Chapter 5:

Welcome to Purgatory


Yukio was little again. It meant his family was still alive, and they could go together to the park again. It meant he could hold the hands of his parents again, and never let go.Bookmark here

No. He was even more little. He was back in his mother’s womb.Bookmark here

That’s exactly what he thought, as he floated through a darkness darker than death. He didn’t feel like he was dreaming. It was like he was plunged into the deepest depths of the ocean, his senses numb, his limbs tied up with rope. He was surrounded by oddly-shaped fishes that were jointly observing him, probably to determine whether he was food or not.Bookmark here

No. That’s not it either.Bookmark here

Where was he?Bookmark here

What was he doing?Bookmark here

The questions, along with Yukio himself, kept floating in the darkness, trying to find a place where they belonged. Yes, that was what he was doing all his life. Every time he found happiness in a place, every time someone’s embrace gave him the comfort he so direly needed, the flames flickered and they were gone. All that was left was darkness. Both inside, and outside.Bookmark here

Outside?Bookmark here

What he had mistaken as giant fishes, were actually mirrors. Yes, that’s what they looked like. Only, they reflected everything else but him. Some of them were so white, or so dark, it was pointless looking at them. As for the other ones, looking at them was dangerous.Bookmark here

Yes. Dangerous.Bookmark here

As Yukio floated in the eternal darkness, he tried to close his eyes, only to discover the concept of eyes didn’t exist in this place; if it was indeed eligible to be called a place. He didn’t have hands, legs, or anything resembling a body.Bookmark here

He turned towards a mirror that looked like a big, white wound. As he concentrated on it to find an anchor for his consciousness, it appeared to him that the whiteness was actually a kind of fire; a raging fire that should destroy anything and everything. And yet, he sensed, there was something inside the fire. Something moving.Bookmark here

As he peeked to the next mirror, it was clear that there was no respite for him after all.Bookmark here

A series of hideous faces were looking at him; the kind of faces even his worst nightmares won’t be able to conjure up. As he averted his gaze, a war was being reflected on another mirror. Only it wasn’t a war after all. Two groups of people, if they can be called that, were eating each other. Alive.Bookmark here

The journey seemed everlasting, as images of different worlds flashed from behind the mirrors, each more horrific than the other. Wars, destruction, and death were themes of most of them, and many of them were distorted beyond belief; as if someone had repeatedly punched them until their hand was a bloody pulp. Some of them harbored creatures who could see him, or sense him, as they were always looking at him.Bookmark here

He had no idea how long he was drifting in the nothingness, and how many mirrors surrounded him. The only word that appeared in his mind was ‘eternity’.Bookmark here

One of the worlds, which appeared normal, was a green field filled with sunflowers. As they danced in the wind, Yukio’s numb existence finally found some solace.Bookmark here

Until a few of the flowers turned towards him, and smiled. A smile that revealed rows of razor-sharp teeth.Bookmark here

As he slept, or he prayed that he did, a strange sound started reverberating around his nonexistent eardrums. No, it was a familiar sound, something that has been his solace for a long time. It came from inside him, outside him, and when he looked at the next mirror, he saw something… peaceful.Bookmark here

It was a field. Just a green, large field, with a few trees situated far away. It also looked like the fields contained some creatures, although due to the distance, they didn’t look any bigger than ants.Bookmark here

It didn’t appear real at all. If anything, it looked like a veteran artist’s imagination of nature.Bookmark here

And so, when a white rabbit hopped out of that world and into the dark, he just kept looking at it; prepared to visit the next mirror and hoping it’ll finally show his face.Bookmark here

Then the rabbit collided with him.Bookmark here

As he fell through the ocean, the dark water swirling around him, the strange yet familiar sound returned.Bookmark here

It was the sound of someone crying.Bookmark here

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Yukio slowly opened his eyes, and found himself back in the present. Everyone around him was looking at him curiously. As his eyes slowly adjusted to the light, he heard Kichiro-san speaking to someone in a shrill voice. As he looked at them, she stopped.Bookmark here

