There is another side to every story.
In everything, there is a lie.
There are secrets hidden in every story.
All will be forgotten with time.
That’s why things simply cannot be judged by how they seem.
Look past the surface, see through the lies, bring the secrets to light, compensate for forgetfulness and then, for the first time, you will hit upon the truth.
But that doesn’t always mean discovering the truth is the right thing to do.
It doesn’t mean that the truth you struggled so hard to reach will make you happy.
Yet still people pursue it.
To put it plainly, they search for it to satisfy their curiosity or to find their own peace…
…without knowing that the truth may well be the trigger for their misfortune.
The Malice groaned.
Still I refused. I would not hand it over.
The Malice, now a Calamity, howled.
Once more, I refused. I would not hand it over.
Heresy was to be despised, fools were to be mocked, and traitors were to be scorned.
I knew full well the importance of my duty.
The sacredness of tradition had been instilled into me.
I was taught to hate.
But couldn’t do it
That’s why I could only repeat my answer.
That I would not hand it over.
The Calamity was chasing after me.
It was going to follow me anywhere I went.
In order to take it away from me.
The Malice, now a Calamity, continued to pour out of the jar.
I went to my part time job at the Tsukumodo Antique Shop right after school like I always did. I opened the front door thinking about what I could do to waste time at work today.
“Ahh—you’re finally here.”
The shop owner, Towako-san, had an expectant smile on her face as she raised her hand to greet me.
I’ve got a bad feeling about this.
She had been out until yesterday searching for relics to buy. The fact that she was smiling was ominous foreshadowing about what was going to happen next.
“Ya know, I got my hands on something really nice this time.”
“Uh-huh…” My shoulders slumped as things started to play out exactly as I thought they would.
“Hey, what’s up with that lukewarm reaction?”
“It’s exactly what it looks like…”
Towako-san pouted in disappointment at my response, but I didn’t bother fixing my behavior.
You might think anyone would be happy to see the relics she discovered, but most of them actually ended up being fake. She did find real ones every once in a while, but that usually meant that extremely annoying things were soon to follow.
“You should be more like Saki-chan.”
I looked at Saki when Towako-san said that. Despite her lack of expression, she also seemed to have an unhappy atmosphere about her—not that Towako-san noticed any of it.
I followed Saki’s example and tried to show her how unhappy I was.
“Alright, take a seat.” Yep, she really wasn’t getting the message.
My eyes met with Saki’s. The two of us sighed and sat down in front of Towako-san.
“This time, I managed to get my hands on this.” She set a jar on the table with a thunk. It looked obviously suspicious and was made out of what seemed to be dark clay. It was large enough for Towako-san to wrap both of her arms around it, but didn’t really look that heavy. The lid on top of the jar was sealed shut with a tightly wrapped cord. It probably wouldn’t sell at all even if some religious group tried to market it as an item that could bring you happiness.
“This is called the Calamity Jar. I’ve been told that it seals all of the world’s malice and should never, ever be opened.”
Woah, it didn’t just look suspicious, it sounded pretty sketchy too!
“What are you going to do with something like that?”
My thoughts exactly. Good going, Saki!
“Is it something we can sell in the store?”
No, Saki. You should worry about yourself before asking about the store. You always seem to have bad luck with Relics for some reason.
“But seriously, what are we going to do with it?”
“I’m gonna research it, of course. It’s a jar with malice sealed in it. I wanna know what the heck’s really sealed in it and why was it sealed in the first place…doesn’t it just fire up your investigative spirit?”
“That’s just plain curiosity.”
“You really need to pick up more interests.”
“I’m extremely interested in living a quiet and peaceful life.”
What was the point of sticking your face headlong into danger anyway?
“Anyway, be careful when handling it, OK.”
“I know, it’s just research.” Towako patted the heap of documents that she apparently got along with the jar.
“Don’t do anything dumb like opening the lid.”
I also warned Saki next to me. She responded with a shake of her head as if her getting warned was entirely unexpected.
She didn’t get it at all. If you asked me, Saki was plenty dangerous on her own.
Onee-sama, it’s almost over.
I put my hand on my beloved sister’s large belly. She sat quietly in her chair, gently brushing her hand on her stomach.
Ten days and nine months ago.
The child inside her that had expanded her stomach like a balloon was now fighting to come outside with all its might. Today was the day it would finally come out into the world.
The atmosphere in the room was still solemn despite the hectic activity around us. Still, I couldn’t help looking forward to the baby being born. I couldn’t stop myself from smiling.
“Hurry, come out.” I called to the child in singsong voice.
Only one more day until it was born.
