Chapter 2 – Statue
Something belies your expectations.
Something just won’t go your way.
Something leaves you at a loss.
Occurrences like these are hardly rare.
For instance, let’s consider a common purchase: some buy brand named articles only to find out that they were ripped off, others purchase something on the Internet and get something entirely different from what they were expecting. Stories like these are a dime a dozen.
Everyone has had such experiences more than just once or twice, and dealt with them them either by just leaving things as is or by returning the article.
But if that article happens to be a Relic, that won’t do.
If it merely turns out to be fake, that’s one thing.
But if it’s real and its power turns out to be wholly different than expected, then it’s no laughing matter.
Absolutely no laughing matter.
A child lay in bed, breathing painfully.
Not even 10 years old, she had apparently been suffering from a high fever for three days. The heat had flushed her face, and on her forehead sweat beads kept appearing no matter how many times her mother wiped them off. From time to time, she coughed with pain, only to groan afterward, with her head aching from the sudden movement.
There was no doctor in the village. The only profession there among the fields was farming.
There was no medicine in the village, either. While sometimes wandering medicine sellers came by to spend the night, the villagers hadn’t any money with which to buy from them. From time to time the villagers could get some medicine in exchange for a bed and a breakfast, but nowhere near enough for everyone.
Thus, rest was the only cure available.
Thus, whoever aggravated his illness would die.
We became aware of these dire circumstances on the day we arrived.
“I beg you, please save our child!”
It was no wonder that the child’s parents relied on us, given how things were in the village. For we had played doctor in the past.
Yes, you could say that we had played doctor.
But that was not quite accurate.
In fact, we did not use any medicine nor perform any operations.
His touch was all there was to it.
It was just my master touching the sick.
“You needn’t worry anymore,” he whispered softly and touched the child’s forehead with his right hand.
A moment later—
Her wild breathing started to calm down bit by bit. The high fever that had made her cheeks red and had brought the sweat to her brow disappeared into oblivion. The endless cycle of painful coughing was broken and the child opened her eyes as if nothing had happened.
“Mm? What’s the matter?”
These were her first words after three long days of high fever.
Her parents burst into tears when they realized that she had survived after all, and embraced their wondering child.
The onlooking villagers were speechless with admiration at first, but then started to overwhelm us with words of appreciation and admiration.
His touch would heal any disease on the spot.
His touch would heal any wound on the spot.
It was a miracle that could hardly come from a human hand.
Divinity dwelt in his right hand—
With a casual greeting I, Tokiya Kurusu, entered the shop.
The interior was stuffed with miscellaneous items such as accessories, jars, portraits and whatnot. “Stuffed”—not “stocked”—for it looked much more like a storeroom than a store. Though many storerooms may, in fact, be tidier.
And this deserted backstreet shop, the Tsukumodo Antique Shop (FAKE), was where I worked part-time.
Normally, a rather curt girl all in black was supposed to be standing there behind the counter, but she was, apparently, in the other part of the building.
I opened the door at the back and went further inside. The shop was directly connected to the residence of the two.
I entered the living room and, instead of the people I was looking for, found something strange on the table.
It was a potted plant and a doll of a dog. Some sort of weed was planted in the pot and tied to the doll by some cord. Moreover, there was a clock face on the pot with a hand indicating the time.
Upon closer inspection, it appeared to be an alarm clock and it was set to 5pm.
In fact, it happened to be just one minute before 5 o’clock. The dog opened its eyes and started to stroll about on the table, pulling the weed slowly out of the pot.
By all appearances it was some kind of automaton clock, although I didn’t quite get its purpose. ?
As the weed was being pulled out, its brown root slowly became visible. Watching the root closely, that part started to look to me like a human head and gave me the shivers.
I was, however, unsurprised. After all, the owner of this shop was a sucker for such gimmicks.
But wow, that’s one grotesque alarm clock. I wouldn’t want to wake up to that thing every morning.
These thoughts crossed my mind, while the dog kept moving away from the pot step by step, revealing more of the head-like root.
That alarm clock kinda reminded me of something.
Let me think…
Wasn’t there some tale or legend where dogs were used to pull up some kind of plant?
What was it called again…? Mm…
“Ah. It was a mandrake.”
When a mandrake root is pulled up, the plant screams and kills all who hear it, which is why dogs are used to do the picking…
“…Oh no, please not.”
It was just when a bad premonition struck me that the clock hand pointed at the five and the dog doll made the last step.
The head-like root slipped out of the pot and raised a scream while pulling a face like The Scream by Edvard Munch.
I knocked over the mandrake clock.
The clock fell onto the floor and continued to groan there.
“Tch, just a fake,” flicked a woman as she appeared as though she had been watching the whole time.
It was the owner of this shop as well as my employer, Towako Settsu.
She was probably best described as a cool beauty. Well-formed eyebrows adorned her face, a strong will shone in her eyes, and smooth black hair of a brilliant luster reached down to her waist. She had a slender build and was a wee bit taller than me, whose body size was equal to that of the average high-schooler, making her appearance quite provocative. The same could be said for her clothes: she wore a skin-tight shirt with a jacket and slim leather pants that accentuated her long legs.
However, her behavior was far removed from her looks.
Not only did she collect bizarre oddities, but she also found it funny to test them on me like a kiddie.
That said, it was not like she collected those oddities just for a hobby.
In fact, what she collected were known as Relics.
Not antiques or objects of art, but tools with special abilities created by mighty ancients or magicians, or objects that have absorbed their owners’ grudges or natural spiritual powers.
In tales and legends, there are often tools that have special powers; for instance, a stone that brings good luck, a doll whose hair grows night after night, a mirror that shows your future appearance, a sword that brings ruin to anyone who draws it.
Everybody has most likely heard of their existence.
However, people consider them mere fantasies because they have not seen them, they do not notice them even if they are right before their eyes, and they believe in some sort of coincidence if something mysterious occurs.
Some feel unconcerned, while others are certain such things do not exist.
Regrettably though, Relics are closer to us than we may think.
Her hobby was to collect those Relics.
Well, most of the times, like this time, she was conned into buying fakes.
“A lot of cash went out of the window for this mandrake clock…” grumbled Towako-san after switching off the still-crying clock.
“Just for the record: what would happen if it were real?”
“You would have died.”
“Heck, that’s no alarm clock anymore, is it!?”
“Oh come on, it’s not like that’d be the end of the world.”
But it is! Quite literally! I’m sure I lost a few years of my lifespan because of that thing…
“By the way, when did you come back?”
She had been absent for a week for her Relic purchases.
“Mm, just now. Tokiya? Put this on a shelf.”
Towako-san ordered me to add the mandrake clock (FAKE) to the shop. And up goes the stockpile of items that had nothing whatever to do with antiquity.
“Where do you want it?”
“I don’t care.”
“Why don’t you try working out a system for a change?”
I returned to the shop and put the clock in some free space next to an old camera. Incidentally, it was a (fake of a) camera that would capture a picture of the past of the person you took a photograph of.
Towako-san entered the shop as well, and pushed on the register in passing.
Upon seeing the printed weekly sales, she pulled a sour face. Apparently, she did care a little about how we sold.
I would highly recommend that she didn’t, though.
“What else did you buy?”
“Ah, actually, I made a nice find this time.”
She quickly erased the sales history from her mind and told me about her find.
“It’s a statue from a village that was deserted about a hundred years ago, you know? But boy does that thing look grotesque, even though it’s said to cure any illness if you touch it.”