He was still in the old room, sitting at the same chair where Tetsuya-san made him sit. But something was different, he was sure of it. Something in the atmosphere? The night being quieter than usual? He couldn’t put his finger to it.Bookmark here

He looked at Amanda, and for a moment observed a shocked expression. Then it was gone, like it never existed. She quickly reached him, and gave him a tight hug.Bookmark here

Whatever crumbs of that dark, bizarre dream were still floating in Yukio’s head, were quickly washed away. He felt his heart racing, his pulse throbbing, and a certain part…Bookmark here

He quickly detached himself from her.Bookmark here

“Are you okay?” Amanda looked like she was on the verge of crying.Bookmark here

“Yes…” Yukio said unsurely, “I am. What happened?”Bookmark here

Amanda kept standing there with weepy eyes, without any answer, until Tetsuya-san suddenly appeared out of nowhere. She immediately ran towards her.Bookmark here

Yukio didn’t know how long it had been since Sugi put him to sleep.Bookmark here

Yes, Sugi! Where was he? He wasn’t in the room, and neither was Kichiro-san.Bookmark here

Where did she go? She was just here, wasn’t she?Bookmark here

Then he suddenly remembered about ‘Jumping’.Bookmark here

As he looked up, Tetsuya-san was looking at him. He tried to stand up, but she motioned at him to remain seated.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry that you didn’t have… an exactly pleasant experience,” She had a weird way of apologizing, “Whatever… what you experienced, was you trying to search for the power that exists within you, and trying to wield it. I’m afraid you still have a long way to go.”Bookmark here

Yukio wasn’t exactly sure what she meant by that, but that’s a feeling that has been with him ever since he learned about the Tracts. Like, he still wasn’t sure what it was that they did…Bookmark here

“Now, I’m sure you have even more questions than before. But, it would be better for us to just register you today, and then you can go home and get a good night’s sleep. When you feel better, I’ll still be here.”Bookmark here

She put a hand on his shoulder and smiled.Bookmark here

“You still have a lot to learn.”Bookmark here

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Yukio was walking with Amanda in the fields, their hands separated this time. It was almost 11 o’clock, and Amanda had suggested they directly go home, but Yukio insisted that he wanted to walk a bit. The dark-green surroundings, the pleasant breeze, the constant buzzing of crickets, occasional sounds of the nocturnal birds; all of it together made him feel like being home.Bookmark here

No, being in reality. As far away from that darkness as possible.Bookmark here

“So… you really don’t remember anything?”Bookmark here

It was the second time Amanda had asked him that question, despite getting a clear answer the first time. On the other hand, he asked her what Sugi did to him, and got the exact same answer as Tetsuya-san. She either genuinely didn’t know, or she was…Bookmark here

“How many times do I need to tell you?” Yukio wanted to relax a bit. He didn’t utter a word after getting out of that room, and he expected her to do the same. It didn’t take them much time to register, as Tetsuya-san just wrote his name somewhere; he didn’t even have to sign anything. During then, and even when he was saying goodbye to everyone, Amanda was completely silent. Why was she so talkative now?Bookmark here

“Sorry,” she said, meekly.Bookmark here

After they walked a bit more, she suddenly said, “Wanna go somewhere better?”Bookmark here

When they appeared at the cliff, thankfully no one was around. It was a cliff, but with railings, so that people could safely enjoy the view. And the view was enjoyable; Yukio had never seen the Moon so big up in the sky. The river underneath them, and the rows of trees after that, all of it was shining in moonlight, creating a mesmerizing effect.Bookmark here

Yukio doesn’t know how long he was just lost in that scenery, when someone tugged at him.Bookmark here

As he looked at Amanda, she clutched his palm with both her hands, and whispered, “I hope you’re not mad at me. I understand you had a lot of questions, and didn’t get the answer to any of them. If you want, you can ask me. This time I won’t hold back.”Bookmark here

There was something in his head, something he was thinking for quite some time. “You said,” Yukio said absentmindedly, “Both your parents were Tracts…”Bookmark here

