Epilogue: Sore wo Rikaishite Imasuka (Do You Understand It?)

Rika. Rika, can you hear me? You had better wake up soon. We're going to the next world.

She opened her eyes and found herself suspended in nearly complete darkness. Ah, I've been here before, she thought. The place between worlds. Scattered throughout the blackness were shards of what looked like some kind of crystal, sparkling and many-sided, reflecting a small amount of light from somewhere Rika could not see. Scenes from previous worlds played out like movie clips on some of the smoother sides of the gems. They were memory fragments.

As for herself, Rika was curled into a ball with her arms around her bent knees, floating in the dim world like a leaf on the surface of a water current. There was a slight brightness coming from her left. Rika turned and looked that way, and saw Hanyuu floating beside her, her illuminated body giving off pale purple and white light. She was dressed in a kimono and long hakama skirts of white and pink, and her long, light-colored hair swayed behind her as if moved by a breeze.

Her hair and the light coming off her weren't the only unnatural things about Hanyuu's appearance. There were also her horns—one on each side of her head near her temples, curling down and slightly forward. In addition, her large, dark eyes had a spark of red deep within them. Whether Hanyuu looked more like a God or a Demon, it was difficult to say. She was the true form of Oyashiro, though. She didn't curse people, and she couldn't be seen by normal people; all she could do to help those infected with Hinamizawa Syndrome was follow them around saying, "Gomenasai, gomenasai," and trying futilely to protect them. She was a tragic goddess in that sense.

The only really god-like skill Hanyuu had, besides the ability to see and communicate with Rika, was the power to reincarnate Rika—and thus herself—into alternate dimensions. She could only do this once Rika had died in the previous dimension. For nearly eighty years now, Hanyuu and Rika had been reliving the same tragic story of Hinamizawa, and trying to find a way to a world with a happy ending where Rika and the other villagers survived. Without Hanyuu's company, Rika would never have been able to keep living, and even with the comforting presence of the goddess, it was difficult to want to carry on after the previous horrible world.

"I'm awake," Rika said to her companion, sounding tired. Still floating on nothing, she stretched and yawned. "I wonder how much time we will have in the next world?"

Sometimes, Rika was reincarnated into Hinamizawa up to six years before its end in 1983. Other times, she had only a year, or even less, to work with in the new world. It was unsettling to have such a short time, and Hanyuu had warned her that with her powers declining, short worlds could become the norm.

"Rika," said Hanyuu with a serious expression, "Don't think about the next world yet. I want you to reflect on the world we just left behind. Do you understand it?"

"I understand that I did the best I could with what I had," replied the shrine maiden.

Hanyuu shook her head. "Then you don't understand at all. I'll have to explain. Suppose you had gotten close to your friends enough that they shared their troubles with you, including their murderous desires. It's possible that many evils and tragedies could have been avoided. There are several examples of times in this world when talking things over with a friend kept someone from turning violent. We'll start with Shion.

"In many worlds," the goddess began, "Shion goes crazy because she has nobody to open up to about how she's feeling. However, in this world, she was able to get close enough to Satoshi that the two of them shared their violent feelings and neither of them acting on those urges. Shion didn't recover from the Syndrome because you killed her father and avenged Satoshi. She recovered because she focused on loving and protecting Satoko rather than hatred and vengeance. That wouldn't have been possible if not for her strong bond with Satoshi.

"Ryuugu Rena loses her mind to the Syndrome in some worlds, and kills Rina-san and Houjou Teppei. Sometimes she even threatens the lives of uninvolved students at school. However, in this past world, Rena stayed sane because she opened up to Keiichi about her situation."

"Keiichi should have gone crazy, too, by your theory." Rika felt like arguing. She had to defend herself at least a little, though she knew Hanyuu was probably going to be right in the end. "Keiichi didn't tell anyone about his past or about his fears that his friends were involved in the series of Mysterious Deaths. Usually, the latter causes him to become extremely paranoid, and he ends up killing Rena and Mion."

"It's true that he didn't tell anyone about his past," answered Hanyuu calmly, "but that's because he felt accepted enough by all of you in the club. There was no need to open up about the past since he had already put it behind him. You're wrong about the other thing, though. Keiichi talked to Mion in the hospital about the series of Mysterious Deaths and the curse of Oyashiro-sama. Because Mion shared her thoughts honestly with him, he was able to keep believing in her and all his friends. Mion also told him all about Satoshi and Shion, so he never felt that the group was keeping secrets from him. Maebara Keiichi stayed relatively sane until the moment he saw Rena dead.

