An Etsusa Bridge update. Enjoy.
Chapter 2-A: Paw and Circumstance
Somewhere aboveground, in the Western District.
Well, that was a close shave.
The Guard Team’s grasp on my movements just keeps improving. This almost never happens with anyone else.
…I guess that’s natural, since most other people who’ve seen me move are dead.
They would have got me if that pile of junk hadn’t collapsed. I would’ve made it out alive, probably. But not without a couple of deep injuries.
Today’s just not my day.
No, I’m not saying the grenade was because I was unlucky. I was unlucky that I ran into the Guard Team. I just wanted to enjoy myself at the casino. Why are they so desperate to get me?
Because I’m a killer?
That can’t be.
If you look at it that way, the Southeast Asian mafia in the Eastern District and the Chinese mafia in the West have a higher kill count. Or are they letting them off the hook because they’re mafia too?
Then I think they could extend that favor to me, too.
I mean, I don’t kill people to stuff my pockets.
I swear that I am more normal than them.
I am definitely normal.
They only want to be violent. Those gangs were formed to do bad things.
Mafia, yakuza, gangsters, they’re all the same. They don’t hesitate to turn to violence. That’s why they’re strong… and rich, probably.
And if you do go all-out as a gangster but still end up dirt-poor, you might as well get a proper part-time job to pay the bills.
Yes. That’s right. Those people are not normal.
Here is my proof. Even though I was holding Miss Nazuna hostage, that Guard Team member threw the grenade at us. ‘Evade’? That goes against every law of logic, morality, love, society, and evolution I know of!
Why…? Why is Miss Nazuna one of them?
She’s too lovely to be in the Guard Team.
She knew I could kill her, but she was determined to fight nonetheless.
I think that’s incredible.
It’s awe-inspiring. Just like the heroes I saw on TV and in comic books growing up.
In spite of her wounds, she would have faith in her friends and defeat her enemies. …Although it unfortunately happens that a simple misunderstanding cast me as her enemy, once we solve that trivial mistake we’ll be able to smile together.
…But the Guard Team betrayed her.
If she had died then, I would never have forgiven them. …Hm? But I was holding her, so there was no way she could have died. Because I am going to protect Miss Nazuna no matter what.
Or maybe I can’t protect her. But I believe I can. Because having firm determination makes me stronger. Well, problem solved.
…Wait! That was close. I almost ended up forgiving the bad guys with a self-resolution again!
Right. The conclusion isn’t the problem here.
The problem here is the fact that they tried to kill Miss Nazuna along with me.
Maybe Miss Nazuna told them beforehand, ‘Don’t worry about me—kill us both if you have to!’. Then… no no no no no no no no no no. The old guy told her to evade!
In other words, they’re awful people. The mafia is crazy, not me. But Miss Nazuna is one of them and chased me down, seeing me as an enemy—a killer. So in other words, I am a bad guy to this island, but because this island is the one that made me into the Killer Ghoul I am innocent and normal and therefore things should work out between Miss Nazuna and me.
Hm. I think I’m confusing myself.
In other words, there shouldn’t have been any obstacles between us in the first place!
Huzzah! Now I can stand by her side!
…Wait. Then why are we on opposite sides again?
I… I’m on the right track, aren’t I?
Sometimes these thoughts overwhelm me and I lose myself.
Maybe, I think, I’m the only crazy person in the world and everything else is normal.
Some people say that the world is made up of only what they can see, but I don’t agree. Who knows? There just might be a heated workplace drama underway in the factory where the sneakers I wear were made.
…Wait. That’s not right. That is something I can technically see. If I’m including cause and effect.
I don’t know what kind of drama might have happened around this pair of sneakers, but I am looking at the sneakers that resulted from that drama. Even the money in my wallet is there through a sequence of events I couldn’t have seen, involving politicians or businesspeople and their hard work or corruption or sense of justice.
…But none of that is something I can see with my own two eyes.
An overwhelming majority of what takes place in the world is unknown to me.
And most of what supports the world I can see with my eyes are supported by actions I can’t see.
…That scares me.
How does the world outside my scope of vision see me?
I am most definitely not insane.
It must be true, because I say so.
If the world is composed of everything I can think of…
Then my opinions couldn’t be wrong. Because everything is my world.
But the world doesn’t belong to me.
I’m normal. I’m okay. I’m still all right. It was all normal—my birth, my life, my childhood, my education, my fun memories, my disappointment, my enjoyment…
And now, I’ve fallen in love like a normal person.
I admit it. I’ll finally admit it.
I love Miss Nazuna. I only became convinced of that today. The moment I caught her in my arms as she fell unconscious… I almost wanted to run off with her. But I didn’t. I am not a stalker. I could never do such a thing while her heart hasn’t come around to me.
That was why I left her with the most kind-looking people there… a foreign couple, I think.
I suppose the volunteer police must have retrieved her and taken her to a doctor. Or maybe the foreigners are letting her rest somewhere.
…All right. I’ll try looking for the couple later.
Then, when I find Miss Nazuna… what am I supposed to say?
I think I should start by clearing up this misunderstanding. I am the Killer Ghoul; but I am only a killer because I am on this island. I have to explain that my status as a killer is the natural result of my being influenced by this unusual setting. Outside this island, I am a perfectly normal civilian. And I have something to brag about, though it’s not much.
I’m a little confident in my dancing skills. I’ve done everything from breakdancing to ballroom dancing, to traditional Japanese dance to Noh. That’s right. Come to think of it, before I came to this island I crossed over to Sado because I wanted to learn more about Noh. Of course, my favorite dances are tap-dancing and Beijing opera-style sword dancing—the flashy stuff—but right now… I’d love to try folk dancing with Miss Nazuna. Just like in good old elementary school, we could dance around a campfire in the middle of the school field and make memories together.
I once won a nationwide dance competition. I don’t know if I have a talent for teaching, but I think I can at least show an example that’s easy to learn from.
No. Actually, I don’t even need to teach Miss Nazuna.
I’d be happy even if all she did was watch.
Because just being with her would satisfy me.
…Wait a second.
That’s not it. That’s not the issue here. The important thing is how to explain myself to Miss Nazuna.
I have to prove that I am normal.
Normalcy… well, first, you’d have to define the standard of normalcy, but I think being ‘ordinary’ is important. After all, the ‘ordinary’—the majority—is becoming more and more important in society.
