(Download the updated version in PDF/epub format here.)
Here is the first update for the Etsusa Bridge series, which is the second work by Ryohgo Narita of Baccano!, Durarara!!, and Vamp! fame. The series is comprised of four main books and a collection of short stories. Currently, a second short story collection is supposedly in the works. (Fans have been waiting since 2008.
Thanks a lot, Durarara)
Here is the first update for the Etsusa Bridge series, which is the second work by Ryohgo Narita of Baccano!, Durarara!!, and Vamp! fame. The series is comprised of four main books and a collection of short stories. Currently, a second short story collection is supposedly in the works. (Fans have been waiting since 2008.
This series takes place in Japan's near-future, in the same 'verse as the rest of Narita's light novel series(minus Hariyama-san). There is almost no overlap between Etsusa Bridge and the other novels, but
As with my other series, I'm taking a localization-style approach to this translation. No honorifics, names in Western order, and as few translation notes as possible(see how miserably I fail at the last one).
The City Aboveground
—the words of Seiichi Kugi, overseer of the Western District
Welcome to this new world. We are truly pleased by your arrival. After all, no matter your reasons, you’ve been part of our community since the moment you set foot in this city.
It’s none of my concern what rumors you’ve heard about the city, and how much faith you place in those rumors.
But I’d like to inform you that most are baseless accusations.
These streets? Dangerous? Not at all. Compared to Los Angeles or unstable parts of the Middle East, your chances of getting involved in criminal activity or a shootout are extremely low. Although I suppose it’s a little more likely than being involved in the same in Shinjuku or Shibuya.
We’re often compared to the Kowloon Walled City, but that’s a troubling parallel from our perspective. We’d rather not be treated the same as such a dangerous place. And I wonder—of the people in the press who spread those rumors, how many have actually been to the Kowloon Walled City, do you think? Before that, I don’t think such people have ever even set foot on this island, either.
They don’t realize that their gossip just draws more and more lowlifes to the city! Or maybe they do, and are working harder to fan those rumors for that very reason.
In any case, if you plan to put down your roots here, I suggest you conduct yourself in a manner that does not further encourage such gossip.
Hm? You came to find freedom, but this isn’t what you bargained for, you say?
Hah hah… Make no mistake. The Western District has only one rule.
‘Do not defy us’.
That’s all. Liberating, isn’t it?
Well then, I wish you a comfortable life.
The City Belowground
—the words of Sōji Kuzuhara, leader of the volunteer police force
“—yeah. Never seen you before. Ah, you’re a newbie.
What, something on my face? You’re creeping me out. Oh, you think it’s strange there’s a restaurant here? I get it. Guess that’s a pretty normal thought for a newcomer.
Hey Yua, can I get one omelet-soba combo and some oolong tea?
You should order something. This place’s got the best food in the Western District. And the best prices. If you’re gonna live here, you have to at least figure out how you’re gonna feed yourself.
What, you wanna know if we buy and sell stuff? Why wouldn’t we, with so many people in one place? If you don’t like that, just go back to the mainland and put a cardboard box around yourself at a station or a park. Or go work hard and earn yourself a home.
Shut up and eat.
That hit the spot. Yua, I’m out of coins. Can you give me some change?
If you want to live as well as everyone else, you gotta work. That goes the same on this island, too.
I’m not gonna welcome you, but I’m not gonna stop you from living here. So long as you don’t try anything stupid.
And if you think this place is some sorta land of freedom, let me give you a piece of advice.
This is just Japan. Freedom doesn’t come easy anywhere. …Don’t forget that.”
—the words of Hayato Inui, hoodlum
“Well lookey here. You just got yourself to the shittiest place on the island.
I saw you get in a scrap just now. You were shit. How do you expect to get by after getting your ass kicked that quick?
Anyway, you’re a true blue local now. Congrats. You’re a piece of trash. The second you step in here, you’re just an unemployed shit, you know that?
Or did you come here for a fun sightseeing tour? To get some dangerous toys? Then I wouldn’t stop you, but you probably shoulda gone to Tokyo or Osaka instead. I’m guessing you followed all the rumors here, but the really dangerous toys? They’re hiding in places where people can’t spread rumors ‘bout ‘em.
You know what they say about getting used to a place and calling it home? That’s exactly it! Even a hellhole like this is home, once you get used to it. But you better remember this—wherever there’s people, there’s crime and violence. Y’know, they say city folks are moving back to the countryside to get away from all the pollution. Applies here just as much. The longer you get used to things and settle down, the more you see of shit you don’t wanna see.
Enough with the lecture. Welcome to our little world. This is the island of dreams. Not the one in Tokyo Bay. This place makes you really dream. Though it’s up to you if it becomes The NeverEnding Story or A Nightmare on Elm Street.
If you’re gonna enjoy this island, you’ll need 1% effort, 5% wit, 20% experience, and 99% luck. What, that’s more than a hundred? No shit, dumbass.
Just means we’re always living in overdrive.
‘Cause that’s the prerequisite for enjoying this place.”
Bow Wow! -Two Dog Night-
Written by Ryohgo Narita
Illustration by Suzuhito Yasuda
Prologue: Mirror Images
August 18, 2014. The Sado Island side of the Etsusa Bridge.
Under the endlessly clear blue sky, the gunshot resonated into the air.
Then, her body gave a dull quiver.
The flesh on her back and side scattered to bits.
The boy watching from behind could do nothing but intone witlessly.
Something warm splattered onto his cheek.
He quickly wiped it with his hand. His fingertips were stained red.
