Hariyama-san, Center Of The World / Hariyama-san, Center of the World Chapter 3

Hariyama-san, Center of the World 1


“Hey there.  I am the 24,856th hero of Caronaplete–”
“Okay, die.”
That steady voice was accompanied by a concrete block that swung down onto the suit-clad, self-styled “hero”’s head.
“Eeee…” The self-styled hero, a salaryman, let out a scream reminiscent of the cry of a small animal.  The block smashed right into his forehead and he fell to the ground.
Enveloped in the darkness of the night, the “demon king” took the concrete block in his hand and murmured quietly, “Ah, it’s a really nice night…”
The “demon king” slowly crouched down and dropped concrete block after concrete block atop the “hero”, who had already stopped moving.
The “demon king” muttered in the darkness of the night as he dragged along the completely silent salaryman, “I wonder if there’s an incinerator or a landfill around here…
“…Well, whatever.  I’ll ask Hariyama-san about it tomorrow.”
○ ●
Ten days earlier, Hikarijima, Tokyo District, Hikarijima Metropolitan High School
“The truth is, I’m a hero.”
A classroom after school, wrapped in the pale orange of twilight.  I had been called here by her, a good friend of mine since childhood, and we gazed outside through the window, just the two of us.
“Huh?” Even I had to admit I sounded pretty stupid. “…oh, really?  So is this a new joke of yours?”
I smiled as I let her know I was listening, but she retorted coldly, “Listen to me!”
…What did I do?  I had been completely serious when I thought “It was a joke,” and I’d responded appropriately, so what had I done wrong?
I’d thought for sure she would confess to me.  It’s only logical, right?  What else could happen in this situation except a confession?  What do you expect?  Until now, we’d hung out together as friends, but lately we’d started becoming very aware of each other as members of the opposite sex.  At least, that was how it was for me.  If she wasn’t going to confess, then I would.
But that thought was completely crushed by her next sentence.
“You know, I’m the reincarnation of the holy warrior of light, servant of the god Nambaja, who was summoned to the ancient Holy Millennium Continent!”
Her somewhat long black hair reflected the setting sun and shone bewitchingly.  Her words were lively, but even so, they were not at all realistic.
Right.  They were lively in a different way.  Put another way, they were “delusional”.
Her name was Maya Isojima.  She was my childhood friend… and the girl I liked.  It wasn’t that I had a preference for girls with wild imaginations, and I had no interest in the type of obsessive girl who would go as far as to try to become a character.
She had been a completely normal person until yesterday.
○ ●
Our home, Hikarijima, was a solitary island with about two thousand residents.  It was a little more than three hundred kilometers east of Iwaki in Fukushima Prefecture, existing in isolation on the other side of the Japan Trench.  There were no other islands around, and the population was crammed into an area of about fifteen square kilometers.
It was an island without any particular tourist attractions, currently part of the Tokyo Metropolitan Area.  The outsiders who visited the island on a regular basis only came during the time decided on by the group that researched the Japan Trench.  There was no regular service, and the postman and distributors were the only ones who traveled freely between here and the mainland.
On the other hand, it couldn’t be said that the island wasn’t developed.  I had only gone to the mainland once on a middle-school field trip, but our town didn’t seem at all different from the ones in magazines.
Recently, they’d finally installed a broadband connection that used satellites, and the Internet finally began making waves on the island.  By the way, my house didn’t have Internet yet.
We had our own metropolitan high school and there were about thirty students in each grade.  There was only one class for each grade, but it wasn’t lonely.  When I watched TV, sometimes there were schools with only one person in a grade.  In contrast, my head would spin when I saw schools with several hundred people in a grade.
Did people on the mainland really possess such good memories?  It took everything I had to remember the names of the people in my class.
Among them, the first classmate whose name I remembered was – Maya Isojima.
She was the daughter of the Shinto priest of the Kourai Shrine in the middle of the island.  She dressed as a priestess on New Year’s and festival days and assisted the islanders.
My house was near the shrine, and so I was acquainted with her before entering kindergarten, and I had often saved her when a dog made her cry.
Of course, I’d also been bitten by dogs and felt like I would die.
Looking back on the past, I could only remember Maya’s crying face from when we were little.  I had cried just as much as she did, so it was probably the same for her.
