Chapter 1 – Envy
Chapter 1: Envy
The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.
Even if that’s not actually true, what it means is that other peoples’ possessions look better than your own.
But what would you do if the grass on the other side really was greener?
Perhaps you could learn by example and try to imitate your neighbor’s success.
Or maybe you could give up and try to find satisfaction with what you have.
But what if, despite all that, another person’s possessions continued to look better than your own?
What would you do then?
Is it not obvious?
Seize what they have and take it for yourself.
And like that,
Conflict between people never ends.
That was the name of the unit I, Kagoshima Maria, had formed with my sister, Asuka.
We belonged to the same record label that promoted our mom, who had at one point aimed to be a singer. With our appeal as middle school sisters and strict lessons from her, coupled with the singing talent we inherited, our popularity skyrocketed in no time.
TV shows and magazines couldn’t get enough of my sister and me, and before long, we found ourselves not even having enough time to go to school.
But that fame didn’t last long. Public interest shifted incredibly quickly, and as the stage became more and more distant…
“I’d like Asuka to make her solo debut.”
I heard my manager say to my mom and older sister.
The manager had called them in earlier saying he wanted to talk to just the two of them. I was told to wait in the dressing room. Still, I also wanted to know what this was about, so I snuck out and was now trying hard to listen to what was going on inside the meeting room.
This job, which was to sing a song presented by famous composer, was like a lifeline to bring us back from our waning popularity.
But the condition it came with was that Asuka alone was going to be allowed to sing.
It was a shock to me, but I also kind of saw it coming.
We had inherited the same qualities from the same mother, learned under the same instruction and practiced the same techniques.
But we were not the same.
I knew it myself—that Asuka was a better singer than me, and that the rest of the world thought the same.
That’s why I had a feeling something like this would happen someday.
But it was too early.
Way too early.
I still wanted us to sing together.
“What do you think?”
Decline, I prayed from the other side of the door.
“We’ll do it.”
My mom answered.
My sister didn’t decline.
Everyone agreed, and I was the only one left behind.
I was sure Asuka would go on without me after her solo debut.
Like her name, she was leaving me behind in a cage, and spreading her wings alone.
And so, one month later…
After finishing her solo debut, standing there on the stage was——me, Kagoshima Maria.
You might call it divine justice.
My sister Asuka hurt her throat and lost her voice.
I had been recuperating at my mom’s instruction, and took my sister’s place in the solo debut.
That’s what I seized.
The song that my sister was supposed to sing.
The position that she was supposed to have.
“How did things end up like this?” I asked myself as I walked to our meeting place under the clocktower in front of the station
Sunday. I’d usually be going to my part time job around now.
I had taken the day off.
… And was getting the feeling that I had been having similar thoughts last week.
Still, I was the one who made the invitation this time, so it wasn’t like there was anything for me to complain about.
I checked the two tickets I had in my pocket just in case and kept muttering to myself.
These concert tickets originally belonged to my classmate Shinjou, but he gave them to me for free since his soccer club was playing a game at the same time.
It was incredibly generous of him, but there was a catch…which was that he got to choose who went with me.
Maybe he meant it as an apology for the trouble he caused during the shopping trip last week, but I wasn’t allowed to choose who I went with this time.
That’s why I definitely wasn’t looking forward to this.
I got to the meeting spot still making excuses for myself, and saw that she was already there.
“Did I keep you waiting?”
“I just got here.”, replied Saki.
The fact that she looked proud of herself must have been my imagination.
Then, Saki’s eyes widened just a little bit. Her emotions rarely ever showed on her face, so she must have been really surprised.
And well, you could say that’s what I was going for.
The outfit I was wearing now was the one Saki chose and bought for me last week.
“You wore that?”
“Well yeah, figured I might as well.”
“It looks good on you.”
“Now you’re just showing off.”
I definitely wasn’t ironically pointing out that Saki was complementing the clothes she chose for me because I was embarrassed.
“Same to you though. You look good.” I figured complementing her clothes was the polite thing to do.
“Now you’re just showing off.”
You were the one who looked like you wanted the outfit in the first place though.
“I suppose I am.”
Just like me, Saki was wearing the clothes I bought for her last week. But the only reason I got her that dress because she looked like she wanted it, so you couldn’t really say I was showing off.
I was pretending to be calm, but wearing clothes we picked out for each other and exchanging complements was making me feel really uncomfortable.
“A-anyway, let’s go.”
We cut off the uneasy conversation there and began walking to the concert hall.
Until, for some reason, Saki latched onto my arm.
“What’s wrong?” Saki looked up at me, puzzled.
What was she trying to do? Don’t tell me—was she enjoying herself that much even in this date-like atmosphere? I was shocked. But then I happened to see a book inside the leather handbag she was holding.
With This, Even You Can Make a High Society Debut!
Come to think of it, she did mention something about that yesterday; she said it was her first time going out to a social event at a concert.
She was really misunderstanding something.
The concert we were going to was a small one held at the community center. There were going to be various singing groups and musical performances, but it really wasn’t like a classical concert or opera for rich ladies and gentlemen to attend wearing fancy clothes. It had absolutely nothing to do with high society.
Of course, the book she had only doubled her misunderstanding that the concert hall was a place for social events.
But I wasn’t such a nice guy that I’d point it out to her.
That’s why I didn’t bother correcting her mistake.
… It definitely wasn’t because she was in a good mood.
And absolutely not because she seemed really happy for some reason.
“Are you ready?” Mom asked me.
“The room is a little dry though. How does your throat feel?”
“I’m fine. Same as always.”
“They can’t even get air conditioning right around here. I can’t believe you have to sing in a place like this. It’s why I hate taking these jobs” Mom sighed unhappily.
She was saying that as the person who chose to accept the job. I understood why she did though; she had told me countless times before.
“If you pull this off, you’ll get a chance to make a television appearance, okay? That’s why I want you to endure performing at this tiny concert hall.”
Mom was actually the one who had to endure though. I personally didn’t hate jobs like this. I was happy as long I as I had the chance to sing in front of an audience. True, there was a time where I wanted to sing for huge crowds at big venues. Just like my mom, there was a time where I saw no point in singing at a small place like this.
But things were different now.
Even this small community center was a precious place where I could sing. No matter how small the place, and no matter how shabby the event, it was much better than not having any place to sing at all.
“You go back to the dressing room and get changed. I already asked to have a humidifier ready for you, so make sure to stay inside. I’d rather you not hurt your throat in a place like this.”
“What about you?”
“I’m going to greet the organizer.”
Mom was keeping an eye on the clock, and was going to meet with the organizer. That was to say, she was going to meet the person who could get me on TV.
I heard the other participants whispering among each other after she left.
“She asked them to bring a humidifier here?”
“What’s up with the special treatment?”
“It’s because she was on TV before, you know.”
“Ah, is that what it is?”
“Why is she singing in a place like this, then?”
“I guess that’s why they were talking about humidifiers and TV.”
“She used to be famous?”
“Wanna ask for an autograph?”
“Nah, why would I want one from her?”
“Why is she alone though??”
“Yeah, there used to be two of them, right?”
“Hmm, I think she’s the younger sister.”
“I’m not really sure which one she is…”
I couldn’t stand the painfully loud whispers anymore and escaped back to the dressing room.
There were all sorts of variety acts at the concert, from a housewife chorus group, to music class performances and acoustic guitar players.
We were taking a break right now, but the second part was going to begin soon.
“Looks like a student saxophone performance is next.”
“Yeah, and there’s a children’s choir after that, followed by flute and shamisen players. They’ve got everything here.”
“I think it’s great. Having so much variety makes it fun.” Saki said with her usual lack of expression.
It didn’t look like she was having a lot of fun, but if she said she was, then I supposed I’d take her word for it. Other people might not understand, but I was used to being next to Saki and looking at her facial expressions that didn’t match what she said.
True, the skill level here wasn’t exactly high, but it wasn’t boring either.
The most important thing was that Saki was enjoying the concert, and that made the trip well worth it.
“Last is Canaria…? Oh, that Canaria, huh. There’s a name I haven’t heard in a while.”
“Yeah, they’re a duo of sisters I used to see sing on TV a long time ago. You can read about them here.”
