FYI, most of the chapter titles in this volume and the next are puns. I'll be localizing the titles instead of leaving translation notes, but I'll explain all the Japanese titles in a separate section at the end of the PDF/epub versions.
Prologue A: Wolf in Hollow Clothing
An endless blue sky holds the world in a gentle embrace.
The scent of the ocean filters between the mounds of abandoned rubble, filling my nostrils.
It is a peaceful time.
It is a peaceful place.
At least, that’s what the sky is trying to convince me.
But when I look down, the tranquility of the sky crumbles and gives way to an infinitely drab daily life.
The drab temperature clings to my skin.
It’s clearly winter, but I’m boiling hot. This must be what they call a heat island. I only know the name of the term, not the definition, but it sounds just about right… actually, it’s a pretty literal term.
The refreshing ocean scent instantly turns into the acrid odor of filth.
I understand that this is just a matter of my own senses, but when I looked at the piles of trash lying before me, my mechanical judgement went out the window.
But maybe if I tried…
If I kill my emotions and coldly, deliberately and geometrically chase away the smell, maybe my nose will be able to immerse itself in the ocean scent again—even if my eyes fall on the heaps of garbage.
No. Wait. Now that I think about it, I don’t like the scent of the ocean, either. That was a close one. Doing something you don’t like without a good reason is definitely abnormal.
Ah, what a relief.
I… I’m still normal.
When I felt relief, I felt sleepy. I looked up at the sky again and decided to calm myself by basking in the pleasant breeze.
But that comfort was shattered by a desperate female voice.
“…That’s enough, Mr. Amagiri. Please… please let Misaki go.”
Who’s calling my name?
I forced my sleepy eyes from the blue sky and put them into focus, bringing the woman into view. A strange girl with short hair that covered her eyes, wearing a black leather suit jacket over a thin T-shirt.
Ah… Jun. That’s right. I remember. This is Jun Sahara.
The captain of the Eastern District’s Guard Team. A dangerous kitten who wields a chainsaw in each hand.
She looks young for her age, but she’s got a surprisingly sensual figure. But in her hands were weapons that clashed with that image. Fingering the triggers of her chainsaws, she glared at me.
Her bangs covered her face, but she could look very attractive if she made the effort. If only she’d have more confidence in her looks.
…Right. I can still get distracted by girls. I’m still okay; I’m still capable of thinking about other people.
I… I’m normal.
“Mr. Yakumo Amagiri… Please. Please, let Misaki go.”
Oh, it looks like she remembers my full name, too. It’s nice to see that a girl you barely know remembers your name.
And thanks to her words, I finally remembered that I was holding another girl in my arms.
I thought my arms were getting a little tired. No wonder. But this girl is on the lighter side. Maybe she’s a bit malnourished—then again, who on this island isn’t?
I became a little worried.
Is she going to be all right? I didn’t mean to, but I ended up dragging her around.
It feels like this must be the third time I’ve taken this girl hostage to escape.
Or is this the fourth time?
I looked at the unconscious girl in the dealer’s uniform and slowly thought.
I replayed my long memories from the moment I took her hostage for the first time.
…Right. This is the fourth time. I remember clearly.
What a relief. It looks like my memory is still working right.
Relieved for myself, I chose words to bring relief to the girl before my eyes.
“Hey… you can relax. I don’t think this is the first time we’ve had this conversation, but I don’t want to hurt this girl. I’m going to let her go in one piece once you Guard Team members are off my tail.”
“I can’t trust you, Mr. Amagiri.” She replied, much more tense than her expression hinted. She focused her every nerve at me. This isn’t good. If someone else was after her, they’d choose this moment… BANG! And it’d be over.
Without an inkling of how worried I was for her, Jun stared quietly and continued.
“After all… you’re the Killer Ghoul.”
The opening lasted a moment.
But a moment was just that. A moment. Before even a breeze could pass I replied calmly.
