1 – 14 : Chapter 1 ALMOST PARADISE : Good bye, WADATSUMI / He and a little witch of Tokyo Bay

 Because the shining lights from the city were powerfully and widely passing through the surface of the river, contrary to general expectation, it was not so dark in the night water. If looking over the vast bottom, that let us imagine a huge desert made of gray, fine-grained sands. In the sky, something was twinkling, but they were not the stars, was a herd of sardine.

 Immediately, Ho’ori was forced to be impressed by the genius of the professor.

 Suddenly the perfect silence happened and ruled the world for a moment. But in the next instant, the illusion of a shining flash suddenly beat his brain. Cracking of the sea volcano, or roaring of the thunderbolt in the thick clouds of the beginning? The ancient melody was springing out from the inside of himself. He felt the illusional drum sounds digging his eardrums and resounding even into the inside of his belly. But it was never unpleasant rhythms. Rather, his body started spontaneously to take the rhythms as natural. Unknowingly his upper part of the body was swinging in short pitch in while resisting water stickiness, his toes were reading the melody, his heels were treading on as if chopping the sand bottom of the river. On the inside of the helmet, he couldn’t help keeping to leak out a mysterious smile. He was clearly feeling the harmony of himself with the heartbeats of the earth.

 Because the cloth of a diving shell suit was very thick and pretty hard, so the four members of the exploring team were slowly moving like dragging their feet with narrow stride length. Being different from general soft wet suits, because the suit had a complete air-tight system, their appearance walking on the vast sand bottom under the water looked like astronauts who were acting on the other planet.

 The shell had both a standalone air-making system by splitting water molecules and a managing system for air pressure of the inside, so the wearing person was able to move in perfectly independence from their mother ship. Originally, they were the custom-made suits used for special workings like salvage or field study on the deep bottom at least under over 30-meter depth, so it was very rare to be used on such shallow areas. And of course, it was too expensive to be bought easily by ordinary researchers. But because of the sponsor of this time which was the biggest in the research history of the professor, it seemed that the project team had gotten this unique equipment very easily.

 Ho’ori’s body was continuing to take the rhythm in light tempo under the water still more.

It made him recall the nightclub of Shibuya which he had visited together with Mana in their student age. Of course, ‘a celebration for her coming of age’ had been just a pretext for their own. At that time, the two, who had been very polite and modest students, had visited one of the best well-known ‘boxes’ in Shibuya, as an experiment to taste modern music and a tiny thrill.

 Suddenly the big sounds like a volcanic eruption outstandingly echoed into the brains of all members. No one could know who in the four leaked groaning of the deep admiration. That might have been from the all. It was clearly the sign. The party was started.

 “Look at that!”

 Through radio which was set on the inside of their helmets, Professor Isaki’s shouting sounded by everyone’s ear. At that moment, Ho’ori’s view sight was opened as widest in a flash, as if visibly meeting the higher world existence. From beyond the vast gray desert, from downstream, from the direction which the professor was pointing at, the flower bed in pale pink color was coming close to them, while lively swinging their heads, while covering the entire bottom.

 No. It was not enough expression. Because the components of the bed were not any flower like which we knew. A small sea lily which had just one thin stem being in the same color as its flower and looked like a no leaves tulip. That was the component of the flower bed. Of course, such species living in the shallow sea should already get extinct far years ago. But they were clearly living now. And they were smoothly spreading its sprouting area from the sand bottom of downstream side toward upstream, toward the direction of the four people.

 One after another, the sea lilies poked out their head as if painting the bottom as whitish pink with their bodies. It seemed that it had happened at pretty far points, but during a few seconds, it had expanded themselves and reached here from beyond of the vast desert in one blinking. In the next instant, the team was standing at the center of the pink garden filled up with sea lilies. When the explores noticed this situation perfectly surrounding them, almost all of the ground was covered by this creature even to the horizon. Ho’ori couldn’t help recalling the bottom of the river of that night, but this flower bed of tonight was looking more vivid and fresh than it. They surely had the power and existence than before.

 The team moved ahead being careful not to trample the sea lilies while pushing aside them by the side of their toe together with sands. However, in spite of their polite attitude, some lilies were forced completely to get out of the bottom. But about them, it didn’t need to be anxious. After exposed the whole smooth body surface themselves, the lilies were crawling on the sand with moving tentacles that resembled thin and long petals and sought out a comfortable place while quickly moving. And after discovered a favorite point over the mattress of the sands, deeply inserted its stem from the tip into the ground again. And in the end, started swinging the flower-like heads again for hunting planktons, as if nothing had happened. Yes, they had the appearance of plants but were certainly a species being classified as an animal.

 Professor Isaki as the leader, local news reporter Saruha who had volunteered as a recorder, his friend Nibe who was a photographer specializing the underwater, and Ho’ori as a tour guide. They were walking slowly on the dim bottom. The streams were not strong. Tonight, the river was friendly to humans, it was so different from the night when Ho’ori worked as the guide of the attacking operation. So, it seemed that the members were taking a more active attitude to the field research.

 The reason why had chosen the night of a neap tide not of the spring tide was Ho’ori had given the top priority to safety. Though professor Isaki had insisted that the exploration must be done in the same environment with that night as possible as we could, Ho’ori had rejected the idea. Instead of that, by stimulating the old man’s desire to want diving into the night river as soon as he could, in the end, he had succeeded in making the professor accept the proposal that they would perform the plan at the nearest neap-tide night. After all, the pre-research with the underwater drones had failed, thus the old man also had been being impatient greatly, so there had been no choices to Professor except to accept the suggestion of Ho’ori.