But I couldn’t wait, even just a little bit faster would be nice. I had called to the child in my sisters’ stomach many times before, praying that everything would go well.
“It’s not going to come out any faster even if you sing to it like that, you know.”
Onee-sama smiled painfully and rubbed my head in the same way that I was rubbing her belly.
That’s when the surrounding people began scolding me for refusing to let go of her.
“Alright, we need to start getting ready now. Why don’t you go back to your room?”
I pouted in reluctance seeing them politely trying to get rid of me. I was going to stay next to Onee-sama’s side no matter what.
“Please, listen to what they say.”
If Onee-sama was the one asking me, then there was nothing else I could do. I got up to leave the room.
She suddenly grimaced in pain as she was seeing me off. Seeing her tense up her body so forcefully, I knew.
The pain. It was coming.
I had seen Onee-sama suffer from nausea, fainting spells, screaming because of the pain in her belly many times before today. I even saw her groaning in pain just yesterday.
The people in the room took her to an inner room and kicked me out as soon as they saw what was happening. But rather than go back to my room, I waited near the closed door. I could still hear her screams of pain from the other side.
Ten months and nine days ago.
That the child that took shelter in her belly would be born safely, I prayed in front of the door.
The ten months and ten days that the child had lived inside my sister’s stomach ended in an instant.
An excited cry came from inside the room. Unable to hold down my excitement any longer, I forced open the door to push my way through the crowd.
Onee-sama seemed worn out, but she still looked proud that she had completed her duty. Auntie, Onee-sama’s mother, picked up the newborn child and headed deeper into the room.
On the far end of the room stood an altar with a large jar enshrined at the top. The jar, normally sealed and tied shut with a string, was now open.
Oba-sama climbed to the top of the altar and lifted the child up high.
Seeing that, those in the room began to pray reverently. Onee-sama joined them in their prayer. I wasn’t really sure what to pray for, but followed suit and prayed as well.
Oba-sama silently nodded.
The healthy newborn baby was…
…hurled into the Mystic Jar.
—thank goodness. I felt so, so relieved.
That hateful, malice filled lump that had hurt my beloved Onee-sama was finally gone. The lump of malice that she gave birth to was thrown into the bottom of the Mystic Jar.
The world was full of malice.
But deliverance from this malice did not come from the gods.
That duty fell to we who served the shrine—the priestesses. We take the evil spreading in the world into ourselves and contain it. Then, for ten months and ten days, we go through hellish pain to incubate the malice in our bodies, followed by even more hellish suffering when the time comes to give birth.
This is the special power we priestesses have received from the gods.
After they’re born, the children of malice are thrown into and sealed in the Mystic Jar, a sacred treasure we received from the gods. It’s impossible to see what’s inside the jar no matter how long one looks. There is only a deep, deep darkness. That darkness is the malice of the world— the malice gathered and sealed by successive generations of priestesses.
As long as we priestesses continue to seal the malice, the world will remain at peace. We earn our privilege from people’s gratitude to the shrine.
Purifying the malice is something that can only be done only once in a lifetime.
That’s why priestesses who go through a purification once are promised to live out the rest of their lives in peace. Onee-sama, who went through the purification a few days ago, earned our gratitude and is now able to live the rest of her life peacefully.
“Onee-sama, are you feeling better now?”
Her complexion looked a lot better now than when she gave birth to the lump of malice a few days ago.
The fact that she still couldn’t walk around on her own yet and had to stay in bed every day was unfortunate, but soon she should be able to play with me like she used to.
Onee-sama had been fully devoted to that child and became unable to play with me while she was harboring that child of malice. I felt disappointed and a little bit angry at first…but also respect that she was carrying out her duty splendidly. It was a complicated feeling.
But all of that was over now. Onee-sama had given birth and purified the malice. She could now live her life freely and peacefully.
“Hey, Onee-sama. Was it difficult?”
“Did it hurt?”
“Yes, a whole lot.”
“Are you happy?”
“Nothing. I feel very proud.”
Onee-sama had hesitated for just a moment. She had an expression I had never seen before on her face. She also didn’t tell me she was happy. Why was that? How come she wasn’t happy even after fulfilling her duty?
Then, Onee-sama rubbed my head.
“Because we can’t obtain the happiness of normal women.”
“A normal woman’s happiness…?”
“It’s okay if you…no, it’s alright even if we don’t know.”
I wasn’t able to understand what Onee-sama meant by that.
But before long, I would have the opportunity to understand the feelings of priestesses who fulfilled their duty.
Because three days later, the lump of malice—the child of darkness—started to grow inside me.
I went to Tsukumodo right after school the next day like I always did, and noticed something unusual right when I opened the door to go inside.
