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Sonozaki Mion had grown up with the world on her shoulders. Of course, to her, that was what Hinamizawa was. Whatever lay beyond the Gifu mountains she knew of only as stories. And when you’re a child, stories and reality may as well be one and the same.

Love wasn’t much different.


Sonozaki Mion had grown up with the world on her shoulders. In a family where love was an afterthought next to the intricacies of hierarchy, and marriage a means to an end, it wasn’t something she gave much thought.


Sonozaki Mion knew two things about love.

One was that it was what had left the headship on her shoulders from the day the demon had been engraved into her skin.

Children ask questions. And once Mion was old enough, she’d realised it was a little bizarre—the things she’d be privy to; the expectations placed on her. Wasn’t this her mother’s role?

I fell in love, Mion. That was all the response she’d gotten.

Love must make people do stupid things, she thought.


The second thing that Mion learned, once she was old enough to figure her mother’s words into something concrete, was that she was expected to marry somebody from Hinamizawa.

Eventually, she’d come to understand that that person would probably be chosen for her. But when she was younger, she’d thought this: Hinamizawa was the sun setting between the mountain peaks, over the sprawling green of the Sonozaki estate. It was the dirt warm under your feet as you played in the summer, and the cicadas crying. She was sure if there were somewhere in the world people fell in love, it would be here.



It was always an event when a new family came to Hinamizawa, and they always knew.


'Reina' was the name at the meetings. It was spring, and as the night wore on and the conversation dwindled and fizzled down to things without an air of secrecy, her grandmother would tell her to open the sliding doors and allow the brisk air in.

People came to Hinamizawa, people left. But this time, Mion listened. Reina was a girl her age.

She had Rika-chan, and Satoko, but nobody like that.


When the meeting ended, the attendees drifted out into the dark and she was dismissed, she returned to her bedroom.

In the dead of night in Hinamizawa, you couldn’t hear anything. The cicadas were themselves silence for the village; white noise. But if you stared into the shadows for long enough and the lines of your room blurred away, you could begin to wonder if there were another breathing human anywhere within reach at all—whether you weren’t floating through space, completely alone.

Perhaps others would find that disconcerting, but it was all Mion knew.



Mion knows about Ryuugu Reina. She knows Reina was born in Hinamizawa and is in the grade below hers. She knows that, after moving to Ibaraki when she was young, the girl’s parents had split in the throes of an affair.

She knows Reina smashed every window in her school with a baseball bat. She knows she was hospitalised after the incident, and that she’d moved here with her father after being discharged.

She knows Reina believes in Oyashiro-sama.


When the teacher introduces her to the class, she’s quiet, timid, but smiling. She corrects Chie-sensei. “It's Rena.”




Shoes slap against the roads leading from the school. Summer is coming again. Hinamizawa is only truly itself in summer, Mion feels. The whole rest of the year is just anticipation for the season, a strange dream. In summer, everything is vivid, burned into your memory. She hardly knows the village in snow, or in rain.

It’s a good time to move in, then.


Footsteps against the wooden bridge, underplayed by the babbling creek. There are lots of things she could ask Ryuugu Reina about.


The girl stops, looks back.

“Sorry, it’s just, my house is in this direction too.”

“Is that so?” Another quiet smile. She’s pretty. This is the first thing about Rena that Mion learns for herself.


There are lots of things she could ask Ryuugu Reina.


“So, you were born here, right? Some things might’ve changed, but I’m sure it’s mostly the same. Hinamizawa’s like that.” She laughs loudly, as she always does, and Rena just looks on. Mion wonders if she’d notice the hollow quality of the smile, had she not been privy to the most intimate details of the girl’s life. For the first time, she thinks it’s a little strange, a little unfair.

“What I’m saying is, are you free tomorrow?”



Summer looms over the village, a heavy shadow, and Watanagashi approaches.


The club is the flickering of a flame, resilient against the night. And, in spite of it all, it makes her happy.

She doesn’t understand what Satoshi and Satoko are going through. What she does understand are their vacant expressions, the days they’re missing from school where the knot never leaves her stomach, the sickening feeling as she puts her outdoor shoes on at the school entrance, like she’s stepping off some invisible ledge.

So she stands over the siblings one day, hands on her hips, and states her case.


