Chapter 8:

condemnation of memory

Our School is Perfectly Ordinary

Saori doesn’t really explain it to him afterwards, either, so Shun kind of has to play it by ear. He does manage to get a few bites of his sandwich into his stomach before lunch ends, but he can’t taste anything.

On the bright side, he doesn’t throw up.

When they return to the classroom, Shun notices the way his classmates just…don’t react at all, like there’s nothing out of the ordinary. Their eyes glaze over and their attention shifts elsewhere even as Saori walks Shun to his desk—why—and even Hiro doesn’t seem to care. It’s jarring.

“You can go back now,” Shun says hesitantly. Saori’s blinding smile is hurting his eyes.

“Thank you for lunch today,” she says. She dips her head before turning on her heel and she heads back to her seat. Shun pretends to watch her go, but sneaks a quick peek at Kaito’s desk behind hers.

The class president looks visibly normal from behind, at least. But he’s also spacing out, and no one around him seems to notice. Shun is starting to understand what Saori meant when she said that people just don’t really pay any attention when something strange happens. He was like that once.

How lucky, he thinks bitterly to himself, as class resumes and he can’t concentrate on anything. For the first time, he’s wishing he didn’t sit all the way at the back of the classroom. Kaito is a very visible and prominent figure at the far left of his peripheral vision, and he’s half expecting him to transform into an eldritch horror at any moment.

On the other side of the classroom, he spots Miwa’s red hair a few seats ahead and tries to focus on that instead. She notices, because she turns around and waves cheerfully at him.

Shun waves back and quickly averts his gaze, and Kaito is in his field of view again. Class goes on as normal, and Shun is at the edge of his seat—and the edge of his crumbling sanity.

He doesn’t even notice when the last period ends. It’s only when Hiro elbows him in the shoulder that he discovers he hasn’t written a single word down in his notebook. If someone asks, he doesn’t even know what classes they had today. Shun staggers to his feet, reaching for the strap of his bookbag.

Then, he spares a glance across the classroom one last time.

Kaito is usually the one nagging everyone to do their part during cleanup time, but he isn’t doing that today. He’s sitting at the desk by himself, facing the chalkboard blankly, much like what Shun was doing all afternoon. As always, no one bats an eyelash.

And Shun is almost already expecting it when Saori makes a beeline for him, but he is taken aback when she grabs his arm.

“Shall we?” she says.


The grip on his arm tightens meaningfully. “Let’s walk home together.”

Shun lets himself get hauled out of the classroom after saying goodbye to Hiro. No one seems to care that they’re skipping out on cleaning duties. As Saori marches out the door of the building, Shun gets pulled along helplessly like a dog on a leash.

Outside, he’s greeted by the wide, sprawling baseball field behind the school. Saori relinquishes her grasp on his arm as they draw nearer, and he stumbles.

“Stand there for a bit. Close your eyes. Don’t worry, I won’t let anything happen to you.”

And then she’s gone.

Again, she never gives him a proper explanation. For a long moment, Shun stands there awkwardly as his bookbag slides slowly off his shoulders. It’s usually not so empty behind the school. But between tidying up the classrooms and heading to their clubs, most students are still inside at this time.

Except for him. And Saori. And the silhouette of a figure that’s suddenly rushing menacingly toward him out of nowhere. How did Kaito get here so fast? That’s Shun’s last, fleeting thought before something hurtles across his field of vision and he squeezes his eyes tightly shut.

Enemies he can’t see are fine, but he can’t stomach the thought of watching Saori fight a possessed Kaito. It’s different from martial arts sparring. It’s a real fight, without the fundamental values and respect for an opponent in the dojo. It’s a fight to the death.

Is Kaito going to be okay?

Even though his eyes are still closed, he can kind of hear each faint thud and the occasional crunch, and the quiet, almost whistle-like sound of a blade slicing through the air. The din of battle seems to be moving farther and farther away, and Shun risks a small peek.

At first, the area is misleadingly empty. He glances around in confusion, and notices Kaito’s unconscious body slumped by the wall. That sends an icy trickle of terror down his back. Surely Saori didn’t—?

