Chapter 3 – Words
Chapter 3: Words
People are beings with deep desires.
That’s why they can’t settle for one choice.
That’s why they always desire more.
That’s why they want to have everything.
But what if people were forced to make but a single choice?
What would they choose?
Or would they choose—
She was kind.
She had a sweet scent.
And she was warm.
I could entrust everything to the thin, shaky arms that enveloped me.
Why I held this belief with such conviction, I did not know.
But without a shred of doubt, she was someone I could rely on unconditionally.
She was everything to me back then.
In the truest sense, she was the world to me.
That’s why I could entrust everything to her.
Someone I had never seen.
Someone I had never met.
Someone whose whereabouts I still did not know
Someone I could call Mother.
I opened my eyes.
Dismal, filthy, and more than anything else, cold.
It was my own, never changing room.
There was nothing here—except the smell of garbage and an atmosphere of desolation.
No, there was one more thing.
I quietly opened my clenched fist.
In it was a single leaf. It pulsated and shined the colors of the rainbow as if it were made of crystal.
Kotonoha, a leaf that transmitted memories.
It was what showed me that dream.
Of a mother who no longer existed, even in the farthest corner of my memories.
But what Kotonoha showed me could not be described as just a dream. It was special.
There was warmth.
There was smell.
There was weight.
It felt real.
I did not have a mother next to me now.
But that leaf is what taught me.
About the warmth a mother could have.
That’s why I believed.
That I had not been thrown away—
I found myself in a place I had never seen before.
Obviously, it wasn’t Towako-san’s room, and it certainly wasn’t Tsukumodo Antique Shop either.
The buildings in front of me were falling apart and there didn’t seem to be any signs of people living in them. There were no pedestrians passing through the garbage-lined roads between the buildings either. It was even more deserted than the secluded road where Tsukumodo was—entirely like a slum right out of a movie.
I remembered what the priestess told me.
About the truth of the Calamity Jar that was erased. About how I should have been able to return to my world by throwing my knowledge of that truth away. But for some reason, things hadn’t gone the way they were supposed to. The fact that I still had memories of the Calamity Jar was the best proof of that.
Perhaps I was still inside the jar.
Or perhaps some other power was at work and I was in a different place altogether.
Or maybe this was all just a dream.
Either way, the biggest problem right now was how to return back home.
But despite the torrent of questions running through my head, I remained calm. I wasn’t restless or agitated.
Because Saki was right here next to me.
She was standing there without the slightest bit of impatience or panic on her usual, expressionless face. That wasn’t to say she was calm. Rather, it was more that I rarely ever saw her flustered. So I couldn’t be the only one panicking in this situation; I couldn’t lose that small pride as a man.
“Do you think this is a dream?” Saki asked.
I didn’t have an answer for her of course. All I knew was that I had never seen this place before and that Saki and I were the only ones here. There wasn’t anyone who could tell us where we were either—Towako-san included. Perhaps she was the only one who returned safely.
I felt something on my cheek and brought myself back to reality.
Saki was lightly touching my cheek.
“…is this a dream?”
“Who knows? What happens when you try pinching your cheek?” I said in a joking tone and—
Saki went ahead and pinched mine instead.
“What are you doing!?”
I couldn’t talk properly because she was pulling my cheek, but now I had even more questions.
“I was pinching just like you said. How was it? Did it hurt?”
“I see…this must not be a dream then.” Saki quietly let go of me.
“What could it be then? I felt pain so this couldn’t be a dream but…”
I followed Saki’s example and tried pinching her cheek this time.
“Doesn’t look like it hurts. Maybe this is your dream then?”
“It does hurt though.” Saki complained without a single change in expression.
That lackluster, expressionless reaction definitely belonged to Saki. This seemed real enough.
But it’s not like pinching each other was a reliable way to tell if this was a dream in the first place. Even if it was, there was no point if we couldn’t wake up. Now that we were done joking with each other…
Saki’s hand touched mine as I let go of her cheek, interrupting my thoughts. She then held it, increasing the strength bit by bit until it turned into a strong grip.
“Hey, Saki that hurts.”
I complained, but Saki didn’t loosen her grip.
“I’m sorry OK. I shouldn’t have pinched your cheek.”
I could imagine her rebuking me, saying that I should have known better than to pinch a girl’s cheeks.
That’s how our usual exchanges went, anyway.
But she increased the strength in her grip even further until her nails were digging into my skin.
“Does it really hurt? Saki finally asked a painfully obvious question.
“Of course it hurts.”
“It’s not just your imagination?”
“Does it look like I’m imagining it?”
“This really isn’t a dream?”
“No, it isn’t.”
“It’s not your dream, and it’s not mine either?”
“That’s what I’ve been saying this whole time.”
I couldn’t take this pain any longer. Just as I was about to shake off her hand—
“If this isn’t a dream, then why are you here?”
Those were simple words.
Words that she said with her usual expressionless face.
For the briefest moment, it looked like Saki was about to cry.
“How long are you going to be asleep, Kairi?”
Hito called my name from outside the room.
“It’s time for work.”
It really wasn’t something grand enough to be called “work.” We just looked for things we could eat or exchange for money in this trash heap slum of a town. It was all this nameless, ragtag group I belonged to could do to secure a place for ourselves.
This slum had been my home for as long as I could remember. Hito originally found me wandering alone one day, and brought me here, but I didn’t remember that at all.
From that day, he’d been my older brother, my parent. In fact, he was also the one who named me. He gave me the name Kairi.
I didn’t know how I had survived up until that point. Some said that an old man on death’s door raised me in his remaining time, while others said that I was mostly raised by some child loving creep. There were even claims that I was raised on the streets, scrounging for scraps like a worthless stray dog.
Of course, I didn’t know the truth myself.
It wasn’t like any of that mattered to begin with.
I couldn’t afford to worry about that sort of thing here.
Showing any openings would get me robbed. Showing any weakness would get me beaten, or if I happened to be unlucky, killed.
There was no law and order. Women and children were treated the same.
This slum was where those abandoned came together.
Abandoned by the world, by their towns, by their parents. This slum was where those people fell.
I didn’t understand why I found myself here even though I wasn’t abandoned. I had been robbed, beaten, and almost killed…but still I continued to live on.
There was a single reason for this…I was waiting for my mother to come for me someday.
She wasn’t with me right now.
And I didn’t know when she would return.
That’s why I patiently waited.
“Hey, can you even hear me?”
The irritating sound of the half-broken door grated into my ears as Hito opened the door to our shared room.
I panicked and shoved Kotonoha into my pocket. Catching sight of that, Hito looked at me with an exasperated expression.
“You were looking at it again?”
“How many times have I told you not to take it without permission?” He held out his hand and I reluctantly handed over the leaf.
Right. This didn’t belong to me. It belonged to Hito.
