The next chapter will be up either tomorrow or the day after. Enjoy.
Chapter 4: The Guard Team
Night. The theme park office in the Eastern District.
It was past nine in the evening, and the office alone shone in the dark theme park.
Under the blinding fluorescent lights stood about a dozen members of the Guard Team.
It was difficult to gather all the members because so many were out on duty to prevent another murder.
The reason so many were still left was because many executives disliked the larger-than-life members of the team and instead hired bodyguards of their own.
Their doubts were not unfounded, of course. Many members of the Eastern District’s Guard Team were shady characters, and their leader Jun was a girl not yet twenty. The fact that they chose their captain through a rock-paper-scissors tournament did not help their cause.
From a distance, it almost looked like they were mindless children.
One executive would say—
The Guard Team was a group made for the boss(Gitarin)’s amusement, and had no real power or ability. The boss’s real guards were the women he was always with, and both women were from a foreign secret organization.
Another executive would say—
The Guard Team was just a collection of crazy characters from among the elite, and acted as a mascot of sorts to win the locals’ popularity.
Hikari Inamine, the manager of the casino, would say—
“Well, they’re dependable. You have no idea how much they helped me out. They’re just good at fighting—and murder, too—although that’s not necessarily the same as being good bodyguards. In a word, I guess you’d call them weirdos.”
An executive of the Western District—
“The Eastern District’s Guard Team? I have nothing to say about them.”
The local children would say—
The Guard Team was a group of incredible killers who went around murdering anyone who got in the Eastern District’s way. Joplin, the living urban legend, was actually their true leader. And they were engaged in an epic battle against Yakumo Amagiri, the island’s strongest and craziest Killer Ghoul.
The owner of a ramen shop in the Eastern District would say—
“The Eastern District’s Guard Team? Mercenaries, yeah, but damned if you could call ‘em bodyguards. They’re all soft, but they believe in whatever they’re doing.
“And… the only one of ‘em with any sense of finance is Sahara, my next-door neighbor. Tell the rest of ‘em to hurry the hell up and pay their tab.”
Everyone had a different image of the Guard Team, and each time they encountered the team their opinion seemed to change drastically.
Whenever the man in charge of the Eastern District heard these opinions, he snickered and admitted, “Some of those things’re right. Some aren’t, though.”.
An organization created by a man who respected individuality, and the Guard Team created to protect it.
On this already eccentric island, the team that had been gathered to defend the eccentric Eastern District was the most eccentric bunch of them all.
“Daichi Tsuchimi. 26 years old. Single.” Zhang recited, cracking his neck as he stared down at the man in the Hawaiian shirt.
“Um… what does me being single have to do with—”
Zhang immediately shut down Daichi Tsuchimi.
“So, you’d be what they call a… a contact.”
At first glance, Daichi just seemed to be tied haphazardly to an office chair. But his thumbs behind his back were secured together with a hemp tie. It was an intricate knot dripping with skill that even an expert might struggle against.
“A bunch of kids… Rats, huh? Talk about obnoxious.”
Carlos leaned against a wall and spoke to Jun, who stood next to him. She seemed discouraged by the content of the ongoing interrogation, as she was hanging her head.
The Rats were children, most of whom were under the age of fifteen. These street urchins were the ones behind the serial shooting cases.
It was unbelievable at first, but from Daichi’s reactions it seemed to be true.
Daichi, who had been caught in front of Misaki’s home, claimed to be a subordinate of Ginga Kanashima and was the go-between for Kanashima and the Rats.
They had dragged him in for questioning, but the moment they tied him to the chair, Daichi had screamed—”Please I’m begging you spare me I’ll tell you anything I swear please!”, saving the Guard Team a great deal of work.
He had been coming and going to and from the island for years, and at one point he did business dealing in light firearms.
In the beginning, he had transported weapons from the island to the mainland to sell them at a profit, but now he was doing the opposite—smuggling firearms from overseas and spreading them on the island.