In that sense, all I ever did was ordinary. Studying, playing, going off quietly into my own thoughts… it was all ordinary.
When I was little, I would always step on the white stripes on the crosswalk when I was crossing the road.
I believed I could bend spoons with my mind, so whenever I watched a psychic on television I begged my parents to buy me a new spoon.
In the end I never gained psychic powers and bent the spoon by force with a straight face, then showed off to my family and friends. It was only in junior high school that I realized that everyone already knew I was bluffing.
I was the child who looked up at the sky and thought it would be fun to drop things from the clouds. …So I decided to drop all the characters from my favorite anime from the sky.
It occurred to me that it was about time for the Takecopter(1) to be invented.
In the middle of the night, I curled up under the blankets. And I fantasized about taking a spare pocket from a blue cat-shaped robot into a different anime. With tools from the 22nd century, I would be invincible. And with my favorite villains at my side, I would mock the heroes.
I’m normal. I’m normal. I’m normal…
When I could no longer remember any more of my childhood, I refreshed myself with a stretch.
The ruined buildings were full of life. I looked up, standing between then. The sky between the grey walls looked so blue.
Gazing into the narrow sky, I began to think like a junior high student who thought he knew everything, even though he hadn’t taken a single step into the real world. ‘Why do I exist?’.
I’ve never actually taken a step into the real world.
…All the memories I looked back on are of my childhood.
I came over to this island before I finished high school… and I became the Killer Ghoul. A criminal, from the outside world’s perspective. Someone who is clearly deranged.
I’ve never experienced real life. The only money I’ve ever earned for myself was the prize from the dance contest.
I was from a well-off family, and I could get my hands on most anything I wanted. But I wasn’t coddled. If I went too far, I’d get a slap from Father. Mother would use her fists. But about three years later, I came to see that that was all my own fault.
But… the parents who would hit me are not on this island. A boy like me, who hadn’t ever held down a real part-time job, had crossed over to an island with no real part-time jobs.
How ironic. By the time I came to that realization, I’d already killed many people, and the island was awash with rumors about me being a mass murderer.
Not many people look at my face and go, ‘Hey, it’s Yakumo Amagiri!’. Although it’s a different story with the Guard Team and the Eastern District’s executives, who’ve seen photos of me.
‘Yakumo Amagiri’ is just a pseudonym.
On this island, I am the Killer Ghoul. When I return to the outside world someday, I have to leave behind the Killer Ghoul persona. in other words, ‘Yakumo Amagiri’ is the glue that holds my persona and the island together.
I don’t need to reveal my real name on this island. It’s possible to live on here without ever telling anyone your name, so ‘Yakumo Amagiri’ is enough for me.
With these thoughts, I turned a corner in the narrow, tangled alleyways and immediately did a 180 as I stopped.
For a split second I spotted a silhouette in the direction I was walking from, looking as though it were spying on something.
The figure’s eyes widened as they noticed me hiding behind the corner, but escape was impossible. He could not even scream. By then, I had stuck my thumb into his mouth and grabbed his jaw with my fingers to drag him toward me.
He’s a mess. Unnecessarily so. Even on this island you rarely run into people dressed like this. They say that inexperienced reporters from the mainland dress like this when they come to the island in an attempt to blend in. But it looks like he has no idea it makes him stick out like a sore thumb. Poor thing.
I glanced at his face and tried to figure out his age, but quit.
If he were a buxom lady, I would have stared all the way into the layers of her makeup, but I have no interest in scruffy men.
“…Why are you following me?”
He must have had no idea I could have been lying in wait for him. His face twisted in an instant, but not into fear—yet.
Did he follow me because he knows who I am? Or…
“Sorry. I’m actually the Killer Ghoul. So I think I’m going to kill you.”
“Huh…? K-Killa Ghoul…?”
I tried to coax information out of him, but the man just showed a half-smile. I think he thinks I’m joking around.
So he doesn’t know who I am?
“W-wait. I washn’t hollowin you! It’s a hishunderstandin!”
As the man made excuses, I reached into his clothes and pulled out a card-shaped digital camera.
Anxiety flitted over his face, but that doesn’t matter.
Because I was still holding his jaw with my right hand, I used my left to turn on the camera and check its contents—Bingo. Photos of me, no question.
Hm. Was this after I left Miss Nazuna at the junkyard? Did this bastard blend with the crowd and happen to find me there?
First, I have to blow off this anxiety.
“I don’t know why you were sniffing around like that, but to be honest… it bothered me. The way you were mousing around me.”
“W-wai—here we out!”
His pronunciation’s great for a guy whose jaw I’m holding.
But I’m not going to forgive him. I refuse to hear him out.
“Although if you were a rodent like Nejiro, I might have spared you.”
“Hm? You’ve never heard of him? I see. You’re new to this island, aren’t you. Nejiro is king over the rats on this island. They’re such tiny little rats. Those children, you know, are everywhere. It’s a little different from being able to go anywhere. Me and people like Yua can get anywhere, but those rats are different. Those rats, you see, are everywhere. That’s the important part. I’m emphasizing the everywhere because it’s most important. They spread into every corner of the city to nibble away at people and even the island itself. They’re some of the more annoying things around here. Although they’re no problem for me. Their eyes look completely empty, but at the same time they’re like mirrors. They reflect their leader Nejiro’s eyes. Sad and lonely, but unable to see that that’s what they look like themselves. I can’t say I know what they’re thinking. Just like you don’t understand a Killer Ghoul like me, I don’t understand rats. But it’s strange. They look like rodents to me, so I never get the urge to kill them. I’m a killer, not a butcher.”
I had to take breaths in between, but I tried to keep up a machine gun pace.
I did that to make sure the pitiful man never had the chance to interject. So I would cut off his apologies and pleas and even his breath.
At the end of my statements, the man was already silent.
He was just staring at my jaw, trembling in fear and already having given up on thinking of escaping. Huh. I was just rambling while making eye contact. Why is he so scared? Maybe putting more and more pressure into my grip was having an effect.
I decided to give the man an opportunity and tell him a story that was going around the island. The perfect story to teach him just what kind of a place this island is.
