Episode 1: Dog vs. Dog
“You’re Hayato Inui?”
When the young man found himself facing down a group of men in black suits, he sighed.
“No. Seriously… what is up with today? You have any idea how crazy it’s been? Everywhere I go, people keep asking if I’m him.”
The young man ran his fingers through his multicolored hair, irritated.
“Look. I lost a bet and ended up doing my hair the same as Mr. Inui. What the hell? Everyone knows what he looks like, so why is everyone accusing me?” He spat.
The men in black exchanged glances.
“…We’ll decide whether you’re the real deal or not. Consider yourself unlucky. You’re coming with us.”
“…What? Hey, if I follow you without a fuss and you find out I’m not the guy… you’re not gonna say ‘we’ve got no business with you’ and go BANG on me, are you?”
“Better than getting pumped full of lead here and now.”
“Whoa, wait. All right. I’ll go with…”
The panicked young man glanced over the men’s shoulders, then, and suddenly raised his voice.
“Ah! Perfect timing, Mr. Inui!”
The men turned reflexively.
But all they saw was a a wall with loud graffiti that read ‘made you look’.
A second later, a smirk rose to the young man’s lips.
“You gotta help me… prove I’m not the one!”
The men in black tried to turn, sensing something terrible behind them, but the distinctive noise sounded before they could.
They were clear, crisp gunshots. But what the gunshots meant depended entirely on whether you were the one holding the gun or the one on the receiving end.
“So that was lesson one on Hayato Inui’s face. Tell whoever you’re working for, if you manage to make it back alive.”
The voice clad in gunsmoke guffawed and shut the door.
“Heh. So now they’re making their move.”
With the groans of the men in the building behind him, the young man snickered under his breath.
“This is getting interesting.”
The men with black cloths over their faces surrounded the woman without a word.
It was an easy situation to understand. A group of thugs preying on a woman in the dark.
“Who are you?” The woman asked nervously. One of the men finally spoke.
“…I hear you’re quite the vixen.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The men, numbering at about a dozen, slowly drew closer to the woman with excitement in their eyes.
“She’s one of the execs from the Western District criminals, right? What’s she doing alone?”
“You think we got the wrong person?” “Doesn’t matter. No normal person would be on this island to begin with.”
“Can’t believe our luck. Talk about an awesome catch.”
“The rainbow son of a bitch got us good, but things are finally looking up.”
Dim shadows were cast all around them, lit only by a fading fluorescent light.
The woman in the white qipao took a step back.
“Are you… here to kill me?”
The men panted and grinned.
“Kill you? No, no. We’re just here to get rid of pests like you.”
The woman smiled, then, an icy look rising to her eyes.
“Aha. So you’re not part of some impish assassination plot by Gitarin.”
“Then I have no obligation to play along.”
The woman’s attitude changed in an instant. The men stopped without even thinking.
Had they failed to let sleeping dogs lie, they wondered. And—
It was an unusual command, the men thought, and half of them lost their lives.
Not by any magic or superhuman powers.
It was pure realism. The reality of lead bullets being driven into their heads.
The man who had referred to a rainbow earlier froze.
As if on cue, bullets flew again—
He alone was left with holes in his leg, the rest falling to the ground with blood spewing from their heads or hearts.
“Ah… grk… GAAAAAAAAAAAH!”
The shock delayed the agony, but it only spared him for a moment. He was overwhelmed by pain running down his spine.
Though only his legs had been shot, it felt as though everything from his fingertips to his eyeballs and even every strand of hair on his head were screaming. The pain, in conjunction with his destroyed muscles, left the man to fall helplessly to the ground.
A figure appeared before him.
A young man in a black suit with a brown trenchcoat over it, and a gentle countenance.
The young man placed his foot on the thug’s pinky finger and put down all his weight, as though trying to crush it.
The man’s finger made an unpleasant noise, and a long shape with a white core, wrapped in skin, tore in a grotesque shape underfoot.
“AAAAAARGH! Hah… GAAAAAAAAHHHH!”
The chords of agony from his finger and his legs destroyed any sense of reason left in him.
But the young man would not even allow the thug to faint, pulling off his mask and grabbing the bearded man by the ears. He hissed with a voice so cold it seemed to freeze the air.
“The rainbow bastard.”
A hint of emotion flickered in the young man’s dark eyes. The emotion was such a complicated one that even he himself could not describe it fully.
