Interlude 5: Paradise East
Like a hero drifting into paradise, the Rogue of the West dreams while awake.
For the sole purpose of ending his boredom, the rogue dreams his meaningless dreams again today.
The Eastern District. The underground casino.
It was an especially unusual place on an island where everything was run-down.
Was it filled with more garbage than the rest? No. In fact, it was the very opposite.
Although those from places like Tokyo might not feel that way.
There wasn’t a single crack in the wall, where ornaments straight out of paradise shone in immaculate splendor. A soft warmth rose from the red-carpeted floor, like a royal palace. Anyone setting foot on these grounds would be assured of their privileged status.
That alone made the place notable on the island, but the building was equipped with facilities that normal islanders would never have the chance to see.
In the center of the large hall, underneath the chandelier, were genuine roulette tables straight out of Las Vegas, and the corners of the room were packed with all kinds of slot machines. Naturally, there were also tables for baccarat and blackjack, and there was even a gambling corner for dice games like craps. One of the walls was occupied entirely by a bar counter, where hundreds of kinds of alcohol sparkled on the shelves. Though the building was clearly part of the criminal underworld, the wall of colorful bottles bore the mystique of stained-glass windows in a cathedral.
On the endlessly filthy world of the island was a different plane reserved only for the elite.
From afar, it looked like this building was draining all the resources from the world around it. Which was true in a sense, as it drew money from locals and visitors to the island.
From a capitalist’s perspective, it was truly heaven on earth.
It was there that ice clinked in a glass of oolong tea, in the hands of a certain man.
“Now… what to do?”
Sitting at the bar with a non-alcoholic drink in his hands was a youngish man with dark skin, who was of ambiguous ethnicity.
Though he looked youthful, it was difficult to discern his age from his appearance. He grinned and turned to a girl in a bartender outfit at the counter.
“What do you think, Misaki? To rise to the Western district’s provocation or not… that is the question. I believe the best offense is a good defense, so I have no intention of attacking first. But I think I’ll be relying on your opinion today to decide how strongly we’ll retaliate if they decide to pick a fight first.”
Unable to even wonder if the man was joking, Misaki dropped the glass in her hands at the sudden burden of responsibility thrust upon her shoulders.
The shatter resounded through the casino. Although overshadowed by the sound of chatter and clinking coins, patrons bear the bar turned.
For seemingly no reason the bartender apologized profusely. The other patrons saw the man sitting at the bar and discreetly returned to their games, wise enough to let sleeping dogs lie.
“Please, I didn’t do anything! I’m so sorry, sir!”
“No, no. I should be the one apologizing. Sorry I scared you, Misaki. I’ll pay Inamine for the glass later.”
“N-not at all, sir!”
“Heh. You sound like you stepped right out of a historical movie.”
The dark-skinned man snickered, handing a handkerchief to the girl at the counter. As if on cue, the voluptuous women on either side of him giggled.
One of the women was Asian, and the other was white. They clung to the man almost as if flaunting their position.
The bartender girl rushed to clean up the broken glass, not knowing where to look.
The man watched, sitting as if the women on his arms were nonexistent, and continued with feigned ignorance.
“But I do feel apologetic to everyone. If only East and West could get along, or if we were many times stronger so we could take over the entire island, people wouldn’t have to spend every waking moment worrying about the next explosion.”
“N-not at all, sir!”
“…You’re fun to watch even when you get flustered, Misaki.”
The bartender girl—Misaki Yasojima—flinched.
She had served this man several times in the past, but every time he called her name she thought she would die of a heart attack.
Normally, it was the manager Inamine who served the man; but as it was Inamine’s day off, Misaki was left to do the job. The man only came once a week, but sometimes he dropped by on nothing but a whim and the casino staff could not match his schedule completely.
Generally in situations like this, Jun was there to help manage the situation. But Misaki’s trusty friend was nowhere to be seen that day.
The man looked like a lighthearted rogue on the outside, and he was almost as cheerful on the inside as well. But the fact was that he was the leader who reigned at the head of the organization that controlled the Eastern District.
So in spite of the boss’s carefree nature, one wrong joke could paint a target on her back for the other executives to shoot down silently and discreetly.
Misaki tensed before the oblivious bomb and referenced her pool of memorized dialogue for bartending.
“Umm… What kind of work do you usually do, Boss?”
She decided to call the man ‘Boss’, just as Inamine the manager did.
“What kind of work do I do? You’ve seen for yourself.”
“Uh, well… It’s not like I haven’t not not seen you work… Umm… Thank you for all your hard work!”
