Why am I living my life like this? Ema Soji pondered now and then.
Obviously, he hadn’t been like that in the beginning.
At least, six years ago he was just an ordinary university student.
Ordinary as he was, he was less worldly than those around him, but a bit more righteous than others and had the energy to act on it.
He firmly believed that helping those in need was the right thing to do, and went out of his way to do so.
Living expenses were a bit tight, and he took up multiple part-time jobs teaching at cram school and as a private tutor.
Sanakura Sakimi was one of his students.
Back then, she was only thirteen years old, in middle school and very much still a child—even if her way of thinking was slightly more mature than her peers.
Looking at Sakimi reminded him of how long it had been.
The thirteen-year-old child had turned nineteen and grown so much he couldn’t even recognize her at first glance.
In the time it took for a child to become an adult, the already-adult Soji had only fallen.
He had racked up several irrevocable failures, became slightly more acquainted with the ways of the world, and grown afraid of getting close to others.
He had picked up skills, experiences and accomplishments he could never be proud of, made a name for himself, and chosen to live in the underbelly of society.
He had become completely unrecognizable from his past self.
In the bedroom, Sanakura Sakimi slept peacefully on the bed, dressed in a tacky red tracksuit.
Her fever seems to have receded, Soji sighed in relief. She really has become pretty, he thought once more. And it’s not just her looks.
Now that he observed her in a quiet place, he had quite a different impression from before.
She looked translucent and ephemeral, as if she were enveloped in some kind of inexplicable, incorporeal aura.
As he stared at her face, he absentmindedly thought back to what had just happened.
The girl had called out to him in the same way as she did six years ago.
She had believed, and treated him as if the Ema Soji of today and six years ago were the very same.
That must’ve been the reason why.
The reason I broke my golden rule.
The reason I leapt into the inferno even though I knew, all too well, that I shouldn’t have.
The reason I’ve gotten myself embroiled in a case involving Goto.
And the reason why I went so far to prevent Sakimi from dying.
It all boils down to one thing—
I felt happy that she remembered who I’d been before, so I didn’t want to lose her, that’s all.
“I’m such a dumbass, aren’t I?” He muttered under his breath, chiding himself.
As a matter of fact, he wasn’t feeling too terrible then.
Under the faint glow of the nightlight, Sakimi’s eyelashes stirred lightly.
Slowly, she opened her eyes.
Oh, she’s regained consciousness. Relief flooded his heart and the tension in his cheeks relaxed.
“Sakimi.” He called out her name, then realized belatedly that perhaps he shouldn’t have done that.
After all, she was at an age where it wouldn’t be strange to call her an adult.
He considered that it might have been rude to call her by her first name, as if she were still the child he’d known six years ago.
Oh well, let’s just go with it.
I mean, I’ve been calling her that since just now.
At worst, I’ll just ask if she’s fine with it later.
“Um…” He thought for a while before continuing.
“It might be a little confusing for now, but listen to me calmly.
We’re in a bit of a complicated situation right now…”
Her blue-tinged black eyes stared back at him, but only the pupils were moving.
This silently continued for a few seconds.
Then, using only her waist, she slowly raised her upper body.
Turning only her neck, she faced him directly.
She moved as if she were a ball-jointed doll, each part moving on its own.
At once, Soji noticed that something was off.
“Sa-…” She’s just not feeling herself, he screamed on the inside. She must still be in a daze from waking up and confused from the shock she received at the lab.
She’ll go back to normal soon, he told himself.
A bead of cold sweat rolled down his cheek.
“Are you feeling unwell somewhere?”
He didn’t receive an answer.
Or rather, Sakimi wasn’t even responding.
She was behaving exactly like a doll, with her expression frozen and her eyes unfocused.
“Perhaps you’re still feeling groggy? Why don’t you lie down and rest some more?”
He prayed that she would nod her head.
He wished that the reason for her behavior was as simple as that.
Yet that was not the case.
The girl in front of him acted so strangely that he could think of no plausible reason for the change. Why didn’t I realize it back then? I was just thinking that she felt incorporeal a while earlier.
And it’s precisely because that aura belongs to something inhuman.
Her long hair, which held a trace of gold; that snow-white skin, which looked unfathomably icy, and her faintly pearlescent lips which trembled ever so slightly.
Her black eyes tinged with blue stared blankly at him, a mysterious and ephemeral light gleaming within.
Was that really a human which sat before his eyes? He couldn’t even answer that simple question with confidence.
“Wha-” Swallowing the bitter saliva that had welled up in his mouth, Soji asked: “What are you exactly?”
A few seconds passed—or maybe it was a few minutes.
Her thin lips opened gradually.
Her voice was like a whisper.
Naturally, it was nothing like the sweet whispers between two lovebirds.
Instead, it was more like she had forgotten how to produce her voice and could not enunciate properly.
She stared straight at him, not blinking even once with those unfocused eyes.
“Wh-at, am… I…?”
It wasn’t an answer.
But at the same time, that small voice which came out with great difficulty spoke volumes as to her current state.
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