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Mirage of Blaze: Exaudi Nos

Kuwabara Mizuna
top flourish
Exaudi nos (The burden of an eternal love) Chapter 1: A Celluloid Forest

A wind bearing the touch of the end of summer blew across the concrete streets. It lightly swirled
a cloud of dry sand around the feet of the young man who had just gotten off his car, a black
Mercedes Benz with license plate 560SEL.

The youth, still in his early twenties, carried a dignity and composure that belied his age. With the
ease of familiarity, he smoothly shut the car door and inserted the key to lock it. He wore a white
shirt and tie which suited his broad-shouldered figure well. He looked up and raised a hand
against the dizzying glare of the sun against the hospital windows. The silver wristwatch on his
left hand reflected a needle of light.

Tachibana Yoshiaki, sensing the trace of autumn within the city's breeze, narrowed his eyes. How
many times had he come now to this hospital? He had visited this place twice in May alone, then
probably ten more times for one thing or another. Tachibana picked up the bouquet he had
placed on the passenger's seat and started walking towards the entrance.

He went into the white-washed room bearing the nameplate "Sasaki", which had become so
familiar to him after the many visits. The curtains danced in the end-of-summer breeze blowing
through the windows.

"You opened the windows...?"

The middle-aged man on the bed answered Tachibana's question: "There was a nice breeze
today, so I opened them this morning."

"Will it not harm your recovery?"

"I'm fine. It's much better for me than the false breeze from the air conditioner," the older man
replied with a chuckle. "I knew that you would come soon, Naoe."

"How is your injury?"

Naoe sat down on the chair placed beside the bed of the middle-aged gentleman and peered into
his face. It had thinned considerably in his three months in the hospital, but today its color was
much improved.

"You've really recovered a great deal these past few days."

Irobe Katsunaga smiled in response.

"At this rate I'll probably be able to leave the hospital come winter."

"..."

Naoe narrowed his eyes a little. Though Irobe smiled, he had lost a lot of weight. Naoe had heard
from the doctors that it was not easy for the body to recover from a crippling disease.

Irobe, who called himself "Sasaki" in this life, had no blood relatives. He was approaching sixty,
but had neither wife nor children, and had always remained single. He held a medical license,
and had quietly worked at this university hospital for ten-odd years as a doctor of cardiology.

The director, a close friend, had been of great help when Irobe had collapsed. He had requested
Irobe's cooperation in fighting the illness, and reported that they were making good progress.

"This hospital has a good atmosphere, doesn't it?" Naoe gave voice to impressions added every
time he came here. "This is the first one I've seen with all private rooms. The facilities rival those
of a hotel, and the genial atmosphere of the lobby and entrance is unique to this hospital."

"You've always paid attention to the details."

Smoothing back hair liberally sprinkled with white, Irobe added, "I looked after my parents during
their lengthy stay in the hospital... In Japan, it is common for patients to have their beds lined up
all in one room, but in Europe it is not rare for all the rooms to be private rooms. It may be that
you don't get lonely in a big shared room, but there is no privacy. A good environment is
necessary for those who are hospitalized. Patients who spend a long time in the hospital should
have as much peace given to them as possible, right?"

"...That's true."

"How is Haruie? I haven't seen her lately."

"Ah," Naoe replied, placing the bouquet on a nearby table, "it seems pretty hard to keep up the
duties of both onshou-taiji and high school studies. To do everything well...is probably difficult."

"So Haruie is also a high school student..." Irobe sighed. "I'm the only one whose age differs so
much from everyone. How old are you now?"

"I am twenty-four."

"I see... So it's been about twenty-five years since then...already..." Irobe murmured.

In the last battle with Nobunaga, Irobe was the only Yasha-shuu to survive. Naoe had not lost
much time between losing his previous body and performing taiji-kanshou on Tachibana Yoshiaki.
He was now twenty-four.

After her death, Haruie had temporarily possessed a body that had died before long. She had
then performed taiji-kanshou on Kadowaki Ayako, whose body she now possessed.

Yasuda Nagahide was as yet missing. It seemed that he had been serious about the vow he had
made in his previous life to break off from the Yasha-shuu. And finally...Kagetora...

"..."

Looking hard with a suddenly serious expression at Naoe's downcast gaze, Irobe said in a low
voice, "It seems that this time he is really gone."

"Yes."

"Your wrist..." Irobe said, looking askance at the silver wristwatch around Naoe's left hand.

"Oh," Naoe responded, covering the watch concealing his scar with his right hand. "This...?"

"Seeing you these days, I'm a little relieved. It seems that you've become much calmer. Before, I
would never see you smiling."

Naoe, still with eyes lowered, gave an ironic smile. "I've merely become accustomed to
fabricating expressions."
"But you've stopped injuring your wrist."

"..."

The smile Naoe had contrived disappeared from his lips, to be replaced by a gloomy look devoid
of expression. It was true that he had stopped cutting up his wrist as he had several years ago.
Perhaps one could say that he had calmed himself down, since he had suppressed his fitful
impulse to commit suicide.

"It's already been...twenty years," Naoe said after a moment of silence, "that you told me about
him. Almost twenty years."

That Kagetora was probably no longer in this world.

This he had learned from Irobe at their reunion in the summer six years after he had performed
kanshou on Tachibana Yosiaki. Kagetora's condition, after he had taken the full brunt of Oda
Nobunaga's 'Hakonha' head-on, was still unknown. The surviving Irobe had searched
desperately, but had failed to establish any sort of communication. There had been no response
to his call. That had been twenty-five years ago.

They still had no way of knowing whether he was living or dead...

"That's already...did you not say that you had already accepted his death, Naoe?" Irobe turned to
ask the silent Naoe. "That you have been able to resign yourself to living without him?"

"...I don't know..." Naoe murmured in a hoarse voice without lifting his hand from the wristwatch.
"Right now I don't know whether I can say that I am resigned."

"You mean, then, that you still have hope. You think that Kagetora-dono still lives, that he
performed kanshou, that even now he is alive somewhere?"

Do you think...that that is strange?" Naoe smiled self-mockingly.

"Even though it's been twenty years and we have not been able to find him?"

Naoe smiled tiredly and gazed at Irobe from shadowless hazel eyes. "But whatever happens, I
cannot end it."

"..."

"If I were not here, and he was found, then...I would be the one abandoning him. The possibility
that Kagetora-sama still lives, though miniscule, yet exists. For the sake of that slight chance I
must continue to live."

Irobe did not know how to respond to the worn-out, weary expression on Naoe's face as he said
this. Even so, it had been twenty years. In those long days, months, years, how endlessly, how
desperately they had continued to search for Kagetora. And yet he still had not been found. There
were no signs of him anywhere. If he were alive, he would have responded. Kagetora would
surely have answered. But no matter how long they had called, their shinenha had only
disappeared into empty air.

It had not been easy for any of them...

Irobe gazed at Naoe with something like pity. Naoe somehow managed to dredge up a smile, not
wanting to worry Irobe.
"Recently I've had a strange recurring dream."

"A strange dream...?"

"Yes. He...is there. But somehow he always takes the form of a twelve- or thirteen-year-old boy,"
Naoe said, looking out at the greenery through the open windows. "He calls out to me to go meet
him quickly. Then he turns away. I force him to turn back towards me, but there are scars
covering his face, and tears overflow from his eyes..."

"Do you think that it is...a prescient dream?"

"I will go to meet him." A stray breeze tangled in Naoe's hair. He stared at the verdant green of
the forest. "He looks like a child, you know, always waiting with his back to me. Alone and
lonely...so lonely... He is afraid to reach out; no one is there for him. That is why I will go."

The smile on Naoe's face as he spoke seemed to Irobe an expression of agony. These words
were breaking away from Naoe's resolution to look ahead.

(This is already ridiculous, isn't it?)

Because he had seen the anguish Naoe had gone through to get to this point, he could no longer
simply accept them. They had almost certainly lost Kagetora...who had already been missing for
twenty years. What kind of thoughts had Naoe lived with up until now?

And regarding Minako, too... The guilt and distress that tormented him had perhaps paralyzed
him. The usual Naoe who had grown accustomed to acting entirely on his good sense in order to
continue living could be called a manual puppet.

"Let me ask you: have these twenty years been hard for you...Naoe? Now that Kagetora is no
longer with us, now that his existence is somewhere far way?" Irobe questioned. "Out of sight, out
of mind: is that not so?"

"Even though he is far away, does he not live?" Naoe asked in return. "I don't know if this is true
for anyone else, but I think about him every day. More and more every day. I love him thus. Is
that not so for the others?"

"Isn't it painful?" Irobe, staring earnestly at Naoe, asked. "Isn't it painful to not have forgotten?"

"I don't want a place of refuge."

"Then you have reconciled yourself to the past?"

"..."

For a little while Naoe's gaze fell to his lap as he composed his thoughts. At length whatever he
had concluded again carved a smile onto his lips.

"I want to condemn myself in order to atone for my sins...that's simple enough, is it not, Irobe-
san?"

"..."

Naoe was speaking of Minako.

This man had assaulted the only person who had been able to offer the waters of peace and
kindness to Kagetora, wild with thirst in the midst of war. This was the past he carried. But it was
as though he had already placed those feelings of guilt in a glass showcase on display.

He stated with a look as devoid of warmth as plastic, "I am...Naoe."

Irobe found his next words slowly. "I wondered if perhaps you would be more at ease now that
Kagetora is no longer here."

Naoe's eyes lifted in response to these words. Irobe met them squarely and continued, "The one
who planted that intention in you was Kagetora. Were you not being crushed to death by others,
you would be a man who selflessly dedicates himself to the success of the mission."

"..."

"Kagetora's most overwhelming power was the ability to threaten you from your very foundations.
In order not to trample over Kagetora, you held yourself back and instead resigned yourself to
withstanding the blows. Your instinct for battle was a sleeping lion; it was Kagetora who started
the blaze. That's why...I wondered if you would be more at ease now that the existence crushing
yours is gone."

