After that, along with low voices chanting sutras outside the room, the sounds of banging and the scratching of something continued until dawn . When it finally quieted down and I looked outside from a gap in the curtains, the sky had become faintly bright .
“Well, shall we work a little more?”
I was surprised upon hearing Bou-san’s voice .
“Why don’t you sleep more?”
I know, in the end, without removing the barrier, Bou-san served as a barricade and mostly didn’t sleep . He was finally about to doze off just now .
“I can’t do that . I have to hurry . ”
“Why? Won’t it also be okay after it becomes daytime?”
“I wish I could wait, but I can’t . It isn’t necessarily safe because it’s daytime, and if we don’t settle it quickly, there’s no telling what will happen . If we’re attacked again tonight like we were last night, it’s unlikely I can handle them again in this condition . ”
. . . yeah .
“Lin-san, you stay here . I’m going to remove the barrier since it weakens my energy . ”
“Understood . ”
“Well then, shall we go?”
“But, where are you going?”
When I asked, Bou-san laughed .
“The ‘Sanroku mounds’, of course . You heard the voices chanting sutras, right?”
. . . ah .
John nodded at Bou-san’s voice .
“And the three were using the spirits gathered around here as enslaved spirits . ”
“It’s not only the gathered spirits . It’s also probably the five from the riot who were beheaded and the princess and her lover from the legend . All the spirits of the people who died roughly around this area, I think they’re all being enslaved as shiki . ”
“That’s a staggering amount . ”
Bou-san shrugged his shoulders as if fed up .
“Sort of . ”
“You should sleep . ”
It was Ayako who firmly said that all of a sudden .
“Then, are you saying we leave it to John alone? John is tired, too!”
“I’ll do it . ”
Bou-san sighed .
“I hate to say it, but it’s impossible for you . ”
“Look, I can do it!”
“Say that after you’ve been more useful . ”
Actually, that’s true . But, there was something she said last night . There being conditions or something…
“There were circumstances up till now . I can do it this time . Leave it to me and both you and John go to bed . You’re unsteady on your feet . ”
“Do you think I’ll say, ‘Yes, very well,’ and go to sleep?”
John stopped Bou-san, who was going to say something further .
“Why don’t we accept Matsuzaki-san’s kind offer and leave it to her?”
“John, wait a sec . ”
John looked at Ayako and smiled .
“However, I do not know what will happen, so may I go along as a measure of precaution? I’ll just watch since I’m very tired . ”
“You don’t trust me, huh?”
“I think there’s a difference between trust and irresponsible neglect . ”
After frowning slightly, Ayako sighed .
“Even though I was offering out of kindness . . . ”
“Sorry . ”
“It’s not like you have to apologize to me . How ridiculous . ”
. . . what? What’s with this confidence suddenly??
A morning fog was drifting outside . We left cautiously just in case, however, there were no signs in particular of an oncoming attack . The shop building was in terrible condition . The corridor walls were mostly chipped, and there were spots left on the pillars as well as the floor and ceiling as if they had been struck with an axe .
Still being cautious, we headed for the shrine . There was also a fog drifting around the small compound of the shrine . In the distance, birds were chirping peacefully . It felt bizarre .
The ‘Sanroku mounds’ were also immersed within the fog . Ayako was holding a single bottle of sake and just the branch of a sakaki tree, which had a bell attached to it .
“Ayako, can you really do it?”
When I asked, Ayako laughed confidently .
“I’m telling you, leave it to me . There’s no place better than this . ”
“ . . . Yes . ”
Ayako looked over the compound .
“Although it’s small, faith securely remains . The trees are also alive . ”
Ayako nodded . She scattered sake on the roots of the compound’s trees .
“There was a large camphor tree in front of my parents’ home . ”
. . . oh?
“A wonderful one with a sacred rope tied around it . It taught me various things from the time when I was little . ”
After saying this, Ayako frowned slightly .
“When I was little, since it would even inform me of the time of death of the patients that came to the hospital, I would get scolded every time I told my parents . ”
“ . . . really?”
“To tell the truth, I don’t think I have that much power . Still, I am a miko . ”
Ayako erected the sakaki in front of the mounds . There was a clear jingling sound .
“I will begin . ”
She put her hands together .
“I reverently offer this prayer for thy presence…”
I was sure it was the same prayer Ayako always did, but even so, it was much simpler than usual . And yet, it seemed like something profound, which was completely different . It was likely that Ayako’s own aura was different .
Ayako smoothly proceed with the ritual, her hands folded in prayer,
“Hail, I pray to thee, descend here before us and grant thy protection . ”
After chanting, she put her fingers together . She was using the formal method for cutting the nine syllables, not the fast version .
“Rin . . . ”
There was a clear chime from somewhere as if in response . I looked around the area . There were no silhouettes in the compound, which was heavy with fog .
“Pyō . . . ”
There was a chime once again . Something shook right nearby . Each time Ayako cut one of the nine syllables, a clear sound responded .
