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Cicadas in 1984

1984. In a miraculous, yet nearly dystopian Hinamizawa where not one villager has died, Keiichi Maebara, a conscripted fireman, must fight the spread of contraband and the spirit of dissent growing in his own heart as a different sort of great disaster begins to take shape.


I saw a scroll in the right hand of the One seated on the throne. It had writing on both sides and was sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, "Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?" But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or look inside it. And I began to weep bitterly, because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or look inside it. Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep! Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has triumphed to open the scroll and its seven seals." Then I saw a Lamb who appeared to have been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which represent the sevenfold Spirit of God sent out into all the earth….

Revelation 5:1-6


Chapter 1: Ypkth Cgiefyex

May 31st, 1984

On that day it was cold and damp, with heavy rain and howling winds battering the roadways. It was more than unusual for a summer season in general, let alone one in this carefully carved out region of rural land that comprised the countryside of central Honshu. The remnants of a typhoon had been battering the tilled land for hours now, and it was evident that there was no sign of the storm letting up.

At such a time just about anyone would have battened down the hatches – but on that day a powerful movement was forming. Something that while not necessarily malignant in nature was more than enough to tip the meticulously maintained balance that governed these lands, having long since been abandoned by the outside world.

In the far reaches of this land resided an old cemetery, one that was largely western in design, decorated with statues of archangels and crucifixes, its gravestones elaborated adorned as well. It was a cemetery for Christians –a blight in the eyes of the land's inhabitants, and served only as a reminder of the stigma between them and the way of life they had rejected. It was poorly maintained, tended to solely by community service representatives, voluntary or otherwise. The gravestones were greatly worn away, some even broken, as were the statues. In a place like this vandalism was common, some of the statues even relatively fresh with spray paint. It was a pit, fit only for laying to rest corpses that someone didn't want found.

It was here, on a stretch of land condemned by all but those that dwelled beneath its surface, that this movement began. And it did not begin out on the city streets with a resounding crescendo or a rebel yell – it began, as all such movements that truly mattered did, in silence, in the dark, in a circle of well dressed, stern faced men for whom there was no pride, only the gamble they had made, and the reality of its consequences.

And there were at least twelve of them – depraved looking men with hollowed out faces and visible bones, each more suspicious looking than the last, standing around a single gravestone, the jackets of their black suits swaying in the wind, some holding umbrellas while others relying on their hats for cover. One man, more sufficiently nourished than the others, was kneeling just in front of it, his hands folded, his head hung and his eyes shut in a state of deep prayer. Naught could be heard from that graveyard but the wind, the men hovering there in silence for what seemed like hours without an utterance of any kind.

But eventually the kneeling man opened his eyes and stood up, and though he struggled at first was aided by two of the men at his side, propping himself up straight with a cane one of them had handed him. He gazed down at the grave for a moment more before turning away.

"We're done here," He spoke, his voice scratchy, doing all that it could to hide the emotion away. "We've got a long drive ahead of us. Let's go."

The congregation left the cemetery one by one, trudging through the damp dirt path and heading for the cars lined up on the side of the road. At the front of the pack of mostly black cars with tinted windows was a white limousine, which the man with the cane and two others entered.

The man slid into the back of the limousine, sighing with relief as his ailing legs were at last allowed to rest. Another man with a scar across his nose sat next to him and the other, a man with an eye patch, just across from him.

"We got a call from our man at the estate. They just started taking visitors now." The man in the driver's seat spoke. "The doctor says she's got less than a month to live."

"Have him tell them that we're on our way." The man replied with a sigh. "There's gonna be one hell of a line by the time we get there."

"It'll be fine. She's an old woman now – and the family hasn't been in the business for years." The scarred man as the limousine started moving. "Most people that have a beef with the Sonozakis moved on to bigger problems a long time ago. What I'd like to know is what we're going to be able to wring out of her."

"I've taken care of all of that already," the limping man, his superior, reassured him. "It's already arranged. We're going to get what we want, and then leave without issue."

