38 – The Edge People No Longer Cross

Hinamizawa, 11st February 1984

The one which was about to begin was the typical cold morning of February, and frost covered all the paths and roads in Hinamizawa. But, in spite of this, two green-haired girls were walking, through their usual path from the Manor to school, challenging the very low temperature. Wrapped inside their warm and comfortable coats, both of them were quite thoughtful, absorbed by what they were reading on the sheet of paper they had been given before leaving home. On it, Kasai had personally written every thing he had discovered about Megumi Sonozaki.

It wasn't a long reading. It was a single sheet, on which there were only a few lines, written by hand with black ink. A very neat summary. After all, there wasn't really much, about her. After leaving the rest of the family, she had got married with a middle-aged businessman, who guaranteed her a wealthy existence. But there were no interesting info about her recent past, and about her husband's one. Their names were not reported anywhere, there weren't any particular news involving them. and theirs looked just like ordinary lives. So, what had occurred to her? Why Megumi had suddenly changed her mind, asking for Mion to leave the headship of the family? Something had to have happened, but they couldn't say what exactly.

However, that was deceptive, and Shion couldn't refrain from commenting. "It seems that Kasai's work has been useless, when all is said and done, Onee."

"No, it's not... You shouldn't be so few respectful of the others' care, Shion. However, there's something we can say thanks to this."

"And what is it? What are you chewing over, now?"

"Frankly, I don't know yet. I should take some more time to think about it."

Shion preferred not to insist, Mion wouldn't have changed her mind. In short, the twins already knew what they were about to do, in the following weeks. The ruler of the Sonozaki clan had reflected about it during the past days, and her meditation had come to a conclusion. In fact, once they reached the school, they immediately went to Chie's office, since they needed to talk with her with urgency. In the previous two days they had been absent from school, they had to justify, but that was not the only purpose they went there for. After opening the door and greeting lovingly their teacher, the pony-tailed girl approached her, and she started to speak:

"Sensei, I wanted to inform you that I've decided to embark on this battle, and to fight to save my role inside the Sonozaki family. I do think it's the right thing to do, now. But, in order to do that, I am going to be fully busy, devoting myself in doing everything I can to fulfill this task. Namely... I can't go to university. This choice forces me not to give time enough to study, and then I would never be able to get ready for my admission exam. I want to thank you for everything you have done for me, for all your efforts... But I have to ask you not to give me other math exercises, to do at school or at home. I wouldn't have time to do any of them at home, and moreover I wouldn't be motivated to finish them, they would be useless, since my studies will definitely end in less than two months. Thank you again, Chie-sensei... but I have made my choice, and I have to do a little sacrifice to save something bigger."

The teacher looked at her, quite disappointed. She had recognized her good faith, but she was thinking that it was a pity. Mion wasn't a sharp student, but she was a lofty girl, and probably she would have been able to overtake those difficulties... But life never goes like how you expect, and those unforeseen events were calling for her presence. Chie sighed, showing to accept her decision, and then she turned at Shion: "And you, instead? What are you planning to do?"

"Neither Shion will attend university" answered Mion "But this is not a surprise, we have known it for a long time. She has never wanted to, you have already been told too, Sensei. I suppose she will stay in Hinamizawa after the end of this school year."

"I see..." In the end, Mion wanted to study hard because she wanted to learn as much as she could, in order to use that knowledge to improve everyone's life inside the village. Shion had never had that stimulus, and so she wasn't so interested in school. And her bad memories about her life in St. Lucia Academy had influenced her, furthermore. All she wanted was living with Satoshi, and in the meanwhile helping her friends, when necessary.

"Well" Chie replied "I suppose you are going to study only what is obligatory to finish this last year of yours... I won't say I'm happy of this, because I am not, but if you think it's the best choice to take, I won't oppose. At least, I would like to ask you to help me sometimes with the youngest kids, then. I always need one more help, here... Do you agree?"

Both of the twins nodded, so the teacher added: "Good. But now you should join the others, inside the classroom. They are waiting for you." Shion nodded, and then she left the office, followed by her sister.

"Well, we have accomplished the hardest part of the day." commented the pony-tailed girl "Now let's have something more pleasant, that will make our day better. Are you ready for it?"