“Over there . . . ”
When I looked in the direction John was pointing, a figure drifted out from the trunk of a large tree . I watched it in astonishment . Figures drifted out from the trees here and there . They were faint shadows, but I knew they were people . There were many old men with beards grown long .
Those men, who had quietly gathered, walked calmly towards the sakaki . Whenever they reached the side of the sakaki, they would vanish . The sakaki’s bell shook each time and made a sound .
After watching the last one disappear, Ayako carefully formed the sword seal . She began cutting the air, five horizontal and four vertical .
I watched it while being strangely impressed and noticed there was still a silhouette in the distance .
“Aya . . . ”
When I tried to call out, Bou-san stopped me .
“But . . ”
“Shh . . . ”
But still, it remained . When I thought so and focused my eyes on the silhouette, I realized that it wasn’t one of the old men from the trees . It pushed its way through the morning fog and walked calmly closer . Each time the figure swayed, there was the sound of water lapping . When I noticed it, the sound repeated throughout our entire surroundings .
I soon knew who the one approaching was . His neck was broken and bent . . . there was no doubt that it was Kazuyasu-san .
Ayako bowed her head deeply and picked up the sakaki .
“Now, the time for all of you to rest has come . ”
Suddenly, the figure of a person rushed from the shadows . The stench of salt water assailed my nose . Ayako shook the sakaki faster than Bou-san could form the sword seal . The bell rang and the figure that had rushed over vanished into the fog .
From there, our jaws just dropped and we could do nothing but watch . The spirits of the dead approached Ayako as if drawn in— it was like they were completely unaware of the rest of us— they would vanish just from the ringing of the sakaki .
She also shook the sakaki toward Kazuyasu-san . For a moment, as he was disappearing, Kazuyasu-san’s appearance returned to its original state, then he dissolved into the fog .
“Sure enough… we weren’t needed . . . ”
Bou-san said suddenly . I nodded . While watching, I noticed something . The spirits of the dead weren’t gathering to attack Ayako . They were… gathering to be saved by her…
There was nothing dangerous about them . At last, black shadows flickered out from the mounds, however, they also just hung their heads at the ring of the sakaki and vanished .
After the figures ceased to approach, Ayako shook the sakaki toward the mounds to finish up . At the same time as the ringing sound, the three mounds cracked, making a noise .
Ayako erected the sakaki in front of them . When she placed her hands together, making a noise, the bell untied itself and fell . —With that, everything was completely over .
“Incredible… why did you hide that you have such tremendous power?”
When I asked on the way back, Ayako replied,
“I wasn’t particularly hiding it . You see, until now, there were no trees that were living . I always said the conditions were bad . ”
“Well, I just thought you were being a sore loser . ”
“Even if I explained the situation, you would think I was being a sore loser, right?”
Actually, that’s true…
“It has to be a purified location with living trees . Although, it doesn’t particularly have to be a shrine . All the same, the city shrines are full of leaves and other trash and when it comes to the trees, even the old ones are like mummies . I think the world is beyond saving when I see that . ”
Bou-san and John looked mystified . . . . I certainly understood the feeling .
“It was good that the mounds happened to be in the compound this time, but what if they weren’t?”
“If it’s in the vicinity, I can call that far . The five who died during the time of the riots were also there, right?”
“They were there?”
“Yes, they were there . There were five spirits without heads . —Should I take you there now?”
“That time when you exorcised Eijirou-san, we should have brought him to the shrine . ”
“It’s pointless to even do that to a human being . If it’s just a spirit, there are no spirits that can’t be purified . Besides, if I rely on a tree once, then I have to let it rest for half a year . If I had asked a tree for help at that point, then it would have been useless at the critical moment, wouldn’t it? I knew it would be expelled if John came . ”
. . . hmm . I don’t know why, but it’s cool . My view of her has already completely changed . From now on, I will call her Ayako-sama . Uh-huh .
“Well, the matter is settled now . ”
“Not yet . ”
At Ayako’s frank words, Bou-san, John, and I all involuntarily stopped short .
I take back what I just said . She’s Ayako .
“I said if it’s a spirit . There’s something here that isn’t a spirit . ”
“What did you say?”
Bou-san frowned .
“When I was performing the purification, there was a force that absolutely wouldn’t come near . If it was a spirit, it should have come seeking purification; therefore, that wasn’t a spirit . I don’t know what it is, but it’s a much greater force . I think that force is what was enslaving all those spirits as shiki . ”
“It wasn’t the spirits of the Rokubu?”
“That wasn’t the case . I think the three Rokubu were just shiki, too . Even Masako had said it was ‘sacred ground’, hadn’t she? For the spirits to gather in swarms like they did, it would have to be because there’s a special power there, right? Even Nao-san’s spirit called it a ‘monster . ’”
. . . that’s true .
“Then… there’s only one force such as that . ”
When Bou-san spoke, John nodded .
“I agree . ”
Eh? What is it?
“It’s ‘Okobu-sama’ . There’s nothing else . ”
“Did you say, ‘Okobu-sama’ . . . ?”
