Friday, 20 February 2015

Garuguru! -Dancing Beast Night- (Part 2): Chapter 7

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

Here's the second-to-last update for the Garuguru! arc of the Etsusa Bridge series. Enjoy.

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Chapter 7: Girl & Ghoul


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Stepping off the van, Kuzuhara looked down on the frenzy in the engine room and began with an angry sigh.

“…It’s just one after another…”

He muttered, looking at the nostalgic dogs just below.

“After another… after another…”

He muttered, looking at the Western District members armed with guns below that.

“After another after another… after another after another… after another… after another…!”

And by the time his gaze fell to the Guard Team and two of the Ei siblings further below, his sigh had given way to a determined gaze.

He turned to Yili and quietly, but firmly, spoke.

“Miss Yili. This is Western District jurisdiction, correct?”

“Yes. It is.”

“I see… Then this is the Western District, and I am here as the captain of the volunteer police force. I would appreciate it if you would put away your guns.”

One of the men in black snorted and raised his voice.

“Ha! Who do you think you—”

Kuzuhara shot a glance at the source of the voice. That was enough.

“—are…”

The lights on the ceiling functioned as a backlight, highlighting Kuzuhara’s glare and driving the private soldier to silence. The other executives exchanged glances, but did not interfere and chose to leave things to Yili.


“Mr. Kuzuhara!”

Jun yelled without thinking as she looked up at the ceiling. She was calling to him out of worry for his earlier injuries, but Lihuang saw his chance and closed the distance between them in a flash.

“Ugh!”

Jun swung and quickly parried the broadsword. Sparks flew everywhere and even from the top of the room, Kuzuhara could see—


Kuzuhara flew.


“What?!”

“No way!”

With no regard for the screams of shock, Kuzuhara first descended to the floor directly below—where Kugi and Inui were—then ran through the path and jumped another 5 meters down to Jun’s level.

As he fell from one level to the next, he put the tips of his feet on the railings to absorb the impact and change directions. All he had to do now was fall straight down between Lihuang and Jun.

“?!”

“Aaack!”

A split second before Jun and Lihuang’s inevitable clash, the massive figure descended between them. Lihuang swung anyway, and Jun tried to stop before her chainsaw hit Kuzuhara—but she had made a half-turn before the swing, and could not halt the momentum so easily.

Standing between two deadly blades, Kuzuhara was at their mercy—

But with no screams, no screeching of metal, and no blood, Lihuang and Jun were stopped.

The moment the blades drew near, Kuzuhara had grabbed the guard of the broadsword with his right hand, and the blade of the chainsaw with his left.

Though his gloves were customized to be bulletproof, the chainsaw blade slowly ate away at the fabric.

But before Jun could even cut the power, Kuzuhara grasped the blade and forcibly stopped the chain.

“Huh…?”

“Damn you…!”

In contrast with Jun, who went quiet when her engine died, Lihuang angrily tried to haul his broadsword back.

But it was like trying to pull a metal rod out of hardened concrete. The blade did not even budge. And a second later—

“…Impossible…!”

Lihuang realized that he was floating.

The moment his arm tightened completely, Kuzuhara had lifted up the broadsword with one hand. Coupled with leverage, Kuzuhara was lifting more than just Lihuang’s body weight. But for him it was a simple task indeed.

By the time Lihuang realized he simply had to relax his arm, it was too late—he was already tumbling through the air, gaining momentum.

Impossible! He’s like a completely different person—

Until not long ago, the air had been to his advantage. But when that atmosphere was taken away, Lihuang was left clearly exposed, unable to even break his fall properly.

He was sent flying—broadsword and all—and landed hard on his back.

“I’ve paid back my debt, sir.” Kuzuhara said, making a point of being deferent, and turned to Jun. “I want you to sheathe your weapons for now, too. …It’s pretty clear who the bad guy is, but it’s not our job to judge who’s right and wrong. Please.”

“Oh… umm… oh! Right!”

Jun had already shut off the other chainsaw as well. She bowed politely, now back to her usual self.

“Sorry.” Kuzuhara said softly, and picked up the fallen broadsword. And with unbelievable ease he snapped the blade with his bare hands.

The Guard Team members reacted in different ways when they saw Kuzuhara break the sword as though it were a chopstick. Some whistled, and one quickly hid his metal bat.

Zhang alone seemed unfazed. He smirked.

“I expected no less from you. But how’d you find us? You couldn’t have got here this fast if it’s the explosion that tipped you off.”

“…Some little birds sent me text messages.”

“Figures. But for your information… you’re an uninvited guest.”

“Uninvited, huh. …You’re right.”

They had loudly butted heads when he first came to the island. Kuzuhara replied gravely, though it wasn’t clear if he was joking or being serious.

“But the volunteer police force prides itself on arriving before the invitation.”


Yili sighed loudly when she saw her brother being taken down. Another executive noticed and grinned.

“Is this all right?”

“Yes. And now our hands are tied further. After all, now we can be certain that our actions are being broadcast live to the rest of the island.”

She glanced overhead at the blue van. Kelly’s radio station was bulletproof. A rocket launcher might do the trick, but grenades probably couldn’t stop her broadcasts.

Naturally, she was probably giving live coverage of the situation from inside her fortress. Even if she wasn’t, one wrong move and she would probably start a broadcast. Then it would become even more difficult to oversee the already-frustrated islanders.

And while the organization floundered, Kuzuhara could continue to carry out his mission. That would send his popularity through the roof.

Yili smiled faintly and whispered, almost sounding jealous.

“In a way, Kelly and Kuzuhara might be an unbeatable combination.”


◁ ▶︎


What is that man.

Incredible. There’s no other word for it.

Blocking that Jun girl’s chainsaw with one hand… that’s not normal.

So that’s the infamous Kuzuhara of the Western District. The rumors make him out to be some sort of a monster, but… he is. Frankly, I never want to end up fighting him.

…Wait. Not another tangent.

Anyway, damn that Joplin. The second I step out of the hotel, he sends me another cat… I rushed here because he said something about a clue to finding Miss Nazuna, but… this isn’t the best time or place to be clue-searching.

Having made up my mind to find clues about Miss Nazuna, I focused first on a man on the bottom level.

He has a beauty on each arm; he’s the boss of the Eastern District. I remember clearly because after I went to the Western District boss’s bedside, he was next.

Careful not to get caught up in the mess, I quietly took a back door and headed for the entrance next to the engine at the bottom of the room.

I saw some men in black lying on the floor along the way—probably Western District cronies. Someone must have knocked them out before they went inside. I’m grateful. I’ll thank them properly if I ever find out who it was.

Once I was at the lowest level of the engine room, I saw the Eastern boss’s back.

I’ll approach him slowly… and then what?

…If I tap him on the shoulder suddenly, I might get turned into swiss cheese. And what about those two women? They look like they’re just hanging off his arms, but they’re completely guarded about their surroundings.

For now, I should take it slow. Be cautious. …Huh? Part of the engine’s on fire… was it the explosion I heard earlier?