The other one nodded again, while going next to the door of the classroom, to make it slide. It was something they had done plenty of times, but that day it was slightly different from usual... Inside the room everything had hushed, Mion and Shion could hear that from where they were standing. It was weird, extremely weird. They were used to the infernal racket coming from there, usually provoked by the eternal duel between Keiichi and Satoko. That morning, instead, everything was silent, as if everyone was waiting for something, before daring to open their mouth.

The door was opened, slowly...

"HAPPY BIRTHDAY, GIRLS!"

Keiichi's joyful shout filled the room, and the others enthusiastically followed his example, congratulating with the two twins. Yes, they were waiting for something. They were waiting for her arrival.

"Tsk, this old lady is getting really old." replied the pony-tailed girl. "How old am I, now? 18, if I can count."

"If you were in Europe you would be a major girl." exclaimed Alice, while laughing "Here instead you have still to wait a couple of years."

"It's just the same. In this hard period we have to behave like adults, so we already are adults. Conventions decided by the various governments won't make us sager than what we already are."

"You're right" answered Keiichi "But majority always carries its own glamor. Driving your car, voting... it's just like an initiatory rite. You do feel alike an older woman, after you reach it."

"Well..." she commented, skeptical "Hard to say that. There are dozens of members older than us, inside our family... And we'll have to deal with them, soon. That day, they will see us as young and immature people, still."

"That's their fault, then. Presuming that younger women can't teach them about something is a pure self-conceit."

"You should say it to them, I fear." She sat on her place, and then she opened her bag, taking a large rolled sheet of paper from it, and exclaiming: "Or at least you should make it clear to the ones reported here."

Keiichi observed the sheet, got curious. At first sight, it was a sort of family tree, and even if there wasn't their family name anywhere it could be nothing but the Sonozakis' one. On it, as the headline said, there were all the names of the living members, but the most interesting thing was that a lot of them had been marked with different colors: most of them had been underlined with a green highlighter, but there were other marks, blue, violet and red; finally, some name had no marks at all.

"You'd better to add a key, or something which explains the reason of all those colors..." concluded Keiichi, while finishing to examine the document and raising his head towards the pony-tailed girl.

"Kei-chan, that's not so difficult... The names with no marks belong to the little children of the family, who actually haven't the power to make decisions, and who will have no say in the matter. The green marks show who probably is going to be on our side, while the red ones point at who will be on aunt Megumi's one. The blue ones refer to who is still undecided, and to who doesn't care about the name of the ruler."

"And the violet ones?"

"Give me a moment to finish to explain, please! They are the ones who had declared to be on our side, but whom we don't trust. In their case, we have founded suspicions that they are double crossing us. There are not a lot of them, fortunately, but it's vital to immediately recognize them. And we have to check everyone: knowing someone's alignment doesn't allow us to conclude his brothers' ones, for example. Feuds between members of the same family often play off father against son, or mother against daughter..."

"Yep, I can read the difference of colors even inside family units, indeed." commented Satoko "Anyways, this is a very detailed map. You have gathered a lot of information in these few days."

"That's why we have stayed at home, in these days. We have spent our time phoning the others, while our mother gave her point of view, and Kasai made some research about them, too. You know, these matters are always full of intrigues and traps, you must be ready to face them. Someone may claim to help you, and in reality he's betraying you, acting behind your back."

"Understood... However, let's forget this for now, we have a lesson to make start, and today is a special one, we must celebrate!"

"Rena agrees" the brown-haired girl said "When school is over even Daijiro-kun will join us, he has promised it to Rena, he has promised it to Rena, and if we are all together we will have fun..."

"I'm sorry to be a killjoy, but I fear we can't do it as much as you want. This afternoon this old lady has to leave you alone and go away, and you should be able to understand why."

"I suppose so. Another boring meeting to have a better view of the situation."

"Bullseye." she sighed, showing not to be enthusiast to have to go there "I will inform Chie-sensei when she arrives here, I had forgotten telling her about this, before. But now, let's go to our seats, she will come in a few moments..."

