Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Garuguru! -Dancing Beast Night- (Part 1): Chapter 1

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

An Etsusa Bridge update. Enjoy.


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Chapter 1-A: The Wolfman and the Sea


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When was the first time I killed someone?

I wondered to myself, blankly sensing the wind on my skin.

It has to have been after I came to this island. That much is clear.

Even I’m not stupid enough to kill someone outside the island. I wouldn’t need to kill anyone if I was out there.

I do nothing that is unnecessary. Especially if it involves brushes with the law.

Which is why the ‘me’ on the mainland who didn’t kill people must have been a perfectly normal person. The news always featured strange and gruesome murders.

In the world where minors killed other minors, I heard a commentator say—‘Young people can’t distinguish reality from fantasy’ and began to wonder like a rebellious teenager, ‘Then why do adults kill more people when they’re the ones who can tell reality and fantasy apart?’.

Then again, news commentators get paid to say stuff like that.

Still, the thought of killing people for money or revenge, or the thought of unsolved crimes makes a shiver run down my spine. It terrifies me.

Compared to people who commit such alien violence, I think I’m a very good and innocent human being.

I mean, I’ve never killed anyone.

Off this island, at least.

That’s right.

On this island, I had no choice but to kill.

After all, if I’d never come here, I’d never have killed anyone.

I reaffirmed this fact again today.

I reaffirmed it yesterday, and the day before, too.

I reaffirm the fact that my moniker—Killer Ghoul—is this island’s fault, not mine. That alone brings peace to my heart.

I think I feel at peace with the conclusion because it’s true.


“In other words, this island is the one you should be getting angry at, not me. What do you think?”

“You half-asleep, fruitcake?”

The large Asian man standing before me classified my opinion as half-conscious sleep talk. How could he? My eyes are as clear as ever.

“Son of a bitch… do you even understand your position?” Asks the large man—I think his name was Zhang—with a glare.

My position… Oh. Right. It’s very important to always know your position.

I think people’s lives really depend on how well they know their own position. But whether you take a passionate step forward or come to a cool stop depends on the person.

I focused on my vision, scanning the area to see where I stood.

It was a junkyard inside an island composed of garbage.

Normal islanders never came to this place, where only the truly worthless things were discarded—after all, if you were unlucky you might stumble onto real industrial waste… or so says the owner of my usual ramen place.

Yes. His ramen is incredible. It might be a good idea to steal the recipe and wander the country pulling along my very own ramen stand.

…Right. That’s going on my list of life goals.

It’s a little haphazard, but I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to say that having vision for my own future makes me normal.

…Whoops. I almost got off-track.

Check my position.

To begin with the conclusion, I was in the midst of a commotion.

A group of people, clearly not a friendly bunch, were exuding an aura of hostility.

Men and women, ranging in age from their late teens to their fifties, were gathered as though surrounding me. Add to that all the broken lumber and fallen concrete, and it made for a spectacular image.

From their unified air in spite of their varied appearances, it would not be an exaggeration to say that they were in control of the entire space.

Naturally, I’m on the side that is being controlled.

To be specific, this bunch was the Guard Team—part of the Eastern District, one of the groups that kept order on the island.

Their leader is Jun Sahara. The girl with bangs who was in front of me until just earlier.

After the encounter, she caught me off-guard and snatched back the casino girl, then took off to safety. As though in exchange arrived this strange and terrifying group.

1. In other words,
2. I was in
3. A pickle.

All right… now I clearly understand my position.

I am calm. What a relief. It’s a relief to know that I can stay calm even in a pickle like this.

“I think I’m in a pickle.”

“…”

I just said what came to mind, but Zhang did not seem satisfied with the answer. The creases in his brow deepened, and his glare intensified.

At the same time, one of the Guard Team members lobbed a knife at me, so I twisted out of the way.

What a relief. I can still evade attacks.

If that knife had hit my carotid artery, my forehead, or my heart, I would have died.

But I am, at this moment, alive.

I continue to exercise my will.

It’s so good to be alive.

And if I can still appreciate the light of life, I must be normal.

When I looked forward, Zhang looked like he had swallowed a bug because I dodged the knife.

I had twisted my body to the side, but my face was still looking at him.

After all, his power was what required my attention most in this particular pickle.

Greatest Zhang—a brawler who happens to be champion of the underground wrestling ring, as well as the lieutenant of the Guard Team.

Coming from the Chinese mafia, he must be skilled with guns and knives as well—but he’s not a pro wrestler for nothing. He prefers fighting hand-to-hand.

Supposedly he had stirred up trouble in his homeland and the mafia put a bounty on his head, forcing him to escape to Japan and this island.

A bounty?

That sounds terrifying. The mafia are already the symbol of lawlessness. But once you add stuff like bounties to their reputation… What in the world did this man pull to get himself a bounty?

As I lost myself in thought, Zhang seemed to have taken my silence as pride and spat.

“Chill to the end, huh? You make me sick. …The people you killed might have families too. Well? Ever think about that, you sick monster?”

“…I feel sorry for them. It makes me sad to think of the people left behind. I’m sure they would have lived much more peaceful lives if they’d never come to this island. …This island really is awful.”

I was being honest.

But the creases on Zhang’s forehead only deepened.

As though words were no longer necessary, he glanced at the other Guard Team members.

In an instant, their formation tightened.

I must have made him angry.

Oh. Now that they’re closer, I’m starting to recognize their faces.

Wonderful. I’m feeling a little happy.

Ahead of me to the left is the Spaniard with blue shades. Carlos the gun maniac. He may always be smiling like an idiot, but his marksmanship is world-class. His full metal jackets rarely miss the mark.

I happen to be one of those marks he misses.

I’m not bragging. I’m just lucky.

Huh? Maybe that’s bragging too, in a sense. This is a pickle. Maybe I’ll ask the ramen shop owner later. He seems to have a lot of life experience.

Left of Carlos was a big man with a mohawk, and a middle-aged man wearing sunglasses. They were… hmm. I can’t seem to remember their names. Setting my memory problem aside, I look at the other side.

A woman in bondage gear. She looks young, but I know for a fact that she has two children. I wonder how her husband is taking the fact that she’s part of the Guard Team?

When I turn even further to cast a glance behind me—


There stood the reason I felt a little happy.


Short, shimmering black hair. A slender build and plain clothes.