That was what I thought, but–
At that moment, my confidence vanished.
“What… did you say?”
“That I’m a hero, of course!”
“Like Heracles?”
I thought it was a stupid response, but at that point in time, I still thought that Maya was joking.  The problem was that it was an extremely bad joke, and Maya was not the type of person to make jokes like that.
“No.  Of the Ancient Millennium Continent.”
“Stop.  Stop right there.”
I held up my hands, and Maya closed her mouth, staring blankly at me.
“To begin with, what’s this millennium continent?  And what do you mean by ancient?  Is there a Modern Millennium Continent somewhere?”
I asked those questions to find out whether Maya was joking or serious.  However, the answer I received was wildly different from what I had expected.
“–So then the god Nambaja stood beside my bed and told me! ‘I shall resurrect thee to walk the path of the moon and dispel the darkness!’ Then I felt Letmuj’s magic and recalled all my memories of the past!”
Was she ignoring me?
This was bad.  She looked serious.
Hang on a second.
Seriously, hang on.
I’m begging you, hang on.
I’d heard of this before.  The world was large.  I’d heard before that countless people thought they were “self-styled reincarnated warriors”.
Some of them thought they were descendants or reincarnations of the people of Lemuria or Atlantis.  Others thought they had received a divine revelation from aliens.
I didn’t know if they were the real thing.  Well, like it or not, I wouldn’t have any choice but to believe them if they actually shot beams from their hands right in front of me, but I didn’t want to see that.
But, but.
Hold on a second.
Maya wasn’t… like that, right?
No, she wasn’t.  If I had to choose whether she was or not, it would definitely be not.
I at least knew she meant she’d received a message or something from a long time ago.  No, even though I didn’t want to.
But I’d never seen Maya act like this.  She’d never said anything like this before, and anyway, it made no sense for a priest’s daughter to go on about ghosts and supernatural phenomena.
Just yesterday, she had been delighted that they could finally access the Internet through satellite broadband at the shrine. “Now even shrines and temples will enter the information age!” she had said excitedly as she browsed the Internet.
Once again, I was unable to believe the words of the girl before me, and I raised my voice in protest. “Wait, Maya.  Hold on a second.  You mean… that’s it?  You called me after school just to tell me that, so then the punchline is that I’m the reincarnation of one of those warriors too?”
Oh, fine.  Now that it’d come to this, I might as well play along till the end.  I would hold out until Maya said, “Sorry, sorry!  I was just teasing you!”
I had still not given up.  I continued to cling to the hope that she was only joking.
On the other hand, I was seriously concerned, thinking, “Maybe she got hit in the head.” The possibility that “She’s really lost it” did exist in the recesses of my heart, but I didn’t dare think about it and instead chose to ignore it.
“So, what’s my power as a warrior?  Can I control fire?  Fly through the sky?  Predict the end of humanity? …hey, c’mon, say something,” I said to Maya, who had been quiet for a while.
Maya and I were enveloped in an awkward silence.
It really was a joke, huh?  In that case, that was the lamest thing I could’ve said, so Maya had just given up.
No, please let that be it.
I couldn’t stand it.
I didn’t want Maya to have lost her mind.
If the problem lay elsewhere, I would put myself on the line to save Maya.  But honestly, I had no idea how to deal with a problem of the mind.
A counselor… that was probably the best way.  I didn’t know any ways of curing serious delusions. …I could start looking into it now, but I didn’t really have the luxury to be so relaxed about it… as ignorant as I was now, that was the only choice I could make.
But – while I was hesitating over such trivialities, Maya seemed to be worrying about something more serious.
I thought she had been hanging her head in shame, but she seemed to come to a decision, and she opened her mouth. “No.  That’s not it.  You’re just a human, Shouma.  Just a human, without the power to control fire or predict the future.”
“…oh, I see,” I answered dejectedly.
It was not that I increasingly felt that she was serious – I was dejected because my old, cherished friend had said I was “just a human”.
It felt as if Maya had said she didn’t care whether or not I existed.
Yeah, and the fact that I was disappointed was because I was really worried about Maya.
…If I didn’t think about it that way, I wouldn’t be able to stand it.
“So then why are you telling me this?”
I spoke in a tone that said I no longer cared, and Maya murmured, her cheeks reddening slightly, “…Because I like you.”