Saki wasn’t at the register.
Maybe Towako-san had called her and she was on the second floor. I guess it didn’t matter either way. There was nothing to steal here and it’s not like any customers would be coming anyway. I kept my unflattering thoughts about the store to myself, and went to get changed.
Saki was still gone when I returned to the store. Just changing my clothes should have taken at least five minutes though…maybe she was just really busy.
“Saakii—” I tried calling her from the bottom of the stairs, but there was no response.
Oh well. She’d probably come down soon anyway…might as well watch the shop while I waited.
I waited ten minutes, twenty minutes. Saki still didn’t show up.
Deciding that there was no point in waiting for customers that would never come, I tried calling her from the bottom of the stairs one more time.
There was no response.
I was a little concerned about the shop, but went upstairs towards Towako-san’s room anyway.
There was no response when I knocked on the door.
“I’m coming in.” I announced myself just in case and opened the door. But contrary to my expectations, the two of them weren’t in Towako-san’s room either.
Maybe they went somewhere.
I took out my phone as I was closing the door…
I got the feeling I was being watched for a moment…but there was no one in the room.
The call connected, so I turned my attention back to the phone.
“The number you dialed is currently out of range…”
Saki didn’t answer and all I got was a message telling me that her phone was either dead or wasn’t getting a signal.
I searched the first floor, the second floor, and even the underground warehouse, but the two were still nowhere to be found.
I couldn’t find them anywhere and there was no way to contact them. Seeing as there was nothing else I could do for the moment, I resigned myself to waiting in the store.
I waited ten minutes, thirty minutes…no one returned. It was so quiet in the empty store that I could even hear the clock ticking. Feeling unusually thirsty, I went to the kitchen to get a glass of water.
That’s when I noticed that preparations had already been made for tea. There were two cups prepared—one for Saki and one for Towako-san, I supposed. I stole one of the cups to satiate my thirst.
The black tea was completely cold, as if it had been brewed several hours ago. It wasn’t just the cups though. Even the teapot was cold to the touch.
Meaning the two of them had already been gone for at least a few hours.
Did they really just leave things like this before they left? Did they just forget about the tea they brewed?
My doubts gave way to unease.
“Saki! Towako-san!” I shouted…but there was no response.
I checked the warehouse, the first floor, and the shop again. Still gone.
The last place I decided to check was Towako-san’s room. I opened her door one more time.
The room was the same as it always was, with documents scattered all over the place. There was barely any space to set foot…I couldn’t remember a time when this place was actually organized.
Although it wasn’t a rare sight to find Towako-san buried under a mountain of documents, I couldn’t see the two of them laying buried under anything this time.
But I still stepped into her room just to make extra sure. Towako-san always said not to go into her room without permission…she’d definitely be mad if she found out.
My silly worries suddenly vanished. Or rather, they were completely overridden.
I suddenly became aware of an intense weight surrounding me. It wasn’t a physical weight, but I definitely felt something the instant I walked into the room. It was an otherworldly sort of pressure…almost like the very air had turned to lead. My body was now stiff because of the tension, but I still continued into the room.
The room was, of course, as messy as it always was. Various documents and Relic-like tools had completely taken over the space.
Speaking of which, the Calamity Jar was in here too. It was still on the desk, just as I had left it when I carried it in here yesterday.
Suddenly, a painful noise rang inside my head—
I opened the door and stepped into Towako-san’s room. There were mountains of papers piled senselessly all over the place.
There was barely any space to walk in the room
That strange mirror that didn’t show a reflection was still here…
If I had to say there was anything off, it was that the owner, Towako-san was missing.
The jar on the desk was still there too. Its lid had been taken off and—
I stared at the jar on the desk when I came back to my senses. But it was still tightly sealed.
Getting the feeling that it was better not to, I stopped myself from touching it with my outstretched hand.
That’s when I noticed the pieces of paper on top of the desk. I took a closer look and saw that they were actually document scraps.
I was supposed to be waiting for customers that would never come with my usual excess of free time right now.
I noticed far too late that the everyday life I was dreaming about had already started to form cracks.
A single line written on the document scraps told me of the true disaster that had occurred.
Calamity will befall all those who learn the truth of this jar.
It hurts so much.
The constant nausea that assailed me every day had driven my heart to its breaking point. I no longer had anything left to vomit, but the nausea continued to come in waves.
Surely this was because my body was rejecting the lump of malice inside of me. Or maybe it was because the malice had become like a poison and was eating away at me.
If only I could get rid of it now…
But I couldn’t do that. The lump of malice was still growing. I had to continue taking in the malice of the world so it could mature.