“The driftwood that washed ashore from the sea . Because its shape resembled a Buddha statue, a shrine was built and it was enshrined . —It’s an ‘Ebisu’ . A magnificent ‘Marebito’ . ”
Bou-san said, then made a bitter expression .
“I should have slept like Ayako advised . It appears we have to deal with a god . ”
On the way back, just in case, we went to examine the state of the mounds of the five people . Somewhat similar to the Sanroku mounds, the five mounds were also cleanly broken as if they had been sliced . The sacred shrine rope on Okobu and Mekobu had also been cut, and was drifting on the waves .
After that, we returned to base in succession, and then it was Bou-san who raised his voice first .
“ . . . Yo . Long time no see . ”
Inside was Akifumi-san and his family, who were soundly asleep, and Yasuharsan, who was struggling with a bunch of copies . Lin-san was replaying the video, and furthermore, supervising that was— Naru .
I was strangely moved when I saw his jet-black eyes, which stared back at Bou-san .
The spirit possessing Naru should have been one of the enslaved spirits, and the enslaved spirits were completely purified, so if you think about it, it’s no mystery that Naru woke up .
“Ah, Shibuysan, I’m glad you’re safe . ”
John smiled .
Naru looked coldly at Bou-san and John waving their hands, then turned his face back to the screen .
. . . a touching reunion— fail . What’s the deal?
Maybe he doesn’t remember anything? It could be a possibility, but I can’t imagine that Lin-san didn’t explain anything . Besides, there’s video evidence of him strangling Ayako .
“I want you to thank me . I forgot my past grudge and helped you, you know . ”
Naru didn’t even turn his gaze at Ayako’s absolutely disagreeable tone .
“Thank you . ”
It was a completely indifferent reply . Yasuharsan uncomfortably exchanged a look with us . When we stealthily approached his side, he spoke with a quiet voice,
“He’s in a horrible mood . ”
He grumbled such .
. . what a selfish guy . That’s the whole problem with narcissists .
Bou-san cleared his throat with a cough,
“Well, it looks like the source of the curse isn’t the Rokubu . ”
When Bou-san said this, Naru replied in a brusque voice,
“It’s ‘Okobu-sama’ . ”
We stared at Naru blankly .
“ . . . how do you know?”
“My brain works differently than yours . ”
. . urgh . What’s with your manner of speaking! When you’ve been sleeping this whole time!
Just as I thought of voicing one of these complaints, Yasuharsan spoke up .
“Here it is!”
Naru glanced towards Yasuharsan .
“Well, according to the contents of ‘The Cursing Patron God’, a certain shrine’s goshintai, ‘Okoboshi-sama’, would curse if it failed to be worshipped . Since ‘Okoboshi-sama’ is an ‘Ebisu’ god, it’s probably about ‘Okobu-sama’ . It’s said that ever since ‘Okoboshi-sama’ has been worshipped, storms and high waves have ceased . Because of that, it was worshipped exuberantly, but if the villagers and iwai failed to worship it, then it would immediately cause a disaster . In particular, many people from the iwai household would die as retribution . ”
“Matsuzaki-san, what’s an iwai?”
“Iwai…? Oh, it’s talking about a hafuri . It’s like a priest . ”
Naru nodded . Bou-san spoke timidly,
“What does it mean . . . ?”
Naru looked over us with cold-hearted eyes .
“There’s a shrine and there’s a cave behind it . That place is where dead bodies drift to . There is a small shrine and an ‘Ebisu’ called ‘Okobu-sama’ enshrined there . From the cave towards the direction of the shrine there is a path that is carved in the steep cliff, and there is an old stone stairway . —Why was such immense construction done? Naturally, they decided to do it because of a purpose . Why would they carry out such immense construction merely for the sake of a boring cave . Of course it’s because that shrine’s goshintai is there . They were forced to do it for that reason . ”
. . . ah .
“Moreover, if it was an insignificant god, they wouldn’t have done that . The being enshrined in that shrine is a god possessing power great enough to make them do that . ”
“I see . Then, that’s the current legend?”
“That’s right . I expected there to be a legend around this area about a god possessing great power . That’s why I had the documents looked over again . That’s what Yasuharsan just finished reading . ”
Naru said, then looked around at us .
“‘Okobu-sama’ is an ‘Ebisu’ god, and furthermore, it frequently calmed the disasters of the sea . However, it’s also a malicious god that curses if it fails to be worshipped . That shrine, which is considered to be dedicated to ‘Okobu-sama’, is now separated from the small shrine . This house is what’s separating them . In all likelihood, this was originally part of the shrine . It would be logical to assume the compound was sold off in pieces . ”
. . . certainly .
“If the shrine had a hafuri, he would have lived near the shrine . Wouldn’t that probably be here?”
“Probably . ”
“The place where the hafuri lived was divided when the tomb was built for the five ringleaders of the riot— that would be a reasonable conjecture . Moreover, it was resold as a private house . ”
—In other words, this location was where the hafuri lived a long time ago…?
