Shinrei Tantei Yakumo

Volume 9 Chapter 3
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VOLUME 9 – THE SPIRIT OF SALVATION file 03: salvation

-

1

-

Haruka cleaned herself up reasonably and flew out of her room.

She went to the main road and flagged a taxi, told the driver her destination and leant back on the seat.

She felt a sense of déjà vu as she watched the city’s nightscape pass by through the window. Come to think of it, she had looked out a taxi window like this when Isshin had been stabbed too.

– No.

Haruka cleared that thought out of her head.

She couldn’t think bad thoughts. ‘It’ll definitely be OK!’ Haruka told herself that and managed to calm herself down a bit.

She got off the taxi in front of the hospital. After gathering herself, she hurriedly went to the waiting room through the night entrance.

She spotted Gotou sitting on the bench.

His head looked injured, as it was bound by gauze. The gauze was a bit wet with blood.

’Are you all right?’ asked Haruka. Gotou looked up.

’Sorry. I was there, but...’

’More importantly, what’s happening?’

Haruka spoke over Gotou.

Gotou glanced at the back of the waiting room. Ishii was there talking with a number of uniformed officers.

Ishii seemed to notice Gotou’s gaze as he stopped talking and walked towards them.

’Haruka-chan.’

’Ishii-san. What’s happening?’

Haruka quickly finished her greeting and asked Ishii for more information.

Ishii fixed the position of his silver-framed glasses with his fingertip and began his explanation.

’From the situation, it seems that the culprit stunned Yakumo-shi with a stun gun and then hit Detective Gotou with something like a rod to make him faint. And then, that person took Yakumo-shi away – is what I think.’

’Why was I the only one who was hit?’ said Gotou with a frown, looking like he was bearing with the pain.

’I think the culprit was probably using a stun gun that could not be used quickly in succession.’

’So they didn’t expect there to be two people,’ Gotou said bitterly.

’We are currently checking the security cameras as there is the possibility that the culprit might be recorded on them.’

’The person who got me was wearing a white hakama,’ said Gotou angrily.

’Jikoukoushinkai may be involved.’

’We’re going to their base. Yakumo has to be there.’

Gotou threw his gauze bandage into the rubbish bin and stood up.

’Please wait.’

Haruka called out to Gotou before he could leave.

’What?’

’Actually, I had a phone call from somebody who is likely the culprit.’

’What?’

’What did you say?’

Gotou and Ishii expressed their surprise simultaneously.

Haruka explained in detail about the mysterious call she had received from Yakumo’s mobile.

’The forest probably means Aokigahara’s Sea of Trees in this situation.’

Gotou scratched his chin.

Haruka felt the same way. If Yakumo’s abduction was related to this series of cases. it was likely that the forest in question was Aokigahara’s Sea of Trees.

The culprit had also said that a corpse had been found there.

’This is definitely a trap,’ objected Ishii.

Haruka had thought that too. If the person who had called was the person who had abducted Yakumo, there was no reason for them to tell Haruka where Yakumo was.

If they were going to just tell her without asking for anything, they wouldn’t have needed to abduct Yakumo in the first place.

But –

’We can’t ignore it.’

’That’s true,’ agreed Gotou.

’But there is also that video,’ continued Ishii.

’What video?’ asked Gotou.

’Actually... in the video the young man who found the corpse at Aokigahara took, that man... there was the man with two red eyes. So...’

’Even if it is a trap, I won’t be able to relax until I go!’ declared Gotou.

’B-but...’

’You go check out that religious group. I’m going to the Sea of Trees.’

’I’m going too!’

Haruka called out to Gotou, who had been about to leave.

’You can’t. It’s dangerous.’

Ishii grabbed her arm, but Haruka shook his hand away.

She couldn’t just wait silently when all this was happening.

’You’re going to come even if I say no, right?’ said Gotou, turning around.

’Yes.’

Haruka looked right at Gotou.

Just as Gotou said, she planned to go no matter how they objected.

’Right! Let’s go!’

’Yes,’ replied Haruka. She followed Gotou out.

-

2

-

– They’re gone.

Ishii watched Gotou and Haruka leave in a daze.

Perhaps he should have stopped them, but for some reason, he couldn’t. No matter what he said, he probably wouldn’t have been able to stop the two of them.

They stood on such strong bonds.

All Ishii could do now was hope they would be safe.

’Ishii.’

Ishii turned around at the voice and saw Miyagawa.

’What is it?’

’We’ve got the pictures from the security cameras.’

’Ah, yes.’

Ishii and Miyagawa went to the security room behind the reception.

It was a small three-tatami room. There was one desk and a folded futon by it for naps. On top of the desk, there were three monitors.

’So which one is it?’ Miyagawa asked the male guard at the desk.

The man mumbled something as he used the keyboard. Then, he pointed at the monitor in the centre.

’This one.’

Ishii peered at the monitor and could see Gotou and Yakumo standing in the courtyard. Since there was no sound, he couldn’t tell what they were talking about.

After a while, Ishii saw a shadow appear behind Yakumo.

White hakama with a sash with a red Brahma on it. The clothes of Shugendo. The man pressed a stun gun into Yakumo’s shoulder.

Yakumo lost consciousness from the shock and collapsed right there.

Gotou noticed something was strange and put himself on guard, but the person in white quickly hit Gotou with a hexagonal bar.

It only took a moment.

After that, the man in Shugendo clothes went out of the frame. After that, a car came in and stopped in front of Yakumo.

The man in white got out of the driver’s seat. It was probably the same person as the one earlier.

He picked Yakumo up and put him in the car. Then, he got into the driver’s seat and drove away.

’That was efficient.’

That was how Ishii felt.

He didn’t even pay attention to Gotou. It was clear that his goal was to abduct Yakumo from the start.

’Yeah,’ replied Miyagawa. Then, he said to the guard, ’Could you show us the video again?’

The security guard silently rewound the video as told. Miyagawa put his face close to the screen.

’Stop!’

He spoke up when the car came into the frame.

In response, the guard stopped the video. Miyagawa was probably trying to check the car’s licence plate.

Ishii also went up close to the monitor to see.

However, it was no use. The number was covered with packing tape. They had no way to see it.

He must have been thinking about the security cameras. A thorough criminal.

