The First and the Last Gift (最後で最初の贈り物 Saigo de Saisho no Okurimono) is a short story included in the book Umineko no Naku Koro ni: The First and the Last Gift. It features Bernkastel sending a new gameboard to Lambdadelta and is a prologue to the manga Hotarubi no Tomoru Koro ni.
“Oh, this takes me back… And it felt like just yesterday that I’d been playing around with Bern, too. I wonder when this much time passed. Oh well, whatever. I’m super thick paper. Rather than dwelling on memories of the past, I certainly, certainly have more fun tearing the wrapping off the chocolate called the future.”
Lambdadelta welcomed a rare guest.
It was one of the black cats that served under Bernkastel. It had come a long way, carrying a beautiful envelope in its mouth.
“Uh huh, you’ve got it. That letter of yours is addressed to me; I’m none other than the Witch of Certainty, Lambda-chan-sama. Thanks for coming all this way, little kitty. Which would you like as your reward: chocolate senbei or chocolate arare? Oh, you don’t want anything? Hmm, that so.”
Cats can’t eat chocolate. The black hat hung its head apologetically.
“Still, I never thought I’d see the day when that girl sent me a letter. I wonder what’s gotten into her. Maybe she was on the very verge of death by boredom, and writing a letter was the only idea she could come up with? …No, that would never happen with her. I get it now. She wants to bully me in a new game of hers, doesn’t she?”
With a nasty smile on her face, Lambdadelta tapped the black cat on the nose. Of course, there was no way that the cat who delivered the letter could know what its contents were.
When Lambdadelta opened the envelope, a sparkling Fragment came rolling out in addition to the letter itself.
“My, my. Now here’s something interesting.”
Indeed, this was a Fragment—the crystallization of a single world, extracted from among the myriad of multicolored universes in existence. Heheh, I wonder what kind of world this Fragment contains. It has a pretty unique radiance to it.
“Not a bad idea, coming from her. Now then, let me take a look at this letter…”
“Look who’s talking. …I see now. You got lonely because I stopped paying attention to you for awhile, didn’t you? Heheheh, Bern is so cute.”
“Aa~h!! I can’t believe you missed me this much! Heheheh, I love you, too, Bern♪ Alrighty, what’s next? How am I supposed to play around with this Fragment?”
“Hmm… In other words, whether you have to drink mud, or whether you have every limb ripped from your body and end up crawling the ground like a worm, you just have to make it out alive in the end? Those kinds of games are my specialty, you know. It’s not like you don’t already know that. …If she’s throwing down the gauntlet in spite of that, I guess this really is a written challenge, after all. Oh, she is just the cutest thing.”
The letter ended there.
After reading that, there was nothing left but to take her up on the challenge. It had been awhile since Lambdadelta had played around with a game board of substance. Since Bernkastel had gone out of her way to pass it along, it was sure to be an entertaining one.
Lambdadelta touched the Fragment.
The moment she did, an array of constellations was suspended in the air, pivoting around the Fragment and forming a miniature galaxy.
“…Oh, now this is nostalgic. So the stage is set in the Japanese countryside. Reminds me of Hinamizawa. …Though, it looks like this place is more desolate than Hinamizawa ever was. …Right then, time to pick my piece. Which one should I choose?”
Lambdadelta held out a hand, and white, black, blue, and red pieces in various shapes and sizes, reminiscent of chess, appeared in the air.
“Which one would be best? …Hmm…”
To participate in a game within a Fragment, you first must send in a piece. In other words, this was much like the character select screen of a video game.
After folding her arms and giving it some deep thought, she eventually settled on a black piece.
She wasn’t sure of the situation, but if the point of the game was to survive, she figured her best option would be a sturdy, clever all-rounder with a strong desire to live.
“…In which case, it’s gotta be this piece. Let’s go, my other self.”
She plucked the piece out of midair, then tossed it into the galaxy.
As soon as she did, an infinite number of dazzling lights scattered about, and within a moment, the world was completely buried in a sea of stars.
Within those bright lights, Lambdadelta’s consciousness was sucked away…
Across from the Six Jizo, There was a small basin for washing hands. That was the entrance to the village.
I stopped my motorcycle there. I was anxious to enjoy the scenery down to the very soles of my feet.
