Chapter 5: The Girl’s despair and what came after
When I entered the iron forest, I noticed there had to be a source of light somewhere.
…Though while it was clear to see its effect, I couldn’t see the actual source anywhere.
I only saw a forest of iron like trees spreading as far as my eyes could see, fading into the horizon.
The trees were tall, their leaves growing thickly above my head.
It didn’t seem like there was a difference between day and night here since while it was night outside of the forest in the city, I could see light trickling down between the leaves.
Though the air still felt cold, and the dirt on the ground moist.
As soon as Yuunagi also crossed into it, the door that was supposed to be behind us disappeared silently and without a trace.
“What is this place? It’s way too large to be considered a bedroom.”
“Yuunagi was told this place is like a dream. Like a miniature garden inside a miniature garden. Or in more technical terms, after the first barrier was raised, a second one was raised inside the first one, enclosing what would become the core of it, then the interior of the second barrier was modified to create an artificial space and-“
I waved my hand in front of her, interrupting her explanation and took off walking.
“Don’t bother yourself. I wouldn’t be able to understand it anyway.” Maybe I could, but there would be no point in it. “Instead, in which part of here is Otoa?”
She started walking behind me.
The moist ground muffled our steps, creating a terrifyingly silent atmosphere in the forest. Only the moisture stood out.
The refreshing scent particular to forests was absent here.
It was a rather somber forest.
After we had advanced a few dozen steps, I stopped and turned around asking again.
“You aren’t going to tell me this is the first time you enter this place, are you?”
“Yuunagi has been here, but the precise location of Otoa-sama is unknown to Yuunagi.”
Her reply was immediate.
She really was an unreliable guide, though I guess it also was my fault for not confirming before entering here.
Whatever might be the case, I took a look around.
There was the forest, forest and more forest, only forest as far as my eyes could see.
And I’m supposed to search for a monster shaped like a young girl in here? What kind of joke is this?
After a heavy breath, I brushed my hair back.
“There is no problem.” Yuunagi said as she watched my behavior.
“Then tell me what in here doesn’t seem like a problem.”
“The core of this space is Otoa-sama herself. In other words, Otoa-sama should be present in the center of the forest, and any intruders can get there without problems.”
“Or rather” I tried to interpret what she was trying to say. “This place is set up like some sort of stage, and even if we didn’t want to find her we’ll run into her.”
“Yuunagi confirms that.”
“Yuunagi,” I pressed my temples and shook my head slightly. “You should say stuff like that earlier.”
“The precise location is unknown to Yuunagi, so Yuunagi believes the reply given was accurate.”
I realized pressing matters more would be useless so I just resumed walking.
Then, from behind me I thought I heard someone giggling.
Yuunagi must’ve been mocking me if that was the case.
“Say, Yuunagi.” I called out to her only with the intention to divert my boredom from walking.
“What is it, Tsukagi Saki?”
“If Otoa were to die, what would you do?”
“You won’t feel grief, sadness or anger?”
Through the corner of my eye I saw her caressing the red ribbon tied to her hair.
“Yuunagi will probably feel grief, sadness and anger. But the instant Otoa-sama expires, even if the flow of time were to stop in the outside world, nothing would matter anymore.”
“Did you know,” I continued in a low voice “that time can truly heal the sorrows of all people?”
A loud heartbeat accompanied my words.
“No matter what kind of suffering, as cruel as it might be, if you keep living it’ll surely vanish one day.”
For some reason my voice had started to sound like someone else’s.
“Yuunagi acknowledges that.”
Her hand wandered to her ribbon again as she chained her words.
“However, Yuunagi denies that.”
I turned my view up, but I couldn’t see the sky.
Just light trickling through the iron leaves and falling like a rain of beams.
Without thinking, I stopped walking.
“You know, that’s just an illusion.”
“Does Tsukagi Saki hate illusions?”
After that neither of us spoke again.
Even if we didn’t want to find her we’ll run into her, had been Yuunagi’s words, and they turned out to be accurate. Just an instant ago the iron forest covered my view, but out of nowhere, a clearing appeared.
The main actors were assembled there in all their splendor.
“It seems things have taken quite an interesting turn.”
As soon as I made my entrance, time seemed to freeze for everyone there.
They all stood completely still, as if silently pondering what movement to make next.
And there were two Otoas.
One sleeping inside of a glowing cocoon, the other drenched in blood with a smile on her lips.
And no one seemed to be willing to explain to me why there were more of her.
Yet I could see a lingering shadow of the Otoa I knew on the sleeping Otoa, while I saw nothing in the blood drenched one.
If one of them was a doll, the blood drenched one gave off the appearance of being one the most.
The golden goddess was calmly smiling, just like the last time I saw her. Her expression giving her the appearance of someone satisfied with everything going along with their plans.
If anything, that seemed just appropriate for Verdandi, who could control fate as she wished.
Then further away was Butterfly on the verge of death, and a red wolf besides her.
That wolf resembled Shiro for some reason.
Compared to the now deceased ashen wolf, this one looked much more closely related.
Their resemblance was so much in fact, that I started to think that if the time and place of meeting had been different, the red wolf might have stood on my side.
A moment passed, that seemed not too long but also not too short, before my eyes wandered further.
And thus, at last I saw the silver wolf I had been searching for so long.
“Hey, Saki.” He spoke with the same lighthearted tone someone would say to their partner who arrived five minutes late to date. “You kept me waiting.”
“Is that so.” I replied as a smile spread on my lips.
As soon as that exchange happened, it felt like it was only the two of us here, and so, ignoring everything else, I crossed the clearing and headed towards the large iron tree Shiro was sitting under.
He didn’t move a muscle, waiting for me to get closer.
When I was in front of him, I stepped with all the strength I could muster…on his tail.
His face contorted in pain, but the cynical smile didn’t leave his lips.
It was his way of telling me, without uttering a single word, that he knew everything, and that I didn’t have to worry.
“…idiot.” was all I could say clearly.