“‘Okobu-sama’ believes that the inhabitant of this house is the priest that should worship it . Because the one who should be worshipping it isn’t worshipping it, that person is cursed . The current folklore is evidence of this . So, although the household wasn’t necessarily excluded while the fury of the curse was wielded, not everyone was killed . It deliberately left behind survivors since a priest is necessary in order for it to be worshipped . ”
It’s more anticlimactic than amazing . When it’s taken up by Naru, the situation becomes clear like this…
Naru looked around at us .
“We’re going to perform an exorcism on ‘Okobu-sama’ . ”
Bou-san interrupted .
“Wait a minute . Do we need to exorcise it?”
“Of course . ”
“But, don’t they just have to worship it?”
“It will repeat the same thing again if it isn’t worshiped . ”
“Still, isn’t it okay for the time being? Even though we’re dealing with an ‘Ebisu’, it is a type of god . It’s worse than a monster . You’re the one who said there’s no way to hunt a monster . ”
Naru smiled . It was a thoroughly disturbing and magnificent smile .
“Are you saying to overlook that thing? No way . ”
“It gave us so many pleasant experiences . It would be a courtesy to properly return the favor . ”
. . . he’s angry . I would call this furious .
“Or do you want to retire?”
Ayako hurriedly waved her hand in response to Naru’s gaze .
“I . . . I can’t do it . There’s no tree over there . ”
Naru’s cold gaze turned towards John .
“Me, too… I can do it if it's a possessing spirit, but I don’t know about an ‘Ebisu’ . ”
Lin-san shook his head .
“I do not think I can compete with it . —Naru, you ought to leave it alone . That being is beyond our powers . ”
Naru flatly ignored Lin-san .
Bou-san’s expression was extremely disgruntled .
“I could give it a try, but Naru-chan, in this case, we should do what Lin says . . . ”
“I don’t need anyone who’s incompetent . ”
Saying so, there isn’t anyone among us with a personality amiable enough to withdraw (Except John . However, John won’t withdraw due to his kind personality . )
In the end, we all nodded .
We made arrangements while we waited for low tide .
“Um… you needn’t force yourself to do it . Since we understand the source of the curse, we only need to worship it with great respect from now on . ”
Akifumi-san told us this . With a bitter expression, Bou-san replied,
“Naru-bou’s overtaking his rival . Anyway, we just have to try . ”
“But . . . ”
“Well, personally, it’s also about what happened to Nao-san and Kazuyasu-san . If I can return the blow, then I feel that I want to do it . ”
Akifumi-san deeply bowed his head .
After that, Bou-san said,
“Shōnen and Masako, Ayako, Mai, stay . What are you going to do, John?”
He said so while Naru wasn’t present . John replied,
“I don’t think I’ll even be useful, but I’ll go anyway . ”
“I’m going, too . ”
When I said this, Bou-san lightly glared at me .
“You’ll get in the way . Don’t come . I don’t think I can protect you . ”
. . . when it’s said so frankly, I’ll argue, but…
When I cast my eyes downward, Yasuharsan interjected .
“Each person will look out for themselves . Right, Taniyamsan?”
“ . . . eh?”
“By the way, I will also go . ”
Bou-san opened his mouth with shock .
“It can’t be stopped . It’s already been decided . Don’t worry . I’ll look after myself, and if I think it’s dangerous, I’ll escape before Takigawsan . ”
Bou-san argued harshly, but he was unable to obtain Yasuharsan’s consent .
“I wash my hands of you . ”
Yasuharsan waved at the robes of Bou-san, who gave a parting threat and left, then looked at us .
“Everyone, please come, too, if at all possible . ”
Masako, Ayako, and I all stared openmouthed .
“Hold on, boy, this is . . . ”
Yasuharsan made a serious expression .
“I know this isn’t a game . They need a rescue team . ”
When I asked, Yasuharsan nodded .
“You saw their injuries last night, right?”
“ . . . oh . ”
“I think Takigawsan’s back is still bleeding . Since the wounds were so deep . He’ll probably need stitches . They aren’t wounds that can be held together with just bandages . Brown-san also has a deep wound on his arm . It isn’t as bad as Takigawsan’s, but I think it will need stitches, too . ”
I looked at John and Bou-san, who started talking in the distance .
Bou-san was in his Buddhist priest robes and John was also in his Catholic priest uniform . Both outfits were black and I more or less couldn’t really tell if they were bleeding .
“It wouldn’t be so bad if the shrine was somewhere an ambulance was able to come alongside if called, but how will they return to the coast if they collapse? It’s unlikely that Shibuysan and Lin-san will be able to bring them back . If we don’t go, we won’t let them go either . . . . How about it?”
Ayako looked up to the sky .
“ . . . good grief, men… Naru, Bou-san and John, there’s really no helping them!”
To Yasuharsan, who nodded nonchalantly,
“You, too! When you can’t even to use a single one of the nine syllables!”
“Ahahaha . ”
Masako sighed .