The moment he came to the realization, the girl collapsed onto the dirt-covered pavement. She seemed to tremble, twitching furiously on occasion. As though a rhythm was engraved into her, she madly shook and seized.
Red fluid spread onto the pavement around her.
And only when the pool reached his own feet did the boy realize what was happening.
‘—shot her. Someone shot Kanae!’
When the understanding finally hit him, his senses began to return, one by one. Filling his ears were the clear sounds of gunfire, and a howl of angry yells.
Men in tacky clothing were divided into two groups, shooting and shouting at the other like no tomorrow. They rushed in every direction. Some took shelter and peered out from behind things like drum canisters. Some ran parallel with their enemies and sometimes tripped. Some remained rooted firmly to the ground. The only commonality was the fact that once in a while their guns roared with a flash of light.
A shootout between two groups of thugs, like a scene out of a decades-old police show.
Watching the scene unfold, the boy remembered where they stood.
It was neither the mainland nor the island.
It was Japan, yet not.
It was neither land nor sea.
The longest bridge in the world, spanning Sado Island and Niigata.
The nameless artificial island that stood in the very middle of that bridge—
At the same time, Rainbow Tower. In the city of Niigata.
Atop a bus terminal in the heart of Niigata stood a colorful observation tower. The observation deck cocooned a section of the garish pillar, rotating around it as it ascended and descended.
“Man, I’m starving.”
Inside the observation deck, which had just picked up passengers from the lowest floor, a man stood reluctantly as he languidly complained.
“Dammit. I’m actually hungry. It’s so bad I feel almost sick. —That’s the gist of it.”
The man explained his condition in great detail to the family sitting beside him.
His hair was dyed in seven colors, and there were countless safety pins sticking through his ears. His eyes were of different colors, but that was thanks to the contact lenses he wore.
It had been over a decade since the twenty-first century began. But though young people’s fashions changed constantly over the years, the man’s style fitted none that had existed. There was clearly something different about him.
The family next to him did not seem to know how they should respond. The father said nothing, his palms covered in sweat. His eldest, a girl about ten years old, was holding a bag of snacks. The younger one was a kindergartener. They both stared at the man’s hair, captivated.
Whether or not he could read the mood, the Rainbow-Headed man did not take his eyes off the scenery. The world outside slowly spun. The mountains of Sado Island across the sea, and the rough black buildings stretching from the base of the mountains came into his view.
“Ah! There, there. I see it. Heh. To be honest, I just came see that thing over there.” He said to the silent family in a subtly affable voice.
The structure at the end of his gaze was the monstrous bridge that went from Sado to the mainland, and the massive artificial island in the middle. Rainbow-Head pressed his face to the glass, mumbling to himself.
“And look at the size of that. Bigger than anything I’d ever imagined. And that’s some crazy length, too. I was sure you could just swim to Sado.” He mumbled to himself, but suddenly he turned to the family.
“Ain’t this amazing? Couldn’t tell from the ground, but I never thought there’d be an observation tower that went this high. To be honest with ya, I gave up lunch to get on this thing. Heh. Thought it was free, but turned out there was an entrance fee.”
The father finally smiled and nodded. It wasn’t clear what he was nodding to, but he seemed to have decided that it was in his best interests to respond somehow.
At that moment, the girl handed Rainbow-Head her bag of snacks. Her parents gulped, but the man grinned and took out a single piece from the bag.
“Thanks, kiddo. You’ll grow up to be a real beauty, I guarantee it.”
Making a face that clashed with his look, he tossed the snack into his mouth.
At that point, the deck again faced the Sado side.
Gazing at the rainclouds across the great bridge, Rainbow-Head stretched.
“Talk about one amazing view. And the weather’s great, too. Man, I am getting pumped.”
Under the endlessly blue skies, the clouds slowly multiplied.
Under the choking-thick layer of clouds, the rain leashed the boy and girl in place.
The shootout had ended just about when, with a clap of thunder, drops of rain began to fall. The losing side fled, cursing up a storm, and the winning side gave chase.
The boy and the girl were the only ones left in the midst of the splattering rain.
The downpour left a large puddle to form around her. Her blood dripped into the water, painting the bridge red.
But it was too vast a place to call a bridge.
Standing aimlessly on the endless pavement connected to the artificial island, the boy quietly looked down at the girl.
He fell into thought as though his body had frozen.
Why they had come to such a place,
And how things had come to this—
24 hours ago. Himezaki Lighthouse, Sado Island.
Without a care in the world, the boy and the girl happily looked up at the clear sky.
A kite was gliding gracefully through the air, but the sight did not particularly move the boy.
After all, it was too familiar a scene for a longtime local like him.
He was smiling because she was next to him.
Not knowing that, she suddenly spoke.
“C’mon, let’s go.”
“Huh? There? …No. Mom’s going to give me a scolding, and we might get arrested if we’re caught.”
It was the end of summer. A young couple was outside, enjoying their final summer break of middle school. Although they were a little old for the descriptor, they were a boy and a girl.
The sky was a clear blue. They sat on a bench next to the lighthouse, leaning against each other.
“Cops? It’s no big deal!”
“Whining’s not gonna get you anywhere.”
The boy scowled at his childhood friend.
It was the last day of summer vacation when Seiichi Kugi’s childhood friend, Kanae Orisaki, made a strange suggestion.
“Hey, wanna try going to the bridge?”
Seiichi assumed she was talking about Kaifu Bridge or Kurohime Bridge on the island. But was that really where a pair of island natives like them wanted to go for one last memory of summer?
He made a confused face. Kanae continued without a care.