In her clear eyes swirled the very same enmity that lay in the eyes of everyone else surrounding me.

Nazuna Yukimura. That’s her name.

She is one of the few female members of the Guard Team.

She uses swords, knives, and spears to kill—oh wait, this is the Guard Team—to protect people. The katana at her side looms imposingly.

To be frank, she distracts me. It’s not a crush yet… is what I’d like to say, but I can’t say so with confidence. In any case, she is beautiful.

Who calls a girl ‘beautiful’ in this day and age, anyway?

But that’s the way I feel. Who cares if it’s outdated? What’s beautiful is beautiful.

As the Guard Team and I ran circles around one another over the course of countless chases(I think they’ve been ordered to capture me alive), I began to get good looks at each and every one of their members.

Eventually, I began to be distracted by one of the few female members of their group.

It’s not love at first sight, but I didn’t have a specific reason. She’s on the pretty side, but I don’t get hung up on appearances. And I have no time to get to know her personality, since we’re on opposing sides. Maybe if we were alone, but there are too many people in the way here. But it’s definitely true that I am distracted by her.

It’s understandable, isn’t it? You could explain why you love someone, but it’s not easy to pinpoint why you started to love someone. Unless the meeting turned out like a stroke of fate, or something important happened to make you fall in love with them.

As I looked at her face with those thoughts in mind, Miss Nazuna cautiously met my gaze. I’m happy to look into her eyes, but it’s a little embarrassing.

As I wondered whether to look away or not, the other members began to whisper to her.

“Look out, Nazuna. He’s got his eye on you.”

“He’s probably gonna try and kill you to break through.”

This is a cruel and hurtful misunderstanding.

But if I want to correct them, I’d have to say the real reason I looked at her. That would be too embarrassing.

As I floundered, she opened her mouth to speak.

“…Just try me.” She said, dead serious.

…It might be a misunderstanding, but my heart skipped a beat when the girl I have an interest in suddenly said that to me.

Is it strange to think this way?

Am I abnormal?

But I think it’s acceptable to be a little abnormal for love’s sake. The moment I realize I’m acting abnormally, it’s no longer abnormal.

Yes. I am not only normal, but calm.

I jumped out of the way as she drew from a sitting stance, and escaped her reach.

As if on cue, the shirtless man with long hair lobbed a bowling ball at me. I dodged out of the way.

The moment I thought I was safe, the man with the mohawk raised his baseball bat. How could he use a baseball bat as a weapon? I would love to inform him that the artisans did not carve out that bat so it could be used to harm people.

But it’s certainly a fitting weapon for a common person to use.

I remember reading once that even in countries with high crime rates, where children know nothing about baseball, baseball bats sell as well as anywhere else.

Setting attacks aside, what about self-defense? I’m sure even the baseball bat artisans will be forgiving if you manage to save someone from punks with one of their works. In fact, they might even be proud.

Although I guess that depends on the artisan. And since I’m not a baseball bat artisan and I’m in no position to be critical, I decided to accept the mohawk man’s choice of weapon.

…Wait. No. No. That was close. They almost had me.

The Guard Team is made up of the personal favorites of Gitarin, leader of the Eastern District. If they wanted, they could get their hands on the best weapons in the world.

…So why do they stick with things like bowling balls and baseball bats? Get serious. I almost want to ask them if they really know what it means to guard someone. …W-wait, the katana is fine.

Which means there’s nothing wrong with Miss Nazuna. Katanas are more helpful than guns in small spaces, and I’ve heard of a female assassin in the U.S. who fought with a katana in each hand. I’m sure she must have been as prim and proper as Miss Nazuna.

Of course, even that assassin couldn’t possibly be a match for her.

Oh, I get it. It’s because I keep using Miss Nazuna as an example for everything that I fall under the impression that I’m falling more for her.

Then again, a lie compressed a hundredfold is bound to become truth. So maybe I really am falling for her, little by little.

But it’s not like that love will ever come to fruition, what with the vendetta she and her friends seem to have against me.

Maybe that forbidden love angle is just making me think about her more.


…At that moment, the tip of the baseball bat came swinging down next to me.


That was close. Talk about a fast one. It probably took less than a second for him to raise that bat and swing it down. If he were swinging horizontally, he could probably make the Major Leagues.

“Slippery as ever, the little rat!” Zhang roared, but by then I was already dodging Carlos’s shots and lunging at the ground.

With both hands on a mound of rubble, I used the momentum from the turn and raised my feet into the air to do a handstand. With my arms alone I pushed myself upwards and slid between the abandoned debris.

It was a narrow gap, but I narrowly got through it. I found an opening along the way, so I kicked up some of the junk at the mohawk man.

“Damn that pest!” Zhang yelled, but a soft scream reached my ears first.

“Ah…”

It’s Miss Nazuna. It looks like she lost her balance because I toppled one of the mounds of rubble. And to make things even better, she was falling toward me. I had no idea she’d come so close. I didn’t expect a sneak attack from her.

The fear of death… was on her face, but it quickly changed to determination. Is she aiming for a suicide attack? Even as she falls, she reaches for the sword at her side.

But it’s too late. She’s completely within my reach—my hand will reach her before she draws.

And it all played out as I expected.

As she fell from the rubble, I grabbed her hand and pulled it, stepping behind her to keep her arm behind her back and prevent her from drawing. I was like a police officer from a cop drama.

If I twisted just a little more, she would feel pain. So I weakened my grip just before that point.

Her arm was warmer than I expected. The wintry chill only emphasized the heat and carried it over to me.

Oh no. My heart is starting to race.

It would be great if she fell for me because of this incident, but that sounds too much like wishful thinking so I should forget about it. …But I can’t help my heart racing.

I am normal. I am most definitely not thinking like a stalker.

But someone wanted to interrupt my little moment of happiness.

“Son of a bitch… why don’t you ever kill us? You don’t even blink when you slaughter thugs on the street.”

“Because I know.” I replied without giving him time to continue. Zhang looked surprised. The others around him seemed to be trying to catch me off-guard, but no one came forward—probably because they were worried about Miss Nazuna.

So I let myself relax and continued.

“Your bonds are powerful. They really are.”

Zhang said nothing.

