and that


her own death was a suicide? I didn’t see that coming at all.”


“Forgive me if this whole speech sounds staged, Jun-san.”


“Don’t get so serious. I have no plans to make enemies


with you. I wanna be your friend, Ii-chan, really. But you


know, I figure I might as well clarify things.”


“What things?”


She didn’t answer right away. She was silent for a while, as


if trying to read my response.


ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 5 5


“The details of this string of incidents,” she eventually said.


“You mean you’re not satisfied with my reasoning again?”


“No, I’ve got no problem with your reasoning. It’s you I’m


not satisfied with. At all.”


“. . . .”


“It sounds like you weaseled your way out of explaining a


few things to Zerozaki, didn’t you?”


“Yes, but they were all little details. Just trivial stuff, stuff


you could explain however you want, or conversely that I


couldn’t even imagine an explanation for. So it doesn’t


really—”


“For example, the reason Aoii Mikoko killed Emoto


Tomoe.”


“Well, that’s . . .”


That was something I hadn’t told Zerozaki. Something I’d


left unexplained.


“Or what about the reason that neckstrap was taken from


the scene of the crime?”


“Well, I . . .”


“And why would an apathetic boy like you go to all the


trouble of making Aoii Mikoko’s suicide look like a homicide,


even if it was requested in her suicide note? But what I really


want to know most is, just how long did you know about


everything?”


. . . .


“You made it sound like you first learned the truth upon


reading Aoii Mikoko’s suicide note, but . . . well, that just


can’t be, now can it?” she said with a grin. “So when?”


I couldn’t muster an answer.


ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 5 6


“As much as I underestimate people, I know you’re pretty


hot stuff,” she said. “I certainly don’t believe you didn’t realize


the truth at all until seeing that suicide note.”


“You’re overestimating me. I’m not that—“


“Well then, shall I provide more concrete evidence? For


example, you said something to Zerozaki along the lines of


‘Seeing the dead body of someone I know isn’t enough to


make me feel sick,’ but it seems to me that that’s not the only


part of the story that wasn’t very you, so to speak.”


“What else is there?” I knew where she was going with this,


but I posed the question anyway. “I don’t have a clue what


you mean.”


“Go back to when you first heard the facts from Sasaki.


She asked you about the phone call you got from Emoto, and


what did you say? That it was definitely Emoto’s voice. That


you never forgot a voice once heard. Or something to that


effect. You’ve brought up your terrible memory any number


of times by now. So how could you be so sure?” She patted


me a couple of times on the shoulder teasingly. “How could


that busted memory of yours possibly confirm such a thing?


You had only met the girl one time, and this was over the


phone, no less. There is no way you could’ve confirmed such a


thing. Don’t you think that’s why Aoii Mikoko thought to use


such a trick in the first place? She was anticipating your lousy


memory. At the very least, there’s no way you could say it was


‘definitely’ her voice.”


“And?”


“And that means you deliberately lied to Sasaki-san. Now


why would you do a thing like that? Well, here’s what I


think—you can’t fake something you don’t know about to


begin with, but you can fake something you do know about.


ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 5 7


When Sasaki came and told you about Emoto’s death, that


was when you realized the truth about Aoii’s trick and that


she was the one who had killed Emoto Tomoe, wasn’t it?”


The cat was essentially out of the bag. There was no point


in staying silent any longer. Before the eyes of this scarlet,


multitalented wonder, such a course of action was more


worthless than worthlessness itself.


“I didn’t really have everything figured out at that point,” I


answered relatively honestly. “I didn’t have any evidence or


anything at that point. It was just a guess. It was just a vague


idea I had, like, ‘It could have happened like this,’ you know?


You certainly couldn’t call it a solid conclusion. But Jun-san,


even supposing that were true, that I had figured everything


out at that point . . . is there some problem with that?”


“Indeed there is. A freaking huge problem. Now, if you told


me you were just lying to cover up a friend, I’d be fine with


that. Anybody would tell a lie if it meant saying a friend. But


the problem here is that Aoii Mikoko wasn’t your friend. Regardless


of how she felt toward you, you didn’t feel anything


toward her. She was just an acquaintance. A classmate. Simply


put—you weren’t covering for her. You were stalling her.”