“All right. I’ll tell you. The legend behind the poor, sweet rats that nest on this island. You should pray that I change my mind while I talk. That I change my mind about killing you. That’s right. It was just about when the casino opened up in the Eastern District…”
“…and that’s how Nejiro really became the Rat King. And they all lived happily for a while. Wow, what a relief. Isn’t it great that he didn’t die at the hands of that awful sharp-eyed Chinese witch?”
I didn’t cry, but I put a lot of emotion into the telling. I embellished the story a little, but even I have to pat myself on the back for the scene where Yili strangles the Rats with her own hair.
But that’s that, and this is this.
“I suppose I should kill you after all… hm?”
I looked at the man, but he was gone. …Huh. When did I let go of him? I don’t remember.
Inconceivable! I must have gotten so absorbed in the story that I let the stalker escape.
“No way… he ran. I guess there’s nothing I can do.”
That was what my mouth said, but I didn’t feel that way.
I was furious with myself, but I decided to give up.
I wanted to grind his bones to powder, but only crazy people would do that to someone who doesn’t fight back.
Something’s not right.
Normally, I would have outrun someone like him and left.
But I went out of my way to catch him and even threatened him. That wasn’t like me at all.
…Not good. Anger makes people hesitate.
And hesitation makes people strange. So for someone like me, who insists on a normal life, anger is not an option. …Wait. Anger is an instinct born from evolution. Maybe trying to hold it back is abnormal? …Actually, is anger even an instinctual emotion? I feel like it might be fundamentally different from things like fear or lust.
Not good. This is putting me on edge.
I should change my pace. Go meet someone. It might be best to meet someone and unwind before I go to see Miss Nazuna.
That’s right… maybe I should visit Nejiro’s haunt. The protagonist of that story I told.
I wonder how those mice are doing these days.
I think they hate me… or actually, they’re scared of me. But I’m fond of them.
Reining in my endless anxiety, I moved to leave the alley. But a moment later, a familiar voice reached my ears and sent my anxiety through the roof.
…I heard an agitating voice.
Yes. I did hear the infinitely agitating voice!
<Why so edgy? Try adding more calcium to your diet.>
That’s right. I feel so anxious because I heard this voice. Let’s just say that’s what happened. I didn’t actually hear this voice before, but I’ll just pretend I did.
“…Shut up, Joplin.”
Spring-heeled Joplin is no sane person, no matter how much I think about it.
He’s supposedly a present-tense urban legend that people often mention alongside me.
He appears everywhere on the island to give advice to some and warnings to others.
From the way he talks I think he might be a foreigner, but it also kind of feels like he’s doing that on purpose.
He is a fickle creature that points a starving runaway girl a way out of the island’s labyrinth, but at the same time leads curious reporters and their sort to the casino or the Pits to bring them to a cruel end.
I don’t know how long he’s been on this island, and I don’t know why he’s here.
And since rumors about his appearance are inconsistent, half the talk is probably just that. Rumors. …Although in that case, the other half must be true.
There are a lot of theories on the true identity of Spring-heeled Joplin. From a crony of the Eastern District’s boss to a Western District exec, to a pawn of a political faction from the mainland. But because less than half the island even believes he exists, I don’t think any amount of theorizing is going to produce an answer.
He is this island’s very own madness incarnate. Someone who’s completely removed from common sense.
Getting involved is only going to mess with my head. This isn’t good. I don’t like this at all. The crazier someone is, the more normal they think they are or the more they convince themselves they’re working for some great purpose, which makes them harder to deal with.
I tried to ignore him, but his words wouldn’t stop reaching my ears.
<The reason behind your anxiety is simple. You’ve known for a while that you were being watched, but the only ones you managed to catch so far were small fry like the one just now. The real pros still have their eyes on you.>
Thunk. I heard a pleasant noise.
Crushing the tin toy fixed with a radio that was rolling around my feet, I tried to leave the alley—
…But a cat with a radio tied around its body strolled toward me.
<—on you. Heh heh… That was cruel of you.>
Damn it! I can’t bring myself to crush it!
A simple trick that utilized my love of cats. I wouldn’t have batted an eye about stomping on a rhinoceros or a cow!
“I suppose I should apologize to the tin toy artisan if I ever meet them.”
<That would be me.>
“I’m so sorry that I’m wracked with guilt on the inside. Now go die.”
Joplin lets out a muffled laugh.
<That’s cruel of you. I’m on your side. See? I just lent you a helping hand.>
“What do you mean?”
I realized something, then.
The presences that had been slinking around me were all gone.
It is silent now, as if time’s been stopped. It is just me and the cat.
“…The final twist better not be that all those people following me were actually your goons.”
That’s what I said, but I know it’s not true.
Joplin would keep tabs on me even if he were alone, and he’s not foolish enough for me to notice him. That means he must have somehow gotten rid of all the people who were tailing me. Judging from his personality, he’s probably avoided violence and resorted to cajolery instead… or threatened them.
How does he do it? He is abnormal. But to be honest, I’m glad to lose all those tails.
“Fine. I’m grateful for that. But why are strangers keeping tabs on me?”
<Heh heh heh… That’s your homework. Use that passion for knowledge to drive you to another day.>
…I feel angry. I should have seen this coming. I was an idiot for feeling grateful.
“Then why did you help me, I wonder?”
I wasn’t expecting a very specific answer, but Joplin betrayed my expectations.
<I’m just doing what any fellow urban legend should be doing. I didn’t want outsiders to figure out your identity.>
My identity? Oh. Something like, ‘the boy who won the dance contest all those years ago was the Killer Ghoul’? But that’s the other way around. Because I, the Killer Ghoul, am the mask. And without my mask… off this island, I could go straight back to being an ordinary young man.
I could explain, but this is such a long line of thought that I decided not to correct Joplin and instead continued the conversation.
“…Even if outsiders figure out who I am, I’m the only one who’d lose anything. Although if my parents decided to commit suicide or something I’d stop them somehow.”
<Heh heh. Anyway, it looks like we’ve got a mutual understanding going on here. Let’s get along like good fellow urban legends! See, you and I are one and the same—we can only truly exist in an unusual environment like this island, and only in the rumors of the—>
I played with the cat, which seemed to be used to humans, and untied the radio. Then I flung the chattering box against the wall.
The cat mewled, frightened, and leapt away from me.
As soon as it disappeared from sight, emptiness rose from my gut and pressed against my heart. Being lonely also makes me afraid, but this sensation against my gut felt a little good.