The Western and Eastern Districts had always been in charge of gun circulation on the island, so the locals had an unspoken agreement that no one should deal in firearms without their permission.
From the moment he betrayed that agreement, Kanashima had essentially turned the organizations—in other words, the island itself—against him. But he had taken the risk and was putting himself in danger for a business that didn’t yield any notable profit.
“So, you’d be what they call a… a contact.”
After the interrogation, Zhang grilled Daichi with the same question again and again.
Daichi, the man in the Hawaiian shirt, claimed to be a pawn in Kanashima’s group who did odd jobs like dealing with other groups. He gave a memorably tired laugh when he explained himself as a pawn.
Zhang had been working out all sorts of torturous methods to interrogate the man, but all that effort went to waste the moment Daichi begged for his life on the office chair.
“A pawn. And with no loyalty whatsoever. Talk about a piece of trash.”
“I… I owe a lot to Mr. Kanashima, but those kids messed me up good. You have no idea how creepy they are! I don’t know what they’re thinking, and they don’t even have any respect.”
Daichi seemed to shiver at the memory and hung his head.
Jun stepped forward. She had been reluctant to leave Misaki home alone after what had happened, so she had sent her to another room in the office to get some sleep.
“…Umm… so let me get this straight.”
When the captain spoke, the scattered members gathered around Daichi.
Zhang gave the trembling man a mocking grin and landed a low blow.
“Right. We’ll decide how to kill him after you sum things up.”
In short, these were the facts:
-Ginga Kanashima imported new firearms from outside the island.
-He gave the guns to a group of urchins called Rats and had them attack members of the organizations in the Eastern and Western Districts.
-There were about fifty Rats in total. They scattered across the city and assaulted members the moment they were left alone. That was why the times of death were random and the members were killed even when they were alone by chance.
-However, Misaki Yasojima—an associate of the Eastern District—witnessed one of the murders this evening, and even took one of the guns. Ginga Kanashima looked into the casino employees when he got the news and pinpointed her.
-Daichi—the pawn—was ordered to snoop on her and take back the gun by force if possible, but at Misaki Yasojima’s house he encountered a monstrous woman with a pair of chainsaws.
“…And that’s how this idiot ended up tied to an office chair.” Zhang summarized, and fell into a chair with a sigh.
The others put on different faces of their own and brainstormed for their next course of action.
“This is a bother. We can’t go killing those kids one by one. I mean, I don’t mind shooting a kid, but I’m gonna get one hell of a guilt trip if I shoot an innocent one by mistake. That’s just sick, you know? The ladies’ll never look at me again.”
“We can’t go attacking them ourselves, but the Rats fight like guerrillas to attack us. In other words, the only time we can fight back is when they come to us for the kill.”
Carlos and Zhang mumbled to themselves, but after a pause they grinned simultaneously.
“This is getting interesting.”
“Call this a challenge.”
They were both enjoying the peril. But then again, everyone but Jun seemed to feel the same.
Most members of the Guard Team had come to the island because they wanted to involve themselves in things like this. They were skilled, but they all had a missing screw or two.
“You might be all right with this, everyone… but we have to think about the organization members who might be targeted.”
In that sense, perhaps Jun—who could feel fear yet remain calm—was truly the best fit for the job of captain.
At least, when she wasn’t using her chainsaws.
“But we’re still missing an important piece of the puzzle.” Jun mumbled timidly, and slowly turned to the incapacitated Daichi. “What is Mr. Kanashima’s motive?”
It was an important question. Daichi turned his head for a moment, but the moment Zhang’s knuckles cracked he flinched and slowly answered.
“…Mr. Kanashima… wants to break this island.”
“We know that. We’re asking you why.”
“…You wouldn’t believe me even if I told you. Hell, at first I didn’t believe it, either.”
Daichi averted his gaze, but saw Jun’s grave expression and took a deep breath.
“…Revenge, he says.”
“Revenge? On the island?”
“No. On one person who lives on this island.”