Mion and Shion's poor interest in what they were writing that day became soon manifest, and all of their friends immediately realized it. In more than an hour, they hardly had completed scribbling the first two of the twelve pages they had been given as work for that morning. The others blank sheets had stayed there, leaned on their desks and untouched by their pens, as if the girls couldn't either notice them. The reason was obvious. Those exercises were now lacking of a real goal, in their sight, which made them completely unmotivated. Maybe they were able to do them, or rather they were not, and what they had already written was just full of mistakes, but it didn't matter, especially to the two of them. A couple of times, Shion had even stood up and gone to the desks where Giancarlo and Alice were sat by, to see what they were doing, and to read the books they had been given that morning. It was not that strange, it was well known that the girl loved literature much more than math, but leaving her exercises in the middle was something she had never done, despite her usually rebelling attitude. Therefore, the only thing Chie could really do to raise their spirit was matching each of them with a kid, begging them to help them with their tasks, exactly like what she had told them inside the office.

Fortunately the hours ran fast, and lunch break arrived. The club couldn't wait for it, and they steeply moved their desks, to form a large circle and celebrate worthily the twins' birthday. A huge cake mysteriously appeared, prepared by Rena and Satoko the previous day, and Keiichi didn't stop singing birthday songs, getting even quite annoying. Fortunately, Rika soon blocked him with a bucket full of water, falling from the roof, which make him literally bite his tongue and scream like a maniac. The school was still full of Satoko's traps, and more than anyone else she was aware of the most of them, due to the fact she had collaborated to arrange them, in the past. Yes, one day Keiichi should fund a reclamation of the building, if he wished to survive there.

However, the tasty cake vanished quite quickly, and so the desks were put back in the usual place. But since they had still an hour before Mion left (and before the start of their afternoon lesson), they decided to play a game.

"Are we anticipating it? I see... Mion-san has to go away earlier than usual, so this is the best choice. And however... we haven't had an activity for a long time, so these are great news!" commented Satoko, enthusiast.

"I agree, but which game are you proposing?" asked Satoshi. "The Old Maid card game?"

"Again? I'm tired of that! Yours is not passion, it's obsession!" protested Alice, snorting "Why don't we try something else, one time? For example... Well, let's see..." she inflated her own jowl, absorbed, desperately looking for something which didn't involve those damn cards.

"Why don't we play Ronin Mawashi?" suggested Rena "It had come to Rena's mind some day ago, and we haven't played it for a long time. It would be nice, it would be."

"And what is it?" asked the Italian girl, touching neurotically her light brown hair. It took some minute for her to be told that it was the Japanese name of the Pen Spinning. You take a pen in your hand, and after a moment of concentration you have to make it spin with speed and dexterity, to create the most imaginative tricks and amaze the opponents. In this case, a jury would have decided who was the best at moving it, while the loser would have been subjected to the usual punishment.

"But we should find a jury, then." commented Alice "We can't judge ourselves, it wouldn't be fair, and there might be the most various swindles and cons..."

"Now you are forgetting that we have a lot of judges, here." answered Keiichi, pointing at the other kids inside the classroom, the ones who theoretically didn't belong to the club. "We have already here eight-nine impartial members of the committee, can't you see it?"

"And however" added the pony-tailed girl "You shouldn't worry about it. In this discipline brain doesn't count, a deft hand will be much more useful... So I have half a mind about who will have to wear this, during the trip to home..."

"Thank you very much for your faith towards my ability..." grumbled Giancarlo, annoyed due to the fact she was staring at him, while pronouncing those words. But he was also curious to see what she was looking for, since he could see her bustling next to Chie's chair.

The girl grinned, pretending not to have heard him, and abruptly she took a giant bear costume hidden God knows how behind the teacher's desk. It had been brought by Satoko, who had a fondness for those animals, and she had devised a new experimental way to conceal it, without that Chie-sensei could have either a suspicion about its presence. Maybe under the desk itself, a secret passage? From there, the others couldn't say it, but it had no importance, for now. And so, after having strenuously avoided that Rena brought the costume home, the activity started.

It was Keiichi who led off the dance. His white pen began soon to fly, to hover in the air light like the feather of a swan. Its movement was incredibly fast, but at the same time he could control it perfectly, as if it was the sixth finger of his hand. He hadn't unlearned how to play that game, after all that years, and the others' admiration was the logical result.

"Well done" commented the pony-tailed girl, when he concluded his performance "It really seems that you won't finish last, at least for today..."

