In The Fox-Witch's Wake, Part 1

Chapter 4: (Don't) Look into the Light

Honoka stands before Moriyaki Grocery's storefront, the summer wind wafting her hair. It was completely open, but her mother wasn't at the counter. That itself wasn't much of a worry, as crimes of petty theft are a rarity in Takachiho. But it was certainly not out of relaxedness that her mother had temporarily deserted the shop…

Honoka turns her head quietly. She looks at the garbage bin by the side of the shop's entry. The grip of a kendo sword sticks out by the side of a displaced lid. She shudders.

All the good that did, all her childish ideals… All of it, for nothing in the end. Her mind drifts dangerously close to what happened the other night. She shivers madly, looking away to enter the shop and up the stairs to her home. All was quiet. There was no yelling. That was good. It meant he is asleep, or away.

Honoka opens the front door and steps through. It feels surreal to her how just three months prior she would shove the door open so enthusiastically, bounding her way through with a big silly grin on her face, announcing loudly and proudly that she was back. That Honoka… Is gone. She looks down to her hands, finally realizing she had been shivering all along. How funny; home was supposed to be the safest place of all, and yet…

A singalong voice that idly echoed down the hallway froze Honoka's blood, midway through taking off her shoes.

"Hooo-nooo-kaaa. Come here… I have a bone to pick with you." Every instinct within Honoka screamed at her to turn about, cram her feet back into her shoes, throw the door aside and run without ever looking back. However…

"Please, dear… Do as he says." Mother. She couldn't leave her mother behind to face the full brunt of his fury…

The acrid stench of alcohol. The smell of dried booze and beer clinging to an unwashed singlet. How she grew to hate that stench. Honoka's father leans back in his chair, sloshing a beer can in one hand and the other drooped to the floor. Her mother sits opposite of him, bruised head bowed down in meek fear. He downs the can, lazily dropping it to the floor.

"Through an unknown benefactor… I have… I have obtained most distressing evidence of your recent shameful behaviour." Mr. Sarada's lowered arm slowly raises, wobbling an envelope about. "Take a look. Dare to tell me that this is false."

He slaps the envelope upon the desk, sliding its way towards Honoka. She looks down and freezes at the sight of two lipstick kisses upon its surface.

"Well? Go on!" Honoka reaches down slowly, opening the envelope. The contents slid out under gravity, spilling their way before her. Her pupils shrink, and she screams.

Photographs of her violation, taken during that forsaken night. The sounds of camera shutters ring in her ears. Those sounds that came from Saeko's friends' phones. Honoka's shivering returns with a vengeance as she squirms before the photos.

Why? Why?! Saeko… Saeko promised! She promised the photos would never be sent if I did everything they told me to! I did everything they told me to! Unless, unless, Saeko's friends, they-

"How could you do this?!" Mr. Sarada bellowed, pulling a letter out from within his singlet. "The truth… This letter explains everything! I lost my job and I'll never work again… All because of you!"

"Dear…" Mrs. Sarada finally speaks up in trying to change the subject, "…I think we should take Honoka to the police-"

"Shut up!" Mr. Sarada swings his beer can towards Honoka's mother, splashing her in stinking yellow alcohol. "The police are under the Yamadas' payroll! They'll never take action against our whore daughter-"

Outrage crosses Mrs. Sarada's expression, daring herself to express anger. "Dear! How could you say such a thing?! She was clearly ra-"

"I SAID TO SHUT UP!" One apish swing of the arm and Mrs. Sarada limply crumples to the floor.

"Your fault… It's your fault that I've become a pariah!" Mr. Sarada weeps as he flaps his sore hand, tears streaming down his face in selfish grief. "All because you had to become a shameful wretch at school, behaving out of line! And while I suffer here you go out and sleep with every other student you see! How could you do this to your own father?"

"No! That's not true, that isn't-" Honoka rises sharply and backs away from the table.

Mr. Sarada's expression of despair scrunches and contorts into rage. "Whore! Slut! I'll teach you to be ashamed! I'll teach you, right now-"

"No! Father!" Honoka runs for her life. She tears down the hallway and back to the entrance, the only way out of this home-turned-hell. She grabs the door handle and flings the door open, uncaring of running out barefoot.

The sweet freedom of the quiet Takachiho evening shone in her face and she almost passes the doorway… Only for a hand to seize her by the collar, throwing her back to the floor.

"I'll teach you!"

