It's double update day! This is the final update for Garuguru! and the main plot of the Etsusa Bridge series. Afterwards will be 5656!, a short story collection that takes place in the summer of 2021.
I'm not done with the pdf and epub yet, but they'll be up by the end of the month.
Thanks, and enjoy.
The theme park office in the Eastern District.
“In other words, I had Nazuna play sick while she was actually off overseeing and commanding the Rats as the center of the Eastern District. She was never injured to begin with—the pile of bandages you saw at the hospital was actually the mummy from the theme park’s haunted house. But we just got word that not all the explosions took place where the Rats set up the bombs, so the cleanup crew’s scrambling everywhere—so why do you people have the time to pull a Neck Hanging Tree on your own boss?” Gitarin explained nonchalantly as Zhang tightened his grip on his collar.
“…And you had to hide this from us why?”
“Heh heh heh… if you wish to deceive your enemies, first you must deceive your allies.”
“You think paraphrasing literature’s gonna make us forgive you, asshole?!”
“Whoa, whoa! If this were a manga, this would be the scene where you shake your head and let me off the whooaaaaaaaa!”
Meanwhile, Jun was crying tears of joy from behind her bangs as she held Nazuna’s hands.
“Thank goodness… thank goodness!”
“C’mon, Jun. You’re embarrassing me. It’s all right. …Let me go out and get some air, okay?”
Nazuna scratched her head sheepishly and walked outside to escape the others.
And as soon as she was out of sight, she sighed and her expression darkened.
She had lied. So had Gitarin, who was still being choked inside.
Watching the Rats hadn’t been Nazuna’s only mission.
While pretending to be wounded, Nazuna had taken on another job.
She was ordered to take care of dangerous elements among the Eastern District’s own executives—among their own family. Most were affiliated with the parent organization on the mainland and had cooperated with Ginga Kanashima, unlike the Western District executives.
Before going over to Japan, Kanashima had already established a connection with some of the parent organization’s executives. He had played the executives for the sole purpose of worsening public security on the island.
Because of what had happened in the past, not a small number of people in the parent organization held a grudge against Gitarin. That had worked in Kanashima’s favor, earning him more allies to cooperate with.
And it was on the orders of Gitarin himself, who had noticed this first, that Nazuna killed them.
She had slinked through shadows and pulled all sorts of tricks to eliminate the dangerous elements that targeted other executives. Even though she had no grudges against them. Because it was her job.
Jun didn’t know anything about the mastermind behind the case. She might have noticed something, but she was neither insensitive nor clever enough to pry the answer from unwilling parties. So lying to Jun made Nazuna feel like she was choking with guilt.
Perhaps even that was part of Gitarin’s calculations. After all, he was a demon capable of flawlessly feigning anger and sadness at the death of the new executive whose murder he had ordered.
Once, surprised at how easily Jun left her fate in the hands of others, Nazuna had asked her why she was capable of such a thing. How could she trust the members of the dangerous Guard Team?
Jun’s answer had been simple.
“It’s a little rash to say it’s because I trust everyone. But… I love everyone on the Guard Team. That’s reason enough for me.”
Deceiving a girl like Jun made Nazuna’s heart feel heavy.
Reminded of the fact that she was in no way normal, Nazuna suddenly remembered a certain scapegoat.
Everyone knew now that Kanashima had pulled the strings, but for a time Nazuna’s crimes had been blamed on Yakumo Amagiri.
‘He’s strange and dangerous to boot… but I think he’s much more normal than I am.’
When she remembered how he had nervously confessed his love for her, Nazuna found herself snickering. Then she thought more about him.
Perhaps she could be almost completely true to herself when she spoke to someone like him.
She felt a bit like having a chat with the fainthearted Killer Ghoul.
With that thought, she was reminded once more of her own abnormal nature and smiled at the sky—absently hoping to one day see the Killer Ghoul smile as well.
The Kitten of the East dreams. But she does not speak of them.
