Hariyama-san, Center Of The World / Hariyama-san, Center of the World Chapter 4.2

Hariyama-san, Center of the World 1

2/3


 

A warehouse under the jurisdiction of the Amida-gumi
 
“Is this really the right warehouse?”
 
In response to the man’s uneasy query, the woman beside him answered immediately. “…Yes, there’s no mistaking it.”
 
Night had long ago fallen here on the outskirts of Tokorozawa.  Unlike the town, which was filled with light and the clamor of people, this road was only sparsely lined with streetlamps and was completely enveloped in darkness and silence.
 
Within that darkness, several people were lined up in front of a building with a man at their center.  Save for this man, all were female, and each and every one of them had a distinctly non-Japanese face.  If one were to ask which country they were from, even that was not evident from their faces; it would be most accurate to say they were faces with no nationality.
 
“Damn… why do we have to sneak around like common thieves!?  The person truly at fault here is… No, that little girl can’t even be called a person, and she’s living without a care in the world!”
 
“Please calm down.”
 
However, their conversation was unmistakably in Japanese, and the phrases the man spoke with an irritated expression were unmistakably those of a Japanese.
 
The man somehow calmed down, thanks to the women who seemed to be his subordinates.  However, he spat out without bothering to hide his usual sullen expression, “We don’t have records in this country!  We’ve even gone so far as working in illegal pubs just to survive!  Those young hoodlums worked us to the bone!”
 
“…Though we were the ones who did all the work.”
 
Ignoring the woman’s calm rebuttal, the man quietly turned to face the warehouse.
 
“…Anyway, this is the right place?”
 
“No, we haven’t been able to confirm it.  However, we have concluded that those hooligans hid all of our precious tools within this warehouse. …In addition, we checked the landfill proximate to the Amida-gumi territory, but they are not something that could be discarded there.  They are not of a substance that can be incinerated, so there is no need to worry that they have been disposed of in that manner.”
 
“I see… At any rate, we must recover our ‘staffs’ at any cost.  Even if they were cut clean in two, they should not have lost their abilities as catalysts of magical power.”
 
Magical power.
 
The man suddenly spoke those words far removed from reality, blurting out something that transcended the ordinary world and veered into the absurd.
 
The context itself was normal enough, but he continued to expand on those words, about something that did not exist anywhere on Earth.
 
“Those staffs are absolutely essential to return to…  ∮ … Б£‡∗ … our homeland.”
 
○★♪☆●
 
A lone young man picked up his cell phone as he observed the strange group from afar.
 
His face and demeanor were still that of a boy, and his bleached hair was covered by a knit cap.  A skateboard was leaning against the wall beside him.  Wearing an indecipherable smile, he opened his mouth.
 
“Chief~ Chief~ Those guys went into the Amida-gumi’s warehouse.”
 
There was a momentary silence – and then a low voice came from the other end of the line.
 
“…Got it.  I thought they were suspicious, but they’re with the Amida-gumi, huh. …They kinda remind me of the brat who blew up the office, so I figured maybe…”
 
“Hey.  If the Amida-gumi’s picking up guys from weird countries, maybe they’re, uh, what’s the word?  Spies?  They’re spies, right?  S’what you call ‘em, right?  Anyway, maybe that’s what they are. …But, Chief.  Did a weird brat seriously jump through the window and blow up the office with bombs?  Seriously?  She wasn’t just pretending with a gas line break or something?”
 
The youth cackled as he spoke, and the man, his boss, replied on the phone. “If you weren’t such a talented little shit, you’d be sinking in Tama Lake for that comment just now. …Anyway, let’s get serious.  Grab ‘em the second they step out of that warehouse.”
 
“Got it. …Hup.”
 
With a complete lack of seriousness, the skateboarder man hung up and turned around, smiling brightly. “Okay, time to get to work.  We won’t be killing them, but I’m still looking forward to hearing what they’re gonna squeal.”
 
Behind him, a number of youths were lined up in the alleyway as if hiding.  One of them had a skateboard in one hand, like the young man who had been on the phone, while his other hand toyed with a long-handled folding knife.
 
The knife-wielding boy cracked his neck and muttered in a slightly dissatisfied voice, “It’s ‘cause we didn’t finish off that Ginjima last time, huh?”
 