 “However, after we will get great results on this exploring, we must gather a special team being consisted of tough researchers soon and start the plan for the night of a spring-tide as soon as possible!”

 The professor was insisting on so enthusiastically, until soon before of this diving. But now, it seemed that his dissatisfaction perfectly vanished. The restrained breathing sound with unusual silence of the man who always talks very fluently was conveying to all members the excited mind of this old scientist through the radio communicators of helmets. Of course, such feeling must not be only the thing of him.

 Unknowingly they crossed the border of time and were in the midst of the history of life on the earth. They were being surrounded by the grand picture scroll which was instantly rebuilt by the world.

 “Look! Are they…, ammonites? No way!”

 Nibe asked as if shouting. In the direction pointed at by him, a school of huge Cephalopods which had the shells being bigger than in adult’s armful size was gracefully swimming. These ancient creatures which must have been extinct at the end of the Cretaceous period were moving their huge eyes all at once and printed the shadows of their wriggling short tentacles onto the screen of the dark underwater by flashes of the camera.

 “Is that a sea scorpion?”

 Saruha indicated the one place at some distance from the four.

 A creature that had almost one-meter length and looked to be mixed lobster with scorpion was coming to crawl out from the sand bottom. Stirring the bottom and raising mud smoke, showing off its huge arms looking like twin big combs, and winding the tail up to show off the tip which had the venom needle, it was warning the intruders not to get closer anymore.

 Suddenly Ho’ori noticed something very small was moving at his feet. It was desperately crawling and seemed to be trying to run away from him. Stopped feet, while resisting the stiffness of the diving suits-cloth, he reached for into the sea lilies bush, softly caught it. Brought it to the front of the face and slowly opened the palm. A small trilobite…, the creature swum out from between of his fingers into the middle of the water, and almost at the same time literally melted as particles and vanished away into the tidal stream. For a while, Ho’ori followed the faint ruts of particles in the water by only the eyes, and,

 “Professor, it seems they cannot keep themselves in the solid-state…,”

 “Yes. Probably, the reason is that the screen is not perfect yet. Not enough yet about needed condition for projecting of memories of the sea.”

 “Are you meaning that the purification was not completely finished?”

 “No, I can’t think so. I have confidence that the scientific water quality is perfect. But from another perspective, it’s not enough yet. For that the gate is being opened only half yet. For that, projecting also is not perfect yet. Thus it can be thought we are just on the border of the two worlds.”

 While watching the moving of data graphs in the arm-display being worn on the right wrist, professor Isaki replied to him.

 “Border of the worlds…,”

 “Is it meaning that, for now, all of these is the illusion that the river is showing to us?”

 Saruha excitedly asked the old scientist.

 “In your hypothesis, the mouth area of this river is working as a role of a screen for playing back the ocean memory, isn’t it?”

 “This is not mere screen, is the screen as the gate that will open to us to go to the ancient paradise. But…, why it’s so disordered like this…,”

 “What’s disordered?”

 But the professor did not directly answer the question of the journalist, and,

 “Ho’ori-kun. Do you notice it?”

 Ho’ori’s pre-learnings about ancient creatures had never been the result of being attracted by the hypothesis of Isaki. He had been stimulated some curiosity a little in the meeting for this exploring, and merely remembered some books about paleontology had been there on his bookshelf as fertilizer for a long time. So, till last night, he had tried reading it until falling asleep every night. It was only that. However, also it could be said that he could taste this exciting mind of now enough by that pre-learnings. Ho’ori cheerfully explained to Saruha.

 “Professor focuses on that these creatures are stemming from many different times. In short, their geological times that they come from are disordered. Paleozoic, Mesozoic, Cenozoic, these creatures lived and extinct in each era, but just now, they are swimming together in front of us. Hey, look at that. That is Georgia Cetus, an ancient whale that had four legs. And the neighbor is maybe Odontochelys, an ancient turtle that lived in almost the firstest era of their species. The time lying between the two is far longer than the time between Allosaurus and modern Lion.”

 “In other words, does it mean that they are the species that must not exist together with each other at the same time?”

 “Yes.”

 But such points did not have meanings so much to Ho’ori. Disordered? Chaos?

 To begin with, this phenomenon just itself was chaos. The creatures which should have already gotten extinct were freely swimming right and left, up and down, and were full to the corner to corner of the river of now. Exactly this phenomenon itself. There were no words to introduce this phenomenon except ‘Chaos’.

 Now many invertebrate animals such as sea cycad which had the appearance that just fit for the name, Charniodiscus which looked like a big leaf directly sticking out from the sand bottom, and the sea lilies which had a stem, were weaving the thickly vast flower garden while showing the great diversity of species, and covering the desert to the degree that the gray color of the bottom was not seen, and seemed to be expanding itself endlessly. They were swinging in the currents and filtering microorganic matters from the water to eat. Small fish and arthropods swimming between the jungle of the invertebrates were of course including many modern species. From sardines to gobies, or many kinds of shrimps, in short, the species were familiar as seafood with the pirate children, were creatures which were so popular also in the river of daytime. But, in the night, the number of them seemed far larger than found under the sunshine. And also, they looked bigger. Ho’ori felt that they were filled up with dignified as the representatives of modern creatures on the earth. They were letting the eyes glittering limitlessly.

