It was one afternoon as spring was ending that my little brother, Hitaki, came into my room without knocking.
HITAKI: “I heard the servants talking about it downstairs just now.”
HITAKI: “Don’t ‘yeah’ me, why am I the only one you hid this from?”
Hitaki’s gaze was practically condemning me as he spoke.
I closed the book I had been reading and slowly walked toward him.
TSUGUMI: “It hasn’t been officially decided on to begin with. It was just a proposition.”
HITAKI: “From who?”
TSUGUMI: “From Mr. Yashiro, a friend of our father.”
Hitaki gasped in surprise and went still. He seemed to get the gist of the situation upon hearing that name before I could say anything.
HITAKI: “…This is about money.”
This time it was my turn to go silent.
HITAKI: “I know the name ‘Yashiro’.”
HITAKI: “He made a fortune on ships and became really famous despite being a commoner. He’s a lowborn nouveau riche.”
TSUGUMI: “Don’t talk like that.”
HITAKI: “Don’t tell me you’re going to be his mistress?”
TSUGUMI: “Yashiro’s son was the one up for discussion. He’s close in age to me and such.”
HITAKI: “Did you meet him already?”
TSUGUMI: “No. I don’t even know his first name.”
HITAKI: “How can you be so calm? So essentially you’re going to sacrifice yourself to bring in money?”
I tried to deny it but the words wouldn’t come out. It was still the truth, no matter how I glossed over it.
HITAKI: “You and that classless commoner of a man are going to-”
I glowered at him slightly as if I was chiding him.
HITAKI: “Like father like son- I’m sure he’s the sort of wild and vulgar man who thinks about nothing but money.”
TSUGUMI: “You can’t know that without meeting him first, right?”
TSUGUMI: “Father really seemed to trust Mr. Yashiro so I’m sure his son-”
HITAKI: “Father could just be getting the wool pulled over his eyes!”
HITAKI: “There’s no way you’ll be happy if you go to him!”
HITAKI: “Why didn’t you discuss this with me at all?”
HITAKI: “So everyone just decides on such an important thing by themselves, making me the odd man out in this house?”
TSUGUMI: “Don’t be ridiculous. It’s just, you’re still a child-”
HITAKI: “I’m not a child!”
HITAKI: “You have no pride in being a noble!”
TSUGUMI: “So you’re saying it’s fine if we give up the Kuze family’s rank!?”
I yelled in the spur of the moment.
Hitaki drew back a little and immediately looked displeased.
TSUGUMI: “Hitaki, you’re the next head of the family.”
TSUGUMI: “The Kuze family has gone on for generations with a long and honorable history… You need to think of protecting it foremost.”
HITAKI: “That way I won’t become the head of the family! I don’t even need this family!”
HITAKI: “I hate you!”
I realized I had started to tear up a little when I went to go after him.
It seems what Hitaki said had torn up my heart even more than I thought.
I roughly dried my tears with my fingers and let out a small sigh.
TSUGUMI: “Hitaki, how cruel…”
TSUGUMI: “I had thought I could go on not thinking about this marriage anymore…”
???: “Oh, miss.”
Jiiya greeted me with a wry smile as I went into the hallway.
TSUGUMI: “Jiiya, is Hitaki in his room?”
TSUGUMI: “Good grief. The things he says when he’s sulking haven’t improved at all since he was little.”
TSUGUMI: “I think I may have overly spoiled him.”
TSUGUMI: “He’ll move on to advanced courses the year after next, but he’s still saying such selfish things.”
KEIZABUROU: “My apologies.”
TSUGUMI: “No, he isn’t sulking because of you, Jiiya-”
KEIZABUROU: “The responsibility for this falls on me. The servants were gossiping about your engagement proposal in the kitchen and Hitaki overheard.”
KEIZABUROU: “This was my mistake as the butler of the Kuze household.”
KEIZABUROU: “It truly is inexcusable.”
Jiiya, what Hitaki and I call this man named Keizaburou Ouchi, has been like this for as long as I can remember.
His family has served as butlers for the Kuze household for generations.
KEIZABUROU: “Hitaki understands grief quite well.”
KEIZABUROU: “With the missus back at her family’s home, you’re both a mother and a sister to Hitaki…”
KEIZABUROU: “And for you to-”
Jiiya cut his words short and shook his head apologetically.
There was no friction between my parents by any means. My father, who fell in love with my mother at first sight during their formal courtship, loved my mother like she one of Earth’s treasures.
She was dotingly raised like a princess in her antiquated household. Knowing nothing of the world, her delicate mind and body couldn’t bear it-
That our house was… declining.
So my father was always running about to raise money and seldom came home.
Within that sort of household, Jiiya took us in under his wing much like a mother hen.
TSUGUMI: “It’ll be all right.”
TSUGUMI: “There were several of my friends at my girls’ school that have had their fiancés decided from the moment they were born.”