“Yeah.  That was my bad.  Sorry, sorry.”
 
The young man on the phone, who appeared only a little older than the knife-wielding boy, withdrew a black object from his pocket and, smiling, began to reminisce.
 
“I should’ve… shot him right through the head.”
 
○★♪☆●
 
“If they’re not in this warehouse, that leaves no choice but that mansion…”
 
“Though I want to avoid that at all costs…”
 
The ones conversing uneasily as they trespassed into the warehouse were the “land of magic”’s warden and his female subordinates.
 
 
After their clash with the Amida-gumi, they had lost the staffs that acted as catalysts to allow them to perform magic, not to mention their magic itself, and they were even unable to return to their own world.  If they didn’t return, other government officials might have realized something was wrong, but if they themselves didn’t use magic, the others would not be able to pinpoint their exact location.  Back then, they had sensed Number 893’s magical power and had rushed to come here, leaving only the name of the country of “Japan” in the official documents – and so their precise coordinates would not be known to those in the other world.
 
Considering it rationally, it was an unthinkable blunder on the part of the government officials.  However, crimes almost never occurred and most problems were solved by magic.  It was only natural that they were lacking that sense of caution.
 
In the end, they of unknown nationality were rounded up by one of the touts in town and ended up working at one of the foreigner pubs, but–
 
They withstood it for several weeks.
 
Using the information they had steadily gathered about the Amida-gumi, they finally snuck into this warehouse.
 
 
“There… There they are!”
 
They couldn’t simply turn on the lights and instead spent a few minutes searching with flashlights.  After a short time, one of the women called out, surprising even herself.
 
“What!?”
 
They hadn’t thought they would find what they sought so quickly within the unusually complex warehouse.  The black suit-clad “warden” cried out, his voice a mix of surprise and joy.
 
When he rushed over, the guardswoman pulled out a jute bag that had been carelessly tossed atop a shelf.  The warden shone his flashlight into the bag.  The “staffs” they used really were contained within, but they were still cleaved in two.
 
“Okay… Well?  How are they?  Can they amplify magic?”
 
At the warden’s words, the guardswoman held the staff for a while, concentrating, but…

 
She would have held his hand tightly.  So that she would feel the warmth of a human.  So that she would feel with her own hands the proof that Shouma was alive and well.
 
Only the reality laid out before her pierced through and shattered the girl’s heart.
 
“Shou…ma?”
 
Her voice was shaky.  The girl realized that her whole body was trembling, not just her voice.  She was completely unable to accept the reality she was presented with.
 
However, the girl was not even given the time to hesitate.
 
[Destroy him.]
 
As if to forcibly coerce the confused girl, the “god” telepathically instructed her in an emotionless voice.  Firmly, firmly, more forcefully than ever before.  At the same time, she felt the dark aura from Shouma’s body grow even more pronounced.  It was as if it was responding to the god’s voice echoing within her heart alone.
 
[Destroy him and the world will be freed from darkness.]
 
‘Wait, please wait, Great God Nambaja.  What… What is the meaning of this!?’
 
However, the voice only repeated the same words and made no response to her question.
 
‘Maybe the boy in front of me is an imposter.’
 
Just now, she had been imagining Shouma’s face.  Maybe the demon had read her mind and assumed that form to appear before her.  Even as she hoped that was it, Maya was completely puzzled by the tears running down his cheeks.
 
Was he under a spell?  In that case, would she be able to break it?  Maybe Shouma, who had been spirited away from the island, was just being manipulated?
 
Maya formulated several possibilities and courses of action, but she was forgetting an important fact.  No, it might have been more accurate to say she had completely rejected the idea.
 
‘If he… If Shouma really is a demon.
 
‘If Shouma was the one who kidnapped everyone on the island.’
 
She once again found herself unable to consider the explanation that should have been the first to come to mind.
 
[Now, cleave through and purify the earth sullied by the avatar of darkness and bring light to the world.]
 
But the god’s voice bore down upon her heart even more strongly, as if to scold her.
 
[Bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light—]
 
It was no longer anything but noise.  The noise echoed through her whole body to destroy her heart, which doubted the god’s words.
 
As if noticing her distress, the thing in front of her which had taken Shouma’s form wiped at his tears with both hands and quietly began to speak. “…Oh, finally… You’ve finally come, Maya.”
 