To the girl named Jun Sahara, dreams were simply dreams. She saw no meaning in sharing them with others.
She was not the only one. To most of those living in the island’s ‘present’, dreams were simply dreams. No more, no less.
After all, life on the island included joy and sadness and everything in between.
Embracing the reality that includes all those things, they live their lives vivaciously.
For both joy and sadness were part of their very selves—
<—and in a way, part of the dream the island dreams.>
“That’s not what I asked you, Spring-heeled Joplin.”
In the deep darkness, the young man spoke into an unusual communication device.
There was not a soul around. It almost looked as though he were talking to himself.
<Then how can I assist you, Spring-heeled Joplin? You, the island’s foremost backstabber. What does the man who cooperated with the West, the East, and even Ginga Kanashima at times want to know from me?>
Reading the reply, the bespectacled young man—Sherlock Liverpool—asked almost mechanically.
“In the end… why did Ginga Kanashima point a gun at Charlotte?”
With his empty hand he fingered a tiny device. It was a remote control detonator reminiscent of a cell phone.
“He must have known that I would kill him. And… why didn’t he kill Charlotte in retaliation? He didn’t die instantly; he had a chance to kill her.”
In order to save his sister, Sherlock had made a certain offer to a certain man.
What was he saving Charlotte from? Sherlock’s answer was simple.
He wanted to free her from the island.
That was the conclusion he reached after being embroiled in a series of unusual events two months earlier. It hadn’t taken him very long to arrive at the answer. He didn’t care for anyone who wasn’t Charlotte, and he even harbored hatred for the island.
Sherlock had heard of Ginga Kanashima. Having leaked information to both districts in order to eke out a living, Sherlock’s abilities were finally deemed worthy for Spring-heeled Joplin to contact him. That was when he first heard of Ginga Kanashima. But one day, Kanashima got into contact with him.
At first, their exchanges consisted of one-sided threats from Kanashima. If Sherlock didn’t cooperate, his sister would be killed. It was simple. Kanashima must have needed help from someone who dealt with both the Western and Eastern Districts. But Sherlock kept a cool head and managed to transform the threats into negotiations. If Kanashima would destroy the island, Sherlock would give him his face, on the condition that they entrusted each other with their lives. Kanashima had sustained a deep chest wound over the summer, and was supported by an unusual device that assisted his damaged organs. When Sherlock learned of this, he demanded that they should at least plant bombs in their bodies and take each other’s detonators. He was simply bluffing to try and bargain with the man, but Ginga Kanashima accepted the terms.
When the back-alley doctor had finished with Kanashima, Sherlock was prepared to go under the knife next. But—
“Forget it. If you betray me, your sister dies. That’s all. Nothing’s gonna hurt you more.”
Kanashima had seen right through him. Desperately holding back his fear and hatred, Sherlock calmly executed their plans.
Knowing that the Eastern District had them under surveillance, their dealings and switches all took place inside the hotel where the siblings’ office was. Although the Guard Team kept an eye out for the siblings entering and exiting the building, Sherlock switched places with Kanashima once he and Charlotte were both confirmed to be inside the hotel, and moved to the Eastern District.
He ran his fingers through the despair of leaving his sister in the hands of a stranger, but endured it. Or perhaps he wanted to finally get rid of his feelings for her.
“But… in the end, I just ended up hurting Charlotte.”
Letting his self-hatred surface, Sherlock clenched his fists tightly in the darkness. By the time the tips of his nails were bloody, he exhaled and opened his mouth again.
“It doesn’t make any logical sense. What if I’d changed my mind and detonated his bomb out of nowhere? And why did he stop me from implanting the bomb into my body? As far as I could tell, the bombs were real. But I was sure he’d messed with the detonators, at least. So why…? Why would he—”
<It was all part of his plan.>
“What do you mean?”
<He was planning to die from the start. That twisted genius named Ginga Kanashima.>
Inside Kelly’s van, Kuzuhara was watching a video.
