I had an unexpected individual asking for my help. He had called me on my mobile phone. I opened the door and stepped out of my room. It was the weekend. From the beginning of next week my detention would be over. It had been two weeks already. He adjusted his glasses and smiled at me as he was waiting by his car. We greeted each other and silently went on our way. The drive was supposed to be a bit long. I pressed the button firmly and the window slid down. The strong wind felt nice. We were on the highway. The weather had gotten colder. I wasn’t wearing our uniform. Just some normal ordinary clothes.
“Ogawa, can you please stop crying?”
I handed him a tissue and he blew his nose. His eyes were glistening.
“I’m sorry. It’s just, I feel so bad.”
“It’s fine. I’m fine.”
My voice was low. I looked outside the window and leaned my head against my seat.
“It’s not just me who felt bad. Your friends are worried about you. They defended you at our meeting too. They were adamant that you were a good girl. Some higher-ups argued that you should be expulsed, but they fought for you. Toshiko and Fujinomiya got especially angry. I was surprised to see the mysterious Himura and the devil Kawaguchi as well. The first incident with Dimitri was uncovered at that meeting too. Uehara even said that expulsion was unnecessary and reprimanding you was what was most important at the moment. Fujinomiya directly blamed the higher-ups. They knew that you were being targeted but still insisted on sending you for the Kyoto mission. When I spoke with Fujinomiya on the phone, he had declined immediately. Refusing to take you with him. But they pressured him. I have a feeling he blames himself for what happened in Kyoto.”
I quietly listened to him and came to the conclusion that I had to properly apologise to them. Or my wrongdoings would never go away. My troubles should not bother anyone else. I would visit Noah’s grave every day. The DNPI payed for his funeral and he was buried next to his parents. Some disagreed with that decision. Saying that a murderer did not deserve a proper burial. And should especially not be laid to rest next to his victims. I disagreed. Because, in the end, he was just a lost child. Trying to find a place where he belonged. It hurt. I would never forget Kanna or Noah. Nor what had happened to Charlotte or to Toshiko’s family. I’ll have to carry it with me for the rest of my life. My incapability of rescuing someone.
The car came to a halt. We were standing in front of an abandoned school building. I found it odd. Ogawa told me that we were going to re-recruit an Outliner. The building was old and looked rundown. Windows were shattered and graffiti was painted all over the walls. It was going to rain later on in the day. The wind was slowly carrying the grey clouds towards our direction.
“Does he really live here?”
My voice echoed through the empty building.
“Yes, he does. I hope we can finish this quickly.”
He shivered and zipped up his jacket.
“Is someone waiting for you at home?”
Why was I asking him that question? But he did seem like the person who would have a loving family.
“Yes, my lovely fiancée.”
He had a big smile on his face.
“Well then, I hope we can change this ex-Outliner’s mind as quickly as possible.”
“You’re so kind, Moriuchi.”
His nose started running and so did his eyes. I gave him another tissue and told him to stop crying again.
“What kind of Paroxys do you have?”
We were going up some dodgy looking stairs. I thought that they might break under our weights. Moss was growing on various spots throughout the building. It felt like nature was trying to reclaim this place. But as we were getting closer to our goal, I could hear the constant sound of either water droplets or water bubbles. It hadn’t started raining yet, but it did get darker outside.
“I can die and come back to life. I know, it sounds pretty useless, doesn’t it? I have a golden pin but am the only one who doesn’t know how to fight. My job is mostly about infiltration or information gathering. I can stop my heart and other vital organs at will and pretend that I’m dead. Any damage, to a certain extent taken after I die just gets reset after I come back to life. It’s prefect for sneaky missions because I can pretend to be caught by the enemy, die and move around as a corpse.”
“That’s pretty useful. I think that’s enough of an ability to earn a golden pin.”
To no one’s surprise, he started sniffling again. I had run out of tissues too. We stopped in front of a classroom. Its doors were still intact.
“Here we are. Now, Moriuchi. Listen closely. I want you to go in there and convince him to come back to the DNPI.”
He held his index finger up.
“What about you? What are you going to do?”
“I’ll watch. I want you to try first. I have a feeling that he might connect to you more than to me. Oh, and don’t use your Paroxys.”
I placed my hand on the door and slid it open.
