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Reaper of the Thirteenth Step is the ninth chapter overall and second chapter of Higanbana no Saku Yoru ni - Dai Ni Ya (彼岸花の咲く夜に 第二夜).

The story revolves around Aya Souma. Questioning her life, she decides to seek a rumored Shinigami who supposedly haunts the thirteenth step. She finds the Shinigami named Izanami, who will devour her soul in a gruesome way, and is forced into another world where she must run away from Izanami every day.

Characters


Summary

A nameless girl runs from a humanoid figure. Tired, she collapses to the floor. Paralyzed and exhausted, she is unable to get up to continue running as the figure approaches. In her weakened form, she calls out to the thing chasing her, telling it to stay away. A shadow is cast onto the nameless girl as the figure slashes her with its scythe, killing her.

The scene cuts to a class in the midst of ending. Enrolled in this class is Aya Souma, who, despite her young age, questions her meaning in life and wishes to pass away peacefully. She overhears her classmates spreading rumors after class about one of the eight mysteries of the school: a flight of stairs with a thirteenth step, despite that there shouldn't be one. One of the students, enamored with the story, states that if one steps on the thirteenth step a Shinigami comes to take the person's life. That person cannot run or hide from the Shinigami. Aya ponders about having a Shinigami take her own life. Figuring that such a death would be relatively painless and peaceful, she decides to attempt to find the thirteenth step.

Aya looks for the thirteenth step on her way to the classroom. To know if there ever was a thirteenth step, she counts each step as she ascends them. To her dismay, she never reaches the number thirteen, no matter how many times she uses the stairs. She thought she would never find the Shinigami and was beginning to lose hope, until while going up to her class; she counts thirteen. This was the thirteenth step! Buffaloed and in disbelief, she runs down the stairs to recount. This time she only counts 12 steps. Deciding to recount a few more times, she reaches twelve every time. Annoyed, she thinks about how she just wants her life to end quickly and peacefully.

Aya's daily schedule consists of dozing off in class, not eating at lunchtime and being listless. At home, she mostly stares at the ceiling and dozes off until her parents come home and ask her to eat dinner and take a bath. Once she goes back to her room, she returns to staring at her ceiling and dozes off.

Aya awakens in her school halls, noting she wasn't familiar with how the school looked. A girl in front of Aya leans onto the wall before collapsing. Footsteps emanate from the distance, gradually getting closer, approaching her. The figure appears with a black coat and a large scythe in hand. Aya identifies him as a Shinigami. The Shinigami taunts the girl he had chased to go forward or die. She claims she can't continue running. Once at the girl's side, he kills her with his scythe and devours her soul in a gruesome way, all with Aya watching. He states how death is nothing more than eternal pain for anyone caught by him. Simply his gaze makes Aya feel uneasy, right before the dream abruptly ends.

Aya returns to school and counts the steps up to her class while still traumatized from her dream from yesterday. Just like almost all the previous times, she counts 12 steps. She assumes that the thirteenth step was in her head and in addition brushes aside the dream from yesterday. She continues her daily routine until class ends and is transported to another version of the school.

Confused, Aya notes the lack of ambient noise the school produces and the students overall despite classes ending. She notices that is twilight and the orange tint of the school was just like her nightmare. The clock in the classroom reads 11:55. Putting the clues together, she realizes that she is in the nightmare which she experienced yesterday. Footsteps echo as the Shinigami from before enters the classroom. He officially introduces himself as Izanami. Dumbfounded, she goes on to ask herself what she did to deserve this. Izanami, not being moved by Aya's feelings, proclaims that what happened yesterday will happen to her if she doesn't start running. Aya, not wanting to be killed by the Shinigami, runs out the classroom calling for help while Izanami points out there is no one to help her in his world. Aya runs downstairs and tries to open the doors that lead into the courtyard. The doors refuse to open. Izanami's footsteps can be heard echoing throughout the halls. He states that there is no way out of the school in his world. Running around the shoe rack, Aya asks who the Shinigami is. Izanami, once again, introduces himself, but this time with his namesake.[1] Continuing to run from Izanami, Aya asks what she did to deserve this. Izanami reminds her of how she stepped on his thirteenth step and was deliberately looking for it. Tired, Aya looks at the time and notices it is twelve. A bell's ring echos throughout the halls as she is transported back to the real world.

Aya finds herself next to her family's apartment. Later that night, Izanami appears in her dream to inform her the games are not over tomorrow. Additionally, he gives the rules of his "game" to make it enjoyable: Izanami will never run; pointing out that the game would be over if he did run and one's life is taken once Izanami catches you, nothing else. Izanami then says to Aya that this is no dream and he is very real and will kill her if she does skip school.

