LEVEL 1: A Whisper, an Aria, a Prayer, an Awakening
I always wondered what I would say when the time came…
For some reason, it felt like they had been together for such a long time, yet it hadn’t been long at all. No, not long. One might say too short, really. Much too short.
I felt like I knew you… but I didn’t actually know you at all.
Haruhiro had once thought that Manato was nice, easy to approach, and smart. He was someone who could do anything and a leader worth following. A flawless person, perhaps. But only because Haruhiro hadn’t noticed any of his flaws. Or maybe it was because he kept his shortcomings well-hidden; but if their time together had been longer, perhaps Haruhiro would have gotten to see another side of him.
He wanted to know. Haruhiro wanted to get to know the real him. He wanted more time. If they had had more hours between them, then surely there would be more experiences, too. Maybe they would have gotten angry at each other, or gotten into fights. Maybe they would have grown to hate each other. Or maybe their friendship would have grown, instead.
One day, suddenly, Shihoru might have confessed her feelings. And what then?
Haruhiro didn’t want to believe that sentiments from the living failed to reach the dead. He didn’t want to think that all he said now was meaningless. But the more he thought about it, the tighter the knot in his chest grew.
When he closed his eyes, he saw an image of this friend from days since past. It was one of stillness; of being consumed by merciless—merciful?—flames. Of being rendered into nothing more than ashes and bone. It was the only image that came to mind, for Haruhiro was all too aware that Manato now lay under this headstone’s shadow, cast against the setting sun.
“We’ve become Crimson Moon members,” Haruhiro said, finally. To the gravestone where a crescent moon and a name was engraved, he held up an emblem that resembled a silver coin.
Ranta, Mogzo, Yume, and Shihoru, too, showed their Crimson Moon emblems to the one no longer among them. Mary stood a little ways away, eyes lowered and hand against her chest.
“It didn’t actually take us this long to scrape up the money,” Haruhiro continued, tightening his grip on the emblem. “But we had some extra business that we decided to settle first.”
Ranta scoffed. “Actually, I didn’t care. It was you guys who decided that.”
“Stupid Ranta,” Yume said, and cuffed him on the arm. “Why do you always have to be such a Smart Alex at times like this-yan? It makes people hate you.”
“’Cause I’m awesome like that. I’m a Dread Knight, and I don’t give a damn what people think.”
“Um, Yume,” Shihoru lightly tugged Yume’s cloak. “It’s smart aleck, not Smart Alex… there’s no need to call him Alex…”
“Really?” Yume replied, bemused. “Yume always heard ‘Alex’…”
“E-err…” Mogzo interrupted, gazing at Shihoru. “Shouldn’t we get on with… you know?”
Shihoru stepped forward towards the gravestone and crouched. She reached into her pocket and pulled out an identical coin-like emblem. She hesitated a bit, then shifted to the stone’s engraved crescent moon, as if to wedge the coin in it.
“Wait, Shihoru, not there,” Haruhiro said quickly.
Shihoru turned back, face beet red. “S-sorry! Um, I wondered what would be a good place to place it, but…”
“Well, I mean, there is okay… but it probably won’t fit. The shape’s entirely different…”
“…Ah, r-right. You’re right. I-I’m sorry. I’m not just fat, I can be so empty-headed sometimes… How–how about here then?” Shihoru placed the emblem on the ground next to the gravestone.
“…Manato,” said Shihoru, “this is your contract. We bought it using the money you had left, and everyone pitched in the rest. Mary contributed, too. Please… take it.”
If Manato could hear, perhaps he would have laughed and said, “You guys didn’t have to do that, you know.” Perhaps he would have said, “It’s a waste of money, and you’re better off using it to buy armor or weapons. Money has no use where I am now, but it does where you are.” Maybe it would have sounded cool and collected, like he often did.
But no matter what he said to them, they wouldn’t listen.
After all, we can’t even hear you now, Manato. If you want us to listen to you, then say something we can hear… Let us hear your voice again…
But Haruhiro knew that was impossible. And if they died, what would happen to them? Would they go to some sort of heaven? Would they meet Manato there? He didn’t know. There was no way he could know. If they died… but Haruhiro didn’t want to go as far as dying in order to talk to Manato again.
The rift between life and death was vast and deep, and cleft by a grand, swift river. Once that river was crossed, no matter what happened afterwards, there was no coming back. It was a complete and utter one-way trip.
There were no more tears. Yet Haruhiro did feel like lingering here for a bit longer, so he sat down in the grass and drew one knee up against his chest. Shihoru laid a hand on the gravestone, her shoulders trembling. Yume crouched down beside Shihoru, wrapped an arm around her, and gently stroked her head.
Ranta, both hands on his hips, was staring skywards. Mogzo inhaled deeply and slowly exhaled. Mary held her hair down against the wind, her gaze distant.
“We’ve really become a good team,” Haruhiro whispered; whispered to the friend who would never come back to them, whispered as he cast his eyes in the direction of the town. The bells were tolling the evening’s six o’clock hour.
Hovering just over the horizon was a half moon, crimson in color. That’s right… why is the moon red here?
He turned towards the direction of the tower. The soaring tower that seemed to look down on all of them. The tower. That tower. There was something strange about it.
Haruhiro felt as if he had forgotten something. They had arrived here and joined Crimson Moon, but what about before that? Where had they been and what had they been doing? He didn’t know. He couldn’t remember. And it wasn’t just Haruhiro; it was the same for everyone else too.
Before they had realized it, they were here. Where was here? He recalled darkness. Darkness? But he couldn’t be certain. Where had that been?
The tower. That tower. It had something to do with that tower. But what? He didn’t know. He more he thought about it, the more confused he got. Whenever he reached his hand out to grasp it, it vanished.
Manato… What are we doing here? For what purpose?
This alone filled him with doubt. Even now, it didn’t look like the answers would come.