Durarara!!SH: Chapter 3B (+Interlude)

T/N: As always, take care.


Durarara!!SH

CHAPTER 3B
The Challenger



The next day. Raira Academy.

Classes were not yet in session on the second day of Raira Academy’s new year.
Today was mainly for the tour of the facilities, and orientation to introduce the committees and clubs. The appointment of committee members for each class was also carried out.
Up till a few years ago committee members were settled on the first day, but the school’s administration had taken a shift in direction to organise explanatory sessions for the committees also, and now it was postponed to the second day.

Yahiro had nominated himself to be the library rep, and as there were no other candidates, he was accepted uneventfully.
During the first session of committee activities after school there had been self-introductions followed by the selection of president and vice-president of each committee, and settling the scope of activities for the future as well as the rotation for the library’s watch duty.
By the time it had all ended the sun was already setting, and when Yahiro returned to the classroom the stretch of sky outside the windows was dyed red.
And Yahiro saw a familiar girl in a corner of the classroom.
“You couldn’t have been… waiting for me?”
“Well, I didn’t have much to do anyway.”
Answering shortly, Tatsugami Himeka asked Yahiro coolly:
“How was the library committee?”
“Ah, I was nervous, but everyone was nice. The committee president seemed kind, too.”
“The committee president, as in, the senior with the glasses and that cool vibe?”
“Yeah, that’s him.”
After that casual exchange, Himeka, her tone unchanging, asked coolly again:
“Mm—that is.”
“What?”
“What’s your plan? Will we be continuing the conversation from yesterday?”
“Wasn’t that why you waited for me?”
Yahiro tilted his head and answered promptly, without a hint of irony; and to this Himeka sighed lightly.
“You’re kind of weird, after all.”
“Really…? I’ll be careful. Thank you.”
“I don’t think that’s something you should thank me for…”
Himeka tilted her head, still expressionless, but she did not ask further, and quickly returned to the root issue.
“Then, is it all right if you start? Why are you after the Headless Rider?”
“…yeah. Right.”
After a short interval, Yahiro began to speak, quietly.
“You see. I want to be sure. Whether I’m a normal human, or… a monster.”
“Eh?”
“You see, I was called a monster back in my hometown, and I haven’t had friends since elementary school. The only ones who actively involved themselves with me were scary people who just randomly came to beat me up.”
“…”
Himeka appeared to be hesitant, but did not interrupt, and continued to listen silently to Yahiro.
“But at that point in time, someone who came to visit the village’s hot springs said something to me: ‘You’re not a monster, you’re a regular human’… He taught me that there was a world I didn’t know about in the city of Ikebukuro.”
“…and then you came to Ikebukuro?”
“Yeah; I wanted to see a bigger world. I always thought I was a hopeless person, but if there are people in Tokyo unusual enough to overshadow even me, still living their lives as usual…”
Smiling somewhat uncomfortably, Yahiro spoke his honest emotions.
“If I were able to see it with my own eyes, I thought I might be able to face myself differently. That’s why I came to Ikebukuro.”
“…”
Hearing what he said, Himeka fell into thought.
What he had said was strange.
But he did not seem to be lying.
Yahiro had said he was called a monster, but nothing of his appearance seemed to warrant this, and although she felt his personality a little strange, it did not seem possible that that alone could make him an outcast.
One might dare say he must have had undergone tremendous bullying.
Cruel bullying where he was treated as unhuman, and stoned by everyone.
Himeka’s thinking this was because she had noticed the scars on the back of Yahiro’s hands.
The strange scars on the back of his hands must have been a result of that bullying.
Thinking this, Himeka chose to believe what Yahiro said for now.
The question of why he would go so far as to want to meet Heiwajima Shizuo still lurked, but Himeka could at least accept that the boy before her was worth the conversation.
“…All right. I understand why you want to meet the Headless Rider.”
“I see, that’s great. I thought you might not believe me.”
To Yahiro, who said this as though relieved, Himeka, after a brief silence, spoke herself.
“But as I said… you shouldn’t chase after the Headless Rider, and you shouldn’t be too taken with it.”
“The reason behind that… can you tell me that, today?”
Perhaps he did not want to push the matter; despite the fact that he had already spoken of his own secret, Yahiro phrased it as a question.
And Himeka spoke.
“I have an older and a younger sister. I’m the middle of three girls.”
“Mm.”
“My older sister was a magazine reporter, and she always chased after the Headless Rider at work. The younger one in her own way had been squealing over the Headless Rider from when she was younger. She was air-headed in the first place—I felt that was why she was so obsessed over it, since it seems like something out of a comic.”
Saying this, Himeka stopped talking for a while.
And finally, as though to prepare herself, she took a deep breath, and spoke.
“Both of them… went missing. On the same day.”
“…”
“Both of them had been excited since that morning. They said that they were going to meet the Headless Rider’s lover… That my younger sister would definitely be following the older to the interview… And just like that, both of them vanished.”
Himeka’s voice remained calm to the end; it was as if she was speaking of strangers.
“I thought they must have gotten into some trouble. But… it wasn’t just my sisters. The police had always found the Headless Rider somewhat strange. When they investigated, it turned out there were other people, too.”