“So this is what I think. You know in movies and comic books, how when your friend dies, the rest of the team powers up? I think that’s plausibly realistic. I guess I could try to scare you by killing a friend, but you people look like nothing would scare you, and if I did that, I’d really turn the Eastern District against me.”

“You’re already enough of an enemy as it is. And as for that little spiel about powering up… it ever cross your mind that we might just be punks who exist to get whipped by the protagonist?” Carlos said snidely. That didn’t make much sense.

“Wait. But between you people and me, a killer, obviously I’m the bad guy and you’re the protagonists. So the bad guy kills all the good guys in one cut and comes the happy ending…? Is that what you like? Then again, it sounds kind of interesting. Could anyone pull off something like that…?”

“If you know you’re the bad guy here, why not think about repenting for a change?”

Carlos was mocking me. He’s famous for being a lighthearted ladies’ man, and the rumors were all true. The Eastern District really is something if someone like him happens to be one of the best of the best. The Western District is actually easier to fight because they have no flexibility.

“Grk… l-let me go!” Miss Nazuna demanded, still in my grip.

“Oh… I’d appreciate it if you didn’t move so much. I, uh… I won’t do anything with you.”

I… I lied.

Actually, I would like to something with her.

Even if it’s just talking.

But I know there’s no point in confessing to her now.

It’s okay. I can infer at least that much; I’m calm.

It was great that I managed to restrain her, but I hadn’t thought about what to do next.

The Guard Team is different from your garden-variety thugs. For a team that moves on gut instinct, they have excellent teamwork and often corner me with precisely controlled attacks. They’ve even begun to read my movements… Once Jun comes back after dropping off the casino girl, I might even be at a disadvantage.

Jun Sahara seems to be around my age, but she’s not the leader of this team for no reason. She drives back her enemies with incredible judgement and reflexes coupled with horrifying precision.

They really are a scary bunch.

How did I end up becoming one of their targets?

While I was thinking, something broke the stalemate.

“This is getting ridiculous.”

The middle-aged man in sunglasses produced something from his coat pocket.

Expressionless, he pulled the pin from the round, black object in his left hand—

“Evade, Nazuna.”

That’s absurd.


…This is why the Guard Team can be such a pain.


The moment the object flew toward us, I felt Miss Nazuna’s entire body stiffen.

When I launched myself off the ground with her in my arms, I caught a glimpse of the ocean beyond the rubble.

The white waves were shining on the winter sea. They looked beautiful to me.

As I wondered how I should express that emotion, an explosive noise filled the world—


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Chapter 1-B: A Detective Short Story


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<Ah-ah-ah—Aaahh… Testing…>


<All right, all right all right all right! Still lying flat against the floor for another apathetic day, you energetic pieces of shit? D’you enjoy having a soundless peaceful morning in your ear-holes? It’s all ‘cause I slept in today so I’m gonna demand some glorious gratitude from the listenership today and if you’ve got all that let’s get this midday radio show started!>


<All right, we’ll start off with a tune to get your lazy-ass asses going. I’m serious, bitches! It’s the perfect song for shits who drag themselves to this island and risk their lives to waste it all. Today I’m putting on a 24-hour Bōyokudan album marathon. If you got something to say, catch me if you can, fuckers! Then again, I’m a lazy fuck too for putting on a CD and doing nothing for the rest of the day. But who gives a damn? Heehahahahahahaha!>


Sounds from the pirate radio known as Buruburu Airwaves filled the island through the speakers. At first it was nothing but a nuisance to the islanders, but now it was just another part of the atmosphere and blended perfectly into the world.

But then again, there were obviously those who could not adjust to that atmosphere.

“Ohh… there’s just something very different about this radio. Don’t you agree, Sherlock Liverpool?”

“What are you talking about? You seemed to be enjoying it at home.”

“It… well, it seems to somehow… diminish the hardboiled air of the island.”

“Which is a good thing.”

Siblings Charlotte and Sherlock walked through the Western District’s underground, discussing the radio.

The underground, situated between the aboveground and the Pits, was the most lively place on the island and the place most resembling a functioning society.

From restaurants to pseudo-black market stores that sold goods from outside, the area once intended for first-rate corporations and their buildings was now filled with nameless businesses. Yet the area was not a business district at all, also being filled with residents and their homes. That was thanks to the fact that there was safety in numbers, and that the Western District’s volunteer police force regularly patrolled the area to keep the peace.

The smell of gasoline from personal generators, the aroma of scrumptious food, and the odor of rank garbage swirled together into one indescribable mass, creating an air unique to the island.

However, the hotel aboveground where the Liverpool siblings lived was a step up in terms of living conditions. Though the hotel had been abandoned, someone seemed to have touched up the systems. It had running water and electricity, with clean beds and ensuite bathrooms—even better than some of the more haphazard apartments on the mainland.

Of course, they still had to pay rent to the ‘manager’ of the hotel, who controlled the building.

The ‘manager’ was in charge of part of the island’s economy, regularly paying a protection fee to a stronger organization.

In any case, because she lived in such a safe environment, Charlotte almost never came underground unless she had work or shopping to do. Going to buy things was mostly Sherlock’s job, and even when she was working he almost always followed her.

“Honestly. Doing work with my little brother at my side is completely contrary to the detective ideal I strive for.” Charlotte complained mid-walk. Sherlock sighed loudly.

“Then what am I supposed to do, leave you alone?”

“Oh, Sherlock Liverpool. Are you worried about me?” Charlotte looked a little moved. Her brother was dispassionate.

“For example… I wouldn’t be surprised if you somehow dug up an unexploded shell from World War 2 and tried to disarm it singlehandedly. Then it would explode and I would pay the ultimate price for failing to keep you on a leash.”

“How could there be an unexploded shell on an artificial island?”

“And you’d try to disarm it in a deserted place and end up taking it to the center of the island… where the main engine is. When the inevitable happens and it explodes, you’ll sink the island. Then the bridge would collapse, and Japan’s government would begin to suspect foreign involvement. Anxious officials would go out stomping ants to take out their stress… in other words, your life is on the same level as the ants.” Sherlock concluded without even looking at his sister. Charlotte’s eyes widened for a moment. Then,

“…I’m sorry, Sherlock Liverpool. I didn’t get a word of what you just said.”

“It’s fine. It was nothing meaningful, anyway.”

“…It feels as though you’re making fun of me, Sherlock Liverpool. …or maybe it’s just my imagination?”