Irobe's smile was like a sigh. "...naive, wasn't I?"

"Irobe-san."

"I guess it could be said that you are someone who has truly lost to Kagetora," Irobe added, his
expression earnest.

Naoe countered, "If it were only hate, I would probably be able to forget him."

"..."

Naoe stopped.

(That is certainly true.)

If one merely hated a tyrant whose despotic rule no longer existed, one would not feel pain. When
the crushing weight on one's head disappeared, one should be more at ease. When pain became
a thing of the past, it changed into a lesson to be learned, a small piece of history.

(If it had been nothing but hate...)

Turning Irobe's words over and over in his mind, Naoe lightly shook his head and said, "I hated
him because he captivated me."

"...then you are saying that you see Kagetora as the form of your ideal?"

"Yes. Because he embodied my ideal, I was jealous."

Was that true? Naoe repeated the words silently, questioning himself. Was the ideal something
that had existed from beginning? No, that was wrong.

That Kagetora captivated him was not the reason, for he had never wanted to be Kagetora. If his
ideal was to have someone to compete against, did that not mean that it was relative? Then did
he not have an absolute ideal...?

"Naoe...?"
Still deep in thought, Naoe returned to himself and smiled.

"Irobe-san, I... The way he lived, I only thought it was beautiful for being truer than that of anyone
else."

"..."

"But nothing more than that."

Self-derision silenced him for a moment as those words left his lips. Concealing the rebellion
within, Naoe raised his head and continued, "Uesugi came this far on this own. When the crisis
fell upon us, it was he who stood before our timidity with his awesome determination. He looked
to himself for his victories. He didn't think to ask anything of anyone, and he continued onward
through everything in his path by sheer force of will. Nothing was impossible for him. That was
why everyone followed him."

"...that is true..."

"This demonstration of using more force than was necessary fascinated us. But at the time I also
gradually came to realize his other reason for relying on only himself."

"..."

"Victory through crushing others was the only way he could obtain peace of mind. He was uneasy
otherwise. Enemies and friends both...he was unsettled unless he could stand above another...
That's why..."

A pained expression crossed Naoe's face once again as he murmured these words. Were they
only wishful thinking? Was it simply because he was afraid of acknowledging his sins?

(Why do you need to think about this...Naoe?)

Kagetora probably no longer existed.

He saw it as an escape, Irobe thought. How many times had he scrutinized his relationship to
Kagetora? Irobe could see now that Kagetora was Naoe's own place of refuge.

It seemed that Naoe himself was resisting...

"I am fine, Irobe-san."

Naoe returned the smile on Irobe's lifted face. Changing the subject to brush away the words that
had been spoken, Naoe said, "Please leave the work of the onshou to us and take your time
recuperating. You've done everything up until now, so from here on Haruie and I will accomplish
the mission. Please recover from your illness quickly..."

"No... Naoe." Irobe rubbed his emaciated arms, shaking his head. "This body won't last much
longer."

"Irobe-san."

"I am also a doctor. I know my body better than anyone else. I will probably truly need to leave
everything to you from now on." So saying, Irobe rested a thin hand on Naoe's. "I put everything
in your care."

"Irobe-san."
"I have completely missed the return of the onshou these past few years. I have not put them in
place as I should. It's okay--if I should die, I will perform kanshou on an adult person and reunite
with you soon."

Naoe covered Irobe's hand with his own. "No. Please rest."

"Naoe..."

"I understand well the cutting bite of fatigue. Our spiritual powers, compared to before, have been
greatly weakened. I think that if we should perform kanshou on an adult person, the continued
abuse of our spiritual power will only serve to lessen it. If it comes to that, you should perform
taiji-kanshou and take some time to rest.

"Then are you saying that right now I am a burden to you?"

"If I am to be frank, yes. The Yami-Sengoku is becoming more and more belligerent. I believe that
it would be best for you to be fully charged to deal with what is coming upon us. Bearing the
handicap of not having you with us for a little while is much preferable to having you at half
power. So please rest to recover your powers to their full capacity, because it will be necessary."
Having bluntly stated these imperious words, Naoe's eyes suddenly softened. "Haruie and I will
cover for you, so please do not worry. Won't you have confidence in us and entrust everything to
us?"

"Naoe..."

Naoe bowed his head and added with sincerity, "You have really worked hard in this life. You
should have a little peace for yourself now, Irobe-san."

"..."

"Please rest."

From the pillows Irobe nodded his head quietly, Naoe's regard soaking into his injured body and
heart. Truly, he wanted even a little power to fight. But he thought that if Kagetora were here, he
would probably have said the same.

Irobe smiled.

"...thank you."

flourish center

Hearing his name called from the corridor behind him, Naoe turned. A girl wearing the sailor
uniform of a high school student and holding a bouquet in her hand waved at him from the
elevator and came running towards him. It was Kadowaki Ayako.

"So you came, Haruie."

"Yeah. I just got here. I saw your car parked outside."

Ayako was currently a slightly-taller-than-average 16-year-old. Sun-burnt, with wavy hair down to
her shoulders, she was the image of an energetic, charming high school student.

"How is Irobe-san? Is he doing better?"


"Yes. His face has more color. He was worried about you, so it's good that you came. He'll be
happy to see you."

"Oh, that's good. I just got here from school. It's summer vacation, but I still have supplementary
classes. I have to take five subjects on these damned hot days," Ayako complained. "It's
completely unreasonable! Running around for kanshou is horrible for my attendance record. I
have to find time to fill in the gaps, or Ayako will be in serious trouble."

"I'm doing preliminary investigations in the Miyoshi case with Nokizaru," Ayako continued.
"Hakkai said that he would contact me tomorrow. Are you going to Tokyo, Naoe?"

"No. I'm returning to Utsunomiyamap tomorrow. I'll probably contact you from there."

"I see." So saying, Ayako stared at Naoe fixedly. Naoe returned the look dubiously.

"What?"

"Why did you drive the Benz here? Are you planning to meet up with a girl or something?"

"I'm working for my brother's company as a secretary and chauffeur."

Ayako took a long hard look at Naoe. "A realtor. So this is what a monk does? Utsunomiyamap is
so far, too. Perhaps you've fallen in love with a widow?"

"Haruie."

"...you know, Naoe..." Chastened, Ayako suddenly put on a serious face. "I dreamed of Kagetora
today."

Naoe's eyes widened.

"But he was...crying."

"Crying?"

"Yeah. Kagetora was somehow still so small that you could hold him in your lap. He looked so
lonely as he cried. When I asked him what was wrong, he glared straight at me and told me,
"Because my mom isn't here. She left." Then he ran away. I didn't recognize the face, but I knew
that it was Kagetora. I wonder what it meant, that dream..."

Naoe, eyes narrowed, was silent. Ayako lightly inclined her head and gave a bitter smile.

"I'm lonely too, you know. After that dream I needed to hear Kagetora's voice so much. And
suddenly I wanted to see you."

"Why?"

"I don't know. Maybe because you're still the one who is closest to Kagetora."

Ayako shifted the bouquet in her arms to take Naoe's large hands in hers. She squeezed them
firmly.

"You're not the only one who believes. I do too."

"Haruie..."
"I believe in Kagetora. You're not alone. Cheer up. Kagetora is fine. He would not have been
killed by Nobunaga. So."

Naoe smiled and nodded wordlessly. He gently released Ayako's hands, turned quietly, and
walked away from her down the corridor.

Ayako, standing where he had left her, gazed after Naoe in sorrow.

Mirage of Blaze: Exaudi Nos


Kuwabara Mizuna
top flourish
Exaudi nos (The burden of an eternal love) Chapter 2: The Weeping Kwannon

Tokyo's Highway Four map was clogged with traffic in the vicinity of the Outer Gardensmap at
this hour. It seemed that there had been an accident. Naoe, driving towards Shinjukumap, was
stuck in the long stagnant queue of cars.

Gazing at the sunset over the forests of the Outer Gardens of the Meiji Templemap, Naoe
changed stations on his car radio. There were more people than usual on the platform of the
brightly-lit Shinanomachi Station map--it looked like there had been an evening game at Jingu
Stadiummap today.

Although there was still movement in the gangling lines, it was a fairly sluggish motion. Naoe,
looking at the passing lights of the oncoming cars in the opposite lane, which by contrast seemed
to be flowing quite rapidly, brought a cigarette to his lips and lit it.

At the click of the lighter he unexpectedly recalled what Irobe had asked him.

--"I had wondered if you would be more at ease now that Kagetora is no longer here."

(...at ease, huh?)

Naoe thought about that. Did he not feel he was more at ease than before, this self that lived
without Kagetora, now that the "pressure" had disappeared? He had been released, but it
seemed that he wasn't even a little relieved.

(--but this is fine, isn't it?)

Naoe shook his head to distract himself, hating himself for once more descending into the
endless spiral of self-condemnation. Wasn't he tired of all the regret and recrimination, now that
he had stopped questioning himself so relentlessly?

(It no longer matters, does it?)

--you alone I shall never forgive for eternity...!

Kagetora's voice, rending through Naoe and resonating in his mind even after his rebirth. Naoe
closed his eyes beneath drawn eyebrows.

The number of cigarettes in the ashtray increased steadily--those unpalatable, noxious cigarettes
which did nothing but tease at his lungs.

He could not help the regrets and shame of the past. He had never once felt any comfort or ease
in the present.
Perhaps he somehow did not have any significant consciousness of crime towards Minako. Could
it be that he had never carried any consciousness of wrongdoing towards her at all?

And yet, even now his jealousy of her remained. Why at that time had Minako been so necessary
to Kagetora? Why had he refused to relinquish that woman who had carried no power at all?

(It's your fault, isn't it...?)

This was something that he understood.