 And, of course, prehistoric famous creatures also were gathering here and were showing lively dance. Opabinia which looked like a bio vacuum cleaner that had five eyes, very primitive fish Myllokunmingia, which resembled slugs of our period, swimming type trilobites, and other many kinds, these were swimming up and down, right and left, really, truly, freely.

 Ho’ori noticed something and stopped his moving while keeping the right foot up. Without noticing it, he had been about to trample a middle size Anomalocaris which was hiding in the sand. It looked to be very surprised as same as him. So, this animal that was one of the firstest hard shell creatures sprang out of the bottom and left the place in a rush while dropping the gray sand from its surface of the outer shell, by gracefully moving the series of fins that were poking out from both sides of its body.

 Sometimes, big shadows also were flitting at far. It seemed the things of ancient huge sea reptiles, such as Mosasaurus, Plesiosaurus, and Ichthyosaurus, but these shadows had considerable distance from them yet and were not clear. They vanished before taking concrete shape. It would be that the power of the screen was not enough yet to call them.

 Ho’ori was being spellbound by the two exciting facts perfectly. First, the fact that extinction creatures were alive and were swimming in front of him. Second, the fact that their splendid stage was this ‘the river’ passing through the center of Tokyo.

 “Probably this disordered situation is the clue to modify the imperfect rebirth. I think because it’s being compelled to project the noise of our world onto itself, the river is failing to play back the memories in good order. It’s more appropriate to regard our world and the other world are like two mirrors faced mutually. Exactly because of that, the river can’t be gaining its gentle and perfect rebirth. We have to sweep noisy elements from our side in a hurry and welcome the world of the other side more softly and quietly.”

 Professor Isaki’s mutter was sounding through the radio system into the inside of the helmets of all members.

 (It’s not significant.)

 Ho’ori felt so. He said it’s noisy? No way. Yes, he was exactly genius. But his eardrums seemed to be too sensitive to listen to the real heartbeats of the earth itself. Yes. This is exactly the pulse of lively life. It’s exactly the melody of Earth’s life. Isn’t it? He got conscious of the rhythm trying to spring out from the inside of himself again. Reading the melody with the shoulder, chopping the sand bottom with stepping, naturally starting to dance like drawing a tiny circle with his lower body.

 Don’t stop it. Don’t stop the party. Life on the earth is always dancing. So, let’s dance you too.

 It seemed that it was similar to that nightclub in Shibuya of that night, after all. The differences were only things whether Mana was there with him or not, whether the dance by human or not.

 The actual view in the water, which Ho’ori was watching, was gradually getting synchronization with his memory. EDM on the biggest volume like wildly folding people’s necks, the colorful laser beams piercing the purplish darkness one after another, human body temperature, the humidly hot air filling up the hall, repeating of big waves being weaved by the fresh bodies of many women and men. Stepping, stamping, dancing. In the dusky, Mana, who had already adapted to that atmosphere, was shaking the whole body while tasting a light ecstasy. Her smile, glittering eyes, glossing lips, white teeth, dimples, drops of the sweat, the wet neck and shirts, swinging of the rich breasts, the suggestive motion of the lower part of the body…,

 At that moment Ho’ori heard a song. No. It’s not correct. He felt. He felt the song. In the next instant, his body got stiff perfectly and was compelled to stand like a metal stake at the one point of the bottom of the water by the unknown pressure. Unconsciously he tried to move himself but never could do at all. Who was singing this?

 He desperately changed the direction of himself little by little using weak currents and all his strength, then noticed the other three men. All of them in the same situation, stood in the posture as same as Ho’ori on the sand bottom, in some distance from him, and were gazing at the one point of the middle of night water. And, then, Ho’ori also could watch that finally.

 There was a creature being similar to a human only a bit. The bluish-white skin was showing off the running blood vessels like a spider’s web under the surface of itself. The retrogressed tiny legs were hanging on both sides of its lower part of the belly as if cheap accessories were being put on, and, the lower half of the body itself looked like the fin-tail of a huge tadpole as a whole. But, despite certainly showing such contour, that appearance was too ominous to be called ‘Mermaid’.

 The awful tinnitus. The tinnitus being heard. The tinnitus being heard.

 “You’re not be invited.”

 The creature declared as if whispering. There had been not the shining rhythm anymore and anywhere. Ho’ori heard that voice while being stabbed by the tinnitus, and felt difficulty on breathing. He desired to close his own eyes perfectly but his eyelids were opened thoroughly by themselves as if resisting his will and had been completely fixed as solid. He couldn’t do anything. Meanwhile, the song was making itself bigger and bigger as if howling in the inside of his brain.

 (I see.)

 Ho’ori noticed. This creature was singing while speaking. And suddenly, into all things which Ho’ori was hearing, into the tinnitus, into the song, human’s real voices started being inserted,

 “Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, I’m so sorry, sorry, sorry…,”

 Saruha or Nibe, or maybe the both of them. Like chanting the mantra, were repeating the apology. The feel of cold sweat with the awful stickiness, which was leaking out into the inside of Ho’ori’s helmet, was probably the illusion being conveyed from them through the radio receivers, and,

 “Sorry, sorry, sorry…,”

 “We never forgive you.”

 “MAAAAAAAAAAAAMMMMAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!”