“I am the Killer Ghoul. I admit it.”
I admit to being a killer, but I have not gone crazy.
As long as I’m on this island, I’m normal.
…Because here, not even the moniker ‘killer’ makes me insane.
This is neither the mainland nor the island.
It is Japan, yet not.
It is neither land nor sea.
The longest bridge in the world, spanning Sado Island and Niigata.
The nameless artificial island that stands in the very middle of that bridge—
…Because I’m standing on that floating island.
I catch myself grinning and, with amusement, turn toward the kitten.
Whether she lives or dies all depends on me.
It must go the same for her.
So in order to decide whether to kill her or not,
I stepped forward with the girl still in my arms.
At the same time, the kitten started her weapons.
When the engines began, the smells of the ocean and the filth were instantly overpowered by the odor of gasoline. The moment the scent touched my nose, she danced to the rhythm of her engines. A dance to kill me… that sounds a little cheesy. I’m still okay; I’m not too drunk on myself to keep a clear sense of judgement.
I… I’m still… normal.
In the moment those thoughts crossed my mind, the girl concealed her steps beneath the roar of the engines and launched herself forward, closing the distance between us. It looks like she has no intention of holding a conversation.
I think I’ve gotten myself on her bad side.
Why? I only killed five people today.
Prologue B: Enter the Great Louse Detective
In the beginning, the island was created.
And the moment the island was connected to land by the bridge, it was abandoned without notice.
The poor artificial island had been built and suddenly left on the ocean.
But though it was abandoned by society, it was not abandoned by people. Or perhaps things had come to this because it had indeed been completely abandoned.
And to that incomplete island flocked people who had given up on everything, crossing the world’s longest—but also incomplete—bridge. And just as a gathering of the laziest ants in a colony still produced hardworking ants that completed a community, the people who gathered and were abandoned quickly created a working society. And in the repetition of order and chaos in that lawless world, the island came to be called Japan’s very own Kowloon Walled City.
To those outside the island, it was known as hell on earth, or perhaps a garbage dump—and among the more eccentric, it was called a paradise. But—
The residents of the island lived nothing more or less than completely ordinary lives.
Aboveground. The detective agency ‘Private Eye Lizard’.
“…which is how the island is divided into three levels. The aboveground, the underground, and the Pits. All areas except for the Pits are controlled by people of the criminal underworld, divided between East and West. The Pits are part of the Western District in theory, but there’s not much in the way of control down there and it has essentially been abandoned!”
A still-youthful voice filled the room, which was about half the size of a convenience store.
“Those who control the area from above are far beyond our reach, so we commoners have no need to stick our noses into their business. What concerns us, then, are the rank-and-file peacekeepers. The Western District’s volunteer police and the Eastern District’s Guard Team!”
“I see…” The client sighed, and discreetly observed his surroundings.
Before the window on one wall was an old wooden desk and a leather armchair. In front of them was a sofa for clients and a glass coffee table, complete with ashtray.
“That aside… I… I had no idea that private investigators still worked in offices like this.” Said the client, looking around at the scene straight out of a detective drama.
The young woman by the desk ignored the man and delved even further into information on the island.
“Looking upward on this island is meaningless! After all, those on the top were born to be the rulers. We common folk can do little more than wonder how much of our prison yard we could utilize. Heh heh heh. A tragic story indeed. And it is in that tiny prison that we detectives on the edge spy on others!”
The caucasian woman—who, to a Japanese person, looked more mature than she actually was, and perhaps should be called a girl—became more and more excitable. The client found himself giving absent answers.
“My office may be on the edge, but location matters not to a detective’s talent! I ask that you trust Charlotte Liverpool with the juicy details of your request!”
In any given setting there were characters who clashed with the world around them. The island was no exception.
The decor of the agency and the sign at the entrance were among such characters.
