After finishing Ozaki Kyouko's vigil, Seishin went towards the church. In the darkness and the silence, with no figure of God at the altar, there was only the hollow on the verge of collapse. He waited a bit but there was no sound of approaching footsteps.
He couldn't stand looking at Kyouko's form for a moment longer. Likewise, he couldn't stand to see Toshio's emaciated face. He had no words for him, nor were there any words to be said to himself. Seishin and Toshio alike, throughout the short span of the ceremony, exchanged only formalities without so much as meeting each others gazes.
Seeing his emaciated state, he felt sympathetic. In truth, Toshio had been under harsh conditions since that summer. overrun with patients without any proper rest, he fruitlessly tended to the victims. The days at Kyouko's side must have been more pressure on Toshio than ever before. It wasn't unexpected that he would be wasting away. ---But.
It was the case that Toshio used Kyouko as an experiment, he thought. He could not forget that. Though his own wife was dead, betting on the possibility that she would revive, he concealed her death. When thinking of the fact that while Toshio was doing medical examinations on the first floor, on the second floor he was tending to Kyouko's dead body, a chill ran down Seishin's spine. And far from having any intent to keep her alive, Toshio observed her corpse, waiting for her revival.
Yes, Toshio had answered himself that he thought she might revive. Expecting that she might revive he concealed her corpse but that was not to save Kyouko had she revived. Toshio had already made up his mind. The Shiki were enemies, they could not be left alive. Assuming he would be killing her from the start, he waited for Kyouko's revival. And as soon as he had seen her revival, he took blood samples and analtzed them, administered a variety of drugs to her, testing for how to effectively kill her. He used the woman who was his wife.
Toshio's actions were that of a barbarian. Just thinking of what took place in that operating room sent a chill down his spine. Toshio believed that what he was doing was an act of justice but to Seishin he was going off course. But maybe Seishin was the only one to think that.
If not for the existence of the Shiki, or rather without saving the village as his Just Cause, Toshio's actions would probably be seen as violence off the far end of insanity. No, even with that, to Seishin that was all that he could see it as. He could not understand how Toshio's mind worked to not show any signs of a guilty conscience.
Was there a need to go that far, he wondered. To submit the woman he married to cadaver tests all to look for a way to drive them out? Perhaps it was the same in the way the Shiki hunted humans, he realized. Yes---It was as Toshio had said, it was inevitable for the Shiki. If they did not hunt humans, they themselves would starve. The Shiki were carnivorous beasts. They lived by hunting others. If that was the case then why were carnivores, why was the act of eating meat declared to be evil?
But---looking at things from the perspective of the victims, it was an outrageous, pitiful death. He couldn't say to the victims that, like a lion hunting its prey, that with was the providence of nature.
---You just don't want to dirty your own hands.
Toshio's words were correct. Seishin did not want to become a mass murderer. Toshio's accusation that the reason he could be so placid about the Shiki was because he was not a Shiki, because their slaughtering was something on the opposite shore, removed and othered, may not have been incorrect.
However, Seishin looked up at the empty hollow the flashlight shone into.
There was no god at the altar. There was nothing to denote what was good. Seishin himself had to find that answer, and yet he remained huddled and unmoving.
Maybe Seishin was the only one paralyzed by such a situation. In this too, Seishin was indeed a heretic.
Even while looking for the right thing to do, he couldn't find it. Even if he thought that it was good, he couldn't declare that it was. Just as he who wandered the wasteland had sought to offer up the most appropriate offering could not be understood by God who had only seen it as a breach of the covenant. Seishin was separated from the world thusly.
Caught up in his melancholic thoughts, he returned to the night roads in a more pessimistic mood than when he had arrived.
It was when he had neared the graveyard that he heard noises. He realized somebody had crossed the road ahead. Rather, it seemed that somebody was surprised by Seishin and hid themselves, he thought.
Seishin turned his flashlight towards it. Amongst the dried fall leaves rustled in the night wind, the shrubs and trees planted to outline the border of the graveyard, in that darkness it cowered.
When he shone the light in that direction, in its vicinity was a freshly posted sotoba. It was Yuuki Natsuno's grave. At its base was gathered a small bundle of flowers. They were clearly freshly placed. As if somebody had just laid them out.
They were all the types that grew wild in the nearby area. They were offered in the night. What could it be that would be unafraid of the night in this village? For what purpose did they take the trouble of placing flowers at Natsuno's grave?
"......Who is it?" Seishin did realize how comical himself calling out into the darkness was. "Is there somebody there?"
There was no answer in the darkness. The wilted leaves rustled in the wind with a dry sound.
"I will speak my gratitute. Natsuno-kun is also likely pleased, I believe. ......However, it may be better to have done it during the day. Or is it that you are unable to visit the grave in the day time?"
Suddenly there was a faint voice. For an instant, Seishin thought that it was the cry of a small animal but as it continued he realized that it was unmistakably a human voice, and he ascertained furthermore that it was the voice of one desperately enduring something as if for their own life.
"Who might you be? It is dangerous to walk the roads at night. If you would like, shall I walk you home?"
You can't, a small voice sounded. Seishin unconsciously held his breath and went stiff.
