Prologue: Two Years Prior
Kazusa Touma hated the sky.
In spring, she had skipped out on the opening ceremony for her high school, the attached academy at Houjou University, and sprawled out on her back along a riverbed nearby. The perfectly clear blue sky above her was vastly different from the dusky clouds in her heart, and she didn’t like that at all.
A few days before that, Kazusa’s mother had announced that she was leaving.
Youko Touma, world-class profligate pianist and Kazusa’s only blood relative, had rattled off a list of blatantly selfish reasons to her daughter, then jetted off to Paris, to shift her base of operations to Europe.
Through all of Kazusa’s childhood, Youko had never shown up to any events outside of competitions. She had never made dinner. She was out of the house constantly, and although she claimed it was for concert tours, Kazusa knew that that was only true about half the time—the rest of the time, it was honeymooning with whatever man she was currently involved with.
Even so, Kazusa had never felt dissatisfied with her debauched mother before.
For about half the year, Youko stayed in the same house as she did, ate at the same table, and gave her praise in the event of a successful competition.
Her mother needed her. Kazusa believed, fully, deeply, that she was loved.
“There would be no point in my taking you along right now.”
The moment she heard these merciless words out of her own mother’s mouth, the little girl who still bore the name of Kazusa Touma felt that the former Kazusa Touma had vanished.
The world didn’t need this new Kazusa Touma.
This wasn’t a fact, simply a change in the way Kazusa herself felt, but to someone smack in the middle of her adolescence, such blunt reasoning felt like a massive “Screw you.”
Ever since then, the way other people spoke to Kazusa, looked at her, felt about her…
No, not just people—not even just living things—but everything, every color, sound, smell, flavor, tactile sensation, seemed to hide another, secret meaning behind its surface, and she began to feel that they were all spiting her, mocking her, watching her, and yet disregarding her.
And so, Kazusa decided to hate everything around her… which, at present, was the sky, filling her field of vision.
It was easier than hating her mother.
Kazusa Touma hated her teacher.
The day after the entrance ceremony, Kazusa arrived at school to find the music department instructor waiting for her, who gave the new students a servile smile, and then guided her to the third floor of the other building after school.
In the middle of the classroom beneath the plate reading “Music Room #2,” a brand new grand piano sat enshrined. Its engraving, “Donated by Youko Touma,” shone in gold, bright enough to make Kazusa wince.
As Kazusa stood there, sighing but saying nothing, her teacher spoke effusively of the high expectations that Houjou High School, and the music department in particular, held for her, a mere freshman. She promised to give Kazusa’s musical activities maximum priority and support, officially distinguishing her from the other students.
So, Kazusa asked for her cooperation immediately.
“Then get out. I’m going to practice now.”
Had her teacher gotten mad at her, or warned her against such rudeness, Kazusa might have realized how ridiculously stubborn she was being, shown the sort of meek remorse that she used to show, and it might have improved both the impression of their first meeting and their future relationship.
But this woman in her mid-twenties with black-rimmed glasses, after her eyes went wide for a moment, quickly pasted back on the servile smile from before and said, “Come by the staff room when you’re done, so I can lock the door after you,” and made nothing more of the audacity of this student who was at least ten years her junior.
And so, Kazusa decided to hate the woman who was to be her teacher, the school administration that forced her to take such an “adult attitude,” and all of the other teachers, even though they had nothing to do with it.
It was too much trouble to make all these little distinctions between enemies and allies.
Kazusa Touma hated her classmates.
A short while after the entrance ceremony, once classes had begun in earnest, a certain male student started talking to her whenever it was practice time, as though they were friends.
This classmate, who introduced himself as Takanori Matsukawa, spoke proudly of the relationship they shared as frequent competitors for overall contest victories, and spoke even more proudly of how only the two of them had been selected to participate in the national competition taking place next month. Kazusa had no memory of the former and no interest in the latter, and she began to treat him with utter indifference.
In the face of this unforeseen response from his “only worthy rival,” Matsukawa forcefully interpreted Kazusa’s attitude as a sort of backward show of favor, and clung to her even more desperately.
After all, he couldn’t come up with any reason for Kazusa to hate him.
His pet theory was that top-class performers could recognize one another, and he had no cause to doubt that she was to him, and he to her, the only possible partner for developing not only as pianists, but as people.
As these one-sided hours passed, something happened.
The two of them, standing in the classroom in the evening…
No one but those two knew how they had wound up here, but the end result had Matsukawa writhing around with cold sweat dripping from his forehead, clutching his groin, and Kazusa kicking over the desks and chairs surrounding them, as though trying to shake an unpleasant sensation out of her foot.
Incidentally, it was Kazusa’s habit as a pianist not to use her fists, but considering her target was his groin, it wasn’t that big a deal.
Anyhow, the school “generously” ruled that this evening’s incident was small enough not to warrant any blame to either side.
And yet… No, maybe because of it, before even a month had passed, a gash had opened up between Kazusa and all of her classmates in the music department that could never be repaired.
And so, Kazusa decided to hate everyone in the classroom equally.
She didn’t want to give any special hatred to Matsukawa, because that would satisfy his inflated sense of himself, and no one there talked to her any more anyway.
One month later, the spring national competition took place.
A first-year taking first place over all, not even two months after entering—this was, without exaggeration, the first time in the school’s existence that this feat had been achieved, and the principal, board chairman, vice principal, and head of year came all the way to the venue in unanimous praise of this single female student.
Her teacher followed after her superiors, that same humble smile on her face.
The upperclassmen who had lasted into the final round of the same competition applauded mechanically, their eyes cast down.
And among her fellow first-years… not a single one had come to this national competition to support her.
In a scant two months, Kazusa had managed to grate this much against the world around her, to divide herself from them, and to become isolated.
But Kazusa showed no concern whatsoever for these disagreeable responses, accepted her certificate with a blank look on her face, wordlessly cut off the voices praising her, ignored those who were standing still and silent, walked out with her certificate and trophy, and left the place on her own.
The feeling that filled her then was not joy, nor accomplishment, nor anger, nor meaninglessness—nothing at all. Flat.
Or so it seemed.
Kazusa couldn’t remember very well what happened that night, after she got home and opened the front door.
Not opening the large airmail parcel left in the entryway, nor the stuffed dog, out of line with her age, that came out of the parcel, nor the fact that the accompanying card had her mother’s name and “Happy birthday” written on it, nor the fact that this day, marked by her victory in the competition, was a week after her birthday, nor the fact that the eyes of the dog staring at her were a little too big and round…
Not the fact that she had started screaming, throwing her mother’s week-late present hard against the wall, picking it up, throwing it again, thrashing it around, all but tearing it to pieces with her nails, nor her vision blurring so that she couldn’t see anything, nor giving voice to the ugly feelings pouring uncontrollably out of her heart, nor her own belief that there was absolutely nothing left to her—none of it, nothing at all…
Kazusa’s victory was a big enough deal to warrant mention in the regional section of the newspaper the next day, with a photograph included. Of course, the name “Youko Touma” showed up five times in the article, including in the headline, but Kazusa wasn’t going to find that article, or even look for it.
Kazusa Touma came to hate the piano.
It was no different from the way she had hated the whole world then.