“Other people… who went missing?”
“Yeah. From what I know, seven. That’s why I think there must be many more.”
“…”
This time it was Yahiro who went silent.
It was the first he was hearing of her older sister, but what had happened with her younger sister rang a bell.
But as he considered if it would be good to mention it now, or if it would only dig deeper into her emotional pain, Yahiro could not bring himself to bring up the name immediately.
—But.
—If I keep mum, it feels bad, like I’m cheating her.
With this in mind, Yahiro asked Himeka, nervously:
“Could it be that… your sister is Tatsugami Ai-san?”
“!”
The answer to that was clear from her reaction without her saying anything.
“Why… do you know her name?”
“Mm… A middle school girl I met yesterday… She said her senior had disappeared. That senior’s name was Tatsugami Ai-san, so I thought it might be.”
“I see… That’s true. Even if you don’t go looking for the Headless Rider, you’ll come to hear things like that.”
“Um, I’m sorry, kind of.”
Yahiro bowed his head quickly, and made as to continue, but —
“What you’re doing~?”
Just then, an intruder appeared in the classroom.
It was their frivolous, green-haired classmate.
“Er…”
“What’s up, Kotonami-kun.”
Yahiro spoke his name in place of Himeka, who seemed to have forgotten it.
“What’s with you, you’re so cold. Didn’t I say just Kuon was fine?”
At Kuon, who behaved brightly on the surface, Himeka narrowed her eyes.
Noticing this, Yahiro stepped in to introduce Kuon.
“Ah, he showed me around at the martial arts gym. What I said happened just before that.”
Then Kuon registered what he had said.
“Ah, you mean what we heard from Akane-chan yesterday? The girl we were curious about because she had the same name?”
“Ah, yeah. Well.”
“Hey hey hey, no matter what, who would go straight up to her and ask about it?”
Kuon shrugged exasperatedly, and Yahiro said anxiously to Himeka:
“Kuon heard yesterday, too… We ended up agreeing to help find that girl’s middle school senior… But see, your surnames were the same, so we were bothered.”
After staring at Yahiro, who had blurted this quickly, Himeka sighed softly.
“Don’t do things like that on your own… I would say, but neither you nor that girl know about my situation, or anything, so that would be unreasonable.”
“Ah… No, I’m sorry.”
“No. I should be the one apologising. You shouldn’t have had to worry about that, sorry.”
Seeing her shake her head expressionlessly, Yahiro felt even more tortured by guilt.
There was no way she could be calm when her family had just disappeared.
She had probably closed off her heart entirely, and that that was why she showed so little emotion.
Unconcerned with Yahiro, who had averted his eyes as he thought this, Himeka said to the two of them, promptly:
“I would say this to Kotonami-kun too…”
“Ah, just Kuon is fine. I’ll call you Himeka too.”
“I’m sorry, Kotonami-kun, but I won’t like that.”
“Oh my.”
Despite the interruption Himeka continued, her tone undiminished in the slightest.
“Both my older and younger sisters got involved with the Headless Rider and disappeared.”
“Huh? Your older sister too?!”
—?
—What’s this…
In that moment Yahiro felt a flash of uneasiness at how Kuon was surprised, but unable to identify its source, he let it pass.
“Yes; I’ve told Yahiro-kun the details, so ask him later.”
“Wait a minute, you’re calling Yahiro by his name? Even though you rejected me?!”
“? Yahiro-kun’s easier to say than Mizuchi-kun, anyway. And what I wouldn’t like would be you calling me by name…”
“Eh? Do I sense some dislike?”
Listening to the conversation between the two, Yahiro somehow identified what felt out of place.
—Ah, I know.
—I mean… The way Kuon talks, it’s, that.
—It’s forced. On the whole.
He appeared to be hiding his true self.
Thinking this, Yahiro anxiously shook his head mentally.
—Idiot, it’s not good to judge.
—It’s possible everyone in Tokyo’s like this, too…
In reality, of Kuon’s acquaintances, hardly anyone had noticed this falseness.
Even so, Yahiro had not been mistaken.
After all—a number of people: the Orihara sisters and Kuronuma Aoba, had acutely noticed that discrepancy, and grasped his true nature.
Himeka had once again been interrupted, but she did not mind and continued to deliver her warning to the two of them.
“I don’t know that girl, and I’m happy that she’s worried about my sister, but… You should already know the Headless Rider is dangerous. You should stop trying to approach it.”
“Yeah… I understand, but…”
Then Yahiro, who had been silent up till then, spoke apologetically.
“I think, even if we say that… that girl probably won’t stop searching.”
“…Why?”
“She said, ‘The Headless Rider isn’t a bad person.’ It’s strange to think of, but that girl… seems to know the Headless Rider. It looked like there were some private reasons, so I didn’t ask, though.”
“…”
Hearing that, Himeka thought —
And looking away, reached slowly for her own belongings.
“I see… I understand. I can accept that.”
With a small nod, she turned her back on the two of them.
“Whatever that girl thinks, I’ve warned you as I could. Anything that happens after is your choice, so I won’t be responsible. I’m sorry.”
“No, that isn’t something you should apologise for, either.”
As Yahiro said this, she stopped midstep, and turned towards them to speak.
“…I’ll feel better if you let me say this; this is the last time. …You shouldn’t get involved with the Headless Rider. If you want to see your aims through, you should choose Heiwajima Shizuo.”
And—hearing her next sentence, Yahiro’s back was drenched with sweat.
Because her voice, which had been virtually emotionless till then, had definitely taken on an intense hatred.
“I think… the Headless Rider is a cruel demon.”

