Monday, 10 October 2011

Baccano! 2002 [A Side] - Bullet Garden - Chapter Two

It's here! Chapter two is finally here!

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Chapter 2: The Bad Guys are Busy



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The first night of the cruise.



A small ship made its way across the sea.

"Small" in this case, being in comparison to a certain luxury cruise ship.

This vessel, which was on the larger end for a private cruiser, was making its way at a brisk speed.

There were no other ships in sight.

All around it was water.

The only thing of note was a starry and particularly beautiful sky that made the world look like a natural planetarium.

The ship continued towards its destination in this space, which almost looked like all the land in the world had sunken beneath the waves.



Soon, the ship locked on to a shape in the distance.

Visible in the distance was a sort of light slightly different from the stars.

As the ship approached closer, the light became bigger and more numerous, almost like an island.

Once they had arrived at a point where it was easy to identify this object as a luxury cruise ship, the ship shut off its lights and slowly crept towards the cruise ship.

Normally, the cruise ship would be moving faster.

The smaller ship was reading the cruise ship's trajectory and moving ahead of it.

And finally, once they had reached a point where the ship could potentially collide with the cruise ship, a lone shadow left the smaller vessel.

It was a dark shape.

A person covered all in black, wearing a diving suit, and holding some sort of propulsion device in each hand quietly made his way towards the ship.

Like a mine in the pitch-dark depths of the water.



From up close, it was easy to see that the cruise ship was travelling at extreme speeds.

The gigantic mass was propelling itself through the ocean at speeds of up to 50 kilometres an hour. Colliding with such an object would leave the victim a pile of dust, and dodging would do little good as the enormous screw propellers would turn him into mincemeat before anyone could notice.

However, the shadow approached the cruise ship without a moment's hesitation.

And he clung to the side of the hull as if it required no effort.

Perhaps he was carrying some sort of suction cups on his arms.

Although it was impossible to tell for certain in this state, the shadow repeatedly stuck and removed the suction cups and climbed the side of the ship like an insect.

Having finally climbed a height equivalent to a tall building, the shadow finally arrived at the balcony of a cabin on the lowest level.

On the Entrance, the semi-suite rooms concentrated at the bow of the ship were each equipped with a balcony.

Having set foot on one such balcony, the man silently got to work.

He took out a small winch from the case on his back and connected it to the rope that ran from his waist and over the surface of the water.

And as he made to pull up the container that was connected to the rope--

He heard the glass door leading into the cabin open.

The figure in the cabin gasped upon seeing the man on the balcony.

The man on the balcony was wearing a pitch-black combat suit like some sort of covert military agent. His face was completely covered in a silicone mask, and he wore a pair of night-vision goggles over his eyes.

And seeing this obviously suspicious man on the balcony--

The occupant of the cabin let out a sigh and spoke.

"Don't scare me like that, Life. You could've at least knocked."

Then, the man who was covered head-to-toe, not showing an inch of skin, replied flatly.

"I have arrived exactly as scheduled. In fact, I was surprised to see that you had left the balcony unsupervised."

It was a calm, mechanical tone of voice. Thanks to the muffling effect of the mask, it was only barely possible to figure out that the voice belonged to a young man.

"If I just stood around there the whole time, the other passengers might get suspicious."

"I believe the fifteen rooms surrounding this one are all being occupied by us or our associates." Life pointed out coldly. The occupant of the cabin stepped onto the balcony and spat into the water.

"Don't be so anal…. that Death was still the best of you lot."

"And I agree that he was the most skilled of us all. Now that he is gone, I don't believe we will last much longer."

"Stop being such a downer."

"Isn't it absurd to lose our most powerful weapon before things have even begun? I joined this mission as the boss had instructed, but in all honesty, I see very little chance of success."

The Businessman sighed in annoyance at his ally's unpleasant laying out of the facts.

"Shut up. All you 'Four Agonies' have to do is keep your mouth shut and do as we say. You brought the goods?"

"If you want to know, I ask that you assist in the recovery of the 'goods' as soon as possible."

"Tch…"

The Businessman began helping Life with a look of dissatisfaction.



Several minutes later, the Businessman opened the two containers they had dragged up.

"…This is perfect, Life."

He grinned, his earlier irritation having dissipated completely.

Inside the cases was a veritable mountain of 'Merchandise'.

One large mass that seemed to be firearms and grenades fused into one.

And there were even objects that were unrecognizable at first glance. The equipment in the cases looked like they were about to be used to wage war.

And these people were actually planning such a thing.

"You've gotta be kidding me! You actually brought an RPG? You planning to sink the ship or something?!" The occupant of the cabin laughed in astonishment, taking out a particularly eye-catching container.

"If it comes down to it, yes."

"Whoa. Did you know? Villains who smuggle in weapons like this always end up getting blown up in their escape chopper because the hero gets his hands on these things."

"And I ask that you take care that such a thing does not happen."

"Tell that to Illness."

The man turned his back to Life.

"I'll call the others over. Illness is probably holed up in the theatre, so don't worry about her."

"…"

"Hey, I don't know what kind of a face you're making there, but just chill. We're the only ones with weapons on this ship. The security guards might have, at best, crowd-suppressant shotguns or guns for clay pigeons. And with all the anti-terrorism measures these days, it's not possible for any of the passengers to have brought in weapons."

And he laughed, having become a monster who could destroy the ship--

"After all, causing devastation should be fun! Just like Alien!"

"I feel a twinge of remorse, as if I'm cheating in a video game." for the first time, Life replied in a joking tone. The man snorted in laughter and left the room.

Having been left behind, Life systematically checked the contents of the rest of the containers as he mumbled to himself.

"Causing devastation, is it…?"

Although there was a joking tone in his voice, it was impossible to tell if the face under the mask was smiling.

"I should only hope we are not defeated by the heroes in the finale."

The next container he opened contained something that was very far removed from weapons or seajacking.

"After all, you are not Jason or Freddy… you are just villains who are here on a seajacking plot."

Inside the container was a pile of white masks straight out of some Italian carnival.

"We are only mindless villains who steal away the futures of others for business, after all. That includes myself."

The masks looked almost like a corridor of mirrors, reflecting Life's covered face.

He took out one of these masks and spoke with a sense of embarrassment.

"…I talk too much. Even I'm feeling sick listening to myself."



<=>



At the same time, at the Trevi Fountain in the ship's casino.



"What is all this…?"

Firo gulped silently as soon as he set foot into the space.

Once the grandiose departure ceremony, complete with fireworks and doves, had ended, he had changed out of his tux and into a more comfortable jacket. Firo was walking through the ship with Ennis and Czes.



Put simply, the ship had everything.

Although this might have been an oxymoronic statement, the ship still had everything Firo could imagine wanting to find on a ship.

In terms of restaurants alone, there were five-star eateries and cheap burger joints, Italian food, Chinese, Japanese, and even places that served live honey ants as an indigenous Australian delicacy.

