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T-Toh

5 (part 1)

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Night of the Witches I/A Magician's Night (Part One)

Under a cloudy night sky, Soujuurou returned on foot to his apartment as he often did.

Each step he made up the metal staircase produced a sound echoing its rusty condition.
Seeing a bicycle leaning on the fence,
he sincerely considered having his own bicycle to make getting around easier, even if it meant spending more money just to take care of it. It was a handy thing to have but not at all, and seemed like a safe and innocuous thing for him to use...but he needed to give himself more time until then.

Once he reached his door, balancing a paper bag full of apples, he fetched his keys.

'It was handy to have but not at all----'

He tilted his head in puzzlement at that.
Bothered by the absurdity of his own thoughts, Soujuurou himself had a great many ways to make use of all this fruit he was presented, yet they were going to just as easily run out on him.

Placing the bag in the kitchen, he turned his room's light on.
It was past 10 o'clock at night.
He had to be home an hour earlier than usual to study for the exams.
Thinking about having one of the apples first, he was headed for the kitchen again, when he noticed an envelope wedged into his newspaper slot.

The sender was unknown, and there was no stamp on it.
It contained a single letter, and all it had was the sender's name and the nature of their business.

The details were simply written to the effect of:

"Meet me at the appointed location as there is something we need to discuss,
the urgency of this matter will have me waiting there for as long as necessary.
It should be worth mentioning that no third party can know or be involved in this meeting of ours----"

It was a brief message, and was composed with distinctive lettering.

The sender was Aoko Aozaki.
As a courtesy, she enclosed a map that detailed the place of their meeting.
With a shrug and little else to say, he exited his apartment.

......Soon after he left.
In that empty apartment, the envelope that was left behind set fire to itself, the flames consuming every trace of it, and then...it was as if the envelope had never been there to begin with.
----------------------------------------------------------------
Settling itself down for the time being, the bubble economy entered its stable period in the late 80s.
The town's development progressed at a steady pace, and was on its way to completing the JR station, which was characteristic of the new era.

In the next town over from Misaki Town, yet another new symbol was established at Yashirogi.

Its name was Yashirogi Bread & KitsyLand.

In Misaki City, it held the topmost position of having fallen on hard times.
Said to be a failed attempt at a glorious conquest in the high growth period, it became the sole wreck of its time.

'Dreams just aren't enough to get you far in this town.'

Going back to ten years ago.
Yurihiko Tokitsu---- a person of high regard in Yashirogi and the head of the extremely nationwide Tokitsu Bread Co. Ltd. (its name usually shortened to Toppan), was a then-fifty-six year old man, who felt obliged to use a sizeable portion of the suburban area for the construction of a leisure complex in Yashirogi.

Thus, we come to the fated year of 1981.
Completed in the span of three years, an amusement park rife with dreams and whimsy began its brief time in our world, and that was Yashirogi Bread & KitsyLand.

It covered 350,000 m2 of land area.
It had a merry-go-round so dazzling, that it quickly captured the crowd's attention as soon as they passed the entry gate.
It had a roller coaster that coiled its way up, down, and around the whole amusement park like a dragon.
Last but not least was the Ferris wheel, whose contrivance was said to have tested the limits of their building capacity by putting their budget at risk at the time.

'That's impeccable. They spent everything they had on everything that an amusement park needed.'

Yurihiko squinted at the product of his work.
Perhaps as a show of his confidence, he considered the park's success upon its grand opening to have enveloped the entire world in springtime.
However.

However still.
They were too caught up in dreams and their liberties to see what was wrong.

The park's mascot, Kitsy-chan, was a homely and very smelly imitation of a mascot.
There was also a stall that sold fresh bread straight out of the oven, and it livened up the park more than was needed.
Then, there was the mirrorhouse -- a maze that was very confusing to a fault, and was prevalent since the early 80s.

'There were no dreams in KitsyLand.
Just a series of whims that came off as nightmarish than dreamy.'