The hue of the mountains was interwoven with the thick green of the trees. Come sunset, it was sure to cycle through various other shades and colors, creating a feast for the eyes. Although the sun was beating down strongly, there was something cool and refreshing about the air.
Nice scenery, and nice air.
Oh, whoops, that’s right. You’re not supposed to say that sort of thing aloud. It’s rude to the people who live in the country.
…Or wait, maybe it is alright. After all, if I can’t say that, I’m not allowed to enter.
And so, I dared to put it into words.
“Nice scenery. Nice air. …Hehehe.”
I put down my backpack for a moment and took out my prized research notebook. I’d been researching this village for a long time, but this would be the first time I’d actually set foot inside it.
I’d been studying the village, but I never went to visit it? If you think about it normally, it doesn’t make much sense. It’s the same sort of foolishness as trying to envision what a cake tastes like just from reading the recipe.
Still. …If you simply eat a cake, you can learn what it tastes like. You can make a record of it, too. But what if it weren’t a cake, but some strange, sludgy mystery item? There would be no telling if it was even edible, let alone what it tastes like. No, worse than that, it’d practically be emitting a skull-shaped cloud of smoke.
If it were some unidentifiable item… you’d save eating it for the very last step, wouldn’t you?
That was the reason.
That was why only now, for the very first time, I had finally come to this village.
After performing sufficient research and preparations… I would finally get a taste of this mystery item…
Oh, right, it’s about time I introduce “myself.”
My name is Miyoko Takano. I’m a carefree, freewheeling occult researcher and traveler. A lovely bachelorette who enjoys researching any and all legends that have a whiff of the occult, originating from the many different regions of Japan.
I’m of the age where, typically, I’d be expected to be a working woman. However, it seems I was born lucky.
My grandfather left behind a tremendous fortune when he passed away. He specifically named me in his will, and entrusted me with a large enough sum of money to buy a mansion anywhere in Japan. Thanks to that, my life is different from the average person. I don’t have to earn my own living expenses, whittling away my life doing things I don’t want to just for the sake of staying alive. I can devote the entirety of my existence to my life’s work.
See? If that’s not being born lucky, then what is? Hehehe.
Though… It’s likely I wasn’t really born with that luck.
“I’ve had it since I collected these.”
I took something wrapped in a handkerchief out of my breast pocket and cradled it against my chest. I gently opened up the handkerchief, showing a glimpse of several miniature country flags. …They were the twenty flags I had collected from kid’s meals as a child. My own special lucky charm, and the only one of its kind.
That’s why everything will certainly turn out okay in the end. I will certainly, certainly reach my goal.
…Right then. Shall I give you a brief sightseeing tour?
To that side, you can see the village’s entrance, marked by the six Jizos. The “rules” of this village come into effect starting there.
The first one involves this hand-washing basin.
Yes. As you can see, it’s just like the temizuya you’ll often see around shrines. Naturally, the etiquette is quite similar, as well. You scoop up water with the ladle and cleanse the impurities from your hands.
In olden times, this area was a revered as a holy ground—a snowy mountain where ascetics would come seclude themselves. The guardians of said holy ground eventually decided to build a village here, and that’s how this place came to be. According to legend, all the current villagers are the descendants of those guardians. The older villagers take that responsibility seriously, and to ensure that they don’t carry any impurities onto these grounds—or perhaps to ensure they themselves are not impure—they live by strict rules.
But even that strict lifestyle of theirs, said to have continued for hundreds of years, couldn’t remain untouched by the radical changes that came with the Showa period. The younger villagers, who learned about life in the outside world through television or school, found the strict precepts to be a mere nuisance. Even without the rules, there was nothing to keep youngsters tied down to a village way out in the sticks, so far in the middle of nowhere.
With no way to prevent the younger generation’s exodus, the village suffered heavy depopulation after World War II. By the end of it, the elderly villagers were the only ones left. And even their numbers continue to slowly dwindle as they die off from old age.
The population keeps decreasing, with no hopes of drawing in new blood.
Of course, with the way country life has been romanticized in recent years, there must be a fair share of whimsical people looking to move out to a backwater like this. However… this is a village that belongs to the descendants of the guardians of a holy land. It’s absolutely no place for a weak-willed urbanite that came along after tiring of city life, looking to take it easy and do some farming. It would be too difficult for an outsider to uphold every single one of the village’s rules.