"Thank you for your compliments... That was something which has always fascinated me. I had practiced for lots of evenings, when I was in Tokyo. It was a training made just for personal satisfaction, however, I have never participated to any challenge, at school." His level of self-satisfaction increased when the jury gave him the highest score. And so, as however expected, nobody was able to emulate him. Shion, Mion, Alice and Rena made decent tricks, appreciated by the audience, but none of them was so deft as Keiichi.

Now it was Satoshi's turn. He was a bit uneasy, and in fact, as soon as his hand grabbed the pen, it started trembling. He would have preferred by far to have his bat in his own hands, that new genre of trial slightly scared him. Shion mentally wished him good luck, but what those first signs made foretell punctually happened: after a pair of elementary tricks, the pen slipped away from his fingers, and it fell to the ground. Since the rules clearly said that this eventuality ratified the end of his performance, Satoshi had to sit down on his place, a bit deceived and cheered by Satoko, and he was given a very low score. It was nearly impossible to get a worse one, for the ones who still had to exhibit. In fact, Rika and Hanyuu just limited themselves to control the spin of the pen, keeping it securely in their hands. They did nothing special, but their final score was higher than Satoshi's one, and this was enough.

Finally, it fell to Giancarlo's lot to end that challenge. Like Rika and Hanyuu, he had only not to commit stupid mistakes, and in that way he would have avoided the last position. He was quite clumsy at that sort of game, but in the end he was aware of what to do, it was absolutely enough to ke-

Betrayal. Just before starting his exhibition, a sudden strike reached his forearm, making the pen falling from his hand. He quickly turned at the direction the blow came from, and he saw a ponytail, and a grinning face.

"What kind of joke is it?" he asked to her.

"Well... I thought you would be so cute, with that costume on. So, I've made sure that your result becomes lower than Satoshi-kun's one. Do you remember the rules? Pen on the floor means show concluded."

"But I have neither begun!"

"It doesn't matter. Nobody will dare contradicting me, and you should already be able to see the score you are given." Since he hadn't done either a trick, unlike Satoshi, it was zero, the lowest score possible. Unavoidably, he had lost.

At once, the costume was triumphally taken from its place, and it was put next to the boy's desk, to remind him his future destiny. So, accomplishing the purpose she had fixed in advance, the pony-tailed girl started laughing joyfully, regardless of the fact that in the meanwhile Giancarlo was scanning her.

"Hauuu! I want to bring him hoooommme! I will place him just next to Kenta-kun!"

"It's not possible, I'm sorry." answered Alice "He needs too much care, he can't be placed everywhere, he's a delicate pet."

Under that costume, Giancarlo was suffocating, and the holes next to his eyes were by far too little. The road to home was about to be hard: "At-at-at least we are on February, otherwise I would have roasted! It's abnormally hot, inside here!"

"Don't blame us for this" answered Satoko "It's normal to suffer from heat, with a costume on, and especially with that one on. And moreover, isn't carnival nearing? You should be happy for this." She didn't add anything else. While finishing speaking, she noticed that a car was coming. Who was inside it? Mion had already greeted the others, grabbing her bag, and she had already left school several hours ago. In fact, Kasai had arrived to take Mion away, with a car by far more luxurious than that white one.

With a last grinding halt, the car stopped, and a panting figure got breathlessly out of it.

"Da-Daijiro-kun!" exclaimed Rena, shocked by the boy's exhausted face.

"I... I..." he puffed, catching his breath "I made it... I had promised to... to come here this afternoon... that's why... that's why I am here..."

"But... but why are you so strained? You look so pale, Rena is worried, she is."

"It's... a long story. This afternoon the bus I was sat on had suddenly broken down, and my bike has had a flat tire since the day before yesterday, so I had to take my father's car. Dad of course can't use it at the moment, so I borrow it only for today, he won't mind. But the way to Hinamizawa was blocked, a landslide had obstructed the passage."

"A landslide? Another one?" that event reminded sad memories.

"Well..." he got visibly embarrassed, recalling to his mind who had been the author of the previous ones "Yes, that's the truth. So I had to take another path, but I ran out of gasoline, I had to walk for half an hour to reach the nearest gas station. And I had forgotten to lock all the doors, so when I came back I found two thieves who were trying to steal my car, and I had to fight to defend myself. They made these grazes, but in the end they had to run away. However, it's nothing serious, I'm fine, really, so I could arrive here and fulfilling my promise."