TSUGUMI: “And some who got married as soon as they graduated.”
TSUGUMI: “My mother and father started out as an arranged marriage, right?”
TSUGUMI: “See, I could even fall in love at first sight with this guy just like a reverse of what happened with my father.”
Jiiya looked even more like he was going to cry.
TSUGUMI: “You worry too much, my goodness.”
TSUGUMI: “If this engagement settles father’s debts, then I won’t have any complaints at all.”
TSUGUMI: “As long as by doing so the Kuze family name will still continue on.”
TSUGUMI: “It’s my duty to do this.”
I felt out of place, as if someone else’s words were coming from my mouth.
‘Daughter of the Noble Viscount House of Kuze’
I’ve been called that since I was born.
No matter what, no matter where I go, it always follows me. However, ‘I‘ myself was not needed.
I’ve already forgotten when it was that I first became aware that.
KEIZABUROU: “You’re absolutely splendid.”
Up until my grandfather’s time, no one had to go out and work.
Those suited to be nobles didn’t take part in lowly behavior such as earning a monthly salary – It was that sort of atmosphere.
But porcelains and paintings concerning our family’s lineage began to disappear from our house and the number of servants dwindled.
Before long, my father started working at a bank in order to restore our household.
“At last, we’ll be able to recover,” we thought. It was then, right as indications the house was brightening up began to return when—
Unfortunately, that terrible earthquake happened.
KEIZABUROU: “It is because of that earthquake. It is all that earthquake’s fault. If that bank run had not happened…”
The Great Imperial Capital Earthquake.
A great panic arose because of that unprecedented earthquake and nearly all of our family’s assets disappeared.
Even amongst that, Father still sent me through girls’ school, but our wretched situation only worsened.
I couldn’t just stand by and watch, so I suggested dropping out from girls’ school but Father scolded me unusually harsh for it.
FATHER: “You don’t need to worry about these things.”
FATHER: “Ladies need to be educated to live in this new era as well.”
TSUGUMI: “I’m certain we’ll be fine if Mr. Yashiro gives us a loan.”
It seems that Father was thinking of retiring from the bank and starting up a business with the help of Yashiro Steamships.
TSUGUMI: “There’s nothing we can do like this, so we need to choose the methods we have available to us to change.”
TSUGUMI: “I’d like to… be useful to Father, even a little.”
This was perhaps the only way I could support him now.
I’ll marry a person whose name and face I don’t know for money. I don’t have the right to refuse.
TSUGUMI: (It’s enough that I’ve graduated from girls’ school. As long as I can… be useful to Father now…)
TSUGUMI: “Oh right, Jiiya! Would you make some pancakes for Hitaki?”
KEIZABUROU: “Ah- Yes… Right.”
TSUGUMI: “Also, I think that author he likes is having a book released today. I’m going to go buy it along with some eclairs from Ugetsu.”
KEIZABUROU: “That is quite an excursion. Very well, I will get the car ready.”
TSUGUMI: (Found it. There it is.)
TSUGUMI: (And then this for me… “Young Ladies Society”)
I added a magazine for my own personal use to the stack and handed them to the shopkeeper.
TSUGUMI: “I’ll take these please.”
SHOPKEEPER: “Very well, here you are. You’re the twentieth person today to come and buy Shizuru Migiwa’s book today.”
TSUGUMI: “Is that so? He really is popular.”
SHOPKEEPER: “He’s the best seller right now.”
SHOPKEEPER: “I tried to get his autograph through someone else before but it was no good. Those big name writers are hard to please.”
TSUGUMI: (That reminds me, Hitaki mentioned that too.)
I finished paying and left the shop.
TSUGUMI: “Ah, such nice weather outside today.”
I decided to pass the time until then reading here.
TSUGUMI: “But still, this Shizuru Migawa’s book… I feel like it’s a bit premature for Hitaki to be reading it.”
I flipped through the pages of the book I just bought at the store.
TSUGUMI: “I read two of his books at Hitaki’s recommendation, but there were an awful lot of sensual descriptions…”
TSUGUMI: “And at the end of every book… They all die.”
TSUGUMI: “Isn’t it hard to read a story where the characters fall in love but end up dying?”
Thanks to our father being an avid reader, Hitaki and I have been surrounded by books since we were young.
There are plenty of books in our library at home.
TSUGUMI: “Although Shinobu Ashiya’s “The Flower Binding” is far more interesting in my opinion.”
I returned Migiwa Shizuru’s book to my bag and opened up “Young Ladies’ Society”.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that all girls’ school students read “The Flower Binding”, which was irregularly serialized in this magazine.
I was so completely captivated by the beautiful stories enveloped around a variety of flowers that I continued to read it even after I graduated.
TSUGUMI: (I wonder what kind of story it will be this time…)
I felt tense as I began to read and had my breath catch in my throat upon seeing a particular sentence.
‘I heard Kaoruko is getting married.’