Fortunately, the rules themselves aren’t all that unusual, and they aren’t especially difficult to understand.
What is difficult to understand is the intolerant attitude of the villagers, who will ostracize anyone who fails to obey the rules down to the letter.
The very first of those rules has to do with this hand-washing basin. So as to avoid bringing impurities into the village, everyone must cleanse their hands here upon entry.
That by itself isn’t so hard to understand.
The problem is how strictly the village enforces it, no matter what the situation.
As you can see, this is right in the middle of the road that leads into the village. Any rational person could see how inconvenient it would be to park your car here and get out just to wash your hands. It would be even worse during times when it’s snowing or raining, or when you’re exhausted and just want to get home.
And yet, the villagers won’t let you skip out on that troublesome task even once.
Whenever someone new moves into the village, the elders will watch over them to make sure they don’t break any rules.
And if they do something wrong? They’re ostracized. Or, no, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that they go under a full assault. They bombard the poor newcomer with all sorts of harassment, until they finally succeed in driving them out of the village.
People vital to the village, like doctors, are no exception. There are no doctors residing in the village, but every now and then, a brave one will come make a visit. Of course, the villagers always welcome them with open arms, and they’ll helpfully go over the rules with them beforehand.
…But the moment they break even one of those rules, the villager’s attitudes will do a complete 180, and they’ll commence their full-frontal attack. That’s why not a single doctor has ever settled down in the village.
Unsurprisingly, this vicious treatment seems to soften a bit when directed towards family and friends. It seems the former children of the village were able to get off with no more than a severe scolding. Of course, although it may have been “softer” in comparison, it was still much harsher than your typical spanking. There are some elders in the village who still have scars left over from when they were disciplined.
In other words, there’s no getting out of the punishment, but they at least won’t exile their own from the village.
Unlike outsiders, the villagers are all, in theory, the descendants of those guardians of the sacred ground. They must believe that they’re all fundamentally capable of reform.
After hearing all that, it’s easy to imagine this as a horrifying village, ruled by fear and precepts, but the villagers who live there now don’t see it that way. To them, the rules are as natural as breathing, and the way things should be. As such, they don’t consider it suffocating in the least, instead simply following along with the rules as part of everyday life.
You could say it’s similar to how you must always take off your shoes at the entrance to someone’s home. If you’re Japanese, that’s just the norm. You won’t find a single Japanese person who finds that “rule” to be oppressive. There aren’t any Japanese people who feel reluctant to say “itadakimasu” before a meal, nor are there any who will refuse to say “thank you” after someone does them a favor. Those rules of theirs, which seem horribly unreasonable by our standards, are just an extremely typical part of daily life to the village elders.
So in the eyes of the people who live here, stopping your car at the entrance and washing your hands upon returning to the village is the norm, and something that absolutely must be done.
The villagers themselves are a given, but other people who drop by the village, like mailmen or government officials, aren’t allowed to skip out on it, either.
That’s just how the rules are. Anyone who questions that wouldn’t be able to get by here.
Fortunately enough, most of the rules don’t become relevant unless you do start living here. If you don’t enter a house, you don’t have to worry about taking off your shoes; if you don’t eat, there’s no reason to say “itadakimasu”; if you don’t let other people take care of things for you, you don’t have to say “thank you”… It’s like that.
When it comes to a homeless traveler like me, there are hardly any rules that can apply outside of the one surrounding this hand-washing basin. In a sense, perhaps you could consider that the single show of mercy from a village hard on outsiders.
However, in my view, it’s simply in the village’s blind spot.
Whimsical travelers aren’t expected to be wandering into this village in the first place. While the scenery and atmosphere here, deep in the mountains, may be more stunning than the average town, there are many far more breathtaking locations in Japan.
There are no scenic views or tourist spots here. Nobody visits this place except for the villagers; it’s a dead end, with nothing but mountains behind it.
Knowing all that, the least a traveler like me can do is obey the simple rule of washing my hands and show this land the respect it deserves. That’s what any normal traveler would do.
I picked up the ladle and scooped up some water.
“I’m awfully sorry.”
…I’m not any normal traveler.
The ladle fell out of Takano’s hands.
It didn’t just fall on its own. She dropped it.