He had not been Kagetora's peace, then. Kagetora had only wanted a place of comfort. No, he
had always wanted such a place. Could Kagetora not have found some small sliver of
forgiveness in his heart for Naoe even at the very end?

(An antagonistic mind...)

If he had not been someone like that.

If he had not been someone who had wanted to gain victory over Kagetora, to surpass him; if he
had taken Kagetora as he was and offered peace to him like a gift-wrapped parcel... Yes, if he
could have been someone like Minako...

He shouldn't have backed Kagetora into a corner...

Could he not have turned away from the jealousy and sadism that had settled in his heart towards
Kagetora? When that overwhelming power which had always triumphed over everything had
begun to falter, he had never moved against it. To the contrary, hadn't he prodded the exhausted,
weakening Kagetora with such drivel as "running away is cowardice" to purposely drive him into a
corner? Looking down at the vulnerable Kagetora, he had allowed himself to embrace the
pleasant satisfaction of superiority over him. He had known the words of revolt Kagetora had
wanted to voice, but had deliberately ignored them. "Such feelings have no more substance than
dew," he had declared.

Yes, he had embraced the jealousy within his heart, but it wasn't as if he had given Kagetora no
warning at all.

If Kagetora had been one who had not been at peace unless he was crushing someone beneath
him, he would naturally have feared a counterattack. Then was it not quite plausible that Kagetora
had been wary of Naoe taking advantage of his weakness? Peace of mind, then, was out of the
question.

So was it such a mystery that he had sought his "place of true peace" from someone other than
Naoe?

Then the cause was Naoe's own antagonistic spirit--he could not blame Kagetora. This was
called paying for one's own mistakes.

Why could he not have been more compassionate?

Then in the end, didn't his current pain and all of the rest have their roots in his own egoism?

(It doesn't matter anymore...does it...?)

Naoe muttered to himself tiredly.


No matter how many times he tortured himself with the agony of regret, Kagetora was not going
to appear before him, so what was the point? Was there no penitence available to him? Was
there nothing he could do to atone?

(He is no longer anywhere...)

Striking the steering wheel sharply, Naoe murmured in a voice like a moan, "...There is nothing...I
can do..."

--you alone, for eternity...!

He would never forgive, that is.

That vow, echoing again and again in his ears, had been the only words Kagetora had uttered in
his final moment. Tears and rage and contempt and hatred and...

His smile was so distant...

He could not remember Kagetora's smiling expression no matter how hard he tried. Since that
day, oh where had he lost it?

And who had snatched away Kagetora's smile? He had caused his own anguish. He had driven
him away. He had wounded him so terribly.

(Your love is...a sham...)

Staring hard at the swarm of tail-lights blurring across his windshield, Naoe pressed his cigarette
into the ashtray.

(Enough excuses...stop it now...)

Even if he did this until his body wasted away, it was a "regret" that could not be exhausted.

A purple-scarlet sunset enfolded the stadium. Another full electric train slipped away from the
platform, carrying a crowd of commuters homeward.

flourish center

Tokyo, West Shinjukumap, seven o'clock in the evening. Taxis were queued and waiting in the
upper entranceway of a brick-colored hotel facing a triangular building.

The conference, it seemed, had ended a little while before. Waves of people were flowing into the
lobby from the conference hall.

Naoe had arrived at the hotel ten minutes before the agreed-upon time. He had told his brother
Teruhiro, here today for another conference for real estate brokers, that he would wait in the
lobby.

The oldest son of the Tachibana family ran a real estate agency. Though like his two younger
brothers he also carried a monk's qualifications (only that, and you can do whatever you wish
afterwards, had been their parents' sole decree) he had quickly entrusted the inheritance of the
temple to Yoshihiro, the second son, and became a real estate agent. He had now established
his own family within the temple grounds and lived there with his wife and son.

Yoshiaki, the third son, usually did the work of the temple in addition to working at his brother's
company. Since it was convenient to seek employment with relatives, he acted as his brother's
secretary and chauffeur, and sometimes accompanied him on business trips.

It seemed that the conference had ended a little earlier, but his brother had not yet appeared.
When the stream of people had abated, he finally walked out.

"Sorry about making you wait, Yoshiaki."

Teruhiro walked towards him from the elevator, his tall body fortified by a suit of deep blue. He
was about the same height as his younger brother Yoshiaki, a young man with a rather
handsome appearance (older than Yoshiaki by twelve years) who gave the exact impression of
being the proprietor of a company.

"I ran into an old friend, and we talked for a while. Sorry about that."

"Is it okay for us to go?"

"Yes. We have our next appointment. Shall we?"

So saying, he lightly clapped Yoshiaki on the back and headed for the parking lot.

The destination indicated by his brother was a traditional Japanese restaurant in Akasakamap. It
was a favorite haunt of his brother, and Naoe had also been there many times. Tonight, it
seemed, they were not going to talk to death about work.

"Someone who wants to meet me...?" Naoe asked, surprised.

Teruhiro sat down with a thump in the seat behind him and loosened his necktie slightly. "Yes,"
he replied. "A friend I met recently asked to consult with us after he heard of our temple. After
listening to him, I thought that it would be better for him to talk to a pro like you firsthand instead
of coming to a real estate agent like me."

"Is it a matter that must involve me?"

"It's probably something that can only be resolved with an exorcism."

There was a somewhat sheepish expression on the reflection of Teruhiro's face in the rear-view
mirror.

"Probably a possession by an evil spirit, is what he said."

"An evil spirit?"

"Yes. I don't have much of a spirit sense, so even if he asked me I wouldn't know what to do. You
have a considerable amount of spirit sense; even our father often admired it. Won't you take a
look? He would feel much more at ease even if that's all you do. You can decide afterwards
whether you want to carry it home for an exorcism."

"Carry it home...? It's a physical article?"

"Yes. It seems to be an antique piece of artwork that he recently acquired."

Teruhiro looked over at Yoshiaki in the rear-view mirror.

"Please. He's a work associate, so I can't exactly just refuse..."


"Establishing your connections?"

"Sorry. I'll thank you properly afterwards."

Yoshiaki sighed. In the Tachibana family he deferred to others, and in particular never defied the
wishes of his parents and eldest brother. "All right," he answered, turning the steering wheel to
the right.

"Where did you go today?"

"The hospital, to inquire after an acquaintance...."

"Ah, your mentor from your high school days?"

That was the way he had explained Irobe to his family.

"So earnest. Has he really aided you so much?"

"Yes. He really helped me with his kind advice..."

"I see."

Teruhiro leaned back into the leather seat, looking out of the window at the clump of super
skyscrapers and thinking of the past.

"It was thanks to this teacher, then, wasn't it."

"Nii-san..."

"You were really emotionally unstable when you were little, and Father and Mother couldn't have
been more worried about you. I saw the whole thing, you know. At that time I couldn't have even
imagined that you could become such a level-headed man."

Yoshiaki closed his mouth. Teruhiro smiled quietly, then put his arms together and gave a low
laugh. "He achieved what I couldn't have in a lifetime. But who would've thought that you'd
become the profligate son who stays out all night having fun?"

"Onii-san..."

"But that's fine. Father, Mother, and I don't have to worry anymore. It sure beats before.
Everything's fine," Teruhiro murmured with another smile.

He had known the young Yoshiaki: an expressionless child, a puppet housing a soul in mourning
who had succumbed almost immediately to a sudden impulse for suicide. Teruhiro had tried to
intervene in the moment he had raised the knife to his heart, and Yoshiaki had inadvertently
stabbed Teruhiro's arm. The scar remained even now. Teruhiro would never forget Yoshiaki's
expression in that moment, the wide eyes in an exhausted face strained to breaking by
indignation and desolation. Seeing the blood flowing from his brother's wound, he had released
his grip on the knife amid silent tears and sunk to his knees in apology.

To help Yoshiaki, their father had decided that it was impossible for him to go to school, and so
he would study the Buddhist teachings instead. At this time he was around eight years old. This
was why among the three brothers Yoshiaki had the most knowledge of Buddhism, since he had
been a monk and pursued those teachings the longest.

Even so Yoshiaki's emotional instability had not been so simply cured...


At length he had gone to school, and later joined his brother's company...

His parents had told him that no matter where he was or how he changed, he would always be
their child, and their love for him never wavered. Yoshiaki knew that only his family's support had
gotten him to this point.

"Since you have time for pleasure, you should take it. You've become a terrible untonsured monk,
haven't you?" Teruhiro said, chuckling deep within his throat.

Yoshiaki smiled, rolling his eyes, before returning his gaze to the road.

The light of an orange sunset flashed between the buildings, and Tokyo Tower map came into
view.

flourish center

They arrived soon after at the restaurant. The plump proprietress, wearing traditional Japanese
robes, led them inside and seated them at the first tatami in the interior room.

"Tachibana-san, I'm very sorry for intruding into your valuable time."

Their guest was a bespectacled man around sixty years of age. Slightly sun-burnt, with a long,
thin face, he wore a suit with a slightly twisted collar. When he opened his mouth, his gold tooth
was terribly conspicuous. He was a man for whom it seemed that farm clothing rather than a
business suit would have been rather more becoming.

"Not at all. We apologize as well for making you wait," Teruhiro courteously greeted him. "This is
my younger brother, the Buddhist priest in my family."

"I'm Yoshiaki. It is a pleasure to meet you."

"It is I who should say so"[1], the 'man of the soil' bowed his head deeply.

Teruhiro turned towards Naoe. "Yoshiaki, this is Akai-san, of whom I spoke to you earlier. He
manages a golf course in Ibarakimap.

"I am Akai." The man again bowed his head deeply. "It is an honor to meet you."

Judging from his slight accent, this man indeed seemed to be from the coast. It had recently
become popular to turn mountain forest land into golf courses, and he had probably done the
same.

After a bit of small talk, they quickly came to the point. Akai pushed his tray to the side and drew
forth a cloth-wrapped box which had been placed to one side next to the sho bottle.

