Chapter 1 – Traces
Everything has to start somewhere.
But most people don’t recognize a beginning when it happens.
At the very least I hadn’t realized that everything started on that day.
The beginning of this story, I mean.
Thinking back to it now, it couldn’t have possibly been anything else.
That truly was where the story began.
And where there are beginnings, there are also endings.
This is where the end of the story begins.
Have you ever wanted to kill someone?
As revenge for taking a loved one from you, perhaps.
Or maybe because of a long-standing grudge.
In fact, it doesn’t even have to be for anything important.
Even ordinary situations can make you want to kill someone.
Like when your boss criticizes everything you do.
Or when someone steps on your foot in a crowded train.
Or when you’re in a hurry and the person in front of you won’t walk any faster.
It doesn’t take much for people to kill others.
There’s evidence enough for that.
News segments on murders that seem to happen every day.
Reports of attempted murder where the victim is fortunate and survives.
Stories of serious assaults that were only stopped at the last second.
And that’s only counting events that actually happened.
There are no doubt countless people who have considered violence though.
But if they were to act on those thoughts, it would become a crime, and that would mean punishment.
That’s why it never goes beyond a thought for most.
There was once someone who was said there was no sin in thoughts.
I can agree with that.
You can’t kill anyone with thoughts alone, so how could it possibly be a crime?
Only a god could judge thoughts as a sin.
So people keep their thoughts of murder to themselves.
They let it go, forget their murderous impulses, and go back to their ordinary lives.
If you wanted to commit a murder without getting caught, it would have to be done perfectly, in a way that leaves no evidence—like making it look like an accident for example.
But even without famous mystery novel and television drama detectives to solve the case, everyone knows that there’s no such thing as a perfect crime.
What must you do then, to commit a crime without raising suspicion?
The answer is to not dirty your hands.
I don’t mean just asking someone else to do it for you.
You’d get caught the moment anyone tried to look into the matter.
So that’s not what I mean at all.
What I’m suggesting is to use a “curse”.
There are references to curses in every age from civilizations all over the world.
Take for example the cursed straw doll as described in Kanawa. A woman becomes a demon, and drives five inch nails into a straw doll in order to curse someone to death. I’m sure many of you have heard of it before.
Turn to the west and we hear of the evil eye, with which a glare full of killing intent is enough to end a victim’s life.
Turn again to mythology for a few examples, and we find Medusa’s cursed eyes that turn people to stone, along with the siren’s song that that leads sailors to their doom.
And among fairy tales there is the famous story of the girl with the red shoes who was cursed to dance until she died.
More recently, there was a craze about a cursed video being passed around.
In popular culture—though it may be called magic or sorcery—you often see stories about demons using cursed talismans and killing curses from summoned death gods.
My point is to acknowledge that there are a number of ways to kill someone without ever getting caught.
You may wondering why I’d even bring up such a silly topic.
Thinking to yourself that curses are simply the products of tall tales and folklore.
But I assure you they are real.
Curses do exist.
There are tools that produce real curses.
Tools known as Relics.
“Visiting hours for Ms. Maino are almost over, sir.”
The nurse’s words brought me back to reality.
I was currently in a hospital room. Saki was lying quietly on the bed in front of me.
“It’s already time?”
“It is. I’d recommend you start preparing now if you plan to stay overnight.”
I looked up at the clock and saw it was almost 8PM. She was right; visiting hours would be over in 30 minutes.
I outwardly wondered how it had already gotten this late, but it also felt like today had been a really long day once I considered all that had happened.
I had gone out for groceries with Saki at 10AM this morning.
A recent incident at a concert hall had gotten us involved in a deadly stage light collapse. I was worried that the two people we met there, Shun and Asuka, were going to target us for our Relics and made the decision to stick with Saki to protect her.
Asuka then attacked us with Otodama, a Relic that manipulated sound—and just as I managed to somehow deal with her, Shun suddenly appeared and kidnapped Saki.
He used two Relics. Labyrinth, which blocked us from reaching the places and things we needed, and Grimoire, which enabled him to manipulate other Relics in any way he saw fit.
It turned into an all-out battle, with Shun using all his Relics to great effect. We managed to drive them back thanks to Towako-san, but not before Saki lost her eyes.
To be clear, she didn’t lose her real eyes. Both her eyes were artificial so there was no real damage.
I looked down at the special case in my hand that held Saki’s eyes. From what I understood, there wouldn’t be any problems using them again after they were cleaned. The doctor had actually offered to put them back in once Saki woke up, but I declined and chose to keep the eyes myself. There was still no saying if Shun and Asuka would come to attack us again.
I was concerned because there was a chance that these eyes were in fact Relics.
No, there was no maybe about it. Given the circumstances, there was no doubt they were relics.
I had a feeling I knew what power they had too.
That was the “truth” that I had known nothing about.
But why had Saki wanted to keep it hidden?
I had my questions, but the only one who could answer them was Saki, and she was still asleep.
The shock of having her eyes removed by force had been too much, and she was exhausted in both body and mind. She hadn’t opened her eyes at all since we brought her to the hospital.
The vibration from my cellphone startled me out my thoughts. Looking at the name on the display, I saw it was Saki’s young friend, Asami-chan.
There wasn’t anyone else in the room so I picked up while keeping an eye out for other people.
“Stop calling me Toki-chan.”
How many times had I told her this? I scolded her before even asking what she wanted.
“Why? I think it’s a great nickname.”
“Well, as the person with the nickname, I don’t think it’s great at all”
“But only Saki-chan has the right to call you Tokiya”
“Now you’re just making things up. And by the way, don’t you think you’re being a little rude?”
“Oh no. Do you want me to call you onii-chan instead? Is that what you want?”
“Of course not. Stop making me sound like some kind of pervert. You ought to apologize to every big brother in the world.”
“Anyway, do you know where Saki is?”
I wanted to retort, but this was no time to continue this silly back and forth. We were talking about Saki now.
“I tried calling her, but all I’m getting is her voicemail.”
I turned Saki’s phone off earlier since we were at a hospital. I figured no one was going to call her anyway, but had completely forgotten about Asami-chan.
She’d probably worry if I said that Saki was in the hospital, so I decided to keep it secret for now.
