T/N: This brings us to about halfway. Vague spoilers regarding Izaya in Volume 13. Jōdō/jōjutsu refers to the art of fighting with a staff.
Night. Ikebukuro. Rakuei Gym.
Rakuei Gym was a martial arts dojo that boasted a scale of top-class level in Ikebukuro.
As it was affiliated with the German Traugott Geisendorfer, a champion in the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) scene, the name of the gym was known worldwide.
While it was technically an MMA gym, it taught various kinds of martial arts such as karate and boxing; even covering martial arts centralised around weapons, such as the sword, spear, or staff.
(*Kendō, sōjutsu, jōjutsu.)
People from those pursuing the martial arts professionally to housewives on diets gathered here; aside from the tension unique to a martial arts gym, it was wrapped in a mixed atmosphere characteristic of a city.
“Wow~, I didn’t think you’d be attending this gym too, Kuon-kun~! I was surprised.”
A scene in the gym.
In response to dogi-clad Mairu, Kuon, who was visiting in his school uniform, scratched his head.
“Well… I was attending the Takadanobaba branch up till I finished middle school, so… We were just on the way home, so I thought it might be fun to drop by.”
“I see; when Aocchi introduced you during the spring break I never thought I’d see you in a place like this.”
“I’m surprised myself.”
The conversation, while not entirely common, was not unnatural either, between fellow students in a new semester.
“And then? Who’s this kid?”
“Ah… Sorry, nice to meet you.”
Bowing his head quickly was Yahiro, who wore the same uniform as Kuon, and had been looking around at the surroundings.
“I’m Kuon’s classmate, Mizuchi Yahiro.”
“Oh~, so that makes you my junior too! Nice meeting you.”
“Yes, please take care of me.”
Mairu looked over the anxious boy, staring.
She was wearing sports spectacles, and seemed to have gotten away from the intense session of spars and matches.
“Fuu~nfunfun, no dye, no piercings. No smell of cigarettes or thinner. Amazing, you’re like a model student, unlike Kuon.”
“Eh… um, thank you very much.”
Having suddenly been passed judgment on, Yahiro thanked her cluelessly.
On the other hand, Kuon frowned as he protested to the girl that was his senior.
“No way, I don’t do cigarettes or sniffing…”
“True~, you must be up to more dangerous things if you’re with Aocchi.”
“Hey, lay off…”
Kuon, who was genuinely agitated; and Mairu, who was chuckling.
As Yahiro stared curiously at the juxtaposition between the two, Mairu looked toward him again.
“So, are you hoping to sign up?”
“No, I thought to just take a tour today…”
Then Kuon interjected from beside him.
“Yeah right, this guy’s a wet blanket~. Mairu-senpa~i…”
Kuon huffed as he dug his elbow into Yahiro.
“We were supposed to go looking for the Headless Rider, but Yahiro absolutely refused~”
It was one hour earlier.
“We’ll be the ones to find the Headless Rider, yeah?”
Kuon exclaimed, but Yahiro replied, abruptly:
“No, I’m stopping for today.”
“Wait, why?! You don’t have anything on, right?”
“Yeah. Anything else is fine, but… I think searching for the Headless Rider will have to wait till tomorrow at least. For today it’s just the Headless Rider that’s out.”
Yahiro calmly asserted this, to which Kuon’s face turned confused.
“Why is the no-go limited to today, and to the Headless Rider even?!”
There Yahiro sunk into thought.
—Even if you were to ask…
—I was thinking to wait till tomorrow since I was stopped by Tatsugami-san, but…
Would speaking of it be just as impolite as exposing a secret?
It was not as if he had been prohibited from saying it; but Yahiro, who felt that it was not an issue appropriate to divulge, replied to Kuon:
“Sorry, it’s a secret. I can’t say even if we’re friends.”
“Erk, it’s so important?!”
“I’m not sure, is it important…”
Seeing Yahiro honestly begin to worry, Kuon felt a faint sense of culture shock, and said, cold sweat dripping down his cheek:
“Eh?! R, really…?”
—Did I do something wrong?
Yahiro, who was currently unable to understand the concept of having a comfortable distance between friends, was now forcing an awkward smile, but because he was not used to smiling in the first place, the result was a stiff smile surfacing under the evening of Ikebukuro.
Kuon, seeing this and unsure how to react, sighed.
“Well, then let’s leave that for today. I might be showing my face at the dojo today too.”
“Yeah, Rakuei Gym, it’s called. Up till now I was attending at the dojo at Takadanobaba, but for high school I’m here, right? So from now on I’ll be attending the one in Ikebukuro.”
“Dojo as in… for martial arts? What do you do?”
Yahiro was for some reason suddenly interested, and Kuon smiled friendlily as he replied.
