Epilogue/Watchers on the Wind
High above Academy City, two dark forms trace out a long, lazy spiral through the cloudless July sky. Few pay them any mind; why should they? Since long before we evolved rationality and language, we have been used to the birds in the sky above, looking down upon all of our secrets and shames without judgement.
And so, too, does this pair of night-black sentinels look down upon the city, silently laying its secrets bare.
They see a young, silver-haired girl opening a small gift box, presented to her by a tall policewoman with a nervous smile on her face. "Happy birthday, kid," the policewoman says as the girl tears away the ribbon.
The girl's face lights up as she discovers a Japanese passport and an Academy City identification card—both bearing her portrait, and a date of birth that is indeed exactly fifteen years before this day. "But—how?" she asks, joyful surprise fading to confusion.
"Kid, Touma can tell you that you can ask me just about any question and I'll give you a straight answer. Sometimes straighter than you actually want. So just this once, I want you to listen to me when I say: Don't ask."
The name on the documents is JESSICA IVY KINCAID.
They see four girls walking through a part of town their school uniforms are far too nice for; they are not the only ones, however. Others join them, drawn by rumors and perhaps something deeper to an empty lot that the watchers know was not always so empty.
Nor is it empty now: thirty-one small wooden crosses have been firmly planted into the dirt, painted white, as one might find in a Western war cemetery. Each cross bears a single name, in both Japanese and Roman characters; some have a third line of writing in Arabic, Korean, or some other language. LEE JUN-SEO, one reads. EDASAKI BANRI, proclaims another.
Three of the girls stop at a respectful distance, but one joins others in the slowly gathering crowd in walking up to the crosses, staring down at them. The watchers know that she feels like she should say something. She can still hear the name she reads, "HARUUE ERII", in her thoughts, though it's a hollow echo of the pounding, insistent message it once was.
She becomes aware that the crowd is suddenly parting, giving a new arrival a wide berth. She looks around and sees someone unmistakable: a boy, about her age, with shock-white hair, grey eyes, and a look of general disgust that seems permanently etched into his face. A face she, and many others in Academy City, know all too well.
He's carrying a large bouquet of flowers—yellow roses and forget-me-nots.
Slowly, carefully, he lays down a single rose and some forget-me-nots at each cross. The girl watches him the whole time, frozen like a deer caught in headlights, but he doesn't notice until he reaches the one marked HARUUE ERII. Finally, he meets her eyes.
"The fuck you lookin' at?" he asks.
"...You knew them. You were one of them," she says, speaking her realization even as it enters her mind.
"Fuck off," he says, but it sounds to the girl—and the watchers—more like "I'd rather not talk about it, thanks."
They see a redheaded man in a coat far too warm for the summer heat, and a plain-looking ponytailed woman, sitting in opposite jail cells, awaiting their inevitable fate.
"You should be dead," the woman says to the man.
"Probably!" the man responds cheerfully. "And yet here I am. Funny how these kinds of things work out."
The woman does not respond; there's nothing else she can say right now. Somewhere close by, a telephone rings; minutes later, a police officer walks in and unlocks both of their cells. His eyes are unfocused, his skin has the sheen of a nervous sweat, and his limbs twitch oddly as he moves, as if he has spontaneously developed Parkinson's disease. "You're...f-free to g-go," he stutters out to both of them. "Mistaken id-dentity? Y-yeah. You...you aren't who we were l-looking for."
The woman gracefully rises to her feet and leaves the jail without another word. The man gives the officer an oddly pitying look before following her. "For what it's worth, mate, I'm sorry about this," he says.
As the two of them pick up their effects—every officer in the station watching them with the same oddly unfocused gaze—the woman finds among them a carefully folded sheet of paper she does not remember having. She unfolds and reads it, recognizing the handwriting instantly. Silently, she passes the note to the man as they walk out the front doors of the police station, then pulls out her cellphone and dials a number. She relays the content of the note to the person on the other end, listens to the response for a time, then hangs up.
She sighs and turns to the man, whose smile now carries a hint of nervous incredulity as he realizes the implications of the note. "We're to 'hang around for a while and keep an eye on her'," she says, her voice dripping with contempt for the casual tone of her orders.
The man is satisfied enough with that.
They see two men in a lavishly appointed office in the City Center, one at the tail end of middle age in a well-tailored suit, the other an ancient, lab-coated fossil who appears as if he should be barely conscious, let alone standing.