“Oh, she was feeling a little under the weather and went to sleep. Her phone must have died. Is there anything you want me to tell her?”
“How did your date go yesterday?”
Saki, what on earth were you telling this girl?
“It went alright.”
“You did at least hold her hand, right?”
She did hold my arm though, I added mentally.
And it wasn’t yesterday, but I did hold her hand today, I added again.
“ohh…you’re lagging behind…”
…Lagging behind? Did anyone even talk like that anymore? Wait, maybe it was back in fashion?
“Aaaanyway, did anything else happen? You said she wasn’t feeling well. Was that because she was up all night?”
I hung up on her.
Asami-chan called again a second later. I reluctantly answered.
“Sorry, I was joking.”
“Kids should talk about kid stuff.”
“Okaaay. So is Saki alright?”
“Yeah. It’s just a cold. She’ll be fine by tomorrow.”
Yeah, she’ll definitely be up by tomorrow, I repeated in my heart to convince myself.
“You really think so?”
I quietly prayed for Saki to open her eyes.
But in the end, She didn’t wake up before the end of visiting hours was announced.
The nurse came back and recommended I stay the night when she saw how worried I looked, but I declined since there was something else I was worried about.
Towako-san had gone back home to get changed but had yet to return.
I called Tsukumodo Antique Shop several times, but she hadn’t picked up. Her cell must have been destroyed in the fight or something, because it wasn’t even ringing.
I knew she had some light injuries, so she still wasn’t entirely unhurt.
Maybe she was exhausted and fell asleep the moment she went home.
I decided to stop by the shop to check on her.
If there wasn’t anything to worry about—after I confirmed that nothing had happened—I would go back home, and come back to the hospital tomorrow.
That’s all I had to do.
That’s it. That’s all that was supposed to happen.
If only I had decided to go straight home.
Or if only I had graciously taken the nurse’s offer and stayed the night at the hospital.
I might’ve avoided the disaster to come.
Or maybe it would have happened anyway, just in a different fashion.
It all started about a year ago.
I found an old building nestled deep into an alleyway.
Without a doubt, it was the very shop I heard so much about.
No one I asked could remember the exact location, and anyone who found it once never saw it again.
It was actually a bit anticlimactic to have found it so easily given the vague an unreliable descriptions I was working with.
I entered the shop and found that its interior matched its outside appearance: old and disconnected from the bustle of the outside world.
“Welcome”, a woman came forward to greet me.
There was one other thing that everyone I’d spoken to had insisted on—that that the owner of the shop, who they couldn’t clearly remember, had been an unforgettable beauty.
Her eyes were hazy and somewhat unfocused, but at the same time profound, as if she were gazing at something beyond simple reality. But despite her indistinct atmosphere, lush black hair flowed down her back even as it was tied up and the black dress she wore over her fragile body almost blended into the dimly lit shop. Her allure so strong that I couldn’t bear to look away.
Even still, I would probably forget her and this place once I left this shop behind.
It was only natural, considering this shop handled Relics.
“What is it that you see—“
“Give me a Relic.”
Her expression clouded when I announced what I wanted before she even finished talking.
“You understand what this place is, then?”
“What a strange customer you are. What kind of Relic do you seek?”
“A Relic to kill.”
That was what brought me here.
“If it’s killing you want, why not stab your victim with a knife, or run them over with a vehicle, or strangle them yourself? Surely you have other options.”
“Then there would be no point.”
“Because you don’t want to leave evidence?”
“No”. That wasn’t it.
“Because you don’t want to dirty your hands?”
“No.” It wasn’t that either.
“There’s no point unless I can kill them with a Relic.”
Only then would it have meaning.
“Do you have any Relics that can kill?”
Then my eyes fell on a particular Relic.
It was almost as if it was calling for me.
As if it were saying, here I am.
As it were telling me that it was the Relic I needed.
The woman quietly answered my question.
She told me the Relic’s name. Its power.
A jolt ran through my body as I listened to her.
The truth of her words confirmed my belief.
“Is this the Relic you seek?”
My goal, my efforts, and the result I wanted…all of it came down to one thing. A Relic to kill.
That was my most fervent desire.
“This is it. What I wanted was a Relic that lets me kill anyone I want.”
I reached out to take it.
“I am somewhat reluctant to give this to you.”.
My hand stopped in place for a moment
“My only role is to give. I can only hand Relics over to those who have been chosen; my desires are irrelevant. I understand that. I know that better than anyone. But even still, I am hesitant.”
“Are you going to stop me?”
The woman quietly shook her head.
“You were originally never supposed to find this place, yet here you are. Perhaps it was destiny.”
I burst out in a laugh and took the Relic from her.
“There’s no such thing as destiny.”
The fact that I obtained this Relic.
The fact that I wanted it.
The impetus that led to me to this desire.
All of it—
“—happened because of other people.”
I heard someone call out to me and stopped to see who it was.
It turned out to be Shinjou wearing a jersey. If I was remembering correctly, he was supposed to have had a had a soccer match today.
“Yo. How’d the game go?”
“Easy win.” Shinjou gave me a thumbs up and grinned.
“What about you?”
“What do you mean?”
“What do you mean, what do you mean? Why do you think I gave you those tickets?”
It felt like a long time ago, but Shinjou had given me tickets to the concert hall just yesterday.
“You didn’t call me with an update yesterday, so I figured maybe y’all spent the night together or something. Figured it’d be better not to call.”
“I didn’t, man. And dude, at least pay attention to the news.”
With the way he was acting, he must not have known about the accident at the concert hall. Well, it was only printed in a small section of the newspaper, so I guess it was understandable.
Shinjou looked shocked when I told him what happened.
“What I’m saying is that nothing romantic happened like you were hoping.”
“Fair enough. You did at least make up with her, right?”
“We weren’t really fighting to begin with though.”
Shinjou was talking about the day Towako-san set Saki and I up and made us buy clothes for each other. I did actually upset her, but you really couldn’t call that an argument. She stopped being mad at me a long time ago anyway.
“Nice. Me and my girlfriend fight all the time, and she sometimes doesn’t talk to me for a week when I make her mad. You two are already like a middle-aged couple.”
Forget middle-aged, we weren’t even a couple.
“Now that I think about it, that was Saki back then, wasn’t it?”
