d, too, when you go outside,” He warned Touka.

The women of the Fujisaki clan are prone to attract misfortune. 

Nobody could deny that she could get involved and then vanish like that elementary school kid.

“A missing elementary school child, hm.”

Unaware of Saku’s concern, Touka started pondering and mumbling to herself.

“… Elementary school… Park next to her workplace… The trigger that made her remember…”

Pokopen! The next moment, her smartphone made a dumbfounding sound.

Touka peered into the screen.
Her expression turned grim.
Saku craned his neck to see what was going on.
Touka directed her phone toward him.
It was an email sent to the mail address in Touka’s homepage.
Saku silently read the short message displayed on the screen.

“Thank you for helping last time.
I am Suzu Morita.
I will start over.
Please forget about what happened the other day.”

“… She will start over… Please forget about what happened? What’s the meaning of this?”

“We will go looking for her workplace tomorrow,” Touka abruptly declared, driving Saku to title his head in further confusion.

As far as he knew, there was absolutely no way for them to find where Suzu was working.

“Hold on a minute… Oh, there it is.”

Touka searched through Saku’s bookshelf and pulled out a map of the area.
Next, she found an antique compass.
Laying the map on the table, she first drew a circle around the nearby elementary school.
Then she drew another circle around the largest public park near the school.
As a result, a nursery school was caught within that circle.

“I drew a circle around the range in which elementary school kids would most likely act, and another one in which daycare kids would go for a walk… Suzu said that she remembered her ghost friend when she was watching kids playing in a park, while she was at work.
Then, she probably works here.
While taking the daycare kids for a walk, she ran into elementary school students playing in the park.
It was then, when she remembered the ghost.”

“How did you know all of this?”

“This is merely a hunch, but I think that she is somewhat related to the kidnapping of the elementary school child,” Touka claimed, without hesitation.
Glaring at the mark she drew around the nursery school, she continued, “I’m sure she was a good friend with the ghost, too.”

Saku had no idea of what she was saying.

Nevertheless, he decided to visit the nursery school with her the next day.

***

“Suzu Morita has been absent from work without permission for quite some time now.”

“Is that so?”

“You are acquaintances, aren’t you? Could you please warn her to return? Also, could you give her this? What? You don’t know her address? You’re her co-worker from a part time job? In that case…”

Saku and Touka were handed a large amount of printouts.

They succeeded in obtaining Suzu’s home address.

It was quite unbelievable in this age of privacy protection.

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Fortunately, the principal of the nursery school was the type of person who doesn’t care about details.
Her mind seemed to be occupied only with the troublesome thoughts of Suzu being absent without notice.
Thus, the first step in Saku and Touka’s plan of meeting Suzu once again was successful.

They walked around the city while relying on the adresse they were given.
It was slightly cloudy.
They passed through many deserted alleys before eventually, they reached an apartment complex. 

Within the old-looking townscape, a house stood as if buried beneath the complex’s shade.

Judging from the fact there were no newspapers or letters in its mailbox, someone was most likely still living there.
Garbage bags however, were lined up in front of the entrance door, emanating an ambiance of neglect.The grass of the yard was also overgrown.  

Saku instinctively hesitated to enter inside.
But he reached for the buzzer, anyway.

Right before he could touch it, Touka grabbed his wrist.
She was making a solemn face. 

“It’s highly likely there is someone abducted inside.”

“… What?”

Touka’s assertion was incomprehensible for Saku.
But he still believed that she must have some sort of basis that made her reach such a conclusion.
Saku remembered the elementary school kidnapping case and nodded with a meek expression.

Touka quietly put her hand on the entrance door.
Slowly, she opened it by sliding it to the right side.

The door wasn’t locked.

The presence of someone was coming from inside.

Noise could be slightly heard from the entrance.
It wouldn’t be surprising if they happened to run into Suzu at any time.

And yet, Touka still stepped inside.

They both broke into the house.
They saw the silhouette of someone moving in the kitchen as they sneaked down the hallway.
Ignoring it, Touka made her way deeper into the house.
But nobody was there.
She stood in the middle of the altar room and tilted her head.

It was at that moment when they heard a creaking sound in the ceiling.

Touka and Saku nodded to each other and climbed the stairs.

The second floor was dimly lit.
Several doors were lining up in an old hallway.
Guessing from the sound of the creaking, Touka opened one of the doors.
The lights were turned on inside the room.
It was a small japanese-style room with a chest of drawers next to one of its walls and a futon in its center.
Saku inadvertently caught his breath when he shifted his gaze to the center.