Still, it was in a low voice, almost a mutter, expressed as I kneeled down and hugged him.
I could feel his silver fur on my face as I buried it in his neck, hearing the sound of his heart beating, and that of mine.
Two sets of repeating beats mixed together.
It was only in this moment when I truly felt that nothing else mattered.
If reality was a book, I would have been fine just closing it.
I really wanted to take the silver wolf with me and disappear somewhere with him like this.
“AHAH…” As if trying to destroy our little world, the blood drenched Otoa raised a high pitched laugh.
And just like a cracked glass starts to crumble, everything started to shake.
“Who are you?” Yuunagi asked as she pointed her Kalashnikov at Verdandi.
In her eyes, the goddess appearance had been too sudden and too suspicious.
“Who knows.” Was the reply, accompanied by a broad smile. “I wonder who I might be.”
In response to that behaviour, Yuunagi seemed to have understood something.
Without uttering any other words, she narrowed her eyes and charged towards the goddess while pulling the trigger.
Verdandi replied by teleporting herself in short distances back into the forest and leaving only hazy after-images behind, all the while maintaining her smile.
Yuunagi chased after her without hesitating.
At the same time, the red wolf moved closer to Budworm’s almost lifeless body–––though her right eye still had a sharp glint to it–––and covered it as if hugging it.
For an instant he glanced at me, but his eyes quickly returned to her.
I didn’t know what he might be trying to do.
But I understood he was trying to save her.
“Don’t worry” Shiro said, “He’s going to help your friend.”
“She’s not my friend, and I’m not really worried about her.”
I reluctantly let go of his warm body and fur, standing up while turning around.
The blood drenched Otoa was still laughing like crazy, with her arms struck out like a bear as she lunged towards me. I caught her by her hands, holding them as I tried to restrain her.
Her speed and momentum pushed me a couple steps back, my feet sliding on the damp ground leaving a clear trail.
“So this is who you actually are.”
She kept laughing without replying. Yet I felt another burst of force from her.
The sleeping Otoa didn’t reply either, only floating silently inside the light cocoon.
When I turned to look in front of me to the blood bathed one again, I noticed her laughter had finally ceased as her face twisted asymmetrically, as if trying to laugh and cry at the same time.
“That’s not…true…” Her creaking voice came, at the same time her strength seemed to leave her a bit, letting my tensed muscles relax.
“Otoa? Are you waking up…?”
After the impact from her first attack, we had started to deplete all our strength as I held her still, though it seemed like she had gotten exhausted first.
Inside of her, it seemed like the two ‘hers’ were fighting too, each trying to take over her body.
“You know, she’s in the middle of a fight too.” Shiro said as he watched us. “One between her will and her strength.”
I immediately understood what he meant. There hadn’t been just two seals.
There was a third one.
One that split her into two, one with her strength, another with her will.
“Your will without strength and your strength without a will conflict with each other. Isn’t that right, Otoa?”
I muttered as I kept holding her still.
She nodded, her half laughing half crying face shaking so much it looked almost like she was just trembling.
After that, Shiro spoke again.
“Those two of her are fighting to take control of both her bodies, once one of them completely overtakes the other, the giant will return to being a single entity.”
And at the same time, the giant will wake up.
That was how I presumed the seal worked.
And that also meant Otoa was trying to regain her original form. Which also meant that, just like Yuunagi feared, the Otoa we knew was about to disappear.
“If you are free enough to explain all this so calmly,” I gritted my teeth. Talking while suppressing someone was harder than I expected.
“Couldn’t you give me hand here?”
I was glad I had been able to grasp the situation, but that didn’t help me at all.
I now knew why there were two Otoas, but that didn’t change anything.
He laughed a bit.
“If I could, I would’ve already done so.”
“Useless.” I replied.
“Exactly, the way I am right now is useless.” His voice seemed strangely amused.
But I wasn’t interested in finding out why. He was useless just when I needed him most.
“Sa…ki…” Otoa’s lips parted again as she muttered my name while her laughter started to mix into her voice. “Kill… me…hahahah…kill…ahAHAhaha… Kill mE PLEASE.”
“So…you’re telling me to help you suicide?”
I replied slowly, fully aware that one wrong movement would cause her to push me down.
And even if that didn’t happen, I didn’t know what would happen if, inside of her, the scales tipped to one side.
“There’s…no time…I’m about to…wake up.” She supplicated as the last bits of sanity in her faded away. “Please… The power is…eating away…at me… So before I disappear…kill me.”
“In that case I will–––!”
Before I finished my feet slid on the ground with a squeak as her face lost even more of her sanity and her maniacal laughter started to echo again.
The giant’s strength was overtaking it’s will.
“Pull yourself together, Otoa!”
Yet my voice was too weak.
“It’s useless…I’m being…eaten…away…”
Otoa–––the giant, laughed.
I felt like I was being crushed, a creaking sound coming from my spine.
“I guess I should say this now.” Shiro’s carefree voice sounded again. “I know that after this you might hold feelings of anger towards me for just explaining things to you and not helping you. I assure you that I’m not doing that because I have any sort of twisted deviation to enjoy being punished by you, so please don’t misunderstand.”
I swore I would punish him after this was over.
Her body was leaning on top of mine as I lost to her strength. At the same time our hands clasped together with fingers intertwined shook, my teeth gritted and all the bones in my body seemed to be grinding against each other.
But even then, me resisting was nothing but delaying the inevitable.
“Moon Eater was-” I heard Verdandi’s voice.
I couldn’t see her, and Yuunagi was supposed to have left chasing her.
But her voice seemed to have remained here.
“-eaten halfway through by the giant. That’s why he can’t move.”
Her tone was sweet, playful, almost mocking.
But her words were something I couldn’t ignore.
Without thinking, I turned to look at Shiro.
His body seemed to be fading away. The tip of his legs starting to turn transparent.
I was lost for words.
At the same time, Verdandi started to laugh, as if scoffing at my unrest.
“It’ll soon be the time for revival, and yet it wasn’t enough to recover all her lost strength. And thus you become martyrs, food, tributes–––” Her cheerful voice irritated me.
