Chapter 1 – This Near Unbearable Weight of Reality

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LEVEL 4: Chapters of the Chosen and Choosers

Chapter 1: This Near Unbearable Weight of Reality

PART 1 of 3

A person’s death is no trifling matter.

And in recent days, Haruhiro never imagined that someone’s death would be something he would have to experience once again. Of course, he realized there was the possibility that anyone could die at any time. More than anything else, the safety of his companions was always foremost on his mind, and their deaths were the fear rooted most deeply in his heart. But his assumptions of death, of loss, had clearly been too detached from reality. Then, before he knew it, death had come and gone, leaving only pain entirely different from the pain he felt at Manato’s death in its wake.

They carried Mogzo’s body back to Altana, and then to the crematorium outside the city to have his body burned. They then took his ashes to the hill where the tower with no entrance or exit stood. The events after that Haruhiro remembered clearly enough, but everything seemed surreal nonetheless. He recalled Team Renji helping them through it all, so everything up to that point went as smoothly as could be expected.

Afterwards was when the true difficulties began.

Their companion, their friend, was dead; turned into bone and ash, put to eternal sleep atop a hill where he would be disturbed no more. Haruhiro and the others had lost Mogzo. Yet even though Mogzo was gone, the vestiges of his presence remained. His arms and armor, for example. His damaged plate mail, dented helm, and the sword that he claimed from Deathpatch, The Chopper. Those couldn’t be burned and buried with him. They had wanted to, but the equipment was metal-forged and physically impossible to burn. Getting rid of it was out of the question, but they didn’t have anywhere to keep it either.

Finally, it was Shihoru who suggested, “Maybe we can store it somewhere?”

So they headed to Yorozu’s Bank and there discovered another unpleasant reality.

“Certainly, we here at Yorozu’s Bank can handle the safe-keeping of more than just money,” they were told by the fourth generation Yorozu. She was dressed in a flashy red and white garment with metal pieces hanging off here and there, and she regarded them from behind a steel-framed monocle. She tapped the countertop with her golden tobacco pipe and continued, “Regarding the storage fee, while we charge one percent of the total amount for monetary deposits, storage of equipment is two percent of the value of the goods as appraised by us. In your case, there’s no need to even appraise the armor, because it’s worth nothing.”

“W-what?” Haruhiro stuttered. “Why?”

“Do I really need to explain myself, Mr. Lack-of-Manners?” Yorozu sighed.

She had given him that horrible name the first time they met and she was still using it.

“That plate armor and helm are too badly damaged and are worth nothing,” she said. “Even if you took it to a blacksmith, I doubt equipment in that condition can be repaired. How about seeing if anyone can use it as scrap metal?”

“Hey! Watch your fucking mouth!” Ranta exclaimed, lunging over the counter in an attempt to grab the little girl sitting so dispassionately behind it.

Haruhiro held Ranta back, but inwardly, he felt the same as Ranta. Scrap metal… Yorozu had the nerve to call their dear friend’s possessions scrap metal. The only memento they had of Mogzo, and she treated it as if it was nothing more than trash. Well, it wasn’t. How dare Yozoru talk so brazenly about something she knew nothing about. She was wrong. She didn’t know a goddamn thing.

Yorozu’s eyes narrowed to slits, then she shrugged magnanimously. “I see. So it belonged to a former companion of yours. While I understand your situation, there are rules that even this fourth generation Yorozu cannot bend. No matter what the reasons, we cannot accept items that fall outside of the established regulations. Storage space is a resource too, and we do not store items that have no monetary value. If it’s too precious for you to dispose of, then I suggest you find a way to keep it on hand.”

So this was what it felt like to be lost for words. If it means that much to you, then figure out what to do with it yourselves, is what she was basically saying. And the worst part was, she was right. It was their responsibility to take care of Mogzo’s possessions, not hers.

“Then… what about the sword?” Shihoru asked softly.