There was a little girl sitting on top of the futon.

A skinny elementary school girl, looking at them with frightened eyes.

Saku, taken aback, let out a squeezed voice from the back of his throat.

“Why is she here, in Suzu-san’s house?”

“The identity of the ghost she used to be friends with was an invisible human being.
Now that she realized the truth, she is trying to start over, making up for the mistakes she committed last time.”

What is an invisible human?

What in the world is Touka talking about?

As always, Saku didn’t have the smallest clue of what was happening.
The one thing he was certain of was that he needed to save the elementary school girl in front of him.

With hushed footsteps, Saku and Touka approached the little girl.

A closer look on her revealed dark blue bruises on her skin.
Saku frowned when he noticed signs of violence on the girl’s body.
It was difficult to imagine it coming from Suzu, who appeared to be quite composed.
But people sometimes act in ways that contradict their outward appearances.

In a low voice, Touka spoke to the little girl.

“Listen to me well.
We’re here to pick you up.
As the young maiden I am, I can’t leave you in this distorted situation.
And besides, I have my reasons to save people who need help.
That would be the bare minimum of atonement for my sin… So could you please come with us?”

“Sis! Someone is here!”

The little girl suddenly shouted in a loud voice.

Saku became speechless.

Why would the kidnapped victim call the culprit for help? Why does Touka consider helping others as atonement? The situation was only getting more confusing for him.
But now was not the time to ponder those questions.

Instantly, A thudding noise of footsteps echoed from the first floor.

Running through the hallway like a storm, someone rushed to the door of the room and opened it wide.

The knife in her hand glowed in the dim light.

Saku stared at her, unable to believe what he was witnessing.

Suzu was directing a loathsome scowl at them.

The little girl scuttled over to Suzu and hid behind her back.

“Sis, don’t let go of me.”

“Don’t worry.
I will protect you.”

Saku reached an unprecedented level of confusion.

Suzu is trying to protect the elementary school girl.

As far as he knew, the girl was kidnapped for a week now.

On the other hand, Touka seemed to be fully conscious of the situation.

She looked Suzu straight in the eyes.
And with a dignified voice, she declared, “You mustn’t misunderstand.”

Suzu pointed the knife in her direction.

Saku checked on Touka’s expression.

She looked undaunted. 

Then, she continued with words that he did not expect.

“Your sister’s death was not your fault.”

***

“… What’s the meaning of all this?”

“I succeeded in conjuring the spirit of Suzu-san’s said ghost.
At that point, it became apparent that the death of a human was involved in her past.
Additionally, an ordinary person can never encounter a friendly spirit,” Touka replied at Saku’s question.

Then what would that make of the ghost that was friends with Suzu?

A trick of memory? Touka shook her head, denying that possibility.

“Suzu-san remembered the existence of her ghost friend when she was watching elementary school kids playing in a public park.
The trigger to those memories would be this kidnapped girl.
She has bruises on her skin.
The dark blue color implies the bruises are old.
This means that the girl used to be beaten by her family and not Suzu.
In short, Suzu remembered her ghost friend when she saw a little girl that seemed to be abused by her parents.

“… Meaning what?”

“The identity of the ghost is a little girl that once existed.
Most likely Suzu-san’s sister.”

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Touka disclosed the despicable truth.
But Saku still had another question.
That is the reason Suzu believed that her sister was a friendly ghost.
When he expressed his doubts, Touka started describing a certain family issue.

“Suzu said that she used to hear rapping noises.
It was the sound caused by her sister.
Yet, her parents would claim that they didn’t hear or see anything.
Suzu’s sister was being neglected.”

“You mean, her parents were acting as if she didn’t exist in that house?”

“Yeah, that would be the case… But Suzu and the neglected girl became friends… The conjured spirit clearly hated her for a reason.”

The spirit of the girl attempted to kill Suzu.

It was carrying a strong grudge towards her.

And for what reason?

“I suspect that because Suzu-san was getting along so well with her sister, her parents could no longer ignore her and so, they decided to dispose of her.
You remember when Suzu-san talked about ‘some accident in the bathroom and many people visiting the house?’ Since then the ghost stopped appearing.
The neglected girl was murdered in such a way that it appeared to be a domestic accident.”

“She got drowned in the bathtub?”

“I’m afraid so.
The invisible girl stopped existing for real and Suzu-san could no longer see the ghost… You recalled all of this the other day, didn’t you?” Touka addressed Suzu. 