But there is no one here anymore I can share this emotion with.
Nothing is here.
It’s empty. Everything is hollow.
To my eyes, the blue sky seems only like a symbol of nothingness.
…This is isolation.
It’s very lonely.
I want to see Miss Nazuna.
But would I scare her if I came out of the blue?
Would she start thinking about me the way I think about Joplin?
Damn it… I’d rather die than be treated the same as that sick creep.
I get it.
I realized something. I understood something.
It’s because I’m a legend. Because I’m so unrealistic. That’s why the Guard Team is itching to get rid of me. Because supernatural things like magic and myth are only a nuisance to those who want to enforce control over the people.
Maybe Miss Nazuna doesn’t look at me as human because I’m an urban legend. Yes. That must be it!
Then it’s about time I told them.
It’s time for me to tell those who control this island that my fangs can indeed pierce their necks.
It’s about time for the island to know, I think.
That I am no legend, but a reality.
Chapter 2-B: Armchair Defective
Room 326 of the abandoned hotel. The Private Eye Lizard.
“Did you hear that, Sherlock Liverpool?! The Buruburu-y Airwaves is broadcasting the news outside… and they say a Western District executive has been murdered!”
“I did. But Buruburu’s just replaying the same broadcast recording from before. Talk about lazy. I’m surprised the Western District’s just letting the news play. Are they that forgiving, or are they just that confident?”
It had been a day since the explosion at the junkyard. The speakers inside the hotel were, as usual, playing the day’s Sōsei Airwaves broadcast.
News of the Western District executive’s death had spread throughout the district and become the gossip of the day. The residents feared a repeat of the past summer’s incident and the inevitable pressure from the organizations, but they seemed to be resting easier this time because of Kuzuhara’s presence.
Although the executive’s cause of death was not announced in detail, he had often appeared to the locals, and was a face of sorts for the organization. It would be impossible to hide his death. Or perhaps the Western District wanted the locals’ cooperation in finding the killer.
Ignoring Sherlock as he analyzed the incident, Charlotte raised her mug of tea with a gleam in her eye.
“I smell a case!”
“Forget smelling—this is a case.” Sherlock commented. His sister chuckled and continued.
“Heh heh heh… This is our chance, Sherlock Liverpool. Our chance to let our name be known throughout the island!”
“You sound like a nice person, Charlotte, but sometimes you’re just shameless.”
“Wh-why do you say that?! The best way to mourn the lost is to capture the culprit as soon as possible! That is the raison d'être for us ace detectives.”
“Sorry, my mistake. You’re not shameless—you’re an idiot.”
“But Sherlock Liverpool!” Charlotte sniffled. But she quickly became calm, reminded of something, and turned her gaze to the bedroom further in.
“Come to think of it, she might be coming around soon.”
“…Oh. You’re right.”
The Liverpool siblings’ suite was one of the better ones in the hotel, and was essentially a small apartment. Though they had no kitchen there was a full bathroom, which meant that the siblings each had their own room and a living room-slash-office for a relatively luxurious lifestyle.
Then again, the hotel had never been fully furnished, which meant that their tattered furniture was a poor match for the decor.
The hotel was a cheap place to stay compared to the mainland, but very few actually lived there. After all, those who could afford that much money would not have to come to the island in the first place. And those who had the money to spare would have taken up residence at a bigger hotel run by an organization. In other words, this particular hotel was occupied by those who had some money, but were forced by circumstance to live on the island.
Of course, it was difficult to say that the Liverpool siblings had money at all.
In any event, there was a girl sleeping in one of the bedrooms.
The black-haired girl entrusted to the siblings the previous day by the mysterious young man.
They had rushed her to their room and brought in a back-alley doctor they knew for a check-up, but apparently the girl was not particularly hurt. She was just exhausted and needed sleep.
“Anyway, I’m so glad she’s all right. And I’m also glad we found a skilled doctor on this island!”
“All we know is that she’s not critically injured, Charlotte. And the doctor’s good, but he doesn’t have a license anymore since he illegally treated a gunshot wound and got found out.”
“Heh heh heh. Sherlock Liverpool. That the doctor treated someone illegally is only proof of his skill! After all, a quack would never have been able to pull off the treatment, and he would have been murdered for his failure!”
“…Now you’re laughing in the face of the criminal underworld. We’re doomed.” Sherlock sighed loudly. “Charlotte, there’s a fine line between helping and prying. No one would bring home a girl like her back on the mainland! And it’s not like we even know her.”
“What else could we do? After all, the mainland has police stations and hospitals.”
“That’s not the issue here.”
“Hm? Th-then what is the issue? …Ah, I see, Sherlock Liverpool! You’re testing my detective’s instincts! I see, I see.”
Sherlock ignored his sister and glanced at the bedroom door.
Yet his thoughts were not with the girl sleeping there, but in his own past.
‘Charlotte really is a hopelessly good person.’
It would not have been surprising for a girl of her looks to have been snatched by thugs and put through all kinds of misery before losing her mind to drugs and sold for the price of pork in the Pits. But Sherlock had always acted as her shield to prevent such a thing from happening.
He never tried to stop her when she announced her intention to come to the island. After all, he knew she would make the journey on her own even if he forbade her. Follow all he liked, it would be too late by then.
That was how he came to the island with his sister.
Even after doing thorough research, on the island he remained on alert as he constantly kept his eyes out for danger and turned people’s sights from Charlotte to himself or someone else.
Sometimes he even took part in near-crimes—or actual crimes—and dirtied his own hands in order to keep her safe.
It was obviously no easy task, and he did feel some guilt about what he had done.
And yet he continued to dirty his hands.
‘Charlotte deserves to suffer once or twice for being completely oblivious to what I do for her sake. It’d be so much easier if I just left her alone.’
How many times had he thought that way?
But each time the idea came to mind, he ended up denying it.
Not only could he not imagine himself abandoning his sister, he also felt sick to his stomach when he actually pictured his sister thrown to the island’s hoodlums.
That she was his only surviving relative was part of the reason, but Charlotte was special to him. She had always fought back with gusto when he was bullied by his peers. Even though she could have avoided involvement.
She had grown up with that personality completely intact.
Old habits die hard, it was said. But it was a marvel to see how she retained such a detrimental character even to adulthood.
‘Maybe it’s because I was always with her.’
