Saturday, 14 February 2015

Garuguru! -Dancing Beast Night- (Part 2): Chapter 6

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Update time.


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Chapter 6-A: The Wolf is at the Gate


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A suite on a certain floor in the Grand Ibis Hotel.


Launching myself into the air, I flew into the wide-open room.

I supposed I could charge forward and try for an instant kill. But I was hesitant to leap out into the hallway. It would be awful if the hallway was swarming with men carrying machine guns. Then the best thing to do is stay here and hope for a bottleneck.

They rushed inside, but just as I expected, only a small number came. They probably didn’t open fire on me as I leapt because they confused me with Yili, who’s also in white.

But that confusion was quickly rectified and I was soon surrounded.


Six men armed with guns. No other weapons.


I always thought the Western District was more suited to blades than firearms. I felt betrayed. It’s absurd to feel betrayal at a belief that had no real basis to begin with, but I wish they’d try to match the atmosphere, at least.

I’d heard some of them used half-sized daggers or Chinese broadswords, but no such weapons were here. And I suppose there’s no one who walks about with a lead pipe like that girl I see on the rooftop.

My complaints were crushed by the men in black, who rushed inside with guns at the ready. Alas. This is reality.

Four surrounded me in a semicircle, and the other two went to a corner of the room—probably to protect Yili and Kugi. Although I don’t think Kugi needs a bodyguard.

If I had to say, I could sense more people outside. Just how many did she call here?

That was when I heard Yili driving a lynchpin into my thoughts.

“…Where is everyone?”

She moved into my line of sight as she spoke. Her eyes are as icy as ever.

And does she mean she called for even more people? What would she do with so many men? They’ll probably end up punching each other before they hit me. It’s the Guard Team that’s good at teamwork. Although there’s no real point to using logical thought with these people.

“I told you to gather as many people as you could.” Yili said. One of the men whispered into her ear. Nope. I can’t hear him.

But what she said afterwards was enough.

“Elder Brother Lihuang? Are you sure?”

So to confirm my suspicions, I spontaneously decided to ask Yili.  Spontaneous. That’s a good way of putting things. It means my question’s a natural one. So I’ll follow this path of spontaneity and go about things in whatever order comes most naturally to me. Even if it doesn’t turn out to be the path of least resistance.

“Oh. So you lost half your team to your brother?”

I only realized how condescending I sounded after the fact. I take it back. There’s a time and place even for spontaneity.

She frowned for a moment, but Yili quickly returned to her icy self.

And she stared at me with unreadable eyes.

“You’re right. ‘Lost’ isn’t the right word. But… if nothing else, I can’t afford to listen to you anymore.”

“…Could you afford to listen to me to begin with?”

“No.”

Blunt. That hurts.

But what’s going on here? To be honest, I’m actually a little relieved.

If they came in with guns blazing, it would have simply been a matter of killing or being killed. Unlike in the Eastern District, these people wouldn’t put out a capture-on-sight order for me. And unlike in the streets, the hotel’s no place for a chase. If only I could knock people out with a blow to the neck, like in those old manga. I think it might be possible with training, but unfortunately I never received any.

I can’t afford to worry about other people’s lives in an all-out brawl. Then I’d end up looking to the sky again to figure out reasons I killed people.

Although it’s all the same if they charge in to kill me afterwards.

Yili left the room with no concern for my anguish. I wondered if she considered that I might take her hostage as she passed by, but I corrected my thoughts when I saw Kugi pointing his gun at me from a distance. Aha. I see. So this princess has unwavering faith in her prince in shining armor.

“I see. So you have unwavering faith in your prince in shining armor.”

“…”

She ignored me. Even after I went to the trouble of changing the knight into a prince.

If these people were the Guard Team, they would have turned red and lunged. But I guess things are different between the districts. No. Actually, the Guard Team is filled to the brim with crazies.

Making sure that Yili passed by me safely, Kugi followed her. Although there were men in black holding me at gunpoint between us, he was obviously being cautious.

Upon an unnecessary re-examination, I realized that this man really was Seiichi Kugi. The shadow over his face was a world apart from what I’d seen in the past, though. Something must have happened. There couldn’t have been nothing. I don’t know what, but the fact that he’s on the island means that there was something in his past.

“Hey.”

Spontaneously, I asked him,

“Do you think you’re normal?”

The men in black tensed every time I said something, but they never told me to shut up. Maybe they knew that each response left them open to an attack. Or maybe they didn’t do anything useless unless Yili gave the order.

“If I could—”

To my surprise, he opened his mouth.

What’s he going to say? No. Wait. What am I expecting from him?

And why did I ask him in the first place? I’m busy enough as it is trying to demand normalcy of myself. So now am I extending that to other people?

Oh well. For now, I’ll wait and hear him out.

“Seiichi.”

But Yili’s voice cut off the response.

They must be desperate at this point. If not, Yili wouldn’t have just left me in the hands of her subordinates and departed.

Kugi quickly walked outside, continuing his answer as he passed by me. Not for my sake, but under his breath as if to himself and no one else.

“—I would choose to lose my mind.”

I didn’t answer. I wondered for a moment why I didn’t.

But I never found an answer, and decided that I wasn’t good enough of a person to respond to a man who was talking to himself.


“Restrain him. You have permission to kill if he resists.”

Yili said from the hallway as though daring me to respond. She gives them permission, she says. I’m a little envious that she has the power to decide whether someone lives or dies.

…Hm? Am I the same in a sense? I don’t ever remember making the decision, but I think it might be similar to when I killed people who I sensed were going to kill me, or when I killed people because I didn’t want to die.

Then I’m an awful person. A significantly awful one. How could I criticize her without even realizing the hypocrisy that I’m guilty of the same thing? But serendipitously enough, I managed to realize that. What a relief. I guess I can still call myself normal.

Oh. Then a new question rose to mind.

“I want to ask you something.”

“Hands in the air.” Said one of the black suits, tense.

I put my hands in the air and plainly asked the man,

“What does ‘serendipitous’ mean, anyway? I used the word without thinking, but what’s the actual definition?”

“…”

The men exchanged glances, then began closing in.

They must want to knock me out cold and take me in on the spot. But they’re not telling me to put my hands on the back of my head. Maybe because they’re not police? Or maybe they’re used to killing, but not arrest.

With both hands in the air, and without showing an ounce of hostility, I asked another question.

“About your feet.”

“?”

“What if your feet break?”

Their quizzical glances fell on me. Which is natural. But that doesn’t mean I should stop talking.

“What if I popped open your Achilles tendons and you couldn’t move anymore and lost your will to fight? Would you fear me?”

“Wha…?”

“If that doesn’t work, I’ll crush one eyeball. One per person. And if you watch me blandly as I juggle the eyes, would you fall to your knees in terror? So you’ll never cross me again?”

“What… what the hell are you going on about?”

The light in the room shone in slick patches off the man’s face. He was breaking into sweat.

“I was just thinking I should stop killing people. But it occurred to me that I’ve got too much of a cowardly streak to do that.”

“A… cowardly streak?”

“I’m scared. Afraid. I’ve managed to kill my enemies by sheer luck so far, but never for a second did I think I was strong. I’m the Killer Ghoul, but I’m normal at heart. So being held at gunpoint like this terrifies me. So if I don’t want to die, I think I should kill you. I don’t have the option of apologizing. Your boss Yili flushed that down the drain. She erased the possibility of solving this dilemma with words. So since I’m here, I thought about how I could disarm you without killing you and make sure at the same time that you don’t stab me in the back someday… but I couldn’t think of anything specific.”

I was worried they’d shoot me while I was talking, but that turned out to be my imagination. They’re… they’re all covered in cold sweat, rooted to the spot, and staring at me. Am I really that terrifying? I was sure they’d cut me off and charge, saying ‘Hah! What a bunch of crap!’.

…Oh.

“If that doesn’t work, I’ll cut up your tongues. I’ll keep it connected to your esophaguses before I slice them to bits to see if the individual slices still move.”

I get it.

“So if you’re still going to threaten me… I’ll just worry about the consequences later.”

These guys… they’re scared.

They’re scared of me… no. Of the mask I’m wearing; the mask of Yakumo Amagiri.

To think my name would bring such fear. I guess that was what I was trying to do. That was my goal when I stood at their boss’s bedside two months ago. To show that I am no legend, but a living, breathing existence. That I was an existing source of fear.

But the men would not lower their guns.

Is this what people mean when they say they can break the bounds of fear? No. I don’t think that’s it.

Wait. Wait. This isn’t the time for that. The most important thing is that I can’t let myself get caught here.

“All right. If you’re not going to answer, I’ll just try it all one after the next.”

They seemed quite rattled to hear me say so so nonchalantly.

Don’t move, they said, as they slowly pulled the trigger.

Slowly. That’s right. Slowly.

As I scrutinized the movements of the guns and the men’s gazes, I slowly shifted to move out of the line of fire.

