Thursday, 16 October 2014

Mew Mew! -Crazy Cat's Night- Chapter 5

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

I'm finishing up the rest of the volume in the next few days. Enjoy.

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Chapter 5: Ginga Kanashima and the Rat King


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Daytime. The hotel by the theme park in the Eastern District.


It seemed to be a day like any other.

People came and went by the theme park entrance, and children played as they chased around dogs.

Many people in the area lived in the buildings around the theme park, and pseudo-businesses like food stands popped up in the summertime.

However, few set foot in the theme park itself and the nearby hotel. The locals knew that they were the headquarters of the Eastern District’s organization, and were in silent agreement that they should not trespass.

However, the underground area of the hotel was an exception. It was one of the most lavish places on the island.

The underground casino that had opened several years ago.

All one needed to enter was money and basic etiquette.

With those two possessions, anyone could set foot in that ‘paradise’. Many came all the way from the mainland upon hearing rumors, some being so-called ‘heavyweights’—both inside and outside the law.

But depending on the outcome of their gambles, ‘paradise’ sometimes turned to ‘hell’.

Going broke on the island meant that everything would change.

Those who had already been living on the island didn’t have much to fear—they already knew how to live on nothing on the island.

But if someone who visited the island for the first time out of curiosity happened to lose everything—and even go in debt to the Eastern District’s organization—they were set to face hell, in more ways than one.

They were abandoned in the unfamiliar world of the island without a single yen—the only commonality between the worlds. First they had no idea what they should do. When they heard that leaving the island by ship cost money, they turned to the bridge—but they would wander the labyrinthine streets with the words ‘easy pickings’ practically painted on their backs, being attacked by thugs and left to experience the hell of the island like a bird with broken wings.

In that sense, the casino was a place for lucky locals who happened to walk away with a profit or heavyweights of the outside world who had an endless supply of money to spend.


The casino had been closed for renovations for a month or so, but the re-opening was finally here.

Today was a pre-opening day for invited guests only, and there was even a small ceremony planned.

Although the executive in charge had been murdered, the planning process had already left his hands. His death did not affect the opening.

There were two ways into the underground from the hotel entrance. There were also four other doors leading to the casino from the underground, but those were closed except in case of emergency.

Though there was no need to worry about the police like on the mainland, that also meant they had to employ strict security measures. Like placing metal detectors at the entrance.

Four members of the organization stood at each of the hotel’s entrances, running quick checks on the invited guests.

Zhang and Daichi were on standby on the roof of a nearby building, watching from the distance. Because the building was positioned diagonally from the hotel, they could see the hotel entrance where the casino was.

“Shit. So those guns can get past metal detectors.” Zhang hissed, munching on some jerky for lunch.

Next to him was Daichi Tsuchimi, whose arms and legs were bound. He squirmed on the floor like a caterpillar.

“I doubt they’d be stupid enough to let some kids into the place, but just making sure—those Rats are sixteen, seventeen tops, right?”

“Right. Fifteen or sixteen at most, I’d say. At least, that’s what they looked like. But I don’t know exactly.”

“Then we’re clear. None of the guests today are that young.”

Next to them was a monitor that displayed a surveillance feed. They could even keep an eye on the casino interior from the rooftop. Zhang and Daichi would remain on standby there, and the latter would scan for Rats or Kanashima’s subordinates. If they found any, they would contact Carlos—hiding in a sniping box inside the casino—or the other members, who had infiltrated the place.

“Now… let’s see how this Nejiro kid manages to sneak into the party.”


▶︎


Meanwhile, the casino employees were rushing back and forth.

There was a large, open space between the games in the casino. Though normally the space was empty, today it was taken up by a white table.

Guests in expensive suits and dresses were around the table, but from the looks of their clothes they did not seem to be from the island.

The guests did not look very tense; those who already knew one another were engaged in elegant discourse.

Misaki served cocktails to the guests who had arrived—mostly Eastern District executives—and collapsed over the counter in exhaustion.

“Y-you idiot! What do you think you’re doing?!” Inamine chastised her. Though also tired from greeting each and every guest in the casino, Inamine refused to fall.

“But… it’s just been one thing after another, boss. And I didn’t get a wink of sleep last night.”

All she had to do was serve cocktails to the island’s heavyweights. But that was harder than a thousand-mile hike for Misaki. Perhaps she wouldn’t be so exhausted if the guests were ordinary politicians—but these were members of the criminal underworld. One slip of the finger and one ruined suit could mean a knife to the throat.

It was an exaggerated example, but a realistic one in Misaki’s eyes. More so because she had seen a man die the previous night. If she weren’t already used to living on the island, the incident might have scarred her for life.

But that didn’t mean she could slack off on the job. Scanning the casino, Inamine gave her another task.

“Oh! Hey, Misaki. The boss is here. Get him a cocktail.”

Gitarin—head of the Eastern District—stood in the distance.

The man of ambiguous ethnicity was wearing a black-and-white tuxedo with patterns, and was chatting amicably with the guests. A pair of beautiful women clung behind him, smiling as they thoroughly surveyed their surroundings.

“Eek.”

“No squealing. Go on, get him his cocktail!”

Dragging Misaki upright before she fainted from shock, the manager returned to scanning the casino.

“…Huh?”

It was then that Inamine realized something and took a closer look around the hall.

“Wait.”

Something suspiciously ominous was beginning to boil in the manager’s thoughts.

“Where are all the Western District guests?”


▶︎


At that very moment, Zhang noticed something concerning on the monitors.

Children were kicking around a soccer ball in an underground corridor that led into the casino. It was not an unusual sight by any means, but the children bothered him. Because the entrance to the casino hall was right next to the soccer game, from a different angle both the children and the entrance might come into view.

Perhaps the Nejiro boy was among the children.

When Zhang switched to another entrance, he saw yet another group of children amidst the people, playing soccer.

Something cold ran down his spine.

Did the kids around here always play so much soccer?