“Oh, a lot of things, you know? I’m learning self-defence. There are plenty of things like MMA, karate, boxing, kendo, staff techniques?”
At Kuon’s words Yahiro’s eyes widened slightly, and after some thought, he asked:
“Could I hear more?”
After that conversation, they had decided that Yahiro would come to Rakuei Gym to watch, bringing them here.
“Seriously, I finally l became an Ikebukuran~, but I can’t believe Headless Rider’s so amazingly passive~. It’s like torture by suspense.*”
(*Actual term is a proverb – hebi no namagoroshi – killing a snake halfway.)
To Kuon, who was still lingering on the Headless Rider, Mairu asked:
“Hm? You two are interested in the Headless Rider?”
“Yeah, I guess. I really was thinking, it’d be nice to see it too~, I guess? Yahiro here’s really diehard, you know? He came all the way from Akita to Tokyo just to see the Headless Rider, you know? Hardcore, ain’t it?”
“Oh~! From Akita just for that?! That’s some willpower! Aren’t you cool.”
To Mairu, whose eyes sparkled as she said this, Yahiro averted his eyes as he replied.
“Ah, no… It’s not like… the Headless Rider was the only reason…”
“? What’s that? So what was the reason? Could it be my body?! But that can’t do, my body belongs to Kuru-nee and Yuhei-san head to toe! It’s reserved! Reserved!”
“I’m sorry, I don’t really get…”
Yahiro was perplexed; Kuon whispered into his ear:
“I just met this person myself, but if you find her annoying it’s fine if you basically ignore everything, all right? In the first place, her older sister would be something else, but this person’s body isn’t quite worth coming down from Akita f…”
“I~ can~ hear~ you~”
Mairu, who had slipped behind him, ground her fists into Kuon’s temples.
“Agagagaga, wait, isn’t that umeboshi like what elementary schoolers do?! On the level of shippe and head-poking? It’s the first time I see someone actually do it agagagagagaga”
(T/N: Umeboshi – what Mairu is doing. Shippe – jabbing someone’s wrist with two fingers, apparently.)
“I’ll have you know I won’t be giving any information on the Headless Rider to a bad junior who says things like that!”
Information on the Headless Rider.
At those words casually inserted into the conversation, Yahiro and Kuon reacted simultaneously.
“Wait, Mairu-senpai, do you know something?”
Faced with the confusion of the two, Mairu snickered and said,
“I do. We’ve met a number of times, and Kuru-nee once had the Headless Rider as something like a bodyguard, you know?”
Yahiro frowned unconsciously at the term hard to reconcile with the image of an urban legend.
“Yep. Apparently our brother was friends with the Headless Rider.”
“Friends, with the Headless Rider?”
Next to Yahiro, who was getting increasingly bewildered, Kuon stared at Mairu and said.
“You’re teasing your juniors with those kinds of jokes, again~.”
“Ah, by that look of yours, you don’t believe it? It’s not a joke, and I don’t have a lying streak, hm? You can ask Kuru-nee, even Aocchi if you want.”
There Kuon frowned slightly.
Yahiro glanced between their faces, and tilted his head.
“Mm… Ah, he’s a senior who’s taken care of me since middle school.”
Behind Kuon, who was chewing his words, Mairu added, unhesitantly:
“He’s the boss of a scary scary army of delinquents, so you have to be careful, you know?”
“Hey! Read the atmosphere!”
“I read it properly, you know? And on top of that I simply ignored it so don’t worry!”
“You’re so troublesome!”
After a few seconds of frustration, Kuon elaborated on this ‘Kuronuma-senpai’.
“Ah, the part about the delinquents is Mairu’s misunderstanding. It’s just that some of his friends are rowdy. Like, they’re quick to get into fights, sort of…”
As if realising he had not quite explained anything, Kuon hurried to change the topic.
“Anyway, more importantly! Now, call your brother right now! Teleteletele! Tele-tele-call-call or no more bet!”
To Kuon, who was making a rhythm on a pillar in the gym with his palm, Mairu smiled as she replied.
“Ahahaha, I can’t do that.”
“What! That’s unfair! You can’t just say something and leave it at that!”
At Kuon’s pestering, Mairu, her smile never once wavering –
“But Aniki’s been missing for more than a year,”
said this explosive statement.
The two in school uniform looked at one another and fell silent.
With the two of them unsure what to say, Mairu continued, her tone indifferent:
“Ah, don’t mind, it’s fine, it’s fine. He’s disappeared plenty of times before, it just happens that it’s longer this time.”
In response, Yahiro felt just a little relieved.
“Ah, I, I see.”
But that relief was destroyed by Mairu’s next words.
“Anyway, at worst, even if he’s at the bottom of Tokyo Bay, in its own way that end would suit him. If you think of it as just what he expected, then it’s not that bad, hm?”