Slowly. Slowly.


The slow-motion world before me is both mundane and extraordinary.

I was always lonely in this world.

Until I saw that smile that day.


◁ ▶︎


Two months ago, I asked Miss Nazuna, ‘do you think I’m abnormal?’, and despaired at her reply.

…I must have loved her so much to feel that way.

Even if I was out of sync with the world, I didn’t want to be out of sync with her.

“What, you didn’t already know?”

Her answer pierced me like a spear through something in my head.

I was utterly broken. Something must have happened to me then.

What ran through my mind?


I’m such an idiot.

That’s why I tried to stop me.

I just had to acknowledge myself in my own heart.

I could have lost myself in the fantasy that maybe she would understand.

I know already. I know that any normal person would have answered that way.

I kept telling myself that I was normal because I knew that. Even knowing the fact that I was the only one I could convince that way.

But I started to dream.

That maybe she would be different.

That maybe someone who was filled to the brim with this island’s air—someone like her, so calm in the face of death—might understand.

And my dream was shattered to bits.

And in only a minute since I truly fell in love with her.

I guess this is what it feels like when a man confesses to someone he’s never met before and gets rejected.

So… maybe we’re from different worlds after all.

Am I different from this world itself? Is that why I can see this world’s time differently?

No…

If we’re from different worlds…

If our souls can never truly come together…

If she can’t be mine…

Then I’d rather—


Once more, I focused.

The world contorted around me as I took one step after another towards Miss Nazuna, who had her back turned.

I love her so much. So I… I… I…

The moment I thought to reach forward, she turned to me.

There was a smile on her face.

It was a beautiful smile, I thought. It… really was.

A very pure smile.

“But” She’s trying to say something, I think. What now? One more blow while I’m still down?

“you” Please, that’s enough. Don’t— …?

“know” ‘But’ what?

“I”

“don’t”

The smile that emerged in my world spoke to me.

Boldly, without hesitation.

“But you know, I don’t dislike how abnormal you are.”

“Ah…”

Time rushed back at normal speed around me.

Doesn’t dislike. What does that mean? Is she trying to be nice? Is she cheering me up? Then she could have just lied to begin with and said I was normal. Is this a plot? Is she trying to play hard-to-get? I don’t think she’s the type. So why?

My thoughts fell to pieces in my confusion, and I could barely manage to continue speaking. It was such an incomplete and unsightly excuse for a sentence.

“I… why… but… if I’m… not… abnormal… why.”

“Hm? Why? I just don’t care if someone’s interests are normal or not.”

She replied plainly. I became even more confused. One of the reasons was that I never dared to think I’d hear something like this.

The other reason was that I just looked back into my thoughts and felt sick at the horror lurking inside.

What… was I about to do?

What… what was I just going to do to Miss Nazuna?

What I was about to do. That was clearly abnormal. It had nothing to do with the mask of Yakumo Amagiri. I had really, truly, lost my mind. Not carrying out the thought doesn’t make it okay. The moment the thought occurred to me, I was already insane.

And running a whisk through my already-unsteady heart, Miss Nazuna put on a self-deprecating smile. Wow. She looks pretty even with a smile like that…

“Then again, I’m not really normal, either. …I might actually be more abnormal than you are.”

“…What do you mean?”

She shrugged and laughed, and told me something.

“I’ve already killed so many people with this sword you brought back to me.”

It was a shocking confession, in a sense. I couldn’t believe it. But I quickly changed my mind. Miss Nazuna would never tell confusing lies.

But to be honest, she didn’t look like the type to kill people.

There was plenty of insanity to go around in the Guard Team, but they didn’t seem to be a band of killing machines like the Western District’s men. And even among the Guard Team’s ranks, Miss Nazuna was sensible, courteous, brave, and only killed people because she didn’t want to die… nothing like me, the man who lost himself in the heat of the moment and almost committed murder.

“…So… it was all in self-defense, right?” I finally said after some thought, but she shook her head.

“Then did you have a grudge against someone?”

Maybe she was after revenge. Maybe she lost her family to guerrillas and decided to wipe them out to avenge her loved ones… yeah. That’s not too unusual on this island.

But she shook her head again.

“I’ve never killed people because of my emotions. If I had to be frank, it’s all work.”

“Work?”

“I killed people according to orders. I’ve almost never killed people for the Guard Team, but I took other jobs too. You know, our team kind of mellowed out under our leader, but most of us have bloodstained pasts.”

…That wasn’t a big shock. Working for something like the Guard Team on this island generally guaranteed that you had skeletons in your closet. Jun, the captain, seemed all the more unnatural in that midst.

I said nothing. Miss Nazuna continued as though to herself.

“It’s strange to kill people in the heat of the moment, but in a way, that’s normal. Like you were just now. You ended up saving me anyhow, so thank you.”

For a second, I saw Miss Nazuna’s expression falter. A hint of loneliness; a hint of surrender veiled her face.

“So… maybe I’m the crazy one, killing people without needing to get carried away by the heat of the moment.”

“No, that’s not true!”

Before I knew it, I had raised my voice.

“Just now… I… I tried to kill you.”

“What?”

Not again.

I did it again. This time, my internal voice didn’t even get to stop me.

A horde of monsters called ‘regrets’ instantly surged from the bottom of my heart and crashed over me, but my mouth didn’t stop. If regrets and embarrassment were enough to suppress everything, I wouldn’t have felt the urge to kill her earlier.

In the end, pushed by something I don’t understand—the heat of the moment, the atmosphere, or something—I squeezed air out of my lungs and told her everything. I revealed the twisted emotions I harbored just earlier.

I tried to be prepared to see her draw, prepared for her to spit on me… but before I could finish, I was done telling her everything.


Miss Nazuna listened to what I had to say, standing there. By the time I was done, she looked incredulous.

“Why are you telling me all of this? I think you might have been better off not saying that.”

I think so too. Oh no. It’s over.

But this time, I didn’t jump to thoughts about Miss Nazuna and the universe or anything like that. You reap what you sow. I earned this rejection.

Yet to my surprise, she sighed and looked me in the eye.

“But, well… you are abnormal, but from my perspective… you’re not bad. I never thought someone would confess to me like this.”

What? Confess?

Oh no.

Come to think of it, while I was explaining my impulse to kill her and the universe, I think I also ended up explaining all the emotions related to that without even thinking. Talk about a dry love confession. And it was coupled with a confession of attempted murder, too. I’m the most disgusting sicko in the world.

No. That’s not it. I’m normal. It’s just that the mask of Yakumo Amagiri has gone thin right now.

Yes. I’m normal.

People can go mad over jealousy and love.

Anyone can.

But they suppress it all with the mask of logic.

On this island, I wear the mask of Yakumo Amagiri. I look at the world through this mask, separate from logic.

So am I really normal, now that I’ve expressed everything but logical thought?

I wallowed in embarrassment over my twisted confession, when Miss Nazuna began to walk away. When she turned, she smiled faintly in my direction. There was no veil over her face then. And… yes. She was beautiful.

“I’m glad to see that even you have a human side. I’ll be going now, then.”

“…I’m sorry. Next time, when I’m calm… I’ll confess again.”

“We can take our time. I mean, I have my own circumstances so I can’t give you an answer yet. If I hadn’t smiled earlier, you could have killed me.”

“…I don’t know what to say.”

With a light wave, Miss Nazuna walked towards the Eastern District. Did she truly believe that I felt the impulse to kill her? Maybe she’s taking it as a half-joke; but even if she believes me completely, I don’t think she’d act any different.

That’s right. I… I still don’t know much about Miss Nazuna. Because we’ve been enemies all this time.

I plucked out the words ‘you’re not bad’ and ‘I don’t dislike you’ from our conversation and played them back in my head over and over again.

At the same time, I was struck by the veil of shadow that had fallen across her face.


“So… maybe I’m the crazy one, killing people without needing to get carried away by the heat of the moment.”


At this point, I wasn’t so much bothered by the fact that she killed people than the question of what was different about us.

People who kill for logical reasons, fully intending to murder.

People who let their emotions take over, winding up taking lives.


Which one is truly insane?

And am I really normal for constantly debating this?

Of course I am.

I want to be acknowledged. Not by myself.

By even just one other person.

Someone. I want someone to acknowledge me.


Before I knew it, I was lying on the usual rooftop.

Watching the clouds flowing past, I lost myself in the aftertaste of the recent past and closed my eyes to dream.

And I had a dream.

I saw the same scene as earlier, when I had walked up to her without a sound and she smiled at me.

But in my dream, Miss Nazuna didn’t look back, and my hand touched her neck.

And I followed my instincts—


I opened my eyes.

Before I could see the alternate conclusion, I awoke and quickly held my hands up to my face. They were damp with sweat, and I was sickened to find that I felt the barest hint of her neck on my fingertips.


Someone please answer me.

Am I… am I normal?


What… did I just do?

Was I… normal?


