Friday, 12 September 2014

Bow Wow! -Two Dog Night- Chapter 3

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

Update time.

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Chapter 3: Buruburu Airwaves


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Kelly had no self. She herself knew that better than anyone.


Even the name ‘Kelly Yatsufusa’ was a pseudonym she used for convenience’s sake.

Her words, looks, expressions, and ideology were all imitations of other people, and she subtly cycled through them depending on the time and place. All her actions were lies, yet at the same time they were part of who she was.

Kelly always mimicked the characters of others. Her usual vulgar tone, the flashes of sensuality, and the mechanical face she reserved for interviews.


Although not many islanders knew, Kelly was actually the second producer of Sōsei Airwaves.

The first producer was already running the show when people first began to gather on the island.

Kelly had been sold to that producer.

As a product being sold in the Pits—not even as a prostitute or anything of the sort, but as an object—she was sold to a man named Yatsufusa. She saw many wads of cash being exchanged for her being.

Kelly saw her chance during the exchange; she bolted from the spot with ease.

When she stole a backward glance, she saw the trafficker take the cash and run. That was the way of the Pits. The fools who paid lost their money. The fools with money lost. And the fools’ wallets slowly thinned. It was a vicious cycle. Those blessed by money never ventured to a place like this to begin with.

Relieved, she had tried to run—but her mistake was in that she failed to realize the state of her legs after so long in captivity.

Ultimately, her great escape lasted a full twenty-five seconds before her long, pale arms were caught in a powerful grip. Unable to put up any meaningful resistance, she was dragged by the arms into a van.

Kelly had been ready even for death at that point, but the man in the blue shades merely explained to her about the machines in the van with a particularly amused expression.

As she listened, Kelly realized that the man was the DJ of Buruburu Airwaves.

Little by little, Yatsufusa told her things about the programming and scheduling, making no demands of her in particular. Though Kelly was confused, she decided to bide her time. Even if she ran again, she had nowhere to go; and living with this man could not be worse than living as a product.

One day, she asked him if he wasn’t going to sleep with her. He just laughed and replied, “I’m only into adults. Heehahaha!”

Then why in the world did he purchase her, Kelly continued to wonder. But over time she slowly learned the tricks of his trade and went on to assist him with the radio broadcast.

All she found out about him during their life in the van was his taste in women and his trademark laughter.

And one day, he died without warning.

“Heh. I’m sorry. I’d wanted to pass on my work to someone. Or maybe who it was never mattered. Heehahahahaha.”

With that laugh, he died.

It was all the more difficult because Kelly had never had a chance to grow close to him.

Why in the world had he started a radio station? What was the disease that killed him? And if he didn’t care who he passed on his work to, why did he spend all that money to purchase her? He had taken the answers with him to the grave.

‘Did I make him happy enough for the money he paid? I didn’t get a penny, but did I satisfy him enough to have earned my food and shelter?’

And it was only when she realized that she knew nothing about the man that Kelly broke down sobbing.

With her newfound freedom, she decided to continue on the radio station. For the sole purpose of finding out why Yatsufusa started it and why he loved it so much.

Just as Yua sought her father through her map-making, Kelly sought a stranger she didn’t even love through the airwaves. Where else could she go, having come from the Pits?

The moment she resolved to take up her predecessor’s bright blue shades, she resolved to become Yatsufusa himself. In tone, in character, and even in her expressions. She endeavored to become everything she had learned about him in that short period of time.

And so the programs of the second Sōsei Airwaves DJ began, driven by neither despair nor hope.

Only the most bright-eared of listeners wondered, ‘Did the DJ lose his touch?’.

Time passed—


“Ah-ah-ah—Aaahh… It’s over it’s over it’s over it’s over it’s over it’s over it’s over. It’s all over. What’s over? I’m over!”

Inside a blue van underground in the Western District was a makeshift radio studio. There, Kelly rolled on the floor and complained loudly to herself.

“Auugh, I’m gonna die of boredom! And I don’t even have a guest for today! Something big finally goes down, but I can’t get in touch with Kuzuhara, and all the execs said ‘No comment’! Maybe I should just ask Mr. Take from the ramen shop out East or Ms. Iizuka… Or maybe I should just waste time with a drama CD…”

As Kelly irritatedly rifled through her store of drama CDs, she heard a small noise.

Someone must have knocked on her door.

Kelly glanced outside and spotted a child’s hand. She passed it off as an Iizuka child playing a prank, but quickly realized that the hand was unusually tanned.

“Yua?”

The girl Kuzuhara once rescued was the only tan child Kelly knew of in the area. Kelly knew that Yua was now an adopted daughter of the Iizukas, but Yua was not one to pull impish pranks.

“Wonder what’s up? Oh, maybe I should just go—wanna get interviewed?—or something. Heehahahaha.”

With a hearty laugh, Kelly opened the door.

“—hahaha… hah?”

Her laugh trailed off when she spotted the person kneeling next to Yua.

The rainbow-haired man held up a V and raised his head.

“Are you—”

Before Kelly could finish, he pressed a gun to her chin.

The man grinned and casually introduced himself.

“Well, yeah. I’m just a passing hijacker.”


▶︎


Saturday evening, the Western District.


“Where are you, Yua?”

A day later, and Yua was still nowhere to be found. Kuzuhara had left his job to a subordinate and spent the whole time looking for her. But searching without a single clue on the vast island was like torture. The volunteer police had been asked multiple times to look for missing children, but only about half the time did they find the lost ones unharmed.

Kuzuhara questioned everyone from local residents to hardened thugs, but no answer satisfied him. There was one old man who angrily testified, “A tanned girl just scampered off as soon as she looked at me”, but he also added that he didn’t even remember where she went.

Wondering if Yua had gone to the Pits, Kuzuhara began to consider—


<Good evening, listeners! It’s time for another episode of ‘Buruburu Airwaves on the Street’!>

As Kuzuhara made his way down to the Pits from the Western District, a husky female voice replaced the usual DJ’s cacophonous chatter.

“Right. Today’s Saturday.”

Kelly never did tell him who her guest was for the day, but now was not the time to be distracted.

“Wait…”

Suddenly, he stopped. Perhaps he could find Yua through the radio. Kelly knew the other districts inside-out, and she was the only one who could make a broadcast to the entire island. She had in the past sent out several missing persons alerts and even wanted notices. Kuzuhara had no way of knowing if she would be effective, but he had to try everything in his power to find Yua.

He turned to seek out Kelly—

—but the moment he heard the rest of the broadcast, he wondered if he was hearing things.


<Now, let me introduce tonight’s guest. Here we have a major player in the Pits who, like Mr. Kugi, dreams of uniting the city—Mr. Hayato Inui!>

<Hey there! Ah, just to make a tiny correction, I’m planning more on taking over the city.>


The voice matched the rainbow-haired man’s.

Eyes on the ceiling, Kuzuhara sighed.

“The real deal, huh.”

It felt like the graffiti on the walls were laughing at him.


▶︎


At the same time, Kugi was also listening to the broadcast. Hearing the voices fill the hotel lobby, he radioed his subordinates.

“Track down the van immediately.”

Then, the turned off the radio and growled indignantly.

“Hayato Inui… what’s your game? How’d you get out of the Pits…?”

Seiichi had stationed six Guard Corps members at every entrance. And as very few people traversed the Pits and the underground, Hayato could not have blended into a crowd to sneak past the watch. And Seiichi was not informed that the van had gone to the Pits, either.

Hayato was mocking him through the speakers.


▶︎


The interview continued in the van, which was parked in an empty lot somewhere aboveground in the Eastern District.

“…In other words, you plan to unite the city, just like Mr. Kugi?”

“Guess you could say that. But we’re fundamentally different. He wants to tie things together with laws and councils, but I’m the total opposite. Screw the organizations! I’mma rub out every last one of ‘em and everyone can open up shop however they like. No street tax, no protection fees, no nothing.”

“I can’t imagine that the organizations in charge of the districts will be inclined to agree with your proposal.”

“What happens to assholes who don’t agree? Maybe the good street folks listenin’ right now have no idea, but you organization goons might. What happens when you defy the way of the Pits—what happens when you defy me. Now, can anyone tell me what happened to dear ol’ North and South after they decided to play the rebel?” Inui chortled. Kelly continued to question him mechanically.

“What do you mean?”

Kelly had heard about the two districts already, but she continued to coax answers out of her subject.

“I think a certain Seiichi Kugi might know best. And that’s all I can say. No comment from this point on.”


▶︎


“He’s provoking Kugi.”

After killing those who controlled North and South, Inui must be targeting Kugi, Kuzuhara reasoned.


▶︎


<Have you ever met Mr. Kugi in person?>

<Maybe we passed by each other, but we never actually met met. But I know how he thinks. What makes him tick. After last week’s interview, I dug up a lot of dirt on him.>

“Are you okay?” Yili asked, placing a concerned hand on Seiichi’s back.

He was breathing feverishly, looking worse than when he woke from his nightmares. He was covered in cold sweat.

“What is this…?”

But Seiichi did not understand why he was so affected. All he could tell was that an uneasy premonition was pressing at his back.


▶︎


<By ‘dug up dirt’…?>

<Dirt is dirt. I’d feel like a bully if I yammered ‘bout it on air, so I won’t, but put simply… He’s like me.>

<You’re comparing yourself to Mr. Kugi?>

<Yeah. Almost a carbon copy. But there’s a bit of a difference between us. We’re like… opposite. Mirror images.>

<I don’t quite see the resemblance…>

<Not surprising. But on the inside, me and him are the same. For example, I like movies. And I think I always wanna be the hero in those movies—action flicks especially. Living like a movie? That’s my style, y’know? ‘Cause movie action doesn’t really exist. That’s why we love it so much.>


“That’s not like Kugi at all.” Kuzuhara frowned, his ears still focused on the broadcast while his feet ran busily through the city.

And as though answering him, Hayato spoke mockingly from behind the speakers.


