Here's an Etsusa Bridge update. Enjoy.
Chapter 2: Rogue of the East, Witch of the West
The underground casino in the theme park hotel in the Eastern District.
It was paradise.
It might not seem that way to people who lived in places like Tokyo, but for residents of the island it was clear how incongruous the gymnasium-sized room was in the city.
First of all, there was no graffiti and no cracks on the walls. The ornaments on the walls, in fact, were all very much intact. There wasn’t a speck of dust on the red carpet, which was ready to greet any visitor as though it were new.
That alone would be cause for shock among most islanders, but this place was also equipped with things that most people would never see.
In the middle of the massive room was a roulette table straight out of Las Vegas, and each corner was stuffed with all kinds of slot machines. There were baccarat and blackjack corners, and even a table for dice games like craps. One whole wall was dedicated to the bar counter, and hundreds of kinds of bottles glinted from the shelves.
It was as if this place alone existed in a different dimension from the rest of the filthy island.
Perhaps the one unusual thing about the casino itself was that, in spite of its many offerings, there were only about a dozen people inside.
“We’ve only just set up the place. The re-opening day is the day after tomorrow.” Said a man of ambiguous ethnicity, sitting at a semicircular baccarat table across from a woman.
“Congratulations. I wish you nothing but success.”
The woman was wearing an eye-catching qipao. She congratulated the man without so much as a change in expression, as though she were just exchanging formalities.
A woman dressed like a dealer came over from the counter and placed two cocktails on the table. She seemed to be perfectly calm, but she was desperately trying to make sure the sweat on her palms wouldn’t get on the glasses as she nervously served two of the executives who controlled the island.
“The customers here are a little stingier than on the mainland, but our big advantage is that no one’s going to come search the place.” The man chuckled.
Behind him was a girl with long bangs, standing up perfectly straight. She looked like a frightened puppy, but her hidden eyes never left the woman in the qipao and the four men in black behind her.
“How shall I address you today?”
“Ah! My apologies. Currently, my name is Char de Grandeur Ratzfend Zorba Gitarin Alfred Santamaria Redrum Masamune. But call me what you like.”
‘I-it’s even longer now!’ Jun said feebly in her mind, but the woman in the qipao—Yili, an executive from the Western District—did not seem affected in the least.
She plucked out a single name to address the man of ever-changing names. ‘Gitarin’ was always part of his strings of titles, and the Guard Team speculated that that was part of his real name.
“Again? Maybe you could choose a different name sometime. Strengthen our relationship for a change.” Gitarin said with a smile, but Yili remained as icy as ever.
“I’m not here to waste time on idle banter.”
Yili was the daughter of Ei daren(1), the head of the organization that controlled the Western District. Her mother was an Englishwoman. Although Yili was still quite young, she was a force to be reckoned with among the Western District executives, and was a powerhouse whose influence reached even the depths of the Eastern District.
“We’ve already wasted time waiting for you to arrive.”
Yili glared, but Gitarin seemed wholly unaffected.
“Ah! So Yili the eternal is upset about time? That’s unexpected.”
“It is. I am upset about your missing professionalism.”
Yili made a point of maintaining brevity. She and Gitarin were not very compatible.
“Heh. Excuse me. I’ll be more considerate from now on.”
What followed afterwards was a simple exchange of information on island economics. And normally, the meeting would have drawn to a close there. However—
Gitarin suddenly withdrew his smile.
“So what business do you have with me?”
“You went to the trouble of changing our meeting date. You must have some urgent business.”
Yili was silent for a moment, but she soon raised her right hand. The four men behind her bowed and left for the bar on one side of the room.
It was 30 meters from the table to the bar. Though the casino was by no means lively, there was a fast song playing; it would be impossible to hear anything from the counter unless the people at the table raised their voices.
“…Yes? Oh, yes sir.”
“Looks like she wants some privacy. Go over to the counter and chat with Misaki for a bit.”
“Yes sir!” Jun replied, and bowed at Yili as well. The two bags on her back came into view when she leaned forward.
Watching Jun head over to the counter, Yili seemed somewhat surprised.
“…She’s still the leader of the Guard Team?”
She sounded a lot more friendly now. But Gitarin’s tone did not change.
“That’s right. Two years in a row now. Amazing, huh?”