The children shown on the four cameras were all absorbed in their games.

“Hey, is that Nejiro kid somewhere in here?” He asked, dragging the incapacitated Daichi toward the monitor.

Daichi stared into the hi-res feed for a moment before exclaiming,

“Oh! Here, this kid on the top left. He’s a Rat!”

“Good.”

As Daichi pointed at the upper left part of the screen with his chin, Zhang prepared to contact Carlos and Jun.

But—

“And this one, too! On the right!”

“Figures they wouldn’t just send in one kid. …Yeah, Carlos? We found the brats. They—”

“And the one who just kicked!”

Three? Shit. They’re serious ‘bout offing the boss. A full frontal assault, eh?

“And, umm… this kid on this screen, too…”

What?!

<Hello? Which kid? I mean, not like they’ll make it into the casino, but… huh? Hello? Everything all right, Mr. Zhang?>

“A-and this one! And that one!”

Daichi’s enthusiasm slowly dissipated. As though staring at an eerie object, he watched for some time before finally going silent altogether.

Zhang also was rendered mute.

As he watched the image on the screen change, he eventually managed to work up a trembling voice.

“No way…”

Before he knew it, the screen was filled with dozens of children.

They kicked the soccer ball into the distance, and slowly began to walk toward the door to the casino.

“What the fuck is going on here? You pullin’ one over on us?!” Zhang roared, grabbing Daichi by the collar, but even the latter seemed flabbergasted.

“N-no way! How could you be so rash—d-don’t you have any security in those passages underground?!”

“Come to think of it… The Western District’s Guard Corps was supposed to be taking care of the underground—”

The realization struck him then. The Western District, which was in charge of part of the security, was nowhere to be found. And as though they knew from the beginning, the children were gathering only in the unguarded underground corridors.

Reaching a certain conclusion, he brought his radio up to his mouth.

“Carlos. Are there any Western District goons on your end?”

<Finally, you’re talking again. Lemme check… no. There aren’t any. I don’t see anyone from the Western District. Everyone here’s from Eastside.>

His suspicions confirmed, Zhang dropped Daichi and asked him another question.

“Hey. Does Kanashima have connections with the Western District?”

“No, he doesn’t! I told you, he’s trying to get revenge on a guy in the Western District. As if he’d join up with them!”

“Then what about the Rats?”

“Wha…”

Daichi hesitated. Zhang pushed further.

“What if those brats are buddies with someone other than Kanashima?!”


Without waiting for an answer, Zhang immediately turned to the radio.

But it was too late.

He could her Carlos’s voice.

<Huh? Hey, that door’s not supposed to… open… What? Wait.>

His confusion was clear over the speaker.

On the monitor before Zhang, dozens of children were walking in through a door that was supposed to be barred.

<So… which one am I supposed to shoot first?>


▶︎


Inside the casino.


Misaki felt like crying by the time she served a cocktail to the most powerful man in the Eastern District. But that was when, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a door opening.

“Huh?”

Wait. That door shouldn’t be opening. I mean, if anyone could waltz in through the emergency exit, there’s no point in having the metal detectors at the entrance.

But a second later. Countless children swarmed into her line of sight.

Boys and girls dressed in scruffy clothing, a poor fit for the casino.

Huh? What’s going on here? Why’re kids—kids… kids…?

In her daze, the word repeated itself over and over like an echo in her head.

As though her brain was raising an alarm.

The casino’s patrons began to notice the children sweeping in from four different doors.

A low murmur filled the hall. But the children paid it no mind as they walked along the walls.

And by the time several of them came near her, Misaki realized that they were holding something in their hands.

She began to break out of her daze. And the moment she spotted the grey, toylike guns in the children’s hands, she remembered everything.

No way… it’s just like yesterday…!

Her every cell screamed at her to flee.

But it was too late.

One of the children near her held out his arm as though offering a handshake.

And in his hand, pointed directly at Misaki’s face, was a toylike handgun—the Rat.

The boy grinned and said blankly,

“You better not move, lady.”

Her face frozen, Misaki stopped in her tracks. When she eyed her surroundings, she spotted Inamine surrounded by three children.

Yet it felt like she alone was left out of reality.

She had been held at gunpoint before, but never had the casino been held up by fifty people at once, let alone fifty children. Child robbers were not uncommon on the island or the mainland, but no one imagined that a group of children would assault a casino run by a criminal organization.

For a moment she thought that they had come to silence her. But Misaki heard that the Hawaiian shirt man from the previous night had already spilled everything there was to know about the Rats. Then the children had no reason to come for her.

When her questions piled together at the center of her thoughts, she mustered a surprisingly calm voice as she asked the boy who held her at gunpoint,

“What… are you guys… doing?”

Neither mocking nor ignoring her question, the boy replied in a monotonous voice.

“We’re here to kill. To kill the Eastern District people here.”

And without so much as blinking, he also revealed the mastermind behind the plot.

“That way, the people from the Western District will be happy.”


▶︎


“Carlos, you nitwit! Do something!” Zhang cried into the radio, watching the incident through the monitor.

The Rats moved as though circling the hall, surrounding everyone inside. The guests did not seem to have noticed anything amiss yet—they were not panicking.

<Easy for you to say.>

“Forget it and shoot them all.”

<No way. If I shoot one, the casino’s gonna turn into a Tarantino flick before I get the second shot.> Carlos explained cooly.

“Like I give a shit!” Zhang roared loud enough to pop his own veins. “The execs must have guns or something! What’re the idiots outside doing?!”

<They gave up the guns at the metal detector. The boss is probably the only one who could’ve brought one in. And look. Even if they want to contact outside, they’re all held at gunpoint here… might be faster if I just ran over myself.>

“FUCK! Where’s the captain and the rest?!”

<I can’t reach them.>

Zhang felt a chill run down his spine. Jun and the others were not such easy prey, he knew, but the army of fifty could have destroyed them all in the five minutes they had been out of contact. Zhang tried to radio them again and again, but Carlos was the only one to respond.