“It’s okay, Mion…” Satoshi’s voice is a ghost of what it once was. “Our aunt would never…”

A hand reaches past her, to his shoulder. “Satoshi-kun.”

They both look. It's Rena.

Then, “Is it really a problem, Nii-nii?”

He looks from his little sister to the two girls in front of him, side by side, until finally they’re all sharing a smile, tentative, but hopeful, she’d like to think.

It certainly doesn’t occur to her then that it could be one of their last.



What Mion is learning is that friendship is strange. One day, you’re laughing until there are tears in your eyes, sharing your lunch, rushing home to change clothes and dash out again, and you realise it’s just there.

She wonders if love is like that.


Perhaps she has Rika-chan to thank. Perhaps it’s because the girl is so young, perhaps because of the way the villagers revere her, but they never complain, as much as they never acknowledge her best friend.

Even in the midst of the Dam War, the Furudes has been the allies of the Houjous.

As a Sonozaki, she couldn’t approve. But as Mion?


She doesn’t know how it’s happened. It’s strange. She’d spent her life here. She’d known Satoshi, Satoko, and, of course, Rika-chan. She wonders why it’s only now that they sit and laugh together, as though they’d been doing it their whole lives. She enjoys getting to know each of her friends, bit by bit. When she lies in her room at night, she finds herself smiling.

Those are in the moments before she remembers why they’d made the club in the first place, of course.

And maybe if she weren’t a Sonozaki, maybe if she’d ever been allowed to be a child, she could’ve fallen asleep smiling, too. But more than that, there’s a discomfort in the pit of her stomach.

Sometimes, leading up to Watanagashi, she’d have nightmares. The whispers would seep into her dreams, and she’d wonder how much she really knew about the family she belonged to, and the people she loved.


She’d never really been a child. Of course, neither, then, had Rika. Few understood that, with the way the girl kicked her feet against the tatami mat, drawing pictures throughout the meetings—but Mion did. Sometimes, they’d sit outside together afterwards. What she saw in Rika’s eyes then, she understood.


It hurt her to see the light leaving her friends’ eyes.


Maybe it was because she’d never been able to be a child, but she knew when bad things were coming.

Maybe it was because she was the same that Rena had become their friend.



The lead-up to Watangashi is a nightmare, before you realise you’re having one. Everything seems normal enough, if slightly off-kilter, like when you can’t quite put your finger on what’s wrong, like suddenly forgetting a word you’ve used a thousand times, and being left unable to communicate what’s so vivid in your mind; so important.

Then, one day, Satoshi’s desk is empty.

The only feeling she understands over the next few days is sick.


Her life had always been one of secrecy, and suppression. She hid things from others; she hid things from herself.


The phone calls had begun a while ago. Soon after, the swaps. It was nothing new.


Everything happens in the wrong order. They’re walking home, her and Rena, a few days after Satoshi's disappearance. And Rena’s stopped, is very close, is looking up at her, her face pulled out of shape by sadness. It’s only then that Mion notices the tears, swelling inside her chest, filling her throat, rolling down her cheeks.


They stand there, and she watches the sun over Rena’s shoulder. The roads are always empty in Hinamizawa.


A hand on her face; a thumb brushing away each tear as it falls.


Everything makes sense in the wrong order.


Mion was expected to marry somebody from Hinamizawa.

Hinamizawa was a small town.

Maybe that was why her heart had changed rhythms every time Satoshi’s hand had landed on her head. Maybe her brain was searching for something, the way she always had as the successor, living for the future, living to be the person she was born to become.

Or maybe it was just that his hand was warm, and his smile was kind, and his voice was gentle. She liked the way her name sounded in his mouth—like it could lead her to new parts of herself.


These were the things she tried not to understand, things she forbade to become more than indistinct shapes on the periphery of her vision and her heart. Perhaps they were an illusion of her own making. There was no way to know the answer now.


It didn’t take long for her to piece it all together.

She’d thought she'd known her sister's smile, before she'd met Satoshi.


Sometimes when Shion took her place, she’d go into the forest around the main house and wonder if, in that moment, she even existed.


She hadn’t even heard Shion crying, so how could she?


Her mind tells her to pull herself together. Nothing makes sense, and everything makes sense, and it hurts.

