I think it’s absolutely wonderful to be in love with someone.
It can help you feel like life is worth living and give you strength. It can make you feel as light as a feather and free as a bird.
There are a lot of difficult things in the world, things that won’t go as you want or that you don’t like, things that make you worry endlessly, things that you thought were normal that come crashing down without a sound, things that you thought you could rely on turning out to be unreliable, things that quickly tire your body and mind, wearing them out completely and making you want to just fall down and not get back up, but if there is someone beside you, you can always stand up, and move on.
Even when you feel like crying.
Love can bring a smile to your face.
But why — was I,
why was I cowering?
Why was Nadeko doing this?
My hands on my knees, my eyes looking down.
Was Nadeko crying?
I didn’t know.
I didn’t know, I didn’t, I didn’t.
Really, why did this happen?
Why did it all end up like this?
I didn’t know.
And I didn’t even want to know —
“Like there was any other way this could’ve gone. There’s only one reason behind the ‘why’ — eh?”
The white scrunchy around my right wrist spoke — well, it’s really not a scrunchy.
What looked like a bracelet was actually a white snake.
A white snake, with bristling scales.
It (?) told me not to call it a snake, but a kuchinawa, a ‘rotted rope’ — apparently it liked the sound of that.
Kuchinawa-san said it was fitting.
Well, a kuchinawa was just another name for a snake, so there’s no problem with describing this white scrunchy as a snake.
that wasn’t the problem.
The problem was somewhere else.
The scrunchy — Kuchinawa-san said.
With a voice filled with malice.
There was no way for this to have been any other way — because nothing else could have been done.
“Everything, everything, was your fault — Nadeko-chan.”
“…That’s not true.”
Nadeko argued back.
But that was just my reaction, and I knew better than anyone else that there was no strength at all in my words — I just wanted to deny what Kuchinawa-san said, on reflex.
Just a reaction, a reflex.
We weren’t having an argument at all.
“It’s not Nadeko’s fault.”
I tried repeating myself, but the words were empty.
Empty, and in vain.
Well, I knew for sure that Kuchinawa-san was just saying these things to be mean, and didn’t really think it was Nadeko’s fault — because Kuchinawa-san was so far removed from logics like ‘good’ and ‘evil’.
Things weren’t good or evil to this snake, they were white or black.
Was it white, or black? Black, or white?
There was no gray.
There was no judgement.
After all, its opinions were nothing more than —
“Sha-sha-sha — that’s right, Nadeko-chan. Honestly, I never did have any idea of what was going through your head and thought you were just an unreliable brat, but it looks like you figured out my true nature. I’m impressed. Well, maybe I should say, you finally figured it out. Because really, when you think about it, it’s too late to do anything about it now — eh?”
Its mouth was spread so wide that it looked like it could swallow me — and even if it couldn’t, the slowly-baring fangs scared me.
…That was a lie.
I wasn’t scared of its fangs any more.
They were nothing to me.
I was shocked when I first saw Kuchinawa-san, and I was scared, but it felt so long ago that I would fear, that I would be scared of such sharpness.
Nadeko no longer feared anything.
There was nothing left to fear.
There was nothing left for me.
When I was still scared of these fangs.
When Nadeko was still a normal middle schooler.
…When Nadeko was still just a victim.
How long had it been since then? — Well, it might sound like I was reflecting on the past, but to be honest, not that much time had actually passed.
It was just a while ago.
So close, I could still remember every feeling.
But at the same time, it was a past I could not go back to any more — it was far away, in the distance.
I truly wished to return to that time, but it was probably impossible now.
“Oh, no, it’s not actually impossible — Nadeko-chan. Going back to the past isn’t as hard as you mammals think it to be.”
Well, technically, Kuchinawa-san wasn’t moving its mouth — it was speaking directly to my heart.
It said so.
The voice is just an image, it told me.
So it wasn’t saying anything.
It wasn’t speaking anything.
I was just hearing things.
That’s what abnormalities were.
Abnormal, not of the norm.
If I had understood that more deeply — it might not have ended up this way.
“So, Nadeko-chan, if you ever wish to go back to the past, I can grant that — after all, this here Kuchinawa is what you people call a ‘God’.”
Why it sounded so empty.
Why the word had such a forsaken ring to it.
The title should imply someone who was dependable, but it sounded so awfully token to me. Like the things I read in a maths textbook, it just couldn’t get in my head.
