Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Garuguru! -Dancing Beast Night- (Part 2): Chapter 4

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

Sorry this update took so long. Real life steamrolled me for a week and a half, and I was seriously considering going on hiatus. But I should be back to a normal schedule now.


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Chapter 4-A: Wolf in the West


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The rooftop of an abandoned building somewhere near the center of the island.


Ah, the wind feels great.

The sun shines on me, and as it reflects against the concrete it warms my body.

There isn’t a pile of rubble in sight; all around is a clean, drab world. The rooftop is relatively low, but because the building’s stairs have all collapsed, only athletic people like me can get here.

I like places where I can be alone.

Because not meeting anyone means that I won’t have to kill anyone.

If I want to remain ‘me’—if only to constantly prove that the individual called Yakumo Amagiri is normal—alone time is absolutely essential.

In that sense, this is a marvelous place.

For being a slice of this incurably crazy island, it’s such a comfortable spot.


“…Yawn…”

I wiped the tears that came with the yawn and lay down on my back on the concrete.

With my gaze on the endlessly clear blue sky, I thought about myself.

When I was in junior high school, I always thought about who I was and what my purpose was.

…Actually, I did a bit of that in high school, too. Not when I won the dance competition, though… That’s it. Maybe when people lose their purpose or get too bored, they occupy themselves with idle thoughts.

The sky is blue today, too.

So will that make me want to kill again today?

…That’s the reasoning I’ve given myself, but I might be reaching my limit.

In the past, I didn’t have the time to spare thinking up reasons for killing people—I was busy trying to survive, and it would have taken forever.

So how did it come to this?

I killed people because the sky is blue.

That should have been enough. I’d never questioned that.

…It’s all because of what happened two months ago.

After what happened with Miss Nazuna, I changed.

I think… after I came to this island, I became desensitized to killing people. After my first kill, I was obviously lost and lost and lost and scared and scared and scared out of my wits. I felt sick to my stomach. I did throw up. It’s a terrible memory. I remember I spent three whole hours mulling over it. It’s not a long time to other people, but it was painful for me because I think just a little faster than most.

And it was the endlessly clear sky on this island that cured me of that sickness. But now that I think about it, it’s this island’s fault in the first place that I killed people, so does this mean I’m breaking even? Plus and minus and zero? So since I’m at zero… now what?

Is this island a plus to me, or a minus? Wait. Before that, was my life before the island in the plus zone or the minus zone? Is it even right to put such two-dimensional labels on my entire life? This isn’t good. Not good at all. Is this what they mean by ‘gaming brains’ of the digital age? Hm. It’s all right, then. I never played a lot of video games, so according to what a certain scholar says, I don’t have a gaming brain.

In other words… I’m normal.

Normal… Yeah. Thinking fast has nothing to do with your moral character.

What a relief. It’s such a relief to know that I won’t go crazy today.

I looked up at the sky and found myself getting emotional. So I slowly thought about myself. Nothing as deep as philosophy, though.

Why did I come to the island? Maybe once I solve that question, I’ll find an answer.


When did it start?

In elementary school… I was normal. At least, I think I was.

My family wasn’t normal, but there was nothing I could do about that. Apparently we were well-off and well-known in the area, and I remember Father was a member of the prefectural assembly. I heard one of my relatives was a member of the National Diet, but I don’t think the younger me was interested enough to remember the details.

It was a life of freedom. I’d gone through the motions of crying and laughing and bullying and being bullied, but never to extremes. Lifting girls’ skirts or getting clobbered by the big kid on the street was as bad as it got.

I liked music.

I thought I’d wanted to be a musician or a singer when I grew up, but for some reason I wasn’t passionate about it. I think I was just starting junior high school when I realized that I preferred moving to the songs other people made instead of composing them myself.

So I began practicing.

Little by little, I trained. But I guess it didn’t seem so little to other people. It must have been around then that I realized I thought a little quickly.

The more I focused, the slower time seemed to flow.

I never talked about it with anyone.

I thought it was normal.

I thought everyone could do it.

It was only when I started getting strange tests, where they put funny machines on my head and took measurements, that I realized I was wrong. It happened to be around when I broke up with my girlfriend, so I remember I was having a hard time in a lot of ways.

No. That’s fine. I don’t really mind that I was treated like a guinea pig.

But what I couldn’t accept was that other people found out about my quick thinking.

I hadn’t done anything.

I’d never told anyone. In fact, I hadn’t even known until the doctor explained during the test.

…I became afraid.

Yes. I became afraid.

Someone other than me knew the me even I didn’t know. It was like realizing that a stranger had been spying on me for a very long time.

Yes. That became the trigger, and I slowly became distorted.

I honestly don’t know where the distortions began. Maybe it was in society, or maybe it was in the life I wanted for myself.

It was like I was getting twisted. I went out at dark and got into fights, and in the end, I ran away from home without finding a solution.

But with nowhere to go, I found myself turning to the abandoned island—a place I knew only through television, magazines, and the internet. Now that I think about it, it was an idiotic decision.

That’s right… If all I’d done was come to the island, I still could have gone back.

Yes. Things quickly went wrong. Days passed, and my outlook on life hadn’t changed. So I was just considering going home when I was mugged.

I’d gotten better at fighting, but I never thought he’d pull out a gun.

To be honest, I was scared. I was afraid. I didn’t know what to do. Death… That’s right. Until that moment, I had never faced death. I’d only just started high school—remembering how I’d stayed up all night as an elementary schooler crying in fear of what happened after death, I trembled.

That’s as far as I remember.

No… I lied. I just lied to myself. I actually remember what happened after that.

I ended up moving out of the way of the muzzle and twisted his arm upwards.

I thought, once the gun was pointed at him, he would drop the gun—but before the dull mugger understood what was going on, he pulled the trigger… and blew half his face off. Ugh… just thinking about it nauseates me.

