Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Chapter 5 (p)

Now, for every story that ends there is another that begins. The next is about Maaya Teramoto when she was still in middle school. The disillusionment that she gradually experienced during her childhood caused her to lose her faith and her innocence, but her pride couldn't simply allow her to abandon all that she used to believe in. Rather than accepting a world that gives little importance to the supernatural and go with the flow, Maaya developed an obsessive fascination for everything that had the power to make people believe. She had accepted the reality of a highly secularized society, but she found that there was still a consistent minority who displayed a strong faith, and while in Japan religion didn't have that much importance anymore, in many parts of the world it was still prominent.
That's why Maaya began to look elsewhere, to find the answers that she sought in other forms of spiritualism. Naturally she couldn't simply be satisfied with some kind of mild devotion or a strict set of beliefs that excludes everything else. She valued the concept of syncretism, because it's based on a philosophy that is open to many possibilities. She found that the more fundamentalist views were filled with that very disbelief that she despised.
But in the end it didn't take her long to discover that what she was looking for could be found in small cults and sects. True belief, true devotion, and an open-mindedness to any kind of supernatural phenomenon. Often seen with suspicion by the government and the media, quite a lot of those cults appeared in Japan after the war. Reports usually described their followers as dangerous fanatics or victims of elaborated scams and brainwashing techniques. That was supposed to be a negative portrayal of that phenomenon, but on Teramoto it had the opposite effect. From her point of view it was extremely fascinating. The very existence of those cults was an incontrovertible proof that there were still people that needed faith to be a central part of their lives and charismatic figures to lead them. The world distrusted them, but that was the same world that Teramoto regarded as a betrayer. She had no reason to listen to what the media said, because they were the main tool of a secularist propaganda. And yet amidst this strong opposition, cults were founded, grew, and flourished. Teramoto couldn't help but asking herself: how?
Learning the secrets of those cults became an obsession for her. She wanted to know more about their tricks, about their systems, about their strategies. Surely their success couldn't simply be the result of chance alone. Teramoto wanted to pry the box open and examine its contents. She wanted to understand the minute mechanisms. And indeed there was much to learn. Making people believe in a bunch of lies, slowly increasing their faith to the point of fanaticism, it's an art.
But Teramoto was alone, she was the kind of person that everyone dislikes, she was arrogant and obnoxious, she had no allies. Because of her obsession there was only one thing that she could really talk about, and that wasn't an argument that could interest middle schoolers. Pretty much everyone realized that it was better for them not to get involved with that strange girl, and they avoided her whenever possible. Almost all of her classmates did so, except one, and obviously that one exception wasn't the brightest bulb in the chandelier.
Kagami Hibari in her naivety didn't notice anything strange about Teramoto, and so she behaved around her like she would have around anyone else. The latter would have probably preferred a more intellectual partner to discuss her findings and her theories, but she wasn't in a position that allowed her to be picky. And in the end while Hibari couldn't really actively participate in philosophical disquisitions on the supernatural, she was a good listener. Even if she didn't quite understand everything that she was told, she still showed attention and a genuine interest. Oblivious to the outrageous logic and the controversial arguments in Teramoto's speeches, all that Hibari could think was that her new friend was really an amazing person. But what she was struck with admiration for wasn't the above average intelligence and the peculiar knowledge, but the ambition, the burning passion, the strong and indomitable will.
And so this is how their improbable friendship began. Albeit so different in many ways, they were just what the other needed. They lived in separate worlds and yet they could communicate more easily between each other than they would with anyone else.
It was just a small thing, it was really not a big deal, but for Teramoto that was the spark that allowed her to put her machinations into motion. Not only she gained an accomplice to aid her in her endeavor, she also acquired confidence in herself, and she became more conscious of which was the best approach to conquer the heart of people. She had the theory, all that remained was to test it.
Thanks to Hibari she realized that her gloomy and embittered attitude was the main reason everyone avoided her. People like winners, what they seek in a leader is confidence and optimism. It wasn't hard for Teramoto to figure out what Hibari admired the most in her, she only needed to show those qualities to everyone else.
She decided to proceed with caution and patience. She had learned that to gain followers she had to take it slowly and in a roundabout way. The proselytizers never approach their marks by directly telling them who they are and what their cult is about, rather they initiate conversations about general themes and make statements that are likely to be agreed with. Distrust and disbelief aren't insurmountable barriers, once you get past them it's a straight and easy path. So Teramoto only needed to figure out a way to attract the interest of her classmates and to get them closer to accept the supernatural. That part was easy, she started promoting herself as a fortune-teller. Of course it's not like anyone seriously believed that she was a clairvoyant, but a lot of her schoolmates eagerly started to flock around her to have their futures predicted. There wasn't any particular reason, it was simply fun. What else would you expect from middle schoolers?
Perhaps it was then that Teramoto decided to restrict her followers to female students, because for the most part boys just weren't interested in fortune-telling.
She steadily became more popular and as time passed she refined her techniques. She learned that western occultism was more appealing to her peers because it was considered particularly exotic. She was already educated on that subject, but she explored it further and she took her fortune-telling system to the next level with tarot reading. It was a great success, but as long as her predictions wouldn't become true, nobody would take her divination sessions as anything more than funny games. That's when Teramoto realized that it was pointless to wait for magic to manifest on its own. If magic was nowhere to be found then she needed to forcefully summon it in her world. That day she became a witch.
The more she spent time in libraries researching occultism, the more she found books that approached the subject with skepticism, explaining the tricks behind the alleged miracles and the inexplicable phenomena. Teramoto loathed and despised those authors, and yet she read everything they wrote with particular attention. The message that she was supposed to receive was that the alleged supernatural phenomena are just vulgar tricks, what she learned instead was that those tricks were successful in making people believe, and that was all that she cared about. Without noticing the blatant contradiction, she decided to use that knowledge to become a performer of 'magic' herself.
