Thursday, 4 September 2014

Bow Wow! -Two Dog Night- Chapter 2

(Download the updated version in PDF/epub format here.)

Sorry for the wait. Have a chapter.

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Chapter 2: Night Sea(1)


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Yua—Yua Kirino—liked the sun.


At least once every sunny day, she went aboveground and found a solitary place to bask in the light.

There was soil on parts of the artificial island, and there were even a few trees and patches of grass placed for the visitors’ pleasure. From the fact that work had come this far, it was easy to see that the island and the bridge had been very close to completion when they were abandoned.

But Yua had no interest in such fleeting imitations.

It was by experiencing the greatest ‘nature’ she could find on the island—in other words, the sun—that Yua felt with her very skin that she was part of a very, very vast world.

As usual, the sea and the sky and the sun were the sea and the sky and the sun.

Though the city was always moving in a frenzy, the sun always remained large and steady. So Yua once again took in the light.

She did not dislike the island, though. In fact, she loved it almost as much as she loved the sun. The city, changing at a dizzying pace, was inhabited by all sorts of people. Yua had grown up there for as long as she could remember; she knew that the artificial island was growing, just like a plant. So she watched the city grow as though watching over a sprout.

The first time she saw the island, it was simply a flat piece of land. She still remembered that snapshot, which she saw from a boat as she held her mother’s hand.


Her father had been deeply involved with the construction of the island.

He was supposedly one of the people who designed it. Each time the construction reached a milestone, he took Yua and her mother to see the island.

And several years later—at a certain point in recent history—she ended up moving to the island with her parents.

She remembered that her mother looked particularly sad, but Yua did not understand why.

Living along a street underground, Yua’s father wandered the city every day. Sometimes, he was gone for days. She remembered how she and her mother both were seized by fear and loneliness on those days.

But each time, her father returned with a smile and proudly showed her something like a map on his PDA.

Yua was too young to understand, but she remembered clearly that her father looked very happy.


Apparently, Yua’s father was holding her mother in a tight embrace when they were stabbed to death.

Kuzuhara had picked up the fallen PDA and handed it to Yua, saying that it was a memento.

At the time, Yua was too shaken and sad to think about it; but after she was taken in by Ms. Iizuka, she began to take an interest in the contents of the PDA.

In it was a map of the artificial island. Some of the files displayed information quite pertinent to a local like her.

Recorded in red on the original blueprints were all kinds of passages and facilities. In other words, Yua’s father was trying to create a map of the unfinished island.

Because development on the island had ceased just before it was due to open, there were many passages intended only to be used for construction, new buildings and corridors that were expanded illegally, and paths that ended up blocked. No one on the island had a complete grasp on its ever-changing structure. Not even Kuzuhara, Seiichi, or the island’s oldest residents knew every last detail of the cityscape.

Yua’s father had come precisely to finish that incomplete map.

What he said before his death always gave her strength.

“One day, this island might be open to anyone. Then someone—anyone—has to be aware of every nook and cranny here. You see, people become unnecessarily scared of the incomplete or unknown. Someone has to shed light on this island, like an explorer… like the sun. …Heh heh. I suppose this might be a little hard for you to understand, Yua.”

It was indeed difficult to understand, but what her father said next came easily to Yua.

“Yua, you love this island too, don’t you? And when you love someone, you want to know all about them, right?”

She loved the island very much, and her father also.

And so, she continued to walk, run, climb, and sneak through the island—to complete her father’s work.

It felt as though, if she learned everything there was to know about the island, she could become one with it.

She continued to know more about her beloved father, and the work he was undertaking.


When her new purpose was set, Yua slowly began to escape the shackles of grief.

And today, she again stepped into the city with a notepad in hand.

With the strongest and brightest eyes of anyone on the island of rabble.


▶︎


Thursday evening. On the seas.


“You finally awake, son?”

When Kuzuhara opened his eyes, he saw a sky full of stars.

He was moving. He turned his head and looked around. He was on the deck of a boat. Waves crashed from every direction, and water splashed onto his face in time with the bobbing.

“Can you move?”

He heard a voice tinged with an accent. When he turned, he realized that he had heard the voice before.

“Ah… is that you, Mr. Iizuka?”

“Hrm.”

Breathing a sigh of relief at the fact he knew the man, Kuzuhara tried to sit up. But every part of his body ached—especially his shoulders and neck, as though a snake was writhing inside him.

He knew why he was in so much pain. He had taken a fall from an unthinkable height and landed in an unlikely position. He remembered that, in the aftermath of the fall, he had pulled along the unconscious Hayato and reached a nearby fishing boat.

“You climbed up on another city feller’s fishin’ boat, I heard. Said he’d take y’all to Ryōzu or Akamidori, but I got the radio an’ took y’all in.”

“I see… What happened to the other guy?”

Kuzuhara knew the answer to his question, but he had to ask.

“Got a hold of himself and took off. One of your suspects or somethin’? Don’t blame me, son. If you was knocked out like that tryin’ to catch him, no way in seven hells was I gonna get anything done.”

“I see… Please, don’t worry about it. Thank you, Mr. Iizuka.”

“Was nothin’. Also, Rainbow-Head was fixin’ to thank you. Something ‘bout showin’ you gratitude in person.”

A question rose to Kuzuhara’s mind.

‘Does that mean he’s going to get back at me? Then why didn’t he finish me off while I was out? He could’ve taken care of both me and Mr. Iizuka easily.

Instead of anger, Kuzuhara was overwhelmed with questions. But in any event, he could not capture Hayato now; he had to calm down and wait for the right opportunity.

At least, that was what he thought to himself—but Kuzuhara could not say if he could maintain that calm if he ever ran into Hayato. After all, he had many questions to ask of the rainbow-haired man.

Who in the world was he? Was it necessary to kill Kashimura and his men? Was it all his own doing? Why? Why did he spare the volunteer police? Where was he planning to go? Back to the Pits? What in the world did he have in store for the city? It was just one question after another.