Charlotte had watched her brother endure every joke and insult thrown in his direction. Perhaps that had become a frame of sorts along which she matured.
‘If that’s true… I couldn’t possibly face Charlotte. She probably doesn’t regret the way she turned out. I’m sure of that. Even if that personality ends up destroying her life. …Does she not realize how unfortunate that is?’
The world might call her foolish or saintly.
But neither label mattered to Sherlock.
He was constantly chained by the thought that his stoic personality ended up defining Charlotte’s life and the potential disasters in her future.
But he did not try to undo those chains.
‘Because… I love her more than I feel guilty.’
Was his love a platonic one between siblings? Or something more?
Unable to tell which was which, Sherlock spent his days feeling something worse than guilt for his sister.
‘Does she even know what I’m thinking?’
“Yes! That’s it!”
“Whoa?!” Sherlock screamed as Charlotte slapped his shoulder, afraid that she’d read his mind.
“What’s wrong, Sherlock Liverpool? …Oh, I see now. You had something dirty in mind for our guest in the bedroom! You’re finally growing up, I see. You’re a man now! You may look innocent, but your thoughts are already deep down in the gu-”
Though Charlotte’s guess was off, it was still in the same ballpark. A hint of emotion broke through Sherlock’s poker face.
“So what were you talking about? …Oh. Oh. About what the issue is?”
“The victim was stabbed with a knife made of their own frozen blood!”
“What are you talking about?”
“What am I talking about…?”
Charlotte’s eyes flitted upwards as she searched her memories, before confusion seemed to take over and she trailed off quietly.
“Hmm… I thought of this and that and came to a conclusion…?”
“Is that supposed to be a question.”
“B-but don’t you think that was a prodigious solution to a mystery?”
“No. It’d be challenging enough to extract that much blood from the victim, and you’d be better off making a knife out of ice or dry ice.” Sherlock replied, forcibly bringing sense into the conversation.
Charlotte thought for a moment, before clapping her hands and sending an admiring gaze her brother’s way.
“Sherlock Liverpool… you’re a genius!”
“And you’re an idiot.” Sherlock said, but his emotions were more complicated than that.
He always put on a cold front to conceal his thoughts, but he wanted to be more open with Charlotte. He wanted to smile at her compliment.
But his sense of reason suppressed that desire, instead bringing an icy attitude to the surface.
‘I’m always lying to Charlotte.’ He thought masochistically, and silently let out a hollow laugh.
Meanwhile, Charlotte stared at her brother and wondered if she had said something uncomfortable, also quieting down.
A strange silence fell over the office, and when the siblings finally broke the awkward air the bedroom door squeaked open.
“Where… am I?”
Emerging from the room was the girl they had brought in after the previous day’s commotion.
She looked at the siblings cautiously, but Charlotte beamed obliviously and ran over to her.
“You’re awake! What a relief!”
The girl—Nazuna Yukimura—opened her eyes wide at Charlotte’s childlike smile.
That a clearly caucasian girl was speaking fluent Japanese was surprising enough, but the pure and innocent smile the girl wore—the girl who was about her own age—was even more surprising.
When she opened her eyes in an unknown place, Nazuna was certain that she was in captivity. So she kept an ear on the conversation outside, and once she was sure that she could take on the man and woman in the living room, she had stepped out.
She was still alive because they still had some use for her. She just had to interrogate the foreigners for their motives and contact the Guard Team.
That was why she was completely thrown off-track by Charlotte’s smile.
Nazuna knew from the view out the window that she was still on the artificial island, but she tensed anyway. She had almost never seen anyone on the island dressed in such clean clothes but had a perfectly sincere and guiltless face.
The caucasian girl was like a sheltered flower. A sheltered flower that jumped straight into conversation without waiting for Nazuna to recover from her daze.
“Oh, my name is Charlotte. Please call me Lottie! This here is my brother Sherlock. And you are…?”
Nazuna was silent.
Would it be all right to tell them her name?
She scrutinized Charlotte’s face for a moment, unable to keep up, but Charlotte seemed to assume that Nazuna was still in a daze.
“Are you all right? Are you hurt anywhere? Is your head okay?”
“You’re the one who’s not all right in the head, Charlotte.” Sherlock remarked. Charlotte turned beet red.
“N-n-no, that’s not what I meant! I was just wondering if you didn’t hurt your head!” Charlotte explained, waving her hands. Sherlock buried his face in his hands and turned away.
Nazuna looked back and forth between the girl waving her arms and the boy who was supposedly her brother but pretended not to know her, she breathed a sigh of relief.
“Nazuna Yukimura. It’s nice to meet you.”
She held out her right hand.
“…I see. So you brought me here and even called a doctor.”
“Yes. I’m very sorry. We had no way of identifying you, so before we knew it…”
“It’s all right. It’s my fault for not having a cell phone or a license. Thank you so much. I mean it. I promise I’ll repay you one day.” Nazuna said with a bow, once Charlotte’s explanation was complete.
The siblings’ actions had been completely pointless, as the Guard Team would have retrieved Nazuna if they had left her at the junkyard. But Nazuna showed no hint of annoyance and expressed only sincere gratitude.
Having met so many crazy characters in the Guard Team, Nazuna was not suspicious in the least when the strange duo introduced themselves as detectives.
Not only that, other than asking for her name the siblings did not pry any further into Nazuna’s business. The brother seemed to be concerned, but the sister was completely oblivious.
The brother was probably the better detective, but he was probably keeping silent for his sister’s sake, Nazuna concluded. She thanked them once more.
“…I’ve been going through a lot recently, and I must have been so tense in the past few days that I just fell right asleep. Thank you for even letting me use a bed.”
“Please, don’t mention it!”
“But wouldn’t one of you have had to sleep on the couch or the floor?”
“Not at all. I just slept with my brother!”
Nazuna and Sherlock stiffened simultaneously.
“Enough joking around, Charlotte.” Sherlock said firmly. There was a smile painted on his face, but his hands were trembling.
“Oh? But Sherlock Liverpool, we slept together until we were in elementary school. Under the same blanket until we were in kindergarten.”
“Argh… does nothing embarrass you, Charlotte?!” Sherlock groaned, clutching his head. Charlotte smiled at the reversal. Nazuna was once more surprised.