"Indeed, this hasn't been your lucky day... Please, remind me not to go anywhere together with you, I could seriously risk my life." commented Satoko, sneering.

"But weren't you 16?" exclaimed Keiichi "You had told me so the first time we have met, if I am right... How can you drive a car, then?"

"I've given my own word to Rena-san, and these conventions are just worthless, once you are careful enough and once you have been taught how to drive conscientiously. Or are you rather claiming I am an immature person?"

Immature, no. But bizarre, surely... replied Rika sarcastically, of course in a low voice not to make herself been heard. You have just risked to be put under arrest because of a foolishness.

In the meanwhile, Keiichi was staring at Daijiro, skeptical "You exactly look like Mion, now. She had said the same thing, before, about the uselessness of social conventions... It must be the way they educate children, hereabout."

"Rena doesn't want you to quarrel, now!" shouted suddenly the girl, blushing but resolute to nip that discussion in the bud "Rena is happy to see you're here too, so what can we do, now? I'd really like to-"

"Sorry to interrupt you, but ho-honestly I had promised you to accompany you at home, yesterday, and that was what I wanted to, my mother wished to have a talk with your father and you. She want to know you, and she's already waiting for you inside your house."

"Yes, we should all go home, it's getting late" replied Giancarlo "And I can't wait to take all these things off. Better eye out than always ache, don't you think so?"

"Hmmm, but you're so cute... I don't mind what they say, I want to bring you home..."

Yes, it was time to go, especially to avoid being kidnapped by some raving mad girl. So, Giancarlo, Alice, Satoshi, Shion and Satoko took a way to go back home, while Keiichi, Rena, Rika, Daijiro and Hanyuu took the other one. It was better to choose different paths, Rena's attention towards that costume might become extremely dangerous for who was wearing it. And, as a matter of fact, that kind of prospect was so funny that the former of the two groups started talking about that subject.

"Ha ha ha... She's funny, when she acts so, but today Rena-san is just like the usual girl we know." exclaimed Satoko "Or, more exactly, she's the one we knew before all this story began..."

"Are you saying this is a sort of reaction, Satoko?"

The little girl nodded towards her brother, and Alice commented: "I agree with you, guys... she's trying to go back to a normal life, free from that kind of problems. It's quite reasonable, in my opinion, and this is a sign of strength. Moreover, after all, if we wait for that boy's arrest, we may await till the cows come home, and this is not a good idea."

"Ara ara, you don't trust your older sister, do you, Ali-chan?"

"It's not like I don't believe in Flavia's ability... But you should know how these situations end: the wanted man definitely disappears, and nobody is able to see him alive. Maybe we will find only his corpse, one day, at the bottom of the river, or in the most impenetrable areas of the forest around Hinamizawa, or maybe we won't run into his remains at all, after his death. Past and present chronicles are full of examples similar to this, it's enough to read some newspaper, or some cheap magazine, to make you convinced."

"What kind of story do you know, like this? I am interested..."

They went on with the subject for a while, discussing about imaginary tales and real stories which they found to be similar to her friend's one, until they had to separate, arrived at a crossroads. They were about to greet each other, but Satoko noticed that Giancarlo was trying to take off one of the sleeves of the costumes.

"Hey, you can't do that! You must keep it until you come to your home! This was the penalty, and you had accepted its terms, before playing!"

"I know it, don't worry! I am going to wear it again immediately, but first I have to do something. If I don't get rid of the sleeve of the costume I can't take this in my hand." He was now holding a little piece of paper, and carelessly he inserted it inside one of Shion's pockets, who had stayed immobile, caught unawares and indecisive about how to react. Then, he added: "Be careful, young girl, read it only when you're at home, if someone discovers this message before then you will have to face some serious problem, understood?"

Then, as promised, he fixed up the sleeve, and he quickly went away, leaving the others consumed by their curiosity.

"You haven't explained me what there was on that piece of paper, yet..." Alice asked him, when they arrived at home.

"Just wait for a little more time, Nee-chan, she will be here soon..."

"She? Are you talking about Shii-chan?" Alice looked at him askance. What was the sense of it? Her brother had never been that mysterious, and he looked inexplicably amused. There had to be a reason, somewhere.