Stalling.


And for what purpose did I need that extra time?


To reach a decision.


To give, or to take?


“And then on that particular day, you pointed the finger at


her. ‘Can you forgive your own existence?’ Or something like


that.”


“You talk as if you had seen it all yourself. Were you


watching us, by any chance?”


ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 5 8


Come to think of it, hadn’t Aikawa-san said something


about spotting Mikoko-chan and me that Saturday? But what


if she had followed us after that? I may have been able to


detect the deadly Zerozaki or Muimi-chan, the novice of


novices, but I doubted I would’ve noticed if Aikawa-san had


been on our tail.


And yet Aikawa-san denied it. “No, I wasn’t watching you.


But I can at least guess what you would’ve said. I share


Zerozaki’s opinion—I don’t believe for a second that a person


capable of murder would let their own conscience drive them


to suicide. Anyone likely to hold regrets wouldn’t commit the


murder in the first place.”


“But statistically speaking, a fair percentage of murderers


do commit suicide.”


“Statistically speaking? You’ve been around for nearly


twenty years and statistics is the best answer you can come


up with?” She raised a scoffing eyebrow and snorted at me.


“Don’t tell me you believe in something that idiotic. Something


that only happens once in a hundred thousand tries


happens on the very first try. The first person you ever meet is


one in a million. The lower the probability, the more you see


it happen. ‘Statistics.’ What a joke. There’s nothing more


average than a miracle.”


It was a ridiculously wild view on the subject, but there


was no arguing with the Aikawa Jun. Speaking from personal


experience, she was entirely out of my league.


“But I digress. At any rate, Aoii Mikoko didn’t commit


suicide out of guilt. She did it because you accused her. Or


rather, you questioned her. After that, she had no choice other


than death.”


ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 5 9


Can you forgive your own existence?


I’ll be back tomorrow. Around twelve.


You’ll have your answer then.


“You mean just because I said that? If that alone was


enough to activate her conscience, she wouldn’t have committed


the crime in the first place,” I said. “And to commit


suicide over a thing like that—“


“But don’t you see? Aoii murdered Emoto for you.”


I was speechless.


“Ehh, I guess saying it was ‘for you’ is going a little too far.


Aoii made the decision to do it on her own, and you’re not


responsible for anything. Basically it came down to a matter of


jealousy, if you want to put it simply.”


I didn’t answer.


Aikawa-san continued. “Emoto Tomoe never opened herself


up to anybody, never got any closer than she absolutely


had to. And yet she spoke quite candidly with you on the very


first night you met.”


A fatal wound. Damaged goods.


They were similar, but different.


What if Mikoko-chan had been half-awake during that


conversation? What if she had been conscious at that time,


just as she had been during my conversation with Miiko-san?


“If you consider the facts, it’s obvious why she stole that


neckstrap too. Why would Aoii need a thing like that? It was a


gift from Usami Akiharu. But remember what you said about


it? ‘It’s a good match,’ or something to that effect. You, who


almost never compliment anybody, went and said that. So


Aoii stole it. She didn’t need it, per se, she simply wanted to


take it, and so she snatched it from the crime scene. I suppose


this too was an act of jealousy. The point is, Aoii Mikoko


ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 6 0


couldn’t bear the thought that you and Emoto Tomoe were


becoming close.”


“So that’s why she killed her? That was her motive? That’s


idiotic. Can you imagine being killed for a reason like that?


That’s appalling.”


“You’re right, it is appalling. And that’s why you couldn’t


forgive her, isn’t it? She tragically robbed a human being of


her life for something so stupid. And so you made her take


responsibility for it.”


“Do you really think I would do something like that?”


“No I don’t. Not if this had been some random, spontaneous


act. If it was just a matter of someone having ‘gone too


far’ I’m sure you would’ve just forgiven her and looked the


other way. But that’s not what this was. This was a premeditated


crime. It wasn’t the ‘power of alcohol’ or something like


that. She even had a murder weapon prepared from the very


beginning.” She let out a snicker. “I know you don’t really


think she used a ribbon to do it. Apparently you told Zerozaki


the murder weapon was the ribbon from Usami’s gift, but


obviously that wasn’t the case.”