The man next to him, snorted. "I guess that's one way of putting it. Hey – you hear anything about her grandkids? I heard they were pretty cute."

"Forget about it. They're both still kids." The driver said.

"Are they at least out of high school?"

"They're both sixteen. They're both pretty good at chopping up body parts already, or so I hear," the man with the eye patch cut in.

The scarred man groaned, but the limping man suddenly took interest in their conversation. "Those kids – Mion and Shion, right?"

"Yeah, they're twins." The man with the eye patch replied. "One took a job in Okinomiya to pay off some family debts and the other is going to take up the leadership when the old bag passes."

"So that business back in '79 – were they perhaps involved in that?"

"Seems likely. The police reports brought up child fighters pretty frequently."

"And their captains approved?"

"There weren't any captains – it was little more than an angry mob; they weren't yakuza so they didn't behave like yakuza. The parents probably encouraged them to get involved; I doubt the family had to do much of anything."

"I see." He fell silent after that, his eyes narrowed and his hands gripping his cane strongly.

The road to their destination was long and winding, cutting through several towns along the way – but the procession moved onward, stopping for very little. By the time they reached the mountains it had been four hours, the storm extending the duration of the trip considerably. The rain had let up just enough that it was possible to see out the windows – while the other two passengers struggled with exhaustion, the limping man was practically excited, his eyes glued to the landscape outside, in some ways resembling an excited child.

The remainder of the road was paved but still proved difficult to traverse with the minor flooding and the lack of maintenance in general. But eventually they reached the end of the path, where the flat ground began to slant downward, much like the edge of a crater – just beyond that peak was a settlement of tents and hovels, with huts built out of scrap metal, rusted shipping containers and wooden planks, large enough an encampment to house at least two hundred people. It wasn't only the buildings, but the culture as well – there were liberated street signs everywhere with all kinds of profane messages spray painted onto them, achieving a perfect balance between 'fuck the Sonozakis' and 'fuck the police'. The villagers, which in this case were better described as beggars, were dressed in run down garbs that had seen many a harsh storm and slept both in the tents and out in the open, forgoing sheets and pillows for animal skins and knapsacks.

It was a sea of filth of all kinds, nearly large enough to be considered its own settlement – populated by the kind of trash that belongs in a bin, as well as the kind that leaves their newborns in one. A village built of scrap, leather and bone that managed to hold together despite the wind and rain, populated by the scum of the earth, both the homeless and the reckless, whose only warmth came from the dowsed bonfires that were spread out across the camp. Day in and day out the people that lingered in this place would celebrate their god and their independence from the status quo that, ironically enough, had been legally granted permission to roost just outside the wall.

As such, it was known as Mahamatsuri, the squalid hamlet that lived both figuratively and literally in the shadow of Hinamizawa. Legally recognized by the Japanese government as an independent settlement, even if only as a tool to further its own agenda. It was a hollow thing, with no meaning beyond existing as a sort of counterculture.

Even from inside the limousine he could hear the shouting and screaming as they were quickly noticed by a mob of beggars that promptly surrounded their vehicle, despite the wind and rain that ate away at them. Naturally none of them were wearing any kind of protection – the sheer desperation of these people was astounding. The driver pressed on, however – it seemed that the beggars were intelligent enough to not get run over.

Through the window he took note of one that was merely leaning against a shipping container, though not because of their lack of interest but because of what they were wearing. The man in question was dressed in a beige coat that was nearly completely in tatters, with shreds of its leather wrapped around his head, enshrouding everything from his eyes up. Despite that, his head followed the limousine with little issue.

Further down the road past the deprived village a great wall towered, nearly four stories tall, that stretched from one end of the basin to the other with a single opening straight ahead that was crawling with what he could only assume to be security guards. He could just barely make it out in the rain, but he could see the outline of a large tower off in the distance.