Wait. Wait. Wait. Calm down.

Focusing his efforts into regaining a sense of tranquility, Zhang wrapped his fingers around the railings on the rooftop.

Tightening his grip hard enough to bend the metal, he raised his head and turned to Daichi.

“Hey! Which one of ‘em is Nejiro?! I’ll get Carlos to—”

“He’s not there.”

Daichi replied before Zhang could finish.

“…What?”

“Nejiro… he’s always wearing this eye-catching white outfit. But I don’t see him! Not in the casino, not outside, not anywhere!”

“Maybe he’s wearing something different!” Zhang proposed desperately, but Daichi shook his head.

“No. I remember his face perfectly. Just what the hell is going on here?!”

“That’s my line!”

Calm down. Calm down. Calm down. Calm down. Calm down.”

The railing in his hand crunched as it crumpled.

Turning his frustration and anger into strength, Zhang desperately tried to lower the pressure in his head.

But, as he calmly went over the facts in his head, he noticed that something was off.

“…Wait.”

Things are going way too well for these kids.

The suspicion began to balloon uncontrollably in his thoughts.

Even if the Western District gave ‘em a hand, we’re no pushovers. So how did the kids take over so easily? Is it even possible for Carlos to be the only Guard Team member—or bodyguard—with guns on hand? The other execs’ goons are watching through the same cameras, so why aren’t they rushing into the casino?

One conclusion after another flooded his mind. Erasing every unnecessary thought, Zhang desperately struggled to find the truth behind his current predicament.


And his conclusion was—


▶︎


“You know… Nejiro says that when we kill all the executives here, the Eastern District is finished. The boss will die and no one will trust him anymore.”

Like a machine the boy spoke, setting aside all emotion.

“I’m sorry I’m not an executive really I’m not.” Misaki replied, cowering before the child.

It was only then that the boy holding her at gunpoint finally spoke for himself.

“Nejiro told us to kill everyone. You were just unlucky, lady.”

Unlucky?

‘Unlucky’.

With that word as the trigger—the word she used to justify herself—Misaki was instantly dragged back to reality.

I’m going to die because of something I can’t even see or touch… because of bad luck?

By thinking herself unlucky, she was able to accept her world and her position. That was the way of life she had chosen on the island.

But it was the first time that her misfortune itself had told her, ‘you were just unlucky’. Only when she heard those words from the source of her misfortune did she realize how hypocritical that statement really was.

No. This isn’t bad luck or something that petty. I’m not being held at gunpoint by bad luck. I’m going to be killed by these kids—these little murderers!

What spiraled through her heart was rage.

Though she thought her life had been controlled by luck, she found herself being played like a fiddle by an absurd situation.

That anger overpowered her fear and allowed her to return the boy’s empty gaze with a sharp glare.

“So how does that help you? What… what are you trying to do?”

The boy thought for a moment at the unexpected question. Then—

“We want to… escape the island.”

“…What?”

“We all hate this island so much. But if we want to leave, powerless kids like us need power. So we’re going to get that power and escape. We’re going to escape from this awful world.”

Misaki was silent at the child’s answer.

The island was indeed an awful place. She knew that well, which was why she had always excused herself with bad luck as she lived there.

But not everyone on the island lived that way.

Her friend Jun had chosen to live on the island, and was trying to protect it. And the children before her were trying to destroy that life for their own selfish reasons.

Unable to accept it, Misaki shot the boy a fierce glare.

“You guys can’t do it.”

“…What?”

“You guys will never escape the island.”

The boy was silent at her conclusion. And before Misaki knew it, the children who were holding Inamine at gunpoint were also looking in her direction.

“You guys are all part of this island. There’s no one more like this island than you… so you’ll never escape this place on your own!”

With that, Misaki reached back and grabbed a bottle of alcohol from the countertop.

I just have to take his gun.

She was being reckless, but Misaki did not hesitate. Ironically enough, she acted to escape her old self—the one who left herself to chance—to face an unchangeable fate—


But, as luck would have it, the bottle slipped right through her sweaty fingers.

Drawing a beautiful arc as it flew off behind the boy, it shattered loudly.


As if on cue, the children pulled the trigger.


▶︎


Underground, at the center of the island, an engine too massive for the boy in white to see at once hummed and shook the air.

The island was a floating one in the truest sense of the word, as its base did not touch the sea floor. Built on theories developed fifteen years prior, the artificial island had to remain parallel to the bridge no matter the state of the tides.

And of the components that were in charge of directing the island’s movements was this monstrous engine.

It was, symbolically, the heart of the island.

There were catwalks in the massive underground space from where the engine came into view. The metal walkways followed the inner walls for the chamber. The machinery would not be out of place at a steel manufacturing plant, but at the bottom of the chamber was not a furnace, but a warm engine.

Leaning against a railing by one of the entrances, Nejiro looked into empty space.

Imagining what was happening at the casino, he smiled quietly and said—

“Goodbye.”


▶︎


The guns fired nothing.


In the casino, the children pulled the triggers to open fire.

Each gun was pointed at the executives they were surrounding, and the largest number of guns were aimed at the boss of the Eastern District. Not even his escorts, who stood protectively before him, could defend him from every shot.


Yet the inevitable never happened.


▶︎


“Goodbye.” Nejiro whispered.

With a dry chuckle, he mumbled—

“Goodbye, Rats. Goodbye, everyone.”


▶︎


There were clicks. The sound of the hammer falling in every gun. However, the logical next step never took place—the sound of gunfire muffled by the built-in silencers.

“…Huh?”

The children pulled the triggers over and over again, but none of the guns fired.

Muttering like a chorus of insects, the children exchanged glances.

Though their lives were in danger, their expressions did not change much. They accepted their situation while wondering why they were in that situation. That was all.

“What’s happening?”

“Why won’t they fire?”

“Maybe they’re empty?”

“But we loaded the bullets Nejiro gave us.”