♂♀

In front of Raira Academy.

In front of Raira Academy, the sun had already set.
The time for club recruitment had already ended, and the small number of students still around was diminishing.
Amidst this was Yahiro and Kuon, who had finished exchanging information.
“But earlier, Himeka-chan, she was really—something, wasn’t she? She’s very pretty, but there don’t seem to be a lot of guys approaching her. But instead it’s like this, how strange? Don’t you find it interesting?”
Towards Kuon, who sought agreement, Yahiro said, wearily,
“You seem to be able to talk about Tatsugami-san very lightly, don’t you…”
“That’s my strength. No matter how heavy the topic I can be positive and aggressive, you know? Even if Himeka-chan’s sisters didn’t go missing and it was that their brutally murdered bodies were found, I’d be able to accept it positively. ‘At least Himeka-chan herself wasn’t the one killed’… I’d say.”
“That seems more of a horrible flaw than a strength…”
Even as Yahiro felt uncomfortable at the thought that Kuon might have just said something very low as a human being, he did not voice this directly.
In response, as though having remembered something, Kuon said,
“Ah, but Yahiro, I didn’t think you would really join the library committee.”
“Eh? Is something wrong?”
Yahiro asked this honestly, and Kuon quickly denied.
“No, it’s not wrong, it’s not wrong at all~? How was it?”
“Ah, I told Tatsugami-san about it earlier, too. Thank goodness all of the seniors were nice. The committee president seemed very mild, too.”
“Yeah, it should be the same library committee president who talked to us at the orientation. The one who looks popular with the girls, that cool senior with the glasses.”
Kuon said this enviously, to which Yahiro asked:
“Kuon-kun, aren’t you joining any clubs or committees?”
“Me? I’ll pass. I want to do part-time jobs and stuff after school.”
“What part-time jobs do you do?”
“Eh, I’m a bit of a handyman. Just earning some small cash.”
His tone was light, but it was clear he was being deliberately vague.
Yahiro deduced it was probably something Kuon did not want to be asked about, and did not push the issue.
Instead, Yahiro chose to ask about something else.
“Speaking of which… Kuon-kun, it seemed like you know about that… Heiwajima Shizuo?”
“It’s not that I know, per se… No one who’s hung around Ikebukuro before wouldn’t know. About that monster.”
“…”
Yahiro felt a stab in his chest at the word ‘monster’.
Not noticing this, Kuon began to shoot off information about Heiwajima Shizuo.
“I said it yesterday already, but I’ve seen that Heiwajima Shizuo throwing a vending machine before… That guy’s huge trouble. There’s a senior in third grade, Kuronuma Aoba, who looks out for me; even he said, ‘don’t pick a fight with him no matter what’.”
—To have everyone say, ‘don’t pick a fight with him no matter what’…
—I’m envious…
Even as Yahiro, who had only ever been provoked into fights, felt these twisted emotions, Kuon continued chattering on about Heiwajima Shizuo.
“The thing’s that there isn’t anyone who can get him to stop. Apparently he listens to his seniors at work, but once the fight gets started there’s no stopping him either. Only Simon from the sushi place can do any…”
Midsentence, Kuon clapped his hands together.
“Right, let’s go eat sushi! Sushi!”
“Ehh?!”
Having been invited for a meal without any rhyme or reason, Yahiro’s expression twitched as he remembered the contents of his wallet.
“S, sorry. Today’s not a very convenient…”
“What are you saying! I’ll treat you! It’ll be a treat, a treat!”
“Ehhhh?!”
Kuon slapped his back as he said things that only further shocked Yahiro.
“No, that’s bad! Sushi’s… Even if it’s conveyor belt sushi it’s…”
Even for conveyor belt sushi, with every plate priced at 100 yen, 5 plates would be 500 yen. It was not a big sum for Yahiro, who hailed from a wealthy family, but it was not the kind of amount he could receive as a treat from someone he had just met the day before. No, in fact, Yahiro felt a sense of resistance at the idea of being treated for even 100 yen.
Yet Kuon smiled and began to walk, ignoring his feelings.
“Ah, I’m fine with conveyor belt sushi, too, but this time the sushi won’t be moving!”
“! Wait, wait a minute, in that case I’ll just drop by the bank or a convenience store to draw some money, so…”
“It’s fine, it’s fine! There’s a place with a student discount for the new term! A crab course for one person’s just 380 yen!”
Could it just be three to five small servings?
If that were not it, that was a price so low it was unsettling.
Unheeding of Yahiro’s unease, Kuon took a leaflet from his bag, and waved it in front of him.
“It’s called Russia Sushi… It’s run by two Russians; it’s quite famous around here, you know?”