A chubby lizard that resembled a tsuchinoko(1) with adorable round eyes was drawn on the sign, a poor fit for the artificial island the girl was describing. Then again, the agency itself—a forcibly renovated hotel room—was no better a match for the world around it.
In fact, the existence of a private eye on a lawless island was an oxymoron in and of itself. Further, the girl giving the explanations—Charlotte Liverpool—seemed completely removed from the profession of ‘detective’.
“Please, call me Lottie. Names are nothing more than symbols, anyway. Heh heh heh…”
“…Of… of course.”
Though growing skeptical at Charlotte’s faux-world-weary words, the client reminded himself that one should not judge a book by its cover and walked over to the girl, who now stood by the window.
“Then let me get into the details—” He began, trying simply to get her attention—
Charlotte let out a battle cry and dodged an invisible attack, landing a strike on the man.
There was a dull noise as her wrist dug into the man’s shoulder. With incredible force, her thin wrist was thrown against his firm shoulder.
Wrapping her wrist in her other hand, the girl squatted with tears in her eyes.
“P-please don’t… stand behind me…”
“Are you all right?” The client asked and held out his hand, not even realizing that he had been attacked.
“Heh heh… heh… I’m afraid I don’t make a habit of shaking hands with my clients. A pro never offers his own right hand.”
“I get the feeling I’ve read that line in a manga somewhere. But I’m not sure how seriously to take that claim, with your hand completely swollen.”
“…Heh heh. You’re got a sharp eye, sir. But this is no place for amateurs—one wrong move, and you might get burned. That is the way of us butterflies of night.” Charlotte replied.
The client hesitated, but eventually decided to point out the obvious.
“Ahem… perhaps you’ve got detectives confused with hostesses?”
“…That’s an interesting deduction! Maybe you should take up writing!” Charlotte said, finally breaking the silence, and stood. It was an embarrassing situation from any perspective, but she seemed to think she had explained herself fully with her response.
The man who was visiting as her client began to wonder if he had stepped into the wrong office, but his worries were quickly drowned out by the voice that came from behind him.
“…If you can’t offer your right hand because it’s your dominant one, just give him your left.”
There stood a tall, bespectacled boy. There was no emotion on his face, and his clothes were mostly black. There were faint highlights in his hair and a tattoo on his pale neck, like he was part of a visual rock group.
“Please, Sherlock Liverpool! No more inelegant wordplay!”
“Please stop calling your own younger brother by his full name, Charlotte. It’s embarrassing.”
The newcomer also was not Japanese, but he spoke the language with just as much fluidity as Charlotte. And if he was using Japanese to speak to his own family, it must be their native language. Which was nothing unusual in Japan, but watching a pair who belonged more in a Hollywood film speaking in fluent Japanese was almost like watching a dubbed movie.
With that impression stuck in his mind, the client cleared his throat and explained himself.
“Ahem… I’ve been told that you were one of the few detective agencies on this island I could trust.” He began hesitantly. Charlotte preened.
“Heh heh… I’m afraid that’s a dubious claim at best. On this island, ‘trust’ only serves as a ball and chain—”
“‘Trust’ in this case only means that we do not take your money and run. Our success rate is only 40%.”
Sherlock was raining on his sister’s parade. The client began to wonder if the brother’s incredible name was actually quite common overseas, and brought the conversation back on track.
“I would like to discuss my request… may I continue?”
“Oh, yes! Yes! Excuse me.” Charlotte cleared her throat, turning to her client.
The man was about thirty years old, his suit and nondescript face making clear that he was not from the island.
When people like him came to the detective agency, they usually fell into one of two groups.
One group was made up of journalists or reporters asking to be guided around the island for a story. The other group was made up of those searching for people who had come to the island.
The client this time belonged to the latter category.
“Actually, I’d like you to find someone and keep an eye out on him.”
“You want us to watch someone?”
Rather than reply, the man opened the suitcase next to him and produced a single photograph.