…From then on, I became afraid to leave the island.

It was the island’s fault that I became a killer. If not for this island, things would have been different. …But… but what if I left the island, and nothing changed?

In fact, was it even acceptable for an abnormal person like me—someone who’s committed murder—to go back? At that point, I was scared stiff. I wonder… in places with war or poor security, where death is common, do the people there not worry about these things? Or maybe they do?

…Not good. I almost went on another tangent.

Anyway… I think I’ve started thinking too much these days.

In the years I spent on this island, my killer’s mask settled over my face. Now I just have to wait for the right moment to take it off.

Will the day ever come that I can leave the island? Maybe this is what shut-ins feel when they refuse to leave the house. People have it rough.

That’s right. I’m not the only one who has it rough.

There’s no point in mumbling to myself about it.

Right now… I just do what I have to do.


That’s what I thought, but the weather today stole my motivation.

I want to fall asleep with the tepid wind on my skin. I want to wake up. My feelings are getting jumbled. I wonder which opinion’s coming from the angel and which one’s coming from the devil.

If only there was something to motivate me, I’d get to my feet in an instant.

And rather quickly, the motivation came to me.

I heard a clatter.

Before I knew it, a girl was standing on the nearly-empty rooftop.

Oh. Her. As quiet as ever.

She wears a somewhat eye-catching Chinese dress and a pair of beautiful white flowers in her hair. She still looks young, but she’s beautiful. Although the robotic face she’s always making detracts from all that.

We’ve only met a couple of times, and I don’t know her name, but she was one of the few people who could use this rooftop.

She’s always holding a lead pipe in her right hand, and I’ve seen her elsewhere with some of the Rats or talking with the Western District executives. From her looks she must be part of the organization.

It’s probably been about three months now since we began to meet here like this. I’ve come up to the rooftop a few times when she was already sprawled out asleep, but each time I climbed back down because I didn’t want to wake her. I know I’m being too sensitive, but it’s kind of awkward to sleep in the same place with a girl you’re not even dating.

But… even though I still have no idea what she’s thinking, if she’s affiliated with the Western District’s organization, she might have come today to find me.

A girl and a lead pipe. It’s a strange combination, but not one to be underestimated. This island is home to a girl who dual-wields chainsaws.

“Hey. It’s been a while.”

First, I greeted her and waited for her reaction.

She’s quiet and has a distinctive way of speaking, so we’ve never really talked. But—

“I sleeeeeep.”

As usual, the blank-eyed girl said exactly what she needed to say and no more. Did her empty gaze speak for the darkness in her heart, or was she just sleepy? I had no way of knowing. And knowing wouldn’t change a thing, anyway.

“It is recently. I see rat children. It is in island. I see rats. I hug rats. I pet rats. It is adorable. I hug. …Sleepy. Sleeeeeep…”

Her long lead pipe dragging against the ground, she passes me by and lies down where I had been lying just before.

“It is warm. It is cozy. Sleeeeeep.”

The hem of her clothes became messy, but she didn’t seem to care. As mysterious as ever, but people like her were not unusual on the island. Evidence for just how crazy this island is. Hm? Wait. Even in a normal school you’d find at least one or two strange girls like her—wait wait wait. A girl sauntering around with a lead pipe? This goes beyond simple cat fights.

At that moment, the girl’s eyes opened slightly and she spoke.

“It is white clothes. It is white skin. You take off clothes.”

“Huh?”

What does she mean, I should take my clothes off? Talk about an awkward seduction. What do I do? She’s beautiful, but all her gloom drops my romantic interest in her to the negatives. I’ve never even seen her as a woman.

But it looks like I was jumping to conclusions.

Mechanically, she gave me a word of warning.

“Now, Elder Brother search. Elder Sister search. Father search. Killer Ghoul wear white clothes. Searching. You wear white clothes. If mistake, die. It is careful.”

It was a series of incomplete sentences, but her meaning was clear. In fact, I could only understand them because it was me.

I see. So she’s a Western District executive… and probably related by blood to their leaders. Come to think of it, she has the same eyes as Yili. Then she must be a daughter of Ei daren, the head of the Western District.

It was surprising, but not completely unexpected. I wasn’t taken aback.

“…I see. I’ll be careful. But what if I’m the Killer Ghoul?”

Anyone would jump to that conclusion first. A man in white sprawled out lazily on a rooftop like this. Even I would think that was suspicious.

Because she’s clearly younger than me, I could talk to her easily. Maybe it was because of my strict upbringing that I’m deferential to my elders by habit. After running away from home, I could act violent with people of any age—but I could never make friendly conversation with older people. That’s probably why the Guard Team assumes I’m so quiet.

“You, Killer Ghoul? You, Yakumo Amagiri? It is you?”

She lazily opened her eyes and sighed, shaking her head.

“…No. Killer Ghoul is not you. No bloodlust. If Killer Ghoul, killed me. I nap. I am defenseless.”

It looks like she knows I left her alone when she was sleeping on the rooftop. That was a bit of a surprise. I changed my mind about her slightly.

“…Or maybe I am the Killer Ghoul, but I just happened to not want to kill you.”

“If Killer Ghoul, I kill. It is good. Now, sleepy. Sleeeeeep.”

Why does she only lengthen the word ‘sleep’, I wondered uselessly, but I quickly righted my thoughts and continued the conversation.

“So you can sense bloodlust?”

“I execute. For organization. Kill many. Many. Many. Bad people for organization. Many. Assassin. So I know.”

…Is she really allowed to disclose so much information?

And I’m not sure a lead pipe is the best weapon for an assassin.

I expected nothing less of the island. There are so many strange people here, regardless of affiliation. They’re abnormal. …Looking at them convinces me that I am still normal. In that sense, maybe I should love this girl and all the other abnormal people here as my neighbors. …In theory, anyway.