I showed Saki the notes on the pamphlet.
The twin middle school sisters were really popular on TV back in the day. I really only knew their name though, since I didn’t watch much TV.
But now that I thought about it, I hadn’t heard anything about them for a while. Were they singing in these kinds places now?
“Really? So they’re famous. I’m looking forward to seeing them.”
“It’s kind of weird though. There’s only one person on the pamphlet.”
It had been a few years since I saw Canaria on TV, so the person in the in the picture had quite a different atmosphere from what I remembered.
“Oh well. I suppose we’ll know when they get on stage.”
The break was almost over.
“I’m gonna go to the bathroom.”
I stood up and faced the door, but then a girl standing near the entrance caught my eye. I stopped and stared at her for a moment.
“What’s wrong?”, Saki asked, sounding confused. She looked over to where I was staring.
“Is there something with that girl?”
“It’s just…it feels like I’ve seen her somewhere before…”
“You aren’t going to tell me she’s someone you came here with before again, are you?”
“No, not that. And wait, what do you mean by again?”
“Nothing.” With a hmph, Saki turned away from the entrance and back to the stage, but then…
“Wait.” She stopped me. “Isn’t that the girl from last time?”
“You know. The two that showed up after us at Toujou-san’s school.”
Just the other day, Saki and I had gotten caught up in an incident involving a bangle that brought good luck. The glass ceiling in the gym tragically shattered during that incident and seriously injured many people.
The girl just now looked just like the one who was with the other boy at that time. If my eyes weren’t mistaken, then she was not only exact same person, but also the one I suspected shattered the glass..
If you were to ask me if a girl like that had the power to shatter a reinforced glass ceiling, I’d have to say yes.
Because that was an incident involving Relics.
But before I could get a better look, the girl exited the hall.
“I’ll be out for a bit.” I left my seat and followed after her.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I got back to the dressing room.
My older sister, Asuka, was there for some reason.
It had been at least a week, maybe even longer, since I last saw her. I had no idea where she had gone, and I doubted Mom did either. She did say she hired a detective to look for Asuka though…I guess that was true after all.
“Where were you this whole time?” I asked to fill in the silence.
Asuka typed something on her phone and then showed me the screen.
She had to use a cellphone or computer like this to communicate since she couldn’t talk anymore.
(I was with a friend.)
Not that I was one to talk, but I didn’t expect Asuka to have friends. The two of us had been kept busy since we were kids and never had a chance to make any. I still didn’t have any friends since I didn’t go to school. Asuka wasn’t working anymore, but she didn’t seem to be going to school either, so I was a little curious about where she found a friend.
“What kind of friend?”
(A really kind one.)
Her vague reply told me she didn’t want to say anymore.
“Anyway, Mom was worried about you.”
That was a lie. She hadn’t said anything about Asuka in a while.
(The detective brought me back)
I honestly didn’t think there was actually a detective out there searching for Asuka. Mom was always busy looking for new jobs for me and didn’t have any time to search for her. I guess she was worried for Asuka in her own way.
“So do you want to talk to Mom?”
But Asuka didn’t answer, and instead took out a pendant with a triangular jewel out from her pocket.
Asuka held the pendant up by its chain. As I stood there wondering what she was trying to do, the pendant suddenly started spinning.
The strange thing was that Asuka wasn’t moving her hand at all.
“… What are you doing?”
I asked her what was going on, but she just ignored me and kept staring at the pendant.
…Honestly, it was a little creepy. She was my sister, but I still had no idea what she wanted.
“If you don’t have anything else, then please leave. I need to be on stage soon.”
But Asuka ignored me.
“Asuka, are you listening!?”
(Yeah, I got it already. I already learned what I wanted to find out anyway.)
Asuka put the pendant back in her pocket with a satisfied look on her face.
“What did you come here to do?”
I hadn’t seen her in so long, but none of this was making sense.
But Asuka did not answer. She just quietly fixed her gaze on me.
“Didn’t you come here to see Mom?”
I was trying to talk my way through this discomfort.
“… Or did you come here to get in my way?”
She didn’t break her silence, but finally Asuka shook her head, and showed me her phone screen.
(I came to take back what was stolen from me.)
I watched from around the corner as the girl from before entered a room reserved for people in the concert.
Maybe she was one of the performers.
Then, a short while later another girl entered the room from the opposite direction. Maybe it wasn’t an individual room, but a group dressing room.
Should I go in and pretend to have gotten the wrong room, or would it be better to just try knocking instead…
But just as I was about to make up my mind, I heard a conversation coming from the dressing room.
What was going on? I couldn’t tell who it was, but I could glean that someone sounded surprised.
I pressed my ear to the door.
The seemed to be speaking softly, so I had a hard time hearing what they were saying. It must have been a conversation they really didn’t want anyone else to hear.
The second girl was likely acquainted with the one I was following since they were in the same dressing room. It was safe to assume she knew about relics too.
… Regardless, I had no intention of standing around to watch.
My thoughts went back to the incident at Toujou-san’s school. Why did she do such a thing? What did she do with the lucky bangle Relics she stole? And finally, what was their goal…why were they collecting Relics?
Just as I was about to knock on the dressing room door to find out—
“What are you doing!?”, someone shouted behind me.
I backed away from the door in a panic and saw a young woman standing there.
The emotion in her voice was also present on her face. My eyebrows were up in surprise as she stared out me.
“Who are you!? There’s someone suspicious here!”
“Hey, wait a minute. Just because I was standing in front of the door…”
To be honest, I really didn’t have any credibility seeing as I had my ear to the door a moment ago.
Some concert staff who heard her voice came over, grabbed me, and dragged me over to the security office with her.
The door to the room opened, and someone suddenly grabbed my shoulders and shook me.
It was Mom.
Asuka had already left. She had just missed her.
“Maria, are you alright?” She asked me, looking worried as she smoothed over my frazzled hair. “Did that man do something to you?”
“That’s right. There was a strange person in front of your door. The door was locked, and you didn’t come out when I knocked, so I was thinking maybe you went to the restroom…”
I hadn’t noticed anyone knocking or turning the doorknob.
“It’s alright. I don’t know any guys anyway. Nothing happened.”
“I see…thank goodness then.”
Mom let out a sigh of relief, and then frowned.
“And it’s just before your performance too. Unbelievable. This is why I hate small concerts. They don’t have any kind of security, and didn’t even bring you a humidifier. Ugh I wouldn’t have even looked at this place if I didn’t have to for your next job!”
“Who cares about that, Mom. Listen to me! Asuka was here!”
“That’s nice. Never mind that though, are you ready? I told you to get changed, didn’t I? Come on, let’s get your hair sorted out.”
“You told me about Asuka, but let’s focus on work now. You’ll be getting bigger jobs after this is over, so keep it together, alright?”
“I’m going to ask them to get us a different dressing room, so you finish getting ready. Keep the door locked.” Mom said, left the room.
She wasn’t listening to me.
Neither Asuka nor I mattered.
The only thing that did matter was singing…no, the only thing that drove her was the dream she couldn’t to fulfill.
After I was taken to the security room, the security guard wrote down my name, address, and school.
The lady from before was apparently the person in the dressing room’s mother. Her aside, I was able to convince the staff and security people that I had an acquaintance there, so things didn’t get too bad.
“You know Canaria used to be pretty popular at one point. I’m sure you can understand why her mother would be that worried.
That’s how I found out who the room belonged to.
“That was Canaria’s room?”
“Yeah. That was Kagoshima Maria from Canaria’s dressing room.”
Now that he mentioned it, the second girl actually did resemble the one on the pamphlet.
“They used to be famous, so I’d bet they’ve had all sorts of incidents in the past.”
Her mom’s reaction felt like it made sense now.
“She caused quite a stir, you know, asking us about the security system and making us reserve a dressing room for her daughter alone. It’s not like this is a TV show…”
The security guard smiled wryly.
“The point is, they used to be a big deal. My buddies at the security company tell me that sort of thing was normal for them, so I suppose it makes sense.”
“Yep, but they’re nowhere near as popular now.”
Even I could guess they weren’t as popular anymore. Otherwise they wouldn’t have bothered appearing at a small concert like this.
“The older sister retired right as people were starting to get tired of them.”