“That’s weird.”

“What do we do?”

“What can we do?”

“We have to ask Nejiro.”

“Where is he?”

“Not here.”

“Nope.”

“What do we do?”

“What can we do?”

Neither anxious nor afraid, the children whispered lethargically.

They showed no hint of tension as they whispered, almost like they were one step removed from the predicament.

Watching them, the boss of the Eastern District finally broke his silence and spoke with an awkward chuckle.

“Say, kids.”

He reached out to the children, sounding a little older than he looked.

“Why don’t we save the wondering for later?”

Then he raised his hand. The six casino doors opened in unison.

Behind each door, five or six people were on standby. They stood as though blocking the children’s way out.

They were members of the Eastern District’s organization and the Guard Team members whom Zhang had lost contact with.

“After all, you kids are going to have a very, very long time to think about what you’ve done. It’s up to you whether you regret it or find an answer or something.”

The grin on his face was a cruel one; a perfect contrast to the faint smiles of the children.


▶︎


“…Since when?”

At the same time, on the rooftop of the building diagonal to the casino, Zhang spoke quietly into the radio.

<Hmm… This morning, I’d say. We got word from the boss himself and everyone got together a little earlier.>

With his eyes fixed on the monitor, Zhang quietly continued to question Carlos.

“…And I was the only one out of the loop?”

<That’s right.>

He could hear Carlos suppressing a laugh behind the radio.

With that, all of his suspicions were confirmed.

“…So you let them into the casino to nip things in the bud?”

<Everyone knows you gotta set out bait if you want to catch some rats. Now that we have proof the Western District betrayed us, we just have to find the mastermind and presto!>

Finally understanding everything, Zhang replied,

“…I owe each and every one of you seven Vertical Suplexes.”

It sounded like a joke, but his voice was not comical in the least.

Upon hearing the unusually specific threat, Carlos snickered evasively.

<Heh heh. Jun wanted to tell you, y’know. Me and the boss had to stop her.>

“…Right. Jun’s off the hook. The rest of you get eight—”

At that point, he realized something.

On the monitor, the Guard Team was taking the children into custody.

But someone important was missing.

“…Hey. Where’s Jun?”

<She’s gone off to work now.>

“Who the hell is she guard-”

Quizzically, he stood to lean against the railing—

<Well, she—…hey, you listening, Zhang?>

But Zhang did not answer.

The moment he turned, he saw something—and froze on the spot.

He was furious. Not at anyone else, but at himself and his own foolishness.


Before him lay pieces of rope.

Daichi Tsuchimi, who should have been tied up, was nowhere to be seen.

And strangely enough, the ropes seemed to have been cut with a sharp object.


▶︎


“It must be about time.”

The engine hummed heavily in the underground chamber.

Staring at his cell phone, Nejiro slowly stood.

The ceiling seemed endlessly far in the engine room. There were multiple levels of walkways overhead.

Noting that it was time for him to meet someone, he turned his attention from the engine to the rest of the chamber.

That was when the footsteps began.

“!”

The sound was approaching slowly, probably from the entrance just next to him.

Because there were no doors on the entrances in the chamber, Nejiro did not prepare anything in particular as he waited in stillness for the person to appear.


However, the one who appeared from the shadows was not the person he was waiting for.

“Hey.”

He flashed a friendly smile and raised a hand.

“You…”

Shooting a suspicious glance at the man in the Hawaiian shirt, Nejiro called his name.

“Daichi… what are you doing here?”


“No, no. That’s my line.” Replied Daichi, stepping forward as he tilted his head, smile and all.

There were 10 meters between them. Though the engine rumbled, it was not loud enough to hinder their conversation. Daichi stuck his hands in his pockets as he slowly walked, leaning forward.

“You surprised me, kid. The Rats betraying Mr. Kanashima and sticking with the Western District, I could get. But—”

He took one more step, then stopped.

“—who’d have thought you’d sell all the Rats to the Eastern District?”

Nejiro did not answer.

After all, Daichi was absolutely correct.

“You’re one crazy kid. You’d actually use your precious Rats like pawns. You took advantage of Mr. Kanashima’s offer and made a profit—those guns.”

Daichi shook his head, troubled, but the smile never left his face.

“And once you had your weapons, you didn’t hunt down the organizations’ people like he told you to. You immediately went to negotiate with the Western District.”

“…Why would you say that? We killed people from the Western District, too.” Nejiro asked, neither confirming nor denying Daichi’s allegations.

“I looked into things myself. And surprise, surprise. The Western District people you killed happened to from the same faction. All eight of them. I thought the Eastern District was bad, but the Western District has it worse with the in-fighting.”

Nejiro remained silent, quietly waiting for Daichi to continue.

Daichi noted his intent and continued.

“You pretended to follow Mr. Kanashima’s orders to kill people from the organizations. But all along, you were working for the Western District. Your numbers aren’t the only reason you could kill eight people from the infamously cautious Western District. They must have given you insider intel.”

It was all conjecture—which also happened to be completely accurate.

With a hint of caution in his eye, Nejiro glared at the contact before him.

Until then he had thought of Daichi as human trash whom they could pick on with ease. But now he could sense the sharpened steel behind Daichi’s grin.

“And your final mission was to attack the Eastern District’s casino. That should have worked out, but you spilled the beans to the Eastern District’s organization and sold them your friends. Along with your contact from the Western District.”

Daichi finally paused, and waited for Nejiro.

For a time, only the rumbling of the engine filled the chamber.

Nejiro remained silent for a while, but eventually gave in with a sigh.

“…I guessed that the Western District would dispose of us once things were finished. So I sold the Rats to the Eastern District. Along with the fifty new guns I received from Mr. Kanashima.”

He replied, not sounding concerned about his friends. His white clothes and pale skin struck a stark contrast to his dark, muddy eyes.

“But what are you doing here, Daichi? I heard you were captured by the Eastern District. And more importantly… how did you get here?”