I don’t know too much about this, but the engine should be an important part of the island.

When my thoughts reached that point, I felt something eerie on my back.

If… if this island sinks, I’ll be forced back to the outside world.

And if that happens… what happens to the mask of Yakumo Amagiri?

The thought scared me. I… I want to tell someone how I feel. I want to confide in someone. And I think it would be nice if Miss Nazuna happened to be that someone. Although I can’t spontaneously tell her—I know I’m nothing but trouble for her.

…But before all that… I hope she’s all right.

With so many thoughts on my mind, I inched closer to the Eastern boss. Now, how should I begin? Or maybe I should just kidnap him—that might be easier.

At that moment.

An ear-splitting noise shrieked from above.


◁ ▶︎


The noise came from the speakers on Kelly’s van.

After a burst of what sounded like feedback came an incongruently lazy voice and the sound of someone chewing on something.

<Munch… Ah. Finally got this hijacking thing to work.>

At the same time, a female voice squawked from the wagon—”Whoa, what the?! The hell’s wrong with the gear?!”—but few ears were on her.

“Taifei?!”

The voice was a familiar one from the round table. Yili and the Western District executives were floored.

<Hey, everyone. Looks like you’re just full of energy, getting into such a big scuffle. You’re gonna be starving later.>

The first to react to Taifei’s vaguely oblivious tone was Lihuang, who had just gotten to his feet in spite of his aching body.

“Excellent, Taifei! Now negate this radio broadcast completely! Then we can destroy this rabble instantly with the Western District’s combined forces!”

I’ll be joining the purge, I suppose. But so long as my countrymen emerge victorious… And I know Lilei will manage to make it out somehow.

With a masochistic laugh, Lihuang sensed his atmosphere return.

But Taifei too easily cut that flow.

<Mhm… I get all the input from the mic here, so I heard you, Lihuang. But unfortunately, this isn’t the time for that… Munch.>

“…What? What are you talking about?” Lihuang roared. The voice from the speaker continued.

It disclosed one simply ominous fact.


<Well… you see… mm… The bomber’s in there. Munch… What was his name… Ginga Kanashima?>


Yet again, silence enveloped the engine room.

“…What is the meaning of this, Taifei?” Asked Yili.

<Munch… well, I figured out pretty easily that the bombs were remotely detonated. But I didn’t know where from, until now. But remember how one went off just next to you, Lihuang? I thought there might be a hint there, so I focused on the engine room…

<And, well, I just found a blip signaling the explosion. And… it was coming from inside the engine room. …Munch.>


◁ ▶︎


What is that man on the speaker talking about? Bombs? Remotes? Is he talking about the explosion just now? In other words… the bomber is somewhere in here?

…Wait… is that what Spring-heeled Joplin meant? Is the bomber responsible for what happened to Miss Nazuna? No. Wait. I’m jumping off a very slippery slope here. I don’t even know what kind of injuries she sustained, anyway.

But one thing’s for certain; if the bomber’s here, I should watch out for them. I looked around, scanning the room for suspicious faces.

Everyone else looked around at one another, too. …Huh. A lot of them stopped looking around…

Slowly, everyone froze with their eyes pointed in one direction.

Obviously… in my direction.

Of course.


Now… how do I resolve this misunderstanding?


◁ ▶︎


The next few dozen seconds that followed were a frenzied free-for-all.

But that did not mean the organizations battled each other.

People from both organizations were mixed up in a furious chase after Yakumo Amagiri. Kuzuhara had frozen the moment he heard the name ‘Ginga Kanashima’, but when he saw that the man in white everyone was after was unarmed and was not being hostile, he fought through the chaos and returned to the van for the time being.

Kugi—whether afraid of being caught in the fray or not wanting to run into Kuzuhara as he climbed—descended immediately to protect Yili. At the same time, Inui cried, “Shit! Yakumo?! I’ll pass. Remember, kiddies! Courage and idiocy are two very different things!”, and scrambled into a corner. Remarkable was the fact that the two dogs did not break eye contact until the very end.


In the chaos, the first to charge at the ghoul in white was the girl with flowers in her hair and lead pipe in her hand.

“You are Yakumo. Real Yakumo. It is goodbye. Goodbye, nap friend.”

“It’s true I’m Yakumo, but… I’m not the bomber.”

“It is not matter. It is goodbye. I am sorry.”

Even as they carried out a conversation while running along railings, the people around them did not flounder. Jun and Zhang had reason to believe he was responsible for Nazuna’s injuries, never giving Yakumo a moment of reprieve. However, Jun never turned on her chainsaws, perhaps out of consideration for Kuzuhara.


◁ ▶︎


This… isn’t very good. My nap buddy here, most of all. And once Mr. Kugi and the rest join in, it’s going to be outright bad. I’m scared. Come to think of it, that rainbow-haired man over there… was he the one I failed to kill back then? Hayato Inui? Although he’s hiding somewhere right now, so I don’t really care about him.

Anyway, I have to resolve this situation. …Oh. Whenever I was hunted down at the Eastern District casino, there was a convenient— yes. Misaki. I used to take her hostage to make my getaway. But I don’t think she’d come all this way.

But I harbored hope in my heart as I leapt down to the level underneath, and looked around.

A girl who somehow reminded me of Misaki was running my way, all alone.

I’ve seen her before—


◁ ▶︎


“Ohh… what do you think is going on here, Sherlock Liverpool? There aren’t enough clues here for me to piece together the answer.”

“I’d prefer if you focused on helping me find a way out of here.”

Members of the two organizations were standing on the walkways leading to the doors, and the upper levels were teeming with the Western District’s private soldiers, who were armed with guns. The siblings—being outsiders to being with—were surrounded completely and left squatting behind a chain-link fence.

The crazy cast of characters seemed to be after someone—and the chase showed no signs of slowing.

Just what kind of person would deserve such a massive number of pursuers, Charlotte wondered, cautiously peering out.

She spotted someone moving at inhuman speeds along one of the railings.

A man in white. The one who fell from the explosion at the junkyard—

The angelically handsome man who then spoke to her.

“Ah! It’s him!”

“What is it, Charlotte? …Charlotte?!”

There he was—the man who was likely the subject of the photograph. The man who stole Charlotte’s heart at first sight. The man Sherlock once suggested might be Yakumo Amagiri.

And that was why, with no regard for Sherlock’s dissuasion, she ran.

She shook off Sherlock’s arms and sprinted with everything she had, though bullets could start flying at any second.

This is my chance… this is my only chance…


◁ ▶︎


What? Why is this girl running to me? She’s not armed, I think. But she doesn’t seem to be a martial artist.

Ah. I remember. I’ve seen her two months ago… the female half of the detective siblings. The one I entrusted Miss Nazuna to. Come to think of it, the bespectacled boy running after her is a familiar face too.

But I’ve looked into them; they should be civilians.

Then… I don’t want to trouble a girl who took care of Miss Nazuna, but… I’ll get her to help me. At least until I can resolve this misunderstanding.