The next day, Aya transports again to the alternate version of the school. To her dismay, the clock is now at 11:50; the time required to run has gained an additional five minutes. Aya notes she can keep running the same pattern as there is no real end goal and more like a game of tag. She runs up and down stairways, through the halls, and throughout the entire school. When she needs to she stops to catch her breath and continues running from Izanami. She notes that running for this extent of time is exhausting, even with breaks. She is scared that one fatal move will end her life quickly. Trying to find shortcuts, she thinks of different ways to get as much distance from Izanami to no avail. With one more minute left she remembers that the time started five minutes later. If this was extrapolated, every day would have an additional five minutes. She can't keep up that pace and the game will be one to two hours if she survives that long. The clock strikes twelve and the game ends. Aya is again teleported back to the real world next to her family's apartment.

Aya questions her life surmises that this all must be a dream. However, she then parrots what Izanami said, it is not a dream and the fate that awaits her is not the death she wants. The game has little meaning to her and she only runs to keep herself from death by Izanami's scythe.

Izanami's after school game continues and time starts to get farther and farther away from 12:00. Very rarely, the time Aya must run decreases from the last day. This is irrelevant, as the time only seems to be getting earlier and earlier, farther away from 12:00. Doubting herself, she questions if it is really possible to continue to run away from Izanami.

One week passes and Aya learns about Michiru Sakurada, who is rumored to have the sixth sense and was familiar with spirits and youkai. While Aya doubts these claims, she decides to search for Michiru. Aya asks Michiru's class where she is. Aya learns that Michiru is at a Shinto shrine behind the school. Desperate for help, Aya confronts Michiru and tells her about Izanami. Michiru, using her assets, turns towards the shrine and asks Sakunoshin for information on the Shinigami. Michiru explains that Izanami is a powerful youkai. Izanami curses those who step on the thirteenth step and will chase relentlessly and drag them to hell. To offer some advice, Michiru states that the curse lasts only 49 days (or seven weeks) which horrifies Aya as time would continue to increase day by day for the next six weeks. Aya begs Michiru to help her with Michuru replying she would if she could, but sadly cannot, nor could any youkai. Michiru does comfort Aya by stating that someone has survived Izanami's curse, but graduated a long time ago, therefore, isn't available. This discomforts Aya as she reasons that person was probably extremely athletic. Michiru consults with Sakunoshin and says that there is someone else suffering from Izanami's curse. Michiru tells Aya his class and name.

With this new information and her vigor reinstated, Aya heads for an upperclassmen's classroom to find the boy named Osato. Exhausted, he is asleep in class. Aya, desperate for any advice or help, awakens him. He expressed his hopelessness, and how last time he barely escaped from Izanami before the bell chimed. Aya's attempts to comfort him fail. He continues to rant about how his life is a failure and that there is no point in continuing the game and breaks down crying. Aya internally recognizes that Osato and herself are not that different. Aya, in an attempt to comfort him, proposes the idea that the next day could be a shortened day. Osato explains that Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays were shorter days, but Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday were longer than the previous day. Never having put a pattern together for it, Aya realizes that the days that were shorter and longer and not chosen by Izanami's whim. She also notices that Izanami's favorite prey is a downtrodden kid with no meaning. That means that the person who did survive was no different than both her and Osato. Later that day, Aya continues to run from Izanami and notices the day is longer for her. Izanami taunts her asking her why is she so eager to escape the death she once embraced. Aya brushes it off and focuses on her running.

The following day, Aya tries to find Osato, but no one in his class recognizes that name and they laugh at Aya. She now knows the fate of those who are devoured and dragged to hell by Izanami, as if they are spirited away. As she is exiting Osato's old classroom, she bumps into an upperclassman who complains about how she hates P.E. on Saturdays and wish it was another day or disappeared altogether. Aya looks over the shoulder of the upperclassman and notices that Osato's P.E schedule doesn't have days for Tuesdays, Thursdays, nor Fridays. This gives her a suspicion of the days with P.E. being shorter. During P.E. later that day, Aya got into trouble and was forced to run extra laps. Afterschool, she then notices time was much shorter than normal, which Izanami remarks. Confirming her suspicion on days with P.E. and the extra running that day decreased the time tremendously. The next day wasn't a P.E. day, but she knows that if she could run between classes could shave off a few minutes. She asks herself why she is doing this: why does she continue to run? After all, there is no real reward. She reminds herself that if it means to escape the fate that resides for those whom Izanami catches then she is happy. Izanami then calls out to her to stop thinking and start focusing on running, else the time may go up after all.