There’s a flash of movement in the corner of his eye, and that’s when he spots her doing a ridiculously athletic backflip at the center of the baseball diamond. With her shortsword gripped in her left hand, she slashes into the empty space in front of her. The talismans scatter. They flutter in the air, and some of them stick—forming the shape of a massive, invisible monster that towers over Saori.

Then the talismans fall limply to the ground, and Shun has a feeling that things are different from last time. Saori is still guarded, and the grip on her sword tightens. Then without warning, she lunges.

The sunlight glints wickedly off her blade as she spins in a deadly dance, parrying invisible, heavy blows. Her heels dig into the sand against the weight of nothing, and her expression is grim. She’s fighting nothing but air, and it would look almost stupid if her movements weren’t so graceful.

Shun glances over at Kaito again. Still unconscious. Hopefully that means Saori managed to exorcise the demon out of him and that’s what she’s battling right now, and not the unthinkable alternative…

It feels like he’s aged a decade just standing there helplessly, until everything finally ends.

“It’s over,” comes Saori’s distant voice from across the baseball field. She sounds exhausted, and Shun hurries over to meet her halfway.

Then he stops in his tracks. He notices her injuries once he’s close enough to see her face clearly. There are cuts on her left forearm like claw marks. Her blazer is scuffed and torn, and there’s a thin line of blood seeping into the white fabric of her shirt.

His heart stutters like a broken metronome in his chest.

“Quit looking at me like that,” Saori says irritably.

“Like what?”

“Like I just did something horrible.”

“I’m worried about you!” Shun blurts out, indignant. “Look at you, you’re all scratched up!”

She bristles, her hand clenching around the handle of her sword. “I’m fine. I killed it, didn’t I?”

“But you’re hurt!”

“So? Did you think I only fought battles I could definitely win?” Saori tosses her sword recklessly into the air, and it fades out of existence before it hits the ground. “This is a risky job. I am well aware. But you, on the other hand, are just an ordinary person. Mind your own business.”

“I wish I could, but aren’t you the one who dragged me into your business in the first place?” he grumbles. “I was perfectly content with pretending we didn’t know each other.”

“I needed bait,” she says blandly. “The demon sensed me, so I needed to give it a weakness, an opening. I needed it to think you were a friend.”

She used him so she wouldn’t put her own friends in danger, he understands that much. It’s hard to hold that against her, but it doesn’t mean he’s not upset.

“I’d appreciate the heads up next time you need me to act the part,” Shun sighs. “You can’t expect me to guess what you’re thinking when you suddenly tell me to eat lunch with you.”

There’s a brief, poignant pause.

“Affirmative,” she says. “I’ve decided it will be easier if we are seen together more often from now on.”

He chokes on nothing. But before he can say another word, he hears the distant chatter of voices coming from the direction of the school. They can’t stay here for much longer, unless they want to be spotted.

Saori is covered in inexplicable injuries, and Kaito is still very much unconscious. Sure, people might not notice them, but Shun doesn’t want to risk being seen like this.

“The class president,” he says nervously, glancing at the crumpled figure against the wall. “You didn’t…hurt him, did you?”

“No more than I needed to. He’ll wake up soon.”

“We probably shouldn’t leave him here, right?”

Saori looks like she’s considering it, and she’s about to respond, but that’s when Kaito stirs. Looking disoriented, he pulls himself to his feet and glances around. Then he rubs his eyes, and ambles off as if in a trance.

In Shun’s honest opinion, he looks even more like he’s possessed now compared to when they were back at the classroom. But Saori tells him that’s just how her powers ward off ordinary people from coming into contact with the supernatural. This is normal. Don’t worry about it.

Shun finally understands why she’s been fighting with reckless abandon out here in the open, not even caring if someone walks in and sees. Even though he still hears the bustle of activity at the front of the school, there still isn’t a single student in sight.

It’s eerie. He doesn’t know if he likes this.

Besides, isn’t taking for granted that people generally steer clear of supernatural occurrences the whole reason he got mixed up in all of this?

But he doesn’t voice his thoughts aloud.