<That Kugi guy’s just the same. He wants to make himself into something else. Hero psychology, I guess. But I’m not gonna make fun of him, don’t get me wrong. He’s tryin’ to change the streets for the better, no doubt. But deep down, he wants to escape reality. His past, I should say.>

<Escapism, you mean?>

<Exactly. It’s the same thing with me. But there’s one big difference between us—I like reality. In fact, I love it. That’s why I want to make it more entertaining. All for myself. In other words, I want to corner reality with fantasies. Reality is the one that’s running scared. But Kugi’s different. He’s just running from reality. He hates it so much he wants to create himself a little happy place and run off there.>


▶︎


“What a joke.” Seiichi whispered. He got off the sofa and glared at the speakers in the lobby.

‘What about me resembles him? …It may be true that I’m running away from reality—but that’s something I know and have no intention of denying—but what does he think he knows? He knows nothing. A volatile terrorist like him couldn’t possibly understand. We are not alike.


<How can you be so certain?>

<I told you before I dug up some dirt on him. But y’know, since he’s still using his real name, maybe a part of him does wanna go back to reality.>


Seiichi could feel something boiling inside.

‘What is this feeling?’

Each time he heard Hayato’s voice on the radio, something he did not understand rose from the depths of his heart.

What Hayato said was something Seiichi knew well—which was exactly why he had bottled it up intentionally.

How could Hayato so easily say the things that Seiichi so wanted to deny?


<Or is this his idea of atonement? People can run from society and relationships easy, but you can’t run from your memories. Kugi doesn’t want order on this island, no siree. He wants to protect the island itself. Get rid of all the guns and indulge in his self-satisfaction and make sure the place doesn’t end up like Kowloon.>

<It seems that your claims are largely subjective hypotheses.>

<Well… yeah. But for some reason, I could figure out what he’s thinking. We’re just too alike. I know we’ll be best buddies. Hey, you listenin’ to this, Mr. Seiichi Kugi?>


Crash.


Without a word, Seiichi pitched a marble ashtray from the table. It hit the bottom of the speaker and shattered, but Hayato’s laughter would not end.

‘What is he? What is that man?

He saw no similarity between them. And yet Hayato claimed that they were mirror images.

The moment he threw the ashtray, Seiichi realized what was bubbling up inside him.

It was bloodlust toward none other than Hayato Inui, the man rambling on the radio.

But when he realized that fact, Seiichi became even more confused.

‘Bloodlust? I… want to kill him? Why? Why should I? How has he affected me? He’s a raving lunatic. He’s just saying whatever comes to mind to provoke me. So why am I being provoked? This isn’t anger. This is past that. I am being overcome by bloodlust. He must not exist in my world. It’s either me or him.’

An obsessive thought began to stir through Seiichi’s mind.

He glanced at Yili. She spoke gravely.

“I don’t know how much he knows, but we can be certain that he’s a threat.”

She was stating the obvious. Seiichi headed for the main entrance.

“You need numbers. Why not take Mr. Kuzuhara, at least?” Yili suggested cooly.

Seiichi’s response was calm. Yet his outrage lurked just beneath the surface.

“There’s no need. I—I don’t want anyone to see me kill him.”

Yili was not particularly curious that Seiichi was so quick to use the word ‘kill’. In fact, it was Seiichi who looked surprised.

He lightly shook his head to clear his thoughts, but the bloodlust had already sunk its claws into him.

“Even if I had a good reason to take his life, I wouldn’t want anyone to see. Especially not Mr. Kuzuhara.”

“Do you understand what you’re saying? Do you really think you can kill him on your own?”

“I don’t know. But either way, I need to talk to him in person.”

Sending off Seiichi as he silently left the lobby, Yili sighed softly.

“Seized by his own anger. I suppose it’s about time for Seiichi to leave the stage, too.”

She looked up at the darkened ceiling, eyes tinged with melancholy.


▶︎


“What is he going on about?” Kuzuhara wondered, finally discovering Kelly’s van.

Someone had seen it go aboveground in the Eastern District.

At the same time, he had heard a disturbing rumor. That a man with seven-colored hair was walking with a tanned girl toward the Eastern District.

Running tirelessly, Kuzuhara cursed his own powerlessness.

‘Even here—even after escaping—I’m still capable of nothing.

And as though putting him out of his misery, the incident began behind the speakers.


<So, let me give one last warning. How do I put this… Right. I declare war on this city! Bigwigs of the island, you better do as I say if you don’t want to end up like those poor fucks from the North and South.>

<Last? Mr. Inui, we still have a lot more time to cover—>

A second later, a gunshot filled every speaker in the city.

Kuzuhara froze, his face pale.

“Kelly… Wait. Hey, WAIT!”

A moment’s silence later, Hayato howled in laughter from the radio.

<Ah-ah-ah—Aaahh, testing, testing, one, two, three. We had some scattered bloodshowers this evening. Ahem. FYI, Buruburu Airwaves is now under my control. So this is what it means to hijack a radio signal? I’ll just put on a sweet tune for now, so send your feedback into the sky with every bit of ESP you can muster. Hah!>

The speakers went silent, quickly followed by upbeat ska music.

Trembling in rage, Kuzuhara leapt to the top of the stairs leading aboveground.


▶︎


<Mr. Kugi, we’ve found the van. Eastern District, second parking lot. We don’t know why, but the East’s goons don’t seem to be doing anything.>

“Understood. Please remain on standby.”

Receiving reports via cell phone, Seiichi headed alone to the parking lot.

The Eastern District’s leadership was even more solid than the West. If they still showed no signs of acting, they either did not concern themselves with the likes of Hayato, or—

Seiichi halted his line of thought. The East’s intentions mattered nothing.

Without a plan in mind, Kugi continued alone to the Eastern District, toward the van.

With bloodlust plain in his eyes.


▶︎


By the time Kuzuhara arrived, the van was still in the parking lot. The lot was large enough for about thirty vehicles, and it was difficult to see it in the midst of trees and partly constructed buildings.

The van’s lights were off, and muffled sounds were coming from inside. It was probably the ska music that was filling the entire island.

Walking directly to the van, Kuzuhara opened the door without a second thought. With his hands wrapped in bulletproof gloves, he covered his face and pushed into the van.

He expected gunshots, but what came flying at him were two familiar voices.

“Kuzuharaaaa!”

“Big bro!”

The woman and the girl who were frozen in the back corner cried out at once.

“Kelly… Yua! Wh-what are you doing here?!”

While he was shocked at their presence, he kept his senses trained on his surroundings.

There seemed to be no one else there. Hayato must have already fled.


▶︎


A little earlier.


Seiichi was in the southern part of the Eastern District. On the stairs going aboveground, he received a call from a subordinate.

<Mr. Kugi. Inui has left the van. He’s headed for the northern stairwell. Shall we go after him?>

For a second, Seiichi gritted his teeth. Of all places, the target just had to choose the opposite direction.

<Oh, wait, sir. Someone’s approaching the van… Kuzuhara is going for the door.>

Seiichi’s bloodlust died down slightly. It would be difficult to track down Hayato once he was in the underground. And he could not easily stir up trouble in the Eastern District. A moment’s hesitation later, Seiichi gave his subordinate orders.

“…I’ll head for the van. Gather men at the hotel; Inui may go after the boss or Yili.”

<Yes, sir.>


▶︎


Lowering his guard, Kuzuhara went up to Kelly and Yua.

“You’re not hurt, Yua?”

She trembled when he neared her.

“What’s wrong?”

“Big bro, you’re not going to shoot me or anything like that, right?”

Kuzuhara was not expecting a question like that.

“Of course not.”

“And no one at the restaurant got shot, right?!”

“Huh? Did the rainbow guy threaten you? Don’t worry, Yua. Everyone’s safe.”

Yua finally seemed relieved. She leapt into Kuzuhara’s arms.

“I was so worried about you. Did the rainbow-haired guy try anything?”

“No, no! Mr. Inui saved me!” Yua said, teary-eyed.

“Listen, Yua. Inui is a bad guy. He’s killed a lot of people.”

“No!”

“He said so himself in the interview just now, didn’t you hear? Today, he went to the Northern District and—”

Kuzuhara stopped himself there. He could not leave Yua with any more traumatizing memories, he decided, glossing over the deaths—

“No! Mr. Inui was lying!”

“Lying?”

“Listen, Kuzuhara! The whole crap with North and South was—WHOA! Not good!”

Kelly suddenly rose and locked the doors.

“Hey?”

“Talk later! Don’t open the doors!”

Before Kuzuhara could speak, Kelly pulled aside the divider and slipped into the driver’s seat.

He glanced outside, wondering what was happening. He saw a man walking over from the entrance.

A slender young man wearing a black suit. Kuzuhara recognized Seiichi at a glance.

“You idiot. That’s just Mr. Kugi. I’m opening up.”

He reached for the door.


“DON’T!”


Yua shrieked with all her might as soon as she recognized the man outside.

Kuzuhara froze at her desperation. At the same time, Kelly started the van and took off just as Seiichi approached the door.

Ignoring Seiichi as he stepped back, the van left the parking lot in the blink of an eye.

Seiichi watched in a daze as the van disappeared, but quickly called Kuzuhara on his cell phone.


▶︎


Inside the racing van, Kuzuhara and Yua rolled on the floor from the sudden start.

“Hold it! What do you think you’re doing?!” Kuzuhara demanded loudly. Kelly hit the gas pedal and shouted back.

“Yesterday! Yua saw it! She’s a witness!”

“To what?!”

“Ask her yourself! I’m gonna floor it!”

She didn’t seem to have any destination in mind; Kelly was simply driving to get as far away from the parking lot as possible.

Giving up on getting answers from Kelly, Kuzuhara turned to Yua.

She was curled up and trembling.

“Are you all right, Yua?”

He placed a hand on her shoulder; Yua looked up, her eyes watering.

“Big bro… yesterday, I… I went to a warehouse in the North. And, and… I saw people die, and I… I almost got shot, too. I was so scared I ran, but I ended up in the Pits…”

Cold sweat ran down Kuzuhara’s back. If things had gone wrong, Yua would have been erased from the world, not just the underground.

“I understand. But why didn’t you come to find me?”

“But… I did go home right away! I had to tell you. I had to tell everyone back at the restaurant that we had to run away! But then…”

When Yua continued, Kuzuhara felt a chill run down his spine. It was not fear—it was the sensation of walking into something grotesque.