“I found a little gap we could squeeze through to Eto Bridge!”
The crude building sticking off the southern edge of the island rose to mind. Eto Bridge had the biggest presence on the island, but it was not particularly associated with the function of a bridge. After all, he had never crossed the bridge—in fact, he had never even gone near it.
The bridge was massive in width, with six lanes in each direction. It even had three levels for different types of roads—one level for the massive road, another for public use, and another for tourism. But no car had ever crossed the bridge. No normal islander ever even approached the entrance. It was the same for people on the mainland, and at the two entrances to the bridge were heavy barricades and watches posted at all times.
Why in the world should they sneak onto that bridge?
“You know what kind of place it is, Kanae—”
“Yep. That’s exactly why I want to go! I heard there’s lots of stuff there you can’t find on Sado, or even in Niigata or Tokyo. Things you can’t buy in Japan, and exotic animals. And even a casino and an underground pro wrestling ring!”
“No way. Life’s not a manga, you know. The pro wrestling ring’s just a rumor. And how could there be actual shops on that island in the first place?”
“Good question. Let’s go and get some answers!”
Seiichi had listened to her go on that way for more than half the day. He had no intention of going, and had tried to stop her. But she hadn’t even pretended to listen.
“When else could we get a chance to go? If I wait until I’m an adult, it feels like I really won’t be able to come back.”
“And if kids like us end up there, we might die before we come back. Remember what your dad always says? About how no one in his right mind would live there?”
“It’s going to be fine. We’ll just take a look. A really quick peek! We just don’t have to get caught. And even if we do, it’s not like we’ll get killed on the spot.”
Kanae energetically stood from the bench, blocked Seiichi’s view, and took him by the arms.
Dragged to his feet, they boy was led running after her.
Even after Kanae let go, he sprinted behind her.
“Wait… hold on.”
“Tomorrow! We’re going for sure!”
So quick was her pace that, in the end, the boy could not catch up to her.
“What do I do?”
Until that point, Seiichi was dragged along with her whims.
They had gone into restricted areas in the mines, stowed away on ferries, and sometimes left on impulse to Hokkaido. The excitement in their daily life was all thanks to Kanae dragging Seiichi into her ideas, but he never once got angry at her for it.
As their abnormal days continued, they began to share a sort of connection and a sense of intoxication. As though they were the main characters of a story.
Seiichi was slowly gripped by a hero complex of sorts as he followed Kanae’s reckless actions. And he had saved her each time she found herself in trouble. That would never change. That was what he believed, and that was why a part of him, perhaps, wanted to agree with her latest whimsical plan.
And, earlier today.
“Are we really going to do this?”
“Of course we are! We’ve come this far, haven’t we?”
They were in the supply yard, only a stone’s throw from the entrance of the bridge. Though the bridge and the roads were mostly complete, a great deal of materials and supplies had been left on the site.
Barricades towered over the construction site that served as the bridge entrance. But there was a single break in the fence in the back of the yard, and it was possible to enter through the gap.
Piles of metal frames and whatnot turned the yard into a veritable maze. Seiichi was already gripped by the thought that he had drifted into another world.
“There’s a hole that leads into the construction site in this gap! Once we get there, we’ll just have to sneak past the watch at the building in the front.”
When Seiichi peered between the materials, he saw what seemed to be many sets of footprints. Perhaps they had been made during the previous night’s rain—they were still clear in the dirt.
“Yeah! There must be other people who go in and out this way. Feel better now?”
He did not answer her question, but kept his eyes on the footprints.
‘How could she be so calm when she doesn’t even know whose tracks those are?’
At that point, he came to an even more frightening realization.
There were clearly fewer prints coming out than going in.
Once they entered, they could not leave, it seemed to say. A chill ran down Seiichi’s spine.
“Kanae, let’s just—”
He looked up to stop her, but she was already gone.
Ignoring Seiichi as he stood rooted in place, she had squeezed through first.
Seiichi walked after her. They snuck past the self-appointed watch and pushed between the materials in the construction site to step onto the bridge.
The artificial island was about ten kilometers away from Sado Island. Rumors said that they could reach the Residential District before they made it to the island.
The moniker ‘Residential District’ was not an official one—it was merely the place where vagrants and criminals, or those who had no other choice, settled on the unopened bridge.
The distinctive residences, made of materials left over from the construction, were supposedly a dead ringer for Hong Kong’s Kowloon Walled City.
Although it had been years since the Kowloon Walled City was demolished, there were no plans for this bridge to ever be taken down. How could a place like this have popped up in Japan, where public security was better than in Hong Kong at the time, Seiichi sometimes wondered. But he never thought too deeply about it.
After all, he had little interest in the topic to begin with, and the bridge(with its lack of interaction with the world) really felt like another country to him.
When they had walked for about two hours, they began to sense people. They took the emergency stairwell on the side to the upper level. A thick layer of clouds covered the sky. Though they stood on a bridge over the sea, there was dirt layered over the pavement. They stood there and took in the strangeness of their surroundings, buffeted by the sea breeze.
Seiichi’s emotions reached a point where it felt as though he really had been thrust into another country. Which wasn’t entirely wrong, as Japan’s laws had no meaning there.
An uneasy anxiety coalesced and roiled in his gut. On one hand, he was terrified of the silence around him. On the other, he celebrated the extraordinary day that had come upon him.
That was when people’s silhouettes began to appear in the distance.
Several of what looked to be buildings were clustered together to the background of the artificial island and its unusual structures. Several men leaned against the buildings and the sides of the bridge, eyeing the boy and the girl curiously.