A memory card labeled ‘To Mr. Sōji Kuzuhara’ had been left at the Iizuka restaurant at some point, but because he had nothing to read it with, he was forced to ask Kelly.
He had an idea of what he might find on the card.
‘A message from Kanashima.’
The man who was sucked into the engine with a hole through his chest said one last thing to Kuzuhara.
“Serves you right.”
The hole in his chest… although the shooter’s identity remained a mystery, Kuzuhara understood that Kanashima had wanted to die, then.
He thought he might find a document, but the memory card contained a video. A video of a man sitting on the side of a hotel bed, with bandages around his face like he’d recently had plastic surgery.
<You doin’ all right, Kuzuhara? Or not? Is it ‘cause I died in front of you? Who gives a shit.>
Kuzuhara gritted his teeth at the sight of the man in the video—Ginga Kanashima. Though he feigned tranquility, all kinds of emotions were rising to the surface.
And as though seeing right through him, the man in the video said,
<Although it would’ve been great to just drag you into an explosion with me! But if you somehow survived that… it wouldn’t hit you as hard if all you had were chunks of meat to recognize me by. And that asshole Gitarin would just say I faked my death. So I needed to make a show of it. To die writhing before your eyes.>
As though euphorically seeing the moment of his own death, Kanashima addressed Kuzuhara beyond the screen.
<But listen up, Kuzuhara! You guard dog! The poor guard dog who gets worked to death and ends up biting his own master! You, the guard dog leashed by my death! Did you realize yet? You must have! Yes, of course! The fact that you’re watching this necessarily means that someone left this video for you in my stead, after my death! Hahaha! Ahahahahahahahahaha! I may be gone, but I don’t plan on taking even my hatred with me.>
There was a person—or a group of people—carrying out Kanashima’s will. That knowledge alone was enough to turn his insides into a knot.
<Like I said, all I want to do is torment you! I could have sunk this island any time I wanted. You know I’m not bluffing. But that wouldn’t have done me any good. ‘Cause if you died, you’d never have to suffer again! ‘Cause even if there is an afterlife, I know damn well you’re bound for heaven!>
Suddenly, Kanashima stopped laughing, his eyes going blank and lifeless. Like an executioner. Like a sinner. And like a resentful victim.
<I want you to suffer until your last breath. I won’t accept a suicide, and I know you couldn’t do it, anyway.>
Then, he grinned and burst out laughing, this time even clapping his hands.
<I told you I’d looked into everything about you! Kelly, right? The woman. She’s missing a couple of screws, but she’s not a bad catch at all.>
Something began to agitate Kuzuhara’s insides.
The fact that Kanashima—a piece of human trash—had merely spoken Kelly’s name left Kuzuhara desperately forcing his emotions back.
<Whoa, don’t get your panties in a twist. I’m not gonna tell you I’ll kill her if you die. But! Get this, Kuzuhara! As long as you love her, you will never be able to kill yourself or escape the island—no matter how painful it gets. Am I right? You’ve only got one option left in life, and that’s to live on with the dead girl’s eyes burned into your memories! HAH! Heehahahahahahahaha!>
The rest of the video was just footage of Kanashima laughing.
But Kuzuhara could neither close the video nor take out the memory card to break it.
He was simply angry.
At the fact that he was played by a man like Kanashima.
At his own foolishness, for having tried to help that piece of human trash.
And at his own self, for feeling almost the same sort of guilt over Kanashima as he did for the little girl he had shot and killed.
With nowhere to take out his anger, Kuzuhara clenched his fists. But a pair of pale, slender arms reached over and wrapped around him, almost as though having read his mind.
“For the record, the asshole’s copying my laugh! Heehahahaha!”
Suddenly, he felt his outrage slowly dissipate. Though the guilt and regrets remained—and he had no intention of erasing them—Kuzuhara could feel the darkest of the emotions being washed away.
“What’s wrong? This ain’t like you. Again. This is a straight-up challenge! You gonna run with your tail between your legs and get fat and die?!”