‘Oh my, and to which gentleman?’
It was merely some small talk in the story, but those words felt especially bitter to me today.
“I hate you!”
I told him that I wasn’t trying to hide it, but it’s true that I was worried about telling him.
I’m not the only one. Like I had told Jiiya, there were an abundance of my classmates that married a partner selected by their parents.
But… I had to accept it because this is how my family will be saved.
TSUGUMI: “I’m sorry, Hitaki…”
I quietly apologized to my brother who wasn’t even there. He was sure to be sulking in his room then.
But he should understand if I speak with him. Certainly.
Before long, some men that appeared to be in a rush came running toward my direction.
PASSING REPORTER: “Hey, hurry it up! The Prime Minister’s son committing suicide is a serious matter!”
CO-REPORTER: “I know that! But you don’t think… this is related to ‘that’ as well, do you?”
TSUGUMI: (Suicide? That aside, they were talking kind of strangely…)
TSUGUMI: (The current Prime Minister is… Shouzou Ukai.)
TSUGUMI: (So that means his son…?)
My eyes ended up trailing after the men, seemingly journalists, as they ran through the middle of the congested traffic.
However, I couldn’t see them anymore before long and instead my ride had stopped next to me.
I got into the car with that event still stuck in my mind.
When I opened the door to my room, Hitaki was standing there holding several books.
TSUGUMI: “Hitaki, I told you not to come into my room without permission when I’m out, didn’t I?”
TSUGUMI: “That’s… that old book I had on top of my desk, isn’t it?”
TSUGUMI: “I’m sure you know, but I’m going through the books in the library right now.”
TSUGUMI: “They’re old and can easily become unbound, so please treat them with care when you read them.”
Hitaki left my room without responding or saying anything.
TSUGUMI: “I bought Shizuru Migiwa’s new book and some eclairs from Ugetsu, so I’ll bring them to you in a bit!”
I shouted that at his retreating figure, but he didn’t turn back around.
This was record setting pouting for him, as far as I knew.
TSUGUMI: “…Goodness. I really have overly spoiled him.”
I sighed loudly.
TSUGUMI: “Hitaki? You’re in there, right? I’m opening the door.”
I brought the pancakes Jiiya made with the eclairs and book I bought, as well as some tea.
TSUGUMI: “Hitaki? What’s wrong?”
TSUGUMI: “What’s that smell…? Oil…?”
TSUGUMI: “…Hitaki? What are you doing…?”
Not only the rug but also his clothes and the spot beneath his feet were glinting, soaked with oil.
TSUGUMI: “Hitaki? What in the world is going on? What is this?”
HITAKI: “…I have to go home-…”
TSUGUMI: “Hitaki!? Stop it!! HITAKI!!”
HITAKI: “…I have to… go home…”
TSUGUMI: (…Hitaki? Thank goodness, you’re all right.)
HITAKI: “Why did you keep it quiet? You were hiding it.”
TSUGUMI: “Wait, no-…”
HITAKI: “You don’t love me. That’s why… that’s why you’re mean to me like this.”
TSUGUMI: “What are you saying!? You’ve got it all wrong!”
HITAKI: “I hate you! I don’t believe you anymore!”
KEIZABUROU: “Miss! Are you all right!?”
TSUGUMI: “Ji-…Jiiya? Was I having a nightmare? Was it all a bad dream?”
TSUGUMI: “Hitaki, he’s-…“
I was terrified of saying it and bit my lip.
However, the words that I heard the following moment were those of affirmation.
KEIZABUROU: “…Unfortunately, that was not a dream.”
TSUGUMI: “It wasn’t… a dream…?”
KEIZABUROU: “In any case, please stay calm, miss. Hitaki was just transported to the Capital University Hospital.”
KEIZABUROU: “Fortunately, it does not appear to be life threatening. But the burns are…”
TSUGUMI: “This can’t be! He’s just… Hitaki wouldn’t-…!”
KEIZABUROU: “…My sincerest apologies. It is the truth.”
My entire body went tense at seeing Jiiya about to cry, with the tone in his voice and expression on his face.
KEIZABUROU: “How I wish that it was not true…!”
KEIZABUROU: “I am so sorry! It is inexcusable! For me to have been here and Hitaki to-…”
KEIZABUROU: “What can I do to apologize…? If it were possible for me to take Hitaki’s pain in his stead, I would do so…. *sob*…”
I couldn’t think properly. I still felt like I was in a bad dream, so I didn’t even know what to think about.
KEIZABUROU: “Why did Hitaki do such a thing…?”
I felt completely plunged into despair at Jiiya’s words.
TSUGUMI: “Could this have been my fault?”
KEIZABUROU: “Miss!? You have that all wrong!”
TSUGUMI: “But he-… he said that he… hated me.”
The corners of my eyes grew hot. I couldn’t breathe.
TSUGUMI: “I don’t want to consider it either. But do you have any other idea beyond that why he would try to commit suicide?”