“Is it true?”
“Apparently, nobody ever tried.”
“That sounds damn fishy if you ask me.”
“I wouldn’t have bought it either if that was all, but in fact there is another myth according to which you die of an incurable illness if you touch the statue.”
“Isn’t that kinda the exact opposite?”
“Right. One myth says it cures any illness. Another says it kills you through illness. What do you say? Don’t you get excited to find out why there are two opposing myths for one and the same statue?”
“Well, can’t deny that.”
“So I got ahold of some documents and research materials, which I’ll be perusing starting today. The shop’s in your hands,” she blurted out and turned round. “Ah, not to forget!” she suddenly added, “Be absolutely sure not to touch the statue directly until we know what effect it has! If you touch it, touch it with gloves. Otherwise I’ll take no responsibility if you die.”
I nodded… and froze.
Before our eyes stood my coworker, Saki Maino, holding an odd statue barehanded.
“That harlot is a witch in human guise!”
“She has brought calamity on our village!”
Countless angry cries resounded outside the temple. Probably most of the villagers had surrounded the temple by then.
Why has it come to this? I just wanted to save them.
I lifted the statue in my hands in front of my face.
It was a statue that would cure any illness. It was a statue my master had bequeathed to me. It was a statue full with his gentleness… and yet…
—He must have left behind a curse.
I recalled the words I had received from a villager. Was it true? Was it a curse he had left behind?
I wanted to believe this was wrong, that this wasn’t the case.
I wanted to believe that he wouldn’t do such a thing.
Suddenly, I felt that the temple had gotten warmer. It was winter at the time, and it was not possible for spring to arrive out of the blue. In my confusion, the temperature continued to rise.
As the temperature soared, I heard the sound of wood crackling.
I immediately realized that the building had been set on fire.
It didn’t take long for the warmth to change into heat.
I must flee.
In an attempt to stand up, I fell on the ground and threw up all that came welling up.
It was clear to me that I had thrown up blood.
As of late, I had been throwing up blood so frequently I had gotten used to it. I, too, had been afflicted with the plague.
More importantly, I was concerned about the statue in my hands.
Please do not get stained with my blood.
With my sleeves, I wiped off the blood that may or may not have stuck to the statue, and upon finishing, I firmly held it once more.
My illness, however, remained uncured.
The statue that once cured any illness could no longer cure any illness.
Which death will come quicker? Death by disease or death by fire?
My awareness dulled and became clouded due to the internal and external sources of heat.
Bygone days crossed my mind as I slowly lost consciousness.
His name was Juan.
While he was only a little over thirty, his hair was pure white. However, it did not make him appear aged and infirm, but in conjunction with his skin, white as though it had not seen the sun, it was a representation of his purity.
At the time, Juan-sama dwelt in an abandoned temple in the recesses of the mountains. Without tying himself to any denomination, he simply and devoutly worshipped the Buddha.
At times he would pray, at times he would carve statues of the Buddha, and at times—he would heal people with his right hand.
The people of the village often visited his temple in need of his right hand.
The people were poor and the land was barren in this village. They lived humbly off the few crops the land grudgingly yielded. Because the people could not afford medicine and because there was no doctor, whoever was taken sick went to him to receive the blessings of his right hand.
The plague ravaging the village started with coughing and continued with a high fever, after which the victim threw up blood. Next, the victim fell into paralysis, his metabolism slowed, and eventually he died.
But ever since my master—and his right hand in which divinity dwells—had come to this village, the plague had claimed no more victims.
I, too, had received the blessings of his right hand.
My parents had abandoned me in the mountains and I was on the verge of dying either of starvation because I had nothing to eat or of hypothermia because I was buried in snow, when I was rescued by Juan-sama, who was traveling.
While I can’t remember well what happened when I was rescued, I know that a gentle warmth filled my cold body and revitalized my life force.
Since then, I stayed with him and took care of the everyday chores.
I was not the only one who wanted to live with Juan-sama, but he always rejected the others.
That said, there was no special reason as for why I was the only one to stay with him. Most likely, he had simply pitied me—a girl not even half his age with no one else to depend on.
In order to return the favor, I cleaned the temple and prepared the meals and washed our clothes each and every day without exception.
The object of worship at the temple was a golden statue of the Buddha that belonged to Juan-sama. He himself had carved it out of Cypress wood and gilded it. It was only about the size of a stray cat, though… That comparison may be a little crass. But as I am uneducated, I cannot think of a better one.
Anyway, Juan-sama treasured the statue, and therefore I did so as well.
He cherished the statue and healed the people without fail. When healing, he always kept it by his side to borrow its power.
My first task in the morning was to clean the statue.
Each morning I polished it with a towel soaked in cold winter water.
“Forgive me for making you do such hard work.”
Juan-sama often expressed his gratitude when seeing me cleaning or washing with ice-cold water.
But such tasks were far from being a pain. To me, it didn’t matter whether the water I used was ice-cold or lukewarm.
One reason was, of course, my attitude, but it was mostly because my hands were already numb and their skin as hard as stone.
I had probably been buried for too long in the snow before being rescued. My hands were half-dead.
Even Juan-sama’s right hand was unable to heal the deadened parts .
While his right hand could cure any illness and injury, it could not revive the dead. Likewise, it could not heal dead body parts.
Nonetheless, thanks to his hand, I could avoid losing mine.
I could not move my fingers freely, but I could move them a little. Holding things with my arms was also possible, so it was not that much of a deal after some accustoming.
I was comfortable with the way it was.
“Forgive me. If only I had discovered you sooner…”
From time to time, he would spontaneously fold his hands around mine and rub them gently.
Only at these times, I wished that I still had feeling in them.
Earlier I said that divinity dwells in his right hand, but I believe there is no God.
If God can’t even save a village from a plague or a child from starving in the wilderness, then it doesn’t matter if he exists or not. And if it doesn’t matter, then he might just as well not exist.
And so, he was God to me.
If he, who has saved a village from a plague and a child from starving in the wilderness, is not God, what else could he be?
But when I told him this, he admonished that I shouldn’t say such outrageous things.
And so I stopped saying it, even while thinking so to myself.
Once, I asked him about his right hand.
Apparently, it all started with a dream.
He had cut his hand across something like a rusted nail and received a high fever, which subsequently drove him to the brink of death for several days. But one day, a Buddha appeared in his dreams and touched Juan-sama’s cheek with his right hand.
Despite being in a dream, he felt much cooler.
Finally, before leaving, a Buddha touched his right hand and told him to save the people.
When he woke up on the next day, the fever was gone.
The first thing he did upon awakening was touch a sparrow with broken wings.
Everyone was sure the sparrow would never fly again, but the instant he touched it, the sparrow soared into the air.
It was then that he realized that a Buddha had granted a power to his right hand.
At the same time, he decided that saving people was his calling.
He then traveled from place to place, performing miracles and saving people.
But life just doesn’t go as we want.
His mysterious power did not only bring blessings, but also doubt and fear.
The more people he saved, the more his power was suspected to be some sort of a curse, and it wasn’t uncommon for him to be driven away under the fear that he was a demon under the guise of a human.
If he were to be driven away from this place as well, I was going to follow him like I had done so far.
I was happy just being together with him.
The thought of leaving him had never even occurred to me.
Nonetheless, we still sought peace.
The people here accepted us.