As opposed to Yahiro, who had gone silent again, now Kuon spoke.
“No… isn’t that very worrying…? If he knew the Headless Rider and he disappeared, that’s like the recent…”
Just as he said that, another voice came from beside them.
“No, you’re wrong.”
“The Headless Rider wouldn’t do that.”
The three of them turned towards the voice; there stood a girl one head shorter than Yahiro, wearing a white cotton vest and hakama.
She looked to be in middle school, but there was still some trace of childishness in her face.
She held in her hands an octagonal staff* carved from Japanese red oak, and from that it could be inferred that she was learning jōjutsu in this gym.
(*Hakkaku-bō. Japanese red oak – Akagashi; one of the standard woods for weaponry, if you search it up.)
Seeing the girl’s face, Mairu called out.
“Ah. Akane-chan. Yahoo~”
“Orihara-senpai, thank you for today.”
To Akane, who bowed her head courteously, Kuon asked:
“Erm, you are?”
“…Awakusu Akane, from the Rakuei Jōdō Section’s Girls’ Division.”
Just as she had with Mairu, she bowed her head, formally, to the two boys.
“Ah, I’m, uh, I just came to see; I’m Mizuchi Yahiro.”
“Kotonami Kuon; nice to meet you, Ojō-chan.”
“Yes, nice to meet you.”
After listening to their introductions seriously, Akane spoke, once more, to the two she had just met.
“The Headless Rider wouldn’t kidnap anyone.”
They did not know just how much of their conversation she had heard.
Only, it appeared that she had some feelings regarding what Kuon had said, about a link between the disappearance of Mairu’s brother and the Headless Rider.
But Yahiro, who knew nothing of the details, could not join the conversation, and could only listen on to what she said.
“Everyone is… misunderstanding the Headless Rider. That person isn’t a scary monster like the online rumours say…”
Hearing what Akane said unhappily, Yahiro’s heart hurt, slightly.
—What is it… this feeling…
The boy quickly realised what the noise rising in his chest was.
The people who had called him a monster when he was in his hometown.
There were people who looked on the Headless Rider with that same gaze.
In other words, was he not hoping he could direct that same gaze towards the Headless Rider?
To prove he was normal, coming to see the Headless Rider, was that not an arrogant thing to do?
Thinking this, Yahiro fell into a temporary state of melancholy.
—…I…Aren’t I being very rude to the Headless Rider…?
—If it’s like that, then maybe I’m not human, I’m a monster after all…
Having not noticed that the classmate he had brought here had become gloomy, Kuon asked Akane,
“Akane-chan, right? Could it be that you know the Headless Rider?”
Akane could not answer Kuon’s question.
Rather, she looked at him warily.
It was a natural reaction considering his unique hair colour and his piercings, but it seemed that besides that there were some other feelings swirling within her.
“Wait, don’t be so scared~. See, it’s like that. There’re some frogs in the jungle that look super bright, aren’t there? Like the poison dart frog. It’s just like that, just like that.”
“It’s lethal, isn’t it.”
“It’s called the poison dart frog, too…”
Ignoring the murmuring from Mairu and Yahiro behind him, Kuon made a friendly approach towards Akane.
“And besides, it’s not like we think the Headless Rider is evil or anything. That’s why we want to know what kind of person they are.”
“Well, you should leave it at that, Kuon.”
“Akane-chan’s in the broadcast committee, see? Her senior in that committee went missing just a while ago.”
“That’s the second time in a row you’re saying things without reading the atmosphere, isn’t it~. Though I’m not the one who minds.”
To Kuon, who had broken out in cold sweat, Akane said,
“…It’s true that my senior was a big fan of the Headless Rider. …But I thought it wouldn’t do to cause trouble for the Headless Rider, so I kept it a secret from her. That I knew the Headless Rider.”
Akane continued, looking away sadly.
“But… she suddenly disappeared… And everyone’s just coming up with their own conclusions…”
What came to her mind was a memory from one week ago, of the senior she had met during the spring break.
—’Hey, hey, Awakusu-san. I might finally be able to meet the Headless Rider!’
That senior had been a student president in their elementary school, and her ‘Headless Rider mania’ was well-known in the school.
Akane had wanted to introduce them, but to do that she would have had to go through her ‘family’, and that was the one thing she had wanted to avoid at all costs.
—’If I really get to know the Headless Rider, sometime I’ll introduce them to you too, Awakusu-san!’
A mere few days later.
This upperclassman, who had worried about Akane when she had been unhappy for various reasons – who should have become her senior at the same middle school – Akane heard that she had disappeared.
Apparently she was being searched for as a runaway, but until now there had been no word.
As if the same thing had been broadcast to everyone else, in the blink of an eye,
—’The Headless Rider vanished that senior into the shadows,’
this ridiculous, unbelievable rumour spread throughout the school.