“Don’t you think it’s a rather commendable story? As soon as I entered this city I started being eaten away by the giant.” Shiro interrupted her, his voice as carefree as before.
“Oh wow…” He looked down to his body that kept fading away. “That’s a giant for you, they’ve got quite an impressive appetite.”
His voice hadn’t changed in tone at all.
“At least look a bit distressed you idiot!”
He was acting so carefree that I accidentally shouted at him. But as a result, I forgot about Otoa for an instant.
That obviously spelt the end of our struggle.
My upper body bent back, my feet up and my heels slid forward on the ground.
I’ll get crushed.
Thinking that, I struggled with my feet and managed to somehow lift my knee and struck her in the stomach as I fell.
An instant later I was lying on the damp dirt.
Trying to mimic an overhead throw, I launched Otoa away.
“What a moving tale, that of the wolf pup that offered its life to the mother giant.”
Verdandi chuckled after that, her voice beautiful to an unpleasant extent.
While her voice was still ringing in my ears, I stood up and saw Otoa landing like an animal on her four limbs.
“I know you’ll make the correct choice once you’re aware of the circumstances, I firmly believe that.” Said Shiro.
I had nothing to say in reply.
“Yuunagi!” I screamed.
As if replying to me, she appeared from inside the iron forest.
She had probably been chasing Verdandi this entire time.
But doing that wasn’t too far from an endless game of chase. And it would’ve continued forever if Verdandi had wished for it, as Yuunagi had fallen right into her hands.
And she hadn’t noticed any of it until I called out to her.
After she stopped moving, she looked at me. Even though her expression didn’t change, I could tell she was starting to boil inside.
Still, it hadn’t been just her who replied to my call. The laughing Otoa moved past me, running against Yuunagi.
It looked like she was both trying to attack her, and looking for help from her.
And I too sprinted after her. This way, she was now trapped between me and Yuunagi.
Our main goal now was to restrain this Otoa.
She was a rather unpleasant foe to face, possessing the strength of a giant.
“Ha…haha…hahhh… Yuunagi….Yuunagi…Yuunagi…Yuunagi I wanted to see…AHAhAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHHAHAHAHA.”
In the end, she just laughed, her strength eating her will away, overtaking it.
The cocoon flickered as if signaling the nearing awakening of the giant that would happen when her strength and will merged.
Yuunagi pointed her gun at the laughing Otoa, but hesitated for a second.
Then, she pulled the trigger.
“Otoa-sama.” Her words were directed to the one sleeping inside the cocoon. “Yuunagi will present her help shortly.”
I thought I saw the sleeping Otoa nod, but it might have just been my imagination, or maybe not. But if anything, I could tell the laughing Otoa, bathed in blood and constantly attacking us was smiling.
As me and Yuunagi set to move to restrain Otoa, Verdandi watched us as her complexion turned into one of deep interest, as well as expectancy for something entertaining.
She stood beside Shiro and the cocoon, at the foot of one of the iron trees while her hair waved in the air.
Her figure stood high and proud, as if she was certain everything in her was right and just.
As her eyes turned down to Shiro, who was gradually turning more transparent, she licked her lips.
“Goddess” Shiro said as he turned to look at her. “Is there anyone you love?”
The Goddess of Fate’s voice sounded thoroughly honest as she replied.
“I guess that’s true, though it’d be more accurate to say there isn’t one now.” She nodded gently. “But you’re here because there was one at some point, one who is no more.”
“That’s a bit excessive, Moon Eater.” And without saying more about it, she changed the topic. “And that when you’re about to disappear this very moment.”
“I have nothing to fear, Saki is with me. Listen here, goddess. My body disappearing nor the giant’s revival scare me, the only thing I’m afraid of is losing Saki.”
“It looks to me like Saki is having quite a rough time facing that giant though.”
Shiro’s smile turned more cynical, taking over the cynicism of her words.
“How pitiful, Goddess of Fate. You can’t trust as I do, nor fight like Saki does, or even release yourself as that giant does.”
“Those are quite the big words for you…being just a wolf that knows nothing but how to destroy, and then trying to act like you understand a goddess like me.”
“I’m not trying to sound haughty here, if anything, I just pity you.”
“That’s acting haughty.”
“Hum, really?” Shiro laughed.
That seemed to have the effect of irritating Verdandi further, as she turned around and violently punched the trunk of the tree behind her.
Her skin was torn away as a result, and blood started to trickle down her fingers.
She moved her white hand stain with red blood to eye level, then with the tip of her tongue licked the blood.
“Love love love…I’m tired of it.” A sharp look over her countenance as she knitted her brow. “Just break down already, just fade into everything that surrounds you, just get completely eaten by the giant now.”
She was completely taken over by irritation as she finished her words.
“Everything is going exactly the way you planned it to. And you’re certain it’ll continue being that way after this is over.”
As the silver wolf spoke so, his body turned even more transparent. At the same time, the giant was one step closer to reviving.
“I don’t like you.”
She crossed her arms as she bit her lips annoyed.
“Why could that be?”
Shiro didn’t seem to mind the state of his body as he asked so, but Verdandi didn’t answer.
We were two against one now, as I and Yuunagi stood in front and back of the laughing Otoa.
Though even then we were still in quite a sticky situation without a clear advantage.
I still felt pain in my palms too, and that only from having restrained her strength in that way before.
I was perfectly aware of how terrifying pure violence could be.
And that because all I had gained so far was exactly the same, just destructive power.
Yuunagi fired a couple of rounds trying to distract her, the bullets raising plumes of dirt around Otoa’s feet. That caused Otoa to stop her movements for an instant, watching out for Yuunagi.
Taking advantage of that opening, I swung out Crescent Moon’s Shadow at her back.
There was no grace in my movements, swinging the whip straight ahead aiming at her neck.
But she carelessly pushed it down, as if she was shaking off a fly.
Turning just her neck around, she looked at me.
I screwed up.