The siblings explained that they had been on the island for a year now. The fact that Charlotte could live such a laid-back life meant—although Kuzuhara and his peacekeeping of the Western District might have been a factor—that Sherlock must have worked all the more for her sake.
Though the personalities were different, Nazuna was reminded of the captain of the Guard Team and a certain casino employee.
But soon, a slight shadow came over Charlotte’s smile.
“Actually… about that man who carried you over…”
The man who had left Nazuna to the siblings.
She had been unconscious then, but the explanation from earlier made it easy to guess. In fact, there was only one name that rose to mind.
The man who had been twisting her arm in the seconds before she lost consciousness. The Killer Ghoul who occasionally stirred up trouble in the Eastern District’s casino.
He had clashed with the Guard Team several times already, but normal islanders thought he was an urban legend. And even considering the Liverpool siblings’ occupation, they were still very much normal people. So rather than wonder why Yakumo Amagiri rescued her, Nazuna decided to first keep the siblings out of trouble. She put on her best poker face, which she learned as she worked on the Guard Team.
“I can’t really say until I get a good look at his face. Although I need to thank him, too.”
That was how she wanted to wrap things up.
After all, normal islanders were better off not knowing about him.
With that, Nazuna made to say goodbye and leave—
“W-wait! I only noticed after my brother mentioned it, but I think this person might be him!”
Before Nazuna could speak, the detective began rummaging through her pockets.
Sherlock tried to stop her, but it was too late. Charlotte pulled a photograph from her coat pocket and held it out at Nazuna.
Nazuna felt her breath catch in her throat.
He was a little younger, but the subject of the picture was clearly Yakumo Amagiri.
‘Where’d she get this picture?’ She wanted to ask, but her mind quickly stopped her.
How did the siblings know about Yakumo Amagiri?
The photo must have been taken years ago, and from the background it must have been taken off the artificial island.
But if Nazuna began to pry, she would end up having to confess her connection to the man.
She considered that Charlotte was testing her, but she quickly remembered that the self-proclaimed detective did not look the type to pull such a trick. She would have acted more smoothly if that had been the case.
Then, Nazuna deduced, the siblings were searching for Yakumo for a job. They were headed straight into the jaws of death.
“…Hm. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him before. I’m sorry.”
“I see…” Charlotte sighed, deflating. Nazuna finally said goodbye.
“Anyway, I’ll be going now. Could I get your number? I’d like to thank you properly next time.”
“Oh, of course!” Charlotte smiled again, and took out a business card from the same pocket as the photograph.
Nazuna also smiled as she took the card, for the first time allowing the truth to surface.
“Thanks. I don’t have a business card or anything, but I do something like mercenary work in the Eastern District. I could help you out if I have time. If you ever need me, go to the management office at the Eastern District’s theme park and we can get in touch.”
“Thank you! Forget work, next time we can meet up for a scrumptious meal!” Charlotte said, innocent as a child.
Nazuna responded with a sincere smile and left the office.
Several minutes later. Aboveground, the Western District.
“Charlotte. Just out of curiosity… do you like that guy?”
The Liverpool siblings were just finishing up lunch after Nazuna’s departure.
Just as Charlotte was about to resume investigating the subject of the photo, Sherlock took her by surprise.
“…You can’t go falling for some punk whose name we don’t even know. The fact that he’s even on this island means he’s probably a piece of shit. …I guess that includes us, though.”
“Wh-what are you saying, Sherlock Liverpool?”
“Last night, when I mentioned how the guy we met looks like the one in the picture, you ended up staring at the thing for ages. And the way you showed it to Nazuna back there, too. It’s written on your face.”
“By god… to think I’d been living with an ace detective all this time!” Charlotte uttered, trembling. Sherlock continued.
“Also, did you realize? When Nazuna talked about the theme park in the East…”
“Oh, the Guard Team?”
Her answer was immediate.
This time, it was Sherlock’s turn to be stunned.
He managed to hide his shock with a look of slight surprise, but he quickly caught himself and answered.
“So you knew.”
“Of course. I’m a walking encyclopedia when it comes to the island’s facilities. I can describe the underground wrestling ring and the casino in perfect detail!”
“You didn’t sound like it when you were talking to her just now. Nazuna’s a part of the Guard Team, Charlotte. How do you talk to one of the Eastern District’s attack dogs like nothing is wrong? Weren’t you scared?”
“Hm? But Nazuna is a good person.” Charlotte simply replied.
‘Charlotte’s just too naive. She’s too innocent and trusting to be a detective.’
“Charlotte. …You’re… not really detective material.”
The thought had been on his mind for a very long time, but once again he put words to the sentiment and said them to his sister. He had to make the thought tangible if he wanted to understand where he stood.
“Charlotte. You’re just like Little Red Riding Hood.”
“Oh, that’s so sweet of you! But I’m not really that cute, Sherlock Liverpool.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
Stopping in place, he decided to shatter his sister’s smile.
“You’re a hopeless idiot who couldn’t even figure out that the Big Bad Wolf took your grandmother’s place! This island’s full of wolves; how can someone who can’t tell one apart from family, even after looking at the eyes and ears and mouth, ever dig up people’s lies and secrets? One of these days, the wolves are going to tear you to pieces! And I don’t want that to happen to you!”
He let himself get carried away on his emotions, blurting out his honest feelings in the process.
Sherlock quickly looked away, but it seemed Charlotte had failed to grasp the implications of his confession.
She simply responded with a gentle smile.
“I’m not scared at all to be Little Red Riding Hood.”
“Even if I’m eaten by the Big Bad Wolf, I know that you’ll become the hunter and rescue me.”
It was a sweet but cruel conclusion.
“…I’m just joking, Sherlock Liverpool. I won’t cause you that much trouble. But I think it’s about time you found a lady you really want to go that far for.”
Charlotte’s smile beat Sherlock’s poker face by a long shot, and it was impossible to tell just how much she was being serious. Worse still for him, Charlotte was not being mean-spirited in the least.
As he fell deeper and deeper into a bottomless pool the more he thought, Sherlock forced himself to be calm and changed the subject to escape.
“…Anyway, what do we do today? We can’t exactly tail him again… Right. How about we ask the volunteer police what happened after the explosion? They might know something. It’ll leave a bad aftertaste if we gloss over it without knowing what happened.”
“Hm… I suppose you’re right. But there’s someone I’d like to meet before that.”