But those who lived in Ikebukuro knew.
That the Headless Rider did exist.
It had not been seen around for about half a year, but just seeing it once all of them felt almost the same thing.
—It’s not of this world.
A motorcycle without the sound of an engine; the rising shadow. After witnessing that firsthand no one could dismiss the urban legend of the Headless Rider as simple gossip.
Akane, who had in the past been saved by the Headless Rider, could not bear the one-sided smearing of the urban legend’s name.
But no one would believe her if she said she had been helped by the Headless Rider, and furthermore, if she were to go into the exact details, she would have to speak of her ‘family matters’.
She understood that it was a route that would not result in any happiness for anyone.
That was why she had decided to bear it in school and pretend not to hear the rumours, and, instead, clear the mystery of the disappearance herself.
Just as she had set her heart on this she happened to hear the conversation of Kuon’s group, and without thinking, spoke to defend the Headless Rider -—
But as a result she attracted more interest than necessary from this unusually-dressed boy by the name of Kuon.
“So, what are you planning to do?”
“…I want to search for her, too.”
“Search for her… On your own? Really?”
“I can’t just leave it to the police…”
A dark expression, but firmly.
“You’re going so far; do you love your senior that much? Or do you just have so much confidence that the Headless Rider isn’t the culprit?”
To Kuon, who asked this in messy Japanese, Akane averted her eyes slightly.
“Hey, hey, I won’t do anything bad, so tell us about the Headless Rider! If there’s a misunderstanding, you’ve got to clear it. And if we know it’s a misunderstanding, we can tell everyone that the Headless Rider’s a good person, too. Right?”
At Akane, who was looking at him suspiciously, the green-haired boy smiled spiritedly, but —
“Hey, you can’t go bullying younger girls.”
Once more Mairu ground at his temples with her fists from behind; Kuon cried out instinctively.
“There are things people don’t want to tell anyone, so read the atmosphere. Air-read, air-read.”
“Ahowowow… No, but… Isn’t it worrying?”
From beside him, Yahiro, who had recovered from his gloom, stepped towards Akane.
“I got it, if you don’t want to talk about it, we won’t ask about the Headless Rider anymore.”
Akane nodded her head, and perhaps she felt Yahiro more trustworthy than Kuon; she spoke just a little more about the Headless Rider.
“Anyone who’s spoken to them would know… That person definitely isn’t bad.”
“Yeah, I believe you.”
“Nothing says not being human makes you evil.”
Even though she felt strange at the somewhat self-deprecating smile Yahiro wore as he said this, Akane smiled, slightly cheered, as she thanked him.
“Thank you so much! I think so too! So many people misunderstand… the Headless Rider…”
And then, for just an instant a self-deprecating look crossed her face as well, as she continued.
“…about Shizuo-san, too…”
“Ah, no, sorry. I was talking to myself!”
Hearing Akane, Mairu, who had stayed silent till then, clapped as if she had remembered something.
“Ah, right! The Headless Rider’s close with Shizuo-san, aren’t they!”
Yahiro’s heart raced.
—’Shizuo’ as in… it can’t be…
Before the question could exit Yahiro’s mouth in the form of words, Kuon reacted to the name.
“Geh—?! Seriously?! You mean Shizuo as in, that Shizuo?! Heiwajima Shizuo!”
“Yeah, what, you know?”
“Of course! I’ve heard the legends from Kuronuma-senpai, and I saw him throw a vending machine myself just once! Eh?! The Headless Rider knows Heiwajima Shizuo?! Seriously?”
“Aocchi didn’t say a word to you about that, did he?”
Mairu said this, surprised.
Away from the conversation between the two, Yahiro, who had been gloomy up till before, began to feel exhilarated.
—Throwing vending machines.
—There’s no mistake!
When he had looked up Ikebukuro’s urban legends on the internet, the name had turned up countless, countless times.
He was a person nicknamed the Automatic Fighting Doll, who, along with the Headless Rider, was called a living legend of Ikebukuro.
—To think his name would show up here!
—Because they’re fellow urban legends?
Yahiro hesitated, but then, anxiously, shook his head slightly.
—No, now’s not the time to think about that.
Breathing deeply, Yahiro spoke, once more, to Akane.
“Then, I’ll help you find your seniors.”
At this wild offer, Akane’s eyes widened.
Not only Akane; Kuon beside him was staring, and Mairu was grinning as she watched the conversation, as though saying, ‘Things just got interesting.’
“I want to know what kind of person the Headless Rider is. But if they’re not bad, like you say, I want to prove it too. So I want to try asking those seniors who’re big fans of the Headless Rider.”
—Ah, I said it.
—It’s okay, I didn’t lie.