As I came to an understanding of sorts and turned to leave, the sleepy-eyed girl spoke.

“And… If Killer Ghoul, take off white clothes. Early.”

“Oh… You’re right.”

When I turned, she was already fast asleep.

She looked like a defenseless girl now. But if she can sense people approach in that state, she must have the instincts of a hardened mercenary.

I turned and headed for a corner of the roof.

When I looked up, the charred black wall of a building leapt into my sights.

It’s been two months already since the explosion, but it’s as real as if it were yesterday. Two whole months… And the culprit’s still at large.


In any case, I was flabbergasted at first.

That happened to be around the time I reached many turning points in my life.

One night, explosions shook the island and filled the city with a glow like sunset.

With the explosions and its many casualties as the trigger, the island was stirred into a frenzy.

A whirlwind of emotions coursed through the city as if the island was one large organism. All kinds of rumors spread throughout the people like a rejection of the explosions. Rumors about the culprit. Rumors about diplomacy between the Western District and Eastern District. And even unlikely rumors about foreign terrorists hiding out on the island.

And though it brought a wry smile to my lips, some rumors claimed that I was the culprit.

Come to think of it, I even heard rumors that the rainbow-haired demon had come back to the Pits. I think his name was Inui. I ran into him just once, but he was interesting. From the way he moved, he was a lot like the Guard Team. But the difference was that he never moved with teamwork in mind. He was a loner.

In any case, one big fire was enough to bring incredible change to the island. I couldn’t say how exactly, but the air was clearly colder than before.

There have been several more bombings since then, but the first was the most influential. After all, you can see the scorch marks from anywhere aboveground.

Averting my gaze from the exhausting sight, I looked down at the rubble spread under my feet.

Yes. I am standing on the rooftop of a relatively low building.

From the edge I can see messy snapshots of daily life, just a few dozen meters below.

I quietly stepped off the side, indulging in a moment of weightlessness.

I focus. The world slowly rises around me. In other words, I am falling.

Everything is in slow motion, including me. Like a frame-by-frame shot of a droplet falling into a glass of milk. Elegantly. Lithely.

I placed my right foot on a jutting piece of steel, and dampened the impact by slowly bending my knee. At the same time, I bent halfway to grab another piece of steel to steady my momentum. …But it’s sad no one can listen to me explain all this. Simply put, I climbed onto something mid-fall.

It was a bother to have to climb all this metal in order to reach the rooftop. But if I put a ladder here or something, the rooftop will become another pile of filth and people. The building is inaccessible because of the loads of construction materials piled up inside; I have no intention of opening up my little oasis to the public.

I see. I understand exactly why manga characters lie on earthen pipes stacked in grassy lots. It just feels good, looking up at the sky when no one’s near, lazing around as much as you want. So much that you end up wanting to monopolize it.

But I don’t want to go so far as to fight over my oasis. Not even the sleeping girl up there comes very often.

Come to think of it, I wonder how she made it up there. Does she have a trick she uses with her lead pipe? I was curious, but I was uncomfortable asking when we weren’t even that close. And if she’s supposed to be an assassin, she’s probably athletic at least… I am curious to know how someone who reveals her identity like that climbs up a wall like this.

As I lost myself in useless thoughts, my body slowly fell between the steel beams. Clack clack. Clack clack. Clack clack. Clack clack. Like a ladder-daruma dropping from one rung to the next.

Once I’ve come to a certain height, I jump over to a nearby window. There was never any glass inside to begin with. It fascinates me because it shows just how derelict this building is.

Alone again, I remembered what the girl had said.

The real Yakumo Amagiri would have switched out of his clothes.

She’s right. In fact, she hit the nail on the head. Even a baby knows that you have to start with your clothes or your hairstyle when you’re disguising yourself. But I never thought of that.

I think I’m afraid.

I’m afraid of casting aside my Killer Ghoul mask. Of casting aside ‘Yakumo Amagiri’ and going back to the real me.

I’m scared that the recoil from all the time I’ve worn this mask will crush my body and my mind.

Then for now, I just have to live as my mask dictates.

On this island.

On this liberating island, where the Killer Ghoul is allowed to exist.


…Wait a sec.

What was I just thinking?!

Objectively speaking, it’s this island’s fault to begin with that I’m in this mess.

I can’t let myself think well of the island.

No. This isn’t good. I really must be getting tired these days. But… I can’t run from this particular question.

What is this island to me?

I sound like a bored elementary schooler wondering what life is all about, but this is a question I inevitably have to answer. A human being falls into decline the moment he stops thinking. And dies. There is a cause for everything—for my being on this island, for people being killed, for people becoming Killer Ghouls, for people becoming perfect saints.

And, naturally, there must be a cause behind the state of this island.

Then… somewhere out there must be a cause that will free me from these chains—this island—and let me return to my original world.

But I can look for that cause some other time.


I simply do what I have to do.

For myself.

For the me I believe in.

Why am I moving, when it might not benefit me in the least?

It must be because the sky is blue.

So in the end, that’s my answer.

I think that’s good enough.

I’m the only one who reads my thoughts, so things are fine as long as I’m convinced.

The biggest problem, then, is the fact that I’m not really convinced.


But I move anyway.

That’s right. Right now, I have to—


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Chapter 4-B: Return of the Great Louse Detective


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Aboveground. The detective agency ‘Private Eye Lizard’.


“Another executive… dead. It’s someone from the East this time. I heard they only came to the island recently to fill in for another dead exec.”

The blond girl hung her head at her brother’s somber comment.

“I see… so now we are once again down a suspect.”

“…That’s what you’re down about?!”

“Hm? Any death is a sad one, whether it’s a suspect or a victim.”

“…Please stop confusing me.”

It was business as usual for the Liverpool siblings, who ran a detective agency on the island.