Just as things got complicated, Iizuka came over with a meal he cooked himself.

“Least eat somethin’. You fine with crab?”

Inside the large bowl was an entire cooked crab. The savory scent of the seaweed topping the food was enough to make Kuzuhara’s stomach growl, even though he had just woken up.

“Thank you, Mr. Iizuka.”

The flavor of the miso soup washed over his tongue after a single sip. If a crab leg hadn’t poked at his nose as he tilted the bowl toward his mouth, Kuzuhara might have ended up draining everything in one go. Finally realizing what he was doing, he picked up his chopsticks and reached for the seafood as well.

“Delicious. This is really good.”

“It’d better be, since I made it m’self.” Iizuka replied confidently.

Kuzuhara remembered something then—something he had been meaning to say for some time.

“Maybe you should think about going back to your family, Mr. Iizuka.”

Iizuka was the husband of the woman who ran Kuzuhara’s usual haunt. He was also the father of six and Yua’s adoptive father.

“They’ve been getting a lot more business lately, you know. They could use an extra hand. And it’s not like the two of you had a fight or anything.”

Iizuka awkwardly scratched his face.

“Well, y’see… Look, son. I know you’re worryin’ about us, but I just can’t. No. It’s just… my head can’t sort this out. Or, you know what? It’s really all my own fault. I was the selfish one—whaddaya call it now… I just can’t face ‘em sometimes. The missus and the little’ns… It’s my own damn fault for bringin’ em all to the island, and sometimes it done scared me to look at ‘em. And before I knew it, I kept walkin’ outta the house. I know it’s wrong, and all… but it’s like a disease or somethin’. Nothing to be done ‘bout it.”

He took a long sip of miso soup, and looked up at the night sky.

“Ain’t it funny, though? Ran away from m’hometown first, an’ now I’m runnin’ from my family. Like a sorry sonovabitch.”

Kuzuhara searched for words to console the older man, but eventually gave up. He himself had come to the city in escape; he could not think of anything to say.

After eating everything but the crab shell, Kuzuhara changed the subject.

“Do you like this city, Mr. Iizuka?”

“Dunno. Maybe I’m still here ‘cause I do. But damned if I think it’s a good place. If this were paradise—least someplace as good as our old place—I could look the missus in the eye.”

“…I suppose.”

“For some place I ran off to with m’family, this island’s pretty easy to live on. If it was, ah, a shithole where folks die in front of the house every day, I’d pack up an’ leave to someplace on the mainland.” Iizuka chuckled, embarrassed. Kuzuhara remembered what Kelly said the other day. The awkward city, neither fully depraved nor fully whole.

“It seems like there’s nothing whole in this city after all.” Kuzuhara remarked, sounding anxious.

Iizuka sucked on a crab leg and replied,

“But y’know somethin’, son? The city’s a right mess, but you never know what’s gonna happen. Why, Sado used to be a good-for-nothin’ place for exiles. Used to live there for a bit ‘fore I met the missus, and well… sure was different from Niigata.”

He turned to the faint lights shining in the north. The lighthouse blinked rapidly.

“What’s the first thing comes to your mind when you think of Sado? The gold mines. Back then, it really was all the criminals an’ bums swarmin’ in. Whole herds of folks from all over the country, with ideas and cultures from every last corner. And see here—the island ain’t much different.”

Kuzuhara fell into thought. Iizuka handed him another bowl of food.

“An’ in the end, Sado made a culture of its own. Partly ‘cause some of the folks who drifted in were clever.”

Boldly describing the outstanding achievements of the Muromachi-era writer-cum-actor Zeami and the Kamakura-era monk Nichiren as ‘clever’, Iizuka took another drink of miso soup.

“The city really ain’t either here or there. But if you think ‘bout it, that’s just because it’s only just made. Most folks’re from all over Japan. What do you get when you toss in a bunch of Japanese folks into a lawless slum? Still Japan. Y’can’t just toss away your old self like that. So they went makin’ a habit of following morals, as it was. Even if y’all don’t know it. You’re in the volunteer cops ‘cause you couldn’t let go of bein’ a cop before, son. Am I right?”

Kuzuhara remained silent. Perhaps Iizuka was right; or perhaps not.

However Kuzuhara responded, the talkative fisherman continued undeterred.

“Damn straight. All the folks on the island’re outsiders. There’s no rules or anything—folks just follow whatever ‘morals’ they got in their heads. An’ what’s wrong with that? The ones who really decide which way this city’s gonna head—that’s the little’ns here, once they’re big enough.”

Iizuka popped a piece of crab shell into his mouth. Several loud munches punctuated the air, and he spat out nothing.

“Neither here nor there means it’s just not finished yet. There’s a whole world of possibilities out there—look forward to that. Wait for a city that’s nowhere else but on that bridge over yonder. Embrace all the good and bad, just like you’d do with any other town.”

Iizuka began to munch on crab shell again. In the darkness, Kuzuhara gazed at the lights of the artificial island.

“…I suppose you must have given this a lot of thought, Mr. Iizuka.”

“I watch the island from my boat every day. But the lights, see? They’re always different. I just spend time staring at the thing, and you know what I start thinking? That I always end up runnin’ off ‘cause I keep thinkin’ too hard.”

“Your wife wouldn’t be happy to hear that.”

“Hey, don’t be rubbing salt in my wounds.”

Kuzuhara decided to push just one last time.

“Mr. Iizuka… Please, go back to them. I know I’m being stubborn, but please… for Yua, if nothing else.”

He bowed his head.

“You’re puttin’ me in a real spot here, son. But if somethin’ doesn’t motivate me, I don’t think I’ve got the energy to go back.”

After some thought, Iizuka clapped his hands together.

“I’ve got it! I’ll head on back once I land a big one.”

“By ‘big’, you mean—”

Kuzuhara looked on expectantly. Iizuka chortled.