◁ ▶︎


“…! I knew I should have stayed down there.”

Once he had checked to see Kelly was safe, Kuzuhara had looked down at the lower levels to find that the situation was moving at breakneck speed.

A man in white was holding a girl with blond hair and blue eyes hostage, facing down everyone else as he backed away toward the exit on the central walkway.


“CHARLOTTE!”

When his sister was taken hostage, Sherlock cried out helplessly and looked around. He spotted the broken broadsword and picked up the sharp half.

“I have to save her… I have to save Charlotte from the monster…!” He whispered to himself, holding the broken weapon, but the Guard Team, led by Jun and her chainsaws, stood in his way.

“No! We’ll save Charlotte. I won’t tell you not to worry… but please believe in us!”

Tension ran through Jun’s voice. She had never seen Yakumo bring a hostage to harm, but the situation was more dire than ever and no one knew what Yakumo might resort to in the confusion.

The Guard Team was not convinced that Yakumo was the bomber, but first they had to capture him. The Western District members overhead exchanged glances but did not move. Perhaps they suspected that one of the Guard Team was actually Ginga Kanashima in disguise.

Because Ginga Kanashima always changed his appearance through plastic surgery and the expert use of disguises, no one knew what he actually looked like. The one unique characteristic was his prosthetic right arm, but prosthetics these days were impossible to tell apart without a detailed feel of their texture and movements.

In other words, thanks to the plastic surgery, every man in the engine room was a suspect. It could be Zhang, and not even Gitarin was completely exempt from suspicion.

Sensing Jun’s unease, Sherlock refused to stop.

“Charlotte! Damn it… let her go! Let my sister go, Killer Ghoul!”


◁ ▶︎


Killer Ghoul.

It should be a familiar moniker by now. I thought I’d put on this mask of my own free will. But for some reason, it all makes me uneasy today.

Have I lost my mind after all? Oh… I want to see Miss Nazuna. I want to talk to Miss Nazuna. And if I really was the one who nearly killed her… I almost hope I’ll be cut down here.

…No. Right now, I have to focus on resolving this misunderstanding. But I never expected the lead pipe girl to stop, too. I thought someone like her might charge in with no regard for the hostage.

“I’m sorry. Don’t worry—I’m not going to hurt you.” I whispered to the hostage. If I accidentally ended up dropping her onto the engine below, I could never face myself. Then maybe I shouldn’t have grabbed a hostage in the first place. But what choice did I have?

But the hostage stared into my face and dropped a bomb.

“Are you… Takehito Isegawa?”

No one else could hear her, but… I thought my heart would stop.

How…? How did she find out my real name? I was extra careful to hide my it on this island. There shouldn’t be any proof! Don’t tell me… did information about me somehow end up on the island? Information that—that points to the me behind my mask…?

“You’ve got the wrong guy.”

Before I knew it, the mask of Yakumo Amagiri was denying the truth.

The girl was silent for a moment, but she soon spoke the name of my mask.

“You’re… really… Yakumo Amagiri, the Killer Ghoul?”

“Yes. I am. But don’t worry; I probably don’t kill women or children.”

“I see… I thought you were an angel. But… it’s a funny combination, isn’t it? An angel and a ghoul? God might punish me for that one.”

She says strange things. And her Japanese is perfect.

But the really strange thing came after that.

“But I’m so glad. Now… I can say everything.”


◁ ▶︎


Breaking the silence was the voice of the hostage.

“Sherlock!”

Her voice firmer and more determined than ever before, she cried out to Sherlock with her hands held behind her back.

“Charlotte?! Charlotte!”

Sherlock heard his sister’s call and pushed past Jun and the Guard Team.

“Sherlock! I… I just have one last thing to ask you!”

“Don’t say ‘last’! Please, Charlotte! I… I’ll answer any question you want!” Sherlock cried, tears streaming down his face. Charlotte, also in tears, looked into his devoted eyes.


“Who… who are you?!”


“…Huh?” Jun gaped.

The crying brother beside her blankly raised his voice.

“What are you talking about, Charlotte?! I’m me!”

But Charlotte wailed, unable to hide her emotions—as though the tension had finally snapped like a thread pulled to the limit.

“I… I… I’ve been too scared… too scared to ask… Because if I did! Y-you might kill the real him! For… for two months now… yes. For the past two months, since you switched places!”

The thread had not been pulled just recently. It had been constantly going more and more taut over the past two months.

“Calm down, Charlotte! This is no time for your detective games!”

“M-my brother’s alive! I know he is! Because… you know everything about my past… everything only he would know! It means… he’s alive to tell you everything! All this time… I was so scared… I didn’t know who was on your side… and whenever someone else was around, you stuck close by me and wouldn’t leave…! I… I couldn’t even consult Jun! But… but now… I think people from every side can finally listen to me…!”

“Charlotte! That’s surprisingly logical coming from you, but you have to trust me! I’m me! I’m not an impostor!” Sherlock argued through his tears, but Charlotte continued ruthlessly.

“And today! When the bomb went off… you reacted too quickly! Faster than Jun, Mr. Lihuang, or Lilei! As if… as if you knew it would happen!”

At that point, the people who had wondered if the hostage was losing her mind flinched and turned to Sherlock.

Meanwhile, Sherlock—finally put through his sister’s arguments—shook his head with a sigh like any other.

“Charlotte… maybe you should have become a novelist instead?”

Letting the broken blade fall to the floor, he cradled his face in his hands and took off his glasses—

“If you’d just stayed on the mainland writing your little novels…”


He smirked.


“…Then you’d never be in this mess in the first place.”

At that moment, Sherlock—Ginga Kanashima—spread his arms wide, and as if on cue, a series of explosions struck the engine room.


◁ ▶︎


What…? What’s happening?!

I don’t really understand, but I avoided the chain of explosions going off around me. They weren’t very powerful. Not even grenade-level. But the bombs must have been installed all along the walls and the wire fences if the shrapnel is flying all the way here. I twisted to keep the hostage safe. We weren’t close enough to seriously have to worry, but it would leave a bad taste in my mouth if she happened to get hurt. Besides, she helped Miss Nazuna—I owe her.

The world slowly moved in my focused thoughts. I had no idea what was going on, but I decided to first assess the situation.

The bombs weren’t just explosives, it seemed. They also included smokescreens. Now the men at the top of the room can’t open fire carelessly. There are only two Western District people down here, but one wrong shot, and the guys up there are in for a barrage of bullets from inside the smoke.

Damn it… What is going on here? Damn you, Joplin. Dragging me into this mess.

Next time… I’ll drown you with complaints over the radio.


◁ ▶︎


He… protected me?

The self-proclaimed Killer Ghoul who took her hostage protected her from the sudden explosions. He had thought over this decision very carefully in his head, but to Charlotte it simply looked like the man she admired was risking his life to keep her safe.

If not for the situation, her eyes might have turned to hearts and she might have flushed a deep red. But she couldn’t afford to do that now.