Rena keeps wiping away her tears, even as they come faster, and her cheeks are wet, and Rena’s fingertips are too, and it’s all pointless.

When she tries to apologise, the fingers are on her lips instead.


She supposes having friends is not being able to hide yourself.

Rena puts her arms around her waist, her head on her shoulder, and holds her tight. The pain comes in waves first as frequent as her heartbeat. Then, after more time than she knows, they begin to slow. The sun sinks in the summer sky, and she cries until her tears have soaked through to Rena’s shoulder—until she can look up again at everything and still breathe, until she can look at the other girl and be sure it’s okay, she’s okay, they’re okay, one way or another, at least for the coming night.



It was autumn, and school had begun again.


Mion didn’t like autumn. It was like Hinamizawa was dying. The light sunk behind the mountains, the sun already setting as they left school, leaving the village a sea of darkness. If an airplane flew over, you wouldn’t even know it was there.

In autumn, when the head house meetings ran late into the night, sometimes she’d want to go get a blanket from where she knew they sat in the cupboard. She’d want to wrap it around herself, curl up, be warm—be something other than the successor, be the girl she always had to leave at the door.

Still, autumn meant seeing Rena every day—though it wasn’t as though they hadn’t spent the summer having picnics at the Furude Shrine; helping Satoko move in; going treasure-hunting. Trying to heal, all of them.

And yet, there was a comfort in it—in knowing, from the moment she opened her eyes, that she’d see Rena soon. It was something to anchor her in reality, to help her reel in the morning, when the dreams she could never quite remember lingered like lights leading back to unconsciousness, dancing across her vision every time she closed her eyes.


Satoshi’s desk was empty, and nobody had cleaned out his locker.


She almost forgets on the first day back, as she packs up her bag. It’s not been easy, not for any of them, but minute by minute they’ve managed to smile.

It’s only as she’s rushing ahead out of the classroom that there’s a tug on her sleeve. Rika-chan.


“What’s up, Rika-chan?”

“Are we not doing the club today?”

And then she notices Satoko, hovering uncertainly in the background, ready to pull the desks together, smile beginning to falter.


It’s then that she realises that what she’s created still has a purpose—perhaps now more than ever.


It’s a bit strange, a bit sad. They’re packing up to leave much later on when Satoko says it.

“Nii-nii totally would’ve lost that one.”

For a moment, in the dusk-filled room, nobody’s sure whether to laugh or cry. And, Mion’s surprised to find, that’s okay.



It turns out Mion doesn’t mind autumn so much this year, when sometimes there’ll be a sudden downpour and she and Rena will have to duck under the shelter by the bus stop until the few streetlights flicker on.

She minds winter, though, when the snow comes and school is cancelled for days.


One day, she’s brewing tea. Everything beyond the window looks like water, as though their house is a boat floating, solitary, in the middle of the ocean. It reminds her of something she’d thought once.


As much as they’re dealing with Satoshi’s absence day by day, anxiety buzzes in Mion’s chest. She’d had a nightmare recently—the snow had melted, and she’d ventured out into the village to find every house gutted of life, nobody anywhere to be found. She’d walked the streets calling Rena's name. She'd woken up crying.


“Mii-chan, did you miss me?” The voice crackles over the phone, its own miracle—usually the lines would go down during this weather. It’s been days since she’s heard her friend’s voice. She’s curled up on her futon. There are few family duties at this time of year, and her grandmother focuses on preserving her health. Watanagashi is somewhere over the ocean, distant. It’s the best time to pretend she’s any other teenger.

She ponders Rena’s question. “Is that strange?”

She hadn’t meant to say it aloud, but then she often doesn’t, the things she tells Rena.

“I’m happy. I missed Mii-chan too.”


“Oh, were you talking to Rena-chan?”

She's bringing her grandmother a drink. “How did you know?”

“You’re grinning from ear to ear.”



In the brief periods of respite where the weather permits it, the meetings begin again, the strange-and-not backbone to this existence, the rhythm, disconcerting at times, yet all she knows.

There’s a new name.

A boy. The grade below her. 'Maebara Keiichi'.


He won’t be here for some time, but they know because his family have bought a large plot of their land and the house is being built.

Mion wonders absently whether he’ll take Satoshi’s desk.