As soon as I thought so, it was too late.
A sound like the ground splitting apart was heard, and an instant later Otoa was in front of me.
I had been careless, attracting the beast’s attention.
After a slight delay the noise from the wind she caused was heard, rustling the leaves from the trees around.
I jumped back while protecting my face and stomach with my hands.
But above my arms I saw her fist approaching.
And as small as it was, at this moment it looked like a giant hammer to me.
Her attack was so devastating that there was no need to think if she was aiming to kill.
Her laugh, a beast’s laugh, and a giant’s laugh.
When her fist hit me I felt the impact spreading through my entire body, launching it back.
I felt like I was being pulled back as the scenery panned past my eyes.
It seemed like I had failed at jumping back to decrease the force of the impact.
I turned my body around in mid-air and fastened Crescent Moon’s Shadow on a branch close by.
The branch creaked trying to support my weight before splitting at the point where the whip was tied.
I then turned my body around once more managing to land on my four limbs at the last second.
Otoa leaped chasing after me.
Her speed was ridiculous, almost like a bullet.
Way faster than she had been just a moment before, she was clearly gaining more strength.
I tried to remain composed, only cursing inside my mind.
She was like a ticking bomb. Just what was I supposed to do to defeat her before she turned into a giant?
Though more importantly, how was I supposed to avert her attacks?
“So this is how it’ll be…well, guess sometimes this happens.”
I muttered to myself as I fixed my posture.
The most important thing was timing.
She was running around just like a spoiled child, only that her fists could be deadly hammers if she swung them.
I put a foot forward.
Then, still with my hands on the ground, I jumped forward a short distance.
She swung her fist, but before she could put her full strength into it I let it hit my cheek.
I felt like my skull itself was shaking, my forehead split open and blood started oozing out, quite a bit of it getting into my eyes before dripping down my nose and into my lips.
My view turned dark and sparks filled my mind as I tried to recompose myself from the hit.
And to avoid getting blown away, I held to Otoa’s arm with both my hands.
Unable to grasp what I was trying to do, she stood still.
“Not too bad.”
She had been following Otoa, just like she had been doing the entire time before this.
Just like a shadow.
Yuunagi was there.
She held the Kalashnikov upside down, lifting the buttstock and trying to swing it down on her nape.
And in the short moment Otoa had stood still, Yuunagi had accomplished that.
The buttstock hit her nape, the momentum transferring to her body and sweeping her body sideways.
It wasn’t a bad hit. And while the nape isn’t necessarily a vital spot, if the blood stream connecting to the brain stopped for less than even a second, a person would faint.
So for an attack coming from behind, it was ideal, and realistic–––
–––Well, no way that’ll work then.
I yelled in terror, fully aware I was already too late.
Otoa turned away with a fluid and continuous movement.
A beastly smile dominated her face, laughing wildly and her maddened eyes piercing Yuunagi.
As she was falling, she stood back up. One of her legs standing firmly she balanced herself like a pendulum while her right arm took another swing.
Yet even after all this, all her movements resembled those of a young child playing, extremely easy-going.
Heavily resembling those of a giant.
Yuunagi looked dumbfounded.
Otoa’s fist dug itself in Yuunagi’s side, going further until her forearm had disappeared.
Shortly after the sound of bones breaking and flesh tearing apart, the sound of skin and clothes tearing was heard.
“Young children do this a lot. They have no further intentions than to play, but they don’t know how to limit themselves and end up destroying something important.”
Verdandi’s voice resounded.
“And no matter how much they lament it. It never comes back, never, ever, comes back.”
Otoa’s forearm was still inside Yuunagi’s side.
Yuunagi’s hands let go of the Kalashnikov, and shaking, they slowly reached towards Otoa.
Forcing herself, she moved her lips to form a smile.
Blood dripped from her side and lips as she spoke.
“Be careful…being so…overactive can…be…dangerous…”
She tilted her body forward, as she touched Otoa, who still had her forearm inside Yuunagi.
“Yuunagi knows…Otoa-sama is excited…now that…her legs-…”
Her words seemed so out of place, missing the mark as far as was possible, but that made them all the more tender.
If we had been somewhere outside from this iron forest, maybe out in that city, this exchange wouldn’t have happened at all.
I couldn’t tell if she was trying to embrace Otoa, or simply trying to support herself.
But no matter which it was, it seemed like she didn’t have the strength left to do either.
As her body leant on Otoa, it slowly fell down.
The damp soil, like that of a graveyard, noiselessly accepted her body.
Otoa’s quivering voice said.
She sounded as a broken record as she called, screamed.
But her calls remained unanswered.
Her green eyes regained a semblance of sanity. But they also were filled with a sorrow of the same magnitude.
Her will was pushing away the strength of the giant as it returned and-
“This is why I told you, I told you to kill me. I clearly said to, please, kill me.”
I knew this would happen.
If anything, I knew this was going to happen.
“I told you I loved you, that you were the second person I loved the most, so to at least, kill me yourself!”
I could almost hear a sound, like a last string stressed under a heavy load breaking.
“Tell me, why? Why didn’t you kill me? You should’ve been able to do it, tell me, say something, Saki!”
The sound that also was…
The sound of Otoa’s heart breaking.
The light emanating from the cocoon increased in strength.
Then, like a hatching egg, swelling up and deflating, all as it started to blink.
And the sleeping Otoa opened her eyes.
While the laughing Otoa who was outside the cocoon closed hers.
The mind of Otoa, split between two bodies was now becoming a single one.
Or rather, had already become one.
The one inside calling for the one outside.
The one outside following the one inside.
And so, leaving Yuunagi’s body behind, the outside one entered the cocoon.
With that, all the parts of the giant were together.
And as if that had been some sort of signal for it, the iron forest quickly came to an end.
Without a single sound, it was crumbling down from it’s furthest reaches.
Like a thin glass sculpture being smashed, the trees fell down, shattered, and started to get rolled towards the sky.
And as the forest disappeared, the core of the seal, this very place, was also being destroyed.