Their clothes were much rougher than Seiichi had imagined, like those of vendors from a tropical country. To be specific, men who might run food stands in South America or Southeast Asia.
One of the men drew near. Seiichi froze without thinking, but Kanae continued undeterred.
Soon, the man stood in her way and spoke.
“Don’t see this every day. You from the island?”
“Yeah. Are you a local?”
“Whaddaya want here?”
The man ignored her question. He was in a tank top that revealed his arms and shoulders, which were without a single layer of flab. The veins on the backs of his hands bulged.
Not cowed by the man’s bulldozing over her question, Kanae answered.
“We’re tourists. Me and my boyfriend wanted to make some memories of summer break.”
The man’s eyebrow twitched. It was a vague mix of anger and laughter. Worried, Seiichi reached into his pockets and fixed his grip on their contents. In one, a can of pepper spray Kanae got for him in Tokyo which fit in his palm. In the other pocket, he kept his fingers over the right buttons on his phone.
But rather than attack or shove Kanae, the man pointed her over with his chin.
To both Seiichi and Kanae, it was a surprising reaction. They were prepared to have things thrown at them, or in the worst-case-scenario, to see knives or guns being drawn.
Seiichi followed Kanae through the men. “Want some powder?” One offered. “Any new convenience stores on the island?” Wondered another. “You got today’s paper?” Asked yet another man.
The two of them were probably not the first visitors from the island. The men probably made a habit of greeting ‘tourists’.
When they finally made it through the group of men, Kanae whispered to Seiichi.
“That wasn’t what I expected. I’m a little disappointed.”
While Seiichi was happy that nothing had happened, a part of him wished otherwise. But holding back that thought, he raised his voice in complaint.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to get too pushy with these people, Kanae.”
“It’ll be fine. If anything happens, you’ll save me, right?”
Seiichi could not respond. Though she sounded almost manipulative, he could not disagree.
‘Right. I’ll protect Kanae.’
To them, the bridge and the island were not reality. It was a world away from home. And his role was to protect her. That was the setting Seiichi has decided on.
To him, protecting Kanae was his ultimate goal and pleasure.
Was it the summer heat? Or was it the euphoria of escaping danger? Seiichi put to words something he’d normally be too embarrassed to say.
“I’ll protect you, Kanae. Here and alwa-”
Before he could finish, he heard a gunshot.
And before his eyes was Kanae, stained red as her back leapt toward him.
Then came the present time.
The world around him was obscured by the torrential rain.
The sights, the sounds, and the air had done a 180.
Her twitching had stopped, giving way to stillness. Seiichi finally returned to his senses. Shaking, he took slow, plodding steps toward Kanae.
‘I have to help her’, he thought, but he could not bring himself to run. Mere meters seemed like a distant, heavy length.
Stepping into the red pool she bled, Seiichi felt the truth with his entire being.
That this was reality.
“Damn it. Reality’s a cruel mistress.” Said a bearded man on a small fishing vessel on the edges of the Niigata harbor.
The man in the bridge asked him what was wrong. The bearded man lit a cigarette and grumbled.
“I finally get work for once, but turns out it’s just a one-man ferry job. Not even worth the pay.”
“Can’t help it, man. Least you’re ripping him off good, right?”
The bearded man turned with a crack of the neck. A garish object entered his sights.
A flashy head of hair dyed in the colors of the rainbow.
“Gotta be. Look for funky hair, he said.”
“That funky? Might get us roped into trouble.”
“Cut the crap. He’s got a one-way ticket anyway.”
As they spoke, the young man with garish hair approached the boat.
The bearded man scratched his head and called the young man over.
“Hey, you with the hair. You’d be…”
“Hayato Inui. You got it. What’s up?”
The young man was about twenty years of age. He flashed the men a hearty grin and stepped aboard.
“I went to Shinjuku and asked for whatever was in style. And they give me this. I took their word for it, but now I’m not sure I should have.”
“Look around you, man.”
“Hey, it was my first time in Japan in five years. Can’t help it if I’m a little behind on the trends.”
The boat carrying the rainbow-haired man—Hayato Inui—quietly slipped out of the harbor.
Its destination—the artificial island in the middle of the bridge.
The little boat bobbed along, looking a bit out of place in the vastness of the sea.
As the city of Niigata grew distant in their sights, the bearded man’s cigarette burned out.
“I never asked to live like this. If that shit hadn’t gone down, I’d have about as much money as anyone, and I’d be doing real proper work. You get me?” He complained.
“Then what the hell happened?” Hayato asked, his tone rough but his curiosity clear.
“I was working on that bridge.”
As they approached the artificial island, the shape of the bridge grew clearer. Its smart architecture was muddled by the illegal buildings crowded around it.
The bearded man stared nostalgically, recounting the past.
“They had plans for something like this decades ago. Building a bridge or an underground tunnel between Sado and Niigata. More of an idea than a plan, maybe. But that went down the drain. The government didn’t see any merit to it.”
He remembered history as though it were part of his own memory.
“But see, a few things fit together in the new millennium.”
“One was the new vein of gold they found on Sado Island. They’d closed down the last of the mines in ’89, saying it was dry. But then they found a new vein a little deeper down. That was around when Japan came up with this new technique—building an island in the sea. Some tech that revolutionized the idea of artificial islands! Lemme tell you about it—”
The bearded man’s lecture continued for an hour. A minute into the lecture, Hayato decided that it had nothing to do with him and decided to zone out, idly voicing agreement on occasion.