She wanted to find out the truth, but she hadn't time to think about it. While she was taking from the shelf the necessary pots to prepare dinner, she heard the doorbell ringing, and she asked Giancarlo to open the door. The boy obeyed, and once turned the knob a shadow quickly moved inside, and his sight was covered by a white background.

"Now explain me what this mean!" a voice shouted. Alice went to the entrance to look at what was happening, and she saw Shion pushing the sheet of paper on her brother's nose, quite bothered.

"Shii-chan, what's the matter..." she asked, and then her attention focused on what she was holding "This is what Nii-chan had handed you before... May I read it, please?" Shion assented, and Alice took the paper, reading the following words:

Your birthday is not finished yet, Mii-chan.

"And that's all? What a banality, this is unworthy of you, Nii-chan. Of course this day is not finished, at the Manor they must have prepared something special, but..." Alice's voice choked inside her throat "Wait... Mii-chan?" She stared at the message, keeping it stuck to her nose, astounded, and then at the green-haired girl in front of her. Unquestionably, that was Shion's look. Her hair left down, the yellow ribbon tied on the back of her head... How could be she Mion? But, if she was not, what was the reason of that instinctive reaction by her?

"You can ask it to her by yourself." answered her brother, removing all the doubts she was having. "She will answer that I've not mistaken her identity."

"Is... is it true, Shi... Mii-chan?"

The girl didn't reply, and Alice sighed: "Hmmm... on second thoughts, you were right, today's Shion was slightly too silent, compared to her standards. But from here to claiming they have switched their clothes... How have you been able to..."

"It's Shion's fault, I'm sure of that." replied Mion, clenching her fists nervously "She wanted to avoid Satoshi's loss, by every possible means. And since Kei-chan had already made his performance before him, you were the only one she could really sabotage. Damn Shion, had you really to do that? Satoshi-kun is not a baby who always needs her assistance, you mustn't be so over-protective. Nothing would have occurred to him, if he had had to wear that costume. He would have survived, after the end of the punishment!" As every good club leader, she was starting to learn her subordinate's thinking process.

"So it's true... And then have you been Satoshi-kun's girlfriend for one day? Was it fine, for your sister?"

"Satoshi-kun was aware of our switch, don't worry... He's the only one who can distinguish the two of us. At least he's the only one unless that idiot makes it clear to everyone."

"Well, I hadn't made it, so don't be so rude with him..." exclaimed the Italian girl, trying to make her calm down. "However, why have you done such a thing, today?"

"It was Shion's present for me. You know, this period is hard for me, and she is doing her best to make it lighter. In the last days I had to phone to everyone I knew, to talk with them, to be informed about every possible and imaginable thing... It's terribly tiring and stressful, you have to spend all your day in this way, without any break, any moment of relax. So she had offered to take my place at today's meeting, and at the same time she wanted to show me something."

"What?"

"She wanted me to see how much you were attentive towards me. How much you were worried, but at the same time how much you were ready to give me a hand. You know, you are told about it tons of times, but you are never completely convinced, you always fear it's not true. But from an external point of view, it's much easier to notice it. I will heartily thank her, when she goes back home, discoveries like this one make you feel enormously better."

Alice smiled, then she asked: "But so... what Shion had said to Chie-sensei in your stead... Was it true?"

"You have heard it, then, I suppose that someone was behind the door. Well, we can say that Rena's ears still work perfectly..." she sadly smiled "However, yes, it's true, it would be senseless otherwise, claiming a thing and doing the opposite... Not going to university, as I wanted, will be a painful sacrifice, but I can't do anything with it. Don't you agree with me?"

"I see..." she answered, mortified for her friend's destiny "But so why have you come here so hastily? Just to make sure he hadn't given you that message by mistake?"

Mion shook her head, and Giancarlo explained to her sister what she meant with that sign: "Once you write words like those, you presume that another surprise is going to arrive, and I suppose that Mii-chan wanted to discover it as soon as possible, am I right? Well, you've made the right choice, we'd better not to move that thing too much, it's terribly fragile." Neither Alice nor Mion knew what he was talking about, but he invited them to wait a minute, then he run upstairs towards his bedroom, where he took a case from under his bed, and while holding it he went back to the living room, avoiding rough movements and leaning delicately the whole thing on the table.

"Here it is" he said "Of course I'll help you to bring it at home, you would have found it at the Manor, if this pleasant drawback hadn't occurred. Please open it, this is my present for you."

