Episode 3: Bow? Wow!
Hayato Inui shrugged, holding a smoking gun.
“What the hell just happened?”
The rainbow-haired man looked down at the corpse and asked the ‘enemy’ before him.
At that point, the enemy—Seiichi Kugi, holding a pair of smoking guns—frowned.
“…That’s what I want to know.”
“So… suicide? Or not. We just shot this sorry sonovabitch. …Right?”
Inui looked back and forth at the corpse and at his foe. Kugi began to look around, on guard against any other potential surprises.
Inui took a step toward the pool of blood and scrutinized the twisted body.
“Christ. It’s so messed up you can’t even tell who hit what.”
“Does it really matter? He was going to die anyway.”
“That’s cool of ya. What if the poor sap was practicing a new stunt? He might’ve been about to make a 10/10 somersault landing.”
“Then it’s his own fault for trying when there was clearly gunfire in the area.” Kugi replied, surprisingly playing along. Inui’s eyes widened.
“Well, well. I was sure you’d say I was being absurd.”
“Reason doesn’t exist on this island. You or Yakumo could pull it off. …And it would’ve been great if you were the one falling and I were the one doing the shooting.”
“Then what’re you standing around gabbing for?”
“Same reason as you.”
Inui smirked, and put his gun to his own head.
“We’re both out.”
Kugi sighed and lowered his guns.
“…You monster. You were counting in the middle of that frenzy?”
“A real-life action hero here, folks. I can tell the sounds of gunfire apart. Maybe I’m the reincarnation of Prince Shōtoku. One hair color for each of the seven articles of the constitution.”
“Prince Shōtoku wrote the Seventeen-article constitution.”
With a chuckle, Inui thought to pull the trigger—
‘Wait. Am I really out?’
A sudden gut feeling drew him to pull the gun away from his head and point it at the ground.
There was a loud noise.
Inui froze as the bullet shattered against the ground.
He looked up, and Kugi was, for once, visibly surprised. Inui grinned.
“Just like magic!”
“Just like magic!”
He repeated himself, covered in cold sweat, but contempt and astonishment were already beginning to tint Kugi’s surprise.
“Why the hell am I endlessly trying to kill someone like you?”
The air shifted awkwardly around them.
On one side was a man who had just narrowly avoided a most foolish death.
On the other side was a man who had just looked back on his own life and fallen into a mild case of depression.
The half-forgotten corpse between them lolled, giving off a stink.
“Hm. Let’s call that bit just now something like, ‘I did pull something out of my hat. Why can’t you see it? Because what I pulled out of the hat was your heart’. Yeah? Cool?”
Kugi’s expression grew even darker at Inui’s attempt to cover up his failure.
“A heart? …I threw that away a long time ago. At least, that’s what I swore. But if I can’t even let go of my hatred, I guess I’m still human. Then maybe I deserve to be a laughingstock. Part of a cheap magic freakshow.”
“Whoa, let’s not take this too seriously here. Sorry, man. My bad. And besides, didn’t you leave your heart to Yili? She’s the only audience member you’ve got. I’ll be taking peeks from beside the stage, so you gotta face forward! Lose the shame and move on! ‘Cause life is beautiful. One good deed a day, and be good to mom and dad. Got it?” Inui rambled theatrically at length. But Kugi remained as lethargic as ever.
“Shit. This is getting depressing. Anyway, I’m the bitch who almost killed himself. What are you brooding about?”
Inui snickered. Was he trying to cheer up Kugi, or had he given up on his farce?
Kugi raised his head in response. He pulled his guns back into his sleeves and returned to his usual stoicism.
“…Talking with you really does make me feel strange.”
“Is this the first time we’ve ever talked normally like this? Other than when we’re trying to kill each other, I mean?”
“I thought we were still trying to kill each other.”
“Aw, shucks. We lost the atmosphere for that. And besides, if the suicidal guy here fell just a couple feet to either side, one of us would’ve kicked the bucket. …Oh yeah. Maybe he did deserve to die, since he jumped without even thinking about the people below.” Inui prattled. Kugi frowned.
“Pot’s calling the kettle black.”
“The men here were fighting you.”
“Oh. These goons.”
They looked around at the corpses and incapacitated men around them as they spoke.