Aya goes outside to the playground for the first time and decides to run much longer than in her P.E class in the hopes that the time she must run in the other world will be shorter. After school, she is teleported to Izanami's world. Izanami looks at the clock and compliments Aya for figuring out the pattern, but says she can't keep up forever and the time will still be increasing gradually. Aya's mood and vigor are strengthened and renewed. She made it a point to run as much as she can throughout the day. Additionally, she notices her life in general began to improve; she is finally eating her entire lunch and doesn't have sleep problems. While she shaved thirty minutes off of Izanami's game, time was beginning to increase once more and it went back to an hour.

A month past since the start of the game and Izanami compliments Aya for her perseverance and indomitable spirit. He asks Aya if hell is really that bad to her. Aya has completely changed since the start. She now realizes that anything is better. Izanami interrupts the game and offers Aya the chance to die peacefully in her desired manner. Aya doesn't believe him. Izanami replies that he has no real reason to lie. He goes on to say that the game isn't enjoyable and feasting on Aya's soul would be gross since she no longer fits the description of his delicacy. Aya prompts him to let her go, but even Izanami cannot break his own curse. They both agree that this is just a waste of time. Izanami once again propositions Aya with a deal where if Aya lets him win he will ferry her soul to the afterlife which will stop this timewaster between them. Having become a confident strong person, Aya declines Izanami's offer and both of them continue to run.

Aya approaches the final day of the game and loses track of certain school events thanks to Izanami's game. The annual school marathon is on her 49th day. She arrives at the school marathon, where Izanami greets Aya. Strangely, his rugged appearance goes unnoticed by the people around him. Bored of the standard game, and it also being the day of the annual marathon, Izanami decides to change the rules. He decides that today he would run, not walk. Specifically, he would be running in the marathon alongside Aya and if he catches her he promises to send her off peacefully in the way she wants to die instead of hell. The prospect of death annoys Aya. Since he is bigger and should be able to run faster, he will give Aya a twenty-second head start. Aya and the rest of the students line up at the starting line. Bang! The race begins!

Izanami taunts Aya. The other students could not see, nor hear him. He begins to count to twenty, denoting the head start that he is giving Aya. She reasons that being in a pack of students could slow her down. To avoid being caught in a pack, Aya starts the race faster than the other students. While continuing to run, she becomes concerned that she may be slowing down. Other students that had dashed at the beginning of the race had run out of stamina: fading into the group of students behind them. Eventually, only Aya and the members of the sports team remain. Seeing this, she begins to slow her speed, only to see Izanami chasing after her. Aya notes that he couldn't possibly be running at his fastest: he would likely be slowly getting faster throughout the race. Izanami openly notes how she was beating boys who trained all their time after school. Aya thinks to herself how it is only due to Izanami, but dares not say it due to the race. Even without saying it, he can tell what she is thinking. Izanami taunts Aya about how she has clouded her mind with questions and ideas that do not matter at the moment. These include the meaning of life and the value of living. Aya realizes how she wasted her time thinking about the meaning of life when she never really lived it. Living because you don't want to die is enough of a reason to live. Just by living, people already have meaning and worth in life. Though she now understands this, she isn't putting it into action. Izanami yells at Aya to clear her head and focus on the race. She notices that she had begun to slow down while thinking. She empties her head and keeps running. Rounding a corner, she begins the last stretch of the race. Izanami calls to her, asking to see her fighting spirit. She runs to the finish line with every ounce of strength she possesses. Upon reaching the finish line, she passes out. When Aya awakens, she is lifted off of the ground by Izanami. He reminds her to keep her head clear and suggests joining the track and field team. He congratulates her for surviving the 49 days and says that he would keep a close eye on her. During the conversation, Izanami's outfit changes to a tracksuit. Crowds of teachers and students surround Aya and congratulate her as she had become quite well known as the girl who spent her free time running.

Izanami and the vice principal, the Black Tea Gentlemen, discuss Aya. Izanami tells him to not make her his prey, as she is no longer delusional. The Black Tea Gentleman laments how he should have found her first, however, Izanami announces that he will not let Aya be his prey. The Black Tea Gentlemen assures Izanami that he no longer has any interest in Aya. The Nurse calls the Black Tea Gentlemen to the award ceremony where Aya is given a cheap medal made of plastic by him. She treasures it, as it represents her being reborn and surviving the 49 days of Izanami's game.


References

  1. Izanami in Japanese mythology is the goddess of creation and death. In the story, it is referred to as "Lord of the underworld". Additionally, it is referenced by Izanami that the name was originally a woman's.
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