With that question, Nejiro held out his right arm.

The barrel of the white gun in his hand was pointed straight at Daichi’s head.

The gun had a short range, but at this distance it was good enough to fatally injure Daichi. Nejiro slowly walked forward to steady his aim.

Yet Daichi neither ran nor showed signs of fear. Though he had panicked the last time he was held at gunpoint, this time he remained deadly calm.

As Nejiro approached, Daichi slowly began.

“I managed to get out of there. And as for how I found you… there’s something I never told you about your custom gun.”

“What?”

Daichi’s right hand seemed to twitch in his pocket.

At that moment, something in Nejiro’s gun clicked.

“?!”

“Why do you think you got a special gun?” Daichi chuckled, and took out a cell phone from his pocket.

He flashed the screen at Nejiro.

“—so we could track you with the transmitter inside. If I’d known this was going to happen, I’d have snuck in a bug somewhere on that thing, too. But batteries have limits.”

He began to walk again, faster than before. It was clear he wanted to corner Nejiro.

Sensing danger, Nejiro also moved.

Instead of stepping back or turning, he instantly pulled the trigger.

But nothing happened.

There was no click from the hammer, let alone the sound of gunfire.

“!”

“So what I did was rig the transmitter and the device that—anyway, all I managed to do was rig your gun so I could stop it from firing.”

If Nejiro could not use his gun, he was lost.

The man he had always thought insignificant now seemed like a hunter after its prey.

In fact, Daichi seemed like a different person altogether. He was still serene, but everything under his skin had changed.

“You see… I’m here to punish you.”

Nejiro instinctively understood—the being squirming in Daichi’s skin was more dangerous than he could ever imagine.

It was only when he heard the ragged breaths from his own mouth that Nejiro realized he was panicking.

“I’m here to punish you for betraying Mr. Kanashima.”

“Ah…”

The moment Nejiro made to run, Daichi kicked off the ground and closed in. Nejiro was taken by surprise and was caught in Daichi’s left arm.

And immediately, he was pulled.

Daichi grabbed him by the collar and raised him into the air with ease. Nejiro was rather slender for his age to begin with, and Daichi had a strong build. Nejiro could not fight back.

But that did not explain Daichi’s movements. His fighting style relied less on raw strength and more on timing and improvisation.

This guy’s not just a contact!

By the time Nejiro realized the truth, he was in no state to retaliate.

When he kicked, all he managed was to dirty Daichi’s shirt. When he tried to claw at Daichi’s arm, it felt like his own fingernails would come loose first.

“I want you… to suffer.”

The smile had long disappeared from Daichi’s face. The fingers jammed against the boy’s pale neck began to tighten their grip.

“You know why you lost? You and your friends held back your emotions. You went the wrong way the moment you refused to feel fear.”

Hearing a sickening noise escape his own lips, Nejiro watched his world grow dim.

He looked around, desperate to call for help, but there was no one on the walkways above.

People should have been there to maintain the engine, but no one was likely to show up to get involved in a fight between a thug and an urchin.

His consciousness was half-gone now. Everything seemed quieter.

But then he noticed something.

It was in time with the massive engine, the heart of the island.

A keen, shrill, and tiny but vicious roar was filling the chamber.


▶︎


“!”

Daichi heard the noise as well, but because the sound was bouncing off the walls, and because it was drowned out by the massive engine, he could not find the source.

He scanned his surroundings cautiously and took his hands off Nejiro’s neck.

Nejiro lost his balance in his unexpected freedom. He staggered backwards and finally landed on his backside.

And as though getting in their way—


She descended.


Multiple walkways were suspended in levels in the tall chamber.

Nejiro and Daichi were on the equivalent of the second level, as close as they could be to the engine on the first level.

Jun Sahara jumped from the third level just overhead.

She was only wielding one chainsaw. The other was still in its case.

Twirling the saw in midair, she struck a careful balance as she landed.

For a moment, Nejiro thought her legs had been sucked into the floor.

As she landed, her legs absorbed the impact like a sponge and bent. Though she landed on the hard floor, she barely felt the shock.

She made a precise landing, like a cat jumping from a rooftop.

Standing between Nejiro and Daichi, Jun slowed her chainsaw and held its tip toward Daichi. At the same time, she took out her second saw and held it at Nejiro’s neck as he sat on the floor.


The shriek of the chainsaw stopped, leaving only the rumbling of the engine.

With that, Jun spoke.

“…Umm… well…”

She sounded too unreliably nervous for Nejiro’s liking.

“You shouldn’t fight. Let’s see… your name’s Nejiro, and you are…”

But then, her voice grew firm.

“—Mr. Ginga Kanashima.”

Silence.

The rumbling of the giant engine alone seemed to be part of time as the rest of the world remained frozen.

A moment later, the man who called himself ‘Daichi Tsuchimi’ slowly opened his mouth.

“…How did you know?”

He was calm. He sounded deferential, but not pathetic—as he had been with Zhang earlier. With his courtesy he seemed to declare that he was the mastermind, his voice brimming with danger and pride.

Nejiro’s eyes widened in shock.

With both chainsaws still trained on their targets, Jun smiled.

“Well… it was your hand.”

“My hand?”

“When we played rock-paper-scissors yesterday, you reacted a beat later than most people. Usually people change their hand when we say ‘scissors’, but you were even slower than that. And… there’s something awkward about the way your fingers move, too. So I thought, maybe… that your hand was a prosthetic.”

“And the one who told you about Ginga Kanashima’s prosthetic hand before the game… was me.” Kanashima snickered, and looked at Jun.

Her eyes were still hidden beneath her bangs, but he did not sense anything ominous. She really must have simply made an educated guess.

Kanashima knew that he was not found out by chance. He had already been prepared to reveal his identity when he allowed himself to be captured the previous night.

Initially, he only intended to take back the gun that the casino employee took, but when he saw Jun he was overcome by curiosity. What was the Eastern District’s Guard Team really like?