I wished that we could remain at this place for a long time.
I liked our life here and wanted it to continue.
—But there was one worry I had.
Recently, my master started to cough frequently.
Similar to the coughs of the villagers that visited him for a cure.
When I told him to cure himself with his right hand, he only laughed and said that I was right.
The statue was—in a word—eerie.
It was quite difficult to determine what it was made of. While it looked like rusted iron, it also looked like oxidized copper, and it could even pass as rotten wood. Its color was a dry-looking dark red, and its height was about 50 centimeters, whereas it was so thick that I was barely unable to touch my fingers when I closed my hands around it.
Its shape, however, was the greatest riddle to me. It looked like neither the figure of the Buddha, nor the figure of a devil. Looking as abstract as it did, it gave off an eerie impression, much like seeing faces in trees or walls.
For the time being, we placed the statue, which could not be less fit as an objet d’art to accessorize one’s room, in a glass case for dolls in the living room.
As for Saki, who had touched the statue despite Towako-san’s warning: “Welcome-kachoo. Can I help you-kachoo? Thanks for visiting-kachoo!”
She was working her shift just like always, but while sneezing all the time, being a little sickish. By the way, that customer just now had realized that he made a mistake the moment he opened the door and turned around on the spot. The attendance time of that day’s first customer was one second.
“You sick?” I asked her incidentally because I had nothing to do.
“Seems so-kachoo. I’m not feeling so well since the other day-kachoo. But I don’t think it’s serious-kachoo.”
Watching Saki’s non-varying expression change continuously—though it was only sneezes—was quite entertaining.
While we’re on it, “sneezes” are quite broad. There are repressed sounds like “kchu” or “bshu”, but there are also hearty ones like “Ah-choo!!”. Experts liken this to a “Damn-it!!”, but that’s only done by men, so that’s a different kettle of fish.
Nobody cares about men’s sneezes, but girls can set off their cuteness with just a sneeze. By the way, the sneeze of my preference is “kachoo”.
In that sense, Saki’s sneezes are pretty good…
When I came to because I felt a cold glance, Saki was indeed giving me a cold look.
“You’ve been thinking nonsense again, haven’t you?”
“You can scrap the ‘nonsense’ part.”
Apparently, after working together for one year already, she could guess what I was thinking.
But it couldn’t be helped. There was so nothing to do, that I had to think such nonsense. Oh… I just admitted it was nonsense.
“If Towako-san discovers you-kachoo, being so absent-minded-kachoo, she’ll cut your pay-kachoo-kachoo!”
“She’s shut herself up in her room, so that’s no worry.”
Since three days ago, Towako-san has stayed in her room and has been reading through the documents.
According to Towako-san, that statue was able to cure any illness, but seeing that it could not even cure Saki’s common head cold, there was not much hope. As for the other story, about it inflicting a terminal illness: I had never heard of a terminal illness that started with sneezes. Not much hope there, either.
While she wouldn’t admit it, everything indicated that she had gotten her hands on a fake again.
“All’s right with the world, huh?”
“Already in midlife crisis?”
After a long while, Towako-san crawled out of her room and patted me on the back while drinking a vitamin drink with carrot extracts. Her hair was tied back, most likely so it wouldn’t get in her way, and her eyes were half-closed, most likely because she hadn’t gotten enough sleep. She gave off the impression that it wouldn’t take much longer until she’d have a three-day stubble.
“You can’t really talk about others, now can you? So, did you learn something?”
“Mm… I’ve only started reading, so it’s still too early to say something, but I made a few discoveries.”
“That statue was originally an object of devotion of some temple.”
“That ugly thing?”
“Those statues don’t necessarily have to be Buddhas or Bodhisattvas, you know. There’s that famous example where they worship the thing men wear between their legs, isn’t there? They all have their own meaning and that’s what’s important.”
“And what meaning should this thing have?”
“No clue. But there was another most interesting story, according to which the priest of that temple had a god-like ability that could cure any illness with his touch.”
“Isn’t that exactly the same as with the statue?”
“There were also some anecdotes to this. One time a child with a high fever recovered at once when he touched it, or another time a man fell from a roof and broke his leg. But as soon as he was touched by the priest, his bones grew together and he could walk again. Ah, right, there was also a hilarious one: one time that temple offered mushroom soup to all the villagers, but they all got a foodborne disease because the mushrooms were poisonous. And then, the priest went around touching them, upon which they stood up as if nothing had happened.”
“Sounds fishy, doesn’t it? Quite like one of those bogus sects.”
“Yeah, making a priest look as though he had some sort of power is a common trick they use to gather members. It just bothers me that there are so many of those anecdotes.”
I took a look at the shop.
As far as I could judge from Saki, who was sitting by the counter, coughing, the statue was a fake after all. Probably, the day was near that a new article would be lined up on the shelves.
“Saki, you can take a break,” I said, but there was no response from the counter. “Saki?”
When I patted her on the back, she raised her face and looked up at me with moist eyes, surprised. She was about to say something, but was disrupted by a cough.
A cough? Didn’t she sneeze until just now?
“Saki, are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” she replied as bluntly as ever, but coughed right after.
It seems like her freshly-caught cold has gotten serious.
“Anyhow, I’ll take over here, so get some rest inside.”
Saki remained silent in thought for a few moments, but then she muttered with a slightly hoarse voice, “Okay,” and stood up. She staggered and leaned onto me. Through her forehead she pressed against me, I felt her head. It was a little hot.
“Hey… are you feeling that bad?”
“Jeez, make out somewhere else,” said Towako-san.
From where she was standing, we must have looked as though we were hugging each other.
“It looks like she’s really caught a cold! Hey, pull yourself together!”
I patted Saki’s cheeks to make her mind clear. With a weak nod, she went into the living room.
“Who knows? Maybe it’s the statue’s ‘incurable disease?'”
“No way,” I put off Towako-san’s joke.
His cough had grown worse and worse lately. His forehead was terribly hot when I checked. He had also started to drop things from time to time.
The symptoms were clear indications of the disease that had befallen this village.
That year’s disease had spread vigorously and the sick lined up at our temple with no end in sight. Juan-sama was busy treating them.
I’m sure Juan-sama prioritizes the treatment of others over his own.
Bearing down my high respect for him, I scolded him,
Who shall look after the people if something happens to you?
It was a lie.
I did not care about the village.
I merely didn’t want to see him suffering.
But Juan-sama absolutely did not cure himself.
One day, the symptoms of the disease also appeared on me. The coughs of the first stage wouldn’t grant me peace, and I had also came down with a fever. It wasn’t going to take long until my body became numb.
“Come here, I shall cure your disease.”
Juan-sama beckoned me over and held out his right hand.
However, I refused.
He wore a slightly surprised mien.
“Please do not worry about my humble self.”
“Why would you say that?”
“Please, heal yourself before me.”
“I am still all right.”
“All right, you say? Are you not coughing all the time, milord? Do you not have a persistent fever? You cannot move freely anymore. Did you think I would not notice?”
“You may not believe it, but I have a strong body. It will go away in due time. I know myself best. I care much more about you. Quick, let me cure you.”
“Please, do not cause me worry.”
Upon hearing the word “worry”, I almost followed him obediently. I did by no means wish to worry Juan-sama. I didn’t want to see him worried.
Nevertheless, I refused.
If I accepted his treatment, he would certainly delay his own yet again. Perhaps he feared that he could use his right hand only a limited number of times, and was reluctant to use one time for himself.