The ladle hit the ground with a loud enough clatter to startle even the object itself, rolling across the earth. That sound rang out loud and clear.
…It was loud enough that if anyone had been standing watch to make sure an outsider didn’t break the rules, there was no way they could have missed it.
But Takano merely laughed. She gave a crisp laugh, just as if that display of rudeness had been the proper thing to do. She had intentionally thrown that ladle, meant to cleanse away filth and impurities, onto the ground…
“I do hope this will suffice as a greeting. …Hehehe.”
Takano straddled her motorcycle once more.
It was doubtful that she would be able to stay with any of the locals, but there were sure to be some empty houses inside the depopulated village. Takano had brought along all the equipment she would need for camping, so as long as she could find shelter from the evening dew, she wouldn’t need anything else.
“…Well then. I wonder when they’ll be coming. I can hardly wait.”
Takano’s bold smile was hidden underneath her full-face helmet.
Her motorcycle took off, and she disappeared into the village…
Chiharu Nakamura had moved to the village the previous year, immediately after graduating high school.
As far as why I moved here… well, I’m not particularly keen on explaining it. Most people would just give me a dubious look if I told them the real reason.
Both my parents are predisposed to depression. They were always searching for some kind of crutch, hoping they would one day be shown the path to something they could believe in. As such, it’s probably no surprise that they came to put fortune-tellers and psychics on some sort of pedestal.
Before long, they were putting all their stock in one particular fortune-teller. Often attending the seminar he hosted, they would take to heart all his fortunes about how their current job wasn’t good for them or there were bad vibes surrounding their family life, and they started purchasing shady objects like spiritual urns in bulk. By the end of it all, they even believed in the prophecy that it was their true destiny to live out a simple life doing farming in the far-off country, free of all ties and obligations.
I don’t know why the fortune-teller picked out this village in particular. I’m willing to bet that he hung a map on his wall, threw a dart, and went with wherever it landed. Either way, I know for a fact that his prophecy is what convinced them to move here.
Thanks to that, the five of us Nakamuras (me, my parents, and my two older brothers) moved out to this strange, empty village.
My brothers haven’t been bothered by it in the least.
My eldest brother is still stuck in a deep depression due to severe bullying he faced in middle school. For the record, it was when my parents were trying to figure out what to do about that that they first turned to fortune-telling. For that reason, my oldest brother has just as much blind faith in the prophecy as my parents do.
The younger of my two brothers was another victim of bullying. While he didn’t fall into a depression, he came out of it a pretty bitter person, so he was more than happy to start living like a hermit out in the middle of nowhere.
So, of course, there wasn’t a whole lot I could say as the odd person out.
…Really, there’s probably a part of me that gets easily depressed, just like the rest of my family. So I must have felt tired of living in the city, or bored of ordinary life… or I thought I’d be able to get a fresh start in a remote village… so I left the decision up to everyone else, hoping it would lead to some sort of change in my life.
And so, our family packed up and moved out to this village. We moved to this strange, stifling village, steeped in restrictions and with a rule for everything.
The elders of the village are incredibly narrow-minded and unaccommodating. As such, you can’t break any of the rules where one of the villagers might see. Whenever one of the rules is about to slip your mind, there’s always someone watching, ready to chew you out at the top of their lungs.
They expect regular worship before the Jizo statue or the miniature shrine, help carrying out certain rituals, and all sorts of other things. I’m not from around here, so it would be nice if they’d explain things a little more patiently, but they don’t seem to care. They just berate me as if I’m the one lacking common sense.
That’s why 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, you have to make sure that you constantly honor the spirits of your ancestors and never offend the gods or the Buddha, all based on the religious beliefs of the village. It’s no wonder that the younger villagers never come back after they leave for the city.
I completely intend to do as the Romans do here. But every now and then, I just happen to forget tiny little rules (actually, it would be more accurate to just call it “etiquette,” in this case), no harm intended. The villagers used to nag me to death whenever they saw that happen, but once I started ignoring them, they eventually stopped saying anything.
I’m perfectly fine with being ostracized. It’s not like I moved here for the sake of mingling with the villagers. I only ended up here because of a prophecy my parents heard.