Yorozu nodded. “Yes, we can store that for you. However, it once belonged to the Deathpatch, correct? The storage fee is not going to be cheap.”

A weapons appraisal specialist then came to look at the sword, and just as Yorozu warned, its market price was through the roof at twenty-five gold. One fiftieth of that meant fifty silvers. They had the money to pay for it, but the cost was astounding nevertheless. Haruhiro hesitated in committing.

“Would it make a difference even if we don’t decide now?” Yume asked.

She was right. If they put the decision off until later, carrying it around with them would turn out to be impractical and they would be back here eventually anyway. Still, they didn’t have to do it right this moment. They would have time tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that… Because apparently, they had more pressing concerns to take care of, according to what Yorozu asked them next.

“Also, and I inquire out of concern, what will you do with the sum remaining in the deceased party’s bank account?”

“Sum remaining?” Haruhiro echoed.

“The deceased had an account with us. Normally, only the account owner would be able to withdraw funds, but in the case of death, it’s possible to transfer the account to a different owner given the completion of the necessary transference procedures.”

“Is… is that so…” Haruhiro replied.

“To be precise, you will need to obtain an official death certificate and proof of next-of-kin from the frontier governor through the Crimson Moon headquarters and present it here,” Yorozu explained. “Once we confirm validity, we will then relinquish all of the deceased party’s funds over to you.”

“Death certificate…? Proof of next-of-kin…?” Haruhiro repeated.

“We are also unable to divulge any information regarding the amount of money stored in the deceased party’s account at this time.”

PART 2 of 3

How much had Mogzo saved up? Haruhiro knew that he’d been spending his money on parts to shore up his armor… and with his appetite, no small amount would have gone towards food, so he doubted any great sum remained. But leaving the account unclaimed didn’t seem like the proper way to handle things either. When Manato had died, no one could tell right from left so Haruhiro had no idea how to take care of things like that. This time though, he wanted to do things right. He had an obligation to do things properly.

Haruhiro wondered if he was the only person who felt that way because the next day, he ended up going to the Crimson Moon headquarters alone. Ranta had no desire to get out of bed and when he asked Yume and Shihoru, they never gave him a straight answer. Mary didn’t live with the rest of them, so he couldn’t even ask.

Haruhiro entered the headquarters building and was about to make his way over to Brittany, or Bri for short, to ask about the next-of-kin paperwork, when the Crimson Moon commander surprised Haruhiro by calling out to him first.

“Ah, it’s you!” exclaimed Bri. “Perfect timing. About the bounty… um-hmm, the bounty. What are you going to do? I was told you haven’t even talked to the others about how you were going to split it. That Renji and Kajiko, they can be such pains in the rear… I’m getting off topic though, this is about YOU. If you don’t make a claim for your share, you’ll lose out big.”

“Err…” Haruhiro replied. “What bounty?”

They had received the remainder of the payment for participation in the Capomorti siege immediately after returning to Altana. It came in the form of a thin copper plate, a military bank note for the compensation of eighty silvers for each of the five people in the party.

“Oh wait,” he suddenly recalled. “You mean for Zoran and Avaael?”

“Yes. Who else?” Bri licked his black painted lips and gave Haruhiro a wink. Haruhiro wished that he would stop. He wasn’t in the mood to put up with Bri’s antics. Bri continued, “Zoran’s head was worth a hundred gold and Avaael’s fifty. That’s a hundred and fifty gold altogether. And from what I hear, your party took out Avaael almost completely on your own.”

“Oh… yeah. Right. Now that you mention it, I think we did.”

“But I’ll have you know, the majority argument for cases like this is still for an even split. You should argue for the entire share. You’d be a fool not to.”

“Really? I guess so, yeah. I don’t really know much about stuff like this though.”

“What!? You don’t want to be rewarded for your fabulously stupendous achievement? You’re not happy about it!?”

“Happy…?”

