It was on the day after the special program on Channel 5 that Mochizuki started to be consumed by Life King hunting. Mochizuki really looked down on Makoto and the other kids for Mino-chan's Prisman eraser, and this time, for hunting Life King. He'd gotten support under the banner of adults' justice, and all he had to do was scream like that TV celebrity if anything happened. Life King hunting made Mochizuki forget all about the scary premonition. His biggest target was, of course, Kat-chan. He beat Kat-chan up everyday. "Give it to me!" "No!" "You have to bring it to me!" "Never!" During these conversations, Mochizuki pulled Kat-chan's soft hair, pinched his cheeks, or kicked him in the knees. During lunch recess, Kat-chan had to "moon" obediently like a circus elephant. He pulled down his pants and underwear at his desk and turned round and round, crying. If anyone so much as tried to talk to Kat-chan, Mochizuki blocked him with his big body, making Kat-chan totally isolated. Even Makoto couldn't help Kat-chan. If Makoto resisted, his Life King might be targeted. After school on the way to Cafe Shambri, Makoto saw Kat-chan taken away by Mochizuki. He was totteringly and his arms were held back by Mochizuki. Makoto could do nothing but watch. Makoto sent a message to Yohta that night at Asunaro Juku: "WEDNESDAY IS DANGEROUS. BE CAREFUL WITH A MAN CALLED MIZUTA," He left the juku early for the very first time, and went ot visit the twin brothers. The twins' room was always too neat to bear any resemblance to a kid's room. Besides, their furniture had a nice geometric layout reflecting Satoru's taste. In the middle of the end of the room, there was a big TV set. Above it, there was an analogue clock on the wall in good harmony with the TV, and a big calendar on which only dates were printed. The beds were placed on both sides of the room. At Satoru's bedside, there were junk machine parts lined up neatly, spaced equally from each other. The part Satoru called "Tsuyoshi" was bigger than the others, and was placed at the center. All the furniture was just the right size for the brothers, so the whole room looked like a miniature furniture showroom. Satoru, in a light green fleece shirt, was busy playing the Life King game in the dimly-lit room. He didn't turn to Makoto. "Hi, Satoru." The screen showed Vision V, the most difficult part, but Satoru seemed playing it with ease. Akira had not come back from Juku yet. Probably he was having a hard time getting permission to go home early. Satoru took his right hand away from the joystick for a second, suggesting to Makoto to close the door. Makoto remembered Akira's warning and closed it carefully. When they left school that day, Akira had said, "We're going to have a hard time if Mom finds it. We had a big argument last night. She forced us to promise not to play Life King anymore. She didn't really listen to me, even though I told her she might die, too." Makoto realized the gravity of the situation, watching Akira's nostrils which looked like wax monk twitching. Mochizuki was not the only one hunting Life King. Whereever they ran to, there would be stronger enemies to attack them, just like in Vision V. The kids had to send those they loved most straight to the enemy. Makoto sat next to Satoru and watched the screen, pulling up his plaid socks. Satoru's Life King had already become a lump of white dots except for his red heart, which had transformed most of his body into Half-Lives. Supported by a myriad of shining ants which he had created by the obverse technique, Life King ran around in the dark labyrinth attended by twelve Half-Lives. There were many passages in the dark labyrinth which criss-crossed like a checkerboard. It seemed there was no end to these passages. And at every corner enemies such as bloblike ghosts or goblins with hard shields appeared, ready to attack Life King. He would not be killed if he just protected his heart, but Half-Lives couldn't resist even the weakest enemy. Satoru handled the joystick as accurately and as quickly as a space warrior in the Sci-Fi movie. "Satoru is great, isn't he?" Akira had returned home unnoticed. Forty minutes had already passed. "It's not easy to get early-leave permission at my juku. Have you been waiting for long?" Makoto shook his head. The three boys sat side by side, with Satoru in the middle, watching Life King. Soon it began to rain in the dark labyrinth, and Satoru took the "Rain Barrier" out of the sub-visual, which would protect Life King from a rain that melted everything. Akira said to Makoto in a low voice in order not to disturb Satoru, "Mino-chan's family seems to be in trouble." The rain poured down. It even melted the enemies. "I heard someone threatened the Kimura liquor shop. When I passed the shop on the way home, some women were gathering in front of the