“But you were fighting ‘em too, so you can’t say I dragged you into this.”
“Yili was attacked. I let one go on purpose and followed him here, and you happened to be having yourself a shootout.”
“Aha. So that’s why you helped me out even though you’re itching to kill me?” Inui said, provoking him. But Kugi shook his head.
“I’m just prioritizing something other than my own emotions.”
“…So you’ve got business with me.”
“Yeah. So tell me. Who are these people?”
It was a direct question. Kugi instantly restored tension to the air, glaring at Inui with the intent to kill if the latter lied.
Inui must have noticed the change. He gave Kugi the answer he needed, adding no unnecessary details.
He did, however, choose to err on the side of ambiguity.
“My enemies. Or the island’s, depending on how you want to look at it.”
“Not clear enough for you? C’mon, you have your pick of the litter here, with all these half-dead peons lying around. Just torture the info outta ‘em. Simple. Quick. Recommended.”
The mad dog smirked. The hound narrowed his eyes and slowly shook his head.
“I already know that these men are after you. And if you have the item or the information they want, I have no reason to let you escape.”
“If you don’t have a reason, just make one. We could become BFFs on the spot and you could let me go out of friendship or… sorry. Okay, okay. I’ll be serious ‘bout this.” Inui sighed in defeat, sensing bloodlust from Kugi. “They’re not locals. I mean that in more than one sense.”
“They’re not from the island, and they’re not the types who’d want to live here. But they still need the island to stuff their wallets. They need the island, but it’s not important to them personally. Kinda like livestock. They pull the kind of shit people on the mainland call inhuman. Which is pretty ironic since they do this stuff because they’re human. Heh.”
“What are you talking about? Who are these men?”
Though the stink of blood ran thick in the air, the dogs conversed without even trying to cover their noses.
The ‘fallen’ corpse at their feet practically didn’t exist at this point. It was almost eerie to see the conversation take place with the body decorating the midpoint between them.
“These goons are a lot simpler than what you and the Western District think they are.”
The mad dog’s rainbow hair fluttered in the wind as he emphasized the absurdity of the situation.
“I guess you could call ‘em… champions of justice.”
At the same time, somewhere in Japan. Inside a warehouse on a waterfront.
It was a warehouse district at a certain harbor, quite a distance from the city.
Rows upon rows of identical warehouses lined the area. And as there were no ships working overnight, the harbor looked almost eerie.
But in that deserted place was a particular spot positively swarming with movement. Many men were busy at work inside a large warehouse near the center of the harbor.
In a corner of the warehouse, behind a particularly large shipping container, a rugged man spoke emotionlessly.
“How many did you send in?”
“Thirty-six, boss. Almost half our main forces.” Replied his subordinate, covered in cold sweat.
“You said contact was secure. Did the islanders get wind of us?”
“N-no, boss. Actually…”
The boss shot the flustered subordinate a cold glare.
The subordinate dared not close his mouth under such pressure, and so continued his report.
“It’s… the opposite, boss. About ten of our men went after the Inui guy.”
“You’d better not tell me that he wiped ‘em out alone.”
“No! Of course not, boss.” The subordinate forced himself to smile, himself in disbelief about what he was about to say. “There were two of ‘em.”
“And before you ask, our men weren’t ambushed or tricked. We’re the ones who jumped him, but someone else showed up—some guy with a gun in each hand—and a bit before that, we lost contact with five men who went to attack a Western District exec. That might have something to do with this.”
The subordinate desperately tried to convey as much information as possible before the boss lost his temper.
That was when the boss laughed.
“Hah… Ahahahaha! Hahahahahah!”
“A gun in each hand… Like a goddamned John Woo flick! Hahahaha!”
The rugged man howled in laughter like a teenager watching a comedy show, slapping his knee. It almost looked like a show of insanity, but the subordinate—not knowing what to do—laughed along.
“Hah, hah hah hah…”
“What a riot! Hey, why aren’t you laughing?!”
“Hah hah hah hah hah hah…”
The subordinate continued, a chill running down his spine.
And as though in encouragement, the boss stood and began to pat the subordinate’s shoulders.
“Hah, hah hah hah hah…”
And at that moment, the boss put his hand against the subordinate’s neck and slammed it against the corner of a nearby container.