Yili glanced at Jun as the latter walked over to the counter. She made a dubious face and turned back to Gitarin.
“And she’s your only bodyguard here, too. I suppose you must place a great deal of faith in her.”
Among those in the casino, Gitarin, Jun, and the three casino employees on duty today were the only people affiliated with the Eastern District’s organization. The rest of the Guard Team was placed at the doors and the entrances and exits of the theme park.
Noting that Jun had left, Gitarin put on a mischievous grin and whispered,
“—and I suppose you think you can kill me now?”
Yili’s eyes flew open at the candid question, but a second later she smiled for the first time since she entered the casino.
“That wasn’t even funny. We’re not foolish enough to destroy such a convenient balance of power.”
But her smile was quickly erased.
“One of your guards. Is he a newbie? He’s doing a bad job of masking his bloodlust.”
“Now that the Northern and Southern Districts are gone, we’re the only ones in your father’s way. And forget the balance of power. I bet you—and especially your father—are thinking that the Eastern District will crumble without me.”
There was a moment of silence.
The two leaders said nothing, their gazes intertwining like lovers as the music continued in the background.
They were trying to read each other. Gitarin’s tone was flippant, but his eyes were the epitome of gravity.
The silence was first broken by Yili.
Sighing as though in surrender, she broke her stance. She placed her elbows on the table and elegantly steepled her fingers in front of her face.
“Sharp as ever, Gitarin.”
“That’s all I’ve got going for me.”
Yili was personally preventing herself from using her hands. Gitarin breathed a sigh of relief.
“But I’ve gotta hand it to your father. Using his own daughter as a bullet, I mean.” He said, sounding honestly impressed. But his words were mocking.
Yili responded as though in defense.
“I didn’t come here particularly to kill you. Father only instructed me to take your life if you gave me room to do so. ‘Room’ in this case implying the chance for me to make it back alive. So I’ll relent… for now. Your pieces are already in place, and I can see that I won’t be making it home if I killed you.”
“Pure coincidence. Hmm… maybe things would be different if you had someone more skilled by your side? For example, your boyfriend and assassin who disappeared half a year ago.”
Yili’s eyes narrowed to slits.
“Even a bullet will explode if you prod it too hard. Did you think I was an emotionless robot?”
“Whoa, I’m prodding you because I know you have emotions.” Gitarin provoked, snickering.
A minute earlier, Gitarin’s emotions seemed to fluctuate with the presence of his foe’s bloodlust. But this time, he was the one trying to draw that same bloodlust from his foe. He was baiting Yili with his unpredictable nature.
“Petting an animal against the direction of the fur feels better than doing otherwise. For the one doing the petting, anyway.”
“Do the same with a dragon’s scales, and you’ll only incite its wrath.”
Yili’s fingers, which seemed to move with minds of their own, stopped. Bloodlust was growing clear in her eyes.
Noting this, Gitarin hit the table with his pointer finger.
At that very moment, something seemed to cut the wind. The cherry stem that was sticking out of a glass in front of them was vaporized.
Watching it all, Yili easily withdrew her bloodlust as though it was planned out from the beginning. She had made her hostility clear because she knew Gitarin intended for something.
“I thought you’d sent everyone away.”
“The point was just to make sure no one could hear.”
“…I’m glad for you that you have a talented sniper. Will you shoot me?”
“How could I? I have no reason to. Killing you won’t dent the Western District. Nor will killing your father. That’s how I see your organization. That cherry trick just now was no threat; I’m just informing you that you’ll have to face hell if you try to kill me and get away with it. …You know already, right? The Eastern District isn’t used to conflict. Defending ourselves is all we can do.” Gitarin said, but in his mind he was praising Yili.
‘Not even blinking in a situation like this… she might be even bolder than her father. Better not turn her against me.’ He thought, reaching for his glass.
“That’s enough idle chatter.”
Their idea of ‘idle chatter’ was clearly unusual, but that was how meetings between Gitarin and Yili always went. An unforgiving but fickle, murderous air seemed to swirl through the casino, but for the two executives it was just part of exchanging pleasantries.
After their bloodcurdling greetings, they finally turned to their main topic of discussion. A meeting outside the regular schedule usually meant that something was happening to the entire island.