The strange thought process of Charlotte, the older sister, was a constant source of headaches for her younger brother Sherlock, who still managed to solve all their problems. Though they were named after the most famous detective in the world, their lives couldn’t be any further from his.

But one thing had recently changed to bring them a step close to the original.

“It’s been exactly two months to the day, but we haven’t made any progress, Charlotte! Answer me if you understand!”

“I do!”

“If you understand that understanding’s not enough at this point, please act more like it. …Listen, Charlotte. We still haven’t found the guy in the photo, and there are explosions going off everywhere for no reason we know of. And not only did we get involved with the Guard Team, they’re watching us because they suspect we’re behind their member falling into a coma or that we’re working with the Killer Ghoul. Do you really understand all this, Charlotte?!” Sherlock agonized in a huff. He stared into his sister’s eyes.

And with a surprisingly grim look and a concerned nod, she placed a hand on his cheek.

“Sherlock Liverpool.”

“Wh-what is it?”

“Are you all right? …You said the very same thing, word-for-word, a month ago.”

“I’m perfectly fine. In fact, If you were a man I’d have beaten you with my bare fists.” Sherlock replied, his temple twitching. Charlotte beamed.

“You’re such a gentleman, Sherlock Liverpool. I’m sure girls will love you.”

“For once, I almost want to be a twisted equal rights activist. Charlotte, maybe this once you could turn into one of those fighting game characters who say, ‘Don’t go easy on me just because I’m a girl’. …Can I hit you?”

“Eep! No violence!” Charlotte cradled her head with a flinch.

Still shrinking back, she opened her eyes and looked at her brother, then said quietly with head tilted.

“It feels as though you’ve been getting anxious recently.”

“And why not? I felt like the past two months have been shaving time off our lives. It’s driving me nuts.”

“But everyone’s lifespans decrease constantly, Sherlock Liverpool. Every day you lose another day.”

“You have no idea how jealous I am of how oblivious you are. And how much I hate myself for being beaten in an argument by someone this oblivious.”

Sherlock surrendered with a sigh and turned to return to his room.

But the door right next to his swung open and a girl emerged.


“Yaaaawn…”


80% of her innocent voice still tinged with sleep, she stretched in front of the door.

Charlotte stopped mid-greeting, and Sherlock froze.

They had known the girl was there, and they had known it was about time for her to wake. But because they took so much for granted, they were all the more taken by surprise.

The girl was wearing comfortable black pants.

And absolutely nothing above that.

The contrast of black and white and the sleek curves drew Sherlock’s gaze for a moment, but he was firmly anchored to reality by the fact of his sister’s presence and managed to recover instantly.

“Uhh… Ack! Huh?! E-excuse me!”

Sherlock snapped back to reality, averting his eyes and rushing into his room as he pretended to push up his falling glasses.

The door slammed shut, and the literally half-naked girl stared with sleepy eyes—and finally realized that her surroundings were different from those of her usual mornings.

Several seconds later, only after spotting Charlotte’s face, she realized that she was neither in her own room nor the Guard Team’s office—

Her gaze fell to her own attire—

And several seconds later.

“Whaaaaaaat?!”

She let out a strangely awkward scream for having just exposed herself to a man.

The girl hurried to cover herself. The man in question was already out of sight, but she moved out of reflex.

Charlotte smiled as best she could for the girl, who was around her own age or younger, and tried to defuse the situation.

“D-don’t worry, Jun! Why, I once even crawled into my brother’s bed by mistake while he was asleep! You wouldn’t believe how quickly he froze—”


Sherlock listened to his sister’s voice beyond the door and slid to his knees.

Placing his hand on his temple to hold back an incoming headache, he groaned to himself.

“We’ve got another one…”


◁ ▶︎


“Umm, uh…! I! I’m terribly sorry about earlier!”

The girl named Jun blushed furiously as she bowed to Sherlock, sitting at the table for breakfast.

Her face was partly obscured by her bangs, but her tone of voice and the flush of her skin made it clear how sincerely embarrassed she was.

“…No, I should be the one apologizing.”

Sherlock, meanwhile, had reapplied his usual poker face and was stoically pouring milk into his coffee.

“I-I’m really so sorry. It’s just a habit of mine at home… Th-this place just has so much better insulation that I… umm…”

Casting Jun sidelong glances as she excused herself, Sherlock calmly asked,

“…Will you tell us now why you came to visit us out of nowhere?”

Though Jun looked like a slow and introverted girl, she was actually the captain of the Eastern District’s Guard Team. She was a dangerous figure whose madness truly caught fire when she started her chainsaws and let the rhythm of the 300rpm engines carry her body.

“Um… we wanted to ask last night, but… is Nazuna still…?” Charlotte asked, wearing an unusually solemn look.

“Yes. She’s still in no condition for visitors.” Jun replied, her expression even darker. “…She must have been very badly injured. She’s covered in bandages, and… it’s almost impossible to tell she’s alive just by looking at her.”

“I see…”


Jun and Charlotte had first met exactly two months earlier.

The day after the siblings were entrusted with the injured Nazuna by an angel descended from heaven(Charlotte’s words), they sent off Nazuna after she woke and began seeking the man in the photograph.

But before they knew it, the siblings had been surrounded by the Guard Team and were taken to the Eastern District.

And this was what they heard there from the equally famous and infamous Jun Sahara, captain of the Guard Team:

Nazuna, whom the siblings had seen off only a few hours earlier, was in a coma.

They found that she had been attacked by someone.

Because there were no witnesses, the Eastern District’s investigation first reached the two hapless detectives, who were presumably the last people to have been in contact with Nazuna.

Thanks to their eye-catching appearances, it was easy for the Guard Team to track down the siblings.


Afterwards, with testimony from the back-alley doctor who had treated Nazuna at the siblings’ bequest, the Guard Team found that the detectives had helped her instead of harming her. But their suspicions were not completely cleared, and the siblings were discreetly assigned a tail from the Guard Team.

