Chapter 06 - Roots
Kugo and Asami found themselves in a dark room. The room was in a dilapidated state. The wallpaper was peeling off, and the creaking floor added to the eerie atmosphere. The place was engulfed in darkness, with minimal lighting. The only source of illumination was the moonlight seeping through a window positioned behind a throne. A dark figure, probably of a teen boy occupied the throne, while a person stood beside them. Suddenly, the figure standing spoke in an elderly woman's voice, saying, "Finally, Welcome to the Abandoned Sanatorium."
The person who spoke these words was an elderly lady dressed in a black granny outfit and wearing a black hat. She looked at Kugo and Asami with a grin on her face. Kugo couldn't see her face clearly, but he could make out her eyes, which were glowing red.
Upon hearing those words, Kugo felt as though he had been blessed with a revelation. He sensed that he had been in this place before. A sudden thought crossed his mind, but he couldn't recall what it was. Nevertheless, he felt joyous that he could finally lay eyes on the deity he had praised so fervently. Asami stood beside him, her happiness stemming from a different reason. She felt relief, no longer subjected to Kugo's torment. Yet, deep in her heart, she remained apprehensive of the beings standing before her.
Kugo's excitement was beyond his control, and at that very moment, his hand vanished abruptly. With his hands poised in a prayer-like position, he moved forward, longing to be closer to his deities. Progressing ahead, he could now discern the figure seated on the throne. It resembled a weak teenage boy, eyes nearly shut, body immobilized, resembling a lifeless form. Intrigued, Kugo's curiosity grew. However, just as his left hand was about to extend further, his right hand vanished. Confusion enveloped him; he struggled to comprehend the unfolding phenomenon. His left hand felt non-existent, devoid of sensation, while his right hand remained suspended in the prayerful gesture. Witnessing this, Asami felt an urge to flee, yet she, too, found herself paralyzed.
Bewildered, Kugo inquired of his deity the reason behind his sudden hand disappearance. He questioned why his hand had vanished without warning. The deity responded, "You are no longer deserving of our presence." These words pierced Kugo's heart like a dagger. He attempted to reason, his voice escalating, "Why? Tell me why! I have always been loyal to you, steadfastly offering my praises, even in your absence. I have unwaveringly believed in you."
The moon was becoming covered with clouds, and the room was growing darker and darker. The lady flicked her hand, and the room was illuminated with lamps. There were knight suits with swords and spears standing on the sides of the room. The lady started moving left to write with her hands on the backside and then replied in a calm voice, "You think you were loyal because you wanted to be loyal. What a ballad of lies you have been telling yourself. Let me tell you what the reason was that you are not able to feel pain and why your hand disappeared. You see when I became the owner of this place, I kept my name Dread. I didn't want to take risks and wanted to be safe. I wanted to do things differently, so I took a different route from previous times. So, the thing is that you were just alive until you brought me the next prey that will become the next staff, and eventually, you will be fed to this vessel sitting right on that throne. This person you see on the throne is nothing, just human garbage without a soul, with whom I was tied to since the last time I was caught by a certain priest. I was not able to kill and feed on anyone for a long time, and I was getting weaker and weaker and much older too. So, I decided to do things a bit differently, and that route was that I killed someone and then fed that person to the vessel. Due to him being a vessel and me being tied to him, I was able to live on. But this also came with a condition: I had to make 2 preys at a time instead of 1... 1 for him and 1 for me. Oh wait, I forgot to tell you about you and your hand. So the deal is that when a staff member brings a person for me to kill, I take that person's soul and make them the new staff, and the old staff is fed to the vessel. So, you were just a staff member, and now you are not. You are just a soul that will be eaten soon enough, and that hand was just for the taste, not a bad taste Kugo, I would say."
Kugo was not able to comprehend what he had just listened to. He stood there with his mouth open, trying to process the information. While she was telling him all of this, he suddenly remembered what had happened to him. He recalled that he had been a soul turned into a staff member and the old man who had killed him at the station was the previous staff member.
Seeing Kugo's reaction, the lady started laughing and said, "Oh, judging from your reactions, you might have remembered what happened to you and the old man before you were turned into a staff member. I am right, aren't I?" Kugo was not able to say anything. The lady grinned and continued, "You might wonder why I am telling you all this, right? Well, not like you will be here any longer, and moreover, I am just bored. Sound familiar, right?"