“You said she retired?”
“Yep. Seems she hurt her throat and lost her voice. The younger sister actually had throat problems first, and was resting while the older one was doing solo performances. The older sister didn’t take any breaks from TV during that time, so I guess she ended up pushing herself too far.”
Now I knew why there was only one person listed for Canaria in the pamphlet.
“Alright, questioning is now over. Don’t go hanging around there again. The second half of the concert is about to start.”
“Sorry for all the trouble.” I bowed and left the security room.
There was some interference, but where did that girl go, I wonder. Was she still in the dressing room? All I knew was that the face that she went into dressing room meant she was affiliated with Canaria.
I might be able to talk to her if I went back to there. The mom from before might pose a problem, but whatever. This was an emergency. I’d just say I had come to apologize or something if she caught me again.
I went back to Canaria’s dressing room and knocked on the door.
“Yes?”, came the reply from inside.
“Excuse me, do you have a moment?”
“Who is it? It’s a little early for me to take the stage…” The voice belonged to a girl. Her mom didn’t seem to be there.
That said, I could sense the caution in her voice. Her mom must have warned her about me.
There was no way I would just open my door and force my way in though.
“Are you Kagoshima Maria from Canaria?”
“…I am, but what of it?”
“Sorry to bother you. I had some business with the girl who went into your room earlier.”
I felt a jolt through the door.
“…There’s no one in here except me though.”
“I saw her go in before you did. Is she not there anymore?”
“What business do you have with her?”
Maria’s tone was sharp. Something must have happened that they didn’t want anyone else to know. In other words, it might have been about Relics.
“Do you know her?”
“What exactly do you want?”
“—Relics” I said suddenly. I didn’t try to hide anything.
I could hear Maria gulp.
That was bait to see if she knew about Relics, and as I thought, she did.
“That’s what I’m here to talk about. Can you let me in?”
There was no reply.
I might have inadvertently caused her to put up her guard even more. But now there was enough to pique my interest. I couldn’t ignore things after this.
There was no reply.
Was she was trying to pull something off from inside the room? Now I was the one who put up my guard. I took a stance and took a short step away from the door.
There was no way I was just going to walk away though.
Finally, after a lot of hesitation, Maria opened the door just a little bit.
“What are you here for, exactly?”
“There’s something I want to ask you.”
“It’s about the girl who was here earlier. You know her, right?”
“My sister’s not here.”
The person I was talking to was the second girl to enter the dressing room, Kagoshima Maria. If the girl I was following was Maria’s older sister…then she must have been the other member of Canaria, the one that retired.
I was remembering correctly, her name was…Asuka.
“Do you still want to talk anyway?”
“…Come in.”, Maria invited me in.
Just as she had said, there was no one else in there besides her.
“Where did your sister go?”
“She left earlier. I think she’s still somewhere in the building though.”
“Is there any way you can contact her?”
“No, it looks like she changed both her phone number and her mail address…”
She may have been trying to hiding it, or maybe she really didn’t know.
“Do you mind if I ask you something now?”
“What kind of relationship do you have with my sister?”
She wanted to know how I knew Asuka, but I wasn’t sure how to answer.
“Are you friends?”
“No, we’ve only met once or twice…”
I was uncertain on how much to reveal, but ultimately decided to talk about Relics to see how she would respond.
That said, it wasn’t often I talked to anyone about Relics, so I didn’t even know where to begin. I settled on starting from the lucky bangle incident from the other day.
I didn’t reveal Toujou-san’s name or school, but emphasized that Asuka appeared to have a Relic of some kind that she likely used to shatter the glass in the gym.
“…told anything about it?”
“Yeah. It had been a long time since I saw my sister.”
“Did she tell you anything?”
“Yes. Anything at all.” I asked, hoping to at least hear about what her goals were.
“…Just that she wanted to take back what as stolen from her.”
“Asuka told me she returned to take back what was stolen from her.”
“Something stolen from her?”
“Do you know what that was?”
“… I don’t, but if I had to guess, it would be my current position.”
“Did you know my sister retired after hurting her throat?”
“After that happened, I was the one who made my solo debut and was given the chance to perform a song by a famous composer. If it weren’t for that, the honor would have belonged to my sister.”
“That’s what she wants to take back? Is that even something she can do at this point?”
Kagoshima Maria shook her head.
“My sister can’t sing anymore. That’s why she came to steal something from me to take back her position.”
Maria’s eyes narrowed. and lowered her voice down to a whisper.
“…She came to steal my voice.”
All I could do was repeat her unexpected revelation.
“That’s right. Asuka was trying to steal my voice.”
Maria, hugged herself, as if to suppress her own fear.
“Is something like that even…”
“It’s possible with a Relic, isn’t it?”
She was absolutely right.
Then, Maria stood up, and brought something over from the back of the room, a pair of wooden dolls.
They were creepy looking unpainted dolls with no faces and no clothes, so I could see the details on the wood. Perhaps as a result of the way they were made, the wood grain was clearly visible. The two dolls weren’t all that different, but one had a horizontal grain, and the other had a vertical one.
They didn’t seem like the type of dolls a girl would normally have.
“What are these?”
“They’re called Switching Dolls.”
“Are these perhaps…Relics?”
“They are. Asuka brought them with her. I told you before that she left, but really what happened is that we had a fight and I kicked her out, and that’s when she dropped these. She wanted to use these dolls steal my voice since she couldn’t sing anymore after she hurt her throat.”
This was an unexpected development, but it was one I couldn’t afford to ignore.
“Could you tell me more?”
According to Maria, you could take parts off the Switching Dolls, and exchange them with each other. Once a body part was switched, any abilities associated with that body part were also switched.
What Asuka, who could no longer use her throat, wanted to do was to use the Switching Dolls to steal Maria’s voice.
Apparently Maria was afraid of Asuka’s suspicious behavior and tried to call security over using the phone in the room, but that turned into a fight. Asuka, thinking that security would be there soon, fled and left the dolls behind.
“Where did you learn about Relics?”
“I only learned about them earlier. To be honest, I didn’t believe that something like this could even exist.”
“Yeah, I can’t blame you there…”
Then, the door to the dressing room opened, and the mom from before entered the room.
“Mari……you!” She turned to me and glared.
“Wait! I know him!”
Maria quickly explained how she knew me and cleared up the misunderstanding with her mom. Her mom still seemed suspicious, but since she couldn’t find anyway to catch Maria on her lie, reluctantly accepted it.
Her suspicion was probably more because I wasn’t able to keep up with Maria’s acting skills as I contributed to her story here and there. Either way, it wasn’t a total lie now that we were actually acquainted.
“Is that so? Sorry about earlier.”
“No it’s quite alright. I’m sorry for not clearing up the misunderstanding before.”
“However, my daughter will be going on stage soon. May I ask you to take your leave?”
“Wait, we’re still not done yet.” Maria cut her mom off. “We’ll be done soon, so you go on ahead.”
“Fine, but don’t be late.” Perhaps she was pushed back by her daughter’s insistence, but her mom agreed and reluctantly left the room.
“You helped me out me there. Thanks.”
After I said my bit, Maria began to explain what she wanted.
“I need you to do me a favor.”
There was no guarantee that Asuka wouldn’t show up again.
If she were going to make a move, it would probably be while I was up on stage.
I couldn’t just take the Switching Dolls up with me, but at the same time, leaving them in the dressing room was also dangerous. Mom did tell me that security here was lax.
The staff would probably have no problem letting Asuka into the room if they knew she was my sister, and there wasn’t any time left to warn them. I wasn’t sure how, but she did somehow get into my room before. She might have already had a key.
I considered leaving the doll with Mom, but there really was no chance of that either.
Mom considered the stage sacred. That was true even at the tiny concerts she ridiculed like this one.
That’s why she wouldn’t permit taking anything unnecessary up to the stage. That applied not only to me, but to her as well, despite the fact that she wouldn’t even be up there with me. That’s why I couldn’t ask her to hold on to the dolls.
Given the circumstances, he was the only one I could rely on.
His appearance today was a lifeline for me, who had no idea what to do with the Switching Dolls. The fact that he also knew about Relics was also very convenient.