“I wanted you to know the truth, Shouma.  I haven’t even told Dad and Mom I’m a hero of light…”
I was confused.
No, there was nothing to be confused about.  Just now, Maya had said that she liked me.
I’d forget this stuff about being a hero.  That was definitely just something she said to hide her embarrassment at confessing.
After that brief flash of hope, Maya ignored my feelings and just continued to say whatever she wanted. “I at least wanted the person I like to know.”

Uh, Police Guy, uh–
“Are you all right!?  Leave this to me and go somewhere safe!”
Police Guy, why are you prepping your gun?  Isn’t that really, really dangerous?
“It’s okay!  Just between us, I’m a galactic detective dispatched by the Galactic Federation!  This gun won’t – gaaah!”
A man appeared behind Police Guy and beat his head with a rock, over and over.
“Galactic!?  You’re in league with the aliens!  As a member of the Earth Special Investigation Squad, I cannot overlook your secret ma-”
Before the man had finished speaking, Police Guy, his hea d bleed ing, poin ted  h is  gu n  a t  th e  m an  an d  p u l l e d  t h e  t r i g g e r– [1]
That gunshot completely cleared my mind, which had been fogged with confusion.
But even so – the end of the town’s nightmare was still not in sight.
…Would it be easier if I just went crazy?  I turned my back on the policeman as he trampled the fallen man’s head and ran away from that place as fast as I could.
It was as if the island itself was bleeding.
The town was filled with the rusted smell of iron.  The smell of death.  The smell of death.  The smell of death.
“Servant of the devil!” “You’re from the planet Zuja too, aren’t you!?” “Associate!” “Dictatorship dog!” “I won’t lose to an Under-Earthling!” “Taste my High Sunrise Fist!” “I am a true hero.” “I’m a hero, you know!” “‘Cause I’m a hero.” “I” “I am” “I’m” “Hero” “Hero” “Hero” “Hero” “Hero” “Hero” “Hero” “Hero” “Hero” “Hero” “Hero” “Hero” “Hero” “Hero” “Hero” “Hero” “Hero” “Hero”…
All I could hear were those voices, so out of touch with reality.
Oh, good.
There was no way this was reality.
It’s a dream a dream a dream a dream a dream not reality a dream a dream everything everything everything imaginary a lie a dream a lie a dream imaginary an illusion everything a lie a dream an illusion a lie imaginary a lie a dream an illusion an illusion an illusion a dreamlike illusion is a lie and imaginary.
My mother wasn’t dead.
There was no way she was dead.
She wasn’t stabbed.
I had no mother.
I had no father.
There was no one.
None none none none none none.
There was nothing.  See, there was nothing.  There was nothing inside me and nothing outside me.
                                            My my
                                                                    My my my
                                            AAAAAA               a                    a
                           Aa                     a               “AAAAA”               aaAA
Aaaaa          “”            a             aaaAAAAA
                                   “a           a”                                                            a
“Shouma.  Hey, Shouma.”
            AAAAAaaa                          aaa                       “aa”
AAaa… aaaaaa…. …?
“…huh… Makabe…?”
“Get a grip.  What’s up with you?  Screaming all of a sudden like that…”
When I stopped panicking and regained my composure, I found my classmate standing in front of me and peering into my face.
“Well, it got pretty bad after you ran out of the classroom, like there was a revolt or something… I got away somehow, but…”
“Which hero?”
“Which hero are you?”
I’d already grown used to it.  You could say I’d given up.
This was a dream anyway.  A figment of my imagination.  Yeah, I wondered what god Makabe served.
When I asked somewhat defiantly, Makabe gave just the sort of answer I had been expecting.
“Huh… how’d you know?  I’m definitely one of the chosen heroes.”
“Oh, I see.”
So I was right after all.
I felt like I wanted to go crazy, but – I felt a slight sense of unease at Makabe’s next words, so I kept my consciousness firmly grounded in reality.
“Umm… right, I’m the chosen hero of Mayonnai Kingdom… no, that’s not it.   A black suit from the shrine hospital… wha… descended from kirin… my right hand’s Imagine Breaker… and… huh?  Hold on… hold on a second…” [2]
“I… I… which one?  Which one am I?”