If that was true, I had to have him heal himself first all the more.
“No matter what you say, I will not let you treat me before you treat yourself.”
Upon realizing that my decision was unshakable, he finally told me.
That he could not heal himself with his right hand.
Three days had since passed.
There were no signs of recovery to Saki’s condition.
Her coughs wouldn’t stop and her fever wouldn’t go down. Her thinking was evidently muddled, as she couldn’t properly change clothes and did things like dropping her spoon when bringing herself to eat.
“Mm… looks nasty,” moaned Towako-san when she left Saki’s room after helping her change clothes.
“Does she feel unwell?”
“Mm? Yeah, that’s also true, but I’m troubled by something else. There aren’t anymore changes of clothing…”
“No, look, I left all the chores to Saki. Her fresh clothes ran out. For that matter, mine ran out, too.”
“Haven’t you washed them?”
“I’m no good at household tasks,” she explained proudly.
I could only facepalm.
“Shall I assign that task to you?”
“Eeh? You don’t often get to wash two girls’ clothes, you know? There’s also pajamas and underwear among them!”
“I firmly refuse.”
“What a square…”
“I just can’t be bothered.”
“Hmph, do as you like. Saki-chan’s awoken just now, so pay her a visit. But don’t stay too long, okay?”
Towako-san walked away with Saki’s old clothes, whereas I entered her room.
It wasn’t the first time I was in there, but it always felt bare to me. With an almost complete lack of furnishing, it was quite the opposite of the overfilled shop. All there was was a desk, a wardrobe and a bed. No plushies, no posters.
She wore black most of the time, but her room was painted white. Under the current situation, it felt much like a hospital.
“Why are you staring around like that?” Saki complained while poking half her face out of the blanket.
“Just thought that you’ve got a really bleak room there. Do you want me to bring you the mandrake clock on my next visit?”
“I don’t need that thing.”
“I figured. Same here,” I joked and sat down on the chair besides her bed, where Towako-san had probably sat. “How are you feeling?”
“That’s what you get from working even though you were sickly.”
An ordinary cooling cloth had been placed on her forehead to cool down her heat a little. I played with the thought of writing “Meat” on it, but I refrained because that was an old chestnut.
However, having sensed danger because I reached out my hand, Saki quickly crawled away from me in her bed.
“I won’t do anything, really.”
“That’s not it.”
Saki poked her face out of the blanket and looked at me.
“I haven’t bathed,” she whispered so softly I could barely understand her.
“Mm? But you don’t stin…”
I suffered a direct punch on the nose when I sniffed her scent. There was a lot more strength in that blow than as expected from the sick.
“For? Your punch?”
“For not working. I have taken three days off so far, after all.”
Maybe because the cold had softened her up, she apologized rather politely.
“Don’t mention it. There’s nothing to do anyway.”
“Towako-san would get angry if she was listening!”
“But she isn’t, so everything’s fine.”
“But I am, aren’t I?”
I started around just to find out that Towako-san had returned without me noticing. She carried a bottle of mineral water. After tossing me the bottle, she told me to come to her afterwards and left.
“That’s why I told you… you’re too careless!”
Saki tried to open the PET bottle I handed her, but failed several times. Apparently she had no strength in her body. I snatched away the bottle to open it for her and returned it.
She sat up and greedily drank some water to satisfy her thirst.
Then, I noticed, somewhat surprised, what she was dressed like.
“Nothing, just didn’t know you were into that kind of thing.”
Saki was wearing a brown pajama that looked like a costume. Now she just had to pull it over her head and she would have made a genuine tanuki.
“Towako-san didn’t have any others… why couldn’t it be black?”
“You’re concerned about the color?!”
“Well, but there are no black tanukis, are there? Better go for a penguin.”
“No, penguins have a white belly.”
What’s with the “no”? To begin with, tanukis also have white bellies.
When I pointed this out, she said, “Now that you say it. How careless of me.”
That was no real reason for her to feel ashamed, but it seemed like her attachment to black allowed no compromises. …What a meaningless conversation.
“Umm, well, let’s put aside the your pajama. Anyhow, get some good rest! It’ll get better tomorrow, I’m sure.”
As I didn’t want to exhaust her by staying too long, I stood up and walked toward the door.
“Ah, wait.” Saki stopped me.
“Mm? Is there still anything?”
“No. Just…,” she whispered in another direction in a voice I could barely hear, “……thanks.”
Her fever must be the reason for her flushed cheeks.
To gloss over her embarrassment, she hurriedly raised the pet bottle to her lips, but a second later she coughed and spat the water on the blanket.
I suspected the water had gone down the wrong way down. I laughed, and as I did, something caught my eye.
Red stains had appeared on her blanket.
Before I knew it, my gaze was fixed on her.
Something red had stuck to the hand she was covering her mouth with.
Juan-sama taught me the details about his right hand.
I learned that his hand did not cure diseases and injuries, but was merely a medium through which he could impart his own life force.
In other words, if life force was water, his right hand would be a ladle to draw on it.
The life force he passed over to the one he touched animated the target’s life force, allowing him to recover by his own natural healing powers.
That is why he could not resurrect the dead, and why parts that had died off due to a burn or a frostbite would stay that way.
The dead had no life force that could be animated.
That is why Juan-sama could not heal himself.
The amount of life force would not change by pouring it into himself.
It was then that I realized that his treatment equated to suicide.
Juan-sama told me that the amount of energy was petty and that it would only require a meal and a day rest to regain it.
He told me that healing the people was, as such, not suicide.
However, doing so with his weakening body was nothing but suicide.
From the day I learned about this, I started to send all the villagers back that sought Juan-sama’s right hand.
I wanted him to have his peace.
I thoroughly explained the situation to the villagers.
That Juan-sama was afflicted with the same disease as they. That he could not heal himself with his right hand. And I also promised them to let them meet Juan-sama as soon as he recovered.
At first, they agreed, but as time went by, they grew suspicious.
Claiming that we willfully held back his power out of greed for money.
Claiming that we gave priority to those who paid us a large sum.
They forgot the favors Juan-sama had done to them and started to spread rumors as they liked.
I decided to seal Juan-sama off from the villagers even more.
He was all I cared about.
Of course I hadn’t informed him about anything.
I told him that the plague was no more and that the people were in the best of health.
It hurt my heart to see his relieved face when he rejoiced, but I steeled myself and went ahead with the lie from start to finish.
While he was pacified, however, his condition worsened day after day—his coughing never stopping, his fever not going down—and eventually, he found himself barely able to eat or walk on his own.
One day, Juan-sama suddenly continued carving his statue of the Buddha with his unresponsive hands.
He scraped off the gilding of the statue he had treasured so much and applied hammer and chisel.
When I asked him why he would do that, he answered that he wanted to finalize the statue and bring it as close as possible to the Buddha he had met in his dream.
Juan-sama had considered the statue incomplete even though it had looked splendid in my eyes.
Day by day, he was absorbed in carving until late at night.
As though he wanted to waste not a day, not an hour, not a minute, not even a second, he hung on.
He worked as if hurried by something.
I did not even want to think about what hurried him.
He wouldn’t listen when I told him out of worry to rest his body.
He was surrounded by an imposing aura.
Carving a statue of the Buddha is said to show one’s belief in the Buddha.
Perhaps he was pleading the Buddha for rescue by cutting the statue as his own life was cut down.