TSUGUMI: “His grades were always excellent and as far as his lessons go, his teachers always praised him…”
TSUGUMI: “Or was he worried about something else that we didn’t know about…?”
But even if that were the case, my ineptness from not noticing would never go away.
TSUGUMI: “What should I do…?”
I tightly shut my eyes that were about to overflow with tears.
Jiiya and I immediately shifted our eyes to the clock in my room.
It was already 1 am. It couldn’t possibly be an ordinary guest.
KEIZABUROU: “You fool! Do not let in guests in this late! She is terribly exhausted…”
SERVANT: “W-well, it’s just… They said they’re friends of Mr. Nabari….”
TSUGUMI: “…Friends of Nabari?”
Yutaka Nabari lived at our house a long time ago as a houseboy when he was a student.
TSUGUMI: (I’m fairly sure he’s working at a library somewhere for some book related institution…)
KEIZABUROU: “I do not wish to be suspicious, but are you certain of their identities? This is not the time of day to be visiting a non-relative’s house.”
SERVANT: “They don’t appear to be police, but they have something urgent to say regarding Hitaki’s situation…”
Jiiya and I exchanged surprised glances.
TSUGUMI: “About Hitaki…? Just how in the world are friends of Nabari and Hitaki connected…?”
KEIZABUROU: “I have no idea…”
SERVANT: “How about it? Perhaps I should ask them to leave after all…”
KEIZABUROU: “…No. Let us see what they have to say. Show them to the parlor room.”
SERVANT: “Very well.”
Jiiya sighed loudly after the servant left.
KEIZABUROU: “…So we have been told. In any case, I will go hear what they have to say.”
TSUGUMI: “Wait, I’ll go too.”
KEIZABUROU: “You cannot. You must be exhausted.”
TSUGUMI: “I’m fine now. And besides, with Hitaki and Father gone right now, I should be the one to welcome any guests.”
KEIZABUROU: “Th-that is true but…”
TSUGUMI: “This is concerning Hitaki, right? I think I have the right to know what they have to say.”
TSUGUMI: “I’m fine. Let’s go.”
And then, what came into view when Jiiya and I headed into the parlor room together was—
???: “Ah, please pardon us for coming so late at night.”
They had on unfamiliar uniforms. They were different from police uniforms, but they had some sort of staff-like object fastened at their hips.
They appeared to be a bit older than me, but they could still pass as students with their features.
KEIZABUROU: “Excuse me? Who exactly are you two…? You do not appear to be with the police…?”
HAYATO: “Oh, my apologies. I’m Hayato Ozaki. I’m with the Imperial Library Intelligence Asset Management Bureau.”
AKIRA: “…I am as well. Akira Kougami.”
TSUGUMI: “The Imperial… Library…?”
TSUGUMI: “Um… Excuse me, but what sort of work is that? How is that related to Hitaki…?”
HAYATO: “Tsugumi, correct?”
I reflexively stepped back upon being called by my first name so suddenly.
Despite circumstances being as they were, it was the first time a man around my age had called me by my first name face-to-face. I surged with embarrassment.
TSUGUMI: “My name… Why do you-?”
TSUGUMI: “Ah- Right… My apologies.”
HAYATO: “There’s no need to be so nervous. We haven’t come to arrest you, and we won’t harm you either.”
HAYATO: “It’s just, well, there are a number of things we need to explain, so if we could possibly have some of your time.”
HAYATO: “I’ll acknowledge it’s impolite to ask this late at night. However, every minute counts in this situation.”
His expression and tone of voice were completely serious.
TSUGUMI: (What in the world do they have to say…?)
HAYATO: “I promise you we’re absolutely not suspicious. Just in case, here… Our emblem.”
Once they turned them over, their names, their grandiose organization name, and what I assumed was their address were recorded on them in detail.
HAYATO: “Well, I think there are fewer people who have actually seen this emblem… But this is one thing we have to show our credibility for now.”
Jiiya and I once again exchanged glances.
TSUGUMI: (They said they’re acquaintances of Nabari, and their identities seem to check out. I guess I should listen to what they have to say.)
TSUGUMI: “…All right. Please take a seat.”
TSUGUMI: “Jiiya, please bring some tea for our guests.”
KEIZABUROU: “V-very well.”
TSUGUMI: (That being said… I’m nervous…)
Even though I was standing in for the head of the family, I couldn’t believe I was in the same place as two men that weren’t my relatives so late at night.
If my etiquette instructor from girls’ school saw me right then, I’d have been severely punished.
I wanted to talk in detail about Hitaki, but I didn’t say a word while the tea was being prepared.
HAYATO: “You’ve been looking down like you don’t want to make eye contact for a while now.”
TSUGUMI: “Oh, no! That wasn’t my intent…”
AKIRA: “Hey Hayato, that accident with her brother only just happened. Of course she’s not up to talking all cheerfully right away.”