“Don’t worry. I can’t.”
I whispered and entered the shabby classroom. A slender figure was sitting on the floor in one of the corners. He was wearing a dark blue bucket hat and some heavy looking clothes. They were pretty oversized. As I was walking closer to him, I noticed that his hair was white. He was holding something in his hands. It looked like an instrument. His turquoise-coloured eyes opened. Even his eyebrows and eyelashes were white as the snow. A long scar ran down his throat. He opened his mouth but decided to close it again. I sat down in front of him.
“Hi. I’m Moriuchi Ayumi but you can call me Ayumi.”
“Ayumi. My name is Shimizu Takumi. Nice to meet you.”
His voice was brittle. His body was shivering. Was he cold besides wearing multiple layers of clothing? I took off my knitted scarf and wrapped it around him.
“I know this will sound strange, coming from a complete stranger but we need you back at the DNPI.”
He kept quiet.
“I heard that you are kind of special. The only person who received the golden pin on the first day as an Outliner. That’s amazing.”
I tried to smile but it was too forced.
“Are you okay?”
His hand reached out to me and touched my cheek. It was cold. I was surprised. His eyes were brimming with kindness. It made me want to cry.
“Yeah. Something scary happened and now I don’t know what to do.”
“Mhm. I know that feeling.”
I could tell that he was telling the truth.
“Won’t you come back?”
“I can’t. I’m scared too. Even though I want to be a hero. I promised.”
I looked up to the sky. The raindrops were hitting against the windows. The wind was howling. The trees were shaking, and the leaves were being torn off. It was a fierce storm that had arrived.
“That is an admirable dream to have. To be a hero. One that is certainly within our reach. One that someone with a Paroxys can grasp and hold on to. But it comes with consequences. It is not an equal exchange. Wanting to save someone’s life and actually doing it.”
There was a short silence between us.
“Do you know what an Inliner is?”
I felt a lump in my throat after hearing his question for me. My eyes got blurry. I felt the heaviness behind that word. It shook my entire body. I knew exactly how his story that he was about to tell me would end. My voice refused to come out.
“A person has to endure intense force on the mind and body when a Paroxys is born and activated for the very first time. The pressure is immeasurable and can split the person in half if the Paroxys gets out of control. I heard that it is extremely painful. In the end, there is a high chance that the host is killed by it. But I have never experienced such force nor pressure until this day. The doctors thoroughly examined me. Their findings showed that there was nothing out of the place or irregular with me. They concluded that I was just hundred percent compatible with my Paroxys.”
He retracted his body and buried his face in my scarf.
“I shared my dream with my best friend. We both wanted to be heroes. We promised each other. Wanting to save the ones who were in trouble. I got my Paroxys at a young age. He never did but his dream never died. People like him don’t know about the world that we live in as Outliners. That this world exists. They are unaware of what is happening around them every single day. Like you said, I was rewarded the golden pin by the principle on my first day as an Outliner and received my first mission too. I felt confident and was sure that I could save people.”
He stopped and took a deep breath before he continued.
“Someone with a Paroxys was going crazy and we made sure to lure him away from the civilians and into a desolate area. Our goal was to restrain him but in the midst of fighting him, I got injured. Well, at least that was how it looked like. My body was pierced with a metal rod. I was fine thanks to my Paroxys but a normal person would not think the same thing while looking at that scene. And someone did see it. Someone happened to pass by. It was my best friend. In that moment, I could see in his petrified eyes that something inside of him was born. He must have thought that I was going to die. That he needed to save me. I called out to him. Telling him that I was fine. I reached out to him. My hands managed to grab hold of him. But it was too late. He was in my arms. He was right there. But there was nothing I could do.”
He loosened the scarf and showed me his scar again.
“I am not a hero. There is now way I can be a hero.”
Without a thought, I held his face in my hands. My forehead was touching his. I couldn’t hold back my tears anymore. My heart was weeping. I finally realised it.
“I know how it feels like. I know how scary it is. That’s why I can say with confidence that you were a hero. You are a hero. For trying to help. For doing everything in your power. And for surviving.”
The fierce storm continued. The constant sounds of water droplets and water bubbles were still present. They were not getting drowned out by the rain and wind. That’s when I realised that they were coming from inside of him.
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