“Ahahahaha! C’mon! Laugh! Ahahahaha!”
The subordinate fell powerlessly to his knees. This time, the boss kicked him in the head.
The sound of a nose breaking. A spray of red appeared on the container wall, starting from the subordinate’s face.
“It’s hilarious! Why aren’t you laughing?”
Though he kicked again and again with his thick-heeled shoe, the boss took extra care to make sure he never landed a fatal blow. There was a smile on his face.
“That’s right—laugh—laugh—laugh—laugh your goddamned lungs out! Ahahahaha!”
Clapping, the man rhythmically kicked at his subordinate.
Everyone around them gulped as they watched.
The boss seemed to grow bored of kicking. He took a seat again and flashed a smile at the fallen subordinate.
“There’s still almost twenty men you have to account for. I’m waiting for the rest of the report.”
“I can’t hear you. Speak up—you know I hate wasting time.”
Though the subordinate had lost several teeth and his nose was spewing blood, he sensed the bloodlust in the boss’s voice and forced out a trembling voice.
“Wh-when I heard we lost ten… I s-sent in the rest. But…”
“‘But’. I’m not sure I like that word. Excuses don’t suit us champions of justice, do they?”
“Champions of justice?”
“Yeah. C’mon, the West has gotta have figured out something about the kind of people our busy killer-kidnapper buddies here are going after.” Inui snickered. Kugi furrowed his brow.
“We know already. And the answer is boring: they go after ‘bad guys’.”
“Boring, yeah. But true. Half the island’s pulled something on the mainland. You can kill anybody and you’d have a 50-50 chance of being a hero.”
“Then I suppose it makes sense for them to target you first.” Kugi said snidely, but Inui chuckled.
“Yeah. Anyway, these are some simple people we’re dealing with. They wanna kill bad guys. That’s the big premise here. But to these guys, just being on the island qualifies you for villain status… or something like that. But seriously, quit wasting time with me. Ask or torture or interrogate or brainwash or seduce the answers outta whoever’s still breathing here. Though if Yili’s the one doing the seducing, I’d be first in line for tickets.”
Though Inui had said absolutely nothing useful, Kugi continued his questioning without cutting in.
“What do you have that these people want?”
“…Say, who d’you think made our champions of justice the champions they are?”
“I’ll shoot you if you say it was God or the collective unconscious.”
“Naw, not that kinda crap.”
Inui leaned against a nearby wall and dramatically spread his arms.
“If you work for the world or humanity or shit like that but nobody recognizes you for it, you’re just a good person. Respectable, sure, but no one’s gonna call you a champion of justice if nobody notices you.”
“I don’t get it. That’s nothing unusual in comic books and movies.”
The battles of lonely, unsung heroes were so commonplace in fiction they were practically the stuff of stereotype. But Inui snickered condescendingly and continued.
“In comic books and movies, you’ve got an audience—the readers and viewers. That’s acknowledging the heroes’ champion status. The audience notices and calls them heroes.”
“What are you driving at?” Kugi asked, his tone growing tense. Inui replied emphatically.
“The info I got? It’s the audience list! The people who’re watching the blood-pumping show! They can get a cathartic rush from seeing bad guys on the show get owned! The title’s gotta be something like ‘Super Torment Squad S vs. the Island of Evil’!” Inui clenched his fists, gesturing dramatically. “And wouldn’t you believe it? They’ve got an audience of thousands for this uber-limited no-noobs-allowed show! Episode: The Bad Guys Cry for Mercy! …Part 3!”
“You’re making no sense.” Kugi said in as cold a voice as possible, looking down. He had realized that Inui was already lost in his own world. “This isn’t even entertaining.”
Inui took a moment to reflect on his words from a more grounded perspective.
He blushed slightly and cleared his throat.
“Ahem. In other words, I’ve got data that proves that these goons were killing people on the island.”
“Should’ve said that from the start.”
“That’s no fun.” Inui shrugged, looking Kugi in the eye again. “I’m repeating myself here, but this has got to be the first time we talked normally like this, right? ‘Til now, we’ve been shooting away at one another like no tomorrow.”
“Maybe if we’d met in different circumstances, we might have been BFFs!”