If I didn’t collect the malice of the world inside me and raise it for ten months and ten days before sealing it in the jar, then it could never be purified. This pain was proof that the lump of malice inside of me was growing well. It wouldn’t be right of me to complain.
If even Onee-sama was able to endure this pain, then I would also try to endure this, and splendidly carry out my duty to purify the malice.
I hardened my resolved once again.
“Are you alright?”
Onee-sama held a fruit out to me as I lay on the bed.
“Can’t you try eating a little?”
I really didn’t want to eat, but I also couldn’t cause Onee-sama to worry. I took a bite. Regular food was impossible, but maybe I could somehow manage with fruit.
“Urrgggh.” Another wave of nausea hit me before I could finish that thought. It was almost like the lump of malice inside me was trying to starve me to death.
Onee-sama patted my back.
“I knew it. It’s impossible.”
The determination I had earlier disappeared, and a complaint escaped my lips.
“Onee-sama, please don’t hate me if I fail my duty.”
“It’ll become a little easier once you overcome this part”
Meaning that the nausea would go away once I got used to the change. But after that poor health and agony were still waiting for me. That really didn’t make me feel any better.
“I’ll teach you something good. It’s a secret technique I used to get past this painful period.”
After making me promise not to tell anyone, Onee-sama leaned forward to whisper in my ear.
“Hatred. Despise both the malice inside of you and the malice of the world.”
The shrine had taught me about love, but this was my first time learning about hatred. I felt a little excited, like I was hearing something I wasn’t supposed to. It was secret technique that suited a mischievous girl like me who always got in trouble for not following the rules.
Onee-sama really was amazing.
“Good. I know how kind and pure you are. Try to hate the child of malice inside you as much as you can and make that hatred real.
“—so that you won’t feel sorrow when the time finally comes.”
I’m so scared.
The pain and nausea gradually went away, but in exchange, my stomach began to swell strangely. It was now large enough to be visible even under the loose fitting priestess clothing. It was already plenty big as it was—just how long would it continue to grow? I had the uneasy feeling that my stomach would split if it continued to expand like this.
Days and months passed, and although I became used to the strain on my body, the strain on my heart only increased.
I became unable to forgive even the slightest mistakes from my helpers, and I even lashed out at my beloved Onee-sama. Despite that, I felt extremely lonely when alone.
Surely the malice I was holding in my belly was exerting its negative influence on me.
I couldn’t wait to get it out of me.
Once that happened, I could go back to how I used to be.
But there was still quite a long time before that day would come.
How long could I endure this anxiety and dread?
I knew that there would be even more agony from now on. Would I still be able to endure it?
The malice raged inside me as if to sneer at the weakness in my heart.
I felt like it was trying to tear its way through me and burst out.
I’ll let you out when the time comes.
I put my hand on my violently spasming belly and tried pacify the lump of malice inside of me.
No, this wasn’t right. I shouldn’t try to pacify it.
I was supposed to hate it. Just like Onee-sama said, I had to despise the lump of malice inside of me.
Hatred. Hatred. If I could do that, then maybe I could be as strong as she was.
Somebody please help me.
I desperately ran in my dream.
The mass of malice launched an attack against me.
Like pitch black darkness incarnate, it tried to seize me.
I desperately ran
Forgetting that I was told to avoid intense physical activity, I continued to frantically flee.
The mass of malice eventually disappeared.
I stopped running.
The moment I tried to catch my breath, my stomach quickly began to expand.
Don don don don it grew bigger and bigger and bigger.
Trying to hold it down was useless, I could not stop it.
My ever expanding stomach finally exploded, releasing the malice out into the world. I had failed my duty.
I opened my eyes.
My breath was ragged and I was drenched in sweat. I knew it was just a dream, but my body was still shaking in terror.
I had starting having more terrifying nightmares lately.
Nightmares of my stomach being torn apart, and the malice unleashed into the world.
And without fail, every time I opened my eyes the next morning—
The lump of malice kicked me from the inside as if it were making fun of me.
Still, I had to keep my heart strong.
I couldn’t afford to fail here.
But I can’t help being weak-willed. I can’t stop myself from feeling anxious.
I ended up complaining.
But after that, I felt better.
I was no longer the same girl that could only cry to Onee-sama. I had become stronger, I felt.
Just as the lump of malice inside me matured, so did I.
Please, just end it already.
Cold sweat appeared at the pain that felt like my stomach was being drawn tight. I could bear it by clenching my teeth, but in moments of weakness, a groan would leak out.
The malice inside of me was trying to tear through my stomach.