shop, whispering. They said they'd been blackmailed and if they didn't pay, their sake would be poisoned. The blackmailer was an alcoholic who'd killed many people, they said." Makoto drooped his head between his legs, which were folded on the chair. Mino-chan could no longer leave things as they were. There was a pi..pi..pi sound on the screen, a sign that Life King was entering the most difficult labyrinth. The three boys kept their eyes on the screen. Life King groped his way in the dark. The straight line he selected to travel was lit with red dots. The red dots seemed to be random, but were accurately arranged in the boys' eyes. As those who'd become obsessed with Life King spent most of their time in the dark labyrinth, it aroused irritation as well as desire. More and different enemies appeared. Satoru, paying more than total attention to the map on the top position of the screen, made Life King run. This was necessary in order to read the information from the map along with the red dots, and to make Half-Lives self-destruct at the appropriate places; otherwise, Life King could not counteract his increasingly stronger enemies. It was in this dark labyrinth that Half-Lives were most needed. Usually, kid game players used most of their Half-Lives before they reached the dark labyrinth--they couldn't help but use them up. So by the time they entered the dark labyrinth, they'd used up all the force that Half-Lives had given them. Satoru was a game genius. That was why Makoto came all the way to see him, even leaving early from Juku. Makoto knew the only protection against Magic Black was to be found in Satoru's ideal playing. Makoto felt Satoru hold his breath. He came to a point where he had a Half-Life self-destruct, then Satoru placed Life King near a specific red light and let the arrows fly by. He had a Half-Life hold a bomb. Placing the Half-Life on the red dot, the small legs of the Half-Life became stuck to the earth, making it unable to move again. Satoru let all others get away. With a "Boom!" sound, smoke came out. Suddenly the screen turned pitch black. Red letters emerged... "RIGHT ANKLE." A Half-Life had come out of Life King's right ankle. And then other letters came up: "I AM ORIGINALLY FROM A FAMILY THAT TRANSMITS TRADITIONAL DANCE. HOWEVER, JUST AFTER I WAS BORN, MAGIC BLACK ATTACKED MY FAMILY. HE STOLE MY TREASURED RED SHOES, SO I HAD TO DANCE WITH BARE FEET. PEOPLE LAUGHED AT THE BIG MOLE ON MY FOOT..." These red letters told the personal history of Right Ankle. Then a list of his favorite things emerged: "FATHER, MOTHER, RED SHOES, MELONS, THE SOUND OF A FLUTE, THE FOREST, MOLES, FESTIVALS" and lastly, "LIFE KING." All this data about the Half-Lives were called "Wise Men's stones." When a Half-Life achieved an appropriate death, he opened "the stone," bestowing his weapon, skill and force upon Life King. What Right Ankle bequeathed to Life King was "Jumping Power." When the wise man's stone opened, Right Ankle at the right top of the screen, was suddenly absorbed into the screen, becoming very small. His voice dimmed to a sad tune. "Remember me, Half-Life." The three boys stared at Right Ankle's story. The background music changed back to the original music and the red arrangement came on screen again. Satoru made Life King jump as if to thank Right Ankle. If Akira hadn't taken the joystick away from Satoru, Satoru would've drawn stories out of the remaining eleven Half-Lives, and then have them run in the dark labyrinth to kill Magic Black. Once Life King took the crown from Magic Black, he would have gone along in the labyrinth back to his room, ending the Life King game. "No Life King is entering the toughest part of the game. If he makes a mistake in Vision V, I'll be killed," Akira said to Makoto, hiding the joystick behind him. "All of us," added Makoto. Satoru nodded silently and tapped his finger on the screen on pause. Life King was under Satoru's finger. "This is No Life King." His other fingers pointed to the ants. "And these are all of us." Then, finally, Satoru gave a gentle tap to each Half-Life, saying, "And this is me." "No. This is you," Makoto said, touching Life King. "Because they're all fighting, Half-Lives are all part of Life King. But you, after all, are this." Akira looked at Satoru, waiting for his response. Satoru didn't move his finger from the Half-Life. No Life King was the name of the cursed game software, and it was the name of the main character in the game. It was also the general name of the curse which had actually befallen to them. When children played the Life King game in order to solve the riddle of No Life King, they felt as if they were No Life King. So who cursed who? And who drove who into a corner? Satoru gazed at his fingers, as if he might forget the right answer if he looked away even for a second. Makoto and Akira