On the other hand, Asami was frozen, listening to all of this. She was experiencing a mix of happiness and sadness. She was glad that Kugo was finally getting what he deserved, but she was now more confused than ever about whether this was the same Kugo she had admired so much. This was the first time she had heard the name Kugo, and the first thought that came to her mind after hearing it was Kugo from Discord. Her feelings about Kugo were in a state of turmoil.
Soon after this happened, the cloud covers over the moon disappeared, and the moonlight once again streamed through the windows. Kugo regained his senses and remembered the kind of person he was and what he had done to Asami. Tears welled up in his eyes, and he turned to look at Asami. Although Asami couldn't hear anything, she saw Kugo's tears and his lips forming the words "I am sorry." The state of dilemma she had been in was now replaced by a clear understanding that this was the Kugo she had admired so much. She stood there, unable to say anything, her expression filled with sadness.
Kugo's mind was flooded with memories of all the things he had done to Asami and Kazuki, who had been killed by his own hands. He looked at his right hand and saw blood on them. At that moment, he also recalled the old diary he had found in Asami's room. He flipped through the pages, and he noticed that at the end of each set of last pages, the words "I am sorry" were repeated. He couldn't get a clear picture of what he had been referring to, and the diary didn't provide more information either. However, it was evident to him that it had something to do with The Lady and the vessel.
He began to think about the idea of killing the vessel and what would happen to The Lady if he did so.
After a while, the Lady began to wonder why the other staff member had not yet arrived. A thought crossed her mind that perhaps he was already dead. However, that wasn't a favorable outcome for her. The death of the other staff member would create an imbalance in the vessel, jeopardizing her own survival. She remembered that in her pursuit to dethrone the previous owner, she had similarly disrupted the balance. She had killed the person she was supposed to deal with, preventing the owner from consuming the soul. This strategic move had allowed her to take control.
She attempted to relax herself and displayed no emotion on her face. She tried to summon Kazuki and the boy who was supposed to bring Kazuki, but to no surprise, they were not present. At that moment... the vessel acted on its own and started to glow. The lady was surprised, as she hadn't even initiated the ritual yet that was now unfolding.
Kugo understood what had happened to the vessel. He knew that he was the one who had killed Kazuki and was meant to bring Kazuki to the Lady—not Asami. He couldn't recall the circumstances that led him to kill Kazuki, but he was filled with regret. However, this imbalance presented an opportunity for him: a chance to eliminate the vessel and, in doing so, to save Asami at the very least.
Since the Lady was in a confused and panicked state, as she didn't know what had happened to the souls of Kazuki and the boy. If they were indeed killed, then why was she not able to sense it? And if they were not killed, then where were they? She couldn't think straight and was just standing there. In this panicked state, she let her guard down, and Kugo was able to move his fingers and use his psychic powers.
As soon as he realized he could still use his psychic powers, he began to move his fingers. The vessel's mouth was closed, and suddenly, blood gushed out of his mouth. It was as if his internal organs had ruptured, and he dropped down from the throne like a lifeless corpse.
Seeing this, the Lady was now sure that her end was near. Asami, on the other hand, was released from the spell and could move again. She was as confused as the Lady was, unable to understand what was happening. She stood there, looking at Kugo.
Kugo, on the other hand, didn't waste any opportunity. With only one hand, he crushed the Lady onto the floor. Soon enough, the sanatorium started to crumble; everything was falling apart slowly. Kugo did his best to save Asami from the collapsing remnants of the old building.
He walked towards Asami, facing her, and said, "I am sorry for everything I did to you. I am sorry for everything I did to Kazuki. I wasn't myself back then, and I don't know how I can even repay you." He was saying all of this in a hurried state as he too was slowly disintegrating, turning into a white light. Asami replied that he probably wouldn't be able to repay her, but she felt a much greater debt that she could never repay. She recalled memories she had with Kugo on Discord—times he had encouraged her to chase her dreams and times he had been there for her when she felt down. To her, Kugo was the best person she had met on Discord. With a tear in her eye, she said, "I will miss you, Kugo, and thank you for saving me, even in sad times and even now." Upon hearing this, Kugo simply showed a smile and disappeared into the white light.