It was raging. The malice inside of my stomach was raging. It felt like the inside of my stomach was being mashed to pulp.
Calm down. You’ll come out soon.
But the child of malice did not know what would happen after that.
It couldn’t know that it would be sealed in the Mystic Jar soon after it was born.
Maybe that’s why it was trying to escape while there was still no one around. If that was what was happening, all the more reason not to let it out.
I had to complete my duty properly.
Until that day arrived, I would collect the malice of the world inside of me, and purify it.
Because I was a priestess.
It was my duty as a priestess of this shrine.
For the sake of the world, I could bear this pain.
Calamity will befall all those who learn the truth of this jar.—
The words on the document scraps told the entire story.
This was likely a message…one that Towako-san had left for me. I felt stupid for anxiously waiting for the two of them to return when something had already happened to them.
The Calamity Jar that was never meant to be opened.
Maybe Towako-san did indeed end up opening it.
But I couldn’t imagine Towako-san, who knew the dangers of Relics more than anyone else, opening the lid out of interest or curiosity. No matter how sloppy she normally was, Towako-san would never do something like that. I had faith that she would have kept the Relic closed under normal circumstances.
Perhaps she had some reason to open it, or maybe there were extenuating circumstances that left her with no other choice.
I couldn’t understand why Towako-san would have done something like that.
But it wasn’t like I could open the lid myself. I would only fall into ruin with them.
My current mission was first to find out what the Calamity was, and second to find a way to rescue Towako-san and Saki without opening the jar. All I could rely on for now were the documents that Towako-san had prepared.
Since Towako-san herself didn’t know much about the jar to begin with, the answer had to be somewhere in these papers. Analyzing them for myself was the best place to start for now.
I looked over the papers that Towako-san was studying before she disappeared.
The documents themselves were old. There were tears here and there, holes in the papers, and some black soot-like stains covering some parts, but there were several things I was able to clearly make out.
The jar was once consecrated as a secret treasure in a shrine somewhere. The shrine apparently used the jar to seal all the malice of the world.
The women who served the shrine, priestesses, were the ones who bore this duty. They were the only ones who had the ability to seal the world’s malice through the power of prayer.
The Calamity Jar was originally known as the Mystic Jar, and even back then, it was never supposed to be unsealed. That is to say, the lid was never to be opened. If the jar was opened any time other than when the malice was being sealed, disaster would befall the world.
It was the sort of things that adherents to shrines who served gods everywhere said. Prophecy, oracles, rain ceremonies…no matter the age, there were always special powers tied to religions and faiths.
I didn’t know what period this Calamity Jar was from, but it was an era where the shrine, or in other words a time when religion and faith were strong. This jar had the role of sealing malice, so it must have been the symbol of the shrine’s power in the land.
That being said, what did the malice sealed inside the jar refer to exactly?
Was it for example something that would point to treasure and fortune, and was said to have triggered a disastrous war in the past? I remembered seeing something like that in an old story once.
Or maybe there was a plague sealed in the jar and opening the jar would release it. Having the pathogen spread through the air to infect everyone could certainly be called a calamity.
Or what if they believed it caused natural disasters like earthquakes and lightning strikes? Even if it didn’t actually seal the disasters, just seeing jar open when the disasters occurred could have given rise to the belief that the jar itself had brought disaster.
And finally, what if nothing was actually sealed in it at all and it was just an ornament? Maybe that rumor was spread as a precaution because they didn’t want anyone opening the jar even though there wasn’t actually anything in it. Perhaps it was even used as a threat. Practically speaking, there’s no way all the malice of the world could be sealed in a jar anyway.
…it would be nice if that’s how it really was.
Regardless, the present situation was that Towako-san and Saki were now missing as a result of opening the jar.
This was, before anything else, related to a relic. Normal ways of thinking would not apply. There was no point in forcing myself to think about this optimistically.
No matter what I guessed, I couldn’t link it to the reason that Towako-san and Saki were missing. If the jar had some sort of curse or spell on it, and whenever the lid was opened it would cause people to disappear, that could be called a disaster. But that was too vague, I couldn’t continue from there.
Then what if…no, wait. There was no point in firing out guesses at random.
I took a deep breath to calm myself down.
Rushing to find an answer without organizing the information in my head would lead nowhere. Time to take this back to square one.
What should I really be focusing on?
What was the malice that was really sealed inside this Calamity Jar?
What is the Calamity that will be unleashed if the jar is opened?
If I could find out what was sealed in it, then I might be able to predict what would happen if it were released. Conversely, if I could find out what the calamity was, then I could figure out what was sealed in the jar.
If I could figure out both, then that would help me figure out how to save Towako-san and Saki.