“It’s not just your imagination. It worries me that you can’t even figure that out.”

Charlotte hung her head at Sherlock’s merciless cynicism.

Casting a glance at his sister, Sherlock sighed and changed his tune.

“Then again, I think you’re incredible. Not many people would go out of their way to become a detective in living conditions like this.”

“Oh? Do you really think so?”

Charlotte seemed to blush, embarrassed. A hint of a smile rose to Sherlock’s lips.

Watching cheer return to his sister’s face, he reminisced about their shared past.


How, in a process so commonplace, they ended up in this destitute city.


▶︎


Siblings Charlotte and Sherlock Liverpool were born to a British father and an American mother and raised near Yokohama Harbor.

Supposedly their father was a famous engineer overseas, and had moved to Japan as an architect to take part in the creation of a particular piece of art—the longest bridge in the world, and the largest artificial island in the world at its center.

He was an impulsive man who decided to remain in Japan then, and married the siblings’ mother, whom he met while clubbing in Roppongi. At least, that was what Charlotte heard from their mother.

Being a hardcore Sherlockian, he jumped on the chance to name his first child Charlotte, and the next child—a son born the very next year—Sherlock. That was the background behind the siblings’ names.

Because the two names sounded very similar in Japanese, the siblings’ mother would call the older sister ‘Lottie’. And as they grew up, the younger brother developed a complex about his own name.

Whenever something unusual happened at school or an unexplained incident shook the world, his classmates would joke, ‘Try deducing that, Sherlock!’, or ‘So who’s the culprit?’. By the time he was in high school, the mockeries became more refined as people quipped about opium addictions and asked where 221B Baker Street was.

Sherlock was always a reserved person, and was never provoked. In fact, he even scorned the people who made fun of him.

But his sister Charlotte always met their insults head-on.

“I will do all the detective work for you, Sherlock Liverpool!” His naive sister would brag, ever since they were in elementary school.

Sometimes, they would take their bicycles to the next town over in search of a Watson, and sometimes she would boast about wanting to solve difficult cases showcased on television. Eventually, even reading a newspaper article with the words ‘impending statute of limitations’ became taboo in their household.

“It’s all right. You don’t have to worry about being a detective.” She would always say, but Sherlock would always sigh and retort,

“How am I supposed to not worry when you actually hide behind utility poles to shadow someone?”

“I-is there something wrong with that…?”

“…Never mind.”

He’d thought his sister would wise up in time, but her enthusiasm was the only thing that improved—and Sherlock’s headaches only snowballed.

At this point, being made fun of by his peers was trivial compared to his sister’s bizarre behavior.


What seemed from the outside to be a peaceful life suddenly dimmed around the time Sherlock was preparing for college entrance exams.

Not only Sherlock, but even the oblivious Charlotte could see that their parents were talking less and less. They never had overt arguments, but at some point Sherlock almost began to wish they would fight, grinding his teeth.

It would be one thing if their parents fought while Sherlock and Charlotte were helpless children, but it was another that they began a silent argument that no amount of force that the now-grown children mustered could stop.

They did not know why their parents were arguing. The siblings spoke to their parents less and less.


And one day, their father left home with the words, “To the island…”.


As though he were stepping out to buy cigarettes.

Crossing the Etsusa Bridge, which he had personally helped to build, he never came back.


Almost immediately, their mother collapsed.

And the siblings were thrown into the world in the blink of an eye.

After the funeral, they were suddenly forced to face reality in a land without a single relative to help. They had almost no money—their father must have taken it all when he left.

The night everything shattered, Charlotte smiled at her brother.

“Well then, shall we go?”

“Go? Where?”

As Sherlock mulled over his future, and what he should do about school, Charlotte said without a hint of hesitation—

“To find Dad.”

Charlotte’s smile was unbearably radiant to Sherlock, whose grief over their mother’s death had already been overshadowed by thoughts of logistics. She seemed almost like a being from a higher world altogether, far beyond his emotions or calculations.

“After all… we’re detectives.”

Soon, Sherlock accepted his sister’s smile.


▶︎


“We’ve only been on this island for a year, but I think we’re lucky to have survived this long. There is a God in this world, I’m almost convinced.”

Charlotte flashed her usual grin.

“Heh heh heh. There’s nothing surprising about our survival. Excellent observational skills and the ability to camouflage oneself is but the basics of being an ace detective! Avoiding danger is a piece of cake.”

“By that logic, you’re a failure as a detective and at the top of the list of ‘people most likely to die on this island’. But setting that aside, I hope it occurs to you that a pair of caucasians like us couldn’t possibly blend in in Japan!”

“Urgh… uh… I could cover that with the many detective skills I’ve honed over the—” Charlotte began hesitantly, but Sherlock cut her off without a hint of mercy.

“By that, you mean watching TV dramas like Seibu Keisatsu, Shiritsu Tantei Hama Maiku, Abunai Deka, Tantei Monogatari, and Hagure Keiji Junjōha. And half of those were about police detectives, not private investigators.”

“But I didn’t know the difference at the time, so it’s quite acceptable! You would have known that if you’d moved past watching and stepped into observation, Sherlock Liverpool.”

“Yes, that was the point. Why are you being so smug about that, anyway? Look. I might have let that slide if you’d at least referenced the Sherlock Holmes collection instead.”

Charlotte hung her head.

“But… isn’t it embarrassing to read stories featuring our namesake?”

“Of all the times to be perfectly accurate…”

Sherlock was left without even the strength to sigh. Charlotte scrambled to try and raise his spirits.

“But… well, we’ve done fine so far with the hardboiled image we’ve made!”

“If by hardboiled, you mean letting your little brother run part-time jobs to pay the rent every month.” Sherlock lamented. Charlotte looked even more down.

“Ohh… that’s why I can’t argue with you. But I think our poverty might work in our favor, especially since it works with the hardboiled image…”

She looked so pitiful that Sherlock cut the sarcasm there and let his sincerity show.

“It’s fine, Charlotte. Family is supposed to help each other.”

“Ohh, Sherlock Liverpool… your words sound so kind, but for some reason it almost feels like extra pressure on my shoulders.”

“All right, all right. …Whoa, we’ve walked pretty far in. Let’s go back. Not even the volunteer police patrol this area often—it’s dangerous here.” Sherlock said, realizing that the area was deserted. He was clearly worried more for Charlotte than himself.