“I… I tried to go into the restaurant, but… the man who killed those people at the warehouse… he was talking with you! I was so scared…”


A heavy silence fell over the van. Kuzuhara said nothing as he put his thoughts in order. If Yua hadn’t mistaken anything in her testimony…

Suddenly, the silence was broken by his cell phone. It was a completely waterproof model, and continued to function even after being submerged in seawater.

The sound filled the van with dread; Kuzuhara froze.

Only when the ringtone went into a repeat did Kuzuhara finally pick up and bring the phone to his ear.

“Hello.”

<Is that you, Mr. Kuzuhara? That was awful of you to just leave me in the dust like that.>

The voice on the phone was as pleasant and affable as ever.

“…Mr. Kugi.”

<Yes? What is it? Is Miss Kelly all right?>

“Yes. Yes, she is. She’s driving as we speak.”

<I see! That’s a relief to hear. Now, please leave Inui to me. I will contact the East’s leadership tomorrow and drive him into a corner. As for you, please continue your search for… Yua, was that her name?>

Kuzuhara did not know how he should answer, but he decided to carefully pry for information.

“…I’ve found Yua. She’s with me right now.”

There was a moment of silence, followed by a relieved voice. But for some reason it sounded slightly different from the usual Seiichi.

<I’m very glad to hear that. Is she unharmed?>

“Mr. Kugi. I… I heard everything.”

It was too direct a statement to be called ‘prying’, but Kuzuhara’s gambit must have worked.

For some time, Seiichi was silent. Then,

<…Mr. Kuzuhara. This is… most unfortunate.>

It was Kuzuhara’s turn to shudder. The voice from the speaker definitely belonged to Seiichi, but he could not picture his face. The more he tried to visualize, the less human the image became; yet it was not even monstrous, as though something purely unknown was roiling around the phone.

And yet Kuzuhara tried to continue the conversation.

“Then Kashimura in the Southern District… was that also your doing?”

<Yes.>

Seiichi answered with surprising nonchalance. Kuzuhara could feel goosebumps as sweat covered his palms.

“Why would you—”

<—I told you before. Powerlessness is a crime.>

With that, Seiichi slowly began to confess everything.

<The leaders of the Southern and Northern Districts weren’t particularly inclined to accept our plan. And since we’ve had many problems between us in the past, I decided to clean up everything at once. Inui was the scapegoat I chose. I had Yili lure him out so he would run into you. But that’s when the plan went awry. Your losing him was one complication, but more importantly—Inui was supposed to claim innocence and die as a warning to anyone who would stand in our way, but instead he acknowledged the crimes he never committed and tried to use them to his own advantage.>

Seiichi sighed and continued, sounding fatigued.

<I’m not saying this to threaten you, or anything of the sort. As long as Miss Kelly has figured us out, she has the upper hand. I’m loath to admit this, but she is the most influential person on the island. Even if I tried to erase you, she would reveal everything via radio before I could get to you. I chose the wrong man to take the fall. It’s over now. But before that—I plan to destroy him at all costs.>

There was determination in his final statement alone—something that felt suspiciously like bloodlust.

“Over? What are you talking about? Your group was always a criminal syndicate, and the city’s still a complete mess. I’m not going to forgive you, but that doesn’t mean things are over completely.”

Even as he shivered at everything Seiichi said, Kuzuhara tried to keep the conversation going. Perhaps it was because of the fear that he wanted to get a clearer look at the man on the phone.

<…Remember what I told you the other evening? I respect you, Mr. Kuzuhara. I wanted to become a hero like you. It might sound childish to you, but that was something very important to me.>

Seiichi trailed off sadly, then added,

<Won’t you join us, Mr. Kuzuhara? You wish for peace in the city as well. Why not lend us a hand in driving out the stench of blood from these streets? If you would overlook this incident, I can bring order to the island in three… no, one year.>

In spite of the tempting offer, Kuzuhara decided to confirm something first.

“…If you’d found Yua before I did… what would you have done?”

There was another moment of silence. Then, Seiichi spoke—quietly but clearly.

<I told you before. I want to save as many people as possible. And if she had to be sacrificed for that cause, so be it.>

Kuzuhara could feel the warmth draining from his own body.

“…I don’t care about what your bigwigs are planning. But I will never forgive you for shooting at Yua.”

<Finally, that’s the Kuzuhara I know.>

“Don’t take another step. I’ll head over right now and give you a good smack in the face.”

<I’m afraid you can’t do that. After all, I… I’ll end up escaping again.>

Though Kuzuhara’s tone was nearly at a growl, Seiichi sounded nonchalant as he announced his departure.

“Wa-”

Kuzuhara was cut off by the dial tone as the conversation ended.


▶︎


In the deserted parking lot, Seiichi put away his cell phone and looked at the sky.

“So he found out after all. I suspected someone might, eventually.”

Stars were beginning to shine overhead, and the biting wind chilled his exposed neck.

For a time, Seiichi stood blankly in thought. Then, he took out his phone again and called the first number on his list. The recipient picked up before a single beep.

<Seiichi?>

“Yes, Yili. It’s me.”

Sensing something from his voice, Yili asked quietly,

<Did something happen?>

“Thank you for everything, Yili. Thank you for pretending to be my girlfriend and making someone like me into an executive.”

<…>

He briefly explained everything to her. There was a hint of surrender in his tone, and Yili also listened quietly. But then—

<All right. You’re free to do whatever you please. We’ll lose face to the East if we keep you as an executive, but we can hire you as a hitman, if you want to stay with us. And we have no idea if Kelly will disclose everything via radio immediately. I think we have room for negotiation.>

“Heh. Logical as ever. But I’ll have to decline. The ‘me’ I want—it’s no longer in this city. This wasn’t the world I wanted after all.”

<Self-centered as always.>

“But I just wanted to say this, Yili. We worked together for five years, using each other. And in the end, we only accomplished half of each of our goals. But still—thank you. I’m grateful to you.”

And without waiting for an answer, Seiichi hung up.

And he fell into thought.

If he really had found Yua first, what would he have done? It was true that, when he spotted her in the Northern District, he shot at her without thinking. Then he could maintain his reputation and position. But was that what he really wanted?

It felt as though his means and ends had been switched around. He ran from Kanae’s phantom, from reality and the past, and now he was running to protect his own reputation. Perhaps he had been finished from the moment he lost his original purpose. Or maybe he didn’t have a purpose to begin with—

What was he to do? Where was he to run? And before that, what was he to run from? Seiichi was left knowing nothing.

“It’s cold.” He said, looking up at the sky. His cell phone rang.

Was it Kuzuhara, he wondered as he looked at the screen, but the number was an unfamiliar one.

“Hello?”

<Hey, your phone was busy for a while now. Talkin’ to Mr. Kuzuhara? Or was it Miss Yili?>

Seiichi’s expression changed in a flash.

“How dare you…”

<Whoa there! Who says ‘how dare you’ in this day and age? Talk about one hell of a romantic.> The voice chortled. It was the same one that had tormented Seiichi over the radio not long ago.

“What are you planning?”

<Well, you just kinda used me, but you know nobody likes being a pawn. You got me to go to Kashimura’s place so Mr. Kuzuhara would catch me. And once you got your hands on me, you’d have killed me! Then you’d tell Mr. Kuzuhara I ran away or somethin’, and you’d have erased the shits up North and said that I did that too. Blame it all on the dead guy.> Hayato reasoned, entertained.

Seiichi remained silent.

<But guess what! Even Mr. Kuzuhara didn’t manage to nab me. To me specific, I think he wore himself out keeping me afloat. Heh. Talk about one hell of a hero. I seriously respect him, y’know.>

“I’m not interested in your prattling!”

<Fine, fine. Heh. You were running away again just now. You’re scared people will point fingers at you and call you a villain, ‘cause things didn’t go according to your ideals. Am I right?>

Hayato’s every word struck a nerve. Desperately holding back a scream, Seiichi directed his bloodlust at the man on the other end of the phone.

“Where are you. How did you get this number?!”

<Weren’t you listenin’ to Buruburu Airwaves on the Street? Who was it now, Kanae? Y’know, I was there when she died. You remember where, right? No way you’d forget. I’ll be waiting.>

“…Unfortunately, I have no reason to kill you anymore. I don’t know why, but you seem to have a talent for provoking me—but I’m not foolish enough to put my life on the line to fight you now that my plans have gone awry.” Seiichi replied before Hayato could hang up, suppressing his emotions. Yet Hayato chuckled as though he had expected that response.

<Yeah. Whatever you say, man.>

“I’m leaving. Do whatever you want.”

<HAHAHAHAHAHA! Gimme a fucking break. You escaped a reality just ‘cause it wasn’t going right for you, and now you gonna run off with your tail between your legs again? Where? Ain’t poss->

Seiichi hung up.

And like a man possessed, he headed toward the Western exit—the place where everything began.


▶︎


The Sōsei Airwaves van carrying Kuzuhara and the others was back in the central part of the Western District.

Parking the car at the entrance to the shopping mall, Kelly poked her head out the window.

“Heehahahaha! Mad splittin’ skills, amirite? This is victory! Hell yeah!”

He’s the one who ran away, idiot.” Kuzuhara said wearily. Yua anxiously clung to his arm.

“Heehahaha… now what? What’re you gonna do?”

Kuzuhara had to think, even at Kelly’s provocative question.

“If you’ve got time to be navel-gazing, why not just go after the guy? Or are you just gonna let him go like that?”

Not answering even that question, Kuzuhara continued to think in silence.

He had spent three years under Seiichi’s command. Not once was he forced to do his work, and he never felt as though he was manipulated. Except for this incident.

But now that he couldn’t trust Seiichi—or the organization above them both—what was he to fight for?

“Hey, about what I’m doing…”

“No meaning to it, right? You’re just doing this for self-satisfaction!”

The answer was out before he could ask the question. Kuzuhara was left to wonder how he would pick up his jaw off the floor.