After leaving the island several years earlier, Ginga Kanashima had continued dealing with a certain organization. They were a violent group with a particular ideology, who used an abandoned factory in the Kanto region as their headquarters. Kanashima had been supplying them with all sorts of weapons.
At first, they were merely a customer and a dealer. But over the course of many exchanges, they developed a partnership based on trust.
But one day, a police officer discovered the headquarters, which led to a heated shootout in the factory. His allies were all arrested, and Kanashima alone escaped. But he had been shot in the hand by the police officer.
It would have been simple to get it treated, but it took Kanashima some time to evade the police and find a back-alley doctor. The necrosis forced him to get his hand amputated at the wrist.
And so, he swore revenge. Revenge against the officer who arrested his friends. He swore to make the officer who stole his right hand pay, no matter the cost.
“Mr. Kanashima gave a gun to someone. Actually, there was a little girl on the scene that day at the shootout. One of the cop’s shots bounced and killed the girl. When Mr. Kanashima found out, he gave a gun to the girl’s old man. After that, it was just a mess. The guy shot the officer and his superior when they came to apologize. The superior died, but the officer didn’t.”
Jun was struck dumb at Daichi’s mechanical recital. Zhang and Carlos looked disgusted. The others, as well, though some seemed wholly unaffected.
“Apparently, the cop left the force and ran away to this island. Mr. Kanashima was surprised. I mean, he gave up after the cop disappeared, and came back to the island—but it turned out the cop came here, too. Mr. Kanashima never told me the cop’s name, but he says that that’s when he decided to get revenge again.”
“Wait. Hold up. What’s that got to do with killing people from the organizations? Are you gonna tell us that the cop’s actually our boss or Ei daren or something?” Carlos asked the question on everyone’s minds, but Daichi shook his head with a dark look.
“No. Mr. Kanashima wants to make that cop suffer, he says. If the cop ran away to this island and tried to find a new life here—”
With a deep breath, Daichi looked Jun in the eye and continued.
“—then he would break the island itself.”
Something ran down Jun’s spine, then.
The moment she understood what Daichi was saying, a certain emotion flitted past her every nerve.
“Break… the island?”
Parroting Daichi, Jun swelled with emotion.
“Wait, wait. That’s a big leap he’s made. Is he nuts? Or does his name seriously mean he thinks on a galactic scale(1)? He find aliens and reach enlightenment or something?”
“Hey, Hawaii. You’d better not be pulling this out of your ass.”
Carlos and Zhang grilled Daichi in their own ways, but Daichi was the picture of gravity. He did not seem to be lying. And he had no reason to be lying, in his position.
The Guard Team went silent. Jun quietly stood.
She tried to pinpoint the emotion boiling inside her.
Was it anger? Or was it sadness and frustration at becoming involved in something so petty?
Or was it fear of losing the island?
Jun was one of the first residents of the island.
Since the moment she was taken in by Gitarin and the Eastern District’s organization was created, she was a local.
The island was where her father died. The island killed her father. The island was one with her father.
Initially, she had just wanted to quietly watch over the island’s future.
Then, she slowly began to realize. That what she truly wanted was not to watch over the island. Her wish was to protect the island from anyone and anything that would harm it.
The engine that swallowed her father continued to move at the center of the island.
Her father continued to live on the island, along with the engine.
So the engine must never be stopped.
She must protect the island.
Those emotions piled together until, finally, she applied to join the Eastern District’s Guard Team.
Unlike the other members, she joined with the true, firm determination to protect the island.
“…I’ll be back.”
When she stood fully, Jun spoke with utter calm.
Her blank eyes were no longer terrified. They were filled with a force of will.
“…Where are you going?”
“Umm… I… I want to find Mr. Kanashima…”
All it took was a cold question from Zhang to bring Jun back to her senses, at least for the moment. He must have noticed her state because he refrained from criticizing her as usual.
“If you wanna catch this Kanashima bastard, you just have to round up anyone with a prosthetic hand.”
“You can’t. Prosthetics these days are really good, and Mr. Kanashima’s is one of the better ones. You couldn’t tell even if you touched it, and you can barely see where the prosthetic ends and the arm starts. And his even had functional fingers.”