Someone…

Someone, please…


Several days later, I heard over the island’s radio broadcast that Miss Nazuna was in critical condition.


◁ ▶︎


Present time. A suite on a certain floor in the Grand Ibis Hotel.


That’s it. That’s when I became hesitant to kill.

And as if in exchange, someone began to murder the executives of the Western and Eastern Districts.

I came here to prove that I was not the killer, but a part of me was haunted by something.

Maybe the conversation I had with Miss Nazuna was the dream, and her neck on my fingertips was the reality.

Maybe the mask of Yakumo Amagiri had finally become an independent personality and left my control. Then… maybe I was really behind the serial murders after all.

“Won’t you answer me? Am I normal…? Or not…?”

I muttered under my breath as I stood amidst the men groaning in pain on the floor. I knew they were in no state to respond, and I can’t imagine any of their answers would help, anyway.

Including the ones that came in from the hallway, there were ten in total. It ended so much more easily compared to my fights with the Guard Team, since these people were easy to read. But I didn’t kill them. I broke their limbs or dislocated their joints—not a single person spared—but they were all still alive.

But a couple of them ended up shooting each other. They were bleeding from their arm and leg respectively, but they still had pulses.

I reluctantly stopped their bleeding and rummaged through the pockets of one of the conscious ones and put his cell phone in his hand.

“Call your friends or something and ask for help. I have to go now.”

I don’t have a lot of medical know-how, so I just wrapped up their wounds with cloth.

I could just leave them, but I actually managed to keep them all alive this time. So it would leave a bad taste in my mouth if they died anyway.


“Miss Nazuna…”

I collected all their guns, filled the bathtub with water, and threw them inside. …Huh? Wait, can’t you shoot a submerged gun, too? I don’t know much about guns. But I guess I don’t have to worry about them chasing me down to shoot me, since I broke all their knees.

I considered taking one gun for myself, but stopped. I’ve snatched away guns from enemies to use against them before, and I’ve used them to kill people who attacked me. But I just don’t know about guns. I’m always scared that they might explode and kill me, or that a stray bullet would hit an innocent—like Miss Nazuna. So I never went out of my way to have one—and I probably never will.

“Miss Nazuna…”

I whispered her name once more as I stepped out of the suite.

If the dream and reality I remember really have been switched, and I really was the one who hurt her…

If she regains consciousness and points her sword at me… it’s only right that I’m cut down.

It doesn’t matter what the truth is.

I… just want her to get well soon.

But I continued to search for the real culprit, desperately clinging to the hope that the reality I remember is real.

I will personally destroy the one who tried to kill her.


Even if it happens to be me.

Then the mask of Yakumo Amagiri can kill the ‘me’ under this mask.

Although maybe it’s the other way around.


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Chapter 6-B: Charlotte Liverpool Without a Clue


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The Pits. The engine room.


It was too vast a space to be called a room… and filled with too strange an air.

An engine too big for even a gymnasium hummed and roared as it shook the world.

The island was floating above the water, with no foundation on the sea floor.

Built on theories from twenty years ago, the artificial island was designed to always maintain a regular distance and angle from and with the bridge.

This monstrous engine was a part of that mechanism.

It was symbolically the heart of the island, but its danger and eerie presence kept even the locals away.

There were catwalks in the massive underground space from where the elegant monster of an engine came into view. The metal walkways followed the inner walls for the chamber. The machinery would not be out of place at a steel manufacturing plant, but at the bottom of the chamber was not a furnace, but a warm engine.


“Ohh… P-please, stop… this is embarrassing…”

From a part of the engine room came a tickled female voice.

Her blue eyes watering, Charlotte twitched.

At the center of the massive engine room in the Pits was a chain-link net stretched out directly over the engine. It was, from a three-dimensional perspective, the very center of the room.

Walkways and staircases crisscrossed the space—from scaffolding that should have been taken down after construction remained to paths that had clearly been only recently installed. Stairs were installed at points along walkways that diverged vertically, so it was not difficult to go up and down.

Charlotte was on one of the sturdiest of the surfaces in the room. About the only platform wider and more solid than this would be the one high above, installed to support work vehicles. From the state of the maintenance, Charlotte was located on a platform that would have been used to view the engine from above after construction.

“Eeek?! N-not there!”

But now, Charlotte had turned into the object of attention as she squealed from the viewing point.

“Blue eyes. It is like me. It is like Elder Sister.”

Delving across Charlotte’s skin were the skinny arms of a girl holding a lead pipe.

“Yellow hair. It is like Mom. It is adorable. …Hug.”

Charlotte squirmed at the unfamiliar sensation of arms around her waist. And when Lilei’s surprisingly large bust made contact with her, Charlotte was beset by embarrassment.

“Eek! Th-that tickles! It’s embarrassing! Uh, if you see your mother in me, I deduce that it makes little sense for you to describe me as adorable!”

Reaching her limits, Charlotte tried desperately to shake off the clingy Lilei.

“Younger brother is not adorable. You are adorable. Difference is adorable. Hug.”

It would have been adorable indeed if the girl announcing her hugs out loud were as cute as a doll, but it sounded nothing short of outlandish to hear it from a gloomy girl who wielded a lead pipe.

There wasn’t an ounce of sensuality in the scene. Sherlock, declared ‘not adorable’ by the younger girl, shook his head with a heavy sigh.

“…I don’t even know what to say anymore.”

All around him was an unpolished world of metal. In the center were two struggling girls and two men watching expressionlessly. One man was armed with a handgun, and the other with a Chinese sword. They, along with the girl, seemed to distort the air around them.

After being transported to the center of the Pits by car, the siblings had been brought to the engine room on foot. Because no one had overseen the Pits in the past, the engine room had been neglected for a long time. But after a certain incident one year prior, the Pits had fallen under the control of the Western District.

Half a year after that, after a battle in the engine room involving a member of the Guard Team, the room was sealed completely by the Western District.

And now, the engine room was a perfect stage of sorts for the Western District to use.


“P-p-p-p-please stop it. I-I saw someone hugging the R-Rats in the back alleys but I suppose it was you all along. Now that I think about it, I’ve seen those flowers in your hair be- oh.”

As Charlotte struggled, a photograph fell out of her coat pocket. Lilei spotted it and finally let go, picking up the photo instead.

“…It is him. It is certain.”

“Oh, right! Yes! About what you were saying earlier.” Charlotte said, finally free and ready to capitalize on the opportunity. “We’re searching for this young man! Please tell us where you saw him!”

“It is rooftop. Beside first explosion building. It is lower. The roof is lower. He is there. Always naps.”

Though Lilei’s words were fragmented, Charlotte was fired up at the first real clue in a long time.

“This is our chance, Sherlock Liverpool! We’re finally nearing the truth behind this photograph! Let’s hurry to that building!”

“Please observe your surroundings, Charlotte. And check your head to see if your brain is still there, too. I’m begging you.”

Charlotte’s eyes welled with tears. Lilei clung to her and began patting her head again.

“Eek?! P-please! Hee hee hee! That tickles! Hm?! Please, I’m not a child, and I-I deduce that you’re actually younger than I—”

“Does age really matter, Charlotte? You’re looking more like a small animal at this point anyway.” Sherlock said, defeated, and hung his head.

But everything seemed to freeze when a new set of footsteps entered the engine room.


“…What are you doing, Lilei?”


A grave voice resounded through the room. Lilei let go of Charlotte with a bored mumble.

“Elder Brother. It is late.”

“Hmph. Ran into some trouble with a dog.” Lihuang said with a wry grin.

Behind him stood a girl surrounded by men in black clothing.

“Oh, Jun!”

“Ms. Charlotte! Mr. Sherlock!”

Though happy to be reunited with the siblings, Jun could not bring herself to fully smile. They were not out of the woods yet. The long, thin cases she usually slung over her shoulders had been taken away, now in the hands of one of the men in black.

“Now… I commend you for getting this far—”

“…What are you going to do to us?” Asked Jun.

Lihuang cracked his neck and turned, not to Jun, but the Liverpool siblings. A cruel smile rose to his lips.

“Our pitiful kitten will have to become the culprit, and you two foreigners will be the witnesses—as the accomplices who hid the killer from justice. I’ll use that disgusting radio broadcast if necessary and bring shame and dishonor upon you.” He said plainly.

Charlotte obliviously met his gaze. But Sherlock seemed to understand what Lihuang meant.

“In exchange?”

“Should you refuse, you will watch your sister die a painful death before you yourself suffer the same fate. …You’ll have to take the brunt of the work, judging from the woman’s lack of intelligence.”

“…”

“Now… it’s time for the culprit to leave the stage.”

Lihuang turned his back to the silent Sherlock and faced Jun. Before anyone realized, he was holding a Chinese broadsword, glinting ominously in the somewhat binding light.

“Ugh…”

Jun ground her teeth, but her ears continued to pick up the rhythm of the massive engine.

