Chapter 1 – Silence

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If you had to choose between a silent place and a lively place, which would you prefer?

A silent place when you want to read a book or study?

A lively place when you want to hang out with friends or eat something?

Depending on your purpose, your preference might change.

But even if it suits your purpose, a place that is too silent will make you uneasy and a place that is too lively will annoy you.

Be it silence or liveliness, it’s all a matter of degree.

That said, of the two, I happen to prefer silence a bit more – most likely because I am used to quiet places.

What I am getting at is:

The Tsukumodo Antique Shop is as dead silent as ever.

One might compare it to the soft slumber of being in the womb.

While I was giving myself over to a silence that bundled me up in a blanket of cozy warmth, a bubble slowly rose beside me.

I touched it.

It burst into a “Re”.

Another bubble came floating upwards.

I touched it.

It burst into a “Fa” this time.

One after another, the bubbles rose around me.

One, two, three—no, more. A hundred, two hundred, three hundred, more. More, more.

At last, the notes started to burst from the bubbles without my touch; they burst into notes of music. And these countless notes eventually grew into a melody.

This was the womb of a mother of music.

And I was one of the few permitted to step into this realm.

My duty was to gather those notes as they were born and bring them to the world outside.

Here, nothing existed but me and the notes.

There were no other humans, nor any other noises.

It was just me and the newborn notes.

 

“———”

 

There was an intrusion from outside.

It felt like being inside a water balloon as it is popped by a needle.

In the resultant destruction everything was scattered.

The slumber I had indulged in and the silence—everything—crumbled away.

The newborn sounds streamed away. They seeped away through my fingers.

I was forced back to consciousness.

I was in the same room as always.

The sheets of music on the table before me were filled with notes.

When I was in the world of sounds, my hand would automatically write down the notes of the sounds I gathered.

That was how I composed. A method that only I could employ, requiring no instruments of any kind.

But the music on the score stopped halfway. The notes were distorted and broken—because of the noise that had intruded. Because of the disruption, the notes I had gathered had died aborning.

The room I was in was soundproofed from the ceiling to the floor. Not, however, to keep sounds from escaping. I lived in a deserted ghost town. There were no inhabited houses near mine.

The purpose of my soundproofing was to keep any sound from getting in.

It was all for the sake of composing without interruption.

However, the insulation could only dampen sound, not erase it completely.

Just as in this case, outside noise could break into this room—the womb of music—and cause pollution.

As soon as that pollution scattered my visualization, it was all over. The notes around me would fly away and leave the composition dead.

I had been so close…

Seized by anger, I threw open the door and headed upstairs to the living room on the ground floor.

Upon my arrival, I found my helper, Mei, asleep leaned over the table. On the floor was a tea cup. I didn’t know whether the sound I had heard just now was the banging of her head against the table or her knocking the tea cup to the floor, but the thought that such a trivial thing had just killed my sounds was just unbearable.

Normally, such soft noises wouldn’t be heard in that soundproofed room, but my ears are so sensitive that they pick up even such tiny sounds. And that’s why I would always caution Mei to avoid making any noise.

“Hey!” I roared.

Mei’s eyes flicked open.

As she recognized me with her frowsy eyes, she quickly sat up and asked,

“Have you already completed your work?”

“You ruined it.”

Mei noticed the tea cup she had accidentally dropped on the floor and its spilled contents. She paled.

Probably realizing what she had done, she hung her head in shame.

“I’m in a bad mood. I’m going out for a while.”

Leaving her to her own devices, I left the house.

 

My name is Eiji Kadokura. I’m 32 years old. I compose music. I have composed a considerable number of pieces so far and pride myself on being fairly popular and well-known.

My usual genre is soothing musicfor which I commonly accept assignments. But my most famous composition is most likely a classical piece I had written for a certain renowned violinist, which became a million-seller in spite of its genre, thanks to the recent classical music boom.

Today, I had also been working on a music piece for an assignment that was due in a week. Well, I had been until I was disturbed by my helper.

Once a piece of music has been dispersed, it is forever lost to me.

While traces of it remain in my head, it feels like a cheap copy if I finish the song with those remnants.

It resembles the feeling when the toy bricks you piled up in play start to shake, and even though you manage to regain balance, your tower eventually falls apart after a few more bricks are added.

Or maybe it’s also similar to sewing a garment: your thread runs out and you have to tie in a different one—a knot remains and makes the garment look shabby.

Either way, a ruined piece of music can’t be mended.

I couldn’t stand a patched-together song.

I had to start all over again.

Even though there was not much time left before the deadline.

I got in my car and drove to a café I frequented.

Located in a calm basement, it was usually a much-appreciated haven of tranquility for me. But on that day of all days, I found the café unable to soothe me.

A group of ten-odd tourists or the like had gathered there. Their mere presence was enough to bother me, but on top of that, they seemed to treat the venue like a bar and made hellish amounts of noise.

Upon noticing me, the keeper of the café bowed his head apologetically.

I took it as an apology and an invitation to leave for today.

Suppressing the urge to give the rude customers a good dressing-down, I nodded to the keeper and left.

Because I was now even more irritated, the street noise I could usually tolerate annoyed me horribly.

Be it the engine noise of the cars and their piercing horns, the loud voices of strolling students and their vulgar laughs, the yells of salesmen who unsuccessfully tried to attract customers, or cheap music.

They all annoyed me.

Why was there so much noise and racket in the world?

As I wasn’t at work, I wasn’t asking for perfect silence, but living amidst so much noise and racket was unendurable. I couldn’t understand how other people tolerated it.

While fighting the urge to roar at the noisemakers to shut up, I backed away into a narrow side street.

After I got some distance from the main street, the noise grew somewhat more bearable. While it hadn’t faded out entirely, I could endure it from afar. I decided to walk among these back streets for the time being.

“Now if only there were another café somewhere, I’d be satisfied for the time being…”

The very moment I thought so, I spotted a small, quaint, antiquated shop before my eyes.

It was hard to tell from its exterior what kind of shop it was. Willing to linger if it turned out to be a café, I pushed open the door.

The pleasant sound of a bell announced the arrival of a customer.

Much to my regret, however, the shop was not a café. Various things were lined up on the shelves in a disorderly fashion. There were jars and plates and other ceramic ware, and dolls of Japanese and Western origin and one lone tinplate robot. There was even a camera. I assumed it was some kind of antique or second-hand shop.

Curious, I took a look around.

“Welcome,” someone said to me.

Behind the counter sat a charming woman clad in black. She looked a little younger than I did, but her languorous air gave her a somewhat mature and mysterious aura.

“Are you looking for something specific?”

What I was looking for was someplace silent. The shop fit the bill perfectly, but saying so would have been admitting up front that I didn’t intend to buy anything.

“I was just wondering if I might find something curious.”

I made up an answer and looked at the shelves as though I were very interested.

“But there is something you seek, is there not?” she said, as though she had read my heart. “Tell me. Perhaps you might obtain the object of your desire?”

“As I said, something curious…”

“You don’t want ‘something.’ You want ‘some thing.'”

“Huh?”

“If you don’t know what you want, you will always walk away empty-handed. You ought to be specific.”

Perhaps she was teasing me with word play, or perhaps she had seen through my intention of not buying anything and wanted to chase me out. I was already feeling fairly irritable, so even this slight provocation managed to annoy me.

“If you really have what I want, I’d be more than willing to buy it.”

“Yes, what is it?”

“Complete silence.”

She gave me a slightly troubled glance. I was ashamed of acting so childish. I should have named some article she was likely to have or just left.

“I’m very sorry, but I’m afraid that you will not find it here.”

“Certainly. I’m sorry, too. You wouldn’t—”

“You will have to go to our sister shop.”

I doubted my ears—but was angry an instant later.

She was playing with me? “Not here”? Don’t make me laugh.

“It can be mine if I go to that sister shop? Then please, by all means, tell me where it is. If I can really find complete silence there, that is.”

“A Relic that can create a room of complete silence by warding off all sound…That is…the Mirror of Serenity.”

“Relic? The Mirror of Serenity?”

“Note that by ‘Relic’ I don’t mean antiques or art objects . ‘Relic’ is the word we use for tools with special capabilities created by mighty ancients or magicians, or for objects that have absorbed their owner’s grudge or natural spiritual powers.”

“A relic is something like a stone that brings ill luck, or a cursed voodoo doll or a triple mirror that shows how you are going to die. You’ve probably heard of many of them, and the Mirror of Serenity is one. But we don’t currently have it here!”

I had no idea what she was talking about. While I had indeed heard of a superstition claiming that objects may gain a soul after a long time, hearing about it just then rubbed me the wrong way.