 Saruha who abruptly shouted turned off the locking switch of his suits, and took off his helmet with all his strength, and threw away it into the inside of the water. So, naturally, the big bubbles leaked out at once and floated up higher and higher toward the surface of the water while glittering. And of course, as a result, the whole of the head of the man was directly exposed to the blueish fluid. At that moment, there was only the color of desperately begging the mercy, on the journalist’s face. His all hair was standing and dancing in the water like seagrasses, his eyes were being opened to their limit, his mouth also was being opened as widest. The white parts of the eyes were glowing. Just after the very short silence, he suddenly started swallowing the water around him. Drinking and drinking, in no breathing even once, he looked to be trying to drink the whole world.

 “What are you doing?!”

 Ho’ori shouted, but that question couldn’t reach him. Ho’ori saw that the man’s opened lips were trembling dreadfully like in hyperventilation. The journalist seemed not minding at all that the edges of own lips started tearing, and into own stomach, into own lungs, he himself was continuing to send the water. He drunk the water more, just drunk more. Did not stop to drink the water at all. And, despite that, he had been already dead.

 “Ohhhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaa!!”

 The second screaming was Nibe’s. He threw away his camera wildly, took off his helmet, opened the mouth, and started to drink around of him as if to compete with Saruha, who had already become a drowning body automatically drinking the water.

 Gulping, gulping, gulping…, drinking, drinking the water, he didn’t stop it yet, didn’t stop it yet. Even after reaching the limit of physical, gulping it, gulping it, gulping it. He too was trying to hold the entire world into his mouth. In the peaceful smiles, they were sincerely welcoming acute water poisoning, rupture of internal organs, suffocation, and many other causes of their death, within joy. Because they were being exposed to hope. The hope to get forgiven. 

 “Professor!!”

 Ho’ori shouted, and,

 “It’s OK!”

 He received the calm reply so felt relieved. But it was a misunderstanding. It was merely that the professor would just welcome his own death within calm. With noble motion, the aged scientist was trying to take off the helmet from his own head as if to take off a ceremonial hat in a ceremony on land. He finally and gracefully reached for the locking parts of the helmet, so,

 “Professor!!!”

 His mustache and beard danced in the current. Standing powerfully and proudly, the old man opened his mouth. On his face there was bravery, in his eyes, there was peace of mind. Drinking the water as much as to the limit, the professor also died.

 The big water barrels being made of dead man’s flesh. Because of their heavy suit, they couldn’t float or drift, even fall down. Far below the water surface, the three bodies were just standing like the blueish-white swelling things as if letting imagine huge drowned babies or evil sea-squirts. Rooted onto the sand with two legs, they were softly shaking themselves in the water like invertebrate creatures sticking out their bodies from the cracks of the sea.

 The high tone of laughter was echoing into the inside of the river. Ho’ori could not let his eyes away. A peaceful smile not being suit the ugly existence. The smooth curves of the lips as if being stolen from a mother showing affection to her kids. The charming dimples on the cheek. Such things were spreading wider and wider in the view as if trying to rob him of his view sight and ability to think. They were deeply carving themselves onto his retinas. Something was about to spring out from the deep place of him now. It was meaning that he was likely to start to shout, as well as the others, after some seconds. Completely relying on the desire, he was about to let himself drowned, was about to seek pleasure into the sweet expectations to the death and to the forgiveness.

 I want to apologize, wanna apologize, I want to gain your love, wanna get your love…,

 (Don’t!)

 In the next instant, got conscious, he frantically held back his own hands which had been unconsciously trying to touch the unlock switch of the helmet. He let his own back bend backward as possible he could and tried to take a distance between the locking switch and his fingers.

 (…oh?)

 The white face, which had been observing Ho’ori’s motion, frowned and showed a smile, and,

 “You’re really stubborn.”

 No, it’s not! That’s a sneer! At the moment when noticed the meaning, he could move his hands quickly. In the next moment, he took the electric spear which he had been shouldering for countering stingrays and tried to pierce the evil creature coming toward him. The spearhead had surely hit the white softy body. Electricity had streamed without a doubt. But…,

 “u, hu!”

 The laughing didn’t disappear yet. Contrary to his expectation, its song became louder, more powerfully, vividly, and was keeping to invade Ho’ori’s brain deeper and deeper. Ho’ori felt it was like that so many tiny worms were crawling between the reverse side of the skull and the surface of the brain. The brain seemed to be bound with tentacles from every direction. Because the soft tentacles were directly binding the cerebrum and were carving marks like of the wire-saw on that, he got pain. No, it was not pain. The brain doesn’t feel pain. He felt itchy. It was itchiness. It was awful itchy so he even wanted immediately to scratch wildly the surface of the gray clod directly by widely opening his head and the skull.

 Ho’ori scattered runny and slobber into the inside of the helmet, and was violently groaning. In the dim, while fighting the fear, he tried to touch another switch with the right forefinger.

 That was the button rapidly to undress the whole shells all at once in an emergency. Because the depth of now was far shallower than it which is generally considered as a using scene of the suit, it should not need to think about the harm of the water pressure or of nitrogen against his body. As soon as he will turn on the switch, the diving shell should make itself separate into each part in an instant. As if a mayfly on hatching, if he would be able to get undressed within a moment and be able to leave every armor into the middle of the water, and be able to start to float up toward the boundary between the air and the water, this situation also would be…, probably…,

 “u, hu!”

 That showed a smile again.

 (…Why?!)

 He certainly did it. Yes, he could turn on the switch, and the emergency system could exactly start itself. In the next instant, each part of the hard shell was perfectly scattered into the water. But somehow, the floating underwear which should immediately and automatically receive the air from an air cylinder did not start to swell at all. Without any armor, he had been left alone in the middle of the dark water.