Though his consideration made Charlotte very happy, she felt like the most useless person in the world.

No, I mustn’t feel this way. If I show any weakness, I won’t be able to protect my brother!

Worried about one of the more useless possibilities in their life, Charlotte slapped her cheeks and raised her voice.

“Let me say this, Sherlock Liverpool! From this point on—”


An explosion.


Just as Sherlock turned his attention to his sister’s words, the ominous noise sounded. It was at the very end of this passageway, and if his ears were to be trusted it was the sound of a bomb going off.

“What the—?! Ch-Charlotte!”

“From this point on, I— hm? …What was that noise, Sherlock Liverpool?”

Charlotte snapped out of her half-daze and also turned her attention to the sound.

She seemed to have also understood that it was an explosion—but in contrast to her brother, she ran off the moment she realized it.

Toward the source of the noise—into the deserted pathway.

“Charlotte?!”

Sherlock was the bewildered one now. Though he knew his sister’s character full well, he was more scared that he usually was.

“Th-there may be a fire! We should get to the scene immediately!”

“It might be dangerous, Charlotte. We should get out of here—”

“What if people need to be rescued?”

“…”

When Charlotte retorted without a hint of hesitation, Sherlock went silent and ran after her. He had known since childhood that there was no stopping his sister at times like this.

Yeah. Charlotte’s always had a strong sense of justice. Always leaping before she looks.

As Sherlock reminisced about their childhood memories, Charlotte spoke up mid-sprint.

“Urgh… if only the explosion happened after I finished my line!”

“Then what?”

Sherlock was fully expecting a silly answer, but perhaps she would say something surprisingly wise given the urgency of their situation.

“Then it would have been like a wonderful scene straight out of a movie!”

“…Charlotte…” Shedding tears, Sherlock continued. “Please give me back the time I wasted being moved by your worry for the possible victims.”

“P-please don’t look at me with such pitiful eyes!”

Taken aback by her brother’s tears, Charlotte decided to take back what she had just said. As a result, her footsteps grew quicker.

They were not far from the scene when she suddenly raised her voice again.

“Oh! Sherlock Liverpool!”

“Wh-what is it?”

“I completely forgot what I was going to say after the ‘from this point on’ bit!”

“I see the smoke, Charlotte!”

Realizing that Sherlock had completely ignored her, and that her plan to ease his anxiety had failed, Charlotte decided to focus her efforts into rescuing the injured.

She sprinted through the passageway, which seemed to resemble a hospital hall. It was quite bright thanks to the volunteer police changing the lightbulbs regularly for security’s sake, but the color of the walls and the graffiti etched on them were endlessly dark and heavy.

It was suffocating.

There was no hint of human presence. Sometimes they could hear voices, but they were coming mostly from far behind them.

But when they turned the final corner, they saw the backs of several people. The Liverpool siblings were not first on the scene, as it happened. And if no one was scrambling to help, it must mean that no one was injured.

At least, they didn’t smell any blood.

Instead of fluorescent lamps, natural sunlight lit the area. The siblings wondered for a moment if the explosion had taken out the ceiling, but that would require a massively powerful bomb, the explosion of which would cause more commotion than this.

“Hah… hah… Wh-what’s happened here?”

Charlotte came to a stop and looked up. There stood a mountain of rubble and abandoned construction materials, around which were several onlookers.

“Oh no! Where did all this rubble come from?”

“Calm down, Charlotte. This place has always been a junkyard. It doesn’t look much different from usual.”

Some of the wooden materials were smoking but there was no fire in sight. It was hazy there, but more because of the dust than any smoke.

The junkyard was where those that were thrown out of the world were thrown out for the second time.

Considering that it was usually abandoned, no one was probably injured.

But Charlotte’s relief was for only a moment.

She heard something collapsing near the top of the mound, and soon a large shadow began to fall toward her.

“Hm? Huh?!”

“Charlotte!”

The moment Sherlock pulled her aside by the arm, the figure landed.

The onlookers stared, wondering if the newcomer was hurt.

But the figure was much too beautiful to have been injured.

“That was close. …Are you all right?”

The slender man, who seemed to be about twenty years old, spoke to the girl in his arms.

The girl seemed unhurt, but she was unconscious and did not reply.

“Uh… umm…” Charlotte hesitated, looking at the young man.

He was holding something long and blue between his arm and his side, and seemed to be having a bit of difficulty carrying the girl because of it. At first the object was hard to recognize; but Sherlock soon realized it was a katana inside a blue sheath and worriedly called to his sister.

“Ch-Charlotte!”

Perhaps sensing danger from the young man, Sherlock held his sister’s wrist and refused to let go.

The young man, however, seemed not to notice him—instead, he quietly spoke to Charlotte.

“Please… take care of her.”

“Ah…”

As Charlotte floundered in confusion, the young man gently placed the girl in his arms on the ground.

She had beautiful, short black hair, and looked almost too bright for the island. But because she was unconscious, it was hard to tell if her personality was cheerful to match.

“Umm… who are—”

By the time Charlotte looked up, the young man was gone.

She looked around, bewildered. And all she spotted was the young man’s back as he disappeared through the crowd with incredible agility.

The onlookers exchanged blank stares, but eventually turned to Charlotte and Sherlock. They probably suspected that they were friends of the young man. And even if they didn’t, the onlookers must have been curious to see what the duo would do with the girl now in their custody.

Charlotte got down, and because the girl was still unconscious, only sat her up. She could feel a normal pulse on the girl’s neck.

“W-we have to take her to a doctor—”

“Forget it, Charlotte. I don’t want us to get caught up in a mess like this. …Incidentally, about that guy just now…”

Sherlock trailed off, looking at the direction in which the young man disappeared, and thought out loud.

“Didn’t he… look kind of like the boy in the picture we got?”

“Huh?”

Charlotte looked up, taken by surprise.

Almost simultaneously, the mountain of rubble began creaking and voices traveled to the ground.


The voices were louder than the murmurs of the crowd, so it was clear that they formed a conversation.

“Argh! Why?! Is this island so old that a single grenade can blow a hole in the ground? I was so damned sure it was just short of lethal, even if I got a direct hit…”

“Nah, this yard here’s always been a big hole. That pile you blew up just happened to be pretty frail.”