“Heehahahahaha! What kinda question was that s’pposed to be? You came here ‘cause you wanted to. You don’t have to hesitate or worry or get lost or look for some kinda meaning! Do whatever you feel like! You’re not in the volunteer police ‘cause you wanted to put on your thinking cap! Heehahaha! I remember! You said you became the volunteer police captain ‘cause you wanted to drive out all the punks who were pulling shit at that restaurant. So go do it. Do whatever it is you want to do most, right now.” Kelly said.

Kuzuhara had heard the same thing from Iizuka the other day. But in his state, he could not say on the spot what it was he wanted to do.

Noting his silence, Kelly took off her sunglasses and leaned in toward him.

And with an unusually solemn expression, she continued. It was a different face from the one she used for interviews, or the one with which she had sent his heart aflutter.

“Y’know, I remember him saying something about destroying the rainbow-haired guy.”

There was something like a shadow weighing on her shoulders, but at the same time she seemed to be clinging to hope.

“Your job isn’t to judge people. It’s to keep as many people as possible from getting killed. Right? Why do you have to make things so complicated?”

Silence.

Though Kuzuhara searched for a retort, he finally surrendered.

“…You’re right. That makes sense.”

And he decided to let it all go.

After all, it wasn’t as though he had anything else to do in this city.


Kelly put on her shades, returning to her usual self. Kuzuhara frowned.

“Come to think of it, you told me you have a bunch of different faces. Which one is real, then?”

Kelly replied as though she had rehearsed the answer.

“Heehahahahaha! I don’t have a real face! Never had one to begin with! It just all went poof ages ago after allllll these years in this city! I’ve always copied other people, so I have no idea which face is really mine!”

“Then whose face were you using just now?”

“Shoot! You didn’t recognize it? Seriously?”

Kelly looked shocked for a moment, then howled in laughter.

“Heehahahaha! That was Kuzuhara, Kuzuhara! In other words, you! From three years ago, though!”


Just as Kuzuhara thought to reply, his cell phone began to ring.

He took the call. One of his subordinates was shouting desperately on the line.

<This is bad, Mr. Kuzuhara! There was an explosion at the island entrance, well, the explosion’s not much of a problem, but a lot of the rubble came down and the way to Sado is totally blocked!>

“Right. I’ll be right there.”

<That’s not the only thing. Kugi was actually headed for the bridge when the explosion happened! He might be stuck on the other side, or he might even have gotten killed!>


Giving detailed orders to his subordinate, Kuzuhara turned to Kelly.

“Hey.”

“Heehahahahaha! I know, I know. I know!”

Before he could finish, she stepped on the gas. The van trembled, then lurched forward.

“The press is nothing without guts!”

She hit a button at the driver’s seat. An ambulance siren began wailing.

‘Of all the knickknacks…’ Kuzuhara thought with a sigh.

“Anyway, that was one cheesy old ringtone.”

“What do you care? It’s from a movie I used to like.”

“Heehahahaha! I know that one! You betcha. Wasn’t it a pretty heavy cop flick? Now that I think about it, you told me about it three years ago. That movie convinced you to become a cop! Talk about adorbs! Heehahahahahaha!”

Kuzuhara turned beet red.

“Damn it, I told you I was in elementary school back then! Never mind, just go already!”

Then, he turned to Yua.

“Yua. If the entrance is blocked, is there a way onto the bridge from the city underground?”

Yua nodded and pulled out a small notebook from her bag.

“You can climb up the scaffolding in the unfinished road in B2, and you’ll make it out at the lowest level of the bridge!”

Kuzuhara wanted to tell her never to go anywhere so dangerous again, but now was not the time. Patting Yua on the head, he flashed a rare gentle smile.

“Thank you, Yua. …Were you scared?”

She nodded hesitantly. He adjusted his thick gloves.

With his stiff gloved hand, he ruffled Yua’s hair.

“Then I’ll make sure whoever scared you that much gets a hundred times worse than that.”

Kelly heard the claim; she grinned.

“That’s not very mature of you.”

Ignoring her, Kuzuhara advised Yua.

“Yua. Growing up, you’re going to face so many more scary things, just like today. It’s not because of where you are. Whatever city or town you live in, there’s always going to be good things and bad things. Do you understand?”

Not knowing how to respond, Yua just nodded.

“No matter what bad things happen in the future, you can’t pretend it never happened, okay? You have to accept it. Accept that it happened, and make sure you never lose to it!”

He put on his other glove.

“I won’t lose, either. I promise.”

There was a snicker from the driver’s seat.

“You’re talkative today. Sounds almost like you’re never gonna come back!”

“Hey, don’t jinx it! …Though it’s true they’re both dangerous people.”

“Don’t die.”

Kuzuhara was not expecting that. He frowned.

“That’s not like you.”

“I’m not dense, unlike you. Heehahahaha.” Kelly replied, maintaining speed. “In other words, I probably can’t accept an awesome guy like you dyin’! Which is why you gotta hold off on the crazy stunts for my sake! Heehahahahahahahahahaha!”

Kuzuhara tried to say something, but failed when the van swerved out of nowhere and knocked him off-balance.


Perhaps it was because she spoke with Kuzuhara that tears began to fall from Yua’s eyes.

And to no one in particular, she whispered—

“I’m sorry.”

She had never thought about anyone but herself. She had projected herself onto the city all this time and lived as she chased that phantom. As if she would find her lost family within.

That was why, when she faced the malice in the city for the first time the previous day, she was hounded by an unfamiliar terror.

In the midst of her fear, she had been tossed into a sea of unease, as though she had been betrayed by something she trusted.

Clinging to Kuzuhara, she sensed something. It was thanks to encountering the malice in the city that she realized it for the first time. Just like oxygen, it had always been present but invisible.

With both the goodwill and malice of the city’s people upon her, Yua felt the strong presence of her father among them. It felt like she was finally starting to understand why he had set out to create a map of the city.

Yua cried quietly.

She knew it was not right, but she saw her father in Kuzuhara.

“Why are you apologizing, Yua?”

“‘Cause you’re making that scary face, dumbass! What kinda shit piece of trash makes a little girl cry?” Kelly said, swearing more than usual.

“I-is that it? I’m sorry, Yua. I’m not angry at you—”

“We all get it now, so hurry up and cheer up the kid, you lolicon, you!”

“What the hell, Kelly?! I’ll kill you! I swear!”

“Heehahahahahaha! Don’t get mad, Kuzu! I promise I’ll broadcast your ringtone to the entire island later.”

“Don’t even think about it, you idiot!”

Though Kelly and Kuzuhara showered each other with vitriol, Yua found herself relieved by their voices.

And with tears still trailing down her cheeks, she smiled.


▶︎


A little earlier.


Saturday night. The top level of the Sado side of the Etsusa Bridge.


The starry sky was beautiful.

The lights on the bridge illuminated only the island and its surroundings. Further down the bridge was pitch-black. Perhaps the distant light in the northwest was one of Sado’s lighthouses.

The top level of the bridge was built for tourists to walk across. Abandoned construction materials and drum canisters were scattered everywhere, and there was no hint of life in the few buildings standing there.

It was almost the season for snowfall. The locals must have moved to a more populated area.

‘No different from five years ago… what a disgusting place.’. Kugi thought to himself at one of the island’s entrances—the bridge leading toward Sado.

The island loomed behind him. Machines and materials still remained in the unfinished buildings; the scaffolding and cranes cast distorted shadows. Light seeped out of the windows of finished buildings, turning them into one massive organism.

It was the first time he had returned since that fateful day. He hadn’t avoided it—the place had in fact been a taboo of sorts, and he had not dared to approach.

He did not want to break that taboo.

He had no need to remain in the city. He could be hunted down by Yili’s men as a traitor. But that did not matter—for if he died, he could escape from his present despair. Even if there was nothing afterwards.


Seiichi’s heart began to ache. He hadn’t come back here since the incident. He had always avoided leaving flowers for her or praying for her spirit.

Even now, he had no intention of doing so.

His goal was to leave one more corpse on the bridge. He didn’t know whose it would be, but even if it was his own, it would not appease the dead. And yet he was certain that she wished for his death. Because—

His cell phone rang.

<So you actually came. Thanks a bunch.> Hayato taunted.

“Where are you.”

<Hey, chill out. I’m just dyin’ to talk to you, y’know. Remember? I said we’d be best buddies.>

“Enough of your jokes.”

Seiichi looked around, but there was no one in sight. Only a single shed stood eerily under the electric lights and the moon.

“What the hell are you? Why do you keep poking your nose into my business?”

<Told you that before, too. ‘Cause we’re alike.>

“You’re out of your mind.”

<I know you know it too. We’re carbon copies. Like a pair of mirror images. …Although, specifically, I’m just five years ahead of you. No?>

“…”

<Didn’t something stick out at you when you read my file? I was caught up in a civil war in South America back when I was fifteen. Then again, the whole ruckus was too damned small to call a flat-out war.>

“And that was when you lost your parents. Afterwards, you led a group of guerrilla fighters.”

<Actually, I wasn’t the leader. I had a proper organization backing me the whole way through. I got treated like a pirate, or a bandit, and—>

“And you annihilated a branch of the opposing forces.”

<Sure did. The branch that killed my parents. Sweet and simple.>

Hayato snorted. Then, his tone turned icy.

<In other words, I was just the way you are now.>


▶︎


“Revenge?” Kuzuhara asked curiously inside the speeding van.

“Yeah. That’s the whole truth behind Kugi’s actions!”

“What do you mean?”

“Dammit, use your head, Kuzu! He said before that he lost his childhood friend, right?”

“Yeah.”

Kuzuhara knew the story. The friend’s death was supposedly the reason Seiichi was so obsessed with keeping peace on the island—

“It’s all there! The guys behind that shootout were goons from the Northern District, and Kashimura’s crew, who were Western District flunkies back then! After that, Kashimura’s bunch betrayed the West and went down South. In other words, this whole craziness is just part of Kugi’s revenge plot! Gotta hand it to Yili’s old man for raising the guy into a first-rate killer and a tool! Heehahaha! The Western District could’ve done it easy with all the power behind ‘em, but they deliberately spent five whole years makin’ this happen! They mighta even planned for us to find out everything. They won’t get their hands dirty, and even if someone finds out, the city’ll just accept the whole thing as a dramatic revenge plot! Five whole years spent on that? Christ! Good for ‘em, those Chinese mafia. They probably wanna tell us that they can take their time, it’s cool. But it’s still hilarious. Heehahahaha!”