The photo, presumably printed on a piece of ordinary printer paper, featured a young man smiling sweetly at the camera.
“The person on this picture?”
Charlotte scrutinized the photo. Sherlock, who indifferently brought them coffee, glanced over his sister’s shoulder.
The boy in the picture had incredibly innocent eyes. He was about fifteen or sixteen years old, and would not look out of place in a school uniform.
“Yes. His name is Takehito Isegawa. The photo is a little outdated, and he should now be about five years older. Actually, we hired a private eye for this case earlier. But after we received word that the boy supposedly came to this island about four years ago, the detective suddenly disappeared on this island.”
Charlotte nodded along.
People went missing all the time on the island, but if the detective had chased after the boy without even preparing, he was probably no longer of this world.
“Then we can’t even be certain that the boy is alive.”
“True. But we are prepared for that outcome. I understand that this may be a faux pas, but we’ve also hired many other private eyes as well. I do not mind in the least that the boy finds out he is being watched; our priority is to find him.”
Charlotte was not particularly upset that she was sharing a request with other detectives—although most of them were probably mainlanders. She was happy as long as she got her pay, and she was also not suspicious in the least because nothing like this had ever happened before.
What concerned her was something about the photograph.
“Umm… this boy in the picture. Is his perhaps your son, or judging from his age… your brother?”
“No. He’s the son of someone I am indebted to, and… well, I’d prefer if you didn’t ask questions about his family.”
Charlotte seemed to be just fine with that, but Sherlock placed a cup of coffee on the table and asked anyway.
“Why now, after five years?”
Charlotte smacked herself, having missed the obvious, and a hint of doubt slid off the client’s face. But put at ease by the sharper-looking young man, he discreetly answered his question.
“I can’t explain the details, but… something significant has happened with his family. I hope that will be enough to satisfy you.”
The siblings were silent for a time at the unusual answer, but Charlotte eventually put on an understanding smile.
“…Of course. Everyone has pasts and wounds they want to cover up.”
“Except you, Charlotte.”
Ignoring her brother’s jab, Charlotte continued.
“Heh heh heh… So, supposing I find the boy safe and sound, how long must I work as his personal prison guard?” She asked with a haughty sip of coffee.
“This is just an investigation, so I can’t give you any concrete timelines. But… up to half a year.”
Charlotte spewed her coffee at the client.
The client leapt behind the sofa to avoid the scalding barrage. He managed to avoid getting any on his clothes, but the sofa and the table was dotted with black—but before he knew it, Sherlock had already wiped off the droplets and things had returned to normal.
“E-excuse me. But half a year? Maybe with enough pay, yes, but I’m afraid we have other cases to take on…”
Charlotte tried to back out of the lengthy job, making excuses.
But the man would not give up. He placed a hefty envelope before the detective.
“500,000 yen as down payment. And an additional 100,000 per week.”
“Leave it to us.”
After a detailed explanation of the terms, the girl sent off the client and suddenly broke into laughter.
“Heh heh heh… Ahahahaha!”
“Looks like my sister’s finally lost her mind.”
“…You didn’t have to make that sound so serious, Sherlock Liverpool! This is our first job in half a year—you should be happy! Now we can finally say goodbye to cheap-o liquor!”
“But you can’t even finish a glass of beer.” Sherlock pointed out. His sister looked away pouting.
“It’s a matter of atmosphere!”
“I bet you’ve been watching those old detective flicks again. That spit take with the coffee was a Yūsaku Matsuda if I’ve ever seen one.”
“A-anyway! He said that he’d top off our pay with another 1 million yen if we find the target. We can’t lose to the other detectives!”
Watching his sister clench her fists, Sherlock sighed and shook his head.
“…Did it ever occur to you that other detectives and investigators are different from us? They’re professionals.”
“That’s not a problem at all. We live on this island; therefore the advantage is ours.”