“Shit! Where’s the bastard hiding?!”

“Wish he’d just died in that explosion.”

“Dumbass. We’re supposed to bring him in alive.”

There was nothing but danger in their words.

What do I do?

As Charlotte wracked her brains, she heard someone descending from above.

Was the man just now protecting this girl from a gang?

Detective and police stories from her childhood began to come alive in her head.

Perhaps the unconscious girl was an innocent hounded by gangsters, an unfortunate runaway from a rich family, or a slave who had been sold to someone on the island—but in any case, Charlotte’s very existence refused all but one option.

“Sherlock Liverpool! Please take her other shoulder!”

“Wha-”

Sherlock turned to his sister, surprised. Her usual cheer was gone, replaced by pure gravity as she tried to lift the mysterious girl.

“Quickly!”

“R-right.”

She wants to take her to the doctor. Yeah, that must be it. Charlotte must’ve noticed a serious injury on her or something.

Though Charlotte’s show of bravado wasn’t particularly notable, it was so far from her usual self that Sherlock was immediately convinced. Even knowing that getting involved in commotions like this on the artificial island was a surefire way to shorten their lifespans.


▶︎


“H-hey, hold it!”

As he descended the heap of rubble, he spotted a figure clad in familiar clothing pushing past the crowds.

When Zhang realized that the figure was Nazuna, he noticed that she was not moving of her own free will, but being carried.

But the people carrying her were not Yakumo, but a man and a woman with blond hair. Although it was impossible to tell if they were foreigners or just Japanese people with bleached hair, it was still clear that someone other than Yakumo Amagiri was taking an unmoving Nazuna somewhere.

Perhaps they were trying to take her to a doctor—but in that case, it would be best to entrust Nazuna to the Eastern District’s very own Master Physician.

“Stop right there!” Zhang roared, clambering down—

But waiting for him at the base of the pile was cold, hard reality.


“Well, well, what do we have here? Greatest Zhang, champion of the underground wrestling ring. Or should I say the lieutenant of the Guard Team?” Mocked a man clad in bulletproof clothing.

The volunteer police.

The Western District’s volunteer police force, led by former police officer Sōji Kuzuhara, was one of the more famous groups in the area. Unlike the Guard Team, which only moved under orders, the volunteer police was a self-governing group that patrolled the Western District and took care of unruly people as a cornerstone of public security.

Fully aware of all that, Zhang nonetheless raised his voice.

“Shaddap. Outta my way.” He spat, turning to the blond duo.

“Can’t let you do that, sir.”

There was a clear sense of hostility in the policeman’s voice. Not one rooted in hatred, but something that seemed closer to rivalry.

Some assumed that relations between the Western and Eastern Districts were like that of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. during the Cold War. And that was not entirely untrue. The volunteer police force and the Guard Team were essentially the faces of the Western and Eastern Districts, most familiar to the common residents. Sometimes the members of these two teams were also influenced by the so-called rivalry, like the man standing in Zhang’s way.

Even if that was not the case, as long as the volunteer police’s ears were to the crowd, they could only assume that Zhang and the others were the ‘gangsters’ chasing after the injured girl. If the policemen let Zhang go, they might be reprimanded by their superiors.

Perhaps the policemen could be convinced that the girl or the young man who had carried her down were the ones behind the explosion, but the young man had already gone and the girl was unconscious. Not only that, the volunteer police had only arrived on the scene after the Liverpool siblings had begun to carry off the girl. It was only natural their attention was turned to the Guard Team, which descended at that very moment.

Not only that, even if the volunteer police had been watching from the very beginning, with their limited numbers they would have made the decision to go after Zhang and the others first anyway. Perhaps if there were more men on hand, or if their leader Kuzuhara was around, they would not have targeted the Guard Team alone.

“Fine! I’ll explain the situation, so stop those two!”

“Who? …I’d like you to explain the explosion first.”

“Goddammit, there’s no time! Shit! They’re gone!”

Anxious, Zhang tried to shove the man aside. But other policemen appeared before them.

“If you cause a disturbance here in the Western District, we will have no choice but to take you in.”

The larger of the men stood in a barricade in front of Zhang. Some of them were even larger than the latter, but the lieutenant of the Guard Team did not even blink.

In fact, he put on a competitive grin like the champion wrestler he was.

“…I warned you.”

The first policeman’s eyes widened in shock.

“You did not—”

Before he could finish, the man was flying through the air.

By the time the man felt the pressure on his neck, Zhang’s hand was already far away. The man was far from the ground, and his consciousness was also far from his head.

But the impact of hitting the wall dragged his consciousness back into his head, and the ringing in his spine turned to pain and ransacked his nerves.

“Urgh… agh…”

No one expected such a quick blow to the neck. Zhang probably hadn’t even been serious, but he had still sent the man—weighing in at over 80 kilograms in his bulletproof gear—flying into the air.

“I warned you in my head. Problem?”

“S-son of a bitch…”

The man’s voice was a hoarse whisper compared to Zhang’s.

As if on reflex, one of the taller policemen reached out to suppress Zhang—but Zhang quickly grabbed him by the collar and pulled him in.

The next moment, Zhang’s massive hand was over the tall man’s face in a crushing grip.

Little by little his fingers tightened, as though screaming that his power had no limit.

By the time bones began creaking, another man drew a custom-made truncheon. It was cheap, but still packed a punch.

“D-don’t move!”

As if on cue, the rest of the policemen drew their truncheons as well. Some were also carrying large knives, to the cheers of the excited crowds.

“…Lookey here. I heard the volunteer cops fought hand-to-hand.”

“That’s just Kuzuhara’s shtick, Mr. Zhang.” Said a voice from atop the pile of rubble. “Knock it off before you kick us off a war with the West. But I gotta hand it to ya—you’re being pretty lively for a guy who’s suppose to specialize in cold fury.”

The voice belonged to a grinning man of Latino descent who wore a pair of blue shades.

He was followed down the mound by men and women who clearly did not belong in lawful society. The onlookers tensed, and the circle of people around the commotion widened.

“Like hell, Carlos. The Western District ain’t stupid enough to consider this an attack.” Zhang noted, his grip still on the tall policeman’s face. Carlos snickered.

“Yili aside, jokes don’t get anywhere with their boss Ei Daren or Lihuang the overseer.”