"For me?" Mion replied, pointing at herself "Have you forgotten that today is not only my birthday? Poor Shion, hadn't you prepared anything for her?"

"Don't paint me like an insensible! I couldn't give it to Shii-chan, for a simple reason. This present is not an ordinary one, and I can give it only to you because it's something which already belongs to you."

"Hmmm? And what..."

"Open the case, and you'll see what I mean."

She did it, and she couldn't say anything because of the emotion. It was... a doll. No, it was her doll. The one she had accidentally crashed on the floor at the Manor, nearly a month before, and now it was there, in front of her, back in one piece again. Yes, she couldn't get wrong, it was her doll, she could recognize it among a thousand others.

"You see now why I've said those words?" Giancarlo explained, glad to see her reaction "You had told me to throw it away, that day, but I did think it was a pity, so I picked up all the fragments, and I've asked to repair it. You know, in Krinoto there is a well-known doll store, Keresana-san had suggested me to go there. It hadn't been easy, they told me, but they were able to fix it. You can see it, it really looks like a new doll, now." Mion lifted the hem of the dress of the doll, and neither there she could see any crack, or any sign which proved it had been destroyed by her angry rush, in the past. But it was her doll, there were no doubts about it.

"But when you have brought it there?" asked Alice "I don't remember to have ever seen you going back home with this suitcase."

"Because you were away, too, that day. Do you remember the Sunday when you and the other girls went to do shopping?"

"Which one? Oh, I see... When we had admired all those wedding clothes, I've got it. Yes, you hadn't gone to Okinomiya with us, that day... But- " she approached him, whispering in his ear "It must have been quite expensive... Maybe a new doll would have been cheaper."

The boy shook his head, and he waved slightly his hand as to say it didn't matter, then he talked to Mion: "I hope you can understand the real meaning of this present. Once you had told me you were a disaster, didn't you? Well, when you do something wrong, you can always fix it. Always. There are no disasters impossible to redress. It goes for dolls, but also for everything else."

"But in this case it was me who had broken the doll, and it was you who has repaired it..."

Mion's remark made him dumbfounded. The truth was that he hadn't thought about a good speech, and he had used the wrong words, as usual. Anyways, he speedily tried to right his mistake: "I-it's just the same, have I to be the one who reminds you the power of friendship and of all that stuff you were always blathering about?" Alice grinned, and he was forced to go on "Consider this as... as a way to help you to face your life positively. Have you ever read Dickens' book A Christmas Carol? Don't tell me you don't know the plot, they have made dozens of movies and cartoons about it... So, if we make a comparison, you are like Scrooge, this doll is the Ghost of Past, while your friends are the Ghost of Present, and... and..." his talk started to flounder. He didn't know with whom he could match the Ghost of Future.

"Maybe my family could portray it?" suggested then Mion, noticing his hesitancy "Megumi-san, in particular, who is the one I will have to face by next month?"

"No..." he answered, scratching his own head "Inside the story, the three Spirits are good entities who try to help the protagonist, and Megumi-san surely doesn't want to... No, the truth is that this metaphor doesn't work at all, it is my fault, I fear. Let's just ignore it." he concluded, embarrassed by the two girls' unavoidable laugh.

Alice was happy, however, glad to see him behaving so actively. Yes, maybe he might have informed her about what he was doing, and the doll would have been given as a present by the both of them. It would have been probably more polite, by him. But after all she didn't mind that much, she knew that it was the way he was used to behave, in those circumstances, and that he did it in good faith. But on the other hand... During that sojourn, her brother had slowly changed, and fortunately for the better. He would have never talked about friendship in those positive terms, some month before. Now, instead, he was describing himself and the club as if they were one, to cheer up one of his friends. It had been harder than what expected in the beginning, but he was finally adjusting to that environment. Maybe it was because he had found a role, there.

Mion, in the meanwhile, had begun caressing delicately the doll. It was such an ease, holding it again in her hands... But suddenly she had realized something. She leaned it inside the case again, and she turned towards the twins: "Yes, I have never asked you for it... But when is your birthday, instead? I would like to... to repay you, somehow." Alice once had said to Chie-sensei that they had been born on February, Rena had heard them and she had revealed that detail to the others. But we are already on February... So maybe... A bad suspicion came into her mind, and unluckily it turned out to be true.