Critics from various magazines argued the flaws behind the creation of this park, and the number of parkgoers dwindled.
Furthermore, there was the unfortunate incident with a six-year old child, who strayed from their mother and became stranded at one of the park's facilities, and was on the brink of death when they were finally rescued.

The year 1986 -- five years since its grand opening.
In the decline that followed its steady deterioration,
Yurihiko was also spending his remaining years on Kitsy-chan's big break during his retirement, and KitsyLand became harder to keep operating.

Just like so, and against the locals' wishes, Misaki City's one and only amusement park took its last bow, and the curtains were drawn on its short time on earth.

......Also.
On a digressive topic, even the self-professed Parisian artist who designed Kitsy-chan, a Tokki Eurihy, was said to have ended their artistic career as if to mourn its closing.

Now, back to the present.
KitsyLand's splendor was nowhere to be seen at this time of the night.
Like a lonesome doll pushed into a corner of the toybox, only the town managed to outlive it even now, as its lights illuminated this corner of the city.

"Now I see."

Soujuurou shut his copy of "Guide to Yashirogi" that he picked up along the way.
While he had a vague grasp on its history, he agreed with the sentiment that this was another transitory portion of the world, where nothing outlasted anything.

The park's main entrance was unlocked.
When he was here for work, the iron gate had been chained. Now those rusty chains were taken down, and the gate even stood slightly open.

"----"

Following the map that she drew on the letter, Soujuurou stepped inside the park without a second thought.

"......She said it was urgent, but what's so important that it has to be this late at night?"

He muttered for some strange reason.

As ignorant as he was to the ways of the world, he knew suspicious behavior when he saw it, and this was suspicious behavior.
Though there was nothing here left to salvage, this was him stealing into the amusement park when it was off-limits to the public.
Trespassing, theft, burglary. These were things that people would definitely be ashamed of, a crime was a crime, and yet----

"......I'm sorry for not paying money.
It's inexcusable for me to just walk in here."

That, he felt, was his sole guilt as an offender.
He placed his hands together in apology to Kitsy-chan, whose painted eyes were starting to melt away nicely.
Passing the mascot and its leaking eye socket full of red paint, Soujuurou began his trek into the amusement park at night.

Buildings that had lost their colors.
Machinery that was caked in rust.
The artifacts that lived in this place outside of time.
So unlike the grandness it once had, this place was a ghost town that even the spirits themselves had abandoned for better haunts.
.................................................. ..........................dream
----These were truly the remnants of a children's story.
......................................... ........by human hands.................................................. .............................people
While raised from the ground in real life, here were the traces of the wonderland that real life left behind, and forgot.
The economy sustained,
and when the standard of living for the people improved, no one harbored any worries for the future. Here were the relics of what was once a burgeoning era.

"----"

Exhaling a white cloud of breath, Soujuurou walked through the abolished amusement park.
It was an abandoned area, but not as frightening compared to the darkness up in the mountains.

The diversity of the so-called suburbs, made an amusement park like KitsyLand a rare thing to set up near the residential area.
The park was surrounded by trees, but those, too, were intentional and not Nature's doing. It was akin to covering a classroom window with curtains.

Past the iron fence enclosing KitsyLand -- if the trees planted for about twenty meters were taken out of the picture, he could much easily walk his way back to the familiar townscape.
The amusement park at night might inspire fear from city folk, but this place was about as frightening to Soujuurou as the front of the station in all its crowded and noisy glory.

"Is this it?"

Following the instructions, it was west from the center of the hushed plaza................................................................park
In front of him was a stately and conspicuous castle of variously uneven proportions, and it loomed in the background under the cloudy night sky.

It was a peculiarly large building, even for something that belonged in an abolished amusement park.
If the roller coaster and the Ferris wheel were attractions built to move around, this building was an attraction built to be stiller than stone.

This was one of KitsyLand's three notorious attractions, and by this, we mean a devilish building that lead to the closing of this once-upon-a-time wonderland.

Typically, there were two major classifications for having a maze in an amusement park.