"You have handled this situation in an...uncharacteristically sloppy manner, Dr. Kihara," the suited man says from behind an antique mahogany desk, hands folded in front of him. "I am not fond of these sorts of...experiments, but I tolerate them given the results they yield—so long as they stay out of the public eye."
"Ah, but Tom, Harumi-chan was one of my finest. Call me sentimental but I couldn't just—"
"Yes, you could. I know you have ordered far worse to be done. So if getting results without compromising secrecy means going to extreme lengths to tie up loose ends, do so. Lest we end up with videos of children's corpses on fucking YouTube. Do you understand?"
"Do you understand?"
"Then get out of my office."
And they see a hospital's neurology wing, and its newest long-term occupant. They watched her mind give birth to something strange and unknowable in the midst of battle only days ago; they watched her being taken away in an ambulance from the construction site where she fell; they watched as she was judged unfit to stand trial; they watched as a team of doctors look over a scan of her ravaged grey matter, far worse than any of her victims, and debate over whether there was anything left of her to save.
And now, as she lies in her hospital bed, bereft of muscle control, of memory, of sight and smell and taste, and yet somehow bereft of the mercy of unconsciousness as well, they watch her still. They watch as her mouth makes the same movements so many of her victims made, over and over again, though only the faintest whisper of breath accompanies them.
They watch still, as a nurse lets someone into her room, with a cheery "You have a visitor, Dr. Kiyama!" They watch the visitor in question make her way slowly up to the bed and take its occupant's hand in her own. They watch as the visitor whispers "Hi, Mama...it's me," and see that the visitor is indeed obviously the bedridden woman's daughter: the same build (though the daughter wears a high school uniform blouse and skirt), the same slightly frizzy brown hair (though the daughter wears it longer, a few strands tied into an odd sort of side-ponytail), the same big brown eyes (though the daughter's are hidden behind a thick pair of glasses).
"...Par...k...Ye...Ye...Ye..." They watch as the bedridden woman's endless litany finally falters, and her fingers twitch in her visitor's grip. They watch her visitor help her mother continue the sequence, her voice clear and firm: "Park Ye-Joon. Edasaki Banri. Vinod Sharif." They watch as the bedridden woman whispers a name, just one name, out of sequence, a name missing from her litany altogether. And they watch as she clears the momentary stumble, and as mother and daughter keep repeating the names deep into the night until sleep's embrace finally comes for them.
The watchers know why the bedridden woman faltered. They perceived the wordless, dreamlike thoughts that drifted across what remained of her mind when she heard that voice. They looked close enough to see the process that caused the ruined remnants of her speech centers to form a name she had never before spoken out loud. They know that if the firings of those last few bundles of working neurons were translated to the words she can no longer command, they would come out as something like, "...never had...a daughter...but if I had...would have named her..."
And they saw her lips forming the word "...Hyo...u...ka..."
It is not long after this that the winged watchers finally give up their vigil. They have seen enough, and so they fly for distant lands. Ceaselessly, tirelessly, they fly, no faster than an ordinary raven to any observer's eye, yet somehow rapid enough to catch up to the line dividing day and night as it scans its way across the planet.
They find their way to their master in time; though her wanderlust is insatiable and her stay in any single place rarely longer than a day, the force that guides them back to her is stronger than any magnetic field.
Finally they find her, on an unexplored volcanic island formed only a handful of years ago. She bears only the same equipment she always does when traveling: a gnarled walking stick and a simple gray cloak. She hears her servants approach, and throws back her hood to watch them descend, revealing long silver-white hair, delicate white skin of frustratingly indeterminate age, and a single green eye—the other, her left is covered by an eyepatch embroidered with an odd interlocking-triangle design.
Her servants land on her shoulders and put their beaks against her ears, and they whisper to her all that they have seen. When they finish and take flight again, she smiles, and says to the igneous desolation around her:
"And so it begins."
Author's note: It's done. Holy shit it's done. I actually finished a multi-chapter fanfic. It's done. It took me 4 years but it's done. Holy shit holy shit holy shit. Thank you, Kamachi Kazuma, for creating a world so rich and full of potential that I could strongly disagree with you about how it should be written. Thank you so much, iospace, for helping me hash out the ideas for this story, for applying the Whip of Writing Discipline whenever necessary (all too often), and especially for coming back to help me again after all those years. And finally, thank you all so much for reading this story, especially those of you who came back after the hiatus. Look forward to the sequel, A Thousand Shattered Mirrors, coming soon!