Asami now looked at the platform where the throne and the vessel had been. They had reduced to a kind of black gooey substance. She glanced around and found a spear in the sanatorium, held by one of the knights. She picked up the spear, pierced the gooey substance, and it turned into black dust. The disintegration of the sanatorium accelerated, and the place where the moonlight had been streaming in was now wide open. She ran and jumped out of the area, heading towards the forest with the hope of finding a road.
While running, she reflected on what a bizarre day it had been. It had started in her apartment, where she was going about her daily routine and preparing to sleep. Then, a series of bizarre events unfolded: she encountered Kugo torturing her, met Kazuki who saved her in the apartment, and ultimately, she was rescued by Kugo. As she fled the scene after piercing the gooey substance with the spear, she couldn't shake the surreal nature of the day's events.
Her eyes were now filled with tears as she felt helpless and believed she couldn't save anyone; at least, that's what she thought. But as she continued running forward, she spotted a road ahead, and her spirits lifted. She was glad she had found a road and decided that she would treasure the life saved by Kugo and Kazuki. Determined not to waste this second chance, she made up her mind to pursue her dreams and live life to the fullest.
After waiting for about an hour on the dark night road, feeling scared to death, she saw a truck approaching. To her surprise, it stopped and offered her a lift. The driver was an elderly man who appeared to be around sixty-five years old. Asami got into the truck and expressed her gratitude to the old man. Curious, the driver asked her why she was in the forest at this time of night, adding that it wasn't his first time encountering someone seeking a ride out of the forest.
Asami fabricated a story, telling the driver that she had gone into the forest to camp with her friends but had lost them along the way. She found immense relief when she saw him on the road. The driver was kind-hearted and mentioned that he was headed to the city; he offered to drop her off there.
Before long, she drifted off to sleep in the truck. When she woke up and glanced at the newspaper of the day, she was shocked to see that it was August 6, 2022. According to her understanding, it should have been, at most, July 6, 2022. Confusion overwhelmed her as she tried to grasp what had happened in the forest. Reflecting on the bizarre events of the past 24 hours, she found herself unable to be as surprised as one might expect in such a situation.
She first acquired a disguise and went to the library to retrieve newspapers from the past month. There, she discovered information about Kugo and Kazuki. Kazuki had been found dead on August 14, 2022, in one of the hotel rooms where their entire class had stayed. The body was so badly disfigured that newspapers deemed it inappropriate to publish the image. As for herself, she was marked as a missing person and the police seized her apartment.
After reading through all of this, she leaned back in her chair, sighed, and contemplated her situation. She decided that she would return to her hometown for about a year until she could get her life back on track. She intended to wait until the whole incident blew over, and people forgot about her missing report. Her hometown was a small place, so not many people would be aware of the recent events.
While there were still aspects she wasn't aware of and questions that left her confused, she felt a certain detachment from them. She pondered the abandoned sanatorium, the Lady's inability to summon the boy she met in the apartment, whether he was still alive, the significance of the diary's ending, and how a month had felt like only a day. However, she realized she wasn't interested in pursuing answers anymore. Surprisingly, when she opened the Discord app, the server was no longer in her directory—a relief for her.
Convincing her family was a challenge. She hadn't contacted them for a month due to obvious reasons, but she managed to do so after some time.
After 2 years
Asami had returned to the city and was working as a news TV anchor, reporting various news stories. She had settled into a normal life and found happiness in it. Her dream of becoming an actress was not fulfilled but she was not sad about it. She had abandoned her aspiration of becoming an actress, realizing over the past two years that it wasn't truly suited for her.
On the news segment of February 20, 2024: "... A woman's body was discovered in the library where she worked as a librarian. The body exhibited numerous cuts, bruises, and several dislocated bones. The police are investigating the case, but due to past events, public faith in the police has dwindled in recent times. That concludes today's news, and we'll be back tomorrow with more updates."
As the news concluded, Asami went back to the backstage room, preparing to head home. However, her phone received a notification. Upon opening it, she discovered a message from an unknown Discord server: "Welcome Back!! to Abandoned Shrine. Hope you enjoy your stay here!!"