were busy looking at the characters on the screen. Suddenly a light pierced the room. "Akira! Satoru!" The twins' mother was standing in the doorway holding the doorknob. It didn't take a second for Satoru to turn off the computer, but it was already too late. "You promised you wouldn't play the game again." She was incredibly excited. Her cream-glittering face moved flabbily; the corners of her mouth were pulled up to the ends. "Don't go away any farther!! Mama can't stand it!!" She screamed, snatching the game from the twins. "I'm doing this for you." Then she turned back to the boys at the doorway, screaming again. "Please stay with me!!" Makoto noticed Satoru stiffening his body holding his shirt tails. This is why we are fighting. Makoto felt he had really touched Satoru's heart for the very first time. Kat-chan came into the classroom dragging his feet. Terrified and avoiding all the others' eyes, he headed straight for his seat. He was like a thirsty cat heading for a puddle--A wretched animal trying to hide itself in fear that it might again be attacked by its enemy at any moment. Makoto cast his eyes downwards. He thought it would be unbearable torture simply for the animal to be looked at. In the freezing cold classroom, Mochizuki said dismissively, "You see, that's what happens when you bring in such a thing!" Mochizuki then stood up slowly, moving toward Kat-chan. Kat-chan tried to protect himself, clinging to his desk. Mochizuki held Kat-chan's shoulder gently and whispered into his ear in a well-controlled, clear voice. "Give it to me. I'll just hold it for you. See?" Kat-chan shook his head. Or maybe he just trembled. Then Mochizuki pushed Kat-chan's side with his other hand. "It's for you. Then, you won't have to be afraid of any story." Kat-chan had transformed from an animal to an inorganic substance. "Only idiots avoid reality." Those were the TV celebrity's words. Kat-chan stiffened. "Hey Fatty Katsuya. You've surely brought it with you, haven't you?" Mochizuki seemed relaxed. Makoto shivered, imagining what might have happend to Kat-chan after school the day before. "Well. You can bring it to me today before you go home," said Mochizuki, returning calmly to his seat. Except for going to the auditorium for the morning meeting, Kat-chan never left his seat. Quite often, Makoto talked to Kat-chan at moments when Mochizuki's guarded was gone, but he didn't answer. Kat-chan closed himself off in his own capsule, like Satoru had done after losing his Life King. So did Mino-chan. Makoto found quite a few kids seated like that in the classroom. Obviously, they had had their Life King snatched away, or were on the verge of this happening. There were few kids outside even after lunch. Mochizuki also remained in the classroom. All the kids sat still, looking at the blackboard. As if unable to stand the silence, Mochizuki stood up and made a loud noise. He ran to Kat-chan, grasping and pulling his arm. Mochizuki had lost his calm. He couldn't even let a word out. By the sheer loudness of the desk moving, Makoto could feel the intensity of Mochizuki's force. He was so terrified that he could only cling to his desk. Mino-chan, Akira and other kids were terrified, too. Finally, Kat-chan was pulled out from his desk. There were unpleasant banging sounds of his body against the desks, then he was pulled out of the classroom. Makoto didn't remember that he hadn't been breathing until Akira brought Satoru from downstairs. Makoto and Mino-chan stood up almost simultaneously. The four boys ran out of the classroom without words. They could guess where Mochizuki had taken Kat-chan. It was the back of the rabbit's hut, which was at the end of the yard after passing the bridge between the second and third school buildings. The late principal said they had had peacocks and monkeys in that small space before, "Nobody thinks much of animals, so I have donated all the animals except the rabbits to the zoo," he'd said. Thanks to the principal's policies, Kuromiyama Elementary children now had a "backyard." Makoto and other boys hurried to the backyard. Amazingly, there were few kids there. But Mochizuki and Kat-chan were there as anticipated. Mochizuki's power had already reached the five rabbits, who were crouching at the furthest corner away from him. Kat-chan ran in tears, but it was hard to tell whether he was crying or not because his face was full of sand: He seemed to be waiting for the sand in his eyes to be washed away quietly with tears. Makoto and the others stood facing Mochizuki, with Kat-chan in between. Nobody let out a word for a while. Mochizuki breathed hard. He looked around incessantly, but obviously his eyes didn't rest on Kat-chan. The only thing that was moving was Kat-chan's head. He moved his eyes slowly but thoroughly trying to get rid of the sand in them, grain by