It was only after her nonsensical attempt at conversation that Misaki cursed her own foolishness. She sounded like a teenaged girl on her first day at work at a cabaret club.
“Hm. Now what kind of question could you be asking me—Alan Gran Galan J. Gitarin Yamashiro Outerheaven Radiovoice? What information could you be trying to glean from between the lines? I see you’re quite the adept tactician, Misaki.”
“Wha-?! N-not at all, sir! I don’t know anything and I’m really just an unlucky person and I really don’t even deserve to talk to the Boss so please excuse me I can’t even look in your direction!”
“Heh. Fun as ever.”
Gitarin, the man at the top of the Eastern District, chuckled and emptied the contents of his glass in one go before launching into a spiel.
“Let me tell you a funny story.”
Misaki stared timidly as Gitarin put his chin on his clasped hands like a movie villain.
“What do you think of boredom?”
“Pardon?” Misaki asked, not knowing what Gitarin was asking.
Perhaps he never expected an answer from her to begin with; Gitarin continued after a rather brief moment of silence.
“I think boredom is a crime.”
“Yes. A crime. Something to be punished. Think about it. Countless lives emerge, live, die, and circulate their energies to move the tiny world perched on the earth’s skin. But boredom, you see, makes a waste of that energy. It turns life on earth against itself and stops the flow of energy instead of using it. What else could it be but a crime? Even on a social level, it halts the energy we could use to be productive, to improve civilization, or to save people. And boredom even makes the people who feel it suffer. It’s no doubt an enemy to us, whether from a cultural or a biological point of view.”
“The people of this country feared the king of fear or something in the year 1999, but even believing in things like that is just a product of boredom. What are doomsday prophecies to people who’re constantly occupied, day after day? And in the end, the king of fear never descended upon us. And what greeted the people who were expecting something? That’s right. Mild disappointment and yet more boredom. Maybe that was the true identity of the king of fear. Yes. Maybe boredom does deserve to be called the true king of fear.”
It sounded like Gitarin was talking more to himself than Misaki.
The smile on his face cooled by the second, and Misaki began to feel a chill like a viper was staring her down.
The moment he spotted her flinch, Gitarin instantly injected warmth back into his smile.
“Heh. Heh heh. Hahahaha! That’s just me rambling about nothings. I just came up with a theory to emphasize how much I dislike boredom. You could come up with any number of rebuttals from a cultural or biological perspective, and if boredom were a crime, everyone would be guilty instantly!”
“Huh? Oh, uh… yes! Of course!” Misaki replied, realizing that Gitarin had just been joking.
Perhaps she should have gotten angry, but Misaki did not have that courage. Even if she did, the thought of what might happen if she crossed the line with Gitarin would have stopped her.
And with a childlike smile, that very man continued.
“I was just killing time trying to explain how much I hate boredom. …Heh. Don’t take it personally.” He grinned, and asked another question of the hapless bartender. “Now… that’s why I want to ask you, Misaki. Could a leader who judges or forgives his foes on a whim and sometimes goes to the front lines of war in person possibly exist?”
“Huh? Uh… Umm… I guess… yes…?”
‘He’s sitting right in front of me.’ Misaki thought, but held back her thoughts.
“Heh heh heh. I suppose so. But in my opinion, people like that shouldn’t be leading criminal organizations like this.”
‘Is this supposed to be self-deprecation now?’
“After all, a leader like that would have been shanked by a disgruntled executive before he could do anything. Unless he was especially talented and charismatic.”
“Y-yes! Of course!”
‘Wait, is he praising himself?’
“But I, at least, am not one such leader.”
‘Then why isn’t he getting shanked?’
“…Then why aren’t I getting shanked? Is what you thought, right?”
Thousands of insects seemed to crawl down Misaki’s spine.
The boss of the organization, the man wearing the innocent smile, had read her mind.
“Hah hah! Looks like I was right on the mark. But don’t worry about it.”
Gitarin chuckled at the sight of the frozen bartender and continued. Though his gentle expression remained the same, a hint of a shadow fell over his voice.
“…You know, none of the Eastern District executives here on the island are real execs. Including me.”
“Think about it. This isn’t a construction site—why would anyone need to be physically here on this island to give orders when the internet exists to make life easier? We are technically supposed to be working for a parent organization, but in reality, we’re just figureheads dispatched here by the people who’re really in charge. So in other words, no matter how many executives die in this mess, the organization essentially remains unchanged.”
There was nothing laughable about what he said, but Gitarin laughed—honestly, from the bottom of his heart—all the same.