The snow begins to melt to a thin layer of ice that covers the roads to school. They’re caught between seasons, spring lying just beyond the blinding sunlight and breath that still freezes in the air. Mion shivers as she stands at the door in her robes, seeing the village elders off into the night. And sure enough, there she is—one figure approaching, exchanging happy greetings with those passing by.


“Rena, seriously, it’s way too cold to be out doing this.” Of course, her friend is smiling.

“It was a long meeting today, right? I figured you wouldn’t have had time to make dinner.” Mion takes the bento boxes, is about to appeal to Rena to stay the way she always does, expecting to get the same old rejection, when the girl walks right past her into the house.


“I told your grandmother I’ve made some for her too, and that you’ll set the table.”

She’s still leaning against the kitchen doorframe, arms folded, smiling, when Rena turns around again.

“Um, Earth to Mii-chan!”

“Right, right." She goes to look through the cupboards. "Are you eating with us?"

“Nope, I already did, and I told my father I’d be back soon.”

“Then should you really be here doing this?” Rena begins to fill the bowl in her hands. She gets no response.




“Will you really be okay? Don’t slip on the roads. I do wish you’d stay sometimes when you’re doing this much for us.”

They’re back at the entrance, and Mion wonders how many times they’ve been through this routine. She wonders when it even began.

“Don’t be silly. You don't get it, do you, Mii-chan?” Rena picks her bike up from the wall, readjusts her hat. Mion cocks her head.

“Don't get what?”

And just like that, Rena turns around, kisses her, and leaves.

Just like that.



When she’s lying in bed that night, she thinks about two things.


How even when the house is surrounded by snow and thick silence, and the trees have all died, and the cicadas are asleep, she doesn’t feel the slightest bit alone.

How she isn’t sure if this is what friendship is or not, and how she doesn’t particularly care.


Sometimes when she wakes up, it takes her a moment to remember who she is.

The next morning is no different. The winter light plays off the walls, the room is cold, and the only sounds are her footsteps and the creaking of the floorboards.

Nothing at all has changed.


When she wakes up that morning, it’s no different, yet in the moment before she even knows who she is, she knows peace.



Winter phases into spring, and the sun begins to rise above the mountains again, the days lengthening minute by minute. The kids still all bustle around the one radiator in the classroom when they get to school, but the light begins to take on a warmth again.

Mion doesn’t love getting to school so much when it means she has to let go of Rena’s hand.


In Hinamizawa, there’s nobody to drive trucks through the road, nobody to scatter salt to clear the paths.

Sometimes she’ll slip on hidden patches of ice, and Rena will carefully brush the lingering snow off her coat with one sleeve and then hold her close all the rest of the walk.

One day Rena tells her she really ought to get gloves, and takes her red fingers between her hands, and rubs them until they’re warm. She kisses each of her fingertips.

Mion doesn't get gloves.


It’s on these days where the same hidden ice catches the morning light and makes the whole village shine that Mion sits at her desk while she waits for the teacher to arrive, doesn’t bother fighting for a space next to the radiator at the wall, and just daydreams. In the depths of winter, when the village is mostly shrouded in darkness as they walk, it really is all like a dream.


The village turns from white to green, the sun shines down on them as she greets Rena each day, the cicadas begin to sing again. Some strange part of her is afraid it’ll all stop. But then they’ll be walking home, and Rena will pick her a flower from the side of the road and tuck it behind her ear.

That’s just how it is, as certain as the sun rising each morning.


By this point, Mion doesn’t think much about love or friendship anymore. She doesn’t need to.

And one day, when sunlight has enveloped the village and everything is colourful, when she’s sitting at her desk not thinking about much of anything, the teacher arrives, and a tall boy follows her into the classroom.



She knows four things about the boy.

His name is Maebara Keiichi. He’s in the grade below her. He lives near them, which means he takes the same route home as them, which means she doesn’t hold Rena’s hand anymore.

He’d moved to Hinamizawa for a fresh start after a past in Tokyo that was too crushing to live under.

It’s a familiar story.



Mion is seventeen, and she thinks she knows a little about love, a little about friendship.

Keiichi takes Satoshi’s desk.

Keiichi joins the club.

Keiichi is funny.


She doesn’t know how it happens, but she also knows that’s how the best things in life go.