(I can't come out...... Please do.)
Seishin released the breath he hadn't known he was holding. It was indeed a human voice, unmistakably a sound that came from a body with vocal chords. Somebody was lurking in the darkness whose will and intent it would be possible to understand. It was a human being and furthermore one which specifically held no will to harm Seishin.
"Who might you be?"
Seishin asked once again. The voice was young. He had thought he had heard the voice before but no concrete face rose to his mind.
"It is dangerous at night."
"I can't go out at any time besides the night, anymore."
"Please come out."
"I can't. ......I can't show my face."
"Why is that?"
In the darkness there was a vocal sob. "......Because I'm the one who has killed Natsuno."
Seishin suddenly had a realization. "You are---Is it perhaps Mutou-san's..."
"Please don't finish that sentence. If you could, please forget this. At the very least, please do not say anything to my father or to the family."
Seishin nodded. "......I understand."
"Junior Monk, you aren't surprised? You aren't afraid of me?"
"That's right, isn't it? ......I'm not afraid."
I see, he murmured. "Please, I'm asking politely, so please do not say anything to my father and the others. And I won't come anymore."
"I promise. I will forget about you. And I will be the one to stop coming about the graveyard."
So there is no need to stop visiting the grave, he had wanted to say but the other had leaked out a sob.
"I can't come anymore. It's true that I really did want to apologize to Natsuno but the truth is that I was waiting. I thought Natsuno might rise up. ......But Natsuno probably won't. It looks like it's no good at this point. If he hasn't risen up by now, Natsuno is probably going to stay dead." His faint voice leaked out with a sob. "I killed him. Natsuno isn't anywhere in this world anymore. And never will be. ......And I'm the one who did that. I know that. But I'm sad that Natsuno is gone. Incredibly sad."
"I know that."
Spoken to by Seishin, he cried in a hushed voice.
"He was like another little brother to me, Junior Monk. He was twisted in some ways, definitely cheeky, but he was a good guy. But now he's dead. Because I killed him. It wasn't that I wanted to kill him, not at all. But if I didn't hunt Natsuno, my sister and brother would be attacked I was told......"
Seishin remained quiet, brows furrowing.
"I didn't want to do something like this. But there was no choice. They're just fine with ordering things like this. They don't care about how cruel it is. But even amongst them I have to do certain things or they won't help me, there's no other way to get by."
His faint sobs carried on the wind.
"They're Oni, real ones. They nave no compassion at all. The bunch of them, they should all just die without even one left alive. I really do think that, myself. But I'm one of them. Even I hunted and killed Natsuno."
"You were coerced weren't you?"
"That's right. I wanted to protect my family. That's why I attacked Natsuno. But I can't use that as an excuse. ......After all, even now I'm coming back from attacking someone else."
Seishin held his breath.
"Isn't it a pathetic story? I'm coming here to visit Natsuno's grave, thinking I'm sorry for killing, resenting them for ordering it, while attacking another human. That's, I knew it wasn't right. There was no helping it with Natsuno, but at the same time I'm not being ordered or threatened and I'm continuing to hunt people, and I knew that wasn't right. But I'm hungry, you know. ---Isn't it funny? I'm just that hungry. If I don't eat something, I'll die, I think. I can't bare that and so I'm choosing on my own to go out killing."
Seishin unthinkingly hung his head.
"When I get hungry I get to thinking what's so bad about killing people? I say, I mean, I've already killed even Natsuno. I really regret killing him but even while I think 'so let's stop this,' I'm told that if I don't continue to attacking them, when they come back to consciousness, they'll go do something somewhere to make us public. I don't want to be discovered. I don't want my dad and my mom to know I've become this. I don't want anyone to know. If it gets out, won't my dad and mom be blamed by everyone? I don't want that to happen to them. Thinking that, I continue to attack them, and then they end up dying."
"That is...... Not your fault."
It was because the Shiki cannot live without attacking people. That's what it was to be a predator. None the less, his conscience hadn't died. Even though his way of life and survival had fundamentally changed, his conscience hadn't changed at all. That was---entirely too cruel.
"I was threatened and attacked Natsuno. But lately I wonder if that was really the case. They said that if I didn't attack Natsuno, my family would be attacked. They enjoy doing that. They knew I got along with Natsuno and went through the trouble of ordering it. I didn't go against it and did just what they said but, I mean I made the excuse to myself that I wanted to protect my family but it isn't as if doing it can really stop anyone else from attacking my dad and the others. It's not as if I can protect them. Just like I'm hunting others, any other one of us might attack them. When I thought of that, all I could say to myself was to run away from Sotoba, but if I was going to say run away, I should have done so before attacking Natsuno."
"That was what I had to do, Junior Monk. But I did not. I was threatened into attacking Natsuno but I don't think that was really the case. I think that I always knew. That I couldn't live without attacking somebody. That I have to kill people. The others are the same way. As long as they're in Sotoba, they'll be attacked. Even Natsuno would eventually have to be attacked by somebody. If he was going to be killed anyway, if there was no choice but to kill him, I think I thought it was better if I did it. At least, if he had to be killed anyway, I'm sure I thought it was better to be killed by somebody he knew than somebody he'd never even seen."
