TLN: Whoops, I don’t have much time left before I have to go back into the future. Well, I guess I can at least show you guys the end of this volume before I go.
“Ah hah hah…”
Inside the ruins of an abandoned area, I looked at a photo album inside my cellphone.
The album contained memories of a past long gone, a past I once held dear, a past when I was but a mere simpleton.
Inside were the portraits of a young boy under the misapprehension that he had some sort of duty to fulfill in life.
“Ah hah hah…”
I laughed once more at how idiotic I had been that whole time.
My sight wandered to a certain picture taken long ago.
Figures that I thought I once thought I knew appeared inside that picture. A tall, stoic swordswoman. A long-haired, gentle shrine maiden. A scarlet vampire sporting some tiny fangs. A short-haired girl with a laidback countenance.
My heart ached a little upon seeing their faces.
Most prominent in the picture was the figure of a petite, androgynous boy in a school uniform.
The aching in my heart morphed into a blistering pain upon seeing that face. It felt like my chest had been pierced with a knife, my breathing turned jagged, my hands started shaking.
“Ah hah hah…Ah…AH…HAH HAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAha…ha…”
Memories I wanted to forget coursed through my broken mind. I laughed the hardest I had in such a long time. Who wouldn’t?
I couldn’t bear it any longer. I clutched the phone, slammed it against the floor, and stomped on it.
I crushed it to pieces. I took each piece and stomped on it further, further, and further, until only tiny indistinguishable particles of plastic remained.
“I don’t know why I even fought my way back to the surface. There’s nothing left for me.”
Muttering to myself, I turned my heel and quickly departed from the ruins, leaving behind my broken cell phone since it was only a relic of a time when I thought that being someone’s “friend” had any meaning.
That word once meant something to me, something very important, but not anymore. In my eyes, the word “friend” no longer exists.
And why should it? Nobody’s really a friend in this world. Everyone has something they lust after to the point that they would do anything to achieve it, even if it means betraying the ones they once held dear to them.
Loyalty is time-sensitive, but greed lasts a person’s lifetime. The only one you can truly trust in is your own self, and I had to learn that the hard way.
“…What do you think, Tie?”
I called out to Taotie, just hoping that he would still be there, but received only silence in return.
Right, Taotie had long since been slaughtered by the ones I once thought I could trust. He had been sent to a lonesome sleep for the next few centuries. I no longer had his power to depend on. Since that event, I never saw or heard from the “Three Princesses of Hell” again either.
As I walked across the littered floor to the exit, I stumbled across an old mirror somehow managing to keep itself affixed to the wall.
I took a long look in that mirror, cracked and disarrayed.
Jutting out of my chest was a deep red gem. A ruby, I believe. Naturally, it shouldn’t be there, but it had lodged itself after a certain incident within the abyss I was thrown into, barely missing any of my vital organs. I didn’t bother trying to remove it. It’s not like it matters anymore whether I die from it or not anyways.
In addition, my left hand was no longer was attached to my arm. In its place was a mere stump.
My hair was a mess, with strands sticking up all over the place. Scuffs and scabs appeared here and there around my face. Dried blood tracing itself back to what was once my right eye, now forever broken and incomplete.
Broken…incomplete…I suppose that’s the best way to describe my current self.
I stared at the remains of my right eye. Quite a fair amount of now-dried blood had run down from its socket, reaching my cheek, chin, neck, torso. I was quite pale from the sheer amount of blood loss.
I forced open my eyelid in order to inspect the damage. Needless to say, there’s no hope in it healing. I can’t even see my own pupil, and barely anything remains of my cornea or iris. It’s not easy to spot anything other than a mushy, goopy mixture of vitreous gel and blood.
However, the pain in my eye was nothing compared to what I felt in my heart.
(Why did things turn out this way?)
I pulled out a canister containing my last rations of cave water and dumped its contents over my face. Now that I’ve finally crawled my way back up to the surface, water supply isn’t an issue anymore.
The stream of water washed away the blood around my wounds and my right eye. I ripped off a piece of cloth from the remains of my shirt and wrapped it around my eye, serving as a makeshift eyepatch.
I stared at myself again in the mirror, slightly more clean now that the caked blood and unsightly mess of an eye were done and away.
(Yup, that figure in the mirror is me. Nothing wrong. I’ve been how I always have.)
I stared intently at myself.
However, the more I looked, the less confident I was that the one I was staring at was myself.
The more I looked, the more I realized that I looked nothing like the one I knew as Kobayashi Ichirou.
The more I looked, the more I felt disgusted at what I was seeing.
The more I looked, the more I found myself inexplicably crying for some reason.
The more I looked, the more I found myself breaking down.