My family doesn’t seem to have any problems with this stifling, tiring, and strange village. They’ve always been happier having their lives dictated by divine forces or whatever in the first place. I guess it’s easier on them when what they have to do is clearly laid out in front of them, no matter how harsh it may be. The thing that my family has the hardest time with is being expected to respond to someone else’s circumstances or mood on the fly.
Of course, they’re just playing along on the surface. They don’t genuinely revere the gods or anyone’s ancestors. After all, what they really worship is that sun god of destiny that Mr. Soothsaying Guru always went on about, the great Yada-Yada-So-And-So.
Just like that, we slowly adapted to life in this suffocating village, and soon enough, a year had passed…
“…Mm…? What…? What time is it…?”
“Come on, wake up! You’ve gotta get up, Chiharu, it’s incredible! Just look…!”
I glanced at the clock, and it wasn’t even 6 AM yet. It seemed my brother was making a fuss after looking out at the sunrise.
…I’ll admit that the New Year’s sunrise is worth seeing, but if it’s any other day of the year, I couldn’t care less.
I tried to go back to sleep, but my brother wouldn’t give it a rest. I felt like complaining to my mom, but unfortunately, she had left for a three-day, two-night hot springs vacation with a friend just the previous day.
Whatever. I’ll get up. I gave in, knowing my oldest brother didn’t have much capacity for picking up on other people’s feelings.
“Yaaaawn. …What’s so incredible…?”
When I came over to look, I saw my dad and my other brother both staring up at the freshly risen morning sun, using their hands to shield their eyes.
…What? Is it a solar eclipse or something? But there’s no reason to wake me up this early for that…
I was dumbstruck. I stared directly at where the sun sat in the sky, letting it burn itself into my eyes.
However, there was more than just one sun burned into the backs of my eyelids…
“There’s… t… two suns…”
Almost like a pair of eyes, two suns were lined up across from each other in the sky.
Is this… even possible…?! I can’t believe it. I’ve never heard of a phenomenon like this… Is it some kind of mirage? But if I remember right, mirages usually distort an image vertically… …I’ve never heard of one… that goes sideways…
While we were staring out the window in amazement, our neighbor caught sight of us.
Our next door neighbor is Suzuki-san, an old man living together with his son. They moved here around the same time we did. The reason they moved was just about the same, too. In other words, we’re both victims of the same fortune-teller.
“Hey there, g’morning to you, Nakamura-san…! Well… isn’t this a strange sight…!”
“Good morning… I really… wonder what this is all about…”
There was no way we could know that.
The Nakamura household and the Suzuki household—a total of six people—looked up at the two suns in awe, without a care for protecting our eyes…
“…Now isn’t this an interesting sight.”
Takano, too, was staring out at the double sunrise through a pair of sunglasses. However, neither surprise nor alarm was reflected in her expression.
There was only fearless admiration.
Admiration of her own strong luck, which never ceased to amaze even her.
“This saves me the trouble of loitering around for however many days.”
In a worst case scenario, she had expected to spend several weeks killing time in this boring village, but it had only taken her one night to bear witness to it.
Takano double-checked her belongings and gathered them all together. The contents of her luggage were more than enough to get her stopped by a police officer, with everything ranging from a large knife to a shotgun designed for hunting.
Her adventure had already begun back when she started making her preparations. Thus, she had arranged for every bit of equipment she was able to obtain and carry within Japan. Of course, she had also packed plenty of tools to satisfy her sense of intellectual curiosity, like cameras, notebooks, and research files.
However, her motorcycle had stopped working. The engine wouldn’t start. No matter how she coaxed it, it wouldn’t give the slightest response.
It suddenly broke down, even though it had been driving so smoothly just the other day? There was something clearly unnatural about it.
“…So you want me to do the rest of the journey on my own feet, hm? Hehe.”
Now, where to begin? I suppose a little exploring comes first. Takano began a leisurely walk down the road. If only it weren’t for the shotgun she had strapped to her back, it might have looked like a lovely stroll under the morning sun.
The village was unbelievably quiet. There was the sound of the wind rustling tree branches… but beyond that, there wasn’t a single noise created by another living being. It was unthinkable not to hear so much as a bird chirping so deep in the mountains.
As such… people’s voices carried very clearly.
Takano heard someone screaming in a shrill tone. The voice was steadily drawing closer. Without the slightest flinch in her bold expression, she readied her shotgun.