Haruhiro wanted to laugh, and not out of happiness. What else was there to do but laugh when Bri put it that way? No, laughing wasn’t appropriate. What he really wanted to do was call Bri a dumbass and punch him in the face. Instead, Haruhiro let his gaze drop to the floor and clenched his hands at his sides.

“No, I don’t think I feel very happy,” Haruhiro finally said.

“I didn’t think you would,” replied Bri with a heavy sigh. With his gaze glued to the ground, Haruhiro couldn’t see Bri’s expression. Nor did he want to see it. “At any rate, you’ve got the right to make a claim on the bounty. I’m holding the entire amount for now, but Kajiko proposed—after some rather choice words from Renji—that your share be sixty gold.”

“Sixty!?” Haruhiro exclaimed. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. It was like waking from a dream… if only all this had been a bad dream he could wake up from. “Sixty… gold?”

“That’s right,” Bri affirmed. “If you want to count it in silvers, that’s six thousand silvers. Split evenly amongst six—er, I mean, five—people, that’s twelve gold each.”

“Twelve…”

He was irritated and angered by Bri’s oh-so-casual correction from six to five, but that amount of money was still unfathomable. Yet Haruhiro wasn’t happy. No, not even in the slightest.

“I guess if that’s our share then we’ll take it,” said Haruhiro. “It’s just…”

“Just what?”

“Er, nothing. We’ll take it. Thanks. It’s better to have money than not to have it. Money is useful for lots of things. Yeah. Actually, what I’m really here for is—”

“—Death certificate and proof of next-of-kin, correct?” Bri finished for him.

“Yes.”

“It’ll take some time to process the paperwork.”

“How long?”

“Depends on the paper pushers at the governmental offices. Expect to wait a minimum of ten days, however. Maybe seven if you’re lucky, but sooner than that is unheard of. What? Your expression tells me you thought everything would be done in an instant.”

“Actually, I was maybe half hoping…”

“Things are never that simple,” Bri stated. “If you were a real relative of his, then you could go to the offices yourself, but being in the same party doesn’t make you family. Matters would be different, of course, if he were married.”

Again, Bri’s words felt surreal. Marriage… it was yet another reminder of something that Mogzo would never be able to do, and Haruhiro couldn’t help but think about it in those terms. Mogzo would never marry because he was dead. Mogzo’s death felt like such a lie. Haruhiro could hardly believe that he had lifted up Mogzo’s still body with his own hands and carried him to the crematorium. He watched with his own eyes as Mogzo turned to ash and bone before him. He couldn’t believe it. He didn’t want to believe it.

PART 3 of 3

“He wasn’t, right? Married yet, I mean,” Bri asked.

“No, he wasn’t,” Haruhiro replied.

“Then Crimson Moon acts as the guarantor for confirming the identity of unmarried members without blood relatives. I’m going to need the signatures of the other party members, too.”

“Just me isn’t enough?”

“No. Your entire party must sign with me as a witness. The law is the law.”

“So that means…” Haruhiro saw where this was going.

“You’ll have to return when you have the rest of your party with you,” said Bri with finality.

Haruhiro shuffled out of the headquarters, downcast and not sure where to go next. Ranta, Yume, and Shihoru, he was reasonably sure, were still in their rooms. But what about Mary? Come to think of it, everyone had just been meeting up at the same time every morning at Altana’s north gate even though he never said anything when they retired for the evening. After Mogzo died, Haruhiro couldn’t recall if they had talked about when and where they would all meet up next.

He remembered that the day of Mogzo’s death, after they burned his body and however they spent the hours after that, Mary ended up staying the night with Yume and Shihoru at the lodge. No one was up until noon the next morning and when they saw each other then, talk turned to what they were going to do with Mogzo’s possessions. Then they ended up going to Yorozu’s Bank. After that, they parted ways with Mary in the evening without anything having been said about when they would all meet up next.

