72 Side Story - Divergence (2)

Zoro gently laid Toji's heavy body down in a place where no one would come. Searching Toji's body, Zoro found a cell phone and called Shiu Kong.


Upon seeing Toji's corpse, missing an arm, and Zoro's blood-soaked figure, Shiu Kong remained silent. He was curious about how this had happened to Toji but didn't dare ask Zoro.

With eyes blazing with an emotion that could be sorrow or rage, Zoro firmly said,

"Find me a crematorium."

It was more of a command than a request, but faced with Zoro's menacing aura that seemed ready to kill if disobeyed, Shiu Kong didn't utter a word of protest and complied.

At a quiet crematorium introduced by Shiu Kong, Zoro cremated Toji. He burned the body, receiving only a small jar's worth of ashes.

And then he buried those ashes next to Chie's.


Zoro stared blankly at Toji's grave, which, unlike Chie's, was freshly made and clean.


Are you satisfied?

Are you happy to be beside her?

Zoro swallowed these words instead of voicing them out loud.

There's no use talking to the dead.

No sarcasm, reprimand, or criticism would matter.

It would only become a meaningless soliloquy.

Shiu Kong, smoking a cigarette and standing by, shook his head as he looked at Zoro's calm face.

'So tough.'

Throughout the entire process, Zoro never once cried. Not a single tear was shed.

Whether it was because his affection for his father was faint, or...

Oh, right. Shiu Kong suddenly remembered something he had half-forgotten because it was so long ago.

'That guy had left some money for times like this.'

He would have to combine that money with the reward for completing the growth request and give that bank account to this kid.

Zoro turned away from Toji's grave. Shiu Kong, having finished his cigarette, stamped it out on the ground and said,

"I can give you a ride home."

"No need."

"...I'll at least call you a taxi. Take that to go home."

Zoro didn't refuse that offer. It was more accurate to say he wasn't in the state of mind to refuse. His head felt foggy and heavy. A storm of thoughts and emotions swirled and then heavily settled in his mind.

He needed to get home quickly. Tsumiki and Megumi would be waiting. But he couldn't remember the way home.

'I'm tired.'




'He's not coming.'

Tsumiki glanced at the clock. It was already past 7 PM. Zoro was significantly later than his usual return time.

'Could it be that brother, like mom, won't come back...? No, let's not think that way.'

Tsumiki shook her head, trying to dispel the sudden surge of anxiety.


The sound of the front door opening brightened Tsumiki's face as she ran towards it.


However, upon seeing Zoro's face, Tsumiki couldn't help but freeze.

His usual calm expression...

...betrayed an undeniable pain.


Tsumiki thought it looked like Zoro was crying. No sound could be heard, no tears fell.

What happened?

Faced with Tsumiki's question, Zoro opened his mouth, then closed it.

To say that Toji had died.

Or it was nothing.

Or it was nothing at all.

He couldn't speak any of those words.

Because, the truth would hurt Tsumiki.

And he couldn't tell a lie.

Zoro couldn't treat Toji's death as something trivial or as if it were nothing.

Belatedly rushing over, Megumi froze upon seeing Zoro's face. It was his first time seeing his brother with such an expression.

So much pain, so much struggle, as if he was about to crumble, disperse like a shattered sugar jar.

Megumi was suddenly afraid. Just like Tsumiki's mother had been, just like their father, who he could hardly remember now, had been. He feared his brother might also leave and disappear from their side.


Don't go.

Megumi rushed into Zoro's arms. Reflexively, Zoro hugged his back. Tsumiki, holding back her tears until then, also burst into tears and clung to Zoro.

Their warmth filled his embrace. Zoro said nothing, just buried his face in the warmth of his siblings.

Though it was Zoro who was being hugged, it felt as if he was the one being comforted.


For the next two days, Zoro only slept.

Not his usual dozing off on the sofa or leaning against the wall, but lying down under a blanket, silent as a dead mouse.

Even during sleep, if someone called him or something happened, he would usually wake up, but not this time. Zoro was so still that Megumi commented on it, worrying he wasn't moving at all.

He even had a fever at one point, but Tsumiki didn't suggest going to the hospital. She realized it wasn't a sickness of the body but of the heart. Instead, Tsumiki didn't leave Zoro's side for days, and neither did Megumi.

On the morning of the third day, as if nothing had happened, Zoro got up and returned to his regular routine. He woke up early to exercise and prepared breakfast with Tsumiki.

Tsumiki felt relieved seeing this but didn't ask if he was okay now. Zoro was a very strong person. She had never seen him in such pain before.