It’s already a hot summer, a humid summer. Like this, Hinamizawa becomes itself again. The days are so long, yet pass so quickly. Everything is stuffy, and it’s often hard to think. One day, her grandmother asks her for the date. It’s the first of June, she’s surprised to hear herself saying. Watanagashi’s coming, is the response.


The weeks pass, and Keiichi has to go back to Tokyo for a funeral. Remember to get souvenirs, she jokes. Sure, sure, he laughs, ruffling her hair.

They try to hold a club meeting while he’s away and realise all of a sudden it’s not the same.


She doesn’t know if it’s because Maebara Keiichi has taken Satoshi’s desk—perhaps taken more than that—that it feels like he’s been there forever. But Satoko has her smile back, so she doesn’t think about it too much.

Summer has arrived in Hinamizawa. Everyone is smiling. Hadn’t she said it once—that this was the place for love? Maybe love was healing.


Sometimes she catches Rika-chan with a pensive expression, like a cloud passing over the sun—but never at Keiichi. At Keiichi, she’s always smiling. “We’ve been waiting for you to move here,” she says at one point, and nobody questions it. Maybe she’s right.


Rena doesn’t hold her hand when they walk home from school anymore, but sometimes, before they part ways, Keiichi’s will land on her head.

Maybe it’s because Satoshi had done the same once that it feels like it’s filling some space somewhere.

Maybe friends are for filling parts of you you hadn’t realised were empty.


She doesn’t have to ask Rena how she feels about Keiichi. She sees the smile on her face when they come to meet her on the way to school. She sees the blush, too.

She wonders if Rena had ever looked at her like that.

She begins to wonder lots of things again, like a child.

Perhaps friendship, and love—perhaps these are complicated things. Perhaps this is something she should’ve realised sooner.


She dreams again, now—dreams of petals stuck in her hair, and of a hand on her head, rough and warm, leaving her mind overcome with a sensation that short-circuits everything. She dreams of things she remembers—picnics at the Furude shrine—and things she’s not sure if she does. She dreams of, “We’ve been waiting for you to move here." She dreams of the world as though Keiichi had always existed within it. Day by day, she begins to forget what it had been like when he hadn’t, because they do everything together now—the three of them.



Love is lots of things, Mion learns now.

Love is picking the longest games out of her locker, so they’re at school until the classroom is turning golden. When they walk home in their ridiculous outfits, there are only a few pools of sunlight scattered across the path. They’re warm—almost as much as Rena’s fingers in hers; almost as much as Keiichi’s on her head.

Love is the air being knocked out of your chest when he says you’re not friends, looks at you like you’re a stranger. Love is not being able to sleep because you don’t know what you did wrong, rather than because you know that what’s happening is so much more, so much worse. Love is when the pain overwhelms the fear, even when he wrestles free of Rena’s grasp and raises the baseball bat over his head.

Love is rushing out of the front door at the weekend, because her heart still swells when she sees them for the first time that day. Love is when they smile at one another, when they smile at her, and she’s happy. Love is when Keiichi notices the look on her face, gives her the doll, and Rena beams at her over his shoulder. Love is when they understand one another—when they understand her, even when she hides herself.

Love is when he gives the doll to Rena instead and the hours of your shift drag by until you can go home and cry. Love is when you squeeze your eyes shut but can’t forget the words: “This would never suit you.” Love is when you bursts into tears again and again telling Shion, telling Rena; it’s when you can hear the pain in Rena’s voice, too—none of it was meant to be like this. Love is flesh wounds, emotions polluting the air; love is not being able to see the way Shion’s eyes flash through your tears. It’s when everything happens far too quickly, and it doesn’t even matter that he thinks you're the one who’s strapped him to the table, doesn’t matter when he’s saying you're his best friend, love is just please don’t hurt him please don’t hurt him please don’t hurt him. Love is realising you’d rather die instead.



In the days before they step off the ledge into eternity, she sits with Rena and looks out over the dump.

The air is calm at this time of day, and they’re alone. Nobody comes here but the three of them.

Mion hadn’t, before Rena had moved, but a lot had changed since then.

It had become their place. Their place for secrecy; their place for quiet, and tranquility. Things they needed more than they knew.

If they'd ever needed to find the words for love, or friendship, or whatever lay between, or beyond, or here as they sat side by side, she was sure they’d have been exchanged here—just one more hidden treasure.