"Tachibana-san, the object that I hoped you could examine is this...".

So saying, Akai unfastened the cloth, revealing a box of paulownia wood. He untied the string
binding the box across its center and opened the lid. Something was enclosed in a spongy
substance within, which Akai carefully peeled away.

"This is..."

The object that lay revealed took both Teruhiro and Naoe's breath away.
It was the ceramic figure of a Kwannon.

He understood at a glance that it was an object of some age. The glaze had come off in some
places, and the hem of her robes had crumbled away. The Kwannon was seated on something
that looked like a stone chair. Her dress appeared to have been white at one point.

"She is...holding a child..."

She was cradling a baby near her stomach.

"She seems to be a very affectionate mother."

Naoe observed quietly while Teruhiro examined the statue here and there. Akai spoke timidly,
peering into Naoe's face, "What do you think?"

"When...did you acquire this?"

"...about a year ago," Akai replied haltingly.

"I saw this at the warehouse of a friend who is a dealer of antique art in Nagasaki, and he sold it
to me. I was just about to purchase a Buddhist altar, and I thought that it would be wonderful to
have this beautiful Kwannon statue. Since it suited so perfectly, I asked my friend to let me have
it."

But when Akai brought it home, strange events began to occur.

"The Kwannon...sobs?"

"Yes."

As Akai explained, it was always on a rainy night. Around three o'clock in the morning, what
sounded like a person weeping could be heard from the Buddhist altar. And it hadn't been just
once. It had happened many times, and all the members of Akai's family had heard it.

One night, the incredulous Akai had gone with his family to ascertain the source of the weeping.
In full light the sound had stopped, but in candlelight they had unmistakably seen that the voice
had come from the Buddhist altar.

"The source of the weeping was this Kwannon statue."

Both Teruhiro and Naoe's eyes widened.

"It couldn't be..."

"No, it's true. What's more, there were tears flowing from her eyes."

"Tears..."

Naoe peered dubiously into the face of the statue. It was true that on Kwannon's cheeks there
was something resembling tracks of liquid. Teruhiro tilted his head.

"The light was uncertain. Perhaps the appearance of the glaze..."

"No. They were real tears. If you touched them with your finger and tasted them, they were salty.
They were human tears."
"..."

Teruhiro and Naoe exchanged glances.

"Actually, before I asked you to take a look, I brought someone from the temple to see it. He told
me that it contained an evil spirit. He burned incense to exorcise it, but even afterwards the
Kwannon wept. My family is afraid, and wanted to take it to a temple somewhere. And ever since
this Kwannon was given into my custody, there has been trouble in the management of my golf
course, and the stocks have been dropping. I don't know what to do now."

Akai spoke timidly, asking earnestly, "Do you think...that there really is an evil spirit here?"

"Yoshiaki..."

"..."

Naoe glared at the Kwannon, but lifted his head in a short while. "I wonder, when you first opened
the box containing this Kwannon, if something was sealed inside... Would you happen to
know...?"

"Sealed? Well...when they first opened it members of my family found it in some soil, I
believe...but the box was replaced.

"It wasn't in this one...?"

"Yes, the old box it arrived in was probably disposed of."

"...does that have anything to do with it?"

"..."

Naoe thought it over for a little while, and at length raised his head.

"Would it be possible for us to borrow this statue of Kwannon for a little while?"

"Please. It doesn't matter to me," Akai replied immediately. It seemed that he had wanted the
opportunity to hand this troublesome object off to someone else for a while. His face suddenly
brightened. "If you would perform a service for her, we are fine with whatever you decide. We'll
leave it up to you."

"I understand."

So saying, Naoe withdrew a rosary of pearl beads from his jacket's inner pocket and wrapped it
around the Kwannon before placing it carefully once more into its packing.

"I will take it into my custody," he answered. Noticing the concern with which Teruhiro looked over
at him, Naoe smiled. "It's okay. It is not really possessed by an evil spirit."

"Oh?"

"Yes. I will take it for a little while to examine it more carefully..."

"I'll leave it to you," he said, and Naoe bowed his head in assent. Having successfully passed off
that burdensome object to another, Akai suddenly became much more cheerful.
"I can finally relax now. Thank you, Tachibana-san. I will pick up the tab for everything tonight, so
let's enjoy ourselves to the utmost."

[1] Literally, the introductions go like this:


Teruhiro: This my younger brother Yoshiaki, the Buddhist priest in my family.
Naoe: I am Yoshiaki. My brother is always looking after me.
Akai: It is I who should said say so...

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Mirage of Blaze: Exaudi Nos
Kuwabara Mizuna
top flourish
Exaudi nos (The burden of an eternal love) Chapter 3: Santa Maria

After meeting with Akai, Naoe and Teruhiro returned to Utsunomiyamap.

The next day, Naoe was seated on the floor near the dais of the spacious main temple hall of the
Tachibana family, enveloped in his priest's garb: the traditional jikitotsu with a summer-weight
gojou-kesa across his left shoulder. He had already been there for nearly an hour, his hands
pressed together in prayer, his eyes closed, facing the Kwannon statue he had received from
Akai yesterday. He had started detailed spiritual investigation into it immediately.

"How's it going? Have you found anything?"

It was the voice of his older brother, Teruhiro. It seemed that he had been worried enough to stop
by and peep in before heading for the office.

"Nii-san..."

"I guess we're not going to have a Buddhist memorial service today, huh? It looks like our old
man is heading for Naramap the day after tomorrow; are you going too?"

"Nara? Is he going to visit the Hasemap head temple?"

"That's what he said. You haven't heard?"

"No..." Naoe shook his head and laid down his hands. Their Kougenji was a branch temple of
Shingon-shu Buzan. Visits to their headquarters at the Hase temple in Nara for Buddhist mass
and meetings took place many times a year. Yoshiaki sometimes went as their father's sole
companion (and chauffeur, it could also be said).

"So. How is our Lady Kwannon? Have you figured out anything?"

Teruhiro walked over and sat down next to Yoshiaki. Yoshiaki took a long, deep breath and once
again swept his eyes over the Kwannon statue.

"I've been looking at it since yesterday, and...it seems that in actuality this is not Kwannon."

"Not Kwannon? What do you mean?"

"Look." Naoe reached out his hand to pick up the statue.

"This Buddhist-style ornamentation trailing from her neck--does it not look like it was designed in
the shape of a cross?"

"A cross... I suppose, now that you mention it, it's not unlike. It looks like a rosary, doesn't it?"

"It is a rosary."

"I see," Teruhiro said in a lower voice, looking at Naoe. "Then, in other words..."

"Yes." Naoe nodded and stated plainly, "This is what is called a Maria Kwannon."

"Maria...Kwannon...?"

Astonished, Teruhiro fixed his gaze once more upon the statue. It was true that she wore the
rosary used by the followers of Christianity. And cradled at her breast, the child...

"Then this is a statue of Maria?"

"Yes. This statue of Kwannon as an affectionate mother is, in truth, Maria counterfeiting
Kwannon. Which means that the child she holds in her arms is Jesus Christ."

"Maria Kwannon, you said...?"

Teruhiro crossed his arms, searching his memories.

"During the Edo period, Christianity was banned as a proscribed religion, so underground
Japanese Christians created Maria statues that were imitations of Kwannon statues and secretly
worshipped them...are you speaking of that?"

"Akai-san said that it came from a merchant in Nagasakimap, right?"

In the early days of the Edo period, most of the Christian missionaries were in the Nagasaki area.

"I'm certain that it was an object of worship used by followers of Christianity who went
underground to avoid oppression and persecution by the Shogunate.

"I see. So it's a statue of Maria."

Teruhiro's expression became serious, and he turned his gaze to the ceramic statue of mother
and child.
"During my student days I learned a little about the history of Japan's religions. It seemed that
during the Edo Period, Christianity was horribly persecuted."

It was said that at its height the Christian population at that time had reached a million people.
The Shogunate regarded the propaganda activities of the Christian missionaries with suspicion;
they saw it as a joint plan with Portugal and Spain to expand their territories, and so took political
measures to suppress Christianity. In the midst of the storm of persecution, missionaries and
adherents were executed and deported without mercy. Many were forcibly converted, but some
endured the persecution, refusing to relinquish their religion, and were martyred.

During this period of suppression, missionaries and worshippers were subjected to unspeakably
cruel tortures. Many, unable to bear the atrocious extremes, were converted and confessed the
names of their fellow Christians. Those who had thus abandoned the Christian teachings were
called "the fallen". Missionaries who had done so were called "fallen missionaries".

After the establishment of isolationism, the Shogunate took religious censuses and continued to
carry out surveillance on Christianity.

"This statue of Kwannon must be something which belonged to those who maintained their faith
in the midst of that."

"...yes, so it seems."

Naoe set the Kwannon statue down in his lap.

"But it is just an ordinary Kwannon bodhisattva statue unless you notice the cross decoration at
her breast. The one who gave this to Akai-san probably didn't notice either."

"You saw it. Even though you're not a specialist."

"I don't think I would have seen it with just these eyes."

"With just these eyes...?" Teruhiro pointed to his own right eye.

"I am speaking of my mind's eye."

"Ah."

Naoe smiled.

"Akai-san said that this Kwannon statue cried, right? But not because it is possessed by an evil
spirit. If there is no spirit, then that which possesses it is human emotion. A very large
concentration of feelings attached to the statue. Perhaps those of its former owners..."

"Feelings...? Like hatred?"

Naoe shook his head.

"It is not capable of feeling malice. I don't think that it is something which would harm anyone.
Perhaps, because of these feelings, the statue itself transformed into an embodiment of
mourning."

"An embodiment of mourning.... So it is a ghost?"

"Well, technically, the term 'ghost' is a rather faulty expression, but... Human emotion can become
attached to objects and tools, turning them into fantastic things. This statue of Kwannon cries
because of the amount of emotion that have coagulated here."