’Damn it,’ Miyagawa said, full of feeling.

It was true that they couldn’t see the number. However, Ishii had found something else. It was –

’Could you enlarge this portion?’

Ishii pointed at the chest of the man in Shugendo clothes.

’The image will be fuzzy,’ said the guard, enlarging the photo.

Ishii could see the word Jikoukoushinkai on the black sash.

’So it’s really that religious group...’ said Miyagawa, who seemed to have sensed Ishii’s intentions.

’Yes.’

’Ishii, let’s go.’

’Yes sir,’ Ishii responded loudly. Then, he left the security room together with Miyagawa.

-

3

-

’It’s fine. We’ll find him,’ Gotou said, driving the Mini Cooper, to Haruka in the passenger seat.

Rather than encouraging her, it was more for himself.

’Yes, definitely...’

Haruka was acting strong.

She probably would have been half in tears in the past, but she was different now.

’What’s so amusing?’

After Haruka said that, Gotou realised that he was smiling.

’I was just looking back.’

’On what?’

’When I first met you, Haruka-chan, it was during that case with the university’s deserted building, right?’

’It was.’

Haruka’s expression softened just slightly, perhaps as she thought back on the incident as well.

’I thought you were a pretty weak girl at the time.’

Back then, Haruka had looked like she would cry at any moment as she sat next to Yakumo.

They had met again afterwards during a number of incidents, but Gotou felt like Haruka had been crying every time.

Maybe she was worrying about Yakumo, or feeling sorry for the victim – but at some point, Gotou had stopped feeling weakness from her tears.

He could feel that she had the strength to go forward even as she cried.

And now, even though she must have wanted to cry, she was restraining those feelings. Maybe she’d decided that she wouldn’t cry until she found Yakumo.

Now that he thought about it again, she wasn’t just a weak girl who cried all the time.

That was probably why Yakumo was charmed by her.

’Why are you using the past tense?’

Haruka puffed out her cheeks, as if in anger.

“Cause you’ve changed.’

’Is that so?’

Haruka might not really feel it herself, but Gotou could tell, as an observer.

Haruka had definitely changed from meeting Yakumo.

’Since I’m saying it, there’s no doubt about it.’

’Hmm...’

’But you’re not the only one that’s changed, Haruka-chan.’

’Eh?’

’Yakumo’s changed too.’

’Really?’

’Yeah. People change because they love each other.’

Gotou had started thinking that way recently.

’Somehow, that doesn’t really sound like you, Gotou-san.’

’Really?’ said Gotou, playing dumb.

But he understood in his heart. More than anything, Gotou himself had changed. He felt like, after meeting Yakumo and Haruka, he had found the path he was supposed to take.

It wasn’t just Gotou. Atsuko, Nao and Ishii had changed too.

These people who had all been lacking something had come together, hurt each other at times, and continued to change. But Gotou thought it was a good thing. That was why –

’Let’s find Yakumo no matter what.’

’Yes.’

Haruka responded with a smile.

There was not even an atom of doubt there. Yakumo would definitely come back –

’All right. Going to put the pedal to the metal.’

Gotou stepped firmly on the pedal. If he went quickly, they would probably reach Aokigahara’s Sea of Trees in two hours.

For Haruka’s sake and his own, he would definitely bring Yakumo back.

Gotou reaffirmed his resolve.

-

4

-

’This is a bit creepy,’ said Ishii without thinking.

The Jikoukoushinkai base was outside of town and was so quiet it was eerie.

It seemed like they had renovated an old temple. It was more quiet than Ishii had thought it would be. That made it even creepier.

’Yeah,’ agreed Miyagawa, hands in his pockets.

To be honest, Ishii was afraid of going inside, but strangely, he didn’t think about running away.

With determination, Ishii reached out to press the intercom button.

’Oi.’

Miyagawa grabbed Ishii’s arm.

’What is it?’

’Is it OK not to call for reinforcements?’

Miyagawa’s words brought Ishii back to reality.

’Reinforcements?’

’Reinforcements.’

’Er...’

To be honest, Ishii hadn’t even thought about calling for reinforcements.

They had no decisive evidence at this point. Even if they called reinforcements, they wouldn’t be able to search the place.

’You’ve changed,’ said Miyagawa while laughing.

’I’ve changed?’

’Yeah. Just a little in the past, you’d’ve been the one who suggested calling for reinforcements.’

Now that Miyagawa said that, Ishii felt like it was true.

Yakumo’s role had been to frantically step on the brakes when Gotou was running wild. No, that was an excuse – Ishii just hadn’t had confidence in his actions. That was why he would want reinforcements to get instructions from the higher ups.

Mysteriously though, he didn’t feel like that right now.

’Shall I call for reinforcements?’ asked Ishii, thinking that he should at least ask.

’Just us two is enough.’

Miyagawa smirked and puffed out his chest.

’Yes,’ replied Ishii. If they got orders from above, they would just be slowed down. Sometimes, it was necessary to take gutsy actions. Especially since Yakumo’s life was in danger right now.

Ishii reached out and pressed the intercom button.

<Hello, who may you be?>

There was a response immediately.

’I apologise for coming late at night. I am Ishii of the Setamachi precinct.’

<The police?>

’Actually, we are investigating a certain case... We would just like to consult you...’

<Does it have to be today?>

It was already past midnight. Perhaps this response was normal.

’Yes. It has to be today.’

<Please wait.>

Then, the intercom stopped. They were probably checking if it was OK.

’Do you think they’ll let us in?’ asked Miyagawa.

’No, I think they’ll refuse,’ said Ishii.

If Yakumo’s abduction was related to Jikoukoushinkai, there was no way they’d let them in.

Ishii’s instinct was right. Through the intercom, they were told to please come again tomorrow because the founder, who had been feeling unwell, was already asleep.

After that, no matter how Ishii pressed the intercom button, there was no response.

’What are we going to do now?’ said Miyagawa with a sigh.

The past Ishii would probably have retreated, but –

’Miyagawa.’

’What?’

’This wall looks climbable.’

When Ishii pointed at the wall, Miyagawa’s eyes went wide.

’You serious?’

’Yes.’

’If people find out we did this, we’re finished.’