The door slowly swung shut as Mr. Sarada's arms flail up and down, accompanied by the sounds of tearing clothes and a crying daughter.

"I'll teach you!"

My name is Sarada Honoka. I wish for death.

"NOOOOOO!" Honoka struggles one last time, thrusting her head downward as the pitch black darkness about her head begins throbbing in a buildup of mesmerizing colours. The box moves along with her flailing, and is bucked off her head right as its markings burst in a spectrum of brain-freezing colours.

Honoka's tilt spares her the brunt of the eruption, streams of unnatural light shining perpendicular to her vision. Her captors, however…

"AAGH!" Came shouts of horror about Honoka as she opens her eyes and looks about in bewilderment. Her assailants were recoiling and covering their eyes. More importantly, no one was pinning her down now! She hastily pulls her purse containing her ID off the hand of a sluggish ambusher, throwing it back into her schoolbag and slinging the strap back across her shoulder. This was her opportunity! But where to go, where to go-

The dumpster!

Honoka forces herself up and runs to the dumpster, lifting it open. There's enough space! She turns to look back to her captors, affirming they were standing still and frozen. She throws herself in, closing the lid as fast and quietly as she could. She muffles her breaths as much to quiet down as she does to minimize the intake of garbage stench, and focuses her hearing through the dumpster's thin wall.

Silence with the occasional moan for what felt like minutes… Just as Honoka wondered if the box renders its victims permanently catatonic:

"What the hell just happened… The box! What the hell is it doing on the floor like that?"

"One of us must have dropped it and caused a backfire! Who was the idiot who was holding it?"

"I don't know! Don't look at me!"

"Quiet, both of you! Now's not the time to point fingers."

Silence. The masked operatives seem to be gathering their thoughts.

"Piece of shit visors are supposed to protect against that sort of thing… Damn budget cuts everywhere these days."

Honoka hears a chorus of muffled sighs and cursing, and a grunt preceding the sound of the box being picked off the floor and closed back up.

"Can we pretend this didn't happen? We're not wearing body cameras and I don't want to go through the paperwork."

"Command finds holes in our debriefing and figures it out, we'll be doubly screwed. So, no."

"Tch. Figures." The sound of another item being scraped off the alley floor. "Hey, I found the PDA."

"What does it say? Who did we last interact with?"

"…Some student named 'Sarada Honoka'." Honoka blinks in confusion. They were just pursuing her and her friends with such passion! What was with this disinterest and lack of recognition?

"Boxed or not believing in RPC-486?"

"Boxed. Oh! Says here she's one of the 'Big Three' priority targets as well. Guess we at least got something important done." That expression of surprise: They forgot. They had to have forgotten! Is that what the boxes do, make people forget particular things?

"Well alright. Not a total screwup then. Let's pick up from there, and-wait."


"…Why did we just cross her name out of the middle of a list of uncrossed names? Aren't we supposed to be working from top-down?"

Oh no.

"We must have run into her. The list says we boxed another of the 'Big Three' prior to that: Yukimori Misaki. There's just a Matsuoka Mizuka remaining."

"All right. But something just doesn't quite feel right…"

Footsteps. Honoka hears the thudding of boots clomping their across pavement. The boots are walking in a circle. The sounds stop. Then they resume, growing ever closer towards her dumpster…


"Damn this mess!" Honoka's face flushes white in terror, almost whimpering from the kick against the wall of the dumpster. Every movement of her body threatens to give her away, softly trembling as she is against the crinkling of trash bags.

"Oh, shoelace's loose. How did that happen…"

Honoka clamps her hands firmly onto her mouth as she hears every shuffling sound right beside the dumpster. Her breath tightens in whitening silence, yet her heart threatens to burst out loud from her chest with its frantic beating-

"Hey, wait. Did you hear something?"

No, no!

But a hand did not reach over to open the dumpster. Instead, a sonorous clang of metal and plastic rang out from elsewhere.

"Who's that? This area is supposed to be awareness-suppressed… Investigate, no witnesses!" The boots stomp off, fading into the distance.

A minute passes in absolute silence. The lid of the dumpster slowly lifts open, a hair's breadth of a crack allowing enough for its occupant to see. Honoka lifts the lid, stumbling over and back onto the pavement, gasping for fresh air. Her hand firmly presses over her chest with enough pressure to bleach the surrounding skin.

Mishio's unlucky charm had saved her once more. But what was that sound that caught the attention of the mysterious outsiders and drove them off?

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