He could save everyone, but no one could save him.
The only one able to save him was the Buddha.
What he did was an act of faith. Each stroke was proof of his faith in the Buddha.
Yet from time to time, it looked to me as though he was swinging a blade down on the Buddha.
Something must have been wrong with my eyes.
A few days later.
Juan-sama had brought his statue to completion.
The statue’s expression was calm like a lake without a ripple, and perfectly clear like a cloudless and birdless sky.
Neither his impelling hurry, nor his imposing aura had appeared on the statue.
Only after seeing the statue in its completed form, could I understood that it had indeed been incomplete. Even though I was uneducated, I was able to assess of what masterful skill the statue was.
But what made it truly splendid in my eyes was its resemblance to him.
It was the Juan-sama that had appeared before me the time I opened my eyes on the verge of death by starvation and cold.
He would have surely denied it.
But the statue was no one else but Juan-sama.
His everything was in there.
It was an incarnation of himself.
—However, by the time he completed the statue, he had become unable to even leave his bed.
He had also started to cough up blood, and also often stained me with his blood when I looked after him.
When that happened, he would apologize for staining me, and wipe the blood off with his right hand.
With his right hand that had gotten skinny like a dead tree.
I could not help but shed tears when seeing him so weak.
Before I knew it, I could not endure the sight of him.
I knew how to save Juan-sama. But couldn’t bring myself to tell him.
One day, he said to me:
“Cut off my right hand.”
I—was beside myself with joy.
Juan-sama had had the same idea as I!
I was delighted that he had also had this thought I couldn’t bring myself to speak out.
I took the chisel he had used for carving and swung it down on his right arm. Again and again and again and again.
The only saving grace was that he could not feel any pain anymore.
After swinging the chisel down several dozen times, I finally succeeded in removing his right arm.
Then I took that arm and touched Juan-sama with it.
If he could not heal himself with his own right hand, I just had to make sure it was not his own hand anymore.
If it’s not his own hand anymore, it could heal him just like anyone else.
May my life force reach him through this right hand.
As long as he recovers, I shan’t care what happens to me.
Every drop of my life force shall be his.
—But Juan-sama wasn’t healed of his disease.
Why did my life force not reach him?
That was wrong.
That couldn’t be.
His right hand was supposed to save him now that it had been removed.
It was supposed to gain the capability of saving him when removed.
Juan-sama was looking up at me.
Juan-sama tried to tell me something.
I raised a shriek when I looked at Juan-sama.
Gushes of blood were streaming out of his severed elbow. His life force was streaming out.
Groveling on the floor with a severed arm and drenched in blood, he looked up at me.
Why has he lost his right arm?
—Because I cut his arm off.
Why is he groveling on the floor?
—Because I cut his arm off.
Why is he dying?
—Because I cut his arm off.
In terror of what I had done, I rushed out of the temple.
What had I done?!
I had thought I could save Juan-sama.
That was all that had been in my head.
—I hadn’t even considered the possibility of failure.
I sought help from the villagers.
But having rejected their pleas for salvation, no one helped me.
All they did was scream in surprise at my blood-stained appearance. However, there was one old woman who listened to my cry for help.
She was the grandmother of the child Juan-sama had saved a while ago. Unlike the others, she had been worried about Juan-sama and did not take him for granted when he became ill and unable to offer his services.
I took her to the temple.
The old woman keeled over upon seeing the gruesome sight.
In a pool of his own blood was the deceased body of Juan-sama.
And at his side was a statue of the Buddha that had watched over him on his deathbed.
I approached my master’s corpse and clasped it in my arms.
I noticed a piece of paper in his kimono.
As I couldn’t read, I asked the old woman to read it to me.
Upon learning that his thoughts hadn’t been the same as mine, I burst into tears.
On that day, I lost my sight.
“Coughing, high fever, hemoptysis and difficulty moving… very similar,” said Towako-san with a serious face.
“Similar to what?”
“To the plague that is mentioned in the stories about the statue.”
“If that thing were a Relic that gave this disease, how could we heal her?”
“I’m afraid I have yet to come across a case in which the incurable disease of that statue was healed.”
“What if”? Accept it already. It’s no fake. The thing in front of your eyes is a Relic that afflicts everyone who touches it with an incurable disease.
“Don’t be down in the mouth! I said ‘yet’. I’ll sift through those documents some more.”
“I’ll help you.”
I would have read those documents much earlier if I knew this was going to happen.
After shaking off the fear that we wouldn’t make it in time, I got down to the documents Towako-san handed to me.
The documents were a summary of the traditional stories of the deserted village the statue was found at.
Apparently this was the research of people who were intrigued by the story about the statue that brought death by disease or cured any disease.
I started off with a relatively old document. It contained a lot of records of cases in which a priest healed the villagers through touch. While no case went as far as reviving the dead, there was a shit load of stories about healing illnesses or wounds. Among those illnesses, there were some whose symptoms resembled that of Saki’s.
I stumbled upon a weird notation.
According to it, the priest was afflicted with the disease and left the scene for recuperation. Why would a priest that could heal any illness contract one and require recuperation?
Deeper into the documents, the priest stopped being mentioned altogether. Some said he died by disease, others said that he disappeared.
Who got mentioned in his place was his disciple and a statue that had apparently been the object of devotion at his temple.
The documents said that it was now the disciple with that statue going around healing the people.
But even further ahead in the writings, it was noted that a large number of people died from the epidemic because touching the statue was of no avail. The statue was said to have lost its power.
Reading on, the situation took a sudden turn and the people who touched the statue contracted a fatal disease.
At this point, the documents became rather vague and incoherent. It was just a rough compilation of stories from hearsay.
As I saw it, the priest hadn’t had a special power, but the mysterious statue did, and the priest had only made it look as though he was healing the people with his touch.
I don’t know what happened to the priest, but his disciple inherited the statue. The disciple, however, made no fuss about it and healed the people by letting them touch the statue.
So far, so good. The problem was what happened then.
Why did the statue suddenly stop healing the people and start afflicting them with some disease?
Perhaps, the story about its healing capabilities was a lie to begin with?
Or did its power change?
Or could it only develop healing power under special conditions?
This was mentioned nowhere.
Damn it, the answer could bring us closer to saving Saki…!
One of the documents contained an afterword in which the author took a stand on the subject.
“The statue is said to have a bizarre and abstract shape akin to a manifestation of hatred and lamentation. As a matter of fact, this description does match the appearance of the actual object. For a wonder, however, it appears that some claimed the statue depicted a peaceful Buddha.
Perhaps, this statue was some sort of vessel that acted as a substitute for the people. Thus, by absorbing the illnesses and wounds of countless self-important people, the statue was under constant defilement until its appearance eventually changed from the Buddha to a wicked devil.
Am I the only one with this view?”
Perhaps, we humans are in its debt? One we can only make up for if the same number of people die as were saved…?
Suddenly, I perceived a silent cough from Saki’s room.
To see how she was, I entered.
The girl on the bed was wax-pale in the face in spite of the heat seizing her body. She seemed to be asleep, but time and again, she was shaken by a fit of coughing.
I outstretched my hands to fix her blanket, when suddenly, something ran through my head.
My vision almost went blank.
I didn’t want to see it. I absolutely did not want to see a future that originated from this situation.
But that wish of mine was ignored.
I have no say about when “Vision” activates.
A painful noise ran through my head—
Saki, collapsed on the floor, gazed at me with wistful eyes.