 And then, the white face was just near. The mermaid slowly reached for him. He kicked. In all his strength he kicked its face. But there was not any effect. Now the white half-humanoid creature was tightly hugging his left leg with both arms, but its soft skin was very flabby, so it could smoothly avert the power of his kicking. And at every time of his failing, the creature looking up at him showed a smile.

 In the bluish-white face, which was coming close as if filling up his view sight, had certainly its basic parts, such as the eyes, the holes of the nose, the mouth, but each unevenness was not clear. The skin which looked to be painted very thick with whitewash was being covered with water mildew, so seemed to be blurred in the water. However, somehow, only the very thin lips showing a cruel smile could be understood clearly.

 And the song was echoing still more. In the inside of his head, the song was repeated again and again. And the laughter too. The echo was very violent and he was forced to be conscious about the existence of his own spiral organs in the ears.

 The voice was continuing to order him to apologize and to die. Though Ho’ori desperately kicked it again, in the end, he failed to avoid the hands and his right leg also was grabbed. The white arms of the creature had enough power contrary to that appearance and hugged his resisting legs very easily, dragged him into the deeper depth. It was gradually reaching for his knees, to roots of legs, to his belly, as if a big leech was moving on the skin of its prey. The white smiling was becoming close to his face like covering the body of prey with its own body.

 He frantically twisted his body. But his breath was impending to the limit. The one big bubble leaked out from his mouth. He tried to gulp that in a rush, but already too late. The one clod of air was compelling him to open his jaws, and going out, climbing higher and higher while leaving him alone on the bottom. Now he was forced to notice once more that the water was directly pressing his eardrums. The lungs were very heated, the whole body also was getting heat more and more. His view sight was getting narrower and narrower rapidly.

 And, in the center of the view sight, the face was making a smile as if emphasizing evil will. The creature was using a branchial respiration system by gills together with breathing by lungs. So, the demon of the underwater was showing off the outer gills which looked like rich long hair decorating the ugly face. And of course, was laughing at him. Was laughing at his weakness. That was the smile of a dead body eater.

 Now Ho’ori’s consciousness was about to go away. The leftover clod of the air also was trying to spring out from the inside of him, but yet being pasted on his throat a little. But after all, it seemed that the limit would come soon. The shining surface of the water was keeping the distance as eternal against him, the smiling face was coming near to his face more and more. He started being attracted by the mind to give up. Now he was just sinking. Finally, his back touched the surface of the bottom, and he automatically tried to give himself to the darkness…, in the next instant, to the just under of the white smile something slender and black like a shadow appeared. It tightly wound around the root of the white neck in a flash. The shadow trying to destroy the evil smile. No, it was not a shadow. It was the arm. From behind the creature, the slender right arm covered with the black chemical cloth looking like shark skin was deeply coiling to the white neck as if trying to break off it backward widely without mercy by using its joint of the elbow.

 Now that smile was nowhere anymore. The bubbles leaked out from the mouth hemmed with the uneven fangs one after another and the gasping of the creature echoed underwater. In the white flabby face, the eyes, which should have been too tiny to be found, were forcedly being opened as widest to the limit. These were in deep black like drops of ink, was completely dyed with the darkness of fear. Vomits which were sprung out together with the bubbles were scattering their rotting smell into the tide.

 Ho’ori noticed it. Someone like a shadow trying to peel off the white goblin from him…,

 (Toyomi…,)

 Finally, the white arms lost their power and released Ho’ori’s body. But any more, he too had lost all strength. Like a leaf of seagrass, Ho’ori’s body started drifting on the bottom, in the tide. But in the next instant, the slender leg like a shadow was stuck out quickly and its toe tip sharply kicked a muscle’s border of Ho’ori’s right thigh. The pain was enough to bring him back to awake.

 Ho’ori got back his consciousness perfectly and kicked the sands of the bottom in all of his strength that had left.

 He rose toward the surface faster than the bubbles which he himself had breathed out. At the same time when broke the boundary between the air and water, breathed in deeply as if making lungs swell to the limit. Oxygen started running in the inside of his blood vessel again with vitality. But the serious body fatigue started to pull him down again like a metal weight soon.

 Unconsciously and frantically he flapped the hands to seek what he could grab, and his tips of fingers touched something big drifting on the surface of the river. He desperately pulled himself up onto that, lie down on that something being looked like a vast board. That board was floating just under the surface of the water and it was covered thinly with the water, so the splash kept washing his face. He desperately coughed and drove out the water from the trachea. After a while breathing deeply once more and taking mucus away from the nose with fingers.

 He looked back to the two faces being stuck out onto the surface of the river. One of them had perfectly lost that smile. Clenching teeth and trying to escape from the binding of the black fresh wire, but it was not possible. Its bluish-white neck skin was in awful tension as if being about to be torn. The face had started showing violent convulsions.

 However, the arm which was deeply winding to the neck never tried to reduce its tightness. Contrary, the muscles of the arm looked to be increasing their power more and more and was choking both the neck and the outer gills tighter and tighter.

 Another face of the girl, which can be seen only on the night river. At the same time tearing the surface of the water, the girl finished breathing. The tiny lips had been already closed tightly, and at the deep of the goggles, the eyes were shining sharply.

 “Toyomi!!”