“Remember? You met her while you were working part-time, right?”
“Ugh, brings back some awful memories too. That’s also when the slasher attacked me. That one really sucked.”
That hadn’t been just some slasher though.
A year ago, when I first met Saki, Shinjou was attacked by a slasher and suffered life threatening injuries.
“You might not know this, but it was pretty terrible. They had to call an ambulance and everything.”
“Yeah, sounds pretty bad.” I went along with the conversation.
Truth was, I hadn’t been with him the whole time. I had chosen to leave Shinjou behind to run after Saki.
“Man, I’m glad you’re still here. Really.”
That’s how I truly felt.
He was still my friend now, but if things had taken a turn for the worse, I would have never been able to forgive myself for leaving him back then, no matter how certain I was that an ambulance was going to come.
Then, Shinjou furtively looked around.
“So according to the paramedic, the girl who stayed and stopped me from bleeding out was actually super hot. I was just thinking it would have been nice to meet her.”
“Now that you mention it, there was a rumor you went around picking up girls after you got out the hospital.”
“Yeah, brings back memories…they made me write a 30 page reflection essay in the student guidance room for that.” Shinjou looked nostalgic.
“Try not to let your girlfriend find out.”
“D-don’t even joke about that. I just want to give her my honest thanks.”
Then at that moment, as if on cue, Shinjou’s phone rang.
“Gah, speak of the devil. Is she psychic or something?”
Shinjou waved goodbye. We said we’d see each other tomorrow and went our separate ways.
Someone suddenly tapped me on the shoulder, almost like they had been waiting for me and Shinjou to finish our conversation.
I found myself saying the name of the girl who was now in front of me.
My first victim was a young girl.
I had just gotten my hands on the Relic and didn’t fully understand its power. The girl and her family were the first people I saw when I stepped out of the alley.
The seemed to be on their way back from some sort of shopping trip.
Her parents each held a shopping bag in one hand, with their daughter holding their free hands between them.
I pictured an image of “death” onto them.
Or more accurately, an image of the girl’s death.
I had no reason to hate her, of course.
Nor did I have anything against her parents. We had only happened to cross paths.
But when I saw that family, I saw death—or rather, I was reminded of it.
Moments later, a fountain of blood erupted from the girl’s head.
I couldn’t see it behind her hair, but I had a feeling her head was caved in, as if something had fallen on her from above.
The girl didn’t collapse right away since she still had her parents’ hands, but she did go limp like a lifeless doll.
A few seconds later…
Her parents’ screams echoed throughout the otherwise tranquil town.
Between the mother and father screaming their child’s name, witnesses shrieking in horror, people calling for an ambulance, and yet others asking what just happened, the area burst into uproar.
But not one person looked at me.
Not a single soul was aware of what really just happened.
Except me, that is.
And at the same time, I did not feel the slightest bit guilty for what I had just done.
And as for why…
It was because all I felt in my heart was the joy of having understood this power.
“What a coincidence, meeting you here.”
“Coincidence? I really hope you weren’t following me.” I looked at her suspiciously.
It was a long time ago now, but she and I once fought over a Relic called Pendolo.
“Of course not. It really is just a coincidence. By the way, where’s Saki at?”
“It’s not like we’re always together you know.”
I decided not to tell her Saki was in the hospital.
“Sure, sure, whatever you say. Anyway, was that your friend just now?”
“You guys were talking about sound dangerous stuff. He got hit by a slasher?”
“You shouldn’t listen in on people’s conversations.”
Well, it’s not like we were talking quietly, and it wasn’t exactly a secret either.
“Believe me, bro, it was an accident. Anyone could have heard with how loud you guys were.”
Bro, huh. Mineyama’s tone was noticeably boyish, maybe because she wasn’t happy about being a girl. She didn’t do this in front of others, but apparently didn’t see the need to hide it from me.
“My friend was attacked by a slasher right around this time last year.”
“Oh I know. Everyone does.”
Well, it was in the news and everything, so I guess it was no surprise she knew.
But Saki and Towako-san were the only ones who knew that the killer also attacked me after I followed him later that day.
“I’m guessing it had something to do with a Relic?”, Mineyama whispered.
My reaction must have showed on my face.
She wasn’t wrong. I only heard this from Towako-san later, but apparently that man had been using a Relic to kill random people. That was why I didn’t call him a maniac or a slasher, but a killer.
“I knew it.”
“What do you mean, you knew it?”
“You get caught up in Relic problems a lot. Lemme guess, the slasher was using a Relic too”. Mineyama had a strange look on her face.
“What is it?”
“Nothing much. I just felt bad, is all.”
Mineyama herself had abused a Relic in the past.
“You’ve already reflected on your actions though. What you did was a harmless prank by comparison.”
“I mean, you’re not wrong, but…”
I thought Mineyama was about to start a lengthy explanation, but then she looked straight at me.
“Actually, I also tried to use my Relic to kill you.”
“Every time I tried to kill you though, I saw an image of how awful and graphic it would look in my mind. I knew it was wrong and stopped before it was too late, but I really did think about it. I’ve always wanted to apologize…”
Mineyama bowed a little in apology. I lightly tapped her on the head.
“Relics sure are terrifying.”
I was remembering my encounter with Shun and Asuka.
They used Relics to attack us and steal Saki’s Relic. It wasn’t like they did it with the intention to misuse them though. In fact, there were many people who didn’t think they did anything wrong even if they hurt people with their Relics.
The question was where to draw the line if no one was there to judge you.
“Relics should always be used extremely carefully”
But as Mineyama was getting ready to leave, she smiled.
“But I think it’s best not to use them at all.”
And with that, she went on her way.
Now standing alone, I couldn’t help by smile bitterly at how right she was.
No doubt Towako-san would hate the way I thought right now.
Relics will destroy their users.
Her conviction had never wavered since the day we met.
I had no explanation for what brought me there that day.
It was a lonely alleyway off the main road, so far out of the way that I couldn’t have possibly expected to find anything.
It went without saying that I didn’t have any particular business there either.
I didn’t make the conscious decision to go.
It was just on a whim.
Divine will, perhaps.
A twist of fate.
It could have been anything at all, but whatever it was, I didn’t know what to call it.