Exacerbating her urgency was her brother’s voice, echoing from the smoke. But that voice slowly distorted, transforming into a stranger’s.

“Heh… heh… Gahahahaha! It’s been a while, Kitten. Thanks for the topless shot this morning—that was one hell of a pick-me up! Hahahahaha!”

“You’re really… Mr. Kanashima?” Jun’s voice echoed through the engine room. Her tone made her disbelief clear.

“Believe it. Yessir. How long has it been now, half a year? I thought I’d get you back for the cuts, but after this morning I guess I can let it slide. I’m just after one person. One person. Ahahahahahaha!”

His laughter resounded, but it was difficult to pinpoint his location—were everyone’s ears thrown off by the blasts? Or was he actually moving around?

At that point, the voice turned to Charlotte.

“So… I have a question for you, wannabe detective.”

“Ah!”

“How did you know I wasn’t your brother?”

Though terrified, Charlotte responded. She was determined to learn as much as she could about her brother’s whereabouts.

“…I’ve always wanted to be a detective… so I’ve observed people whenever I could. And… I’ve been around Sherlock the most… so I know all his habits that he doesn’t know about. Whenever he drinks coffee, his right eye twitches… but he suddenly stopped doing that two months ago. And… even his irises were different. So… I got scared and decided to compare his fingerprints. And then… I knew.”

Standing there was not the oblivious girl from before, or an ace detective. Simply a sister fearing for her brother’s safety. Kanashima whistled.

“Gahahahahahaha! Even Holmes wouldn’t go that far! And for two damn months you never let it show that you realized who I was?! Shit! Your brother said you were an imbecile, but it looks like he’s the one who failed harder than you. Ahaha! Hahahahaha!”

“Is… is he alive?”

“Gahahaha! I guess you deserve a reward! The answer is… yes. He’s alive! Every time you went on about your crap memories, I excused myself and contacted him from the bathroom!”

“Where is he now?”

At that moment, his face emerged from the smoke—right in front of Charlotte—and stopped.

You’re gonna have to do the legwork, detective.”

Sneering with her brother’s face, Ginga Kanashima disappeared into the smoke again. Charlotte staggered in shock and anger, but catching her before she fell was the Killer Ghoul.


◁ ▶︎


Why…?

Why am I still here?

This is my chance. I should be taking off. So why am I still here? If I’m worried about my hostage, I can take her with me and let her go somewhere safe.

…No, wait. Somewhere… safe? On this island? Why is someone like her on the island to begin with?

Is she… normal?

That’s right. Even if she is, could you really say that someone who lives on this island is normal?

No. No. This isn’t the time to be philosophizing.

I think I’m breaking apart. To bits. But is it the mask, or the real me?

Someone. Someone please tell me. Someone give me that push. Break my mask or pull it off.

What am I? As the Killer Ghoul, killing people is all I know how to do.

Then what? Who am I supposed to kill now? The bomber? The Western District people? The Guard Team? No. That’s not it. I have to take this girl somewhere safe. No, wait. That has nothing to do with my mask. No. No no no no no. I… what in the world am I trying to do?

If Yakumo Amagiri, the mask, can’t be of any help…

What’s left beneath it?

If the real me is… normal… if the real me is a normal person… what would he do now?


◁ ▶︎


“Yili. To the exit.”

Even as the room filled with smoke, Kugi calmly continued to watch Yili’s back.

“He got us. I was hoping we could end things here… Do you think he’s going to escape?”

“I’ll go in there, Yili. Call for help and seal the exits.”

Leaving Yili in the soldiers’ care, Kugi ran back into the smoke.

That was when a voice crackled from the radio in his coat pocket.

<Yo! Looks like things just got hot down there! You feelin’ the buzz? The high?>

“I’m not a freak like you.”

<No, you are. Deep down, you’ve been itching for shit like this, weren’t ya? This is it! This is why I just can’t keep away from the damned island. Here, I can be an action hero anytime! C’mon, put on those imaginary wires and put your soul in fast-forward! Use your past as your own stuntman and let the present shine!>

It sounded more like self-encouragement than anything, but Kugi pressed on cautiously through the smoke and replied in a low voice through the radio. He was essentially giving his position away, but this was one foe Kugi could not ignore.

“You certainly have a talent for aggravating me.”

<Thanks, pal. And that’s why I think you should think about working with me.>

“Actually, I’d prefer to kill you now while I’m here.”

The very idea of teaming up to fight one person was absurd. The series of explosions had surprised Kugi, but the enemy was unarmed. And even if the enemy had a handgun, there was no reason for Kugi to team up with Rainbow-Head to do his job.

And as though having read his mind in the silence, Inui responded with a surprisingly serious voice.

<…You think he’s alone?>

“What?”

<What if he’s not using this smokescreen to get away? What if he’s using it to catch us unawares?>

Kugi coldly analyzed Inui’s words and arrived at one possibility. And when the Eastern District boss’s claim that there was a traitor in the Western District’s midst rose to mind, the possibility became an omen and spurred Kugi to rapidly survey his surroundings.

The smoke obscured almost everything. The ventilation system seemed to have just kicked in, but it seemed to be malfunctioning or blocked; the smoke showed no signs of clearing.

But Kugi focused his vision through the nearly-opaque smoke.

For a second, he spotted the Western District executives and their private soldiers, and sensed something very wrong about their movements. The omen finally became a conviction.

And when someone quietly held up a gun among the Western District men, the conviction became reality.

On the man’s forehead was a special pair of goggles that helped him see through the smoke. As though he were prepared for the smokescreen. His gun was pointed at one of the Western District soldiers, and a gunshot resounded through the room.

But the one who fell to the floor with a scream was the traitor holding the gun.

“?!”

<Looks like it’s not a completely blind shot in here.>

Kugi turned again at the voice from the radio. Through the smoke he saw a head of rainbow-colored hair.

<So, change your mind about teaming up yet?>


The first gunshot was the trigger for the next act. More gunshots sounded from around the room, sometimes accompanied by pained gasps.

Because of the visibility, it was impossible to tell who had shot who.

From the upper level, where the smoke rose, they watched.

When Kuzuhara heard the gunshot as he descended the steps, he yelled,

“Those idiots!”


◁ ▶︎


The Rats made monotonous remarks as they watched the chaos from above.

“It’s started.”

“Yeah.”

“He fired.”

“Yeah.”

“I guess it’s time.”

“Time for us to work.”

“It’s time.”

“You think so?”

“Yeah. Right, Nejiro?”

In the dark, the boy in the wheelchair spoke.

“Yes. It’s time. And as for the rest… remember what we agreed on.”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah. I don’t really get it, though.”

“But Nejiro’s always right.”

“Yeah.”

“He is.”

With faint smiles on their face, the children finished their preparations.

It consisted of something very simple.

The adult beside Nejiro clenched their fists as the gunfire below continued. Nejiro felt nothing at that action, and thought only of what would happen once this frenzy of a party was over.