There was a huge difference between trusting someone who knew the value of Relics and someone who thought they were some normal item.
Also, the fact that he knew Asuka and went through a bad experience because of her meant that I could even consider him an ally.
Not to say I wasn’t uneasy, but he was the only person I could rely on right now.
For the time being, I decided to go back to my seat after getting the Switching Dolls from Maria.
I had ended up leaving Saki alone for quite a long time, so she might have gotten worried. Explaining what was going on to her was probably going to be a good idea.
But Maria’s mom saw me first before I could get back to my seat.
“Is she still in the dressing room?”
“Yes, but I think she’ll be out soon.”
It must have almost been time for Maria to get on stage. He mom looked restless and was about to go back to the dressing room when I stopped her.
“Umm, do you mind if I ask you something real quick?” I figured I could try asking since we were already here.
“What is it?”
“It’s about Asuka.”
“Are you an acquaintance of hers?”
“I wouldn’t call myself an acquaintance, exactly…”
“Do you know how she’s been doing lately?”
“Huh?” I frowned, not expecting to be asked the very thing I wanted to ask her.
“The detective told me she was staying with a friend. Could it be that you’re that friend?”
Detective? That sounded concerning. So she hired someone to look for her daughter? The first thing I had to do was clear up that misunderstanding.
“No, I’m not.”
“I see. Well, if you do see her, tell her not to do anything that could cause a scandal and hurt Maria.”
A scandal? What she was saying now worried me even more. That’s what she was worried about? She wasn’t concerned about her daughter’s safety?
I remembered what Maria told me earlier, that she hadn’t seen her sister in a while. Sure her mom was asking me stuff, but she probably wasn’t going to make any effort to search for herself.
“… I believe she’s still here somewhere. Instead of asking me how she’s doing, don’t you think you should ask her yourself?”
I was pretty sure Asuka was staying with that other boy from before, but I wasn’t going to say that.
“You think so? … Now that you mention it, Maria said something about that too. I’ll look for her if I have time later.”
“If you have time?”
“Maria’s going to be on stage soon, you know. And after that I’ve got to get things ready for her next performance. This is an important pivotal point for her after all. …Oh just how long does that girl want to make me wait!?”
Maria’s mom checked her watch in annoyance and ran to the dressing room.
I could feel just a little sympathy for Asuka.
It was like her mom completely lost interest in her after she hurt her throat and lost her voice. If that’s how her own parent was treating her, then her treatment from the public must have been even worse. A Canaria member that could not sing probably had no place in the world.
Maybe the reason Asuka was collecting Relics with that boy was to find a way to get back her voice. There was no other way to make the impossible, possible.
If that’s what her motivation was, then I could understand her wanting to steal her younger sister’s voice. But even if I did understand, that didn’t mean I was going to ignore what she was doing.
Saki had left her seat and was waiting for me in the lobby when I got back.
“Sorry. Did I make you wait?”
“I just got here.” She replied with the exact same line as earlier.
Except this time, she didn’t look proud at all. In fact, she even looked upset. She must have been waiting for a long while.
“So? What were you doing?”
Saki’s eyes were focused on the bag I was holding. Maria gave it to me to keep the Switching Dolls in. It clearly looked like a girl’s item.
“You’re not going to tell me you hit it off with her so well that she gave you a present, are you?”
“No, no I’m not.”
Saki’s scathing comment made me panic and show her what was in the bag. I then told her what the Switching Dolls did, and that Maria told me to prevent her sister Asuka from taking them back.
… I was told not to open the bag since she had some personal stuff in there, but it was a bit too late for that now. There was hardly anything else in there beside the Switching dolls, so I guess it was alright.
“And these are the Switching Dolls?”
Saki picked up the dolls and began to inspect them.
“Strange…” Saki seemed to have noticed something and frowned.
“What is it?”
“Look at this.” She pointed to the throats on the dolls.
At first I didn’t see what was so weird about them, but upon closer inspection, I noticed that the wood grain was different.
The wood grain on its throat didn’t match the rest of the doll.
… Once the body parts on the Switching Dolls were swapped, the associated abilities for that body part were also swapped.
“They’ve already been switched?”
No one else had touched the dolls in between the time Maria had them and when she gave them to me. When on earth could they have possibly been switched?
Then, announcement rang out through the hall.
It was time for Canaria to take the stage.
What was going on?
My throat felt weird.
At first I thought it was just because of the dry air.
Mom was saying something about that too, the air here was too dry. They never did get us that humidifier either.
That’s what I thought was causing this irritation in my throat.
I’d know if I tried to say something. If the problem was just dryness, I’d know if I tried to clear my throat.
But whenever I tried to use my voice, I felt a suffocating tightness; I couldn’t make a sound.
No, it wasn’t that I couldn’t make a sound, it was that I was too afraid to.
Because I had an idea of what this irritation could mean.
I was anxious.
Anxious, wondering if it was true. I couldn’t even find the courage to test my voice.
It wasn’t normal, was it? For my throat to feel strange at a time like this.
What if Asuka actually did steal the Switching Dolls?
No, what if I shouldn’t have trusted that boy in the first place? What if he was working with Asuka this entire time, and came to me with a believable story in order to steal the dolls?
What if he and Asuka were laughing at me right now.
Once these thoughts started, they brought forth an avalanche of unpleasant feelings that only got worse.
Was I in any condition to use my voice right now?
There was no way I could sing feeling like this.
Suddenly, a painful noise rushed through the back of my head.
A girl, standing on the stage. Maria.
Her solo is over. The audience applauds.
Maria’s mother comes on stage.
She looks proud, as if this was her own achievement.
The lights on the stage all go out at once.
This is not an act.
This is not a power outage.
The emergency lighting shines over the stage like a spotlight
And on the stage.
A heavy looking stage light has fallen, crushing the people below
—But this wasn’t real.
My Relic, Vision, could show me images of the future. I had a fake right eye, and Vision had been implanted where once my real one used to be.
It could show me the immediate future, but not all of it. I couldn’t foresee the winning lottery number, the winner of a sports match, or even the weather. I couldn’t see any future events at will either.
But there was one type of future that I never failed to see.
That was when I or someone I knew was in danger. At those times, it showed me the moment of their death.
When that happened, a pain would run through my head, much like static TV noise, followed by a cut-in of the future. That’s when I would take action to try and prevent the tragedy I saw.
“Did you see something?” Saki quickly realized that I had seen something with Vision and asked for details.
“A stage light is going to fall and crush Maria.”
The question was if it were simple an accident, or if there were other elements at play here.
Just like that day when the glass ceiling shattered in the gym.
There was no time to think.
The stage light was going to fall after Maria’s performance while the audience was still applauding.
I had to do something before then.
“When will it happen? Were there people?”
“Yeah. Right after Maria’s performance.”
I opened the door to the venue.
The announcement had been made, but Maria still hadn’t taken the stage.
There was still time.
Was shouting out a warning to everyone my best bet here? Oh maybe making it to the stage first would be faster…
But Saki suddenly began running in the opposite direction of the stage.
I looked to where she was running, and realized what she was aiming for.
Without even a moment’s hesitation she pulled the fire alarm.
The alarm began to ring throughout the venue.
The staff didn’t know what had triggered it, but their reaction speed was a lot faster than I would have expected.
First, the people in the lobby were guided outside. Had this been a more commercial event, maybe they would have waited to ascertain the cause of the alarm, but safety came first since this event was run by the city.
The people in the lobby were bewildered, but began evacuating.
The people inside the hall were guided outside next. I thought Asuka was going to do something before the evacuation began, but no stage light had fallen on the now empty sage.
We had beaten her to the punch
Not to say that this evacuation wasn’t a big deal, but it looked like things had ended peacefully.
Staff members guided Saki and me out of the building, and we found ourselves a part of the crowd that was starting to form outside the building. Some people were starting to go back home without waiting to see Canaria perform.
It really didn’t look like the concert would be restarting after this. I felt a little bad for Maria.
But her safety was priority number one.
There was no guarantee that Asuka would just give up.
If she did try to take back the Switching Dolls here, then the people surrounding us would get wrapped up in the chaos.
I took Saki with me and moved to a less crowded area.
“This turned into quite the commotion.”
“Nothing we could do about that. You made the right decision.”