The woman in the qipao ordered a group of suit-clad men who came later to clean up the corpses. Then she spoke stoically to the young man.
“The elder was right. The mad dog is involved somehow.”
Like a shadow given form, he neither approached nor drew away from the woman.
Remembering a certain face in his memories, the young man clenched his teeth.
“We might have gotten ourselves into another mess.”
It was a time when children born in the 21st century were growing into adulthood, one after another.
What hopes—or hopeless dreams—did their parents’ generation have of the future twenty years ahead?
In 2021, the orbital elevator remained a dream, and flying cars existed but were not popularized. Technology evolved internally, however, with rapid developments in computing and communication technology. People’s lives simply changed in step with the new developments.
And as many people expected—and as many people did not even need to expect—
Those typically known as ‘villains’ continued to infest the world.
<Ah-ah-ah—Aaahh… Testing… You hear me? Is everybody hearing this? Answer if you can! But since nobody else’s got a mic, I’d never hear you anyway! Tch. Forget the test, I seriously can’t tell if the whole island’s hearing this! Am I going stupid here?! Stupid! Stuuuuuuupid! STUUUUUUUUPID! …Hic. …Which is why today’s Buruburu Airwaves is gonna be extra cranky! This program has been brought to you by the following sponsorbitches! So here’s what’s up. I know you all’ve seen the Buruburu TV I installed in front of the Grand Mall fountain. If you haven’t, you’ve got a one-way ticket to seppukuland, you outlander, you! Push out a kidney or two and donate it to a sick kid. Got that? FYI, I’m not crying, I swear!>
The DJ’s irritating voice chattered across the island without rhyme or tempo that afternoon.
But the islanders seemed to be used to the noise; they muttered that it was better than the noise of living under bridges, and accepted it as part of their lives.
The city was surrounded by water.
It was cut off from Japanese society, but nonetheless a part of Japan.
Supposedly, those cast away from society gathered in that city.
And on the island known as a modern-day Kowloon Walled City to the people of the mainland, yet another gossip-worthy incident was unfolding.
At the docks on the south side of the island.
Warehouses stockpiled with foodstuffs and supplies lined the path. And about a dozen men were standing there, surrounding two figures kneeling on the ground.
There was no one else there; the group must have cut off entry to the area.
At the center of the majority group was a rugged man; he clearly did no legitimate work, and there was an uncharacteristic smile on his face.
Psh. There was a muffled noise and a hole was blown through one of the kneeling men’s thighs.
“Gah! Urk! Aaaaaagh! Hah! Uaaaargh!”
The rugged man never stopped grinning, as though there was no one squirming on the ground before him. In his hand was a small handgun equipped with a silencer, smoke rising from the muzzle.
“Look, I’ve got no patience for shits who take it slow. It’s a waste of my time. ‘S-sorry, boss… we messed up… just kidding! We pulled it off! Surprise!’ ain’t gonna work with me. Capisce?” He threatened, snickering. “You gotta be considerate. Think about how much trouble I took to get all the way to this godforsaken island for the exchange.”
“N-no! No! It’s not my fault! This island’s not normal! There’s goddamned monsters on the loose! We all messed up! Just ‘cause there’s no cops around doesn’t mean we’re in the clear to—”
Psh. Psh. Psh.
Several dampened noises later, the man with the hole in his leg stopped screaming.
The man who saw his partner lying on the ground, blood spewing from his chest and head, could do nothing but gape in silence.
Finally, the grinning man smirked and loaded his gun.
“See, I’m actually a magician. I can turn back time.”
He glanced at the men behind him.
One of the goons responded, walking up to the side of the kneeling man—then, unlike the dead man, the goon knelt opposite the surviving one.
“Let’s take this from the top. Hm. Which one did I shoot last time? The one on the right?”
“I remember. I aimed at the one on the right.” The rugged man said slowly. “Now, the package.”
“H-h-he has it! Not us! He took it! I swear!”
The kneeling man could practically feel the bullet piercing his thigh. So he squealed without a second thought.
“Th-the bastard with rainbow hair! He has the package!”
“H-he said he was… Inui! Hayato Inui! Son of a bitch showed up outta nowhere yesterday and told us to hand it over! Fuck! I thought the package was supposed to be a secret! We’re the only ones who’re supposed to know ‘bout it!”
The keeling man screamed in the face of death. The rugged man thought for a moment, then lowered his gun.