“How ‘bout this, then? Somethin’ about as big as what I hauled up today—like you.”

The fisherman’s laughter echoed into the starry sky, on and on—


▶︎


Friday afternoon. Aboveground, near the Northern District.


A lone girl stood in the southern part of the Northern District, under the warm winter sun.

The Northern District was known to be particularly labyrinthine, even on the artificial island.

‘Which is why I have to explore every last nook and cranny!’

Resolving herself, Yua stood in front of the stairs leading underground and took a deep breath.

There were multiple districts on the island, including the Western District connected to Sado and the Southern District connected to Niigata City. Each area was controlled by a different organization. The Nothern District happened to be in the hands of a company connected to a crime syndicate from Kansai. Because it was not known to mainland police, the syndicate was partaking in all sorts of illegal activities on the island. Rumors said that they imported drugs or weapons from overseas, using the artificial island as an exchange point.

Perhaps that was why the Northern District was so difficult to navigate—very few normal people approached the area. And because the district was heavily involved with the criminal underworld, people saw it as second only to the Pits in terms of danger.


But Yua did not care. She had felt danger many times during her explorations, but that was never enough to break her curiosity or determination. Did she have good intuition, or was she just lucky?

Aboveground, the Northern District was little different from the rest. Several buildings stood in orderly rows, and between them were lonely two-lane streets stretching into the distance.

Yua had come to the district several times in the past, but only along pre-existing paths. Halfway through, the paths were changed completely from the blueprints to the point that her father’s map was mostly drawn over in red. Underground was even worse—construction materials like barricades or even piles of garbage stood everywhere and turned the district into a maze.

There were very few people living in the area. Sometimes, Yua only saw one person within eyeshot. That also meant that the financial transactions that took place in other districts were non-existent in the Northern District—the area was essentially the criminal syndicate’s backyard.

Without sparing the pre-existing paths a glance, Yua decided to explore a different entryway.

The entrance was in an incomplete construction site, just behind a set of stairs.


“Hmm… Oh! I found it.”

The gaping hole was exactly where her father’s map said it would be.

Because it was hidden in the shadow of abandoned construction materials, a larger person would not be able to see the hole at all.

In the rain-rusted metal wall was an incomplete vent.

Taking hold of a handle intended for use when cleaning the vent, Yua slipped into the blackness.

Wrapped up in thick clothes and equipped with a helmet affixed with a headlamp, she stepped into the unknown.

Not realizing what terror awaited her ahead.


▶︎


Friday evening. The Western District, hotel lobby.


Seiichi was dreaming.

Everything was nostalgic. It was five years ago.

Sitting beside him was Kanae, coaxing him into going to the bridge.

They must have been at Himezaki lighthouse, but for some reason the lighthouse looked hazy.

In fact, everything but Kanae was out of focus.

The mountains, the sea, the grass, the houses, the shores, the bench—even the kites in the sky were distorted. The kites almost looked like crows.

Seiichi realized that he was dreaming. Normally, he would have woken by that point. But he chose to remain, desperately trying to remember everything before he came to the city. The familiar sights. The world he originally lived in. Reality.

“—chi. Seiichi, are you listening?”

Kanae shook his shoulder. In his dream, he snapped awake.

“Oh, sorry. I was just zoning out.”

His mouth moved against his will. Though he knew it was just a dream, Kanae’s voice was crystal clear.

It was not just her voice. Though the world was out of focus, Kanae’s face alone was exactly as it was that day.

“C’mon, you have to listen! This is important.”

“Right. Sorry. Could you say that again?”

He missed it all; he wanted to listen to more of her voice. Perhaps that desire was what kept him tied to the dream.

But—

“Why didn’t you protect me?”

“…Huh?”

As if on cue, the hazy world instantly came into focus. From what he thought was a blue sky, the sun disappeared. The forest and earth around them shifted into dull grey.

Before he knew it, he was standing somewhere familiar.

The northern entrance to the artificial island, lined with incomplete buildings. Where Kanae died.

He flinched and turned.

Kanae’s face was twisted in agony, nothing more. She stared at Seiichi without a hint of hatred or sadness.

“I’m asking you—”

Her side ruptured. A flood of red splattered everywhere, covering the bridge. Her face alone was white—even the sky and the rain began to turn a dark red.

“—why didn’t you protect me—”

Before she could even finish, her head was consumed as though exploding—

—and he woke up.

Instead of screaming, Seiichi silently opened his eyes. As though he had willed himself to return to reality. His palms were sweaty, and he could tell his pulse had quickened. And yet, for some reason, he was not anguished.

“—why—

But even in reality, Kanae’s voice rang in his head. Her voice—crystal-clear even in that hazy dream—continued to crash over him in endless waves.

—why didn’t you protect me? Why you why why why why why why why why—

“AARGH!”

He shook his head violently to clear the voice. His consciousness finally snapped into focus.

When he looked around, he saw a woman standing in the familiar surroundings.

He was in the lobby of the hotel used as their office—this was where he had given Kuzuhara his orders the other day. He must have fallen asleep while he was resting on the sofa.

“Are you okay?” Yili asked, concerned, but he only nodded.

“Were you thinking about her again?” She asked her boyfriend from behind the sofa.

With an understanding look, Yili wrapped her arms around Seiichi’s neck.

In her gentle embrace, Seiichi cast his empty gaze to the air.

“Thanks. I’m… I’m all right now.”

“Don’t push yourself.”

The silent flow of time enveloped their world.

In that silence, they said nothing—concealing their thoughts from one another.


Then, Seiichi’s cell phone rang.

Yili quietly pulled away and sat on the sofa opposite.

“It’s me.”

After a short conversation, Seiichi sighed loudly and hung up.

Yili looked on curiously.

“Mr. Kuzuhara seems to be all right. I’m going out for a bit.”

That was all he said. There was something relieved, yet fearful in his expression.