♂♀

Along Kawagoe Highway. A certain apartment.

Awakusu Akane arriving at that apartment had been no coincidence.
It was the apartment the Headless Rider had brought her to once previously.
It was also a place she had been slightly before that.
As she recalled clearly that it had been along Kawagoe Highway, she had used a service on an online map that displayed the scenery around the road, and after a thorough scour had been able to find the entrance to this familiar-looking apartment complex.
It was the day after the entrance ceremony for middle schoolers also, and in the afternoon now school had let out, Akane arrived at the apartment residence of the Headless Rider.
“Um… Kishitani-sensei’s unit…”
She remembered that the name of the doctor she had met at the Headless Rider’s house had been ‘Kishitani’.
As her acquaintance Heiwajima Shizuo often mentioned him, there was no mistaking that he cohabited with the Headless Rider.
Perhaps because the place was old, despite the fact that it looked expensive there were no security guards around, and anyone could make their way right to the door of any unit.
Akane checked each doorplate as she ascended the stairs, and finally on the top floor came across one that read ‘Kishitani’ beneath the apartment number.
Pressing the doorbell yielded no reaction.
After a ten-second interval she tried again, but still there was no response from inside the house.
The electric meter by the door showed little movement.
It seemed no more than devices like the refrigerator and the video player’s time display were in use.
Concluding that this level of inactivity could not be justified by the residents simply going out to shop or work, Akane felt a surge of uneasiness as she left the apartment unit behind her.
Next her feet brought her to the underground carpark.
But there as well there were only a number of cars supposedly belonging to the residents, and no trace of the Headless Rider.
“…”
Not even a trace of the Headless Horse that had brought her here before.
As if to say everything that had happened back then was only a dream.
Feeling an irrational sadness, Akane continued walking in the underground carpark.
As if pushed on by the hope that something remained. However small that something was.
Like this some time passed —
And then, a familiar voice came from behind Akane.
“Akane ojou-san, what’s the matter?”
When she turned, there stood a man slightly younger than her father.
“! Shiki-san…”
Furthermore, two even younger men stood behind him.
Their faces looked trustworthy, but the air around them announced that they were not upstanding members of society.
Akane knew that they were people from her father’s organisation—people from an organisation that carried out illegal activities.
Even so, Akane had met the man standing between them, Shiki, numerous times before she knew about her parents’ and grandfather’s work; occupation aside, she understood that he was an acquaintance of her father’s and trustworthy in that capacity.
“Shiki-san… Did you come looking for the Headless Rider, too?”
At this, Shiki heaved a small sigh.
“So you were too, after all.”
“…”
“It would be best not to get too involved with the Headless Rider’s case. That courier’s from this side that you dislike so much, after all, Akane ojou-san.”
Shiki gently told Akane not to interfere, to which she replied:
“But… that person isn’t the kind to kidnap anyone.”
” I believe so as well. However, you see, if the Headless Rider is innocent, that would mean someone else entirely, someone completely unknown to us, is behind the kidnappings.”
“…!”
“You should know what would happen if you met with a kidnapper like that, yes?”
Akane, as she heard all that Shiki said, felt that his words were perfectly logical.
But whether she could accept it and whether she would back down were two different things altogether.
Probably noticing that Akane had not been convinced, Shiki then brought up her father’s name.
“Mikiya-san is worried as well. That you might be getting yourself into danger.”
“…It’s okay. I’m in middle school already…”
There was some sincere guilt, but Akane averted her eyes.
Shiki shook his head at her slowly.
“Whether you’re in middle school or high school, or even if you’re an adult past twenty, danger is danger. Especially so when a kidnapper is involved here.”
Shiki was not pressuring her; he merely spoke severely.
“Everyone has their own role. Why don’t you let the police and I handle this case?”
After a short silence, Akane nodded slowly.
“All right. Please take care of the issue with the Headless Rider and the doctor.”
“Of course.”
“If everyone has a role, it should be fine if I ask about my senior around school, right? It’s possible she just ran away from home. I want to try looking in that direction.”
“…That…”
To Shiki, who had a complicated expression, Akane continued.
“I won’t go near any danger. And there are seniors who’ve offered to search with me. If I’m with them, it’s fine, right?”
After looking in Akane’s eyes for a while, Shiki shook his head wearily.
“…Please warn those seniors not to go anywhere dangerous, either.”
“! Thank you so much! Shiki-san! I’ll contact you if I find anything!”
Akane nodded quickly, and began to head off.
After watching her leave, Shiki called out to one of the young people beside him.
“Hey, send the miss off.”
“Yes.”
The young man bowed, and quickly chased after Akane.
Finally, as he affirmed that Akane had gone completely from the underground carpark, he cracked his neck, and—in a voice small enough his subordinates could not hear, he murmured bitterly.
“Goodness, maybe it’s the influence of Rakuei Gym.”
Remembering Akane’s past self, he smiled bitterly as he continued.
“Back when she was kidnapped it felt like she was younger than her age, but she’s changed a lot in a year and a half.”