The incident behind this particular meeting was—
“…Then again, I know why you’re here. They got five of us. Yours?”
“Eight. All of them after Kuzuhara left the island.”
“It’s a big headache over here. Some of our execs suspect your people.”
“Ei daren Also suspects you.”
They were discussing the victims who had been murdered over the past month, whose killer(or killers) did not leave a single clue.
Not only that, the numbers only referred to those killed with guns.
“If you put that in perspective, Kuzuhara’s influence is overwhelming. I’d almost like to recruit him into the Guard Team.”
“I have no intention of letting him leave, although he doesn’t seem to want to.”
Kuzuhara was the captain of the Western District’s volunteer police force. He was a regular in the conversations of island children who debated about the strongest person on the island. Other candidates included Greatest Zhang, who was the underground pro wrestling champion, Hayato Inui, who controlled the Pits until half a year ago and was now gone from the island, the living urban legend Spring-heeled Joplin, Yakumo Amagiri, who was supposedly the island’s ‘strongest and craziest’ Killer Ghoul, and—for some reason—the owner of a ramen shop in the Eastern District.
It was no exaggeration to say that the Western District’s volunteer police relied entirely on Kuzuhara, and that the way he took down thugs carrying guns with the disadvantage of being alone and unarmed was practically an artform.
“He said he wanted to visit a grave back on the mainland, so we gave him a two-week vacation. It’s like they were waiting for that moment to kill off our people.”
“There aren’t a lot of guns in our area either, but there are definitely more of them these days. And now we’ve got serial killings targeting our people. We can’t just sit around and do nothing.” Gitarin sighed, shaking his head.
“I have a hunch. About one of the causes.” Yili said plainly.
Yili deliberately lowered her gaze and took a deep breath.
“Ginga Kanashima. The name of the man who is spreading guns out of our control.”
Gitarin frowned—though his own name was outlandish, this one was unusual enough.
“…That’s a funny name. Who is it?”
“A small fry Kuzuhara arrested half a year ago was carrying a gun from outside our influence. We questioned him, and he answered.”
Yili recited a brief profile on Ginga Kanashima.
He was twenty-eight years old. Until four years ago he had lived on the island as he smuggled firearms he purchased on the island to the mainland.
But at a certain point, Ginga disappeared from the island.
Specifically, he had hidden on the island and removed only his presence from the city.
Because his name stopped coming up on the Western District’s official gun circulation routes, Yili and the others had assumed that he made a mess of himself on the mainland or was eliminated, nothing more.
“And yet he was on the island all along?”
“He was making deals under a pseudonym. But the man Kuzuhara arrested had seen Kanashima’s face on the mainland.”
“So you figured him out, eh? …Wait, something doesn’t add up. Why would he need to deal in firearms on the island? There’s much more money to be made buying guns from your people in the Western District and selling them at a profit on the mainland.” Gitarin said, pointing out the obvious.
Yili smiled. It was a mix of curiosity and mockery at Kanashima—a smile of pure ice.
“…Never mind. Forget about it. We can’t be certain at this point.”
Though Gitarin was dubious, he quietly let it slide. Yili was not one to bring up far-fetched theories to a meeting; in other words, she was quite certain that this man named Ginga Kanashima was involved in the serial shootings.
“I suppose we’ll find out once we catch this Kanashima character, but the problem is the identity of the people shooting our men with these guns. It might even be one person’s doing.”
Though so many members of the organizations were being shot, not a single witness had emerged. It was understandable in some ways, as there was no official police force on the island and locals felt no need to involve themselves in such dangerous business. But that still left questions.
Those who were shot were always attacked when they were alone. After the first shooting, all organization members were advised to avoid acting alone, and executives had been ordered to have guards around them as much as possible.
And yet the culprit—or culprits—managed to find brief instants when their targets were alone to fire the fatal shot. As though they had the entire island under surveillance.
The places and times of death were random; so if the culprit really was an individual, their actions were completely unpredictable. And even if there was more than one perpetrator, some of their victims had been shot when they were alone only by chance. The only way to describe the killer would be as some sort of magician who knew the movements of every person on the island and teleported in front of his victim when the victim was alone.
“They might even be planning to kill anyone who’s part of an organization, picking them off one by one… Then again, we’d know if a group that big set foot on the island.”