The Liverpool siblings seemed to be under a great deal of scrutiny, partly thanks to their potential connection to Yakumo Amagiri, the Killer Ghoul. Charlotte, who didn’t even know he existed, had met him for the very first time at the junkyard when he left Nazuna to her. So coincidence was the only way for her to explain their connection. In fact, when Charlotte wondered why the Eastern District was questioning her about the man at the junkyard, and Sherlock suggested that the man was perhaps Yakumo Amagiri, Charlotte had laughed at the idea. The Guard Team did not confirm Sherlock’s suspicion, presumably to keep them away from unnecessary harm.

They seemed to believe Charlotte’s testimony, but their light surveillance continued.

Charlotte had been in shock for a time at the news of Nazuna’s injuries, but one day, she suddenly cried, “We must find the culprit responsible!” and grabbed a fingerprinting kit she got years ago to take prints from every surface she could find.

“Enthusiasm doesn’t turn a useless endeavor into a useful one.” Sherlock had sighed, and realized that they had been pulled into great danger.

In fact, the entire island had been drawn into a massive whirlpool of chaos.

Living proof was just outside the office window; the blackened walls of the buildings near the center of the island.

It had been two months since the first of the explosions. Having started, strangely enough, on the day Nazuna Yukimura was attacked, there had been over thirty cases now.

Explosions big and small shook the island about once every two days.

Rumors said that some of the incidents had left casualties. The island began to swirl with anger, fear, and an indescribable sense of distrust.

There was no pattern to the scale and location of the explosions. It could just as likely be the work of a terrorist or of someone with a grudge against the island.

The bonds between the islanders was at once solid yet brittle. Every neighbor was a potential suspect, which meant anyone one wasn’t particularly close with could be the culprit.

Some, naturally, chose to leave the island. But they were in the minority.

Had those who remained chosen to die on the island? Or had they given up on living outside it? Sherlock wondered, but he could not understand.

He would likely never understand why some would rather choose to die with the island. And he did not understand why his sister refused to escape at a time like this.

The Eastern District’s surveillance played a factor, but Charlotte seemed to be wholly disinclined to leave.

With no choice but to continue what they were doing, the siblings had spent the past two months amidst the fear of yet more bombings and the incessant gaze of the people assigned to watch them.

But the previous night, the leader of the Guard Team came knocking at their door.

She must have been running everywhere the past few days—though her eyes were hidden, the bags under them were testament to her exhaustion.

Charlotte had let Jun inside in that state and sat her on the bed so they could talk, but by the time Sherlock brought some tea, she was already fast asleep on the bed.


“I’m so sorry… The sheets were just so soft…”

Jun shrank, her face beet red. Charlotte smiled obliviously and handed her a bowl of miso soup.

“Not at all. You can’t get any work done if you’re exhausted! A good night’s sleep helps your mind focus and raises efficiency for the day!”

“Then it looks like you need more sleep, Charlotte.” 

“Oh? Why do you say that, Sherlock Liverpool?” Charlotte wondered naively.

“Because if serving bread, milk, coffee, miso soup, and fermented beans at once is your idea of efficiency, the miso soup’s probably been made out of your brain.”

“Ohhh… B-but I wasn’t sure if Jun would prefer a Western or Japanese-style meal, so I wanted to cover all my bases.”

“Then you could have just asked.”

“!”

Charlotte’s eyes turned to dinner plates, but she quickly took a sip of coffee with feigned calm.

“I expected no less from you, Sherlock Liverpool! Heh heh heh… This was all just a test of your observational skills!”

“By ‘test’ you mean the kind for failing students where you get full marks just for filling in your name?”

“Precisely! Heh heh heh… I see the detective potential shining in you, like a diamond in the rough!”

“…That wasn’t a compliment.”

It was an ordinary exchange for the siblings, but Jun seemed to be trying to stifle a laugh. However, she quickly pushed back the giggles and gravity returned to her voice.

“So, umm… I came to see you because—”

“Oh, yes! Do you have a case for us? If it’s infidelity you want us to investigate, we’ll get every last bit of information for you—all they way down to their sleeping habits! Clothes hide nothing from our eyes!”

“N-no, I… umm, I do want to know Mr. Inui’s sleeping habits, but, uh… Wait! I-I’m not here to hire you. I…uh… I know this is very impudent of me, but…”

Jun paused, took a deep breath, and steeled herself before continuing.

“…Could you leave the island temporarily?” She said solemnly.

“Pardon?” Charlotte stared, bewildered. Sherlock, on the other hand,

“Of course. We’ll pack up today and leave as soon as possible.”

“W-wait! Sherlock Liverpool!”

“She says we can leave; let’s take her up on the offer before she changes her mind.”

“B-but… what is going on here, Jun?” Charlotte pleaded.

Jun’s eyes narrowed as she explained the Eastern District’s position. Tersely and directly.

“The locals haven’t noticed yet, but…” Resolve rose to her eyes as she conveyed the truth. “East and West are already on the verge of a meltdown.”

In unison, Charlotte and Sherlock were silenced.

Though the expression was metaphorical, it was a powerful one.

Until the explosions began, the two districts had been maintaining a very precarious balance.

In the beginning, the island had been divided into four districts. But because the executives of the Northern and Southern Districts were all killed the previous year, the two remaining organizations had taken over the newly-emptied territories.

Supposedly, a man named Hayato Inui—who stood at the center of many rumors at the time—was deeply involved in the fall of the two districts, but the Liverpools did not know any of the details.

Yet even they knew that relations between the Western and Eastern Districts were far from amicable.

It was clear as day that at every opportunity, they blew each other’s mistakes into the open, reopened old wounds, and gnawed at each other. Charlotte didn’t seem to mind this, but Sherlock always had his eyes peeled on the minutest details in order to preserve Charlotte and himself.