“What?” Amanda said, although he was sure she perfectly heard him.Bookmark here

“I said,” he looked her in the eyes, “You got your powers from your parents. Which means both of them were Tracts. So, were they also members of Minus Plus?”Bookmark here

Amanda looked at him for a few moments, wordlessly. Then, as if remembering something, she said, “Yeah. You are right. Sorry, I couldn’t tell you back then. Both of them are Tracts.”Bookmark here

“Okay,” he thought something for a bit. “So… how does someone become a Tract? I know it’s decided from birth, with the… seizures. Anyway, does it happen randomly?”Bookmark here

“No. That happens very rarely.”Bookmark here

Amanda was now facing him. “Look, Yukio, you don’t have to guess. Back then I was asked not to tell you much. Tetsuya-san was supposed to explain everything to you. She still will, but whatever I know, I can now freely share with you. And I’ve never lied to you, have I?”Bookmark here

“Except when you said you were interested in me, no.” Yukio said.Bookmark here

“Come on,” she puffed her cheeks again, “You don’t have to make a big deal out of it. Would you have believed me if I told you the truth back then?”Bookmark here

“If you showed me, why not?” Yukio muttered.Bookmark here

“Excuse me?”Bookmark here

“I mean your powers! Obviously!”Bookmark here

Amanda started laughing, “Now this is the Yukio I remember. Anyway, so you want to know the conditions of someone being a Tract, right?”Bookmark here

As Yukio nodded, she continued, “You can say it is a natural phenomenon. Very rarely, and I mean very, very rarely, a tract is born from a normal couple. They are called ‘Naturals’. They are all of our ancestors. The last time a Natural was born was…”Bookmark here

She suddenly trailed away. Before Yukio could say anything, she suddenly said embarrassedly, “Can I say that tomorrow? The truth is, I don’t remember.”Bookmark here

He had to facepalm. “Just tell me what you do know!”Bookmark here

“Yes, yes,” she resumed, “So as I was saying, Naturals are born extremely rarely, and it may happen that they live their life normally, without ever realizing they have powers. That’s why the total number of tracts are so low. The number isn’t even in 4 digits.”Bookmark here

Yukio wanted to ask her about the number of Tracts in Japan, but didn’t get the chance. “So, there is one other way. If two Tracts… make a baby, then that baby also has a higher than usual reserve of Rima. Meaning, they can also be a Tract. And that is exactly how I, and everyone you saw tonight, became Tracts.”Bookmark here

Because your parents were Tracts, Yukio wondered. So does that mean…Bookmark here

“Were my parents also Tracts?”Bookmark here

This time Amanda paused a bit before answering. “The truth is,” she said, “I don’t know. They weren’t members of Minus Plus, that’s for sure.”Bookmark here

“So, does that mean,” After everything that happened today, Yukio was finally feeling a bit excited, “I am a ‘Natural’?”Bookmark here

“Yeah,” Amanda sighed, “It’s possible. It’s also possible your parents were Tracts as well, just didn’t know about it.”Bookmark here

Yukio was sulking, “And you call me a buzzkill.”Bookmark here

They both laughed.Bookmark here

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After taking Yukio to his room, and returning to her own, Amanda made a phone call.Bookmark here

“So,” the voice from the other end said, “How did it go?”Bookmark here

“He figured it out. That he’s different.”Bookmark here

After a brief pause, the voice said, “It was to be expected. He doesn’t have to be sharp to figure that out. As long as he doesn’t understand the significance of it, there is no cause of alarm.”Bookmark here

“Yes. I understand.”Bookmark here

“So, he still doesn’t know about the other worlds?”Bookmark here

“No.”Bookmark here

“He still trusts you, right?”Bookmark here

“Yes.”Bookmark here

“Good. Now that Plan A was unsuccessful, we can no longer wait. Tell him everything he needs to know.”Bookmark here

Amanda was silent.Bookmark here

“He’s going to the next expedition. And this time, you’ll be the one who takes him.”Bookmark here

The call ended.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.