He wondered if they would torture him violently, but it was almost disappointing to see that they did not. And he was confident that even if, by some chance, he was threatened with death, he would be able to make it out alive.

That was why he was not unnerved that he had been discovered.

“Heh… It seems like I’ll have to change my face again soon.”

Confessing that he had gotten plastic surgery, Kanashima put a hand on the railing.

On the other side, naturally, was nothing. If he fell from there, he would land on top of the massive engine.

“But I’m surprised that a game of rock-paper-scissors was all it took.”

“I’ve always been good at reading people’s faces and their hands. …The people on the island have very interesting expressions and move in fascinating ways. I never get tired of watching them.”

Jun’s answer was stilted, but Kanashima laughed.

“Aha… I expected nothing less from one of the island’s first residents.”

Cracking his own neck, Kanashima looked from Jun to Nejiro, then to Jun again.

“First… residents…?” Nejiro finally broke his silence.

“Yes. I looked into things myself. Miss Sahara here has been on this island since the island was abandoned by Japan—in other words, ever since this twisted city was created. She was taken in by the current boss of the Eastern District and raised like his daughter—or, considering his age, I suppose more like his sister.”

“Umm… The boss and I aren’t really family… we’re more like a boss and an employee. I mean, I still don’t even know his real name.” Jun said, denying Kanashima’s supposition, but he ignored her and changed the subject.

“So. Why are you here? If you chased me down… I don’t see how you could have tracked me.”

Had they put a transmitter on him like he had with Nejiro’s gun, Kanashima wondered. But he did not remember giving them time to do such a thing.

“Umm… I only found you by coincidence. I came here for work.”

“Work?”

“Yes. The boss ordered me to… umm… find a boy named Nejiro here and escort him back…”

Nejiro turned to her again.


This is the escort I was waiting for? The one from the Eastern District’s organization? But she’s just a girl.

I head rumors about the Guard Team captain fighting with chainsaws, but… are those really the only thing she fights with?

And what’s this about her being one of the first residents? Is she one of the humans who created this rotten, hopelessly disgusting world?

I was abandoned because this island existed. If only it never existed, I used to think.

Maybe if I was still with the Rats, things would be different. I might not have resented her. But now… I’ve betrayed the Rats and sold them off to the people who control the island.

‘I sold my soul to the people who created this hell so I could get power to leave the island.

But even if I left… I’ll never be able to live in the light. I know that. If I really want to escape this world, I need something even after I leave the island.

Power. It could be money or influence.

And if I want power, I have no choice but to join forces with them—the people who control the island, and the bastards who created this world. I groveled to those people and even betrayed the Rats because of that.

That’s right. That’s why the guard is here.

I didn’t escape death at Daichi’s—no, Kanashima’s—hands by luck. I wasn’t saved by coincidence. This is no miracle.

But I still have one question.

Will this girl protect me?

…But why is she holding a chainsaw at me, too?!


Even as Nejiro screamed in his head, Jun did not lower her chainsaws.

Before the engines were customized, they each weighed about 4 to 5 kilograms. But once they were lightened, Jun’s chainsaws weighed 1 or 2 kilograms at most. Yet that was not an insignificant weight for a woman to swing around, especially with one in each hand.

That was to say nothing of how exhausting it must be to swing them in the same forms constantly. Yet Jun did not shed a drop of sweat, holding one stopped chainsaw each at the two people on either side of her.

After a moment’s silence, she turned to Kanashima.

“Umm… Mr. Kanashima? We’re supposed to be protecting you, too. I mean, you won the rock-paper-scissors match last night.”

“Huh?”

“But I’m supposed to be guarding Nejiro here, too. So… because I don’t know which one of you I’m supposed to protect… I’d appreciate it if you’d give up on fighting each other.”

Though her eyes remained hidden, Jun seemed to be completely serious.

“…Hah. Hah hah. Ahahahaha!”

Kanashima gaped blankly—then, out of nowhere, he burst into laughter.

“Now this is unusual! I already told you, I’m not Tsuchimi anymore. I’m Ginga Kanashima. I can’t believe you’d still hold up—”

“That’s not the only reason.” Jun interrupted gravely. “If it’s true that you’re trying to break this island to get revenge on one person… umm… I’d appreciate it if you’d give up.”

Jun was serious. Kanashima stopped laughing.

A beat.

“AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! HAHAHAHAHA! AHAHAHAHAHA!”

He howled like a madman, a complete 180 from the way he acted against Nejiro.

Even when he took off the mask of the foolish contact, when he was facing Nejiro he was still in the mask of Daichi Tsuchimi.

As he removed his second mask, his hidden self—his twisted obsession and brutality—surfaced.

“This is a riot! I’ve never heard anything this outrageous in my life!”

Even his tone changed dramatically. Kanashima scrutinized Jun, fascinated.

“Listen up. Listen up, Missy! I told you I swore revenge. I’m an obsessive man. I came all this way to kill Nejiro for betraying me! So what point do you see in asking me to give up on the revenge I’ve wanted for years? And don’t ask me to not drag in innocent bystanders. I don’t care what happens to everyone else. That’s the kind of guy I am. And I’m trying to break this island to make the son of a bitch suffer. So what do I get out of giving up? Hm?”

Jun was not shaken by Kanashima’s inane rambling.

“Because it’ll make me happy.”

“…What?”

His crazed laughter came to a halt. Kanashima stared at Jun.

Only then did she lower her chainsaws and face Kanashima. As though defending Nejiro, who was still on the ground.

Looking into Kanashima’s face, Jun declared once more, with confidence.

“If you give up on breaking this island… that would make me very happy.”

Kanashima scrutinized Jun for a moment, before making an astonished face.

“That… doesn’t benefit me at all.”

“No, it doesn’t.” Jun agreed, as though the obvious answer was the logical one. “So this isn’t a proposal or an order or anything like that. This is a request.”

Kanashima was silent.