It’s all or nothing now…

Her eyes showed no sign of defeat yet; they were busy scrutinizing Lihuang and the men, capturing the sounds of their breaths.

“Not to worry, pitiful kitten. Your fellow ruffians will soon join—”

“Oh! Please, wait a moment.”

“?!” “?!”

Lihuang and Jun were both flung out of the tension in the air.

Lihuang’s parting remarks had been cut off by an utterly oblivious voice. The voice was crisp and clear in spite of the massive engine, lightly ringing every ear in the room.

The voice had come from—

“Charlotte?!”

—the one person furthest removed from the situation. Sherlock raised his voice without even thinking.

But Charlotte ignored his concern and took on the stance of a fictional detective.

“Heh heh heh… I’m afraid there’s a massive hole in your theory!”

“What…?”

What does that mean? Is she speaking in metaphors?

His curiosity roused, Lihuang found himself allowing Charlotte to continue.

But in spite of the re-mounting tension, the self-proclaimed ace detective’s conclusion was—

“Last night, when the Western District executives were murdered, Jun Sahara was asleep in my room! Ergo, she has a watertight alibi for the time and could not possibly be the culprit!”


Everyone went silent.


After a pause, Lilei dragged her pipe against the ground and mumbled,

“It is natural. …It is adorable.”

Lihuang continued where his sister left off, slapping the lanyard of his sword against the floor.

“Damn you, woman! Enough taking the wind out of the sails! Have you left your head in the clouds? …Never mind. I am done with you. It’s your brother I need.”

He needed the right atmosphere if he wanted to kill someone.

The atmosphere—the heat of the moment—was always there on a battlefield. But it was difficult to reproduce anywhere else. Lihuang was capable of killing even in a thin concentration of that air, but the atmosphere he had so painstakingly built up to kill Jun was returned to naught by the completely unrelated woman, and his own younger sister.

He could perhaps use that frustration to build up the atmosphere again. But just looking at the caucasian woman forcibly dissipated his rage and turned it into simple anxiety.

Damn it. I’ve never seen such an undisturbed face on this island.

Lihuang was neither unhinged nor professional enough to kill someone outside the heat of the moment. He tried to wipe that peace from the woman’s face so he could bring back the atmosphere.

“One more foolish interruption, and I will leave nothing of you on this island. That machine will devour you whole.”

Every gaze in the room dropped to the engine below. Lihuang and his men, however, did not let down their guard.

“Do you understand why we are here?”

The machine at the base of the room looked less like an engine and more like a massive piece of clockwork. It should have originally been sleeker and more efficient in design, but the engine room was built to be a tourist destination of sorts and the machinery had to cater to the eye. And because the island was abandoned during development, there were practically no safety measures installed there.

No one needed a detective’s reasoning skills to know what would happen if they fell.

“We made an addition to this machine. It now connects to the sea below.”

What he meant was clear. If someone were to fall from the walkways, he would be crushed by the engine, turned to pulp, and dropped into the sea to become fish food.

Supporting that claim were the reddish-brown rust stains on the massive metal gears.

“This is a convenient garbage dump and execution ground for us. Perfect for making an example and getting rid of evidence.”

Charlotte looked back and forth between the humming engine and Lihuang’s twisted smirk. She whispered in Sherlock’s ear.

“…Sherlock Liverpool, I want you to stay calm and listen to me.”

“What is it, Charlotte?”

“If my deduction is correct… we’ve just been kidnapped. And we might be in danger?”

“Thanks, Charlotte. I feel so much better now knowing you’re here. And if I had to add, they’re not holding us for ransom. So…” With a defeated sigh, Sherlock continued, “…I’d say our chances of surviving this are close to zero.”


◁ ▶︎


People were watching the hopeless scene from far above it all.

They were, quite literally, high up at the top of the engine room. From inside a dark gap in the ceiling, they watched quietly.

As the scene unfolded under the lights, they whispered like rats.

“They’re in trouble.”

“They are.”

“Which side?”

“Dunno.”

“That doesn’t matter.”

“But they’re coming.”

“They are.”

“They’re already here.”

“Really?”

“They’ve been here for a while.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Then why aren’t they helping?”

“Because.”

“I see.”

“Maybe they’re waiting.”

“For the right moment.”

“I see.”

“When is the best right moment?”

“I get it.”

“Cool.”

“You think so?”

“Who knows?”

“Let’s ask Nejiro.”

“Yeah.”

“Hey, Nejiro? Are those people cool?”

The boy sitting deeper in the darkness whispered feebly.

“…they’re just idiots…”

Rubbing his own legs from his wheelchair, Nejiro gritted his teeth as though recalling his past.

“It was all a joke to them. …To them, life itself is a joke.”

Hearing the boy’s words, the shadowed adult beside him grinned in agreement.


The girl who watched Nejiro and the others out of the corner of her eye—Yua Kirino—was nervous.

She had followed him all this way out of concern, and when she saw the scene in the engine room she understood just how dire the situation was.

The detective siblings she had spoken with once were surrounded by men carrying guns and swords.

Nejiro and his friends would not act.

After wondering what she should do, when the people around her refused to move, Yua decided to do something no one else could do.

As she slipped away from the depths of darkness, the Rats’ whispers reached their climax.


“Oh, they’re moving.”

“They are.”

“They’re coming.”

“I told you, they were already here.”

“Them.”

“Them.”

“Them.”

“Is now the right moment?”

“I guess it is.”

“Yeah.”

“See? The guy with the tattoo’s holding up his sword again.”

“It’s called a Chinese broadsword.”

“Who cares?”

“See? He’s about to bring it down.”

“I bet now’s the right moment.”

“That’d be cool.”

“Yeah.”


◁ ▶︎


“Now… I’ll have you finally leave this stage.”

Sensing the atmosphere he wanted, Lihuang quietly raised his sword.

Jun, standing before him, focused on the blade.

She had no intention of dying here. She didn’t even think about evading the attack. She was thinking solely of ways to lunge at her opponent to steal away his broadsword.

She wasn’t accustomed to the weapon, but anything was fine as long as the rhythm of the engine continued to reverberate through the room.

The broadsword seemed to flow in Lihuang’s grip. He could easily bring it down now to kill, but he seemed to enjoy his theatrics, raising it further than necessary. He likely planned to cut off Jun’s head in a single stroke.

“Any last words, damned kitten? Mewl all you like—nothing can save you now.”

Dramatically, his hand paused for a moment at the apex.

Jun decided then that she would move as soon as Lihuang began to bring down his arm.

The tension of the one-sided violence that day finally reached a climax.


“Jun!”

It was clear to even a civilian’s eyes—and it was so clearly a desperate situation because she was looking through a civilian’s eyes—so Charlotte tried to rush over. But Lilei caught her right arm and Sherlock her left to pull her back.

“You can’t, Charlotte!”

“L-let me go—”

Charlotte struggled desperately against them. But her cries were suddenly cut short.

As she was pulled back, she was forced to look up—and spotted something.

It was a large black mass, growing larger and larger under the lights—


Clang. One easily recognizable sound was enough to turn the tables.

Two noises had overlapped into one.

One was the sound of a bullet hitting the end of the stopped broadsword.

The other was the sound of a large man in black landing between Jun and the Western District men.

“What?!”

Lihuang reeled at the sudden impact on his hand. His men raised their guns and swords at the newcomer.

At that very moment, two figures dropped down next to two of the men wielding guns.

One was a man with a mohawk, holding a metal baseball bat. The other was a topless man with long hair.

By the time the Western District men realized who the newcomers were, it was all over.

Those armed with guns hesitated for fear of shooting their own in the fray.

In the meantime, the giant in black—Greatest Zhang—went around the backs of two of the Western District men who were standing side-by-side and grabbed them by their necks.

The two men were hoisted into the air with raw strength before being slammed against the chain-link fence as though failing to pull off a back tumbling maneuver.

Zhang kept his grip around their necks until the moment of impact, not even allowing them to free-fall.

Their arms and legs paralyzed by the blow to their spines, the men each saw one large shoe descending upon his own face.

Once the sound of noses and teeth breaking had finished, Zhang slowly took his feet off the men’s faces. He seemed unamused.

“Chumps. That was supposed to be the intro. Am I gonna end up juggling heads if I try to pull off a guillotine drop?”

Zhang was completely unintimidated by the men around him, in spite of their weapons.

But instead of blades and bullets, the room was filled with chattering voices.

“Hyahahahaha! You can’t compare normal-sized folks with yourself, Mr. Zhang! This is a riot!”

“That wasn’t even flashy.”

“They’re just chumps.”

“I’m sleepy…”

“9518026877… 9856482520… 2662409444… 8618828672… 7054207475… 0435367998… 4584680211… Hey, what digit am I supposed to be on? Nine hundred thousand and…”

“D-don’t ask m-me.”

“Now, now, that’s enough of the white noise. I swear, it’s like we’re a walking loony bin. Are you all right, Jun?” Asked a woman wearing a bondage top, clapping her hands. Jun scanned her surroundings.

