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Walking through the night

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It’s a beautiful night in Hinamizawa. The moon shines bright in the sky, bathing the world in crystalline moonlight, and a slight breeze stirs the trees and the grass, the entire world swaying in line with the world’s rhythm. The cicadas are silent and sleeping, a reprieve from their oppressive cries, and Hanyuu walks down the dirt roads, appreciating the silence as she quietly visits and whispers good night to all her subjects. The cool air is lost on her, but Hanyuu mourns not.

The night is peaceful. Unbroken. A night like this can be spent in so many lovely ways, whether it is curled up at home or lazily wandering through the village, and Hanyuu is happy to spend it like this, even if each step is heavy with a bittersweet taste. Perhaps more bitter than sweet. Hanyuu steps through a doorway to another family, watching as parents wind down and quietly ready for sleep, and finding their child, gently settled down already. No doubt exhausted by a day of play, of joy. Hanyuu gently says good night, and if she could, she would pull up the sheets, but her little hands do not have the substance or the strength.

As she leaves, she bids a farewell and a good evening to the child’s parents, smiling her brightest smile, and expecting none in return. But that is alright. She doesn’t need them to respond. That’s not what tonight is about. She wanders through many more houses and whispers words to many other children and their parents, all of which she knows as if they were childhood friends. Their names, their ambitions, their dreams… Hanyuu listened to them in the past, and continues to bear them now, for as long as she can. She finds those that are alone, mourning sins and mistakes, and whispers silent forgiveness and acceptance that few hear, but as her footsteps fade, their eyes go wild, and her guilt spreads deeper.

Every couple nights, when there was no one left to follow, she found herself repeating this routine. Watching the world slowly grind to a halt as the crying cicadas descended into a communal quiet, resting their wings for another day of their choir. Smiling at sleeping children as their sweet dreams kept them entertained, and sitting by those who stared into the walls, fearing or mourning or both. Hanyuu hums to herself throughout it all, stopping only to say good nights and apologize and offer condolences that no one could accept. But that is fine.

Her body is ruffled, and she feels heavier, and heavier with every step. This is fine, a part of the day she’s expected as much as any else. She stops by one final location as she feels the biting of steel tearing through a stomach, as she tastes the blood rising up in a throat that wasn’t her own, on the steps of her own shrine, too far to see but not far enough to escape.

As Rika dies, Hanyuu stops by Satoko, in her bed, in a house she wants nothing more than to escape, and apologizes until the last of the blood trickles down the steps, until the last of the pain subsides into a dull, distant roar. Tears drop to the floor, as Satoko stirs in uneasy rest, eyes fluttering, and Hanyuu sobs out the hundredth apology she’s whispered to her in this world, and… the thousandth, or perhaps the millionth that she’s offered Satoko across all of them. Trembling, she presses a gentle kiss to her forehead, and promises her that next time, next time, at least it’ll be easier.

And, swaying as tears stream down her face, she slowly walks to the shrine, not deigning to turn her head as the white van lumbers past, its crimes for the night complete. Her stomach is empty, but a rock, as Hanyuu stumbles up each step, hearing herself echo across the silence, which has suddenly become so much worse than the cicada’s weeping. The steps are no longer pat, pat , but splish , and splash , as the redness spills down.

Hanyuu kneels at Rika’s side and apologizes.

She apologizes until the sun rises.

She apologizes until her voice is hoarse, until Satoko is there and then gone, wailing and screaming in horror. She apologizes until she’s dead, too. She apologizes for not having the stomach to be there for her this time. She apologizes for being so weak. She apologizes for failing her, for allowing this to happen, and she weeps. But even the sound of her own phantasmal voice is drowned out by the screeching and scratching of the cicadas, until they join Rika in silence. Until they join the entire village of Hinamizawa in a silence that won’t end when the sun rises. Not here.

Hanyuu takes in a deep breath, sniffles, and pulls Rika over to the next world, away from the bloodstained shrine, gently holding her spirit in her arms as she finds her in this world, the next step of this loop. The fragment is a different one, one that is at least brighter for now. She’s moved over so many worlds, and this one is better than many, but it presents nothing new. This is not surprising, but it hurts Hanyuu more than she can articulate all the same.

This world’s Rika is bright and innocent as she runs through the field with Satoko, on their way to the clinic. Hanyuu apologizes for what must be the billionth time as another soul is reaped, as she watches her precious Rika die once more, and as the bitter old witch she’s become takes the place of a child once obliviously pure and blind to tragedy.

Rika trips, and stumbles, and Satoko helps her up, asking if she’s okay, again, and again. Hanyuu sees her eyes, blank, devoid of the lively light that had been shining in them just seconds ago, for just a moment, before she’s beaming once more, but she can see just how false it is. She knows that she won’t ever really be okay again, and for that Hanyuu’s guilt will never end.

Satoko and Rika continue on their way to the Irie Clinic, and Hanyuu gently sets a hand on Rika’s shoulder, whispering I’m sorry as the taste of blood settles in her throat.