What I had to focus on were the words that Towako-san left behind…Calamity will befall all those who learn the truth of this jar.—
There was something odd about this. I felt like I was overlooking something.
I read Towako-san’s note one more time.
The hint she had left behind was really easy to understand.
If I figured out the truth behind the jar, then disaster would follow. By that, she meant that I wasn’t supposed to open it and check what was inside. Basically, she was telling me not to open the jar…right?
So then what was I getting hung up on?
Of course. It was obvious now that I thought about it.
Towako-san already knew that the Calamity Jar was never supposed to be opened yesterday. I remembered warning them about it yesterday, so I knew this for sure.
Despite that, why did she leave these words—or more accurately, why did she leave these documents behind?
Was it because that was all she could do in the spur of the moment?
Maybe she was asking me not to investigate the calamity that befell them. Was she trying to keep me out of danger?
No, that couldn’t be it…
Towako-san knew me better than that. I wouldn’t stop even if she told me that.
A sudden chill shocked me out of my thoughts. My entire body was covered in goose bumps.
If there were countless tiny bugs crawling around me, then maybe this is what it would feel like.
However, the truth was that there were no insects. If I had to say, they were gazes.
It was the feeling that someone was watching me. Like someone was secretly observing me from the shadows, watching my every move with bated breath.
I turned just my eyes towards the place where I felt the gaze. Nothing in particular fell into my line of sight. When I tried to turn my neck in order to get a better look, my entire body stiffened up, as if it were refusing to go any further.
There really is something there.
My body was covered in sweat. It flowed from my upper back down my spine.
My heart was throbbing uncomfortably.
I swallowed, and the sound rang in my head.
I could hear the metronome sound of the ticking clock outside.
I could see something now.
The instant it entered the corner of my vision, I was assailed by a terrible sense of dread.
But I could not afford to look away.
An invisible terror was far worse than one I could face.
The unease of continuing not to look at it was won over by the desire to look and confirm if there really was anything there.
Even if I ended up regretting it.
I held down my fear, fought against the paralysis and turned towards the Calamity Jar.
The jar was sitting on the table, as if nothing at all had happened.
I decided to take a walk around the garden that day since the weather was nice.
Staying in my room all the time made me feel depressed, so although I was limited to the shrine grounds, I liked to go outside every once in a while.
However, I didn’t take anyone with me today. I had become accustomed to my large stomach now, so walking wasn’t a problem.
I spent a lot of time in the inner part of the shrine now that I was raising the malice inside me. In the past I also used to hang out in the common area with the regular priests and priestesses.
I hadn’t been there in a while though.
There was a large space around the well where I saw many people chatting with smiles on their faces. Children were laughing and playing with each other.
Even if they were called priests and priestesses, their daily lives weren’t all that different from ordinary people’s.
When they noticed that I had arrived, the chatting stopped and they lowered their heads towards me in respect. This was because priestesses who carried the malice were treated with the same reverence as those higher up in the shrine.
Being treated this way was a bit lonely, but given the importance of my duty, it was understandable.
“What’s the occasion today?”
An older priestess asked me as she lent me a hand descending the stairs.
“I was just looking for a change of pace is all.”
She stole a glance at my large stomach for just a moment, but without saying anything, guided me to the bench near the well.
Then, a child carrying a bucket with a desperate look in her eye came sprinting towards us.
“Aren’t you going to greet her?”
“I don’t have time for that right now!” The girl shot back and ran away after filling her bucket with water.
“My deepest apologies. I’ll make sure to scold her later.”
“It’s alright, I don’t mind. What’s going on?”
“Her younger sister is being born.”
Ah, I see. That girl was a big sister now. I know that she would become a wonderful older sister just like Onee-sama was to me. If she was already working so hard to carry water for her new sister, then everything would be okay.
“Can you take me there?”
“Do you mean to see the newborn?”
“Yes. I would like to at least pray for her.”
“I think everyone would be overjoyed by that too.” The priestess showed me the way to the house.
There were already lots of people gathered when I arrived. A young woman was lying on the bed in the center with an agonized expression on her face.
I was at a loss for words when I saw her. For some reason, her belly looked so swollen, like it was about to burst.
Indeed. It was just like how Onee-sama was last year—and how I was right now.
“Why does she…the duty…?”
“That’s not it.” The priestess who brought me answered the question I asked myself.
“She’s not carrying malice inside of her. She’s carrying a baby.”
“That’s how new life is made.”
“Waaah—!” A cry rang out in the room.
The next moment, the room was filled with excited shouts.