Sherlock gave a quizzical look. Charlotte puffed up her chest and revealed her plans.
“Heh heh heh… They say that every investigation begins with legwork. And do you know who on this island does the most legwork of anyone? She’s practically a regular on Buruburu Airwaves these days.”
“Yua Kirino, you mean? The one who’s always around at Iizuka’s restaurant in the underground?”
“Exactly! She’s supposed to have scoured the island from East to West, all the way down to the Pits. If we show her the photograph, she’ll tell us for sure! Heh heh heh. How do you like my ace deduction?”
“That’s not a deduction, Charlotte.” Sherlock sighed as he usually did, relieved that things had quickly gone back to normal.
So Charlotte took her brother to Iizuka’s restaurant.
With no idea what was happening on the island.
Without a clue in the world that she was approaching the center of an ominous disaster.
The Western District. In front of the abandoned hotels.
It was a little earlier.
Having said goodbye to the Liverpool siblings, Nazuna cautiously left the premises.
When the winter sun shone into her face, she found herself narrowing her eyes. But she did not slow on her way to the Eastern District.
‘A civilian detective is looking for Yakumo Amagiri.’
The fact had unsettled her, compelling Nazuna to leave the office as quickly as she could.
‘But maybe I should have asked some questions?’
Nazuna would have been free to ask; but Sherlock would probably not have let Charlotte discuss anything about their client or the subject. Sherlock seemed relaxed around his sister, but Nazuna still remembered clearly the sharp glint that flashed in his eye when Charlotte took out the photograph.
The detective agency’s revenue probably depended mostly on Sherlock, Nazuna concluded. Otherwise they could never afford such a luxurious home.
They had been on the island for a year, they had said. One year was not the kind of time simple tourists would spend for the island.
They must have come to the island for a specific mission. But what if their mission involved the man in the photograph—Yakumo Amagiri?
The Guard Team was after Amagiri because he had repeatedly committed murders in the casino and the Eastern District. There were other reasons as well, but the executives had ordered that he be captured alive.
Carlos and the others speculated that Gitarin might want to make Amagiri a Guard Team member, but Jun would probably not consent, as the Killer Ghoul had taken her friend hostage many times.
‘And me, too.’
She did wonder why Yakumo did not kill her then. And why he left her to the siblings.
But whatever the circumstances, the idea of befriending a man who did not even blink at murdering several people in a day was nothing short of insanity.
“I let my guard down yesterday. But I swear… next time…”
Clenching her fists, she suddenly realized that her waist felt lighter than usual.
‘Where’d my sword go? Those two didn’t mention it, and it wasn’t in the bedroom… maybe the others picked it up.’
She wasn’t particularly attached to the sword, but it was uncomfortable to lose her weapon on the island. If it were a gun, it would have been quickly used in another crime and the blame pinned on her.
The organizations of the island had crime scene investigators of sorts in their employ. Tracing guns through ballistic markings was a simple task.
‘Anyway, I have to get back to the office and let everyone know I’m all right.’
Once she passed through the aboveground area littered with abandoned buildings, the theme park would be close by.
If things had gone according to plan, there would have been a straight road leading down to her destination. But illegal buildings and trashed cars stood in heaps, making travel more difficult. But there were winding paths people used, and Nazuna could just go along them.
But just as she stepped into the Eastern District, several people called to her.
“Well, lookey here.”
“What’s the rush, lady?”
A group of young people in relatively trendy clothing approached her as she walked alone.
Nazuna had not gone through something like this in a while. She snickered to herself and kept walking.
“Hey, hold it right there. We’re talking to you, you hear?”
“We gotta crash here ‘cause the volunteer cops won’t give us a break over Westside, y’know.”
“Which is why we need a little favor… physically speaking, I mean.”
“We’ll pay off the interest physically too, if you catch my drift.”
“You listening? Don’t just walk away like that.”
“You’re gonna make us cry.”
‘Come to think of it, Jun says she gets hounded like this at least once a week.’
She thought of the Guard Team’s leader—a shy, fragile girl by all appearance—but did not stop walking.
“Hey, I told you to—Argh!”
Just as the man reached for Nazuna’s shoulder, a red line appeared on his face—just above his eyelid. Dark red blood scattered in an instant and his vision quickly turned red, then black.
Without even slowing down Nazuna spoke to the two others.
“Sorry. But you guys are getting annoying. If you try that again, I’m just going to take out your eyes and weak points.”
In her hand was a small knife she had stuck in her belt. Though she was without her katana Nazuna had not lost any of her other weapons.
“H-how the hell?!”
Nazuna didn’t know if the siblings had not noticed the weapons or if they had just decided to ignore them. Either option seemed fitting for Charlotte and Sherlock, she concluded, and walked away without even looking back at the men.
She heard their cries, followed by a typical howl of “You’ll regret that, bitch!” as they ran across scattered piles of junk.
“Running off because of a little cut to the face? I can’t believe they made it to the island.” Nazuna chuckled bitterly, sticking the knife near her buckle.
There wasn’t so much as a drop of blood on the blade that had drawn a line across the man’s face. Though he had taken her by surprise, she had countered with enough speed to send the blood flying off the blade.
With that speed, she could probably have blinded him completely barehanded. She could even have severed his carotid artery with her fingernails if necessary. Having spent so many years on the Guard Team, she was fully prepared to take such actions.
“…Then again, people like Lottie are around, too. …But I can’t believe this happened as soon as I stepped across the border. I wish the boss would make a volunteer police force here, too.” She mumbled, and resumed walking in silence.
But at some point, she heard footsteps drawing near.
“…What, did you bring a gun this time?”
Thinking to take out her anger at losing to Yakumo the previous day, Nazuna turned to face her unfortunate victim.
And at that moment, she felt her body boil to the freezing point.
The man standing there waved, his voice slightly tense.
The face of the island’s most atrocious killer—Yakumo Amagiri—was tinged a faint red.
The childlike smile on his face was the very same one she had seen on the photograph.
There was deep darkness. In the still silence, a tepid air wafted like kelp in the sea.
In the darkness, its silence only sometimes broken by a draft, a new sound emerged.
The sharp and empty sound of friction, like the cry of a bat.
Then, something stirred in the shadows.
There was a clunk as light seeped into part of the space, and the darkness filling the tepid air was forced aside.