◁ ▶︎


The Western District soldiers in goggles did not waste any time or bullets. Their sights were set on their prey in the lowest level of the engine room. The target: Gitarin, boss of the Eastern District. Although they had never expected him to show up, the men had been ordered to prioritize the highest ranking organization members on the scene. In order, after Gitarin would most likely be Lihuang or Yili. However, a separate team of five was already sent in to deal with the latter.

Through their goggles, they spotted what seemed to be Gitarin’s silhouette. The two women hanging off his arms confirmed their suspicions.

Intent on a kill, they tried to close in—but realized something.

That something familiar was fixed over Gitarin’s face.

The same goggles they were wearing.

How how did they know about the smokescreen…?

The question rose to their minds in a second. And before it was answered, the man leading the team realized that a massive figure had landed before him.

Because they were relying on their goggles, they failed to notice that the smoke was already clearing, and that they were visible from above.

Sōji Kuzuhara, the man of the massive frame, reached out to the astonished man.


And by the time the smoke cleared, Kuzuhara had taken center stage.


◁ ▶︎


After shooting a nearby enemy, Inui was going down to a lower level when he spotted a white figure. His heart nearly stopped at the traumatic memory, but as he scrutinized the man’s face Inui furrowed his brow.

“…? That guy in white… that’s gotta be Yakumo. But what the hell’s wrong with him? He used to scare the piss out of me before…”

Stopping for a scant few seconds, he grinned and looked up, breaking into a run.

“…Ah well. For now, I’ll enjoy the mo-”

As Inui searched for his next target, his voice cut off.

Something had grazed his side.

“…Huh?”

A sharp pain overwhelmed him, and he instantly understood what had happened.

Fuck! Took a hit!

Before he could cry out in pain, his years of experience spurred his body forward. Thankfully the shot had only grazed his side, and he didn’t seem to have lost too much flesh.

Who the hell was that? Kugi should’ve taken care of the goons on the other side…

Remembering the man who was originally his enemy—the man whose skills he trusted because of that fact—Inui turned to find the source of the bullet.

But there was no one pointing a gun at him there.

He simply heard a voice.

“…Did you… really think…?”

A chill ran down Inui’s spine.

The low voice belonged to the man he had just recalled.

“Did you really think I’d cooperate with the likes of you?”

Something stung. The man he thought had gone the other way had actually concealed his movements and followed him. Inui put on a self-deprecating grin.

Has he changed that much? …Or am I the one who’s changed?

Internally slapping himself, Inui feigned nonchalance as he asked a question.

“…Never got hit in the back before. But… why the hell’re you talking to me? You coulda just shot me and finished me off.”

“I was simply paying you back for two months ago… for calling the van.”

“Hah! Look at the shadow now, clinging to fucking debts!”

“And now that debt is paid.”

Oh shit. He’s gonna shoot.

Inui’s mind and instincts simultaneously drew the same conclusion, forcibly twisting his body around. At the same time, gunfire and a flash of light cut past Inui’s wound. At that moment Inui’s gun was pointing toward Kugi, but aimed at a point behind him—at the woman in the white qipao.

Inui had moved exactly as he had warned, without a moment’s hesitation. So Kugi did not hesitate, either, as he reacted. He took a half-step back to block the line of fire with his own body and stepped forward again to shoot.

“Hah… Ahahahahaha!”

Forgetting even his aching side, Inui howled in laughter and pulled the trigger.

As though mirroring Inui’s injury, the bullet grazed Kugi’s side before hitting the wall of the engine room and shattering.

“Ha! You’re hilarious, you know that, dumbass? A fucking riot!” Inui cried, and chose to let his instincts take over.

It would simply be a matter of killing or being killed. Deciding that it might be interesting to be killed by his own mirror image, Inui decided to finally abandon his emotions and his rational thought, and pulled the—

The ground shook.

They were only inches away now, but a broken broadsword adorned with a metal lanyard shot up between them through the tight chain-link walkway.

Reflexively, they turned to the origin of the blade, and saw the one who had thrown it.

On the level below, Sōji Kuzuhara was taking down foes and taking shots to his bulletproof clothing while facing his enemies, as he finally cast a sharp glare at the two dogs above. That was all.

His gaze immediately returned to the battle at hand, but that one glare spoke louder than any words in the room, and pierced the dogs harder than any bullet could.

Inui felt fear, then. It was right there—fear that dwarfed the inherent terror posed by a gun. Kugi must have felt the same, from his suddenly pale complexion.

“…I know Mr. Kuzuhara ain’t gonna kill me… so why the hell am I scared shitless?” Inui wondered as though to himself.

Kugi responded with silence, but his eyes quickly flew open as he leapt to the side and pulled the trigger.

At that moment, a man taking aim at Yili from the wall-side corridor fell to his knees with a cry.

Without sparing a glance at Inui, Kugi disappeared like a shadow into the clearing smoke.

“Tch… so the princess is more important than wanting to kill me, eh.”

A little disappointed at Kugi’s departure, Inui pulled the trigger.

A man aiming for Gitarin on the opposite walkway from Kugi collapsed.

“Seriously. You’re practically handcuffed to her.”

Inui broke into a run, not looking back at Kugi as he put on a wry grin.

“Damn… now he’ll never come along, even if I suggest going pirating.”


◁ ▶︎


As the smoke cleared, I saw.

I simply saw. That was all.

Sōji Kuzuhara. I’d heard the name. And about his way of life. And about his motivation. So I thought I knew who he was from hearsay.

But it was completely different seeing him in person.

Is this… a way of life, too?

I’d heard he hated guns, but how? How could he put himself in their way? How could he intentionally put his life on the line for something that doesn’t have to do with himself?

And above all that… why doesn’t this man try to kill anyone?

He throws himself in front of guns without even blinking. And his opponents show him no mercy. So why? Why does he choose to make the fight harder? If he snatched the gun, he could just use it. With his strength, he could snap their necks and end it instantly. They’re really trying to kill him, so he shouldn’t have to feel guilty… especially not on this island!

Why does he fight like this? It’s completely abnormal.

It’s abnormal, but…

But why am I so drawn to this abnormal way of life?

I thought. Honestly. Rattled even more than when I faced my first gun on this island, I understood my own feelings.

I… bring terror with the mask of the Killer Ghoul?

So that no one can touch me?

What… is this? This sensation… I killed people because I didn’t want to die. That was the beginning. And…

Oh. I see.

I’ve been killing people to escape.

Not because the sky is blue. And not for self-defense or out of necessity. I did this to escape. To hide behind the mask of Yakumo Amagiri. To hide. To hide. In order to hide inside a mask that never existed to begin with… how many… did I kill…?

Something incongruous had been nagging at my thoughts ever since I spoke with Miss Nazuna. And that something, slowly eating away at my heart, was reaching the zenith of its influence. I was showered with despair, and for some reason I became calm.

I’m at a crossroads, I think.

Am I truly insane, or not? By the time I’m able to shake the twisted incongruity from my heart, I know I’ll be standing with my head held high. I killed people because the sky was blue? That’s not holding my head high. To hold your head high means to not need to lie to yourself.