It sounded like something out of a sci-fi film. Because there were no prosthetic technicians of that caliber on the island, Kanashima had probably gotten his hand in Japan or overseas.
Zhang clicked his tongue. Carlos interjected.
“Why don’t you just take us to the guy?”
“Weren’t you listening? Kanashima and the Rats don’t have an HQ. They call this chump and tell him where to go, so there’s no point going in ourselves.”
“Really? Then what if we get this guy to ask Kanashima to meet up?”
This time, Daichi replied with a teary grimace.
“I tried calling him a while ago, but his phone was off. He must’ve figured out I got caught.”
Carlos spread his arms dramatically, indicating a loss. Zhang cracked his arms as he stood.
“Well… looks like it’s murder time.”
Daichi shrieked at his sudden death sentence, his eyes turning to dinner plates.
“W-wait a second! You didn’t say you’d kill me!”
“But we don’t need you anymore, chump.” Zhang said mercilessly. Daichi struggled in vain—
But he was rescued by the leader of the band of thugs.
“You can’t, Mr. Zhang.”
“…I know. I was just messing with him.”
Jun, holding Zhang’s arm, was completely calm now. Yet at the same time, her usual frightened look was gone. The danger the island was in gave her no room for weakness.
“Umm… if there’s anything else, please tell us anything you know.” She asked Daichi gravely. He managed to calm down, and after a moment’s thought, hesitantly spoke.
“Well… about Nejiro—the leader of the Rats…”
They had heard the name during the interrogation. Nejiro was the boy in white who killed the Eastern District executive that evening and was spotted by Misaki.
“He says he’s gonna go for the Eastern District boss alone tomorrow. Uh… you know how tomorrow’s the casino’s re-opening day? He says he’s gonna sneak in alone and—”
“You’re supposed to tell us that from the beginning, you little shit!” Zhang roared. Daichi flinched and screamed again.
“Calm down, Mr. Zhang!” Jun said, patting the outraged wrestler on the back, and urged Daichi to continue.
“H-he always works with a few of his buddies. He’s a careful kid, you know. But I can tell him and his friends apart from brats who aren’t his little mice.”
That was a new fact.
“I can tell them apart. I swear I can! But if I did that… no. you know what? I’m already as good as a traitor. I’ll pick ‘em out for you, so I just have one request. Please… please protect me from them and Mr. Kanashima!”
It was a shameless offer.
But if he could recognize the Rats—a group numbering at over fifty—Daichi was already an asset to the Eastern District.
In other words, he had been saving his best card for the best moment to negotiate.
“Not bad.” Carlos laughed. Zhang stared at Daichi, stunned.
Jun thought for a moment about the offer.
Then, she smiled and replied in a gentle tone.
“How about a game of rock-paper-scissors?”
Daichi stared as Jun untied him.
“In this team, we decide on the captain with a rock-paper-scissors tournament. That’s how I became captain. So let’s play three rounds. If you win, I’ll protect you. If you lose, we’ll hand you over to the Eastern District executives and let them do what they like with you.”
It was a cruel offer packaged with a friendly smile. The executives, who lost a friend, would not so easily let Kanashima’s subordinate go. They would not sit and do nothing, unlike Gitarin. And even if Daichi won the match, he might be taken care of once his usefulness was at an end.
But he might have a chance to escape if he won the game.
Daichi tried to figure out what Jun was thinking, but her eyes were completely concealed behind her bangs.
‘Can she even see me?’ He wondered out of the blue, but he quickly waved the thought aside and held out his right hand.
To begin with the conclusion, Daichi won all three rounds.
“Oh… I lost. I’m sorry, everyone. I hope you don’t mind…” Jun struggled to say. But the others exchanged glances and grinned.
“What can we do? Jun lost, fair and square.”
“Talk about lucky.”
“Can’t argue against rock-paper-scissors.”
Of the Guard Team, however, Zhang alone shook his head expressionlessly.