The men stationed at the apparent checkpoint were all dressed in white ceremonial robes – he imagined that there was some kind of protective gear underneath it if the intentions of these mean were to prevent the beggars from passing through the gate. The driver rolled down his window and verified with one of the men that their visitation was authorized. The robed men moved about to confirm that there were no more than the twelve of them attempting to enter, checking the interiors and the trunks of the limousine and the two cars behind them for both extra passengers and anything that was considered contraband, going as far as to pat down each and every man.

Beyond the wall, virtually all drugs that weren't prescribed by a local doctor were prohibited, and anyone with an inhaler of any kind was checked over repeatedly. Nicotine was forbidden as well, along with just about anything else someone would consider smoking, each with their own degree of legal severity. In the realm of the oddly specific, there were supposedly two varieties of fish found on Okinawa and a particular type of vegetable oil imported from India that were blacklisted as well.

After a good thirty minutes waiting on the inspection to finish they were finally given the ok to proceed further. The iron gate before them was opened from the other side and the entourage proceeded further in. At last they were, in a sense, free – and past the wall was the great basin, surrounded by heavily forested mountains that at its base housed the promised land, Hinamizawa. Even under the dreary sky the fields were gorgeous, as were the pristine buildings off in the distance – from a distance the village was quite a thing to behold. And, of course, above all else, the fabled Furude Tower, which stood above it all at the center of the village as one of the tallest buildings in the region – fifteen stories of carefully crafted wood and tin, that had somehow managed to remain standing entirely unimpeded for a dozen generations as a building dedicated to the god of the land.

Hinamizawa was a religious symbol – the Mecca of a Shintoist sect that had gained substantial ground on Honshu in the years following World War II, due largely to the village's involvement in the post-war recovery effort. Spreading almost like an infectious disease the worship of Hinamizawa's god had become embedded in the surrounding area.

But Hinamizawa was ground on which only a few were allowed to tread. Many who had lost everything in their struggle through the outside world came in search of some kind of absolution from their god, but the ruling class within the village did not approve of the outsiders. The fact that their faith had spread at all was an unforeseen consequence of their involvement – the god that the ailing people of the outside world believed in and the 'true' god were very different things. The wall, built in the early fifties, was constructed in order to keep the masses from defiling the traditions of the village with their blind, meaningless worship – and so the scrap heap outside the village was formed, by those that demanded the blessings of the god but were denied, and simply sat there and waited, gazing longingly at the Furude Tower awaiting the for a chance to slip past the wall.

The people of Mahamatsuri clamored for an absolution that would never come, while the people of Hinamizawa shielded themselves from that reality with a stone wall. It was rather depressing.

It was no surprise that there was another checkpoint further down the road, at which men armed with semiautomatic rifles were stationed. It turned out that this checkpoint was merely a distribution desk – as Hinamizawa is nowhere near large enough to sustain itself entirely on its own and some interaction with third parties was required, there was a system of permits and bands in place to regulate this as thoroughly as possible.

In more recent years, though mostly after heavy police involvement following a certain event in 1979 and the sudden need for Hinamizawa to maintain an outward appearance that wouldn't upset the authorities, the number of visitors being permitted had increased significantly – it was even possible for some outsiders to own property in the village, though the selection process for such people was still very extensive. Even then, visitors could only remain in the village for a period of time specified by the time stamp on their band or for as many hours as the permit allowed for, and any found in violation were heavily fined and imprisoned temporarily – a process law enforcement seemed to have remarkably little control over.

As it would turn out, the guns were for any beggars that happened to make it through the gateway or, in a few rare cases that naturally did not have a happy ending, over the wall. There was virtually no tolerance for anyone in direct violation of their establishment, and as the land surrounding the village was all privately owned, dirt cheap marshland as long as they weren't killed there was little legal favor for the trespassers.

The streets of the village were rather unremarkable for how highly held Hinamizawa was by those that had talked about it – it was really no different from any other small suburb, at least on the surface. The ground was hallowed, but perhaps those that dreamed of walking upon it held it in greater regard than those that actually did.