“I’ve told you a million times already. The dream you see in Kotonoha isn’t yours. It’s mine.”
I knew that.
I had seen the mother holding her child countless times in my dreams. That child was not me. That woman was not my mother.
The child in her arms was Hito. The person holding him was his mother.
I only wished it was me instead.
But that was alright.
I could feel just a little bit happier whenever I had that dream.
And I felt like I could believe…
That I also had a mother somewhere; one who had held me just like that.
Regardless, we weren’t going to make any progress just standing there.
First, we needed to investigate and find out where we were. Judging by the atmosphere, it didn’t seem like this place was completely safe. Or at the very least, there didn’t seem to be much public order.
“Why don’t we start by looking for people?”
“That’s a good idea. I wonder if anyone’s even around though.” Saki agreed without changing her expression or tone.
That second where she looked like she was about to cry must have just been my imagination after all. There wasn’t any point in worrying about it.
The sun had yet to set, but thick clouds covered the slum in a dim shadow. The bleak sky above us as we walked along the unpaved road made the already gloomy atmosphere even gloomier.
Suddenly, we heard a sound.
“Do you hear that?”
“Sounded like footsteps.”
It really did sound like there were a number of people running our way. They were coming at us from around the corner.
I hid myself and peeked around the corner. The footsteps belonged to two children that were running towards us. The boy in front looked like a middle schooler, and the one running after him was a little younger. Well, I didn’t think there were any schools around here, so maybe that wasn’t the best way to put it.
I stepped out from my hiding place and called out to them.
“Do you guys have a second?”
But they didn’t seem to hear me and continued to run with no sign of stopping.
“Umm…do you have a moment?” I stood in front of their path and asked again. However, they continued to charge forward as if I weren’t there at all.
“Ugh.”I tried to move out the way, but it was already too late.
Just as I thought they were going to crash into me, something unexpected happened.
The two children had phased right through me.
The day ended without me finding anything to eat or sell.
My punishment was to go without food. It was all because I lagged too much behind Hito.
I normally only got one meal a day, so losing out on that bit of food meant I was going to have to go hungry today.
My stomach let out a sharp groan.
“I’m so hungry…”
I didn’t feel like doing anything and rolled around the room, bored. It was probably better not to waste my energy though; I was going to have to sleep like this.
But before I went to sleep, I wanted to see that dream one more time.
However Hito returned to our room the moment I took Kotonoha out from his belongings.
“You’re looking at that again?” He let out an exasperated sigh.
“Well, I guess it’s fine for today.”
“You were bullied again weren’t you?”
Everyone laughed at me cause I couldn’t find anything. It didn’t bother me though since it was true.
But one of the guys went too far and said, “That’s why your parents threw you away.”
“I wasn’t thrown away!” I shouted at him, but no one believed me. It was always those jerks who had parents that said no one wanted me.
While it was true that my parents weren’t around, I wasn’t the only one like that. Even Hito didn’t have his parents with him.
But they only said these things to me.
Some kids said they heard it from the adults.
Others said they could just tell.
Even if I told them that it was nonsense, without any memories or my own Kotonoha, it would just be a waste of breath. I had no way to make them understand it was a lie.
Mother, where are you? Come for me quickly please.
“If you have time to be depressed, then you have time to think about what to do for food tomorrow. They’ll stop bullying you if you do that.”
“That won’t change anything. It’s not like you did great yourself today.”
“Well that’s too bad.” replied Hito as he took some bread out of his pocket. It was muddy and stale but I couldn’t take my eyes off of it, hungry as I was.
I wiped my mouth in a fluster and tried to hide my embarrassment with a complaint.
“That’s sneaky! You actually did have food!”
I bet he probably got his hands on some soup too.
“Quiet, they’ll find out.”
“Well I wish they would. They’re going to be really mad at you for this”
“Oh so that’s how it is. And here I was thinking I could split it with you.”
“Really!? OK I won’t say anything then.”
“Calculating guy, aren’t you? You should be grateful.”
The bread cracked loudly sound as Hito snapped it in two. He handed the slightly bigger half to me. I didn’t say anything and stuffed the bread into my mouth before he noticed his half was smaller.
“Eat it slowly. I don’t have anything else for you.”
“I’m already done.”
My stomach grumbled the second I finished eating. In fact, I felt even hungrier now.
“No helping it I guess.” Hito passed the other half of the bread to me.
“Are you sure?”
“Don’t worry about it. I already ate.”
“Sneaky. You were trying to eat all this by yourself?”
“That’s why I brought it here to split with you. I’ll take it back if you don’t stop complaining.”
“I was just joking, Hito. You’re not sneaky…but they will be mad if they find out.”
“You can’t say that after you’ve already eaten. It’ll be alright though since I didn’t take much. Those guys already take too much of our food without searching for anything themselves.”
“But the punishment’s three days of no food it they find out right?”
“Right, that’s why you need to keep quiet about this. You’re my accomplice now that you’ve eaten.”
But I couldn’t return food that I already ate.
“Also, don’t touch that with your dirty hands. Give it back.” Hito pointed to Kotonoha in my hands.
I didn’t want to give it back, but for the moment food was more important.
Hito’s expression turned serious and he stared steadily at Kotonoha as he held it in his hands.
I was sure he missed his mother too.
He didn’t tell me the details so I didn’t know for sure, but apparently the woman I saw in Kotonoha, Hito’s mother, had passed away. Unlike me, he would never have the chance to see his mother again.
“Hey Kairi. Do you know about the shrine?.”
“Yeah, I heard the adults talking about it before. They were saying it was the shrine’s fault people were unhappy everywhere.”
The shrine had the duty of protecting the world from Malice.
However, one the priestesses at the shrine gave in to her curiosity and opened the jar that sealed the Malice, unleashing disaster onto the world. Because of that, malice, poverty, loneliness, disease, and all sorts of other terrible things were unleashed on the world.
In other words, our unhappiness was all the shrine’s fault.
“Yeah, but that’s not what I’m talking about.”
“What are you talking about then?”
“You know, the shrine also has the duty of passing on people’s words.”
“Uh huh.” So they keep messages for people, right.
“You don’t get it? I’m telling you they have more Kotonoha leaves.”
“It seems they use Kotonoha at the shrine and use that to deliver clients’ words to others. They might even have a message from your parents.”
“Your parents. They’ve up and gone somewhere right? That’s why I’m…no, actually, nevermind. There’s no way things would work out so conveniently. Forget it.”
“Tell me more! You’re saying I could hear my mother’s words if I go to the shrine?”
“I’m only saying there’s a chance…but it’s probably impossible. There’s no way the shrine will listen to what people like us have to say. We don’t even have a way to prove who we are.”
“But if you really want to hear it no matter what, then I guess the only option would be to sneak into the shrine and steal a Kotonoha leaf.”