“Both Takigawsan and Brown-san say they will go if Naru goes . And I do not think Naru will stay… You should have seen his face when he woke up . ”
“Was it terrible…?”
I guess his pride is shattered .
“I understand Matsuzaki-san’s feelings well . I thought that he was still possessed . ”
. . . is that so?
“There is no choice when it comes to this . . . Mai . ”
“Could you lend me some clothes? This type of clothing is out of the question in case of an emergency . ”
“ . . . No problem . . . ”
Ah, I was surprised…
While returning with Masako to get the change of clothes, I grinned slightly . Masako disapproved .
“Is it that strange for me to wear western style clothes?”
“Well, there’s also that . ”
“There is? What on earth is it?”
“Hmm . . . ”
I smiled .
“See, you used my name without an honorific . ”
Masako covered her mouth in surprise . She looked at me petulantly and said,
“ . . . do you disapprove? You use my name without honorifics . ”
“Yup . So you can keep doing it ♡”
Masako glowered .
“I like being called without honorifics . It makes you feel closer, right?”
“ . . . perhaps that’s true . ”
“A while ago you would call me by my last, right? Recently, don’t you occasionally use my first name without honorifics? I’m happy with the change in sentiment . ”
Masako looked at me out of the corner of her eye .
“It does not mean we are familiar with each other . ”
“Sure . ”
“It’s what you call fellow sufferers sympathizing with each other . ”
Masako released a sigh .
“We both chose a difficult person . ”
“ . . . is that so?”
Umm, hello, that is it, right…?
Unconcerned by me, who was flustered, Masako said,
“When I saw Naru after he woke up, I felt sorry for myself and wondered, ‘Why this person?’ However you think about it, someone like Takigawsan or Yasuharsan or Brown-san would be preferable . ”
“ . . . you can say that again . ”
We sighed amicably .
“It would also be much easier to converse as well . But, I suppose I should say it cannot be helped . ”
“Let’s call it something strange . ”
“It really is, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, really . ”
Once again, we sighed together, and then burst into giggles after that .
—Has a friendship unexpectedly happened from a ill-natured sweetheart?
We waited for low tide, then went to the cave . The cave where the ‘Ebisu’ had come . The sacred ground where there was a cursing god .
Seeing us, who said we would accompany them, Naru looked unhappy to the fullest . Truly bad personality!
The cave was deathly quiet . There was the scent of the tide and the sound of waves echoing throughout the cavity .
“Hey, Ayako . ”
I unconsciously whispered since the sound resonated well .
“ . . . hmm?”
“All of the enslaved spirits were cleansed, right?”
“They should be . . . ”
I felt slightly deflated by her uneasy tone .
“No way, don’t tell me you failed with that . ”
“I don’t mean that I failed . But if it can truly calm things like storms and high waves, it might be easy for it to bring back the purified spirits . ”
“Wa—wait . . . ”
“We can’t be careless . It is more or less a ‘god’ . ”
Masako murmured .
“It is safe . At least, they are not here right now . As before, it feels like sacred ground, but… very empty sacred ground . . . ”
As we lapsed into silence, there was only the sound of the waves . It was a truly empty place .
Naru’s merciless voice resounded .
“Let’s get started . ”
Bou-san exhaled once, then stood in front of the shrine and opened the doors . The figure of the strangely shaped driftwood appeared . There was a simple altar in front of the shrine . Bou-san formed a seal, chanted a mantra and built an invisible temple herein . A barrier descended and the temple was built, then he summoned a Buddha there . I gathered that this was the prayer that Bou-san always did . The invisible temple was made from his energy . Therefore, if Bou-san were to lose consciousness, it would disappear immediately…
“On bazara gini harachi hataya sowaka . ”
Something gave off a sound from somewhere . The quiet, short sound disappeared soon after I strained my ears to listen . I heard it again before I could ask Ayako if she didn’t hear something just now . I could hear it a little more clearly now . The low sound came briefly, then disappeared again . When it sounded for the third time, Ayako and Masako also looked around .
“ . . . what’s that sound?”
“How should I know?”
I could hear it again as we whispered together . It gradually became clear . That unmistakable, low, low evenly spaced sound .
“This is . . . ”
“The sound of a heart…?”
It was certainly beating . It was the sound of an internal organ expanding and contracting .
Called out by Masako, I looked in the direction she was pointing . Then I saw the cave wall moving slightly . The rock surface was very slightly pulsing in accordance with the beating . It had a smooth gloss that did not seem like rock… It was considerably dark inside here . I cautiously tried approaching the wall . I gently reached out my hand .
“Stop it, Mai!”
But, if I touched it, I would know . Is this an illusion or something different . . . ? My fingertips touched it . The point where I touched had a rough and hard feel . Although I was sure beyond a doubt that it was rock, it was very warm .
“This . . . ”
The beating sound became even louder . Every time it sounded, the surrounding walls trembled . Mixed with the beating, I could hear the sound of low breathing . It felt like we had entered the belly of a huge creature .