“This is not funny.”

Kuzuhara recalled something. Seiichi said that he only solidified his dreams of ending violence in the city after he saw Kuzuhara. If that was the case, then Seiichi’s business should have ended with the Northern District’s demise. Then the reason he tried to kill Yua, a witness to the incident, must have been because—

“Because of me?” He mumbled out loud, then quickly abandoned the thought.

Whatever the case, he had to hurry and stop Seiichi. Whether he fled or made contact with Rainbow-Head, if Kuzuhara did not reach him now, it would be too late.

Whether he got angry at Seiichi or saved him, that was his duty, Kuzuhara felt.


‘But still…

With a complicated expression on his face, he closed his eyes.

What should have been a simple story of revenge had turned into a requiem of sorts for the dead girl. Seiichi’s desire to bring order to the island must have factored into this plan. Had the Chinese mafia known when it used him?

If that were the case, the whole incident was trite and—


▶︎


<—trite and absurd.>

“Shut up.”

It didn’t occur to Seiichi to hang up. Hayato was in control of their interactions now.

<Your organization used you, and you tried to use it. …Nah, I guess it’s the opposite. Your Chinese mafia would never have appointed you an exec. At least, not ‘til they saw a chance to use you. You tried to climb to the top to get your revenge, and they saw their chance and pounced. They turned you into a killer who’d do all their dirty work for them!>

Drawing conclusions without Seiichi’s input, Hayato chortled over the phone.

<But with that system, you’d never beat the organization. And knowing that, you still agreed to work for them. Just like what I did ten years ago.>

“Enough!”

Seiichi turned left and right, eyes turning everywhere in search of Hayato. But there was no one to be seen.

He could feel unease rising inside. Hayato’s every word had hit a nerve, each fact something he never wanted to face. Truths he didn’t even want to remember, but memories so true that he could never escape.

‘Even then! Why does he sound so entertained?! We’re not alike. There’s no way I’m like him!

Hayato was completely casual as he spoke, whether about his own or Seiichi’s past. Seiichi could not let that pass unpunished. How could someone with a past similar to his be entertained to laughter like this?

<But that’s not all.>

“?”

Suddenly, the voice on the phone took a turn for the composed.

<There’s one more similar thing in our pasts. One crucial detail.>

Seiichi did not understand what Hayato was saying. What more was there to say? To be frank, Hayato’s claims of similarity were not very important. Seiichi simply could not halt his overflowing bloodlust. That was all. Even though he had no idea why he so wanted to kill the man, things would end once either he killed Hayato or was killed himself.

Growing anxious, he replied quietly into the phone.

“What are you trying to say, Hayato Inui? If you insist on wasting my time, I will end this conversation.”

Hayato would probably mock him to the end, Seiichi was convinced, but what came next was—


<Your friend wasn’t killed by strangers. And neither were my parents.>


As Seiichi puzzled out the meaning of that remark, he grew pale.

Unable to say a word, Seiichi sensed the world around him crumbling. How did this man figure out the truth he had so desperately tried to conceal? Why, of all people, did this Hayato Inui know?


▶︎


Hayato Inui discovered something interesting when he looked into Seiichi Kugi’s past.

In the deepest bowels of the Pits was a place inhabited by those who were fleeing from organizations above.

There, Hayato met a man who was once part of the Western District’s organization.

“I-I-I didn’t do nothin’, I swear! Just asked a question, that’s all. Years later, I-I just asked one little question! So why? Wh-why they hell’re they after me now?!”

The man seemed to be unnecessarily afraid of something. He trembled as he spoke to Hayato.

“All right, all right. So just gimme the facts. What kinda dirt you got on Kugi?”

“I-I just thought, y’know? I took care of his childhood buddy’s corpse, but—”


▶︎


<So I ended up hearing it. What kind of question the guy had about your girlfriend’s body.>

The voice on the phone could not have sounded any more amused.

“Stop—”

Seiichi tried to cut him off, but Hayato’s tone forced itself into his memories.

<So… do stray bullets ever hit twice?>

Silence. The waves and the noise from the city still filled the air, but none of it registered to Seiichi.

Only the voice on his cell phone existed to him.

The voice echoing in his head reawakened his memories.

And it arose, even clearer than his nightmares—


In the rain, she fell to the ground and began twitching.

Seiichi ran to help her; but his legs gave out halfway and he fell to his knees.

Yet his legs continued to squirm in a desperate attempt to save her.

Right next to her lay a man. A red stain spread over his chest, and rain filled his unfocused eyes.

In his hand, just next to the girl’s face, was something shiny. It was a handgun, and the man had fallen without getting the chance to fire a single shot.

As the boy shakily crawled to the girl, his hand touched the gun. He tried to throw it far away, but his body would not obey.

With the gun lodged in his grip, he put his hand to her face. She was still warm; he could not tell if she was alive or freshly dead.

He hesitantly looked over at her. She was still breathing. But it was clearly unnatural. It was the death throes of a creature clinging to life.

Some of her organs were protruding from her ruptured side, and her bleeding showed no sign of stopping. Her eyes had rolled back completely, slowly turning green. It was a miracle she was still alive. But her face showed nothing but unspeakable agony.

His instincts wanted to look away from the grisly sight. Lost, he plunked down on the ground next to her.

‘Just put her out of her misery—

The devil seemed to whisper into his ear. He instantly stopped that train of thought and desperately cried out to her.

But after several repetitions of ‘Kanae’, her head suddenly turned to him.

Her unfocused eyes stared into his, and she began to say the words that would haunt his nightmares for years to come.

“Wh, why… why… didn’t you… protect… me…”

Even now, he didn’t know if he had been seeing things. Kanae could not have been in any state to move, and she might have already been dead at that point. Having no medical knowledge, Seiichi would never know for certain; nevertheless, that memory was firmly etched into his mind.

The one difference between his dreams and his memory was the tone of her voice—the tone that blamed Seiichi. As though she desired a companion on her way to death.

He did not know if it was because of his brief hatred of her or his fear.

He merely thought to escape the reality of that moment—


And with the gunshot in his memory, Seiichi’s thoughts returned to the present.


Reliving the painfully clear memory, Seiichi realized that he was surprisingly calm.

All this time, he had hidden that truth from even himself. He allowed no one to bring up that memory. Yili and the others seemed to know what had happened, but they never went out of their way to pry. They must have known; otherwise, they would not have placed him among themselves to begin with.

From the cell phone came a voice that summarized it all.

<You’re not trying to make up for your girlfriend getting killed—you wanna atone for ending up killing her yourself. Am I right?>

In the silence, the voice on the phone was all he could hear.

Yet at that moment, Seiichi was uplifted.

‘Finally… finally, I have a real reason to kill him.

If Hayato knew the truth, there was no reason to spare him—rather, Seiichi had to kill him.

<Long as they don’t know that itty bitty piece of info, the whole city’ll treat you like some tragic hero. But imagine how they’ll condemn you if they knew.>

Seiichi did not care what the city thought; he was leaving anyway. But he could not permit someone to know the truth and live.

Once he killed Hayato, he would kill the man in the Pits, as well. In fact, he would burn down the Pits completely. Seiichi could feel dark flames licking at his heart.

He still did not know what it was about Hayato that so irked him, but that didn’t matter now; he had a reason to kill him.

It was like a burden had been lifted from his shoulders. Seiichi calmly addressed the man on the other end.

“…And what about you? What about that makes me so similar to you?”

At that moment, a blinding light shone behind him in the distance.

Then came the sound of rapidly-expanding air, and something collapsing.

Seiichi slowly turned. The entrance that connected the island and the bridge was trembling in flames.

At the same time, he heard the sound of collapsing rubble over his cell phone. Hayato must have been standing closer to the explosion.

<There. I blocked off the exit, so it’s just you and me now. One of those ‘battle in the flames’ deals you get in movies all the time. Fun, ain’t it? You’d never get to try this if you lived a normal life. Let’s live out a John Woo flick, just the two of us. Doesn’t that just get your blood boiling?>

“What are you talking about—are you an idiot?” Seiichi retorted, but his bloodlust and anger, and the rest of his emotions, were gone. The dark, congealing glint in his eye had suddenly been shaken.

It was like he’d fallen away from the past and the world, and left to his devices in empty space. For a single moment, he had forgotten his past and the chains that bound him.

As he blankly stared at the fire, the last remnant of his chains laughed into his ear.

<Lemme answer your question. I’m just like you. It doesn’t matter what you felt when you shot the girl, ‘cause I don’t remember how I felt, either.>


▶︎


Ten years ago, when the armed men stormed his house, his parents had been forced face-down against the table. Hayato did not know what his parents had done. But from the gunfire and screams he heard from the rest of the neighborhood, he supposed that something was happening to the entire village.

Unable to communicate in their language, Hayato sobbed as he begged the men for his life.

The leader of the group grinned flippantly at Hayato, and did something unexpected. He took out a handgun and put it in his hand.

Hayato was lost. Was he supposed to fight back with the gun? That made little sense—countless automatic weapons were pointed at him and his family.

The leader’s grin turned into snickers as he took Hayato’s hand—the one holding the gun—and turned him toward his parents.

He then pointed at Hayato’s parents, barking in a language he did not understand. Yet Hayato knew exactly what he was demanding.


‘Kill your parents if you want to live’.


▶︎


<Those guerrillas, they’d been doing that forever. Kidnap the kid and make them a soldier. And the kid’s first mission is to kill his parents. Usually, they’d kill guys my age, but they probably looked at tiny bean-sprout-me and thought I was younger.>

Seiichi felt himself slowly disconnecting from reality at Hayato’s causal reminiscence.

“So… you shot them?”

<‘Course I did.> Hayato replied, amused. It was like he was recounting a movie he had watched to a friend.

<I remember I hesitated. Then someone put a gun to the back of my head. But I don’t remember how I shot my parents to death. Dad mighta said something, or maybe the leader made me pull the trigger.>

Stopping there, Hayato snickered.