“Don’t make a fool of me. Sure, I admit that I didn’t enter this shop because I expected to buy something. But you have no right to mock me because of that. ‘Relic’, you say? ‘Mirror of Serenity’? Stop ridiculing me by making up such mysterious names!”

“You don’t believe me?”

“Of course I don’t. Complete silence does not exist. I have perfect soundproofing in my house, but I can still hear sounds from the outside.”

“Because it’s soundproofing. The Mirror of Serenity works differently. It wards off sound.”

“Don’t get so carried away…”

“This place is similar!”

It was then that I finally noticed.

There was not a sound in this shop.

Indeed, the woman and I were having a conversation, so there was sound. However, there was no noise from outside. I could not hear the distant noise that had tormented me until I’d entered the shop, not the slightest bit.

I perked up my ears and listened carefully for outside noise.

But I didn’t hear a thing.

No matter what kind of soundproofing this shop had, there was no way it could block out every sound from my ears.

As long as we didn’t speak, it was the complete silence I had been longing for.

“…but what does this mean?”

“It means that this place is special as well. But it doesn’t create complete silence— noise from outside doesn’t come here merely because of a side effect. However, the Mirror of Serenity will create complete silence for you.”

“You said it can be had in your sister shop, right?”

My heart was pounding in my chest, and at that moment, I felt that the loudest sound in the world was the beating of my own heart.

“If I go there, will I get my hands on the Mirror of Serenity?”

“I can’t say for certain. You must ask the shop’s owner. But I’m sure you will be able to obtain it if you wish. Relics naturally find their way to appropriate owners.”

I left after receiving a note with the address and store hours of the sister shop.

“———”

At that instant, noise returned.

All the sounds that had previously vanished returned as soon as I left the shop.

It was as if I had been dreaming.

Suddenly, my cell phone rang. It was a call from my assistant, Mei. She told me that a client who had requested a composition had stopped by the house.

We had scheduled a meeting for today, but it had completely slipped my mind.

I replied that I’d be back within the hour and headed to the parking lot.

Before hanging up, she said something I found unsettling.

She asked me to keep my cell phone turned on.

Apparently, she had tried several times to reach me without success. However, my phone had never been turned off. That shop hadn’t been underground, either, so I should have been within communication range.

A cold shiver ran down my spine and I thought about looking back at the shop, but my body wouldn’t let me. I quickly left the area.

When I got home, Mei asked me where I had been.

I found myself unable to answer. I did remember the shop, but for some reason I couldn’t remember where it was and what kind of person the shop assistant had been.

Only the paper with the address and store hours in my hands assured me that it had not been a dream.

Drrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Drrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Drrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

“Shut up already!!” the shopowner roared.

Towako Setsusu’s roar resounded through the building, but was drowned out by an even greater noise from outside, causing her roar to lose most of its impact.

Usually, her appearance was characterized by clear-cut eyebrows, self-confident eyes, and lustrous black hair that hung straight down to her waist. Today, however, her brows were wrinkled, her eyes were narrowed in a displeased fashion and her hair was a mess because she had been constantly mussing it up.

Tsukumodo_V2_17

“Yelling at them won’t get you anywhere!” I—Tokiya Kurusu—replied while leaning on the counter.

Towako-san made a theatrical gesture of putting her hand behind her ear and asked, “What did you say?”

I brought my face close to her ears and shouted, “Yelling at them won’t get you anywhere!”

“Can it! Don’t shout like that!”

“You can’t hear me otherwise, can you!?”

“Be quiet, both of you – I can’t concentrate on my book,” my co-worker Saki Maino complained indifferently.

Her pale hair reached the middle of her back and shone silver in the light, and her complexion was clear and pale. She was clad entirely in black: a frilly black shirt, long black skirt and black boots.

She was about a head shorter than I (an average male student), and so slender that she seemed she could be broken by a single embrace. She was sixteen and thus a year younger than I. She did look her age, but because of her demeanor, she seemed a little more mature. A smile as radiant as a blooming flower (as suggested by the meaning of her name) utterly failed to adorn her face; instead, she was completely expressionless as if to refute the saying “nomen est omen.”

That said, even Saki appeared a bit annoyed today.

But Saki, don’t take it out on us!

The noise from a construction site nearby was to blame for her irritation, as that cacophony had plagued our ears for some time.

We had been informed beforehand that the construction work would start today and last for a week, but we hadn’t expected the repairs to be so deafening.

It was quite the opposite of the silence that had been present up until yesterday, when we might as well have been surrounded with gusts of wind and tumbleweeds.

This shop, the Tsukumodo Antique Shop (FAKE), handled, as the name suggests, fake Relics.

Not antiques or objects of art, but tools with special abilities created by mighty ancients or magicians, or objects that have absorbed their owner’s grudge or natural spiritual powers.

In tales and legends, there are often artifacts that possess special powers.

For example, 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 such things.

But people consider them mere fantasies because they have never seen one; even if an artifact were right before them, it remains unnoticed; even if a mysterious event were to occur, it is dismissed as coincidence.

Some people are unconcerned, while others are certain that such things do not exist.

However, Relics are real, and more common than people think.

I’d recently dealt with a number of Relics: a pendulum that called forth coincidences, a statue that stimulated one’s life force, a notebook that made one remember everything written in it, and a wallet that made me lose all my earnings unless they were spent on the day received.

However, such Relics were not for sale in the shop. As I mentioned earlier, we only sold fakes. The articles on the shelves were fakes that the shop owner had purchased under the incorrect impression that they were real.

Of course, the customers who visit us have no idea what Relics are. And so they feel that the uncommon pendants, uncanny dolls, unmoving clocks and the uninteresting stones we offer are a waste of time, then leave while regretting the mistake of dropping by in the first place.

Well, if they come in in the first place. Days when we don’t have a single customer are hardly uncommon.

“Wouldn’t you rather just close the shop for a week?” I suggested.

“But that would put a stop to our sales.”

“We wouldn’t get any customers anyway.”

“What?”

“We wouldn’t get any customers anyway!”

“Yeah, no one would care anyway!”

“You don’t deny it!?”

“Now won’t you keep quiet already? I can’t concentrate on my book.”

Now don’t you get that it’s not our fault? And didn’t we go through this already?

Apparently, even Saki was annoyed because of the noise, though her annoyance barely showed on her face.

“Man, now my head’s starting to hurt. Hell, can’t we do something about it for crying out loud? Towako-san, isn’t there a Relic that can switch off that noise?”

“Come on, don’t ask for the… possible?”

“Possible?”

Towako-san walked out of the room with a reflective look on her face, and Saki put aside her book and came up to me.

“That’s it!”

With those words, Towako-san returned from the storeroom with a mirror in her hands. The looking glass was covered with a purple cloth. The wooden frame surrounding it shined like lacquer and rested on a stand.

“That’s a Relic that wipes out noise?”

“Well, have a look.”

She pulled away the cloth.

 

Suddenly, the noise vanished.

 

The heavy noise from the building site vanished.

It hadn’t become unhearable; rather, it had vanished. In addition, all the other sounds around me — the people and traffic outside, the television in the living room, and so on —had also vanished.

”                     ”

I tried to ask, What’s going on? but my voice could not be heard.

I tried once more to give voice to my confusion, only to fail again. Not only was Towako-san unable to hear me, I couldn’t even hear myself speaking. No, that’s not exactly right. It’s closer to say that there was no voice to be heard in the first place.

Towako-san realized this as well and yelled something at me, which—of course—I couldn’t hear.

Instead, I tried to express myself with mouth movements.

By provocatively putting her hand behind her ear, Towako-san indicated that she couldn’t hear anything.

This time I tried to tell her to cover the mirror again, but because of the sudden change in my mouth movements, she got confused and wrinkled her brow.

I pointed repeatedly at the mirror and formed the words, “cover it!” with my lips.

With a—possibly—loud angry voice, she put the cloth on the mirror.

Instantly, the lost sounds returned.

The noise from the building site, the traffic noise from further away, the approaching steps of Towako-san, and…

“For the love of God, why don’t you get it? I can’t hear you!”

…the sound of a fist.

In truth, I wanted to defend myself—to tell her that I couldn’t hear her either—but the pain whirling around my head kept me from saying anything for a few moments.

“…That thing really shuts out all sound, huh?”

“That’s what I’ve been telling you. Everything that is reflected in this mirror turns entirely soundless; the sounds from outside the reflected area are deflected and the sounds from inside can’t be produced to begin with. In short, it creates a zone of complete silence.”

“But you can’t do anything in such a place!”

I hadn’t thought that it would be so hard to make oneself understood without a voice.

“Just communicate via pen and paper.”

“Huh… But somehow it was so silent that it bothered me more than when it was noisy.”

The noise of the building site had now settled down to a level where it became possible to talk normally, which made the unnatural silence of a few moments ago seem much worse.