I had no idea if there was a reason.
There may have been one, or they’re might not have been.
But if, by any chance, there was a reason…
It was because that was where I committed a murder almost a year ago.
That was where I took the lives of three people.
One girl, one boy, and one young woman.
There was no nostalgia in my heart. I just happened to visit to the site of the murder.
That’s where I caught sight of something unbelievable.
I’ll say it once more.
I had no reason to be here.
I could not have possibly foreseen this development.
But for me to be in that location, on that day, at that very moment, I couldn’t help but feel there was some destiny at play.
How could I not?
I was there.
And so was he.
There stood boy I thought I had killed almost one year ago.
On a certain day one year ago.
I met Saki, I met Towako-san, and I became involved with Relics and Tsukumodo Antique Shop.
I thought I had already spent enough time wallowing in my memories in the hospital room, but meeting Shinjou and Mineyama made me start remembering things again.
I wonder why I had to remember that day now of all times.
Maybe being in contact with Vision for so long had given me some measure of precognition.
Or maybe my thoughts were having some change on reality.
It was coming back to me.
That day one year ago.
I met Saki—and also met that killer.
He took my right eye and almost killed Saki.
I looked up everything I could in the newspapers after Towako-san saved us.
Apparently there were other mysterious attacks and murders on the day that killer attacked Shinjou, Saki, and me.
Maybe he was responsible for those too.
The killer was never caught according to official reports.
But Towako-san told us to just forget about him.
I understood that to mean that she had taken or destroyed his Relic or something, and that the whole problem was settled.
In fact, no mysterious murders happened after that day.
That’s why I stopped thinking about it of it.
But maybe that was only because I wanted to forget….
…That if that killer were still alive, he might return to silence us.
Of course that was always a possibility.
And now the worst case scenario playing out in front of me.
One year had passed, and I was once again face to face with the killer.
It wasn’t exactly accurate to say that I had killed him.
I actually didn’t see him die.
There was no need for me to.
Not a single one of my targets had ever survived.
Every single one of them died exactly as I wanted them to.
That’s why I was sure all three of them had died on that day—or at least I was sure until a moment ago.
But now one of the three, the boy, was alive in front of me.
I hadn’t forgotten.
The sight of him writhing on the ground with blood flowing out of his eye.
It didn’t matter to me how he died back then; whether it was from blood loss, shock, the impact to his head, or anything else. The point was that he was supposed to be dead.
I hadn’t even considered any other possibility.
I had no reason to believe that he survived.
Maybe it was a complete coincidence? Was this his brother, perhaps?
No, that couldn’t be it. No way at all.
The expression on his face was proof of that.
That shocked expression said he knew exactly who I was.
There was no doubt, he was the boy I had meant to kill one year ago.
In which case, it was all the more strange.
“Why are you still alive?”
Suddenly, a noise like television static ran through my head.
A man standing in front of me.
He glares at me, eyes narrowed.
I feel the intense hatred in his glare.
Almost like a carnivore staring down its prey.
A moment later.
Blood shoots out of my left eye, and I collapse to the ground.
—But that wasn’t real.
My Relic, Vision, could show me images of the future. It was an artificial eye, and had been implanted where my real right eye 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.
What I saw just now was a future of my death.
The man’s intense glare was shooting through me.
The same thing Vision showed me a moment ago.
Seconds later…nothing in particular happened.
There was no spray of blood like I had foreseen, and I certainly hadn’t collapsed.
The man looked utterly confused.
He was clearly in shock.
“Why?”, I heard his cold voice question. “Why won’t you die?”
A chill ran down my back.
I knew now for sure that this man was trying to kill me.
His attempt just now had failed for some reason, but there was no doubt.
He had come here specifically to kill me.
The boy should have been dead by now.
But he was still alive for some reason.
Not only that, he didn’t even have a scratch on him.
Nothing like this had ever happened before.
Was it something strange about him?
Was it something strange about me?
“Why?”, I asked him. “Why won’t you die?”
Was it possible that my Relic wasn’t working right? Or maybe it was because my skills were getting rusty?
Suddenly, a rat came leaping out from the shadows, perhaps startled by all the noise.
I tried to kill the rat as a test.
The agile rat suddenly twitched in shock as it rushed to find another hiding spot. A second later, it collapsed in a spray of blood.
… My skills were as good as ever and there was clearly nothing wrong with the Relic.
Why wouldn’t this boy die?
The bewildered man suddenly froze.
His gaze shifted away from me to his side, his eyes set on a rat running out from a corner.
I wasn’t sure what he was thinking. There wasn’t anything particularly interesting about the rat.
But the moment I considered taking advantage of this opening…the rat suddenly rolled over.
It collapsed to the ground, suddenly covered in blood.
What did he do?
What did this man just do?
There was no question that he did something.
But I couldn’t at all comprehend what it was.
The incident from one year ago came back to my mind.
This man had tried to attack Saki, and I jumped in the way to stop him.
The next thing I knew, my right eye was gone.
I still didn’t understand what did to me that day.
He hadn’t shot me with a gun or a bow or anything.
It was the same thing now. I had no idea what the man just did.
But even still, there was one thing I was certain of.
That this man did have a Relic, just like Towako-san said.
That was more than enough for me to understand just how dangerous my current situation was.
So what was I spacing out for? I didn’t know what kind of Relic he had, or what his methods of attack were, so what was I doing standing here dumbfounded?
I came back to my senses and quickly hid behind a nearby building.
It was obviously too dangerous to be in front of this man.
But now I saw that the alley I chose to hide in was a dead end. There was no way out.
What do I do now—?
The killer was most likely here to get rid of all the eyewitnesses to his attack one year ago. I didn’t get why he waited so long, but he must have been lying low all this time, and followed me after catching sight of me.
I really thought everything ended after Towako-san chased him away, but that had been naive.
Maybe running to the police was an option, but I’d still need to find a way out of this alley first.
But even if I did manage to escape somehow, there was still another problem waiting for me.
There was a chance that the killer would get innocent people involved when he chased me down. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if people died because of me. That was something I wanted to avoid no matter what.
I poked my head from behind the building and glanced at the man.
He looked to be in his late forties or early fifties. Medium stature. At first glance he seemed like an ordinary middle-aged man, but his unkempt beard and long disheveled hair made it clear he wasn’t just some company man living a normal life.