Inui whistled, not expecting such an answer, and brought up a suggestion he had almost given up on.
“So whaddaya say to going on a pirate adven-”
“Shit, at least let me finish!” Inui cried, slapping his forehead. But he still grinned. “That’s just like you. Your characterization, I guess.”
With an impish grin, he turned his back on Kugi.
“See you around. Call me if you can’t squeeze the answers outta these goons. And tell the Western District I’m willing to negotiate for a price on this info I’ve got.”
Silent and never once showing a hint of emotion, Kugi watched the other dog leave.
Several minutes later, in front of the fountain.
“A TV, huh. Wonder if they’d play some movies on this thing.”
Having left Kugi, Inui walked around the island to enjoy a moment of peace.
He wandered into the indoor square in the mall that stood between the two districts.
Before the fountain that stood as a symbol of the mall was a recently-installed TV. But it was currently turned off.
Perhaps that was why no one was around, save for a few vagrants lying in a corner of the square.
Inui approached the TV and recalled his earlier encounter.
“Heh. Knew they’d come up, but not this quickly.”
And he thought about the surprisingly normal conversation he’d held as he mumbled to himself.
“Gotta say, I didn’t think Kugi’d be chill enough to let me leave…”
At that moment, he saw the world reflected in the TV.
On the black screen was his own rainbow hair—
And a veritable shadow of a man approaching behind him.
“Psych! Knew it!”
He simultaneously turned and leaned back.
At the same time, a metallic heel passed where his head had been a second earlier.
“Whoa!” Inui cheered when he saw Kugi flying through the air in an unusual roundhouse kick. “Now that’s what I’m talking about!”
In stark contrast to Inui’s enthusiasm, Kugi was as stoic as ever. He said only what was necessary.
“Hand over the data. The Western District will take care of the rest.”
Kugi must have left the questioning to his friends in black. Inui could say with confidence that the usual Kugi never would have chased him down alone to pick a fight.
That action spoke for the unspeakable enmity Kugi held for Inui. An enmity that surpassed all reason and emotion. Inui, knowing that, embraced the challenge.
“Sorry, but the Eastern District’s placed a pretty high bid on this baby. If you want it, you’re gonna have to talk to Gitarin.”
“I don’t intend to buy the info. I just have to take it by force.”
Kugi kicked the ground with the tip of his right shoe. A short blade popped out of the end.
“Wait! Hold it! Where’d you get those shoes?! Don’t tell me you made ‘em?”
Ignoring Inui’s question, Kugi kicked straight at his enemy’s neck with the blade at his foot.
Inui narrowly avoided the knife and provoked him, incredibly amused.
“If you kill me, you’re gonna lose that data you need! And even if you don’t wanna kill me, we should still solve this peacefully! ‘Cause we’re humans, and humans are all about love and peace… so eat this!”
Inui kicked off of the edge of the fountain for a heel drop.
His heel grazed Kugi’s coat as the latter stepped back, slicing the sturdy fabric with a loud noise.
Kugi rolled and jumped forward, kneeing Inui in the gut.
“I just have to incapacitate you and ‘negotiate’ until your fingers are gone.”
Inui just managed to block Kugi’s knee and leapt back without a second thought.
And when he heard Kugi’s threat, he decided to chat in the middle of their battle.
“Whoa, talk about freaky. Come to think of it, that happened in real life a while back. Somebody kidnaps a girl and sends her fingers to her parents… so you’re one of those people?”
Inui dodged a flurry of kicks as he pressed a metaphorical trauma switch.
“So you’re the type who likes killing little girls! Just like the childhood friend you shot.”
It was a painful jab.
If Kugi were the person he had been a few years ago, he would have flown into a rage.
But he was immune to such provocation now.
His face twitched, but not enough to alter his expression.
He simply continued to alternate between trying to hit and cut Inui.
Inui evaded the attacks with ease, keeping a close eye on his foe’s movements.
And in the span of a second, he lashed out with a roundhouse kick. Kugi blocked it; but the trick was enough to separate them.
Rather than catch his breath, the mad dog asked a question.
“Not gonna use your gun?”
There was a fair distance between them.
Whoever drew first could kill the other with ease.