It turns out love isn’t like that. Love is many things, few so blatant. In fact, there’s little love isn’t, now.


“It doesn’t bother you, does it, Rena?”

Love is not having to hide your tears—not having to hide anything. Love is forgetting the cold, but never every way you’ve felt one another’s warmth. Love is when the whole village is steeped in snow, or you’re sitting by the river running through the forest with your hair down, but you know there’s nothing that can will you out of existence anymore, and that if she found you, she’d see you.

“Does it bother you, Mii-chan?”

Love is when he makes you laugh until your stomach hurts, somehow makes every moment something more than it ever would’ve been before. Love is when you tease him all the way home, then forget how to string words together the moment he gets too close. Love is how it makes him smile, how neither of you ever get bored of it all. Love is always being surprised, always surprising, always underestimating the limitlessness of what there is left to learn of one another.

Love is how much it makes every day an adventure, and how she gets home each afternoon, kicks off her shoes and collapses, exhausted and exhilarated, already anticipating morning.


Love was more boundless than she had realised.



Love makes you do stupid things. This she learns again, and again, and again.



After a lifetime and a few weeks, they’re sitting a little way away from the hustle and bustle of Watanagashi.

Time had long since disappeared. Nobody had slept much. The festival continues into the night, all of life carried in a current under the strings of lights, through the music and conversation filling the air. They sit on the outskirts of the oasis, looking over the village, side by side.

There’d been time for fun, time to cause a ruckus—it was what they were known for, after all. Mion still liked to be a kid when she could.

Mion was a lot of things. But now, she was with them, with the shadows of the summer night, on the shore of the festival ambience, just beyond where it could reach them and pull them into its current.

Love was not being afraid of the dark.


Nobody even thinks to speak. Nobody needs to. They’re here; they’re breathing. What more could they need than that?


It’s Rena who eventually reaches over and places a hand to her heart. It takes a moment to register the touch.

“Stupid Mii-chan.”

Love makes you do stupid things.

She opens her mouth to laugh, but nothing comes out. There’s nothing to laugh about. She’d been ready, when Takano had raised the gun. She’d never been more ready, if it meant protecting her friends. But here she was, heart still beating—all of their hearts still beating.


It takes a while to realise she’s started crying. But before the weight of everything she’s only half-aware of, everything they have now, can take hold, Rena is holding her. It’s not an attempt to get her stop. It’s a safe place.

Keiichi comes over then, and there are arms around her waist, arms around her head, and she cries. She feels their shoulders begin to shake, too. It’s the first thing that day that really makes sense, and it feels like dawn coming at last, like if they only held one another tight enough, it’d be enough to bring the sun to rise. It feels like something they all should’ve realised a long time ago.

“I know… I understand.” It’s Keiichi’s voice, words wet with tears. “But it’s over now.”

Rena shakes her head, then, and they all jostle with it, three people, one mess of limbs and tears and words and things even those can’t reach.

“It’s a beginning.”


And it is. The festival light is soft on the emotion in their expressions. The music continues somewhere, and all of Hinamizawa defies night by sheer will.

“I’ll probably be dragged to some stupid party later.” She laughs, wipes her eyes.

“And you’ll drink too much, and have a headache all day at school.”

“But we’re all going to go, right?”


Of course, where else in the world would they spend tomorrow, and the next day, and the next?




“Right, enough of this.” It’s who knows how much time later when Keiichi jumps up, turns, and reaches out. He grins, and the red nose and the still-wet eyes could probably pass as a trick of the light to anyone but the two of them. “This festival only comes around once a year, you know? We need to go find Satoko and Rika-chan.”

“Mm, I wonder where they wandered off to.” Rena grasps the hand and Keiichi pulls her up. When she then does the same to Mion, they look at one another, at their messy faces and ruffled clothes, and this time, they do laugh.

What wasn’t love, here, now? She couldn’t remember if she tried.


As they move back towards the festivities, she pulls them both in by the waist, so that as they walk between the stalls, people have to make way. In daylight, in Hinamizawa, that’s what people do, after all. She’s Sonozaki Mion.

But here, tonight, in the darkness, where families play together and couples stroll by, nobody has time to pay attention to a couple of teenagers, laughing with flushed faces, joking loudly, teasing, never letting go of one another.