 Ho’ori shouted. There was no reason to mistake. It was her. He opened his own eyes as widest and kept staring at her. He could never take his eyes off from the girl fighting on the surface of the dark river.

 And now, finally, from the mouth of the evil mermaid, many tiny bubbles clearly looking different from normal airs started to leak out. These were not the bubbles from the lungs, was the body itself. The internal organs which had tissues starting to be melted were leaking out from the mouth and were covering the under lip, giving off bitter smells, changing itself to a lot of tiny bubbles like dissolved synthetic detergent, flowing out onto the river. The time of the end was coming.

 The stream of the bubbles seemed not to have its limitations. Now the whole skin of the creature had been starting to change itself to the clod consisted of tiny bubbles. The more the creature struggled in the pain, the rotten skins separated out from the body as minute bubbles and diffused into the water. It seemed that the win of the girl was coming just close…, suddenly the creature screamed with a very high harsh voice.

 A short silence ruled the world. Immediately after, from somewhere deep, a huge white body abruptly appeared and attacked Toyomi. It directly clashed against her from the point of the head and violently swum keeping that posture.

 About 33 feet in length. A creature? Maybe it was not. The thing like a shark. But it didn’t have eyes, didn’t have any gill-hole too which was the feature of sharks. The big streamlined white body was directly connected with the huge head. On the head, there was only the mouth being looked like a grave cave. It could be widely opened but was a just hole, no teeth, of course, no fangs too. It was just an abyss prepared for repeating open and close, and for swallowing something.

 The entire shape was like a big shark, but it was clearly not a shark. Probably it was not even a fish. The white big body was running in the mainstream of the wild currents while deeply pushing the belly of the girl with the point of the muzzle. Deeper and deeper, the white monster seemed to be trying to whelm and to tear her small body with the nose point and its weight. It was binding her into heavy streams, was being about to shut out her breathing. The attempt to break her. The huge amount of the water was splashed out and scatted. The dark hair of the girl was violently dancing in the water turbulence.

 While desperately clinging to the top of the white head with both arms and enduring the press attacking of the huge body, Toyomi looked not to have any measure for resisting. She was continuously being forced to keep only one posture and to be pushed into the middle of the water as it was. She couldn’t move even a bit because of being bound by violent maelstroms at the point of the monster’s nose.

 But it didn’t mean that she was being defeated. It was not that she could not move. It was only that she did not move. Yes, the girl had been observing the enemy for getting the chance.

 Reached for the hip belt, she pulled off a big ‘Makiri’, which is a Japanese fisherman’s knife from the old time, with the right hand, from the sheath. Just after when the naked blade which could be said almost ‘sword’ coldly reflected the light in the night, the girl gripped the haft in reverse and immediately stabbed the metal clod into the muzzle of the creature in all her strength.

 The huge white body violently jumped. Jumping higher repeatedly, scattering a huge amount of water and wildly shaking the whole body as possible, the white monster was desperately trying to flick Toyomi away from itself, but she of course never allowed it to do so.

 The girl was enduring its violent resistance by tightly gripping the haft of the makiri as if hanging on the cliff with a peg.

 Caught the interval of the body shaking of the monster, pulled out the end of the thin rope from the reel hanging from the hip belt, and tightly tied it to the haft. At the next chance, she changed her own posture quickly and moved down from the muzzle to the vast head by slipping on the surface of the creature while sending the rope little by little. And finally succeeded in riding astride on the back head as if on a huge horse.

 Stopped the reel and fixed herself, while keeping good balance, she took the harpoon which she had been carrying on her back and straightly looked at the huge head. At the moment making an aiming pose against the vital point near the muzzle, her eyes were glittering, the nose holes got wider a little by deep breathing.

 The girl stabbed the head in her all power and spirits. The white body violently bent its back and frantically wriggled, but in her face, which was looking down it, there was not any color of hesitation even a bit. Oppositely, more strongly, deeper, she was screwing the harpoon head into the monster’s flesh. But, despite such action, her eyes were remaining to be very cool and calm, and her lips seemed to be singing something in a small voice.

 (…magic words?)

 In the next instant, the white smaller shadow appeared wildly slashing the surface of the river. In the air, its outer look looked to be pretty damaged, but,

 “Watch out!”

 Ho’ori shouted unintentionally.

 Toyomi succeeded to dodge the fangs and the claws of the mermaid, but of course, it was not possible to expect that the white sharkoid would overlook that chance. At that moment, the whole of the huge body looked to become stiff at once, and especially big head-shaking finally flicked off the girl and Makiri. She was thrown into the air and made fly in the sky like a strip of paper, drew a parabolic orbit in the night.

 When she crashed to the surface of the water, the white sharkoid’s shadow had already started running away toward the estuary while keeping the harpoon stabbing into the head.

 “Oni-aka!!”

 After deeply dived into the river once, Toyomi tore the surface of the water and called someone. Then the board which Ho’ori was riding on suddenly begun to move widely. Because he had been pegged by the battle of the girl and monsters, so until that moment, could not notice that the huge board was a living thing. It was a stingray. The very huge stingray. It had a width at least 20 feet over. While shining its green big eyes between the waves and gracefully moving the fins unified with the sides of the body in the water, this fish was supporting him to the air. And, this butler was preparing back up for its little master by keeping to chase the fighting of the girl with proper distance.

 The girl came to ride onto the back of the fish as if jumping up from the river and,

 “Hey, you’re in the way!”