One was a labyrinth designed to mislead visitors by the magnanimous size of its structure,
the other was a mirrorhouse designed to mislead visitors with the use of mixed light.

A huge maze was a thrill for plenty of visitors who wanted a short adventure.
In later years, it would get old and be succeeded by other attractions that required even less exertion, but such was the fate of the dominated lower generation.
New things were bound to be replaced by the next new things.

Whereas, the mirrorhouse was an old and beloved classic.
The rendering of light and the installation of mirrors was the confusing and fun part of a mirrorhouse, and it was all assembled inside a space that was roughly the size of a school's classroom.
Mirrorhouses were cost-effective. They were attractions that went a much longer way compared to labyrinthine mazes.
Even if the century progressed to the modern age and these two attractions faded from people's minds, this was what really made an amusement park fun to go to.

......Still.
In spite of all the above, the idea of these two mazes being one and the same was misleading.
Rather than a maze people would love to get lost in, it was a wicked place from which return was a remote possibility.
It was an apt description.
Said wicked place had been established here -- at the Kitsy Mystery Tour Castle.

Five percent of the people entering it actually asked for help from the person in charge.
Taking after a western castle with a depth of a hundred meters, the mirrorhouse's building was divided into three stories.

Thanks to all the floors being walled completely by mirrors, the mazes were so complex and immense that it took an expert a sum of thirty minutes to escape.
The first step into this mirror labyrinth would be people's last. In half a day, what was once a huge adventure maze would be reduced to the now or neverland for reflective surfaces, and while it stood in Soujuurou's way like it did----

"I guess, it wasn't going to be pitch-black in there, afterall......it looks like, the lights are on."

His curiosity for the enigmatic mirrorhouse, was met by lighting coming from inside the building.

Again, he reread the letter sent to him by Aoko Aozaki.
It told him to find her "waiting at the mirrorhouse's ground floor lobby".

This was where they were supposed to meet.
All doubts aside for the lighting -- from what he could see through the open entrance, the building's interior appeared inviting in a sort of way.
'Then there's no reason to turn back.' With that, Soujuurou made his way over to the mirrorhouse's entrance.

......His feet clacked across the bricked street.

Set far away from the bustle of the town,
a clock needle that had stopped years ago,
a winter night without so much as the whistling wind.

Any other person here, would still their breathing in the quiet that had taken over this place.

"......Errrrm."

At the entrance of the mirrorhouse, Soujuurou came to a stop, and very suddenly,

"By the way, Aozaki. What are you doing over there?"

called out in wonder as he turned back to the plaza that he just arrived at.

"!?"

The crashing sound of someone falling along with their concealed garbage can.

......For a while, there was silence.
The abolished amusement park returned to its original quiet for about a minute.
Seizing the chance, and perhaps with resignation, a single girl stepped out of the shadows.

"Ao----"

His voice caught in his throat upon seeing her familiar face, and the regular clothes that he had never seen her in before.
Her long hair flowing gently at her approach, this Aoko Aozaki was different from the girl that Soujuurou was always acquainted with.

Her limbs and straight back bore a rigidness to them, and made her force of will even more pronounced.
Her eyes pierced others with a direct stare.
Her irises were as clear as glass, without using figurative, and unless he was seeing things, they were truly glowing with a faint light.

Her presence emitted a force that was both of a girl and an icy frost.
The unseemliness of both those things possessed by this one girl was causing Soujuurou to sense that something was wrong here, and he lacked an awareness to danger for most of his time.

If he had to compare this moment to anything else, he was meeting the infamous snow lady's ghost in person.

"......Aozaki?"

Soujuurou was suddenly stepping away from her.
He was a little surprised, and coming down with a case of the butterflies.
Including, further than those two things, an awful feeling crawling in his gut over something he was struggling to comprehend. At least remembering to use the courtesy taught to him by the city, he called out to her. However......

"......Is everything OK? At least tell me, what's going on----"
"----"

Without so much as a greeting, Aoko took one step forward.
Her appearance and the air about her was stirring up a vague memory in Soujuurou's recollection.