Pulling the fire alarm took courage. Even more so when Vision was the reason she did it. Saki would have no way to justify herself if she were asked to explain her actions.
In fact, I wanted to praise her for not hesitating to pull the alarm. Fortunately, it seemed no one saw her, so there weren’t any staff members coming to question her.
“Do you think she’s given up?”
I looked around at the crowd, but Asuka was nowhere to be seen. But if her goal was to steal back the Switching Dolls, then she wasn’t limited to coming at us from a direction we’d expect. There was a chance she would attack us in some other way instead.
I didn’t know what kind of power her Relic had, but if she used some kind of direct attack to shatter the glass in the gym, then the very least we were safe here, with only the sky above us.
“I wonder what her goal is. Why is she trying to collect Relics?”
“That’s what I’d like to know. Though I guess this time at least, it seems she’s trying to get her voice back.”
I never did explain the details to Saki, so this time I told her everything.
Asuka and Maria: two sisters who formed an idol unit. Except Asuka hurt her throat, and retired after losing the ability to sing. Her younger sister, Maria, was still actively performing.
I didn’t know the particulars, but somehow Asuka learned about relics and got her hands on the Switching Dolls. She planned to steal her sister’s voice with the Relics, but was discovered by Maria, and subsequently had the dolls taken from her.
Now Asuka’s goal was to take the Switching Dolls back, and use them to steal Maria’s voice.
“But the throats on the dolls have already been swapped.”
According to the explanation Maria said she got from Asuka, swapping parts on the Switching Dolls let you exchange the abilities associated with those body parts with someone.
But the two dolls already had their throats swapped, meaning Asuka had already done that part. The fact that nothing actually changed meant that…
“…There has to be come other condition that needs to be met for it to work.”
Maria herself probably wasn’t told what the other requirements were.
Now that I thought about it, if the Switching Dolls worked just by switching parts, then there would have been no reason for Asuka to go out of her way to bring them here. Maybe she dropped them on purpose for Maria to pick up, or maybe there was some other reaon.
But what were the requirements, exactly?
It had to be related to the future Vision showed me, where Maria was crushed by the stage light.
Was the requirement perhaps…to take the target’s life?
“We really can’t afford to take this one easy, can we?”
I took out my cellphone and called Tsukumodo Antique Shop where I worked. The phone rang a few times before Towako-san, who was watching the store alone today, picked up.
“Hey, it’s me.”
“Oh, Tokiya. What’s up? You want to tell me you’re not coming back today?”
“Stop making stupid jokes and listen to me please. There’s a bit of a situation here.” I sidestepped Towako-san’s joke and put business first.
She urged me to continue, perhaps sensing something in my voice. I told her everything we knew about Asuka and the Switching Dolls.
“Do you know anything about this Relic?”
“I do. It’s used to swap abilities.”
“That makes things a lot easier. What I want to know is, what conditions are needed for the Relic to work? It’s not just about swapping parts on the dolls right?”
“Yeah. Nothing’s going to happen if you don’t actually set a target. Do you have the dolls on you now?”
“You see how there’s a little compartment on the back?”
I turned Saki, who nodded.
“There should be something from the target’s body in that compartment.”
“Something from their body? You mean like blood or something?”
“That would work. It doesn’t need to be anything so morbid though. It could be a fingernail, or hair, or anything else, really. Once that part’s done, you can switch parts on the dolls and the ability exchange will work.”
In other words, the reason Asuka snuck into Maria’s room was to get her hands on something from her body. Maybe the reason she tried to do it at the concert was because she couldn’t go back home.
But why would she cause the stage light to fall and crush Maria? There was no need to go that far if all she needed was something from Maria’s body. Maybe it was because she had to resort to drastic measures since the Switching Dolls themselves were stolen.
“To return things back to normal, all you have to do is take out whatever’s in the compartment and move the doll parts back to where they belong.
“Got it. I’ll call you again later.”
I hung up and began to reconsider Asuka’s goals.
But before I could, Saki said there was something about Switching Dolls that she wanted to show me.
“Tokiya, look at this.”
What Saki wanted me to look at were the compartments on the Switching Dolls that Towako-san told me about.
“…What the hell is this?”
The compartments in both the dolls already hairs in them.
A single straight hair in the doll with the vertical grain.
A hair tied in a knot, probably as a mark, inside the doll with the horizontal grain.
These may have been Asuka and Maria’s hairs.
Or they may have belonged to different people altogether.
But if they really were Asuka and Maria’s then that would mean the ability swap really was already in effect.
But that didn’t make any logical sense.
None of this made sense. Just what was going on here?
The fire alarm blared throughout the venue.
“Kyaa!”, I shrieked in surprise.
I sighed in relief.
Thank goodness. I might have just been imagining the weird feeling in my throat. Maybe it was because of how nervous I was.
“What’s happening? What’s this about?” Mom was pressing a staff member for an answer. The staff member was verifying something on his phone, but it seemed he didn’t know the details either.
Did someone hit the alarm on accident? Was there a malfunction? Or maybe something had actually happened…
“They’re saying people in the lobby are evacuating…guess the rest of the concert’s canceled?” The people who performed before me sounded like they were checking with their friends.
Mom reacted strongly to the word “canceled.”
“You stay here. Follow instructions from the staff if you go out to perform. I’m going to talk to whoever’s responsible for this.”
Mom left me with that, and walked away from the stage. She was going to check if the concert was going to continue…no, she was going to see what was going to happen to my next TV job.
A fire alarm was blaring, and she was leaving her daughter alone.
But this time, I was actually grateful for her cold heartedness.
This was my chance.
I ignored the staff members shouting to stop me, and ran out of the lobby. It was a relief to know my voice still worked, but that didn’t mean I was any happier about leaving the Switching Dolls with someone else.
I didn’t really care that much about the stage this time.
Leaving this one stage behind was preferable to not being able to sing at all.
If I didn’t get the Switching Dolls back soon…
We saw Maria running out of the venue in our direction. The terrible look in her eyes told me her concert really must have been canceled.
“The Switching Dolls!”, was the first thing out of her mouth the moment she got to us.
“The dolls are fine. I have them right here.”
“…Thank goodness.” The look on her face completely changed. She let out a deep sigh of relief.
“Did something happen?”
Going by the look on her face a moment ago, it seemed something terrible had occurred.
“No, nothing happened. I was just uneasy.”
“Oh, alright then. There was something I wanted I wanted to ask you by the way. You told me that swapping parts on the Switching Dolls let you swap abilities with other people, right?”
“Yeah. That’s what I was told.”
“Then this is pretty bad. The dolls have already had their throats swapped.”
“The wood grain on the throats don’t match everything else.”
“…You looked inside my bag?”
“Yes. I’m not proud of it, but thanks to that we were able to notice that the throats on the dolls had already been swapped. Did you notice anything weird happen to you?
“Come to think of it, just earlier, my throat…” Maria touched her throat and cleared it.
“I knew it. Asuka must have already finished the ability exchange. It might just take some time to take effect. If the effect isn’t reversed soon…”
“Ah, but maybe I was just imagining things. The air in the venue was pretty dry after all.”
“No way. It’s definitely a sign that the ability exchange is active. Let’s get this back to normal.”
“Wait!” Maria yelled sharply to stop me just as I was about to pull out the throat section from the doll.
“What’s wrong? Asuka might steal your voice like this, you know.”
“You’re fine with not singing ever again?”
“Of course I’m not! It’s just…is alright to mess with them? When I think about how much Asuka wanted the dolls…”
“No need to worry about that. I know all about how this Relic works.”
“The way it works is that you put something from the target’s bodies in the compartment in the back, and then swap parts on the dolls to exchange abilities.”
“Is…that how it works?”
“The doll with the vertical grain had a hair tied into a knot in it, and the one with the horizontal grain had a straight hair.”
“What is it?”
“Could you say that one more time?”
“I said the one with the vertical grain had a hair tied into a knot, and horizontal gain one had a straight hair in it.”
“Let me see them for a second.”
“I think we should move the throats back to where they belong before anything else.”
“Just let me see them already!”
“I’ll show you later. Lets get this back to normal first.”
“I’ll do that myself, so please give me the dolls.”
