Chatter... chatter... chatter...
...The moon... told me... of a new sacrifice...
That pure young girl... that family's... young girl...
I must sip... from her beating heart...
...For the Rite... of Clairvoyance...
Scoop out... both her beautiful eyes...
while she is still alive...
Chatter... chatter... chatter...
This cell... it's dark... lonely...
She must not know... until I gouge out her eyes...
with these hands...
She must not be told...
She must not learn of it...
Not until the girl... forgets herself...
The day after I spent the day talking with Nobukuni for the first time in ages, I had been wondering since that night what they had spoken about, so seeing that the restaurant was closed I paid a visit to Ryoko's house.
"Huh? ...Oh, Toshi."
Ryoko was sitting at a table, her head absentmindedly in her hands.
"...Hmm? What's wrong? You look kind of pale."
"Mm, kind of. Sometimes I've been feeling a little weird, lately... But it's nothing. Right right, have you set up the house? The service is the day after tomorrow."
"Yeah, mostly. Anyway, was Nobukuni okay after I left yesterday? I ended up drinking quite a bit too, but he drank loads."
Hearing Nobukuni's name, Ryoko's eyebrows momentarily rose in surprise and she looked away from me. Huh...?
"H-he was fine. You gave him lots of alcohol, so maybe he drank a bit too much, but... More importantly..."
Today, the always energetic Ryoko seemed really down about something. It seemed as though something had been off about the village chief when he visited Ryoko's house. It appeared to have something to do with the ritual that had suddenly been scheduled to take place... My father, like Ryoko's, should have been at the village meeting, but when I asked him he told me nothing about it...
Ryoko seemed a little depressed. Wanting to cheer her up, I asked her to go on a walk with me. Since I'd got back I had been so busy with all kinds of things and preparing for the meal, so I hadn't had time to just have a long talk with her.
"Could I borrow your daughter for today, sir? It's been too long since I've taken a good look around Tsukuyomi Valley."
"You want to go with Ryoko...? A-ahh... Yes, her taking some time to relax with you would be... Yes. Don't worry about the shop. Go on."
Hearing my plan, Ryoko's face lit up. We left the restaurant and exited onto the village's main street, heading into the forest like when we used to go out there to play when we were kids. The chittering and chirping of countless cicadas filled Tsukuyomi Valley. Along the edge of the path flowed a bountiful stream, criss-crossed here and there by log bridges. Branches reached out over the winding path, cutting through the hot midsummer sun and creating shadow, but I felt sweat trickling down my body with each step. At Ryoko's urging, we took a rest in a clearing beside the river.
"It's so hooooot! But it feels so good..."
Looking up at the sunlight filtering through the trees, Ryoko stretched while wiping her face with a handkerchief.
"Didn't we come here all the time when we were kids?"
"Yeah, we did. Back then, Toshi, you were..."
Ryoko, who had until then looked sad, began to reminisce with a big smile on her face. Just watching her profile made me happy. My love towards Ryoko began to bubble up and overflow... There were two days left until my uncle's anniversary. With the ritual apparently approaching too, there wasn't much time left for Ryoko and I to spend alone together.
(I've got to hurry up and tell her how I feel, and find out how she feels too...)
Thinking about it I couldn't contain myself, and cut off Ryoko's story with a voice that was high-pitched with nerves.
"And then, when you were crossing the log on the other side of the ropeway, you grabbed my hand and..."
"U-um, hey, Ryoko! Will you listen to me... for a minute?"
"What is it?"
"I... There's something I have to tell you. Something... I've had to tell you since we were kids crossing that log bridge together."
"Hey, why are you suddenly looking so serious? Did I do something to make you mad?"
"No, that's not it. I'm not cool like Nobukuni, so I'm not good at saying thing like this, but... I like you. I've always liked you. Now, and... No. Now I like you more than ever. I thought about it when I left Tsukuyomi. I didn't notice it when we were kids, because you were always by my side, but... I knew that I wanted you to be with me forever... I've been thinking about it the entire time since I went to Tokyo."