Yili also looked up at the ceiling with a complicated expression. Only the fluorescent lights were reflected in her eyes amidst the darkening ornaments.


▶︎


Friday night, the Eastern District. Underground.


‘Talk about an irritating dream.’ Hayato Inui thought to himself in his dream.

He was in a small, old room. An action movie from years ago was playing on the TV in front of him. It was one of the DVDs he had brought with him when he left Japan.

As he stared at the image on the screen, he remembered where he was.

It was the house he lived in ten years ago with his parents. They were in a little village in the woods near the border of a small country in South America. They only barely got electricity, but they had a perfectly comfortable life there. The language, culture, and laws were completely different from Japan's, and Hayato had to tackle that head-on at the sensitive age of 15; but that did not particularly affect him.

Hayato had never had many meaningful relationships, even in Japan. All he needed were DVD rentals and movies and games he downloaded off the internet. The more movies entered his life, the further he fell from reality.

His dream took place at the stage of an incident ten years ago.

Reality broke down his door and invaded his world of fantasy.

But that reality was so cruel that it lost all sense of realism.


His dream was in the moments before the incident began.

And, considerately enough, the scene in the movie was the very one he remembered from that time.

He knew exactly what was going to happen. And he knew that no amount of struggling would change was was about to take place.

His mind was as sharp as it could be, but his body would not listen.

He could do nothing. There was nothing he could do.

In his dream, Hayato rattled off one excuse after another.

‘I couldn’t do anything about what’s going to happen.’

The moment he came to that point, gunfire echoed in his dream. The sound of destruction, so very unlike the ones he heard out of the TV. By the time he even realized that they were gunshots, it was already too late.

He heard footsteps; more than should be present in their one-story home.

The violent racket viciously clutched at his heart.

Soon, Hayato’s door opened. Men dressed in what looked like unmarked military uniforms barged into his room. Holding up crude automatic rifles, they shouted at him in a language he did not understand.

In the end, Hayato could not become an action hero.

The confusion of the moment took over his thoughts. Fear took control before he could understand what was happening.

As the men held him at gunpoint, fifteen-year-old Hayato did simply this—he trembled as he desperately repeated the word ‘help’, raising his hands into the air.

Then, he was pulled out of the room by the men. In the dining room leading out into the front door, he saw his parents restrained against the table.

One of the men pulled out a handgun, and—


—Hayato woke himself.

Perhaps he was already used to it; there wasn’t a drop of sweat on him even in the aftermath of the nightmare.

He opened his eyes because he knew exactly what happened afterwards. And because he knew that what came after was nothing pleasant.

“Awake now, kid?”

Hayato’s gaze focused instantly. In the narrow restaurant was a massive wall-mounted television. On the counter in front of him was an unfinished bowl of ramen, white circles of fat congealed on the surface.

“Ah, Mr. Take. Thanks for the grub.”

“Bullshit. You started snoozing before you got halfway through the damn bowl! You makin’ fun of me, kid? So you prefer snoring away to eating my ramen?!”

The old man’s angry shouts filled the little ramen shop on a street corner in the Eastern District. It was getting late; there was almost no one around.

“I’m not much of a snorer, though. Did I snore? Gimme a break, Mr. Take. I completely wore myself out today walking around.”

“Ever think ‘bout moving that stomach of yours instead of your mouth?”

“Okay, okay. I’ll eat.”

Taking note of the veins popping on the old man’s bald head, Hayato quickly slurped down the cold noodles. Then he looked up at the TV.

“Wonder if they finished showing movies on cable today.”

“Who gives a damn?”

“Damn it. I wanted to see Double Beretta. The main character’s this alien who fights the American military with nothing but a couple of Berettas. The whole thing makes you wonder what the producer was smoking when he approved the thing—”

“If you’re done eating, get outta here!” The old man cut him off, and took the empty bowl behind the counter. “You ain’t got time to be eatin’ ramen here.”

Hayato realized something.

“Mr. Take… you knew?”

“Enough to know those goons from the West are after you.”

Hayato slowly withdrew his expression.

“Aw, shucks. Why didn’t you just report me to ‘em, then?”

“Not too fond of the bigwigs out West, to be honest. And… speaking as an old-timer here, even I can tell what kinda people I shouldn’t be turning against me.” He replied, sounding no different from usual, and began to wash the dishes. The ramen store had no set closing time, but there probably were not going be any more customers that night. The old man was going to close up shop as soon as Hayato left.

“I see. Thanks a bunch, Mr. Take.” Hayato said, and took out a tattered old bill from his wallet. “Um, do I really look that dangerous?”

“Is that even a question?”

“Uhh, that hurt. That actually hurt a bit.”

The old man stopped what he was doing and took the bill Hayato was holding out.

“There’s plenty of punks on these streets, but you’re different. The others at least have a piece of… normalcy in them. They still have a place to put their feet. But there’s something about you—you can’t see around you. In fact, you don’t even try. Sometimes you hear about ridiculous axe-murders or something on the mainland, and I bet you’re the type to pull shit like that. Seems to me like you’re denying the world. You’re always grinning like that ‘cause you’re looking down on everything. All that bullcrap you spew is just a ruse. Am I right?”

Surprised, Hayato stared at the old man.

“What the hell do your eyes see, Inui? You wouldn’t twitch an eyebrow at killing tens of thousands, even if you act like an overexcited pup.”

“Sharp, Mr. Take.”

Hayato grinned and stood. And without even thinking about getting his change, he prepared to leave.

Preparations entailed nothing but grabbing his hat from the wall and pressing it over his head; he probably thought it was enough of a disguise.

“I’m just looking at myself, that’s all. That me is on a whole ‘nother level compared to the current me. What should I call it…? Right. A hero. Yeah. That’s it. I’ve always got my eyes on the me that I want to be. The world that I have to be in.”

“Ah, now you’re talking nonsense.”