♂♀

Russia Sushi.

Russia Sushi was a unique sushi restaurant in the downtown of Ikebukuro.
It was a little further down from the front of Tokyu Hands on 60-Storey Street, and as there was a bowling alley just across the road, people of all ages from students to salarymen passed by the store.
Its storefront gave off such a Russian feel that it seemed forced.
But the furniture inside of the store, the counter- and traditional-style seating, were spot-on for a sushi restaurant.

Seated at the counter, Yahiro glanced around nervously.

In general it was similar to the sushi restaurants he knew of, but the decorations were foreign, and there were dishes on the menu he had never seen before, like ‘Borscht Warship’, or ‘Kremlin Peak’.

With the sharp-eyed white man at the counter and the large black man receiving customers, the interior of the store made it seem more like a Japanese restaurant in Russia.

“Hey~, a delicious sushi celebration for the sparkling new freshmen. Sparkling students and sparkling rice, eat before the toppings dry up.”

(*Sparkling—pika-pika. Dry—kapi-kapi.)

Speaking in a way that made it hard to judge if his Japanese was proficient or just bad, a large black man, a tag on his breast reading ‘Simon’, carried the sushi over to Yahiro and Kuon.

There were easily more than ten pieces of sushi on the plate, and it was unbelievable that this could cost just 380 yen per head.

–What now?

–They couldn’t have… put anything strange inside…

Yahiro, who was timid by nature, hesitated for a moment before picking up the food with his chopsticks.

“…T, thanks for the food.”

Yahiro said this nervously, but—

“…it’s delicious.”

Eyes widening, he murmured this unthinkingly.

“I know, right? This store has lots of things to nitpick if you want, but the food is good, it is.”

“Yes, it’s really good. It’s like the sushi from Minato town.”

Hearing the students’ conversation, Simon smiled and gave them a thumbs-up.

“Oh~, Mr Director here’s a discerning customer. You can’t fight on an empty stomach, you know? If you win tighten your helmets*; if you lose loosen your belts and sleep full of dreams on a full stomach. Want a plate of dreamy sushi?”

(*Idiom; if you win all the more you should be on guard.)

Simon pointed at the store’s menu as he said this, but seeing that it said, ‘Cheap prices! All market price!’ Yahiro politely declined from ordering more.

After having a taster of all of the sushi, he spoke to Kuon again.

“Right, about that person Heiwajima Shizuo… Where should I go if I want to meet him?”

“Where… He’s always hanging around here, I’d guess he turns up once every three days? He’s very obvious with that bartender uniform and his hair dyed blond, so you’ll know when you see him, too. But you say you want to meet him, but what are you planning to do when you do, anyway. It’s really dangerous, yeah? If you say you’re just sightseeing you’ll get killed, you know?”

“I see…”

“Well, they say he’s softened just a bit now, but until the year before at least he was really something, you know? Apparently when he punched delinquents they’d fly ten metres away.”

Here, the store owner, who had been listening in to their conversation from behind the counter, spoke as he washed his knife.

“Boys, you’re interested in Heiwajima Shizuo?”

“Eh? Ah… yes.”

“I won’t say anything bad. But if you have nothing better to do it’s best for both parties if you leave him alone.”

Saying this, the storeowner stared straight at Yahiro and Kuon.

Unlike Simon, the storeowner spoke fluent Japanese.

Sensing the weight in his words, Yahiro and Kuon kept quiet and listened to him.

“Even he is only human. He’s not like some animal in the zoo that enjoys being looked at, and you don’t want to get hurt unnecessarily either, right?”

“That…”

Yahiro trailed off there, and Kuon looked away and shrugged.

Hearing what the storeowner had to say, negative feelings rose up inside Yahiro once more.
—Yeah, it’s just as he said.
—I’m not planning to pick a fight with him, but… aren’t I just looking at this Shizuo in the same way those who called me a monster saw me?
As Yahiro looked down glumly the storeowner glanced between Yahiro’s hands for a while, and as he continued with his next task he said,
“Though from what I see, you boys have some issues yourselves…”
“Eh?”
“No matter what you choose to do, live straightforwardly. That’s the key to living without losing faith in yourself.”
“…”
What exactly had the storeowner sensed within them?
Feeling as if the lowliness within himself had been seen through completely, Yahiro suddenly became fearful.
“Um… Thank you very much. I’ll be careful.”
“…”
The storeowner said nothing beyond that, and sliced his fish silently.
After a moment of silence, Kuon elbowed Yahiro’s arm, and whispered:
“Ah well, you see, right? He isn’t the kind you go looking for just for interest’s sake, that Heiwajima Shizuo.”
“Ah, yeah…”

