A short Garuguru update. Enjoy.
Roger that, Spring-heeled Joplin.
But let me correct you on one point.
Things aren’t getting interesting.
This island itself has always been interesting—
From the very beginning.
Interlude 3: The Good Demoness of the West
The Witch of the West does not dream.
She does not remember her dreams, for her instincts know that what is not real is meaningless.
The Western District. The top floor of the Grand Ibis Hotel.
“Now, my children. Let us begin.”
In fluent Chinese, the elderly man at the center of the table announced the beginning of the meal.
There was an unfortunate hotel in the Western District that had been abandoned not long after being fully furnished. It was the Grand Ibis Hotel, which now acted as the massive fortress of the organization that controlled the Western District.
The top floor was originally intended to be a top-class Chinese restaurant.
The decor and the furnishings, and even the original role of the space had been fully preserved.
The top floor, used as a banquet hall for the executives, was both majestic and elegant to behold. But when the meal began, the refined air immediately transformed into explosive tension.
All kinds of gi(議) took place over the course of the feast.
Slowly but surely the Western District was shaped by the flows of the many gi presented over the course of the meals.
Like dividing food across a round table, the council discussed profits, territory, and sometimes even weighed human lives.
All those seated at the table were equally granted such rights. And once more the curtains rose on a banquet over the island’s fate.
With flowing movements the elderly man who opened the feast reached over and plucked a piece of shark nikogori with his chopsticks.
Noting that the eldest person at the table had begun, the people on his right and left reached for their food as well.
They were followed by the people next to them, who were followed by the people next to them.
The elegant wave traveled down the circumference of the table, indicating the standings of those seated there.
When the wave reached the halfway mark, the woman whose turn it was to begin picked up a teacup rather than food.
Her qipao was completely white save for the breast, which was blood-red. She looked almost like a lily in bloom.
Every man and woman at the table was Asian. It was as though a slice of China had been placed to match the room.
The woman in question, whose fair skin and blue eyes stood out from the rest of her brethren, cast a glance at an empty seat at the table.
Like a missing tooth, one seat had been left empty at the table seating over a dozen. And as though on cue, the man sitting directly opposite the woman in white spoke.
“It seems nothing can disturb you out of your leisurely sips of tea, Yili.”
Yili’s eyes fluttered upwards at the quip.
Reflected in her eyes was a man with razor-sharp eyes and a tattoo that went up his neck, all the way to his face.
He was perhaps a little older than Yili. The man, carrying himself with dignity in spite of his youth, raised the corners of his mouth as he addressed his equal in the organization.
“It is indeed moving to see you mourning so openly for our departed brother-in-arms, Yili.”
“If you have time for sarcasm in the midst of mourning, you may need some time to hone your refinement and elegance, Elder Brother.”
“Are your blue eyes mere decorations that they cannot see the grief in my heart?”
It was a racist remark toward his half-sister, who was part-British. But Yili was unaffected.
“Please, Elder Brother. Even decorative eyes are more than enough to see you clearly.”
“How dare you…”
With the smile still locked on his face, the man shot a glare at Yili.
The lower executives tensed at the siblings’ argument, but those higher seemed indifferent.
“Now, now… Siblings are supposed to get along, you two…” Said Taifei Liu, one of the executives, between bites of food. He was seated closer to the old man than the siblings, but he was technically not much more powerful than they.
Fitting for his name, Taifei was a rotund man. His balloon-shaped body stuck out like a sore thumb at the round table, like it or not.
“Self-control is a virtue, Taifei. You would do well to remember this the next time you feel the urge to intrude on an argument.”
“Self-control? …Mhm. I decided to forget that and eat whatever I like and die young rather than control myself and live a long life. …Wow, the nikogori is great today. Wonder what’s up.” Taifei said, deflecting the insult and lowering his chopsticks to look at the siblings. “We’re not gathered here today to listen to you two bickering.”
“Indeed.” Said a deep but clear voice. It was the old man who had opened the feast. “Lihuang. Yili. Swallow your vexatious words along with your food and keep them in your own bellies.”
The elderly man at the center of the table—Ei daren—was the head of the mafia that controlled the Western District.
Though the group had abandoned their name when they crossed over from China, the core remained fast connected to one of the many large organizations on the mainland.
Half the executives gathered at the table were children of Ei daren. Ei was over sixty years old at this point, but he had a whopping twenty-four children in total, counting the non-executives. And though from different mothers, Lihuang and Yili were Ei’s children as well.
“…Of course, Father.”