What stood out to me was that his left eye was a different color. It was pure white, in a way that made one doubt if it could see at all. Put another way, it looked fake, probably the same as my artificial eye.
Another thing was the ring with a skull design that he wore on his index finger. It didn’t suit him at all, and didn’t seem like a kind of silver accessory. The skull on the ring actually looked like it came from some small animal.
Finally, the thin coat he wore over his tattered suit was bulging like he were hiding something inside.
Had to say that looked pretty suspicious too.
Dammit. I regretted giving Dowsing, the Relic that detected other Relics, to Towako-san.
But there was no use crying over spilled milk.
Right now I need to think of a plan.
This wasn’t going to be the same as last year.
I took his attack head on last time. I was certain he tried to do something this time, but his attack failed for some reason. There had to be a hint somewhere in there.
Both times I had no idea what the man did.
In other words, there was nothing in his actions that provided a definite clue.
For example, he didn’t chant anything like you would with Grimoire and Pendolo, nor did he play an instrument like with Otodama.
Did that mean he was using a Relic that worked continuously once activated like the Mirror of Serenity, and Masquerade?
Or maybe his Relic was like Vision, where the Relic activated at random, regardless of the user’s will.
A year ago, he beat me before I could find out what he did.
This time he tried to do something, but nothing happened. I knew that because he was clearly puzzled that I didn’t die.
What was the difference?
I couldn’t come to a conclusion with the information I had so far. I needed another hint.
Then, the man turned his gaze to me.
Suddenly, a noise like television static ran through my head.
The man stands in front of me.
Something obstructs my view.
A purple light envelopes me.
A moment later.
I find I can’t move. It’s like I’ve been encased in stone.
The main raises his finger, and knocks on my forehead
My field of vision cleanly tilts, and I fall to the ground with a clatter.
After coming back from that vision of the future, I immediately pulled my head back behind the building.
I had stuck my head out too far; he had definitely seen me just now. Not like there were a lot of places to hide in this narrow back alley anyway.
It was only a matter of time before he found me.
But thanks to this, there was one thing I understood.
Our eyes met for just a second.
And in that moment, Vision showed me the future.
Vision was sounding an alarm, telling me that it was dangerous to look into his eyes.
I had an encounter with a fortune teller once who used Spectacles, a Relic that let her see what other’s saw by looking at their eyes through the lenses.
And from my knowledge of folklore, I knew there were things like the Evil Eye and Demon’s Eye that could be used to kill people with a glance. Medusa’s eyes were also said to turn people to stone with just a look.
Was this man’s left eye fake, as I suspected?
That was feeling like the most likely possibility right now.
I looked up to the sky.
The moon was visible between buildings.
If only it were fully covered by clouds. Maybe if I waited for that to happen, I could slip out in the darkness. But right now, I didn’t have that luxury.
All I knew was that it was dangerous for him to look at me. My only choice was to take action.
I looked away from the rat I just killed and saw that the boy had disappeared.
Did he run away?
I had only looked away for just a second. There was no way he had enough time to escape.
Wait, there he was. I saw his head poke out from behind a nearby building.
He pulled his head back, but I did see him.
The boy was probably shaking behind the building.
Or maybe he was looking for a chance to counter attack.
It didn’t matter to me either way.
This time for sure, he would die.
The image that came to mind when I thought of his death was that of him getting his right eye destroyed.
That was the way he was going to die.
Why was that, I wondered.
I usually envisioned my targets dying by getting their heads caved in.
I wondered why the image of death I had for him was different.
Was it because there was an overlap between the events of last year and today?
…It didn’t make any sense.
But even if it did make sense, there would be no point.
I didn’t care how he died, only that he did.
I quickly made my way to his hiding place and looked into the alley.
… But the boy wasn’t there.
A moment later, I heard something dropping from above, and felt something wrapped around me. Someone was pinning my arms behind my back.
I knew somehow that it was the boy.
…Though he couldn’t have known this stunt was a waste of energy.
My strategy was a success.
I took the fact that the man had seen me, and used it to turn the tables on him. First I climbed up on the water pipes above and held my breath, waiting for him to approach. Then I leaped down behind him when he came to look behind the building.
There was nothing to fear if he couldn’t turn around and see me.
I put him in a pro wrestling sleeper hold, and pinned him from behind.
He wouldn’t be able to look at me this way.
Now all I had to do was choke him until he fell unconscious and…
A noise like television static ran through my head.
The man mutters something.
He whispers softly.
His words have a tune to them.
Almost like a song.
I lean in to listen and hear the words.
“Kagome, kagome. The bird in the cage…
When, oh when will it come out…
The crane and turtle slip…
Who is that behind you…?”
The moment the song ends, unseen children begin to laugh.
A cage-like object drops from the man’s coat onto the ground.
Suddenly countless children’s hands extend from the cage and pull me in.
Startled, I let go of the man despite myself.
I stumbled and fell, but quickly rolled out of the way.
The man cracked his neck from right to left and slowly turned to face me.
The pain in my back was only beaten out by my surprise.
I definitely hadn’t entered his line of sight just now.
“…What kind of Relic do you have?”
“Oh, I see. So you know about Relics?” The man looked a little surprised. “That makes sense then. I was wondering why you weren’t dying, but that explains it. You must have some kind of countermeasure.”
As far as countermeasures went, all I had was my plan to attack him from behind, but…
“You thought it would be safe if I couldn’t see you?”
Was I wrong about that?
“You’re resourceful, I’ll give you that, but it’s still far from a passing grade. If you still don’t get it, I’ll tell you what to ask.”
“’How many Relics you you have?’, that’s what you should be asking me.”
The man opened his coat wide.
In his inside pockets, I saw—
A Medusa pendant with countless snakes for hair and eyes made of inlaid purple gemstones.
A straw doll with a five-inch nail embedded in it.
A small birdcage surrounded by what looked like a number of childrens’ hands..
A doll wearing red shoes.
There were also an uncountable number of other unknown objects in his coat.
Without a doubt, they were all Relics.
Each of them looked plainly ominous. They were ominous, all of them seemed to be capable of producing some kind of death curse.