Yahiro replied tonelessly, and as if to revive him from his lifeless state, Kuon brought up a new topic.
“More importantly, Tatsugami-san’s little sister? Let’s think about how we’re going to find her.”
“Right, how should we do that…”
“If it were in the past we could’ve just used the Dollars, too…”
“Dollars?”
At the sudden appearance of this strange term, Yahiro frowned as he sipped his tea.
“Ah, the Dollars, they were a colour gang around Ikebukuro up till the year before… Well, some things happened and they broke up. We call it a colour gang, but it was based in the internet… There were middle schoolers and the average salarymen or housewives joining it as a kind of interest group.”
“Wow…”
Thinking on it, he vaguely recalled encountering the term when he was reading up on the Headless Rider on the internet. However, as it was spoken of as a ‘hundreds-strong gang’, he remembered getting scared and not looking it up in too much detail.
“The Dollars community had lots of information about Ikebukuro, so it was convenient… If you were looking for someone you could just find them in the blink of an eye!”
“I see… Tokyo’s amazing, after all.”
“The Dollars was definitely an unusual group even for Tokyo. Though well, I doubt the people who were in there would broadcast that they used to be in the Dollars.”
Stuffing the last sushi on the plate into his mouth, Kuon swallowed and continued, scoffing.
“It’s all been left way back in the past, though, so now they’re just a relic; only their name and the rumours are left. That’s all there is now, for both the Dollars and the Yellow Scarves.”
And the smile suddenly vanished from his face, as he added, as if to himself:
“The Blue Square… might still make it.”

♂♀

Somewhere in the city. An abandoned building.

It was a building in a place far-flung from the heart of the city.
It seemed to have been abandoned halfway through construction; it was a normal building up to the second floor, but everything above had been left unfinished, and the exposed metal frames cast disconcerting shadows out onto the street.
In this building rang out the voice of a single man.
“Oi, oi… I used to be an important guy in the Blue Square, you know? D’you understand, oi.”
A man with his face and arm wrapped in bandages, who gave off the feel of a delinquent—Horada—provoked the boys obviously younger than himself.
“Seriously—I got all my hopes up when I heard the Blue Square’d revived, but all you kids are either stupid or still pissing your pants.”
In front of Horada, who sat on a sofa that must have been moved here from somewhere, were gathered the current members of the organisation he had once belonged to—the Blue Square.
Kuronuma Aoba, at the core of this group, listened to Horada silently.
Yoshikiri, who was next to him, had for a while now been glaring as if to ask, ‘Can I just kill this guy?’, but after suppressing him with a glance Aoba smiled pleasantly as he replied.
“No, we’re deeply sorry. I too heard of your legends from my seniors, Horada-san.”
“Oh? R, really?”
“They said, whether it was when we infiltrated the Yellow Scarves and wrecked havoc, or when we shot Heiwajima Shizuo—without Horada-san’s presence, the Blue Square of today couldn’t have been at all.”
“Ah, no…. Yes! Yes, exactly. Well, to say I was the pillar of the Blue Square back then wouldn’t be an exaggeration in the least.”
Now Yoshikiri’s eyes seemed to be asking, ‘What does he mean, exaggeration?’, but ignoring this, Aoba spoke.
“Yes, I’ve always heard about you from Aniki, Horada-san.”
“Aniki…? Huh? Weren’t you called Kuronuma or something?”
“Yes.”
“Did I know any Kuronumas…”
Horada puzzled as he opened the can of beer in his hands, and Aoba smiled as he said.
“Ah, our parents divorced, so our names are different. Horada-san, you would know my brother too, I’d think?”
“Huh~, and what’s his name?”
“He’s called… Izumii Ran.”
Horada spurted out the beer he had been drinking.