The blinking from the giant’s cocoon increased in frequency, ending up wrapped in such a bright light it burned my eyes.
And as I struggled to make something out with my eyes, I heard Otoa’s voice.
“I’ve had enough. Everyone should just get destroyed.”
After which she, of her own will, let go of her sanity and let her strength take over.
The tone of her voice sounded like she was crying though.
And I probably had heard right, or maybe that was just how I hoped she’d be.
“Being too strong is pretty much as tragic as being too weak.”
Shiro was the one speaking now.
I turned towards him.
He was still at the roots of that tree. His fading body was just a step away from vanishing entirely.
“Shiro?” There was no reply. But it took me couple dozen seconds to realize what that implied.
Ahh… So Shiro got eaten.
Until the very end he behaved as careless as always, even when he vanished.
I had been too late, way too late.
Wait no, that’s not at all what happened.
I only made an irremediable mistake!
I heard what sounded like the roaring of a griefing beast. But it had come from my throat, it was my voice.
And it resembled the howling of a wolf.
My heart felt incredibly hot.
But even after all that, I wasn’t crying, that was something I leave for later, once everything was over.
The illusion was crumbling down, and I awoke together with the gathering light.
The third seal, the separation of the giant’s body, had been broken.
The second seal, this very place, had also been broken.
All that was left was the first seal, this city.
The giant made its appearance in the middle of the night, in that city with outdated buildings.
I couldn’t see Verdandi anywhere, Shiro was gone, Yuunagi was in front of me, lying together with her Kalashnikov on the stone paving.
And also…it was there.
I turned my head up to look at the giant.
A giant made of bright light.
Light shaped into a human figure. Like a doll that only had four limbs and a head.
I couldn’t tell its sex or countenance. It made me think of a certain type of monster.
A monster that terrorized the human world, a monster without meaning or purpose.
The giant roared as it raised it’s glowing arms towards the sky.
For a moment I thought I noticed Otoa’s figure inside the giant, around the place where it’s heart should be.
From it’s raised hands, a rain of glowing particles like stardust started to rain.
The night sky became illuminated by it as it continued to fall on the city.
This was the beginning of the destruction.
The approach of a beautiful end.
A reality that would be consumed by a legend.
From the piling up light, iron sprouts sprung forth all at the same time, and using the underlying city as nourishment they grew into magnificent trees.
After being consumed by the past and erased by the seal, the iron forest was finally becoming reality.
Even the ground didn’t feel like stone pavement anymore, and the appearance of the city quickly overtaken by that of the forest.
It was a habitat suitable for the giant, a forest that grew from light, an iron forest that appeared in the real world.
Maybe calling this a land from legends wouldn’t be too far off now.
A reality that seemed almost like a dream built on top of a human city.
And while it was in the real world, this place was governed by laws from another one.
I felt my heart throbbing.
A pleasant feeling that resembled pain.
The deity and the wolf sleeping inside me rejoiced.
This was also a place for me.
The giant continued to let the light rain, mercilessly taking over everything.
Soon after even the desolate roads that served as entrance and exit from the city were eaten away by the iron forest.
Though those were probably the limits of the seal, as the forest stopped growing further there, only starting to release sparks.
The seal was conflicting with giant.
If this last seal was broken, the world would be transformed into a huge iron forest, and humanity would disappear without notice.
A clear wind blew making my hair sway.
I swept the dust away that had built up on my uniform after the series of hardships I had undergone and kneeled besides Yuunagi’s fallen body.
Her chest was barely moving up and down, and her faint breath escaped between her lips. Reacting to each movement, her would throbbed and more blood oozed out.
A doll–––When I thought about it, she had always behaved like one from the start on.
A sentient doll, a doll that spoke of love, a tender doll.
She was so mysterious.
The inhabitants of this city all were dolls that behaved like humans.
I had spent around a week close to them, and I had never noticed they were dolls.
I thought they obviously had to be human.
The only one I thought acted like a doll had been Yuunagi.
Out of everyone, she was the only one I thought seemed like a doll.
She was so much like a doll in fact, that I hadn’t noticed.
I had thought Yuunagi had to…
I was convinced she was…
And if only she had been one–––
“You’re still alive, right?”
She muttered as she looked at me. The shine of her eyes was disappearing, she was losing too much blood, probably, in either case it was really dangerous. Just like Butterfly, just like her, and just like me… People were all really fragile.
So if only she had been a doll…
I would have wished her an eternity with all those who aren’t human, somewhere past life and death.
A sorrowful romanticism, and a miserable sentimentalism…a wish that would never be corresponded.
But in the end…a doll my ass–––
“No, I’m not.” I replied to her.
“Please…can Tsukagi Saki……Otoa-sama…”
Her breath made a distinct sound as it mixed itself with her voice, passing through her pale lips.
A noise resembling that of the fading wind through a forest in winter.
“I will try to help you, but I can’t promise anything.”
There’s someone else I needed to help.
“Is your wound too deep?” I asked her as I took a glance at her side.
“It’s not…the worst…it’ll somehow get…better… But even then…Yuunagi has to–––” The rest of her sentence got downed by a terrible cough mixed with blood.
Afterwards a sad smile spread across her lips.
I smiled back at her and stood up again, turning around.
“It’s not me that Otoa is waiting for, it’s you, so…”
My mouth remained open, but no more words were voiced.
I felt like I was about to say something completely unlike myself.
This city is really poisoning me.
I called Crescent Moon’s Shadow, and drew an arc in the air with it as if testing it.
The black curve cut through the air, making a sharp sound.
A sound that made my heart beat faster, and the heart of others tremble, quite a pleasant sound.
A thin and sharp smile remained on my lips as I set forth towards the giant.
The faceless giant–––And Otoa floating in the area where the giant’s heart would be––– turned their heads towards me.
The heart, that was the main point. I turned my eyes at it.
I called him.
“You’re there, aren’t you?”
Yes I am.
A voice without sound reached me.