The scenery around us shifted completely the moment the children passed through me. It felt like we were in the middle of a scene change in a movie or something.
We had been in a dilapidated town until just a moment ago.
But now I found myself inside of a building, completely unlike the previous location. It was a wide hall, surrounded by white walls and topped with a white ceiling.
The weak light from the candles illuminating the hall showed that that no one else was here with me.
“I’m right here.”
I heard her voice behind me. I felt a little calmer now that I knew we were still together.
“What just happened?”
“I don’t know. It kind of feels like we’re in someone’s dream.”
I did enter a certain girl’s dream once before. This situation felt really similar to that.
However, the Relic that allowed that should have been stored in the basement at Tsukumodo, and I hadn’t planned on going into anyone’s dreams.
That’s when I noticed the item in my hand.
I was holding a thin, heart-shaped object for some reason.
It was crystalline and shined the colors of the rainbow, kind of like the back of a CD or DVD. It looked fragile enough to break at any second, like a thin wafer of ice.
I didn’t remember having anything like this.
“Saki, do you know what this is?”
I showed it to her. She looked at it for a while, but
“…I don’t.” Saki shook her head.
When did I pick up something like this? And more importantly, what exactly was it? There were so many things I didn’t understand.
But before I could organize my thoughts, the scenery began to change again.
We were now watching a shadow sneaking towards a large and empty room. I couldn’t see clearly due to the poor lighting, but silhouette looked like it belonged a child. He looked around the area and hesitantly entered the room.
I gasped, but like before, the boy didn’t notice my presence.
This boy was the one who had almost crashed into me earlier. He was the only recurring element in this nonsensical world. Perhaps it was his dream that we were currently seeing.
The boy continued deeper into the room just like that.
In the inner part of the room was a set of stairs that led to an altar. The boy’s breath was ragged, perhaps due to nerves, but still, he began to climb the stairs to the altar.
He couldn’t see us at all. Saki and I followed after him to see what he was looking for.
We followed the boy as he climbed to the top of the altar.
At the top of the altar was—
I snuck out of the hideout and headed towards the shrine after hearing Hito’s story.
It was almost night by the time I reached the shrine, but that only made things more convenient.
Like Hito said, the shrine would never listen to someone like me, so I couldn’t just walk through the front gate.
I kept out of sight and slipped into the shrine grounds. Although I didn’t look it, I was pretty good at hiding and sneaking around.
There were no guards other than the ones at the entrance since they probably didn’t think anyone would sneak into the shrine. Once I snuck into the grounds, getting into the actual building was easy.
Hito said that Kotonoha was held in a great hall on an altar in the deepest part of the shrine. The explanation he gave me made it almost sound like he had seen it before. Hito’s information gathering skills were as great as always. He never had any problems finding food either, that was his gift.
I moved cautiously to avoid getting caught after I got into the building and snuck deeper and deeper into the shrine.
I had no idea what they’d do to me if I got caught.
But I would stop at nothing if it meant getting a message that my mother left for me.
I wondered where she was.
Why couldn’t she be with me?
And why did she—
“Here it is.” I had passed through a long, long corridor and was finally at the deepest part of the shrine.
I checked my surroundings one more time to make sure the coast was clear before pushing the door open. A creaking sound of iron rubbing together sounded through the room. I confirmed that there was no one else in the room and quickly slipped inside, shutting the door behind me.
Candlelight flickered in the room, lightly illuminating the surrounding area.
The lighting was poor and I couldn’t see the details, but there were stairs at the end of the room, and at the top there was something that looked like an altar.
I headed straight for the altar unable to hold my impatience in, unable to look away. I climbed up the stairs and faced the object at the top.
Just as Hito said, there it was—
—The jar, Kotonoha.
—The Calamity Jar was enshrined at the top of the altar.
At that moment, I realized that this absurd world was actually a continuation of that priestess’s story.
I had definitely chosen to throw away the truth and return home, but instead of being sent back, I found myself in front of the Calamity Jar once again.
“Hey, Tokiya.” Saki spoke up. “Do you think this is the past?”
“I think so…”
The layout of the building we were in certainly looked like a shrine. I wasn’t sure if the same group of priestesses was here, but that would make sense considering the direction things seemed to be headed.
Assuming that was the case, it would mean that we were looking at Calamity Jar’s past.
Maybe this was the jar’s way of preventing us from leaving? If that’s what it was, then how were we supposed to escape?
“What’s going to happen now?”
“We might see the Calamity released from the jar a second time.”
The seal on the Calamity Jar was broken a total of two times, but the world was saved from danger due to the power of the priestesses’ prayer—
I remembered seeing that line in the documents.
If the priestess from before opened it the first time, then I supposed this would be the second. I didn’t know who this boy was, but him opening the jar now would fit chronologically.
But even if we established that this was the past, we still hadn’t solved the riddle at all.
We still didn’t know how to get back home.
“Hey, Tokiya. If we interfere here, do you think we can change the past?”
It seemed Saki was more concerned about the situation in front of her than going home.
“What do you think?”
“We’re ultimately just looking at scenes from the past. The people here can’t see us and we can’t touch them.”
I reached out to touch the Calamity Jar, but my hand just slipped through it.
“There’s nothing we can do.”
Saki didn’t let it reach her face, but she was crestfallen.
Did she sympathize with the priestess that much?
A seed of doubt began to grow as I looked at her.
…Did Saki really choose to throw away the truth?
I had no idea what happened to me.
I suddenly lost my balance and was forcefully shoved face first into the ground. The impact made me see stars inside my head. By the time I recovered from the pain and the confusion, my movement had already been restricted.
“Is the jar safe?”
“Yes, but barely.”
“We made it just in time.”
I heard several adults talking. Lifting my head, I saw the priests and priestesses of the shrine standing over me. They must have entered the room without me noticing.
“To think there would be people sneaking into the shrine. And to think it was a child of all things. What is this world coming to?”
A priestess looked down at me with a chilly gaze.
“Answer me now. Why did you sneak in here?”
My arm was twisted behind me when she saw my unwillingness to respond. Unable to bear the sharp pain running across my shoulder, I answered her.
“I came…to steal….Kotonoha.”
A moment later, Even more priests rushed into the room. Perhaps sensing that something had occurred, the man clenching my arm loosened his grip .
The priests continued into the room until they reached the altar where the priestess was standing. They whispered something in her ear.
“What did you say?”
I couldn’t hear what they told her, but the priestess sounded startled. She turned to look down at me again.
“Answer me. Were you the one who stole Kotonoha?”
“…I came to steal it, but I didn’t do anything yet. I’m sorry.”
Kotonoha…that large jar was still right in front of me.
“It certainly doesn’t look like you have it. Where are your friends? How many people were with you?”