“Whatever whims I follow are just tiny ripples on the surface. It changes nothing about the heart of the organization, and the death of a figurehead doesn’t stop the orders from coming in. Although even the real execs back there seem concerned about the bombings.”
The things Gitarin said should not have been for Misaki’s ears.
But by the time she realized that, it was too late. She couldn’t retroactively cover her ears.
“And the Guard Team is my little symbol of rebellion against the people who drove me to this island—the people really in charge, who for a moment handed me the monster known as boredom and believe they continue to do so.”
Tapping the counter with his finger, Gitarin sank into his own world.
Misaki gulped, unable to remember how to breathe.
“Placed on this island without even someone to call a self.”
Tap. Tap. Tap.
“Taking on nothing but danger, receiving only hollow fame in return.”
Tap. Tap. Tap.
“Every day is filled to the brim with peril. Day after day.”
Tap. Tap. Tap.
“But there’s not a hint of thrill in those days. I simply avoid the dangers I’m given like a programmed robot.”
Tap. Tap. Tap.
“There’s no other way to describe this boredom. It’s a crime.”
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.
Tap tap tap.
Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap—
“And that is why I despise boredom!”
The moment his finger couldn’t drum any faster on the counter, Gitarin slammed down his hand.
There was a resounding noise, but the patrons pretended not to hear. As they probably did not hear the conversation itself, it didn’t seem to want to get involved.
Gitarin grinned excitedly.
“Yes. It’s the same with ‘them’. One day, I’ll declare independence of the island and war against them. Then I won’t be bored anymore, at least while I’m fighting ‘them’. Yes. This is my own will and a battle for myself, so it couldn’t possibly be boring.”
Misaki felt as though the flash of madness in Gitarin’s smile would rob her of her consciousness. It was just a feeling, but she almost sensed murder in his eyes..
What in the world was he?
She could die.
The moment she felt her life teeter on the edge, she remembered the lovely friend whose eyes were always hidden under her bangs.
‘Jun… did you know all this? Just how much do you trust and follow this man?’
By remembering her friend Misaki calmed herself from the shock of knowing Gitarin’s position and true nature.
Taking a deep breath, she turned back to the demon before her.
It took several more seconds before she could muster up a voice, but Misaki used every once of power within her to shake off her latest bout of misfortune.
“I… I think that’s wrong.”
Before she knew it, she was talking.
“I-if you sweep away your boredom like that, Boss… then you’re going to be a real boss and not a fake one anymore? And—and then that means you’re taking the Guard Team’s lives into your own hands! You know that, right?”
“…Yes. Exactly. By burdening myself with the lives of people I must protect—and because I have people whom I want to live alongside—I can finally say goodbye to boredom forever. Of course, I won’t force anyone to do anything. And I promise to protect my friends will everything I have. Including Jun, who I know is your first concern.”
Gitarin was still smiling.
But that fact that he had said such a thing with a smile scared Misaki and repulsed her.
“…Please… stop this. Please reconsider!”
Gone was her earlier hesitation, replaced entirely by anger. Though her voice was still low enough that only Gitarin could hear, there was an iron will hidden in her tone.
Gitarin withdrew his smile and shot her an icy glare.
“Why should I?”
“Y-you said you wouldn’t force anyone, but Jun would obviously follow you! You know what she’s like, so how? How could you say that, Boss?”
All the words Misaki had been holding back swelled at once like an avalanche.
She was speaking from her heart and not her head, but she was more convincing now than ever before.
“Maybe that’s not a crime at all. But just like you call boredom a crime… and even if you’re not guilty at this point… from my perspective, it’s evil! The very definition of evil! So.. So please don’t drag Jun into… it…”
Misaki realized what she was doing halfway through her outburst. Fear crept back into her voice.
“I—um… Uhh… I—”
Watching Misaki pale at a comical speed, Gitarin muttered with a hint of surprise and awe.
“You were like this when the Rats took over the casino too. Once you’re cornered, your mouth kicks into high gear.”
“Wah… I… eek…. umm…”
Not even a barrage of gunfire would surprise Misaki now. Imagining herself turned to swiss cheese, she cursed her own misfortune. Perhaps she was reaping what she sowed, but she had almost no regrets about what she had just said.
But she was not the only unlucky one. In a way, it was the same for Gitarin, and even Jun, who followed him. Then Misaki began to feel like the island itself was misfortune incarnate.
‘I knew it I knew it I knew it! I was born under an unlucky star and sold off to an unlucky island!’
Wailing silently, she waited for Gitarin to react. He gave a hearty laugh.
“Heh. Hah hah. Ahahahahaha! Great! Great! You never cease to entertain me, Misaki. I’m so glad Jun has a friend like you!”