The rest of the Guard Team tossed out comments as they followed Carlos.

“Oh dear, it’s the volunteer police. …And this is what happens when Mr. Gen resorts to grenades.”

“Pah. This is turning into a fine mess. I oughta just take care of these rubberneckers.”

“E-enough, Mr. Gen. We’re in a tight spot as it is.”

“…I’m sleepy.”

“…6 7 5 7… 1 7 3 5 3 6 4 4 8 6 6 2 2 9 6 0 8 6 7 6 6 5 0 2… 21147619719066836700078… 78619525727… uh… 72496077495301582704019156303489627… 63156369… 12935217020929815099957118… 9… 77… uh… hmm… Hey. Hey. What comes after the 835000th digit of pi?”

“We’ll decide with a die roll.”

“…We need four more numbers for that.”

“Ever heard of a useful little toy called a ten-sided die?”

“Hahahaha! Aren’t you beating the world record by a long shot, Madoka?”

“No, well… I… I just have an eight hundred thousand-digit number memorized.”

“That’s enough of confusing people. I oughta blow you all away with the crowd.”

“I think you’re old enough to learn to behave yourself, Mr. Gen.”

“I don’t want to hear that from a man who thinks with his cock, Carlos.”

“Not like I’m doing that now. Especially not with men.”

“Hahahahahaha! Look at Mr. Zhang go! He’s just wailing away on his own!”

The Guard Team, full of colorful characters.

The distorted atmosphere hanging over them, and their surprising numbers, overwhelmed the volunteer police.

Yet the policemen could not back down when so many Western District residents were watching. But with their lack of experience the idea of calming down to listen to the Guard Team wasn’t an option. So there was really only one thing they could resort to.

“D-don’t get cocky, bastards!”

The bluff came from an unnecessarily loud voice, which attracted the attention of the Guard Team and the onlookers alike.

“W-we got in touch with Mr. Kuzuhara. He’s gonna be here any minute now!”

The crowd buzzed at the mention of the name.

The volunteer police’s desperate claim would have sounded foolish otherwise, but the onlookers welcomed the mention of the name.

They were simply curious.

With no concern for the conflict between East and West, for the injured volunteer police, for the explosion, or for their own safety, they simply cried out for the arrival of the man named Sōji Kuzuhara.

“Fuck it. Kuzuhara this, Kuzuhara that. Is that the only name you know how to fucking spell over Westside?” Zhang growled, glaring at the volunteer police. Carlos chimed in, as laid-back as ever.

“Can’t help it if Kuzuhara’s just that damned strong.”

“…Pitiful. I could end it in fifteen minutes tops if we were in the ring.”

“In other words, you couldn’t do that outside the ring?”

“Pro wrestlers are king off-stage too, dammit! …I just need more training.”

Even through gritted teeth Zhang acknowledged Kuzuhara’s strength.

Sounds almost like he actually got beat before.’ Carlos thought, but he did not voice the comment.

“Mr. Kuzuhara’s gonna wipe the floor with your asses! Better drop those weapons if you know what’s good for you. Especially you, four-eyes! He’ll beat you to death with his bare hands if he sees you with a gun!”

“Oh. Right.” Carlos nodded, glancing at his gun.

Supposedly Kuzuhara’s hatred of guns went beyond seething; he was infamous for being particularly hard on those who used firearms in their crimes.

“Think fast.”

For a second, the policeman wondered if he should catch the gun. It would be easy to get out of the way, but what if the gun exploded from the impact of the drop?

Worrying over an accident of astronomically low odds, the man found himself catching the gun in his arms as though receiving an egg, as gently as he could and with as much tension his muscles could manage.

“W-watch it—”

Narrowing managing to catch the weapon, the man looked from the gun to the Guard Team and back again.

Though the Guard Team might have more guns concealed on them, the only one holding one in hand was himself. Everyone else was unarmed, and at a distance from him.

The fact that he managed to take a gun from Carlos, the only gunman in the commotion, made him proud.

So he found himself doing the unthinkable.

Pointing the gun at the Guard Team.

“Heh… heh heh… good, good. Just stay right there and don’t move. …Whoa, I know how to undo the safety, so don’t get any cute ideas.” The man said, disarming the safety. He was practically advertising his incompetence from way he kept glancing at the gun as he worked on it.

If they were in the U.S., he would have been turned turned into Swiss cheese by that point. But in spite of the island’s lawless state, it was still in Japan, where firearms were far from common. Even the officer must not have thought that far.

But the Guard Team showed no sign of concern.

Safety aside, they knew that Carlos had emptied the gun before tossing it to the man. They also knew that he had three more guns concealed on his person, along with backups on his ankle and back for a total of five.

The hapless policeman was left to believe that he had the high ground.

“Listen up. Just hold still and wait. I shoot whatever so much as twitches.”

“Huh. Well, I guess this is my fault for giving you the gun.”

“Felling sorry now?” The officer taunted with a conceited smile. But Carlos shot back with a pitiful look.

“Well, yeah. For you.”

“The hell?”

“Y’know, I figured you’d be out of a job from today on.”

What’s that supposed to mean?

Before the officer could ask, he sensed a changed in the murmurs of the crowd.

The whispers were slowly transforming into cheers. The onlookers nearby were giving him sorry looks.

No way—

But it was too late.

A massive hand appeared from behind the man and grabbed the gun.

A simple signature move.

The special glove over the hand, woven with bulletproof fibers.

Two facts were enough to convince the man of the newcomer’s identity, and he found his entire body shaking in indescribable terror.

“M-Mr. K-K-K-Kuzuha-”

“Hahahahahaha! Look at him! It looks like he’s laughing! Hahaha! This is hilarious!” A girl from the Guard Team howled in laughter, pointing at the policeman.

The policeman held back a sob as he finally called the newcomer’s name.

“M-Mr. Kuzuhara!”


The man wore an air around himself.

His eyes, his build, his footsteps—they overwrote everything around him to paint the world in his air.

Even the cheering crowds went silent when he drew near, swallowing their breaths to watch his every move. It almost felt like the temperature changed around him, but the jury was out on whether it was colder or hotter.

Even the smile-happy Carlos stiffened at the man’s entrance, and Zhang greeted him with a look equal parts hostile and entertained.

And so, Sōji Kuzuhara—captain of the Western District’s volunteer police force—took control of the space with his presence alone.