Right after that, Makabe reached into his bag, as if being controlled by something, and pulled out a book.  It was the magazine he had been reading this morning, a collection of adventure stories.
Makabe flipped through the pages and muttered something to himself under his breath.
“Ahh… I guess I am the hero of Mayonnai Kingdom… maybe… I came to defeat… the black dragon…?”
“Give me that.”
I quickly snatched the book and glanced down at the page Makabe had been reading.  When I did, I found that many of the lines Makabe had just been saying were written there.
‘What… in the world?’
I didn’t really understand, but I tried desperately to sort out my thoughts.
And then I suddenly hit upon a realization – and I asked the confused boy in front of me, the one I thought to be most knowledgeable in our class about manga and novels.
“Hey… Makabe.  Have you heard of an ‘Ancient Millennium Continent’?”
That was one of the terms that had come up in Maya’s mutterings.  I remembered it because it was the only thing I had been able to calmly retort to.
“Huh? …yeah, I know it… it’s from a shoujo manga called Nambaja Prison.  It’s the name of the continent the heroine was from in her past life.”
Bingo.  Now that he mentioned it, I also remembered hearing the word “Nambaja”.
I continued to shower Makabe with various questions, but it seemed that Maya’s words were not at all a product of her own imagination.
Knowing this wasn’t much different from not knowing anything.
But I had definitely found a connection to Maya.  It didn’t matter how trivial the information was; I couldn’t deny that there was a chance it could resolve this situation.
I tossed the book back to Makabe, turned around, and went back the way I had come.
However, my destination was not my house.  It was the oldest building on this island – Kourai Shrine.
Or in other words, I was going to where Maya lived–
I’d be fine with a way to wake from this dream.
If this was real, then a way to turn the island back to normal would be fine.  A way to bring my mother back to life would be fine.  Anything would be fine.
Even just a hint – I just wanted some hint on how to end this ridiculous nightmare–
○ ●
When I climbed the long stone stairs leading to the shrine, I found a wooden building with something of an air of history.  It was Kourai Shrine, situated right in the middle of the island.
Contained within were two modern structures that were completely at odds with the solemn shrine: the small archives detailing the island’s history and its specialties, and the house where the priest and his family lived – in other words, Maya’s house.
I didn’t know what in the world was happening to this island.  No, it wasn’t that I didn’t know what was happening to the island.  I didn’t know what was happening to me.
Why in the world was I having this nightmare?
Right, now that I thought about it, wouldn’t it all make sense if it was something weird happening to me instead of everyone else acting weird?
But I was sane.
Of course I was sane.
So this had to be a dream.
If I just woke up, I’d go back to my normal life.  I would go to school with Maya… ah, that’s right.  If I woke up, I’d confess to Maya properly.  I’d figured out my feelings for Maya inside this dream.
…Right, this was a dream.  It was definitely a dream.  To prove it, I still hadn’t felt any pain.  But even though pinching my cheeks was a simple matter, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
“…No, I’m not scared.  You might be able to imagine pain inside a dream… there’s not really any point to it.”
As I spoke words that even I didn’t find logical, I passed by the shrine and pushed Maya’s house’s doorbell.
A short time passed, and then Maya’s father appeared from inside.  He was dressed in a priest’s primarily white costume, and he gazed at me with lifeless eyes.
Well, it was only natural.  It had been more than a week since his daughter had disappeared.
…was what I thought in my sleep.  That was why he was looking at me like that.  Right, because this was a dream.
…I knew.  I knew I was being unreasonable.
But if I didn’t think about it this way, I wouldn’t be able to move a single step forward.  My mother’s blood-covered face in front of me in front of me stop stop stop… don’t think about it!
… Dammit.
I shook off those idle thoughts and bowed my head to Maya’s father with a meek expression.
“Um… hello.”
“Hey… Shouma-kun.  What is it?”
I made up a suitable reason, that “I might have an idea where Maya is,” and successfully entered her room.
Maya’s room was perfectly ordered, clearly reflecting her methodical personality.
There were a number of cute stationery sets spread out across her desk, as if she had just finished writing a letter to someone.
“…We’ve left it this way ever since my daughter disappeared… because she’ll get mad if we move things around without asking her…”
I gave a noise of agreement and looked around the room. …Not at all at random, but searching for a certain book.