“I don’t know about that. It seems like it would’ve made a


good—”


“But the neckstrap was the only thing taken from the crime


scene, right? It was written down in those police documents.


That means the ribbon was still there. Which means that the


murder weapon had to be something else, by the pretense that


the cloth used in Aoii’s suicide matched the cloth used to kill


Emoto. So what does that mean? It means that Aoii Mikoko


had already prepared a murder weapon before even arriving at


Emoto’s apartment.”


“What do you mean?”


ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 6 1


“I mean she made a prediction. She could detect the similarities


between you and Emoto from the get-go. She sensed


something about your ‘aura’, if you will. And if her prediction


turned out to be on the mark, she was going to kill Emoto.


She had planned it like that from the start. This wasn’t just


some gimmick that any old sucker of a college student


could’ve thought up off the top of her head.”


“That’s rather laughable,” I said without even cracking a


smirk. “She kept going on and on about how they were such


great pals, and then she killed over something as trivial as that.


And what’s worse, I know she wasn’t lying about them being


friends. That was no lie, Jun-san. She really did care for


Tomoe-chan.”


Just not to the point that she wouldn’t kill her.


If she got in the way, Mikoko-chan would kill her without


mercy.


Kill.


Die for me.


Truly this girl had nerves of steel.


“So you deliberated for awhile, but ultimately decided to


denounce her.”


“Denounce her? Just to be clear here, Jun-san . . . I didn’t


suggest that she kill herself. In fact, I waited until she was in a


relaxed state before I even approached her about it, specifically


so she wouldn’t go overboard and commit suicide or


something. At the very least, I left three options for her. She


could kill herself, turn herself in, or just pretend she didn’t


know what I was talking about and never cross paths with me


again. As a bonus option, she also could have killed me.”


“Weren’t you hoping she’d go for the bonus option?”


Yeah, right. I shrugged.


ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 6 2


“I had expected her to choose to turn herself in . . . but she


didn’t. When I went into her room, she was dead. So I . . .”


“So you acted like you didn’t know it was suicide. There


was nothing about that written in the suicide note, was there?


And you’re the one who left that ‘x over y’ mark, aren’t you?”


It was true. Mikoko-chan hadn’t made any such request.


Swallowing everything was all my idea. The fact that she


hadn’t turned herself in meant she didn’t want people to


know what she had done. And so I decided, more or less on a


whim, to help out.


And to be honest, I also felt a little responsible.


“ ’Responsible’, huh . . . personally, I think of that as a


word people use when something comes as a complete


surprise to them.”


“Well, to be sure, I hadn’t seen it coming. It was a surprise,


it really was. I agree with you and Zerozaki that it’s not really


feasible that a person capable of murder would commit


suicide out of guilt. That’s why I was surprised to find that she


had committed suicide. I’m not even sure whether or not it


actually was the indigestible objects in my stomach that made


me so queasy, Jun-san.”


“But it wasn’t necessarily guilt that pushed Aoii to suicide.


It’s possible that she died because you pushed her. Because of


what she’d done, you were disgusted with her. She had made


an enemy out of you, and in so doing, lost all hope.”


“If that’s the case, that just makes me even angrier. So she


kills one person, and that alone distresses her to the point of


dying? She wasn’t even qualified to be a killer.”


“Ahh, so that’s what you meant about feeling responsible.


Not for Aoii, but for Emoto . . . I see. Huh . . . an interesting


concept. But say, doesn’t a person’s affection mean anything


ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 6 3


to you? She may have taken it in a twisted direction, but Aoii


really liked you.”


“Saying ‘I like you so you’d better like me’ is just an intimidation


tactic. Unfortunately, I’m not some blind reciprocator.


People who kill to serve their own passions make me sick.”


“Would you say the same thing about Atemiya?” she asked


rather politely. “The thing that impresses me the most is that


you were able to predict all of this, including its conclusion,


from the very beginning. That’s why you implanted that false


idea in Atemiya’s head about the ‘dying message.’ You


explained to Zerozaki that Atemiya ‘misunderstood’ the


meaning of those markings, but in reality, it was you who


caused her to do that. That way, it would be immediately obvious


that Atemiya was the culprit if the murders continued


even after Aoii’s death. Even when you snuck into Emoto’s


apartment, you weren’t looking for clues; you were looking for


something that nobody would know about.”