"But though you said that it inflicts no harm, Akai-san mentioned that his stock shares are
slumping...?"

"It's probably a coincidence. Akai-san has merely tied those bad circumstances and this Kwannon
statue together. In actuality, they are unrelated."

"I see..."

Teruhiro gazed at the statue in his younger brother's lap with interest.

"People are always quick to blame bad circumstances on others. They raise themselves up on a
pedestal...."

"Well, I do understand Akai-san's feelings as well..." Naoe gently pushed up the edge of the
sleeve of his vestments and placed the Kwannon statue once more upon the floor. "When a
Buddhist priest cries, it's certainly thought of as something out of the ordinary. I think that it's not
impossible that it saw something unfortunate.

"Why does this statue of Maria cry? Do you know the reason?"

Naoe was silent.

After a moment, Naoe murmured in a lowered voice, "It feels such...deep regret for something."

"Regret?"

"A feeling of sin and regret stronger and deeper than grief."

"..."

"To whom did this belong? What was that sin? The regret that lingers even now? These things I
have not yet grasped. But judging from the strength of the feelings that created the manifestation
of mourning remaining even now within this statue, it was probably a significant event...but
without going into further investigation I don't know."

Teruhiro noticed that Yoshiaki's expression as he said this became terribly weighted. It seemed
that the emotions attached to the Kwannon had touched a sympathetic nerve.

"What do you plan to do with this Maria statue?"

"..."

Yoshiaki sighed lightly, expression returning to normal, and looked at his brother.

"Let me put my skills into investigating it for a little bit more and see. It will not do any harm. I
haven't yet put much power into it."

"..."

His brother's smile seemed touched with worry. He thought of that expression on Yoshiaki's face.
He didn't really want Yoshiaki to be involved any more deeply, but... he couldn't say it.

"Okay. I'll ask Akai-san for a little more time. Well, he probably doesn't care at all whether it's
returned to him or not. For the time being."
"Please."

"Yoshiaki," Teruhiro said, "tonight after dinner, let's go to the bar on Miyazono Street that we
always used to visit. I want to go listen to their live jazz, so why don't you come with me?"

"That sounds good," Yoshiaki replied with a smile. "Your treat?"

"Hey, what's with that? I have a family to support!" Laughing, Teruhiro walked towards the door.

"Yes, and I help you with your work and assist at the office when you need me. Not to mention
the two or three favors you've asked lately..."

"This again, huh?"

"It seems that recently Utsunomiya's female college students have been relocating in unusually
large numbers. They pretend to look at apartment information, but these young ladies actually
come to look at something else. When you're not there, they quickly return home. Whether or not
they come for apartment information, you really shouldn't mess around in that secret room, you
know."

"...nii-san."

"I'm kidding. Please continue contributing to the prosperity of the Tachibana Real Estate. I'm
counting on you."

Teruhiro left with those words. Naoe's shocked expression transformed into a bitter smile after a
moment.

And then his gaze moved to the statue of Maria besides him.

In the summer light flowing into the room, the Maria Kwannon holding her child in her arms
seemed to smile with even more innocence and tranquility.

And yet, what were the heavy feelings of regret enfolded by that ceramic body? Another's feelings
of guilt which caused Maria to weep. Whose were they?

(--Perhaps someone was betrayed...)

It felt as though his own emotions had been torn from within him and laid bare before his eyes;
Naoe avoided looking straight at it, but neither could he turn his face away.

These were the feelings someone had left behind.

Disgusted, Naoe stretched out his hand and gently caressed the face of the Maria statue.
Through his fingertips he felt simultaneously the pleasantly cool surface of the statue and the
hopelessness of deep anguished emotions...

And further, the resonance of even stronger identical emotions.

Naoe's eyebrows drew together, and his lips tightened

flourish center

That night the Maria Kwannon appeared in his dreams.


As Akai had said, she was weeping. She made no noise. Two lines of tears flowed silently down
those cool cheeks.

And then the form of the Maria Kwannon transformed into that of a flesh-and-blood woman.

It was the form of a person Naoe knew well. The graceful body, those white, slender arms
enfolding the Christ while tears flowed down her face, belonged to Minako.

Naoe kneeled. Just as he was about to called out to her, Naoe's breath stopped. He took in the
face of the Christ she cradled in her arms.

It was Kagetora

He didn't know whether Kagetora was asleep or dead. His tired, wounded body was stretched out
in the care of Maria. His face was inclined slightly, looking out from her arms. ...it seemed as if he
had just been taken down from the cross.

He was dead, wasn't he?

Minako gazed at Kagetora with such gentle eyes. But from those eyes flowed two trails of tears.

"--Is he dead...?" asked Naoe, stepping towards her. The Virgin Mary cried silently. The pale
Christ did not move. He was...not breathing.

--will he not open his eyes?

It was as if she cradled a baby in her arms.

Minako's face held such deep love.

She was a woman who had never held any power. She had been wise but had never made a
display of that intelligence, had never emphasized her own existence. She was one who had hid
the strength of her heart, nestling closely behind someone and silently watching over that person.

Her eyes were beautiful.

But they were different from Kagetora's. They did not hold that intense purity which had frozen
anyone it gazed upon, which had scorched with its overwhelming power. ...Her completely gentle
dreaming gaze had calmed like the sea in spring.

Those eyes were still fixed upon Kagetora.

With a love as if for her own child.

Weeping all the while...

Naoe reached out his hand. But he could not seem to reach them.

Who was it that had killed him?

Look well. You were the one who drove him without mercy, who wounded him again and again
until he finally died. He will no longer breath; he will not open his eyes. Tired and scarred, he had
finally sought solace in death.

Who had driven him to that end?


Wasn't he the one who had committed murder?

(I loved him...)

It was too late to say that to anyone. That declaration full of pride.

He let fall the extended hand. No one would take a hand which had inflicted such pain. The one
who had committed murder was himself. Though he loved Kagetora.

(But that love has become an excuse...!)

Naoe's hand, closed into a fist, fell to the ground. Then...

The Kagetora within Maria's arms slowly raised his eyelids.

Those pale eyelids which he had thought would never open again...

And then Kagetora looked straight at him.

Naoe stopped breathing.

Kagetora slowly raised his slightly-trembling hand from the ground. He quietly extended it towards
Naoe.

Naoe opened his fist and reached out once more towards Kagetora. Kagetora's hand was cold as
ceramic to his touch.

Naoe took Kagetora's hand and chastely kissed the back of it. Kagetora calmly raised himself. His
bare feet touched the ground. He stood up slowly.

Naoe looked up at Kagetora. Kagetora, with the cold solemnity of the statue of a saint in a
church, was very beautiful. And then he looked down at Naoe with those eyes.

He forcibly pulled Kagetora towards him by the hand, held him around the waist, and recklessly
embraced him. Kagetora looked down at him silently. He didn't stop.

He threw Kagetora down to the marble floor and stripped away his loincloth. He pressed against
the supple body of the man thus exposed without thought.

Beneath his chest Kagetora exhaled a hot painful sigh and soaked the cold sheets with his sweat.

He didn't know whose lips uttered the scream of delight.

Before the Virgin Mary he violated the Messiah.

A terrible blasphemer. With no road to walk that could save him.

The only path left was the road down into hell.

Maria wept silently.

Did she pity her own child?

Or...
Did she pity the one who had betrayed him...?

flourish center

He awoke abruptly.

It was still dark. A glance at the clock told him that it was still the depths of the night, a little past
two. He had probably had too much to drink with his brother last night. He had thrown himself into
bed without even changing his shirt.

It was his own sweat, not Kagetora's, which soaked the bedsheets. His breathing was rough and
wild. He throbbed violently.

Why had he seen a dream like that?

A chill ran down Naoe's spine as he felt the terrible rawness remaining at the tips of his fingers.
The muscles of his sweaty hands were taut, the skin of the palm of his hands felt as if they had
been sucked.

It had been such a monstrous dream. Beyond terrible.

He was the traitor who had disgraced the Messiah.

Naoe realized that it was a reflection of his deep subconscious which had shown him his true self.

(Traitor...)

That was not true, he told himself. He had never betrayed Kagetora. He had been an ally until the
end. He had fought with him. He was not the coward who had sold Jesus for thirty silver coins.

(I am not a coward...)

For the sake of his desire to monopolize, for the sake of his egoism, he had snatched away
Kagetora's beloved while pretending to be his friend. He had laughingly driven Kagetora into a
corner. How, then, could he say that he was not a coward?

Naoe seized his forehead, crouching on his bed.

There was nothing that he could do...

He left his room and walked down into the pitch dark main temple. The sound of insects
reverberated in the quiet temple hall. Taking only the fluorescent lamp on the dais of the Buddhist
image, Naoe stood before the raiban. The Maria Kwannon was enshrined at the center of the
dais, beneath the feet of the Dainichi Buddha.

Naoe stepped up to the dais. He picked up the Maria Kwannon he had placed there; the
sensation of pleasant coolness brought to mind the feeling of Kagetora's skin beneath his fingers.

(Because of this....)

He had had a dream like that...

Which had probably been provoked by the feelings of regret infusing the statue.

The Maria statue gazed at her child with never-changing tenderness. Naoe stroked it gently.
And beneath his fingertips, he encountered a sensation he recognized only now. On the back of
the Maria statue were scratches. It was not an ordinary wound.

(This is...)

Turning the statue over, Naoe saw a pattern of scratches where the glaze had fallen off. The
worn appearance of the statue, it was now evident, was intentional; something sharp had been
used to etch those scratches into the statue.

(Words...?)

From what he could see, it was probably composed of some sort of alphabet.

(This is...)

"...ss"

Naoe was startled by a change in the statue.

And then he saw it.

Something was shining from the eyes of the statue he held in his hands.

(Tears...)