“I came alone.”
I confessed right away this time, afraid that they would twist my arm again. In fact, going along with them would prevent other people from getting in trouble. This was something I chose to do on my own after all.
But the moment I thought that, a sharp pain rain across my shoulder again.
“Your resolve to protect your friends is impressive, but you cannot lie to us. “
I answered while thrashing my feet in pain, but the priestess did not believe me.
“Do you want to get hurt some more?”
“It’s the…truth. Let me…go.”
“Then where did you come from?”
I couldn’t bear it anymore and told her about the slum.
“I see. That’s where you came from. Perhaps we should not have overlooked that place…well that’s fine either way. So you came with your friends from the slum.”
The priestess looked at the priests to see what they thought. I didn’t see how they responded, but her face became pensive.
The arm behind my back slackened. I was teary faced and drenched in sweat, my breath was ragged from the pain.
“It doesn’t seem like he’s lying.”
“What if they were using him as a decoy to take Kotonoha…?”
“That’s certainly one possibility.”
The priestess talked in a whisper with the priests before turning back to me once again.
“You said you came here to steal Kotonoha, correct?”
“Do you know what Kotnoha is?”
“It’s that jar.”
“That is called the Calamity Jar. It is not Kotonoha.”
I couldn’t understand what she was trying to say.
“It’s not inside the jar? But I was told there was a rainbow-colored leaf that could send any message…”
That’s what Hito told me. That the shrine had a mysterious item that could send the words I wanted to anyone. I just had to find a large jar and take out a rainbow-colored leaf like Hito’s.
“You thought that Kotonoha was in that jar? Absurd. There’s nothing so ridiculous inside.”
“Then what is inside the jar?”
“Malice. Inside the jar is the malice of the world that we priestesses sealed away. Had you opened it, the world would have been engulfed in calamity and we would have faced certain disaster.”
“I can’t believe…”
What this priestess was telling me was totally different from what Hito said. Was she trying to trick me? No, she wouldn’t have any reason to do that.
The information Hito gave me must have been wrong.
“It seems you don’t know everything. However, Kotonoha is, as you said, one of the shrine’s secret treasures. A leaf through which one can transmit memories to any person in any time. That’s not to say no one knows about it, but its existence certainly isn’t public knowledge.
“So who is the one who told you about all this?”
The priestess took my ignorance as being tied to someone’s involvement. I’d hoped that by being honest, I could avoid getting anyone else in trouble, but things weren’t going to be so easy.
The grip on my arm tightened. It didn’t hurt yet. But my body still remembered the pain. The blood drained from me and I felt numb. My body was refusing to take any more of this.
But I still couldn’t tell them about Hito.
My arm was twisted further. The groan from my shoulders forced a scream from my mouth.
I grit my teeth and endured.
I couldn’t tell them about Hito. They would do something terrible to him if I did. Just because he talked to me. All because I decided to sneak in here.
My arm was twisted up to its limit, but just before the bone broke, just before I lost consciousness, the hold on my arm slackened.
I felt nauseous. My tears and sweat were now flowing freely.
“Don’t get the wrong idea. We won’t do anything to the person who gave you this information. We just want to talk to them. We just want to know how they learned about Kotonoha. “
The priestess stroked my head and gently asked again.
“Won’t you tell me? Who told you about Kotonoha? What kind of person are they?”
Were they really not going to do anything to him?
Hito didn’t steal anything at all. He didn’t even sneak in like me. All he did was tell me about what he heard from someone else.
“Kotonoha was stolen, you know.”
“If you didn’t steal it, then someone else must have, right?”
I didn’t know anything about that. Someone else had already taken it by the time I snuck in?
This was the worst. It was no wonder they suspected.
But that was wrong. I didn’t steal it, and neither did Hito. There’s no way it could have been Hito.
Because he already had a Kotonoha leaf; there was no reason for him to steal another one.
“If you don’t tell us, then we’ll have to assume that person is the mastermind and send pursuers after them.”
“Wait! …I’ll talk.”
If I didn’t say anything, Hito would be made out to be a criminal.
“The one who told me about Kotonoha was my friend, Hito.”
The scene in front of us faded away to lead into the next one.
Priests and priestesses were interrogating the boy. It hurt to watch, but there was nothing we could do. Our voices wouldn’t reach and we couldn’t touch them.
This was after all a scene from the past.
All we could do was quietly observe.
However, the pieces of this puzzle felt like they were all starting to come together.
I looked at the rainbow-colored object in my hand. Come to think of it, it did look like a leaf.
So this was Kotonoha. Its power was to send the memories infused into it to whoever the user wanted, whenever they wanted. With that, I understood why we didn’t return to our own world.
We had to abandon the truth in order to go back home. But when we decided to abandon the truth, Kotonoha’s power took effect and showed us these scenes. Since what we were seeing now was related to the truth, we couldn’t be said to have abandoned everything.
But just whose memories were were we seeing now?
Was it one of the people in front of us now? Was it multiple people? Or was it someone else altogether?
She wasn’t present here, but the priestess, Pandora, was also one possibility. It was probably safe to exclude her though since she intended to return us to our old world.
That was all the information I had for now.
But there was also one more question. Why was Kotonoha sent to us?
It transmitted memories to whoever the user desired, but who would have known about us? We didn’t have anything to do with this world. Assuming that the sender was someone from here, it was extremely unlikely that they intended to send it to us specifically.
In other words, we must have met some sort of condition. In addition, we could conclude that Saki and I met that condition, but Towako-san did not.
So now I had to figure out what the difference between us was.
Finally, I needed to know why we were being shown the continuation of the Calamity Jar’s story.
What goal did Kotonoha’s user have?
If all they wanted was to show us this story and have us watch it until its eventual end, then it would be best to patiently wait it out.
However, if they had some other reason. If, for example, their goal was to keep us trapped in this world, then we would need to find a way to escape.
In the end, nothing was really clear.
All we could do now was continue watching for a little longer.
I couldn’t see what kind of expression the priestess was making, but she sounded startled.
She gathered herself and continued to press me with questions.
“That’s his name?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“And this is a child?”
“Yes. He’s just a little older than me.”
“Why would this child know so much about Kotonoha?”
“I think it’s because he already has his own leaf.”
I didn’t hide anything about Kotonoha. Hito already had one and that’s why he didn’t have any reason to steal another. He’d be accused of being a criminal if I didn’t say anything, and I didn’t want to cause him any trouble.
“Do you know what message it contains?”
“There are no words. All it shows is a mother cradling a baby in her arms.”
I knew this because I saw it with my own two eyes.
“That’s it? Really?”
“But all Hito did was tell me about Kotonoha. He didn’t sneak in here and he didn’t steal anything.”
“Enough already.” The priestess stopped questioning me and turned to give out orders to the priests.