Just like when I had eaten a wolf’s heart, or when I ate a god’s heart…
Eating, or being eaten meant a similar thing,
Namely, becoming a single entity.
“It seems you haven’t been completely digested yet, have you?”
I tried to joke a bit, but no reply came.
Even though it wasn’t a moment to joke around, I felt like I had to liven up the mood a bit.
I had to hurry and pull Shiro out from the Giant–––or rather, pull Otoa who had eaten Shiro out. And that before the giant could leave the city.
That meant I had a pile of work to do, and a really tight deadline.
“That’s not too bad.”
I struck my hand forward towards the giant and bent my fingers, as if inviting the giant.
“Come, giant.” Still smiling sharply, I grasped my hand into a fist.
Nothing told me whether Otoa had heard me or not, the giant stood still, her face not changing one bit.
Then, the giant started to swing down it’s fist as large as a person.
It’s arm of light stretched out, it mowed down the ground in front of it.
As if a large power shovel, it went right through the iron trees and grass, heading straight at me.
I kicked off the cold ground and holding on to Crescent Moon’s Shadow wrapped on one of the trees, I leapt off drawing a curve in the air.
The giant’s fist crossed just below my hair waving in the air.
As soon as I landed, the fist swung once again.
My body and it were about to meet.
Even though it had to swing a considerable distance, the giant was plenty fast.
I was barely able to swing Crescent Moon’s Shadow and cut off the fist.
The whip easily cut through the arm, the cut off fist falling to the ground turning into specks of light.
Yet that didn’t seem to affect the giant too much.
New light seeped from the cut and in a few seconds a new fist was formed.
“There’s…no end to this…” I grumbled instinctively.
The giant swung his fist towards me one more time.
But I was too late to get away this time and the fist brushed against my shoulder.
I didn’t feel any pain though, just a really strange sense of discomfort.
I decided to look at what had happened.
The shoulder region of my uniform was filled with iron-like spots.
After looking closer, I noticed they were iron leaves.
Every time I moved a bit, more would start popping out.
My uniform had been eaten by the giant.
It wasn’t too difficult to imagine what would happen if it hit me directly now.
Guess it’s rather unsparing.
Any fighting skills didn’t matter anything now, I was simply too inferior performance-wise.
I decided to stop trying to attack it directly and decided on a more defensive approach, trying to counter its attacks instead.
I focused on cutting off any limbs with which it tried to reach me, buying as much time for myself as I could.
If a single one of its attacks landed, it would be the end for me. Even if it became too drawn out, there was a limit on how long it could take.
I really needed an opening to break this deadlock.
Looking at the giant, its body was entirely made of light. Nothing stood out, and no matter which part I cut off, it would regenerate.
If there was a place I had to target, it was its heart…Otoa.
I really didn’t want to do that, and the chances of success looked really sketchy too.
“But well, standing still without getting anywhere is starting to get annoying too.”
I dodged its next attack with a jump, then cut off the following one with Crescent Moon’s Shadow and leapt again.
Twisting my wrist, I latched the whip on a nearby tree and using the momentum from it, I kicked off its top reaching even higher.
I went higher and higher, the iron forest under me turning small, the giant turning larger.
When I reached the same height as the giant’s heart, my gaze met with Otoa’s.
Her green, unfocused eyes looked as if she was extremely bored.
Then I swung my whip at her, even though I felt a strong chill passing through me.
Her lips twisted a bit, as if she was scoffing at me, then, faster than my whip…
A fist made of light burst out from its chest.
It flew straight ahead, catching me as I was unable to move in mid-air.
And so, without any way out, I was…eaten by the fist.
Once inside that light, I was unable to move as if I had been frozen. Crescent Moon’s Shadow fell from my loose hand, completely lost and without anywhere to go, it fell.
I guess it was able to guess everything I wanted to do.
I thought I saw Otoa’s lips moving as if she was saying something, but I was unable to distinguish anything now.
First my clothes were eaten.
My uniform got entirely bathed in an iron color and started to shatter.
After that, my flesh followed.
My skin turned gray and felt incredibly heavy.
Roots started forming inside my body, destroying my innards and bursting out from my skin as branches started to spurt.
I was being transformed into one more iron tree.
I was being eaten by the giant.
“Are you alright, Saki?”
My eyes started to fail me, my hearing was almost gone, I couldn’t feel anything with my fingers–––As every part of my body faded away, I heard Shiro’s voice.
Ah…If I’m being eaten, then I’m also going to form part of the giant…
“Do I look like I’m alright?”
“No, at all. But well, it’s been a while since we were able to talk like this.”
“Don’t you think this is quite the desperate situation to talk though?”
“Desperate? What are you saying. I don’t really think this is too much of a critical situation for you.”
“I think that’s too much of an overestimation.”
“Not at all, after all–––”
His voice suddenly vanished, just like the voice from a radio disappears as soon as the plug is pulled.
“Though if we are talking about desperate situations, I guess you’re worse off than me.”
I giggled a bit after that.
“But thanks, now I don’t feel like giving up so quickly.”
My heart beat once, strongly, as if opposing what was happening.
I wrapped my arms around me as if hugging myself and grabbed the branches coming out from my body and…
Pulled them out by force.
A sharp pain flooded my mind, as if scorching it, my view flashing black and white.
But I was laughing.
Laugh, laugh, laugh more!
Despair, regret, mourning and resignation can all come later!
I was destroying my body as I laughed.
I was destroying the iron tree growing inside of me.
Completely disregarding any conservation of mass laws, I kept pulling out the pieces from the tree, drenched in blood.
The trunk of the tree was already taller than my own body, but I threw it away downwards.
After a deep breath, the pain stimulated all my five senses.
I was in a horrible state.
To the point where I questioned myself why I was even still alive.
My uniform was tattered, it barely resembled any sort of clothing, it seemed like a miracle that it was still holding on to my body.
One of my arms was almost cut off, only connected to my shoulder by a strip of skin.
My thighs were stripped down and I was missing two toes. A large hole was opened in my stomach and most of my innards were gone.