“It was just a sort of insurance, I guess. It wasn’t all that


thoroughly calculated or anything. Don’t make it sound like I


had everything in the palm of my hand.”


In the end, he was the one who had actually done the


killing, she was the one who had done the dying, and that girl


over there was the one who had committed suicide. I hadn’t


done a single thing. I hadn’t even manipulated anybody. How


could someone as clueless about people’s emotions as me even


try to manipulate someone?


Now that was nonsense.


“So Sasaki and Kazuhito . . . yesterday they took Atemiya


Muimi into custody, but . . . they say she was on the verge of


suicide. She was about to jump off the roof of her building,


and they managed to rescue her just in time. Apparently she’d


ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 6 4


completely lost it, and they couldn’t even understand the


words coming out of her mouth. They’re not sure she’ll ever


be back to normal.”


“Really.”


“Did you say something to her?”


“No,” I answered without hesitation. “Didn’t I tell you? I’m


not interested in people who kill to serve their own passions.”


“I’m pretty sure you said they make you sick.”


“You probably misheard me.”


She glared at me in silence for a moment. “Hahh,” she


sighed. “Well, either way . . . so that’s why you condemned


these girls who each only killed one person, yet completely


overlooked the multiple, indiscriminant, merciless killings of


Zerozaki? To give or to take, huh? Gee . . . you really are


cruel, huh?”


“I get that a lot.”


Aikawa-san swigged down the last remaining drops of her


cola, rose to her feet with a grunt, and looked down on me.


“Dust to dust . . . well, whatever. When all is said and done,


your crimes and your punishments are yours and yours alone.


I’m not sure how you see I, but you weren’t in the wrong


here. If you can be faulted for anything, it’s that you are who


you are. You’re guilty of the crime of being you, and so, too,


shall that be your punishment. And I have no intention of getting


in the way of that. I was just a little curious. So here’s my


final question,” she said, sounding much more lighthearted


than she had until a few moments ago. But I knew it was


when she got like this that she truly shined.


“Sure. what?” I said, just a little bit nervous.


“What was really written on Aoii’s suicide note?”


. . . . “Just one line,” I said.


ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 6 5


“Wow. What was it?”


“Forgot. Bad memory.”


And then I remembered:


“ ‘I wanted you to save me.’ “


“That’s a pretty rough line,” she said, laughing. “Still, it’ll


stick with you. Her confession to you would’ve made for a


nice last memory, but that’s just plain bitter. You’ll never forget


her for the rest of your life now. Maybe that’s what she


was shooting for.”


“Not really. I’ll have forgotten it in another three days or


so.”


This sounded like bitter retort itself, but I meant it in all


honesty, and it would probably come true. My insides were


already thoroughly saturated with bad memories. Sure, I may


have gained another two or three or four crosses to haul


around on my back, but they’d be buried soon enough. That


was all there was to it.


“Figures,” Aikawa-san said. She gazed at me for a while


before her face grew cynical again. “Say . . . you didn’t really


care either way, did you?” she said.


. . . . In regards to what?


There were so many possibilities, I had no idea what she


was referring to.


But still.


Whatever the intended question was, there was only one


possible answer.


“Nah.”


“Figures,” Aikawa-san said. “Well, I’ll see what I can do


about Sasaki, see if I can get her to drop the charges on you.”


“Charges? What charges?”


ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 6 6


“Falsifying information in regards to the Emoto case, encouraging


Aoii’s suicide, not to mention concealment of evidence,


plus withholding information and having that little


rendezvous with Atemiya. Normally they’d have your ass for


all that, which I’m sure you were well aware of, but I’ll take


care of it for you. Although I suppose even if I didn’t, Kunagisa


probably would. . . . You’d better start doing some favors


for some people.”


“Sasaki-san said something like that too.”


“I’ll bet. I taught her that line.”


“You don’t say.”


Lately I’d been up to my ears in debts owed to various


people for favors they’d done. And it hadn’t even been a full


five months since I’d returned to Japan. Would even the remainder


of my life be enough time to repay everyone?