“Find this Hito at once.”
“You said you wouldn’t do anything…!”
“He might still be in the shrine. If you don’t find him here, then go to the slums. Use as many people as you need.”
“Hito only told me about it! He didn’t steal anything!”
I protested, but she ignored me completely. The priests accepted her orders and left the room in order to search for Hito.
“That’s cowardly…you broke your promise…”
I felt empty the moment I said that. She didn’t have any reason to keep her promise.
Powerless as I was, I still I prayed for Hito’s safety. He wouldn’t be in the shrine, but that didn’t make me feel any better if they were going to chase him all the way out to the slum.
Would they blame Hito as the mastermind who stole Kotonoha? He would get in trouble for my stupid actions.
I felt so pathetic that my eyes started to water again.
“We found him!” The priests had returned to the room.
In one of the priest’s hands was some kind of flower pot. Inside the pot was a plant with shining, rainbow-colored leaves. That must have been Kotonoha.
But what was up with that? I thought it was stolen…
Before I could finish that thought, the priests brought a boy into the room.
But they couldn’t have gotten to the slum so quickly…
“We found him hiding inside the shrine. He had Kotonoha with him.”
I looked up at him as I lay on the floor.
Why was Hito in the shrine?
Did he follow me here? Or was it as the priestesses said, that he snuck in here as a thief?
What would he want to steal though? Hito already had a Kotonoha leaf; there shouldn’t have been any reason for him to come here. Was he here to steal treasure from the shrine to sell? I hadn’t heard anything about that. Maybe he thought I wouldn’t be helpful and didn’t tell me. Or maybe…
I wanted to ask him all the questions that were surging up, but Hito didn’t look back at me.
“I presume you’re Hito?”
Hito did not answer the priestess.
“…An incident happened in this shrine about ten years ago.” She abruptly began.
Me, Hito, and even the priests raised our eyebrows, but the priestess quietly continued.
“The Calamity Jar in which Malice is sealed—there was once a priestess who opened the jar out of curiosity and unleashed calamity upon the world. Thanks to the prayers of the other priestesses, the calamity was somehow sealed back into the jar. However, the priestess who opened it, perhaps feeling the weight of responsibility, or perhaps running away from her sins, disappeared.
—She left behind a single child.”
She stared at Hito and continued.
“That child’s name was Pithos.”
I looked at Hito. He looked back at me. Just by exchanging glances, we knew what the other was thinking.
“I was like an older sister to that priestess, and thus the responsibility for raising him should have fallen to me. However, that child could not be raised in the shrine, for he would have surely been killed. That’s why I let the child go. I couldn’t do anything but let the child go.
“I couldn’t choose to run away with him.
“For I chose to be a priestess over being that girl’s sister.”
The priestess drew closer to Hito.
“It’s you, isn’t it, Pithos? Why did you return? To learn the secret of your birth? Or was it revenge for being abandoned? …Regardless, the reason doesn’t matter. However, I want you to tell me one thing.
“…Why did she open the jar?
“Tell me. Was it really out of mere curiosity? Is the true reason inside the Kotonoha that she entrusted with you?”
However, Hito ignored the priestess’s insistent questions, and instead looked at me.
For the first time since he came into the room, tears were flowing from his eyes.
“I’m sorry, Kairi.”
And he apologized to me.
There seemed to be various reason for this apology, but I understood what he really wanted to say.
“Hito…were you using me?”
“…Because I wanted Kotonoha.”
“But why? You already have Kotonoha, don’t you?”
“No, I don’t.” Hito quietly shook his head.
“That’s not it, Kairi. That Kotonoha leaf doesn’t belong to me. It’s yours. I took it from you in the first place.”
“Do you remember the day we first met? I bet you don’t since you were still small. You were all alone, but still laughing happily. When I asked you why you weren’t lonely, you showed me Kotonoha and said, ‘I’m fine. I can always meet my mom with this.’
“I was jealous. Bitterly so. That’s why I did it. That’s why I took Kotonoha away from you and pretended it was mine. Even though it didn’t show me anything.”
“The person you saw wasn’t me. It was you.”
My heart remained unmoved even after hearing that.
“Hito, did you find your own Kotonoha?”
“Nope. But I already know. I know why my mom and dad died and left me behind…they left me letter.”
Hito took out a ragged paper from his breast pocket. He must have always carried it with him.
“In order to let me live.” Hito smiled through his tears.
“We were poor, you see, and there was only enough food for me to eat. My parents wrote that they chose to die. They wanted me to understand. They wanted me to understand…
“—How could I understand something like that!? There’s no way I could. What was I supposed to do after that? Did they not understand I would continue to live completely alone? I didn’t even need it. I could have done without food. If they were with me, I could have endured it…
“It made no sense. That’s why I believed their true thoughts were left somewhere else. I wanted to know the truth, that’s why I wanted to get my hands on Kotonoha.”
“Wait…” The priestess seemed to have lost her cool and final spoke up.
“Are you not Pithos?”
“Yep. Unfortunately, I’m not the Pithos you were talking about.”
Then Hito looked at me. The look in his eyes was more painful than ever before.
“I’m sorry for lying to you. I’m sorry for not saying anything until now. I’m also sorry you had to find out this way. Even though if I hadn’t done something so stupid, you would have remained in the dark about everything.”
Hito returned Kotonoha to me.
But I didn’t need it anymore.
Because I knew.
That I had been abandoned by my mother—
“I see, so I was thrown away…”
It wasn’t about Hito.
The child that appeared in the story about the shrine priestess wasn’t him.
That priestess unleashed calamity on the world, and ran away on her own.
She ran away from her responsibility.
She abandoned her child.
Hito’s parents, and my parents too—
“This was never real!” I raised the Kotonoha that Hito returned to me above my head.
The Kotonoha that my mother left behind for me.
The Kotonoha that showed me a dream of being held, overflowing with love and full of warmth.
But that was really just a dream.
It was nothing more than a lie and a false dream.
“Wait! If you destroy it, you’ll never be able to hear its words again!”
The priests’ shout stopped me.
“I don’t know what words are stored in there, but you shouldn’t destroy it.”
“Ahaha….” I laughed.
The memory were all fake. The dream a lie.
But these were the memories of my one and only mother.
Even though I knew I was abandoned, I was still led around by the nose. I was caught in her spell.
We who had been abandoned by our parents, couldn’t throw away even one of their words.
“What do you mean?” The priestess sounded confused as she asked Hito.
“My name is Hito. The kid I picked up had a name that was confusingly similar to mine, so I changed it for him.”
Hito was the one who gave me my name.
“His real name is Pithos. He’s the child that was abandoned by your calamity priestess.”
Isn’t that great. She was able to find out who Pithos was.
But for me, that truth was cruel.
I wanted to know. I always wanted to know.