“—and that’s how it worked out. They could develop these islands cheaper and faster than ever. Tech’s always been Japan’s thing, and the government decided to show off and apply it everywhere. …Where was I… ah, right. Other things that fit together. A couple of National Diet members from Niigata suddenly hit it big. And the prefectural governor back then was really gung-ho about developing Niigata, god knows why.”
The bearded man was surprisingly talkative. The history of the bridge followed.
“But guess what? That was when the world’s longest over-sea bridge was just about being finished in China. Between Shanghai and Ningbo, I think. Was it thirty-five, thirty-six kilometers? Anyway, Japan decided to beat that record. But the depths were totally different. Over here’s way deeper than over in China. That’s why they decided to build that huge-ass island in the middle. An artificial island made of the world’s best tech. Strong enough to stand up to ocean waves and heavy snow.”
The man’s cheeks reddened as he lost himself further and further in the telling.
“But that’s when a bunch of things fit together just right again. In the opposite direction.”
There was a lonely look in his eye as the enthusiasm drained from his tone.
“One, they ran out of gold. The investigation said it was a big vein, but once they started digging, they hit rock almost right after. There was a lot of reasons, but all I can say for sure is that there wasn’t any more gold.”
“They started the bridge by then?”
“Started? Nah, they were almost done. So we didn’t give a crap about that business and kept on working on her. They had buildings put up on the island, and it was just a few things away from finishing… and that’s when the terrorist bombing happened. Construction got stopped. They caught the bomber, but that was just the beginning. The government changed hands three times over the next year, and things were real unstable inside and out, politically speaking. So they couldn’t start up construction again. Back then, everyone was scared the country was finished.”
With a complicated expression, the bearded man turned his sights on the artificial island—now right before their eyes.
It looked less like an island and more like a great fortress several kilometers long.
Though there was supposedly soil on the island, on the outside it looked mostly like a mass of metal and concrete. The buildings got taller as they neared the island center, making the whole structure look rather like a mountain peak.
There were several vessels floating in the area, but for some reason there was no human presence.
Several massive windmills had been built on the edge of the island to provide electricity. They spun elegantly against the ocean breeze.
“The country was stable again after that, but you know what I think? All the shit side-effects went to that island over there.”
The bearded man finally went silent. Hayato spoke.
“So that’s when punks and hobos got together to make themselves a little slice of heaven.”
“Right. Would’ve been nice if they could have sent in an army or something to clean up the place, but no one had the time and energy to spare back then. But then again, look at the sorry place. How’d we know what’s happening just out of sight? Whatever happened, what’s important here is that I lost my job thanks to the mess.”
“Right. What do they do ‘bout water up there?”
“Purified sea water. And as for power—see those huge-ass windmills there? They don’t cover the whole shebang, but they also got solar panels to keep the place afloat.”
The windmills were almost as tall as the buildings in the center of the island. They stood at least thirty meters from the island surface.
“We use tidal power too, but that’s partly experimental. The windmills are a safer bet. They’re from Denmark, apparently. Over there, I hear civilians put ‘em up on their property and sell power to the companies. Anyway, you don’t need to worry ‘bout power on the island. Everyone’s got blowdryers, and some freaks have the latest PCs or even robots.”
“Surprised it’s so modern ‘round here.”
As their conversation drew to a close, the boat slowed. It approached the side of the island, which was a massive wall. There was a pier on water-level—the captain moored the boat there.
The bearded man stepped off and spoke again.
“The place rises and lowers with the tides. Pretty sweet, eh?”
Hayato was about to pass it off, when something occurred to him.
“…Ain’t the place floating anyway? Why would you need to adjust for tides?”
“If she rose and fell with the tides, there wouldn’t be a bridge left sooner or later. The island’s built to be at a certain level with the sea. Lemme explain—”
“N-never mind. Wouldn’t get it even if you told me.”
The bearded man looked a little disappointed. He grabbed onto a ladder on the side of the island.
“Whaddaya know. Least the ladder’s primitive.”
“No complainin’, hear? This here’s supposed to be the back door.”
Leaving his friend on the boat, the bearded man led Hayato up to the island. He decided to ask a few questions as Hayato climbed after him.
“You said you were outta the country for five years. So what d’you do overseas?”
There was a moment of silence, followed by an answer below.
“Doing stuff in South America. A bit of banditry, a bit of piracy. That kinda shit.”
The bearded man froze for a moment, but soon gave a hearty laugh.
“Hah! Banditry? Like something out of a manga!”
Hayato grinned at the voice overhead and looked up at the sky.
“Pretty cool, huh?”
The scenery at the top of the ladder was, to no one’s shock, a mix of ‘in development’ and ‘ruins’.
The concrete ground was paved just like the harbor on the mainland, and other than the occasional piles of dirt there were things like construction supplies, lead pipes, and work gloves lying around. There were buildings in the distance, but the menacing, barren world would continue until they reached them.
Hayato looked around and turned to the bearded man.
“Just a quick question.”
For the first time since he reached the island, he was the one questioning the man.
“Who’re these guys?”
Around Hayato stood about a dozen thuggish men.
They surrounded him from about ten meters away, grinning ferociously.
As Hayato raised an eyebrow, the bearded man roared in laughter and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Just do what they say, and you’ll come out alive.”
As though reassuring him, he gave Hayato a slap on the back.
Thick rainclouds began to slowly veil the sun and the clear blue sky.
“Hand over your goods. And your wallet.”
With the rain battering over him, Seiichi just walked.
With Kanae’s body on his back, away from their hometown—toward the artificial island.
Her body no longer moved. It was not the rain that made her body cold.
He was too late.
