Satoru called out a loud signal to the other canoes and we set off again.
What was happening to the face?
The feeling weighed heavily on me. Why was that face melting?
No, was it really melting? Doubt washed over me. Was it my imagination? Just an illusion caused by accumulated mental fatigue?
I suddenly regretted throwing the glass disc into the water. If I could just get another look at it, I’m sure it’d be back to normal.
No, it wouldn’t. The chill I felt when I had seen it wasn’t just my imagination. The face in the glass disc was indeed crumbling.
Then, why was that face, my face, changing? No, wait. That wasn’t my face. The resemblance was just a coincidence since the charms were given out at random.
…but, was that really true? I stopped rowing and thought.
Although it looked unintentional, could the truth be that it had already been decided which charm each child would get? If not, then there was no need for us to line up in seat order and receive the charms one by one. They could have just passed the box around and had us each take one.
“Hey, Saki! Row properly,” Satoru complained.
…given this theory, then the contents of each charm were different. The fact that the purity mask in my charm looked like me was no coincidence. Would the purity mask in every glass disc resemble the student it belonged to?
“Alright, alright. I heard you.”
I stuck my paddle in the water and lost myself in thought again.
Even so, what was it for? Every face was in a student’s likeness. Was there some sort of meaning behind it?
No matter how hard I thought, I couldn’t come up with an answer. All I could think of was that since they had put so much effort into this, then the charm wasn’t just a charm, there must be something else to it.
Ever since we had run into the false minoshiro, my attitude toward the adults has changed completely. I suspected all their instructions to us were secret ways of screening us.
…even the charm could be a tool in controlling us. Saying that it protects against karma demons was just an excuse.
I dipped my handkerchief into the lake and put it on my head. Cold water ran down my forehead and evaporated before it got to my cheeks. I barely noticed, still deep in thought.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to ask the false minoshiro what the truth about karma demons was. But like the fiends, they seemed to be a real threat.
I began to understand. It was just a feeling, an instinct that I couldn’t put into words yet.
Got it. Could the charm possibly be a karma demon detector? It could warn us if there was danger.
If we were near a karma demon.
My train of thought was broken by Satoru’s shout. For a second, I thought he was getting angry with me for how I was rowing but I quickly realized that wasn’t the case.
A shadow flew over my head. I looked up and realized with a jolt that it was the crow from before. It let out a long cry and wheeled around, going back the way it came.
I turned around and scores of boats filled my vision, speeding toward us at full sail. At the center was a huge warship, at least three times longer than our canoe. The gunwhale was filled to the brim with queerat soldiers.
“Saki…” Satoru’s sigh was filled with resignation. “We’ve been caught. Look, there’s Kiroumaru.”