HAYATO: “…Right. You’re right.”
Ozaki quickly bowed his head.
HAYATO: “Sorry, I wasn’t being considerate enough. I’ve been too hasty.”
TSUGUMI: “No, it’s fine.”
TSUGUMI: (That’s right, this is no time for me to be nervous. I need to keep it together.)
TSUGUMI: “So… You two are acquaintances of Nabari’s? Right?”
It was their turn to exchange glances at that.
AKIRA: “We’re colleagues more so than acquaintances. We work at the same place.”
HAYATO: “Hey Akira, this feels like Narabi hasn’t told her anything at all about our jobs.”
AKIRA: “That’s the sense I’m getting.”
TSUGUMI: “…Nabari’s job? I heard before that he was working at some institution researching books.”
HAYATO: “Ah, no good. We’ve got to start from the very beginning.”
HAYATO: “So, basically we’re part of an organization that manages books called ‘maremono’ that have sentiments residing inside of them.”
AKIRA: “Hey, you’re starting with that? She’ll just get even more confused.”
HAYATO: “I hate beating around the bush.”
HAYATO: “This here-“
HAYATO: “These types of old… handwritten, Japanese style bound books, ‘watoji’. They’ve been in decline lately.”
I unintentionally furrowed my brow as I couldn’t figure out how this related to Hitaki at all.
HAYATO: “I don’t think you’ll believe it right away, but these books can affect the people who read them.”
HAYATO: “We think that’s what happened with your brother.”
TSUGUMI: “W-wait just a minute! Books can…?”
I suddenly remembered that Hitaki was holding a book.
AKIRA: “This phenomenon has been around for a while, but people would burn them thinking the books were ominous. That’s why there aren’t many old ones left.”
AKIRA: “To put it simply… Something like the person who wrote it left their strong feelings or thoughts inside the book.”
HAYATO: “It doesn’t happen at all with printed books, so we think it’s essential that they’re handwritten.”
There were no indications in their expressions that they were ridiculing me.
However, everything they told me was unbelievable and my mind couldn’t follow.
AKIRA: “Hey, look at her face.”
AKIRA: “I think we’re not explaining it very well. We should have brought Tokimiya after all.”
HAYATO: “There’s nothing we could do! Tokimiya and Hisui just started over there!”
He shrugged his shoulders after shouting.
HAYATO: “Hmm, I guess you can’t believe us after all.”
TSUGUMI: “I-it’s not that…”
HAYATO: “Anyway, the writer’s intense feelings seep into the book and then affect the person who reads it.”
TSUGUMI: “I get it… I think.”
HAYATO: “So I’ll move on.”
HAYATO: “Our job is to search for those books. Nabari’s exact job is slightly different. He studies them.”
TSUGUMI: “…I had no idea…”
AKIRA: “I don’t think he was hiding it from you on purpose.”
AKIRA: “Up until recently it was a rather subdued job, so he probably thought you wouldn’t understand even if he explained it.”
TSUGUMI: “’Up until recently’?”
HAYATO: “Like we mentioned before, printing books is the mainstream method now.”
TSUGUMI: “…That’s true, now that you mention it.”
I thought back to the inside of the bookshop from this afternoon.
All the books displayed were all printed ones, if I recalled correctly.
HAYATO: “Major publishing companies have already moved on to primarily western-style printed books and even the smaller scale ones don’t deal with handwritten books often.”
HAYATO: “So that means in addition to being handwritten and watoji-style, those books are either old books that have luckily survived or…”
HAYATO: “Or if it’s new, it means that it was privately published material that was brought into a bookshop.”
HAYATO: “Of course, I’m sure you’ve guessed that these books aren’t in the market in large numbers, correct? And… I guess you could say that they’re each the only book of their kind in this world.”
TSUGUMI: “One of a kind…”
HAYATO: “Correct. Maremono are a confirmed phenomenon only in those rare books.”
HAYATO: “However… Incidents thought to be involved with these rare maremono keep happening.”
HAYATO: “Actually, just today there were… two incidents.”
HAYATO: “Your younger brother and one other individual… I’d like you to keep this a secret as much as possible but-“
HAYATO: “The current Prime Minister, Shozou Ukai’s son, attempted to commit suicide.”
I hadn’t intended to shout.
AKIRA: “Hm? Is he an acquaintance of yours?”
TSUGUMI: “No… It’s not that.”
TSUGUMI: “It’s just, this afternoon I was out shopping and… While I was waiting for the car-“
Ozaki and Kougami exchanged glances after I told them about the reporters who passed by me this evening.
AKIRA: “Ahh, that’s it. The time fits.”
TSUGUMI: “No…It couldn’t be…”
AKIRA: “Sudden suicide attempts on the same day… And your brother and the Prime Minister’s son are relatively close in age.”
AKIRA: “We thought there might be some connection and that’s why we’ve visited so late at night while aware that it’s rude to do so.”