But it would have been better if I didn’t.
If I couldn’t even cling to my dream, then what were we supposed to live for?
There wasn’t even a fragment of hope at the very bottom of this world.
The world was full of malice.
The world was full of sorrow.
The world was full of rage.
That’s all it was. If it was all a cruel world with nothing else…
I dashed up the altar and grabbed the lid on the Calamity Jar
“…Then it would be better of gone!!”
I unleashed Calamity on the world.
Just as my mother once did—
Who sent Kotonoha to us?
Why us of all people?
What reason did they have?
There were still unanswered questions, but I had finally figured out a way to return to our world.
Apparently if I destroyed Kotonoha, we’d never be able to see the memories it contained again.
Meaning all we had to do was destroy this leaf and choose to let go of the truth one more time.
I wasn’t happy about leaving questions unanswered like this, but in this situation, we couldn’t afford to wait until everything was neatly resolved.
I had no idea where things would go from here.
The best option right now was to take any chance to go home as soon as possible. I’d forget the entire truth once I returned anyway, so any unease I felt over leaving the mystery unsolved would probably disappear as well.
“Tokiya, are you going to destroy it?”
“Yeah, just like we heard a second ago.”
“I see…” Saki’s voice was tinged with regret.
But she must have known she couldn’t endanger herself out of sympathy, all the more so for events that already happened in the distant past.
Just as I was ready to crush Kotonoha in my fist—
—Saki touched my hand.
She seemed just as confused by her own action.
She just reached out to me without thinking all of a sudden…that’s what it felt like, at least.
She pulled her hand back.
What was she trying to do?
Was she trying to stop me?
What was Saki thinking?
Countless voices surrounded me the moment the darkness burst out of the jar and consumed me.
Voices of hate.
Voices of rage.
Voices of sadness.
The feelings of children abandoned.
The same feelings I had. That’s why I understood them. I understood all of their voices.
I spoke to the calamity.
I told them to cover the world with their hate, their fury, and their sadness.
Towards those who were born into fortunate lives.
Towards those who were born wanted.
And more than anything, towards those who were born loved.
As if to reject my words, the malice, turned Calamity, attacked me.
No, that’s wrong. Don’t attack me!
This negative energy was for those born into fortunate lives.
This torment is for those who were born wanted
No, it’s not me!
Only those that were born loved should be destroyed by the Calamity.
IT’S YOU IT’S YOU IT’S YOU IT’S YOU IT’S YOU IT’S YOU IT’S YOU IT’S YOU—
The resounding voices threatened to split my head.
The pain running through me threatened to tear me apart. Why? Why did they all envy me?
I wasn’t fortunate.
I wasn’t wanted.
I wasn’t loved.
The calamity, now mud-like, dragged me deeper and deeper into its depths.
I couldn’t muster any strength to fight it.
I really would die like this.
But that was also fine.
It’s just, if I could, I wanted to take those who were born loved—those who had what we could never obtain—down with me.
With those thoughts in my heart, I continued to fall.
I fell, and I fell, down into the deepest depths of the calamity.
There, I saw it.
A faint glow. A weak, vague light, like something out of dream.
And in that light, a silhouette.
A solitary woman.
A woman cradling a child in her arms.
The child entrusted everything to the woman that held him. That’s all it was.
That dream again—
The same dream as always. I was seeing it even at a time like this.
Even though I knew it was a lie.
Even though I knew it was fake.
The mother was holding her child now, but she would throw him away before long. She would abandon her child to escape her responsibility and run from her sins.
All of it was fake.
I stretched my arm out to swipe the light away.
And the moment my outstretched hand touched it—
—A change began to occur in the light.
This dream was always just a mother holding her child.
But this time, something was different.
The story of how it began, how it progressed…and how it ended flowed into my mind.
It was a single story.
One that had been hidden from me.
Of the wretched past of the clan that sealed malice.
Of the curse of the sealed malice, hidden by the shrine.
Of the short life of a certain priestess.
It was the story of the brief time a child born from malice was showered with a lifetime’s worth of his mother’s love.
A truth completely unlike the truth that the world knew.
This was the story of the hidden truth, lost in the depths of the jar.
Suddenly, a painful noise rang inside my head—
I’ve destroyed Kotonoha and see myself beginning to fade away
It looks like abandoning the truth was a success.
I’ll definitely be able to go back home now.
Saki is quietly watching me.
I turn and look back at her.
That’s when I notice.
Saki looks different from me; she’s not fading away at all.
She stands there, doing nothing.
I desperately reach out to touch her.
But before my hand reaches…
… my vision cuts to black.
I came back to my senses and stared at Saki.
Saki was still there, expressionless as always. I looked at myself in a panic, but Kotonoha was still in my hand undamaged. I wasn’t fading away either.
What was that just now?
Vision showed me premonitions of death.
But I couldn’t understand what this one meant.
I disappeared, and only Saki remained. In other words, did that mean only the person who destroyed Kotonoha could abandon the truth?
Or did it mean that this vision was foretelling my death, and that I shouldn’t destroy Kotonoha?
I didn’t know what to think.
I couldn’t understand what Vision was trying to convey to me.
“You won’t destroy it?” Saki asked in an even voice.
“Yeah. I saw a vision.”
I didn’t need to explain any further. Saki understood that destroying Kotonoha was dangerous and didn’t ask me anything else.
Why though? Why did I disappear, but not Saki?
I thought we could go back home by destroying Kotonoha.
But now it seemed that wasn’t the case.
Just what had I overlooked?
SHE THREW YOU AWAY—
The calamity whispered to lead me astray
SHE DIDN’T WANT YOU—
It was true that my mother threw herself into the jar and left me behind.
YOUR MOTHER THREW YOU AWAY AND CHOSE US—
It was true that my mother chose the abandoned children.
What did that matter to me?
The Calamity’s whispers didn’t affect me at all now that I knew the truth.
In fact, their envy made my realization all the stronger.
I thought I had been abandoned.
I thought I wasn’t loved.
But that was wrong.
The truth was hidden inside this jar.
The hidden truth, the one stolen from me.
But my mother left me a part of that truth.
So I wouldn’t fall into doubt.
So I wouldn’t lose sight of it.
She left a single leaf in my hands.
“…I was so stupid.”
The dream Kotonoha showed me was real.
How could I have doubted her kindness?
How could I have doubted her warmth?
How could I have doubted the depth of her love?
It was a truth beyond any words.
I tightly held Kotonoha as The Calamity spewing out of the jar continued to eat away at me.
I could see it now.
The image of my mother holding me, enveloped in endless love.
I saw myself with no doubts, entrusting everything to her, and believing in her.
I now felt the same way I did then.
My mother never abandoned me.
“…loved me that much.”
I wished I had noticed sooner.