Yes, from the eyes of a ceramic statue which should have held no moisture, a drop of water
oozed and overflowed. Naoe's eyes opened wide. The drop of water flowed down Maria's cheek.

The Maria Kwannon quietly wept.

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Mirage of Blaze: Exaudi Nos
Kuwabara Mizuna
top flourish
Exaudi nos (The burden of an eternal love) Chapter 4: The Man Who Did Not Become a Saint
There was no sign of the third son at the Tachibana breakfast table the next morning.

"Yoshiaki...?" Before going to work, the eldest son, Teruhiro, had come to his parents' home to
speak to his mother, Harue.

"He said that he was 'going out' quite early this morning and left before everyone else. He went
out with you last night, right? He didn't tell you anything about leaving first?"

"Well..." Teruhiro mumbled while drinking his coffee. "Speaking of which, Father said that he was
going to the head temple tomorrow, right? Hmm, that's too bad. He probably won't be able to
make it back today."

"Won't make it back? Is he going that far again?"

"He was at our house this morning," Teruhiro told his aproned mother, putting on an innocent
expression. "He said that he was going to Nagasakimap."

"Nagasaki!"

"Yes."

"Nagasaki--on Kyuushuu? He departed for somewhere that far away without even saying a single
word! Why Nagasaki, all of a sudden...!"

"Mmm--... Probably for some work I asked him to do," Teruhiro replied nonchalantly.

"Oh, but that's inconvenient. If Yoshiaki isn't here there'll be no one to go with your father.
Yoshihiro is in training and won't be back until the weekend... And why is Yoshiaki going,
anyway? To do something that he couldn't even tell his parents about? In any case, Teruhiro,
haven't you been pressuring Yoshiaki a bit too much with work lately? He's been running all over
the place!

"Mother...it's okay, you really don't have to worry so much. He is twenty-four now, you know."
Teruhiro gave an ironic smile. Although their mother usually adopted a laissez-faire attitude
towards them, Yoshiaki was the exception; strangely, she was prone to worrying about him at
random. "All right. I'll accompany Father. I haven't taken a vacation for a while, so I'll go get some
fresh air at Hasemap.

"Teruhiro!"

"Mother, Yoshiaki is fine." Draining his coffee, Teruhiro set his cup down on the table and smiled
soothingly. "He's a grown-up now. Let's let him do what he wants. It's okay. Wherever he goes,
this will be the home that returns to."

"..."

Harue's eyes widen slightly. At length she sighed lightly and sat down in the chair facing Teruhiro.

"That's true, isn't it. Yoshiaki is already twenty-four."

Harue seemed to think it over. This son who had so racked their nerves until recently, whom they
had held onto for dear life, now wore the face of a grown man. His exterior age finally matched
the strange precocious maturity he had carried even in childhood.

"He is no longer a child, is he."


"Yes...truly."

Teruhiro gazed at the early morning sunlight flowing in from the bay windows.

"...he will be home tomorrow."

flourish center

Naoe flew to Nagasaki by plane that afternoon. He had contacted both Akai and the antique art
dealer who had given the Maria Kwannon statue to him. He had come to call on the old merchant
house which had turned up the Kwannon statue.

From the airport, Naoe headed straight for his destination on foot. It was the Yanase family, a
merchant house dealing in silk thread with a lineage stretching back to the Edo Period, who had
discovered the Kwannon statue in their storehouse. He arrived at the Yanase family's residence
in Nagasaki City around an hour after he left the airport.

The residence was built near the hilly section of town where the buildings bore marks of foreign
influence, at the base of the hill where the ground was just beginning to rise. A wall enclosed the
mansion and a garden with luxuriant green foliage. The storehouse in question was behind the
main wing of the house.

"Welcome, and thank you for coming all this way to see us."

Naoe was greeted warmly by Yanase Taizou, father of Yanase Ichirou, who was currently the
head of the family. Taizou had formerly been on the teaching staff, but was now retired and spent
every day at his leisure among the flowers and shrubs in the garden, which was thus perfectly
maintained.

Naoe had called ahead before the visit. He had explained about the Maria Kwannon roughly.
Even without going into too much detail, Taizou had grasped the main point. After he had shown
what he had discovered about the Kwannon statue's age, they sat down on a veranda bench
facing the garden. Naoe placed the Maria statue down in the space between them. After gazing
carefully at it for a little while, Yanase began to speak.

"...actually, after we had given it to Naitou-san, we discovered a record of the Kwannon statue's
origin."

Naitou was the antique art dealer from whom Akai had received the Kwannon statue.

"We found that there was a second layer at the bottom of the box in which this Kwannon was
placed. We were going to use the box for kindling, and when we broke it apart, we found the
bottom plank which contained writing about the origin of the statue."

A girl who appeared to be the Yanase's granddaughter presented glasses of cold barley tea to
the two. Before she left, she paused and asked Naoe, "Then you already knew that this Kwannon
was a statue of Maria?"

"We only found out recently. ...after it had passed to another person from Naitou-san--and now,
strangely, having been passed on once more, it has come back to us. When we found that it
wasn't Kwannon, we were worried... we were wondering where it had ended up," Yanase said
frankly, exhaling, and then smiled.

"What was written there?"


"Let me show you."

Yanase brought out a cloth-wrapped board from within his rooms to show Naoe.

"This is..."

"On this old 50-centimeter board are words written in ink. Here and there are parts that are
blurred, but you can still make them out. It said that this was a memory-bearing Buddha which
belonged to one called Uegusa Souuemon," Yanase explained in a quiet voice.

"Uegusa...? Then it belonged to an ancestor of this house?"

"Yes."

"What kind of a person was he, this Uegusa?"

"Actually, Uesuga was not his original name. It was a Japanese name given to him by the
Shogunate."

"Japanese name? Then..."

"His true name was Ernando Torabas. It was written that he was originally a Jesuit missionary."

"Originally...a missionary..."

Naoe's eyes widened slightly, and Yanase nodded.

"Although he didn't write down many details about his life, it seems that he was one who had
abandoned his faith--what was called a 'converted Christian'."

"..."

Naoe's expression turned grave. Though it had seemed that this Maria Kwannon had belonged to
underground Christians, that was not the case at all.

Still, he was not surprised. Was this something he had anticipated?

"I see. So the owner...was a converted Christian."

The beginning of the Seventeenth Century. In Japan, it was the period of a tempest of
persecution against Christianity by the Tokugawa Shogunate. Since at that time Nagasaki was
the center of propagation of Christianity, the persecution concentrated here had been extremely
violent.

The blood of countless Christians had flowed in the midst of violent persecution and oppression.
Many missionaries who had crossed the wide ocean to Japan from distant foreign countries with
the passionate intention of spreading the Christian teachings had been captured by the
Shogunate, under which they endured unspeakably cruel tortures and were finally martyred.

Rape, water torture, branding, severing of fingers... All the atrocities that could be devised by
man, done in the name of the Shogunate and Shogun.

But throughout the unimaginable, indescribable agony of their corporeal bodies, many
missionaries and believers held onto their faith even unto their last breath. They never yielded to
the madness of those inhuman acts, instead etching the proof of the absolute existence in which
they believed in their own blood. That fierce purity, that fervent piety....
But in the shadow of the glory of their martyrdom were the far more numerous who abandoned
their faith. Those who could not endure the torture and those who had no other choice in order to
save their companions...

In the midst of the missionaries were also those who, after having abandoned their teachings,
turned to the Shogunate and became "Christian police detectives", aiding in the capture of other
Christians and participating in the persecution.

They were the dark side of the martyrs who had gained eternal glory...

There were many of these apostates and traitors.

"..."

The priest who had been the owner of this Kwannon statue, Torabas--how had he been
converted? There was no record. Neither did they know his circumstances after abandoning his
faith.

Perhaps he had been one who had worked for the Shogunate as a 'Christian police detective'.

He had written the words on the board in the final year of his life, at age forty. In his last years he
had had the Kwannon statue made by a potter in Hiradomap to be his memory-bearing Buddha.
The potter had also been an apostate; he had received his baptism from the former Torabas. In
his last years, to have the Maria Kwannon statue made had been Torabas' only request.

(Then these memories...)

Naoe realized the reason for the Kwannon statue's tears.

(...are the confessions of sin...of one who had forsaken his faith.)

He had written those words on the bottom board. Afterwards, this Maria Kwannon had belonged
to underground Christians in Nagasaki. They had called themselves the Society of Kwannon and
had met to practice Christianity in secret.

But they hadn't known that it had been made by an apostate. The only one who had known had
been the one to whom Torabas had given the statue, a Japanese priest called Mikami.

It seemed that the Maria statue had begun to cry her miraculous tears from that time. The
underground Christians had called her the 'Grieving Santa Maria', and while astonished, had also
been deeply moved. Secret word of this miracle had passed between the underground Christians,
and the hearts of those who must conceal their faith had been bolstered.

But where would rumor of it give them away? Apprehension of the magistrate's office sniffing
them out had forced the underground Christians to move. For fear of discovery, they had sealed
the Maria Kwannon and entrusted it to their secret supporters, the Yanase family, who had held
extraordinary power in Nagasaki and which the Shogunate officials had barely kept an eye on.

Thereafter, some of the underground Christians had been captured. But the 'Maria Kwannon',
hidden safely within the Yanase family's storehouse, had slept there for three hundred years
after.

"I see. So that is why the Lady Kwannon cries."

Yanase nodded with deep emotion.


"Is the written history true? Perhaps the owner had been a priest or someone along those lines,"
said Naoe in a low voice. "That he was an apostate... But now we have at least solved the
mystery of the reason for the Maria statue's tears."

And Naoe extracted a thin piece of calligraphy paper containing what seemed to be rubbings from
his breast pocket. Words in black ink rose to the surface.

"This is...?"

"Please pick up the Maria statue in your hand. Something was etched like wounds onto her
back."

Yanase touched the back of the statue. Yes, there were traces of something etched there by
something like a nail.