As far as he could tell, there was more hostility toward the East from the West than the other way around.

The boss of the Eastern District seemed to have things under control, but the Western District was not a unified front by any stretch of the imagination. Supposedly, the organization was divided into multiple factions that were constantly at each other’s throats. And some of those factions, it was said, were highly hostile toward the Eastern District.

But because of the balance of power in the organization, the Western District never clashed fully against the Eastern District.

Yet the balance would soon topple, Jun clearly said.

“I’m sure you understand why. …The incident that led us to keep you under surveillance and the serial bombings are connected.”

Charlotte did not seem to understand.

“But why… urgh. The bomber and, uh… this Mr. Amagiri are a problem for both districts, no? Then where’s the teamwork? The team huddle?”

“This isn’t a cartoon, Charlotte.” Sherlock said. Jun shook her head.

“If we were against something as powerful and terrible as an alien, maybe we could join forces together.” Her eyes narrowing sadly, she confessed the state of her own organization. “To be honest, our executives see the two threats as an opportunity to defeat our rival organization. Because of our boss’s policies, we do not strike first. But some of our executives are disgruntled. And if the Western District were to launch an attack first, I guarantee our boss will pay them back double, triple, or more.”

“No…”

“Some of our executives even suspect that the Western District is pulling the strings behind the explosions and Yakumo Amagiri. And I’m sure the Western District must think the same about us. All this friction is going to snowball overtime, and…” More solemn than ever, Jun took a deep breath. “…Our boss, Mr. Gitarin, says that we’re almost at the breaking point. I contacted him via cell phone earlier. One of our executives was killed last night, and now some are wondering if there’s a traitor among our ranks.”

The sickening reality of the island came to them packaged in a gentle voice. The way she mentioned the executive’s death—more sad than morose—seemed to hint at Jun’s character.

Charlotte and Sherlock listened quietly, waiting for her to finish.

By the time her cup of coffee had gone cold, Jun sighed and repeated herself.

“So that’s why I’m asking you. We don’t have enough manpower to keep constant tabs on you, and at this point… we have almost no reason to suspect you two… so please leave the island before—”

“I refuse.”

“What?”

Jun was flabbergasted. Sherlock stared at his sister with a mix of shock and worry.

Whether or not she felt her brother’s gaze, Charlotte confidently misread Jun’s intentions.

“In other words, our presence here doesn’t necessarily hinder you, correct? If you need more hands, you can just forget us, yes? I see. Then all we can do is force all these complicated incidents happening on the island into one big bundle and solve them in one fell swoop!”

“Umm, I don’t—” Jun began anxiously, but Charlotte beamed for no particular reason.

“It’s all right! We’re veterans at getting dragged into funny situations!”

“Wait, Charlotte! I don’t think ‘funny’ even begins to describe this. We’re really in over our heads here! Who knows when the next bomb will go off? And… I’m sorry you have to hear this, Jun, but we were practically dragged to the Guard Team headquarters two months ago. And considering how our office is smack-dab between the two districts, the moment the Western District’s organization begins to suspect us, we’ll be goners!” Sherlock argued. But Charlotte’s smile didn’t budge.

“I’m sorry, Sherlock Liverpool. It’s going to be very dangerous from here on out, so you should leave without me. It’s time for the assistant to bow out—”

Sherlock ran out of patience.

“Who’re you calling an assistant? You couldn’t survive a day here without me!”

In that instant, he froze. Normally he could pass for being sarcastic, but at this point he could have very well hurt his sister’s feelings. Anxious—afraid—he looked into her face—

“Yes, I know. I don’t need to go into observation mode to deduce that much.”

“How—”

“Because I am an ace detective!”

“More like an ace defective.” Sherlock shook his head at his sister’s unfounded confidence. “I’m sorry, Jun. At this point, even if I knocked her out and dragged her away, she’ll crawl back to the island. Maybe if I imprisoned her somewhere, but… I couldn’t. I’m sorry.”

Troubled, Jun looked back and forth between the siblings.

“B-but… why would you go so far?”

“We want to help Nazuna, but we also can’t leave you to face this without us, Jun. We’re your friends!”

Sherlock sighed yet again at his sister’s declaration. It was like she knew no embarrassment. Jun gaped for a moment, but quickly replied.

“I, umm… When did we become friends?”

She seemed to be shocked and apprehensive, but not displeased.

Rather than answer, Charlotte hummed as she stood from the table.

“Oh, yes! The snacks I asked the transporter for just came in yesterday. We can have them for dessert!”

“…Please stop ordering things without telling me again, Charlotte! Just how much are you spending on your desserts?!”

Charlotte sped into the room ahead of her as though in escape.

Noting Charlotte closing the door behind her, Sherlock bowed to Jun.

“…I’m very sorry. She says she wants to help you and Nazuna, but she’s clearly just getting carried away with being a hardboiled detective. I’ll make sure she doesn’t get in your way, so please don’t take it personally.”

Sherlock seemed to have given up on leaving the island, but instead of getting upset, Jun smiled.

“Your sister’s a good person.”

“What? Well, yes, if by that you mean naive…” Sherlock said doubtfully. Jun put on an embarrassed grin.

“Well… I’m not trying to make excuses, but… normally, I would never fall asleep in a situation like last night’s. But just talking to Charlotte seemed to relax me, and…”

Sherlock said nothing, instead bringing his cup of coffee to his lips in a silent urge to continue.

“I think… she’s a very relaxing person. Someone who makes you feel at ease. It’s funny. Everyone else I’ve met on the island make me feel anxious about the island or other people—at least a little bit.”

“Oh… I know that feeling.”

“But I don’t feel that way around Charlotte. It’s almost as if she doesn’t live here at all… She’s a very strong person to be able to make people feel so at ease, even on this island.”