—…I didn’t, right?
To Yahiro, it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get closer to both the Headless Rider and Heiwajima Shizuo’.
He was worried about the missing child, and had indeed thought to help the girl called Akane, so it was technically two birds with one stone – but was it not dishonest to hide one more bird?
—No, that’s irrelevant.
—And I really do want to know.
—If the Headless Rider is really a ‘monster’…
—Is it possible to be a ‘monster’ and not be hated?
—Whatever it is, those seniors who ran away from home are the most worrying.
—It’s obvious which is more important.
Even as he felt this sudden guilt, in the end Yahiro hid this motive within himself, and chose to honestly help in the search.
He felt this was surely the right thing to do socially; but still he had not an ounce of confidence.
At Yahiro’s offer, Akane glanced at Mairu.
Her gaze sought an opinion on Yahiro, who she had just met and whose personality she did not know.
In response, Mairu gave her a thumbs-up, and said,
“Isn’t that great? Kuru-nee and I’ll help too!”
And just like that, she turned her thumbs-up towards Kuon.
“Kuon-kun, you’ll ask Aocchi and the rest, won’t you!”
Kuon himself was the one surprised by this.
“Eh, wait, does that mean I’m helping too? And you’re dragging Kuronuma-senpai in?”
“I’m not forcing you, you know? But hey, but, see? At a time like this, you’re not the kind of person to say, ‘Normal civilians like us shouldn’t act rashly about this. Leave it to the police,” or, “Why do I have to go to this kind of trouble,” are you?”
Mairu’s eyes and her words conveyed, implicitly, to Kuon:
—’You should love sticking your nose into into this kind of trouble.’
A single statement that saw through one part of Kuon’s true nature.
Kuon smiled, twitching, and shook his head at the girl who was his senior both at the dojo and in school.
“We’ve only met a few times; you’re saying that very confidently.”
“It was our older brother’s forte~. Maybe it’s in the blood.”
Mairu, laughing, said as though to comfort Akane:
“Well, it’s all right. They must have left home because of their rebellious phase or something; we’ll find them just fine.”
To Akane, who was looking around at their faces worriedly, Mairu rambled on airily.
“Ah, if you’re thinking, ‘It might be a bother…’ to us, worry about that later, later! They and I, all of us are following our own ambitions and desires to say, ‘We’ll do it,’ knowing full well we might meet danger, so Akane-chan, don’t always rely on what older people are doing!”
As Mairu said this brightly, Kuon interrupted unthinkingly:
“No, I don’t really have an ulterior motive…”
Mairu crooked her lip into a smile, and replied:
“So, you’ll pull out? I can be the one to ask Aocchi.”
“…no, I’ll do it. I’ve committed already, after all.”
Seeing Kuon sigh and smile, Akane, after a moment of thought —
As if she had reached some kind of compromise in her heart, with determination in her eye, she bowed her head.
“Thank you so much… I’ll be counting on you.”
And, gripping her octagonal staff tightly, she said,
“But… if anything feels dangerous, please stop right away. I just want everyone to stay safe…”
Kuon, as if teasing Akane, shrugged.
“Oh no oh no, oh no no no, no matter how you look the one in most danger here would be Akane-chan, the youngest, wouldn’t it?”
“Kuon-kun, it’s best not to underestimate Akane-chan, hm~? She might be a girl just into middle school, but she’s a star of hope of Rakuei’s staff technique, you know?”
“Serious?! I see~, then the one who should be most careful here might be Yahiro-kun, huh.”
Speaking lightly, Kuon patted Yahiro’s back.
“Y, yeah. I’ll take care.”
Yahiro nodded, an awkward smile on his face, and asked Akane, as if to change the topic,
“Um… By the way, er, what’s the name of the one who disappeared?”
Akane took a deep breath, and spoke the name clearly.
“It was Tatsugami… Tatsugami Ai-senpai.”
It was a familiar name.
It was a unique surname, but although he tried to consider that it might be common in the region of Ikebukuro, it seemed natural to think the following:
That there was some relation to the Tatsugami he knew.
Apparently Yahiro was not the only one who thought this; Kuon said, slightly puzzled.
“Tatsugami… wasn’t there one in our class? Are they related somehow?”
Kuon asked this, but Yahiro had no answer at all.
“Yeah… That might be, though we can’t say anything yet.”
A girl who was a big fan of the Headless Rider had the name of Tatsugami as well.
It would be stranger to think there was no link.
The ‘warning’ from his classmate repeated again and again in Yahiro’s chest.
—’Don’t get too involved with the Headless Rider.’
He was being dragged into ‘something’.
Yahiro, who was more timid than most, felt a premonition close to certainty.
But it was too late to stop this.
Fighting the uneasiness swirling in his chest, the cowardly boy set on moving forward.