The voice she had wanted to hear.  The smile she had wanted to see.  All of it was right in front of her, but instead, it terrified and bemused her.
 
“The fruit knife you’re holding… Is that your holy sword, Maya?” The boy took a step closer to her as he murmured in a quiet voice.
 
The aura he emanated and the confusion within her escalated, and Maya jumped back without thinking. “Don’t… Don’t come any closer!”
 
“…”
 
“You… W-Who are you?  You look like Shouma, but… you’re not Shouma!  Because, when I left the island, I didn’t feel such an evil aura from Shouma…!  And… And Shouma would never kill anyone!”
 
Rather than making the logical conclusion from the situation before her, Maya’s voice as she spoke was laden with her own hopes.  As if to fashion them into the truth, and – praying that the real Shouma was still safe.
 
“You’ve taken Shouma’s form and intend to kill me, right…?  How… Just how many humans have you killed with that same trick…!?  …You killed that man there the same way, didn’t you!?  By changing into someone important to him… like the way you look to me now!”
 
 
 
Faced with his childhood friend who spouted words even she could not have believed, Shouma smiled quietly.  And then he withdrew an envelope from his pocket and held it out toward her.
 
The envelope was familiar to her.  But she had completely forgotten about the existence of the envelope until just now.  Just before she had heard the god’s voice, she had written out her feelings in a letter to Shouma and placed it inside that envelope.
 
Why did I forget about it until now?  Why did I even write those things to begin with?  I questioned the great god Nambaja.  Even though Nambaja has always watched over and protected us, even in our past lives.
 
‘But what I wrote in that letter… My feelings toward Shouma haven’t changed…’
 
Though she once again affirmed the feelings she harbored toward her childhood friend, she felt a chill run through her at the fact that the letter was held by the evil before her.
 
The thought crossed her mind: it couldn’t be.  What if the evil in front of her really was Shouma, in the flesh?
 
“…You know, I… read this letter.” As if reading her mind, the boy slowly began to speak.  His eyes were filled with something akin to regret, or perhaps it was pity for Maya.
 
“But… sorry.  It was already too late when I read it… So I wasn’t able to carry out your request, Maya.”
 
Not understanding what he meant, Maya recalled the details of what she had written in the letter.  The moment a certain line came to mind, a sudden anxiety welled up within her.
 
And the evil slowly spoke up, as if to give life to that anxiety. “Maya, your father and mother are already—”
 
“Stop!  Are you—are you still trying to confuse me!?  Where… where is the real Shouma!?”
 
“…I am the real Shouma.  But… I’ve become the evil you’re talking about. …No, maybe I should say I was made into it.  By… that Hikarijima.”
 
Maya didn’t drop her guard at the evil’s strange words, instead holding the small knife at the ready.  But she was unable to bring herself to charge toward the wide-open evil and instead continued to listen to him speak with a serious expression.
 
But that calmness came to an end with his next words.
 
“Ever since… the old man… Ever since I killed your father, Maya.”
 
“—!”
 
Killed.
 
The corpse at his feet lent an inarguable reality to that absurd word.  Maya’s body froze up for just an instant, and then, her eyes blank, she opened her mouth.
 
“…You’re lying.”
 
‘No.  No no no.  There’s no way this is Shouma!  It can’t be Shouma!  This guy – everything he says is a lie!’
 
“I’m not lying.  I killed your father, Maya.  And I’m the real… no, it doesn’t matter if I’m a fake.  It’s not really related to this.  And, your mother… she’s probably… dead too–”
 
“Stooooooop!”
 
Lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies
 
[Bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light bring light]
 
Lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies lies
 
[Light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light light]
 
Lies [light] lies [light] lies [light] lies [light] lies [light] lies [light] lies [light] [light] lies [light] lies [light] lies [light] lies [light] lies [light] lies [light] lies
 
The god’s warped voice fell into sync with her own heart and twisted her disarrayed thoughts in one particular direction.
 
However, it did nothing but return her to her previous goal.
 
“Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!”
 
Maya raised her voice, which was incredibly weak compared to the other hero’s – and pointed the knife in her hand and charged straight forward.
 