What… is this incongruity? Did I really… do something to Miss Nazuna?

Afraid to face the truth, I turned to the girl next to me.

“Hey… if you want to stay normal on this island… what do you think you should do?”

Even I knew I was just relying on others now. But the detective suddenly looked sad as she answered my question.

“I think… just trying to stay normal on this island is insanity.”


At that moment, another bomb exploded in a corner of the engine room.


◁ ▶︎


When he saw that the bomb went off in the direction he was pointing his gun, Kanashima—wearing Sherlock’s face—howled in laughter.

“Ahaha… Ahahahahaha! This is what an all-out brawl is all about! You can’t tell who’s on which side. And even if you’re prepared to kill everyone else, a poke in the back just might kill you before you try!”

Another part of the engine had exploded, and the mechanism was beginning to creak. But it did not stop. Its usual hum swallowed the high-pitched squeals.

“Heh. Whoever made this thing must’ve been a goddamn genius. Then again, if that bomb’d blown it to bits, I would’ve been in trouble too! Gahahahahaha!”

No one listened to the madman, and the madman was not speaking to be heard.

But some people in the fray reacted to the gun in his hand.

“Hee hee hee hee hee! Look, look! He’s got a gun! When’d he take it out? Hee hee hee hee!”

“What the hell?! How does shooting a gun make a bomb go off?!”

“M-maybe it’s not actually a gun. Maybe it’s a miniaturized grenade launcher?”

“I would love to have one of those!”

As the Guard Team tossed out their comments, Lilei—who had searched him before coming to the engine room—furrowed her brow.

“It is impossible. It is not with you. Before.”

Had Kanashima caught her voice in the din? He swiveled around with the agility of a dancer and leaned down at Lilei.

“Ah! Thanks for the body search back there, little lady.”

Snickering, he let his right hand drop to his side. At that moment, it made a stomach-churning turn and rotated, and a part of the arm opened up as though the skin was tearing apart.

“?!”

He smirked when he noticed the reactions around him. Kanashima put his arm back to its original shape.

His fingers and wrist moved fluidly and naturally. It was impossible to tell that they were artificial.

“You gotta realize that there are all kinds of hiding places on a man’s body! Ahahahahaha! And for your information, I just had to use my fingers to detonate the bombs. I pulled out this baby to pull the wool over your eyes just now, but unfortunately it leaves an empty space in my arm.”

“Is that… a detonator?”

“That’s riiiiight. This isn’t a gun—it’s a detonator. What kinda dumbass makes a gun-shaped detonator, anyway? But the bombs that go with this one…”

He pulled the trigger mid-monologue. There was a click, and a strange silence fell over the room.

For a moment, everything was still. But after a few seconds’ delay, there was a blast and the room shook. From the length of the blast it must have been quite large.


“…they’re nice and big, am I right?”


On the other side of the engine room, Kuzuhara shook as gunshots howled.

He leapt out without a second thought to take down the men aiming for Gitarin, one after another. But his refusal to kill left him one inevitable weakness.

And yet Kuzuhara did not back down. The bullets pummeled his bulletproof clothes and, though not visibly, damaged his ribs and his organs.

But Kuzuhara staggered forward, refusing to run, and pushed guns away with his gloves and stopped bullets from firing as he butted heads with one of the attackers.

He had not heard the exchange between Charlotte and Kanashima, and did not fully understand the situation. Though he knew that Kanashima must have revealed himself, Kuzuhara did not act any differently.

All he did was subdue those who attacked him—not with weapons, but with raw power.

Forcibly and bluntly.


Kanashima Ginga grinned bitterly when he spotted Kuzuhara’s heroics in the distance, where the latter completely ignored him. With a shrug, Kanashima turned to the people around himself.

“You folks are in the way… so get off the stage.”

With a vulgar smirk, he picked up a gun from a fallen soldier. Zhang and Lilei saw their chance and leapt, but a railing near them exploded and showered them with shrapnel. Lilei rode the force of the blast and landed on a walkway one level lower, and Zhang gasped in pain as some of the shrapnel hit him, forcing him to back down.

“I told you, I can control the bombs over there with my fingers. Did you seriously think I was done?”

Though he was no match for Lilei or Jun in battle, Kanashima had the entire atmosphere under his command.

The Guard Team held out hope for Carlos, but Kanashima had also been observing the shot on Lihuang, along with Lilei’s movements, to keep himself in Carlos’s blind spot.

<The stairs are in the way. And if I wanna relocate, I gotta pass by where Inui’s running wild. Frankly, I’d prefer to wait it out here.>

The Guard Team collectively gritted their teeth when they got word from Carlos, and Kanashima’s advantage was solidified. But there was one person from the East who didn’t bow to the air around them.

“You’re backed into a corner either way, I’m afraid.”

A voice buzzed through a megaphone amidst the gunfire. Gitarin, who had made it to the door without anyone’s notice, addressed Kanashima.

“Do you really think you can pull off a victory against so many people? I won’t ask you to surrender, but don’t you think it would be harsh of me to tell you to die when Jun is listening?”

It was an ultimatum packaged in friendly banter. Kanashima snickered.

“…You’re right. If this keeps up, you’re gonna be right.”

“Right?”

“When I blew up the engine… did you think I was just trying to scare you?”

With a dramatic pause, Kanashima spread his arms wide and looked up at the ceiling.

“That was just the intro. The beginning of the end.”

Those who were listening to Kanashima, cautiously surrounding him, looked up—

“…You’ve gotta be kidding me.”

On the corridor closest to the ceiling, which circled the entire engine room, stood dozens of boys and girls. They looked almost like decorations as they held small-caliber handguns and bowguns that even children like them could use. Like executioners passing judgement on all those in the engine room, they stood emotionlessly on the walkway.

“Hey… are they Rats?!”

“…! Nejiro’s friends…? How?!”

The Guard Team gasped at the sight of the rodents above. Kanashima was highly amused.

“Threatening Nejiro was a piece of cake. You already know they installed the bombs on the engine, right? I just scared the kid a little, saying I’d kill a couple of the kids. And Nejiro was cooperating with me before he could even say ‘rats’. I heard you did something awful to the kid, eh? Messed up his legs good? Ahahahahahaha!”

“That was Yili, actually, but setting that aside… that makes sense. The Rats don’t know anything but the life they have on the island. Nothing would scare them more than the thought of the island sinking. Not even death.” Gitarin nodded uncomfortably. But he suddenly set aside that emotion and returned to a businesslike tone. “Taking that into account, let me repeat myself.”

“…Huh?”

“You’re backed into a corner either way, I’m afraid.”

And just as Kanashima had done earlier, Gitarin looked up at the ceiling.

Kanashima did the same, and realized what was happening.

The guns and bowguns in the children’s nigh-robotic grips were all pointed at him.


“Hey, hey, Nejiro’s not smart or stupid enough to try and kill me now.”