“I’m sure you already know, Mr. Kanashima. There are no official transactions on this island. They’re not possible—I mean, there’s no law here, and the people here don’t have an ounce of pride. That’s why we can only have something like mutual requests that people can fulfill for one another.”

Pausing, Jun began to wave her chainsaws.

“I don’t know how you feel, and I have no intention of asking you to give up on your revenge. And I won’t tell you to stop hurting people because it’s bad.”

She placed her fingers on the power button.

“Because… if you won’t accept my request, I’ll stop you even if it means hurting you—or even killing you.”

Kanashima realized that he had misunderstood his foe.

She was a good-natured Guard Team captain who wanted to protect everyone, he had assumed. But in reality, Jun could kill anyone without a second thought if they crossed a certain line.

At that moment, he stuck his left hand into his pocket and fixed his grip on the object in his right hand.

Kanashima operated the phone in his pocket without even taking it out. And a second later, the object in his right hand clicked.

It was a white gun—the one he had snatched from Nejiro earlier.

“Now it’s ready to fire again…”

Slowly, he raised the white gun at the woman with the chainsaws.

But Jun did not seem afraid.

“You know this isn’t a toy.”

“…Yes. But if I were scared of a measly gun, I wouldn’t be on the Guard Team in the first place.”

“Is that so? You wouldn’t be singing that tune if you knew fear.”

Kanashima stared at her face, but it was impossible to tell which way she was looking.

“So… about my request…” Jun began. Kanashima chuckled—

“Here’s my request. Die.”

Before he even finished, he held the gun at Jun’s face.

A second later—

The triggers for the chainsaw blade and the white gun.

Two triggers were pulled at once, and there was an ear-piercing, metallic scream.

Jun did not miss Kanashima’s finger pulling the trigger.

At the same time, she read the angle of his shot and swung.

Something hard was deflected off a metal surface, for a second breaking the roar of the engines.

A moment later, both Jun and Kanashima had kicked off the floor and were charging at each other.

Kanashima put his feet on the railings and seemed to throw himself off the side, but forced his body back and leapt into the center of the walkway.

Countering his unusual movements, Jun spun around like a top.

And when the distance between them closed, there was a second metallic impact.


▶︎


When she wielded the two engines, Jun was pushed to ecstasy.

Yet she retained the barest minimum of sanity as she countered her foe from the closest distance they reached.


Follow the rhythm.

Follow the rhythm.

Follow the rhythm of the engines.

‘Let the spinning rhythm carry my heart.

Let the explosive rhythm carry my body.

Faster.

Faster.

Faster than a knife.

Faster than a bullet.

Catch up to the commas in the engine’s rhythm.


I am the engine.

I am the engine.

Dominate the movement of the engine.

Become one with the engine.

Feel the energy.

Feel the energy—


Having become an uninvolved third party, Nejiro silently watched the battle.

Though irregular, each and every move was completely efficient.

Jun swung her blades in a circle, even though her target was straight ahead.

She was even in control of the inertia, it seemed, as she never once slowed in her swings.

Meanwhile, Kanashima twisted and turned in unpredictable ways to confuse his foe.

He used the railings and the handrails like the floor under him, seemingly manipulating the laws of physics.

The two opposing styles meshed together in one flawless dance.

Fleeing to the end of the walkway, Nejiro watched the twisted battle—and even felt a sense of beauty in the scene.

He thought he had lost the ability to feel that way when he came to the island, but he was unable to tear his eyes away from the two combatants.


But the dance would come to an end with a spurt of blood.

After firing his seventh shot, Kanashima let go of his gun.

“?!”

Jun batted it away without thinking—and at that moment, Kanashima thrust his right hand at Jun’s arm.

Afraid he would grab her arm, Jun quickly pulled back.

Their right arms passed each other, almost like a cross-counter.

Unable to grasp Jun, Kanashima’s fingertips only grazed her arm—

But at that moment, the sleeve of her jacket tore, and line of red appeared on her fair skin.

A silent scream escaped Jun’s lips.

But she was still high on the sound of the engines. She tried to ignore the pain, but her injured arm would not listen. All she could do was use her fingers to keep the chainsaw off the ground.

She could not put strength into her trigger finger. The engine in her right hand began to slow.

For the moment, Jun slowed the other engine and decided to see how her opponent would react.

When the roar of the engines weakened, Jun would lose momentum as well. Kanashima grinned and picked up his gun, making sure to keep his right hand cautiously trained on Jun.

The skin on his fingertip was torn, and a sharp blade the length of a finger stuck out from his hand. Noting that there was no blood on the tear, Jun remembered that Kanashima had a prosthetic arm.

Blood dripped from the tip, but the blade did not seem dulled by the impact.

“…This was the most I could cram in here without hurting the arm’s capabilities. I’d have fit in a rifle or a cannon in here if I could.” Kanashima snickered. The blade on his hand sang. “You’ve still got a chance to run.”

He was provoking her. But Jun put words to her resolve:

“I won’t. …If I lose you here, this island will break.”

“Maybe you’ll quiet down once your other arm stops moving.”

“But you won’t stop the engine.”

“Then… I’ll just break your chainsaws, too.”

Kanashima seemed as entertained as ever, but Jun was grimacing as the pain in her arm grew sharper. The agony seemed to stab at her spine in time with her pulse.

But her will was never broken.

“Even if you do… I won’t stop. The engine will never stop.”

Her timid attitude was gone. She cried out as if scolding herself.

“This island is my driving force. My engine! No one can stop this island from growing—no one can stop it from living. As long as this island keeps moving, I won’t let it stop!”

It was hypocrisy, but she had absolute pride in her words.

Because that was the only way of life she found on the island.

Just as Misaki used misfortune as an excuse—just as Nejiro found strength in his rejection of the island—and just as Kanashima transformed his own twisted heart into a purpose—

Jun’s choice was to live together with the island. Using the satisfaction of defending the island as her food, she gained the strength to live on the island. It was a symbiotic relationship that fed into itself.