The “demon” made no attempt to avoid it, spreading his arms wide and awaiting her arrival.  But Maya’s eyes were already shut tight as she charged and she could no longer see the figure of her old friend.
 
Just when it seemed the short blade would be plunged into his chest, the demon murmured with a gentle smile:
 
“Ah… so this… will end it.”
 
 
However… those words were swallowed up by a moan from behind him.
 
 
“Wo…man…”
 
 
In the next instant, the demon sensed the weak aura behind him.  It was not a hero.  Shouma could not sense the aura of a hero.  But it was an aura distinct from that of a human.  When he’d left Hikarijima, the strange “power” he’d sensed in this town… A sharp, heavy power, similar to the one that had made him come to this town, flared up behind him.
 
“…Huh?”
 
The moment he spoke, the demon was swept sideways and sent flying.
 
Hearing the sound of the attack, Maya opened her eyes without thinking–
 
“Wooooooomaaaaaaaaaaan.”
 
Shouma’s figure, which had been standing before her up until now, had vanished – and in his place, she saw a ghastly man who looked nothing like Shouma, facing her and raising an axe high into the air.
 
‘Oh, good.’
 
As she looked at the line of silver heading towards her, Maya only smiled vacantly.
 
‘I knew it… That just now was only a fake Shouma.’
 
Carried forward by momentum, the girl was unable to stop.  And as if the body struck by the axe was his own–
 
 
“Mayaaaaaaaaaaaaa!”
 
 
The boy’s scream and the spurt of blood from the girl’s body simultaneously whirled through the back alley.
 
○★♪☆●
 
A certain place in Tokorozawa, Amida-gumi residence
 
The axe man had fled.
 
Upon receiving that report, Ginjima had mobilized the members of the Amida-gumi in pursuit of the axe man.
 
“Damn… the hell is this?”
 
Ginjima mulled over what they would do now as he stood on standby in the Amida-gumi mansion on the outskirts of Tokorozawa.
 
‘We really should’ve ended it fast…’
 
The axe man had concealed himself in Shibazato’s home and gone after his life.  Shibazato and the others had caught him, and after that they had punished him “just a little bit” in one of their warehouses and looked into his background a bit.  But when Ginjima had met him, he did not have the mental capacity to talk straight, whether he’d been that way from the beginning or if it was the result of experiencing such pain and fear.
 
There was the possibility that he was one of the Marubatsu-gumi’s men, but what came to mind was the demonic serial killer that had been stirring up the town lately.  He fit the criterion of carrying an axe, and more importantly, if he was a hitman, there would be no sense in him hiding underneath the bed.
 
But if he really was the serial killer – on top of doing as he pleased on their turf, he’d gone so far as to lift a hand against one of their group.  In any case, they couldn’t just let him go or hand him over to the police.
 
To begin with, when Ginjima had arrived, Shibazato and the others had inflicted unreasonable “restraints” on him, far beyond simple self-defense.  If they’d handed him over to the police, it wouldn’t have been clear who the wrong-doer was.  It would’ve been a different story if they’d had concrete evidence that the man was a serial killer.
 
In any case, they took Ginjima’s stance: “…The leader hasn’t got much time left, so I wanna keep this bloody matter away from him.” They kept him confined and took a wait-and-see approach for the time being, but to think he still had the strength to escape.  Gangrene was setting into his legs; they’d thought he wouldn’t even be able to walk.
 
‘This’s turned into a huge pain in the ass.’
 
As he pondered over their current situation, Ginjima regretted not putting an end to the axe man immediately.  He had hesitated to outright kill him not just because of their leader, but also because he was trying to go straight and selfishly didn’t want to dirty his own hands.
 
Every time he wanted to kill, the face of a certain girl came to mind.
 
It was not the face of his fiancée, the daughter of their leader.  She had long ago stepped into this world and was prepared to kill or be killed.
 
Rather, the one he thought of was the girl for whom he had decided to go straight.  The one who had fallen from the sky and called herself a “magical girl” – it was the face of the glasses-wearing girl who was now his daughter.
 
“…Ah, damn.  So in the end it turned out like this, huh…”
 
It wasn’t only that he’d been set loose.  In the end, it was possible that his daughter would be exposed to danger.  She’d gone over to play at a friend’s house; worried, he’d given them a call, and that friend’s parent would drive her back to the mansion.
 