In terms of shopping, it was like a gigantic shopping mall had been transplanted onto the vessel. Though fresh food was unfortunately limited, there was everything from high-end boutiques to sporting goods stores, bookstores, toy stores, hair salons, and arcades. At the centre of the ship was a gigantic hall, and the stores were lined up on floors in a circular formation around this centre. The ceiling of the hall was made of clear acrylic, and mirrors would be used in the daytime to light up the hall with sunlight.

But most varied above all were the leisure facilities--though things like ferris wheels and go-carts were absent, Firo was unexplainably awestruck when he saw the wave pool on the ship.

And once he saw facilities like tennis courts and clay pigeon shooting galleries, Firo's impression of Entrance had gone from "a floating castle" to "a floating city".

For the first day, he decided to try and get used to their room and ordered room service for dinner.

Afterwards, Ennis went to a beauty salon as Czes advised, and Firo had decided to pay a visit to the casino.



Having been the manager of a gambling parlour, Firo was struck by a certain impression of the casino on the ship.

Opulence. It was splendour incarnate.

Though Entrance was a classy vessel, Firo had still expected the casino to be a lot more materialistic.

However, his predictions were blown away the moment he set foot into the casino.

'This is practically Vegas.'

There were numerous chandeliers hanging from the ceilings. The lights shone down onto the chips and the cards, creating an atmosphere of luxury.

This casino was equipped with tables for basics like poker and blackjack, and even roulette, slot machines, and baccarat tables.

Of course, what was at stake here was much more valuable than any token in an arcade. It was chips--the true and absolute master of the casino.

When he heard that he could pay for chips with a credit card and pay in cash later, Firo decided to trade in a hundred dollars for chips, just to see if this place would be a useful reference to the Martillo Family's own casino.

Money changed hands, and minuscule twists of fate changed entire lives.

Having once peeled off the fingernails of a particularly impudent patron, Firo had always considered casinos to be like a microcosm of life. However, he could not spot the heart-racing thrills that were usually present in casinos.




"All right! I'm betting everything on this hand!" One gentleman shouted, as he brought in chips that seemed to be worth about thirty times more than the amount Firo had.



"I'm gonna stick with this till I drop!" One lady kept betting $1000 chips on "00" at the roulette table.



"Oh, too bad! Looks like I lost this round!" A man who had just lost all his chips in a last-minute reversal of fortunes smiled at his opponent.



Of course, this didn't mean that everyone here was rolling in cash. There were naturally some patrons who staked everything on $10 bets. However, these people were seated quietly and uncomfortably around the fringes.

'Oh, I get it.'

Firo came to an understanding as he watched the gamblers break out into smiles at defeat.

'To these guys, these chips are just arcade tokens.'

Watching these people enjoy gambling without a care for the cash involved, Firo found himself affirming his belief that this was indeed a microcosm of life.

And so he decided that it might be the right place for him to test the experience he had gained in these past decades.

It wouldn't be a bad idea to see how much of this mountain of cash he could win just through betting.

Firo grinned and stepped forward.



<=>



At the same time, on deck.



Though the night grew late, people were still crowding on the deck near the bow.

There were people there to take a look at the gigantic shark, some who had come out to get some fresh air, and others who had come with plans for stargazing.

With the exception of the occasional shaking due to the location of the deck, it was little different from any park at a beach. There were even some couples embracing on the side.

Watching all this, Bobby anxiously clicked his tongue.

"Damn… where is this Firo guy?"

"I doubt our chances of finding him by mindlessly wandering a place akin to a gigantic shopping mall. …Might I suggest we just steal the passenger list?"

"Shut up, Troy. That smart-ass voice of yours is really annoying me."

Bobby turned down the request of the African-American boy beside him and turned to the rest of his gang.

Troy, who collected malware known as Trojans.

Tall, the tall one.

Humpty, the fat one.

They were all nicknames coined by Bobby, and he liked them very much because they were easy to say. Although the recipients of these names were not very happy about them, they would pretend they hadn't heard anything when Bobby called them by those names.

These boys were currently at a bit of a loss concerning the girl standing with them.

"What's wrong? Are you looking for someone?"

"No, well… I need to know something, before we say anything."

"Yes? What is it?"

"Who are you?"

After several hours of self-enforced silence, the boys and girl had finally managed to sneak out of the lifeboat. The girl bowed her head, still apologetic about having been responsible for the hours of cramped darkness.

"I'm sorry. I'm a stowaway, and my name is Carnea."

"I forgot that! But you already said that!"

The boy spat, and added quietly.

"So why were you stowing away?"

"I'm just like you… I'm looking for someone."

"Who?"

"I know for sure that he's on this ship… you see, he's like a father to me…" The girl confessed with her head bowed. She seemed to be a bit of an introvert, despite her sun-tanned skin.

"Like a stepdad? What, he left you behind when he left on vacation and you're here to get back at him?"

"No, that's not it… I'm here to stop him."

"'Stop him'?"

"Yes. He's--"

The moment Carnea made to explain, Bobby covered her mouth with a "wait a sec".

"Mphh--"

"Sorry, I'll listen to what you have to say later."

Bobby directed the others to hide behind a wall as he scanned the deck.

There was a boy wearing a child's tuxedo, looking up at the animatronic shark.

This boy, who looked to be much younger than himself, seemed to be wandering the ship alone.

"It's him… That's Firo's little brother."

"It's unmistakable. I commend you for accomplishing a feat that you could not normally have managed with your mental capacity, Bobby."

"Right? Keep the compliments coming, Troy."

The boy grinned, not even realizing he had just been insulted, and decided to begin following Czes.

"All right, let's tail him."

"Um… what are you going to do to that boy?" Carnea asked nervously. Bobby put on a villainous smile and turned to Troy, Tall, and Humpty.

"Well, what do you guys think?"

"I would suggest taking him hostage, but my lack of faith in your negotiation skills tells me otherwise."

"'Sides, what do we do after we take him hostage? It's not like we have an HQ to lock him up in."

"Wh-what if the crew catches us before we can even catch the kid?"

Bobby's evil grin froze in the face of his friends' lack of enthusiasm.

Then, he ended up asking Carnea.

"…What do you think?"

"Um… are you going to hurt that boy?" Carnea asked hesitantly. Bobby quickly shook his head.

"No! That's not it… His big brother's an evil mafia exec. We're just going to take revenge on them for what they did to us!"

Bobby declared confidently, despite not completely being in the right himself.

"They're a pack of bastards who stole our hard-earned stuff with brute force! That's why we're going to make them realize that we're not just a bunch of livestock to be used. We'll show them that we're strong and smart enough to take them on!"

Bobby glorified his actions, completely omitting the part about stealing a tourist's camera.

"I see…"

Carnea didn't seem to be affected by Bobby's declaration as she muttered quietly.

"Everything's the same, no matter where you go."

Her voice only reached the ears of the boys other than the excited Bobby.

They put their heads together and decided to wait and see how things worked out.

And their biggest problem of all, the leader, began trailing the "younger brother" of their enemy.

"Don't just sit around, guys! We gotta go after him!"



<=>



"…Maybe I went a little overboard."

It had been about two hours since Firo had entered the casino.

His little self-challenge had yielded overwhelmingly positive results.