Afterward, after finishing his observation of the training Kuon and the rest had, Yahiro accepted a pamphlet and returned home.
Kuon and Akane finished practice and went home next, leaving Mairu alone to wait in the lounge for her sister to fetch her.
“I’ve to tell Kuru-nee as soon as possible too~. That tomorrow’ll be the start of the missing persons search of the Secret Society of Hot-Blooded Cold-Blooded Ikebukuro Detectives Society. Ah, I said Society twice. Ah whatever.”
Mairu was swinging her legs on a chair in the lounge, voicing a name to the group that she had come up with on her own excited whim, when a voice called out to her from the corridor.
“Ah, Mikage-shihandai! Thank you for today!”
(*Shihandai – assistant instructor.)
She was the daughter of the director of Rakuei Gym, a female assistant instructor recognisable by her sporty appearance.
She was an acquaintance from when Mairu had first joined, and rather than a teacher-student relationship she was a conversation partner, like a friend with an age gap.
This person brought up a question to Mairu:
“Hey, Mairu, were those high school boys with you earlier your friends?”
“Ah, Kuon-kun and Mizuchi-kun? Yeah, they’re my juniors from Raira. Apparently they had their entrance ceremony today.”
“Fu~n… What did you do?”
“Eh? Kuon-kun’s been a Rakuei student since before, did you know? He says he was attending the Takadanobaba branch. What’s that, Mikage-san! Could it be you see some high hopes?! Could he be like Kisa-senpai, on par to become the next Traugott?!”
(T/N: I never finished reading Otsuberu to Warau Suiyobi, but the male protagonist is Kisa Yukihiro; they share a surname.)
Mairu, who had not personally seen Kuon training, asked Mikage in turn, thrilled.
But Mikage shook her head calmly.
“Kuon was the green-haired one, right? Well, he was using our style. So I could tell he was a student…”
There Mikage stopped, and after some thought, said to Mairu.
“The one who came to see, he’s Mizuchi-kun?”
“Yeah. But… what about him? Ah, could it be he’s your type, Mikage-san?”
“Ridiculous, it’s not that. …That kid, has he trained before?”
“Hm~? I’m not sure. I didn’t ask, and I think Kuon-kun would’ve said something if he knew…”
Mairu had not imagined Mikage would express more interest in Yahiro, who had merely come to watch; she asked again,
“But what about him? He seemed like a quiet kid, Mikage-san.”
“Did you see his hands, Mairu?”
“His hands? Mm~, speaking of which, I didn’t. What happened to his hands?”
Mikage thought even more, and then, heaving a small sigh, warned Mairu.
“What I’m about to say now – don’t ever say it to his face, or spread it to other people. You’ll surely tell Kururi-chan, so only her. No one else. Can you keep it a secret?”
The assistant instructor spoke with an unusually serious tone, and Mairu stopped swinging her legs, and, still smiling, nodded.
“I got it. I promise.”
“Thanks. I would be sorry to him if rumours started.”
Mikage inserted a coin into the vending machine in the lounge, and pressed the button for an amino acid sports drink as she spoke.
“He was watching very seriously in seiza, so I caught a glance of his hands on his knees…”
Retrieving her drink from the vending machine, Mikage recalled the scene in her head.
“His hands were full of scars.”
It was true that if one trained with a training post, wounding their hands would be common.
But Mairu did not understand why that would be reason to be so secretive.
“But if it was just scars, maybe he has a cat and just got bitten or something?”
Mikage nodded at Mairu’s words.
“Those were teeth marks, sure. But they certainly weren’t a cat’s.”
“I know because I’ve experienced it myself…”
As Mairu saw Mikage’s hand gripping the drink can as she spoke, she noticed.
That on her hand there were numerous ones different from the usual training scars.
“Those were marks from human teeth.”
“…so he was bitten by someone?”
Mairu tilted her head. Mikage shook her head.
“When you punch someone’s teeth out, sometimes the broken teeth pierce into your fists.”
“If, after they’re broken, you keep punching the person’s face over and over, you’ll get scratched up even more. You might get infected, so it’s not something I recommend. There are plenty of easier ways to inflict that level of damage.”
After saying this, Mikage remembered, clearly, Yahiro’s ‘hands’, and, with complicated feelings, spoke an ‘answer’ to Mairu’s question expressionlessly.
“The scars on that Mizuchi-kun’s hands… those were definitely scars from broken teeth, from humans.”
“That many scars… I wonder just how many people’s teeth he punched out.”
Mikage took a sip of her drink, and smiling faintly, murmured to herself.
“I shivered, just a little.”
Takadanobaba. Kuon’s apartment.
The one who said this was Kotonami Kuon, who, having returned home, first headed toward his older sister’s room inside.