“Can you please consider how I’m feeling?”
Kuzuhara gave her a textbook reply. Kelly frowned.
“…The hell. I’m surprised you’re not floored. I was expecting you to go navel-gazing again so I was gonna give you an intimate pep talk… Heehahahahahaha!”
“…People generally learn to consider others’ feelings around the time they’re in kindergarten. Did you know that?”
“Then again, I’m not a mind reader! But remember, Kuzu. I might be a useless piece of crap, but you’ve still got someone to take shit challenges like this with you! Heehahahahaha!”
Kelly’s encouragement was the same as ever. So Kuzuhara gave the same old bitter smile.
It was all ordinary. Everyday. But for some reason, it made him feel liberated.
‘You’re a piece of shit, Kanashima. But you were a genius.
‘But still… you got something wrong.
‘I’m probably bound for hell, too. That was set in stone the moment I shot that girl.
‘When I get there, I’ll find you, jackass, and tell you something—
‘“Serves you right”.’
‘But until then… I’m gonna fight the good fight. On this island.’
Quietly, he clenched his fists. With a vow in his heart that, until the time came, he would always remain true to himself.
Sherlock and the communicator’s conversation continued as the former walked through the back alleys of the Eastern District.
<For all his talent—talent he knew he had—he used it all, along with his life, to torment just one person. …Maybe that’s what malice really is.>
“Malice, huh. …Come to think of it, which district allied with Kanashima in the end? The East? Or the West?”
<That’s not for me to say, and not for you to hear. You’re better off not knowing.>
“I see… Right.”
With a tired sigh, Sherlock headed for the ramen store.
The top floor of the Grand Ibis Hotel.
“It was foolishness. No more, no less.” Yili shook her head wearily. “To think that you, Father… No, Ei daren… was allied with Ginga Kanashima all along.”
The room was quite humble for being the quarters of the Western District’s boss. Yili continued to speak to the small figure sitting in a chair.
“I don’t know why you fanned the flames of conflict between the districts, or what made you join forces with Kanashima. Although I suppose I have an inkling. You were plotting to declare independence from the parent organization in China, weren’t you? …Ironic. A long-lived man like you loses his love for the motherland, while we children born on foreign soil are the ones loyal to her.”
She was no longer speaking as a daughter to her father, nor as a subordinate to her superior. There was contempt in her tone, one reserved solely for her enemies.
“Have you not finished him yet, Yili?”
Calling her name was not the man in the chair. Lihuang emerged from behind Yili—Lihuang, who had reserved no enmity against his half-sister.
“Were you surprised, Ei daren? Did you ever guess? That in spite of our difficult relationship, Elder Brother and I were exchanging information behind your back? It was really just an act to deceive the Eastern District, though I will concede that Elder Brother’s rampage is what sparked this incident.”
“Hey! If you have time to be shaming your brother—”
“Hm? It’s all right, Elder Brother.”
Curious, Lihuang quietly went up to the chair. He found the old man already cold with blood streaming down the back of his neck.
“…Why were you talking to a corpse?”
“I don’t believe in an afterlife, but I’m somewhat inclined to believe in the existence of spirits.”
“I’m surprised. A skeptic like you?”
“That’s why I only speak to my enemies once they’re dead. So I can shower their spirits with one-sided vitriol.”
Her eyes were icy and dark, yet so elegant and clear that it was hard to believe she had just killed her own father.
“I would be a fool to speak to them while they’re still alive and give them the chance to retaliate.”
“Of course. That is quite logical.” Lihuang chuckled bitterly. Yili continued.
“Things… are going to get busy now. I’ll announce that Ei daren is away, recuperating from illness. We’ll bide our time, find a chance, and slowly release the truth.”
They turned their backs on their father’s corpse, but just as they stepped out of the room, Lihuang spoke.
“Something occurred to me yesterday, when I looked at the woman who drained the venom from the air.”
“The detective sister? What about her?”