Of course, he had played by the rules. He just acted according to the moods and expressions of his opponents, taking logical steps in each game.

And as a result, he found himself holding about a hundred thousand dollars in chips.

Upon further observation, Firo spotted several patrons who were both rich in cash and experts in gambling. As such people were beasts with financial backing, Firo did his beast to avoid them.

He would then pinpoint those who would be laughing at their own defeats, and repeatedly win and lose some smaller matches. He would then find an opportunistic chance to raise the stakes.

After several repetitions, Firo ended up with a mountain of chips in his possession.

'That was too much.
Now that I think about it, I'm just sweeping the entire house.'

If Firo were the manager, this would be the kind of timing where he would go up against the patron himself or covertly check to see if the patron was not cheating.

However, the casino employees, other patrons, and even his defeated opponents did nothing but congratulate him on his victories.

Out of guilt, Firo wavered between stepping down or challenging the expert gamblers he had seen earlier--

When a man took a seat beside him.

"You're pretty good. How about a one-on-one match?"

Asked the man in the black jacket and black leather pants.

Firo could tell at a glance that this man was not the kind who lived by the law.

It wasn't just a matter of appearance. The air around this man practically screamed that they were cut from the same cloth. And perhaps this man was even deeper underground than himself--he had the dark sharpness of people like Claire, Keith, or maybe even some of the senior executives of the Martillo Family.

Although Firo found himself wondering why such a person would be on a ship like this, he remembered that he was in no position to talk himself, and decided to have a listen.

"Not at all. It looks like I just got lucky this time. I don't think I'm that worthy of being acknowledged."

He spoke in his normal "capo" tone and waited for the man to react.

"Don't be so humble. Whether it's luck or skill--well, I'm not saying you were cheating, but it's not hard to tell if someone's an experienced gambler."

"…"

"And here I was, thinking this place was just for entertainment. I couldn't have imagined that people like you would be around."

He was perhaps Spanish, or of Latin American descent. He had dark skin and defined features that made him look like the type who would be popular with women.

As Firo remained in thought, the man began to personally shuffle the deck he received from the dealer.

And Firo very briefly caught a glimpse of something.

He spotted the man slip in a single card from his sleeve into the deck as he shuffled furiously.

No one else had noticed, and it would be impossible for the dealer to have seen from that angle.

The man skillfully continued to shuffle, finishing off by moving the card he slipped in to the top of the deck.

'He's pretty good.'

Firo simultaneously admired the man's skill and wondered what this action could have meant.

As far as cheating went, this was a rather meaningless action. After all, they had yet to even decide on a game.

Firo knew that a man of this caliber would be able to perform such a trick without him even noticing. However, the fact that he let the action be spotted must have meant that he intended for this to happen.

Of course, none of this would have been perceptible to a normal person.

'Is he testing me? To see if I can see through that trick?'

Firo laughed bitterly and took the deck the man had placed on the table.

"Well, I suppose it's my turn."

He took out his non-prescription glasses from his breast pocket, put them over his eyes, and grinned.

And he began to shuffle with skill rivalling the other man's.

Flip flip flip. The cards flew back and forth with a satisfying noise.

And--

"Whoops, excuse me."

One of the cards fell out of the deck mid-shuffle and fell directly in front of the man in black.

Firo laughed sheepishly and put the deck on the table in front of the man, not even picking up the card he had dropped.

The man took the card from the floor, grinned, and began shuffling again.

In an instant, the card that Firo had intentionally dropped made its way back into the man's sleeve.

After this display of skill, the man smiled.

"Well then, what shall we play?"



To start with the conclusion, the game of blackjack ended in Firo's victory.

At first, it was a neck and neck battle of wits.

However, the moment they really raised the stakes, the man had absurdly gotten a bust (over 21).

"That was a total loss on my part. What can I say? You were excellent. A calculated effort to the end."

"…Thanks."

Although Firo was smiling, he still had some questions.

'No matter how I look at it, it seems like he lost on purpose…'

As Firo put on a smile despite his suspicions, the man offered a handshake.

"Please let me introduce myself. My name is Angelo. I work with international exports."

"Firo Prochainezo. I'm a restaurant manager."

Firo accepted the handshake, and the man called Angelo shook his head apologetically.

"It seems your winnings in the last round are higher than the amount of chips I have… If it's all right with you, I'd like to buy you a drink back in my cabin as an apology. What do you say?"

"If it won't take too long."

Firo could tell that this was the man's intention from the beginning.

'Huh…? Did I ever make enemies with Spanish or Latin Americans?'

Firo, along with Luck Gandor, had once destroyed a small organization in Mexico. However, this was over half a century ago. He didn't find it too likely that someone would be out for vengeance at this point in time.

In the end, despite all the questions still floating in his head, Firo decided to accept the stranger's invitation out of curiosity. After all, if he were to shrug off this person's intentions, he could potentially end up getting shot or something in Ennis and Czes's presence--and he'd never be able to face them if such a thing were to happen.

"Thank you for the offer. I'll be dropping by to pay you a visit."

After getting an employee to get his chips exchanged for cash, Firo slowly got to his feet.

He was nagged by a worry that even eclipsed the fact that he had just made more than enough money to pay off their tickets.



'How do I escape if he just turns out to be gay…?'



<=>



As her name implied, the girl named Illness was sick.



That was what everyone decided, and that was what she herself wanted.

Because she was sick.

Because I'm not normal.

She believed that she could allow herself to do what she did only because she was a sick person.

And she also knew that this was just wishful thinking.

That is why she wanted to be human, but those around her denied it.

No matter what she did, they would tell her, "You're weird", "You're not normal", or "You're crazy".

And because she knew she was supposed to get angry at these statements, Illness got angry.

But no one accepted her actions as 'normal'.

She had thought that calling herself sick was just escapism. She thought she was running away.

But as she listened to the reactions of those around her, a certain fear took root in her heart.

'Maybe I really am abnormal?'

From the point of view of the others, the answer to this question was a resounding "yes".

However, the answer wouldn't be so clear-cut from a much wider perspective of her situation.



She remembered.

She remembered the fact that she was abnormal, from the moment she was born.

But that abnormality wasn't in her--it was in the world around her.

And it was in the purpose for which her parents had created her.



Covered under her clothing were countless scars.

They weren't injuries from having been hit or cut--they were closer to wounds from "being carved out" or "ripped".

However, her parents said that this was the right thing to do.

And everyone else said the same thing.

"You haven't done anything wrong." Her parents said to her, "so don't worry."

It was not long afterwards that her smiling father tore the skin on her back.



This was a fairy tale in the woods.

A terrifying fable inside a manor in the forest.

A story from a long, long time ago.

An old-fashioned tale from seven years ago.



The story began with a little girl's screaming.

Most of the vocalizations weren't even words--just a primeval howling.

Although she could occasionally call out for something, no meaning was given to her words.

She could scream, It hurts It's painful I'm tired It itches It's hot It'scoldcoldcoldcoldcold, but the people around her just kept praying.

They prayed and prayed--not for her relief, but in reverent worship towards her screaming itself.

They prayed for their own happiness--"I was happy today, thank you so much".