In the meantime, Seiichi looked up and glared into the flames. A lone figure under the dying streetlights was looking his way. With the remnants of fire and the massive and completely unharmed artificial island as the backdrop, the figure stood holding a gun in his left hand and a cell phone in his right.

They were fifty meters apart. Neither of them was holding out their gun.

Staring at the rainbow-haired man, Seiichi spoke into the phone.

“What’s so funny?”

Taking a step forward, he drew a handgun from his right sleeve.

With his cell phone in his left hand, he held out his right.

He fired the unceremonious first shot.

The figure in the flames moved slightly, but the shot didn’t seem to have made it.

Hayato’s mocking voice continued.

<Heh. This is where the fun begins. What’s so funny, you said? The funny thing is, I remember what happened right after I pulled the trigger. This is where it gets fucked up. There’s my mom and dad, all covered in blood, and I hear someone yelling outside. The guys in my house skedaddled, just like that! And they left me behind! Here’s the thing. The government forces just happened to show up at the worst possible second to wipe out the guerrillas. Talk about one messed-up sense of timing! If they got there ten seconds earlier, me and my dad and my mom would all be fine and dandy right about now. We’d have packed up and ditched the place, come back to Japan—>

The figure in the flames held up his gun.

A second later, there was a gunshot and a tiny piece of metal passed by Seiichi.

The sound of bullet against wind was overcome by the sound of gunfire, and as though on cue, Seiichi pulled the trigger for the second time.

<—and by now, I’d be some hopeless NEET failing to find a job—on the internet all the time, watching movies, talking about what singers I like and hate and watching year-end movies on TV—>

This time, gunshots rang out nigh-simultaneously from both ends. Though the bullets narrowly missed their marks, neither shooter let go of his phone.

<—and laughing without a care in the world—>

Another gunshot.

<—and laughing and laughing and laughing and laughing and laughing—Ahahahahahaha! Hahahahahahahahahahah!>

Throwing back his head in laughter, Hayato slowly honed his aim.

And though he made no sound, a smile had risen to Seiichi’s face as well. His bloodlust was still absent, but it was like killing his opponent was a duty—as though he had no idea why he was smiling. After all, from the moment of that explosion, this span of time was a closed-off world.

It had ended so easily for him, who wanted so desperately to escape reality.

When he thought about the past five years, what came to him was not anger, but laughter.

<Hahahaha.>

As though they had been friends from the start, they laughed as they closed the distance little by little.

“I admit it.”

<Oh?>

“I’m just like you. I wondered how we could be similar, but now I see. We have the same eyes—no, we’re both always looking at the same thing. We were always wandering, searching for an escape. Am I wrong?”

<You’re right. That’s part of the reason you talk all dramatic like that.>

“But I never wanted to admit it. That’s right. The world’s not big enough for two tragic heroes. My world only needs one hero—me. Heh… talk about useless. This must be what it means to hate those who resemble you most!”

<You sound like you’re gettin’ drunk on yourself.>

Hayato was snickering, but Seiichi no longer heard him.

As though mocking himself, he slowly put force into his words. As he pulled the trigger now and then he spoke, sounding a little like he was crying.

“And that’s why I’m going to kill you. Me alone is enough. This world is just big enough for me alone. Because my own pretenses are my last escape!”

Gunshots ran down the length of the bridge.


Tiny fireballs traveled down the longest bridge in the world.

The gunfire was far from rhythmic, and both shooters scrambled between buildings and rubble as they fired.

Though irregular, the rate of fire only seemed to be random; for Hayato and Seiichi were pulling the trigger almost simultaneously.

Shots missed and sometimes grazed their faces.

Slowly closing the gap. Slowly focusing.

Barking under the dim lights, they were like a dog looking into a mirror—

—laughable and absurd and terribly meaningless and sad.


Gunfire shook the air above the haphazard mess of freight containers and crates on the bridge. But suddenly, the bursts of noise went silent.

Unable to land fatal strikes, the gunmen stopped on either side of one small freight container, backs against the wall.

Seiichi’s back touched the ridges of the rusted old container. Perhaps he should jump atop it like he did to ambush the men at the Northern District. But with the container’s height, even he could not make the jump so easily.

Many strategies volunteered themselves in his head, but Seiichi concluded that cheap tricks would get him nowhere against Hayato.

The freight container was very narrow—if he were to follow the wall to his opponent, they would be close enough to cross arms.

Then it was just a matter of reflexes and focus.

The next shot would decide it all. His pulse quickened instinctively.

‘I have to kill him. But… if I were to take a shot to the head or heart—if I were to die—maybe that would be fine, too.

Perhaps he should embrace being liberated from everything.

Seiichi was quite optimistic about his own death, but he did not turn his gun on himself.

‘Not now. First, I have to kill him in this world of two… then become the only person in this world. Then maybe I could say goodbye to my past forever, just like him. Maybe I could laugh off the past I want to forget so much.

‘That’s why I will shoot him—in the forehead, in the nose, in the mouth, in the neck, in the heart, in the gut, in the crotch, in the leg, in the foot—every last part of him. I will shatter the mirror that reflects me and my past.’

But the sound came the moment he began to focus.

Creeeeeak

The freight container was opening.

‘He’s inside?!

Seiichi was thrown completely off-guard.

The freight container had doors on either end. Hayato might try to come out the other end, but the door might have just been a distraction. And their guns were not powerful enough to shoot through the container itself. Then where—

There was an impact on his right hand.

Hayato had jumped from above, his foot slamming down on Seiichi’s gun hand. At the same time, he kicked Seiichi in the chest as he leapt. Hayato managed to balance with the momentum and landed a double kick to take him down.

Seiichi lost his balance and slipped, landing hard on his back.

‘Above.

He realized what happened the instant he fell. The creaking door wasn’t just a distraction—Hayato had used the momentum to quickly make his way onto the container.

Before Seiichi could act, Hayato stepped on his right hand.

The cell phone in his other hand hit the wall of the freight container and bounced off. The call had not been ended—the phone rolled over next to Seiichi’s head.

The rainbow-haired man looked down at him, laughing.

“<You know, I used to want wires.>”

The moment his advantage was set, Hayato suddenly launched into a strange tirade.

“…What?”

“<You know how Asian movies have a lot of wire action, right? I wish I had wires to hold me up like that everywhere, so I could move just like the guys in the movies. I kept thinkin’ about it, and I realized something.>”

Hayato was serious; yet his eyes glimmered like a child.

“<If you work hard enough, you don’t need wires to make all that stuff happen.>”

There was a moment of silence. Seiichi stared incredulously.

“Are you… an idiot?”

“<If I’m an idiot, what does that make you, the guy who lost to the idiot?>” Hayato snickered. His doubled voice reached Seiichi both in person and through the phone.

‘Now that I think about it, we were on the phone all throughout the shootout. It must’ve looked outrageous. But that doesn’t matter. There’s only two people on this bridge—me, and this rainbow-haired guy.

“How can you keep joking around in a situation like this?”

“‘Cause this whole situation’s a joke.” Hayato grinned, holding Seiichi at gunpoint.

“We’re just like a couple of dogs.”

Hayato kicked away the gun in Seiichi’s right hand. Yet he continued to laugh, as though his thoughts were elsewhere.

“Yeah. A dog looking at itself in the mirror. Some poor mad dog that doesn’t know it’s actually barking its lungs out at itself.”

“Although the stuff we’re barkin’ about is all kid stuff. Immature.”

Hayato took his foot of Seiichi’s right hand. Then, he cracked his shoulder and turned away.

Seiichi was not expecting that; he spoke in a daze.

“What are you planning…?”

“I won. I’m happy now. You go ahead and atone or whatever.”

Seiichi’s smile finally disappeared. He did not understand.

‘Won? Wait, a battle? What? Was this supposed to be a game? Something to win or lose? Why are you so sure you’ve won?’

“This isn’t a battlefield. I’m done fooling around. And setting me aside, you’ve still got a home back on the mainland, am I right? I bet you actually wanna go home.” Hayato said. Bloodlust surged in Seiichi.

“—stop—”

“You know why I fought you? Not ‘cause I hated you or anything.”

It was like the world Seiichi wanted—this space that was removed from reality—had been defiled at Hayato’s hands. Hayato’s guess was right on the mark. The deepest recesses of Seiichi’s heart had been pried open again in the end, though he struggled to seal it away.

“—stop reflecting me.”

In spite of Seiichi’s bloodlust, Hayato’s grin only widened.

“I just felt so bad I couldn’t leave you like that. Lemme put it this way. I’m sayin’, you still have a place to go back to.”

Immediately, Seiichi took to his feet toward Hayato, who was only a step away.

“STOP REFLECTING ME!”

A second handgun popped out of his left sleeve.

“Whoa, talk about impatient.”

The moment the Seiichi pointed the gun at Hayato, Hayato pointed his own gun at Seiichi’s head.

Like a scene out of a comic book, they held their guns in a cross-counter pose.

But there was no action-movie banter between rivals there. A second later,


In the center of the world they escaped, the gunshots sounded; on and on—


▶︎


‘What just happened?’

The moment two gunshots echoed over the bridge, Seiichi’s world shattered without a sound. The world composed of his bloodlust and sympathy for his foe collapsed instantly, filling his vision with the bridge, the lights, the haphazard construction materials, and the artificial island looming over it all.

The final gunshot was supposed to be Seiichi’s escape.

But it was interrupted by someone.

The one who destroyed Seiichi’s world.

The one who brought him back to reality… a man wearing thick gloves.


It was almost comical to behold.

Two men stood, holding a gun to each other’s head.

And between them stood a third party, his arms crossed over the muzzles of the guns. The rounds had indeed been fired—but they never managed to so much as pass by their targets.

The rounds from the small-caliber guns were stopped at the palms of the man standing in the center—and a second later, they fell with a clatter onto the bridge.


Suddenly finding himself dragged to reality, Seiichi desperately tried to understand what was happening.

The man in front of him.

The man who was, until not too long ago, his subordinate.

The man said to be stronger than Hayato.

And the hero he feared—and respected—more than anyone else.

“…Out of my way.”

Realizing who the newcomer was, Seiichi put every ounce of hatred into his eyes and glared.