The truth that I would have never known had I not struggled and reached the bottom of this jar.
Even though it was right next to me the entire time.
I made a terrible mistake.
I opened the lid on the jar.
I unleashed calamity on the world.
I thought I was following my mother’s footsteps, but that was wrong. My mother saved us. She saved the world, and me as well.
And despite all that, I brought her thoughts, her determination, and her sacrifice all to nothing.
“I’m sorry.” She wasn’t here, but I still apologized.
My heartfelt apology would never reach her now.
If she were here, she’d probably be shocked and really abandon me this time.
Or maybe she would just gently scold me.
Please abandon the truth—
I heard a voice.
The calamity was still eating away at me and I couldn’t lift my body.
But there was definitely someone standing next to me now. The voice continued to speak from above me as I lay on my back.
“You, who have discovered the truth of this jar, please forget what you have learned. Please forget it all. Do that, and you will be able to return to your world, and I shall return the calamity back into the jar.”
This voice didn’t belong to one of the children of calamity.
It was the voice of a much older woman, one filled with warmth and kindness.
I almost agreed to her request.
However, gathering all of my resolve, I managed to refuse.
How could I forget something like this?
If I forgot this truth, then I would be lost once again. I’d be full of resentment again.
Even though I finally knew the truth.
Even though I finally learned what I always wanted to know.
I didn’t care about going back home.
I didn’t care what happened to the world outside.
This truth was one I couldn’t abandon. I just couldn’t.
—I didn’t want to let it go.
“Thank you. However, it’s best that no one knows the truth.”
I felt something softly stroking my face.
And was warm
I knew this.
I knew this gentleness.
I knew this fragrance.
I knew this warmth.
This was, this was—
I tried to raise my head with my little remaining strength.
But I couldn’t manage to do even that.
I didn’t have that kind of strength left after being attacked by the calamity.
But I knew someone who was strong enough to do even more under the same circumstances.
I knew this because of the truth hidden in the jar.
Back then, my mother crawled across the floor to escape to the door with me in her arms when the calamity attacked her.
I had just been born, and she shouldn’t have had any strength left in her.
But now I couldn’t move.
I couldn’t even lift my head.
How? Why was she able to do something like that?
“…Was it for my sake?”
The more I understood the depth of her love, the more I was moved by it. And the more ashamed I felt of my stupidity.
“So please, abandon the truth. Then go live in your own world.”
It was a forgiving voice.
This was bad. I couldn’t abandon it, but it was hard to resist.
It was fading away. The truth I finally obtained was fading away.
I’d forget everything if I let go of the truth.
If that happened, I’d have doubts again. I’d be resentful again.
I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to forget. I finally got a hold of what I always wanted.
But I couldn’t resist. I couldn’t stop the truth from being pulled out of my head.
I gnashed my teeth in frustration.
Even though I didn’t want to forget. Even though I absolutely could not forget.
Even though it would mean letting go of my mother again—
“I understand everything…Pithos.”
With those words, my resistance collapsed.
I stretched out my hand which shouldn’t have been able to move.
I still held Kotonoha.
The Kotonoha that Hito once stole, that had never contained any words.
I knew what I had to do with my mother’s words.
I had another option open to me beyond struggling to keep my memories.
Before I forgot, while I still had memories of this truth, there were things I wanted to pass on. There were things that had to be passed on no matter what.
Kotonoha was a leaf that transmitted memories.
I had to choose.
I had to choose who to send these memories to and when.
A single Kotonoha leaf.
I poured my memories into it with all my effort.
Please don’t let go of the truth—
The anguish of believing he had been abandoned by his mother.
The joy of knowing of her love.
And more than anything else, to destroy the lie created by that world that lived on due to her sacrifice along with a strong desire for the truth hidden here to never be abandoned.
Those were the feelings packed into this single Kotonoha leaf.
Seeing that, I finally understood the events we were shown and the reason why we were here.
As Kairi couldn’t stop himself from forgetting after making his choice, he entrusted his memories to those who would one day have to make the same choice he did.
Specifically, it was for people who were hesitant to let go of the truth.
Had we really been resolute in our decision to forget everything, Saki and I probably wouldn’t have ended up here in the first place. Everything, including the truth hidden inside Kotonoha, would have been swallowed up by the Calamity. The fact that Towako-san wasn’t here with us was the best proof of that.
Maybe I had hesitated at the last second.
I raised my hand in the air.
In it, was the Kotonoha filled with Kairi’s memories.
We came into contact with the truth contained in this leaf, and that was what stopped us from going home.
Meaning I had to make the choice one more time.
I understood Kairi’s wishes, but I still had to make my decision—this time for real.
Should I let go of the truth and return home?
Or should I keep the truth and remain inside the Calamity Jar?
There was, of course, only one obvious choice. Even now that I knew about Kairi’s memories, I wouldn’t make any mistakes here.
But before that, there was something I needed to confirm.
“Saki, can you abandon the truth?”
She was on her knees next to the Calamity Jar, her back turned to me.
Now that I knew the truth about Kotonoha, the vision where I disappeared and Saki remained after it was destroyed could only mean one thing.
—Saki had chosen to remain here without abandoning the truth. That’s what Vision was trying to tell me.
Saki’s back looked smaller than ever as she turned around. I thought I’d see her usual poker face when she faced me, but instead she looked shocked.
She must have sympathized so much with the memories she saw that she was hesitant to let go of the truth. The fact that she saw Kotonoha’s memories like I did was the best proof of that.
That’s why she wanted to change something. She wanted to interfere—to do something and change this past.
“Saki, give it up. Everything we saw already happened a long time ago.” I told her what would happen next. “Pandora most likely sealed the Calamity again afterwards.”
She was the only one who had that ability. The truth had become distorted by the records saying that the Calamity was sealed due to the priestess’s prayers, but the documents also said that the second opening of the Calamity jar was safely resolved. The Calamity was sealed, and everyone, including Pandora’s sister, forgot the truth.
“It’s already over. There’s nothing we can do.”
“…We can’t do anything?”
“We can’t change the past?”
“No matter what?”
“No matter what.” I repeated and forced Saki to face reality. “We’ll never be able to change the past no matter what we do.”
Saki slowly turned around.
I couldn’t help but ask.
Why did she look like that—?
But I couldn’t voice my question. Saki’s face wasn’t as expressionless as usual when she looked at me—
—it was warped in grief.
My mother said she understood.
That’s why I believed that my feelings had reached her.
I believed there were things that could be transmitted even without words.
That’s why what I needed to pass on weren’t my feelings of gratitude towards her.
What I had to do was protect my mother’s memory.
It wasn’t enough, but this was all I could do to repay her kindness.
But I couldn’t choose to keep the truth myself.
If I did that, then there would be no meaning in my mother sacrificing herself and sealing the calamity so I could live on.