And as the girl continued to writhe in pain, they wold continue to pray towards her suffering.

Yet the girl never said, "help me".

This was because she had been taught that the act of helping was something she did for others.

The girl, who didn't yet have the name of 'Illness', did not even know what the words "help me" meant.

That was why she never knew the meaning behind the things that were being done to her.

She didn't know of a world in that didn't hurt, burn, or torture.

She didn't know about a world in which her nails didn't have to be peeled away.

She didn't know about a world in which her flesh didn't have to be gouged out.

She didn't know about a world in which letters wouldn't have to be carved into her removed rib and place back in her body.

That there was a world where she didn't have to starve for two weeks and be given a feast containing just enough poison to keep her alive.

That there was a world where she wouldn't be ordered to kill a girl her age that she had been friends with for a year.

The girl would be rescued by the people just before Illness could kill her.

And now it would be Illness's turn to be tied up.

The girl, fully recovered, would then appear in front of her.

She didn't know about a world in which she didn't have to be beaten by a friend out to avenge herself.

She didn't know anything, and never tried to know anything.

Because she had already lost the ability to reason that a better world could potentially exist.



That is, until the year she turned nine--when she met several children slightly older than herself, who had snuck into the 'castle'.

Until she had become friends with them.

Until they told her that she was 'strange'.

Until they told her that they could 'never forgive' the adults around her.

Until they tried to save her.

Until they showed her a new world.

Until they were caught by the adults just before they could escape--and were killed in cold blood.



'I'm the one that killed them.
It was all because I told them.
Because I thought I wanted to be a part of a world where I didn't have to suffer.
Because I asked them, "help me".
That was why those kids tried to save me and all ended up dead.
But those kids tried to help me until the very end.
My dad asked the last of those kids:
"This is my beloved daughter. If you carve out one of her eyes, I will let you live."
But that boy--
That boy told me to escape and cut my dad with the knife he was given.
Dad was holding a gun.
That was the end of his story.'



But the fairy tale didn't end there.

'Dad talked to me. I was crying when dad spoke.'

"We have done something terrible."

Still covered in gunsmoke, the father apologized to the girl and apologized to the people.



The girl was then brought to know the world.

She saw a world beyond the forest--all kinds of things.

She watched TV, read picture books, and even read Japanese comics.

Through music and movies, she learned about the hope that filled the world, and how other children her age lived--

"We understand now. Ignorance dulls the pain."

And she continued to suffer as she had before.

The people continued to pray, thanking her.

That she was not human.

That she was the child of a god.



One year later.

Her parents were killed by a group of men who had suddenly assaulted the manor.

She was later told that the boy who was killed by her father was the son of a powerful corporate executive. The "Mask Makers" had been hired by him to do this job.

The man who found the girl, whose limbs and tongue were chained, pointed his gun at her.

"…You look like a victim, but this is a problem… Our orders were to kill every person here…"

The girl then felt a sense of relief, realizing that her parents, the other adults, and the kids were all dead.

She just kept thinking that she was relieved that they died peacefully, without the kind of suffering she experienced.

Even though she knew what it meant to hate--even though she was upset when the boy was killed--she still did not think badly of these people. The girl thought herself abnormal.

"Any last words?" The man with the gun asked.

The girl replied.

"Hey, I have a question. Am I a person? Or a god?"

The man then laughed.

"I see. They told me to kill all the people, but no one ever said anything about gods."

This was how she was brought out of the manor.

This is the end of the fairy tale.



Illness knew that the continuation was not much happier.

As a member of the organization called the "Mask Makers", she learned all kinds of things in order to live among them.

It was a different kind of pain from the suffering in the manor.

She trained to kill people.

Although she was out of the forest now, this was still different from the "new world" she had known about.

However, she didn't want to just die here, so far away from home when she knew what she wanted was still out there.

If she said she didn't want to kill, she would likely be killed herself. Even if she didn't say anything, the girl felt like she would die if she were to be driven away from these people.



Whenever she wondered whether or not she was sick, Illness would remember this past.

And she reaffirmed that she was an abnormal person.

She had faith in the fact that she was sick.

She had faith that normal humans would not kill others out of fear for their own lives.

She had faith that, should a human be placed in her situation, they would not hesitate to die instead.

All because she saw the children who tried to save her--the children who had been her only salvation--and she saw their deaths.



To her, those boys symbolized the world.

And because her actions were not in line with the actions of those children, she must be an abnormal person--because she chose to live.

And reaffirming that she was a sick person, Illness got to work without enthusiasm.



<=>



Entrance, movie theatre.



"Sniff… sniffle…"

As her name implied, the girl named Illness was sick.

That was what everyone who knew her thought--

And that was probably what the people around her now would say if they could see her.

She was at a gigantic multiplex near the stern of the ship.

There were seven theatres in all, and for the duration of this particular crossing, every screen was reserved for the "Shark Flight Special Features". They were showing some of the films Claudia starred in, as well as past works by John Drox.

Illness was watching one of Claudia's most famous works--

[Attack of the Killer Edison]

The Ghost Realm Communicator that had been developed by Thomas Alva Edison in his old age has returned to the present day! However, the Communicator was possessed by the terrifying Demon Queen! Edison's inventions are taken over by evil spirits and begin attacking humans! Watch out, the lightbulb is your enemy!

Although it was obviously a third-rate B-movie, the world was shocked when Claudia was revealed to be playing a major role. In the role of a childlike Demon Queen, at that.

This had happened in the direct aftermath of her celebrated step into the path of dramatic acting with the film [The Wild Dog], where she played the role of a girl whose parents were killed by the police.

However, her stylish performance as a villain in this trashy film led to her being given the confusing nickname "Jack-of-All-Trades".

In any case, this film became a cult hit. Among diehard fans of Claudia, it became something of an initiation ceremony to watch this film over ten times.

And in the climax of this cult hit--when the soul of Nikola Tesla sent the Queen of Demons hurling into the depths of hell, and the Queen declared that she had taken the people watching this film hostage--Illness began crying.

"Sniff… Sniffle…"

The other people in the audience, who could not see anything tearjerking in this particular scene, wondered if this girl was sick, but no one could bring themselves to speak to her because of her outlandish appearance.

The movie soon ended, and Illness clapped as hard as she could as the credits began rolling.

The confused audience members began getting out of their seats one by one, but Illness could not take her teary eyes off the screen.

Soon she was alone, and silence fell over the theatre. Then--

"Are you okay, Miss?"

Someone spoke to this unusual girl.

"Sniff… Who--?"

Illness asked back, wiping her tears. The boy in front of her grinned and replied.

"My name's Thomas--or rather, I'm Czeslaw Meyer. Call me Czes."

Czes handed her a handkerchief as Illness wiped her face and smiled back.

"Sniff… Thanks, Czes. Though I don't know why you called yourself Thomas and corrected yourself."

"Force of habit. Don't worry about it."

"?"

Illness wiped her tears with the handkerchief and cocked her head.

Although it looked like her eyeshadow would be wiped off, the tears didn't seem to have had any effect.