The Western District men were all unconscious, and she could see familiar faces on the walkway and staircase above, as well as around herself.

“Everyone!” She cried, stepping away from the silent Lihuang and picking up her chainsaw cases off the floor.

Then, she quickly drew them and took a stance against Lihuang.

“Tch. You should be thanking Carlos. He’s the ass who managed to snipe that overgrown steak knife. Hate to say it, but he wins this one.” Zhang snorted. Jun giggled.

“Thank you, Mr. Zhang! Everyone! But how did you find me?”

“Who knows? Ask the boss and that crazy ear of his.”

“You’re right. I’ll ask him everything once we’re out of this.”

“Nah. Ask him now.”

Huh?

Jun was tempted to ask what Zhang was talking about, but remembered that she had other priorities and turned her attention back to Lihuang and the Liverpool siblings.

She feared that Lihuang would take the detectives hostage, but he didn’t seem to be trying.

Charlotte was as lost as ever. She stood protectively in front of Sherlock, surprised by the Guard Team’s sudden entrance.

Lihuang froze for a second when the Guard Team attacked, but a moment later he began to exude belligerence as though he had been possessed by another being entirely.

“…Answer me this.”

Though the tables had turned, he showed no hint of fear.

“How did you get here? …I posted guards outside. Did you kill them all?”

Lihuang’s resentment was palpable. Zhang replied threateningly.

“Who knows? Our outside guy was gonna take care of it. The place was clean by the time we passed through.”

“Hold your tongue, Zhang. You bring shame to the motherland. I’m sure many of our countrymen would be quite pleased to receive your head. And I’m sure the death throes of a wanted man who walked straight to his pursuers will make the perfect side to my next drink.”

“…Just try me.” Zhang growled, his smile gone. Lihuang became even more confident.

“You destroyed my atmosphere again. But this is the end.”

When she saw Lihuang’s smile, Jun felt a chill run down her spine.

She wondered where the smile had come from. Then she understood.

Charlotte and Sherlock were now completely free.

Then the girl with flowers in her hair—

The second she heard the sound of something cutting the air, Jun pulled the throttle.


Scrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreech.

The usually-pleasant roar of the engine was gone—replaced by the ear-splitting noise of metal on metal. Sparks flew everywhere. The scene was a perfect fit for the setting.

Glancing against the chainsaw was a rusted lead pipe.

And beyond the sparks, Jun spotted two large flower ornaments.

She’s fast!

The girl struck with unexpected speed in spite of the weight of the pipe. The arc of her swing was almost too accurate for such a blunt weapon, and coupled with its speed the lead pipe almost seemed to become a blade.

Making matters worse was the power behind the attack. Even as they crossed weapons, the girl continued to push the lead pipe against the moving chainsaw. She even took care to shift the lead pipe at times to prevent it from being cut.

The girl was named Lilei, if Jun remembered. If she had been the one who lobbed the lead pipe at the hotel, she was on another level altogether from Lihuang and his men. But that did not come across as strange to Jun. After all, she was also a young woman, who wielded chainsaws against her enemies.

Lilei seemed more suited to the Guard Team than the Western District.

“Hah hah… Ahahahaha! Hahahahahahahahaha! Ahahahahahahahahahaha! You’re good!”

And at that point, Jun burst into uproarious laughter. Charlotte’s eyes turned to dinner plates at the sudden change in Jun.

Meanwhile, the other Guard Team members forcibly raised their guard at Jun’s evaluation of Lilei. They all knew how skilled Jun was; the fact that Lilei was keeping up with her was incredible enough.

“Ahahahahaha! Hahahahaha! Amazing! I never thought I’d find people like you in the Western District! I thought it was just Mr. Kuzuhara!”

Jun placed her weight into her foot and pushed her opponent, then leapt backwards.

But—

Lilei also charged, as though chasing after her. That also sent her running straight toward Zhang and the others, but she showed no sign of hesitation.

“What—what the hell?!”

Lilei leapt, not once slowing down, and did a vertical tumble as she focused her kinetic energy into her pipe. She moved with all the elegant strength of a world-class gymnast. But at the very tip of her movements was a weapon far removed from finesse.

Zhang reflexively crossed his arms over his head and blocked the lead pipe.

The pipe landed right over the crossing point, sending shockwaves all the way down Zhang’s body.

“…!”

Damn, that bites. But…

Clenching his teeth, Zhang roared with all the pride of a pro wrestler and a Guard Team member,

“TRY HARDER, RUNT!”

He uncrossed his arms to counter—

But the girl was already gone.

At that moment, he felt a slight press on his shoulder and glimpsed a tiny figure jumping overhead.

Lilei had used Zhang’s shoulder as a step, grabbing a railing on the walkway overhead with her free hand and pulling herself up with zero-gravity ease.

At the end of her flow of movements, Lilei was on a walkway one level above Zhang and Jun. Then she landed in front of a middle-aged Guard Team member who wore sunglasses.

“Mr. Gen!”

“No, before that. Uh… a little girl?”

“Well, well, it’s like the Western District has their own version of Jun.”

“Oh no. She scared me. Now I’ve lost track of my digits.”

The Guard Team loudly praised Lilei—who was a delicate girl in appearance only—but some of the members cast worried glances at their friend, Mr. Gen.

Mr. Gen’s eyes seemed to glint as he pulled a handgun.

“Not to worry. I’m a cold man. I don’t go easy on anyone, be it a woman or a child.”

The others cheered, impressed. Mr. Gen then added an afterthought.

“Well? Do I sound like a dashing assassin now?”

“Wow. Fail.”

“You owe an apology to every assassin in the world for that one.”

“To Nikita!”

“To Lèon!”

“To the Thirteen!”

“Forget that! Mr. Gen never goes easy on his own teammates, either!”

The cheers quickly turned to criticism, but Lilei was even more cautious now.

“Mm. It is cool. It is not bad. You. Black glasses.”

Spinning her lead pipe, Lilei slowly closed the distance between herself and Mr. Gen.

“No way! She’s an idiot too!”

“Maybe she’s actually on our side after all?!”

With the Guard Team’s voices as a signal, Lilei instantly accelerated. Mr. Gen, waiting for that moment, pulled the trigger.

In that moment, the end of the lead pipe touched the muzzle of the handgun.

There was deafening noise as the bullet left the gun and slid past Lilei’s side through the lead pipe.

Then, she did a half-turn with the pipe and drew a silver arc in the air as she brought it down on Mr. Gen’s hand.

“Gah?!”

The blow rattled the bones in his fingers. Mr. Gen dropped the gun. Lilei’s lead pipe mercilessly knocked it away—the gun fell down between the walkways and was finally sucked into the gears below.

The sound of crunching metal seemed to echo at the bottom of the room, but no one was in any state to think about that now.

“…Well, this is a bother. You’re an annoyance, young lady.” Mr. Gen mumbled, rubbing his hands together as he backed away.

Then he opened his coat, to reveal countless hand grenades stocked inside. From below, Zhang noticed him reach for one and raised his voice on reflex.

“Gen, you dumbass! Don’t even think about using explosives here! You blow the walkways to bits, and we’re all gonna get sucked into that engine!”

“Well, isn’t that perfect?” Mr. Gen grinned, tightening his grip around the grenade, but he was quickly restrained by others who came running up to him.

“Gah! What is the meaning of—”

“Never mind, Mr. Gen! Just shut up!”

“All right! Now we just get the girl—”

But before they knew it, Lilei had already jumped down to Zhang’s level and was engaged in furious combat against the man with the metal bat.

Jun listened to Lilei fluttering madly behind her back, and spoke to the man standing alone before her.

“Umm! Could you please consider surrendering now?”

“Impossible.”

Lihuang spun his broadsword around in his hand and pointed it threateningly again. Jun’s engines continued to roar, but their respective voices rose over the din and reached one another’s ears.

“Ahaha! I don’t know if it’s right to force that girl to work so hard!”

Lihuang, undeterred by Jun’s new attitude, smirked.

“Lilei is but the incense used to create my atmosphere.”

“Wow. You almost make it sound like you’re stronger than she is!”

“I am no match for Lilei in anything but physical strength. But with the right air around me, I am the superior. Care for a taste?”

“Not if you want to end up with heartburn.”

Sparks flew.

The moment Jun’s sentence ended, they instantly stepped into one another’s range. All that was left was to use muscle memory and automatically lash out against the other. Lihuang’s speed had multiplied from before, his skill several orders higher than what he used to bully Kuzuhara, as he fought to kill.

Jun also battled to knock away his attacks, her chainsaws singing.

Sparks. More sparks.

In the flashes of light, Jun danced to the rhythm of the engines and Lihuang flowed along the air of battle as they slowly accelerated.


Zhang, stuck in between two sets of ferocious battles, nonchalantly reached for the radio in his pocket.

“Hey. Snipe the girl already.”

A relaxed voice answered through the earpiece.