“Where is he?”
“H-he’s supposed to be in the Pits or the East or something! The Eastern District goons might know. B-but you don’t have to go that far! I-I know his face! I can—”
Two shots. Two bullets truck the man, one in each leg.
“I don’t think rainbow hair’s in fashion these days. We’ve got enough to go on.”
The rugged man ignored his victim’s screams and gave orders to his men.
“Call in as many as possible and hunt down that Inui bitch.”
“But sir, the Ei family and organizations from many other countries control this island…” One of the subordinates advised, but the rugged man snorted.
“There’s no point stirring crap with the gangs here. If we were yakuza, we’d follow the rules. But we’re a charity.”
“Right.” The subordinate nodded, and glanced down at the screaming man. “What do we do with him?”
“I don’t feel like wasting any more bullets.”
Between his screams, the man on the ground reached for hope amidst the agonizing pain—
But in only three seconds, the light of hope turned to despair.
“Tch. What a pain. Toss him in the ocean.”
The Western District. The top floor of the Grand Ibis Hotel.
“Now, my brethren. Let us begin.”
In fluent Chinese, the young man at the center of the table announced the beginning of the meal.
There was an unfortunate hotel in the Western District that had been abandoned not long after being fully furnished. It was the Grand Ibis Hotel, which now acted as the massive fortress of the organization that controlled the Western District.
The top floor was originally intended to be a five-star Chinese restaurant.
The decor and the furnishings, and even the original role of the space had been fully preserved.
Then again, the only patrons the restaurant received were those affiliated with the Western District.
Once more, those gathered for the banquet teetered on the verge of a battle of wits.
“…The island grows tumultuous of late.”
Sparking the conversation was the tall man who opened the banquet.
He seemed to be about thirty years of age.
The tattoo on his cheek and his sharpened gaze—icy enough to kill—made the man seem unapproachable.
“Taifei. Your report.”
The reply came from a rotund man chewing on a Chinese meatball, who looked rather like a meatball himself.
He was still young, but his hair was thinning and had left behind only the sides and the back of his head still covered.
The man called Taifei busied his hands with food as he began to explain.
“Mhm. We’ve had an upswing in violent incidents on the island recently. Shootings, stabbings, things like that. We have over twenty dead that we know of. And as far as we know, the victims have nothing in common. Although you could say a large chunk of them were pretty heinous. Munch… The strangest thing here is that we haven’t caught any of the culprits. It doesn’t look like there’s a lone killer like Yakumo Amagiri on the loose, either. On another note, we might owe it to Kuzuhara’s team that there haven’t been as many deaths here compared to the East or the Pits. …Munch…”
“So the victims were villains. Is someone playing vigilante on our island, I wonder?” Joked a young woman with black hair and blue eyes. She took a sip of tea and addressed her brother, the tattooed man. “And what is Ei daren’s position on the matter?”
“We do not yet have enough information to know if we should act on the matter.” Said the man at the head of the table. His sister—Yili Ei—smiled.
“If we need more information, why not consult with the detective you’re so fond of?”
“Foolishness. We’re not searching for a lost dog, Yili.”
“So you’re not denying the fact that you’re fond of the detective.” Yili chuckled. Some at the table tensed, and the older members sighed.
But her brother Lihuang Ei—the man who ruled the Western District—simply gave a wry grin and ignored her jab.
“Does no one have any information about this case?”
That was when an old bald man with a grand beard over his face raised his hand and quietly spoke.
“Quite a few unfamiliar faces have entered the island.”
“Hm? It’s rather unusual to hear that you are concerned about such things, Elder.”
The old man stroked his beard and continued plainly.
“It seems the gaudy dog of the East caused a commotion quite recently. His foes were men from the mainland.”
“Hm. But that seems to be nothing unusual, Elder. Are you certain about this?”
“The deaths have grown fewer in number since he began to battle the mainland men three days ago.”
Lihuang nodded and turned to Taifei.
Taifei understood. He recited the information Lihuang needed, but without pausing his meal.
“Munch… Yeah. Yesterday and the day before were pretty much peaceful. There was a murder near our red-light district, but Lilei knew who did it and said she’d take care of it. She was bent on catching this one—apparently the victim was an adorable friend of hers. I almost feel sorry for the killer. …Munch… But that’s definitely worth looking into. Anyway, is can I get seconds of the chili sauce prawns?”
“…Ask the chef.”