(…Who am I kidding? At this point I’m only Kobayashi Ichirou in name, and nothing else.)
Tears travelled down my left eye, while a mixture of blood and saline caused my other eye to cry a crimson stream.
Not wanting to look at the hideous figure any longer, I clenched my fist and smashed the already-broken mirror until the shards of glass dropped from their frame and plummeted to the floor, leaving only an empty husk hanging on the wall.
I dashed away, not paying any mind to my surroundings.
In my inattention, I tripped over a piece of trash on the floor, causing my head to hit a stone table.
When I turned around, I found a metallic mask laying there on the floor, the item that caused me to trip.
A dose of pain entered my head from the impact. However, rather than wincing against it, I embraced it.
I slammed my head against the table, again and again.
(Maybe if I hit my head hard enough, I can forget about Ryuga, Yukimiya, Aogasaki, Elmira, Kurogame, and everything else.)
I kept slamming until my consciousness started getting fuzzy, but to no avail, I couldn’t wipe away the now-painful memories.
In fact, it only made it worse. The memories I had with them all came back in full force, torturing my psyche to no end.
The words I heard from her right before being cast away hurt the most.
‘Go ahead and get yourself killed down there for all I care. Leave us be and never come into our sight again.’
Why? Why did all of this happen? Why did they kick me into the dust and leave me there to rot?
Was it because I was too weak?
Perhaps that’s it, perhaps not.
The event is as clear as day to me still. The day that Ryuuga and her companions abandoned me.
At that moment, my own false perception of reality had crumbled. In my shock, I could only mutter one word back then.
I can still hear Ryuuga’s parting words as she pushed me down into the abyss.
‘It’s because you’re too weak.’
Reality presented itself before me at that moment. I came to realize the truth of this world.
Is it tough being a friend? That question is irrelevant. There is no such thing as a friend.
(Weak? Was I weak?)
Dark thoughts harbored within as I recalled the past.
(Is that it? Am I just a human sacrifice, someone to be cast away like a gecko would to their tail? Was that all they ever saw me as? An expendable pawn to toy around with before tossing away?)
I clenched my fists in bitterness as I kept reflecting upon it. The ruby inside my chest glowing a dim, red hue.
I spent months down in the abyss I had been shoved into. Months having to crawl my way back up. Months constantly fighting against abominations of the world. Months shaving away at my life. Months where I would go to sleep, not knowing if I could last the next day. Months where I had to survive off of disgusting monster meat and cave water. Months where I could instantly die at any given moment. All because of them.
And what did those months result in? Nothing but a gem implanted into my chest.
I glanced upwards, speaking to nobody in particular.
I said those words out loud, perhaps to convince myself.
“I am not weak…”
As I repeated it, I felt something stir within me.
“I am not weak!”
A fire ignited within my eyes. A certain emotion rekindled, one that I had not felt in such a long time.
“I AM NOT WEAK!”
That emotion heightened further and further, causing my mutters to turn into yells.
“I! AM! NOOOOT! WEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAK!”
That emotion, was rage.
The ruby began glowing brighter and brighter, as if responding to my calls. It suddenly pulsated, and in a flash of light, fused itself with my inner core.
I felt a rapid change to my body. I felt like I could tackle anything and anyone. I felt like I could crush mountains and lift entire oceans.
Suddenly, the world became clear to me.
(Why was it that I was thrown away? It’s because I’ve been so fixated on being a “friend character” that I made myself vulnerable. I have nobody to blame but myself.)
That’s right, all of this idiotic “friend character” business has led me to my own demise.
So, the solution to my problem is simple.
No longer will I act like some dimwitted fool for the sake of being “friends” with someone. No, in order to thrive in this world, one has to fend for themselves.
I must be strong enough to get things done alone, solo. Strong enough that I don’t have to depend on anybody, as they’re all bound to backstab me. Strong enough that nobody will have the right to decide my own fate.
I touched the glowing ruby embedded to my chest, feeling a surge of power from within.
Suddenly, I noticed a forgotten sensation in my left arm.
When I looked to check, I found a dark crimson aura hovering above the stump on my left arm, taking the form of a hand. I tried wiggling the fingers of this new “hand,” and found that movement felt surprisingly natural.
(It seems that there’s more to this gem than meets the eye, perhaps a blessing in disguise. What was its name again? Oh right, the Phantom Ruby.)
I picked up the metallic mask from within the rubble on the floor, wearing it over my face. I walked out of the ruins with a new resolve.
That day, I gave up my own unsightly face. I let go of the old me, the one that was so weak, so that I could become stronger.
No longer am I Kobayashi Ichirou, that name serves only to remind me of the painful past at this point.
My name is Infinite.