Eventually the limousine pulled over to the side of the road, the other cars driving past it further down the road. The other men in the vehicle showed visible signs of confusion, but the limping man reassured them all with a wave of his hand.

"The rain's starting to let up. Why don't you all get some air? I can't be the only one starting to choke in here." He spoke, the other men save for the driver eyeing him curiously.

"Uh, sure thing, but aren't you coming with us?" The man with the eye patch asked.

"I'll be fine with the window down. Too much work for me to move around on this leg." He replied with a wry smile.

His excuse had been fairly weak, but everyone except for the driver took his words as an order and made their way outside. Eventually one of the rear doors opened and a woman with dark hair wearing a white kimono slid into the back of the limousine next to him, making no eye contact whatsoever.

"I'm glad my boys were able to take the hint." He mused, lighting a cigarette from a small box hidden behind the false bottom of the glove compartment. "None of them gave you any trouble, right?"

"I was not harmed." She spoke curtly.

"And no one saw, you correct?"

"I didn't need your men to draw all the attention, but I'm grateful for it regardless."

"Good. So I take it everything's ready on your end?"

"I was under the impression you'd be bringing more men with you." She ignored his question.

"I only need five to do what we have to do. The rest are here in case someone tries to throw us out between now and the seventh."

"And you're certain that no one from Roppongi is going to follow you here?"

"Majima doesn't have that kind of muscle anymore – it'll all be fine, I promise. Now, what I'd like to ask you about has to do with something you happened to promise me."

Reaching into her kimono she produces the parcel in question – a leather gas mask, very apparently thrown together from bits and pieces of a hazmat suit, the tears in the fabric sloppily sewn together, just barely keeping the straps in place. The twin filters were packed with some sort of resin and the openings for the eyes were covered with blurry glass, effectively blinding anyone that would wear it. There didn't seem to be any way of ensuring that the interior was air tight, either.

"She was five when she made this." She said with a sigh.

"Certainly seems eerie enough."

"The mouthpiece is filled with a mixture of ground up marijuana and cinnamon, the attachment contains pesticides and toilet cleaner acid. You turn the knob on the side to start the filter. You can light the marijuana through the mouthpiece, there's enough of a gap between the pores."

"Hydrogen sulfide, eh? How long do I get with this?"

"Eleven minutes. There's just enough in there for one person and one use. If you manage to use it incorrectly you'll have to find new materials on your own."

"The Chemtrail Sight… I wonder, just what sort of madness gave birth to such a thing?"

"So I've fulfilled my end –"

"Again, don't worry. I'll see to it that your little witch stays safe."

"Very well then." She opened the side door once more and slid out of the vehicle.

"You should reconsider your current course." He called out to her before she was out of earshot.

She replied with an amused grunt. "Is there any point in telling me this now?"

"I'll tell you right now, since it's unlikely that we'll ever meet again – it's not the kind of fate you're making it out to be."

She disappeared after that.

"What a woman." The driver remarked.

"Certainly – you'll only ever find her kind in a place like this."

"Alright, so I've gotta know now – what was the point of holding me here to listen to all of that?"

"The more familiar you are with the strange, the easier it'll be to deal with everything else in life."

"We're still rolling with the life lessons, huh?" The driver sighed.

"You did abandon your family to join us. You might almost be a man, but there's a bit more to the 'almost' in this case than you're likely used to. Say – you have a little sister, don't you?"

"Yeah. I showed you a picture of her, remember?"

"Ah, right – now, say for instance I told you that you had to put this mask on and survive past eleven minutes, or I'd have someone kill her. Would you do it?"

"Well, scientifically it's not supposed to be possible, right?"

"According to what the lady just said, no."

"Well then, if those were my instructions I'd go ahead and do it."

"Why?"

"You didn't bother to explain what you mean by 'survive'. Neither did she, actually. Nor is there a case that describes what 'past eleven minutes' is supposed to entail exactly. Theoretically I could be 'alive' long past eleven minutes, or for an instant past eleven minutes."