Beside the door cardboard boxes from mail orders were piled up to nearly the ceiling, the opened and unopened separated into stacks.
On the part of the floor visible between countless stacks was a cumulation of emptied bowls and plates, with chopsticks placed politely on them.
“Oh, Nee-chan, you ate everything today.”
Kuon murmured this as he picked up the crockery, but it was not directed towards someone in the room.
“Honestly; you use the shower just fine, but you hate coming out to eat~. I don’t get your criteria.”
Grumbling to himself, he moved the crockery to the sink.
Other than the area in front of his sister’s room, the rest of the apartment was tidy; there was not even mould around the sink.
After washing the dishes thoroughly, Kuon sat on the sofa in the living room, and opened the notebook computer on the table.
And turning on the TV, he slid his thumb over the screen of his smartphone with his free hand.
While watching a night news programme on the television, Kuon put the smartphone to his ear.
“Thanks for the hard work~”
“I know, I have information, so I called.”
Kuon grinned at the person on the other side of the call, and spoke of the day’s ‘results’.
“Yeah, the entrance ceremony went smoothly. I was the wildest one by appearance. Looks like Raira Academy has lots of model students.”
“Some other things happened today. I found some interesting pawns.”
Unlike the false smile he had presented to the others in the afternoon, Kuon wore a smile that felt somehow cold.
“Can you believe it? Someone came over from Akita just for the Headless Rider!”
“No, it’s true! Yeah? It’s exactly what we’ve been looking for, isn’t it? He looks like a nice guy type, the kind you can get anything out of. I even thought we should be friends.”
“It was a joke. Do I look friendly to you?”
At what the other party said, Kuon shrugged unconsciously.
“He’s called Mizuchi Yahiro… He has quite some potential.”
Kuon remembered the face of the ‘pawn’ he had just met today, and said, narrowing his eyes like a snake:
“Just by travelling with him, I got plenty of other returns.”
After she finished speaking about Yahiro, Mikage, as though she had just remembered something, asked about another student.
“By the way, how’s that kid Kuon? He was practising seriously, but… If my brother or my father saw the colour of his hair, they might demand that he dye it black. Everyone’s surprisingly old-fashioned.”
“Yeah~. Though it’s interesting so I’d prefer it to stay green~”
At Mikage’s question, Mairu thought for a while, and answered straightforwardly:
“Well, maybe you’d say he’s a bad guy~. The type to use people instead of acting himself. Even attending this dojo seriously is to learn the very basics of self-defence at least, probably. For when it’s necessary. …ah, speaking of that made me remember – I feel he’s the same type as Iza-nii.”
Remembering that face she missed, Mikage sighed slightly.
“…if he’s like your brother, then he’s not a bad guy, he’s a scoundrel.”
“He said they were friends, but I think he’s simply using him, you know? Because Mizuchi-kun looks like a nice guy. Though I don’t know yet what exactly he plans to use him for.”
“…well, Mairu, you talk very friendlily about that kind of guy yourself.”
After, Mairu told Mikage of what they had spoken of today.
And hearing of Akane’s issue, Mikage smiled.
“Oh? So then you decided to look for Akane-chan’s seniors.”
“Yeah, it’d be nice if we could find them safely…”
“But those high school students shouldn’t mess with Akane-chan. They probably don’t know about her family.”
To Mikage, who was disposing of her can into a bin as she said this, Mairu disagreed.
“Mizuchi-kun probably doesn’t, but I wonder about Kuon.”
“If he’s with Aocchi, then I’d think he definitely knows about the Awakusu-kai~.”
“Yeah, Awakusu Akane. The granddaughter of the head of the Awakusu-kai!”
“It’s funny, isn’t it? That the little miss of the Awakusu-kai would have some connection with the Headless Rider.”
With an expression he would never have worn before Akane, Kuon spoke cheerfully to the person across the line.
“Well, I didn’t know what to think when Yahiro offered to help with the search, but things turned interesting. The name of Awakusu Akane’s senior who went missing… ‘Tatsugami Ai’…”
“Yeah, there’s no way they’re unconnected. The magazine reporter that disappeared recently was Tatsugami Aya, wasn’t it?”
To what the other party said, Kuon nodded.
“Yeah, it’d help if you could look into that. I don’t have any connections with publishers, after all. Also, it might be a coincidence, but… There’s someone called Tatsugami in my class too. She feels a bit unsocial, but she’s a rather cute girl.”
“No way, it’s not like that. Well, if they’re related it’d be a big one. Well, it’s something to be careful with, but at worst it’ll be a big task, up to ten million… If there’s a competitor, it’s be Kuronuma-senpai, maybe. That person knows everything of what I’m doing.”
At that point, Kuon instead raised a question to the person across the line.
“So, how are you? Did anything interesting happen?”