I probably didn’t have much of a choice in that matter.


“Well, let’s do this again,” she said.


“We won’t have another chance to meet, will we?”


“Oh, I think we will. I have a feeling we’ll be meeting again


real soon.”


“I don’t suppose that means you’re going to show up again


tomorrow to hang out, like last time. . . .”


“I told you, I’m off to Hokkaido tomorrow . . . some real


sticky-sounding job. Not sure I’ll make it back alive this time.


I’m pretty excited.”


“You don’t die even if you’re killed.”


“You neither,” she said. “Well, so long.” With that, she left


the guest room. It was an extremely simple farewell, like we


really were going to meet again tomorrow.


And we probably would meet again at some point.


ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 6 7


And surely she would once again forcefully expose my insides,


flashing a cynicism-ridden smile all the while. And no


doubt, she would put another end to another story that had


already ended.


She would solve what had already been completed,


Complete what was already solved.


Because that was the role of this red contract worker.


Now that, that was some real grade A.


“Aikawa-san, you just don’t know when to quit.”


In an uncharacteristic moment, it occurred to me that


being killed didn’t sound so bad, if she was the one doing the


killing.


“Now then . . .”


I stared up at the ceiling. The ceiling that looked to boast


twice my height if I jumped with my arms stretched up.


Spacially speaking, this room was somewhere between five


and ten times the size of my lodge.


That aside.


“I think you can come out now, Kunagisa.”


“Gah,” leaked a voice from somewhere, but made no effort


to show herself. It looked like she intended to continue


playing dumb. How could someone so smart be such a knothead?


Then again, it was still a lot better than being dumb and


a knothead like me.


“If you don’t some out now, you’ll miss your chance. Is


that okay?”


“Uni. It’s hard to time these things.”


ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 6 8


As she spoke, a single plate opened in the ceiling, and her


face peered out. She snickered guiltily. “Teehehehe. You knew


all along?”


“Yup-yup. I think Aikawa-san noticed too.”


“Aww. What’s the point of this stupid secret passageway,


then?”


In a display of baffling logic, she proceeded to jump down


at me as if diving into a swimming pool. I might reiterate at


this point that the ceiling was twice my height when jumping and


stretching. At the same time, I couldn’t just dodge out of the


way, so I took the impact straight in the gut.


“Ii-chan, you okay?”


“Not so much . . .” With my fingers broken, I couldn’t


even guard myself. I had been reduced to a human cushion.


“Tomo . . . please, get off. I think you broke some ribs.”


“I believe I’ll waive that suggestion.” She squeezed up


against me, pushing me all the way over. It was a position


fairly reminiscent of the one Aikawa-san had put me in several


days earlier, but this was much nicer. A heartfelt embrace, if


you will.


Squeeze.


“Hee-hee. I missed you! I liked you!”


“Well, I appreciate the ‘I miss you.’ . . .”


She was pure innocence.


She had heard everything I had just discussed with


Aikawa-san, and still she hugged me like this.


I had cruelly antagonized two people, and yet completely


overlooked a mass murderer. And Kunagisa didn’t harbor a


single negative sentiment toward me for it.


. . . .


Aikawa-san had been wrong about just one thing.


ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 6 9


But it wasn’t her fault. She probably just didn’t have me


fully figured out yet. By no means do I consider myself a deep


person, but I do recognize that my sins run so deep there’s no


way to see all the way to the bottom. The depths of me were


invisible, no matter what kind of contract work you did.


The reason I didn’t want to have that discussion in front of


Kunagisa wasn’t because I was afraid of her judging me. It was


because I knew she would never judge me that I never wanted


to expose my ugliness or my ego to her.


Hers was an all-embracing love.


Unwavering, undiluted affection.


If I killed a person directly, she would probably forgive me


even then.


She would love me all the same.


To me, that love was just a little too heavy.


I could feel it crushing me.


That wide-open devotion.


It wasn’t that I couldn’t feel affection toward others. It was


that I couldn’t receive affection from others.


No matter how much adoration Mikoko-chan showed me,


all I could respond with was disdain for a murderer. No matter


how much her feelings for me had inspired her actions, all I


could see was another homicide.


And thus I was damaged goods.