It was Yasuharsan who suddenly cried out . Bou-san looked back .
“The entrance is starting to close!”
I hurriedly looked between the entrances of the coast side and the cove side . They were undoubtedly more narrow than when we came in . Already, the width that remained at the entrance of the cove side was only enough for a single person to pass through .
“Kyataya hanjasa hadaya sowaka!”
A red light quickly flowed into my field of vision . It rushed through the inside of the cave, however, the state of the closed entrance did not change . Nevertheless, the movement, which was in the process of closing at a visible rate, came to a dead stop .
“It’ll open naturally if we stop the source . Don’t worry about that . ”
Naru’s voice spoke calmly .
The openings that remained at both the coast side and the cove side were only enough for a person to turn sideways and barely pass through . I stared at it for a while . I couldn’t help but confirm that it wasn’t moving or closing any further and we wouldn’t be trapped in here .
The beating sound continued . The sound of breathing also continued . Then, at that juncture, a loud sound joined the others . It was a sound resembling someone shouting something in the distance somewhere . It was the voices of many people shouting at the top of their voice’s with a scream . Though I looked around, there weren’t any figures . The voices were echoing in a place that was somewhere separated by something thick . Probably on the opposite side of the cave wall . . . . and now they drew nearer .
I closed my eyes tightly . There was a dark hole on the opposite side of the wall, and from within that, a large number of dead people were shouting as they drew nearer— I drove away that illusion . They came even closer . They would be here soon…
“In the beginning was the Word . ”
John spoke . He connected his fingers and closed his eyes .
“The Word was with God . The Word was God . The Word was in the beginning with God . All things were made by the Word . Without the Word was not any thing made that was made . . . ”
The voices that came across the wall halted .
Just as I sighed in relief, Naru spoke sternly .
“Bou-san, the prayer . ”
“ . . . Right . ”
Bou-san said and continued his mantra . At the same time, a pale light began to illuminate the surface of the wall . Faint light, which shined dimly, seeped out onto the surface of the wall and formed pale human faces . One after another they rose to the surface here and there, and it seemed as though a countless number of masks were lined up . The faces appeared clearly, opened their mouths, and began to shout . Furthermore, two arms leisurely came out from beneath each face and went forward . The inside of the cave was filled with voices similar to screams .
“Naumaku sanmanda bazara dankan!”
The faces that had risen to the surface near Bou-san disappeared . Following this, Lin-san whistled with his fingers . Ayako and I cut the nine syllables and…
The inside of my mind was filled with the thought, “You should run away . ” I remembered what happened when the base was attacked . If we cut the nine syllables, the faces would disappear for the time being, however, they would resurface shortly in that case and it would repeat . Even if we were to do that, it would be endless . We would inevitably become worn out…
A red light flowed through the inside of the cave once again . My eyes opened wide in astonishment as a transparent red color extended over my entire field of view . When it disappeared, I couldn’t see any of the faces that had emerged on a great deal of the wall’s surface .
That was Bou-san just now . When I thought this and looked back, Bou-san was just preparing his Tokkosho . He threw it into the shrine . It struck into the driftwood .
“Tari tsuta boritsu hara boritsu takimei takimei kara santan uenbi sowaka!”
At the same time as he finished speaking, Bou-san was blown back by some kind of force .
We rushed over and helped up Bou-san, who had fallen to the bottom of the wall .
“Are . . . are you okay!?”
Yeah, I should think so .
“John . I’m sorry, but that Tokkosho . . . ”
After this was said by Bou-san, John looked at the shrine .
“Break the driftwood with that . ”
With a shout, John ran up to the shrine . He pulled out the Tokkosho and raised it overhead . Before he had time to pierce the driftwood, John was flung back this time and crashed beside Bou-san .
Yasuharsan broke into a run instead . He picked up the Tokkosho dropped by John and rushed toward the shrine . Now Yasuharsan slammed into the wall .
. . . it’s completely useless . There’s nothing we can do about it .
“Yasuharsan, are you okay?”
“ . . . owowow . Well, somehow… I’m alive . ”
At that time, a sickening calm voice resounded .
“Is that all?”
Naru turned his gaze toward Bou-san . His eyes were cold .
. . . I’m . . . I’m angry!!
“Knock it off!!!”
Naru turned his gaze toward me .
“What are you so worked up about!? Bou-san and everyone else already reached their limit saving you!! Why does everyone have to go so far just for the sake of your pride!?”
Naru only frowned .
“Even your pride is worthless! Don’t you think it’s ridiculous!? If your own pride is so important, why don’t you do it yourself without relying on others!? You have others protect you, so how much can that pride be worth!!?”
Ahhh, I’m furious! This guy!!
Naru looked at me expressionlessly .
“ . . . That’s a just argument . ”
Hmph . I won .
The beating sound and sound of breathing was still resounding in the cave . And the shouts of people could be heard from far away . I looked at the cave entrance . Somehow it was not a width where we would be trapped inside .
“Bou-san, are you okay?”