Ishii knew Miyagawa was right, but –

’However, if we don’t, and the person who abducted Yakumo-shi is from this group, we won’t be able to undo this,’ Ishii replied.

For some reason, that Miyagawa started chuckling.

’You’ve really changed. You’re becoming more and more like Gotou.’

’Is that so?’

To be honest, Ishii didn’t really feel that way.

-

5

-

After Makoto returned to the office, she decided to research Jikoukoushinkai again.

She was concerned about Yakumo’s abduction.

However, nothing she could do would change anything. She would believe that Ishii and Gotou would bring him back and start working on what to do next.

That was the conclusion Makoto had come to –

When Gotou contacted her, her plans had fallen through, but Makoto had a theory. She was going to confirm it.

Makoto called Takizawa on her mobile.

’I apologise for calling at night.’

<What, it’s you again?>

Takizawa was acting curt, but it was his usual attitude.

’I’m sorry.’

<So how was the video?>

’You were talking about the red-eyed man in the video, right?’

<Yeah, him. Well, sometimes eyes look red because of the light, but there was definitely somebody else there.>

That hadn’t been because of the light.

’I know that man.’

<What? Who is he?>

Takizawa was agitated.

It was very difficult to explain who the man with two red eyes was. The reason being –

’He’s already dead.’

<So he’s a ghost...>

Takizawa wasn’t that surprised.

A newspaper journalist had to acknowledge the existence of ghosts even if they didn’t want to. They didn’t proclaim it publicly, but they saw more than one or two ghosts while gathering information and taking photographs.

’So there was something I wanted to check.’

<What?>

’It’s about the group called Jikoukoushinkai...’

<Yeah.>

’It seems that the base used to be in Yamanashi.’

<Seems like it.>

’I want to know of ay rumours about the location.’

<Why do you want to know?>

It made sense for Takizawa to have this question.

However, this was extremely important to prove Makoto’s theory.

’Jikoukoushinkai moved to Tokyo about two years ago.’

<If I remember correctly, yeah.>

’Why did they suddenly expand... I think that’s the key to solving this case.’

<I don’t really get it, but fine. I’ll look into it for you.>

’Thank you very much.’

After thanking Takizawa, Makoto hung up.

Jikoukoushinkai had been managed by the founder, Minegishi Kyouka, and Hiyama Kenichirou, who had been found as a corpse in Aokighara’s Sea of Trees.

The group had suddenly moved to Tokyo two years ago and expanded. That perfectly matched the time when she appeared.

She – that is, Nanase Miyuki.

Makoto felt a chill run down her spine just from thinking the name.

-

6

-

Ishii knelt on the floor, bearing with the weight on his back.

’Just a bit more.’

Miyagawa, standing on Ishii’s back, reached out to try to grab the top of the wall, but it wasn’t going well.

– This is no good.

Ishii’s arms were shaking. At this rate, he’d collapse under the weight.

Just as he thought that, his back was hit with an impact. Miyagawa had jumped to try to grab the curb.

Ishii couldn’t bear that force and fell flat on the asphalt.

’Oi, Ishii. Hurry,’ said Miyagawa, reaching towards him from the top of the wall.

’Ah, yes.’

Ishii bore with the pain in his back as he grabbed Miyagawa’s hand.

With good timing, Ishii jumped as Miyagawa pulled. Ishii almost fell, but he managed to hold on.

Then, they climbed over the wall onto the grounds.

However, Ishii didn’t absorb the impact well and fell forward, hitting his nose.

He felt the hot pain start spreading.

– This is the worst.

Ishii had started to regret their attempt at infiltration.

’What are you doing? Let’s go.’

At Miyagawa’s rushing, Ishii started walking, stooped over and holding his nose.

The premises were silent. There were no lights on in the rooms.

’So what are we going to do?’

’What shall we do?’ replied Ishii.

Miyagawa put his head in his hands, exasperated.

Though it was good that they had managed to get in, to be honest, Ishii didn’t know what to do next.

’You can’t have no plan.’

’I-I apologise.’

’Anyway, let’s go take a look at places which might be monitored.’

’Ah, that’d be good,’ agreed Ishii.

Miyagawa pushed Ishii’s head.

’You’re all talk, aren’t you?’

– He was happy.

It was the first time Miyagawa had hit him like this since they partnered up. It was strange, but it felt like they were closer – like Miyagawa had acknowledged him.

’What are you grinning to yourself for?’

’I-I’m sorry.’

Ishii hurriedly made his face stern.

’There’s a detached building up ahead.’

Miyagawa pointed at a building that looked like a temple and another building that was connected to it by a corridor.

’Yes.’

’Doesn’t it look suspicious?’

’It does,’ agreed Ishii. He and Miyagawa nodded at each other and slowly advanced.

They kept their heads low so that people wouldn’t notice, so it took them a long time to advance just ten metres.

’So how are we going in?’ said Miyagawa, crouching with his back to the wall.

Ishii had looked at the building as he came up to it. There were bars on the window. It didn’t look like they could get in.

It meant they would have to go in through the front.

As Ishii said that, Miyagawa looked towards the front door.

’No, it’s locked,’ Miyagawa said quietly, making an X sign with his hands.

’Shall we go to the back?’

’Looks like we’ll have to,’ agreed Miyagawa.

They went to the back of the detached building with their backs still to the wall.

The back window fortunately didn’t have bars. The light was even on.

’It seems like we can look in from there,’ said Ishii. Then, he had a strange thought.

’It feels kind of like we’re thieves.’

’Wha?’

Miyagawa cocked his head.

’Ah, I was just thinking that thieves have it tough.’

’Don’t be stupid. Let’s go,’ Miyagawa reprimanded.

’Ah, yes sir.’

It was true that this wasn’t the time to be thinking about useless things like that.

Ishii moved to look inside, but it was no use. The window was too high up.

’Ishii, act as a stool,’ said Miyagawa.

’Ehh!?’

Ishii let out a loud voice without thinking. He hurriedly covered his mouth.

’They’ll find out we’re here.’

’I-I apologise. But... Earlier, I was the stool, so...’

To be honest, his back still hurt. He wasn’t sure he could be a stool again. Perhaps Miyagawa sensed Ishii’s inner feelings as he grumbled, ’Guess there’s no helping it,’ and kneeled on the floor.