"Ah yes, you've got it – things like this are all a matter of perspective. 'Surviving' for 'over eleven minutes' – that is the key to unlocking the sort of truth this mask holds."

"Sounds like magic." He chuckled, fixing his hair. "Of course, even if I did put the mask on, there's no guarantee that you'd ever fulfill your end of the bargain anyway. And it's not like I'd ever be able to do anything about it. Not much value for twisting words when you're dead, unless the devil has patience for that sort of thing."

"That, my friend, is why there's a silver lining to all things, words most of all – nothing is entirely ambiguous. And ambiguity itself is merely the perception of a lack of information. Always remember that."

Not long after the entourage returned to the limousine and the group was off on its way again, the woman having vanished much like a ghost into the haze of the quiet village.

Before too long the Sonozaki Estate, one of the three major landmarks of the village, had come into view. The path they had to drive had turned to dirt, but fortunately there was more than enough space on the theoretical sides of the road just outside the estate's borders for the vehicles to park. The estate itself was a five one story building complex, with the exception of the two story main building that was just ahead of them. A bald man was standing at the entrance, initially trying to shoo them away before one of the men explained who they were, at which point they were led inside.

The interior of the main building was poorly lit and reeked of incense – it was clear that the residents were already committed to the start of their mourning period despite how death had yet to visit. Just past the entrance were a number of women, all with the same shade of green hair wearing identical black kimonos, some lining the walls, prostrated towards the center of the room with two waving the aforementioned incense, some standing around the center of the room talking quietly, even more women passing in and out of the room through the hallways. The moment the twelve of them attempted to approach the group the atmosphere became very tense, several of the women scrambling away almost reflexively.

"Who are these people?" One however did not – she instead approached them defiantly. She was an older looking woman, perhaps in her forties, with the air of a high ranking official. If he didn't know better he'd have assumed she was the head of the family.

"The visitors from Roppongi." The man that had led them in spoke, clearing his throat. "They have made a prior arrangement to discuss unfinished business with Oryou-sama."

"I've heard of no such arrangement. What family are these men supposed to represent?"

"Please allow me to explain." He pushed forward from the back of the pack until he stood before her, his legs shaking from the stress. "We are representatives of the Majima family from Tokyo. The Sonozaki family has made a series of deals with our executives in the past – up until now the unresolved state of several of them were ignored out of respect, but we've reached the point where action of some kind needs to be taken –"

"If there is any business you need to resolve, speak to our lawyers in Okinomiya at a later date. This is a home – not the turf of some lieutenant."

"The least you could do is show this man some respect in your own home –" One of his associates nearly shouted, but was silenced with a wave of his employer's hand.

"Surely we can come to some kind of an understanding here –"

"Send them away – mother is in no condition to be seen by guests at this time. We owe these people nothing – if Majima wants to extort money out of the head of this family he must come here himself."

His eyes lit up at those words – so this was the supposedly forsaken daughter of the head of the family who was passed over for one of her children.

"You do realize that rejecting our request is going to cause you more harm than good in the long run, right?" One of the other men spoke up. "This is foolishness."

"Ah, wait a moment." He cut in, much to the surprise of his companions. "You must be Sonozaki Akane, right?"

She turned back and returned his polite inquiry with a glare, which he took to be an affirmation. "I assure you, we come here entirely in peace and with the upmost respect – I don't intend to extort anything out of your family, and most certainly not out of your mother. I'm aware that the head's appearance must be less than ideal, even for a woman at that age, and I know that you must want what's best for her at such a critical time – but there are several essential matters she is obligated to address that aren't quite as simple as funds changing hands. Please at least grant me the audience with the head as was requested. I have made arrangements to spend the next several days in this village and fully intend to mourn with the rest of your family upon her passing, but if you wish I can arrange for my associates to leave the premises for the duration of our business here."

"And who are you to come to this place to mourn? What sort of relation do you have with the head of this family?"