The siblings expressed their regrets without even blinking.
And until the end of the meal, Lihuang and Yili did not once lock gazes.
Once the siblings were quiet, the old man solemnly but languidly put his hands on the table and turned to the brother.
“But let me say this, Lihuang.”
The tattooed man withdrew all hints of a smile from his face.
“To ridicule the eyes your sister received from my wife is to ridicule my wife as well.”
“…Father. I did not intend such a thing…” Lihuang trailed off, acknowledging that he had gone too far, but he did not seem repentant in the least.
Ei did not chastise him further, instead addressing the entire table.
“The color of your eyes. The color of your skin. They are but trivial differences. Even among people of the same race, you will find failures and prodigies. A people group is most beautiful in a state of chaos. …Just like this very island. It is a disorderly mix of races, ideologies, principles, and morals—a work of art teetering dangerously on a small, artificial piece of land.” Ei daren remarked, as though reflecting on his own life. “But there seems to be a demon that intends to destroy that balance.”
Everyone but Taifei stopped mid-meal and turned their attention to Ei and the empty seat.
“Apologies, sir. We’ve yet to discover the—”
“I know who the culprit is.” Ei said, interrupting the executive. “Although I cannot say who is standing behind this culprit.”
Hushed murmurs filled the table the moment Ei’s words became clear.
The entire island already knew that one of their executives had been killed.
But there had been no witnesses, and the cause of death had been stabbing—too common a cause to leave meaningful evidence.
“Last night… I discovered a man standing at my bedside. …I speak not in metaphors or jest. A man had single-handedly infiltrated my bedchambers in the dead of night.”
The bodyguards behind Ei were even more surprised than the executives. They exchanged glances, confirming silently that that had seen nothing out of the ordinary.
“…I also assumed it was but a dream. Until I heard of our comrade’s death this morning.”
“Who was that man?”
No one doubted Ei’s story.
“It was my first time seeing his face as well, but I have heard rumors of him. I’d always hoped he were simply an urban legend. But now…”
His gaze floated upwards as he slowly recounted what transpired the previous night.
“He mocked the failings of the Western District’s security and declared, ‘Acknowledge me’. Prattled nonsense about making his name known throughout the island to make his existence real… And when I asked him who he was, he answered thus.”
A mysterious smile dug wrinkles into the old man’s face.
“‘My name is Yakumo Amagiri’, is what the smiling fiend told me.”
The gi coupled with lunch came to an end, and Taifei—who had polished off every last dish on the table—turned to Yili.
“Ah, that was great. …Yili?”
“Hm? What is it, Taifei?”
The Western District was infamous for infighting—even among the relatives in its midst—but Taifei was one of the few neutrals among the executives. Though he did not benefit greatly from his position, his neutrality gave him the advantage of protecting him from the conflicts within the group.
As a result, Yili neither disliked him nor went out of her way to speak with him. Taifei also maintained his neutrality by not befriending any executive in particular, simply doing whatever tasks were given to him.
“Remember, y’know, Kugi?”
Yili was not expecting to hear that name. She froze.
“You asked me what happened to him afterwards, right? Apparently he wandered around a lot after they dropped the case. …And he came back to Sado recently.”
In the organization, Taifei dealt with external intelligence.
Even amidst the organization’s infighting, the information department went neglected because of its middling profits. So Taifei managed to avoid being forcibly dragged into any of the factions.
Because Taifei also received information on Sado and Niigata’s police forces, Yili had discreetly asked him for information on a certain young man who had once been her subordinate.
“…Knowing they dropped the charges was enough, Taifei.”
“I wasn’t going out of my way to look for him or anything, though. He just happened to show up on my radar. So I thought I should tell you. Mhm.”
“I see. …Thank you.” Yili smiled faintly. “But he has nothing to do with me anymore. So you don’t have to investigate him further.” She said, her expression icy. A soft, emotionless look rose to Taifei’s round face.
“I’m not too sure about that.”
“…What do you mean?”
“Well… I looked into things. And this is just a hunch, but… he might be coming back.”
Taifei had nothing more to say, it seemed. Yili said nothing, but he turned his round back to her.
“Well, I’m off to get dessert.”
As the large man left for the kitchen, Yili departed the restaurant as though nothing had happened. Her steps were quicker, and a glint of emotion she had suppressed during the meeting had risen to her eyes.
Remembering the name of the man who once pretended to be her lover.
“…I’m hanging up.”