“I know that what happens in movies can never happen in real life. I know better than anyone in this whole goddamned city. Even war movies pretending to be all real don’t come close to the real deal. And actions flicks are out of the question.”

“As if anyone didn’t know that.”

Ignoring the old man, Hayato changed the channel. He switched to a Hollywood movie, which happened to be in its climax.

The protagonist was holding a gun in each hand, parallel to the ground. He shot down the missile launched by the villain. Then came the scene where the heroine defused a time bomb a second before it was set to go off.

“This stuff can’t happen in real life. I know that better than anyone. Which is why I love the world of movies—the world of fiction! You know what I love more than anything in this world? The heroes you see on the screen!”

Hayato sounded like a child raving about his dreams, but there was something sad in his eyes.

Finally he looked back at the old man, his eyes shining like ice.

“I don’t care how many obstacles have to die. I’ll do anything to become the ideal me. To escape this reality. I will do anything.”

His eyes as he stepped outside were endlessly morose and sharp and deep.

Having caught a clear glimpse of his gaze, the old man nodded to himself at his evaluation of Hayato and closed shop.


As soon as he left the store, Hayato suddenly muttered to himself.

“So it’s just escapism. Both me and him.”

There were almost no people on the street. Unlike the Southern District, where entertainment was easy to find, or the Pits, where the time of day mattered little, this was the equivalent of a residential area. It was very often a quiet place.

Stretching out on the deserted street, Hayato blushed when he remembered what he had just said to Mr. Take.

“Oh, man… Crap. What the hell am I supposed to be, a shut-in? Keeping my eyes on ‘the ideal me’? Sick.”

Though he grumbled like a disgruntled child, his eyes were staring off into the distance.


Hayato tried to return to the Pits, but things did not go as planned.

Six people emerged like shadows from the darkness.

He did not know their faces, but their distinctive black clothes were familiar.

‘Western Guard Corps.

They were a group that escorted the executives of the West—the Chinese mafia. It was Hayato’s first time encountering them from up close, but alarm bells were already going off in his head. All he saw was their gait, but he could sense they were weaker than Kuzuhara, yet above the volunteer police.

According to rumors, these men were on a different level altogether from the punks on the street, and were all armed. From the time period, it was unlikely they were carrying nunchucks or crossbows. Likely they were armed with guns or knives. Such rumors snowballed as they went from one person to another, giving the group their militaristic nickname of ‘Guard Corps’.

As Hayato stopped and assessed his predicament, the supposed leader of the men spoke.

“Hayato Inui?”

“No.”

Hayato tried to walk away; but the man easily stepped in his way.

“What’s the point of asking if you already know the answer…?”

“We have no intention of killing you here. That would be in violation of the agreement we have with the Eastern District.”

‘Which means they’re going to kill me somewhere else. Christ.’

With a loud sigh, Hayato walked back into the closed ramen shop.

The men exchanged quizzical glances, but they realized that there was no back door to the shop. They stood their ground, waiting. Their agreement with the Eastern District prevented them from laying a hand on the district’s establishments or its residents.

And from the ramen store that fit that category came two very loud voices.

“What the hell’re you doing back here?!”

“C’mon, Mr. Take. There’s a buncha goons outside tryin’ to take me in.”

“I said I didn’t rat on you! Get out! I haven’t done anything wrong!”

“No, no, no. I believe you. But I just wanted to check with you about something.”

“What?”

Then, Hayato raised his voice even more, as though daring the men to hear.

“Would it cause you a lot of trouble if I decided to leave six or so bodies lying in front of your shop?”

“Do that, and you’ll be corpse number seven.”

There was a moment of silence. Then, the door opened.

“Looks like we didn’t make enough of an impression on your sorry ass.”

One of the men scowled and reached for Hayato’s sleeve. The other five were quite close around him—Hayato grinned.

The men were on edge, prepared to counter gunfire. So the moment Hayato quickly shook his hand, their gazes followed.

At that moment, droplets of orange liquid spewed onto their faces.

“…!”

Hayato had spewed the liquid from his mouth, crippling the men’s eyes. As for those less affected, Hayato spat out the rest onto their faces.

Leaving the men to suffer, Hayato whistled all the way as he sprinted for the stairs to the Pits.

He tried to say at the end, ‘Thank Mr. Take that you’re still alive’, but his tongue was in such a state that all he could say was something that sounded like ‘Thaaaaahhaahewaaaaa’.

Running downstairs, Hayato stuck out his tongue all the way and gasped.

“Whaaaaaahhhaaaaaaeeeee…”

His tongue was on fire. Hayato quickly regretted his actions.

‘Shit. Bit off more than I could chew with the chili oil…’

Desperately cooling off his tongue, he recounted and analyzed what must have just happened to himself.

Finally he arrived at an answer. His face twisted into a grin.

“I get it. I get it now. So the West, nah—Kugi—is gonna get serious, that it?”

Embracing the darkness of the Pits, Hayato howled in laughter.

“Heh. Heh. Ahahaha! Talk about one hell of a movie. This is it. This is kind of shit is what I’ve been waiting for! That’s practically why I came to this island in the first place! Heh… heh heh… This is rich. This is what you call entertainment! But I can’t just enjoy this on my own. Better help this Kugi guy have just as much fun as me. Heh heh! I’m gonna piss myself laughing!”


▶︎


Friday night. The Western District shopping mall.


There was a car parked in front of the restaurant.

Kuzuhara and Seiichi sat across a corner table; the store was slowly emptying out.

“Are you all right, Mr. Kuzuhara? I was worried about you.” Seiichi said, shaking his hand. Kuzuhara looked ashamed.

“I’m sorry you had to come all this way.”

“There’s nothing to apologize about. It was an unfortunate coincidence, that’s all. But to think you would be swept up in such business…”

Seiichi must have heard the news as well. Kuzuhara was prepared, in the worst-case scenario, to be blamed for Kashimura’s death. But surprisingly, there were other witnesses there. Someone testified that they saw the rainbow-haired man enter the office.