AKIRA: “Also, in the event your brother’s book is a maremono, there’s the possibility new victims could come about if we don’t recover it immediately.”
TSUGUMI: “…I see.”
HAYATO: “That concludes our explanation. If the actual book is still here, we’d like to check it.”
HAYATO: “So how about it? Was there a book close to your brother?”
The bright flames rose up in my mind. There was no mistake. He was-
TSUGUMI: “It’s just as you’ve said, he was… He was holding a book.”
AKIRA: “…Thought so.”
TSUGUMI: “Would you please wait a moment?”
TSUGUMI: “Actually…. And this is embarrassing to say, but I immediately lost consciousness when it happened.”
HAYATO: “That’s quite understandable.”
TSUGUMI: “The servants took care of it- calling for the doctor and the cleaning, everything.”
Jiiya immediately appeared when I lightly shook the bell placed on the tabletop.
TSUGUMI: “I’m sorry for calling for you so suddenly.”
TSUGUMI: “Listen, Jiiya… Hitaki was holding a book when it happened, right?”
KEIZABUROU: “A book? Ahh, now that you mention it…”
TSUGUMI: “Where is it now?”
KEIZABUROU: “It is still in Hitaki’s room for the time being… However, it did get slightly burned.”
HAYATO: “That’s fine. It’s okay!”
TSUGUMI: “Could you bring it here right away?”
KEIZABUROU: “Very well.”
Once Jiiya left, a strange silence enveloped the room.
Their expressions were wholly expectant for some reason.
TSUGUMI: (…I can’t believe that books can cause these sorts of things…)
But to be honest, my heart felt a little bit more at peace.
I truly don’t want to believe that Hitaki was driven to do that because of me.
HAYATO: “Um, so to continue what we talking about earlier.”
HAYATO: “Is there no possibility that your brother and Shozou Ukai’s son know each other?”
TSUGUMI: “…Know each other?”
HAYATO: “The Prime Minister’s son is currently enrolled at the Imperial Capital University, but could Hitaki be a junior of his from advanced courses or the like, for example?”
HAYATO: “And also, you know… because nobles and politicians mingle quite frequently.”
TSUGUMI: “Right… I’m sure my father knows the Prime Minister, but I have no recollection of my brother telling me anything related to him.”
TSUGUMI: “Of course, I don’t know all of Hitaki’s friends, but I believe he would tell us if he knew someone like him.”
AKIRA: “Well, it could just be a coincidence, Hayato. An awful coincidence.”
KEIZABUROU: “Thank you for waiting, Miss. Here is the book.”
Jiiya returned before long. However, the second I laid my eyes on the book in his hands—
I immediately crouched down to get away from the flames.
TSUGUMI: “Jiiya! That book…! That book is on fire! Are you okay!? Put out the flames, quickly!”
Jiiya didn’t seem to feel the heat at all as he held the book, and Ozaki and Kougami were actually looking at me suspiciously.
TSUGUMI: “Jiiya? I mean, that book, it’s burning…”
I looked closely at the book once again. There was no mistake; the book in his hands was enveloped in bright, scarlet flames.
TSUGUMI: “…Is it not burning?”
The expressions on their faces only made my anxiety increase.
TSUGUMI: (So then I’m the odd one…? Is there something wrong with me…?)
The book in Jiiya’s hand continued to silently burn.
KEIZABUROU: “M-miss? Um…”
Jiiya’s worried gaze pierced into me.
TSUGUMI: “N-no… I, I really…”
TSUGUMI: “…Jiiya, it isn’t hot? Can’t you see the flames?”
KEIZABUROU: “N-no, I… I am certain you would not lie but…”
TSUGUMI: “…I’m not lying… I…”
AKIRA: “Maybe Kuze is the same as Nabari…?”
AKIRA: “I know that’s a bit too much of a coincidence, but it doesn’t look like she’s lying.”
TSUGUMI: “Na… Nabari and I are the same…?”
HAYATO: “Of course, that’s what this is!”
TSUGUMI: “U-um… I don’t understand…”
AKIRA: “That book isn’t burning. Take a good look.”
TSUGUMI: “…It’s glowing?”
Even that expression may also be a little off.
A flickering light the same color as fire seeped out from the book and made it appear as if it were burning.
HAYATO: “…That was a surprise. So stuff like this really does happen.”
AKIRA: “Is Nabari a relative of yours?”
I tentatively answered them without understanding what they meant.
TSUGUMI: “No, it’s not that. He just stayed at our house as a houseboy when he was a student.”
AKIRA: “So because you were startled by this just now, that means you haven’t seen that before, correct?”
I nodded my head.
TSUGUMI: “My brother and I both love books, enough so that I read almost every day.”
TSUGUMI: “However… I’ve never seen anything like that.”
AKIRA: “It’s typical to not see it.”
AKIRA: “Maremono themselves are incredibly rare to begin with and regular books don’t have that sort of aura.”