In any case, relieved that his daughter was safe, Ginjima mulled over the current situation.
 
Upon learning that gunshots had been heard, some of the gang members had hastened to the warehouse, only to find it already surrounded by police, with countless men being taken away by ambulance.
 
Long ago, it would’ve been trouble had the police investigated that warehouse, but now that the group’s finances were in decline, all of those things should have been disposed of.
 
But it would be slightly troublesome if the police discovered the bloodstains in that hidden room.  They used to get in a lot of trouble like this, but with their current lack of power, hushing it up would be a pain.  For now, the man who was acting as that warehouse’s temporary owner told the police, “The warehouse hasn’t been used much recently, but it seems like some suspicious guys move in and out of it at night.”
 
In truth, it was no secret that that warehouse was under the control of the Amida-gumi, but it was also true that they hadn’t used it recently.  They’d even thought about renting it out to pull in a bit more money.
 
‘Who’s been there lately who wasn’t guarding or torturing or looking after the axe man… Oh, maybe when we tossed in those land of magic guys’ staffs?’
 
That day, after he’d cut through all the staffs and driven the enemy away, they were unsure whether to burn or throw away those tools from the “land of magic”, so for now, they’d tossed them in the warehouse.
 
But the police weren’t fools either.  It would be impossible to pin everything on imaginary delinquents trespassing in the warehouse.
 
The phone in his pocket rang as he thought up ways to dodge the question of the hidden room.
 
“Hey, Boss.”
 
The voice coming through the phone was that of a young group member.  It sounded like the skinhead.
 
“Masa?  What is it?”
 
“From what I hear, when the police got here, there were five people of unknown ethnicity leaving the warehouse who panicked and ran off.  Apparently they didn’t look Japanese at all…”
 
“…Five people?  And foreigners… There’s a lot of kinds, you know, like Arabs and Chinese.”
 
“Uhh, but it seems like they were Caucasians.  But their hair and eye color and stuff were weird.”
 
A certain group surfaced in Ginjima’s mind at Masa’s words.  To confirm it, he turned toward the receiver, and wearing a serious expression, he uttered a single order.
 
“The crime scene investigators with the police… Get them to check if the jute bag on the very last shelf on the left side is gone.”
 
“Looks like it’ll be hard to work with them… We’ll manage somehow.  So what’s in the bag?”
 
“…Staffs like Summer’s ‘Piriolim’. …Well, if the cops ask, just tell ‘em they’re toys Sis really loved as a kid.”
 
With that said, he hung up and waited impatiently for the reports of the group members scattered across the city to search for the axe man.
 
However, he didn’t have long to wait.  The moment he placed the phone on the desk, the ringtone went off.
 
It was a different person: the phone number was that of the crew cut man, one of their high-ranking members.
 
When he pushed the “call” button and heard the other man’s tense voice, Ginjima braced himself and listened closely to what he had to say.
 
“This is Shibazato.”
 
“What is it?”
 
“…Right now I’m in one of the back alleys near the cemetery… I heard a weird scream, so I got excited and rushed in… and found them.”
 
“That axe bastard!?”
 
Ginjima was prepared to hear some good news, but the answer he received could not have been any worse.
 
“No, there’s no one here but the victims.”
 
“What…?  Victims?”
 
“A kid and a salaryman.  The kid’s a girl, and… how do I say it.  I dunno if they were meeting secretly in this alley or something, but the guy’s face is beaten to a pulp.  He’s dead.  The girl’s shoulder’s cut open… but it doesn’t look very deep.”
 
Dead.
 
Upon hearing those words, Ginjima’s grip tightened on the phone.
 
He deduced that innocent people had become casualties, but even so, Ginjima kept his mouth shut and did not lose his cool.  It was not just because his moral compass was not that strong, but also that he realized with a growing sense of guilt that the situation was only getting worse.
 
Ginjima kept listening to his subordinate’s report to confirm the details, and Shibazato continued in an even tenser voice.
 
“…There was another kid, a boy, but he… he went chasing after the axe man and disappeared.”
 
“Huh?  What do you mean?”
 
“No… I don’t really get it, but when we reached the alley where we heard the scream, that axe bastard and the kid were fighting… When I ran up, the axe bastard ran away really damn fast… He was so fast I couldn’t believe he was even human.  But I was sure I mangled the tendons in his legs…”
 
Shibazato spoke without even trying to hide his frustration, but soon enough his tone reverted and he resumed speaking.
 