“Not to worry. They won’t open fire. If they did, we wouldn’t make it out unscathed, and I’d feel awful for the valiant volunteer police captain over there. I just had them aim their guns at you to make a point.”

“…What?”

Kanashima frowned. This time, Gitarin smirked with amusement.

“You took the Rats’ ‘home’ hostage to give orders to Nejiro. We simply did the opposite.”

“…”

“We just took Nejiro hostage to command the other Rats.”

It was hard to tell if they had heard, but the Rats began to whisper to one another.

“We’ve gotta do it.” “Without Nejiro—” “—we won’t know what to do.” “Nope.” “It’s no good.” “Nope.” “And scary.” “Yeah. And easy.”

“She’s always got a katana pointed at Nejiro.”

“So we have to do what she says.” “Really?” “Yeah.”

“Because we love Nejiro.”


There was a creak as Nejiro’s wheelchair emerged from the doors.

The Rat King was clearly exhausted, and the adult standing at his side like a butler or a secretary coldly spoke to him.

“If you move, Carlos is probably going to shoot you. Sorry, but you’re still our hostage. Stay put.”

And in one swift movement, she broke into a run and leapt from one level above, crouching like a spring as she landed before the two outsiders.

In front of Yakumo and Charlotte, who had been rooted to the ground for some time.

The entire Guard Team called her name at the sight of her slender form.

“NAZUNA!”


“Huh…?”

“Miss… Nazuna?”

Charlotte and Yakumo, standing side-by-side, gasped in unison with the very same expression.

How was Nazuna here in good health, when she was supposed to be in critical condition? As many people asked the same question in their heads, Nazuna grinned as though showing off her presence.

Then she walked up to Charlotte and quietly whispered a word of apology.

“Are you all right? …I’m sorry I got you involved in our problems.”

“Nazuna! A-a-are you all right? You are, aren’t you?! Thank goodness… thank goodness!”

“Don’t worry. I’ll waste that creep and rescue your brother now.”

As though consoling a child, Nazuna gave Charlotte a pat on the head and turned to the dazed Yakumo.

“Hey… you’ve got a bad habit of taking girls hostage, huh. You should think about giving that up. You know how badly you scare Misaki all the time?”

Rejecting the act of hostage-taking with the word ‘habit’, Nazuna strode away before turning, just once. And with a faint smile she whispered to Yakumo,

“Sorry. And… thanks for worrying about me.”

Yakumo had no idea what was happening.

But Nazuna’s words were enough for him.


◁ ▶︎


This engine room is like a party full of mad dogs.

Hunting dogs, guard dogs, mad dogs, wild dogs, pet dogs, and military dogs. A party of dogs, by dogs, for dogs. There are some cats and rats mixed in there, but what does that matter?

The only two outsiders here are me and my hostage.

What is an outsider to do here? Especially when he doesn’t even know much about himself?

The hostage girl showed so much courage. I don’t know the details, but even I can tell that she’s played her part.

Let’s suppose that, while I was hesitating in the corner, someone asked me to dance.

Thinking that way is essentially like getting drunk on myself, but to be honest, it’d be painful otherwise.

“…I’m going to cut him down now. I don’t have a grudge against him, but this is my job. That’s the only reason I’m going to cut him down.”

That sounds familiar. It’s like she’s testing me.

Then, it hit me. Our conversation then wasn’t just something I dreamed up. It had really happened.

“But… would you still help me?”

I… I… I!

“I will.”

The words were out of my mouth before I knew it.

“Miss Nazuna, I love… no. Never mind. Not right now. But I think I want to follow my heart. My emotions. And do something to that guy down there. So… umm…”

Because I love you. I want to do this because I love you. Because I want to help you. That emotion alone is the reason I want to fight some guy I don’t have any personal grudge against—why can’t I say it? I’ve already told her how I felt, so why can’t I do it again?!

Nazuna smiled, her eyes on me, and said,

“Then let’s do this together.”

My expression does not change. But on the inside, I’m… happy.

Oh… Right now, I don’t care if I’m normal or not.

I… I’m completely satisfied.

I had the hostage stand far back before lightly rushing over toward Miss Nazuna, who’s already started for the bomber.


The man held a gun-shaped detonator in one hand, and an ordinary gun in his left.

“…The Killer Ghoul? Hah. Hahahaha! What’s an outsider like you doing here?”

He should be cornered now, but he’s still laughing. As though all this was a part of his plan.

“Yes. I’m the Killer Ghoul and an outsider. And I’m here to stop you… on a whim.”

Who was talking now? Yakumo Amagiri? Or Takehito Isegawa?


“So right now, I’m going to announce this as the Killer Ghoul. You’re finished.”


The moment I leapt forward, the railings around me shattered.

The pieces slowly fly towards me. I can’t evade them all, but I don’t intend to.

Several pieces of metal drive themselves into my arms and legs. Slowly. So slowly. It hurts. It’s excruciating. They’re not just driving into my body—they’re tearing my flesh apart. It would be over in a flash if I unfocused, but I can’t let myself do that now.

With my eyes I check the state of the distorted railing and jump. Subtly controlling the position of my legs, I put my feet against the broken and twisted railings and leap forward with all my might. Slowly. Slowly. And with just as much force!

The bomber makes a face like he was surprised. He points his gun at me. At this point, it’s all another day’s work. I leapt almost parallel to the railings, but I kick off the side to slightly change my trajectory and reach forward. My hand narrowly leaves the line of fire and approaches the barrel as though entangling itself. That’s a checkpoint. I pull the gun out of his left hand, then try to grab his right hand as I pass by. I wrap his fingers together so he can’t pull the trigger, and look back.

I saw Miss Nazuna. In her hand was the familiar old katana. It’s still sheathed, but Miss Nazuna was in her usual drawing stance and was just about to leap into range.

I looked into her face. She’s serious. Even if I don’t move, she’ll strike without a second thought. I was so drawn into her eyes that for a moment, I didn’t think I’d mind being cut down. But I decided that I didn’t want to die with this bomber, and moved. I grabbed his right hand and twisted around, and saw a glint of silver from Miss Nazuna’s sheath.

The tip of the katana might have been moving faster than a bullet when it passed by my eyes. And for a second, I think I saw my smiling face reflected in the blade.


It was for a single moment. Whether it moves slowly or quickly, once it passes it’s just another moment.

Please, world. Please slow down just a little more. Please stop completely.

Miss Nazuna looked so beautiful when she was cutting him down.

I wanted to look at her face forever.

But in the end, that was just the Killer Ghoul’s twisted desires talking.



◁ ▶︎


The man’s arm was chopped clean off.

Though it was supposed to be a detailed prosthetic, from the amount of gushing blood the sword must have cut through real flesh. I quickly avoided the sudden spray of blood, but Miss Nazuna doesn’t even seem to want to try.

I looked at her, covered in blood, and realized she was still beautiful.