All people had God in their hearts, for that was where one found faith — I wonder who was the one that said that.
“…What would change if Nadeko went back to the past?”
“Oh, nothing. Nothing at all. You would just repeat the same thing. You could call it a refrain, or a repeat. Ah, but it does taste of the Ouroboros. Turning round and round, forever in a circle, repeating the same things for all eternity — and every time, Nadeko-chan would sit here in her gloom, crying and cowering, and say she wanted to go back to the past. And then I would grant that wish. That’s what a God does.”
“…That’s so, wretched.”
It was wretchedness.
At that point, it wouldn’t be too much to say I might as well be dead.
Or maybe that should be — I might as well be alive.
Anyone would agree that repeating the same thoughts I had right now for all eternity could be called Hell — but then, Nadeko thought.
The white snake wrapped around Nadeko’s right wrist, entangled and refusing to leave — Kuchinawa-san must have come to Nadeko from that Hell of endless repetition.
The snake that had lived for over a thousand years.
The snake that had died for over a thousand years.
Dead, and alive, over and over.
The snake that became a God.
Yes, after all, Kuchinawa-san was a God — a God that Nadeko did not believe in.
A God that Nadeko — resurrected.
“I don’t want to go back to the past, then… I just want to stay here like this.”
“Ah, I see. But Nadeko-chan, you say you want to stay here like this, but do you even know where you are, and what you’re doing?”
“…I know that, at least.”
I knew that much.
Nadeko no longer knew many things, but I hadn’t lost sight of myself to the point where I didn’t know where I was.
I still had a hold on myself. No, that was a lie.
I did lose sight of myself. I lost myself.
But I knew.
I knew — where I was.
I knew that Nadeko was under the raised floor of a shrine.
I knew that Nadeko was sitting under the raised floor of a shrine that was once ruined — the Kitashirahebi Shrine, the white snake shrine of the north.
“If a stranger saw Nadeko now, sneaking around under a shrine, what would they think? Would they think Nadeko was a thief?”
“Who knows — but really, pretty much all humans are thieves, more or less. Nobody ever thinks of anything except stealing away other people’s rights.”
“Yeah, really. And hey, Nadeko-chan, after all that’s happened these few days, you should understand better than anyone else, eh?”
“…But, I think there are a lot of people who aren’t like that, too.”
“You mean, there are a lot of people who aren’t like that at the moment — it’s just a matter of who someone is at the time. Being good doesn’t make it any less easy to turn bad, and it’s just as easy for a bad person to be good. Don’t tell me you forgot that everyone you’ve ever had to deal with has been like that, eh?”
It felt like I was being forced to agree, but that wasn’t what made me stop talking.
Nadeko would always keep quiet when facing trouble, but this time, it was different.
There was a different reason why I kept quiet.
A rustling sound.
Hearing that, I stopped talking.
The voice of Kuchinawa-san, almost like a hallucination, and the voice of Nadeko, so quiet I couldn’t even hear myself; that sound made both our voices reset — it eliminated our voices.
They were footsteps.
If seen as a sound — no, if heard as a sound, they would be very quiet footsteps.
But they were very loud to Nadeko.
A gigantic, enormous sound.
It sounded like the onslaught of some behemoth to Nadeko.
Footsteps that destroyed everything, turned everything aside, and could not possibly be stopped —
It was blown away in an instant.
What was? Well, the shrine.
The shrine where Nadeko was hiding under the raised floor.
It was blown away — um, there was this fairy tale with three little pigs, wasn’t there? I read it as a child so I didn’t remember the details, but I remembered a wolf blowing down a house with its breath.
That must have taken some incredible lung capacity, I had thought to myself and wondered how big the wolf’s lungs must have been, but what happened just now was an exact recreation.
Maybe that story wasn’t just made up, after all.
But this wasn’t a house made of straw, but a shrine made of wood.
It wasn’t something you could blow down just using your lungs, of course —
“Amazing how you can still casually recall some old fairy tale, given the situation, Nadeko-chan — I always assumed you were the delicate sort, but you are a plucky one, aren’t you? Maybe you learned a way to cut away your heart and mind? — sha-sha, in that case, it looks like I wasn’t totally insane when I picked you as my partner. I was actually pretty worried about that part of you from beginning to end, but at this end of ends of all ends, I finally believe in you.”
It was insane.
Besides, Kuchinawa-san didn’t choose Nadeko to be a partner — both Kuchinawa-san and Nadeko had no choice.