“Why’d you throw the match?” He asked Jun upon calling her behind the office.
“Um… I have no idea what you’re talking about…”
“I know you played later than him. Everyone else does, too. The Guard Team’s full of idiots, but they don’t have eyes for nothing.”
Jun had already known that.
Her victory rate was already suspicious to begin with even if no one noticed how she won, it was understandable that the others might begin to ask questions.
“Don’t be. If there was anything to apologize for, we’d have blown your trick out in the open ages ago.”
Not understanding Zhang’s intentions, Jun said nothing. He did not wait for her to reply.
“Why’d you lose.”
She remained silent, but eventually opened her mouth.
“…I just don’t want anyone to die. I’m sorry. I don’t deserve to be captain. How could a leader be so passive?”
“Don’t apologize. Who cares? I mean, we’re not a military. It’s not about killing. We’re supposed to be protecting people. If we can kill to protect—that’s important, yeah. But that’s not part of the equation today.”
“…I lost because I thought that… everyone would understand that way…”
Jun hung her head. Zhang anxiously spoke.
But he wasn’t truly angry. He was just frustrated with a dense person.
“You’d better apologize about that.”
“Listen up. None of us says anything about your trick because we all accept you as our leader! You don’t need to pull stupid stunts like that—you can just tell us, ‘I don’t want to kill him’, and we’ll all grin and nod! Not a single one of us is gonna laugh at you! …But if you act like that, we all feel bad ‘cause it feels like you’re worryin’ over us.”
He sighed and looked Jun in the eye.
“You gotta trust your subordinates more.”
Jun apologized again, but there was a world of meaning in her words this time. Yet in that mass of emotion and thought, there was not a drop of sadness.
“I’m so sorry, Mr. Zhang. To you… and everyone else.”
“Hey… look. I’m the only one who worried about stuff like this. So you don’t need to apologize to the rest.” Zhang said, turning to get back to the office. But then he looked back. “Tomorrow, we’re gonna protect the boss properly. We’ll show ‘em what we’re made of. Got it?”
The whirlwind of thoughts and emotions in Jun had vanished without a trace.
Free from her burdens, she remembered her mission.
The Guard Team did not protect just the boss and the executives.
They—and she—existed to protect the island itself.
The Western District. A suite in the Grand Ibis Hotel.
Aboveground in the Western District was a hotel that had, unfortunately, been already completely furnished when construction halted. The hotel’s name was ‘Ibis’, and it was currently the Western District’s organization’s castle.
“Yes… I understand.”
In a suite on a higher floor, Yili—an executive of the district—stood with her ear pressed to her phone.
Though the room paled in comparison to the royal suite, it was still luxurious enough to be the best suite in any other hotel. But the luxury had not been there from the beginning.
The interior was furnished with Chinese-style furniture and ornaments, a far cry from the hotel exterior. The ornaments wore splashes of primary colors, and the furniture was an artful combination of curves and lines that, for all their beauty, did not at all look too lavish. The room was decorated just enough to strike a balance. There was little hint of deficiency or opulence in the luxurious suite.
A woman in a qipao sat in a bamboo chair in the middle of the room, her fingertips elegantly set against a phone receiver. Her skin, fair as ceramic, reflected the lights from the lamps. Just by holding the phone she looked like she was in a film.
“Yes. I know. It will all come together tomorrow.”
There was something ominous in her words. She was speaking in Japanese, indicating that she was not talking to a fellow Western District executive.
“I’ll convince Ei daren. You have nothing to worry about.”
With a coy smile, she imagined the face on the other side of the conversation.
“Then I will look forward to tomorrow.”
The other party must be smiling as well, Yili was certain.
After all, she could not help smiling herself when she thought of tomorrow.
Even if that smile belied a sinister plot.
“I look forward to annihilating them in one fell swoop.”
And morning came to the island once more.
With the casino re-opening about to begin, and the thoughts of many concealed behind its doors—
(1) The word ‘Ginga’ means ‘galaxy’ in Japanese.