“So when that kid saw me, he yelled, ‘Please, call an ambulance for her…!’ and went chasing off after the axe bastard. ‘Course, two other guys with me went after him, but… putting aside the brat, dunno if they can catch up with the axe bastard… We’ve got one other guy still here.”
 
“…I see.  Got it… Call an ambulance from a pay phone.  Don’t use your cell.  It’s the worst possible timing for them to find out the Amida-gumi were first on the scene…”
 
“Was there a pay phone around here?”
 
“If there isn’t, drive them to a hospital and get lost before anyone notices you.”
 
He stopped just short of saying “leave them there”, but that was Ginjima’s… or rather, the group’s kindness showing through.  On the one hand, Shibazato felt disgusted; this was why their group was in decline.  But he remembered his much younger sister, smiled brightly, and responded with just a single word: “Yes.”
 
Ginjima thought as he hung up the phone.  What in the world was happening around them?
 
To begin with, the axe man shouldn’t even have been able to move.  And yet his movements were now better than before, to the point that he could be called “superhuman”.
 
What was this all about?  To begin with, who had set the axe man free?  They’d said a number of youngsters were taken away by ambulance, but why had they been by the warehouse so late at night?
 
As all the information swirled about in his mind, Ginjima worried over the group of men and women who had seemed to be foreigners.  If they really were the people from the land of magic from before, then it was possible that Summer would also become involved in this incident.
 
His fists clenched tighter and tighter as he recalled the face of his absent daughter.
 
And within his solid fists, stronger than anyone’s, he felt his own powerlessness.
 
○★♪☆●
 
Just before she woke up from the pain of her wound, Maya had a dream.
 
What she had seen just before she lost consciousness became a dream and repeated within her mind.
 
After she had been cut by the axe-wielding demon and pain ran through her whole body – a human figure had leapt at the demon who had cut her.
 
That figure’s yell reached her ears. “Maya.” It had called her name.
 
She knew that the voice was unmistakably Shouma’s.
 
It was the same voice as the demon that had assumed Shouma’s name and form.  However, she felt that this was truly Shouma’s voice.
 
It was because Shouma had been fighting.  He had been fighting desperately with a discarded pole against a larger opponent, one wielding an axe many, many times more lethal than her own holy sword.
 
It actually wasn’t discarded, but an iron pipe he had prepared, but the truth had been distorted in her dream and was recorded in her memories as reality.  Most of it was faithful to reality, which only engraved that lie even deeper upon her heart.
 
‘Oh. It’s the same.
 
‘It’s the same as when I was attacked by that dog.  Shouma… Shouma saved me.
 
‘Shouma really is… my hero.’
 
 
The moment she thought that, her faded consciousness was brought back to reality by the pain running through her whole body.  For a while she didn’t know what had happened, but she seemed to be sitting in some sort of seat, still gripping the knife in her hand.  Her eyes picked up the interior of a car she’d never seen before.
 
…No, to be more precise, Maya remembered.  She had been brought to this car before she completely lost consciousness.  When she looked outside, she found they were on the premises of a mansion somewhere.  When she noticed that, she began to recall exactly what had happened in her dream and in reality.
 
‘After I was cut, they took me to this car…’
 
Just when her consciousness returned, she heard the voices of two men having a conversation outside.
 
“Hey, wait, Shibazato.  What were you thinking, bringing her here?  Huh?”
 
“Nothing we could do about it, Boss.  The bitch held a knife to her own neck, was going on and on about the hospital and the police being full of enemies… She was yelling that she’d rather kill herself than get killed by the demon at the hospital, so we didn’t really…”
 
‘That’s right.  I was hurt and the man with the crew cut came and saved me… But he was saying he’d take me to the hospital… No, no.  The hospital and the police have already fallen under the influence of Letmuj’s monsters.  So I absolutely can’t go there.’
 
It seemed she had displayed a deep suspicion of the medical and public facilities.  Of course, if the police had known she was from Hikarijima, things would take a completely different turn and she would be relentlessly questioned.  It would be the same at the hospital.  On top of that, she could well imagine what would happen if she told them, “I must swiftly dispatch of Letmuj’s demons on the Great God Nambaja’s orders.”
 