“…Charlotte. Please don’t forget where we are. We live on the surface of the surface—the safest part of the island. We barely ever head down underground, and we’ve never even been to the Pits. Do you know how hard it was for me to find us a place with a proper lock on the door?” Sherlock said without so much as inhaling, but his tone quickly took a turn for the considerate. “Besides… forget thugs or criminals. Underground we could run into Yakumo Amagiri or Sping-heeled Joplin.”
“Ahaha! They’re just urban legends.”
Yakumo Amagiri and Spring-heeled Joplin.
They were legends on the island, known to every resident of the artificial island.
First, Yakumo Amagiri.
He was an infamous mass murder known as the Killer Ghoul. Supposedly he had killed more people than he had eaten meals. Eyewitness accounts pegged him as everything from a little girl in gothic lolita wear to a giant over two meters tall. Equally mysterious was the reason for his killings.
In other words, though many knew his name, not even half the island knew if he existed at all.
As for Spring-heeled Joplin, his name was all people knew. No one had any insight into the kind of person he was. Mostly, people would blame mysterious or unexplainable incidents on him—‘blame it on Joplin’, they would say, as though referring to fairies or imps.
Charlotte was one of those who believed that both were merely urban legends.
“Listen closely, Sherlock Liverpool. On this island, murder is mundane. People are only using these fictional killers to vent their fears of the real unknown murderers among us! Heh heh heh. You would have known this from the start if you’d moved past watching and stepped into deduc- um… wait. Moved past deduction and stepped into observation? …Moved past observation and into arrest…?”
“All right, all right. Let’s just say we’ll have all the answers once we make an arrest and interrogate the culprit.”
As Sherlock raised his arms with a sigh, Charlotte felt a twinge of doubt—but her mind was already hard at work calculating their pay as she stood for her goal of money.
“Then let’s be off! …Huh? Sherlock Liverpool, where’s my trenchcoat?”
“I used it to wipe the coffee off the sofa.”
The detective was on the move.
Without an inkling of the peril she threw herself into, as though her lack of insight was her greatest weapon, she ran forward.
If she had moved past watching and stepped into observation, she might have noticed something.
That she was already walking on someone’s strings.
She was not the only one.
The others who received the same request.
The boy in the photograph.
Everyone on the island.
And the island itself.
Each and every one was dancing for a malicious puppeteer, spinning dangerously close to destruction.
All sorts of people gathered on the island.
With their varied thoughts and ideas,
Some were made to dance,
And some made others dance.
It was not a phenomenon unique to the island, but on this island such unsightly dances stood out even more.
…Or perhaps observing the ups and downs of others was the very best entertainment the islanders could seek.
The murderer boy who believed himself normal was a special existence.
On this island full of colorful characters, he lived as a weapon exuding a particularly dense air of madness—living only to kill.
Murder was nothing to blink at on the island, but there was still a sense of order in the community. Yet he defied that order and remained fixated on his goals—to the point of turning the world against himself.
Even the dog with rainbow-colored hair that made its den in the Pits had feared the mad wolf. Though now a legend whose very existence was in doubt, the wolf continued to live with only his own sensations as company.
He was simply someone who could neither love nor hate himself. In a way, he was the most quintessential of locals.
The girl who admired hardboiled detectives was one of the common folk.
On this island full of colorful characters, she had no real connections to the heavyweights, no special abilities, and no courage to allow her to step into danger.
Detectives were a rarity on the island, but there were countless rarer jobs to be heard of. She was neither on the edge nor in the center of the island.
Charlotte Liverpool lived a quiet life amidst that community.
She was simply someone who spent her free time listening to the Buruburu Airwaves broadcast. A common person like any other.
That was why, on this island, he danced.
Not knowing that he was dancing of his own free will.
That was why, on this island, she danced.
Knowing that she was being helplessly pulled along on strings by an unreachable puppeteer.
(1) A snake-like cryptid from Japan.