Thank goodness – though Ishii thought that, he felt awkward about stepping on his boss’s back.

’Hurry up,’ said Miyagawa. Ishii gathered himself and climbed onto Miyagawa’s back.

He slowly reached up to peer inside.

It was a small tatami room. In the centre, there was a woman in a white kimono. It was the founder, Minegishi Kyouka.

However, she seemed strange.

With her head hung, her body was shaking.

– What is that?

Perhaps she had sensed Ishii, as she slowly lifted her head.

There was no life in her face. Her eyes weren’t focussed. Her mouth was open in an unsightly fashion and drool was coming out.

– That’s just like...

’What are you doing there?’

Suddenly, Ishii heard a voice and turned around.

A man in a mountain priest’s clothes had stuck his head out the temple’s window.

– Oh no. They noticed us.

Immediately as Ishii thought that, Miyagawa’s body shook underneath him. Ishii fell from Miyagawa’s back to the ground.

He started coughing from the impact.

’Let’s go!’ yelled Miyagawa.

Ishii got up while bearing with the pain and hurriedly ran after Miyagawa’s back.

-

7

-

– Dark. Complete dark.

Yakumo’s consciousness wandered a dark forest.

The despair of the spirits in this forest was much deeper than he imagined.

Some were betrayed by friends, and others by the family they lived –

Some did not even have people who could betray them – those who had spent their lives alone.

– They weren’t even able to find salvation by dying.

Yakumo heard a voice. He couldn’t see him, but Yakumo knew who it was.

– That’s not true.

Yakumo gritted his teeth together and denied it.

– What isn’t true?

– They must have had hope.

– Where?

Yakumo couldn’t respond right away.

Had the people who died in this forest really had hope?

Nobody had reached out to help. Even if they continued to live, their suffering would have just continued.

– This is the true nature of humanity. Do you understand the true reason they were led to their deaths?

– The true reason?

– Hope.

– Why?

– Because humans have hope, they despair. Because they believe, they are betrayed.

– That’s not true!

– There is nothing untrue about it. You understand too, don’t you?

– It’s not true. It’s not true. It’s not true.

Yakumo denied it frantically, but his heart was flowing away with the current.

Yakumo couldn’t completely deny what he was saying. Without hope, they wouldn’t have despaired. The faint hope that people hold could make them suffer.

It had been that way for the doctor named Kinoshita. He had held the imaginary hope that he might be able to revive his dead daughter.

It was the same for Kamiyama. He had seen a dream of his bright future with his lover. That was why, when that dream was trampled on, he hadn’t been able to stop himself.

That wasn’t all. There had been a man who had tried to become somebody else. There had been a woman who wanted the love of a family.

Because they had hoped, they had tasted despair.

– If you say it is untrue, can you save them?

– Save?

– Can you save all the spirits in this forest?

– I... can’t. I can’t save them.

Yakumo felt painfully how powerless he was.

There was no way to save the countless number of spirits in their despair, since Yakumo could only see them.

– I’m powerless.

Something that he had been protecting in his heart cracked loudly.

What had he been trying to protect up until now? Where had he been trying to go?

If he hoped, all that lay ahead of him was despair. No matter how he struggled, there was no way he could escape the current.

If that was the case, then it would have been better if there had been no hope in the first place.

If there was nothing there, there was nothing to lose.

– Ah, I’m being swallowed by the darkness.

Yakumo felt his consciousness being eaten away, but he no longer had the will to resist it.

Rather, he even felt it pleasant.

-

8

-

The car ran along Highway 139 –

The road that went across the Sea of Trees had no streetlights. It was like a dark tunnel.

– Yakumo is in this forest.

Haruka believed that. Her hand enveloped the necklace with the red stone that was hanging from her neck.

’It was around here.’

Gotou turned the wheel to drive onto number 300 towards Lake Motosu and parked the car after driving a bit further.

About fifteen minutes ahead was where the corpse had been found.

Aokigahara’s Sea of Trees was wide. It would be impossible to search the whole area with just the two of them. They were going on the call Haruka had received and decided to search the area near the corpse.

After Haruka got off the car, she felt the cold wind blowing.

They were high up, and the wind blew down the mountain. It was very cold. Haruka’s body shivered.

’Right. Go time?’

Gotou held a torch up and walked forward.

Haruka followed him into the forest.

Even though she had only taken a step forward, she had a bad feeling. The air felt suddenly heavier.

Perhaps it was because she knew this forest was famous as a suicide spot.

’Are you all right?’

Gotou turned around.

’Yes,’ replied Haruka with a nod.

She couldn’t stop. If she didn’t go forward, she couldn’t find Yakumo.

With the rocks coming out of the ground, it was very difficult to walk. She went farther and farther in through the cypress trees.

’I wonder why the perp kidnapped Yakumo...’ said Gotou.

’I don’t know, but...’

’What?’

’Perhaps it was because Yakumo-kun understood the core of the case.’

That was what Haruka thought.

When she parted with Yakumo on the road, Haruka had felt faintly that Yakumo had already seen through the structure of the case –

’And so the perp kidnapped somebody who was getting in the way,’ said Gotou to himself.

’Yes.’

’But then why go out of their way to kidnap him?’

’That’s...’

’There are other methods to get rid of somebody. And I don’t know why they went out of their way to call you.’

Haruka cocked her head at that.

Why had the culprit told her that Yakumo was in the forest – that was like telling her to find the person they’d abducted.

’Well, no point thinking about it now. First, we need to find Yakumo,’ Gotou said self-derisively and started walking through the forest silently again.

Haruka had thought it was cold at first, but her back was sweaty, perhaps because she was walking.

– I wonder what the people who came to this forest to commit suicide were thinking.

That thought crossed Haruka’s mind.

Gotou was here now, but the people who committed suicide must have walked this forest alone. Perhaps that reconfirmed their solitariness.

And then, they died without anyone knowing. There was only deep despair there.

’No.’

Haruka shook her head.

She cleared her head and continued walking silently.

’It should’ve been around here...’

Gotou stopped and took a look at the map while lighting it up.

However, no matter how he looked at the map, it probably wouldn’t be much use in the dark forest. They could only walk forward and judge by distance.

’Shall we split up and search?’ suggested Haruka.

Gotou’s face clearly hardened.