'Of course, he's not okay.'

He was just pretending to be. For them, who were worried about him.

That's why Tsumiki had no thoughts of prying into what happened. It would only reopen Zoro's wounds. She thought it was better to wait until Zoro was truly okay to ask.

Zoro went outside to check the mailbox. Among several bills, there was one letter envelope. Inside were a memo and a bankbook.

After indifferently passing over the many zeros in the bank account balance, Zoro read the memo.

'This was your father's request. — Shiu Kong'

Zoro absentmindedly crumpled the memo. Recalling that Toji had left this task to Shiu Kong, the anger he had barely calmed over the past few days flared up again.

Who asked you for this kind of thing?

Leaving behind stuff like this and running away.

Zoro clenched his fist tightly enough for blood to form, then slowly relaxed his grip.

Getting angry at the dead is meaningless. It doesn't reach them.

That made him even angrier.

The fact that Toji had gone to a place where Zoro's anger could never reach.

"Worthless kid."

Zoro threw away the memo and took a deep breath to compose himself before entering the house with only the bankbook in hand.

Tsumiki and Megumi were sitting side by side on the sofa, watching TV. However, it was clear from the program and their expressions that it was just turned on for the sake of it.

As Zoro approached, Tsumiki and Megumi quickly moved aside to make space for him. Zoro sat between them.

"Megumi, Tsumiki."


"Shall we move?"

"...Why all of a sudden?"

"Because there's no one left to come here."

Tsumiki's mother had been missing for several months now. Toji was dead. Now, there's no one left to return to this house.

This place also had too many of those nameless monsters. Megumi had been scared too many times when going out. Those monsters definitely did not appear in places with fewer people, so he thought of moving there. It had been quite some time since they stopped going to school.

"Do you want to move, brother?"


This was Chie and Toji's home. Now that both of them were dead, there was no longer any reason to stay here.

Tsumiki nodded firmly.

"Then let's go. What about you, Megumi?"


"Alright. Let's go."

There's no reason to stay here anymore. Zoro swallowed his words.


Several weeks later, Zoro left a letter for Tsumiki's mother in case she returned, entrusted to the new landlord, and completely cleared out the original house. Then, with Shiu Kong's help, they moved to a small village in Hokkaido.

In this village, where snow stacks up much higher than Tsumiki's height, there were few people, and it was very quiet.

People whispered about a house where only children lived, but Zoro paid no mind. They whispered but never called the police, and gradually they became indifferent and naturally accepted Zoro's family. At least Zoro was satisfied with the outcome.

With fewer people around, the monsters that scared Megumi hardly appeared. Megumi's sketchbook, once filled with various monster drawings, now featured trees, snow, Zoro, and Tsumiki.

When winter came and the first snow fell in the front yard, Megumi and Tsumiki, wearing thick winter clothes, frolicked in the snowfield. Even Zoro joined them, sledding and building a snowman together.

"The snowman you made looks ugly."

"Shut up."

Tsumiki laughed heartily.

Zoro glanced begrudgingly at the snowman, its head thickly adorned with black branches as hair. Although he teased, it was hard to deny that it was just a big, ugly mass.

"But, is this made by Megumi?"


"The snowman looks like Megumi."

At Tsumiki's words, Zoro realized for the first time that the snowman he made resembled someone from his memory.

It somewhat resembled Megumi, but the person Zoro overlapped with was someone else.

With its rough hair made of black branches, large size, and a mouth split like a distinctive scar made from branches.

Memories leave traces in unexpected moments. Zoro, thinking of his father buried next to Chie, uttered the name caught in his throat.


"Toji? Oh, uncle?"

"You remember."

Of course, Zoro was more surprised by that. He only remembered meeting him once or twice.

"Of course I remember. He's your and Megumi's dad."

"Do you miss him?"



"Can't see him, not anymore."

With that reply, Zoro looked up at the sky. Once again, large snowflakes began to fall.

There's a lot of snow here.

Enough to completely cover things like snowmen.

"Let's go inside, Tsumiki."

Playing outside when it snows this much can be dangerous for children; they might get buried in the snow. It was time to go inside.

Zoro, holding Tsumiki's hand with one hand and lifting Megumi from the snow-covered yard with the other, where he had been lying down making snow angels.

"Let's play more."


Zoro glanced at the snowman one more time, then without any hesitation, locked the door firmly as he led his siblings inside.

That day, the snow continued without pause.

It kept falling until Zoro's large snowman was completely covered, non-stop.


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