Blood oozed out without stopping, and if I was a regular human, I would’ve died a long time ago.
If I was my regular self too, I probably would’ve died.
And yet all that time I kept smiling.
Then I opened my mouth as much as I could.
My teeth shining inside my reed mouth resembled fangs to bite down on prey, my wriggling tongue a whip to latch on my catch.
“I’ll make you return to me everything you ate, everything!”
As if taking air in, I began to inhale the light, to eat the giant.
It reacted violently trying to shake me off of it, but I wouldn’t fall.
A second later, my wounds started to close.
My dangling arm connected itself, and my thighs regained their original shape.
The toes I had lost regenerated, my organs repopulating my opened stomach before flesh and skin covered the hole.
My heart accelerated as if refilling my body with all the blood I had lost, a feeling of warmth and slight pain running through my body.
I was still laughing–––and the giant too, laughed.
The giant’s heart, the unconscious Otoa, finally showed something resembling a feeling.
Her green eyes glittered with what seemed like joy. The delight of a warrior that finally found it’s opponent.
Once I had regained my body, I kicked myself off the giant’s body, off that mass of light.
As I fell towards the iron forest below, Crescent Moon’s Shadow came towards me, like a snake that learned to fly.
I held down my hair that kept getting dragged by the wind, and once again, I stood in the iron forest.
I lightly swung the whip, and it shook gracefully as if rejoicing to be back with me.
“That’s not too bad.”
The scales had set horizontally again.
Letting go of my hair, I brushed it back.
“Now then, what should I do…”
Even though I was enjoying a bit of calm time, my thoughts were moving quickly. There could easily be endless possibilities to how this would end.
I had pushed it out of my mind for the time being, but I had to check the state of the seal.
And more importantly, I had to make sure Shiro was still alright.
I bit my lip.
My pain and worrying on one side, the giant seemed to be enjoying itself.
It looked like a child that had found a partner to play with for the first time.
A look painfully pure.
It was almost making me feel jealous.
Seeing the turn everything had taken, I had no choice but to do that.
After preparing herself, she finally spoke.
I turned around hearing her call my name.
Yuunagi was standing there, supporting herself on the Kalashnikov.
The bleeding from her wound had barely ceased.
Her face had gone from just pale to a ghastly tone, almost completely white. Her lips even losing their color.
“I’ve been waiting for you.” I told her.
The Kalashnikov–––When I thought about it more, I realized it was a rather compelling gun.
It performed quite decently, was cheap to produce, hard to break, and even if it did break, it was useful for other stuff as well.
Almost everyone on the city had one of them.
And Yuunagi was probably the one that gave the guns to them.
So in that case, she probably had something against the world as well.
“I’ve come to pick Otoa-sama up.”
Her voice was really weak, but her words were clear enough.
So I opened the way for her.
And moved aside to let her pass towards the giant.
Her words stopped there as she lifted her hand and wiped her eyelids with the dirited sleeve of her uniform.
When she lowered her arm, tiny drops flew into the air, glistering under the light as they fell.
“–––really thankful to you, Tsukagi Saki.”
She said as her purple eyes looked at me, covered in my tattered and dirty uniform.
…She most probably didn’t have any resentments against the world after all.
That made me even if just a little bit jealous.
“I didn’t really do anything.”
She walked on, passing in front of me.
And then kept walking, getting closer to the giant of light that seemed to be looking up.
“Can you see her, Otoa.”
I muttered as I walked at Yuunagi’s side.
Then the giant’s gaze met mine.
When the giant spotted Yuunagi, it stopped moving entirely for several seconds.
On the other hand, Yuunagi kept clumsily walking forward while using the Kalashnikov as a cane, moving closer to the giant–––to Otoa.
On Otoa’s face, all emotions had disappeared.
“Everything is alright.” I whispered to Shiro, even though I couldn’t see him.
It’ll all be over soon.
The giant roared as if frightened, its entire body that was made of drops of light trembled. But it seemed to be ignoring me, who had not a single scratch, but on Yuunagi, who was covered in wounds.
But I wasn’t doing anything either.
Yuunagi was walking at an excruciatingly slow and sluggish pace as she walked forward.
It seemed like time itself had been slowed down all around us.
I held Crescent Moon’s Shadow tightly, and waited as I moved matching my steps to hers.
My view was sharp, all my senses ready, waiting just like a hunter waits for its prey.
And so I waited, and kept waiting, until I finally sensed another entity.
I turned my body, my hair spreading out behind me.
Behind Yuunagi, the blonde goddess had appeared out of thin air.
In her hands, she held a thin, sharp and twisted spear.
“I was sure you’d try to get in the way even so close to the end.” I whispered to her..
Before I called her name.
A thin and provocative smile spread across her lips as she turned to look at me.
I had guessed her intentions first.
Her usual carelessness disappeared and her face filled with anger and humiliation.
As her countenance turned pale, her beauty seemed to increase, but at the same time her expression was shockingly aggressive.
She looked like a bloodthirsty fiend, or a demon, or maybe a nightmare.
I felt like I was watching her actual emotions for the first time.
But she only remained like that for a few seconds.
Soon she was once again with a broad and elegant smile like always.
And that probably was the way she showed her pride.
I knew what that felt like. I usually did something similar.
“Hello there, Saki.” She said as she carelessly swung the spear.
Its tip pierced through my palm.
Yuunagi kept walking forward.
Instead of letting go of the spear, I grasped it more strongly, crumbling its tip in my hand.
The fragments from it dug into my flesh, while others fell to the ground.
Seeing her weapon destroyed, Verdandi hesitated for a moment, and I used that moment to grasp her shoulder with my free hand.
She threw what was left of the spear away and tried to run away, but it was already too late.
“I won’t let you escape. This time I’ll hold you here, even if only with my willpower.”
Using her as a fulcrum, I pulled towards her to hit her body with mine.
After the hit, she stumbled a step back and had struggled to keep her footing.
At the same time, I came flying into her bosom, and once we were almost glued together I swung Crescent Moon’s Shadow.