“You’re being too kind. Charlotte’s just as oblivious as she looks—she just doesn’t understand how dangerous the island is. I’m always scared she might be stabbed to death by a robber or something. Although I guess she’s more likely to trip over her own feet and die falling headfirst into a heap of junk.” Sherlock said, denying his sister any compliments, but Jun shook her head.

“To be honest… Though the Guard Team still has its doubts about her, I believe Charlotte. I guess talking to her and seeing her smile makes me feel like I’d be just fine even if she betrayed me. I know this sounds strange, but…”

It was almost like Jun was talking about a friend she’d known for years. Sherlock averted his gaze awkwardly, then sighed again.

“As a pseudo-servant to her, I have to say that part of Charlotte’s personality can be a very, very heavy burden sometimes.”

Jun answered Sherlock’s grief with a grin.

“I think… you two have an amazing bond. I can see how you’re supporting each other.”

“Please.” Sherlock mumbled, hearing the door open behind him. “You’re embarrassing me.”


◁ ▶︎


Thirty minutes later. In front of the hotel.


“Well… Thank you for the food. Umm… the snacks were delicious.”

Jun bowed with two long cases hanging behind her back.

The siblings stood outside the hotel to see her off, wearing two completely different faces.

“Not at all, Jun. Feel free to visit anytime!”

“…Please take care on your way back. We’re dealing with enough suspicion as it already is.”

“H-hey! Sherlock Liverpool!” Charlotte scolded him, but Jun smiled.

“Thank you for being so considerate. I’ll make sure to use the underground thoroughfares. …Once all the commotion dies down, please feel free to visit the theme park.”

“I’m not sure the island will ever be free of commotion.” Sherlock said. He was clearly still embarrassed about what he had said. Charlotte blinked curiously, and Jun put on a wry grin, wondering if Sherlock was upset with her.

And with one final bow, she turned to head back to the Eastern District.


Whoosh.


A slender shadow scratched Jun’s cheek with a sound sharp enough to cut a moment in time. The force of the swing caused a breeze to blow Jun’s bangs into the air.

“?!”

The moment she sensed danger, something shattered with a dull noise behind her.

Jun turned, worried for the siblings. They were safe—but frozen in confusion.

The source of the sound was at a spot on the wall, a slight distance from the siblings.

Though the wall was thin, it was made of concrete nonetheless. The object that had been driven into it, Jun saw, was—

A long, partially rusted and bent lead pipe.

“…!”

The air around Jun seemed to solidify as she quickly drew her two weapons.

With the two straight but twisted weapons in her hands, she hooked her fingers onto the triggers.

But she did not start the engines; instead, Jun focused her attention on her surroundings.

The height of her focus was trained on the origin of the lead pipe—from the siblings’ perspective, beyond Jun—

A girl was strolling over.

An Asian girl with blank eyes and large flowers on either side of her head.

From the style of her dress, she must be affiliated with the Western District. But where was the one who lobbed the lead pipe? Could it be the girl?

Setting her own choice of weapons aside, Jun could not instantly connect the girl with the lead pipe. In the meantime, the girl continued to close the distance between them.

“Umm… Excuse me…”

The silent girl showed no sign of hostility. Jun tried to talk to her, but she walked past without even meeting her gaze. Then she passed by the dumbfounded siblings—

And she pulled the lead pipe out of the wall with ease and lazily turned to the detectives.

“…Ah…”

She finally spoke, but no one could have expected the words that left her mouth.

“…Sleepy.”

“Huh?”

Sherlock shot Jun a look demanding explanation, unable to keep up with the situation. Though Jun glanced at the girl for a moment, she tensed and scanned the area.

Sherlock did the same, also noticing something unusual.

“Wait…”

“There’s… no one around.”

Surprisingly, Charlotte seemed to notice at the same time Sherlock did. But that was understandable considering the oddity of their predicament.

Though the hotel area was never lively by any means, now it was much too quiet.

It was in that silence, as though time itself had stopped, that the girl with flowers in her hair spoke again in her gloomy voice.

“…Yes. Sleepy. Very sleepy. Sleeeeeep. Sleeeeeep. Sleeeeeep.”

Another nap, after I took the trouble of waking you up just earlier, Lilei?”

Suddenly, a man emerged from what had been a dead-quiet part of the hotel area.

He was a tall Asian man with a red tattoo that ran from his right ear to his cheek.

And following after him from the shadows were about a dozen men.

The atmosphere was flipped on its head as the hotel area was instantly filled with human presence. But there was nothing ordinary about the newcomers. They carried themselves like a police force decked out in full riot gear.

Unfazed, the girl called Lilei expressed herself in a series of words.

“Night. I kill. No sleep. …Day. Secret place. Sleep. Cell phone. It is loud. It is mean, Elder Brother.”

“You can get all the sleep you want once we’re done with this job.”

The man Lilei called her brother glared, his eyes many times colder and sharper than those of the sardonic Sherlock, as he approached Jun.

“Now, Kitten of the East. Do you know who I am? Or must I take the time to introduce myself?”

A droplet of sweat ran down Jun’s face as she uttered the man’s name.

“You’re… Lihuang Ei… a Western District executive…”

“Correct. Now, I’d like you to come with me. You two over there, as well.”

The man chuckled, then, and shook his head.

“No… Excuse me. I wouldn’t like for you to come with me.”

The other men began to snicker, loosening the tension in the air.

And putting on a grin, the man corrected himself.


“Plant your faces on the ground in gratitude for my sparing your life and come with me, you damned kitten and the two foreign dogs.”


-----


A ramen shop in the Eastern District.


“—which is why I’m always looking for some spice in my life, Mr. Take. Just like there’s seven spices in this broth, movies are the spice of my life. You understand that, right?”

“Ain’t possible.”