He was too late for everything, Seiichi chastised himself. When he ran to her, when she was shot, when they entered the bridge. Maybe he was already too late when she suggested coming to the bridge yesterday. Maybe this was her fate.
Seiichi desperately steered his thoughts in that direction. But in the end, it was impossible.
The shootout had begun so suddenly. Perhaps the thugs who were fighting the men at the entrance had aimed at the man who first spoke to Kanae. That was what Seiichi figured.
Kanae was hit by a stray bullet. It was sheer coincidence, and he was not responsible. At least, for that split second. Seiichi was the one who had been walking behind her even as he declared to protect her. Seiichi was the one who had not tried to get her home earlier. Seiichi was the one who didn’t forcibly stop her when she first said she wanted to come to this place. He was guilty of so much.
At that point, Seiichi thought about himself. His girlfriend was dead, and the matter of his guilt was all he could think of.
Maybe he didn’t want to acknowledge what had happened. But it was because he already had that he headed to the center of the bridge.
‘I can’t go home anymore.’
With his childhood friend’s body heavy on his back, Seiichi chose to escape reality.
As he walked with despair over his shoulders, a vast land spread out ahead on the bridge. He had made it to the northwestern part of the artificial island. The entrance of the so-called city.
“You a newbie?”
“In that ruckus just now? Too bad, kid.”
“From Sado, huh. Maybe you should head back.”
“Just forget your problems, man. Coke?”
“Don’t you be dumpin’ the body ‘round here.”
“I’ll give her a sea burial if you pay me. I don’t look it, but I used to be a priest.”
“I’ll do it. I’m a reverend.”
“Gotta be careful, kid. Freaks these days shoot anything that so much as crawls.”
“C’mon, I’ll give you a free syringe. It’s the newest type—no needles.”
The moment he set foot on the island—the city—all kinds of people spoke to him. From vagrants to punks, and even men in suits. Most saw Kanae’s body and ignored him, but some seemed curious about the dazed Seiichi.
There were all sorts of reactions, from sympathy to jeering. But Seiichi ignored them all. It was partly due to fear, but it was mostly because it felt like, if he spoke to someone other than himself, he would instantly be dragged back into reality.
Without so much as a glance at his surroundings, he walked toward the center of the bridge—the center of the artificial island. The rain stopped for the moment, but the rumble of thunder beat over the world.
A flash of light, and a roar.
A bolt of lightning struck the tallest of the buildings ahead. The light and sound brought Seiichi back to his senses.
“What… do I do?”
His voice easily escaped his lips. The juxtaposition of his thoughts to the corpse on his back was almost comedic. Rather than grief and fear at his girlfriend’s death, he was more anxious about his course of action.
‘What do I do? What am I supposed to do? Now what? What now? What? What? What?’
He shook. A single word repeated itself in his head endlessly. An indescribable unease erased all trace of logic and reason from his mind.
Not knowing what to do or think, he stood rooted in place.
A slight stretch was all it took for Kanae’s body to fall to the ground.
Seiichi straightened out, as though his burdens were completely lifted.
Suddenly, there was a voice.
Finally realizing what he was doing, Seiichi instantly felt a pang of guilt. He stumbled upright and turned to the voice.
“Are you… all right?”
The woman had blue eyes.
Was she a mix of Asian and Caucasian? Her features were foreign to him, making it difficult to tell her exact age. She might have been about the same age as him, or maybe a little older.
‘Is that… a car?’
Behind her was a black car. There was a proper network of roads on the island, good enough to rival most cities—but why was there a car on an incomplete bridge occupied by construction machinery? As Seiichi wondered, the woman came up to him.
She looked at Kanae’s body and spoke again.
“You were dragged into a fight, I see. …Um… it’s dangerous to loiter here. I’ll take you to my place.” She offered in fluent Japanese. Seiichi turned, as though trying to protect Kanae’s corpse.
“Wh-who are you? Why would you want to help me?”
The woman looked taken aback, but after a moment’s pause she replied.
“Because my father is in charge of this district. Don’t worry—this is a duty of sorts for us. …And I’m not heartless enough to ignore someone who needs help.”
The boy standing before the corpse was an ‘outsider’. His was a scene no normal local would want to involve themselves in. And yet the woman had gone out of her way to offer him her hand.
Seiichi felt as though his unease was lifted. In the streets where nothing seemed human, it felt as though he had finally met another person.
In his state, even if the woman were to offer him a suspicious contract he would sign it without hesitation.
“Th-thank you. I-I don’t know what to do, and—”
“Are you from Sado? Is this your first time here?”
It was a strange question to be asking someone standing in front of a corpse. When Seiichi looked, he saw two men in suits trying to move Kanae’s body to the car.
He quickly made to stop them, but the woman reassuringly took his arm.
“Let’s get in the car.”
Led by the woman, he approached the car. It was a luxury vehicle, one he had never seen on Sado—or Tokyo, for that matter. But Seiichi blankly walked to it as though that thought did not even register.
That was when the woman spoke again.
“About my question.”
Though his answer was feeble, he was glad to finally meet someone he thought he could trust. Even if it was a lie he was trying to convince himself was real, Seiichi did not care. He did not care if he was kidnapped and his organs extracted, or if he was killed.
“Of course. It makes sense.”
But his assumptions were proven wrong by her words. The one person he thought was ‘normal’ in these streets, he realized, was one of the most ‘local’ of any punk or vagrant he had passed.
The woman opened the car door, and turning to the boy who had just lost his girlfriend, smiled brightly.
“Welcome to this new world! We are truly pleased by your arrival.”