<How the hell am I supposed to snipe something that fast?>

“Too fast my ass. You just don’t have the balls to shoot a girl, am I right?”

<Well, you’re not wrong.>

Carlos admitted defeat so easily that Zhang was stunned into angry silence. And as though having read his mind, Carlos quickly explained himself.

<But that aside… I think the girl noticed my position when I first shot the broadsword. She’s always been moving so something’s in my line of fire. Walls, walkways, or one of you guys.>

“Then get your ass outta there and find some other place! Or start with the third-rate wuxia villain! We need Jun over on this end, pronto!”

<Sorry, bud. Dunno if I can do that, either.>

“Don’t mess with me! What the hell are you—”

But Carlos quickly cut Zhang off, whispering a status report.

<Intruders. Keep an eye out—don’t wanna get hurt.>

The moment Zhang thought to force a proper answer out of Carlos, the answer resounded through the massive engine room.


“Enough, Lilei.”


The sound pierced both the deep hum of the engine and the shrieking of Jun’s chainsaws—it was a sensual voice colder than ice.

The chill and beauty led directly to power.

Lilei instantly stopped, and with a dissatisfied look lowered her weapon and put distance between herself and the Guard Team.

All movement in the engine room came to a sudden stop. And for a single moment, even the sound of the island’s engine and Jun’s chainsaws seemed to go silent.

Jun and Lihuang simultaneously stepped away from one another, turning their attention to the owner of the voice.

Charlotte and Sherlock, who were the only ones left out of the battle, turned. And whether they liked it or not, reality made itself known to them.

On the central level were Jun, Lihuang, Zhang, and Lilei. On the level above was the Guard Team, including Mr. Gen.

And a level above them, on a walkway lining the walls of the room, stood a new group.

Standing at the doors leading outside was a woman in a white dress. She still had some hints of girlishness left, but the wicked air around her gave her a sensual aura.

“Yili…”

Lihuang frowned and looked at the people around her.

There stood several of the Western District’s executives. A giant of a man with no hair or eyebrows, dwarfing even Zhang. A bearded man with a shaved head. A man with an eyepatch and a large scar on his face. And others. They were some of the more combat-oriented members of Yili’s faction.

They dressed in white jackets as though rivaling the Guard Team, and around them were private soldiers dressed in black.

Among them was an odd one out—a man in a brown trenchcoat. The color of his outfit made him a poor fit with the rest, but his eyes were more devoid of emotion than Yili’s, as though he were rejecting everything around him. At least, that was Lihuang’s impression. But Lihuang knew that the man—Seiichi Kugi, Yili’s personal shadow—was the most dangerous of all the newcomers.

“I suppose I can’t exactly see you as reinforcements.” Lihuang muttered. But had his voice reached Yili through the roar of the engines? As she did not reply, no one would ever know the truth.

Jun stepped even further away from Lihuang and took her fingers off the triggers, looking at Yili with her usual timid attitude.

“…How did you know we were here, Ms. Yili?”

Her voice made it across the gap between cycles of the engine.

“It’s not worth mentioning. I simply happened to notice that my brother was being a little selfish, and decided to clean up after him.” Yili said, and addressed everyone in the room.

“I will have Elder Brother take responsibility later. But what to do about this mess? I don’t mind if you battle to your hearts’ content, but… in that case, as a part of the same organization, we’ll have to end up siding with Elder Brother.”

Blaming her brother alone, she acted as though the Western District was responsible for nothing. It almost sounded as though she wouldn’t mind if war broke out then and there.

But Yili did not necessarily want that. She understood to some extent the character of Jun, the captain of the Guard Team, and had used that tone because she was sure it would force them to back out. As if she could simply take care of the details with Gitarin in private later.

“…You act as though you are in charge of the Western District, not Father.” Lihuang said, not even trying to hide his contempt. Yili shot him an icy look.

“I’m not obligated to listen to a fool who’s trying to start a war without our consent.”

“…This is for the Western District. I already have Father’s permission.”

Yili’s expression shifted.

It can’t be.

Ei daren was the head of the Western District, and the father of Lihuang, Yili, and Lilei.

Yili had thought he hadn’t given any orders relating to this case. Or was Lihuang just bluffing? She could not be sure.

After a brief pause, she decided for the moment to clean up the mess before her—

“Well, well, aren’t we all in a hurry.”

A sudden, relaxed voice brought her thoughts grinding to a stop.

A voice coupled with mechanical white noise resounded from some sort of megaphone further down the engine room.

Why now?

Yili clenched her teeth anxiously, careful to not let her worry show.

Now that you’re here, there’s no way we can stop this!

Ideally, Yili would not have personally come to the scene of the conflict. But she had no choice, as long as her brother—a fellow executive—was in command here. She and the other executives had to clean up his mess.

But the owner of the voice had even less reason than Yili to be there.


“B-boss?! How?!”

The first surprised voice in the room came from Jun, who had no idea what was happening there. Zhang and the others must have known; they sighed less in surprise and more in surrender.

All eyes were on the dark-skinned man, who as usual had a woman draped on each arm. But this time, he was surrounded by what seemed to be multiple bodyguards, almost like they were on a group outing to see the massive engine.

The man—Gitarin—looked relieved to see Jun safe. He grinned as he always did and raised an empty hand.

“What kind of man would I be to sit around doing nothing when Li’l Jun’s been kidnapped?”

Rather than ruin the voice, the noise on the megaphone only served to distort it.

Jun and the Guard Team were slightly placated, the people from the Western District were plunged into confusion, and others began to exude bloodlust.

Emotions of every sort crisscrossed the room, filling the chamber with an indescribable air.


“Yili… is that the Eastern District’s leader?”

One of the executives whispered in her ear. Yili closed her eyes.

She couldn’t deny it now, and knowing Gitarin, even if she tried to deny it he would reveal himself anyway. She decided to nod.

“No way… maybe he’s just a body double?”

The other executives stared in disbelief, even at Yili’s acknowledgement.

“…Yeah…”

Yili didn’t think that was likely, but another possibility occurred to her.

Why would he throw himself into danger like this?

Left with no other option, she addressed Gitarin.

“I’d like to thank you for coming all this way, but are you quite sane? The Pits are Western District territory.” She said, not even trying to hide her disdain.

Gitarin replied over the megaphone as though having a friendly chat.

“Gotta say I’m jealous of your resonant voice, Yili. That aside, I’m just here to find a stray kitten… is what I’d like to say. But I do have another reason for being here.”

He paused there, and once he noted that all eyes were on him, Gitarin snickered and said outright to the Western District executives—

“I’m saying… could you please hand over Ginga Kanashima now?”

Silence.

The air cleared in an instant, and the silence turned into a chill that bore down on everyone present in the room.

“…What might you be talking about?” Asked Yili. Gitarin’s reply was calm.

“Well, we looked into the serial bombings independently. The methods, the materials, and the motives. And we realized that it was all pointing toward a man named Ginga Kanashima. And we also figured out how he installed bombs all over the island… but as we investigated, we found something unusual.”

Like a detective giving a summation, Gitarin announced his deductions.

“Of the bombings in the Western District, some took place in facilities you couldn’t install bombs in unless security had been lightened on purpose. In other words, there’s a traitor in the Western District, I thought. It’s a simple strategy. Blow up your own assets to avoid drawing suspicion. Textbook stuff.”

“…What are you saying? That’s just a theory—”

“Precisely! That is just a theory. Although we of the Eastern District are in conflict with you, that is the very reason I’m so convinced I’m right. We’ve had our eyes on those facilities for a long time now—we would have targeted them first if war broke out between the districts—but security was always flawless! to the point that I’d say it was impossible for anyone to install anything there! I guarantee you that Ginga Kanashima has connections behind the scenes. If nothing else, he needs someone to supply him with the explosives. And what better supplier could there be than a Western District celebrity, don’t you agree?”

“…This is ridiculous. If they just wanted to avoid suspicion, they could have bombed less important facilities. The Eastern District didn’t lose any key locations, either.”

But Gitarin shook his head with a laugh.

“There’s a good reason for that, I think. This traitor of your doesn’t want to avoid suspicion from us—they want to avoid your suspicion.”

“…!”

“So let me put it this way. Someone among you is working with Ginga Kanashima. And he or she is keeping that connection under wraps. It just so happened that both of the warring factions are gathered here today, so I thought I’d come in an ask about it.”

Gitarin’s explanation came to a smooth conclusion, but he had dropped a bomb before his monologue was done. One wrong move could start a free-for-all shootout in the engine room.

But Yili remained cold as ice as she replied.

“…Either way, we can’t put complete faith in your claims.”

“Of course. The actions of a model executive.”

“…And you’re a failure of a boss for coming out to the front lines for every little issue.”

“That’s who I am. Although it takes a bit of effort to stay this way. …And besides, I think it’s much safer for me at this point to stay near the Guard Team.” Gitarin chuckled.