As I stuttered, my emotions overflowing, Ryoko's eyes opened wide with surprise.
"Toshi... Is that the truth?"
Ryoko's eyes trembled. I began to speak again.
"I-it's the truth. Of course it's true. I've been wondering when I should tell you. Maybe to you I'm just an old friend and nothing more, but... I... I love you... I want to be with you forever. I'm pretty sure that when I graduate from university I'm going to get a job over there, so... Can I? Come back for you?"
Ryoko's cheeks flushed slightly. It looked like her lips formed the words "Yes you can" in a tiny whisper. Did I see wrong?
"Sorry... Should I... not have said anything?"
"No, no. It was just so sudden, and I was surprised. Was that... a proposal?" Ryoko said, embarrassed-sounding, looking down. Looking at her, having spoken so intently to her, I suddenly felt brighter.
"Y-yeah... But you don't have to give me an answer right away. I just wanted you to know how I felt..."
"Give me a little time. I've got to think of my family as well, so... But I'm happy. So... I..." Ryoko murmured softly, looking me right in the eyes. As though drawn in by her, I gently stroked her beautiful, glossy hair. I could no longer hear the noisy sounds of the cicadas...
Ryoko and I spent some time looking at the scenery happily, exchanging few words, walking reluctantly through the valley. When we returned to the centre of the village, which should have been empty, the air seemed full of chatter, something I couldn't put my finger on, perhaps because of preparations for the ritual. Ryoko and I walked down the street. For some reason, I sensed someone staring intently at me from somewhere.
"Doesn't the village seem somehow weird to you?" I asked Ryoko, turning to her, remembering what she had told me that morning about the village chief and his companions.
"Do you think so too? I think it might be because of the ritual, but..." Ryoko said nervously, nodding slightly and frowning. And then...
"Hey, Toshio! So this is where you've been. I've been looking for you," Nobukuni called. Had someone asked him to come out looking for us? I remembered the conversation we'd had over drinks the previous night, and something about the way he looked seemed impatient, strange.
"Sorry about yesterday - leaving in the middle of it. I thought if you drank too much you might not be able to get home by yourself, so I was kind of worried, but it looks like you were fine," I said jokingly, looking at Nobukuni's face, and I noticed that unlike when we had parted the night before his eyes were bloodshot, and he was watching me with a stern gaze.
"Since lunchtime... You two have been on a date?"
What was up with him? He was really prodding. And I could feel Ryoko's body, standing silently beside me, trembling faintly. Ryoko... Was she afraid of Nobukuni? Sensing something I moved away from Ryoko and took him by the arm, leading him a little distance away, and spoke in a low voice so Ryoko wouldn't hear.
"There was something you wanted to talk to me about? Sorry. Well, what was it?"
"Toshio... Did you perhaps... confess to Ryoko?"
"Huh? How do you know...? Uh, why are you asking about that?"
"You did, huh..." Nobukuni muttered softly, and suddenly spoke with a very bright expression.
"You did, right? And? Did you propose while you were at it, and get a passionate kiss out of it? Hahaha!"
"Hmm, I guess you've not kissed her yet, then. You're so honest and shy. Well, I guess that's one of the good things about you. But... you don't even know that you've gone and snatched her out from under my nose... Right, Ryoko? Isn't that right?"
Ryoko looked up, surprised, at her name suddenly being called. Then, looking at her with shining eyes, Nobukuni ran over to her, her face stiff, and whispered something hurriedly in her ear before running off at speed.
"...What's up with him? Something is strange about the village, but he seems even weirder. Did something happen last night after all, Ryoko?" I asked, returned to her side. But...?
"No, nothing. Sorry, Toshi, my head kind of hurts, so I'm going home. Maybe it's because I suddenly went on such a long walk... Bye."
Ryoko feigned casuality as she walked off towards her house, looking depressed and pressing her hands to her forehead again. ...What was going on? It looked like something weird was going on behind my back... The pleasant time I had spent with Ryoko just a while before felt to me like some distant occurrence...