Wanting to fly to her side, I dashed off, but I tripped over something.
Beside my feet lay that accursed statue.
I kicked it away and rushed to Saki’s side.
Her eyes were half-closed and trying to regain focus in vain.
Even though she was looking directly at me, she couldn’t see me.
Saki opened her mouth in the attempt to say something.
What came out was not her voice, however, but a mouthful of blood.
Trying to form words nonetheless, she opened her bloodstained mouth yet again.
However, her words did not reach me, and with a shiver of her lips, she——
“Did you… see something?”
I came to.
Saki had woken up without me noticing and was gazing at me.
My heart was beating like mad.
I can still make it. In the future I’ve seen, Saki collapsed on the floor, but right now she’s in her bed. In the future I’ve seen, Saki’s eyes had lost focus, but right now she’s looking at me. Her eyes do have focus. She can clearly see me.
That future was not now.
There was still time.
I didn’t know when it was going to happen. But not now. Definitely not now.
“…D-Did I wake you up?” Ignoring her question, I fixed her blanket.
“Answer me. Did you see something?”
I nodded at the question she repeated.
“Yeah… I saw your driveling, slack-jawed face while you were asleep!” I forced out a laugh.
As awkward as as an old, unoiled machine.
Having fixed her blanket and unable to endure being in her room any longer, I left as if escaping.
“You’re a bad liar.”
Her hoarse whisper remained in my ears.
I did not have the time to yield to despair.
I had to succeed his will.
The statue he had carved until his death.
The statue he had left to me.
The statue that had taken on the power of his right hand.
The statue that tied us together.
With that very statue, I had to save the people.
I took the statue and left the mountain.
I sensed their looks of suspicion and respect in the air.
But I did not mind.
I asked if there was anyone ill within the village.
I learned that there was an old man who had been sick in bed for a month and visited him.
Scathingly, his daughter asked for my business. It was obvious that she held a grudge because I had refused her cry for help when she had come to the temple.
“I am here to save you.”
“What can you do? Where is Juan-sama? Go fetch him!”
“Rest assured. This statue shall save your father. He just has to touch it.”
Whether my last words had taken effect, or she wanted to clutch even at straws remains unknown, but she gave in easier than I had expected and led me into their dwelling.
The coughing of her old man came into range. It seemed like it was the epidemic, after all.
I sat down next to the old man and took his hand.
In that instance, he was attacked by a coughing fit. Something dripped from my face the next moment.
It was no doubt blood.
“Please forgive me. It must have been excruciating. But please be assured that this statue will heal you.”
I pressed his hand against the statue.
After I had done so, the coughing of this man with labored breath stopped at once.
He sat up like nothing had happened and his eyes widened in astonishment.
The daughter and a few villagers who had come as onlookers overwhelmed me with words of admiration.
This scene was much alike our first visit to this village when we had saved a child.
Of course it was alike.
For it was symbolically the same incident once again.
“You are well now.”
“Aah… Ah…!” The old man moaned in appreciation and quickly wiped off the blood he had coughed onto me.
“You needn’t concern yourself over it,” I assured gently.
He grasped my hand and expressed his gratitude again and again.
Wonderment spread among the villagers.
“How can this be explained?”
“Almost as if Juan-sama touched him!”
I turned around to them and explained it to them:
“This statue is the incarnation of Juan-sama.”
From then on I regained their trust bit by bit, devoting myself to curing them.
I had to heal one after another as if this was the payback for turning them down in the past. The news left the village and attracted people from the surrounding villages or even farther away.
Of course I did not reject them.
I healed hundreds and thousands of their wounds and diseases.
I intended to save everyone who was still to come.
Like my master had done.
Like was his will.
“Help please! My child! My child has a fever!”
That day, too, a villager came and knocked at the temple entrance.
The child in her arms was breathing painfully and coughing between its gasps. The child’s forehead was incredibly hot when I felt the temperature.
“Please, save my child with the statue…!”
I asked the woman and her child in.
With a breath of relief, she entered the temple.
“The statue! Where is the statue?” she urged me while looking around for the statue.
Upon finding the statue placed on its altar, she made a dash to retrieve it.
“Stop!” I yelled with a sharp tongue.
The woman stopped with a startled face.
“You must not touch it rashly. Only the sick and I may touch it.”
It was my treasured statue Juan-sama had left behind to me.
I could not let anyone break or steal it. Even if it was a desperate mother anxious about her child’s life, I didn’t allow anyone to touch it rashly.
“F-Forgive my rudeness.”
I went to take the statue down from the altar and returned to the child.
“Your child will be as fit as a fiddle right away!”
I let the child touch the statue.
The coughing stops, the fever drops and the patient stands up in the best of health—normally.
However, all of a sudden the child had a furious coughing bout.
“Gh! Ghh!…. Ghg! Ghgu!… Ugh!”
Why did the disease not disappear?
I made the child touch the statue once again.
“…Ueh…uhh! …Gh, Gh! …Ghghugh!”
The coughing got even worse. The child painfully started thrashing its arms and legs about.
Not only did the coughing get worse, the child also started to cough up blood. I felt blood sticking to my face and body, but I was at a loss of what to do.
“What’s going on? Pull yourself together! Go! Save my child!!” the woman yelled furiously.
At once, the coughing stopped and so did the child’s frenzy.
Ah, the disease is gone.
The moment I thought so—
The woman cried out at the top of her lungs.
I didn’t know what had happened.
But rumors started to spread in the village.
Rumors of my failing at saving that child.
However, they weren’t harmful for me.
The fact that I had saved hundreds and thousands couldn’t be turned over just by one failure. His right hand and his statue were not able to bring back the dead, and everyone knew that.
Hence, with the assumptions that the disease had progressed too far already, and that the child had been beyond help, that case was dismissed. Or that’s how things were supposed to be.
However, things took a different turn.
“Gh, ughhu! …. GH! Gh! Ugh! Geho! Gho!… Ughe!”
Again, someone who touched the statue wasn’t healed, but started to show even graver symptoms than before. He was attacked by a fit of coughing, then coughed up blood and eventually died.
I felt the people’s questioning gazes on me.
But I was unable to provide an answer.
I wondered what had happened to the statue.
What had changed it?
“May we get an explanation?”
This was the first thing I heard when visiting the head of the village on his call.
“Among those who died after touching that statue, there were certainly some who may have been beyond help. But is that really the truth? Weren’t there some who could still be saved?” he asked.
I had no answer. I could only remain silent.
“I told you so!”
Suddenly, a voice from somewhere broke the silent.
I heard the onlookers go aside, and someone stand before me.
It was the old woman who had followed me to the temple the day I cut off Juan-sama’s right hand.
“I saw it! I saw Juan-sama’s death! But it was not a natural death. He was killed. Minced with a chisel…”
“That story again? Don’t spread such a…”
“It’s no lie! I’ve seen it with my very eyes. Well…? No one believed me.”
Indeed, for her it might have looked as though Juan-sama had been killed with that chisel. And she could easily guess that I was killer, seeing that I was stained with blood.
She told the villagers about it, but no one believed her because I healed countless people.
But this time it was different. They had doubts.
The ranks behind her started to blame me:
“She was right after all!”, “It’s Juan-sama’s curse!”, “He’s taking revenge on us because you killed him!”
However, there were also some who stood up for me:
“Our child was saved by that statue!”, “Juan-sama would have never thought of revenge!”, “Those who died were already beyond hope anyway.”