AKIRA: “Ah, sorry. That’s what we call the light that you’re seeing.”
AKIRA: “And that light is… It’s the radiance given off by the feelings residing in that book, I suppose.”
AKIRA: “That said, we can’t see it at all.”
TSUGUMI: “Is that so?”
AKIRA: “The only one of us who can see auras is Nabari.”
Auras. I timidly glanced at the book again. The flames flickered.
Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to be some misjudgment on my part.
TSUGUMI: “…I understand. So then why can I suddenly…?”
AKIRA: “This is just a guess but…”
Kougami seemed uncertain of what to say as he paused and looked at me.
AKIRA: “I wonder if it’s because of the incident with your brother.”
TSUGUMI: “Huh!? H-…Hitaki’s…?”
AKIRA: “You happened to be present during your brother’s incident, right?”
AKIRA: “I think you took a substantial mental impact if it caused you to lose consciousness. And that was the trigger that allowed your abilities to awaken.”
TSUGUMI: “It can’t be…”
AKIRA: “A colleague of ours has it as well. Though his powers are a bit different from yours or Nabari’s…”
AKIRA: “He too was involved in an incident, and he said that he’s been able to use his powers since then.”
Just like the books, that was another thing hard to immediately believe.
However, the book on the tabletop was still emitting a mysterious light.
Taking a shrewd point of view, I could still trust Jiiya even if these two were trying to deceive me.
And looking at Jiiya’s response, I really was the only one who could ‘see’ it.
TSUGUMI: (…Wait? In that case… what about the other books in the house?)
TSUGUMI: “…Um! Right, pardon me! If it isn’t too much trouble, would you mind coming to the library with me!?”
TSUGUMI: “I’d like to check whether there are any other dangerous books here!”
HAYATO: “Sure, of course.”
HAYATO: “However, if you do happen to see any other books that look like they’re burning, you mustn’t just go and open them up. Because then you’d be putting yourself in danger this time.”
TSUGUMI: “…Okay. I understand.”
HAYATO: “So it looks like this is the only dangerous one after all.”
Jiiya, Ozaki, Kougami, and I went around to any room that could have books, such as the library and both mine and Hitaki’s rooms.
However, we didn’t find anything suspicious.
TSUGUMI: “I’m so sorry… It feels like I just dragged you all over the place…”
HAYATO: “It’s nothing to apologize for. It’s right that there weren’t any. And it’s not as though every watoji-style book becomes a maremono.”
HAYATO: “You’ve done well. Thanks for your help.”
AKIRA: “Hayato, this author… It’s a name we haven’t seen before, right? I guess it’s someone’s private publication.”
HAYATO: “Yeah. But the book itself looks a bit old, so it may have been an author that didn’t sell back then. We should look into the records when we get back.”
AKIRA: “Well either way, it’s good that no one read it up until now.”
TSUGUMI: “…Oh, well-“
I suddenly remembered sorting through the library.
TSUGUMI: “I actually just recently started sorting through the library we were just in.”
TSUGUMI: “…It’s a bad habit of my father’s.”
TSUGUMI: “He likes books so he just indiscriminately buys any book he happens to see, but he can’t catch up on reading them so they just end up in the library.”
AKIRA: “Yeah, there are people who are satisfied by just buying things.”
There was actually one more reason. I had been considering whether anything in the library or storage could be exchanged for even a bit of money.
TSUGUMI: “So quite a few books ended up accumulating there, and I thought I’d sort through them a little…”
TSUGUMI: “I put the old ones into my room.”
TSUGUMI: “And then… he…”
I was beyond remorseful.
TSUGUMI: “I… If I hadn’t carelessly left those books in my room then…”
This would have ended without Hitaki having to suffer.
HAYATO: “I see. I get the gist of what happened. As I explained earlier, handwritten watoji-style books are rare.”
HAYATO: “This isn’t the first time a maremono has been discovered in someone’s personal book collection that they themselves had forgotten about.”
HAYATO: “And you’re wrong to be blaming yourself like that.”
My body went stiff as he declared that while looking straight at me.
I simultaneously felt both relieved but also guilty for making him worry about me.
TSUGUMI: “…Thank you.”
HAYATO: “You’re welcome.”
I swelled with embarrassment when he smiled.
Having my emotions change so wildly made me feel uneasy.
TSUGUMI: “In any case, it’s quite… dreadful that just reading a book can lead to something like this…”
HAYATO: “Indeed. That’s why we’re desperate to find suspicious books…”
TSUGUMI: “…Ozaki? Um, is something-“
After thinking something over, Ozaki looked at me like he had something to say.
HAYATO: “I’m sorry to ask so suddenly, but would you become one of the Owls?”
HAYATO: “Oh, the ‘Owls’ is like an alias for the Imperial Library Intelligence Asset Management Bureau.”
HAYATO: “Like I said before, we’re government officials, and we have a boarding house in Sendagi.”