The man’s hands over the muzzles remained firm, like a snake having caught its prey—and yet Seiichi cried,

“OUT OF MY WAY, KUZUHARA!”


Kuzuhara only glared down at Seiichi in silence. As though looking down on the younger man—as though pitying him.

“Stop… stop looking at me with those eyes… don’t look don’t look DON’T LOOK!”

Seiichi tried to pull the trigger; but the barrel was firmly in Kuzuhara’s grip, and the gun would not fire.

Seiichi turned to Hayato—Rainbow-Head also was staring, baffled, at Kuzuhara. In his case, he had already taken his finger off the trigger with a defeated shake of the head.

“…You will not kill anyone on my watch.”

A moment of silence later, Kuzuhara finally spoke.

“I don’t care about your ideals or beliefs. I just hate guns and want to protect people.”

Seiichi was the one to respond. Quietly, and with pure contempt for the man who dragged him back to reality.

“Why? Us killing each other has nothing to do with you! Why would you try to stop us?!”

“Do I need a reason to stop pieces of trash from killing each other?”

With his hands still restraining both guns, Kuzuhara landed a heavy kick to Seiichi’s gut.

“Urgh!”

“You can run away all you like. You can get yourself killed if you want. But… do not involve me, or Yua, or Kelly, or the city. I will never forgive you for pointing a gun at Yua.”

Holding the guns in his hands, Kuzuhara pushed Seiichi agains the container with his foot.

“You know what belief I live by? ‘Never let the target escape’.”

Seiichi’s back was against the container, but Kuzuhara’s foot remained heavy on his gut. At the same time, Kuzuhara began to pull Seiichi’s gun toward himself.

Pulling the gun from Seiichi, along with the contraption that connected it to his arm, Kuzuhara tossed it aside and lifted the dazed Seiichi by the collar.

“That means I’m not gonna let you leave—whether it’s to some other country or into your own delusions!”

With a shout, Kuzuhara threw Seiichi. His injured shoulder and neck screamed, but he ignored the pain and hurled Seiichi to the ground.

“Ugh… gah!”

With an agonized gasp, Seiichi stopped moving.


“How’d you get here? I swear I blocked all the exits.”

Kuzuhara shot Hayato a glare.

“Only the ones on the maps.”

“Oh, oh, oh! Her! The girl! She did say something about finding detours with that notepad she was carrying. And speaking of! Man, without her, I’d have got caught by those black suits before I could get to the Buruburu van. I owe her a bunch, that kid.”

Slapping his forehead, Hayato slowly lowered his hand.

Then he put on a faintly twisted smile.

“So now what are you gonna do? As you can see, I’m 100% devoted to getting away.” He cackled. Kuzuhara raised a fist.

“…When there’s a fight, it’s only right to punish both parties.”

The fist had Hayato’s name on it.

“No way?!”

Hayato shrank, flinching. But Kuzuhara’s fist never reached him.


The bridge was rocked by a burst of deafening noise.


At the same time, Kuzuhara’s fist stopped.

“Argh…!”

Kuzuhara shook in time with the sounds, trembling as though electrified.

Hayato quickly saw the source of the noise.

Seiichi Kugi, who was thrown aside and supposedly lost consciousness. In his hands was a large-caliber handgun he must have concealed; white smoke was rising endlessly from the barrel.

“Don’t… get in my way…”

Like a man possessed, Seiichi slowly rose.

Kuzuhara remained standing, but he must have broken his ribs. Every shot was aimed at his torso, and the rounds were too powerful for his lightweight bulletproof vest. Though they did not get through, he was buffeted by agonizing pain for each bullet.

He froze, and fell forward. A broken rib must have pierced his organs—a thin stream of blood escaped Kuzuhara’s lips.

Not even caring, Seiichi turned to stare only at Hayato.

“We… continue.”

Stepping away from the container, he tried to put distance between himself and Hayato. Seiichi could not be in any state to fight after being thrown against concrete without even breaking his fall.

“Don’t push yourself, man. You probably can’t even aim in that sorry state.”

Seiichi did not deign to respond. He held his gun in front of him.

His vision was not too blurry. At least, he didn’t think so. But half the world seemed strangely dark. Were his eyes convulsing? It was like his eyes were darting in random directions in time with his heartbeat.

“I… I don’t have anywhere to run anymore. You’re right, Hayato Inui. After I ran to this city, I thought I could make something of myself. In this city separated from the world, I thought I could become a new me. I was convinced I could gain power. And I thought that would be my way of atoning for her. But… I avenged her, but I never got to make it up to her. So in the end, I couldn’t become a hero—not even on this island! Which is why… I have no other choice! I have to escape somewhere else!”

Hayato’s eyes turned cold at Seiichi’s confused declaration.

“You can’t just decide on a way to atone for her like that. Blaming others, acting like a kid—feels like I’m looking at the old me.”

“Tell me! If I kill you—if I kill you in the world you dragged us into before—will I become like you? Looking down at the world from a step above, laughing off people, the past, and even myself?!”

Seiichi sounded half-mad. Quietly, Hayato replied.

“Is that the idiot I look like to you? This is kinda sad…”

He stopped himself just as he thought of continuing.

There was a pause. Then, instead of replying to Seiichi, he said—

“Ah, this song. It’s coming from the city.”


Just as Hayato said, there was a song playing over the bridge.

Buruburu Airwaves must have resumed broadcasting. The music was coming from the island. And turning his attention to the sound, Hayato looked past Seiichi—at the island itself.

“Don’t change the subject!”

“To be honest, I’m jealous of you. Right now, for the first time since I got to this city, I seriously feel like hating you. Yeah. This is jealousy. Stupid, yeah, but I’m so jealous of you I want to kill you. But I won’t. ‘Cause that would be disrespectful to my hero.”

“Wha-what are you talking about?”

The music rose in a crescendo, finally reaching double its original volume.

“Lemme tell you something. Back when I was falling into despair? I didn’t have any heroes around. They don’t exist in real life, y’know? Shit. This music’s actually fucking sweet. Yeah… that’s right. Every hero’s gotta have a sidekick. The radio babe.”

“What…?”

Trembling, Seiichi raised his gun and listened for the music.

He had heard the piece before. But at the moment, he could not remember where he had heard it, or why he remembered it.

“The only difference between you and me? You still got a chance. As long as there’s someone like that guy behind you there. …But no. All I had were movie heroes, goddammit!”

Hearing Hayato’s almost-tearful cry, Seiichi slowly turned.

He finally remembered the song.

‘Kuzuhara’s ringtone—


At that moment, Hayato Inui was unbearably angry.


He had lived through countless perils, but this was something he had never felt. Something completely new was happening right before his eyes.

Small flames from the explosion were still licking the air, and behind them were the lights of the massive artificial island, along with the sparkling stars. And before the twinkling mountain of rubble, the man rose.

He had gotten to his feet. The one Hayato Inui respected, the ‘self’ he wanted to become, was right there.

Like a movie hero—an unkillable man who could never lose. And with a theme song in the background like a scene straight out of a movie, protecting those he held dear—

The hero was truly standing.


▶︎


Kuzuhara was falling into a dream. Though he had broken multiple ribs, his consciousness was drifting away from the pain in his body.

The dream was about to begin. In his vision was a scene from a past he didn’t want to remember. The moment the abandoned factory building came into focus—

‘As if I’m letting myself see this again.’

—he came back to his senses. Or rather, he had forced himself to wake. It had been only five seconds since he lost consciousness. Kuzuhara’s eyes flew open. Pain surged through his gut, all the way to his back, and even his unaffected neck was throbbing.

The top of his head ached. Kuzuhara slowly placed his hands on the ground. Each time he tried to push himself up, his nerves ran wild like a horde of crazed animals.

But even in the midst of his agony, even as sweat covered him, he desperately tried to stand. He felt something unnerving in his gut—a broken rib must be jutting into his organs and skin. Along with the pain, it cried out loud to his brain in a bid for recognition.

And yet he refused to surrender.

‘I almost had that dream. I almost lost myself in it. The dream of killing the girl. The dream that wouldn’t stop until I came to the island.

First was the image of himself opening fire; next would be the girl’s scream—the one that he never actually heard—and the bloodied girl would raise her head from amidst the scaffolding. Then the scene would always shift to his murdered superior. For some reason, there would be a gun in his own hand as though he was the killer, and he would awake with a scream.

If only he could laugh it off as stale and trite. Yet the dreams had haunted Kuzuhara every night since the day his superior was killed.

He came to the city as though fleeing from something. To abandon his past, to forget everything, and to forge a new life.

But it was all in vain.

His place of escape turned out to be a dead end. And with nowhere else to run, Kuzuhara was instantly cornered by his nightmares.

But one day, it occurred to him. Was it when he beat the pulp out of the punks harassing Iizuka’s Restaurant? Was it when he agreed to join the volunteer police? Or when he first agreed to Kelly’s interview? Or maybe it was when he informed Yua of her parents’ deaths. In the end, he found no escape on the island. And above all, the past was a reality that could never be changed. No amount of struggling would take him away from it, and therefore that struggle was meaningless. That was what he began to think as he worked with the volunteer police, or sometimes as he worked on his own.

He didn’t know if he was right or wrong. But he decided, at least, to believe in that conclusion.

If he couldn’t run, he had to accept it. His past crimes, and even his weak self that tried to escape that truth—

‘I’ll accept everything—and continue to fight it.


Why did Hayato and Seiichi hold each other at gunpoint, and why did they abandon themselves to needless killing? Kuzuhara didn’t need the answers.

‘I don’t need to understand. And I don’t intend to. Understanding them won’t let me help them.’ That alone he knew on instinct.

His ears focused solely on the men before him; the music from the speakers did not reach.

One of his favorite songs. A song from a trite old flick about a hero that Kuzuhara admired as a child.

As though blessing his revival, the music sang.

As though praising the hero’s return, the lights of the city behind him glowed brighter than the stars.


▶︎


Wiping the blood from his mouth, Kuzuhara faced down Seiichi.

‘Ugh, my ribcage.

He’d broken three, at the very least. He could feel his body screaming with each breath he took. He tasted blood in the back of his throat, but it was not enough to impede his breathing.