“Welcome to the club, newbie. Nice hair.”
One of the men sniggered.
Without turning, Hayato spoke to the bearded man behind him.
“I get it now. Right.”
“Sorry about that. Those guys—it’s not really money they’re after, though they like it well enough. They just need more hands, you know?”
“You mean goons?”
The bearded man shrugged at the correction and gave a wry grin.
“Don’t worry your ass off. Not like they’re gonna roast you or anything.”
“It’s fine! Don’t sweat it! Just do what they say and the next time some poor sap gets here, you’ll be standin’ over there doin’ the taking!”
Hayato looked into the sky and laughed.
“You gotta be kidding me. I ain’t bad enough to be muggin’ people.”
A second later, his right hand emerged from behind his back, holding something.
A small black handgun with an eggshell finish.
The men flinched for a second, preparing to defend—then burst into laughter, followed by curses.
“The fuck, man?”
“Whaddaya know, we’ve got a real bitchin’ movie star here!”
“We got a live one, folks!”
“Just kill the dumbass.”
Though the bearded man had not realized what was going on, he walked up to Hayato and saw.
And he joined the men in bitter chuckles.
“What the hell d’you think you’re doing?”
The gun in Hayato’s hand was held parallel to the ground.
Like an action hero, he was holding the gun on its side in one hand.
“Heh. Looks cooler, huh?”
The men shook their heads in disbelief, chuckling.
“You watched way too many movies, kid. You’re never gonna hit anything with that form.” The men snickered. They were quite certain that the gun was a fake. Some began to draw knives and lead pipes.
“Hey, go easy on him, y’hear? Y’know what he told me on the way? Said he did some banditry and piracy in South America! Careful you don’t get those sticks shoved back up your asses!” The bearded man snorted. The wry chortling turned to a hysterical roar of laughter.
“Crap, this is rich!”
“Hah! Pissin’ my pants here! Hah hah hah!”
“Must’ve left his fucking brain back in South America!”
Yet Hayato’s expression was unchanged as he watched in silence.
As the laughter slowly died down, the men’s eyes began to fill with bloodlust.
The one who had laughed first took out a large gun. It was an inelegant handgun, twirling in his palm. He was about ten meters from Hayato—a distance most amateurs couldn’t make—but the man carried himself with complete confidence.
He stopped twirling his gun and sniggered at Rainbow-Head.
“Gave us a big scare, y’know? Don’cha think we deserve to fuck you up real good—”
“Your grammar sucks.”
“AAAARGH! Agh, AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH! GAH! HAAAAH!”
Suddenly, there was a red hole in the man’s thigh, followed by a dribbling spew of blood. The man dropped his gun in agony and fell to the ground.
A clear wisp of smoke was rising from Hayato’s gun. Several men reached for their jackets and sides.
But before they could finish, yet more gunshots shook the air and blood spewed from the would-be attackers.
The bearded man was flabbergasted.
The gun in Hayato’s hand was still held parallel to the ground. Yet his aim was perfect.
“W-w-wait a sec. Let’s calm down here, huh?”
The men holding knives and tasers stammered, staggering back at first but quickly turning tail to flee. Ultimately, the only one remaining of those still standing was the bearded man, who had missed his chance.
“Welcome to my life. Nobody understands, man.”
Lowering his gun arm, Hayato turned to the bearded man to vent his frustration.
Though glad that he hadn’t been shot, the bearded man sucked in breath anxiously.
“Tough crowd. I worked hard for this, y’know? You know how fucking hard it is to shoot something with the gun turned like this? I wasted tens of thousands of shots working out the kinks. The bad aim, the killer wrist pain, the gun breakages… I put effort into this shit! But nobody ever fucking understands. Nobody.”
Hayato’s tone grew darker and darker; the bearded man did not know what to say. He originally assumed that Rainbow-Head must have been angry that he was nearly sold to a group of hooligans, but that was quickly proven wrong.
“Doesn’t matter how hard I work—why don’t you fuckwads get blown across the damn yard?! I put on one hell of an action scene, but you just collapse like a bunch of senile fucking stiffs! Where’s the spectacle? I wanna see you freaks fly ten meters into the air, damn it! You never watched ‘Desperado’? I’m gonna lose steam if you don’t live up to that much.”
After making his absurd demands, Hayato shook his head. Though he was nothing but a joke until a few seconds ago, now his rainbow hair looked more like the garish coloring of a poisonous animal. ‘This guy’s dangerous’, the bearded man’s instincts warned.
Hayato rambled resentfully for a time, before finally regaining his earlier grin.
“So. What I’m tryin’ to say is, if they wanna make such a show of killing, I’d want ‘em to be ready to make a show of dying, too. Don’tcha think?”
“You’re the only freak who wants to make a show of killing.” The bearded man said, quietly avoiding the question. Hayato slapped his own forehead.
With that, he began to pick up the guns fallen near the collapsed men.
“To be honest, your fare was a rip-off. I gave up lunch to get on that sorry old boat. But I like my little haul of guns. Excellent customer service. And other than all the tech mumbo-jumbo, I liked your story. So I guess I’ll let your price slide.”
Turning, Hayato made to leave with one last word for the bearded man.
He headed toward the center of the island as he said goodbye.
“Thanks for the ride, man. Ah, don’tcha think you should be getting those guys to the hospital or something? The ones that’re still alive, anyway.”
“What the hell were those? Gunshots?” Asked the friend on the boat whom the bearded man had left behind.
But the bearded man ignored him and leapt aboard.
“Start her, now! We’re getting outta here.”