"A peculiar one. We've never met in person, though she has had quite an impact on my affairs thus far. The fact that my arrangement was agreed to in the first place is –"

"Again, I've heard of no such arrangement. If you can't provide any proof of your association with this family, you won't receive any special treatment from this house." As she made her claim another much younger looking woman stood up and whispered something into her ear. Her face visibly twisted for a moment, which was all the evidence he needed to know exactly what she'd just been told.

"Good, it seems that we're both on the same page now."

She stared at him dumbfounded for a few seconds more before storming out of the room, the other men quietly chuckling as she made her exit. Their superior however silenced them all with a violent motion of his hand.

"I apologize for Akane-san's disposition, these past few days have not been kind to her." The remaining woman said with a courteous bow.

"I understand entirely. We won't take any offense from her words." He eyed the young woman for a moment before continuing. "You must be one of Akane's daughters, aren't you?"

She looked at him awkwardly for a few moments before nodding her head.

"Ah I see – I heard there were twins. Let me guess – you would be Mion, then?"

"Not quite – I'm Shion. Mion is my older sister." She said, returning his friendly inquiry with a small smile.

She seemed well bred enough – but there was a certain lack of emotion in her eyes that was present even in the other silent women in this room. Just from the way she stood with her hunched shoulders it was clear that she was under great restraint. He didn't blame her – you could cut the tension in this building with a knife and in all likelihood she wasn't a very strong person to begin with.

He smiled warmly at her. "Ah, Shion. I see." He then moved closer to her, placing a hand on her shoulder and whispering something into her ear. She audibly gasped and her eyes widened.

"Now then –" He continued moving past her without giving her the opportunity to verbalize any kind of reply. "Where might I find your grandmother?"

"T-Through those doors and down the hall to the left… She'll be behind the first door."

"Understood. The rest of you stay out here."

"You sure, boss?"

"Relax. What more could she do to me?"

With that he disappeared into the hallway, the girl clearly contemplating following after him before one of the other men, notably shorter and with notably brighter colored hair than all the others – the limousine driver – approached her.

"Hey, it'll be alright. Oyabun'll set everything straight."

"O-Oyabun?" Her eyes shot towards the hallway again, but the man gripped her shoulder before she could do anything else. "But I thought he was -"

"Don't worry, all this shit will make sense eventually." He said with a toothy grin. "I'd be more worried about your mom if I were you."


What a horrible dream.

An endless shore that stretched on for eternity. Wet, red sand, littered with shells and sharp, jutting rocks. Howling wind and scalding hot rain that weathered the very bedrock of the world. A pale sky, enshrouded in a sea of twisting, spiraling clouds. And the violent, tempestuous sea, that devoured all that would so much as gaze into its depths, and spat out only what was left of the poor fools that did.

And he was there, and so was she – he, splashed with blood and holding his bloodied axe over his head, and she, just beneath him, her stomach ripped open covered in gore with her small intestine bulging through the gap.

As was always the case he couldn't remember anything – all he knew was that she was there, bleeding away and he was standing there his mouth agape with the proverbial smoking gun in his hands. He couldn't understand himself. He had no intention of hurting her – he couldn't come up with a reason of any kind. Yet here he was, about to carve out another piece of her dying flesh.

And as was always the case he couldn't bring himself to swing downward again – it was too mortifying. Of all the people in the world why would he have gone after this girl? What could she have possibly done to him?

Why did she have to die? Why did anyone have to hurt her? She didn't deserve this. She hasn't done anything wrong.

No, no she hasn't. She's never done anything wrong. Everyone loves her – he loves her, too.

Don't die. Don't die. Don't die. Don't die.

Her eyes open lazily and she looks up at him. She smiles warmly through her pain.

She whispers his name, barely audible with blood gushing from the corners of her mouth.

The sound of her voice rocks him at his core. "This isn't me." He says, shaking his head. "This isn't."

"Kill me."

She wants to die.

"I don't want to hurt you."