“There seems to be a variance of opinion among the villagers. I, too, want to believe you. But it’s not possible to have no doubts at this point. I’d like to ask for proof. Proof for that statue’s healing abilities. Proof that no one died because of that statue.”
“Does my life not prove it?”
I held the statue aloft with my hands.
If he had left behind a curse, then he would kill me immediately.
If this statue killed, then it would kill me immediately.
But that didn’t happen.
Was it not the ultimate proof that I didn’t die from touching the statue?
“Heh, I bet there is some trick to it,” ridiculed the old woman.
“Have you not also read the letter Juan-sama left behind?”
“You wrote it yourself and hid it in his clothes, didn’t you?” Her doubts were firmly established. “Juan-sama was an admirable person, yes he was! Heaven knows how many times he saved my children and grandchildren. I nearly thought he was Buddha himself!”
So had I. No, I had thought so even more than she.
“Do you know the tale of the man… who killed a god?”
“Long ago when a god still dwelt in this region, there was a man who slayed that god. Soaked in the godly blood of a deity, the sword gained a mysterious power and that dull man, who had been unable to maintain his weapon properly, suddenly won fame in battle. But one day, an outlaw broke into his house. The man drew his sword in order to protect his family, but his sword could not cut his opponent. Of splendid sharpness on the battlefield, the sword could now not even cut a burglar, no, not even into his skin. The man and his family were slayed in the outlaw’s place.
The godly blood gave power to the sword. But the god did not for a second forget his wrath against the man who slayed him. It was divine punishment. The moment he wanted to protect the ones most dear to him—the moment the sword had to cut better than ever—the sword betrayed him and lost its sharpness.
Do you get the meaning of this tale? It is about you!”
“You killed Juan-sama and soaked that statue in his blood, didn’t you? Did you fancy his power and want to imitate him?”
“N-No! I would never…”
“Just feign ignorance if you will. But do realize that the deaths caused by the statue have already proven me right! It’s Juan-sama’s curse. No… it’s divine punishment! Juan-sama is trying to punish you!”
The old woman slapped the statue away from my hands.
“W-What have you done to the statue he left behind?!”
“Heh, just take a look at your statue. What was once crafted to heavenly beauty, is now rearing a malicious grimace! Open your eyes, everyone. How long are you going to let her deceive you? His punishment is going to hit you if you don’t wake up!”
I sensed fear welling up and heard them step back.
“Please, someone pick up the statue for me!” I cried out for help, but no one picked it up.
It was seven days later that the old woman died of disease.
It was also the day I lost their trust.
The moment I arrived at the living room, I slumped to the ground.
As I closed my eyes, I recalled the horrible future “Vision” had shown to me.
So it shows the future?!
Oh, but I can guess as much as to what’s going to happen to her by myself! What’s the point in seeing that future now?
Why didn’t it show me before Saki touched the statue?!
The statue caught my eye.
The hateful statue that was about to claim Saki’s life.
The creepy statue that just stood still inside its glass case as if it didn’t know what it had done.
I reached for the glass case.
Perhaps, I’ll see another future when I’m about to touch it?
Perhaps, “Vision” will show me my death?
Perhaps, I’ll find a hint to save Saki?
I was about to pull off the gloves I had been told to wear, when someone’s hands stopped mine. Towako-san was standing beside me.
“Don’t attempt to touch it directly.”
“I’m not going to touch it! I’m just pretending to, you know…?”
My excuses stayed in my throat when I sensed the weight of her words. I couldn’t honestly tell if my hand would have stopped without Towako-san’s intervention or a warning by a Vision.
“Any new discoveries?” I asked her.
Towako-san shook her head silently.
I felt my body slacken due to that letdown.
“Tokiya… why do you go to such lengths?”
The tone in her voice criticized my attempt to touch the statue.
“Because if I don’t do something, she’s going to…”
“Because, look, she’s…”
She’s, what? Sure, we’ve gone through a lot, but it’s only been a year since we met. Right now we’re only coworkers. That’s all there is to our relationship.
But my feelings didn’t agree.
I felt that we had known each other much longer.
I felt that our bonds were much deeper.
There was no reason.
I couldn’t explain it.
Anyhow, it was inconceivable for me to lose Saki. No, not quite. The thought of losing her bereft me of my composure. Just by thinking about it, I almost collapsed to the ground, shaken by an unbearable hollowness.
I didn’t know why.
But contrary to my rationality, my feelings screamed out like that.
…And yet I was powerless.
I smashed the statue along with its case off the table.
The case burst to smithers and the statue rolled down the floor. The living room was covered by shards and a fragment that had broken off from the statue.
“Don’t take it out on a Relic. Relics just exist. They are not to blame.”
“Then who is?! Saki, for touching it?!”
“No,” Towako-san shook her head again. “I am to blame. Because I brought it here.”
Unable to refute her claim, I stepped on the fragment of the Relic.
“You didn’t find out anything, either?” she asked.
I wouldn’t be here now if I did.
“All I originally wanted is to do some research about those contradicting traditions…,” Towako-san said in a slightly saddened voice.
“…Did its power change perhaps, I wonder?” I suggested
“I’ve never heard of a Relic whose power changed.”
If not its power, what changed on that statue?
Why did it suddenly start to kill the people when it had saved them?
“Is… something wrong…?”
Saki showed up, leaning against the door. Probably, she had come to see what had caused the noise.
She was still as pale as before, and visibly had a hard time standing. No, that “still” was just a comfortable lie. She looked much worse than before.
“What are you doing? Be good and stay…”
Before I could end my sentence, Saki fell to her knees. As she grabbing her chest painfully, she coughed several times. I was seized by a bad presentiment.
Saki collapsed to the ground. She raised her face a little and gazed at me with wistful eyes.
Wanting to fly to her side, I dashed off, but tripped over something.
Beside my feet lay that accursed statue.
I kicked it away. The statue bounced against the wall and landed right before Saki’s eyes.
An inexpressibly cold shiver ran down my back.
This was nothing else but the future “Vision” had shown to me.
In my vision, Saki lay collapsed.
She gazed at me with wistful eyes.
I tripped because of that accursed statue.
I kicked away the statue.
There were more than enough indications.
It’s the same. No. It’s the same! No!
Two voices denied each other in my head.
I shook them off and headed toward Saki.
She was desperately trying to stand up and coughing countless times. A blood drop ran down the hand she covered her mouth with and dripped on the statue.
The next moment she almost collapsed on top of the statue, but I quickly caught her. I feared that she’d be done for if she touched the statue one more time.
Again she coughed, spitting blood at my face.
Saki tried to get away from me, almost falling to ground again, but this time Towako-san sustained her.
“…Wash off the blood… it might be contagious…”
Saki tried to wipe away the blood on my face with her fingers. Her hand was, however, also covered in blood.
“I only… made it… worse.”
She suddenly let her hand fall down. As it nearly touched the statue, Towako-san fixed her hold in a hurry.
Did the people back then also lost their lives like this?
Seeking rescue, getting betrayed?
And did even more have to watch helplessly as they died?
The moment I raised my leg to kick it away from Saki’s reach, I noticed that her blood drop soaked through the statue.
No, that was wrong. The blood hadn’t soaked through. It had stuck to the statue’s surface as was normal. It was just that the blood almost had the same color as the surface.
Something attracted my attention.