This wasn’t my first time going against someone with multiple Relics.
Shun also had several of them.
But this was on a completely different scale.
“All of these Relics chose me. Let’s give them a try, why don’t we? I’ll try them one at a time and see what works.”
Sweat ran down my back.
“But before that, there’s something I want to confirm.” The man brought up a question.
“—Is Maino Saki still alive?”
What did he just say…?
Did he just say Maino Saki?
It took me a second to fully understand his words.
“Why are you asking about her…?
Did he do his research on me after learning that we were still alive?
But I didn’t think that it.
He was clearly puzzled the first time he saw me, obviously shocked to see me still alive. He even asked how it was even possible.
So the theory that he did his research beforehand couldn’t be right.
“Going by your expression, she’s still alive. I suspected as much seeing that you were still alive, but to think she survived too…”
This seemed truly shocking for the man.
So why was I no big deal, but Saki’s survival was shocking news?
There was no difference between me and Saki back then.
In fact, I was the one who had been on the ground bleeding.
Normally it would be more of a surprise that I was alive, right?
“… I can accept that you and that other woman are alive. I still find it hard to believe that you survived, but I can accept it. However, Maino Saki is different.”
I knew it.
I knew from the moment he said her name, that it wasn’t just something he had memorized. There was emotion in his voice. He had something against her—something completely different from his feelings towards me.
I always thought he used Relics to kill indiscriminately.
That it didn’t matter who, as long as he killed someone.
That the reason he was here was to silence me.
But maybe that was all wrong?
That maybe he wasn’t just killing people at random?
And the attack last year, from the very beginning—
—what if Saki was his target?
“I still felt a weight in my heart this past year even after I killed Maino Saki. That must have been because she was actually alive this whole time.”
I couldn’t reply, or even hide my surprise.
“Does this mean she has some way to block my curse? Or maybe she used some kind of illusion to make me think she died. Regardless, all I can say is that I was naive. But perhaps it was my good luck that you didn’t die from my first attack.”
The man muttered to himself.
It sounded like he was trying to convince himself of something, trying calm himself down.
Then he fixed his eyes on me.
“Do you know where Maino Saki is?”
He asked me the question trying to confirm.
He asked because he knew that I knew where she was.
But no way was I going to tell him.
I forgot all about running away; I forgot all about the danger he posed and stood up.
If his target was Saki, then there was no way I could run away from here. There was no way I could tell him where she was. I wasn’t going to let him take even one step closer to her.
“… Why are you after Saki?”
I wasn’t asking for his reason, but for his goal.
There was no reason anyone would ever want to kill Saki, and if there was, then I wasn’t going to accept it. But in order to protect her, I need to clearly know what this man’s goal was.
“What reason do you have to go after Saki?”
The man’s eyes flashed with a dark light.
It felt like his calm facade had given way for just a moment.
I felt a deep and uncomfortable sense of dread.
His words were filled with pure resentment.
I somehow managed to question his shocking declaration.
The man nodded.
“Maino Saki used a Relic to kill my daughter.”
My daughter died during an elementary school field trip to the mountains.
She slipped and fell to her death.
It was an unfortunate accident.
The cause of death was instant, a depressed skull fracture as well as a cerebral contusion. It was a small mercy that she didn’t suffer.
At my daughter’s vigil, I heard a certain rumor among her classmates.
Apparently, on the day before the trip, one of her classmates, Maino Saki, had announced that someone was going to die.
According to the rumors, her ominous words turned into a curse and killed my daughter.
At the same time, I did also hear that the students at her school were really into the occult. I suppose it wasn’t too strange they were into those kinds of things.
I paid no attention to the rumors.
If anything, I felt sorry for Maino Saki who couldn’t go on the trip because she lost her eyes in an accident.
I didn’t doubt that my daughter had died in an unfortunate accident.
But my wife wasn’t the same.
She actually believed the rumor and attacked Maino Saki at the vigil.
Perhaps she didn’t feel like she could accept it unless someone took responsibility.
I called Maino Saki’s parents to apologize later that day and got them to let the incident go.
That was the end of it…or at least it should have been.
However, a few months later I learned that Maino Saki was being bullied at school because of my daughter’s death and that she had stopped attending school.
All of the work from the funeral had been settled by this point, and my wife had long since been admitted to the hospital, so I went to Maino household to apologize.
I never wanted her to be bullied because of my daughter. Part of me even wanted to go to her school and explain that she had done nothing wrong.
To my surprise, her parent’s apologized to me when I paid them a visit.
I asked what they had to apologize for, and they said it was for my daughter’s death.
I couldn’t believe it. How could Maino Saki’s own parents believe the rumors?
At first, I thought it was utterly ridiculous, but the more I listened, the more it seemed that was not the case.
It was true that she had lost her eyes in an accident.
I learned that her two eyes were artificial.
I learned that she could still see with them as if they were real.
I learned that she could also see things that should not be seen.
I learned that her artificial eyes were something called a “Relic”.
—I learned that Maino Saki was never wrong when she declared someone’s death.
I still found it hard to believe.
But her parents insisted it was true.
It wasn’t just my daughter, they said. There was a teacher at school, people she’d seen on television, and even strangers she’d never met before. Every single person whose death Maino Saki announced died shortly after.
There were too many people to dismiss it as a coincidence.
Her parents tried to go to the police, but they wouldn’t even entertain the idea, no doubt because it was unenforceable from a legal perspective. Her father tried to find the shop where he got the eyes to learn the truth, but apparently couldn’t find it no matter how hard he tried.
In the end, they chose to keep Maino Saki confined at home where she could live quietly, unexposed to the outside world.
I didn’t even get the chance to talk to her directly. Her parents stopped me, imploring me not to agitate her.
It almost sounded like they were begging for their lives.
I didn’t fully believe the story at the time. In fact, I felt a sense of guilt that the accident had left the entire family insane.
That’s why I decided to learn for myself.
I wasn’t just going off what Maino Saki’s father told me. I also looked into literature on curses, magic, and the occult of course, as well as history books on fables and folklore. I also compiled information on the internet and spoke to folk scholars.
And the more I researched, the more I learned that the world was filled with stories of paranormal stories of death, and with people who confirmed the stories were true.