Trembling as she held the knife, Suzu refused to answer.
But Touka continued, regardless, “The cause that made you open the sealed lid to your memories was the conditions I told you about conjuring spirits… As well as your experience with the invoked ghost.
Therefore, you decided to protect the girl who was the initial trigger to remembering your past, on behalf of your former sister.”

The elementary school girl clung to Suzu, who responded by placing her hand on her back.

Looking at Touka straight in the eyes, she slowly lowered the tip of the knife.

Her eyes were black and clear.
There was neither anger nor sadness there.

It was then when Suzu, for the first time since they met her today, spoke.

“Yes.
You’re right.
I will protect this girl.
I will protect this little girl who is likely to be killed like my sister if I leave her alone.
My sister would surely forgive me if I did that.”

“Your sister’s spirit vanished when she heard you yell ‘Forgive me, mom.’ You probably suffered a great deal of abuse too, that you just forgot about.
You can take my word when I tell you that you’ve already been forgiven.
What you are doing right now is a crime.
There must be other ways to help that child.”

“Like what? We raise a case and make it public? We tell her school? We go visit her parents every now and then? Who could guarantee that anyone will make it in time before this child is killed!” Suzu hollered, abruptly.
Her dry eyes rapidly became moist and tears spilled down her cheeks.
She hunched forward as if she couldn’t bear it anymore and started crying like a baby.

“What will you do if I don’t make it in time? You’re telling me not to act out when I know there’s a child about to get killed? And then… Then, if she dies, how am I supposed to live this time!”

Watching Suzu in tears, the elementary school girl gave her a hug by putting her arms around her jeans-wrapped leg.
She seemed to be holding back her tears.

“Don’t cry, Sis.”

“Yeah, I’m fine… I’m okay.”

“I want to stay with you, sis.
You don’t hit me.
You don’t put my face in water.
You also don’t pour hot water on me.
You’re nicer.
I want to be with you.” The little girl burst into tears.
She strongly embraced Suzu. 

The pair desperately clung to each other.

Saku and Touka were speechless.

Suzu, in front of them, wiped away her tears and said, “To tell the truth, I’m a person who is better off dead.”

Her words were awfully hollow.

It was because they were hollow that they depicted her true feelings.

Touka weakly clenched her fist.
Perhaps she understood something in Suzu’s words; Something that pierced her heart.
Saku widened his eyes.
He attempted to refute Suzu’s claim in haste.

“That’s not —”

“It is! I was supposed to die at that time, when I sacrificed my innocent sister.
But right now… I feel like I want to live, for the sake of this girl.”

Those were also her serious, true feelings.

With a clang, the knife fell to the floor.

Suzu hugged the little girl tightly.

She then concluded, giving Saku and Touka a radiant smile, “— Now, leave.”

It was a voice brimming with strong determination.

Neither Saku or Touka had the words to reply.

Thus, they left the house, in silence.

***

The next day, Saku and Touka visited Suzu’s house once again.

The door was unlocked.
Inside, there were signs of hurriedly packed luggage and items.

Inside the empty house, Touka uttered, “I thought that this is the wrong way of solving the problem.
Suzu was undeniably a victim, even if she was the indirect cause of her sister’s death.
Unlike me, she was supposed to be rescued… That is why I wanted to convince her… I wonder if there was something else I could’ve done for her.”

“I don’t know.”

“Maybe it’s for the best if two people who believe they don’t deserve to live, could join hands and live on, together.”

Saku couldn’t think of anything to react to Touka’s speech.
Meanwhile, as if she was assessing her words, one by one, Touka continued, “If a person who once wished to die could live on, then let them be.”

Touka sounded as if she was addressing herself with her speech.
Saku, as always, couldn’t find the right words to reply.
According to Touka, he “knows nothing” about her.
Then whatever he might say, it would probably not reach her.
Instead, Saku looked up at the ceiling, and contemplated.

The meaning of life and the meaning of death.

The weight of life and death shifts very easily.

Suzu used to deeply wish for her death.

But then, she found a value in her life, making her forget her reason to die.

That much is enough to be grateful for.

Which is why Saku suggested, “Let’s wish, Touka.”

“Wish?”

“Yes.
It’s the least thing we can do.”

“Yeah… You’re right,” Touka nodded.

She closed her eyes, following Saku.

Both of them wished.

They wished for a happy future to be waiting for Suzu and the little girl.

At the very least.

May good fortune find them.

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