As Gitarin hypothesized, his smile began to fade.
“That doesn’t matter.”
In contrast, Yili had a cold grin on her face.
“Whether they’re an organization, a nation, or even the American military, the fact is that they underestimated us. Our course is clear; make them regret what they’ve done, even if there’s only one man left standing to grind their flesh to bits.”
Gitarin slowly shut his eyes, reassured. A smile returned to his face.
“Excellent. Then let’s talk specifics.”
“How could you, Jun? You should have told me on the phone last night!”
A slight distance from the executives, at the counter seats near the corner, stood the girl in the dealer uniform who had brought cocktails to the executives. She was complaining to Jun, who sat in the farthest seat.
“No one told me we’d be getting such an important visitor today! And I was wondering why they called me last-minute when the re-opening is in three days… I would’ve died if I spilled anything! I swear! I thought things were looking up because I didn’t get caught up in anything in the past few days, too! Damn it! God hates me, I know it!”
“I-I’m sorry, Misaki…”
Jun found herself apologizing at her friend before she could even think. Because she had completely forgotten about the meeting, she had stayed up late chatting on the phone.
The person berating her now was the friend with whom she had been chatting.
Her name was Misaki Yasojima. She had been working as a casino girl in the Eastern District for three years now.
Perhaps she was born with her abysmal luck—the very reason Misaki was working on the island was because her family on the mainland had lost everything at an underground casino and sold her to the criminal underworld as collateral.
“I’m sorry… I completely forgot, too…” Jun trembled, looking just about ready to cry. She looked nothing like a bodyguard carrying two chainsaws on her back.
Because Jun only found peace in the rumbling of engines, she became timid when the sound was gone—even when she was talking to children.
But when she wielded her chainsaws, she ran wild. To the point that eighty percent of those who saw her might suspect that she had multiple personalities.
Misaki looked at her friend, who trembled like a newborn puppy. She couldn’t even get angry.
“Anyway, are the execs talking about that thing, do you think? About how people from the organization were killed…” Misaki said, changing the subject.
“Probably.” Jun nodded.
“Hm… Scary. Be careful, Jun.”
Misaki knew very well that Jun was part of the Guard Team and had seen her wielding her chainsaws. But she found herself worrying for her friend when the latter became so timid.
Most people did not believe it when they learned that Jun was the captain of the Guard Team.
Normally, she looked less like a bodyguard and more like someone who needed one.
The same went for the lady executive of the Western District.
Many disbelieved when they first learned that Yili was an executive(and in such cases, those who doubted her eventually came to regret it).
But even from her perspective, there was something unusual about Jun Sahara.
“Incidentally…” Yili said, though they were not yet finished strategizing. “That bodyguard you’re so proud of—is she really really fit to be in her position?”
“You’re still doubtful, Yili?! You should be more trusting, my friend! I’m going to get angry if you don’t!”
Though Gitarin’s words were threatening, his smile never left his face.
“Jun is the captain of the Guard Team, you know.”
“I thought you decided the captain by a rock-paper-scissors tournament?” Yili replied sarcastically, not really believing the posters.
“That’s right. A monthly rock-paper-scissors tournament. Jun’s been winning ‘em all for two years straight.”
Yili could not respond.
“Jun is unbeatable at rock-paper-scissors, you know.”
‘Really? So the posters were serious after all?’
Though that alone was hard to believe, what bothered Yili more was the phrase ‘two years straight’.
Yili knew of at least fifteen members of the Eastern District’s Guard Team. Although she did not know the format of the tournament, she did not understand how anyone could remain on the top for twenty-four tournaments in a row. Was it even possible?
“I’m not saying she’s lucky, though. Which is why I trust her so much.”
“Just between us, Jun plays a little late.”
It was a low-key confession. But Yili stared, not understanding how that fit into the tournament.
“As soon as her opponent decides and makes a hand, before they even notice Jun changes her hand. It’s so quick you’d need a frame-by-frame replay to see it. Her concentration and reflexes, and her skill in observing her foes. Those are the things I value so highly about her. I didn’t even notice what she was doing until she told me herself.”
“…I wonder why she felt the need to tell.”
“Apparently she felt guilty. But you know what else she told me? ‘I’m going to keep playing this way, but if you don’t like it, please let me know. I won’t do it again’. She’d prefer to get permission ahead of time rather than get found out later. She just acknowledged that she cheated.”