The woman on the bed was covered in sweat and her cheeks looked haggard, but she was smiling. She looked even more satisfied than Onee-sama did when she had completed her duty.
“It would be rude to compare it to your duty, but for women, giving birth to a child is an important duty that wouldn’t lose out even to the responsibility you bear.”
There was a small baby in the arms of an old woman next to the younger lady.
Not a child of malice, but an actual human child.
The grandmother passed the human child back to the young woman. The woman’s face was overjoyed.
She looked much, much happier than Onee-sama did when she had completed her duty.
Then, the priestess who brought me here explained something to the grandmother, and then beckoned over to me.
“Please pray so that she will not be led astray by the malice.” The young woman held the baby out to me.
The priestess beside me lifted my arms up and fixed them in place. I went with the flow, and cradled the newborn.
Something was happening
I couldn’t understand it.
The moment I took the frightfully fragile child into my arms…my heart shook.
It wasn’t because I was sad. It wasn’t because I was happy either.
But the tears would not stop flowing from my eyes.
I returned to my room later and told Onee-sama what happened.
She had a remorseful expression when she heard what I’d experienced, and only responded, “I see, you know now.”
I had seen this expression before.
It was the same expression Onee-sama had made a few days after completing her duty, when I asked if she was happy.
So that’s what this expression had meant that day.
“Onee-sama, did you already know?”
“Yes. I thought it was better for you not to know, I was hoping you would be happier completing your duty without finding out. But now, I should give you a proper explanation.”
I listened to what Onee-sama had to say.
To bear the child of their lover, nourish it, and then give birth…that was the single happiness of a woman that Onee-sama and I had lost.
The happiness that Auntie and my late mother had obtained.
“But you must not misunderstand. What you have inside of you is a lump of malice. They look similar, but they are very different. It’s nothing like the child that woman had.”
She was right. I couldn’t misunderstand.
What I had inside of my belly was a child of malice. A child of malice that was meant to be sealed inside the mystic jar.
I couldn’t obtain the happiness that came from giving birth.
But I could at least obtain the happiness of completing my duty.
As a priestess, that was enough happiness for me.
I wiped away my cold sweat and turned back to the documents.
I was now back where I started. Or more accurately, I now had a more fundamental problem; I now knew that I hadn’t understood the true meaning Towako-san’s message.
First, I needed to know what she was investigating and what exactly she wanted me know.
The documents contained records relating to the priestesses of a certain shrine. While there apparently were also male priests at this shrine, sealing the malice was a duty that belonged solely to the priestesses.
It was mentioned before that the priestess had some special power—likely through a relic—and were the only ones with the ability to seal the malice.
Looking at a more detailed section, I saw that they first gathered the malice into their bodies through prayer, and then gave birth to it before sealing it into the jar. There were even instances of priestesses who were unable to bear the burden and lost their lives in the process.
They truly believed they could save the world through their own suffering.
Certainly it wasn’t strange to see sacrifice when it came to matters of faith; there were many religions that believed in special powers and the like. This one wasn’t an exception either, it seemed.
That being said, there were also records of the malice being released in the past after it was sealed. The seal on the Calamity Jar was broken a total of two times, but the world was saved from danger due to the power of the priestesses’ prayer.
There was one priestess who had forsaken her duty of sealing the malice. Despite it not being time for the malice to be sealed, she apparently gave in to her curiosity and opened the lid, unleashing the Calamity onto the world. So there were people who tried to break the seal out of curiosity, even among the priestesses…
…well, it’s not like it’s impossible for holy people to sin. Desire was the same for all people after all. There were naturally going to be people who violated taboos no matter the era.
But what happened to the priestess after that? There was nothing further written about it here, but I doubted she got away with it scot-free. She was likely charged with some sort of punishment.
It was often said that curiosity kills.
If even priestesses could fall victim to their curiosity…what was to say that Towako-san wouldn’t either. What if, while she was researching the documents, she became curious about what was sealed in the jar and…
“…No, that can’t be right.”
Even if some nameless priestess gave in to her curiosity, Towako-san wouldn’t have. I had to believe in her. The reason Towako-san opened the jar wasn’t because of something like curiosity.
Right, there was one more thing I needed to think about.
Why did Towako-san open the Calamity Jar if she already knew it was never supposed to be opened? Why did she open the lid if she knew it could cause a calamity?
No wait, I was getting ahead of myself.
I considered the meaning of the message she left me one more time. It was kind of strange that she’d leave a note with such an obvious message. What if that message had another meaning…what if she wasn’t telling me to stay away from the jar, but to open it instead?
Did she leave the note in rejection of what I said yesterday?
I looked at the Calamity Jar once again. Was Towako-san really telling me to open it?