“Besides, we can’t attend to our customers like that!”

“We wouldn’t get any customers anyway, right?”

“You two…”

“Are you still holding that against me?”

“Why, no? I’m used to it.”

“You two…”

“Well, I do think that there won’t be any.”

“Can’t you show at least some consideration?”

“You two…”

“Didn’t you admit it yourself?”

“But you mustn’t. Even if I do admit it myself.”

Suddenly, our heads were grabbed from behind and forcibly turned toward the entrance.

“We have customers.”

In the direction she indicated stood a man and woman.

 

“It’s still ‘no’.”

“Can’t we come to an arrangement?”

“No.”

“You can have as much as you want.”

“I’ll refuse any offer.”

The man and Towako-san had been going back and forth in this manner for some time. The customer was in his thirties, wore an expensive suit, and might have witnessed what had just happened with the mirror. He seemed to have a strong interest in it. At first he had stood stone-still in the entrance, but once he had gotten over his surprise, he started pressing Towako-san to sell him the mirror.

Towako-san repeatedly refused. Her will seemed firm, as she had just told him it wasn’t a matter of money.

In fact, Towako-san had never sold a Relic to anyone. We only sold fakes and not actual Relics. She preferred that others did not obtain Relics.

“Why does he want the mirror so badly, anyway?”

The man was obviously wealthy – he had offered a remarkable sum.

“That man…” Saki muttered as she went to the living room.

She returned with the book she had been reading in her hands.

“I thought so.”

There was a photograph of the man in the book. The accompanying profile said that his name was Eiji Kadokura and that he was a composer.

I see. It would make sense that he’d want a silent environment if he’s a composer.

“But why do you have a book like that anyway?”

“I think that commerce and composition have a lot in common.”

“Indeed, they sound similar.”

“I’m being serious!”

“So tell me what you actually meant.”

“Providing the music someone desires and providing the goods someone desires is very similar, isn’t it?”

Saki just doesn’t tell jokes. She’s always very serious about her work and spares neither trouble nor expense to improve her customer service.

Of course, it was forbidden to disagree with her and tell her that her book, Composing made easy!, had nothing to do with customer service. I didn’t agree with her statement about commerce and composition, either.

“Anyway, I’m not selling it to you. And I have no business with you,” Towako-san said point-blank and took the mirror with her to the living area.

“Please wait!”

“I am afraid I must ask you to stop here.”

The building that housed the shop also served as the home of Towako-san and her freeloading boarder Saki. Because the customer was about to follow them out of the shop into their private living space, I had to block his way.

“I have nothing to discuss with a part-timer.”

I couldn’t help taking offense at his attitude.

“We have nothing to discuss with you, either! Please leave if you don’t intend to buy anything.”

“That’s what I’m here for.”

“Please leave if you don’t intend to buy an article that’s actually for sale. Just because this is a shop, doesn’t mean that we are obliged to sell things that aren’t for sale.”

Kadokura-san had just opened his mouth to continue complaining when the ringing of his cell phone resounded through the shop. He grudgingly took his phone out and flicked his tongue after reading the display.

“…a business related call. Looks like I have no choice.”

“We don’t hope that you will visit our store again!”

“I will!”

“Please don’t.”

The bothersome customer squared his shoulders and left the store.

“He’s gone for now,” I shouted toward the living room where Towako-san was hiding.

She muttered “okay” with a displeased look.

“Why didn’t you just sell it to him? For such a pretty penny…” I asked and was glared at.

At the risk of repeating myself: Towako-san is against giving out Relics. Partly because of her collecting passion, but mostly because she knew of many people whose lives had been ruined by Relics.

Should I be proud of the fact that having received a Relic from her, I seem to have earned her trust?

“Excuse me…” a woman said as Saki led her over.

It was Kadokura-san’s companion.

“Please let me apologize for Kadokura’s rudeness.”

I wondered if she was his manager or something. She didn’t look that much older than I, but her air was that of a genuine business woman.

“Please call this number should you change your mind.”

She held out a business card with the name “Eiji Kadokura” and his contact information.

Towako-san, however, showed no sign of wanting to accept the card. Losing to her helpless gaze, I accepted the card instead, and was glared at even harder.

Apparently, Towako-san did not approve of my action. She should have told me so before I accepted.

“It’s been a pleasure,” Kadokura-san’s companion said with a bow and left the shop.

“Now throw that card away.”

“But that would be kinda…” I muttered as I began to turn and glanced in the direction in which Kadokura-san’s companion had left.
It was then that a painful noise rang inside my head——

 

It was a place I had never seen before.

I saw a room.

My field of vision encompassed a wall—and a shut door.

Scuffed with countless longish lines, the door gave off a bizarre impression.

My vision moved downward, bringing the lower part of the scene into focus.

A woman had collapsed on the floor.

She was wearing a frilly dress and curled up into a ball, and was completely still..

It was—

 

“What’s wrong?”

Towako-san’s voice brought me back. She looked quizzically at me.

“Did you have a vision?” Saki hit the nail on the head, having guessed from my appearance.

The scene I had witnessed after that painful noise was an image of the future, revealed to me by my Relic.

My right eye is artificial. It has been replaced by a Relic named “Vision” that I received from Towako-san.

“Vision” sometimes shows me events from the immediate future.

When it happens, a pain runs through my head, much like static on a TV, followed by a cut-scene of the future.

However, “Vision” won’t show me the entire future: I can’t foresee the winning number of a lottery, or the winner of a sports match. I can’t even predict the weather, nor can I choose to see a particular future event.

But there is one type of future that “Vision” shows me without fail: the potential moment of my death or that of someone I’m acquainted with.

What I had just seen was the impending death of a certain person.

“That woman… is going to die.”

“Shit!”

I crumpled up a blank sheet of music and threw it at the wall, just to lean back powerlessly immediately afterwards. Unable to hold my weight, the chair I was sitting in fell over and left me staring at the ceiling.

It wasn’t one of Mei’s mistakes that had brought me back from my creative reverie today. I was simply having trouble concentrating.

My concentration had been better in the morning, and it was a shame that it hadn’t lasted. Because of… No, that doesn’t matter. When I’m in the zone, I wouldn’t lose my concentration over something so trivial.

I was in a slump. Despite the imminent deadline, I didn’t even have an image. When was I last in such a terrible slump?

…Right, the time when I had just left home.

Back then I was living in a tumbledown apartment that was dozens of years old. Because I wanted to avoid noise of all forms, I had chosen a remote place far away from the city. I hadn’t been as nervous back then, but under the stress generated by the anxiousness of living on my own and the change of environment, I had found myself completely unable to write a single piece of music.

How did I manage to overcome the slump back then…?

I didn’t remember. The slump had been over before I knew it. Well, most likely, I hadn’t even considered it a slump at the time.

But that’s right. This isn’t a slump, either.

I’m just having some trouble concentrating.

If I manage to concentrate, I’ll be able to compose again.

I calmed myself down by closing my eyes and taking deep breaths.

Imagine it. Imagine the world of sound…

 

—Clank—

 

I heard the very soft sound of something falling to the ground upstairs.

My image vanished and my concentration disintegrated into thin air.

Again…? Yet again…?

“SHIT!”

Why do I have to hear it? Why can’t I just ignore that sound…

A few moments later, a knocking at the door invaded the room with its sound and vibration. I paid it no heed, but the knocking didn’t stop. Hadn’t I told Mei not to knock more than five times…?

“Silence!”

I thrust open the door. With a short shriek, Mei fell on her bottom. However, I didn’t feel any guilt.

“What is it?”

“Ah, yes. I have a work related call on the line for you.”

“Tell them I’ll call back later.”

“But… it seems to be rather urgent…”

“I said later!” I yelled as I slammed the door shut with deliberate vigor, only to end up getting annoyed at the noise I produced.

I was craving complete silence.

I was sure I could write music if I possessed it.

The “Mirror of Serenity” crossed my mind.

“Welcome!”

While absorbed in admiring the almost palatial residence before our eyes, we were greeted by the woman who had accompanied the composer Eiji Kadokura.

Her name was Mei Oohashi and she took care of the composer. As proof—or perhaps not—she was dressed as a maid. The business-woman-ish aura she had given off in the shop was completely gone, and to be honest, she was even standing out a little now.

Using the directions that Mei-san had given us, Saki, Towako-san and I had travelled to the residence-cum-workplace of Eiji Kadokura.

His house was located in a suburb far away from the center of the city. The suburb was a district that had become a ghost town because its development had faltered. Even though there were lots of apartment buildings, there were no shops or people at the train station. As his residence was a fair distance from the station, we had to take one of the rare taxis to get there. It turned out to be quite a wearying journey. In all honesty, I wouldn’t have expected a famous music composer to live in such a place.