Yili’s gaze slowly shifted to the bar counter. Jun was in the corner seat, getting reassuring smacks on the back from the server.
Gitarin smiled at Yili, whose profile betrayed a sense of curiosity.
“She might not look like much, but Jun’s a real veteran. She can be underhanded sometimes but she’s a good girl at heart. Which is why I can place my trust in her.”
Holding his head high with pride, the boss of the Eastern District boasted to the Western District.
“Another reason for the rock-paper-scissors tournament is that it doesn’t really matter who becomes the captain. Anyone can take the job, no problem. In other words, those kinds of people are the only ones we accept into the Guard Team.”
At the same time. The Pits.
If the casino in the Eastern District was the paradise of the dump, the dump of the dump would be the Pits underneath the shopping mall area.
There was no question—it was a disgusting place.
It was essentially the amalgamation of every far-fetched rumor about the island—from tabloid articles titled, ‘The modern-day Kowloon Walled City—a lawless world filled with death and violence!’, to general thoughts about the island—‘dangerous’, ‘filthy’, ‘lawless’, ‘a criminal underworld’, ‘full of drugs’, or ‘more shootings than LA’.
Life in the aboveground and underground was much safer than many slums overseas, and though illegal there were businesses like clinics and restaurants. There was an independent economy on the island.
But the Pits were different.
It was truly a lawless world.
The air. The noises. The lights. The smells. Anyone who set foot in the Pits was exposed to—and arrived at—the same conclusion.
It was a dump.
That was all one could conclude, if one happened to be a person from a normal background.
But there were people in the world who actively desired such an environment.
If the island had been completed, the area would have been a massive parking lot by now.
Fluorescent lights flickered on and off, and in places where they no longer shone halogen lamps and lightbulbs blinded those who stared too long.
Generators whirred everywhere to power the lamps, and there was a faint whiff of fuel in the air from their use.
Piles of garbage rotted in mounds, and between them pieces of plywood or leftover construction material covered the concrete floor completely.
At one point, the Pits were a decent place to live. But when the man who controlled the Pits left the island half a year ago, the putrid air from the past began to return.
In that downward spiral, a group of men were walking in exhaustion.
“Fuck! Who the hell was that bitch?”
The men, who were new to the island, stopped in a quiet corner and kicked at piles of trash. Soon there was a thud, and a cloud of dust—along with a nauseating stench—rose into the air.
“Which one of you was it? Who’s the dipshit who said we’d grab that one?!”
On the island there were no rules to tie them down, they had heard. That was why they had come in the first place. The men, who partook in all sorts of crimes in Tokyo—mostly of the violent sort—had accidentally murdered someone in the middle of a mugging, forcing them to flee to the island.
The police could not reach them on the island, and there they could run even wilder than before. At least, that was what they’d thought at first. But they had underestimated the locals. The people did not show much weakness, very rarely stepping into deserted places.
The Pits were a different story, but those who walked there were either more dangerous than the men or completely destroyed by drugs. They could not pick fights randomly.
Their first misdeed on the island was beating an old man to death when the man complained. It was a seven-to-one beatdown. Though they did not wait to see if they had killed the man, there was only one thing that occurred to them as they watched him bleed on the ground: the old man had almost no money, so the only thing they got out of the attack was stress relief.
As their annoyance mounted, one of them had noted that a lone girl passed through a deserted stairwell every morning. So they took the chance to gang up on her.
And that was when they learned just how dangerous the island really was.
The chainsaws wielded by the girl with bangs left the men scarred with fear. With all the theatricality of a Beijing opera, she had rampaged through the narrow stairwell. And, without spilling a single drop of blood, she had cut only the men’s hair and clothing.
Only when the men were all paralyzed with fear did the girl shut off her engines, bowing at them for some reason before she quickly ran up the staircase.
“What. The. Hell?! The eastern zone? Some guard team?! The fuck was she going on about?!”
The thugs could not respond to their leader’s show of frustration.
The men had done no research before coming to the island. Then again, it wasn’t likely that articles on the organizations controlling the districts(or their guard teams) would end up on a magazine.
“Shit. I gotta fuck someone up. Let’s go kill something.”