And thus I was a human failure.


“Nonsense.”


“Hmm?” Kunagisa lifted her body up just a bit to give me a


puzzled look. “You say something, Ii-chan?”


“Nah, I’m not saying anything.”


“Hmm. Ah, that’s right. Ii-chan, wanna go on a vacation


with me?”


ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 7 0


“Vacation? That’s pretty rare. I thought you were supposed


to be a shut-in.”


“Well, actually I don’t really wanna go, either, but I’m


helping someone out, so I’ve gotta.”


“Ah. Well, okay, let’s go. I haven’t seen you much lately,


anyway.”


“Okay!” she said with a gleeful smile. It was the only expression


she knew. But it was still more than I was capable of.


Not being able to respond to a smile with a smile . . . it really can


give a guy an inferiority complex, eh, Tomoe-chan? I thought with


a fair dose of self-deprecation.


“When do we leave?”


“Well, there’s a lot to be taken care of first. Ahh, Professor


Kyôichirô’s place is so far. But we’ve got to rescue Satchan.


It’d be better to go after your wounds are all healed, so I’m


thinking probably around the start of July.”


“Okay, gotcha.”


“Mark your calendar. Ehehee,” she chuckled.


I remembered something. “Hey, Kunagisa. Do you know


what ‘x over y’ means?”


“Huh?” she bent her neck to look up at me again. “What’s


that? A formula?”


“A dying message . . . well, not really, but you could think


of it as one.”


“Hmm.” She thought for a single second. “Ah, is it in cursive,


by any chance?”


“Yeah.”


“Then it’s simple. You just look at it in the mirror, then rotate


it,” she said as if it really was that simple for her.


“Correct.” I said.


ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 7 1


What was going through Mikoko-chan’s mind when she


left that mark? She had left it by Tomo-chan’s body, just like


some kind of dying message. All you could do was speculate,


but indeed you could speculate.


Mikoko-chan probably didn’t really want to kill Tomochan.


And of course, Muimi-chan didn’t want to kill Akiharukun.


“But me . . .”


Maybe I wanted to kill both Mikoko-chan and Muimichan,


in reality. After all, the me on the other side of the mirror


was a murderer.


Either way, I fully accepted those puzzling symbols she


had left behind. Why not? Nothing worth holding a grudge


over ever made it through the mirror to this side. And the


mirror itself had already crumbled.


A whole world had crumbled.


I took a look at Kunagisa.


When would it be my turn to crumble?


That contemptible “soothsayer” had prophesied that it


would be another two years. But she was an even bigger liar


than I, and I couldn’t accept those words as the truth. I


doubted my mind would last that long.


Mind aside, what about my heart?


Whatever the case, my time was sure to come.


A time you might call my final judgment.


“Uni? What’s wrong, Ii-chan?”


She blinked at me with those big, pure pupils.


That azure hair.


Exactly the same as five years ago.


And now it was five years later.


ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 7 2


Sooner or later, the time would come.


When I’d buckle under the weight.


And the urge to destroy her would arise.


Even then, she was sure to forgive me.


Even if she was murdered or destroyed, she would forgive


me.


Just as she had done five years ago, with that innocent,


beaming smile, as if nothing had even happened.


There’s a difference between being forgiven and being


saved.


Nonsensical though this may be.


Before these things occurred.


Not to serve your passions. but simply to serve yourself, to


do something that should be done.


Please.


Quickly.


“Tomo.”


“Yeah?”


“I love you.”


Just saying.


They were hollow, entirely empty words.


Words anybody, anybody could say.


Just substanceless vocabulary.


“And I love you.”


Kunagisa laughed.


And that was all there was to it.


Ultimately, that was all.


ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 7 3


“That’s the Ikkun I love.”


And thus, “I wanted you to save me.”


I had just one response to that.


A single phrase I wanted to send to Mikoko-chan.


Likely, they were the same words Tomo-chan had for me.


And indeed, they were suitable.


“Don’t be so spoiled.”


is a BAD ENDING. . . .


ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 7 4


So you often hear people say, “Don’t be choosy about how


you achieve your goals,” but as a human, I feel we should at


least be allowed to choose how we go about achieving something.