I reached out my hand to the Calamity Jar sitting on the desk. Would I be able to save the two of them if I opened it?
…no, wait. I was being hasty. I pulled my hand back.
This Calamity Jar was never to be opened. If it was, then disaster sure to follow. Towako-san wouldn’t have left such a vague message if she wanted me to do that.
My thoughts got stuck on something once again. Why did it feel like I was missing something? What was it that was bothering me?
They were different.
The two sentences were different.
Yesterday, Towako-san said that it was “a Calamity Jar that should never be opened,” and that a disaster would occur if it was.
In the message she left, she wrote, “Disaster will befall anyone who discovers the truth of the jar.”
The difference was the word truth.
Did Towako-san want to transmit that truth to me?
Once again, I felt chills on my back and trembled.
The chills were stronger than they were last time. It was an unpleasant feeling, like countless bugs were crawling all over me.
There was no mistake. I was being watched. But I couldn’t identify who or what had me in its sight.
…I was getting closer.
The force of the gaze from this unknown something gave me the feeling that I was getting closer to the heart of this mystery.
And so, ten months and nine days passed.
My experiences over the past year had matured me. I was ready to face today with a serene heart.
Of course, I still felt uneasy. However, I was no longer the same person I was ten months ago.
Why do I have to go through this difficult time, why do I have to endure this pain, why do I have to feel this anxious? There were times when I thought it all so unreasonable.
There were times when I asked, why me?
But now that I had come to this point, I understood that there was no need to have such thoughts.
All the pain, suffering, and dread had been a test from the gods to see if I could splendidly fulfil my duty. If I couldn’t overcome things like this, then I could not have completed my duty.
But I was able to endure it. I was able to come this far.
“We’re finally here.” Onee-sama gently took my hand. “Do your best.”
“I’ll try to complete my duty without fail.”
…And so, my final battle began.
Pain that felt like my body was being torn apart.
Agony like my insides were getting ripped out.
Anxiety like a giant whirlpool inside me.
But if I could endure this, everything would be over. I would have completed my mission as a priestess.
I could purify the malice running rampant in the world, even if just a little. I could make the people of the world even a little bit happier.
That’s why I couldn’t fail.
I grit my teeth, howled like a beast, screamed myself hoarse as if I was going mad. The pain was so much more than what I had expected. I slipped in and out of consciousness.
The lump of malice had yet to come out.
It was like the malice inside of me was fighting against being born and being thrown into the jar. The pain that struggle brought with it was difficult to bear.
I was stronger now.
I had thought that numerous times in these past ten months and ten days. But that conviction was now shattered.
I didn’t have any confidence that I could overcome this pain.
My consciousness faded away. The words of encouragement from the people around me became distant.
Someone. Anyone. Tell my weak self to try her best.
But why did I have to try my best?
For the sake of my duty?
For the people of the world?
Why did the priestesses of previous generations try so hard?
How did they find the strength to endure this pain?
Was it because of their dedication to completing their duty?
Was it the guarantee of a peaceful life after everything was over?
I couldn’t overcome this agony with those things.
Onee-sama’s words came back to me. I remembered how she told me to loath the malice.
True, I was able to endure until this point because of hate.
I despised this malice inside my stomach, and often thought about how I would seal it in the jar no matter what it took.
This malice that tormented the world, tormented previous priestesses, tormented Onee-sama, and tormented me…I could overcome this through hate.
But hatred alone wasn’t enough.
What did I have to do to overcome this pain completely?
My dream where the malice was released into the world after it consumed me came to my mind.
I couldn’t fight it anymore.
Just when my consciousness was about to be lost to the malice, I remembered the priestess who had given birth to that small baby. Seeing her face distorted in pain…surely she’d endured the same pain I was experiencing now.
What did she do to overcome the agony? What did she, who did not bear this burden of duty, use for encouragement?
I remembered the joyous expression on her face after she had her child.
That was not hate.
She wasn’t smiling because of hatred.
The reason for her smile was…
I heard a voice.
It wasn’t in my head, it was real.
That voice brought my consciousness back. I opened my eyes.
Looking up, I saw Onee-sama cradling something in her arms.
A small body that could fit in both hands. A small head that could fit in the palm of a hand. Fingers and toes that looked like specks. It was hard to believe such a small child could cry so loudly.
So small and helpless, yet so strong. A child full of contradiction.
This was different from a lump of malice. It was a real human child.
Onee-sama gave me a silent look and let me hold the baby.
I took him into my arms.
The moment I took the small, frighteningly fragile newborn in my arms…
Tears started to fall from my eyes.
My heart shook.