“I, Iii, Izumii… -san?”
Horada turned green as he asked this, to which Aoba replied, still smiling.
“Yes; Aniki’s currently in the Awakusu-kai, but once he hears you’ve come out of jail, Horada-san, I think he’ll surely make his way to meet you as soon as he can, you know?”
“I, I see. It’s Izumii-san. Haha.”
The nature of his gaze towards Aoba changing dramatically, Horada slowly rose from the sofa.
”W, Well, send my regards to Izumii-san. It must be tough being so young and all, yeah.”
His fear of the man Izumi fluctuating in his voice, Horada began to walk.
“Yes, since Ei Li-pei* returned to Dragon Zombie we’ve been scuffling all this time.”
At those words, Horada’s shoulders shuddered.
“…Yeah, that Ei person, I see.”
“But if you would be so kind to be our backer, Horada-san, we would have the confidence to upscale our fight into a proper war.”
“Ha… Haha. Well~, much as I’d really love to do that, I’m busy with my own things too, and anyway it’s not too good for the gang if an old boy* butts in, right?”
(*Ex-member.)
Breaking out in cold sweat, Horada left quickly.
“Well, work hard, all right? I’ll support you from the shadows, too! ‘Kay? Bye!”
With that, Horada escaped the building.
After he had disappeared, Aoba and the others began to talk.
“Eh, that’s one of the reasons the Blue Square died off that one time, I’d say.”
Aoba shrugged as he replied,
“Well; that was fully within my expectations, anyway. Wouldn’t you say he tried harder than most?”
“Anyway, even if he was in jail… If he doesn’t even know about Ei Li-pei, he’s pretty much an outsider already.”
“Yeah, that’s true. The Blue Square doesn’t really need him. I was thinking he might have changed after going to jail, like Aniki.”
Aoba snorted, and sat himself down on the sofa Horada was on before.
“Speaking of which, those injuries… were by Heiwajima Shizuo?”
”Yeah, he got it when he was following his juniors from high school to pick up girls. And apparently the one they trying to pick up was Kururi-chan, what a joke.”
“…”
At Aoba, who had gone silent for a moment, the surrounding people pressed.
“Oh, hey, your face says it’s not a joke, Aoba-kun.”
“Well, if that old man had touched her he’d be swimming in a sea of blood by now.”
“And you still say she’s not your girlfriend. But you’re so passionate…”
“…I’ll kill you!”
Flaring up unreasonably, Yoshikiri reached over; dodging his hand smoothly, Aoba stood up and changed the topic.
“But well… Heiwajima Shizuo’s grown soft, too. To let him off with just that.”
“R, really…?”
At the frowns of his comrades, Aoba said,
“Well, he’s softened, but that doesn’t mean he’s any weaker… Now that annoying informant’s off the streets, it might finally be time for that guy to disappear from the world of gang fights.”
Ignoring the fact that he himself was a high school student, Aoba spoke words of wisdom.
“Everything gets passed to a new generation eventually. We’re no exception, either.”
And after some thought, he sighed, as though somewhat bored.
“Ah, there’s no one to succeed Heiwajima Shizuo, though.”

♂♀

A few hours later. On the streets of Ikebukuro.

—How did it turn out this way?
Mizuchi Yahiro wracked his brains with all his might, and returned to his past.
Various images flashed in his mind, and the feelings that accompanied them sent shivers through his body.
A biting coldness in the air.
The unique smell of the onsen.
The feeling of being embraced by someone.
Life at the inn.                                                                      His first day at school.
The fear at suddenly being entangled with older students.
And then the flowing blood, and the pain in his fists.
blood           blood           blood           bloodbloodbloodblood
“Monster”                    “Monster”                    “Monster”                    “Monster”
eyes full of fear  “Monster”  rejection  “Monster”  someone’s broken teeth  “Monster”
As his life since birth appeared in his brain, he realised his life was flashing before his eyes, and quickly drove the images out of his head.
—No no no.
—What I need to think about is… what happened a minute ago.
—And… what I must do… from now on.
Cold sweat dripped down his cheek. The scene of reality spread wide in front of his eyes was, in fact, simple.
The street junction. The surrounding onlookers.
Standing before his eyes—a man with blond hair and sunglasses, wearing his signature bartender uniform.
Heiwajima Shizuo.
This living urban legend was not a product of rumours or fake videos on the internet.
As if to prove this, the legend stood before Yahiro, as the reality before his eyes.
Even from 3 metres away one could tell his temples were twitching with anger.
The rise and fall of his shoulders with his breathing was like an animal’s.
His eyes glinted sharper than those of a wild dog with its prey in front of its eyes; any ordinary person would’ve been rooted to the spot if they met that gaze.
And the hostility of that ‘monster’—Heiwajima Shizuo—was now directed solely at the one boy named Mizuchi Yahiro.
—Why…
—Why did it turn out like this…
The gazes of the onlookers were split.
Half were curious at being able to witness Heiwajima Shizuo’s strength.
The other half were pitying, thinking, ‘That high schooler’s going to die’.
There were hardly any afraid of Shizuo’s strength.
Because those who knew of his strength had long distanced themselves from this place to avoid being caught in the storm of violence.
At the same time, as such, Yahiro became the most terrified person on the scene.
Although being the target of the hostility of a man who threw vending machines around, he would have been the most terrified in any case.
And Yahiro was a coward by nature.
He did not want to die. He was afraid. He wanted to survive.
He wanted to distance himself from the source of his fear.
Which is why he tried, desperately, to remember.
How things had come down to this.
In order to think of a solution—some way to distance himself from the fear.
—I was at the sushi restaurant, talking about him…
—The storeowner talked to me, so I was thinking I should stop looking for him…
—And then we went to look for Tatsugami-san’s little sister…
—Ah, right. It was a coincidence.
—I was just dragged in by coincidence.
It felt like a long time had passed, but in fact it had only been a few seconds.
Perhaps the natural analgesia in his mind accompanying the flashing of his life before his eyes had thrown off his sense of time.
Even if it was no more than an illusion, because he had this amount of time, Yahiro was able to recall what had occurred a minute ago.
And he once again understood.
That the reason why this hostility was being directed towards him—was without doubt no other than his own cowardice.
The boy’s line of sight was angled downwards from Heiwajima Shizuo.
Lying on the asphalt—fallen on his back, was a green-haired boy.
Yahiro had only, only been afraid.
That the first ‘friend’ he had ever made might disappear before his eyes.
That if he did nothing Kotonami Kuon might die.
He had only, only, only wanted to run away.

