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Voices from Outside

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The ceiling is caving in, and Miku runs. She has become used to running; she has been running for five nights, heart in her throat the way it is now. Her body runs without her input, and the house crashes down behind her.

Inside her head it's different: peaceful. Inside her head there is a quiet eternity to talk and understand. This is the other side of her sixth sense, the side that draws her closer to other people instead of driving her away from them, and she wishes she'd known about it earlier, because soon she won't be able to do it at all. She can feel that ability leaving her, like a door swinging closed. Part of her is relieved, but she's never been so open before, never so intimate with anybody.

Mafuyu speaks to her first. He sits down with her in their small kitchen, holding her hands over the tabletop, and tells her why he had to do what he has done. She knows that somewhere the world is collapsing, and she is running, but it seems a thousand miles away. This is so much more real. She sees the sunlight slanting over their clasped hands, feels the warmth and affection in his grip as he explains to her how Kirie has suffered, and how she must continue to suffer for eternity.

"I wish to be by her side," he says. "Miku."

"I understand," she says, knowing that it's the only thing she can say. Although it feels as though they have forever to talk in this place, they don't. She can't say all she wants to. "You should do what you can to help. I wish I..."

But she doesn't get a chance to finish. His hands slip out of her grasp; the kitchen table disappears; the sunlight brightens and she's not inside any longer. She's standing in blue spring light, beneath the cherry tree in the atrium of Himuro Mansion. The tree is not bare any more: the blossoms shed their petals like snowflakes, and they fall all around her.

"I thought I should show you," Kirie says. Her voice is tentative, apologetic. "The way I was when you first saw me – I wasn't always like that."

"I know," Miku says. "You tried to kill me, but you helped me too. You saved me. I know that's who you really were."

Kirie looks down at the ground for a moment, and Miku gazes at her. She can't take her eyes away. She might have come to Himuro mansion for Mafuyu, but it seems as if everything she's done here has led her to Kirie instead.

"I feel like I know you," she blurts out. "I never really had anyone who understood me, except Mafuyu, because of this ability I have. I always thought, even if I had friends, I'd never be able to talk to them properly, I'd always be hiding something. So I just stayed by myself."

She hesitates. It sounds so pathetic in contrast to the dreary hell of Kirie's life, and the self-doubt is creeping in, the way it always does. She's never said so much at a time to anyone.

"When I read your diary, it was as if I was listening to you speak," she mumbles, feeling her cheeks grow warm. "Nobody ever told me their secrets, but... reading what you wrote was like having someone confide in me."

Kirie smiles, a faint and ephemeral thing, a ray of sunlight on a cloudy day. "I shouldn't have had secrets," she says. "If I'd done my duty, I wouldn't have needed – "

"You were like me," Miku interrupts. "That's how I felt. You had an ability that nobody understood, so you weren't allowed to have any friends, or – or fall in love. They just took you out of the world and let everyone forget you, as if you were dead. It was wrong."

Kirie shakes her head slightly. "It's all right," she says. "That was all a long time ago, you know. In some ways I'm glad. I'm glad I got to see how beautiful the world can be. Now I'll always have that memory." She turns her face away, looking up at the flower-laden branches of the cherry tree, and her voice shakes slightly. "When it hurts too much, I'll just remember that this is the world I'm protecting."

For a moment, Miku is silent, listening to the breeze, the waterwheel turning beyond the garden wall, a warbler calling in the distance. This world feels so real. She hopes that Kirie will be able to come here sometimes, see the sunlight every now and again in her endless, lightless existence.

"The thing is," she says humbly, "it seems to me, we're the same. We both have this power, we're both... outsiders. There isn't really anyone who'd notice if I didn't go back home." She tries not to sound self-pitying, and thinks she manages quite well; she sounds a little wistful, but otherwise detached. "So..."

Kirie turns to look at her again, eyes overbright. "You don't have to sacrifice yourself, just because I did. You shouldn't have to stay in the darkness." She moves a little closer, and the breeze shakes a shower of petals loose from the tree. "You're part of the world I want to protect, too."

She reaches out and touches Miku's cheek, her fingertips cool and elusive as the night wind. Miku closes her eyes, and something deep inside her shivers. It's something she hasn't had the chance to explore yet; it grew while she wasn't looking, concealed in the shadow of her fear and determination. The only words she has for it are Mafuyu's, not hers, but she thinks they'll suffice for now.

"I wish... to be..." she begins to say, and something brushes her lips. It might only have been a cherry-blossom falling.

She opens her eyes.

She's outside, on the ground before Himuro mansion. The earth is no longer shaking. The manor stands, looking as strong as ever at first glance, but a closer look shows her that some of the walls are canted, some of the tiles missing, and a deep crack runs through the earth at its foundations. The malign power that held it up beyond all expectation has departed now. Probably it won't take much to bring the whole thing down.

She watches the freed souls rise into the night sky – dawn gathering like mist on the eastern horizon now – and feels the door inside her slide shut for the last time. That part of her life is over now. She turns her back on the mansion, towards the world they have saved, and starts down the mountain path.


Things left behind in Himuro Mansion:

1. My grandmother's camera, broken.
2. The inner eye that used to be able to see what nobody else could.
3. Mafuyu.
4. Someone I A feeling that My
4. A pocket-book stuffed with scraps of paper, all in other people's handwriting.

She takes her own words with her, inside her head; they remain unwritten.