Seeing this, Czes wondered if those were actually bags under her eyes, or if they were tattoos--but he managed to keep from asking.


"Why were you crying?"

Czes's question prompted Illness to try and recall why she was shedding tears.

But she couldn't figure out why.

As she began scouring her brain, she recalled the conversation she had with a certain movie star that evening.



<=>



'You must be a good person!'

Illness felt a mix of thanks and guilt at the movie star who told her this without the least bit of hesitation.

But at this rate, Claudia would be pulled into trouble.

The trouble they were going to cause--she would become a part of their seajacking incident. This was an undeniable fact as long as she remained on board.

'Oh no. Oh no. Oh no. Oh no. What do I do? What am I supposed to do?'

Things like this had happened before several times.

However, she would be stopped each time by Death or Life, who would say, "You have to act professionally".

'Hmph. I'm not a pro. I'm an amateur.
So if I want to save someone, I'm going to save them. Hmph.'

Although Illness had considered more radical methods, in the end she was never able to defy the boss. She always ended up prioritizing her own life, and ended up despising herself.

But today was different.

The boss was not on the ship, and Death was dead. Aging was on the other ship, and Life was going to come soon, but he was not here yet.

'Then I guess it'll be fine. Right?'

And it was out of the blue and without a thought that Illness--a member of the mysterious organization that plotted to hijack this ship, and one of the most powerful fighters of the group--confessed.

"Say, Claudia?"

"What is it?"

Claudia smiled energetically, in stark contrast to Illness's lifeless pallor.

"Could you get off this ship right now?"

"? Why?"

"Um… I can't say, but something bad might happen. If you can't, then you should at least try and stay near the lifeboats."

Illness uttered these shocking words to the girl who had called her a "good person" and spoken to her without prejudice.

Technically, this was an act of betrayal against the organization, but this didn't matter to Illness.

'Hmph. I never said anything specific.'

This feeble excuse had long become a legitimate justification in Illness's mind.

"Huh. Are you some kind of a psychic?"

Claudia cocked her head. Illness turned away awkwardly.

If the other Businessmen were around, mocking laughter would be the last thing Illness would have to worry about, but Illness decided not to care. She just gave Claudia a warning, without mentioning any specifics.

"N-no, that's not it. But, um… Oh… I can't say. I can't say it, but… anyway, something bad's going to happen!"

She gesticulated, and turned to the shark so she could forget the rest.

Illness then started rambling and petting the shark as if she had never said anything.

A short pause.

The movie star took a breath and broke her thoughtful silence.

"Illness, are you a good person? Or a bad person?"

As Illness marvelled at the shark moving in front of her eyes, Claudia looked directly into Illness's face.

"H-huh…?"

"Are you saying you're going to do something to this ship?"

'Wow, I've never seen anyone with such an amazing sixth sense! I haven't even told her anything!'

"N-no, that's not it! Hmph. I don't know anything!"

This was technically true. They were going to hijack this ship, but she was not told of the specifics of the plan.

All Illness had been told was: "You're our Plan B. It's your mission to take care of the police if they manage to use helicopters or speedboats to get on board the ship. In other words, you don't have to do anything if everything goes well.".

Illness was so surprised by Claudia's question that she could not bring herself to look her in the eye.

"Then just answer this for me. Are you a good person, or a bad person?"

Illness was unnerved by this question--it got straight to the heart of the matter.

But her nervous answer turned out to get even closer to the heart of the matter.

"Well… If killing people makes me a bad person… I guess I'm a really really bad person…"

"…"

'Huh? Did I say something wrong just now?'

As Illness regained her calm, she began to realize the gravity of what she had just said and began trembling.

"W-wait a sec. You see…"

It was over.

Although Illness could not pinpoint what ended things, the result stood out clearly in her mind.

She must have just said something that was completely abnormal.

She had proved herself an abnormal existence.

And she cringed, her face contorting to levels beyond its usual sickly pallor.

However--

"Hm…"

Claudia was an even more "abnormal" girl.

"It doesn't really matter if you're a good person or a bad person. I like honest people."

"Huh…?"

"Besides, you were worrying for me, right? Then to me, you're a good person! Killing people is a bad thing, and I wouldn't be able to forgive you if you killed someone I care about, but my great-grandpa is a legendary assassin. And that was how he ended up marrying my great-grandma! So I can't really say anything about that, since I wouldn't exist if they didn't get married."

The redhead laughed confidently and declared to the older girl.

"So have confidence! Even if the entire world rejects you, I--Claudia Walken--will accept you! Since you're a good person to me, I'll let you into my world! It's decided! Oh, but just to let you know, you can't do anything bad from now on. I don't want a part of my world to be killed by the police, after all!"

"B-but…"

"If you need to kill someone, I'll kill them for you. So don't do anything rash."

The girl nodded as she proclaimed these words that seemed to be either great pride or extreme foolishness.



<=>



'That's the first time anyone's said something like that to me.'
Illness had come to watch these movies because she waned to know more about the girl whose words still echoed in her mind.

She had already watched three films, but each of them showed a different Claudia.

It was like Claudia was everything Illness wasn't. It was like she knew everything. She was just acting--she performed all kinds of roles. Illness knew this.

And yet--

Everything about this girl on screen was bathed in light.

Whether she was a villain or a tragic heroine, each had their own colour--sometimes light, and other times dark and sharp. Perhaps the only flaw with her acting was that she shone too much even she was playing a bit part.

The world smiled upon her.

She had everything--influence, talent, and a bright future.

And she had likely worked hard for all of this, too.

So why was Illness crying?

Was it because she had been accepted by such a talented person?

Or was she crying out of self-pity, having realized that she was someone to feel sorry for?

Illness could not find the answer.

She could only recall the light of the girl she saw on screen and met in person. Tears welled up in her eyes again.



"Uh… Wh-why are you crying again, Miss?"

Czes hurriedly tried to console Illness, unable to follow her emotional line of thought.

Although Czes was quite used to seeing crybabies, this girl seemed to be somewhat different.

Czes wouldn't usually try and cheer up a girl crying in a movie theatre, but this time he had noticed something and decided to get close to this girl.

"Let's get you to your room. I'll come with you."

The girl wiped her eyes and looked at Czes, laughing softly through her tears.

"Hehe. You've still got another ten years to go until you can start picking up girls."

"Then how about I try again in a century?"

Czes responded to the girl's joking comment.

"That is, if you're still alive."



This was how Czes came to accompany Illness to her room.

As her cabin was in the lower deck at the bow of the ship, it was a surprisingly long trip.

Czes had taken several turns to lengthen the trip as much as he could, and confirmed his suspicions around the time he had stepped down a flight of stairs,

'I'm being followed.'

He couldn't tell the numbers and builds of the people following him, but he was certain that there were at least two of them. They followed him from afar in crowded places, and at a closer distance in quiet places.

Czes had noticed his tail from before he had gone to the theatre, so he had decided to use the crying girl in order to find out who these people were. He would be able to safely ascertain the situation once he had arrived at her cabin.

Of course, Czes could have just as well gone to his own cabin, but he felt uneasy about letting his pursuers know where he was staying.