“I lost him.”

“But you’re still safe. Which is more than enough, considering the killer’s caliber.”

“You know him?”

With a sigh, Seiichi handed Kuzuhara a pile of documents.

Attached to the first page was a photo of a young man. His hair color was different, but Kuzuhara recognized Hayato Inui immediately. Under the photograph was a list of his exploits.

“Hayato Inui, 25 years old. He’s a year younger than you, Mr. Kuzuhara. He was 15 when he and his parents moved to South America for business, but the family was caught up in a civil war and his parents were killed. His records cut off there for some time, but now you can easily find his name on the internet on foreign websites. He led a group of young people his own age in guerrilla warfare—or rather, banditry and piracy. In South America, he’s an outright wanted man. Although not internationally, as of yet.”

Seiichi’s expression darkened as he continued to summarize Hayato’s bio.

“No one knows why, but he came to the island five years ago and made trouble with some people from the Southern District… Incidentally, that was the very day I arrived here myself. But in any case, he disappeared afterwards, and is considered to be one of the most powerful figures in the Pits. He seems to show up in other districts from time to time, but he has never made contact with our organization.”

Kuzuhara scowled.

“In other words, he put an end to a fight that he started five years ago.”

“We considered the possibility, yes. But…”

Kuzuhara took note of Seiichi’s hesitation.

“No?”

After a moment’s pause, Seiichi made sure no one was within earshot and spoke.

“The Northern District as well. Five executives were stationed at the heart of the district, but we lost contact with them in the midst of ongoing negotiations. It turned out they were all murdered.”

Kuzuhara bit his lip, shutting his eyes.

“And that was also his work.”

“Most likely. He was spotted heading down the stairs in the Northern District.”

“And… he was alone then, too?”

“I’m loath to admit, but yes. I heard that he took quite a few lives during the civil war. Although those murders aren’t counted officially because the side he worked for has taken over the government. The problem was that he refused to disband his group, even after the war. That’s why there’s a warrant out for him now.”

Kuzuhara silently stared off into space. He recalled the man he encountered in the Southern District.

There was something incomparably off about the man, so different from the punks Kuzuhara dealt with daily. Behind the flippant smile was an unknown predator, lying in wait in the shadows.

‘What is someone like that doing here? And if he’s that strong, why didn’t he lay a hand on me or Mr. Iizuka?’ Kuzuhara wondered, but he quickly moved on. There was no use dwelling on a foe’s motives. The important thing was to prevent him from doing any more harm. Even if Hayato’s victims were criminals, Kuzuhara felt as though accepting his actions would be as good as denying his own reason for being.

“Most recently, he’s been spotted heading down to the Pits via a staircase in the Eastern District. The Guard Corps has been surveying every path down since, so there’s no need to worry about him escaping.”

“I see.”


All of a sudden, Ms. Iizuka came up to Kuzuhara.

“Have you seen Yua?”

“Hm? Maybe she’s off exploring again, Ms. Iizuka.”

The woman frowned anxiously.

“She said she’d be back by night today. Yua always keeps her word about the time, at the very least.”

Kuzuhara stood without a word. In his head he could clearly see Yua walking through the Pits.

“Excuse me.”

Trying to ignore his aching body, he stood from his seat. Seiichi looked up.

“Who is Yua?”

Kuzuhara thought to explain her story in detail, but he decided against it and gave the truncated version.

“She’s the daughter of the woman who runs this restaurant.”

“Do you have a photograph of her, by any chance?”

“I’ve got some.”

Ms. Iizuka took out a talisman from her apron and took out several photographs. They were of her six children, her husband, and Yua—enough to stuff the talisman full.

“Right here.”

Seiichi scrutinized the pictures. Then, he took out his cell phone and took a snapshot of Yua.

“I’ll spread the photo to the others so they can assist in the search.”

“Mr. Kugi.”

Seiichi held up a hand, cutting off Kuzuhara.

“I told you before. I want to protect as many people as possible. …That is my way of repenting.”

“But—”

“At least let me do this much.” Seiichi replied, putting on an unusually friendly smile. He looked almost boyish, completely different from his usual self.

Stepping out of the restaurant with Seiichi, Kuzuhara silently bowed his head.

“Please. I’m not doing this as your superior.” Seiichi said, and his expression shifted. “I actually respect you very much, Mr. Kuzuhara.”

“Pardon?” Kuzuhara gaped. He hadn’t expected to hear that from Seiichi.

“In the beginning, I thought bringing order to this city would be impossible. But I saw you when you joined the community three years ago. Then I began to think that, maybe, change was possible. I began to think that, with effort, I could become like you.”

Kuzuhara was nothing but confused at Seiichi’s confession. He had no idea what he was trying to say.

Seiichi chuckled, embarrassed.

“Mr. Kuzuhara. You’re more of a hero to this city than you know. Please try to be more aware of yourself.”

“Of course.” Kuzuhara said emotionlessly. Although that was partly because he was in a rush to find Yua, it was also because Seiichi’s words did not sound real in the least.

“And of course, it wouldn’t do for an overseer of the Western District to fail to save one young girl.” Seiichi said, his face clear of emotion. Kuzuhara recalled hearing about his past.

As Kuzuhara struggled to find words, Seiichi stepped into the car in front of the restaurant, nodded lightly toward him, and slowly drove away.

The road bustling with pedestrians was a poor match for the black luxury car.

Kuzuhara sighed as he watched the car depart.

“…As if I could be some kind of hero.”

He had himself run away from reality when he came to the island. But no matter how much he tried to deny it, the island itself was a part of reality. That was why he continued his thankless work. There was nowhere to hide—therefore, he made up his mind to face reality head-on with all he had. That was all.

Gritting his teeth, Kuzuhara rushed into the nighttime streets to do his job.