“Fuck! We just set a rabid dog on the loose. And we’re not safe, either. We gotta get outta here. Okinawa, Hokkaido, out of the country, if we have to!”
Sensing something in the bearded man’s expression, his friend started the boat without another word.
‘Who the fuck was that? No, that doesn’t matter. Whether Rainbow-Head dies in three minutes or climbs the ranks, there’s one thing I can tell for sure.’
“Bastard’s gonna stir up something around him. I just know it!”
“Aw, man. The beard bastard just left his buddies.”
With a bored look, Rainbow-Head—Hayato Inui—looked at the sky.
Several buildings loomed together like mountains on the artificial island. The rainclouds covering the sky probably would not pass over the peaks. The sun began to shine on Hayato once more.
“S’probably a downpour on the other side of the place.”
As he watched the clouds, the sound of thunder rumbled in his ears—a bolt of lightning must have struck a building.
Listening to the roar, Hayato covered the brilliant sun with a hand. Several kites circled it as though in protection.
The wind heartlessly scattered rain all around the patch of clouds.
“A sunshower. Fox’s wedding(1), huh?”
With a surprisingly classy comment, Hayato continued to walk.
“Great weather. I like a dramatic welcome.”
Snickering to himself, he slowly headed to the city.
“Though I’d have preferred a hot babe to do the welcoming.”
And so, on that day, at that hour, two people stepped into the city.
Two complete strangers, emerging from opposite sides of the island.
And though different in meaning, both surrounded by the deaths of others.
Like a pair of mirror images.
Several days later, the deepest level of the island. An area once intended to be a parking lot.
It was a disgusting place.
Filled with smells, sounds, and lights that seemed to scream that there was no good to be found.
The area was once destined to become a vast parking lot. There was no light, only the occasional intact fluorescent bulb flickering on and off.
There was a stale odor in the air, and dust that seemed to seep into the eyes.
Construction materials were left in messy piles, and between them were cardboard panels with so many layers that the concrete was almost obscured. Part of the clammy humidity was thanks to the rotting of the cardboard panels.
Some television shows showcased hoarders whose entire homes ended up a landfill—this place was not much different.
“I don’t see anyone.”
Said Seiichi Kugi, standing just before one such mound.
Behind him stood a girl. Behind her stood six or so men in black. Each and every one was heavily built, probably with skill and strength enough to dismantle someone like Seiichi within minutes.
Though their razor-sharp glares were trained on him, Seiichi did not seem to care.
His eyes empty of life, he only took in the air around him.
“It’s a dump.” He commented. The girl smiled and nodded at his honesty.
“This city is disgusting. I’ve seen almost every corner of it now, from here to the Western District. But I haven’t seen a single good place.”
The men behind them shot him glares again.
With their bloodlust washing over him, Seiichi quietly shut his eyes.
“I like it. It’s perfect for the new me.”
It had been several days since Kanae’s death. There was no emotion in Seiichi’s voice, and nestled in his eyes were nothing but self-hatred.
“What do you want with this city? If you want to stay—if you’ve decided to become a citizen—you have to do something. Otherwise, you’ll end up just wandering the Pits.”
Instead of reacting, Seiichi only said—
From a corner of the piles of trash, many sets of eyes fell on Seiichi.
“That girl over there—it’s the Western District Boss’s daughter. Just one of a bunch, though.”
The leader of a group of thugs who had settled in the island’s lowest level—the Pits—gave a gurgle of laughter. He stank.
“Here’s your job, newbie. Watch the place. Once in a while you get shits from the Western District droppin’ in, so you better make fucking sure you report that.”
“Actually, Boss. Who’s that kid?”
“Wha…? The skinny shit? Who gives a fuck? Figuring ‘im out’s your job!”
The newbie scratched his head.
“Well, y’know, I just realized that that guy there has the same eyes I used to have. Like… like the whole world’s this dark place or something. Despair—I almost know how that feels like. Hope he doesn’t turn out like me.”
“What the hell’re you yammering about—”
“Oh, and Boss?”
By the time the newbie went so far as to cut him off, the boss was in a state of fury.
‘I’ll beat this sonovabitch half to death!’
With that thought, he raised his hands so his other henchmen could see. They took up their weapons and surrounded the newbie. The newbie seemed to be oblivious.
Deciding to make his move as soon as the newbie had his say, the boss quietly replied,
The newbie grinned sardonically—
“Well to be honest, Boss, you kinda stink of horseshit. Why don’tcha take a bath or something? There’s plenty of seawater.”
At first, the henchmen were dumbfounded. But as they began to comprehend, their faces began flushing deep red.
“And while we’re at it, why don’tcha just hand over the area to me? It’s frankly puny, but I’ll take what I can get.”
As soon as he finished, the boss howled—
“Fuck him up!”
Thirty minutes later, deep in the Pits. The man wiped the blood splatter in a pool of salt water as he recalled the boy he had just seen through a set of binoculars.
“Man, was the kid down. And standing with a girl from the Chinese mafia with that face on his mug? … Hope he doesn’t turn out like me.”
Wiping his face on a towel, the rainbow-haired man began to plan his next course of action.
“Man, seawater really is salty. Was the filtration system in the Eastern District? Maybe I should drop in for a one-sided negotiation or something. I should. Yeah.”
With a delighted grin on his face, Hayato Inui embraced an optimistic outlook on his future.
“This is gonna be fun—nah, I’m gonna make it fun. First I’m gonna have to take care of this shitty stink. Let’s figure out how to ventilate the place…”
(1)In Japanese, a 'fox’s wedding’ is a somewhat poetic term for a sunshower.