The voice belonged to a girl. She was walking along, shouting, “Is there anyone here?” over and over.
Anyone would assume that she was human. A frail, 100% human young girl.
However, the “game” had already begun.
And so, in accordance with the rules of the game, Takano chose to show herself. She jumped out from the bushes, pointing her gun and confronting the approaching figure.
As a perfectly natural result, the girl was incredibly startled.
“Good morning. Isn’t it a lovely morning with two suns shining down?”
“W-W-What is this, what’s going on…?! …I-I’m sorry, I’m sorry, please forgive me…!”
The girl seemed to think that she had stumbled onto some sort of forbidden ground in the village, and that’s why she was being threatened with a gun.
The sight of the frightened girl falling on her backside was quite gratifying, so I satisfied myself with that and lowered my gun.
“What’s your name?”
“N-Nakamura. I’m Chiharu Nakamura. Um, I-I just moved here last year…!”
“Aha, I see… My condolences.”
Takano grinned, having come to some sort of understanding. Chiharu didn’t have a clue what was going on, but she relaxed a little after the other woman lowered her gun, slowly getting back up on her feet.
And once she was able to get a good look at Takano’s appearance, she realized she wasn’t someone from the village.
“Um… Who are you…?”
“Miyoko Takano. You can just call me Miyoko, Chiharu.”
“M-Miyoko-san, you’re… haaah… I’m so glad. I really thought… there wasn’t anyone else left…”
“What do you mean?”
“W-Well… Our neighbors are all gone. All the houses except for ours and Suzuki-san’s are empty…! They left their front doors wide open, too, so we were wondering if they all went off somewhere…”
“Who is Suzuki-san?”
“U-Uh, he’s someone who moved here at the same time as us, about a year ago. He’s an old man living with his son…”
“I see. So there’s no sign of anyone besides your two families, hm?”
There were many early risers among the village elders. Knowing that, there should have been gatherings of people looking up at the two suns, legitimately thunderstruck. And yet, it had quickly become apparent that there was no one else around. Every house was completely deserted, and all the villagers had disappeared when no one was looking… Once they noticed that, the two families had started searching around the village to see if anyone else was still there.
“You probably aren’t going to find anyone else.”
“…Where… did they all go…? …I wonder if this is some kind of event. Maybe they’re off holding a festival somewhere, and we just don’t know about it…”
“But as far as I know, this village doesn’t hold any festivals like that.”
“Is… that so?”
“They’re probably in the mountains.”
“Don’t worry about it. Besides, whether you go searching for them or not, they’re going to come to us sooner or later.”
Chiharu was completely thrown for a loop. Still, she could see that Takano was keeping her cool despite the situation.
“Um… Would you like to come back to our house? In times like this, I think it’s best to stick together…”
“…That’s true. I suppose any help would be welcome.”
Takano preferred working alone, but she figured there was no harm in meeting Chiharu’s family. Knowing what was about to happen… she would need all the help she could get.
“T-Then, let’s go. …It’s this way.”
“Oh, wait just a moment.”
Takano took out her notebook and started moving her pen across the page.
“‘Day one, early morning. Met with the first villager, Chiharu Nakamura.’ There.”
After that, she closed the notebook, then paused with her pen in midair as she tried to think of something to write on the cover.
“I saw some fireflies out last night.”
“On some nights, you can see really pretty fireflies in the village…”
“They really were pretty. The way the dim green lights danced about was simply beautiful.”
…That’s it. Fireflies. Firefly lights.
Takano’s pen glided over the cover of the notebook. That was the title.
When the Fireflies Glow.
- Lambdadelta’s iconic “super paper” line is actually a pun; the word used for “paper” can also mean “stupid,” giving it a double meaning that gets exploited a lot. “Super thick paper” is my best attempt at preserving that in English.
- Jizo are statues—made in the likeness of the bodhisattva known by the same name in Japan—often found by roadsides and cemeteries in Japan. They are known as the guardian of children and protector of travelers, and they are often found in sets of six.
- A temizuya is a water pavilion found near Shinto shrines, used by worshippers to wash their hands and mouth as a way of purifying themselves before approaching the shrine. The pavilion usually consists of a large basin filled with water and some ladles for scooping up the water.