At some point, I found that the focus of my researched had changed. It turned into finding ways to kill without doing it physically myself.
How could I kill someone without running into the law?
How could I kill someone without dirtying my hands?
How could I cause something like the accident that took my daughter’s life?
I used her death as the basis for my research.
My goal at first was to disprove a ridiculous story.
But eventually, I began to look for the answer to another question: how was my daughter killed? I believed—there was no doubt that the answer was out there somewhere.
I cut down on sleep, I stopped eating, I quit my job, and even stopped visiting my wife in the hospital, focusing all my energy to my research.
And at long last, I found that shop’s location.
The shop that Maino Saki’s father had told me about, the one that dealt with the cursed tools known as Relics.
There I learned that there did in fact exist Relics that could kill without direct involvement.
One of them was the Evil Eye, a Relic that could kill a target any way I wanted with a single look.
But that wasn’t all.
There were also plenty of other Relics that could kill.
And all of them were calling to me.
Saying to me that Relics to kill did exit, that they were real after all.
And that confirmed everything had known all along.
—That Maino Saki killed my daughter.
What the hell…
What the hell was this false accusation!?
An indescribable rage came up within me as the man spoke.
Saki killed her own classmate?
And everyone else believed that!?
Her parents, who should have supported her more than anyone treated her like a criminal?
Saki did tell me something once…
That her parents wouldn’t mind if she started a live-in part time job.
She said that her parents weren’t going to pay for traveling expenses, so her salary would go to waste if she commuted. She said all that with her usual expressionless face.
There was also something else she said.
That it didn’t matter if she didn’t go to school.
I have a hard time dealing with crowds, she said with a perfectly straight face, as if it were the most normal thing in the world.
At the time I had been totally ignorant of her past.
We were just chatting at work, and I let the conversation die there.
I didn’t even try to learn about her past.
So this was why. This was the reason.
This explained why she didn’t express herself, no this was the reason she couldn’t express herself!
“The lies you people told ruined her life!”
“Lies!? Like you could understand!” The man, glared at me, his eyes full of rage.
“Saki’s Relic has no such power.”
“And what’s your proof?”
“Most likely Saki’s Relic has the power to see the future. In other words, it can’t do anything else.”
“Most likely, you say? So you’re not sure? You didn’t hear it from Maino Saki herself?”
“True, it’s not much more than an educated guess.”
“If Saki had a Relic like you describe, she would have said something.”
“Don’t you think she would hidden it because it was a terrifying Relic to kill people? Wouldn’t it make more sense to hide it especially if she were using it?”
Why was I even having this petty argument?
It didn’t even matter.
What I had to believe in wasn’t Saki’s Relic.
It was Saki herself.
“She would never do that.”
“You expect me to just believe you?”
I took out the artificial eyes I got from Saki, and held them out towards the man.
“This here is Saki’s Relic.”
“Why don’t you check for yourself what power it has?”
The man took the Relic from my hand.
I remember Maino Saki’s father telling me that her Relic was a pair of artificial eyes.
But there was no proof that these were hers.
My hands were shaking.
I was shaking from the joy of finding the truth at long last.
I brought the eye close to my face and peered into them.
A moment later.
Noise distorted my vision, and something cut into my sight.
It was a certain image.
The boy said that this Relic had the power to show the future.
Whether this really was the future, I did not know. It could have been the past, or present, or maybe entirely fictional. I just didn’t know.
But there was one thing I was sure of.
That I couldn’t choose a target.
That much was certain; I couldn’t target anything.
Not even a little bit.
Not even the tiniest amount.
There was no room for my will with this Relic.
All it showed me were images of people I never met, that I had never seen before.
I peered into the eye again.
But the result was the same.
All that flowed into my vision were images. The singular futures of people I had never met.
Ridiculous. There was no way this was true. How could I accept this!?
I should have been able to kill someone with this Relic.
It had the power to do it. It had to.
Otherwise my daughter’s death would be entirely pointless. My actions would hold no meaning at all.
Kill. Obey me, Relic! Kill! This is what you do!
But there was no response from the eye.
It was almost like a movie. The Relic continued to send me images, ignoring my will completely.
—That’s all it did. That was the only thing it could do.
“What did you see?”
The man was frozen still as he peered into Saki’s Relic.
“Tell me. What power did that Relic have?”
The man didn’t answer.
“Can you kill anyone with it?”
The man said nothing at all.
“How about it? Try killing me with that Relic. Try it if you can!”
There was something I finally understood after hearing the man’s story.
Saki could see the future.
More than likely she foresaw that her friend would die on the field trip.
That’s why she tried to stop her.
She wanted to stop her friend and save her.
But no one believed her.
Not just that, they blamed her for the death.
“You’re no different.”
He didn’t think it was Saki’s fault at first. He thought it was just a rumor. He did his research to prove the rumor false. He said all those high-minded things, claiming that he would accept anything. But in the end, he blamed Saki too.
Because deep in his heart—
He held a grudge.
There was hatred.
He couldn’t accept the truth.
That’s why he obsessed over Relics and used Saki as a scapegoat.
Same as everyone else.
Same as all the other people who knew her.
“Your delusions stole everything from her!”
The man’s shoulders shook. His face twisted into a grimace. He shook his head, clawing at his hair.
“You think…I’d believe that…after all this time!?”
The man screamed, spraying spit everywhere and threw Saki’s Relic at me.
I caught it and stared straight into the man’s bloodshot eyes.
“That can’t possibly be her Relic! It has to be something else! Maino Saki killed my daughter with a Relic!”
“Just like you were doing?”
The man shook when I pointed that out.
There were a serious of random murders.
Maybe the man couldn’t fully control his Relic’s power, or maybe he wanted to try it out.
Regardless, if he was the one behind them, then how many innocent people lost their lives because of him?
He was using his daughter’s death as a shield, but I was making him face the truth he was running away from.
“Saki did not kill your daughter. You are the one who’s being going around killing indiscriminately, just like the killers you claim to hate! All you’ve done is kill indiscriminately—doing the exact same thing you accuse Saki of!”
Suddenly, a noise like television static ran through my head—
The holds something in his hands.
In his left hand, a straw doll with a five inch nail sticking out of it.
In his right hand, an old wooden mallet.