Nadeko could feel broken pieces of the shrine flying overhead, but still did not raise my head and just hugged my knees — I didn’t move an inch.
“Hey, now, Nadeko-chan, don’t turn away from reality — how long do you plan on being down? Just because you shut your eyes, and turn them away, and hide them, and cover them, doesn’t mean reality just disappears. Come on, you know what I’m saying — eh?”
Nadeko didn’t need to be told.
After all — Nadeko wanted reality to disappear, but it didn’t.
Again, what Nadeko didn’t know — was why it all had to end up like this.
I didn’t realize this until the roof over my head was gone — well, technically, it was the floor that’s gone — no, it was the whole shrine that’s gone, so technically the ‘roof’ was correct as well — but it had started to rain at some point.
The rain came down heavily.
It was a squall.
A ‘guerrilla rainstorm’.
…Thinking about the amazing naming sense behind the coining of ‘guerrilla rain’ almost took me away from the moment, but of course, I didn’t even need Kuchinawa-san snapping at me to know this wasn’t the time.
In an instant, Nadeko was completely drenched.
But maybe this was better.
I didn’t really care any more about all my clothes getting heavy with water, and besides — this sudden rain would hide Nadeko’s tears.
“Sudden? You must be getting muddled up in your head, Nadeko-chan — eh? You crawled under the shrine to get out from under the rain, didn’t you? You thought you could just hole up in the mountains, and then this rain starts coming down, just to make sure — ”
I forgot. I wasn’t paying attention.
My memories were muddled.
Well, if Kuchinawa-san said so, then it was probably true — but, whether it’s true or false, there might not be a more fitting word for Nadeko right now.
Yes, Nadeko was muddled.
Messed up, and slimy.
“Well, your mind might be muddled, but at least you don’t look like you’re manic, Nadeko-chan — oh, that’s just my opinion, of course. Sha-sha, you’re still keeping your cool.”
Nadeko was still keeping her cool?
“Yeah, you are — you’re keeping your cool, or maybe you’re just cold-blooded. Even with the rain pouring down on you, you can still tell that it’s him just by his footsteps, can’t you?”
Yes, I could.
Even with my eyes looking down — even with the pounding rain blocking out all other sounds, Nadeko could tell.
The footsteps that approached — I knew them.
Of course I did.
Because — he’s important to me.
Because Nadeko loved him.
He called out to me — and I knew my heart shook.
I knew my heart was beating heavily.
It was surprising that there was something still like a heart inside me, and it was embarrassing that I would react like this.
I did still have things like emotions.
I felt so embarrassed.
I wanted them to disappear.
“What’s the matter? Look at me, Sengoku.”
And I finally raised my head.
Nadeko wanted to stay huddled like this for life, like a rock, a fossil — but as soon as he said this to me, my body became an honest thing.
Maybe Nadeko was wishing for this from the start.
Even though I hid. Even though I ran.
Maybe — it was all for the sake of having him come find Nadeko.
Maybe I wanted to be chased.
Maybe I wanted to be rescued.
And, maybe I wanted to be exterminated —
“I’m here to kill you — Sengoku.”
To those words.
Those enchanting words. Those bewitching words.
Naturally, Nadeko’s body reacted to the reality — to his figure entering its vision.
The figure of Araragi Koyomi.
The figure of Koyomi Onii-chan — entered my sight.
Even through this heavy rain drowning out everything in the distance, I could clearly see Koyomi Onii-chan.
So very clearly.
“Sha-sha — it’s not like you’re seeing him out of any emotional reason. You’re just sensing Koyomi Onii-chan’s body heat through those pit organs unique to snakes — ”
There was no helping it.
It was Kuchinawa-san’s job to tease.
” — Nadeko-chan, the way you are now, you are a snake — and a scarily poisonous one, too.”
Of course, Kuchinawa-san’s voice did not reach Koyomi Onii-chan — and naturally, that was just teasing as well.
Nadeko could see him clearly.
No matter what Kuchinawa-san said.
I could see him clearly.
Not because of any ‘pit organs’ — but because I could see Koyomi Onii-chan clearly.
“I told you, didn’t I? Don’t turn your eyes away from reality — you can’t do it.”
It was so obvious.
After all, he — was the figure I had been chasing after for almost six years.
Even if I did turn my eyes away, I could never turn away completely from watching him.
His tattered school uniform. His long, dishevelled hair.