“…Perhaps blue eyes can be quite beautiful after all.”
Lihuang showed no emotion. Yili chuckled bitterly, just as he had earlier.
“Xiexie, Ei daren.”
A few minutes before the Ei siblings’ conversation.
Kugi, on standby in the dark hallway, stood with his cell phone pressed against his ear.
Normally, he never took personal calls while on duty. But he couldn’t hang up on this particular caller.
<Hey, how’s the wound? Mine’s healing up nicely.>
“…I’m hanging up.”
<Whoa, that’s cold, man! Same as ever. You even take after your boss’s attitude.>
<You said you were the lady’s shadow, right?>
<And you said a shadow doesn’t need any emotions. But something bugged me for a while after that. But I just figured it out, so I thought I’d tell you.>
<If you’re gonna be Yili Ei’s shadow… you’re gonna need emotions after all.>
<When she starts chattering, you gotta do the same. If she starts sobbing, you gotta sob too. That’s a shadow’s job, am I right?>
<Yili’s the type to bottle up everything inside, so you gotta at least understand the whole gamut of her emotions and laugh and cry with her. That’s what a shadow does.>
“…Is that all you have to say?”
<You’ve really changed. Now I look like a dumbass here. Then again, I was pretty surprised when I heard you say out loud that you were gonna be her shadow.>
“…? What do you mean?”
<Whoa, don’t play dumb. ‘I’ll be your shadow’? That’s slang for a marriage proposal back in her country, you ladykiller!>
The moment Kugi reeled, the one-sided conversation came to a one-sided end.
As he stood in a daze, footsteps approached from behind.
“What’s wrong, Seiichi?”
When she called his name, Kugi trembled more than necessary.
It seemed he still had a long way to go before he could fully become her shadow.
Inside a ramen store in the Eastern District.
Hanging up, Inui pounded his fists against the counter like a child celebrating a successful prank.
“I said it! There, I said it! Glad I finally got that outta my system. Now we can call it even— wait. Hey Mr. Take? Can I get some dumplings and fried rice to celebrate?”
“How ‘bout you pay off your tab before you act all cool over the phone again?”
“Gah! You’re a heartless man, Mr. Take. I was just starting to feel like a good boy back there, and you had to go and ruin the mood.”
“Wish I coulda flushed it down the drain after I ruined it. And about that whole spiel with shadows and proposals… you pulled that outta your ass.”
“Gah! That didn’t even take ten seconds! Shit! Then it might not have worked on Kugi, either… looks like I owe him another bullet next time after all…”
As Inui treated a gunshot as the rough equivalent of a prank, Mr. Take brought out a plate of dumplings. And, unusually enough, he began to talk about himself.
“Then again, it’s not a bad idea, marrying someone you meet on the island. Not like you can fall any lower once you’re here, anyway. At least you wouldn’t end up like me.”
“Whoa. You were married, Mr. Take?”
Inui turned, hungry for gossip. But his enthusiasm was not contagious.
“I left a wife and two kids behind out there. So I don’t plan to be anyone’s shadow at this point. …Guess you could say I even lost my own shadow in the dark of the island.”
“Hey, what’s the matter, Mr. Take? You’re starting to sound like a poet!”
“Just trying to match your clowning, kid.”
Mr. Take’s poker face could beat Yili’s, Inui thought, and began to play with a bottle of chili oil.
That was when he heard the door open behind him. Another customer entered.
Inui glanced back and extended the newcomer a friendly greeting.
“Hey, man. We met the other day, didn’t we? Talked about a buncha stuff, if I remember. Like Triple Beretta.”
When he spotted Inui, the customer—Sherlock—stared blankly.
“Hey, don’t give me that look. C’mon, sit down. This is practically fate, Mr. Take. So let’s switch to a movie…”
Inui chirped excitedly. Sherlock turned and left the store.
“Huh? Hey, where’re you going?”
“Inui, you son of a bitch! You better not have chased away another customer!”