And then, I soon found it.  There was a row of comics with red obi lined up on top of the bookshelf in the room.  The words Nambaja Prison were written across the spines.
There was no doubt.  These were… the books that had warped Maya’s heart, without a doubt.
“?  Is there something wrong with those books?”
The priest looked puzzled, watching as I picked out the manga from the bookshelf.
I didn’t really answer.  I opened the first volume silently and began flipping through the pages.
Just as I’d expected, I saw many of the terms Maya had mentioned, like Nambaja and the Ancient Millennium Continent.
As I thought – all those “hero” stories weren’t suddenly coming out of nowhere.   The information came from somewhere else.
Just when I realized that, something fell from inside the book.  It was an envelope a size smaller than the book, and in Maya’s handwriting, the words “To Shouma” were written.
I couldn’t breathe for a moment, caught off-guard by the letter’s sudden appearance.  It was the same for her father, who looked between the letter and my face, surprised.
I didn’t hesitate.  I immediately opened the envelope and pulled out several sheets of stationery.
Dear Mr. Shouma,
Ah, Shouma?
I wonder if you’re reading this letter?  I seldom write letters, so I do not quite know the proper way to do so.  And is it acceptable to use “dear” like this?  But writing so formally is kind of strange.  Maybe the way I usually talk is fine?  It is, right?
If you’re reading this letter, does that mean I’m no longer on the island?  Maybe I’m not even in this world anymore.
Something inside me is changing, little by little.  How should I put it?  I have to save the world – that sense of duty feels like it’s taking over my body.
That’s how it’s been until now – but today is different.  It’s really concrete, changing my thoughts.  It’s telling me to defeat the world’s enemies, trying to make me into a legendary hero.  I don’t know if I’ll be able to finish writing this letter, so I’ll try to make this short.
If I disappear, and even if I say weird things, right now, at this moment, I like you, Shouma.  But I’m really worried.  I don’t know if this feeling will stay after I change.  That’s why I’m writing a letter.
I think you’ll definitely find this letter, Shouma.  And also.
The first sheet ended there.
Ahh, don’t worry, Maya.  On that day, you came right out and told me you liked me.
But I would put that aside for now.  First I had to look for the cause of this ridiculous incident. …so that I would be able to see Maya again.
But still… what did she mean, changing her thoughts?  Did she mean something like hypnosis or brainwashing?
I made to read the second sheet of stationery, but before I could, Maya’s father spoke up from behind me.
“…Shouma-kun.  Do you – not feel anything?”
“You… well, hm.  You don’t think you’re some kind of special existence?”
That was when I finally realized.
That the priest was still normal.  And that he knew exactly what was happening.
○ ●
“Shouma-kun… how much do you know about the origin of this island?”
When the priest guided me into the archives, he began saying strange things.
He told me that Hikarijima had originally been unpopulated, and people had begun immigrating here in the middle of the Edo period, and that what was initially a population of a few dozen islanders gradually increased to the number there were today.  There were rumors that those original few dozen were deportees, but it seemed the existing records were ambiguous.
When he told me that, the priest shook his head quietly.
“That’s not true, Shouma-kun.  Those few dozen people… to be exact, those thirty-six… they were not deportees.  Accurate records have been handed down through this shrine.”
“?  But the reference materials we used in class…”
“It’s not in normal textbooks or dictionaries.  There’s no way they could report it… In the first place, until the middle of the Edo period, this island didn’t even exist.”
The priest’s expression was not so much calm as it was mournful, and, falteringly, he continued to reveal to me the truth surrounding this island.
“Those thirty-six – were offerings.”
According to the priest’s story, the true origin of this island was as follows.
It had happened several hundred years ago, but – the mainland had been suffering from an unimaginable famine (it seemed like there were some records saying that evil river and mountain spirits had appeared).  A certain famous shaman had carried out a rite of “God-Summoning”.
Acting as an oracle, the shaman therefore had weights tied to thirty-six sacrifices, who were submerged in the designated area of the ocean.  Of course, they were still alive, just as the word “sacrifice” demanded…
Whether by coincidence or fate, that area of the sea was just west of this island – right above the deepest part of the Japan Trench.