How were they going to find Mary again? Yume and Shihoru might know where she lived; perhaps Haruhiro should ask them? Or maybe it was better to head back to the lodge and get them so everyone could go together. Or maybe he should just leave it up to the girls to find Mary? Whatever way they went about it, they would have to figure out some way of contacting Mary again.

Haruhiro was also holding on to a bank note for the sixty gold bounty. They would need to split that up between the five of them. The five of them. Split up only between five people? It should have been six. And they couldn’t split a bank note; they would have to go get it exchanged for cash. Haruhiro recalled that Yorozu’s provided that kind of exchange service. Oh yeah, maybe they should have stopped by the Crimson Moon headquarters before they had all gone to Yorozu’s yesterday. But Yorozu was the one who told them about the necessary paperwork in the first place, so… right.

Haruhiro let out a deep sigh as he sauntered back towards the lodge. He didn’t feel like doing anything anymore. All his motivation was gone.

“Pain in the ass…” he muttered under his breath.

Suddenly he had an overwhelming urge to stop walking, crouch down in the middle of the road, hold his head in his hands, and stay like that forever. Choco inadvertently sprang to mind. He had completely forgotten about her and he now felt terrible about it. He must be a horrible person, to forget so easily. Choco was dead too. Her entire party probably got wiped out. What happened to her body? Had she been given a proper burial?

The entire operation was supposed to be overseen by the regular army and there was no way they’d just leave the bodies of the dead out there, right? Burial. Buried. Burned until nothing was left but ash and bone, buried on that hill, and then what? Then nothing. Bodies of the dead needed to be burned so that they wouldn’t come under the Curse of the Deathless King. Haruhiro shuddered at the thought of Choco coming back as a zombie. There’s absolutely no way something like that could happen to her.

But those who died had no say in what happened to their bodies afterwards. It was up to the living to find a way to take care of that for them. Have I been taking care of things? Haruhiro wondered. Am I doing things right? Mogzo… was there more he could have done? Something, anything… Was there anything Mogzo might have wanted him to do? Or something that Mogzo wouldn’t have wanted done? Had he done something that wasn’t right?

It was useless to ask though, when no answer would come. Because Mogzo was gone. Choco, too, was dead. They were both dead. It felt like such a lie, but it wasn’t. It was the truth.

“We never should have signed up…” Haruhiro whispered.

They never should have participated in the campaign. Choco’s party shouldn’t have either. It was too much for them to handle.

“Whose idea was it?”

Ranta. That idiot Ranta had proposed it.

“But… I’m the one who made the final decision.”

If Haruhiro hadn’t voted yes, then maybe Ranta wouldn’t have had his majority and they wouldn’t have signed up to participate. No, not “maybe”. Without Haruhiro’s yes vote, they definitely wouldn’t have done it. And if Haruhiro hadn’t heard that Choco’s party was already signed up, then his vote would have most likely stayed no. Whether it was his business or not, he should have convinced Choco not to participate. He should have argued that it was too dangerous, too reckless. He should have stopped her, and if the others in her party insisted on going, then she should have quit the party.

Haruhiro should have convinced her not to go. No matter how upset Ranta would have gotten, he should have voted for his own party not to go. He should have put his foot down, no was no. It was too dangerous; the risk was too high. But Haruhiro had convinced himself that the risk would be low and voted yes.

Oh he fully realized that hindsight was twenty-twenty. When things turn out badly, it was easy to see how everything up to that point had been a mistake. Haruhiro wasn’t blaming anyone. It was useless to try. No amount of blame would bring Mogzo back.

He turned his gaze skyward now, wondering what time it was. Around three o’clock in the afternoon, maybe. The sun was bright in the cloudless sky. Damn it all. It’s a really nice day today, Mogzo.

“There’s no turning back,” Haruhiro said out loud to no one. “We’ve got no other way to go but forward.”

The sky was a ridiculously beautiful blue. Haruhiro raised a hand to shield his eyes from the brightness of the sun, and let it fill his vision.

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