I suspected he had deliberately chosen this location because he wanted to escape the noise of the city.

“This way, please.”

Guided by Mei, we walked through a garden of dimensions that would have been unimaginable in the city, passed through a pointlessly large entrance and finally arrived at a living room, but only after traveling down a lengthy corridor. Mei told us to make ourselves comfortable on the sofas and disappeared into the kitchen to prepare some tea.

The moment she was gone, however, Kadokura-san appeared.

“Hello and welcome. I’ve been waiting for you!”

Tsukumodo_V2_41.jpg

He welcomed us with open arms, though, truth be told, we clearly were not the true target of his eagerness.

“Have you brought it with you?”

With a scowl on her face, Towako-san showed him the cloth-wrapped mirror in her bag.

A contented smile appeared on his face.

The reason we had come here was not to leave the Mirror of Serenity with him.

Rather, it was to prevent the future that “Vision” had shown me—in other words, Mei-san’s death.

Saki had stopped me from going to Mei-san and directly instructing her to watch out because she was going to die. It was definitely a bad idea to thoughtlessly inform her. After all, we had no clue as to the circumstances of her death. Therefore, we decided that our best option would be to approach and watch over her.

So in order to get closer to Mei-san, we submitted the following proposal to Kadokura-san:

While we would not sell the mirror, we would be willing to lend it to him for a few days – but only if the mirror remained in our presence at all times.

Kadokura-san had agreed to these conditions. He probably thought that we wanted to a free stay at a famous composer’s residence in return for lending the mirror to him.

However, we had no interest in any of that. We had to find and eliminate the cause of Mei-san’s death before the lending period came to a close.

In truth, Towako-san was against this operation because our actions might themselves become the cause of Mei-san’s death. It was, however, just as plausible that her death would occur because of our inaction. If so, we couldn’t simply sit back and take a “wait and see” approach.

Fortunately, I had a holiday on Friday because it happened to be my school’s anniversary, giving us a total of three days time. Because “Vision” is unable to see very far into the future, I was sure to find some hints to ward off Mei-san’s demise.

“Thank you for waiting,” Mei-san said as she returned with a tray of tea. The rich aroma of black tea permeated the room.

Once the wonderful smell tickled her nose, instead of widening her eyes or raising her voice, Saki allowed her eyebrows to move a wee bit. Her gaze became fixed on the tea set. She was as expressionless as ever, but I could tell that she was extremely surprised. Had Mei-san brought us an extra-expensive kind of tea?

Without noticing Saki’s astonishment, Mei-san placed a teapot on the table, followed by a tea cup in front of each of us. The tea set was a high-end brand that even I had heard of.

Just as it crossed my mind that replacing a single cup would cost a fortune, Mei-san dropped a cup on the table.

With a clank, the handle of the cup broke off.

There was an awkward silence.

“Oh my!” Mei-san exclaimed, “E-Excuse me! Excuse me! I’ll bring a new teacup right away!”

She picked up the teacup and the broken handle and smacked Kadokura-san’s head—no, accidentally hit his head—with the tray while turning around.

“Ughn…”

Gyaa! Excuse me, excuse me!”

“J-Just go and bring a new one already,” Kadokura-san calmly ordered. He had obviously become accustomed to her behavior, since he wasn’t at all worked up in response to Mei-san’s panic. “Let me apologize for her, she’s a little… clumsy…”

Gyaa!

Mei-san’s scream emanated from the kitchen, followed by the sound of something falling to the floor. Well… at least there was no shattering sound.

“I’m sorry about the fuss.”

…Perhaps one of the reasons that Kadokura-san was after the silence-imposing Mirror of Serenity was Mei-san herself.

“S-Sorry for the wait!”

She returned with a new teacup, and I began to feel uneasy.

Due to her excess momentum, Mei-san ended up banging her knee against the table while trying to set down the teacup. The jolt caused the teapot to tilt, but just as I was sure that it would fall over, Saki grabbed it. I had never seen her move that quickly before. Perhaps Saki’s dexterity increases in proportion to the price of the black tea at stake?

“E-Excuse me, excuse me.”

Mei-san kept bowing her head and gratefully grabbed the hand Saki was holding the teapot in.

“Stop that and get us a wash cloth.”

Only a bit of tea had been spilled, but upon receiving that order, she hurried back to the kitchen for a washcloth.

Even without taking her maid outfit into account at all, her “professional business woman” aura had gone up in smoke for good.

“Again, let me apologize for her, she just can’t sit still.” Kadokura-san lowered his head in her place and looked at Saki with a wry smile. “I wish she were as composed as you.”

I glanced at Saki, who was sitting next to me.

“Have you burned yourself?”

“It’s no big deal,” she said dismissively, but she was rubbing her hands under the table.

 

As there was still some time left until dinner, I decided to take a walk through the Kadokura residence by myself – not simply to look around, of course, but for investigative purposes.

The door I had seen in my vision of Mei-san’s death was very peculiar, as it was marked with a strange pattern of lines.

I thought that by locating that door, I could make sure Mei-san wouldn’t get anywhere near it, or else I would remove all dangerous objects near it- and thus save her from dying.

The ground floor of the Kadokura residence held a large living room, a kitchen and so on, whereas the bedrooms for Kadokura-san, Mei-san, and guests were upstairs.

Furthermore, there was also an underground room fully equipped with soundproofing that served as Kadokura-san’s studio. According to him, he would always compose in the underground room.

I was about to investigate that very room.

I had already thoroughly explored the ground floor and upstairs rooms, but there was no trace of the door that “Vision” had shown me. Only the basement was left.

The stairway leading to the basement was longer than I had expected and wound back and forth, which showed me just how deep underground the room was. Most likely, Kadokura-san wanted to get as far away from external noises as possible. I couldn’t hear my own footsteps because even the stairway itself had been carpeted.

The door to the workroom appeared before me.

However—

“…Off the mark, huh.”

At first glance, it had looked like the door in my vision – the shapes were certainly similar. However, there were no lines on the door, so it was not the door “Vision” had shown me. This was the only underground door.

“Perhaps it’s not even in this house?”

In that case, we would be forced to keep an eye on Mei-san herself. As far as I knew, Saki was with her at the moment and helping with the chores.

I decided to watch over Mei-san as well, and turned around towards the stairway.

“Whoa!”

“Kyaa!”

Mei-san was standing right there, causing me to scream in surprise. In response to my scream, Mei-san lost her balance and fell down the stairs.
I reflexively supported her, but because I hadn’t been prepared, I was dragged down with her.

“A-Are you all right? Excuse me, excuse me!”

“N-No, I was the one who surprised you…”

Mei-san apologized yet again while still on top of me. I wondered – how many times had I already seen her like this?

“What are you doing in the dark?”

Saki looked down at me from above with a cold expression—well, the same expression as always.

“N-Nothing! You’ve been watching, so you know that, right?”

“That’s not what I mean. I meant to ask what you’ve been doing down here alone, but as I see that you are making excuses, I suppose you did that intentionally?”

“E-Excuse me, Maino-san. I didn’t mean to cling to your boyfriend! It was an accident, so please don’t get angry with him!”

After falling silent for a while, Saki replied without changing her expression by saying “he’s not my boyfriend.”

Mei-san turned around to face me.

“Eh? You’re not? I was sure you were because she got angry.”

“Nope. We are not in a relationship, nor is she angry. She’s always like that.”

“Really?”

Unconvinced, Mei-san stared at Saki’s face. It was no surprise that Mei-san couldn’t understand Saki’s deadpan expression.

“Yes, as Tokiya said: I’m expressionless, emotionless and blunt. So please don’t mind it,” Saki said bluntly.

But… was it just me or did she somehow seem a little angry? I had thought that I’d learned to read the feelings behind her poker face, but apparently, that wasn’t the case.

“Anyway, we’d better carry it in.”

“What’s that?”

“Ah, this is the sparkling water Eiji-sama likes to drink while working. We were going to bring in supplies,” Mei-san explained while pointing at the small cardboard boxes that she and Saki were holding.

However, that was not what I was asking.

“Your outfit.”

“…Mei-san made me wear this.”

In a rare turn of events, Saki, who loved black clothes more than anything, wore a pure-white apron like a maid. Most likely, she had been talked into wearing this outfit when she offered to help Mei-san. The fact that she was still wearing her black dress underneath was probably her version of a compromise.

“You look adorable in it, Saki-san! Now, this way,” urged Mei-san as she opened the door and beckoned Saki over.

Saki climbed down the stairs and trod on my feet as she walked past.

“Ouch!”

“Oh? I’m sorry,” she said indifferently and entered the room.

She was angry after all! Mei-san was right. Although I had no idea what had made her upset.