Within himself, Soujuurou's uneasiness, comprised of whatever else, was slowly changing into an assurance about something.

All he saw was their back at the time, but he could swear he was seeing the outline of a girl her age at the public park that fateful night......
'Perhaps it's not likely, but don't they look the same as the other?' He found himself holding his breath as a result.

"I don't need to tell you what's going on, you can see for yourself.
I was waiting for my target to pass through here. I saw you go in so I went in, so I could cut off all escapes."

'Truth of the matter being that I still have this situation to work with now,' she added with a wilting expression.

'I see. We were supposed to meet here, afterall.'

Soujuurou's relief welled up in him.
Maybe he was being relatively calm about this, or maybe he had poor situation awareness to how things obviously looked for the two of them.
Choosing to ignore his unintelligent reaction, Aoko continued to speak.

"----Shizuki-kun, it's like this for me.
People that I dislike and people that I despise -- they're the essence of my everyday life.
But, the funny thing is, there's a unique type of person whom I brand as my enemy."

A stir of emotion sparked a flame in her icy gaze.
She took another step over to him.
Soujuurou's crawling gut feeling was growing worser and worser......'Is that, her acting callous towards me?'......and he made one more step back.

The distance between the two was kept at five meters, no more and no less.

"Since way back when, none of the people I dislike are enemies for me.
But in turn, it's people I like that are made into my enemies.
Why that is, it's simple----"

Then, she hoisted her right arm up in front of her.
Seen shining through her sleeve, was no trick of the eye----

"----This was always the truth about me.
My enemy, is anyone who messes with my feelings."

(ドウニカ恋人にこくはくしている、青子は)

She waved her raised arm.
In an instant,

something, dangerous and hard to track with the naked eye, was thrown -- whizzing past Soujuurou's left and missing him by twenty centimeters.

"Wh......"

Witnessing the moment of that shot, both the blue light and the ball of flame, Soujuurou was at last following the situation he was in.

"Wait a minute, I know what that was!"
Paying no mind to how absurdly slow on the uptake her target was,
"Tch, I missed!"
Aoko hissed to herself.

Not only did the blue light punch a fist-sized hole into the wall of the mirrorhouse, but it was still seething with smoke.
Powerful enough to put a dent in someone's skull, and effective enough to burn it charcoal black.

"......*sigh*. I will literally let myself die if Alice saw me missing at this range.
But you get what this is about now, right? For you, it's the second time."
"----"

Soujuurou took several rapid steps back.
Now that he had driven through the thick fog clouding his mind, he was still a mile short of simply letting himself accept what was happening.
All he could see reflected in his eyes, was his ever-reliable student council president......that he......also saw, in the public park two nights ago.

This was nothing he had ever experienced before -- the same went for just about most people living in a country with laws set in place.
Once faced with a deadly weapon that could take lives with just a finger pull, what would come to mind was right and wrong, which would also take a foolish turn for dream and reality, suspending all ruling for the past and the future.
When it came to a lifestyle spent in peace and just so, said suspension would be all the more nudged to the forefront.

All he could muster in his mind was, 'I'm alive right now'.
The black dot he made on his sheet of paper stayed a black dot.
Nothing else determined his situation more, than the nothing that was before and after.

It was the most common line of thought for someone with a muzzle pointed at their face.

"Oh, don't bother asking to have your life spared. It won't help you.
But you can say what you want about this. Since I'm the one who's going to kill you, I'll pay attention to anything you have to say."

By unhelpful, she meant, there was no hearing him out on the pleading part.
To make things worse, Soujuurou lost all sense of being able to say anything for himself from these shocking turn of events.

The fact of the matter was---- yes, casting motives aside, the girl right before his eyes was making a murderous claim on his poor life right here and right now.


"Y-You have to be lying to me about this......!
Tobimaru's an idiot! He said none of this could be real!
It's standing right in front of me, isn't it? This looks like a ghoul to me......!"