If you really sit down and think about it, trying to


achieve a goal without carefully choosing a method could end


up being disastrous. For example, if your ambition is to become


a professional baseball player, you’ve got to get there by


playing baseball right? If, however, you instead proclaim, “No,


I don’t want to be choosy about how I achieve this goal! Curse


those who dare select their own methods!” and go out and buy


a rugby ball, it seems to me that you’re more likely to end up


becoming a rugby player. Now what if, instead, you were to


buy a knife, and what’s more, practice swinging it a thousand


times a day? Who here among us would take a look at such a


person in the park at night and predict that he was destined


to become a major leaguer? Of course, I know that’s not what


this saying is supposed to mean, but I just thought I’d put my


own little spin on it.


Meanwhile, the writer of this very book could be thought


of as the all-star representative player for people who aren’t


ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 7 5


too choosy about their methods, but upon serious contemplation,


I’m surprisingly unsure of whether or not I really even


chose the goal in the first place. “Hmm, so why is that what


you want to do?” people will say, thereby effectively questioning


the purpose of your purpose, at which point most people


are prone to becoming very silent. And should we be even


further interrogated, wherein we’re confronted about the purpose


of the purpose of our purpose, or the purpose of the purpose


of the purpose of our purpose, or the purpose of the


purpose of the purpose of the purpose of our purpose, well, at


that point we just give up, resulting in a silence to end all


silences.


Thinking about it conversely, there’s something wholly unappealing


about the idea of a person who could provide concrete,


logical answers to such questions. (“Well, the purpose of


the purpose of the purpose of the purpose of the purpose of


my purpose is this and this and that. Clear enough?”). Humans,


in all their humanity, are much more cut out for living


their lives constantly mistaking vague, unrealistic illusions for


goals and/or methods.


This book, Zaregoto 2: The Kubishime Romanticist, sees the


appearance of a homicidal monster who’s lost sight of his goal


and a murderer who can’t find a method. This monster and


this murderer think to themselves, “This is pretty weird,” but


they go on committing their acts all the while. The homicidal


monster continues exercising his method, and the murderer


continues pursuing her goal. Meanwhile, the side character


that is our narrator sees these characters and scratches his


head, thinking, “They’re pretty weird,” and yet he goes and


projects himself onto them, and in comes the self-hatred.


After all, to anyone with ugliness inside themselves, there’s no


ZAREGOTO: THE KUBISHIME ROMANTICIST ■■■ 3 7 6


greater displeasure than taking a look in the mirror. Of course,


if you don’t have a mirror, you can’t see yourself at all.


As was the case with the last book, The Kubikiri Cycle, there


is a ridiculous number of people whose combined strength is


to be thanked for the publishing of this novel. Above all


others, I am most greatly indebted to my editor, Kastushi Otasama,


and my illustrator, take. Thank you so much.


NISIOISIN


TYPED OUT BY A FEW ANONS ■■■


Born in 1981, the prolific NISIOISIN has already revolutionized the


Japanese literary world with his fast-paced, pop culture-fueled


novels. He debuted with The Kubikiri Cycle in 2002, beginning his


seminal Zaregoto series, and Bakemonogatari was published under


Kodansha’s popular Kodansha Box imprint. 2007 saw the magnificent


conclusion to his twelve-month consecutive serial novel, Katanagatari—for


which NISIOISIN wrote one novel a month for an entire


year—also for Kodansha Box. NISIOISIN has also created novels


based on popular manga franchises: xxxHOLiC: ANOTHERHOLiC, based


on the series by superstar artist collective CLAMP, and Death Note


Another Note: The Los Angeles BB Murder Cases, based on Tsugumi


Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s blockbuster series.


Born in 1983, take made his debut with the gorgeous, ultramodern


illustrations for NISIOISIN’s Zaregoto series. Just as that novel


cemented NISIOISIN’s reputation as one of the leading lights of


Japanese pop culture, take’s illustrations for these best-selling novels


made him a star in his own right. His first-class character designs


have captured readers’ hearts, and he is now ranked as one of the top


young illustrators in Japan. take loves cats and manga genius Osamu


Tezuka.


If you enjoyed this book—and you did, didn’t you?—please


consider buying it to support its original creators.


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