Now that she had completely returned to her senses, she noticed something unsettling by her feet.  She remembered that the floor of the car had seemed abnormally high, and when she looked down, she found the body of a man kneeling by her feet.
 
“Ahh…”
 
At the sight of the lifeless hunk of flesh, she started to scream, but she immediately remembered that it was her own fault he had been taken along.
 
At the same time, she could hear the argument continuing from right beside the car.  Rather than calling it an argument, it seemed more like a reprimand and a lot of excuses in reply.
 
“…Even if she made you do it, why’d you have to bring the corpse along!?  The police will be here soon, you know!?”
 
“That’s what I thought too!  But that bitch was saying things like ‘He might still be alive’ and ‘We can’t just abandon one of Letmuj’s holy warriors…’”
 
“Huh?  What’s a holy warrior…”
 
“No, well, I thought it was stupid too… but then I remembered Nacchan.”
 
The crewcut man was making awkward excuses to the dreadful man with the long scar running across his face.  However, the moment the crewcut man uttered the word “Nacchan,” the dreadfulness of that scarred face relaxed for an instant.
 
As she wondered why that was, Maya concentrated on the collapsed body at her feet.  Right, even if he was dead, it was possible that his soul would return and grant him life through the divine grace of the Great God Nambaja.
 
The inconvenient god continued to transmit their voice into her mind.  And yet, with not a shred of spite toward that god, only faith, she decided to pray for the resurrection of the man before her.
 
But the moment she looked at the man’s body again, preparing to offer up a prayer–
 
 
“Anyway, the problem is how we get rid of it now.  Let’s take the knife from the kid and get her to the hospital—”
 
“No… noooooo!”
 
At about the same time as Ginjima regained his composure and muttered, a scream came from within the car.
 
Wondering what had happened, they opened the back door of the car – and there was the girl, looking down with her hand covering her mouth, shaking.
 
Was she screaming at the body?  That was what Ginjima thought for a moment, but when he looked at the corpse, he realized that didn’t seem to be the case.
 
A clear change was coming over the body, which shouldn’t have been moving at all.
 
“…What?”
 
The corpse crammed between the seats looked unnaturally dark.  No, to be more specific, the clothes were the same, but it looked like some sort of shadow was dyeing the exposed skin.
 
Even as Ginjima watched, the shadow swiftly spread across the man’s skin–
 
In the next instant, it was as if a faint particle of light had shot into the air.  The body, swallowed by shadows and completely smooth, was unable to bear its own weight and crumbled.  To Ginjima, it was as if the man’s body was smashed into small pieces: the dancing particles scattered and disappeared like fireworks, dissolving into the air.
 
Left behind were only the clothes, shoes, and wristwatch the man had been wearing.  The silver lump rolling near where his head had been was most likely a tooth filling.
 
Most unsettling was that the blood plastered thick across his clothes, the proof that he had existed, had completely vanished.
 
“…What happened?”
 
Ginjima murmured as if to himself and knitted his eyebrows, but the girl sitting in the back seat seemed to be in shock.
 
“What… happened?  Is this… also part of Letmuj’s magic!?”
 
The girl trembled violently as she muttered such strange words.  She was probably around sixteen years old.
 
Ginjima hesitated, unsure whether he should speak to her – but with perfect timing, the cell phone in his pocket rang.
 
He considered ignoring it, but he decided the matter of the axe man was more important right now, and he walked a little ways away from the car and pushed the call button.
 
“This is bad, Boss.”
 
“…? What is it?”
 
The voice he heard through the phone receiver was that of the skinhead, Masa.  Ginjima thought it would be information about the jute bag, but his voice was laced with unusually strong anxiety.
 
“The axe bastard cut down some pretty young guys, right?”
 
“Yeah… did they die?”
 
If someone died, the situation would become even more serious; Ginjima guessed that was what Masa was referring to when he said it was “bad”.  But the “badness” of which Masa spoke was completely different from what Ginjima imagined.
 
“Seems like they were guys from the Marubatsu-gumi.”
 
“…!”
 
At that moment, he felt a sharp pain from the stab wound in his back and the gunshot wound in his stomach.
 
As Ginjima digested thos

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