 She walked across on the fresh red-brownish back with a few steps while driving away Ho’ori aside, put off the long fishing-spear shaft from the frame of the riding saddle. Inserted the spearhead made of bone into the upper edge of the shaft, fixed feet on best positions, stared and aimed at the big shadow of the target, strongly raised the weapon with both hands…, but everything was too late already. Though the back figure of the retreating target could be seen far away for a while, then disappeared completely.

 After the short silence, she leaked out a small sigh from between the tiny lips, pulled off the spearhead, and made the shaft back to the saddle as before. And then,

 “Sorry, I was late. Other mates of them disturbed and delayed me.”

 Ho’ori shook his head. Though tried to say something, because of exhaustion and excitement, any word could not come out. So, then,

 “Thank you.”

 He said only that. Toyomi replyed to him with a smile.

 “Well…,”

 About some seconds, she seemed to be hesitating to ask him, but,

 “Well…, did you watch them clearly? In short, did you find out what is happening on this river now?”

 “…Maybe.”

 “You’re really unreliable!”

 She jokingly showed a dumbfounded face to him, but in the next instant, frowned and stared at a distance point while making the eyes sharper.

 “The next problem is coming.”

 Ho’ori followed her sightline with the eyes and noticed that the well-known blinking of the red and blue lights was approaching them from far.

 “TMPD?”

 The girl nodded and,

 “So, what do you want to do from now?”

 Suddenly asked him.

 “What…, what I want to do?”

 “You can choose you will come with me or forget everything about this night.”

 Until that moment, that word had been the thing which had been at the outside of Ho’ori’s mind. Ho’ori gazed at her face.

 “You think I can follow you…?”

 Any words didn’t return. The girl was showing only a fearless smile while standing on the back of the huge stingray. The eyes were shining as same as in that night. Into the deep of it, there was nothing wicked even just one drop. The girl seemed to be enjoying the time waiting for his reply while tasting the breeze of the night river with a cool face. Ho’ori cleared the throat. Then, in the next instant, into his mind, that image was vividly brought back. It had never been a cheap mistake. It had never been a mere illusion.

 “Lead the way! Prepare the way!”

 His heart noticeably hopped once.

 “…I know you.”

 “…?”

 Ho’ori smiled in very satisfaction. Toyomi stared at him with a wondering expression.

 The person coming, taking on the prepared road. The knight ruling the river of the night. It was exactly her. Even if no one prepared the way, she would go ahead by only herself. The reason was that she was her. Even if he would not choose to follow her, she would continue fighting. The reason was that she was her. But, Ho’ori had been a witness already. And he had already known the correctness of his first imagination…,

 “Let’s go.”

 “Ok. Well, please lie down on your belly, and grip this tightly. Put feet on these pipes, hold yourself for a while.”

 Toyomi nodded as if she had already known the answer of him, and pointed at the belts and the pipes which were stretched on the back of Oniaka. Those were originally the things prepared for fixing the saddle and fishing tools on its back. Then she rode astride of the saddle in a posture as same as him, and,

 “Please stop breathing for only a few minutes.”

 At the almost same time when Ho’ori breathed in to fill up the lungs with the air, they started submerging.

 He noticed an alarm whistle like which was tearing off the night happened at distance, but the water entered into his ear holes so it immediately became not being heard well because of the bubbling sounds. The revolving red and blue lights got unclear on the other side of the border of the air and the water.

 Sewing the gaps between the searchlight rays running on the bottom, the stingray carrying the two persons on the back started graceful swimming like licking the vast gray desert.

*****

 About hunting, they have a very keen smelling sense, so could feel even just one drop of blood which was leaking out, from some kilometers distance. Also, soft skin which could quickly warn about the approaching of Cookie-cutter sharks was a good weapon to protect themselves as same as lateral lines of fish. Those damn sharks have a habit of immediately biting the side belly of others and carving a circle mark by peeling fresh meats. Keen noses, delicate skins, such basic sense organs were essential for surviving in the darkness of the deep sea. And they have them of course. But, maybe because of that, until lately, they had never thought that the two sense organs on the head of each of them were so important.

 Some months before, at the moment when the man who had suddenly appeared onto them had lighted with a match, they understood for the first time that the organs were the sense organs which were prepared for specializing about ‘the light’. Of course, to them, it was not the first meeting with the light itself. In the deep sea, there are many species of fish that have organs making lights. But, though the lights of those fish could be seen certainly, was too weak to inform them of the importance of the light. It couldn’t make them know about their life of the world could never getting ‘the decent light’. In short, they had been made to find that they themselves had ‘eyes’, by the man.

 “Hi, welcome home.”

 From the inside of the glass sphere made as airtight, the man showed a smile to the scout, which had come back desperately fleeing from the danger of death. For a while, he calmly listened to the report and nodded sometimes, and then,

 “You were about to be killed by the riverkeeper!?”

 Suddenly, he began laughing as if heard a funny joke.

 “It’s the thing of only now. Let’s let her do as she wants. Our time is coming just close without a doubt. After getting ashore, everything is ours.”

 He soothed the scout gently.

 Under the ocean, Tokyo submarine canyon, the edge of the abyss. This place which was erosional out by both marine regressions and marine transgressions many times since the Japanese Archipelago was born, is being ruled by the huge amount of cold water and the absolute silence while keeping the depth from the surface of the ocean now.