With that he let out a self-depreciating laugh.
"I'm spoiled. I knew him, I got along with him. If I did something to a complete stranger, wouldn't it feel like I'd never be forgiven? But Natsuno was a friend and a little brother. Even if somebody else wouldn't forgive me, I had the feeling he'd forgive me. But if that was the case, I should've attacked my dad. My little brother or sister would've been better too. But I had the feeling that if I did something terrible to my family, that'd be unforgivable to in another way. So I attacked Natsuno."
His dry laugh warped into a sobbing tone.
"So I killed him like that thinking he might rise up and came every night to check on it. I didn't want Natsuno to die. Natsuno is precious to me. But even that as wrong. If Natsuno rose, if he didn't stay dead, it'd write off the fact that I killed him. As long as Natsuno wasn't erased from this world, while I'd still have attacked him, it wouldn't mean I killed him. That's why I wanted him to rise up. ......That's the kind of guy I am."
That was a natural, human way to feel, Seishin wanted to say to comfort him, but the words woudln't come. Was he going to say: it's only natural, so don't worry about it and keep on attacking? He couldn't very well recommend that and so there was no meaning in comforting him.
"To be honest it's food he didn't rise up. He shouldn't become a monster like me. But since Natsuno isn't rusing, I'm a murderer, and so I don't have the duty to come here anymore. I don't have the right to say please don't be dead for me. I'm being spoiled by Natsuno like this too. Just like how he left the window open to the end for me."
Seishin gazed into the darkness.
"If I said 'sorry', he'd say it couldn't be helped. So I had a feeling that even if I came to the grave he'd forgive me. But I didn't want someone who'd say that to me to die. The one who made him die, even while he was so previous to me, the one who killed him was me."
Seishin took a heavy breath. His thoughts were slipping away into a hole. A dark hole there was no salvation from. And as long as his existence continued, he would never escape from it. If there was anything that could be his salvation, his heart and his compassion---everything that made him what he was, would have to be abandoned, until massacre did not move his heart, the equivalent of the destruction of himself.
Seishin took in a breath.
"Human existence is in such a way, truly such a sadness, isn't it......"
"It really is."
So he said as the sound of himself pushing through the underbrush was heard. His presence was growing further away. At last he disappeared into the night winds.
Seishin breathed a deep sigh and then returned to the temple office, spreading out his manuscript.
He himself knew that it was a sin and that by that sin he could not be accepted into the order, that he would be completely denied for it. God would not overlook his sin, his sin would not be allowed. He would be judged and driven from paradise.
Indeed it was as it had happened and now he had been exiled to the wastelands.
He lost his hometown, he lost his God, he lost any possibility of being accepted. He lost his little brother, he lost his world, leaving him with not but the poetic struggle, but the lamentation, but the curses upon him. In slaying his little brother, he gained nothing at all, and there was nothing to save him.
I swear, I by no means wanted to kill you.
He called out to the already fading dim light dyeing the empty sky before him. As if in answer the distant will-o'-the-wisps lit up in the distance.
He walked towards it as if draw forward. Surrounded by the will-o'-the-wisps, the Shiki stood there.
His little brother's eyes were, as expected, fixated upon him. Those two eyes gazed directly at him with no hint of blame.
Now his little brother looked nothing like a person in a painting. The great earth that was the wasteland his little brother stood in, the somber night, that spectacle still did not strike him as a picture. It should have been the very picture of melancholy itself. None the less, as he did not suit the setting to be the least bit like a man in such a painting, he did not have the slightest feeling of the separation of one who was gazing only at a picture.
The green hill, the wasteland that surrounded it. Said another way, within the wasteland the hill was a completely isolated, spiritual world. The hill was a variation within the wasteland, and he by being what was different from what it was he was within, was also a heretic. So in that way perhaps he was suited to the wasteland. In fact perhaps in regards to wandering the earth, it was his little brother who was more ill suited.
A painting of a man wandering the great and dreary earth, ---perhaps he had been entered into such a painting, and perhaps it was the little brother who was looking at that painting. As a man living within the painting, maybe he saw his spectator, his little brother who had become a Shiki, as an outsider. Perhaps to his little brother who looked over him in the green fields, he had looked like a Shiki.
Even just the memory of the sight of his little brother standing in the green fields struck him now. Now long chased from that hill, despite having no way to ever return to it, he was ripe with the desire to enter back into that picture.
When he had wielded a weapon against his little brother, by in fact destroying the painting with that motion, perhaps he had wanted to resolutely bring an end to his poetic, laboriously written struggles and unease, perhaps that was the nature of his action.
In fact in cutting himself off from the world, he had entirely forfeited his claim to it. But at the same time he did at least have to wonder why the world would not accept him. He had now become freed from the poetic struggle he had with such a question.
The world rejected him because he was a sinner.
As for a reason why, all he could think of was that it was because he could not escape the expectation that the world would not accept him. Being ever unable to throw off that expectation, it was ever a distant irritation.
In becoming the slaughterer of his little brother, he had created within himself a complete despair as an equilibrium, a form of stability perhaps.