’Don’t be stupid. If we split up in this forest, it’d be a disaster.’

’But...’

’Should be just a bit more. Let’s go.’

Gotou interrupted Haruka and started walking again.

Haruka gritted her teeth and stepped forward.

– I’ll definitely find you.

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She kept wishing that in her heart as she walked forward.

However, the farther she went, she felt like that wish was being swallowed by despair.

’Ah...’

The moment her will weakened, she slipped.

She almost fell face-up when Gotou grabbed Haruka’s arm. Thanks to that, even though she lost her balance, she managed to not fall.

’Thank you very much.’

’Watch out. We’re close. We’ll find him soon.’

Gotou’s voice wasn’t even slightly weak.

I’ll find Yakumo no matter what – that strong will seemed to flow out of his whole body.

– I won’t give up either.

Haruka gathered her strength and walked forward.

’There.’

Gotou spoke up after they headed forward some more.

With his torch, he pointed at a large rock about five metres ahead of him. The rock was green from moss.

’The corpse was found near that rock, if I remember correctly.’

As he said that, Gotou pointed the torch around the area.

That light illuminated a person.

A person sitting against the rock. It was –

’Yakumo-kun!’ called out Haruka, running forward.

Even though she kept tripping on rocks, she somehow managed to reach Yakumo.

’Yakumo-kun!’

Haruka embraced Yakumo tightly.

His body was completely cold. However, she could hear his breathing.

– He’s alive.

Haruka felt that with her whole body.

-

9

-

’Damn, I suffered a lot,’ said Miyagawa a while after escaping back to the precinct.

Ishii felt the same way.

Current police officers had trespassed. If they had been caught there, it would have been a big problem. However, they couldn’t relax just because they had escaped.

If people from Jikoukoushinkai reported it to the police, they wouldn’t be let off easily.

’So what did you see?’ asked Miyagawa, lighting a cigarette.

That was right. Ishii had been so frantic that he hadn’t reported what he’d seen there to Miyagawa.

’It seems it’s true that the founder is feeling unwell.’

’What?’

Miyagawa raised his eyebrows.

Ishii explained in detail what he had seen from that window.

’That’s strange...’

That was what Miyagawa said first after Ishii finished.

Ishii thought it strange as well, but he had a theory.

’Perhaps she has been possessed by a spirit.’

’What?’

Miyagawa looked shocked.

’Makoto-san and Gotou-san had also been like that when possessed.’

Since Ishii couldn’t see like Yakumo, he had no proof. However, Ishii’s experiences told him that that was a person being possessed by a spirit.

Kyouka’s face from back then came up in Ishii’s head, which made him shudder.

’If that’s true, it’d be a big problem for the group.’

’It would.’

If the founder of the group had been possessed by a spirit, that would affect their prestige. The believers would lost their belief and it would be difficult to continue to support the group.

’But why did that happen?’

Ishii couldn’t answer that.

’Something probably happened.’

Ishii cocked his head. Then, his mobile rang. The number of the display was Gotou’s.

’Hello, Ishii Yuutarou speaking.’

Ishii answered the phone with vigour.

<You don’t have to say your name every time. I know it’s you.>

There was a lot of noise, perhaps because of bad reception. Ishii managed to hear Gotou though.

’That is an honour.’

<Are you an idiot?>

’I-I apologise.’

<Anyway... we found Yakumo.>

’Eh? Really!?’ yelled Ishii, jumping up.

<Don’t be so loud.>

’I-I apologise. Was he really in the Sea of Trees then?’

<Yeah, he was.>

While Ishii was relieved upon hearing Gotou’s reply, he had a question.

That would mean that the call to Haruka had been correct. Why would the abductor tell Haruka the abductee’s location?

Ishii expressed his question to Gotou.

<I don’t know. Anyway, we have to take Yakumo to a hospital first.>

’T-that’s right.’

<Then I’ll call you again later.>

After Gotou said that, he hung up.

’They found him?’ said Miyagawa after Ishii was done.

’Yes, it appears that way.’

’That’s a relief.’

’Well, that’s true, but...’

Ishii just couldn’t be completely happy.

He didn’t understand the perpetrator’s intentions at all. What on earth had they wanted to do –

’What’s with that displeased face?’

’Ah, actually...’

Ishii told Miyagawa the question he had asked Gotou.

’That’s...’

Miyagawa stopped talking halfway and became silent.

He probably couldn’t find an answer either, but if they didn’t solve this question, they wouldn’t solve this case. Ishii felt that way.

-

10

-

’Let’s go then.’

After Gotou finished his call with Ishii, he carried Yakumo, with Haruka’s help.

He stepped forward with that heavy weight on his back.

It was slippery so he couldn’t move forward as he wanted. It became hard for him to breathe.

’Gotou-san, are you all right?’

Haruka sounded concerned as she lit up the ground with the torch.

It would be pretty tough to walk through the Sea of Trees with Yakumo on his back, but Gotou still didn’t plan on stopping here.

Gotou had decided long ago that he would carry this weight, so –

’This is nothing. He’s light.’

Gotou showed Haruka a smile.

It wasn’t a lie. If Gotou compared it to the weight Yakumo carried from seeing the spirits of the dead, it was nothing.

Gotou told himself that and went forward.

It took much more time, but he managed to get out of the forest and carry Yakumo to the car.

’Ooph!’

He was exhausted. He put Yakumo down by the car and stretched.

His back cracked loudly.

He had called the ambulance before calling Ishii. They should be here soon.

’Are you all right?’

’I’m fine.’

Gotou looked Yakumo.

Though it was faint, Gotou felt like Yakumo’s eyelids had moved.

’Yakumo-kun...’

Haruka seemed to notice that too and she peered at Yakumo’s face.

’Ah...’

With a moan, Yakumo slowly lifted his head.

– I’m so glad.

Gotou was relieved, but that was only for a moment.

Yakumo’s eyes slowly opened.

His red left eye looked right at Gotou.

Gotou shuddered subconsciously. That eye was just so cold.

’Yakumo-kun.’

Haruka tried to approach Yakumo.

’Keep away!’

Gotou grabbed Haruka’s shoulder to stop her.

’Why?’

’That... isn’t Yakumo...’ Gotou said, looking at Yakumo again.

Yakumo slowly stood up.