And although he had ended up getting an unrelated girl involved, Czes was certain that things would be fine once he had managed to find out who his pursuers were.

Czes's line of thought was quite cold and calculated, but he was, at the centre of it all, driven by fear.

A feeling of unease had been dogging at him ever since he had run into the man in black in the halls earlier that day.

And for some reason--for some unexplainable reason--he was reminded of the train.

Of course, Czes had gone travelled by trains and ships many times since. At first the trauma made things somewhat difficult, but over time his aversion dissipated.

This time was different.

Even though he was in a much bigger space than the transcontinental, and even though he was with his trusted family members Firo and Ennis, something bothered Czes.

In terms of sheer eeriness, it was most comparable to, but even greater than, the secluded European village he had visited last year.

'What is this chill…? It's almost like I've run into a laughing Victor Talbot on the street.'

Victor Talbot was an immortal whom Czes was uncomfortable around.

Although Victor hadn't personally caused Czes any trouble, he had the unfortunate tendency to pry into Czes's painful past with zero sensitivity. This was still, in his own twisted way, probably for the greater good--but it still wasn't pleasant for Czes.

Would he end up having to face himself again?

Or would he end up face-to-face with true fear, like he had on that train?

Or would it be both?

'Stop, stop. Let's not think about this too hard.
Besides, I have to do something about those people following me…'

As Czes tried to figure out his plan of action, Illness suddenly stopped in place.

"What is it?"

"Ohhhh… Sorry, Czes. It's just that I've been waiting for when we got to a deserted place."

"H-huh?!"

'Is this girl going to jump me?!'

Czes's imagination ran perhaps a bit too wild. Whether or not her should be happy or scared would depend on the flavour of being jumped, but Czes was worried about what his pursuers would do to him in the aftermath.

And as Czes fretted with his not-quite-childlike worries, Illness's eyes shone sharply.

"Sorry, Czes. Looks like we're being followed."

"Huh?"

"Hm… they're all small. Maybe they're kids. Four boys and a girl? But there are some boys these day who walk like girls, so maybe not."

"Wait, what are you talking about?" Czes asked in confusion.

Illness sniffed the air and replied, "I don't think there's any sort of gas. Don't worry."

And at the very next moment--

"Since there's no one around, I'm gonna go and catch them."

Czes came to a realization.

He finally noticed that they were far below the lowest of the cabin decks--they were at the stairs to what looked to be the engine room.

'That's strange. I thought I was the one leading us around.'

At the end of the staircase was a door with a sign reading, "no unauthorized entry".

'Did that girl trick those people into following us here? Did she… trick me too?'

As soon as Czes began forming these questions in his head, the girl jumped.

Actually, it would be more accurate to say that she launched herself off the ground.

She balanced on the narrow handrail and kicked off the wall to instantly propel herself to the top of the stairs. By the time the confused Czes had run up the stairs after her, Illness had already reached the hallway at the top of the stairs.

She stomped up the hallway like she was running along the wall.

This kind of movement wasn't human.

This was what Czes was thinking, but he soon corrected himself.

This kind of movement was not possible for normal humans. Czes personally knew people who could move like ninjas in movies.

Nile, Denkuro, Christopher, Charon…

Among the list of names was one that Czes tried very hard not to recall.

"Ahahahaha… Haha…?"

She launched off the walls.

She kicked off the doorknob.

She did a 180 degree turn in midair to jump against the ceiling.

She launched herself off the opposite wall to return to the hallway.

There was no coherence to her movement.

She left the hallway with gravity-defying jumps and launches. Czes wondered if all that movement was even necessary. Her movement--no, course--was so unpredictable that it almost looked like it was meant to counter against an opponent armed with a gun.

With this, Czes finally ended up recalling the name he never wanted to remember.

'Just like…
The… Rail Tracer…'

A chill ran up his spine as he muttered the name.

The trauma instantly eclipsed all his thoughts. Czes desperately shook his head and tried to get his head in order.

'No, she's not the Rail Tracer! She's not at his level. Maybe closer to Nile…'

And as he began rambling incoherently in his head--

"…Huh?"

It finally rationally dawned on Czes that there was more to Illness than meets the eye, and he heard screams and a half-minded voice echoing from the hallway.

"Czes~. I managed to get all three~!"

"…You got rid of them?"

And it dawned on him at this point that he had once again set foot into an abnormality.



<=>



At the same time, ship hallway.



As Illness wandered the floor of the semi-suite cabins, Angelo was leading Firo to his own cabin, which was a good distance away.

"So you're in a suite room, Mr. Prochainezo?(1)  I'm quite jealous."

"Actually, we think it might be a bit too luxurious for our tastes."

"That's a rather superfluous worry. Perhaps you'd consider a trade?"

And as they reached the cabin, Angelo's phone rang.

"…Excuse me."

Angelo stepped away and took the call. He was greeted by a boorish voice.

[Yo, boss Angelo. How ya doin'? Gotta say, I was pretty damn shocked to see you at the casino just now. What with you playing cards with some suspicious punk and all.]

"…Oh, yes. It's been a while, hasn't it?"

[Whoa, that punk's there with ya, huh? Don't panic, just play along. That was some sense of timing, gotta say. Anyway, I left ya a little present in your cabin before I dropped by the casino. Good thing you left the door ajar before you left, like I told you to.]

"Yes. I'm glad you're doing well. Actually, I'm on a ship at the moment. Are you all right with the phone bills?"

Angelo continued on stoically. The recipient of his words--the Demolisher--cackled and added something unnecessary.

[Ya just had to remind me, huh? What gives, making us use a satellite when we're on the same fucking boat? Might even be cheaper to just talk to ya face-to-face.]

"Of course, I would love to see you again."

[And seriously? Ya didn't even bring a tux after everything I told ya? Those people at the casino thought you were some kinda movie star! Apparently there's some sort of event goin' on. And I refuse to walk around with some guy who looks like Antonio Banderas and get my face engraved into someone's brain.]

"Actually, I'm entertaining a guest. I'll call you back later."

Angelo hung up and laughed bitterly.

"Apologies. It was an uncle of mine--we're not on very good terms."

"Of course."

Firo responded with a smile. There was an awkward moment of silence. Angelo opened his door, and invited in his suspicious guest.



"This place is pretty nice." Firo exclaimed as he stepped into the regular cabin.

In terms of price, it was worth about 1/10th of Firo's suite.

However, this room looked just like a decently luxurious hotel room in miniature. It looked quite comfortable for one person.

There was no balcony; only a window to enjoy the outside view, but watching the ocean pass by from an air-conditioned cabin didn't seem to be too bad.

On a table at the corner of the room was a wooden liquor box.

"If you'll let me pour drinks. I made quite a nice find at the shopping mall not too long ago, you see." Angelo laughed amicably. Firo tried laughing heartily.

"Then I guess I'll just drink enough to make up for the short change."

They sat on opposite sides of the round table, and Angelo reached for the crate.

'Liquor in a wooden box, huh…'

The sight jogged Firo's memories of when he had first become immortal. It was quite awe-inspiring to think that his taking an interest in that wooden box all those years ago was the reason he was the way he was.