“…What are you doing.” Growled the captain of the volunteer police as he took away the gun from his subordinate from the same eye-level as Zhang. “…You’re tired.”

“Huh? Sir? No, I—”

Kuzuhara was not a man to discipline his subordinates with violence.

The volunteer police knew that as well, but whatever the motive, the policeman was found threatening people with a gun. The men who had seen what power Kuzuhara unleashed on thugs with guns understood the life-threatening terror.

Placing his hands on the subordinate’s shoulders—

“You’re tired. Go home and get some rest.”

“Uh, I… I—”

He had to come up with an excuse, the man thought, but the fear and confusion stopped the words in his throat. Kuzuhara let none of his emotions show as he gave a simple order.

“I understand. Go get some rest.”

The policeman could feel the grip on his shoulders tighten microscopically.

His superior’s words, themselves fear incarnate, clung to his nerves as an absolute command.

Unable to even respond, the subordinate left the scene as though fleeing.

Kuzuhara neither looked back nor chastised him nor saw him off.

Instead, he apologized on his behalf.

“…It looks like my subordinate crossed the line. Apologizes.”

“No big deal. One of our very own lummoxes started the mess.” Carlos snickered, the tension finally gone. “Anyway, I was sure you’d at least pulverize the poor sack, or at least fire him.”

“Any newbie in his shoes would lose his cool if a gun dropped into his hand. It’d be cruel to pulverize or fire him,” Kuzuhara replied, unperturbed by Carlos’s rude assumptions. That was because he was dating a woman who ignored the rules of etiquette entirely, but Kuzuhara remained the picture of stoicism nonetheless.

Zhang chimed in, sounding sarcastic for once.

“It’s almost crueler to let him come back to work tomorrow after the shit he went through today.”

“Maybe.” Kuzuhara replied. After that, even Zhang had nothing to say.

With the dozen or so men Kuzuhara brought along, the volunteer police outnumbered the Guard Team two-to-one. But Kuzuhara was the only one who could balance out the odds against Zhang and Carlos. In other words, Kuzuhara was the weight who kept things even.

And in that stalemate, Kuzuhara was the first to move. Without a second thought he handed the gun he took away from his subordinate to Carlos.

“Here.”

“That was easy. Aren’t you worried I’d shoot you the second I got my gun back?”

“With an empty gun? Or with one of the loaded ones you’re hiding on you?”

“Well, you got me there.” Carlos admitted, his respect for and caution toward Kuzuhara increasing.

“Thought you hated guns.” Zhang said.

“And I still do. Police officers and soldiers are the only ones who’re allowed to carry guns here in Japan.” He said, as though chastising himself. He then turned to the Guard Team. “I trust you people to a degree, but it still doesn’t sit right with me. …I’d prefer it if you put your guns away when I’m around.”

Like a warning bell his words resounded through the minds of the Guard Team, and even the onlookers and his own subordinates. Zhang and the Guard Team members who did not use firearms seemed unaffected, but Carlos’s face was rigid and cold sweat formed on his face.

With that, Kuzuhara cracked his neck and scanned the area.

“Now that I’ve apologized for my subordinate… it’s time to get to work.”

Though his words did not foreshadow violence, the tension in the air skyrocketed anyway.

“Members of the Eastern District’s Guard Team. …I’m going to have you tell me what happened here.”


▶︎


We just have to take her to a doctor. Then we’ll wash our hands of this mess.

They had been running for many minutes.

Open the clinic door. Don’t say our names and don’t let anyone get a look at our faces if we can help it. That’s all we can do. That’ll be for the best.’ The brother repeated in his head as he tried to ignore the two facts he deduced.

One was that his sister had no idea where to find a doctor.

And the other was that his sister—without so much as a hint of reservation—was headed aboveground to the hotel where they made their home.


-----


Words are dancing in the darkness.

“…Yeah. The explosion took place at the junkyard, right? We’re still fine.”

There is no intonation or emotion in the voice. The words twist and writhe in an eerie dance.

“…Heh heh heh… I was worried for a second. Thought something went off by mistake.”

He seems to be on the telephone with someone. The man chats and leans back on his chair. But his face is hidden in shadows. Though indoors, he leaves the lights turned off to cast a darker shadow over his face.

“…Right. Yeah. Kuzuhara’s begun to move… you watch out, too.”

He hangs up and slowly gets to his feet.

“Heh heh… Kuzuhara, huh. …I used to feel sick just saying his name. But now it’s almost pleasant.”

Though he talks about someone else, there is no affection, hatred, love, or envy in his voice. He utters the word ‘Kuzuhara’ as though it is just a symbol.


“…Hm?”

The darkness seems to have noticed. He must be a sharp one if he noticed the cameras and bugs I installed myself.

It is too dangerous to proceed further. Though my voice is quiet… or is it audible?

I repeat, it is too dangerous to proceed further.

One wrong move, and he will know. It is too dangerous to proceed further.

“…Heh… who knew someone would end up bugging me?”

Mayday. Mayday.

This is Spring-heeled Joplin, contacting Spring-heeled Joplin.

Reality threatens to encroach upon me.

So I must return to being a simple resident.

Requesting observation. Requesting observation.

“Hey. Whoever set this up… you listening? I don’t know how long you’ve been spying on me, but you already know. Looking at my face isn’t going to help you. And figuring out my plans won’t be enough to stop them.”

Take over my senses. And tell me the results later.

As usual. As usual.

“Then again, maybe if you were constantly looking over my shoulder… Heh heh heh…”


The bugs and the cameras go blank in unison, and the world of Spring-heeled Joplin falls to darkness. It has blacked out!

I leave the rest to you, Spring-heeled Joplin. I leave the rest to you.


-----

4 comments:

  1. "and I’ve heard of a female assassin in the U.S. who fought with a katana in each hand"
    Cue to Baccano's Maria Balserito.

    ReplyDelete
  2. 'With no concern for the conflict between East and West, for the injured volunteer police, for the explosion, or for their own safety, thy simply cried out for the arrival of the man named Sōji Kuzuhara.' (thy > they)

    Thanks for the translations, great as always!

    ReplyDelete
  3. "Ohh… that’s why I’m can’t argue with you"

    Becomes:

    "Ohh... that's why I can't argue with you

    ReplyDelete