No matter the time or place, the organization’s head of intelligence maintained his laid-back attitude. Lihuang sighed and bowed to the elder.
“I am grateful for your wise counsel, Elder.”
“Not at all, my boy. There’s not much else I can do at this age.” The old man smiled, taking a sip of tea. Then he said no more.
“In any case, we must remain vigilant. It would be truly shameful if one of those gathered here today were to lose their life.”
The blue-eyed woman was the only one to respond.
“If any of us were so frail, we’d have already been killed by another organization… or by our own brethren.”
Yili was absolutely correct.
In the past, countless organizations had feuded and warred on the island. There were now only two organizations of importance left, but many on the mainland and overseas still had their eyes on the city.
And the outside was not the only source of danger.
Even within organizations were warring factions. One wrong move, and the next thing served up on the round table could be one’s lost assets and rights, and even one’s life.
That was why the Western District’s executives obtained all kinds of power to protect themselves.
And that night, Yili wielded her power in full force.
It was only a few hours after the banquet that she was attacked on her way down to the Pits.
Of course, her attackers’ blood and brains were scattered everywhere in a matter of seconds.
All at the hands of a certain man who acted as her shield and spear.
The Eastern District Casino. The VIP room.
“If one moves, so does the other. That’s how it works with them.”
Not rabid dogs, but reflected dogs.
It was the Eastern District’s most eccentric and most powerful man who made that observation.
“So no matter how much time passes, they’ll never amount to anything more than dogs.”
There was a large casino built on the island.
And sitting on a long sofa inside the casino’s exclusive VIP room was Levert Lowe Sturbaiken Gitarin Chloroclad Kagenomiya the 666th, wearing a smile.
“If one barks, so does the other. If one shuts up, the other does too. And if one dies, the other one dies as well. It’s not hard to understand, is it?” Gitarin snickered, tilting his wineglass.
“But the important thing here’s that we’re not talking about two dogs. This is a dog and his reflection in the mirror. One’s not reacting to the other. But don’t get pedantic and tell me that the real dog’s faster because the reflection reacts at the speed of light, all right? There’s no point to that line of thought, since people can’t detect something that quick…”
Perhaps he was already drunk. Gitarin played with the empty wineglass in his hand. It almost looked like he was enjoying the sensation of the glass.
He began to talk faster—it seemed Gitarin enjoyed discussing the dogs.
“Hayato Inui and Seiichi Kugi. Ironically, both their names have characters meaning ‘dog’ in them. So the island basically treats them like dogs. Inui the ‘mad dog’ or ‘wild dog’. Kugi the ‘witch’s dog’ or ‘loyal hound’.”
Only the newest arrivals to the island were ignorant of those names.
But not many knew that the two men had exchanged gunfire countless times.
Of course, some had heard the rumors.
Gitarin placed his glass on the baccarat table before him and tapped his finger on the edge of the green table.
“We call them dogs like a joke, but you should never look down on dogs. Truly angry dogs can maul a man to death with ease.”
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap tap. Tap. Tap tap tap.
The taps of his fingers gradually rode a rhythm on the table, and Gitarin’s tone sped up.
“Dogs of the government, dogs of the police, and dogs of vixens. Descriptors aside, those are the most dangerous people of them all.”
Tap tap tap. Tap tap tap tap. Tap tap tap tap tap.
“People use the term ‘dog’ to refer to someone they look down on. But that’s not entirely a correct usage of the word.”
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.
Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap—
“See, dogs aren’t robots. They have what you call an ‘ego’. They chose to become dogs in order to live out their convictions. People who simply follow others without any clear convictions are, in other words, less than dogs. Though once artificial intelligence enters the spotlight things might be different, those mindless followers are either robots or trash. Yes. Trash like me—the organization leader who’s getting drunk before the sun’s gone down!”
The drumming of his finger stopped.
With a laugh, Gitarin clapped his hands.
“In any event, those two dogs are true to themselves until the very end. Which is why it bothers them so much to see someone so alike. I suppose you could call this a territorial dispute… although in this case, we’re not talking physical territory so much as emotional. …Or does that sound too trite?”
Spreading his arms wide, Gitarin finally concluded his spiel looking as though he was the one who most enjoyed the speech.
“In other words, they’re gravitating towards each other because of their own convictions. Although they’d probably claim it’s something like fate.”
Several hours later, somewhere on the island.