"Now consider Mion and Satoko," the horned goddess continued. "If Mion had someone to honestly share her feelings with, and someone to help control her immediately after learning that Shion slept with Keiichi, she might not have resorted to killing her sister.

"As for Satoko, even though she opened up to Shion about pushing her parents off the cliff, she didn't have you to talk to about that, or about Satoshi, or about anything, really. In the world we just left, you stayed too distant from Satoko. You were preoccupied with planning peoples' deaths. Because of that, you didn't realize how badly she needed a stronger version of C103. She pushed Mion off the stairs. Then she heard about you being a killer, and because you didn't reassure her that she herself wasn't one of your targets, she killed you."

Hanyuu kept adding more weight to her argument. "There's also Satoshi," she said. "You never tried very hard to get close to him in this world. If you had, he may have trusted you with his feelings instead of brooding about murdering his aunt or deciding to run away."

Rika was tired of stubbornly resisting, and Hanyuu's arguments were overwhelming. Still, it was painful to accept the truth. So painful that it made her voice quiver and her eyes moist with unshed tears. "Am I to believe all my work in that world was for nothing?" she asked.

Gently, Hanyuu embraced her companion there in the darkness between worlds. "It wasn't for nothing," she told her. "We eliminated another possibility. We now know we cannot find a world with a happy ending by preemptively taking lives or assuming we know who is going to go crazy. Each world is unique. Even Mion can suffer Hinamizawa Syndrome. Without this world, we could never have known that. And also, the many evil deeds which you performed in this world will surely stick in your memory. You will associate them with failure and a terrible ending. You've learned important lessons, Rika. So, I ask again, do you understand it?"

Wiping her eyes, Rika nodded and broke free of the embrace. "Yes, I think so. I was the one who ruined the future, not Mion or Shion or their father. But now I know. Because life is precious in each world, killing people is not the right way to do things. It hurts too much and takes too much out of me. It made me into the villain. I convinced myself I was staining my hands with blood for the sake of my friends, but it was all self-serving in reality."

"I'm glad you are able to comprehend all that." Despite her overall serious appearance, Hanyuu had an adorable smile. She had few occasions to show it, but this was one such time. "You're truly a wise existence, Furude Rika. And you will continue to grow wiser as we travel through the worlds in search of a happy future."

The goddess added, "There's no guarantee that my theory is right, that having your friends open up to you will always stop their insane actions. But, trying to support your friends and get them to talk, well, that's at least a better than going around killing perceived threats and losing touch with yourself and others. You are not a monster, so don't act like one."

After taking a deep breath, Rika closed her eyes and said, "I'm sorry, everyone. I'll make it up to you all in the next world. And even if the next world doesn't end well, or the world after that, I'll keep trying. I will continue to seek a world where we can be happy, even if finding it takes a hundred years. Come, Hanyuu. Let's return to Hinamizawa."

The darkness closed in around Rika and Hanyuu, and they held hands as the world spun. When the shrine maiden opened her eyes, she found herself as an eight-year-old in spring 1981. Her parents were still alive, and they were having lunch with her. Hanyuu floated by Rika's side, invisible to all but the shrine maiden. The sushi and rice balls being eaten by the Furude family tasted delicious, and the sound of Mr. Furude's deep voice was almost as pleasant and soothing as the smile on Mrs. Furude's face. The sun shone brightly outside. It seemed like a fine new beginning to a beautiful new world, but Rika wasn't fooled.

June 21st, the day of Watanagashi, is only a few months from now, she thought. On that day… Okaa-san, Oto-san… both of you will die. I will become an orphan. As in the previous worlds, I probably won't understand the mystery of your deaths. I'll be lost and confused. But then Satoko will be there for me. And Mion. And always, Hanyuu is with me.

In a barely audible voice, Rika murmured, "Oto-san, Okaa-san, you won't be here much longer. Let's fully enjoy the short time we have left together."

"Rika, did you say something?" asked the girl's father. "You look serious all of sudden."

As she had in so many worlds before, Rika played the part of a cute and innocent child. She gave her most adorable grin and said, "It's nothing, so-it-is. Let's eat together. Nipaah!"

The End