That’s why, even one person was enough.
To those who one day stumble upon this truth. And to those who are hesitant to let it go.
I implore you, please do not abandon the truth.
This is the story of one mother who loved her child, and gave herself to save the world he lived in.
And for all those who have forgotten, please
Never let this truth be forgotten.
“Tokiya, it’s not because I sympathize with them.”
Her words left me confused.
It wasn’t sympathy? That couldn’t be right. The memories in Kairi’s Kotonoha were sent to everyone why sympathized with his mother and had doubts about letting go of the truth. She would have never seen the memories had she not felt some sympathy.
Saki stood silently, now back to her usual poker face.
However, there were cracks in her expression.
A stark difference from how she usually was, it felt like she was struggling to hold back her feelings.
Why? Why was she making a face like that?
Was it really not out of sympathy?
If it wasn’t sympathy, then why did she look like that?
“I wasn’t sure whether or not I wanted to stay in the world, so I was hesitant to let go of the truth.”
…I see. So that’s what it was.
Kairi wanted to pass his memories on to people who were hesitant to let go of the truth.
It didn’t matter what the reason was.
No, to be specific, he didn’t consider that there could be any other reason.
But if what Saki said was true, there was still something I didn’t understand.
Why did she need to be torn about leaving or staying in this world?
What meaning was there in remaining here?
—Where did Saki’s true goal lie?
“I asked if there was anything we could do to interfere with the events Kotonoha showed us, but it wasn’t because I wanted to save Pandora and the others.”
“Why then?” I asked, my voice hoarser than I thought it would be.
But Saki did not answer.
Instead, she turned a question on me.
“Hey, what would you do if I asked you to stay here together with me?”
My first thought was that this was an extension of Kotonoha’s power. I thought that maybe it was taking Saki’s form to shake my resolve and try to stop me from abandoning the truth.
“What kind of ridiculous…” I somehow managed to squeeze out a reply.
Saki ignored my useless reply and stared at me.
“So, what would you do?” Her question didn’t change.
“Even if you ask me what I’d do…”
“You’re asking me that, but…”
“Answer me!” She was shouting now.
It wasn’t like her at all. But that was exactly why I had to answer.
I had to answer truthfully, without any lies or deceit.
This wasn’t a hypothetical question.
What would I do if Saki really asked me to stay here with her?
What would happen if I said I’d stay?
What would happen if I said I wouldn’t?
I answered Saki’s question.
—I wouldn’t stay.
“…I see.” She muttered softly.
For an instant, Saki seemed so far away. Almost as if I alone was going to return home, and she alone would remain here.
“That’s not it!”
I panicked and grabbed Saki’s hand.
I held her hand. There was only an arm’s length of distance between us. Yet if felt like I was still so far away from her.
“That’s not what I meant!”
I denied it. I denied the mistaken meaning in my own words.
“I’m taking you back home with me!”
That was my answer.
It had nothing to do with the answer Saki was expecting.
It was my only true, honest, genuine answer.
“Let go of the truth and go back home with me….no, I’m going to take you back with me. No matter what.”
I brought Saki closer and hugged her. It was an embrace only to stop her from moving.
So that I’d never let her go.
So that I wouldn’t leave her here alone.
I didn’t want to ask her why she said that.
Because I’d surely forget once we returned to our world.
There was no point even if she told me.
…It definitely wasn’t because I was afraid.
“Saki, is that alright?”
I couldn’t see her expression since her face was buried in my chest, but I did feel a small nod.
Choosing to believe that nod, I crushed Kotonoha in my hand.
Kairi’s memories disappeared, scattering into rainbow colored particles.
Saki began to fade away. She had made her decision to abandon the truth.
I also let go of the truth and swore in my heart.
That I would leave the truth buried in the darkness for good this time.
But that didn’t bother me.
I hadn’t made the wrong choice.
I brought Saki even closer to me.
She tightly held my arm, her face still buried in my chest.
I wonder what she thought of my answer…
Was I able to convince her, or was she still dissatisfied?
I had taken away her choice and—
“Tokiya, you’re kind.
—But you’re really full of yourself.”
We didn’t get back to the slum until morning. Hito was in the room sleeping next to me.
I ended up getting a long lecture from the priestesses for sneaking into the shrine to steal. On the way back, Hito confessed and returned Kotonoha to me.
In the end, Hito didn’t find a Kotonoha leaf containing his parent’s words. That’s why the note left by his parents was all he had left to believe.
But he was the same as them.
Hito’s parents gave up their lives to protect him. It wasn’t the right way for them to show their love, but it was still love all the same.
He probably wouldn’t believe me if I told him, but I knew he would understand one day.
Because even Hito gave me his own bread without leaving anything to eat for himself.
I stared at the Kotonoha in my hand.
The image of my mother holding me as a baby.
There were no words recorded here, but I could still feel her love.
There were times when I doubted her. There were times when I resented her.
But things were different now.
I didn’t know what it was inside of me.
I felt like I was forgetting something.
Why could I believe in her now?
That I wasn’t thrown away.
And that I was loved—?
But that alone saved Hito and me. We could keep on living.
I’m glad I was born your son.
I woke up inside Tsukumodo Antique Shop.
It looked like I had fallen asleep on my break somehow.
I looked towards the store and saw Saki. Her eyes were a little red and there were tears in the corners of her eyes. She must have been feeling drowsy at the storefront.
“Ahh, I’m beat.” Towako-san came down the stairs into the living room scratching her long black hair. In her arm was a Relic that she purchased yesterday.
“Did you ever figure out what that thing is?”
Towako-san nodded, and began to explain.
“It’s apparently a Relic that can keep any kind of memory to send to anyone at any time.”
Its name was Kotonoha.
“Wow, that’s pretty strange.”
“I know, right? It really is a strange power.”
“No, what’s strange is that you managed to buy something real this time.”
Towako-san responded to my pointed observation with her fist.
“But the jar you bought yesterday was fake, wasn’t it?”
“Shut up. That one’s valuable in its own way.”
“It’s just really big and inconvenient.”
“Come to think of it, where did I even buy that?”
“I don’t know. Some shop somewhere? Really, hearing you say that makes me think this might be a fake too…”
I picked up the Kotonoha that Towako-san had set on the table.
It was just for an instant, I felt something like a vision.
What was that feeling just now?
“What are you doing, Tokiya?” I heard Saki’s voice.
“Oh, it’s nothing. Must have been my imagination.”
“Alright. Well, come back to the store. Your break’s about over.”
I put Kotonoha back on the table and walked back to the store.
“Did you not get enough sleep?”
“No, I did.”
“Your eyes are red.”
Saki used her small hand to cover her eyes. However, it was with her usual lack of expression.
“What is it?”
I felt like I had forgotten something hugely important.
But that was probably just my imagination…