And now, she had gained strength. Next to one of the world’s largest power units—the unit that served as the island’s symbol—Kanashima had declared that he would destroy the island. Jun could not lose.

“Why are you going so far for this island? …Oh. I remember.”

Kanashima’s confusion was replaced by an impish grin as he turned to the great engine under the walkway.

“Nasty story, right? How your father got eaten by that engine? Don’t you hate this island? Or are you channeling your inner eight-year-old and imagining that he’s one with the engine now?”

He hit the nail on the head.

It was a twisted childhood fantasy—one she knew was a delusion but held onto all this time.

“Hah! So is this monster of an engine gonna turn into a giant robot to save you when you’re in trouble?”

He was mocking her. But Jun was not cowed.

“No. But… the engine watches over me.”

Shooting Kanashima a hard stare, Jun squeezed the trigger and filled the chamber with the biggest roar yet.

“Being able to think that way… that alone is worth believing in!”

Like water she flowed toward Kanashima. Her right hand hung limp, the spinning chain pointed at the floor.

“You’re not gonna block anything with just one arm!”

With an icy smile, Kanashima pulled the trigger.

There was a muffled impact, and the first shot ricocheted off the chainsaw in Jun’s left hand.

He made to land the second shot in Jun’s back as she spun, but—

As though in revenge, Jun let go of the chainsaw in her left hand.

“?!”

The chainsaw was flying at him. Taken completely off-guard, Kanashima held up his arms without thinking.

An impact.

But what hit him was not the blade, but the engine and the fuel tank.

“Hah hah… Ahahaha! Too bad, Jun Saha-”

Splash.

At the moment of impact, he felt and heard something strange. A second later a certain stench stung his nose.

He looked down. A sticky fluid was spilling from part of the chainsaw at his feet.

After parrying the first shot, Jun had broken the fuel tank against the blade in her limp right hand before throwing the chainsaw at Kanashima.

“?!”

By the time he realized he was covered with a blend of easily flammable fuel, it was too late.

Jun lowered her right hand and struck the metal floor with all her strength.


The chain spun in overdrive, sending sparks flying everywhere—

And the sparks scattered all over Ginga Kanashima.


“——————!”

This time, it was Kanashima’s turn to let out a soundless scream.

Jun did not miss her chance. She switched her chainsaw from her right hand to her left—

And spun right into Kanashima.


The deaths of other people—


As she prepared to end everything, Jun felt like the world was moving very slowly.


The lives of other people—


That moment, she would take away equally one man’s existence, his past, and his life. Everything. Her thoughts were eerily calm, and in the world of slow-motion only her resolve flowed by at regular time.

The resolve to step into an unknown world—that is, to kill for the sake of the island.


And even relationships between people—it’s all part of this island.


A blade filled with pure yet frighteningly deep resolve was slowly driven into Kanashima’s shoulder.


The moment we stepped onto the island—both me and him—we became a part of it.


The fabric of the Hawaiian shirt was first dragged into the chain, and was soon dyed a deep red.


So… if only this moment, I won’t lean on excuses like wanting to protect the island.


Staring at her reddened chain, Jun tasted her resolve.


I’m cutting down this man for my self-satisfaction.

Because I don’t want this island’s soul to disappear. That satisfaction is all that drives me.

After all, this island’s soul is its existence itself.


The moment she came to that realization, time returned to her world.

And her chainsaw left a bloody trench in Ginga Kanashima’s body.

Splashes of endlessly dark red.

The spurts of blood almost seemed to be dancing to the sound of the engines.


▶︎


“Umm… can you walk?”

Nejiro hung his head.

Having seen an incredible display unfold before him, Nejiro flinched without thinking.

“Ahaha… I’m sorry for scaring you. But it’s all right. I just have to take you to the boss’s office now…”

Tearing off a part of her own shirt, she made a makeshift bandage for her arm.

Nejiro was at a loss. What was he to say to her? What was he to ask?

“Could I ask you a question?”

“Yes?”

But he had to ask—what he would always ask before he killed someone.

“Is there hope on this island?”

When he tossed out his question, he would usually kill his victim without waiting for a reply.

Perhaps he did so because he was scared to hear an answer.

But now, though he was in danger, he was finally holding something he could call hope in his hands.

He would join the Eastern District’s organization and gain power. That wish was about to come true.

At this point, he could accept any answer he received.

That was what he had thought, but Jun’s reply mystified him.

“Yes—but it disappears very quickly.”

“What…?”

“You see, the island’s real engine is the people on it. This island… it’s an awful place that alternates between people’s hopes and despair, using their lives and money as the fuel. But I’m still going to protect it. For my own satisfaction. To protect this island. For that petty feeling of satisfaction… I can become an awful person. But before you know it, this island will take away those hopes, too. So if you want to survive on this island… it’ll be very hard for you unless you’re always discovering new hopes.”

He did not really understand what she was saying. But Nejiro did not feel like asking any more questions, so he listened.

Once she was ready, Jun quietly stood and began to walk with Nejiro’s hand in hers.

“Well… let’s go.”

How many years had it been since the last time he was led by the hand?

There was a nostalgic warmth in Jun’s hand, but in horror he quickly dropped the memory. But he did not let go. He continued to walk hand-in-hand with Jun.

As they walked toward the aboveground, Jun seemed to remember something.

“You know… this island may take away your hopes in the blink of an eye, but it’s the same with despair. The island also takes away despair before you know it.”

“What?”

“So… even if you despair, don’t give up.”

Her eyes on him were as warm as a protective family member—

“You’ll understand soon.”

—and also carried a tinge of sadness.

“…Soon.”




-----


Final Chapter.


-----

3 comments:

  1. '—hiding in s sniping box inside the casino—' (s > a)
    'I mean, I still don’t even know is real name.”' (is > his)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great chapter! One question though, I read, "He could hear her Carlos's voice." I don't really think the 'her' is supposed to be there...

    ReplyDelete