There wasn’t even a single spot on his exposed skin that wasn’t damaged — there was no stopping the blood flowing from those wounds, either.
And his left arm was cruelly torn off. Well, strictly speaking, it was hanging on by a shred of skin — and it looked so weak, as though his arm would fall to the ground if Koyomi Onii-chan bent his body ever so slightly.
They called Koyomi Onii-chan a vampire.
A blood-sucking demon.
He hadn’t been before, but he was now, apparently.
I asked him about this when I met him again, and in fact, I had seen the skill used before — but the so-called ‘recovery’ ability of a vampire was, in this case, basically not working at all.
“Hey, don’t talk like that, Nadeko-chan. All these horrible things that’s happened to this here vampire were all because of you.”
Kuchinawa-san said immediately.
Kuchinawa-san would never miss a chance to make a quip.
“Looks like poison works against vampires, too. Nobody’s moved that fang you sunk into him. It’s still stuck there.”
It was Nadeko. Nadeko — was wrong.
There was no room for excuses, no room for circumstances.
It was Nadeko’s fault.
“Then… I’ll have to fight.”
And Nadeko slowly stood up.
In my right hand, Kuchinawa-san. In my left, a fang.
With poison in my heart — I stood up.
And as I moved, my soaked fringes flowed around — no, Nadeko’s body was already preparing itself for battle, whether I wanted it to or not.
In this face-off of black and white — against the overwhelming back of the vampire, Koyomi Onii-chan,
Nadeko’s hair bristled.
And then, strand by strand — they became snakes.
A nest of snakes.
Rustling, entangling, snakes.
It wasn’t just Kuchinawa-san.
Now Nadeko was together — with a hundred thousand snakes.
There was no place left for my own will among all these snakes — only space for them.
That was wrong.
This was really just self-protection — these one hundred thousand.
It was started by me, and caused by me.
The fault was with Sengoku Nadeko.
It was Nadeko‘s fault.
The “Nadeko” who was entwined with and possessed by a snake.
Who was divinely possessed by a snake.
“Hmph, it seems she has utterly fallen to the abnormality in body and mind — or perhaps, this was an ascension.”
I didn’t notice her at all until now, but it looked like she was by Koyomi Onii-chan the whole time. The young, blonde girl spoke in an old-fashioned way.
“And here be it made clear why the Aloha brat had been so troubled by this Forehair Girl. Ah, but she is a Snake-hair Girl now. Nay — a Snake God Girl.”
“Oh lord and master,”
The blonde girl said to Koyomi Onii-chan.
In a familiar, friendly way.
As though they were partners.
“Do not yield. This one is no longer a friend of your sister, nor an innocent under your wing — but a wicked fiend of an abnormality whom none can help.”
than a serpent.
That’s what the blonde girl — Oshino Shinobu said.
“I know that.”
Koyomi Onii-chan nodded to her words.
It was like they perfectly understood each other.
And then, he said.
“This is my enemy — and your food.”
“You can eat her, Shinobu.”
At the same time.
Koyomi Onii-chan and Shinobu-chan — without any cues from each other, or even making eye contact, stepped towards Nadeko, ignoring the pouring rain.
I could feel it.
For who? For Shinobu-san.
Nadeko really wanted to be in that position.
To be beside Koyomi Onii-chan.
Nadeko wanted to be his partner.
Even if we couldn’t possibly be lovers, I still wanted for us to be next to one another.
So why was Nadeko — facing Koyomi Onii-chan like this?
I didn’t know. I didn’t.
I didn’t know — why I,
was opposing him —
“I hate you, Koyomi Onii-chan!”
Nadeko swung the fang gripped by my left hand — and it struck directly into his heart.
The force was genuine.
As certified by a God.
Vampires were said to be killed when stabbed in the heart with wooden stakes — in that case, what about the fang of a white snake?
The heart of Nadeko’s beloved,
the heart of the one Nadeko loved — aah,
it scattered all over.
The meat and blood poured down on Nadeko.
Like a storm.
“Hahaah! Hey, looks like you’ve finally done it, Nadeko-chan!”
The ten thousand snakes gave a cry of victory.
In the end, it was probably my own voice — after all,
Sengoku Nadeko was laughing.
I wanted to cry so much.
I was crying so much — but I was laughing.
Laugh. Laugh. Laugh. Laugh. Laugh.
I couldn’t help it. It was so funny —
“Ahahahaha… ahaha, ahahahahahaha!”
Why did it all end up like this — why?