The leader’s proposal sounded like a joke. But the thugs sniggered in agreement.
To them, the word ‘kill’ just meant ‘beat to a pulp and take their money’. But because they had no control, they had actually killed people in the past. The old man earlier and the murder that drove them to the island.
They looked around, scoping out potential prey. Soon, they spotted a girl around late elementary school-age to early middle school-age staring in their direction.
“What’re you looking at?” One of the thugs demanded, grabbing her skinny arm.
“Hey, she’s just a kid.”
“You sick bastard.”
The other thugs chuckled in disbelief, but the man holding the girl did not let go. He grinned.
“Hold on. There’s no way a kid this puny’s alone. Her parents must be around somewhere—we can shake all the money from ‘em until they bleed.”
“So we’re kidnapping her?”
“Kidnapping? We’re kidnappers now?”
“Like real bad guys. Hah!”
The suggestion was as casual as a game, but the thugs played along and quickly changed the discussion into one about a real kidnapping.
The girl knew exactly what was happening. And yet her face remained blank.
“Check it out. Betcha she’s wondering why we’re picking on her.”
“You said that this morning.”
“It’s all good. This kid doesn’t have chainsaws.”
“You gotta be shitting me.”
The fear of Jun had long disappeared from the men when they locked on to their new target. If they knew the meaning of the phrase ‘learn from one’s mistakes’, they wouldn’t have come to the island in the first place.
“So where’s your parents, kid?” They demanded, grinning crudely under the flickering fluorescent lights.
But the girl’s expression remained frozen as she replied in monotone.
“Our parents… they left us on the island.”
The thugs exchanged glances.
“No point tryin’ to lie to us, kid.”
“Get whoever’s in charge of you.”
They showed no hint of sympathy. They did not even think about the meaning of the girl’s words.
Yet the girl’s blank expression refused to change.
Then came her eerie reply—
“You killed him.”
“Three days ago, just above here. You killed an old man I didn’t know.”
Only then did the thugs notice that the girl’s expression never once changed. They looked around at one another.
“The old shit’s dead, then?”
“Who gives a crap? How’d this kid know?”
“Don’t look at me.”
“—going to kill me?”
Ignoring the thugs, the girl began to actively speak her mind.
“Are you going to kill me?”
Like a marionette with its strings cut, her words clattered weakly. One word after another, piling up like objects.
“Are you going to kill me like that old man I didn’t know? Are you going to kill me? I didn’t do anything wrong but are you going to beat me and beat me and beat me and beat me and laugh at the blood and stomp on the open cuts and beat me again until I die? Are you going to beat me to death? Are you going to kick me to death? And are you going to go somewhere after that? Look inside my wallet and spit on the ground like you’re bored and beat me again and again and again and again until I die?”
There was no emotion in the girl’s train of thought. Most people would be sobbing in fear by that point, but the only part of the girl that was moving was her jaw. Her eyes and brow hadn’t so much as twitched.
Even the thugs were getting scared. They were silent as stones now, their eyes locked on the girl’s face.
“I don’t want to.”
Because they had no idea what was happening, they had no choice but to listen to the girl.
“I don’t want to. I don’t. I really don’t want to. I don’t want to die yet. Nejiro promised me. He said he’ll take me outside. He said he’ll help me escape this horrible place. He said we’ll be happy when we leave this place.”
“Hey… what’s this bitch saying?”
One of the men, feeling a chill down his spine, stared at the girl as though she was a ghost.
“Hey. Enough. Shut up.”
“So I don’t want to die in a place like this. I don’t want to. So—”
As the girl continued, the leader of the men stepped up to grab her by the collar.
“Shut your hole, you little—”
There was a sharp, low impact near the thug’s gut.
He realized then that something warm had entered his stomach.
He also noticed that something had splashed violently near his back.
But by the time he noticed that the sensations were a bullet and his own flesh respectively, his mind was already lost to complete panic.
“So I’ll kill you before you kill me!”
The girl’s tone rose for the very first time as her voice echoed quietly through a corner of the Pits.
And the thug’s body crumpled slowly, starting with the knees.
‘What. What was that.
‘What just happened to me?
‘Fuck. That hurts.