Although Firo was in a silent moment of remembrance--

"Actually, Mr. Prochainezo…"

Firo snapped out of his thoughts as Angelo spoke to him.

"It's about your restaurant business."

"Yes?"

"…By any chance, is it known by the name 'Mask Maker'?"

'What's that?' Was the question in Firo's mind, but the moment he made to answer--

His memories stopped him.

'Mask Maker'.

Normally, it was a self-explanatory phrase.

Someone who makes masks. That was all.

But alarm bells were going off somewhere in Firo's memories.

'This is a special phrase. Beware, beware.'

Whose memories were these?

Was it one of his own experiences from his long, long life?

'No.'

Was it a memory from the life of Szilard, whom he had devoured?

'No.'

It was much deeper than that.

Of his memories, organized like the branches of a tree, these were coming from the tiny branches that split off from the greater branch of Szilard's memories.

The memories of those devoured by Szilard, or those who were devoured by someone who was later devoured by Szilard.



                                serial killer Italy           a womanizing count  
the drugs that Father ordered to create a mysterious man  
the children are being killed Rotten Eggs           big brother Begg Garott
'Gretto. These memories belong to… Maiza's younger brother.'
As Firo strained to read these foggy memories, another person popped out in his mind--

The phrase "Mask Maker" held a special meaning to another in his memories.



the tragedy of little children two boys two girls  
 Monica           Niki a criminal organization mercenary team 
 money money money death money money money one yet many

'Lebreau.'

The moment Firo realized who these memories belonged to, he cut himself off from recalling anything further.

'No.
I must not look into Lebreau's memories.'
Firo felt a strong sense of revulsion at reading the memories of Lebreau.

Perhaps it was because Lebreau was eaten by an alchemist who was himself later devoured by Szilard--there were much fewer memories to read than other immortals. They felt similar to Firo's own memories from when he was three or four years of age.

Although Firo might have been able to recall things more clearly if he delved deep enough, he had the nagging feeling that he should not know this man called Lebreau too well.

'That's right. I can't make this bastard's memories mine. In any case, Lebreau is--'

That was as far as Firo got before he snapped back into reality.

Though Firo had been lost in thought about the Mask Maker for likely no longer than a few seconds, it was more than enough time for Angelo to grow suspicious.

"So you do know something."

His shuffling the cards earlier looked like child's play in comparison to how quickly he drew a black handgun with red and gold decorations.

It was a scene right out of a movie--

The gunman stoically brought Firo back to reality.

"Well, I'd appreciate it if you could tell me about the 'Mask Makers'.

About your boss--and the bastard who ordered our boss's killing."



<=>



At the same time, the bridge.



The captain.

This was a word used to describe the being who oversaw everything about a ship as its leader.

However, unlike the captains of normal fishing ships, ferries, or pirate vessels, the captain of a luxury cruise ship needed all kinds of skills--from navigation and engineering, to charisma to lead and oversee the countless employees and workers under his command.

A gigantic hotel-style system of housing, a shopping mall filled with all kinds of stores, and countless forms of entertainment facilities.

All of this was ultimately under the command of the captain.

As the man who was responsible for the safety of the passengers, he had to be a public figure on the cruise--sometimes even having to acquiesce to unreasonable requests. Assistants such as the first mate or hotel managers were there to lighten some of the burden from his shoulders.

In some movies, captains entertain the passengers and drink with them--this was part of his duties. However, no matter how much he toasts with the passengers, he must never get drunk himself.

This was the philosophy of the captain of the Entrance, Falk Corner, as he looked over his duties.

Having been contacted by the bridge, he opened the door with professional dignity.

"What is it--"

Suddenly, he could feel the barrel of a gun at his back.

"Thank you for all your work."

The captain then realized that there were about a dozen 'outsiders' on the bridge, excluding the one who had a gun trained on him.

They were all dressed differently, with the exception of the beautiful masks over their faces that were straight out of an Italian carnival.

Although the captain wanted to think they were drunk passengers from a masquerade ball, no such event was planned on the ship.

And as if confirming that these guests were not just a group of drunk delinquents, each masked person held guns in their hands with the expertise of professionals. Having sensed that these people were serious, the captain froze in place and spoke calmly.

"I had been told that a large, unidentified vessel was spotted on the radar."

"Wrong. That vessel only exists in the lie we told the first mate to tell."

The captain could now see that another man was holding a gun to the first mate's head.

"I see. Then I'm glad we are in no danger of collision."

Captain Corner grit his teeth and desperately held back his anger, and spoke in a strained voice.

"The bridge is off limits to unauthorized personnel. I would appreciate it if you would leave."

"Captain, I would think you'd know better than that." 

One of the masked intruders laughed and walked over to the captain.

"I don't like having to make people despair at the end, so I'll let you in on a little secret. We started our takeover from the communications office, so you might have a bit of trouble sending out an SOS."

"…"

"C'mon, don't give me that look. We're not gonna do anything outrageous, like telling all the passengers to assemble in the main hall or something. In fact, we'd like our passengers to all enjoy their cruise without an inkling of what's actually going on! That's right! After all, if we tell the passengers about the seajacking, some special operative who happened to be aboard might show up and make a hero of himself. And at the end of the day, we'll be found by the media or dogged at by the cops." the seajacker recited with a frivolous laugh.

Of course, no ship would set sail without preparing for the possibility of a seajacking. And as the Entrance was carrying multiple VIPs, they had taken great care to ensure security onboard.

"Now, here's a little quiz for you."

The seajacker spread his arms wide as if mocking all of this.

"How many personnel and weaponry do you think we've brought on board to make such a huge job work?"

"…"

"The answer is a secret. You can try searching the passenger list, but we actually bought our tickets, you know? But let me give you a clue--one of us boarded much later. I'm not telling you how, though."

The captain ground his teeth as the seajacker rambled on, obviously enjoying the situation.

"And also, our weapons are all 100% real. You know how they beefed up security, with what happened last year? We went thought a lot of trouble to get heavy firearms onto the ship here."

The man held up an assault rifle as if to show off their work. The captain spotted a spare handgun at his waist, but he gave up on trying to take the gun by force after considering his situation.

"I'll get straight to the point. We haven't set up bombs in the engine room, and we haven't bound and gagged all one thousand crew members. Truth be told, the only ones who know about the hijacking are the people in this room and our buddies in the communications office."

"What do you mean?" The captain asked.

The masked men snickered and revealed a certain fact.

"No, well--what I'm saying is that the greatest asset currently under our control is the ship's air ducts and ventilation system."

"What…?"

"This is an amazing ship, I'll give you that. We can sit in our cabin and control everything from entertainment facilities to storeroom temperatures. And you even have a forced ventilation system installed, too."

The man put down his rifle and took out a small bottle from his pocket.

It was a bottle of men's eau de cologne. A brand-name product that was sold on board. When the man turned the cap, a strange click sounded from inside the bottle.

"I think a little demonstration is in order."

And as soon as he finished his sentence, the man sprayed the cologne directly onto the face of the first mate.