You hurt her.

"Before I hurt anyone else, please –"

She wants you to do it.

"You haven't done anything wrong…!"

That's a lie. Just another lie.

He struggled to find the words he has to convey to her – but he had no problem holding the axe above his head. Even now he still hadn't lowered it. Though he'd denied malicious intent repeatedly, he hadn't moved a muscle. But he has yet to realize it – in truth, the intent within him isn't malicious. It's something different entirely. But he couldn't understand that – he wouldn't understand that, as though he was deliberately refusing to. Even when the dream ends, he will still fail to understand.

"Why are you crying?"

"I already said I don't want to hurt you."

Lies.

"That's a lie."

The only truth.

"I don't… I don't want you to hate me."

What a coward.

"I could never hate you. Not ever."

Without thinking he tightens his grip on the axe. He has no reason to kill her. He is as certain of that as he is of the weapon in his hands.

"Never forget that we're best friends. Now and forever."

Now and forever.

Life begins. Life ends. That which has perished and been returned to the earth will inevitably become something else. In that moment he had control over the most basic process of the universe. Like discovering fire he came to the revelation that he could kill – he could manipulate that process with his own two hands. For moment it was as though he were God and a great and terrible power been thrust upon him in that instant with no explanation, no rhyme, nor reason, nor coherency. But he could only feel the pain, the pleasure – only the aspects of that madness that man could wrap its limited existence around.

What was your name again?

No, it wasn't malice. It was lust. Humans must play God. Humans must surpass God. Even if they never truly could, just the simple feeling of being something more than human, even if only briefly was enough to drive one to madness.

Cain. Enkidu.

Swirling through that madness was his consciousness, and his base instincts told him to crave more of it. He needed more senses. He needed to be able to see further, deeper, understand more and more –

Like an animal.

Being able to take another life was only the beginning. There was certainly more – a broader perspective. A greater power. And he needed it. His heart told him nothing else in the world mattered.

Maru. That's – your name, my name – it's their name, too -

And she was there too, churning and swirling in the madness that could only be described as the essence of God itself, reflected in her eyes as her life continued to slip away. She understood – she knew what it was to kill, what it signified, how it felt. But when he stared into her eyes he did not see the madness – he could see past the madness, and deep within the depths of her heart was an eldritch truth, one that no existential being should ever bear witness to. And the moment he reached that truth, the world around him began to liquefy, blending into a sloppy haze of red. Everything faded away – the shore, the sky, the dying girl, and he faded away as well.

No, don't wake up. Don't abandon the dream. The dream is all you have. All you are.

The dream is heaven. It's you that's the nightmare.

His senses all faded away but he was certain – certain that at the last moment he had swung the axe downward.

But before he can even begin to process anything beyond that, the dream ends. He finds himself lying in bed in a cold sweat, the lingering feeling of the axe in his hands and the dying face of someone he cared about all that remained. He was alone – of course she would've gone home by now, he thought. Every night it was like this. He would lie awake all night if he had to – returning to that nightmare is the last thing he wanted.

He hasn't hurt anyone before. That's a lie. He shouldn't have a guilty conscience. Another lie. Even so, these dreams come to him and he hasn't the slightest clue as to why.

Lies. All lies. But you have to believe them.

No. The dream ends, and so do the lies.

The weight he has carried is his and his alone. It is a weight he can never remove, only lock away in the furthest corner of his mind – the part of him that wanted to hurt other people because it was fun. He wasn't a murderer, at least not yet -

No, perhaps that was a lie too. But in truth he couldn't remember if it was or not.

The feelings of guilt are too strong for someone that had merely hurt another person. The sensation he fails to resist in the dream is far too real for someone that had never experienced it before.

Yes, he'd killed someone, he decided. He just couldn't remember who.

And so he remained there, completely exhausted, left with no other option besides crying himself back to sleep, praying that the nightmare would not take him again before the morning. And, above all else, that the darkest corner of his mind would once again become the darkest corner of his mind.