Arc I: The Four of Us Are Dying
Yokohama Post evening edition, December 5:
KIKUGAWA, KANAGAWA PREF. — The neighborhood surrounding Takami High School, already reeling from three student disappearances in as many weeks, has been dealt yet another blow, as seventeen-year-old Tadashi Irie was reported missing early Wednesday evening. Irie, a player on the school’s 2012 prefectural championship baseball team, was last seen leaving the school grounds after Monday’s afternoon practice, according to police.
In a written statement released to local news media, principal Yuusuke Miyano indicated that his school’s officials are cooperating with police in an investigation into the four students’ whereabouts. Authorities have confirmed that there are, at the moment, no solid leads on what may have happened, and it remains unclear whether Irie’s case is related to those of Kei Shinagawa (16), Namie Itou (16), and Haruka Nakamura (18), who are also missing.
Some parents of Takami students have begun keeping their children home in response to the disappearances, citing safety concerns. As of Wednesday morning, twenty-eight of the school’s 434 students have been temporarily withdrawn from classes. “It just wouldn’t be responsible of me to keep letting my son go to school in such dangerous circumstances,” Sachiko Mita, mother of a second-year student, said in an interview with the Morning News. Irie’s disappearance is likely to only add to these numbers. ■
News report from NHK Radio 1, December 12:
ANNOUNCER: Osaka police have identified a young woman who remains hospitalized after attempting suicide on board a Hikari bullet train nearly two weeks ago. Haruka Nakamura, eighteen years old, reportedly boarded the train at Odawara Station in Kanagawa Prefecture before taking an overdose of painkillers. She was found unconscious by a JR Central employee when the train was taken out of service. Nakamura is one of four students at Takami High School, located in the Kanagawa Prefecture city of Kikugawa, who had been reported missing in the last month. An investigation into the whereabouts of the other three is still ongoing.
|17||Wed||A witch attacks a Yokohama subway train, killing hundreds before Yuna reverses the loss of non-magical lives with her wish. Ultimately, Mizuki and another initiate perish in the fight; a third initiate barely makes it out alive.|
|11||Mon||Kei stops attending classes and begins her night patrols.|
|12||Tue||Kei’s disappearance is reported.|
|18||Mon||Kei abandons Namie in Edith’s maze.|
|21||Thu||Namie’s disappearance is reported.|
|29||Fri||Haruka wanders into Edith’s maze. Though she manages to escape, the witch partially overwrites her memories with Kei’s.|
|30||Sat||Haruka’s disappearance is reported.|
|1||Sun||Haruka attempts suicide.|
|2||Mon||Kei abandons Tadashi in Christel’s maze.|
|4||Wed||Tadashi’s disappearance is reported.|
|5||Thu||Yokohama Post article published.|
|6||Fri||Episode 3. Aoi, Sumire, and Yuna fight Christel’s minions.|
|7||Sat||Episode 4. Pyunpyun locates Christel, and sends Miaka, Yui, and Yuna to defeat her, where they discover Tadashi’s body.|
|9||Mon||Episode 5. Kei’s 17th birthday. Aoi, Miaka, and Yui find Namie’s body inside Edith’s maze. Akari suffers a nervous breakdown.|
|12||Thu||Haruka is identified by Osaka police.|
|14||Sat||Episode 6. Yuna visits Haruka, and discovers that Kei is behind the disappearances.|
|15||Sun||Episode 7. The initiates locate Kei in an abandoned building outside of town, listless and offering no resistance. Her anger at Mizuki’s death spawns a witch, however, which immediately consumes her, and the initiates are forced to defeat it.|
Kei was a friend of Mizuki Eguchi, a magical girl two years her senior who died in the train attack that drove Yuna to make her contract. The death of an innocent acquaintance at the hands of a witch arguably drove Kei over the edge. Over the course of several months, her traumatic experience led her to believe that if witches could indiscriminately kill with no regard to good or evil, she herself would have to tip the balance such that those who had done wrong were more likely to be punished. This she accomplished by “feeding” molesters, violent abusers, and others to witches, leaving them for dead in the inescapable mazes.
When Tadashi, Kei’s boyfriend, broke up with her and started going out with Namie, Kei’s longtime friend, within the span of a month, Kei interpreted this as an unforgivable betrayal. Namie ended up sacrificed to a witch less than a week after her first date with Tadashi. It took longer for Kei to lure Tadashi away, but he too eventually met the same fate.
Haruka’s case was an unfortunate, largely unrelated accident. She merely happened to wander into the witch’s maze where Kei left Namie; though she managed to escape, her exposure to the witch’s influence led her to leave town and make a failed suicide attempt. (Originally, Haruka was to have been an upperclassman of Kei’s in the tennis club, whom the initiates would find dead in similar fashion to Tadashi and Namie. I ultimately decided this was too boring, and that it would be better to have her alive as a sort of witness. Somewhere in between, I swapped Namie for Kei as a member of the tennis club, in order to provide a red herring, but eventually decided to drop that whole relationship.)