“There’s no time to los…”
“I said I’d do it myself, didn’t I!? Give them to me!” Maria shouted, and tried to snatch the Switching Dolls from me.
But I dodged, and didn’t let her have them.
She stumbled and glared at me.
“I think I’ve got a good idea of what happened now.”
Maria’s attitude showed me what I needed to know.
Her behavior told the whole story.
That what she said to me before was a lie.
The story was that Asuka tried to use the Switching Dolls to steal Maria’s voice, but Maria somehow drove her away, and obtained the dolls after her sister dropped them.
But was nothing more than Maria’s side of the story. A side of the story that contradicted reality.
The Switching Dolls already had someone’s hair in their compartments, and their throats had already been swapped. In other words, the ability exchange was already complete.
But despite that, Maria was still talking normally.
The part about the effect taking time to manifest was also a lie. Nobody ever told me that.
And as for the hairs inside the doll. The truth was that the doll with the vertical grain was the one with the straight hair. The horizontal one was the one with the knotted hair.
I had lied.
So that anyone who already knew about the hairs in the dolls would find it strange.
So that anyone who knew their significance would panic.
The security guard told me earlier.
While Maria was out resting her injured throat, Asuka, who had been performing solo during that time hurt her throat and retired. Almost as if they switched places, Maria recovered and then went on to make her solo debut.
What did that indicate?
That’s right. Asuka wasn’t the one stealing voices.
“You were the one who stole Asuka’s voice, weren’t you?”
Maria glared at me.
This wasn’t a look of a girl who was afraid of losing her voice.
Her eyes told the whole story.
That what I pointed out was correct.
“So what it if I did? It’s Asuka’s fault anyway. She was the one who betrayed me! She revealed that my throat wasn’t doing well to everyone, and tried to make a solo debut on her own! She was the one who tried to make it so that I couldn’t sing! That’s why I…”
“I don’t know what your circumstances are, but there’s no excuse for using a Relic to steal someone’s voice.”
“Shut up! What would you know!?!”
Maria lunged at me and tried to snatch the Switching Dolls.
I stepped out of the way and called her out.
“You’re not going to return it yourself are you?”
“Give it back!”
“You’re the one who’s going to give it back.”
I took the throat off the first doll.
Time to get things back to normal. I put the doll throats back where they belonged—
That day, when I first heard the conversation about Asuka making her solo debut.
I ran outside of the record company office, and wandered around town.
I didn’t know where I ended up going.
I was in a place I didn’t recognize before I knew it.
People passing by began to notice me.
“That girl over there…she’s the one in Canaria, right? Wasn’t she on TV?”
“Huh? Where? Ah, you’re right. But it looks like that’s the younger one. I like the older one more.”
“Me too. The older one really is…”
I ran into an alley to escape the thoughtless conversations around me.
Soon I found myself before a small, old looking shop.
I ran inside to get away from the conversations from before which still rang in my ears.
Just like the outside of the shop, the inside felt old and narrow. Various things like dolls, half broken clocks, and different pieces of ceramic tableware dotted the shelves. They must have been lovelier and more extravagant long ago. My presence in the store felt painfully ironic.
A woman called out to me from behind the counter. She stood out in the dim environment, almost like there was a spotlight shining on her. At the same time, the atmosphere around her felt strange, as if there was a mist surrounding her.
“What are you looking for?”
What was I looking for?
If I had to choose, I’d have loved to purchase something like my sister’s singing voice.
“Is that your wish?”
I didn’t say anything, but the way she asked made it sound like she heard the voice in my heart.
“If so, please take a look at these.”
She pointed to two rough, and creepy looking dolls on the shelf. They were unclothed, unpainted, and sported a very obvious wooden texture.
As far as unique characteristics went, the only thing they had were the detachable parts and the conspicuous wood grain. The only difference between the two dolls was that one had a vertical grain and the other had a horizontal one.
I took them into my hands.
…and after putting just a little strength into my grip, one of the arms detached and fell to the floor.
“Don’t worry. It’s built like that so you can exchange parts between the dolls.”
The shop lady picked up the arm that had fallen on the floor, and then pulled the arm off the second doll. Then she swapped the arms between the two. They fit perfectly, almost as if that’s how they were supposed to be from the beginning.
There was only one thing that felt off, the mismatched wood grain.
“There’s nothing in them so nothing will change.”
The shop lady turned one of the dolls around and showed me a small compartment in the back. It looked like the compartment was there to hold something.
“If you put something from your body and something from your target’s body into these compartments and swap the body parts on the dolls, the abilities associated with those parts will be swapped as well.”
I was startled. My heart leaped.
I had my doubts something like that was even possible, but also had the same level of hope.
The doubt was understandable. There was no way I could just believe this stuff was true.
But why was I feeling hopeful?”
“These are Relics known as Switching Dolls”
“Note that by ‘Relics’ I don’t mean antiques or works of art. ‘Relics’ are tools with special capabilities created by mighty ancients or magicians, or objects that have absorbed their owner’s grudge or natural spiritual powers.
“You’ve probably heard of them before: things like a stone that brings bad luck, or a cursed voodoo doll or a three sided mirror that shows how you are going to die.”
I had in fact heard of similar things before.
But those were pure superstition. It wasn’t like they actually existed.
But before I knew it I had the dolls in my hands.
And one month after I obtained the dolls.
After finishing her solo debut, standing there on the stage was——me, Kagoshima Maria.
You might call it divine justice.
My older sister Asuka hurt her throat, lost her voice, and retired.
I had been recuperating at my mom’s instruction, and took my sister’s place in the solo debut.
That’s what I seized.
The song that my sister was supposed to sing.
The position that she was supposed to have.
The lovely voice that she used to have
—I watched him take the throats off the Switching Dolls.
I begging him to stop, but he didn’t seem to care.
And the moment the switch was complete, I lost…
… my voice
The lovely singing voice that I had stolen from Asuka.
At first I did want to return it.
My goal was to have Asuka’s voice and sing together for longer.
I had absolutely no plans to hog the limelight for myself like Asuka did.
I wanted to return her voice once I got back my original position back.
…Until Asuka destroyed my voice that had been swapped with her.
Asuka, lost her voice.
She lost my voice.
That’s why things couldn’t go back to normal.
I knew that what I did was wrong.
But Asuka was also at fault.
She was the one who lost my voice.
Because the solo performances were too much of a burden.
She was the one who made that choice herself.
If Asuka hadn’t gone solo and lost my voice, everything would have gone back to normal.
He was saying I was the only one at fault.
I couldn’t accept that.
I wasn’t the only one wrong.
Why couldn’t he understand?
Stop. I’m begging you.
Don’t steal my voice.
Don’t steal my song from me.
But my prayers did not reach him.
Even if I begged him out loud, it did not reach him.
And so, the throats on the Switching Dolls were swapped, and things returned to how they used to be—
“STOOOOOOOOOPPP!!!!” My scream rang out.
“What…is going on?
I could not immediately process what was happening.
The Switching Dolls worked by taking something from your target’s body, putting it into the compartments, and switching parts on the dolls to swap abilities.
The exchange was supposed to be undone when the parts were switched back. That’s what Towako-san told me.
But the girl who used the Switching Dolls to steal her sister’s voice, had screamed.
It wasn’t that she became unable to use her voice.
It wasn’t that her voice was ruined.
Maria screamed, using the very same voice she used to perform as Canaria.
Maria herself seemed just as confused as any of us.
Did this mean that an ability couldn’t be returned once it was exchanged? No, that couldn’t be it. Towako-san told me it was good enough to empty the compartment and swap the parts back.
In which case, how was this possible?
Why could Maria still use her original voice even after the exchange was undone?
It seemed there was still something I still didn’t know.
The Switching Dolls.
In order to use them, you had to place something from the target’s body into the compartment in the back, and then switch the doll’s body parts around. Once that was done, the abilities associated with those parts would be switched with each other.
Maria put her and Asuka’s hair in the dolls, and swapped the throats.
That’s how she was able to obtain Asuka’s sublime singing ability.
In exchange, Asuka hurt the already injured throat she got from Maria, and lost her voice.
Under normal circumstances, this was a fate that was originally supposed to befall Maria.
But was that really true?