 The thick glass sphere which was a replica of the diving sphere said to be used by Alexandros III was resisting the water pressure of such the 500-meter depth very well. Because it was the simple big glass sphere, which the person was riding in alone, from the inside of it all direction could be seen and sounds also were conveyed enough through the glass. Probably there was nothing which could compete with this for making communication with residents of the other world well. Especially about the ability to observe by seeing, had superior abilities by far than submarine ‘Shin-kai’ series that a fruit of the latest technology. Moreover, the environment of its inside was supported with opportunism magic for always keeping the air clean, so the crew could be comfortably smoking in spite of being in the airtight space.

 A lot of white creatures were attracted by the red light of smoking and were gathering around the sphere. Making that wondering man as their center, the many white naked bodies were moving as if drawing a circle, that sight looked like a drawing of Matisse.

 “Well, how did you run away from her?”

 The man asked. After a while, he shook his head with a look being in disappointment. An irony warp happened at the one edge of the thin lips, and,

 “I remember that I warned you that it’s not matured yet. As you know, we are growing her very carefully.”

 The shine in the eyes of that moment was a signal for killing. In the next instant the scout’s body was wildly split into many pieces of flesh by others, directly exposed the organs and the inside of itself to the world, and drifted in the water. Blood smell spread in a flash, the friends of old days very quickly came together to the point and started eating the meat clods while violently robbing it from each other. In here, mutual cannibalism in fellow was not rare. Rotten meat coming down from shores, injured fish or wounded sea mammals, drown-bodies in sunken ships, friends who were about to die, friends who were dead. In such extreme environments, everything that could be eaten was eaten, was never overlooked.

 But of course, meat clods stemmed from only one body was not enough to satisfy all stomachs. The stimulated appetite could not be inhibited anymore by anyone, many greedy eyes were glittering in hot desire in the darkness. Some owners of a fool brain had already started fighting to cannibal with each other. Even others who were not so fool seemed to be about to lose their unmatured intelligence and memories by the blood smells. With violently excited faces, they were peeping the glass sphere many times as if requiring something from the man.

 “Stupid. Really, stupid.”

 While enjoying their eyes being filled up with that color, the man smiled with a very satisfied look.

 “You are really ugly.”

 He bent lips again and sent the kind sightline to a lot of faces, which were being pressed against the glass for peeping the inside more.

 He seemed around 30 ages, was wearing a tweed jacket and pants which had expensive sewing and a modest design. The frizzy dark hair which had the length not to touch the collar and the glasses which were old-fashioned round type, both were suiting his calm face very well.

 In the glass barrel, this gentleman didn’t lose a warm smile from on the noble face despite being forced to take inconvenient posture bending long arms and legs. His look and behaves seemingly looked not suit the desolate deep of the sea at all. For example, streets of shining night cities or high-class cultural facilities filled up with celebrities might be regarded as to be appropriate for him far better than the uncanny dark of the deep sea.

 But, from the other perspective, this situation, in which he was showing a mysterious smile in the middle of the dark while being surrounded by the numberless white palms being pressed onto the surface of the glass, might look very suiting him than any other situation.

 The man looked around calmly, and,

 “I know this is exactly the result for the existence which mistook the way. Despite had being given the destiny to become human, you in that age chose to live in the deep. Of course, I don’t say the deep is bad, but…,”

 He shrugged while watching a pelican eel passing through nearby. This taste was terrible and often its flesh cause heavy diarrhea to the eater. So, anyone avoided this except a time of heavy starving.

 “In short, the most important thing is adaptation levels of you. Naturally, after all, it’s impossible that the existence that was given the fate as an inhabitant of ashore can adapt themselves to the abyss completely. You are failing still now to choose the place that you have to be in.”

 His sight line probably brought uneasiness to their minds. So, some creatures made their faces away from him in a rush. But they did not have any way to escape from the preach endlessly leaking through the thick glass.

 “Think about them…, born from the common origins with you and chose the way onto dry land by chance. Although they each had adaptation gaps to some extent, after all, succeeded in becoming human as many kinds. Then, after a long period passed, even though they have been narrowed as one kind, but now, in any case, on the bad meaning or on good meaning, they are in the huge prosperity as the result of the greatest creation. But consider more. They could win the way by taking advantage of many chances by chance at all, perfectly relying on the stream of nature. They have never taken initiative even once by themselves. Only by chance. Only as natural. Well, contrary to that, you, how are you now?”

 His question included mercy and sneer at the same time. And,

 “Frankly, you should look at your poor bodies with you each other more carefully. Because of the only one mistaking, you are being forced to live in the deep cold water still now. While regretting the fate of being neither also man nor fish, while showing off in the awful ugliness, while accumulating rotten jealousy into your now real body, you are just living in the dark stagnation which anyone can not draw. This is unfair, isn’t it? Notwithstanding that the existence that actively moved was you! They were not that!”

 Unknowingly, all of the mermaids, which had been dispersed as radial even to some kilometers ahead, finished gathering now around the glass sphere and were carefully listening to the speech of this strange missionary. About being given ‘correct memories’ they couldn’t hide their excitement anymore.

 “Why don’t you want to remake it?”

 “Now is the chance.”

 “We cannot entrust them with anything never more!”

 These words which were spring from the man were giving them the prospect of the new expansion.

 All of them were excited from their heart, were making their white soft skin shaken, were flaunting the boiling blood running in the vessels just under the skin, were swimming like in madness up and down right and left around the glass sphere without order.

 Watched at them, the man quietly bent his lips again.

 Ⓒ2016 Takagi Tokio

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