HAYATO: “You’ll be provided with a uniform and the pay is well, suitable, I think.”
TSUGUMI: “W-wait just a minute, uhh-!?”
HAYATO: “I want you.”
My body went hot all the way to my fingertips at that sudden declaration.
TSUGUMI: “Wh-what are you even saying…”
TSUGUMI: “My ability…”
AKIRA: “My deepest apologies. My colleague has an overly frank personality. Basically, I believe that he wants you to lend us your ability to see aruras.”
HAYATO: “Yeah yeah, that! That ability would be incredibly helpful.”
HAYATO: “Books can’t move or talk or be self-assertive, so our job basically boils down to two things: gathering information and earnestly searching places that have books.”
HAYATO: “But neither shopkeepers nor ourselves can judge them by their appearances.”
HAYATO: “So we bring any new handwritten watoji-style books from stores back and have Nabari check them… essentially.”
HAYATO: “However, there aren’t just cooperative stores and people out there, so there may be some hidden books.”
HAYATO: “Luckily or unluckily… Whenever someone’s been effected by one, we can come to collect them like tonight. However-“
HAYATO: “That’s after there’s already been a victim.”
HAYATO: “Those kinds of dangerous books could still be hidden somewhere out there.”
HAYATO: “But you can tell them apart with that power.”
TSUGUMI: “Th-that may be the case but…“
AKIRA: “Maybe you know, but Nabari has a weak heart.”
TSUGUMI: “Huh? Right… I do believe I heard that.”
AKIRA: “So he can’t walk around outside for long hours or run.”
HAYATO: “I don’t think it’s to the level of hard labor, but with it being a job where you’re generally outside all day long…”
TSUGUMI: “All day long…?
HAYATO: “I think our likelihood of discovering maremono would increase if you joined the Owls.”
HAYATO: “I know it would be difficult because of what’s happened to your brother. But the quicker you join us, I think we’d be able to accordingly decrease the number of victims.”
HAYATO: “And it’s good that you like books. It’s better if you have affection for them.”
HAYATO: “So how about it? Will you join the Owls?”
I knew well enough that they certainly weren’t teasing me.
I knew that strange power may be useful.
I answered after thinking for a moment.
TSUGUMI: “…I’m sorry. Could I have some time to think it over?”
TSUGUMI: “It’s not that I… don’t feel like helping you out.”
TSUGUMI: “I know that you both take your job seriously.”
TSUGUMI: “But… To be quite frank, I’m still confused about everything that’s happened with my brother.”
AKIRA: “…Yes, of course.”
TSUGUMI: “…I’m very sorry.”
HAYATO: “Well then, would you at least consider it?”
HAYATO: “I know it must be tough. And I’m certainly not trying to make light of your feelings.”
HAYATO: “But for that exact reason… don’t you want to reduce the number of people who would suffer like that?”
TSUGUMI: “W-well that’s-“
HAYATO: “I won’t ask you to come right away tomorrow or anything like that. But I would like you to come as soon as possible.”
AKIRA: “Hayato, we’ve retrieved the book so we should get going.”
AKIRA: “You know that’s impossible.”
Impossible, he said. I was the one who said it first but hearing that word from Kougami gave me pause.
HAYATO: “Kuze, with the time being as it is, we’ll excuse ourselves here, but please… do consider it.”
TSUGUMI: “…I understand.”
I responded as such, seemingly taken in by Ozaki’s enthusiasm.
HAYATO: “Thank you very much! We’ll be on our way then. We’ll take care of this book.”
Ozaki tucked away the book.
HAYATO: “Thank you very much for your assistance today.”
AKIRA: “Thank you very much for your assistance today.”
The two deeply bowed their heads and then exited the parlor room.
I thought back on the incredibly unbelievable day I had as I sat at my desk and stared out the window.
About fighting with Hitaki over my marriage.
About Hitaki’s attempt to burn himself to death.
About the cause for that apparently being a dangerous book.
And then- about being asked to do the job of searching for those dangerous books.
In truth, I’d love to rush to the hospital right this second. However, I spoke with Jiiya after that and Hitaki is not allowed to have any visitors until his condition is stable.
TSUGUMI: “That strange power…”
“I know it would be difficult because of what’s happened to your brother. But the quicker you join us, I think we’d be able to accordingly decrease the number of victims.”
I shifted my gaze to the bookshelf in my room.
There were a number of watoji-style books, but I couldn’t see that strange aura on any of them.
TSUGUMI: “I don’t want to deal with those…”
I knew how eager they were. I do think I’d really want to help them if I could.
TSUGUMI: “…I don’t want to see it…”
I flopped heavily onto my bed.
*Within the fictional setting of Nil Admirari, the Taisho era has continued on past its existence in reality (1912-1926) through to at least the current time (1936).
*The Great Imperial Capital Earthquake is a fictional reimagining of the Great Kanto Earthquake (1923).