“The safest thing to do would be to leave this island, imbecile.” Lihuang growled.

He was right. Gitarin lowered his megaphone and let his voice resound through the engine room.

“Precisely! We remain on this island because we are imbeciles. And in that, I take pride!”

For those from the Western District, it was a difficult sentiment to sympathize with. But the Guard Team put on wry smiles at that point. As though Gitarin had spoken what was on all their minds.


“…So it’s safest by the Guard team…”

Supposing the Gitarin’s confidence stemmed from his reliance on the Guard Team, Yili decided to try them first. Although she couldn’t tell what might happen, it was important to get wind of what was going through her opponent’s mind.

Physically, she and the Western District executives had the high ground and the advantage. Their private soldiers were scattered across the walkway that encircled the room, surrounding the Guard Team in a semicircular formation. If they were to open fire now, they would also hit Lilei and Lihuang—but Yili would resort to that if it was necessary.

However, even then their forces would be on even standing. Yili decided to both intimidate and inform her opponents.

“Are you assuming that this is the extent of our forces?”

“Not at all. So I took some measures ahead of time.” Gitarin replied, returning the unspoken threat to Yili. “Why not give ‘em a call?”

“…”


In the midst of the tension stood a man who showed no emotion whatsoever.

Focused on every direction of his surroundings, Seiichi Kugi stood behind Yili and refused to let himself be carried away by the atmosphere.

The conflict before him meant little.

I… I simply have to protect Yili. No matter who I have to face. And no matter how hopeless the situation.

He quietly waited for something to change. But change came from an unexpected place.

“Umm… Mr. Kugi?”

One of the private soldiers came over, face pale.

Kugi and Yili both turned. The man handed him a radio, hands covered in sweat.

“We can’t get contact with the watch outside… but… a strange man just asked for you on the radio, Mr. Kugi.”

An ominous feeling struck him. His pulse quickened.

Remembering how this had happened before, Kugi slowly brought the radio to his ear.

“…Kugi here.”

The once-silent radio reacted, suddenly buzzing.


<Hey, it’s been a while! How’s your gut?>


Kugi saw a flash of rainbows from the sound of the voice alone.

The rainbow might have seemed beautiful to some, but to Kugi it signified something else. The bright colors of a venomous snake, or a poisonous mushroom.

“How… dare you…”

<Whoa! It’s been a while since I heard that one. Does anybody say that anymore these days? Maybe over in the West, I guess. Like Lihuang, that tattoo freak down there!>

Wait… he knows where Lihuang is?

“Where are you.”

<Hah! Look ahead.>

Reflexively, Kugi looked ahead. But all he saw was a walkway leading to the other side of the room, and a door.

<Look right, left, and up. Shoulda painted ‘whoever looks at this is an idiot’ on the ceiling or something.>

“Enough! …? …?”

Having glanced left and right for a second each, Kugi took out his anger on the man on the other end of the line. But at the same time, he noticed something.

The second after his eyes went left and right, a man had appeared at the door in the distance, across the room.

Even from afar he recognized him at a glance.

There was no mistaking that nauseating coloring. The coloring that had made a mockery of his life.

But the sight of the seven colors calmed Kugi. He replied into the radio.

“So now you wag your tail for the Eastern District?”

<Hah hah! Don’t get the wrong idea.>

Kugi instantly assumed that Hayato Inui, the man across the room, would reply, ‘I don’t work for anybody’.

But with another laugh, Inui betrayed his expectations.

<I’ve been working with the Eastern District from the start.>

“…What?”

<From the beginning. For years now.>

“?!”

Kugi froze.

<Even when we had that scuffle last year, I was already cooperating with the Eastern District. Although it was mostly exchanging intel. But anyway, they used that crazy mess we started to gobble up both the North and the South at once! Without getting a finger dirty.>

“…”

<But then I heard the Pits went to the Western District. So I decided I’d do gofer work for the Guard Team thing? And who knew I’d end up running into you here?>

With all his banter out of the way, Inui lowered his voice and continued.

<…So what now?>

“…That’s up to you.”

Kugi was completely tranquil again, from the tone of his voice.

The incident he caused one year ago was all just part of the two districts’ machinations. He had been used by them. But that realization only made Kugi calm. Although a part of him had thought that he could perhaps do something—change something—once he realized that even Inui, whom he thought was freedom incarnate, was being used by others, that idea dissipated altogether.

Then… a shadow is all I need to become.

Slowly narrowing his eyes, Kugi silently moved ahead of Yili. The moment he passed her by, he whispered emotionlessly to her.

“Orders, Yili.”

Inui must have noticed Kugi’s sudden turn for the enthusiastic. He whistled loud enough that the sound resonated through the room.


◁ ▶︎


The tension escalated every time a new party joined the fray. In the meantime, Charlotte—now relegated to the background—flailed dramatically.

“Ohh… what is going on here, Sherlock Liverpool?”

“Don’t ask me.” Sherlock replied. But his hand was firmly wrapped around hers. “Still, don’t worry. I promise… I’ll protect you, Charlotte.”

Sherlock scanned the area, but once he realized that there were more guns than ever in the room, he added sheepishly—

“…Sorry. Maybe I can't.”


◁ ▶︎


Is it time?

Sensing the mounting tension, Ginga Kanashima thought to himself. If the engine room was a ballroom, he thought, all the dancers were clockwork toys.

Looks like all the players are here. Except for the leading man, though.

The massive metal structure at the bottom of the room looked for all the world like a piece of clockwork. Although the engine wouldn’t go backwards if it was sprung, everyone would begin to dance.

Will they pull off a perfect dance today? Will I?

He no longer hesitated.

To summon the leading man to the stage, he undertook the second act of destruction that day.

Something so very simple, to pull the key on the clockwork—


◁ ▶︎


When the explosion hit the engine room, every air that permeated the room dissipated.

“What the?!”

At Zhang’s roar, everyone in the room began to search for the source of the sound.

There was so much reverberation that it was difficult to pinpoint by sound alone, but the flow of hot air and the bright flames soon made clear the location of the explosion.

The explosion had hit a part of the massive engine itself. Though it was just a decorative part, a large turbine connected to the system continued to spin in a distorted state.

The shrapnel must have scattered everywhere—but Gitarin and the others near the bottom of the room seemed uninjured.

It just so happened that the explosion happened at a distance from them. But they could have just as easily been caught in the brunt of the blast.

“…Are you all right, Gitarin?”

“…Barely. What about yourselves?” Gitarin asked, when the beauties standing in front of and behind him checked on him.

As Gitarin’s personal human shields did their job, Zhang—whose job it was to guard the boss—grimaced.

“Hey… hold on. This is bad, ain’t it?”

Anyone affiliated with either of the districts knew that the engine was the heart of the island, responsible for raising and lowering it with the tides. Although the destroyed turbine itself had no direct connection to the mechanism, nothing good could come of blowing it up. Almost everyone tensed instantly, and in Jun’s case the blood had drained from her face and her hidden eyes were wide.

“Hey. Jun. If that engine gets busted… what’s gonna happen?”

He didn’t want to hear the answer, and he knew it was cruel to make Jun say it. But there was no way around it.

“…I don’t know the details, but… I think… if the engine stops and the machine that raises and lowers the island fails…”

The daughter of the man who made the massive engine sensed a part of her own past being carved out by the explosion, despair weighing heavily on her voice.

“The island… is going to sink…?

“No, no. This place isn’t a mud boat. Not to worry, Jun. We won’t go down that easily. They must have failsafes for cases like this.” Gitarin explained over the megaphone to calm Jun down.

Unusually enough, he looked quite serious. But as he turned off the megaphone, he mumbled to himself.

“…Although things can’t turn out well, considering the system was abandoned before it was finished.”


“Y-you’re right.” Jun sighed when she heard Gitarin’s explanation. She looked to the source of his voice, and spotted him mumbling to himself. So she thought to turn her attention there—

“Jun!”

One of the Guard Team members yelled, and Jun felt a chill run down her spine.

Reflexively, she pulled the triggers on her chainsaw and raised the spinning blades behind herself.

Sparks flew. Jun staggered under an impact even stronger than that of Lilei’s swing and she was pushed forward.

When Jun steadied herself, she saw the blade of a Chinese broadsword.

“I see the wind is fickle today.”

“…Mr. Lihuang.”

Lihuang had recovered earlier from the blast and had swung at Jun while she was distracted.

“Is this coincidence? Or fate? Either way, it’s the perfect entertainment for one who was destine to become a fuse.”


“Elder Brother. Elder Sister.”

When Lilei saw her brother move, she began to brandish her lead pipe. But she looked back and forth between Lihuang and Yili above, not knowing what to do.


As the uneasy balance of peace crumbled, Yili cooly gave orders to the other executives.

“…We don’t care about losing face at this point. If battle breaks out, you have permission to kill.”

“Lihuang’s already moving; has battle not begun already?” Asked another executive. Yili’s eyes remained icy.