But the space was not fully illuminated. A dim shadow cast itself on everything but the slice touched by light.
The moment the squeaking stopped, a wheelchair appeared on the edge of light and shadow. Fully in the light, however, stood a lone girl.
In the wheelchair was a boy in dark clothing. There were casts on both his legs, with rats drawn on them.
Both children were probably around late elementary school-age or early middle school-age. Signs of maturity were developing in spite of their small statures.
Other children seemed to stir in the dark as well, but it was difficult to see them.
“Oh… Hi there, Yua.”
“Hi, Nejiro. How are your legs?”
“A lot better. Thanks to these guys here.”
The boy’s name was Nejiro.
He was the king of the Rats, a street gang composed of unusual children who grew up on the island.
The girl was Yua Kirino.
She was one of the few residents of the decrepit island who lived a life of optimism. A visionary who wandered the ever-changing labyrinth of the island in an attempt to create a complete map.
She was not one of the Rats, but she began to meet with them after an incident that summer where she rescued Nejiro, who was left dying with his legs broken. But that did not mean she worked with their gang. She received the Rats’ help in her mapping adventures. Her accurate maps, which even indicated detours and back alleys, were a great help to the Rats—and if they were to get their hands on the maps before the organizations that controlled the districts, the maps would become an invaluable tool for leverage.
“What is it?” Nejiro asked cooly, though he wore the face of her friend. Yua did not seem to mind.
“Actually… a couple of detectives came to see me today.”
“Yeah. A white lady and her brother.”
“Oh. Charlotte and Sherlock.”
Nejiro seemed to know the detectives. Yua smiled, knowing her job would be easier.
“So what about them?”
“Well… they want me to help them find someone. I have a picture of him here…”
“Let’s see.” Nejiro said, curious.
He just putting on an act, keeping in regular contact with Yua for her valuable information. Nejiro would not change so easily. The past summer’s incident seemed to have strengthened the bonds between him and the Rats, but the fundamentals of his character would remain to adulthood.
“So… here. This person in the picture.”
“Here. Let me have a look…” Nejiro took the picture, a mask-like smile on his face.
But things quickly changed.
The mask was instantly torn as shock spread over his face, almost enough to wonder if Nejiro was about to stand from his wheelchair.
“…This is… it’s Yakumo…” He uttered without thinking, but quickly caught himself and turned to Yua.
“You know him, Nejiro?!”
Yua was unsettled by Nejiro’s shock. She must have been torn on whether or not to ask any further when she saw his reaction. But Nejiro hung his head in the darkness, hiding his face from Yua. Even the presences blending around him quickened, matching Nejiro’s mood.
“Yua… don’t ever get near this guy!”
“Tell the detectives you didn’t find anything! Understand?”
He was being unusually forceful, but Nejiro was clearly worried for Yua’s sake.
“…I’m sorry. Yua. I’ll tell you the details once I get my thoughts together. But this guy’s bad news. It’s a matter of life or death. Just remember that.”
Yua seemed to understand. She did not pry any further.
“All right, Nejiro. I’ll be careful.”
“Yeah… if anything happens, call Mr. Kuzuhara for help.”
Though angry at his powerlessness, he tried to soothe Yua by mentioning the name of her guardian and the so-called protector of the Western District.
“Because we can’t do a thing against this monster.”
Once Yua had left, Nejiro raised his head and slowly spoke to the darkness around him.
“Guys… could you close the window?”
He had scarcely finished his sentence by the time the light seeping inside was cut off. Afterwards was left the same darkness as before, a murky air wafting through the shadows.
“That was Yakumo Amagiri… I know it was.”
At the same time, the figures that had been silent when the light shone began to add their toneless voices to the silence.
“Oh, the Killer Ghoul.”
“I heard he’s a murderer.”
“I see. A murderer.”
“A murderer, huh.”
“He killed a lot of people in the Eastern District.”
“And the Pits.”
“Yeah. He’s really fast until he kills people.”
“He’s fast and quick.”
“He’s quick to decide to kill.”
“He’s fast at killing.”
“I’ve seen him.”
“Yeah. I’ve seen him.”
“I don’t really know what he does.”
“But before you know it, the enemies are dead.”
“He only kills enemies.”
“He kills in a lot of different ways.”
“He slits throats.”
“He gouges out eyes.”
“He uses rocks.”
“There’s nothing Amagiri can’t do, huh.”
“More incredible than Nejiro?”
“What do you think?”
“Say, Nejiro. what do you think?
The voices of the boys and girls would never stop.
At the end of the pointless round, the children—the Rats—tested their king.
“Sure, I can keep all of you alive…”
The king put on a self-deprecating smile and uttered a simple truth.
“But when it comes to fighting and killing… that monster’s on another level altogether.”
For a time, murky silence ruled the darkness. But the seemingly endless air of stillness quickly disappeared, and the voices began to stir the shadows once more.
“Then Nejiro is incredible.”
“Killing people doesn’t get you a place to sleep.”
“If you kill someone, it makes more space on the island.”
“No, it just makes you more enemies.”
As the conversation continued, a light shone near Nejiro’s chest and the vibration of a cell phone shook the darkness.
Nejiro frowned at the caller ID—‘Unknown’—but slowly brought it to his ear.
His usual blank mask covered his face. There was nothing childlike in his attitude.
“…Who is this?”
But something shook that mask.
“…No… it can’t be!”
And finally, the mask was shattered.
Nejiro went silent when he heard the voice, like a child caught red-handed in the middle of a prank. Or perhaps more like a debtor caught by the yakuza in the middle of an escape attempt.
With deep determination for his life and those of his friends, Nejiro mustered a voice from the depths of his throat as his healing legs trembled.
“So… what do you want me to do, Mr. Ginga Kanashima?”
Heh heh… heh heh heh heh… Interesting. Very interesting.
I thought Nejiro was supposed to have a perfect poker face.. But to think he’d let it break in fear of Kanashima… and that he’d let it slip in front of this girl named Yua.
So there is still a fragment of childhood left in him. I am somewhat relieved.
This is Spring-heeled Joplin contacting Spring-heeled Joplin. Can you hear me? Do you hear my voice?
Things are getting interesting. Things here are getting very interesting.
Are we in for even more twists and turns now?
Tell me, Spring-heeled Joplin.
(1) A set of bamboo propellers on Doraemon’s head that allows him to fly.