<Whoa, I only got two words in. Heh. Looks like it’s back to etiquette lessons for Mushanokōji Zanji Valand Ferro Gitarin ne zo Atsumori. So why don’t we take our time getting friendly over a meal sometime—>
<Don’t you think it was at least a little inconsiderate of you to hang up like that?>
“You want people to suspect that I’m in league with the Eastern District?”
<What? No. That’s impossible. Unless you were trying to catch another exec in a trap. Speaking of which, are you and your brother still at each other’s throats? That won’t do. Family is important.>
“…I’m hanging up.”
<Oh, wait. Wait. I’ve actually got something serious to discuss. I thought it’d be best to talk to the Western District exec I trust the most.>
“…So what does the boss of the Eastern District want with a lowly Western District executive?”
<First off, you have my sincerest condolences for your loss. This is related to your exec’s untimely death.>
<We lost one too, the other day.>
“That’s the first I’ve heard.”
<We managed a swift cover-up while the radio announced your news to the island.>
“The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, no?”
<No surprise there. We’re the ones who leaked your side’s death to Buruburu Airwaves.>
“How dare you!”
<Anyway, any ideas about the killer so far?>
“…No. Not yet.”
<Aha. Interrupting your own scolding with a denial? Looks like someone’s hiding something.>
<Oh well. I’m just calling in to ramble, anyway. Let me get to the point. The Eastern District is currently after the whereabouts of Yakumo Amagiri.>
<We’ve even got a witness. Another one of our execs.>
<Why so quiet? Even you know that Yakumo Amagiri is no mere urban legend. Or are you really hiding something?>
“…You’ve got us bugged, haven’t you.”
<Is that a yes?>
“Yakumo Amagiri. …We’ve decided to set the volunteer police on his trail as well. But we’re not going to kill him—we need to see if there’s someone else behind his actions.”
<Like the Eastern District, you mean?>
<I knew you’d say that. …I’d also like to catch the guy alive, but things are turning out a lot like what happened with Nejiro. It’s a bit of a mess.>
“…One of your executives just died. Aren’t you angry? Or was the victim a useless pawn to you?”
<I make it a personal policy to keep my emotions and hobbies out of business. If not, I’d have killed Nejiro this summer.>
“Hey… Have you ever hated someone enough to want to kill them?”
<Anyway. You people westside don’t really know how scary Yakumo Amagiri can be, do you? …Consider this a tip.>
“You’re sounding rather forceful for someone offering advice. But I’m listening.”
<All right. …Our Guard Team’s faced him five times now—with practically every member available each time—and we still haven’t managed to nab him. It’s partly my fault for ordering them to bring him alive, but this Yakumo Amagiri is no joke, I can tell you that.>
“…As if I didn’t already know this.”
<He doesn’t have an immortal body, he doesn’t have telekinesis to deflect bullets, and he’s not a master marksman. Although physically speaking, he has a perfectly balanced musculature and an excellent sense of rhythm.>
<You see, there’s something strange about Yakumo Amagiri.>
“That’s quite obvious already.”
<No, no, no. I don’t mean it that way.>
<We did some research from our end. Did some digging into that past and identity he surprisingly tries to hide. And we noticed something fascinating.>
<You see, his brain… Hm, how to explain? I don’t think it’s proper to compare everything to computers, but I guess you could say that he has a high clock rate. …And he has some degree of control over that speed.>
“…Clock rate? What do you mean? That he thinks quickly?”
<‘Thinks fast’ doesn’t even begin to describe it. I’m not saying that a killer with that characteristic happened to come to this island. I’m saying that that characteristic is what brought him to the island in the first place. …I guess I can save that part for later. But either way, it’s not a good idea to blindly oppose him. Especially not with bloodlust.>
“You think you can convince us to back down now?
<No. Which is why I’m warning you. Why not at least call back your beloved boyfriend from Sado? I think your intel man’s probably got that information already.>
“…I have no idea what you’re talking about. If you’re referring to Kugi, it’s a misunderstanding. He’s… simply a pawn.”
<Heh heh heh… Hah hah hah! A pawn for the organization? Or for your peace of mind—>
With a repugnant press of the button Yili ended the call and fell onto her own bed, still in her qipao.
For a time her eyes were shut. But soon they opened for her to cast a complicated look at the ceiling, allowing her frailty to show.
It was a face she never showed the world. Yet even that was for a moment, as the mask of ice returned to her face.
But a second earlier, her voice had spoken.
That was the reason why her face had frozen over.
Was his name on her lips a wish for his return, or his eternal departure?
Not even Yili knew which sentiment was the greater.