❀ Past - January 27th - Evening ❀
"Everyone, please submit your paperwork from the job experience project on Monday. I know it was only for a few days, but you have the weekend to do it, alright?"
We all listened to Miss Tanaka's speech inside our classroom.
"And please don't spread any unholy rumours, okay? Mr Yamada collapsed due to stress and nothing else was at work. If I hear any rumour being spread and reaching the ears of the elementary students, you will feel my wrath!"
And so we all nodded quickly, afraid of what she was capable of.
It only has been a day since we all returned to Shirakawa, yet for me, it felt as if I hadn't been back for at least more than a month. Everything that happened there was an experience out of this world that left me physically and mentally exhausted. However, it was too early to be feeling like this.
There were many things that were left without a proper explanation, and it seemed to me that Nobuyuki was probably letting them be due to his attitude as if they were wine or cheese, waiting for them to age for aeons of time. I just couldn't stand that.
That was why I went straight home, even if I wanted to talk with Seraphine about what happened, what were her afterthoughts, her feelings towards all of this, plus the fact she knows I'm a magical girl, of sorts. Yet, it was enough for me knowing she hadn't told anyone since Shinji, Manabu, Yuiko and Koharu treated me like they always did.
Once I made it back, there he was, cooking something up with a frilly apron on top of a beige coloured coat.
"My dearest! How was school? Lots of homework?" he asked happily while sipping whatever he was cooking inside the pot. "Food will be done in a jiffy."
"Okay," I just nodded and sat down, not knowing how to start the conversation I wanted, ignoring his. That was when I decided to open my schoolbag and take a look towards an envelope. "If I remember correctly, this is Miss Hayami's info..."
"I don't like that girl, so full of herself..." Nobuyuki mumbled.
"Really? I thought she was really sweet."
"Aw, Yui! You're such a jokester."
"I really do think she was sweet..." I sighed.
"...She's nothing but sweet! She literally threw you to a place where you could've been killed!"
Ignoring his cries, I turned towards the telly.
The plasma screen sat in the corner like an unwelcome mirror. I tried not to look, but with it off the reflected mess in the room seemed so much worse than the real thing. The television should mean fantasy, looking at the lives of others - not a poor copy of her my own mental chaos by seeing my face over it. I didn't need my life being reflected back to me. Then almost, without conscious thought, I picked up the remote and just pressed the ON button.
The news was airing, giving special reports on a certain incident that seemed have happened while we were away. The location was the prefecture of Nagano, and I quite couldn't understand what was going on. Between the madness of red lights and people overlapping themselves with their voices, all I could understand was that something big had taken place.
"Wish I could get what's going on..." I played with my low ponytails. "Although I should be worrying more about myself at this point."
Suddenly, the transmission changed back to the news anchor studio.
"This is the sixth disappearance case in Nagano, which raises concern among the population. They fear the number will increase if security is not tightened given the ages of the victims. No more information can be divulged at this moment, which leaves an air of uncertainty and uneasiness in this prefecture."
That sounds awful...
"Alrighty, food is done and served!" Nobuyuki exclaimed, releasing me from most likely pessimistic thoughts. "This time I made something that is considered a typical food of Gifu! Some keichan-yaki !"
At the centre of the table, I could see a dish of pan-fried chicken and vegetables.
"I read that this was traditionally eaten for stamina by manual labourers in this prefecture since working in the mountains required a lot of energy. They needed something simple to make that was both healthy, filling, and packed with protein. However, today it’s a hearty local favourite enjoyed by people of all walks of life—a soul food from Gifu!" The blue-haired boy explained cheerfully and proudly before sitting down. "You need all the energy given your job as a Veneficae!"
I sat down, only to play with my food.
"No-bu!" He complained with his chopsticks on hand, pointing at me.
"Is Mr Yamada going to be alright? I feel... bad about what happened."
Nobuyuki's gaze lowered, not saying a word.
"At school, they said he's on medical leave... Still, I know that's not true. After the battle, he was seen perfectly well at the hotel. However, in the middle of the night, you could hear an ambulance. Afterwards, everything was shrouded in mystery. What happened to him? What did Miss Hayami do to his HeartBit?" playing with my shoes, I could feel my heartbeat accelerating at a ridiculous speed. "Is it something... dangerous?"
"He'll be alright."
And for some reason, that answer didn't convince me at all.
"Let's talk about happy things!" Nobuyuki changed the atmosphere as quickly as he could. "Now that you're a full-fledged Veneficae, meaning you can transform and even battle, I have a present for you!"
"A... present? For some reason, I am fearful about it..." I gave him a side look.
"Aw, c'mon Yui! Don't be so mean towards me... Now let me show you my gift full of thoughtfulness and love!"
All he did was hand me a small pamphlet.
"Tennis lessons?" was all I said after seeing the colourful pictures of a drawn lady with a racket. "Ever wanted to travel while playing a highly competitive sport? Sign up for our classes in Takayama and live the ultimate experience now. Vacancies are limited."
Nobuyuki nodded happily, just like a child.
"YOU SIGNED ME UP FOR TENNIS LESSONS?" I deepened my voice, clearly angry about what was unfolding. "WITHOUT MY APPROVAL?"
"It's the perfect excuse to go around Japan! I'm sure your school will let you go on these travels if you bring them medals on their name or something! Plus, it is a good way to train your stamina for future battles. It's a great combo!"
And that's when I knew I had lost against Nobuyuki Mochizuki and his plans. All I could do was to close my eyes and sigh. I couldn't even tell him all my questions. I was playing right into his trap and I had no means of escape.
However, I would have no knowledge that this would be the beginning of something that would change my perception of what being a Veneficae means forever.
❀ Present Time - June 27th ❀
I opened my eyelids with heavy, ragged breathing, just to throw a piercing scream while gravity returned to normal. I was back to the World with a single door named "Mutsuki".
«So? How did it go?»
"Why did you show me a part of my past? What's your objective with all of this? Mentally destroy me?" I yelled into the whiteness.
«I'd love to mentally destroy you. Unfortunately, that is not my objective at all. How does it feel to bask into love and affection once more? To relieve these memories.»
"I don't understand what you're trying to..." midway, I was interrupted.
«It doesn't matter if you understand or not.»
"Than what's the point in...!"
«Perhaps there is no point.»
"You're not making any sense."
«Now, let's see what else waits for you in the place, shall we?»
"All I want is to leave this nightmare!"
«When you leave here will you be in the world that you thought was the real one? Is this a dream? Is this reality? Who indicates what is real or unreal? Who dictates if everything around us exists or is non-existent?»
I raised my face, guided by the sweet voice. The images stopped abruptly. My legs kept wavering but I still made an effort to get up. Dragging my soles, those scraping the surface of the boxed world. I could feel the wind hit my face, rocking my hair. A further sigh escaped my heart when I felt a presence running behind me, disappearing in moments. A childish laugh floated in the blank space, unable to colour the room. The white burned my eyes. Its glow was so intense, resembling a photograph with high exposure.
«Follow me, Veneficae Somnia.»
With no other choice, I leapt forward.