With the help of Hibari, Teramoto arranged for several events to occur exactly as she predicted. Suddenly the attitude of her schoolmates changed. Many of them started to look for her tarot readings with a genuine desire to know what the future was preparing for them. However, at the same time, there were those who looked with skepticism and distrust at that new development. One girl was particularly harsh towards Teramoto and openly challenged her and insulted her. She frequently pointed out how nothing of what was predicted was something that couldn't possibly be manipulated by a student of that school. There were no predictions about what the newspapers would tell the next day, no predictions about which questions they would find in the upcoming tests, just trivial and mundane events. Their feud protracted for several weeks, until one day Teramoto made a grisly prediction. According to her foretelling, her archenemy would be the victim of a very unfortunate accident that would prevent her from attending school for several days.
Certainly no one would argue against the fact that Teramoto has always been a very strange girl, and no one would dare to deny that her obsession towards cults and occultism was very unhealthy. The morality in her fortune-telling and the related shenanigans is quite debatable, but until that point could it really be said that she was an evil person? She was selfish, arrogant, immature, undoubtedly, but she never really hurt anyone. Despite her bitterness toward a world that rejected what she held dear, she never crossed the line, she never sought anything as petty as some form of pointless vengeance. And yet, as soon as she gained even that little bit of popularity, something changed in her. She was no longer looking for acceptance, she wasn't even bothered by the widespread lack of faith anymore. She had savored the sweet and alluring taste of power, and she wanted more. Perhaps that girl that dared to stand in her way saw the evil in her actions, and perhaps in a way she wanted to stop her before it was too late. But Teramoto was already blinded by her hubris. The hostilities escalated and the fear to lose what she had just recently gained completely overshadowed the last bit of morality that was left in her.
It was just a little incident, an unfortunate incident. A young student fell down the stairs and broke a leg, such things happen all the time.
Now if Teramoto was the typical villain of a third-rate comic, she would have probably gloated and laughed maniacally at the perfect execution of her schemes, but she was just a girl, barely fourteen of age. When the news reached her ears, she was overcome by anxiety and worries. At last she realized what she had just done. Her accomplices were worried too, because, naturally, Teramoto didn't carry out that crime by herself. She had extended her influence on a few trusted schoolmates by then, Hibari wasn't the only one anymore.
Of course everyone remembered that the incident occurred just as it was announced, and there were strong suspicions that it was in truth a disguised revenge. However Teramoto had an alibi, many saw her in a completely different place when her enemy fell down the stairs. Moreover the victim always denied that someone pushed her. Some suggested that she was told to say so to avoid something worse, but without proofs that was just a baseless speculation.
Amidst that whole commotion, Teramoto fought with her remorse. She forced herself to keep her composure as she feigned confidence whereas she had none. That whole situation really tried her nerves. She knew she was guilty, but she didn't want to admit it. Perhaps a part of her wanted to be found out, so that she could find redemption through a righteous retribution. However the punishment never came. The truth is that the teachers liked the accident theory a lot more. For them it was preferable to dismiss the accusations and put a lid on that whole affair rather than inquire further and cause more trouble.
But that didn't stop the students from murmuring and whispering, and so in the end Teramoto 'confessed', so to say. She claimed that it was a curse, she claimed that her enemy fell because she placed an evil spell on her. Surprisingly many bought that preposterous explanation and started to fear her. She had gained even more power than before, and the corruption of her soul was complete. Laughing bitterly Teramoto realized that the world she lived in was completely wrong, even more than she originally thought. A world so stupid, unjust, and pathetic wasn't deserving of her compassion. Morality was a relic of the past as much as faith was, so, she concluded, there was no point in holding back, she could do everything that she wanted.
Teramoto involved her schoolmates in even more occult events: spirit invocations, exorcisms, demonic rituals, and more. Naturally she challenged and vanquished everyone's disbelief through a skillful use of her magic tricks. She mercilessly and repeatedly shook the foundations of their denials in the supernatural, again and again, until they had no other choice but to believe. She was more than a cult leader, she was a tyrant. There were those who tried to oppose her, of course. Now and then a defiant individual would appear and challenge her. Teramoto dealt with them with a terrifying calm. Subtle threats and disguised blackmails worked a lot better than open confrontations. Her most daring opponents learned that her curses weren't as much as ethereal as her spirits and ghosts, they were quite tangible and a lot more scary.
Vanquished every resistance, Teramoto's influence spread unopposed. She had succeeded. It was a small environment, it was just a single school, but in that place the supernatural was feared and respected exactly as she wished. The fools who still didn't want to believe were at least wise enough to avoid her. That was her victory, she had reached her goal, or so she thought.
She was supposed to rejoice, and yet she couldn't shake a certain feeling of uneasiness. She still hadn't reached her envisioned utopia, something was missing. She spent days tormenting herself in the desperate attempt to find out what she could have overlooked, but in the end she could only conclude that she needed more power. A single school wasn't enough, she needed to aim for more and more. Deep inside she knew that it couldn't be a simple matter of quantity, but her thirst for power was true and so her path was set.
If only the little girl in her was still alive, perhaps she would have remembered the one thing that filled her heart with amazement and pride on those special new year eves. It was just a simple and yet precious thing, but her current self had forgotten the very concept of it. There was none in her soul and none in her magic.
So many people were caught up in her fantasy, and yet nobody smiled, nobody laughed, nobody was happy.
Not even her.