The man strikes the nail with the mallet into the center of the doll, right where the heart would be.
A moment later.
I feel a sharp, stabbing pain in my chest and collapse to the ground.
Again, a noise like television static ran through my head—
The holds something in his hand.
It’s a fish scale that dully shines in the colors of the rainbow.
The man grabs my chin, forces it into my mouth and makes me swallow.
What did I just eat…?
The moment I shout…
My fingers and toes begin to melt.
Almost like a witch-cursed mermaid turning into sea foam.
A third time, a noise like television static ran through my head—
The holds something in his hand.
A long candle.
Its wick burns brightly.
The man quickly pinches out the flame.
A moment later.
My entire vision goes dark.
Vision continued to show me the future again and again.
Over and over.
Time and time again.
The static ran through my head and I saw a future of my death.
No matter what I did.
No matter how much I struggled.
He killed me.
Over and over.
Again and again.
He just kept killing me.
I had never seen so many futures of death before.
It was as if to prove without a doubt that there was no escape.
I felt nauseous.
I was going crazy.
I heard a voice cut into the futures I was seeing.
It interrupted and canceled out the futures Vision showed me.
The voice seemed familiar.
I cursed my carelessness in the moments it took me to remember who’s voice it was.
Because who was it that I saw there except…
She held a small bouquet in her hands, most likely a get well gift for Saki.
How could I have not realized what she would do if I told her that Saki was sick.
This killer also heard her voice, of course.
He slowly turned around.
Asami-chan was standing there puzzled.
I screamed at her to run, but she wasn’t going to be fast enough.
The man told me about the Evil Eye.
His Relic, the Evil Eye, could impose an image of death on a target and kill them.
I didn’t think man was capable of looking at Asami-chan rationally.
He had no shortage of killing intent.
The man’s killing glare was already more than enough for me. It would be over if he looked at Asami-chan.
I couldn’t let him.
Absolutely no way could I let it happen.
I ran and put myself between the Asami-chan and the killer.
I wouldn’t let her lose another one.
I would never let Saki lose another of her friends again!
I stood in front of the man, blocking him from Asami-chan, and took his murderous glare head on—
The image I imposed on the girl was that of my daughter’s death.
In the back of my mind was my daughter’s disfigured body.
Her hair, torn and covered in blood. Her head, broken and misshapen.
That was the very basis of my image of death.
My Relic, the Evil Eye, killed my targets with a glare based on the image I had in mind.
I had taken many lives with it.
I did also use other Relics to kill, but mostly I used Evil Eye to make people die like my daughter did.
And now, a girl had entered my line of vision.
Her image overlapped with my daughter’s.
Her death overlapped with my daughter’s.
Remembering my daughter’s death brought forth a murderous impulse.
And so the girl met the same fate as she did…or at least she was supposed to.
When the boy cut in between us, when his artificial eye met mine…
I was the one who burst out bleeding.
I was the one whose head caved in.
I was the one whose brain was crushed.
I didn’t understand what had just happened.
The man suddenly stopped moving as if his power were cut, and then blood burst out of his head.
Was it possible that one of his man’s many Relics had backfired? Or maybe he chose to take his own life rather than kill an innocent child.
There was no way to know for sure.
Because the man was already dead.
I walked Asami-chan out of the alley and sent her home, telling her that I would take care of the rest.
I knew that my excuse that I was being attacked by a robber was half-baked, but she seemed to understand that it was an emergency and went along with it anyway.
Though what was I supposed to do with the man?
That was a big problem to deal with for sure, but I decided to go to Tsukumodo Antique Shop first.
It was possible that he was the reason I couldn’t contact Towako-san—in other words, I was worried that he had attacked her too.
Since I couldn’t ask him if she was still alive, I had to check for myself. I didn’t think anything had happened, but wouldn’t feel comfortable until I knew for sure.
The man’s attack felt like it took years off my life.
Going by all those futures I saw with Vision, any step in the wrong direction would have killed me.
I guess I was a little lucky, if nothing else.
But there were several things I learned as a result of the attack.
First, there was Saki.
Why didn’t she tell me about her Relic?
I hadn’t understood the reason
But now I knew that if she had told me, then I would have asked her about the details.
Then Saki would have had to remember the sadness of not being able to save her friend. She’d feel the regret all over again.
She probably wouldn’t be able to endure that.
Or maybe she thought that Towako-san, who believed that having Relics wasn’t good, would dislike for it.
If I thought about it that way, it made sense.
And more than anything.
There was the guilty look Saki had when she apologized, when she put herself in harm’s way.
I understood the cause.
She probably regretted not being able to save her friend, or maybe she was frustrated that she foresaw her death and couldn’t do anything.
She still carried around that feeling of guilt and regret even though none of it was her fault, because people blamed her.
If she woke up tomorrow, I would tell her.
That she did nothing wrong.
The words that no one, not even her parents had ever told her.
That’s what I wanted to say.
With those thoughts in my head, I still didn’t know that I had understood nothing at all.
Not the depth of the darkness in her heart, and not the first thing about myself.
Is this what death feels like?
Various thoughts came to me as my consciousness dimmed.
I remembered all the innocent people I had murdered with my Relic.
I killed a number of people a year ago, between the time I got the Relic and the time I met Maino Saki.
I did it to test my power, or maybe it was because I hated to see girls my daughter’s age living a blissfully ignorant lives.
As I was, I had no reason to expect anyone to help me.
In fact, I felt a sense of relief that I could finally reunite with my daughter.
My one remaining regret, the one that pained my heart, was of my wife who was still in the hospital.
Before I knew about Relics, I always thought she had a weak heart for being unable to bear our daughter’s death.
But now that I thought about it, I was the one with the weak heart.
She, who had decided to stop hating, was far stronger than me, who couldn’t stop the hate.
Unlike me, who turned his rage on innocent strangers, she aimed the hatred at herself and broke her own heart.
What I did was truly unforgivable.
If only I could, I’d start from the beginning…
I continued down an alleyway off the main road.
In front of me was a small old shop.
A path I knew well, a shop I was familiar with.
There was no mistake.
I didn’t get lost, and was definitely at the right place.
But when I opened the door—
“Welcome to Tsukumodo Antique Shop”
—I was greeted by a woman I had never seen before.