The whip first spread out into a curve before starting to spiral around us.
In the midst of that spiral, it wasn’t cutting through us, or hitting us, it was just binding us together.
That way neither me or Verdandi could let go of each other.
My hand that was on her shoulder moved up and wrapped around her neck.
From afar it looked like a passionate embrace, just an instant before a kiss. But between us there was so little love it was almost sad.
“You can’t run anywhere now.” I told her with a cold voice.
“Oh what now?” She said, as if mocking me. “I probably should tell you I don’t swing that way though.”
“I don’t either.”
I just felt like digging my teeth into her white neck.
Her skin was so clear I could even see her blood being pumped inside it.
As if covering her neck, she lowered her chin and pressed it on my shoulder.
Her well shaped ears were just in front of me now.
“You lost, Verdandi.”
“And you haven’t seen the end of the fight yet.”
We both whispered into each other’s ears.
In contrast to my cold voice, hers was sweet and felt almost ticklish.
Her body was warm, soft, and had a sweet scent.
“…Your body is really cold you know.”
I knew that really well already though.
While I was tangling myself together with Verdandi, Yuunagi had arrived at the feet of Otoa.
She then let go of her Kalashnikov that had served as a makeshift cane, and then just like she had always done, she stood with her back straight and looked up towards the master she had always served. And then she slowly and politely bowed.
“I’ve come to pick you up, Otoa-sama.”
It was just like before.
Like in all that time they had spent together.
“How is Otoa-sama feeling today?”
Full of conviction, trust, affection…
“Though the tea, ingredients to make cake or the residence itself were blown away,”
In the past, present…
“But I still–––”
And in the future,
“I will be by your side.”
Her head up, a smile across her lips, Yuunagi looked at Otoa.
Otoa’s eyes glistened with reason, her lips trembling like a baby that is uttering its first words.
“It’s okay, you don’t have to do anything.”
From inside the giant, Otoa spoke.
“That’s why, just stay by my side.”
The giant’s will was taking over its strength.
Its body of light started to shrink and fade away, returning to that of Otoa.
Once she was standing back on the ground, she spoke with a voice incredibly tender, and strangely mature.
“Yuunagi, stay by my side, just like you’ve always been.”
Hearing that request, Yuunagi bowed once again.
Shaking violently, Yuunagi started to fall down, but Otoa held her body up.
Supporting Yuunagi with her petite body.
“How much of an idiot are you…to get hurt like this.”
Otoa’s small shoulders began to tremble.
“Really…such an idiot.”
“Thank…you… And sorry for this.”
Her voice was but a whisper then.
“I kept tricking and deceiving you all this time…but…I think that’s all over now.”
Her smile turned more calm.
“Yuunagi was the only person in this entire city…but because you were here–––”
In a look of satisfaction, she closed her eyes.
“Yuunagi was really happy.”
And she fell into the darkness of death.
But Yuunagi didn’t say anything more.
Otoa’s voice couldn’t reach her anymore.
As if handling a fragile glass bird, her fingers caressed Yuunagi’s cheeks.
Then gently pressed her lips on Yuunagi’s pale lips.
It was a gentle kiss, a kiss from fairy tales.
Nothing but a fleeting moment.
Otoa’s large eyes filled with tears.
And so, the tale of the giant came to an end.
The city was crumbling down.
That makeshift world built inside the seal was falling.
Just like the iron trees had spurted from drops of light, the iron forest turned back into drops of light.
Like a large wave of snow, or like a flock of fireflies, or maybe…
…just like a storm.
It all flew back into the sky.
At the same time, Otoa’s body, as well as Yuunagi whose body she held in her arms were enveloped in light.
As if there had never been a giant in the first place, everything was turning into light.
“I seems this time,” Verdandi said. “It was my defeat.”
I unwrapped us from the whip and broke off from the embrace.
“This is your victory, Saki.” I saw myself reflected on her deep blue eyes.
“No, I haven’t done anything.” In my black eyes, her figure was reflected.
And as I pulled my hair back, that was my reply.
Drops of light were briefly trapped in my hair before they continued their ascend and disappeared in the sky.
“As long as a person still has love, affection, desire, illusions, or whatever you want, it doesn’t matter how many times you try to knock them down, they will stand back up. That’s all there is to this.”
“I don’t like that, I don’t like that, I really don’t like that.”
Only muttering that, Verdandi’s body disappeared.
There was no promise to meet again, or her greeting she repeated three times, there was nothing more.
I looked at the drops of light dancing in the air in their way up.
That storm of light that left us.
All of the illusions were returning to reality.
I spread my arms and called a name.
My wolf’s name, the name I had given my wolf.
There was no reply. I couldn’t see the white wolf anywhere inside of the light.
Light, light, light, there was only light burying everything.
“Shiro, I’m here.”
I had no foothold from which to jump up into the air.
I had no wings to fly through the air.
So all I had was my voice to call him.
I knew he had to be somewhere inside this light.
“Shirooo! Where are you?”
I couldn’t get closer to him.
“Tell Moon Eater I’m paying my debt back.”
Inside of all that light covering the place that was once a city, I heard a voice saying that.
When I realized it was the voice of the red wolf I had seen besides Butterfly, I was already in mid-air.
Something had exploded below my feet, sending me up into the air.
What a feat of strength. But also what a silly thing to do. I was almost laughing because of it.
Still with my arms stretched out, I closed my eyes and passed through that light that seemed to never end.
Then my heart throbbed loudly.
“Shiro, you’re over there, aren’t you?”
Even without opening my eyes, I could see the white wolf’s appearance.
He appeared out of the light, as if he was floating towards me, and then we started to fall.
I could feel his weight in my arms,
“I heard your voice.” His calm wolf voice said. “I could hear your voice.”
The feeling of his silvery fur, and the warmth of his body.
I could tell he was between my arms that very moment.
“Welcome back.” I told him.
“I’m home.” He replied.
Inside that dazzling light we hugged each other.
And kept falling.
As if running away from that light, we fell.