But neither dog even tried.
“You had time to change magazines. You had time to grab a gun from one of the goons. But you’re not using a gun.”
“Is it ‘cause you don’t wanna risk killing me? No. This might be a buffer zone, but the Western District’s stronger here. Even if you used a suppressor there’s enough people around that someone’s gonna hear it. And once they report the gunshot, you’re finished. And the Buruburu lady passes by here all the time. In other words—”
“Yes.” Kugi said before Inui could even finish. “Guard Team aside, Kuzuhara would be a pain to deal with.”
“Look at you! Getting more honest by the day.” Inui grinned, cracking his neck.
Kugi took a stance, ready to counter—
But at that moment, countless footsteps surrounded the fountain.
That was followed by a gunshot, but naturally, neither dog had even drawn his gun.
They turned to find about twenty goons dressed like the ones from before, surrounding them with guns at the ready. The man at the center of the group was holding a smoking handgun, which he seemed to have shot at the air as a threat.
“More? We’re a couple months too early for field trip season.” Inui snickered. Kugi silently observed his surroundings.
The man at the center of the group took aim at the dogs and clicked his tongue.
“Pieces of shit. You’re gonna be screaming for momma before I’m done with you.”
“Pfft. You’re sounding like a third-rate villain.” Inui smirked. The man grew noticeably impatient.
“Shit must be leaking outta your brains if you don’t get what we’re gonna—”
“That’s my line.” Inui sighed, and grinned. “You don’t know what opening fire here means.”
“You just might get lucky enough to see the legendary superhero of the island personally blocking bullets with his bare—”
But Inui was cut off by a sudden noise.
The distinctive roar of engines.
It sounded like the growl of a predator. Inui’s eyes widened, but he quickly turned to Kugi and said under his breath,
“That was fast.”
As if on cue, the fountain area greeted a new player.
A fierce but lovely kitten wielding a pair of massive claws.
Inside a certain warehouse.
“…So the women charged in and took out the rest… and then these men in black and another gang beat the team to a pulp…”
“Y-yeah. First it was a girl holding a chainsaw in each hand—apparently moved like lightning—and then it was a woman with a katana, and a self-proclaimed detective…”
The man reporting to the ‘boss’ was already lost in despair.
His eyes were brimming with frustrated surrender. The boss noted the emotion and chuckled.
“Hah hah hah…”
The subordinate froze, remembering what had happened just earlier.
But a second later, an old-fashioned ringtone sounded from the boss’s breast pocket.
The boss hadn’t replaced the default ringtone on his phone. He pulled it out and pressed the call button, withdrawing his smile.
“Hello. …Yes. Yes…”
The subordinate breathed a sigh of relief at the fact that someone had called, and at the fact that the boss had taken the call.
The other subordinates must have felt the same, but nevertheless no one would want to be in his shoes. The tension remained in the air, continuing to wrap around them.
“Of course. I will.”
Several minutes later, the boss hung up and slipped the phone back into his pocket.
Then, he sighed loudly.
“The audience wants another round of ‘justice’.” The boss said with a hint of respect, standing from his chair. Then he looked over his subordinates. “Forget Inui. We need to get to work.”
“B-but boss! We can’t pull this on the island now!”
“We’re not doing this on the island.”
They must have been talking about some job, but there seemed to be a misunderstanding between the boss and the subordinate.
“We’re doing the job here. In the basement. Doesn’t matter if it’s a bad guy or not. This time, we’re going to listen to our audience—bring in a woman or a kid. Doesn’t matter who.”
“But boss, isn’t that a bit much?” One of the subordinates interjected with a frown. He knew what the ‘job’ entailed. “Women aside, what are we going to blame a kid for?”
“We’ll figure something out. The audience knows anyway. They always have. Our audience treats us like champions of justice, knowing the subjects aren’t really villains.”
The boss grinned, then, and gave his orders.
“Contact our insider by boat. Come straight here tomorrow once you find an easy target. And don’t touch the ‘tourists’. Even if we talk our way out of a police investigation, the audience isn’t gonna like it.”
“Right. Once we take the target off the island, we win. Doesn’t matter if Inui or some other freakshow tries to pull something… they can’t do shit off the island.”
-Continued in Episode 5-