For the sake of continuing the surveillance of Mei-san, I followed her into the room.

The room measured several square meters. While I didn’t see any instruments, piles of sheet music were scattered about on the table and the floor. It really felt like the workroom of someone in the music business. There was also a laptop, so perhaps Kadokura-san was using it as an alternative to real instruments when composing.

“Saki-san, please put it in there,” ordered Mei-san while pointing at a small fridge in a corner.

Mei-san picked up the scattered sheets and put them in order, after which she started to collect the partially finished bottles and empty the trash. The incident with the tea had given me pause, but she was working rather efficiently this time.

Leaving them to their respective jobs of tidying up and replenishing the stock of sparkling water, I closed the door. The room literally felt as though it had become isolated from the outside world.

While I could hear the two girls working, the sounds from outside were shut out. Well, not only was there nobody there, but we were also underground, so there was no noise anyway, but that was the impression I got. Probably because of the sound-proofing.

I thought that with a room like this, Kadokura-san would hardly need the Mirror of Serenity.

“Are you finished tidying up?”

The door was opened again and Kadokura-san came in.

In his hands was the Mirror of Serenity. It looked like he had taken it from Towako-san and wanted to try it out as soon as possible.

“Almost.”

“It doesn’t have to be perfect,” he said absent-mindedly, and looked around the room. Apparently, he was considering where to put the mirror.

“I’m fascinated! Isn’t the soundproofing of this room perfect?” I asked.

Kadokura-san answered with a wry smile, “Indeed, I have spent a lot of money on outfitting this room. But it’s not perfect. I can still hear outside noise even when I close the door.”

“Really?”

I had no idea how well soundproofing worked, but I figured it would take one hell of a noise to reach the room down here.

“Yeah. For example when Mei breaks a teacup upstairs,” he said, which discouraged Mei-san and set off her apologies yet again.

“You can hear something like that? Does that mean that there’s a crack in the soundproofing?”

“That’s what I told the manufacturers at first, too. But it seems like normal people don’t hear certain things that I can. And I’m not just imagining things!”

“As a matter of fact, one time when Eiji-sama was in this room with the manufacturers, he told them that he heard me break a teacup. Apparently, no one else heard anything, but when they went to the living room to check…”

“Mei had knocked a teacup off the table, just as I had said. The manufacturers were at their wit’s end.”

So he has special ears?

“It’s not that I hear everything, but for some reason I don’t miss any of her slip-ups.”

“Nasty ears.”

“Did you say something, Mei?”

“No, never mind.”

To be honest, I was more concerned with their relationship than with the story I had just heard.

At first, I had thought they were in a purely business relationship of employer and assistant, but they interacted far too casually. In addition he neither fired her despite her numerous mistakes, nor did he really get angry about her clumsiness.

“Well then, we won’t disturb you any longer. Good luck with work. Let’s go, Kurusu-san, Maino-san.”

Upon bowing to Kadokura-san, she left the room holding a garbage bag. We followed her, and Kadokura-san started composing.

The heavy door closed with a whomp and separated him from us.

On the way back to the ground floor, Saki posed a question to Mei-san,

“How did you get to know Kadokura-san?”

“Eh?”

“Because somehow you don’t seem like employer and assistant.”

Apparently, Saki had gotten the same impression of their relationship that I had.

“I used to be an employee at the Kadokura’s.”

“An employee?”

“Eiji-sama comes from a long line of doctors and his family owns a hospital. I happened to be employed at their mansion. That’s where I met Eiji-sama.”

“Coming from that background, it’s quite surprising that he chose to become a composer.”

“Yes, it’s as you say. His father strictly disapproved of his chosen career. It was only natural, as Eiji-sama had already enrolled at a medical university when he decided to switch to composing. In the end, he left home, and followed the path of a composer with a firm and unbending will.”

“Does that mean that you followed him?”

“Yes. As you can see, I am clumsy and always making mistakes. There’s no way I could have stayed employed at the mansion without Eiji-sama’s assistance. I don’t know how many times I was about to get dismissed, but he came to my rescue every time.”

I was a bit surprised. No, I was very surprised. Because of his forceful attempts to get his hands on the Mirror of Serenity, my impression of Kadokura-san wasn’t exactly positive. I thought that like most successful people, he was conceited, but apparently I had been wrong.

“He tends to be misunderstood because of his stubborn nature, but he’s actually a very kind person!” Mei-san added, perhaps because she had guessed at my thoughts. “Lately, he has been in a slump and having trouble composing, but I’m sure he only needs a push to get past it, since he did just fine without any soundproofing in the past. I’m positive that the mirror will become that push. Thank you so much for lending it to him.”

Mei-san stopped and bowed down deeply.

“I will prepare dinner now. Please make yourself comfortable in the living room.”

While gazing after Mei-san, I said to Saki,

“I really want to save her.”

“That’s what we’re here for, right?” she replied and slapped me on the back.

I was floating in an all-encompassing, cozy silence.

Even though it was the same thing, it was clearly different.

This time, I had slid into the world of sound within the complete silence of the Mirror of Serenity.

That was all that had changed, yet everything looked completely different.

As though a slightly unbalanced sphere had become perfectly round.

As though a slightly rough surface had become polished and smooth.

As though a cup of slightly polluted water had become clean and pure.

In other words, it had become perfect.

It was the perfection I had been longing for.

What kind of sounds will be born here?

I’ll give it a try right away. I need a pen and a sheet…

“Uwa!!”

After I opened my eyes, I saw someone in the periphery of my vision, causing me to fall from my chair in surprise.

It was Settsu-san. I hadn’t noticed her entrance at all.

She approached the mirror and quietly turned it over.

At once, the world around me underwent a sudden change. Sound suddenly returned as if a switch had been flipped,

“Am I interrupting?”

“No, I haven’t started composing yet.”

“Quite the enthusiast, aren’t you? You even forgot to lock the door.”

As it seemed, I had been so impatient that I had forgotten to lock the door. I had not noticed her intrusion- I was amazed that it was so hard to notice someone without sound, and felt great respect for the mirror and its power.

So far, no soundproofing had succeeded in completely shutting out all sound.

Of course I had always heard Mei’s knocks, and I had even heard what she was doing upstairs. The soundproofing manufacturers were left in disbelief, but as a matter of fact, my ears could hear such sounds.

My ears are superior to others’, and no matter whom I would ask, no one was able to provide me with a setup that would give my ears complete silence.

I had almost given up. Had I not learned about the Mirror of Serenity by chance, I would have given up. I could only think of the mirror as a gift from above.

Without looking at me, Settsu-san asked “What’s your first impression of the mirror?” At the same time, she was tracing the border of the face-down mirror with her finger.

“It’s fantastic! I can’t believe it’s possible to shut out useless noise to such an extent. If I have this mirror, I can dive smoothly into my world of sound.”

“You didn’t notice that I entered the room, right?”

“Yes, I heard not a…”

“You didn’t even sense my presence, right?”

“Uh? Yes, indeed.”

“Don’t you think it’s unnatural not to notice when someone enters the room?”

“That just proves how well I could concentrate on my work.”

“You’re in the wrong: it’s all because of the Mirror of Serenity. It doesn’t only shut out the sound from outside, you know? It shuts out the entire outside world, so to speak.”

“?”

“Not only does it disrupt sound, but also all similar things like the presence of others or electric waves. That’s why you don’t notice someone right by your side. Not only does it silence loud voices, you also don’t receive any calls on your cell. That being said, it’s not like it physically blocks off the room, so it’s still possible to enter from outside.”

“I see. In other words, if I had locked the door and you hadn’t been able to enter, I may have pulled an all-nighter without even noticing?”

Settsu-san smirked at my joke, but it wasn’t at all a favorable smile.

“I do hope it wouldn’t get graver than that.”

“Eh?”

“Do yourself a favor and refrain from using it too often. I am loaning it to you of necessity, but that’s all. This item is beyond your ability.”

With those words, she left the room.

The next morning.

In the end, we had come away empty-handed on the first day and badly needed to find a clue today.

When I left the room that I had been given, I was greeted by one hell of a noise.

The sound had come from the kitchen, where, for some reason, Mei-san was lying prone on the floor. Not that the reason was actually hard to figure out.

Neither Kadokura-san nor Saki seemed to really mind. Kadokura-san remained seated in the living room, and Saki picked up the spoons and forks Mei-san had dropped. After a little bit, Mei-san suddenly stood up and apologized repeatedly with a pale face.

“Good morning.”

“Ah, morning,” said Kadokura-san as he raised his face from the newspaper he was reading. His eyes were bloodshot.

“Did you not sleep well?”