Lit up by moonlight, his red left eye was the colour of fresh blood.

There was a faint smile on his lips. It was a terribly cold smile.

Gotou felt like he was shivering from the very core of his body.

Yakumo had had this look when Gotou first met him. Detesting everything in the world, denying his own existence.

’Dark... Complete dark...’

After standing up, Yakumo said that, the faint smile still on his lips.

’Yakumo-kun, what’s wrong?’ said Haruka. However, it didn’t look like her words reached Yakumo’s ears.

Yakumo narrowed his eyes and looked at Gotou and Haruka curiously.

Then – he started laughing loudly, shoulders shaking, as if he had gone insane.

He had completely lost his mind.

– What should I do?

’Yakumo-kun!’

While Gotou was troubled about what to do, Haruka shook off Gotou’s hand.

-

11

-

Haruka stood in front of Yakumo –

’Yakumo-kun!’

The eyes looking right at her were clearly different from Yakumo’s usual ones.

Haruka’s body shook. Her instincts were speaking to her. It’s dangerous. It’s frightening. However, Haruka still stood her ground.

– I won’t run.

Yakumo had braved countless dangers to save Haruka up until now. He had risked his life to save her. That was why –

No. That wasn’t true. She wasn’t saving him because he had saved her.

– I want Yakumo with me.

That pure emotion was what drove Haruka.

’Dark... Complete dark...’

Yakumo said that in a hoarse voice.

Perhaps Yakumo couldn’t see Haruka right now. What was there was darkness –

’Yakumo-kun, it’s fine. It’s fine. It’s not dark.’

Haruka hugged Yakumo tightly.

’Let me go!’

Yakumo thrashed wildly to fight her off.

However, Haruka just hugged him with more force.

’Haruka-chan, let go!’

She heard Gotou’s voice.

However, Haruka wasn’t going to let go of Yakumo. If Yakumo fell into a deep darkness, she would go with him. That was her resolve.

She didn’t care what was there.

Where Yakumo was, she was. She’d rather –

’Aaaghh!’

Yakumo let out a howl just like a beast.

That echoing voice sounded like a cry for help to Haruka.

Haruka shut her eyes and hugged Yakumo’s body even more tightly.

Their bodies, their minds – it was like they were melting together.

Haruka’s eyes could see several spirits of the dead. Every one was filled with despair, grief and suffering.

– They must be the people who committed suicide here.

Haruka understand that not through thought but through feeling.

Why did the culprit bring Yakumo here – Haruka finally understood.

Aokigahara’s Sea of Trees was filled with unfulfilled spirits who had ended their own lives.

For Yakumo, who could see the spirits of the dead, it must have been hell. He had received the full force of the eddying negative motions.

The culprit had destroyed Yakumo this way.

’Yakumo-kun...’

Tears rolled down Haruka’s cheeks –

If only she could understand just a little of the suffering Yakumo underwent.

’Yakumo-kun.’

Yakumo’s body, which had been violently protesting until now, finally lost its energy. Haruka frantically stopped Yakumo’s leaning body.

However, that weight quickly lightened.

She saw Gotou hugging Yakumo.

’He’s heavy if you’re carrying him yourself, right?’

Gotou smiled, looking embarrassed.

’Gotou-san.’

’Sorry. I just got the jitters...’

As Gotou said that, his expression looked somewhat cheerful –

-

12

-

Ishii greeted the morning with his face on his desk.

This made the second day in a row. Miyagawa leant back on his seat at the opposite desk, snoring while sleeping.

Ishii’s head felt heavy. He had discussed a number of things with Miyagawa last night, but they hadn’t come up with an explanation in the end.

After sighing, Ishii recalled something important. He hadn’t told Makoto that Yakumo had been found. She must have been worried too.

Ishii hurriedly took out his mobile and called Makoto.

<Hello, Hijikata speaking.>

He heard a hoarse voice from the other end of the phone.

’I apologise for calling so early in the morning. It’s Ishii.’

<Ah, Ishii-san.>

’I just wanted to tell you that Yakumo was found safely last night...’

<Really?>

Makoto’s voice became suddenly brighter.

When Ishii heard that, for some reason he was the one who was relieved.

’Yes. Detective Gotou contacted me last night. It appears he was taken to Aokigahara’s Sea of Trees.’

<Is he all right?>

Makoto’s voice grew lower.

’Eh?’

<Aokigahara’s Sea of Trees is a famous spot for suicides. If Yakumo-kun, who can see ghosts, went there...>

Ishii understand even without Makoto finishing.

To be honest, Ishii hadn’t thought that far, but now that he did, it was terrible.

For somebody who could see spirits, it was probably like hell, with all the spirits of the dead lamenting their lack of salvation in Aokigahara’s Sea of Trees. Ishii felt a chill run down his spine just from imagining it.

’I will confirm with Detective Gotou afterwards.’

Just as Ishii hung up, the door to the Unsolved Cases Special Investigation Room opened.

Shimamura came into the room.

’Ah, good morning.’

Ishii hurriedly stood up and greeted her.

Miyagawa woke up in response. ’What, it’s you, Shima?’ he said in a gravelly voice as he stretched.

’Honestly, I’ll get sick of that,’ said Shimamura, leaning against the wall.

’What happened?’

’I’m so disgusted I can’t even say.’

’Eh?’

It looked like Shimamura was very angry, but Ishii didn’t understand what was going on at all.

’Miyagawa-san, please do something about it,’ Shimamura begged.

’Tell me what happened,’ urged Miyagawa.

Shimamura took in a breath loudly before beginning her explanation.

’Rich boy Honda’s started saying today that Imoto, the one who died in his flat, committed suicide.’

’With what proof?’ asked Ishii, which made Shimamura frown.

’I wouldn’t be angry if he had proof. That spoiled idiot was told by higher-ups to solve the case already, so he’s trying to clean it up quickly by calling it suicide.’

’That’s awful,’ agreed Miyagawa.

Though Ishii didn’t say it aloud, he felt the same way.

Honda had left Ishii and Miyagawa out of the investigation because they thought it wasn’t a suicide, and he’d questioned Aoi Hideaki about the case, but now, just because the higher-ups told him to, he was saying it was a suicide. It was incredibly untrustworthy.