"The rubbing has captured the gist of these wounds."

"Rubbing? I see, so that this--what feels like letters from alphabet--can stand out."

"E-X-A-U-D-I N-O-S," Naoe said slowly, pointing to each letter as he spelled out the words.
"Exaudi nos..."

"Exaudi nos?"

"Yes"

"What in the world does that mean?"

"I think that it's...probably Portuguese. If I am correct, it is a verse from Christian worship."

"Hmm..."

"'Hear our prayers'."

After explaining the meaning of the words, Naoe's gaze returned once more to the Maria statue.
"But the preceding phrase is missing. It probably wasn't carved here. ...if it was Torabas, once-
priest, who etched these words..."

Did the one who had abandoned his faith believe that he no longer had the qualifications to say
the words of this prayer?

Perhaps Torabas had engraved that phrase of the prayer on the Maria Kwannon's back as
something he had needed to say. As something to leave behind.

"..."

Naoe tightened his lips slightly and covered his eyes.

"What will you do with this statue?" Yanase inquired, looking worried.

Judging from Akai's response while speaking with him on the phone that morning, it seemed that
he did not particularly care to have the statue returned to him. Akai had not spent any money on
it, so he wasn't losing anything. He probably thought that it was a creepy Kwannon statue. He had
said that he wanted the temple to take charge of it.
He had not informed Akai that this was a Maria statue.

(Perhaps it can be entrusted to a church somewhere...?)

A weeping Maria Kwannon from one who had abandoned his faith.

If it were made known to the world, it would soon come under media attention. A greedy person
would probably use it to make money. Those who heard it would probably come to look, making it
a tourist attraction.

But...

(I don't...want that to happen.)

That was probably also selfishness.

What possessed the statue was not a ghost, so there was no need for choubuku. Although the
concentration of feelings attached to the statue were very strong, they would not harm anyone. If
those feelings were blown away, the Maria statue would become an ordinary statue once more.
But he didn't mind leaving things as they were either.

He was silent while mediating on the matter.

"Let me think about it for a little while longer. Thank you so much."

flourish center

After leaving the Yanase mansion, Naoe walked towards the bottom of the hill.

He had learned from calling home that his oldest brother Teruhiro would be accompanying their
father to Hase tomorrow. He had laughingly told Naoe to enjoy Nagasaki's chanpon at his leisure.

So now he had some time and was not immediately expected anywhere. With the Maria
Kwannon in his arms, Naoe headed for a place not very far away, the Ooura Cathedralmap.

Its trademark green octagonal steeple could be seen from a long distance away. It had been built
in 1864 with permission from the Shogunate for foreigners residing here, and was Japan's oldest
wooden gothic-style church.

In its vicinity there were many tourists. Naoe climbed a flight of stone steps to enter the aged
church. Light flowed through the stained-glass windows quietly. A mysterious tranquility
permeated the interior of the church.

Naoe looked up above the altar. Septi-colored light spilling through the stained glass image of
Christ on the cross created an atmosphere of great solemnity.

On his right was a statue of Maria.

It was the Maria statue famous in Christian history for the anecdote of the 'the believer revival of
Nagasaki'. On March 17th, 1865, fourteen farmers from Uragamimap came to this cathedral and
asked Father Petitjean, "where is the statue of Santa Maria?", surprising the priest. The faithful of
Nagasaki believed that 'after seven generations, the black-robed priests who had come aboard
the black ships would bring a better world'. They had continued to practice their faith in secret for
two hundred years. Father Petitjean introduced the faithful from Uragami to the statue of Maria. At
that time Christianity was still a prohibited religion in Japan, and this incident moved Christians
the world over.

Naoe, while looking at this Maria statue, secretly enfolded the Maria Kwannon in his arms within
his power.

This cathedral was even now consecrated by the spirits of the twenty-six saints martyred in
Nagasaki during Hideyoshi's reign. The cathedral had been built facing Nishizaka Hillmap where
they had been crucified.

(This place is probably...painful for him.)

Naoe, holding the Maria Kwannon, had been thinking of Father Torabas all the while.

Since there were no records of his personal history before and after he had abandoned his faith,
Naoe couldn't know.

If his spirit had been here, he could probably have asked the spirit, but only his 'emotions' had
been left behind. There was no way to search for much truth from them.

The only thing that could be said was that he had probably regretted the abandonment of his faith
until his death.

(A consciousness of sin...?)

It didn't stop there. There was also a very hesitant, deeply confused feeling.

Why had he abandoned his faith?

Was it that he had been tortured and could not bear the agony of his body? Or did he abandon
his faith to save another believer? He didn't know the whole story.

He had left his native land and crossed over the wide ocean to a strange, faraway place, to an
unknown land and people of an unknown culture to impart his faith.

Life or death. If he had not made the resolution to never return from this foreign land, he probably
would not have come. His faith could not have been half-hearted. He must have come to Japan,
having embraced a burning passion for the teaching of his beliefs.

For him to have come so far alone, he probably would have had to believe absolutely, the faith of
half a lifetime...

(...he abandoned it.)

His will had not been strong enough.

Martyrdom, seen from the outside, was a struggle against persecution. To those who rejected
tyranny, it was a war of the soul. The martyr's will stood firm in order to never yield that which he
believed in. It was an absolute declaration of the continuation of his life even if it meant his death.

But in truth, it was his own battle. That in which he believed--how long could he believe in it? How
long could he maintain his faith? How long could he love it? If he was a true believer, he stood
firm even onto death. No matter how much pain he was gifted with, no matter if he was killed...

(...he would not abandon it.)

Like Peter, like Juda...he should not abandon it. When he said that he was your friend.
Believed that love continued on.

Martyrs were glorious.

Those whose faith never faltered...were called saints. The fallen Torabas was no longer a true
believer. They had had such strong faith. They had declared absolutely. The atrocious tortures
were a test of his faith. Those who had not yielded in the face of acts as gruesome as one might
face in hell were the true believers. At least, that must have been what he had thought.

In his pain he had yielded.

No one could say how much cruel agony he had undergone. What unendurable pain had turned
his faith into just another falsehood?

What passionate yearning had become mere illusion--mere delusion--because he had


succumbed in the end?

The faith of he who had not become a martyr was no longer faith...and so was not the better life
that he built for himself also delusion?

Had Torabas thought about that?

(That you defeated yourself...)

Yes, had he realized that?

Naoe thought about the priest who had yielded to oppression and forsaken his faith. He had had
no other choice--and, had it been someone else, he would have forgiven him. But not himself. For
him...here, where the glory of the martyrs was exalted, perhaps there was only pain.

(Did you create the Maria Kwannon in order to atone for the abandonment of your faith for which
you could not forgive yourself?)

Or...

Had he, even after everything, even at the last, called upon his God?

"..."

Naoe turned away from the image of Jesus. There was no point in staying longer.

Stepping outside, Naoe was about to make his way to the back of the cathedral.

There--

"Tachibana-san...!"

Naoe was surprised to hear someone call his name. At the bottom of the stairs, a young woman
was running towards him, somewhat out of breath. A closer look told him that it was Taizou's
granddaughter, whom he had met earlier at the Yanase house.

"I'm so glad I caught you...! I thought that you would surely come here. I came after you by
scooter."

"Is something the matter? Is there anything you need me for?"


"It's about that Maria Kwannon."

When the Yanase's granddaughter spoke, her gasping voice seemed to reverberate in the
cathedral.

"I wanted to ask you, if it's okay, if you would like to consult with an abbe? I know the abbe of
Uragami Cathedralmap. We can go together if you want."

"Uragami...Cathedral...?"

Looking up at the taller Naoe, she nodded.

flourish center

With the guidance of Yanase's granddaughter, Riho, Naoe visited Uragami Cathedral.

Uragami Cathedralmap was in the opposite direction of Ooura Cathedralmap from Nagasaki
Stationmap, in the northern part of the city along the Uragami Rivermap. Naoe, who had taken a
taxi, waited for Riho on her scooter; together they started climbing the steep hill road to the knoll
where the cathedral had been built.

Along the hill were many scorched statues of stone angels.

"These were all burned by the atomic bomb," Riho told Naoe. "We are approaching ground zero.
Near here is Peace Parkmap, the center of the explosion, but when the atomic bomb fell it
destroyed Uragami Cathedralmap except for part of a wall. The poor angels were all scorched by
the heat."

In the twentieth year of Emperor Shouwa, August 9th. The atomic bomb dropped here in
Nagasaki exploded five hundred meters above the ground and in the blink of an eye killed and
wounded one hundred fifty thousand people. Uragami Cathedralmap, built by the faithful of
Uragami brick by brick through thirty-three years of tireless labor, was bombed and destroyed at
that time.

"The Uragami Cathedralmap here now was rebuilt in the fifty-fifth year of the Emperor Shouwa.
Because it is new, most people seem to prefer Ooura Cathedralmap...but I want to know
everything about the history here."

"The faithful of Uragami?"

Naoe looked down toward Riho, walking by his shoulder.

"The ones from the anecdote of the 'believer revival of Nagasaki'. During the two hundred years
of the Prohibition, they kept their faith and practiced it in secret."

"Yes. The believers of Uragami reinstated Catholicism at that time. But later, the Shogunate,
which still prohibited the religion, sent them into exile in Tsuwanomap and Kagoshimamap in
further acts of oppression."

More than three thousand people had been captured. Until the sixth year of the Meiji Era, when
the Prohibition had been lifted, they had been forced to wander for years upon years. And then
when finally they had returned to their birthplace, these faithful had built the largest cathedral in
the Orient at the time. They had laid the bricks in one by one, and it had taken them thirty-three
years to finish it.
But the cathedral of their prayers had been destroyed by the fire of the atomic bomb. The history
of this cathedral was the tale of the passion and the agony of the faithful.

"There's the cathedral."