They had offered their sacrifices.  The next step was for God, or one of God’s messengers, the so-called “Hero of Light”, to finally be summoned to this world, but…
All that appeared above the ocean was a single small rock.
Of course, it was strange for a rock to appear in the ocean where previously there was nothing, but the shaman had not been hoping for a supernatural phenomenon.
The dejected shaman left that rock behind, but–
Several months later, the shaman still couldn’t stop thinking about that rock, and when he reached that place again at the end of a long boat trip–
There he found that a single island had appeared, and the thirty-six sacrifices who should have sunk into the ocean were living there.
“That shaman created a shrine here.  So you could say that this shrine actually has nothing to do with Shinto.”
As he spoke, the priest moved to stand before the model of Hikarijima within the archives.
“And so, most of the inhabitants of this island are… descendants of the thirty-six people and the shaman from that time.  To think they would have had the nerve to increase to this many people. …Of course, when you think of those thirty-six, it calls into question if we – the inhabitants of this island – are even human.”
“…Don’t say such scary things.”
People of Earth were summoned to a parallel world and became heroes.  It was a common theme in stories.
However, this was the opposite.  In this case, an existence from another world was summoned to Earth.  However, what was summoned was not a human nor a god, but a rocky mountain in the middle of the ocean.
Right… most likely, the summoner had entrusted the task of “cleansing the darkness” to that object.
“The soul of the island – my ‘mission’ always flows within me.  Save the world, cleanse the darkness, it says. …But it has no mind of its own.  In the end, the island is the island, nothing more than a mass of rock.  But that mission is carved deep into my soul. …My father and his father before him single-handedly bore its voice and quietly passed on this truth to me.  But why this happened all of a sudden… I haven’t the slightest inkling.”
That was what the priest said, but – to tell the truth, I had an idea.
“…It’s because the island was connected to the rest of the world…”
“What did you say?”
“It was told to cleanse the darkness of the world, but until now, this mindless island with a soul didn’t know the state of the world.  But if it slowly became aware of the existence of the world, through books and literature transmitted through the island’s inhabitants…”
“…In that case, wouldn’t something like this have happened earlier?”
It was a logical question, but I shook my head.
“…It wouldn’t be able to learn of the ‘wideness’ of the world just through literature and phone calls and people coming and going by boat.  But if there was some other way – if it had the chance to experience the world–”
As I spoke, the priest gazed at the tall steel tower a little ways away from us.
A large parabolic antenna was installed on top of the steel tower.  Just for this moment, I glared hatefully at it, the symbol of broadband.
“…I see.  And so the island grew to know of the ‘wideness’ of the world and entered the consciousness of the town’s people… That makes sense.”
According to the priest, the “soul” contained in the island had somehow planted various “images of heroes” within the island’s residents… and made it so that they themselves believed they were those heroes.
The heroes and legends did not only come from games and manga.  To put it bluntly, even people like Momotarou and Ooka Echizen could be considered heroes.  If they led lives like that, most humans could become heroes.
“So then… why aren’t you affected?”
“Naturally… it is because my role as a hero is that of this island’s priest.  There is no need for me to change.”
I see.  That would explain it.
But – in that case, I wished Maya had thought of her hero as being a priest too.  If she did, she might not have left the island…
When my thoughts reached that point, I asked the priest an important question.  Right, this was important too.
“Um… so then, how do we turn everyone back to normal…”
“If I knew that, I would’ve used it a long time ago to get my daughter back.”
“…That’s true.”
I rested my arms on the glass case surrounding the model of the island and hung my head, enveloped in heartfelt despair.
‘Damn, after I’ve come this far… In the end I can’t do anything!’
When I ground my teeth in frustration, I heard the priest’s voice from behind me, his tone different from before.
“But… now I know how.”
My despair instantly changed to hope.  I turned to face the priest, wearing a half-joyful smile – and froze.
The priest was smiling.
Just like Ikemoto’s and my mother’s, that unhesitating – and yet, unsettling smile.
The priest’s hand gripped a blood-covered knife – and he swung it down forcefully in my direction.
I was naïve.
I, who had tried to separate this current situation into simple words like hope and despair, was terribly naïve.
When I saw the blade shining red, a tension I had never felt before swept through my whole body–
○ ●
The blood, the blood was overflowing.
It didn’t look like it would stop.
No, I wasn’t talking abou

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