Soujuurou very nearly considered the thought of saying any of that out loud, and her raising the second shot from the instant he did.
.................................................. ...panic.................................................. ......shocked
He narrowed his focus on the crisis he was in, replacing his being stunned after the ill words he had levelled at his friend.

However, his focus was from none of the composure he still had over this.

'One day and without warning, you'll be killed by someone.'
.................................................. .........................................motives
Those, were unexpected events, invented on weak grounds of whatever sort.

"But, it's true......there are those that murder people in the city.
It's only natural for people to get killed for breaking the law, that's what I was always taught......!"

For someone as out of the water like him, Soujuurou took this to be an outstanding fact of staying in the city.

It should hardly come as a surprise to him to be killed by his own classmate.
If society made it a point to have people turn on each other like this, then he also had to come to terms with such a norm. Whatever questions he could raise about Aoko's behavior and her history of violence would be rendered moot.
Therefore, all that was left for him to clear up, was the nature of Aoko's firing technique.

"----"

Soujuurou took a huge gulp.
To anyone who saw that, he was a victim numb with fear from what was happening.

"That's right. Now you get it.
I don't have much to say here, but this is where you're going to die.
Magecraft is a thing you hide---- and it won't mean a thing for me to even say that to you. Don't beat yourself up over your bad luck here. All that matters to me, is to make this your last day to live."

Once again, Aoko lifted the same hand she used before.
There was a sound akin to a machine being operated.
A series of blue lights rotated and flared from under her sleeve, which was concealing the source of her power.
This was taking longer compared to before---- in short, and without a doubt, her second shot was harnessing even more power than the first shot that struck the still-smoldering wall behind him---- and once the notion hit him, Soujuurou's bewilderment increased in proportion.

'I mean, how, that is, getting rid of me and not getting rid of me, Aozaki being that thing that I saw that night, the city having this much going on, none of this is right----'

His thoughts crisscrossed inside his head.
His heart hammered in his chest.

----This was no time for him to be standing around.
This girl, for all her strangeness, could still be a person just like he was...
Yet all that aside, without question, if it meant anything, however much sense this should be making for it to be happening to him,

"Wait now, it's not right for you to kill people......!"

Afterall, no matter what the laws were in the city, he wanted to be exempted from being killed here......!

............................................アンラッキー
(今になって、こいつには安楽死していればいいんだと思っているよ)

"Yes it is, and you're wasting your time saying that to me!"
"Wait, wha----!"

Soujuurou's ignorance to the overall atmosphere pushed Aoko's berserk button, and pushed down hard.



"Aaaaahhhh----!!!?"

As soon as the barrage of blue magic bullets started to fly,
Soujuurou threw himself further back into the darkness---- and through the entrance to the mirrorhouse.

"*pant*---- wh-wh-what, what is happening----!?"

Torn out of his mind with panic, he sped through the long passageway.
Covering two meters in his sprint, he was breathing harder than before -- both from his astonishment for that 'never-before-seen event' eclipsing her first assault, and from his highly trusted suspicion that he escaped death just by using that one last second to bolt.

Soujuurou would be risking his life if he stopped at any point.
Behind him, the Reaper's footsteps sought out tonight's victim with ruthless conviction.

"......But I'm in here. And here is safe, right?"

It had to be, so he ran as fast as he could.
The mirrorhouse's entrance was connected to its lobby by a passageway, which stretched up to about twenty meters.
As long as he could get to the lobby area, then he could concentrate on a hiding spot.

"I made it......!"

He entered a large room.
This was the ground floor lobby. There were three routes for him to take.
A flight of stairs that led to the basement level,
a passageway leading into the ground floor's maze,
and another flight of stairs that led to the second floor.

Relying on first chances, Soujuurou made his way into the ground floor maze and,

"Ouch.....!?"

hit his head running into a transparent wall.

"A m--, a mirror......!?"
"That's right. Not my best idea, but it evens things out for us, doesn't it?
Now there's just the odds in our cat-and-mouse game."

There was an amused quality to her tone of voice.
Rather than whisking himself around,
he glanced over at her, Aoko Aozaki's reflection, casually approaching him from behind in the mirror that was blocking his way.