“I was absorbed in work, you know. Before I knew it, it was morning. I haven’t been able to concentrate that well in ages! It’s all thanks to that mirror. I couldn’t even hear any of Mei’s accidents.”

I couldn’t deny myself a wry smile when I heard that Kadokura-san hadn’t even considered the possibility that Mei-san had made no mistakes.

“Not to sound rude, but why did you hire her?” I asked in a low voice so that Mei-san couldn’t hear me. “Kadokura-san, are you actually quite caring? From what I heard, you’ve always been such a person.”

“Always? Did Mei tell you anything?”

“Mm, yes. A few things.”

“Ah, she’s being a blabbermouth again. But well, it’s not that I’m especially kind or anything like that. You already know that I come from a long line of doctors and that she was employed at the family mansion?”

“Yes.”

“She was my very first fan.” He put down the newspaper and gazed into the distance. “My father, you see, frowned on my even composing music as a pastime—telling me that I should use that time for studying. Thus, the mansion staff were constantly observing me and reported to him when they saw me composing. Mei, however, was the only one who didn’t join in. Why, she even liked my music and asked me to play for her! She would even stand up for me when I had an argument with my father, and when I made the decision to move out, she insisted on following me because she feared that I couldn’t do my own housework. I wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for her,” he said and added jokingly, “although I never told her that.”

He quickly changed the subject. “By the way, where’s Settsu-san?”

“Still asleep, I guess? She’s not a morning person.”

“I’m awake!”

Speaking of the devil. Towako-san responded while walking down the stairs.

“Did you sleep well?”

“The bed was wonderfully soft. Quite different from how I usually sleep.”

“I’m pleased to hear that.”

“Yeah, but now my back’s aching. I miss my own bed! So are you making progress? Seems like you’ve been up until late at night from the looks of it,” she pointed out as she noticed his red eyes. All in all, including her not-so-subtle suggestions that she wanted to go home, her attitude was hardly friendly.

“Sorry, but this isn’t something you can complete simply by spending extra time. It’s still going to take some effort.”

“I see. Tell me once you’re done. We can’t stay too long.”

“Do you really have to be in such a rush?”

“Sorry, but my shop’s closed right now. I can’t leave it like that forever, now can I?”

“If that’s your concern, why don’t you just leave the mirror here? Rest assured that I will return it when…”

Towako-san’s eyes glinted angrily.

“I-I’m joking! Of course I’ll give it back to you when you leave!”

“Of course you do. Once again, I have no intention whatsoever to let go of that mirror. But I do intend to go home tomorrow. Get your piece done by then.”

“I understand. I’m going downstairs for another round!”

After telling Mei-san to bring his breakfast to his workroom, he went downstairs.

“What?” asked Towako-san with sleepy eyes upon noticing my gaze.

“I just thought you’re pretty grouchy today.”

“Of course I am. I’m not here voluntarily, nor do I want him to use a Relic, but let’s not go into that. Anyway, did you make any progress?”

“I’m afraid not.”

“Then get your ass in gear. As I said before, I don’t plan on staying here much longer.”

I closed the door to the basement behind me and made sure I was alone.

“Fuck! That stupid cow!” I blurted out, unable to suppress my true feelings.

The sheet music on my desk caught my eye. The leaves were covered with various music notes.

In reality, I was already done.

Never before had I ever completed a piece so quickly.

My slump had been blown away. I never imagined that pure concentration could speed up composition so much. In addition, the final results were of high quality.

I gazed at the toppled Mirror of Serenity.

Without a doubt, that mirror was responsible for my remarkable progress.

However, Settsu-san planned on retrieving the mirror once I was done.

I knew all too well that the mirror wasn’t mine. I had merely borrowed it from the staff of that antique store.

Nevertheless, I couldn’t imagine letting go of that mirror anymore.

It was their fault for lending it to me.

It was their fault for rubbing my nose in how splendid that mirror was.

There was no way I could let go of it so easily, now that I’d experienced its wonders.

They weren’t able to take full advantage of it anyway, and would only use it for trivial matters – like erasing construction noise.

It was downright outrageous. The mirror wasn’t meant to be used by such ignoramuses.

It was meant to be used by someone who could fully appreciate its potential – someone like me.

In my hands, it would enable me to craft superior pieces of music for everyone, at a greater speed than ever before.

Wouldn’t that also be to the benefit of the mirror itself? Of course it was. Such a magnificent mirror wouldn’t want to gather dust in some storeroom, only to be abused every once in a while to erase some noise.

But what should I do?

How could I become the rightful owner of that mirror?

How could I open Settsu-san’s eyes?

Just… how?

Our second day at Kadokura-san’s house was already half over.

Towako-san planned on going home the following day. Not so much due to her shop duties, but mostly because she couldn’t stand to lend out her Relics. I had to go to school, so I couldn’t stay indefinitely either.

However, a human life was at stake. It was out of the question to depart without unearthing a clue.

“Kurusu-kun, can you spare me a moment?” Kadokura-san stopped me when he found me strolling around the building. “I’d like to ask you a favor.”

“Yes?”

“I’d like you to deliver this,” he said and handed me a bag of three CDs. “One disk contains my new composition and the other two are reference materials that I used. I’d like you to deliver them to my client.”

“You’re done?”

“Mostly. But I want to get some feedback today since I have to return the Mirror of Serenity tomorrow. If the client dislikes the piece, I’ll have to revise it.”

I supposed it would be bothersome for him if he had to revise his composition without the mirror.

“There’s already another job I have to deal with. I’m really sorry for bothering you, but can I ask you to do me this favor? Of course you won’t be doing it for free!”

Honestly speaking, the payment was very attractive, but I had no time for an errand like that. On the other hand, since we were the ones who imposed the time limit on his use of the mirror, it was difficult to turn him down.

“How long does it take to get there and back?”

“I guess about two hours in total.”

Two hours… That’s not so long. I guess I can have Saki keep an eye on Mei-san in the meantime.

“Okay. I’ll deliver it for you.”

“Thank you. Let me arrange for a car to bring you to the station. Mei! Mei, are you here?”

“Um… is Mei-san driving me by any chance?”

“Yeah, but don’t worry. Believe it or not, she has a license!”

Of course she does. I didn’t expect him to order someone without a driver’s license to give me a lift. I had asked because I was frightened of her driving regardless. I had thought he’d call for a taxi, which is what he’d done when we arrived.

In my mind’s eye, I could already see Mei-san apologizing for getting into an accident.

At least that wasn’t a “Vision.”
The moment she gripped the handle, Mei-san became a different person. I had hoped for a better outcome, but she stayed unchanged.

This was just too frightening. If she had become over-cautious like a different person, that would still have been better than this!

“I’m really sorry for making you help us out all of a sudden,” she apologized to me as I sat in the passenger’s seat.

Originally, she would have run this errand, but Kadokura-san had apparently decided that it would be inappropriate for her to leave his guests unattended for several hours.

“Well, I don’t really mind…”

The woman besides me on the driver’s seat showed no sign of being tense. Despite being the passenger, I was way more tense than she.

“Is something wrong?”

“Uh? Ah, um, you changed your clothes, didn’t you?” I made up a lie on the spot because I couldn’t confess that I was scared shitless of her driving. That she had changed her clothes wasn’t incorrect – she had switched out of her maid uniform into casual wear: a yellow dress with a cardigan.

“Yes, my maid outfit isn’t exactly suitable for going outside.”

Come to think of it, she had been wearing regular clothes when we first met in the shop.

At this point, I recalled the scene that “Vision” had shown me once more.

My attention had been focused on the remarkable room Mei had collapsed in, but in fact, there was another unusual clue – her clothing. The frilly outfit she had worn was a maid uniform.

“Um, do you always change your clothes when you leave the house?”

“Of course! I only wear that uniform at home.”

Just at home? Meaning that she’s going to die at home, too?

“But I can’t walk around like that in our city residence, either.”

“Eh? What do you mean by that?”

“The mansion here is just for work, but he also has an apartment in the city. However, the noise from the other apartments bothers him so much that he’ll only work here or at the studio.”

“What does that apartment look like?”

“Eh?”

“Um, you see, I was wondering what the living space of a music composer looks like. Maybe like a room in one of those trendy designer residences? Maybe there’ll be eccentric designs all over the walls and doors?”

“I wouldn’t say it’s anything special, though… Ah, perhaps you read that recently published interview,” Mei-san interjected. “He only did that thing one time, long ago!”

“What?”

“Huh? Weren’t you talking about the incident when he came up with a good idea for a piece, but couldn’t find any paper to write on? The story where he ended up composing on the walls after drawing lines on them?”

“Ah, y-yes! Exactly! That’s what I meant.”

I see. Those lines in my Vision might have been drawn by Kadokura-san as substitutes for sheets of music.