“I don’t seem very okay . ”
“Let’s go . It’s enough… already . ”
I led Bou-san by the hand . As I pulled, Bou-san raised his body .
“Naru-chan, sorry . I’m at my limit . ”
Naru didn’t reply . Lin-san helped me lift Bou-san . John stood and supported Bou-san beneath his arm . Masako and Ayako lifted Yasuharsan .
“Well, we’re going back . ”
Lin-san and John supported Bou-san’s arms and began to leave . Naru had his back turned, oblivious of that . His gaze was fixed— toward the shrine .
Though I called, he didn’t look back . The others, who had begun to hurry towards the entrance, looked back .
Lin-san shouted and quickly tried to turn back . John lost his balance and Bou-san nearly fell over, but he hastily stood firm in place .
“Naru! Don’t do it!!”
Naru didn’t look back . He advanced towards the shrine . His hair lightly drifted up as if he was encircled by a gentle breeze .
Just as I thought this, there was a ringing in my ears . I heard a low sound as if there were small insects or something flying deep within my ears . I quickly reached out my hand . Just as I touched Naru’s arm in an attempt to hold him back, something repelled my fingertips .
It was like strong static electricity . Like what occurs when you touch metal during dry weather midwinter . There was a violent striking sound and something solid caused a splitting pain against my fingertips .
What is this?
Naru stood directly facing the shrine .
What is that?
The air was distorted .
The air surrounding Naru’s body was clearly distorted as if a heat haze was rising from his body . It was rapidly thickening . The distortion immediately began spreading . Naru clenched his lowered right hand into a fist and grasped the wrist with his left hand . His stance looked like he was trying to accumulate something in the tip of his fist . Then, the air began to bend and warp around his fist at a visible speed .
Suddenly, I felt something strange on my skin . Like when the little hairs on your body bristle just as your hair rises up . It was similar to that . That feeling when static electricity happens… like when plastic sheets are brought close and rubbed together . I felt a gentle wind . It was something like an air flow rather than a wind .
Even the air around me was distorted . Everything looked shaken and distorted as if looking through warped glass or the inside of water .
“What is this?”
Naru had raised his hand just before I spoke . The distortion ended and a mass of congealed air dripped from the inside of his fist . That’s what it looked like . Lin-san spoke, but the ringing in my ears was intense and I couldn’t understand what he was saying .
Suddenly, Naru swung down his arm . The air broke from the top of his fist . —That’s what it looked like . A fissure was made in the air like a crack in warped glass and the scenery there was completely skewed . The fissure extended and began to spread in the direction in which his arm was swung down . In that moment, the glass filled landscape was torn to pieces and broke . The air crumbled, and the distorted image cracked along with the distorted shrine .
There was a strange feeling of air slowly creeping up from my feet . It caressed my spine, then disappeared .
In actuality, I think it only took about ten seconds from when Naru held his arm until then . After a long, long ten seconds passed, the same scene as before remained . The cave smelled of the tide and we all stood frozen as if rigid like the dark rock surface . Naru remained standing . I couldn’t hear the beating . There was neither breathing nor the voices . Instead, the sound of the waves could be heard .
The shrine remained unchanged with the door still open . However, that was excluding the driftwood inside there, which was broken . The fragments were scattered inside and around the shrine .
Naru silently looked back at Bou-san’s weak voice . He had a sardonic smile on his face .
“The presence . . . ”
Masako looked around the inside of the cave .
“The presence has disappeared . This place is no longer sacred ground . ”
. . . eh?
Masako looked at the cave entrance .
“Even the spirits that had been gathered are gone…”
The entrance was completely back to normal, and from the wide open mouth one could see the waves break onto the rocky stretch . The horizon was visible beyond there and a white sky extended above that .
“This place is just a cave . ”
“That thing… disappeared?”
Masako nodded .
“I think so . Definitely . . . ”
Bou-san exhaled .
“Right now, I’m full of the desire that you would have done it from the beginning if you were able to exorcise it . ”
Naru said nothing . He turned his gaze toward us and started walking .
“Let’s go . ”
We looked at each other, then hastily followed him .
Helping Bou-san and Yasuharsan, who were close to sinking to the ground, we went through the rocky stretch and returned to the coast . The tide had gradually risen and the stone path had become submerged to ankle depth . While staggering, we returned to the coast and sat down in the shade where it was dry and the waves could not reach . The pebbles on the beach were warm and I felt extremely relieved when I touched them .
“Bou-san, are you okay?”
I nudged Bou-san, who was exhausted .
“ . . . I’m dying . ”
“Pull yourself together . ”
“ . . . sleep . ”
Yeah, yeah . Yasuharsan was also crouched . His face had become ghastly pale .
“What about you, Yasuharsan? Are you okay?”
“Well… it seems like I hit something hard . . . ”
“Is it painful?”
Yasuharsan looked directly at me .
“It’s terribly painful . ”
Uh-oh . Was he joking or was he serious? Either way, immediate action was necessary .
Just as I thought something like that and attempted to stand up, Ayako suddenly cried out .