“Say, you believe in fate?” Asked the rainbow-haired man. The younger man with black hair responded with icy silence.
The center of the island was crowded with buildings abandoned in every stage of construction.
Two figures were staring each other down before one particularly tall building.
One was the walking definition of ‘gaudy’.
He had dyed his hair in the colors of the rainbow, had safety pins stuck in his ears, and was wearing differently-colored contact lenses in each eye in an outlandish imitation of heterochromia.
The black-haired man was not so eye-catching. His brown coat and the suit he wore underneath gave him a very calm air.
But there was a hint of annoyance in his face, and his eyes were brimming with loathing.
Nonchalantly receiving the hatred from the younger man—Seiichi Kugi—the rainbow-haired man—Hayato Inui—guffawed and spread his arms.
“Chill out, pal. I’m not here to kill you today. I wasn’t even planning to see you—what the hell happened?”
For some reason, people were scattered all around them.
Each of the goons was holding a gun and lying on the ground. Some seemed to be dead.
Inui looked down at one man groaning on the ground before him and put on a cynical grin.
“Mr. Kuzuhara’d lose his shit if he saw this. At us, too, since we fought back with guns. He doesn’t care if we were defending ourselves so long as guns’re involved.” He snickered.
In Inui’s hand was a gun with flashy alterations. Kugi was holding a pair of small handguns.
“I’ve been wondering—isn’t dual-wielding a pain in the ass?”
Kugi was silent.
“It looks kickass so I tried it out before. But the recoil was killer and aiming was pretty much impossible, so I gave up. Then I saw how you were doing it, and it all made sense! Yeah. You don’t need to aim properly when you’re lunging into someone’s gut before you shoot them.” Inui nodded to himself, and turned to Kugi. “So here’s a suggestion! There’s this Christian Bale flick called ‘Equilibrium’ with some slick fighting style called ‘gun kata’. Basically a mix of guns and martial arts. Swear to god, you’ve got potential! Let’s give it a shot, no pun intended! Life’s all about challenges!”
It almost sounded like a threat, but the childish glint in Inui’s eye proved that he was completely serious.
And unusually enough, Kugi played along this time as he refused.
“Sorry, but the only Christian Bale movies I watched were the Batman series.”
“Aha. Man, I still get shivers when I think about the goddamned Joker! Used to scare the shit outta me when I was a kid, but now he’s one of my favorite role models! Seriously!”
With a laugh, Inui waved his gun and began to walk.
“Anyway, what the hell just happened here?”
Slowly closing the distance to Kugi, he desperately clung to the cooling atmosphere.
“Look, it’s not like we met up to fight this time. This has got to be fate. Don’t you think?”
Kugi’s answer was simple.
“The fate of your death, you mean?”
Without a second thought, he took aim at Inui.
But instead of dodging, Inui stopped and grinned.
“Heh. That’s enough. You’re supposed to be digging for info, not killing me.”
“If I need info, the only things I need functional is your mouth, your heart, and your brain.”
“You might get a functioning brain, but not an actual mind.” Inui muttered, trying to read his foe’s bloodlust.
He slowly fingered his gun, looking for all the world fearless in the face of death, but he did not take aim.
He knew that one wrong move, and Kugi would open fire. And if Kugi was trying to kill him as he usually did, he would have long ago pulled the trigger.
Time seemed to stop around them.
Even the slightest of changes—from the sound of the wind to a subdued gulp—could become a signal for them to open fire.
They both waited for that change, but did not even think about bringing it about themselves.
Each knew that, if his first shot was not lethal, he would be the one to die.
The tension was palpable, like when two swordsmen stood within range of one another.
As they waited for the signal, all kinds of emotions ran through the air in the span of several seconds.
But the signal did not result in an exchange of bullets.
That was how unusual the signal was.
The dogs stood close enough that they could leap over to the other with ease.
The signal was a shoe falling between them.
The shoe fell out of nowhere and hit the ground, bouncing back up, and both men reflexively pulled the trigger—
But the bullets did not reach either of them.
Something followed the shoe, falling into the line of fire.
The bullets were driven into the mass, their arcs swerving wildly as they escaped the object and disappeared into the distance.
What had fallen between the dogs?
It was a bloodied man, his body twisted in unnatural directions.
What had happened to the two dogs?
And what would happen now?
Things had begun a little earlier, before the showdown under the building.
-Continued in Episode 3-