“It was a terrible pain to clean them off, believe me!” she smiled wryly and suddenly stopped the car. The car came to a halt with a jerk.

“Mh? What’s wrong?” I asked.

Looking at me with a troubled face, she answered, “…Excuse me. It looks like the wheels got caught in a ditch.”
It was horrible.

Because the wheels got stuck in a ditch, I had to push the car from behind while Mei-san stayed behind the wheel and stepped on the gas. Actually, it wasn’t that hard to get the car out of the ditch, but in return I got a full-fledged mud shower. My mouth literally felt gritty with sand.

It took us longer than expected to make it to the station, but I was still on track to make the appointment as my train was just arriving.

For these two hours of work I was going to receive 10,000 yen, which was quite a good deal. All that remained was handing over the CDs and returning to the mansion. Mei-san was going to pick me up at the train station on my way back.

After I had arrived at the client’s company and explained my business to the receptionist, she led me to a conference room. After a while, someone knocked on the door and came in. It was a man in a suit who was about thirty years old. The fact that he was working on a Sunday kind of made me feel bad for him.

“Sorry for making you wait. Kadokura-san has informed me about the matter at hand.”

“Ah, yes. This is what I’m supposed to deliver.”

I opened the bag to take out the CDs. However…

“Huh?”

There were only two CDs in the bag. I placed them on the table and further scrutinized the bag. However, there was nothing else to be seen.

“We gave Kadokura-san these two CDs. There was no real need to return them, but I take it he forgot to give you the CD that actually matters? Now isn’t that clumsy of him? Or did the girl that’s helping him out slip up? Oh well, there’s still time until the deadline, so just come back some other time. I’ll get in touch with Kadokura-san and let him know. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve still got some work to do.” He clapped me on the shoulder and left the room.

This can’t be. I made sure of the contents when I got the bag. The CD was in there. What’s going on…?

“Ah!” I burst out.

There was a hole in the bag.
By the time I got back, night had already fallen.

I hadn’t noticed that hole. Did I drop the CD somewhere? But I didn’t hear anything. Did I simply not notice?

The CD wasn’t at the lost-property office at the station. I also searched the route from the station to the client’s company several times on foot, but had no luck. I checked the route between the station and the mansion, but found nothing there either. It figured – I had been in a car, after all. But I didn’t remember that simple fact until I was back at the mansion again—I even forgot that Mei-san was supposed to pick me up at the train station.

Kadokura-san was waiting for me and led me to the basement as soon as I returned.

“The client gave me a call and brought me up to date. Care to explain?” he muttered quietly, but with clear tones of anger in his voice.

“You see, there was a hole in the bag…”

“You dropped it.”

“…Apparently.”

I wanted to deny it, but I had nothing to back me up. It wasn’t my fault that there was a hole in the bag. However, once I accepted the delivery task, I should have checked.

“How are you going to make up for this?!”

“I’m sorry. I’ll deliver the CD again tomorrow. I’ll ask Towako-san to lend you the mirror for one more day.”

“You’re missing the point!” He shook his head fiercely. “That was the only sample. There’s no copy!”

“What…?”

“I’m not at fault here! There was no time. You were the one rushing me. You told me that I only had until tomorrow, so I fell in line. Who could have expected that you’d lose the only copy?”

“Can’t you reproduce it one more time?”

That question rubbed him the wrong way.

“You’re quite the genius, aren’t you? Make the same thing one more time you say? You may think that’s possible since I created it once, but it’s not that simple. A composition is defined the moment it is created. It is impossible to perfectly reproduce the same piece of music!”

“…I’m sorry.”

“Do you think you can make up for it just by apologizing? Besides, what if someone picks up that CD and sells it as his own creation? I may be called an imitator if I re-created my composition and that happened. Do you realize what this means? That composition will count for nothing!” With an enraged look, he got into my face. “How will you compensate me for this?”

“…What do you want?”

“Would a student like you even be able to afford the monetary damages?”

I couldn’t even dream of paying the number that he stated.

But if that’s the only way…

“However, we can make a trade if you want.”

“Eh?”

“A trade. I’m already wealthy, so even a monetary settlement wouldn’t make me whole.”

“And what would be the trade?”

At the time I was so discombobulated that I didn’t even have an inkling of what was going on.

“The mirror!” His anger subsided abruptly. “Give me the ‘Mirror of Serenity’. In that case, I’ll turn a blind eye to this incident.”

“……!”

He’d tricked me.

The delivery he had asked me to make. The hole in the bag. The CD without any copies.

He had deliberately arranged the entire scenario. Everything had happened in accordance with his plan to obtain the “Mirror of Serenity.”

“How does that sound? You have no use for that mirror anyway, right? Isn’t that a great deal?”

“…I’ll find it.”

“What did you say?”

“I’ll go and find that CD.”

“Boy…”

“As we’ve told you repeatedly, we don’t intend to give it to you. Towako-san said so, and I have to follow suit.”

“Oh my, you’re a really sore loser. I don’t mind if you go and search for it, but you’d better find it before the deadline. If you don’t…”

“If I don’t find it, I’ll pay for the damages! Even if it takes a lifetime!”

“Well said, Tokiya.”

We turned toward the voice that came from the entrance. It was Towako-san, followed by Saki and Mei-san, who was trying to stop them.

“Settsu-san, listen, he lost…”

“Stop right there. I’m not here to listen to your cheap cock-and-bull story.” She walked to my side and poked me in the head. “Jeez, don’t be such a sap.”

“I’m sorry. Trust me, I’ll definitely find…”

“It’s no use. You’re not going to find it. If it’s all a trick to obtain the mirror, the CD isn’t going to be lying around somewhere.”

“Aren’t you a bit too overbearing?” he said as he glared at her.

“Now that’s what I call a shameless thief. But very well.”

Towako-san approached the “Mirror of Serenity” and tossed it carelessly to him. Eager to keep it from falling, Kadokura-san hurriedly caught it and hugged it close.

“Go ahead and treat it like your child.”

“Eh?”

“It’s yours.” She lifted a corner of her mouth sardonically and fixed her gaze on him. “As you said, we can’t make good use of this mirror. There is only one reason I didn’t give it to you despite that: because this mirror is going to hurt both of you.”

“Do harm? To me?”

“‘To me‘? Is that what I said? But suit yourself. I’m not going repeat myself. If you really overheard it, you shall live to regret it. I’m no fortune-teller, really, but this development was utterly predictable.”

Towako-san turned around and left the room. Saki followed suit, but I didn’t know whether to leave as well or not.

Our objective had not been fulfilled yet.

I looked at Mei-san. Our eyes met and she quickly averted her gaze.

Meaning that she had nothing to talk to us about, we who had insulted Kadokura-san, not knowing the circumstances?

I followed Towako-san out of the room. But there was one thing I could not hold back.

“Please don’t go anywhere near doors with lines on them. Otherwise something bad will happen.”

I couldn’t see her face as I said that.

They left with a cheap parting shot.

I didn’t care. Not at all. As long as the “Mirror of Serenity” remained in my hands.

“…Haha… Ha… Hahahahahaha!”

I burst out in irrepressible laughter. I had no idea when I had last laughed so heartily. I was overjoyed – I felt happier than when I became popular enough to release my first record.

After I was done laughing, I felt Mei’s gaze on me.

“What’s wrong? Everything went well, so laugh with me!”

“…Yes.”

But she didn’t even smile.

“What’s with that gloomy face? Didn’t you agree with me that if I owned it, the mirror would be in better hands?”

“…Yes.”

But she still didn’t smile.

“Whatever. Give it to me.”

“…Yes.”

“Give the CD to me!”

“Ah, yes.”

She came to and took a CD out of her pocket. It goes without saying that it was my composition.

I had ordered Mei to filch the CD under some pretext and cut a hole in the bag. Of course there had been never been any need to deliver the CD. I could have just sent the file via e-mail.

The entire delivery had been a scam I’d arranged to obtain the “Mirror of Serenity.”

I recalled the words of the woman who had told me about the mirror.

While her figure had only left a faint impression on me and I could hardly recall her face, her words had remained vividly imprinted on my memory.

But I’m sure you will be able to obtain it if you wish. Relics naturally find their way to an appropriate owner—

Now that I thought about it, that encounter was my first step toward the mirror. No, even that was just yet another inevitable event that would lead me to the “Mirror of Serenity”.

“Um…” Mei mumbled, still wearing a gloomy expression, and stood before me.

“What is it?”

“Um… it doesn’t have to be right away, one day is fine, but after you have gotten out of your slump, could you please return the…”

A dry sound rang through the soundproof room.

Mei fell to the floor, holding the cheek I had slapped.

“Do you care more about them? Would you rather side with people you’ve only known for a few days than someone you’ve known almost forever?”