▶︎


Friday night. Somewhere on the island.


Yua ran.

Aimlessly through the darkened streets of night.

There was nothing chasing after her.

She was just afraid of the strange air around her.

She was overwhelmed by a kind of fear she had never once experienced in her life.

It was different from the sadness, anxiety, and loneliness of losing her parents. This was terror diluted to its purest form.

‘I’m scared. I’m scared. I’m scared.’

Nothing was enveloping her.

Yet the island, the city, the people, and the air she so loved—

—now looked for all the world like a grotesque monster.

It felt as though even the graffiti on the walls were crashing over her.

The air was heavy. The darkness squirmed like a living creature.

The flickering fluorescent lights. The rusted handrails. The garbage strewn about the streets. The old men puffing their cigarettes. The children with their umbrellas. The large mouths of the local punks, opening up in laughter. Until just yesterday, she had loved it all.

But everything changed.

As though the world had been twisted in one fell swoop.


Yua did not even know where she was running.

Though she knew the island better than anyone, she was so afraid that she found herself endlessly stumbling through unfamiliar paths. She was so blinded by terror that she could not tell that they were the same roads she had used before.

What had driven her to such a state? It had all begun that evening.



Friday evening. The Northern District, underground.


Yua found many paths through the vent in the Northern District.

The vent was surprisingly large, and if they fixed up the entrance, even an adult could crawl through. After half a day of exploring, Yua made up her mind to go in deeper.

According to her father’s blueprints, there should be several more corridors and rooms in the district. When she compared the area to the aboveground, she could tell that there was a space she could not enter via normal means.


Her headlamp cut through the darkness.

For some reason, she didn’t encounter a single insect in the dusty vent.

The route on the blueprint was blocked with rubble. But the vent should lead her into the space beyond.

That space was an uncharted land for her—and most of the locals.

Yua could feel her heart fill with excitement. Even her father had probably never gone beyond this point. After all, the blueprint on the PDA was not marked further from there.

Her heart beating loudly, Yua continued down the narrow path.

Her eyes shone yet brighter in the darkness, as though her parents waited beyond.

As she made her way forward, she realized she could hear voices.

Yua cautiously quieted down. She turned off her headlamp. A dim light was shining from further down the vent.

‘I knew it.

From the direction and distance, it was likely that the light was coming from an unexplored area.

But it would be a lie to say that she was not afraid.

Who in the world could be ahead, in an area people could not enter by normal means?

Slowly creeping forward, Yua finally arrived at the grille where the light was shining.


She peered into a large storage room of some sort. The ceiling was very high—the vent seemed to be very high up in the air.

If she fell from there, she would be a goner. Yua felt as though her veins were seizing at the thought.

The owner of the voice moved at the bottom of the room.

Three men were surrounding one man. They were saying something, but Yua could not hear from the vent.

There were many wooden crates piled up around the men, but she could not tell what was inside.

‘What in the world is this place?’

Giving up, Yua thought to go further down the vent. But then—

—things changed rapidly.

A terror spanning less than thirty seconds shattered her world, her dreams, and her heart.

Yua saw the surrounded man hold out both arms. She thought he was stretching, but there was something different about the way he moved. The man’s hands were down, with only his arms and shoulders stretched out.

At that moment, lumps of black slid out of his sleeves.

They fell into each of the man’s hands, and the man took hold of them as he slowly raised his hands.

“Son of a bitch! What the fuck—”

For the first time, she could hear them clearly.

A moment later, a deafening burst of sound battered her eardrums.

The men surrounding the one in the middle fell, one by one. Although Yua did not know what was happening, she could see clearly that there were red holes gaping through the men lying spread-eagle on the floor.

Pools of blood began to expand from their heads.

“What the—”

“You little shit!”

Suddenly, there were more shouts. Two men burst into the room and roared at the lone man. But instead of approaching, they took cover behind the crates.

Then she saw it all.

While the two men reached into their jackets, the lone man took action.

With incredible agility he leapt onto the crates and walked toward the ones where the newcomers were taking cover.

By the time they saw him coming, it was too late. The man pulled the trigger on both his guns, angling them down at his victims.

Without thinking, Yua tightened her grip on a metal railing.

A rusted lid squeaked loudly.

‘Oh no!’

Yua rushed to take cover, but the man on the crates was quicker to turn.

Just before she could hide herself, their eyes met.

The man saw a terrified girl.

Yua saw a pair of icy eyes brimming with insanity.

Panic rose from underneath, even worse than when she first glimpsed the murders. Fearing that she would suffocate to death, Yua desperately forced herself backwards.

A second later, a tiny mass of death pierced the spot where her head had been a moment ago. There was a gunshot just like before, and a tiny hole was left on the vent in front of her.

“…!”

With a soundless scream, Yua spun around and ran like a dog.

The gunfire continued. She could feel vibrations from where she had been crawling just earlier.

She did not know if the bullets could pierce the bottom of the vent, but she had no time to check. Bumping her head everywhere, Yua crawled desperately through the darkness.


And by the time she finally made it out aboveground, the world had changed.

For the first time in her life, Yua had faced her own death.

The rubble around her, the buildings, and even the stairs leading into the corridors—they all looked like frightening monsters ready to devour her.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw something stir.

“N…no!”

It was just a passing old man, but Yua could not halt the flood of terror.

“EYAAAAAA!”

An old man looked up in surprise as a little girl fled from his presence.



Friday night. The Pits.


She was still running.

She ran desperately, with no care for her heading.

She would find shelter nowhere, Yua thought. And as she ran, her mind paralyzed, Yua’s legs finally began to tremble. At this point, she could not tell if she was just tired or scared.

All she could do was move forward. With panic rising up behind her like a massive wave, she ran. And it was only when she could no longer run that she realized something. That the wave was coming from the city itself. When the epiphany hit, it felt as though her terror had been magnified.

And without even a destination in mind, Yua spurred her legs to force her forward.