When I looked back at her scream, Naru was lying on the beach .
Everyone rushed over . The one who leaped at him first was Lin-san .
. . . is—is it anemia again?
Attempting to lift Naru, Lin-san’s body suddenly stiffened . He immediately laid his face on top of Naru’s chest .
Naru’s face was pale . A faint shadow had visibly formed on his tightly closed eyelids .
“Hey, is he okay!?”
Ignoring Ayako’s screamed question, Lin-san straightened . He placed both his hands on Naru’s chest, applied his body weight, and pushed with all his strength .
If—if you do such a thing, Naru’s whole body will break!
Lin-san pressed his chest a few times in that way, then impatiently withdrew his hands . He grabbed Naru’s collar and swung up one hand .
. . . Wa—wait, Lin-san!!
Before I could stop him, there was a violent smacking noise . He slapped him mercilessly .
…what did you just say?
John broke into a run .
“I’ll call an ambulance!”
Naru was taken to a nearby emergency hospital and, to our absolute terror, immediately taken to the intensive care unit .
We were forced out of the hospital room and stood dumbfounded in the corridor . Yasuharsan, who was crouched over, was taken for treatment along with John and Bou-san . The door to the hospital room did not open for a while . Ayako went off somewhere saying she was going to check everyone’s conditions, and in the end, Masako, Lin-san and I stood there quietly waiting .
If I remain silent, I’ll only think about bad things . Just as I was getting sick of my dark thoughts, a doctor at last came out .
“Is someone his proxy?”
That being said, Lin-san went forward .
“It appears to be shock . His pulse is weak, and a considerable arrhythmia is present . His blood pressure is also very low . It resembles a heart attack, but judging from his electrocardiogram, it seems it’s not a heart attack . Has he ever had a similar attack before?”
“If it was light, several times . So far, it was the first time it was severe . ”
“During his illness, was there any fever?”
“There was none . ”
“Then, does he have allergies? Was he taking any medicine?”
“No . ”
“What about an angina attack?”
“There was none . ”
The doctor hmmed .
“Once the blood pressure elevation medicine is administered, his blood pressure will gradually return to normal . We can assume he is recovering from shock . Since there’s concern that complications will occur following this, he’ll be hospitalized for the time being and we will watch his progress . ”
Masako covered her face and crouched on the spot . Seeing that, Lin-san bowed his head to the doctor .
“ . . . Thank you in advance . ”
“The nurse has an explanation of everything . ”
After he saw off the doctor, who bowed and left, I pulled on Lin-san’s sleeve .
“Is something wrong with Naru?”
“No . There is no specific illness in particular . ”
“Then… Naru used Qigong, didn’t he? Is that the cause?”
Lin-san’s eyes widened in surprise .
“He fainted before, too . You said it was anemia, but that wasn’t really the case, was it?”
My mother had died in an accident . The cause of death was shock from blood loss . Shock, I know, is a truly terrible condition .
“Did you stop Naru because you knew this would happen?”
Lin-san lightly exhaled .
“ . . . That’s right . ”
“Is Qigong such a dangerous technique? You can also cure illness with the technique, right? And yet, why does Naru get like this when he uses it?”
Lin-san patted my shoulders to calm me down .
“Everyone releases ch’i . That is what is known as presence . Usually, it is only released and cannot be used for anything . Qigong is a technique that successfully amplifies that and controls it for a certain purpose . It’s the same as any sport and with enough training, anyone can to do it to a certain extent . However, in Naru’s case, nothing can compare . ”
. . . nothing can compare .
“It’s an innate ability . Naru used to cause poltergeists when he was a child . ”
. . . ah .
“I taught him Qigong for the purpose of controlling the emission of ch’i that was uncontrollable by his own consciousness . Therefore, his style is quite similar to Qigong . However, it’s on a completely different level . ”
“Is . . . that so?”
“Yes . Nevertheless, Naru’s power is too great for a human being . Therefore, if he uses it, his body is unable to keep up . ”
“ . . . It’s my fault . ”
Tears spilled . However, I think crying at this point is a cowardly thing .
“It’s because I said things in order to provoke him . ”
“It was his fault for taking the provocation . ”
“But . . . ”
Lin-san laughed slightly .
“Naru knew what would happen . If he was cool-headed, then he would not have taken the provocation like he did . In the first place, he’s not the kind of person to lose his composure . He will be extremely angry with his blunder . The loss of restraint will damage his self-esteem, since his pride is ridiculously high . ”
. . . that’s true, but…
“It’s a foolish thing to risk your life for the sake of pride . When he wakes up, he will realize that . It’s good medicine . —Although, he will probably be in a bad mood for a while . ”
“ . . . maybe . ”
“Being upset caused him to blunder and draw a sword that should not be drawn . He will be difficult for a while and lose his temper because of his so-called double blunder . If he had also failed in the exorcism, he would have died from indignation . ”
I laughed a little .
“ . . . You’re right . —Will he heal properly?”
Lin-san gave me a small smile .
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