“I’m not ‘siding’ with them. But deceiving them is…”

“Shut up!”

I yanked her to her feet and drove her out of the studio.

“That’s enough. I want to be alone. Go upstairs. And don’t disturb me! …No, slip up as much as you want! After all, I’ve got the ‘Mirror of Serenity’.”

I closed the door and pulled the cloth off my “Mirror of Serenity.”

I was surrounded by complete silence.

We got on a train and headed home.

One day earlier than planned.

Towako-san had me explain everything: that I was asked to make a delivery; that Mei-san brought me to the station and that the CD was gone by the time I got to the client’s company; that I searched everywhere on my way back but didn’t find anything.

“I see.”

“I just don’t understand how I lost it.”

While looking out of the window, Towako-san yawned and said, “obviously that maid stole it.”

“No way…”

“Really? If you only left the bag alone at one point, then that’s the logical conclusion, isn’t it?”

Towako-san didn’t even consider the possibility that I had dropped it, so she arrived at that conclusion.

“The maid would do anything for that guy, right?” she added.

I see. So feelings of guilt had caused Mei-san to avert her eyes?

Saki suddenly broke her silence.

“Tokiya.”

“Mh?”

“You said something to her right before we left. Did you find the place you saw in your ‘Vision?'”

“No, I just told her to avoid doors with lines drawn on them.”

In the end, we had found no proof of anything. Besides, I assumed that the lines had yet to be drawn on the door from my “Vision,” though I had no proof of that either.

“Stop fretting. Whatever happens is their own fault.”

Towako-san had a rather detached view. Since they had abused her goodwill after she generously lent them the “Mirror of Serenity,” I could understand why she wouldn’t feel any pity for them.

Nonetheless, I couldn’t think that way.

Despite what had happened, I prayed for Mei-san’s safety.

…I was filled with remorse as I realized that a quick prayer was all I had done for her.

Why is saving others so difficult?

“Tokiya. The next station is five minutes away,” Saki suddenly blurted out.

“What do you mean?”

“I’m just letting you know that we’re arriving at the next station in five minutes. It’s up to you to do something meaningful.”

Something meaningful? What could I possibly do?

Would getting off the train be a meaningful act? Not in and of itself, but if I followed up with the right choices, I would have accomplished something meaningful.

At any rate, I would definitely not accomplish anything by just going home.

“You want to save her, don’t you?”

The vision of Mei-san’s death crossed my mind.

Why did we make this trip in the first place? Wasn’t it to save her? That mistake had weakened my resolve. It’s still too early to give up. There’s no reason to give up.

I looked at Towako-san.

“Don’t look at me.”

She kept gazing out of the window.

“I’m off.”

I stood up and headed for the door.

I came to.

The sheet music before me was covered with notes.

The clock revealed that it was already morning. I had completed an entire composition in a single, uninterrupted stretch. This was a first for me.

I looked at the “Mirror of Serenity”. It was no doubt there.

It was mine now.

With its help I was going to make a breakthrough.

I raised my head. I was expecting Mei to make some noise, but I didn’t hear anything. Usually her noises just annoyed me, but now I found myself missing them a little and feeling a bit sad.

I was completely calm, as if the “Mirror of Serenity” also ensured a serene mind.

Suddenly, my stomach started growling.

Come to think of it, I haven’t eaten anything since yesterday because I couldn’t stop composing.

I left the room to get some breakfast.

“Mh?”

I saw something out of the corner of my eye and turned back toward the door.

“What’s that?”

A vast number of lines were drawn all over the door in all directions.

This wasn’t here yesterday. What’s going on?

Mei could probably tell me.

I went upstairs to the ground floor, but there was nobody in the living room or the kitchen.

Odd. Has that girl overslept?

Suddenly, a memo on the table caught my eye.

“What…?”

I read the memo and was left speechless.

 

Mei’s funeral ended with no fanfare.

She didn’t rise from the dead, and I didn’t follow her into death. Really, it ended with no fanfare at all. It… just ended.

And so my daily life started again.

The world moved on as if nothing had happened, and so did I.

I opened the door to my mansion.

I had been staying in my city apartment for some time since it was a lot more convenient.

It was the first time I had been here in a week.

I felt no nostalgia.

Not because it had only been a week, but because it didn’t feel like a place I had lived in.

At the same time, this was clearly the house I had lived in, and there was only one thing missing.

“So that’s why…?”

I realized why it didn’t feel like home anymore.

The answer was pretty obvious.

Even if there was something missing—even if I had lost something—it was still nothing but a house.

I headed straight to my underground studio.

There were countless lines on the door.

Drawn by Mei.

Unable to endure the pain from the heart attack that eventually took her life, she sought my help. However, no matter how many times she called out, there was no answer. At the time, I had been using the “Mirror of Serenity,” so there was no way her voice could reach me.

She had repeatedly banged on the door to make her presence known.

She had scratched at the door countless times because of her pain.

Her hands were an awful sight. Banging on the door had made them bleed internally, her nails were cracked and torn from the scratching, and her fingertips were covered in blood.

But I hadn’t noticed anything.

I hadn’t noticed until the very end.

No, I hadn’t noticed from the very start.

According to the doctor, signs of her condition had already manifested earlier on.

There were several things that came to mind.

Her knocking over cups, her dropping spoons and forks, and her sudden falls. None of this had been caused by clumsiness or scatterbrained behavior.

Most likely, a sudden pain in her heart had caused her to stop moving.

I hadn’t noticed. She had deceived me to the very end.

Why didn’t she tell me?

Even someone like me would have lent her an ear.

…No, I had listened to her with my very own ears. I had heard the signs that called attention to her suffering. I had been able to hear those signs that no one else could hear.

I shut out those signs, which could cut through any soundproofing, by using the “Mirror of Serenity”.

Because this mirror is going to hurt both of you—

I recalled Settsu-san’s words.

I had not understood their meaning. I had only thought of myself.

Even though her warning had been addressed to everyone near the “Mirror of Serenity”…

I averted my gaze from the door and entered the studio. After I closed the door, the room was filled with silence.

At first, I thought the mirror was still active, but it was tipped over.

Oh. When there’s no one else around, it gets this quiet, I thought vaguely. Perhaps I had just obtained the silence I had been seeking.

I closed my eyes.

I pictured the world of sounds.

“………”

I closed my eyes once more.

I pictured the world of sounds once more.

“………”

It was useless.

I wanted to escape into that world. But I couldn’t.

Why. Why is it so—

 

“Noisy—!”

 

I opened my eyes.

There was nothing.

There was no one there.

I had figured as much.

Yet it was noisy.

This world felt so noisy it was deafening.

This world, though no one was present, felt noisier than anything I had ever experienced.

I would never have imagined that a silence without a single person or thing present could be so noisy.

…No, I knew this. Didn’t I know this kind of silence already?

It was then that I remembered.

Finally, after all so long, I remembered.

I recalled the circumstances of my first slump, which occurred shortly after I had left home.

It was quite similar to what had happened this time.

My nerves were frayed because of the deafening, overly silent silence.

The one who saved me from it was Mei, who had followed me.

She had saved me from the silence.

But despite all she had done for me, I distanced myself from her and tried to create silence.

Nevertheless, she had stayed by my side.

I looked up at the ceiling.

I focused on what was beyond it.

But there was no one there.

There was only a perfectly void silence.

The girl who had created a cozy and warm silence for me was no longer here.

After we returned to Kadokura-san’s mansion, we saw Mei-san collapsed in front of the door of his underground studio. The door was covered with countless scratches.

We immediately called an ambulance, but she had already passed away.

We called out to Kadokura-san several times, but he didn’t react at all.

Most likely, Mei-san had desperately called out to him as well. She had sought his help while enduring a pain so excruciating that she scratched the door over and over, but she hadn’t been able to reach him.

He had surely been using the “Mirror of Serenity.”

He did return the mirror to us. While we never saw him directly again, Saki found the mirror in front of the shop one day.

Since that day, I had not heard of any new compositions by Kadokura-san.

I don’t know what he’s doing now.

My guess is that his regret kept him from moving on.

But I also felt regret.

Over and over, I thought about what-ifs like what if I hadn’t left his mansion, or returned earlier, or hadn’t given the mirror to Kadokura-san in the first place.

“It was her fate. You couldn’t do anything about it,” Towako-san said in response to her death.

I don’t know if she was being honest, or if she was just trying to make me feel better.

It may sound naïve, but if that was fate, then I wanted to change it.

I couldn’t achieve anything despite knowing the future.

I couldn’t achieve anything despite knowing someone would die.

I couldn’t make a difference back then even though I returned to Kadokura-san’s mansion.

But one day, I thought, I will find a way to overcome fate.

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