“Wait, I didn’t do anything this time, I swear—”
Listening to the commotion behind him, Sherlock sighed. He never thought he’d run into a related party here. His appetite was long ruined by a wave of nausea.
“…They’re not going to have him join Spring-heeled Joplin?”
He was only talking to himself, but a mocking voice escaped the communicator.
<It’s much more interesting to watch them, instead of having them join us. In other words, all we’re allowed to do with them is observe.>
Several hours later, somewhere in the Western District.
Yili was out at a banquet when Kugi’s cell phone rang again.
He picked up without even checking the caller ID—and as he expected, the voice on the line belonged to Rainbow-Head.
<Forgot to mention something.>
Was it yet another challenge? Or was it a response to the joking offer to live a new life as pirates? Or was it simply a greeting? Kugi had no way of knowing, and no need to know.
Because whatever the meaning, he had but one answer.
“Yeah… see you.”
At the end of the call, Kugi reminisced about everything that had happened on the island.
And all alone, the shadow smiled.
He realized that the island under his feet was his own shadow, including the people there, the ground below, and the crimes he had committed.
That fact made him sad, and happy.
He no longer recalled the face of his childhood friend. All he had left was his guilt.
When he looked up, he saw a kite high up in the sky—circling not the mainland, but the artificial island.
When he saw the nostalgic sight,
Kugi no longer wept.
After leaving the ramen store, Sherlock took out the communicator again and asked Spring-heeled Joplin,
“Come to think of it, what happened to the Killer Ghoul?”
<Aha! You didn’t see, did you? It was certainly a show, I can tell you that. And… it seems like he’s gotten closer to your sister.>
Sherlock paled. And as though he could see him, the man on the communicator chuckled.
<Not to worry. It hasn’t gone quite as far as you fear.>
“…What do you mean?”
The Killer Ghoul’s confessions.
I was standing at the island entrance, then, with the hostage named Lottie.
The massive bridge never failed to impress me. Just standing in front of it made my heart feel open.
When the girl here said my name—the name of the ‘me’ under this mask—I honestly thought my heart was going to stop.
But after the incident, she explained everything and I understood. Apparently people from the mainland were searching for me.
I don’t know what’s happened on the other side, but if they’re looking for me… I realized that it was time for a decision.
I would throw away this mask. But my crimes will never fade away. Will I be able to live in the outside world? Or will I end up back here after all? Maybe I’ll end up becoming a killer out there and get arrested and executed.
But I didn’t feel like running away. One sad thing was that I might never see Miss Nazuna again. We exchanged phone numbers, but will she accept the ‘me’ who’s gone back to the mainland? I suppose I can think about that once I’ve heard out whoever is looking for me.
When we came to the designated place, a group of men were waiting for us.
…? Strange. Why would they bring so many people just to pick me up? And the only familiar face here is the one in the middle—Father’s secretary. The rest were a poor match for him; a rabble of lowlifes.
I had a bad feeling about this.
And my suspicions were quickly proven correct.
As the men drew their guns, the secretary went on and on about the reasons I had to die. It didn’t really matter to me, so it went in one ear and out the other; but I understood full well that Father found out about me somehow and considered me a nuisance.
It looks the the one who had to die wasn’t the mask, but Takehito Isegawa.
I chuckled bitterly at the absurdity of it all and wondered if I should just let the bullets hit me. If this was my end, it was an end befitting the Killer Ghoul.
But a moment later, that thought was blown away as Lottie stood in front of me and argued with them. “Please wait”. “This isn’t what you said earlier”.
Why is an abnormally naive girl like her on this island, I wondered, as I picked her up and tried to escape the lines of fire. Just when it occurred to me that I probably couldn’t evade them all with Lottie in my arms, I spotted a cat with a radio strapped to it walking this way.
Damn that urban legend. Why don’t you just grab a bucket of popcorn while you’re at it?
That was what I thought, but it occurred to me later that maybe he was the one who called those two over.