"What the--ugh… g-GAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH! AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH! Gah… hah… argh…"

The first mate slid onto the floor and began flopping about, crying out like an insect.

He trembled on the floor like a small animal dying of suffocation. Although he did not die, it took a very long time for him to stop shaking.

"Now, as you can see, this is what happens when you take in just one breath of this stuff. Two breaths have a mortality rate of 90%. Add that to the stuff about the ventilation system, and you get the gist of what we're saying, yes?"

"You bastards…!"

The man ignored the captain's outrage and quietly turned away.

"So let me put this plainly. Since the passengers don't know a thing, you just have to cooperate with us and they'll all get to their destination without a hitch. But I hope I don't have to tell you what happens if we get interrupted somehow. Capiche?"

"What are your demands? Is it money you're after?"

"Money? Yes. After all, we're Businessmen. Of course, I think there's a bit of a grudge from our boss's end mixed in with this job." the man stated, and burst into laughter with his comrades.

The captain, annoyed by the sound, bravely raised his voice.

"You think our company would pay up so easily?"

"I see what you're saying…"

The seajacker clicked his fingers and pointed at the captain's head.

"But no. That wouldn't do. That wouldn't do at all. If we contact your company, the cops are going to get wind of what we're doing. We can't do that. No, no. We're not really planning on extorting cash from your bosses. We're just taking over your bridge to make sure the other side believes us when we're negotiating."

"Wh…what…?" the captain asked incredulously, but the representative of the seajackers just continued rambling on.

"You know, I always wonder about this when I'm watching movies. Why do seajackings and hijackings like this always fail?"

"Because evil will never will."

"I guess that's correct too, but you're pretty damn calm, captain. …Anyway, I think the answer is because the hero is always within the villain's reach."

"…?"

The captain just stared at the seajacker's strange words. The man shook his head at the ceiling and calmly continued on.

"I'm saying this 'cause we don't have anything to hide anymore, but you see, the other side in this little negotiation of ours… he's a so-called "hero"-type of guy. Not saying he's some kind of warrior of justice, but he's got some special powers up his sleeve. There's a bunch of guys who'd throw themselves away to save hostages. In any case, only our boss knows who they are specifically."

The man chattered, gestured dramatically, and turned to face the captain directly.

"But you see, this isn't possible unless we use these sister ships."

"It can't be…"

"It is. If we take both sister ships hostage…"

The man paused theatrically and continued as if being entertained himself.

"If we take both ships hostage, there's nothing the hero can do, since he's stuck on his one ship, right?"

The seajackers began laughing. Their representative's eye glinted as he deepened his voice.

"Now… here's a very important question for you, captain."

"Wh-what is it?"

The seajacker looked the captain in the eye, both deadly serious about this moment.



"Seagal(The Undefeatable Cook)and Van Damme(Former Universal Soldier) aren't aboard this ship, are they?"



<=>



Firo's cabin.

'Where could Firo have gone?'

Ennis had returned from her skin treatment at the beauty salon. Unfittingly for her beautiful skin, however, her face was fraught with worry.

'Czes hasn't come back, either.'

Today was Ennis's first time going to a beauty salon. As she was a homunculus, skin treatments or health concerns weren't a very high priority for her. However, Ennis was somewhat curious to see if human treatments would also have the same effects on a homunculus.

Perhaps the professional consultants would notice the tiny differences in the makeup of her skin and say, "You're not human, are you?". However, Ennis's worries never came to pass. The masseuse would only say things like, "You have such clear skin! I'm so jealous.". They spent the next three hours working their magic.

Although Ennis couldn't tell if there were any internal changes brought about by the treatment, her skin was shimmery and her hair looked shinier than usual.

'What if I look strange?'

Because her skin felt completely different, Ennis had decided to ask Firo or Czes for their opinion. However, they had not yet returned to their room.

Czes had told them, "I'll go watch movies at the theatre or something at night", and Firo had said that he was going to visit the casino.

That was why Ennis had dropped by the casino on her way, but Firo was nowhere to be found. She waited a while after returning to her room, but neither Firo nor Czes contacted her.

'I'd better go find them…' Ennis thought. But the moment she stood up, she heard the card key beeping at the entrance and the sound of the door opening a moment later.

Seeing Firo at the doorway, Ennis breathed a sigh of relief--and immediately drew back her breath upon seeing what seemed to be bullet holes on his clothes.

"What happened?!"

"Oh… no, well, I took care of it, so don't worry. For now."

"What in the world…"

"Well, you know. I'm pretty much used to this by now."

Firo laughed bitterly, and took out his mangled glasses from his breast pocket.

"Oh… oh. These were expensive…"

The head of a household shrugged with a tired expression on his face.

"It's really difficult to clear up misunderstandings, you know?"

As he buried himself on the couch, the internal phone line rang. Ennis hurriedly took the call and spoke briefly to the caller.

"Firo?"

"What is it?"

"It's Czes… He says he'll be staying with someone else tonight, so we don't have to worry about him…"

"Someone else?"

Firo thought for a moment, wondering who it could be.

Perhaps he had been caught by Claudia or Charon, or perhaps Czes had simply run into an old friend they didn't know about. Czes had lived a very long time--it wouldn't be strange for him to know someone he never told them about.

"Hah… And this was supposed to be a family vacation." Firo mumbled, but suddenly recalled what Czes said to him when they were boarding.



"Once we get on board, I'll avoid you two as much as I can so I won't bother you."
"I'll go watch movies at the theatre or something at night."
Firo nearly spat out his soul from the shock and began breathing heavily, face flushed.

"Firo! Are you ill? Let me see…"

Ennis moved closer to him out of worry, but this just made things worse for Firo. As his face grew redder and redder, Ennis became more and more concerned.

"You're completely flushed! Even immortals can get temporarily feverish if they're poisoned or infected…"

"N-no, that's not it!"

Firo quickly shook his head and desperately tried to calm down.

Ennis cocked her head in confusion, but the sight of her husband calming down seemed to have calmed her worry as well.

And Firo spoke.

"Now that I think about it, your face and arms look really soft." he said, gazing into her face.

"Oh!"

This time, it seemed that Ennis was the one who was surprised. She looked away nervously.

"Um… is it… strange…?"

"No. You're beautiful."

Firo merely gave his honest opinion. Although he was in mortal peril not very long ago, Firo felt like he had been saved by the very sight of Ennis's shiny skin and hair, and her shy expression.

"You… really think so?"

As Ennis's cheeks turned pink, Firo thought, 'She's so cute even when she's blushing'. He decided that this was good enough for him.

And the first day for the shy husband and the innocent wife ended in what an outside observer might call nothing.



Without even realizing what could be quietly happening under the surface of it all.






-----



(1) In the Japanese version, Angelo calls Firo Firo-san.

5 comments:

  1. I love you so much for translating this. Also I find it hilarious how innocent Firo and Ennis are.

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  2. Hooray a new chapter! Thanks for translating!
    Do you think the name of the fountain could be Trevi? Like the famous one in Rome?

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  3. @ Villette:
    That sounds about right. Thanks for the info. :)

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  4. Thanks for the update!! great!!^_^

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