’So what are you going to do?’ Miyagawa asked Shimamura.

’Like I can do anything. The Aokigahara case that we’re working on with the Yamanashi precinct isn’t going well, so it’s being pushed that way.’

’I see.’

Miyagawa lit a cigarette with a grim expression.

The higher-ups had probably urged them to solve the apartment case sooner because they were angry that there had been no progress with the Sea of Trees case with Hiyama.

Even though they had both had lives, they were prioritising the more sensational one. It was a sad reality.

’Come to think of it, I heard something interesting about the Aokigahara case.’

Shimamura clapped her hands together.

’What is it?’

Ishii leant forward in interest.

’Last night, some nearby residents spotted two men climbing the religious group’s building walls and escaping. We don’t know if they were petty thieves or believers, but it might have something to do with the case.’

– Oh no.

They couldn’t ever say it was them. In contrast to Ishii’s panic, Miyagawa was stifling laughter.

’I think you don’t have to worry about those two,’ Ishii said timidly.

’Why?’

’No, even if you say that...’

Miyagawa couldn’t hold back his laughter when he saw Ishii so flustered.

Shimamura looked confused as to what was happening.

’Those two people were Ishii and me,’ explained Miyagawa.

’Wha?’

Shimamura’s eyes went wide in shock.

When Miyagawa saw that response, he started laughing even more loudly.

’Really... I want to join the Unsolved Cases Special Investigation Room too now.’

Ishii had thought Shimamura would be angry, but unexpectedly, she said that and left.

’So what now?’ Miyagawa asked once he had calmed down.

’Shall we try talking to Aoi Hideaki-shi once more?’ said Ishii, still unsure.

The apartment case had been determined to be a suicide, but it hadn’t been solved at all. There had to be something there, and Aoi Hideaki had the key.

’I’ve come this far. I’ll go with you to the end,’ said Miyagawa as he stood up.

’Thank you.’

-

13

-

Makoto put her head on her desk at work.

She had been investigating a number of things last night and had barely slept.

The case that she had thought was simple at first had unexpectedly deep roots, making it impossible to see all of it at once.

She had been thinking the whole time when Ishii called her this morning too.

Even though she should have been happy that Yakumo had been saved, she felt anxious.

He had been found in Aokigahara’s Sea of Trees.

It was an evil forest where countless spirits who had ended their own lives writhed. Yakumo must have experienced something unimaginable there.

Something so strong it could make his perspective – his character crumble –

Even if his body was fine, it didn’t mean his heart was. It was very possible that he was no longer himself.

A call from Takizawa interrupted Makoto’s thoughts.

’Hello, Hijikata speaking.’

<Sorry for calling so early.>

Takizawa sounded exhausted. He might not have slept much either.

’No, not at all.’

<About that thing you asked me to do yesterday... It’s a bit strange.>

’What do you mean?’

<I got information about the time when Jikoukoushinkai was in Yamanashi... People had a pretty good impression of it.>

’Is that true?’

Though Makoto’s voice sounded surprised, that wasn’t how she really felt.

The theory in the back of her mind was becoming more real.

<They didn’t have believers until two years ago. Minegishi Kyouka and Hiyama Kenichirou had just been doing fortune telling and consultations.>

’That couldn’t be called a religious group.’

<Yeah, they legally registered as a religious group two years ago.>

’Is that so...’

Did something really happen to Jikoukoushinkai two years ago?

That had turned them completely around. It probably had something to do with Minegishi Kyouka and Hiyama Kenichirou’s dispute.

<The local police said they cared for the people who tried to commit suicide in Aokigahara’s Sea of Trees and listened to their problems.>

’Cared for people who tried to commit suicide...’

It was clearly different from how Jikoukoushinkai was now.

<It seems like they started researching ghosts afterwards.>

’Research?’

<Yeah. They were trying to explain the existence of ghosts scientifically.>

’Explain it scientifically.’

Makoto thought it over while taking notes.

The word scientifically just didn’t sit right with her. Right now, Jikoukoushinkai was focussed on worshiping mountains – it was completely a religious group.

There was no science about it.

<And this is what interested me most...>

Takizawa spoke with airs of importance.

’What is it?’

<Minegishi Kyouka says she can see ghosts, right?>

’Yes.’

<There’s a rumour that Hiyama Kenichirou was the one who could see tem.>

’Eh?’ exclaimed Makoto.

Hiyama, not Minegishi, was the one who could see – if that was true, she would have to think things over completely.

Makoto swallowed her confusion and hung up on Takizawa.

-

14

-

– Thank you.

Haruka heard a voice as she slept.

It was a very kind and pleasant voice.

– Who could it be?

Haruka slowly opened her eyes. She saw white sheets. The sun’s light reflecting off of them made it seem like they were sparkling.

– Where am I?

Haruka quickly recalled what had happened last night.

After Yakumo had fainted, the ambulance arrived. They took him to a nearby general hospital.

According to the doctor, Yakumo’s body temperature was low and he was exhausted, but his life wasn’t in danger.

In her worry, Haruka had watched over Yakumo sleeping in his bed, and it looked like she had fallen asleep herself.

’Yakumo-kun!’ said Haruka, sitting up immediately.

Yakumo was sitting on the bed and looking out the window. In the morning sun, his body seemed to glow.

– Thank goodness.

It looked like his body was fine, but Haruka suddenly remembered something else.

She had another concern. Yakumo had completely lost his mind then. Even if he had looked like Yakumo, it had felt like something completely different was inside.

– How is Yakumo’s mind?

’Yakumo-kun...’ Haruka called out again.

Yakumo slowly turned around.

The light from behind him made it so that Haruka couldn’t see his expression clearly.

– It’s Yakumo-kun, right?

Haruka held her breath and softly touched her necklace with the red stone.

For a while, Yakumo said nothing. He just looked at Haruka. It felt like forever.

Finally, he slowly opened his mouth.

’Thank you...’

’Eh?’

’You called my name, didn’t you?’

’Your name?’

’Yeah. When it was completely dark and I couldn’t see the light, I had lost myself... but I heard it. Your voice. Your voice calling my name...’

’Yakumo-kun...’

– You came back.

Haruka felt that. The person in front of her was Yakumo, no doubt about it.

’That voice became a light for me... Thank you for calling me.’