At the top of the hill stood an imposing red-brick cathedral. The three white crosses on the roof
and belfries glimmered beneath blue summer skies. Naoe turned his gaze from the scorched
angel to the dazzling, enormous cathedral Riho had spoken of.

"This way. Shall we go?"

"Yes."

Naoe followed Riho into the church. There were few people. Since it had just recently been
completed, the interior sparkled with the feeling of newness. It was more spacious than Ooura
Cathedralmap. To the right and left were lines of ottomans. The first interior wall had a large
image of the Christ, and an image of Maria glowed from the stained glass above. The second wall
also had many stained glass images which painted the interior with a beautiful solemnity.

"Shall I wait here?"

Riho's eyes, roaming here and there, turned in his direction. She said, "I will call the Father."

Naoe looked after Riho's energetic stride with admiration before once more returning his gaze to
the cathedral's interior, remembering a strange feeling from earlier.

(What is it...?)

The interior of the cathedral was filled with air and light. And, just a little while before he had
entered, he had felt a 'sense of the earth'.

(This is...)

This church was filled with residual memories.

Places like churches, temples, and Shinto shrines were often filled with a feeling of purity, but
here there was a special clarity.

(They are...prayers.)

Focusing here in the cathedral, the soil of this land had for a long time been indelibly dyed with
countless prayers. As if had been covered with a layer of pure-white snow.

He relaxed, realizing that this was the cause of that strange feeling.

There was a thick density of feelings here. They would not have been remembered if it had been
an ordinary degree of oppression. But the land here carried the history of deep grief, violent
anguish, pain, hatred, resentment--and those feelings had accumulated.

Persecution and oppression....and also, the atomic bomb.

So much pain. So many people robbed of their lives. It was a place of suffering, Uragami. And yet
it was not the dark feelings that had remained.

(Have the prayers...sublimated the feelings?)


Every painful emotion had been enfolded by the feelings of those prayers, bequeathed by so
many people.

Naoe walked towards the altar at the front. There was the image of a white Christ on the cross.
Naoe, who had always thought that perhaps the Christ, with his head bowed, would look down
upon those who passed below him with a gaze full of resentment, had never looked at the image
of Christ from directly beneath him. He had thought that Christ would surely curse Peter and
Juda, who had forsaken him out of weakness and cowardice. Their suffering, their understanding
and love and desire to be saved must not have been false. Even yet...

Jesus was...

"..."

Naoe opened the box and took out the Maria Kwannon. In the Maria Kwannon was the
coagulation of Father Torabas' residual feelings.

If one were to express them in words: regret, a feeling of sin, a sense of defeat, envy, self-
condemnation, and longing. A thick confusion of emotions whirling together with no distinguishing
line. The emotions he had left behind more than three hundred years ago which still possessed
the Maria Kwannon had not faded at all. So it was probably in his stead that Maria's tears
continued to flow.

The Maria Kwannon was enfolded by the pure air filling the cathedral.

Then...

(What...?)

Naoe's eyes widened.

He could feel Torabas' feelings, embraced by prayers, come unstuck from the surface as if they
had been catalyzed. Separating quietly, they rose slowly into the air.

(This is...!)

Torabas' feelings rose and blended together with the emotion-filled air. Naoe was dumbfounded.
Could something like this happen? He watched, wide-eyed. The emotions of the prayers left here
had completely enveloped the feelings of the one who had abandoned his faith, and the two had
melted together.

(Something like this...)

"Tachibana-san."

Naoe turned around, startled by someone calling his name a second time. It was Riho bringing
the abbe.

"Yanase-san..."

"Tachibana-san. Let me introduce you to the abbe here, Matsunaga-san.

The abbe was around forty years of age and had a calm, gentle countenance. Torabas, when he
had been a priest, would probably have worn that same gentle expression, Naoe thought.
"This is..."

Father Matsunaga said with wonder and admiration when he looked upon the Maria Kwannon in
Naoe's arms. Though he had not yet accepted the explanation given him by Riho, Father
Matsunaga smiled and came towards Naoe. "This is...a beautiful statue of Maria."

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Mirage of Blaze: Exaudi Nos
Kuwabara Mizuna
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Exaudi nos (The burden of an eternal love) Chapter 5: The Hill of Prayers

Twilight had fallen upon the streets of Nagasaki.

Somewhere the cicadas were singing. Naoe, taking leave of Riho and the abbe, went towards
Nishizaka Hillmap.

It was the site of the martyrdom of the Twenty-Six Saints. Here, where twenty-six captured
foreign missionaries and their followers had been executed by command of Hideyoshi, a life-sized
bronze monument had been erected. Nishizaka Hillmap, after all, was Japan's Golgotha. It had
also become a place of pilgrimage for Christians.

It overlooked the sea of Nagasaki.

He had left the Maria Kwannon with Father Matsunaga of Uragami Cathedralmap. He had
explained everything, and Matsunaga had gladly taken charge of it.

But in all likelihood the Maria Kwannon would shed no more tears.

Father Torabas' residual feelings had been purified by the prayers left behind by the people of
Uragami.

It was as if an angel had held out its hand, and they had melted into the prayers.

An evening wind blew across Nishizaka Hillmap. There Naoe stood, gazing fixedly out to sea.
Shouts of laughter from children galloping down the hill floated up to him. Was this ancient
execution ground now a place of rest, with its elderly taking their strolls and parents spending
time with their children...?

Though there were so many bright, straight-forward, kind people here, why he did feel such
sorrow from the streets of Nagasaki at dusk?

Oomuramap, Isahayamap, Gotoumap, all were dotted here and there with the execution grounds
of martyrs.

Why had so many people gone so far as to die for their faiths? Those who didn't know would
probably laugh at their foolishness.

They had all looked to Jesus, Naoe thought. They believed that his way of life was beautiful and
righteous, so they strived to live in the sameway. There was no meaning in only yearning for
something. If not put into practice in the real world, even an ideal merely came to an end as
meaningless delusion. It could not become reality. --and the Bible would end up as an empty
dream.

Believing thus, there were people who became martyrs.

And there were also people who could not.

Even so, in the end Jesus surely extended his hand to even those who had betrayed and
forsaken him.

As Kagetora had in his dream.

(Are these, too, wild delusions too good to be true?)

Naoe smiled with self-derision. It was much too late.

The setting sun fell towards Inasayama.

Perhaps, if Kagetora were alive somewhere, he was gazing at the same sunset even now?

Naoe pondered. He probably wanted to prove that his love was not fake to himself more than
anyone. No, he wanted it to be the real thing. --That feeling, at least, was not a lie.

He certainly doubted more than anyone. He, who had been betrayed countless times. Who knew
the regularity with which passion died. And the ease with which feelings changed. Who had so
many times been disappointed. He understood that it was he himself, who, piled with those
remnants of the past, could no longer have faith.

The love of one who could no longer hope--he, more than anyone, could not trust.

He could not love him with this love that he could not even prove to himself was genuine or true.
That was why he wanted to prove it.

How could he prove it? What should he do--how did he have to test himself to prove that it was
true?

He loved him.

Like the believers who had tested themselves with the torture of their flesh, when it came time to
try himself, he would do so for as long as it took.

If suffering was a test, then at the moment of his death. If he did not die, then for eternity.
This love he would bear for eternity.

He would become a martyr.

If his love was not as deep as that, Kagetora would be proof against it. That person who had
doubts as deep--no, deeper still--than he himself, who could not wipe away his desperate
loneliness. ...He would not be able to fulfill him.

(I cannot help that...)

He called his name.

The name which, during these past four hundred years, his lips had uttered more than that of any
other.

In the park dyed orange by the fading light, long shadows stretched from the monument. The
saints looked down silently upon the streets of Nagasaki. They who had been put on the same
cross as their Lord had probably also called his name.

As did those who had abandoned their faith.

Though the divine spirit of the one they loved had been trampled underfoot, in their hearts they
had called his name.

As a prayer.

(I love you...)

Naoe addressed the Kagetora who at this moment must be breathing, living--.

(--I will go to your side...)

flourish center

In the street at twilight, feeling as if someone had just called his name, the youth turned.

Staring at the silhouette of the castle blurred by the sunset, the youth, leaning against a fence,
remembered to take the cigarette from his mouth.

(Just my imagination...)

His smile held a trace of disappointment.

Ougi Takaya sighed deeply and wiped at the cuts at the corner of his mouth with the back of his
hand. Last night his father had beaten him. It had been almost four months since his parents had
divorced. Recently his father had begun to display fits of temper again. He had ended up quitting
the job he had found after such an arduous search. Right now he was stumbling around the
house in a drunken rage.

...he had not gone home since last night.

(There's nothing I can do...)

There was nowhere that he could go. Since he was still an elementary school student, there was
no place that he could turn to. Was there nowhere that he could go except back home?

He laughed at his own helplessness.

(I don't want to go home...)

Takaya gazed at the sunset peaks of the northern Japanese Alps, inhaling from the unappetizing
cigarette.

In order to fight against this kind of life, he believed strongly that he needed power. Without
asking help from anyone, on his own, he must have a body with the power to fight.

(I don't want to lose.)

Right now power was his only wish.

Though it held no warmth.

(Power enough to not lose--only that.)

Breathing the thought like a prayer, Takaya crushed the shortened cigarette in the palm of his
hand. Enduring the pain of the fire that burnt his skin, Takaya closed his hard eyes.

The night wind of the end of summer cooled his skin. Somewhere the cicadas were singing.

Takaya smiled faintly.

The pain of the burn on his palm somehow seemed without edge, strangely. He even thought that
he longed for it.

Why was that?

Right now he was not lonely.

Takaya let the crushed cigarette fall to the ground. He turned his back on the sunset crowning
Matsumoto Castlemap and walked away.

He lifted those unyielding eyes.

The voices of the cicadas followed as he ascended the slope.

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Translations © Asphodel 2005 - 2007


ESBN: 61118-060220-528313-31