Those two being my nap buddy, who swung her lead pipe at the men from behind, and the island’s hero who soon arrived at the scene with the volunteer police.
I don’t know what really went on behind the scenes there, but I escaped to a safe place and let the girl down.
“…I’m sorry I got you involved.”
“…Not at all! …Er… my heart is racing, but… i-it’s all right! After all, I am a detective!”
She was pale and her teeth were chattering, but I bowed to her again… and suddenly became serious.
“…I think… Takehito Isegawa was the one who was supposed to disappear. So I decided that he just died in the gunfire back there. So please don’t call me that anymore.”
I don’t know why I said this to the girl. Maybe I just wanted someone—anyone—to hear my resolve. Because maybe it would serve as a sort of funeral for Takehito Isegawa.
She replied, quietly.
“So he’s… passed away. Then what will you do now?”
“From now on… I’m Yakumo Amagiri. I’ll just live on as the Killer Ghoul. Just lounging around the Eastern District, getting into fights with the Guard Team. As usual, I guess.”
“You love Nazuna.”
She hit the nail on the head. She’s supposed to be a detective, but I can’t tell if she’s clever or dense. …Or maybe I’m just no good at hiding my feelings.
But even I know something. Even someone as dull as me could understand. Call me conceited, but, well… when I see Lottie’s fair cheeks go red when she looks at me, I can barely meet her gaze. But no. I can’t. I have Miss Nazuna—
“Mr. Yakumo Amagiri! I fell in love with you at first sight! And I still do have feelings for you.”
She confessed so easily that I almost did a spit take. I think I should thank God that I wasn’t drinking any milk.
I stood there nervously as she continued. She looked happy. Like she was teasing me. And like she was a little disappointed.
“I know you love Nazuna, Mr. Amagiri. And I know that my love at first sight doesn’t have a chance yet. So… I think I might direct my love at the person you showed me when you rescued me—not the Killer Ghoul, but Takehito Isegawa.”
Does she believe that she’ll have a chance someday? I was floored by her naiveté, left to wonder how she could live on the island in the first place.
“If Takehito Isegawa passed away here, I will keep him in my memories forever! So please, live on in his stead!”
For a single moment, my heart wavered.
It felt like what remained of Takehito Isegawa in my heart fell in love with her for a second, but I pushed him back behind the mask. I will never know how he truly feels until this mask is broken.
With a wry chuckle at my own cowardice, I said goodbye to the ace detective and headed for the Eastern District casino.
I want to see Miss Nazuna as quickly as I can. I should probably take Misaki hostage, then.
That’s probably Yakumo Amagiri’s way of life—
And I know that I am not normal.
And I realized that, because I am not normal—
—I love this abnormal island.
“I see… she’s safe. Thank goodness.”
Having heard a great deal of things that day, Sherlock slowly went silent.
He returned to his hideout and buried himself in the dark rubble, falling into thought.
After the incident, daily life returned to the island and things were moving quite smoothly.
For everyone but himself.
Whatever the case, he could not show himself to her now. Maybe he didn’t even have the right to remain on the island, but Sherlock had resolved to stay and protect her. He didn’t need any compensation. He didn’t mind if no one loved him, if people loathed him, or even if they killed him. He was happy so long as Charlotte was safe.
He explained that to Spring-heeled Joplin. Then he added that he would like to keep some distance from him. A disappointed voice escaped the communicator.
<So you choose to return from the realm of legend to reality. It’s unfortunate, but I suppose there’s nothing to be done.>
But that disappointment lasted only a moment. Spring-heeled Joplin continued impishly.
<Then the urban legend shall bid you farewell with one final miracle. I felt a little devious today. Accept it with a bitter smile. But honestly, guiding people through clues alone can be a very difficult job, depending on the subject.>
What was Spring-heeled Joplin trying to say, Sherlock wondered, but the communicator finally went silent.
As Sherlock furrowed his brow, a bright light suddenly enveloped him.
Someone had opened the door and let the light outside into the rubble.