“Hahahahaha! Ahahaha! Did you really believe what I said? Please, cut me some slack here. How would I have formed the Guard Team if I were just a figurehead? And just how much money do you think it took me to form the team? You’d better watch out, Misaki. Swindlers are everywhere these days. Now I’m feeling a little guilty. Heh. I’m sorry. I don’t know what to say.” Gitarin chuckled, tipping the rest of the ice in his cup into his mouth.
He crunched the ice to bits in an instant and held out the cup to Misaki.
He wanted seconds, Misaki realized. She quickly turned and took out the pre-brewed oolong tea from the fridge, and poured it into the cup along with ice.
“O-o-of course, sir! It was a joke! Aha! Please don’t scare me like that, Boss.”
Misaki played along on the outside, but her heart was still pounding.
Was Gitarin really just joking?
As long as the question remained, she could neither truly breathe a sigh of relief nor allow herself to get angry at the impish man.
Gitarin seemed to have read her mind, as he again denied his earlier claims.
“Not to worry, Misaki. I really have leadership over the Eastern District, and I’m on very good terms with the parent organization overseas. And I don’t have a grudge against anyone, either.”
“O-of course, Boss…”
Relief slowly flooded over Misaki.
Gitarin drained his cup of tea in one go and narrowed his eyes.
Then he mumbled to no one in particular.
“At least, not now.”
‘Not now? Then… what about before?’
“Whoops, phone call. I’ll be off now, Misaki. Thank you for the tea.”
As questions popped up in Misaki’s head, Gitarin hurried off.
Before Misaki could say a word, he disappeared like smoke into the crowds of the casino with a beauty on each arm.
The casino was booming with noise, but Misaki felt like the world was muted. And she wondered if the conversation just now had really taken place.
Several more seconds of silence later, she returned to the din of reality and let her elbows drop weakly to the counter as she broke into cold sweat, calling her friend’s name.
“Jun… I can’t deal with him after all… I don’t know where you are right now, but please… come back soon…”
“So Jun’s in trouble?”
As soon as he stepped out of the casino, Gitarin spoke to a man who had been waiting at the doors.
“Yeah, and get this, Boss. Of all people, she got caught by Lihuang’s gang and Lilei.”
Laid-back as always in spite of the gravity of the situation was Carlos the gunman, a Spaniard in blue shades.
“…I see. So they’re getting desperate.”
“So what do we do, Boss? Mr. Zhang’s in a huff about storming their HQ this instant.”
“We’re not picking a fight. But we’re going to get Jun back.”
“Easy for you to say.” Carlos said with a wry grin. Gitarin replied, sounding just as laid-back.
“With leadership comes great privileges.”
“I think you might have a rebellion on your hands with that attitude.”
“Maybe if I pushed things. But I don’t think it’s too tall an order for the Guard Team.” With a bitter chuckle, Gitarin slowly let his expression set. “But we’d better take care of whoever’s behind this, and quick.”
“…Yakumo Amagiri, you mean?”
“No. …More like the one who’s fanning the flames of fear on this island with the bombings.” Cracking his neck, Gitarin named his suspect. “Ginga Kanashima. That plastic surgery freak’s the only one whose movements we can’t track.”
“…We’ve got eyes around Kuzuhara, but I don’t think Kanashima is going to do anything to him personally.”
“Which is only going to make Kuzuhara suffer. And that’s obviously his goal. From an outside perspective, revenge stories can be really fun to watch. But…” Gitarin said calmly, walking with Carlos to the theme park where the office was. “…It’s a different story if my islanders or Jun or the rest of you are hurt. The execs were prepared for death to begin with, but the one that died yesterday only just came to the island. He wasn’t mine for long. I never even had the chance to get bored of this one, let alone see what he could do. And now, Jun is in trouble.”
He carried himself with a hint of arrogance, but Gitarin’s unusually-colored eyes made it impossible for others to read his emotions.
“I’ve never truly despised someone before.”
Carlos found himself tensing at the sight of Gitarin, who had never looked so grim even when the other executives were killed. It felt as though he was seeing something forbidden in the sight of his boss’s back.
“But you know… no one said I’d stay that way for the rest of my life.”
The demon of the east quietly laughed.
And no one would know if the laughter was forced or genuine.
The Rogue of the East dreams.
Fun dreams, sad dreams, and meaningless nightmares.
And sometimes, even dreams from other minds.
But the roguish demon accepts all dreams, regardless of nature.
As though claiming that as the duty of a resident of paradise,
The Rogue of the East continues to run endlessly in his dreams today.