Maybe it’s abnormal to feel like this for a girl covered in blood. But… but…

Then, I was interrupted by the ‘me’ beneath the mask. The ‘me’ that’s been mercilessly shaking up my past from the moment I heard my name from the hostage girl. Yes. The ‘me’ beneath the mask has nothing to do with this bloodcurdling world, is normal, and runs from scary things… but… that would be like rejecting Miss Nazuna.

I… won’t.

The truth came to me naturally when I made that declaration.

I see. I understand now. This was the role of the mask I gained when I came to the island.

Yakumo Amagiri was less of a persona as much as it was a restraint. Something that covered my eyes and ears from the awful truth.

In other words, I was just trying to avert my gaze from reality.


At that moment, a massive figure stands in my way.

Blood is dribbling from his mouth, some of his fingers are splayed in odd directions, but his eyes are on fire. He stood as if protecting the bomber from me, Miss Nazuna, and the others in the room.

That was when I realized that the gunfire had stopped.

What is this man? He’s run himself ragged… he’s half-gutted by now… so why isn’t there any bloodlust in his eyes?

Oh. I see.

This man—Sōji Kuzuhara—

There’s no match for him in this engine room—no, the island. He is the most abnormal person here—and a hero.


◁ ▶︎


“So now what, Mr. Seiichi Kugi? Wanna pick up where we left off?”

“That’s up to you.”

Things had changed now. The two dogs stood frozen, pointing their guns at each other.

They had been running wild on the upper levels of the engine room, but the moment they took care of all the private soldiers in goggles, they were back to taking aim square at each other’s torsos.

Inui was in his usual sideways stance. Kugi was prioritizing accuracy.

“So it comes down to this… is what I’d normally say, but nah. You too, right? Heh. We’re just a couple of rotten-ass dogs that look one hell of a lot alike.”

With a resigned chuckle, Inui slowly lowered his gun.

“Look… if I’m gonna kill you, I gotta be the lead character. And it looks like neither of us are top dog today. But don’t ask me who’s in the spotlight today.”

Slowly, they both lowered their guns. But their bloodlust remained. And they tried to justify the temporary ceasefire in their own ways.

“If I shot you here… even Yili would get on Kuzuhara’s bad side. That’s the only reason I’m sparing you.”


◁ ▶︎


The man without a right arm grinned maniacally at the sight of Kuzuhara, even as he spilled blood everywhere. As though being reunited with a friend after a century, he looked at Kuzuhara with neither hatred nor bloodlust, but hostility.

“Hah… Gahahahaha! Kuzuhara… Kuzuhara! It’s been! One hell of a long time! Fuck! I’ve got a lot of crap I wanna say to you. But why! Can’t I say it?!”

Though the embodiment of all his life’s hatred—the subject of his twisted rage, far beyond the point of simple murderous intent—was standing there, Kanashima could not find the words. But there was a strange sense of fulfillment in his face, as though just meeting Kuzuhara was enough.

“Don’t worry. …I feel the same way.”

“Gahaha! Ahahahahaha! Yes. Yes! I can tell you have a lot to say! Not just to me—to the girl you shot and killed!”

“…Enough. You’ll die if you keep raving like this.”

But the one-armed man continued madly, even as he bled out.

“You and me. We’re both powerless. How many did you fail to save in the past two months? How many did I fail to kill? Hah! Gahahahaha!”

“Shut up.”

“No. I refuse! I know what you’re thinking. ‘I want to try and keep him alive, even if he’s a piece of shit’!”

Kuzuhara did not answer. Kanashima’s guess was right on the mark. Kuzuhara no longer wanted to see anyone die. Even if that someone was the cause of this chaos. The one who used that as an excuse to endlessly rub salt in people’s wounds.

Even as Kuzuhara clenched his teeth, Ginga Kanashima continued to laugh.

Now without a right arm, he slowly moved his left.

It happened all at once. Not even those watching Kanashima reacted quickly enough.

Kanashima’s left arm, to all eyes made of flesh and blood, opened with a clatter to reveal a small black mass.

His left arm, too?!

The left arm closed at the same speed it opened at, and a small handgun glinted in its grip.

“It’s a cool toy, don’t you think?”

Kanashima remained arrogant to the end. But before anyone knew where the gun would be pointed, someone was already running towards him.


◁ ▶︎


The first to move was the self-proclaimed detective.

The talentless ace defective beat the Guard Team, Lilei, Lihuang, Kuzuhara, and even the Killer Ghoul to the chase as she broke into a run. It was not because she had a fighting chance. Not because she wanted to save whoever Kanashima would target. And not because she wanted praise. She simply didn’t want to see someone with her brother’s face kill someone.

Perhaps she had first rushed out because she didn’t want to see someone with her brother’s face die. But her goal did a 180 along the way.

From Spring-heeled Joplin’s perspective behind the security cameras, a twisted thought came to several Sherlockians who saw Kanashima’s gun pointing at Charlotte.

Before the detective was not Reichenbach Falls, but a massive engine. Once she was sucked in, she would never make it out alive.

<If only she at least knew baritsu…>


Please let me make it!

In his slow-motion world, Yakumo reached out desperately to block Charlotte’s path—but the speed of his thoughts was now a useless toy that could do little but elongate one hopeless moment.

Am I powerless after all? Both Yakumo… and Takehito?


Then, there was a sharp gunshot. And everything was over.


But the bullet had not hit Charlotte.

A crimson stain spread over Ginga Kanashima’s chest and back. Directly over his heart.

“?!”

A stunned silence fell over the engine room as heads turned to find the shooter.

“Was that you, Carlos?!” Zhang hissed into the radio.

<No. I was going to shoot, but someone beat me to it.>

In the end, no one spotted the shooter, and several tense seconds passed.

The man with Sherlock’s face whispered something to Kuzuhara, then, and leaned against the railing. Then he threw himself to the floor of the engine room as though climbing.

How many saw his body crushed by the massive metal clockwork?

Yakumo Amagiri, at the very least, was watching it all in slow motion.

He could have looked away. He could have unfocused and ended it quickly.

But he did not. He could not turn his eyes away from the death he witnessed.


And for the first time in a very long time, he felt sick to his stomach at the sight of death.

Why did it disgust him so much, when the man was a despicable villain?

Charlotte’s scream only rattled him further.

The scream lasted a second, but to Yakumo it seemed to be an eternity.


For some time Kuzuhara stood blankly, before picking up Kanashima’s gun off the floor in a daze.

The gun had popped out of his hand at the very end. Kuzuhara picked up Kanashima’s final weapon—

—he realized that the gun wasn’t loaded—

Silently, with an unbearable look, he shook his head.


And so, the incident came to a close.

With several mysteries still left, and the culprit’s body gone.

It simply left behind a bitter aftertaste.

Yet everything continued to move.

The engine, in spite of the damage, continued to function. And higher up on the island, it was business as usual.

Vigorously, but with a hollow ring.


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2 comments:

  1. Thank you for translating this amazing part! Everything is so amazing!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Jung swung and quickly parried the broadsword. (Jung > Jun)
    Then he threw himself to the floor of the engine room as through climbing. (through > though)

    ReplyDelete