‘Oh god the pain it hurts it hurts it hurts it hurts it hurts it hurts it hurts my gut it got me in the gut what the hell this hurts my stomach is burning something’s spilling fuck this hurts it’s like there’s a heart in my gut shit shit shit shit—’
The thug twitched. The girl stood in front of him, smoke trailing from her hand.
To be specific, the smoke was coming from the object concealed in her hand.
A little large for her hand, it was a grey object shaped like a handgun—no, a real handgun.
In color and shape and size it was nothing like the guns the thugs had seen in movies, but the trail of smoke from the muzzle, the stench of gunpowder, and the fact that their friend had crumpled before them.
Those facts were enough to show them that the object in her hand was indeed a gun.
“Hey… Hey. What the hell, man?”
One of the thugs said to his friend, but there was no reply.
“Hey! What the fuck is that thing?!” He continued desperately. But the answer came from behind them.
“It’s a gun. This model’s called ‘Rat’. Apparently it’s the latest model from overseas—it’s not even in mainland Japan yet.”
The thugs turned in unison, as though a spell had been broken.
“It’s a gun made of special plastic with a built-in silencer. There’s so little recoil that even a little girl could use it. Which means it’s not quite as lethal, but from a short range it can still do a lot of damage.”
The men froze once more.
At the center of their sights was a boy dressed in white. He must be the one talking to them. But that didn’t matter so much as what was around him.
What cowed the men even more were the dozens of children around the boy in white, each and every last one of them holding the same grey gun as the girl.
“Are you scared?” Asked the boy in white, but the thugs did not answer.
The children were no older than fifteen or sixteen, and the youngest ones could not be any older than elementary school-aged. There was an even ratio of boys to girls, and there was no uniformity to the way they dressed. But with the exception of the boy in white, they were all in such filthy clothing that from afar, the children all seemed to be wearing dark grey.
The children other than the boy in white were all holding guns. It was like dozens of steel masks had been lined up in front of the men.
Trapped between anxiety and terror, the thugs were rooted to the ground, forced to listen to the boy in white.
“I’m sure it must be terrifying to be surrounded by children holding guns. But if you think about it, children caught up in civil wars do the same.”
With this arms hanging at his sides, the boy continued.
“Do you know how many guerrilla fighters in the world are less than fifteen years old?”
The men’s anxiety slowly transformed into fear in the face of countless guns. Though something like this might normally send them plummeting into madness, the strange juxtaposition of children and firearms drained the realism from the scene.
Their minds were paralyzed to the point that they had completely forgotten their fallen friend.
There was nothing delinquent about the children. On the mainland, they could pass as honor students or shut-ins.
“But this is Japan. Don’t you find that strange? A group of children like us, in Japan, holding guns and surrounding you.”
What followed was a simple question.
“It’s so very strange. …What is this island, do you think?”
‘Who gives a shit?’ The thugs wondered, but the weight of the children’s stares kept their mouths firmly shut. The ringing of their own breaths in their ears made it clear to the men—whether they liked it or not—that an indescribable tension had come over them.
“What does the island seem like from the mainland? A beautiful place? Paradise? Is it incomparably better than the mainland?”
That was what the men had thought, at least before they came to the island.
Rather than answer the questions, the one man whose mouth could still move mustered all his courage to speak.
“What… the hell are you… A gang?”
The boy did not seem to mind that his question was met with another.
“A gang? Like the color gangs in Tokyo?”
A bitter smile rose to his lips.
“This is getting nowhere. Don’t compare us to punks who collect clothes with their parents’ money. We’re copying American gangs too, but we don’t have any money. We’re closer to American gangs in that way. We’re in a gang because we have no money. Because we’re poor. Because we were unlucky.”
After his monologue, the boy in white took out a gun of his own. A small white gun, even more unsettling than the others. The color was a perfect fit for a circus, where pulling the trigger might release a dove into the air.
“And so, all of you are going to die. Because we’re going to kill you. Okay?”
“W-wait a second! What are you talking about?! Who the hell are you?!”
The thugs flinched and cowered, but one of the boys spoke as though they weren’t even there.
“Say, Nejiro. The guy on the floor over there—wanna bet again?”
The children’s gazes instantly focused on the man who was shot first. He was lying in a pool of blood, twitching on occasion.
“…Less than a minute.” Said the boy named Nejiro. The other children began to speak.