grain. He didn't look scared. Rather, it was Mochizuki, Makoto, Akira, and Mino-chan who were scared. Only Satoru watched Kat-chan calmly. Or it might be more accurate to say; he was observing Kat-chan as if he were watching something dear to him. Mochizuki opened his mouth. "What do you want?" Akira and the other guys couldn't keep from saying something. "It's too much." Makoto said. "What's too much?" said Mochizuki. "Stop bullying Kat-chan," Mino-chan said. "Stop hunting for Life King." Akira said. Then, they argued and screamed, all excited. Hard to tell who was saying what. "We can't make even the slightest mistake." "Don't take it." "Leave Kat-chan alone." "No Life King was in its climax." "Stupid!" "We'll be killed." "We'll never be killed. We'll not be killed so easily." "No! We'll be killed." "Fool!" "He has guts. He won't die." "You'll be killed, too." "Ass!" "We can't survive without Life King." "What?" "The Life King solution." "That's a rumor." "Satoru. Stay back." "Rather, you should do something with thesake at your shop." Mino-chan dropped out. "You've hurt him." "Fool!" "Is Kat-chan OK?" "Prisman, Calaria and Principal..." "Kamesei Sushi, the tennis court ghosts..." "What!" "They were all No Life King." "Shut up!!" "You're crazy!" "We have to solve No Life King." "Nonsense!" "Stupid!" "Are you ready to die?" "We'll be in trouble without Life King." "We need a hint." "You're crazy!" "Pooh!" "I'm so scared without Life King." Akira started crying and they stopped arguing for a minute. Kat-chan hadn't got rid of the sand grains in his eyes yet. Mochizuki lowered his voice, trying to hold down Makoto and the others. "You're all stupid. Nobody will be killed by any curse." "You're wrong..." Mino-chan responded instead of Akira, who kept crying. "You'll die soon," said Mino-chan, who looked down again. The situation became such that Makoto was obliged to be the lone holdout. "Some kids commited suicide obviously. They all died because they were accused of playing Life King." Mochizuki pointed to Makoto, as if the right moment had come. "You guys' rumors killed them, didn't they? All those whispered rumors are the real murderers. Make your rumors, but leave me out!" Mochizuki's voice had become hoarse from excitement. "Those stupid assholes should kill themselves. Go kill yourselves...." Suddenly Satoru let out a cry and Mochizuki held his breath. Nobody knew what he had said. Akira stopped crying. "Satoru! What did you say?" Satoru didn't answer. Akira turned to Satoru and shook his shoulders hard. "What did you say, Satoru?" "What?" Even Mochizuki urged Akira on impatiently. Mochizuki was scared as hell. "Satoru?" Satoru kept looking down at Kat-chan. "What did he say!!" Mochizuki said so loudly and full of tension that he almost shocked the rabbits to death. The answer came from an unexpected direction. "SELF-DESTRUCTION" The answer from below sounded so cold that it didn't sound like Kat-chan at all. But it was him, full of absolute self-confidence. "It's not suicide but self-destruction." Kat-chan said it again but only once again. And as if responding to these words, Satoru opened the heavy door of his heart just for a moment. "PLEASE REMEMBER ME, HALF-LIFE." The mass media criticized Disu-kon, and gradually targeted it, linking it to Life King. Of course, Life King production had been stopped, but they finally started withdrawing the merchandise in the shops, too. Scenes were reported daily in which piles of Life King software were disposed of. Amazingly, they were all burned. Makoto could no longer keep resisting. In order to save the Disu-kon hardware, he had to give up Life King, the software. If somebody, any one of the kids, could successfully hide the Life King software, it would help them all, Makoto and other kids thought. Since they'd been driven into such a corner, it was more important to keep their hardware. Kat-chan stopped attending school from that day on, staying at home the whole day long. The Kimura liquor shop shut down. Akira didn't talk very much, and spent most of his time with Satoru. The last rumor floating around the second section of the fourth grade of Kuromiyama Elementary finally cursed Mochizuki. "Don't approch him. The odor of his dead body will seep into you." The kids disliked him, but weren't scared of him like before, rather, they looked down on him. The more aggressive Mochizuki became, trying to stop the others looking at him that way, the higher and more distant the others became. The rumor knocked Mochizuki down and the kids all kept their mouths shut. You couldn't hear the delightful voices of children, neither in the streets, classrooms, school yard, shopping arcades, juku, nor even in the toy departments of department stores. The dark labyrinth awaited them.
Copyright (C) SEIKO ITO , EMPIRE SNAKE BLD,INC. All rights reserved.