I left Saki to Towako-san and picked up the statue with my gloves. Then I wiped off Saki’s blood with my finger. The leftovers of her blood were distributed on the surface.
This time the color harmonized completely and made it disappeared for good.
The statue had saved the lives of thousands upon thousands.
The plague started with coughing and continued with throwing up blood. In the end, the sick fell into paralysis and died.
How many times had the statue been touched by the sick seeking aid?
Towako had said that the power of Relics didn’t change.
Therefore, I had assumed one of two the myths had been a lie.
But what if neither had been wrong?
What if the statue’s power was neither to cure diseases nor to inflict terminal diseases, but something that brought about those varying effects as a consequence?
So if its power didn’t changed, what did?
It had been mentioned in the documents:
The statue is said to have a bizarre and abstract shape akin to a manifestation of hatred and lamentation. There also appear to be some who stated that the statue had depicted a peaceful Buddha.
In other words:
Its power didn’t changed.
Its appearance did.
Stained by the infested, contagious fluids of thousands upon thousands that had been ravaged by disease.
My smashing the statue earlier had opened lots of cracks here and there, as well as torn off part of its surface layer.
What appeared under it, was—
I regained my dwindling consciousness. Apparently, I had passed out.
I heard a beam fall nearby.
I heard a column fall over from a distance.
The sound and heat told me that the fire could not be stopped anymore.
It appears that they had decided to burn me to death.
I did not fear death.
On the contrary, I was rather delighted to go to where he was.
My only regret was that I had been unable to succeed his will.
In the letter he had bequeathed to me, he asked me to substitute his right hand with the statue and save the people in his place.
Doing his bidding, I saved as many as I could.
But in the end, I became unable to save their lives and thus betrayed him. No, I was even suspected to kill people.
I didn’t find out to the bitter end why the statue lost its healing power.
The only thing I could think of was it being a punishment from Heaven.
For my blasphemous disbelief.
For my presumptuous attempt to supersede Juan-sama.
Still, there was no moment when I stopped saving the people.
For honoring his last will took precedence over all else, even if it meant making the Gods my enemy.
Urging my near-paralyzed body to move, I tore out a floorboard and started to dig a hole.
Ignoring my tearing skin, my bleeding fingertips, my breaking fingernails, I kept digging with my numb hands.
It was a small hole, but enough to protect the statue.
I would have liked to put it in a case or the like, but there wasn’t enough time.
In the past, I had polished this statue every day to preserve its luster. He had always been delighted by that.
But now it was dirty with soil. Dirty with the blood I must have coughed onto it. No, it had been stained much earlier. The statue had been stained by all the blood the sick had spit at it. It must have soaked in a boundless amount of blood.
Suddenly, I received a blow to the head.
Part of the ceiling had collapsed. But I didn’t feel any pain. Instead, a curious sensation attacked me.
A distorted image appeared in my sightless eyes.
What I saw in this distorted image was the sight of the temple burning down.
Was this a trick of fate?
Because of the blow against the back of my head, my sight—which I had lost along with my master on that day—returned temporarily.
If possible, I would have wanted my vision to stay black.
I didn’t want to see the temple where I had lived together with my master being reduced to ashes.
I didn’t want this to be the last thing I saw in my lifetime.
I averted my eyes from the burning temple and looked at the statue in my hands.
I intended to sear the statue’s face that was so much alike his into my memory—
—I lost my train of thought.
What is this?
The statue in my hands was far from the statue I knew.
The statue that had worn a mien calm like a lake without a ripple and perfectly clear like a cloudless and birdless sky had turned into a disgusting, unsightly dark red chunk.
I realized immediately that it was blood.
The blood of the hundreds and thousands the statue had saved, had stuck to it. This fact had not escaped my notice back then, of course. I had had a feeling that the statue was stained with blood.
Therefore, I had polished the statue each and every day as good as I could.
But due to my blindness and my unfeeling hands, I had failed to wipe all of it off. The blood of hundreds and thousands had stuck to the statue countless times and layer after layer until one day, the statue was completely covered.
I recalled the old woman’s words.
What was once crafted to heavenly beauty, is now rearing a malicious grimace!
At the time, I had thought it had been a spiteful lie.
But now I know that it had been the truth.
And now I also know why the statue had stopped saving people.
The surrounding blood had sealed its healing power off. No, even worse; the blood had been reanimated and, being a derivative of disease, brought about death to the people.
I roused to destroy that disgusting statue.
—But I couldn’t do it.
I could not destroy the statue made by him.
If possible, I would have wanted to remove the coating of blood, but I had not left enough time.
The blood was disgusting, but it also represented the vast number of people who had been saved by it.
After expressing my gratitude and begging forgiveness to the statue and Juan-sama, I buried it in the hole—with the wish that someone might find and return it to its former appearance one day.
Despite not believing in the gods, I had made a wish.
And still I couldn’t help praying.
Praying that someone might succeed his and my will, and save as many as he can…
In a word, it was an eerie statue.
What had looked like oxidized copper and rotten wood at first glance, revealed a golden shine underneath the dark coating.
What had given off an eerie impression much like seeing faces in trees or walls because of its bizarre shape, turned out to really depict a Buddha underneath the dark coating.
The rest of red coating that had come off from the blow could with ease be peeled off bit by bit. When I was done removing it, what I had held before my eyes was a statue worthy of being worshipped at a temple, albeit its gilding had come off here and there.
Apparently, it had been blood that covered the golden statue. A vast amount of blood had been smeared on it and set. I assumed it was the blood of the hundreds and thousands who had touched the statue to heal their diseases.
I picked up the undefiled statue and rushed to Saki.
Even though there was no confirmation, I took the statue to her and pressed it against the collapsed girl.
Immediately after, her high fever broke, her wild breath calmed down, and her chronic coughing came to an end all at once.
By touching the statue that had afflicted her with disease, she was released from the disease.
Just as had been recorded in the early stories surrounding the statue—
On another day, I asked her, “In the end, what was that statue?”
“Well, this is only my personal view, so take it with a grain of salt,” she prefaced her explanation.
According to her guess, rather than healing diseases and wounds, the statue could stimulate one’s life force and one’s bodily healing power.
In other words, in error the statue animated the disease-causing germs in the surrounding blood and infected everyone who touched it with a disease or sharpened the present disease.
“We can’t know for sure, though,” she closed.
There were numerous other questions that arose.
Why did the priest and his disciple not wipe off the blood? Where did the priest disappear to? And where did the disciple go after leaving behind the statue?
Perhaps, he fled because the statue couldn’t fulfill its purpose anymore? Perhaps, he himself died because of the statue?
However, the documents did not cover these issues.
Therefore, we could only picture it to ourselves.
The only thing the documents told us was that the village that had been ravaged by that plague did not exist anymore.
Perhaps the village had been doomed the moment the statue lost its original power.
“But the fact that it has saved countless people persists,” Saki said as she reached out for the statue that had almost claimed her life.
A crack had opened in the golden statue, probably because I had smashed it on the ground.
That straight vertical crack looked more like a slit that had been there from the beginning.
Suddenly, with a pop and creak, the crack opened wider and wider still, and, soon enough, the statue broke in half.
The statue had apparently been hollowed out with a chisel or something, and concealed something that now came to light.
It was completely shriveled as though all its life force had been drawn out—or its purpose had been achieved.
Withered like a dead branch—
Inside the statue appeared—
A right hand.