"Thank you very much, but I fear it won't be possible." answered the Italian girl, in fact "It was... on the 7th of February. Four days ago."

Like what I imagined, damn... Mion lowered her face, regretful.

"N-no, you haven't to worry about it!" Alice exclaimed then "We have deliberately chosen not to say it, after all that was a hard period, your sister and you even had to be absent from school, and neither our mood was the most suitable one for a party, or for something else."

"I suppose that they have phoned you from Italy, to shout good wishes to you."

"Well, yes, but what does that have to do with it? Yes, they called us, Mom, Dad, my boyfriend Alberto... I miss him, to be honest. But pretending to celebrate it in spite of your feelings would have been cruel."

"Alice is right" continued Giancarlo "And moreover, I didn't bring the doll to the shop in order to get a reward, I'm not such an opportunist. It has been a pleasure, really, and you don't have to feel sorry for it. And moreover, after what had happened that day I knew exactly which present I could give you, at least. Choosing a good one is very difficult, sometimes, you always fear to make only a huge mistake, but in this case it was pretty easy."

"But that's not fair at all, I want to..."

They didn't listen to reason, insisting kindly that she hadn't to feel in debt with them. And since Mion was expected to be at the Manor for dinner, they took their car (which they have borrowed from Flavia, the following day they had to go out for work purposes, despite the fact it was a Sunday) and they drove her at home.

So, that late evening, she was still there, in her bedroom, happily smiling and holding the doll she had been returned. Shion had been already come back home, and she didn't know anything about that last present, yet, but she would have told her soon, so it wasn't a real problem. She was only focused on the doll, in that moment. It was beautiful. Like the day Keiichi gave it to her. Yes, just like that day I'm so happy that they remembered of me... She was living those same feelings, everything was like that day.

Like that day... No, it can't be. Mion scanned that doll, and a wrenching fear filled her heart and mind.

God, please no...

...

This room is too hot... it's hot, it's hot, it's hot... Why is it so hot? My throat is getting dry, and it itches, as if flames from Hell are flaring inside it. The ache is even increasing, now. I hadn't to scratch my neck so much. But I couldn't help but doing that. There's something... something under the skin of my neck. What is it? What is moving under this membranes? I don't know, but its presence is unbearable... unbearable...

This room is too cold... it's cold, it's cold, it's cold... Why is it so cold? My own blood is flowing off from my arm, and the few heat I can generate goes away with it. The ache is even increasing, now. Who is the culprit of these wounds? Who had harmed me? There's someone... someone inside this narrow room, even if it looks empty. Who is he? I don't know, but his presence is unbearable... unbearable...

What is happening to me? Why had he led me here? To guard me? To watch over me? I... I hate this place, I'm feeling like a beast, here. I'm sat on the ground, no, I'm squat on my haunches, in one of the corners, but I am not a beast. I... presume not to be so. And I feel horribly, here. I... I don't want to stay here... please, somebody... help me...

I don't want to stay here, I don't want to stay here... You're making me cry, why are you making me cry? Leave me alone, whoever you are, leave me alone. Because of you I am crying now, in this dark room. Or at least tell me your name, your mere existence is driving me crazy.

I'm... I'm not feeling fine... my heart is exploding, my mind is melting down... a nauseating mixture of spit and vomit is coming out of my mouth, and there's no way I can stop it... my arms, my throat, every single member of my body aches as stung by a myriad of poisonous insects, as if they are endowed with their own will, and their own will is ordering them to part with the rest of my tormented body... Am I damned to live so for the rest of my live? What have I done to deserve this? No, please spare me. Please... someone...

What do you want, from me? Oh, yes... I was forgetting... if I do it, you'll let me live free, won't you? I will have a normal life, won't I? I will feel better finally, won't I? All right, I have nothing against it... This was what I wanted to do, initially. Yes, they're asking me to do only what I wanted to do, they're not shut me in, they're helping me... Because now I can hear my excitement roaring from the depth of my soul, because my aim, my only aim is her life. I can't defeat this pain, but I can inflict it to her. I can move it to her, and in this way I will feel better.

Yes, because it's only her fault. Because everything, all the Evil I had to undergo during my worthless life... it is due to her, not to me. To her, and nobody else.


Coming up: Well... you have read the last part. The paranoid is going to be back in action...