"That way, there's no getting to this floor's other exit. I just used an actual barricade instead of a barrier.
Then again, I went too far with blocking the exit, so maybe it's more of a pile of rubble than a proper barricade? Or a landslide, even? Either way, it wouldn't be smart of you to go in there to escape. Try it, and everything in there'll come crashing down on you. Care to take your chances?"

"----, ----!"

Getting agitated about how near she was to him, Soujuurou felt his way around the wall he was faced with.
He could see the flight of stairs to the second floor.
Not entirely sure what Aoko was telling him exactly, at the very least, he was convinced that going into this floor's maze would kill him.

"Well, that there saves me the trouble.
Although, it sure would make things easier, if I don't have to clean up after getting you killed in an accident in there!"
"......!"

Lurking behind him, was a creature he had never seen or met before.
She was making friendly talk with him, while making a show of raising her right arm.

......Apparent even through her clothes, her body carried a type of bizarre and very out-of-place pattern.
Veins that pulsed under her skin.
As a process that traveled through her body, it turned in such a way unlike anything any normal human being would possess.

"----"
Maybe it pained him to see her have it, or he thought it was a repulsive sight.
Soujuurou held off in his escape for just a moment,
but his pursuer paid no mind to his staring.

"Oh, this? I usually cover this up with ointment, but tonight's an exception.
We call this a Magic Crest, proof of what makes a magus.
Look, see these lights going round? This is the Snap feature that you just saw out there......and it's for making your plain-old projectiles.
I'm actually doing pretty good today, so just making full and proper use of magical energy is no big deal for me---- let's see, I got thirty rounds left, I think? I can do more of that sweeping fire like before."

As if her emotions had been done away with, she was talking in an awfully friendly way.
"............"
What was more, everything that she just said to him was fraught with things that posed a risk to his well-being.

"......Aozaki, I don't even know what you were just talking about."
"You don't? What I mean is, I've got thirty bullets to use here.
If my supply runs out and you've dodged 'em all, then it's your win. Well, today's victory goes to you, at least."

"......'Today'? Does this mean we're doing this again tomorrow......?"

Soujuurou knitted his brows together with worry.
While he was panicking over everything here, his attitude was unlike anything echoing the life-threatening situation at hand. That, too, caused a faint crease to form on Aoko's forehead.
'He just can't get a grip on any of this, can he?'

"I've said enough. Playtime's over.
You haven't said a bad word yet to me or took off, but hey, we've got all the time. You should just give up right here."

Sad to say, her casual monologuing was a planned move on her part....................privilege
Rather than compensating for his inability to plead his case, she was giving him time to curse his heart out at the one who brought him here to be killed.
......While this was Aoko's way of squaring things, this time, she was even less up to the task in an arrangement as messy as this.

"Anyway, that's how things are going to be.
----So, let's get our game started, shall we?"

Her voice was devoid of emotion, and her eyes coldly acknowledged her target.
This time, with undeniable certainty, Death was throwing down the gauntlet, and taking his life in this ruin full of mirrors -- Soujuurou deeply felt that in his core.
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PART DREAM, PART SUGGESTION

I like how Soujuurou's sense of realism isn't shook by his classmate trying to kill him, just because he thinks it's socially acceptable for people to murder each other. He wouldn't bat an eyelash to Battle Royale.

I had a dream once: A farm stood alone in the middle of the desert, my group and I were protecting it from an enemy of ours who wanted our farm. He trained a group of lions to obey him like attack dogs, and fed them live chickens everyday. Then, one of the chickens gained a renewed sense of self-preservation, and instead of accepting its fate to just be food for a big predator, it turned on the other chickens and started eating them all by itself. The chicken grew sharp teeth, and its appearance was changed into a scraggly and very horrid-looking bird. It even became savage and bloodthirsty. The chicken joined the lions and their master in a raid against our farm. And that's where my dream ends.

Next update features me, the president, and a loaded gun. Stay footloose.

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