After finally internalizing the fact that she was directly responsible for the deaths of her best friend and ex-boyfriend, Kei essentially lost the will to live. She took refuge inside a vacant auto repair shop (this was to be an office complex right up until I actually ran the episode in question), only leaving during the night to aimlessly wander the streets. During her trips, she would sometimes stop by at home, seemingly out of habit; given the late hour and the brevity of her trips, however, she always entered and left unnoticed.
During episode 3, the initiates are treated to some of the gossip flying around school. I came up with a number of potential rumors in advance, but didn’t end up using all of them:
- Everyone at school knows Kei and Tadashi were dating, and that Kei and Namie were best friends. Nobody can figure out why the police don’t.
There’s evidence that Kei has come back home since her disappearance.(This was originally going to be a strong hint that Kei was still alive, but I decided it was too obvious.)
- A girl in a Takami uniform has been spotted roaming the streets at night.
A few of the underclassmen in the tennis club held obvious grudges against Haruka for her generally brusque attitude.(Changed when Haruka’s backstory was dropped.)
A Karen-esque vigilante ally of justice has been prowling the streets.(I forgot to mention this. Yuna would later hear this from Kei herself.)
- Tadashi was a womanizer; the disappearances were a scorned partner’s revenge against him and the girls that he seemed to prefer over her. (This rumor, while not true, was of course not entirely off the mark.)
Original episode plan
- The initiates pick up rumors at school. During their lunch period, a small group of minions appears, leading to a minor battle in an obscure corner of the building.
- Pyunpyun traces the minions back to Christel and dispatches the initiates after her. They discover Tadashi’s body inside the witch’s maze; it’s studded with needles, but none of them are embedded deeply enough in the skin that they could have been fatal by themselves. In any case, the initiates are forced to abandon the corpse when Christel attacks them. (I’d planned for Kei to use thrown needles as a weapon from the start, but I didn’t think to use them as a clue linking her to the disappearances until a day or two before I actually ran this episode.1))
- In an early morning battle with Edith, the initiates find Namie’s body, which has needles embedded in the skin just as in Tadashi’s case, within the witch’s maze. During the following school day, a long-time acquaintance of Kei’s breaks down, unable to bear the stress of going to classes on her missing friend’s birthday. She reveals that Kei liked to quote the children’s expression “if I’m lying, I’ll swallow a thousand needles.” (I had intended for this statement to place suspicion on Kei. I should have realized well sooner that it was just depressing.)
- Yuna’s side story: News breaks that a comatose suicide victim recovering in a hospital several towns away has been identified as Haruka. Thanks to the witch’s influence, some parts of her memories have been overwritten with Kei’s, and her speech is fragmented and cryptic. Yuna goes to give Haruka a visit, and discovers what motivated Kei to abandon her friends.
- The initiates deduce that Kei is the culprit, and move to locate her hideout. While she herself is completely listless and has no will to fight, her anger at Mizuki’s death breaks free from her mind, turning into a witch that immediately consumes her. The initiates are forced to battle this apparition, which is all that remains of Kei.
“The Four of Us Are Dying” is an ominous ambient piece that serves as the penultimate track of Nine Inch Nails’ 2008 album The Slip. It borrows its title from an episode of The Twilight Zone about a con man who can change his appearance at will, perhaps pointing to the changes Trent Reznor’s musical identity would subsequently undergo. (He has not released a record under the NIN name since, instead shifting his focus to a new band called How to Destroy Angels and soundtracks for David Fincher films.) Regardless of the title’s symbolism, I used it just because it could be construed as referring to the four missing students. Never mind that one of them actually ends up not dying.
Kei, Namie, and Tadashi were all second-years, while Haruka was (and continues to be, fortunately) a third-year.
Kei’s name is written with the kanji 恵, but she herself preferred to write her name in hiragana, to emphasize that it’s not pronounced with the common alternative reading Megumi.
07:43:47 <kxz> I'm caught between "make it obvious" and "well, you can't make it so obvious that everyone in-universe would know, because that would complicate the whole 'magic fighting magic' business" 07:44:45 <kxz> I'm also loath to make the solution involve Pyunpyun withholding important information only to disclose it later, because that's just a dick move 07:45:05 <xeniera> Yeah, avoid that. 07:45:24 <kxz> so I don't want him to just be "oh, yeah, I forgot to mention, Kei's a magical girl" [...] 07:53:15 <kxz> I could have needles show up on one of the bodies, then have Pyunpyun go "oh, I know someone else who was contracted by another familiar and uses needles, lemme call around and get back to you" 07:53:29 <kxz> in essence turning the dickishness into distributed bureaucratic ignorance instead 07:53:37 <xeniera> Hahahah. 07:53:43 <kxz> which, as we all know, is my favorite `_` 07:53:56 <xeniera> I think you're definitely on to something with the needles in the bodies thing. 07:54:04 <xeniera> Maybe Kei's hobby at school was sewing. 07:54:06 <xeniera> i dunno 07:54:23 <kxz> ... whoa 07:54:26 <kxz> that could actually work 07:54:31 <kxz> not that literally, maybe, but something like that 07:54:44 <kxz> have her weapon be connected to something about her outside personality 07:55:04 <xeniera> Yeah. 07:55:13 <xeniera> Something that's easy to make the connection with.