“What? That’s too short. Ten minutes.”
“Even the old man lasted fourteen.”
“Maybe he won’t die?”
“He will. Because everyone else we shot did.”
“That’s because we shot them in the head afterwards to make sure they were dead. We never just left them there.”
“Because Nejiro said we had to.”
“Oh. The Western and Eastern gangsters?”
“Not gangsters. Mafia.”
The fallen man could hear the children’s voices grow distant.
His stomach had been burning, but now he began to feel cold—starting from his gut and the tips of his fingers and toes. He was going cold from the inside out.
As his consciousness faded, he understood two things.
One was that they had underestimated the true terror of the island.
The other was that the chainsaw girl, who had driven them off without hurting them, was a saint—
“He didn’t last a minute.”
“Weaker than the old man.”
“Because he got shot?”
“I guess so.”
One of the thugs began to gag at the sight of the unnervingly calm children. Was he so badly affected by being held at gunpoint, or was it the seemingly impossible fact of his friend’s death?
But—even though one of them had died, the men did not feel much in the way of anger or sadness. That was all they were to one another.
“Maybe we went a little overboard.”
Nejiro put away his gun at the sight of the thug’s vomiting.
And as though in exchange, he took out a matching white cell phone.
He picked a number from his contacts list, pressed the call button, and put the speaker against his ear.
“…Yes? Hello? This is Nejiro. …Actually, one of my friends was caught by punks and she ended up shooting one to death.”
After a moment of silence, a male voice escaped the speaker. Nejiro answered, and glancing at the thugs, spoke again.
“…Yes. I’m sorry. …So we have six of his friends in our custody. What should we do?”
The conversation continued a little longer, before a smile rose to Nejiro’s face.
“Yes… I understand. We Rats obey Ginga Kanashima. Because we’re always fellow passengers on the unsinkable ship.”
Hanging up, Nejiro took out his gun again.
“He says I can do whatever I feel like.” He said, embarrassed. He held up his gun and stared at the men’s faces, one after another.
After briefly scanning the thugs, the boy threw out one final question.
“Is there hope on this island?”
Six muffled shots echoed in the Pits.
The boy’s expression remained unchanged. He did not wait for the thugs to answer.
Soon, a man in a loud Hawaiian shirt approached the children.
“Man… you made a real mess this time.” He said, his eyes turning to dinner plates.
“Oh, Daichi. Hello.” Nejiro said, his voice a flat monotone. The man looked at the children, astonished.
“Look, guys. Mr. Kanashima’s not angry with you, but if you’ve got bullets to waste on punks like these, you might want to take care of those Western and Eastern District people first.”
“We don’t take orders from you, Daichi.” Nejiro said, looking up at the handsome, grinning man.
“Hey… At least call me Mr. Tsuchimi, y’know? Adults deserve a little more respect.”
“Who cares? ‘Tsuchimi’ is hard to pronounce, anyway. And besides… we’re all just Mr. Kanashima’s pawns. We’re equals.”
“Equal, shmequal. You’ve never even seen the guy in person.”
“And you’re working as a contact for us children who’ve never seen him in person. I think ‘pawn’ works just fine.”
Nejiro was clearly looking down at Daichi. But rather than get angry, the latter sighed in surrender.
“And—we have power. Much more than you do.”
Nejiro held up a hand. The children, who had been watching silently all this time, took out their guns in unison. There were inhuman smiles on their faces. Emotionless grins carved into mannequins. They were meaningless smiles that did not even laugh at him, Daichi saw.
Daichi found himself curling up into a ball in the face of so many guns, covering his upper body.
“Whoa?! H-hey! If this is a joke, I’m not laughing!”
“It is a joke.”
Nejiro waved his arm. The children put away their guns at their own paces.
“That’s right. Don’t get the wrong idea, Daichi. We’re stronger than you, but I don’t think we can beat Mr. Kanashima.”
Daichi breathed a sigh of relief and shot the children a spiteful glare.
“Dammit. You kids are gonna grow up into screwed-up adults. I guarantee that.”
“What are screwed-up adults, specifically?” Nejiro mocked. Daichi was quick to reply.
His answer seemed to pierce the children’s hearts.
“Shits who’ll never get off this hellhole of an island.”
(1) Elder, or boss.