Yakumo looked embarrassed as he smiled. Then, his hand touched Haruka’s cheek.

Haruka tried to hold it back, but that warmth made her burst into tears.

’I’m so glad... I’m really glad...’

No matter how she tried to keep them in, the tears kept coming out.

Haruka tried to cover her face with her hand so that Yakumo wouldn’t see her face covered in tears, but Yakumo grabbed that hand.

’It’s the second time that you’ve saved me..’

’I’ll do it any time...’

Haruka shook her head.

The number didn’t matter. If anything happened to Yakumo, she would go save him without any hesitation. The reason was that for Haruka, Yakumo’s existence itself was her light.

Just as Haruka was about to embrace Yakumo, the hospital room door opened.

’Sorry to bother.’

It was Gotou.

Haruka hurriedly backed away from Yakumo and wiped her tears.

’Oh, am I really a bother right now?’

After looking at Haruka and Yakumo, Gotou smirked and tried to leave the hospital.

’You aren’t.’

Yakumo was the one who spoke.

’Don’t worry about me. I’ll let you be alone a bit longer.’

’Gotou-san!’ said Haruka.

If he left now, she’d be the one who felt awkward.

’What?’ complained Gotou, but he still sat on the chair by the bed.

’I need to thank you as well, Gotou-san,’ Yakumo said formally, looking at Gotou.

However, Gotou just waved his hand.

’Stop that. If you thank me, something unlucky will definitely happen.’

’That’s an awful way to put it.’

Yakumo smiled wryly.

’I just followed my own beliefs.’

After Gotou said that, he scratched his nose, looking like he felt embarrassed.

– That’s just like Gotou-san.

Haruka felt that. Gotou hadn’t saved Yakumo for his thanks. He had just done it because he wanted to.

’So who assaulted you?’ said Gotou after clearing his throat.

’I didn’t see their face. However... I know who it is.’

’Eh?’

Haruka spoke up without thinking.

-

15

-

’What are you saying?’

Gotou leant forward from his seat by the bed to ask Yakumo that.

Yakumo said that he knew who had abducted him. His confident expression made it seem like he understood everything.

’I can’t say right now.’

’Wha?’

Gotou’s brow furrowed.

– It’s started again.

Yakumo hated speaking when he only had speculation. Therefore, even if he understood something in his head, he didn’t say it out loud. As a result, Gotou was pushed around without knowing anything.

’The corpse found at Aokigahara’s Sea of Trees. Aoi Yuuka, who was robbed. The man who committed suicide. These three incidents are connected.’

Yakumo had said that before too.

Gotou and the others had run forward believing in those words, but Gotou felt like they had just wasted their time since they hadn’t been able to find the connection.

’How are they connected?’ asked Gotou.

Yakumo’s expression suddenly because grimmer.

It was an unusually frightening expression.

’It is because they are connected that the order is important.’

’The order?’

Haruka cocked her head before Gotou could.

’What are you talking about?’ Gotou pressed, like he was landing the final blow.

’The order that will reveal the truth. If that order is incorrect, there will be victims.’

After saying that, Yakumo cast down his eyes, just slightly.

Yakumo looked like he was suffering. Even when he had been at the hospital before being abducted, he had been suffering like this.

Gotou had a ton of things he wanted to ask, but after coming this far, he decided to just go with Yakumo until the end without saying anything.

If he did that, Yakumo’s suffering should become lighter, even if just by a little.

’So what should we do?’ asked Gotou with resolve.

’You’ll help?’

Yakumo’s eyes went wide in surprise.

He wasn’t used to other people’s kindness. This was one of Yakumo’s cute points.

’I planned on doing that from the start.’

’Well, that is natural. It was your possession that made things so troublesome from the start,’ said Yakumo, running hand through his messy hair.

’What kind of tone is that? You should thank me honestly at times like this.’

’Didn’t you say that something unlucky would happen if I thanked you?’ Yakumo said triumphantly.

– What a hateful brat.

But it felt like Yakumo had finally returned – it made Gotou happy. This was thanks to Haruka, who had faced Yakumo head-on without running away.

When Gotou looked at Haruka, she cocked her head, looking confused.

’Let’s stop the pointless chitchat now. Please contact Makoto-san.’

Yakumo put his index finger to his brow and started his explanation.

’The newspaper woman? What do you want to ask?’

’Jikoukoushinkai was based in Yamanashi before. Please ask for the location.’

’Are you planning on going?’

’That is... if it remains.’

Yakumo smirked, looking amused.

Since Yakumo had said it, there was probably something there.

’Got it.’

’Also, please contact Ishii-san.’

’What do you want to ask him?’

’I’m not asking – I have a message.’

’A message?’

’Yes. A message from me.’

When Yakumo finished speaking, he slowly stood up. Though his expression was blank, it was frightening enough to give Gotou a chill down his spine.

-

16

-

’Gotou-san, I’m just glad you’re OK,’ Makoto said happily when Gotou called her.

<Yeah, somehow.>

’So, Yakumo-kun...’ asked Makoto, gulping.

That was the biggest reason for her anxiety. He had gone into Aokigahara’s Sea of Trees. It shouldn’t have been an easy trip.

<Fit as a fiddle.>

’Really?’

To be honest, Makoto couldn’t believe it.

<For a while, I was worried, but Haruka-chan called that guy back.>

When Makoto heard that, she relaxed.

Yakumo had Haruka. She would probably save Yakumo no matter what she had to sacrifice.

At first, Makoto had thought that Haruka was just a girl who cried all the time, but that impression had changed.

Haruka had a strong will and lived straightforwardly.

Her feelings for Yakumo had probably made her stronger. Being able to love someone so much was a happy thing.

’I’m envious...’

Makoto hadn’t been planning on saying it, but the words slipped out of her mouth.

<Of what?>

Gotou had heard Makoto’s words to herself. It was so embarrassing she felt like her face was on fire.

’N-nothing,’ Makoto said hurriedly.

<Well, that’s fine. I’ve got a request.>

’For... me?’

<Yeah. Yakumo asked. Jikoukoushinkai was based in Yamanashi before, right?>

’Yes.’

<He wants you to tell him the location.>

’Does he plan to go there?’

<Seems like it.>

This timing – Yakumo might have been t

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