“No. If he goes off and gets himself killed, that’s just another factor to consider for our next negotiation.” Yili said, and turned to leave—

“He’s here.”

She heard her shadow mumble, and turned again.

At the end of her gaze was a small splotch of seven colors.

Inui was holding a gun and walking down the walkway towards them. Anyone else would have been turned to swiss cheese by then, but Yili knew he was no ordinary man.

“Orders, Yili.”

The man who should have been her shadow spoke, his voice tinged with the hunger of a starving dog. She saw the dark glint in his eye and gave orders with a sigh.

“…The mad dog is yours; do what you’d like. But remember; bullets will ricochet against these walls. If you’re going to kill him, don’t let him get a single shot in, and finish him off in one blow.”

It was a tall order—perhaps impossibly so—but the moment she gave him the order to leave her, Yili saw a hint of a smile on Kugi’s lips.

Her heart faltered at the nostalgic sight, and she sighed even more loudly to erase the new emotions squirming in her heart.

Without sparing Kugi a glance, she turned again to depart—

But when a quiet rumble shook her eardrums, she froze.


“Well, just look at the mad dog go. I suppose there’s no use in telling him to stop. And this is why he’s just not Guard Team material. Mr. Gen alone is more than enough— Hmm?”

In the midst of complaining about Inui, who approached Yili without orders, Gitarin realized that another sound was mixed in the the rumbling of the engines in the room.

“What is that?”


“…”

Lilei, who was brandishing her lead pipe with her full attention on the situation, also froze and listened.

Above the walkway where Yili was, there was a large path for work vehicles that went from East to West. She turned her gaze to the large entrance on that level and whispered cautiously.

“It is coming.”


At the center of the walkway were two people.

It was a reunion two months in the making. But there was no more light in Kugi’s eyes. He cornered himself, suppressing all emotion.

Inui grinned, twirling his gun.

Son of a bitch… he’s changed since last year.

Inui scrutinized his gait, his eyes, and his bearing, and was convinced; that the moment he put his finger on the trigger, Kugi would open fire without a second’s hesitation. Before, Inui clearly had the high ground. But what about now? He sensed barely any difference between himself and Kugi.

It was like he was looking at himself in a mirror.

“Hah.”

Gritting his teeth with a grin, Inui went for his specialty—taunting.

“…So one year really is enough to change a guy. Something happen?”

It was trash-talk, no two ways about it. Yet though Inui seemed to have left himself open, Kugi had not yet even drawn his gun. Kugi knew that if he drew first and Inui dodged, he would end up getting hit by return fire. Kugi also spoke. Rather than answer the question, he expressed a sort of admiration for Inui.

“…I’ve decided to live on as Yili’s shadow. I don’t need to use my emotions or memories. This is the world I’ve finally reached.” He said with a sigh, so softly that only Inui could hear.

“You think I’ll shoot you first if you draw, right?”

“I won’t deny that. I know how strong you are; you can kill me in a single shot.”

“Hey, no worries ‘bout that. You’re not gonna die.”

“Are you trying to go easy on me?”

Kugi frowned, assuming that Inui was intent on humiliating him again. But Inui snickered and gave him an even worse answer.

“I’m not gonna shoot you. I’m shooting straight for Yili. I’d say I’ve got a 30% chance of making the shot from this distance, but maybe I should test that out.”

“…!”

“Heh heh! Looks like you’ve still got some of that human emotion shit left. So fill me in on the details. You love her as a woman? Or as the person who let you be her shadow? C’mon, we’re buddies, so you might as well share some gossip.”

“Damn you!”

Though Kugi felt unease rising to his throat, he did not let his emotions run wild. Controlling even his anger from the inside, Kugi coldly continued to search for a weak spot in his opponent.

“…You’ve really changed. Cool. Sure, you must have trained your ass off from the start, but you’re different now. Damn, it’s like you’re on a different level of determination. …But seriously, cut your worryin’ today. I’m not really gonna get trigger-happy. In fact, I might have to ditch this crap piece of metal soon.”

“?”

“Too bad. This time, both of us are supporting cast. But I think it’s perfectly fine for supporting cast to steal the show. What do you say?”

Kugi realized as he listened to Inui’s rambling that something was wrong.

He heard another engine joining the duet below.

“Well, well. The island’s hero is here.” Inui said with a disappointed grin.

At that moment, the chain-link fence at the doors went flying with a deafening crash as a van emerged into the fray.


The massive engine hummed at the base of the island. Jun’s chainsaws sang sharply in her hands.

The third engine grew louder and louder before exploding onto the scene in the frenzy that was the island’s engine room.

The engine belonged to a blue van.

The van—the studio of Buruburu Airwaves—was a bright blue, and it looked to those below like a chunk of the ceiling had been carved out to reveal the sky.

The engine room had no speakers, making it one of the few places on the island where the broadcast never reached. But the van’s engines finally expressed itself on virgin ground.

The van came screeching to a halt at the very center of the path, but a moment later, the side door opened—

And a man seemed to emerge from the sky.

He was already tall to begin with, but from below he must have seemed like a descending giant.

“As a member of the volunteer police force… I’m going to ask you to do three things. Three simple things even a child could do.”

The giant descending into the Pits cracked his neck and announced to every ear in the room. He announced his duty, exactly as he wished.

“Cease hostilities. Put away your weapons. And calm down.”


◁ ▶︎


At that moment, the engine room was pandemonium incarnate.

Each and every clash seemed to have all the force of an engine behind it.

A lone figure was languidly watching them all.

“What is Spring-heeled Joplin thinking, that bastard?”

Refusing to hide his unease, he complained to the urban legend.

“Why did you bring me here?”


The figure in white was watching it all from one of the doors.

No one inside had yet noticed his presence.

The presence of the Killer Ghoul, who in his hands held the power to change the very air itself.


-----


Ten minutes earlier.


The basement of the Grand Ibis Hotel. The special section of the monitoring room.


Munch… So today was the day, huh. By coincidence, that’s all.

We’ve been at a stalemate for two months, but Lihuang’s rampage finally got things going again.

Everything has to be solved today, in one go.

Why? Munch… because, if we miss this chance… Ginga Kanashima’s going to keep this up for months… maybe until the island itself disappears. And if the kitchen explodes, that would be bad for my life… Munch.

But in the end, I’m part of the Western District. I want Yili, Lihuang, and everyone else to get along. If we fall apart and the East destroys us… then I’ll have nowhere else to go.

But… the information I want to use to prevent that… is information I received as one of you—as Spring-heeled Joplin. Munch…

Now, I have to leak the information Spring-heeled Joplin has obtained, as Taifei Liu of the Western District… Munch.


Yes. Spring-heeled Joplin, the urban legend, is now going to interfere with reality. I won’t say that my information comes from Spring-heeled Joplin, but the problem is with Spring-heeled Joplin.

Spring-heeled Joplin is a bystander and an observer. A helper and a servant. An urban legend that exists in reality… That was what you always used to say… Oh, this new snack is really good, so I’d like more info on it, please.

Now… back to the point.

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

Is observing really all we can do? You compared this incident to a dance, but maybe even invisible ghosts like us can take the stage.

I want to know what you think… Munch…

If you don’t like it, then I guess I could somehow work with the information limited to Taifei Liu, head of the Western District’s intelligence team. …Munch.


-----


Hello, hello, this is Spring-heeled Joplin.

Let me answer your question, Spring-heeled Joplin.

We chose to become legends, and accepted the fate that came with it. We should never have existed to begin with. So I can’t really agree with interfering too much in reality.

We observe, give hints, and give guidance. That’s all right.

But we can’t become the driving force. Not even if the island sinks.

So… unfortunately, Spring-heeled Joplin, that suggestion is denied.

“Um.” “Hey.” “Wait.” Please wait.” “Hey, hey. Stop.”

That is why we are legends—hm?

“This is Spring-heeled Joplin.” “This is Spring-heeled Joplin, too.” “Me too.”

Well, well.

“Don’t jump to conclusions by yourself.” “This is fun.” “You’re hogging all the good stuff.” “We wanna do something.” Us too.” “We’re Spring-heeled Joplin, too.” “We also” “have the right to decide” “You may be our proverbial brain and spinal cord, my friend, but I ask that you also pay mind to the reflexive movements of the rest of your body.” “I’mma kill you.” “Hah!”

Heh heh heh… Heh heh heh! All right. All right, Spring-heeled Joplin.

Then let us put our heads together… let us come to a consensus as Spring-heeled Joplin.


-----

1 comment:

  1. "Stairs were installed at point along walkways that diverged vertically..." (at point > at one point or point > points)
    "But Inui snickered and gave him an eve worse answer." (eve > even)
    "Controlling even his anger form the inside..." (form > from)
    "Us too." (sentence missing a beginning ")

    I found one more mistake but I can't remember what it was or find it anymore. Sorry for that, and thanks for the translation!

    ReplyDelete