Forward. Forward.

Because now all she could feel behind her was pitch-black darkness.

As she pressed on, it felt like the world behind her was collapsing into nothingness.

Forward. Only forward. Even if darkness was all that awaited her.


She did not know where, or how she had gotten out. In the frantic midst of fleeing an unknown pursuer she recalled a shortcut she discovered the other day. A shortcut to the Pits, which no one else knew about.

A secret path. No one else—not even the man she saw in the Northern District—would know about it. It was a way through a gap just large enough for one child, down into an unfinished elevator shaft.

However, in her confusion, Yua made a crucial mistake.

As she took the shortcut, she ended up jumping straight into the Pits.


The elevator had been abandoned in the midst of construction. The girl leapt outside. People nearby curiously examined the elevator.

She ran and ran and ran. Further and further, if even an inch further from that man—

Only when she saw the sea did Yua realize that the best way to escape the man was to flee for the mainland. But it was too late. She was too scared to go back up now.

Wasn’t there any way to escape the island? Someone she could count on for help?

It was only then that Yua finally turned her eyes to the city in the Pits. In the past, her only interest was in topography—but for the first time, she felt the people and the air of the lowest level.

At the same time, the energy of a pedestrian’s paradise reached her ears.

There were no fluorescent lamps around, but the incandescent lights on the walls and buildings, and the halogen lamps in the floor, were blinding. The halogen lamps in particular were so bright that it was harder to see with them than without them.

But thanks to the lights, none of winter’s chill reached her.

Seeing that people were always busy in the Pits, Yua could tell that the population density was higher here than in the shopping mall in the Western District. There were all kinds of stalls and stands lined up, but Yua did not recognize the products displayed there.

The roads themselves were not very wide, but many people were laying about. Some were snoring with the intensity of chainsaws; others did not move, giving off a putrid stink.

Last time she visited the Pits, it was the middle of the day—but it had been nowhere near as energetic as it was now.

Yua almost forgot her fear in the lively air, but she was quickly brought back to reality.

“Hey.”

Someone grabbed her by the shoulder and forced her around.

There stood a bleary-eyed man in a suit. His button-up shirt was a crinkled mess, and he only had one sleeve left. There were multiple red spots dotting his exposed arm, but Yua did not understand what they meant.

“Hey.”

“Y-yes!”

The man stared at the vicinity of Yua’s bellybutton. She shrank back as she replied. But—

“Hey!”

“Y-yes?”

“HEY!”

“Wh-what is it?!”

“HEEEEEEY! Hey, hey, hey! Hey hey hey hey hey hey heeeeyyyyyyy—”

“EEEEK!”

The man’s eyes spun clumsily as he crept closer. The people around them went about their business, not particularly concerned. The man was closing the distance. Although there wasn’t much of a gap to close in the first place, the man drew so near that the buttons on his shirt were almost touching her nose.

Yua tried to run, but his vice-like grip remained firmly on her shoulder.

“Mom!”

Tears welling in her eyes, Yua desperately scratched at the man; but he didn’t show a hint of pain as he swung back the umbrella in his free hand. He muttered deliriously as he spun it in the air.

“Help me!”

Yua managed to squeeze out a cry. Several people turned.


“Who’s that?” “Which one?” “The guy. The girl’s the one that got sold a while back, right?” “Nah, that one was missing an arm.” “Shucks.” “Stick it in already.” “Someone should help her.” “—was around there just now.” “Oh, he was?” “Someone get him.” “Man.” “Cheap goods.” “Hey, d’you think she’s gonna die?” “Who just OD’d there?” “He’s not OD-ing.” “Not gonna help?” “Too lazy.” “Nice.” “Let’s go.”

The onlookers chattered as though watching a show, yet no one stepped forward to help. But the moment tears of despair fell from Yua’s eyes, the crowds changed.

“He’s here.”

Something must have happened behind the wall of onlookers. A second later, the people made way for a lone man.

The moment the man saw what was happening, he spoke to Yua solemnly. In the halogen light, it was hard to see his face or clothes—only his silhouette was visible.

Lowering his head, he pointed at the suit-clad man.

“…Is this your father?”

Yua stared blankly. Then, as soon as she realized what the man was saying, she desperately shook her head.

“Roger that.”

The figure immediately grabbed the suit-clad man by the collar and pulled him toward himself.

“Whoaaaargh!”

The man in the suit let go of Yua and brought his umbrella down at the figure’s head.

“Ouch.”

The figure’s grip on the man’s collar remained steadfast. Yet the suit-clad man did not seem deterred in the least. Even the bystanders muttered, wondering what he would do next.

“…Tch. Can’t pull it off after all.”

The figure suddenly let go of the man’s collar and thrust his heel into the staggering man’s neck.

The suit-clad man rose slightly into the air, then crumpled on the ground in a heap.

The onlookers gasped quietly. Yua swallowed.

Soon, the crowd stopped singing the figure’s praises and scattered in the halogen light.

Left behind was only the man who had rescued Yua.

“Man, Mr. Kuzuhara just threw the punk with one arm. How the hell does he do it?”

“Wait! You know big bro?” Yua cried. Her rescuer laughed.

Yua’s eyes finally adjusted to the light. Squinting, she took a good look at the figure—and her breath caught in her throat.

“Jumped out of a window together, if that counts.”

The man’s hair was tinted in seven colors. And when he looked at Yua, his lips twisted into a grin.


-----


Chapter 3.


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(1) “Night Sea” is written with the characters “夕海”, which is the spelling of Yua’s name.


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4 comments:

  1. Thanks again for your work!

    ReplyDelete
  2. "The moment he came that that point, gunfire echoed in his dream."
    I guess the first "that" should be a "to".

    Thanks a lot!

    ReplyDelete
  3. "And when he looked at Yua, his lips twisted into a grin." and that's when all the fangirls(ie me) screamed in delight

    ReplyDelete