The conversation I had with the security guard came back to me
“Yep. Seemed she hurt her throat and lost her voice. The younger sister actually had throat problems first, and was resting while the older one was doing solo performances. The older sister didn’t take any breaks from TV during that time, so I guess she ended up pushing herself too far.”
Then, the conversation with Maria.
“It’s Asuka’s fault anyway. She was the one who betrayed me! She revealed that my throat wasn’t doing well to everyone, and tried to make a solo debut on her own! She was the one who tried to make it so that I couldn’t sing! That’s why I…”
Weren’t they saying different things?
I was under the impression that Maria simply stole Asuka’s voice.
Maria’s hurt her throat, so she switched voices with Asuka. The condition of Asuka’s throat then worsened, and she became unable unable to sing.
—She had lost her voice.
But what if Maria had simply recovered her voice by resting her damaged throat?
Conversely, what if Asuka had been putting too much pressure on herself, which worsened the condition of her throat and led to her losing her voice?
But the reality of it was that Maria did use the Switching dolls to exchange abilities.
In which case, what exactly did they exchange?
What kind of ability—
“…That’s it. I got it.”
Saki turned to me when she heard me mutter.
“Did you figure something out?”
“Saki, give me one of your hairs.” I asked.
I took the hair she pulled out for me and put it into one of the Switching Dolls. Then I took one of my own hairs and put it in the other doll.
After that, I swapped the throats on the dolls.
With that, the ability exchange was complete.
“Saki.” I heard my own voice.
My regular, unchanged voice.
“Hm? …What’s going on?” The voice that came out of Saki’s mouth was indeed her own.
Maria also looked confused when she heard Saki’s voice.
This didn’t necessarily mean that the Relic was broken, or that it had been used incorrectly.
The actions I had just performed were supposed to be all that was necessary for an ability exchange.
More than likely things would be clear if I tried to sing.
In other words, that was how the Relic worked.
A voice was not an ability—
My entire premise had been wrong.
The ability switching dolls. A girl who lost her voice, couple with a girl who had her position stolen.
This setup led me to believe that what they had exchanged were their voices.
But that was wrong.
Voices were not an ability. They were a physical effect produced by vocal chords.
Things that were not abilities, for example, body parts like arms and eyes, could not physically be exchanged with the Switching Dolls.
In other words, the Switching Dolls did not swap their voices.
It exchanged the ability associated with the throat—their singing ability.
“I…didn’t steal Asuka’s voice?” Mara whispered, dumbfounded.
She was the one who had believed it more than anyone else.
There was no doubt about that, because stealing Asuka’s voice was her plan all along.
“Tokiya, do you think this Asuka girl is trying to steal the Relic without knowing the truth?”
“That question should be directed to someone else.” I turned Maria. “I want to confirm one more time. What did Asuka tell you she came here to do?”
“… She said she came to take back what was stolen from her.”
“She said she was going to take it back, right? Is there anything else you stole from her?”
“There isn’t. I didn’t want anything else from her.”
That made things simple then.
It would be hard to tell Asuka, who was trying to get her voice back without knowing anything, that she could not restore her voice with the Switching Dolls. This case would be over if we could make her understand that.
However, was that really true?
Did she really operating without knowing—while misunderstanding the Relics power?
Moreover, what did the scene that Vision showed me indicate?
“Do you think she didn’t know?”
“Do you think Asuka was unaware of what the Switching Doll were capable of? Or was there something else that she wished for?”
Then, the security guard who had questioned me earlier came running to us.
“Ah, so this is where you were. Thank goodness. I was thinking you were still inside.”
It seemed he was confirming that all the concert goers an participants had evacuated. We hadn’t noticed at all since we were in a separate place from everyone else.
“Oh? Where’s your mother?” The security guard asked Maria.
“Huh? She said she was going to talk to the person in charge after the fire alarm went off…”
“Strange. She wasn’t outside either. Maybe she’s still looking for you…?”
The security guard said those ominous words and turned his gaze towards the venue.
“Your sister was looking for your mother, but…”
“Asuka was?” Maria frowned.
I also had the same doubts. Why was Asuka concerned about her mother’s whereabouts? Given the current situation, Maria was the one Asuka was supposed to be looking for, so what business did she have with her mom? Was she simply worried, or did she think that Maria was with her mom…?
“…There was something.” Maria muttered, sounding like she had just remembered.
“There was what?”
“There was one more thing that I stole from Asuka.”
Before I could ask what it was, Maria muttered.
I understood. It was finally clear to me.
We only had one goal when we were kids.
There was only one thing we wished for.
It wasn’t to become performers and sing in front of people.
It wasn’t to become better at singing than anyone else.
The only thing we wanted…
…Was for Mom to praise us.
The hard work we put into making it in the entertainment industry, the desperate effort we put into singing. All of it was for that purpose.
Mom did not praise us even when we did out best in school or helped with dinner.
She only praised us when we sang well, and became famous.
That’s why Asuka was treasured more than me, who couldn’t sing as well as she did.
That’s why I was now treasured more than Asuka, who couldn’t sing anymore.
You might think she was a cruel mother.
You might think we were wrong to love her.
But even still, she was our mom.
We wanted her to love us.
Everyone had those kinds of feelings
Those were natural feeling for me, and also for Asuka.
That’s why, Asuka’s goal was not my voice, then I had to assume what she wanted to take back was Mom.
She wanted to take back Mom, who no longer saw anyone except me.
Mom wasn’t here.
Neither was Asuka.
There was no doubt the two of them were together right now.
I had to go to where they were.
Maria began running towards the venue.
But Maria didn’t listen to me trying to stop her, and kept running.
“It’s dangerous! Come back!”
The scene I saw with Vision came back to me.
I originally saw Maria standing on stage after her solo ended, but it was possible that it could come true if she returned to the hall.
We had to stop her from going there. Saki and I followed after her.
“Tokiya, why did she mention her mother?”
“She was probably thinking about how her mom’s love moved from Asuka to just her.”
In my mind, I could see their mom’s attitude from the time I talked to her about Asuka.
Her excessive love for Maria.
The lack of love towards Asuka.
It hadn’t always been like that. Long ago—when Asuka could still sing.
Asuka’s mother loved where while she could still sing.
And the moment she lost her voice, it was lost.
Her mothers love, and even her interest.
That’s why I could understand Asuka’s wish.
To use the Switching Dolls to take back her voice, to take back her song, and to take back her mother’s love.
She came back to take her voice back and show her mother that she could sing.
But how did that explain the destruction I saw with Vision—?
“Could I ask you to wait a moment?”
Saki and I had already shaken off the security guard were running to the concert hall when someone called out to stop us.
That voice, no, the owner of that voice, kept us from reaching the building. Saki couldn’t stop fast enough and crashed into me from behind.
Standing in the path was the young man that was with Asuka on that day in the gym. And behind him, almost as if she were trying to hide, was Asuka.
“I heard from Asuka. Seems there were some people around here sticking their noses in our business.”
Just like he had put Asuka behind him, I protected Saki behind me.
The boy, who looked to be the same age, or perhaps a little younger than me, gave off the impression of being timid and weak, but the alarm bells inside me were telling me he was dangerous.
“Could you not get in Asuka’s way?”
“Get in her way? Are you talking about using the Switching Dolls to get her voice back? If you are, then there’s no point.”
“No point? What do you mean by that?”
I turned my sight to Asuka.
“There’s something I want you to hear.”
I tried to choose my words carefully at first, but then quickly realized it was better to simply present her with the harsh truth.
“You can’t back your voice with the Switching Dolls.”
Asuka did not react to what I said. She quietly listened.
“The Switching Dolls are used to swap abilities, but a voice is not an ability. What Maria stole from you wasn’t your voice. That’s why you can’t swap voices with her. You won’t be able to sing ever again.”
I hit her with the cruel truth.
“Maria told me, you know. That you came to take back what was stolen from you. Was it your voice? Your mother’s affection…or perhaps, both? If you were trying to take back your mother’s affection with singing, then I suggest you give up.”
Her plan was to use the Switching Dolls to take back her voice, to take back her song, and to take back her mother’s affection.
But she would not be able to do that.
She would not be able to take back her voice with the Switching Dolls.