“Mm… Wait a minute! Who got out of jail? Someone big? The Dollars? Or the Yellow Scarves? Eh? Blue Square?”
As though a snake that had found its prey, Kuon’s eyes glittered.
But that shine in his eyes faded in the next moment.
“Horada… ex-member of Blue Square and then the Yellow Scarves…?”
“I see… So he just came out… That Horada… Horada, Horada…”
Tilting his expressionless face slightly, Kuon asked, blandly, a simple question.
Interlude: Rumours on the Internet ②
Ikebukuro Information Site, IkeNEW! Version I・KEBU・KUR・O
Popular article, ‘Announcement – revival of an urban legend’: Looks like the Headless Rider’s the culprit behind the serial disappearances in Ikebukuro!
‘Where did the Headless Rider go?’ – (Extract from Baboo Daily Digital Edition)
Has the darkness of Ikebukuro finally shown its face?
Events that suggest this have shaken Tokyo as of late.
From December last year, there have been consecutive disappearances of young people in the vicinity of Ikebukuro, and in the shadow of those disappearances whispered rumours of the ‘Headless Rider’ have begun to show up.
There is a group with one similarity amongst the missing persons and runaways.
And that similarity is undoubtedly that they were ‘seeking the Headless Rider’s true identity’.
The ‘Headless Rider’, a mysterious presence that has shown itself countless times in the past twenty years.
A motorcycle without the sound of an engine, that can transform into a headless horse.
A motorist that emits shadow from its body, and controls it with ease.
It is a presence that one could only call an urban legend, but up till at least half a year ago, it was a being residents of the city could easily capture in video even with their handphones.
Since the sharp drop in sightings, young fanatic ‘believers’ of the ‘Headless Rider’ –
Have each disappeared, right after telling those around them that they ‘might be able to meet the Headless Rider’.
And furthermore last month, a reporter from a certain information magazine, who had been researching into the Headless Rider, disappeared, leaving only a statement that she was ‘going to meet a powerful information source’.
Also, there are rumours of the Headless Rider’s connection with the local violence organisations; the police are looking in that direction for potential suspects.
(Further content omitted)
-(Click here for the full article)
IkeNEW! Administrator’s Comment
“If you think they’re gone they’ll be vanished-nari.
Praying that the missing people are found safe.”
Administrator Lila Tailtooth Zaiya
Excerpts of typical tweets from microblogging site Twittia.
- The Headless Rider had a bounty once, didn’t it. Quite sure back then the bounty was withdrawn right after. Thinking about it that was strange. I think there was a secret dealing with the government.
- Quite sure the police got mad at the person who put out the bounty.
- It’s common sense the police would be angry, so they should have put the bounty out expecting that, right? Taking it down right after is strange.
- Quite sure the police got mad at the person who put out the bounty.
- Don’t underestimate Max Sandshield’s randomness.
- It’s really bad, someone from my university went missing too. Apparently they’ve been saying they love the Headless Rider since they were a kid. It’s really bad. Was sort of grossed. Maybe it’s better they’re gone. Disgusting.
- Isn’t it imprudent to say that someone who’s gone missing was gross or disgusting or whatnot?
- Huh? It’s my own freedom. Don’t pick on everything it’s irritating. Who’re you.
- Isn’t it imprudent to say that someone who’s gone missing was gross or disgusting or whatnot?
- Aren’t you the irritating one? It’s my freedom to pick on things too.
- If it pisses you off don’t look at it die idio~t. Die die die die.
- You’ve posted before that you went drink driving, haven’t you. And cheating on exams too, I’ll be reporting this, Raira University First Year-san.
- I apologise it was all a joke. Being a Raira University student was a joke too. Contacting the school might cause trouble for them so please stop.
※ (The poster was expelled from Raira University subsequently, and is under probation for other complaints)
- Apparently the magazine reporter said before disappearing that she was going to meet a powerful information source, but who would be able to provide information on the Headless Rider?
- I’ve seen someone wearing white riding behind them.
- There’s a rumour that that’s an underground doctor.
- Heiwajima Shizuo, wouldn’t it be? Since they’re together a lot.
- So maybe, provoke Shizuo→get thrown far away→go missing?
- I’ve seen someone wearing white riding behind them.
- Wasn’t there was an informant talking with the Headless Rider now and then?
- Informant lol
- No, there really was! Don’t be like that.
- Informant lol
- That guy with the black fur jacket, right? Haven’t seen him recently, hm.
- Kuon uses polite form with his seniors (i.e. Mairu, Aoba). He goes informal with Yahiro and the person he calls in this chapter.
- Not very sure if Max Sandshield should really be translated as Max Sandshield; the katakana for ‘Sandshield’ is sandosheruto, which makes the ‘d’ a bit odd. Suggestions welcome.