‘Who is that? Someone from one of the organizations? Are they… here to kill me?
‘That’s all right. I’m all right. But… but…’
As his eyes adjusted to the light, his eyes met another set, just as blue as his own. The bearer of the name he was just about to utter in his heart—Charlotte—was there. She stood, panting loudly, without even trying to hide the fact that she had sprinted all the way here.
What filled his heart then was terror. He had said just earlier that he would never meet her again. If this was what Spring-heeled Joplin considered devious, he was even worse than Ginga Kanashima.
Sherlock could scarcely breathe. But Charlotte smiled her usual smile and said her usual lines.
“I’ve finally found you, Sherlock Liverpool! Heh heh heh… now you must acknowledge that I am capable of walking this island on my own!”
Charlotte’s radiant smile blew away the tension in the air. Sherlock resisted, trying to retain his venom.
“…How did you find me?”
Joplin’s clues had gone clear over her head, he knew. He also had an idea of what Charlotte would say next—”Because I am an ace detective!”—and as he imagined her confident declaration, Sherlock began to wonder how he would escape her—
“…Of course I would know where to find you. We’re family.”
Quietly and gently, she embraced him.
“Thank goodness… I’m so glad you’re unharmed, Sherlock Liverpool…”
He had not been expecting that.
Never in Sherlock’s wildest dreams did he expect that his sister, with her love of putting on airs, would do something like this.
‘I still have no idea if she’s a natural, or if she’s actually calculating all this. But…’
Either way, she was even worse than Kanashima or Joplin.
In the past, when they talked about Little Red Riding Hood, Charlotte had likened herself to the girl and Sherlock to the hunter.
But Sherlock realized that in reality, he was Little Red Riding Hood in the belly of the wolf before him.
‘I’d rather the hunter never come for me at all, if it means he cuts Charlotte open.
‘I choose to fall into this island and drown with the wolf.’
Captured in the arms of the innocent wolf,
Sherlock sobbed out loud as he did in his childhood.
Half a year later, the Etsusa Bridge.
“Yes, this is Spring-heeled Joplin. Do you copy, Spring-heeled Joplin?”
The new Spring-heeled Joplin smiled innocently.
“I think we have a newcomer to the island, so I’ll go and lend a hand. Don’t worry! Big bro is here with me!”
The way she so easily speaks of the urban legend’s secret is worrisome in a way, but the girl is a dutiful one who would never go so far as to reveal the secret.
Nothing has changed on this island.
That is why it continues to change.
…Yatsufusa. Listen. Can you hear me?
Did you truly have this island dancing on your strings?
Is that why you died laughing?
By living on this island and becoming one with it, you’d already taken control of it.
And it became your island, one that you alone envisioned.
Yes. This island belongs to you all. Those on the outside can never take hold of it. All they can do is watch.
I envy you all. But I will continue to watch from here. Even in the future, once I have passed it all on to another, someone else will continue to observe—continue to be Spring-heeled Joplin.
Because that is the fate—and final happiness—given to the urban legend known as Spring-heeled Joplin.
A cat equipped with a radio passed by Yua and ran to the newcomer.
The radio on the cat slowly spoke to the young newcomer, who had come to the island in search of something.
<Amidst the gusts of wind, a column of sea water sweeps across the bridge. And why have you found yourself taking the brunt of that gale? No one—>
As though telling his story, the voice hummed softly, carried away by the wind. Did it reach the newcomer’s ears? No one else would know.
<Life does exist on this land over the sea. Clearly and vivaciously, right before your eyes.>
The voice spoke as though to itself, as though the very island was whispering.
<This is neither the mainland nor the island.>
<It is Japan, yet not.>
<It is neither land nor sea.>
<The longest bridge in the world, spanning Sado Island and Niigata.>
<And the nameless island that stands in the very middle of that bridge—>
And again, the island began to move.
Slowly, but surely.
With the hopes of its inhabitants carried in the hum of its massive engine.
The abandoned island continues today to dream.