Seeing that he could still move, Kuzuhara glared at the young man.

It was clear—fear had risen to Seiichi’s eyes.

“Why… why’re you getting in my way?”

Seiichi’s tone took a turn for the childlike as he turned his gun on Kuzuhara.

“This has nothing to do with you anymore. Please, just go back to being unconscious. Or do you really hate me that much?”

Though his side ached each time he spoke, Kuzuhara impatiently forced his lungs to breathe.

“I told you before. My job’s to make sure no one dies on my watch.”

“You understand, don’t you? Right? You ran away to this island, too. You know how I feel, right?”

At this point, Seiichi probably didn’t even know what he was talking about. His gun alone was focused on one goal, desperately trying to take aim at Kuzuhara.

Seiichi was about to burst into tears. And without a hint of anger or condescension, Kuzuhara asked him a question.

“Why… why don’t you realize?”

“What?”

Confused, Seiichi’s gun lost its target—it strayed and wandered without purpose.

“You said that powerlessness was a crime. So why the hell don’t you understand?!”

A gunshot.

Without warning, Seiichi pulled the trigger as Kuzuhara drew near, step by step.

His unfocused aim and shaky hands did not help his cause; the bullet passed by Kuzuhara’s right side.

“You ran from society, from yourself, and the past, and you still don’t get it? It took me just one try before I realized. You still can’t get it through your head? ‘Powerlessness is a crime’? Tough words for someone who’s still running away from atonement.”

If Seiichi was wielding his usual small-caliber handgun, he might have shot Kuzuhara in the head with the last round. But in his hands was an unfamiliar large-caliber gun.

With just a few paces left between them, Kuzuhara leapt up. With speed unthinkable for someone with broken ribs, he instantly closed the distance.

Seiichi reacted, holding out his arms at Kuzuhara’s face to counter.

“UWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”

Like a flashback, the face Seiichi was aiming at suddenly overlapped with Kanae’s. And this time, he again chose to escape by pulling the trigger.


A single gunshot echoed across the longest bridge in the world.

The smoke cleared, and Hayato gulped as he looked for the outcome.

“Ah!”

Without thinking, he shouted in awe. There stood Kuzuhara, his grip on Seiichi’s gun in front of his face. With his other hand, he was holding Seiichi by the neck.

There was no bullet in Kuzuhara’s palm. Instead of blocking the bullet, he must have shoved the gun itself to change the bullet’s trajectory.

But it seemed he could not escape unharmed. Kuzuhara’s fingers were bent in odd directions, and he must have torn his skin from the way blood was streaming from his glove. Yet with his remaining fingers Kuzuhara grabbed the gun and pulled it behind himself.

But then again, Seiichi probably didn’t have the strength to pull the trigger again.

“Grk… gah…”

With his neck in Kuzuhara’s grip, Seiichi was rendered motionless and unable to breathe.

He had used so much strength that, even if he were to resist, Kuzuhara could kill him with ease.

But Kuzuhara suddenly lowered him to the ground. Then, without giving Seiichi so much as a chance to cough, he pulled him up by the collar and lifted him into the air singlehandedly.

Seiichi must have felt the world spinning.

Thrown in a Judo-like technique, he landed hard on the pavement.

Seiichi felt like his entire body was falling apart. He thought he heard something like a crack in the back of his neck.

“Hurry up and face the truth. There’s no way you could find power in a place of escape.”

‘No, you’re wrong. There is power. He has it—the other me had that power. When we were trying to kill each other just now, I know I saw—

Unable to retort, Seiichi fell completely unconscious.

How did Kuzuhara look at him? With anger, or pity, or another emotion altogether? Seiichi 
had no way of knowing or understanding.


▶︎


Pressing a hand to his aching ribs, Kuzuhara turned to Hayato behind him.

Two men remained standing on the bridge. But Hayato had already put away his gun, and seemed to hold no hostility toward Kuzuhara.

“Just tell me one thing.” Kuzuhara said. Hayato grinned and took a seat on a pile of collapsed metal beams.

“What?”

“Who are you?”

“That’s a pretty damned abstract question. I’m me… or I guess that’s a pretty clichéd answer.”

His grin seemed mocking, but there was no condescension in his eyes.

“You’re different from the guy the files said you were.”

“Well, yeah. The files talked about the ‘me’ that was in that civil war. But this is Japan. There’s not a lot of land, but there’s water, there’s food, there’s money, and there’s people. It’s great that you can be nice to people and still survive. From my perspective, anyway.”

Slowly rising to his feet, Hayato walked over to the edge of the bridge. The scaffolding was jutting out over the sea, almost like a diving board.

“I was being pretty serious about taking over the island and shit, but that doesn’t sound fun anymore. I quit.”

Kuzuhara went after him toward the edge.

“I expected as much from the great Mr. Kuzuhara.” Hayato said, amused. Standing on the scaffolding, he turned to look at him.

“I thought, maybe on this island, I could be a hero. It’s safer than the battlefields I used to roam, but it’s still a closed world. Almost like a movie. I thought I could become something that I’d never been able to become. And to be honest, I don’t really mind having been manipulated. In fact, I liked it. ‘Cause I got a chance to be a genuine hero.”

“What did you want with Kugi, in the end?” Kuzuhara asked, ignoring Hayato’s confession.

Hayato did not seem to mind. He shrugged.

“I wanted to watch him. To see if he really would turn out like me—I wanted to know if it was really my own fault that I turned into this crazy mess of a human being.”

And, looking almost forlorn, he smiled.

“This here’s a lonely place, Mr. Kuzuhara. It feels like I’m all alone in the world for some reason. That’s why, maybe I wanted to bring him over to this side.”

Holstering his gun, Hayato opened his arms wide.

“I’ll be back one day.”

Then he leapt, falling into the pitch-black sea.

“…Not if I can help it.”

Instead of chasing Hayato, Kuzuhara quietly watched him depart.


“Is it over…?”

‘My ribs hurt like hell, but I better take Kugi to a doctor, just to be safe. Getting tossed onto concrete without even breaking his fall… Damn it. After that, I’ll make him kneel and apologize to Yua—

Kuzuhara turned. His jaw dropped. Seiichi was supposed to be in front of the freight container. He quickly scanned the area, but Seiichi was nowhere to be found. Only the small handgun he had taken from him remained on the scene.

“‘Never let the target escape’, my ass… I lost them both.”

He remembered the old saying, ‘he who chases the fleeing rabbit loses the rabbit he already caught’. With a sigh, he looked up at the sky.

And with a self-deprecating grin,

“So maybe I’m powerless after all?”


▶︎


“Slow day.”

Iizuka grumbled, holding out a fishing rod off the side of his boat. He was thinking of catching something before he started his transport job, but for some reason he had landed nothing all day.

“Must be all the bangin’ noises over yonder at the bridge. Some dumbasses makin’ a ruckus… shit. Time to call it a night.”

As he made to put away his fishing gear, he suddenly spotted something on the water—something with a seven-colored tint.

“…!”

As Iizuka watched, stunned, an arm rose from the water and grabbed a buoy on the side of the boat. Without thinking Iizuka threw aside the fishing rod and pulled up the buoy with all his might.

The man with seven-colored hair coughed for a while, before finally wiping his face. He looked at the captain of the boat and smacked himself on the forehead.

“Sorry, man. Looks like I’m gonna owe you one. Again.”

Iizuka was troubled.

“Sorry, son, but I gotta head over to Akadomari first. That all right?”

“Yeah, no worries. I’m getting off at Sado anyway.”

The young man then lay flat against the deck. Iizuka sighed loudly.

“A big haul, eh?”


▶︎


It was a dark place. Not even Seiichi knew where he was. But from the air, he supposed he was probably in the Pits.

In front of him stood his girlfriend—specifically, the woman who played the part of his girlfriend.

Yili was flanked by many well-built men; her eyes were endlessly cold and dark.

It was a face she almost never showed him. The face of the boss’s daughter, or the face of an executive.

Just as Seiichi stirred, Yili spoke. In a completely different tone from usual.

“So both our plans came to a stop halfway through. You got your revenge and we disposed of several nuisances without getting our brethren’s hands dirty. But the harmony you wanted and the control we desired? We have neither.”

Seiichi hung his head. He already knew, but even now Yili and the others did not see him as one of their ‘brethren’. Though he was sad, Seiichi tried to hide his emotions behind a mocking grin. The same unusual smile Hayato had shown the world.

“You were too early for this city. It might have been perfect for the rainbow-haired man, but not for you. That’s how far behind him you were. Simple as that.”

Seiichi did not try to retort.

“The faces of the radio station, the faces of the locals, the faces of the lawless Pits, the faces of overseers like us, and the face of the one who’s swayed by nothing—the interesting man called Kuzuhara. The despair of killing and being killed. The man who from the start bore despair even greater than the city’s. The actions he took tonight alone were fascinating. At least, much more than you.”

“I suppose that means I’m useless to you now.”

“This city belongs to us. It’s no place for children to run from reality.”

Were Kuzuhara and Yua part of the ‘us’ she spoke of? Only Yili would know the answer.

“Are you… going to kill me?”

“You were helpful to us, even if your plans ended halfway. I don’t kill helpful people. And I’d known from the start that this might happen. Ever since I asked you that day what you wanted with this city. When you answered, ‘revenge’. That’s why I’m not going to kill you. I’m only here to say goodbye.”

“Then, while we’re at it, could I ask for one last thing?”

Yili was not expecting that reaction. She frowned condescendingly.

“Do you even understand your position?”

“I do. That’s why I’m asking you alone.”

Yili stared into Seiichi’s eyes for a time, then sighed in surrender.

“Fine. What?”

Seiichi smiled, relieved, and made his wish.

At Seiichi’s wish, for an instant Yili returned to using the tone of his girlfriend.

“…You’re such an idiot, Seiichi. It sounds pointless. But I guess I don’t mind.”

After hearing his request, Yili and the men turned and left—melding into the darkness of the city.

With a fluent word of goodbye in a language she had never used with him before.

Zaijian.”


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3 comments:

  1. Ooh thank you for translating these!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks so much! What a great chapter.

    ReplyDelete