“C’mon, please? You think so too, right? We’re all brothers in the human race, so you’re me and I’m you. Remember what that badass physicist Freud guy said. How the subconscious is all connected like twins and their telepathy shit?”

Asking me to agree from the next seat was a man with seven-colored hair.

He needed no introduction. The island’s problem child. The Grateful Z. The Mad Dog. The Rainbow Mutt. The One-Man Gun Parade. All were self-proclaimed titles of this off-kilter man named Hayato Inui.

“I think you might have a lot of things mixed up there. And… was Freud a physicist?”

“Dunno. But who gives a shit about Freud? He’s already six feet under. We gotta always look forward—forget the tears in our past. Am I right?”

“Uh, yeah.”

There were a total of two seats in the restaurant.

Of all the people to end up sharing the place with.

I just came to the place because I heard the ramen was good. Talk about unlucky.

“See, Mr. Take? My buddy here agrees!”

“Were you even listening, asshole?”

“C’mon, Mr. Take! This guy’s got a rad scene with all the convincing exposition for you, but it’s only in the director’s cut! BTW, can we switch to Afternoon Roadshow? Talk about a goddamned miracle—they’re actually showing Triple Beretta today! Can’t believe I get to see the newest one in the series with my own two eyes… I just wanna see it back-to-back with this flick called Zap’em-all Quartet tonight and switch out all that excitement for tomorrow’s energy.”

“Shaddap. Lemme finish this show.”

The owner of the ramen store watched the screen as he cooked the noodles. It was a lazy display, but his ramen did not suffer for it. Maybe this attitude is why he ended up on this island.

The news was on TV. A special about a murder that took place two months ago on the mainland. Apparently a burglar murdered a man in front of his daughter, but the culprit was still loose. It’s not any better on the mainland than it is here.

“Don’t be an ass to your own customer, Mr. Take—… Whoops. Phone call.”

Inui took out a cell phone. The latest model. How’d he get his hands on one when he doesn’t even have Japanese citizenship?

I would have turned a blind eye if he decided to kick manners to the curb and take the call inside, but surprisingly, he walked outside for the call.


Ten minutes passed.

Even after I finished my ramen, he did not return.

In fact, I didn’t hear or see anyone at the door anymore.

“Hey, Mister? You think he’s pulling an eat-and-run?”

The ramen shop owner did not even turn to look at me as he cleaned up.

“Hm… It’s fine. I can give him a beating when he comes back tonight to catch the movie.”

There was no laughter in his eyes. I quickly paid and left the store.

…Then, checking that no one was around, I took out my cell phone and accessed a special network. All kinds of images and sounds were displayed on the screen in real time. When I scrolled through several screens, I found a feed from outside a hotel.

The image was distant and blurry, but a blond couple and a woman—probably Jun Sahara—were surrounded by people from the Western District.



…I see. Of course. I get it.

I understand the situation, Spring-heeled Joplin.

In exchange for this information, I’ve transmitted the conversation with Inui that I just recorded. That should be all for my job.

…Has Inui noticed something, I wonder? The suspicious movements at the hotel?

…Ah well.

It’s a small world, this island.

Whenever there’s an incident, it’s always the same players that get involved.

Whether it’s Inui or Jun Sahara.

Then what about this slow, oblivious, and good-natured detective?

Will she take the stage with gusto?

Well? What do you think, Spring-heeled Joplin?


Spring-heeled Joplin compared this series of incidents to a wild dance show.

Then when did the show begin?

When the first explosion occurred?

When the two dogs were reunited?

When Nazuna Yukimura was wounded?

Or even earlier? Have they been dancing from the moment they entered the island?

Let me take a page out of Spring-heeled Joplin’s book and use a poetic metaphor.

As the entire cast dances, someone amidst it all is laughing.

There is someone who dances and makes others dance, all while laughing.

From the outside, the incidents on the island are farcical to watch.

As though everything is inevitable, but as though the links between them are all coincidental.

But it doesn’t matter whether things are inevitable or coincidental.

If no coincidence happens, another coincidence will occur and create a new incident.

Yes. On this strange island dotted with incidents big and small, a day where nothing happens is a miracle.

But I don’t want to write off anything simply as coincidence. I don’t want to think my coming to the island was caused by a series of coincidences.

At the same time, I can’t acknowledge the fact that I came to this island because of my own powerlessness.

Which is why I continue to observe the island.


…Hey, Spring-heeled Joplin.

Can you hear me? Do you hear me?

Answer me. Over.

Is observing all we can do?

This is Spring-heeled Joplin. Answer me, Spring-heeled Joplin.

Do we possess power?

Or are we just a group of powerless voyeurs?

Do these thoughts disqualify me from being Spring-heeled Joplin?

If Sōji Kuzuhara, Ginga Kanashima, Hayato Inui, Seiichi Kugi,

Ei daren, Yili, Lihuang,

Gitarin, Jun Sahara, the Guard Team,

Charlotte Liverpool,

And even myself—

If we and everyone else is fated to dance on the stage of coincidence, what use is power?

What is power on this island?

Tell me, Spring-heeled Joplin.


So that I can remain Spring-heeled Joplin, if only for a little longer.


-----


All right. All right. This is Spring-heeled Joplin.

Let me answer your question, Spring-heeled Joplin.

Power and strength are not necessarily the same thing.

But to be specific…

‘Power’ is not ‘force’, at least to a certain fate.

It’s just the energy that alters vectors—the direction in which things move.

That! Is the power and freedom given to this island!

Rejoice.

If you wish to change a certain fate, Spring-heeled Joplin will not stop you!

Will we be able to act? Or not?

It is your power that will change that vector.


-----


-----

1 comment:

  1. It’s be exactly two months to the day, but we haven’t made any progress, Charlotte! (It's be > It has been)
    Dunno. But who gives a shit about Frued? (Frued > Freud)

    Thanks as always!

    ReplyDelete