Asuka would never sing again, and would not be able to win back her mother’s love.
Despite that, she still believed.
That’s what she was doing all these things.
But I had no choice but to reject that.
“I’ll say it one more time. You cannot recover your voice with the Switching Dolls.”
“But”, I continued. “You maybe be able to take back your mother’s love, even if you don’t use the Switching Dolls to get your voice back. There has to be some way to do it. That’s why I’d like you to stop what you’ve been…”
“Hahaha.” The boy’s laughing interrupted my lecturing. “I see. That’s what you were thinking when you came here.”
The boy laughed for a good time, then turned to Asuka and shrugged.
“There’s no time left. You go on ahead. The fact that these two are here probably means your sister’s inside the hall.”
Asuka nodded, and ran towards the building.
“Your words won’t stop her. Especially when you were so wrong.”
“Asuka knew she couldn’t take back her voice with the Switching Dolls. They’re used to swap abilities and can’t do anything else besides that.”
There was no point in asking why she knew that. It was obviously because they were working together.
“Then why did she go after the Switching Dolls?”
“The goal wasn’t really to steal the Switching Dolls, though we did plan on taking them either way.”
Their goal wasn’t the Switching Dolls?”
Then why did she show herself in front of Maria?”
Suddenly the scene I saw with Vision resurfaced in the back of my head.
The stage light falling; Maria crushed underneath.
“Was it to get revenge on Maria?” Saki, who knew what I had seen with Vision, took a guess.
The boy smiled meaningfully.
… It seemed the reason wasn’t revenge. That smile was practically him denying it.
“If she knew that she couldn’t get her voice back with the Switching Dolls, then she must have already known that she didn’t lose her voice because of them either. Therefore Asuka has no reason to get revenge against Maria.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. It was actually Maria’s fault that Asuka lost her voice.”
“Asuka lost the ability to sing like she used to when Maria stole her singing ability. She then pushed herself too far, ruined her throat, and lost her voice. If you were to ask me who’s fault it was, I’d say it was Maria’s. If you were to ask what cause it though, I’d say it was the Relic.”
So that’s what it was.
Asuka really did resent Maria.
“That said, what Asuka is after isn’t revenge. She doesn’t actually care all that much about Maria. She also knows her voice won’t come back, and doesn’t really want her mother’s love anymore.”
So she didn’t come here thinking she could get her voice back with the Switching Dolls.
She didn’t come here thinking she could get back her singing and get her mother’s love back.
And it wasn’t revenge against Maria who was the cause of her losing her voice in the first place.
Then what was Asuka’s goal?
“She’s already begun walking a new path.”
Even if she didn’t hold a grudge against Maria, there was no denying that somebody got hurt in the scene Vision showed me.
“What did she come to take back, then?”
“What Asuka is trying to take back is…”
The boy smiled a little, and told us the truth.
“The path she was finally able to obtain for herself.”
I found Mom and Asuka in front of the stage when I ran into the venue.
Asuka was holding her cellphone in her hand. She was definitely having a conversation about something.
Mom’s face was pale.
She must have something said to her.
She must have something done to her.
Asuka must had said something to Mom, who knew nothing at all about Relics.
She turned her phone towards Mom.
Mom let out a shriek and flung the phone.
The phone bounced until it fell at my feet, just as I reached the stage.
I froze when I saw the words on the display.
I had misunderstood.
Asuka wasn’t trying to get back Mom’s love at all.
Maybe that would have been true if this were Asuka from long ago.
Back when she and I had nothing but our songs.
But things were different now.
Asuka had already found a new path.
To the point that she didn’t feel any longing for the days when she could still sing.
To the point that she had no interest in Mom.
And to the point that she loathed Mom because she used a detective to intrude on her life.
(I won’t forgive anyone who gets in the way. Even you.)
Her final words flashed across the screen.
Saki and I ran into the venue and saw–
A girl, standing alone on the stage. Maria—but she isn’t singing.
There is no audience.
Maria’s mother, desperately trying to run from the stage—but she looks frantic
Praying that I make it, I begin to run to the stage.
I hear Saki call my name from far behind me.
The power in the venue goes out.
This is not an act.
This is not a power outage.
The emergency lighting shines over the stage like a spotlight
And in that spotlight…
I throw myself towards the stage.
Maria and her mother. I reach out and try to push them out of the way—
Crack, an impact runs through my head.
For a moment, it feels like the world has been dyed red.
Asuka is looking at me.
As if to tell me not to interfere.
I don’t know what she did, it but sounds like something heavy has fallen.
My head is spinning.
The world is spinning.
My body lurches violently
My hand slips away from where Maria and her mother are.
I collapse in a mess on the stage.
But I can clearly see the scene in front of me.
Almost as if it were pulled right out of the future Vision showed me…
A heavy looking stage light has fallen, crushing the Maria and her mother underneath.
I couldn’t move my arms.
I couldn’t move my legs.
I couldn’t see with my eyes.
That’s why I couldn’t tell where I was.
I was probably in the hospital, hear was that unique sterile odor and the smell of medicine.
I tried to say something and call someone.
…Thank goodness. My voice worked. I didn’t lose my voice.
Hearing my voice also meant my ears were fine.
Knowing this, I felt calm return to my heart.
Even in this uneasy set of circumstances.
I really was my mother’s daughter, wasn’t I, thinking like this.
“Seems you’re awake.” Said an unfamiliar voice from next to me.
It was a boy’s voice, but not the one I met in the dressing room.
This one was a little higher, and somehow more sarcastic.
“I’m Asuka’s friend. I’ll be interpreting for her since you can’t see.”
I could tell from their presence.
He and Asuka were the only two people here.
I heard the sound of a cellphone being used. Asuka was probably showing it to him.
“I learned recently that you stole my singing ability…I was the one who told her. Ah, when I say I, those are my words. I’m speaking about myself.”
He added his own words in a mocking tone. This could hardly be called interpretation.
But I silently continued to listen.
“I have no intention of taking back the ability you stole from me. I don’t need it now that I can’t use my voice anymore.”
I heard Asuka place something next to my pillow. It was probably the pair Switching Dolls I had used to exchange singing abilities with her.
“Feel free to use them if you ever want to sing again…that’s all she wanted to say. Good for you. You have her permission now.”
Asuka must have decided to leave the room, because I could hear her footsteps getting farther away.
Then, just before he also left, the boy whispered in my ear.
“You’re quite lucky, you know. You got a hold of Asuka’s sublime, one in a million singing talent so easily.
—That’s why you have only yourself to blame for losing everything else in exchange.”
He left it at that and followed Asuka out of the room.
There was no chance for me to ask him anything.
Losing something in exchange?
What could he be talking about? What had I lost?
I became afraid, and tried to sing.
My voice came out.
I could still sing.
Didn’t that mean everything was fine?
Even if I couldn’t move my arms.
Even if I couldn’t move my legs.
Even if I couldn’t use my eyes.
If the caged Canaria could sing, then that was good enough.
Hey, that’s right, isn’t it, Mom?
I found myself in the infirmary when I came to.
I had no external injuries. It seemed I had gotten a bad concussion and lost consciousness, but there not a single drop of blood stained the bandage around my head
What I got I got in exchange for these injuries…were words of appreciation.
I wasn’t able to save anyone in the end.
The accident turned into big news in the newspapers the next day.
As just an unfortunate accident.
Nobody talked about the truth.
Relics weren’t mentioned, of course, but neither was the discord between that mother and her daughter.
The one who knew was me.
But despite that, I wasn’t able to do anything.
What could I have done to stop…no, was this incident evem one that could have been prevented?
Would it have happened if Maria hadn’t used the Switching Dolls to steal Asuka’s voice?
Would it have happened if Asuka’s mother had showered her in love after she lost her voice?
Would it have happened if the two never came into contact with Relics?
Thinking about it would get me nowhere.
I knew that.
But the truth remained that I wasn’t able to do anything.
Asuka and that boy were apparently nowhere in sight when concert staff came running.
The Switching Dolls that I had with me were also gone. Perhaps they were the ones who took them.
It seemed Saki, who had been my side after I lost consciousness, had no idea where they had gone either.
I had a feeling that we’d see those two again.
And in the worst possible way.