♂♀

A few minutes ago.

That day, Heiwajima Shizuo was irritated.
When he had turned up at his company’s office, he had heard an odd rumour.
—’The Headless Rider is kidnapping people.’
A new employee who did not know Shizuo was acquainted with the Headless Rider had been very enthusiastically spreading information from an affiliate blog –  a news site that gathered information about Ikebukuro.
As it was a site that earned income from the advertisements around the articles, it often titled the articles dramatically so as to catch interest and hence boost viewership—
When he had seen the title, ‘”Announcing the revival of an urban legend”: Looks like the Headless Rider’s the culprit behind the serial disappearances in Ikebukuro!’, Shizuo had said,’Oi, where do I go to meet the shitty bastard who wrote that…?’, and as such until the president and Tom had arrived at the office no one came near him.
As Shizuo had no one to vent that anger out on, he had quashed that rage into his belly while he faced that day’s work.
“Now… Hey, calm down. Let’s have sushi or something, forget the bad things.”
“…yeah.”
“I’m sure Russia Sushi had some discounts other than the students’ one.”
Shizuo, who had somehow finished the day’s work with that gloominess, was heading towards Russia Sushi with Tom, but then—
“I gotta think the Headless Rider’s the kidnapper after all, you know?”
A leisure facility containing a bowling alley, across the street from Russia Sushi.
A green-haired boy buying juice from the vending machine against its wall had said this, loudly.
“What’s wrong? All of a sudden.”
Yahiro had up till then been going around seeking information on the missing person as normal.
In the end, Kuon’s acquaintances had had no game-changing information, and so they had returned to the front of Russia Sushi.
Just as he was buying juice at the vending machine, Kuon suddenly brought up the Headless Rider.
“No, but you see… Akane, was it? That kid was so sure there was some misunderstanding and we had to clear it up… But the Headless Rider’s a monster in the end, after all, right?”
“No, that’s…”
“You came to Ikebukuro just to sightsee monsters, yourself, didn’t you?”
“That’s… well…”
Unable to answer this clearly, Yahiro mumbled his reply as he pressed the button on the vending machine.
“Anyway, whether the Headless Rider’s a human or a monster, they’re a good-for-nothing, is what I’m saying. It’s not strange for them to be kidnapping people. I was spreading that around on Twittia, and no one disagreed, you know? Everyone already knows. The Headless Rider’s just trash, it’s only expected that they’d kidnap people.”
“Twittia?”
“Ah~… Ah, it’s something like a blog. Speaking of which, that tweet of mine got reprinted in several news articles~. It got really big. Well, I feel bad for that little miss Akane.”
“Reprinted in the news? That… Do they pay you money for that?”
Having only used the internet to search for information on the Headless Rider and such, Yahiro was unfamiliar with these online services or special sites, and was temporarily unable to understand what Kuon was saying.
Thinking he should take the time to ask about this, Yahiro waited for an answer as he slowly took his canned juice from the slot of the vending machine.
“…”
“?”
But there was no answer at all.
“Kuon-kun?”
Thinking he must have missed it, Yahiro stood up and turned around – and faced that scene.
Before Yahiro’s eyes, a blond-haired man, temples twitching, had Kuon raised midair, hand fisted in his collar.
For an instant Yahiro froze, uncomprehending.
When he realised that blond-haired man was ‘Heiwajima Shizuo’, countless questions rose within him.
—Eh?
—Heiwajima Shizuo…?
—I saw him in videos.
—The real thing?
—Lifting Kuon-kun so effortlessly with one hand…
—No, uh, why?
Yahiro was was immobile, feeling like he might be having a nightmare—but the whimpers of Kuon, hoisted in the air, returned him to reality.
“W, wait! What are you doing?!”
Yahiro ran up to them hurriedly, but a man with dreadlocks cut in front of him.
“Stop; don’t go near him so carelessly, you’ll get hurt.”
“…”
The man with dreadlocks appeared to have no ill will; with a troubled expression, he called out to Shizuo.
“Oi, Shizuo…”
But the man’s voice did not seem to have reached those ears, as Heiwajima Shizuo, temples twitching, ground out gravely:
“…Oi, kid…. Was it you…? Who spread that useless rumour…”
“Agah… Wai… a minute…”
Kuon, legs thrashing, yelled desperately to defend himself.
“I, I wasn’t saying anything bad about you, Heiwajima-san! Really! P, please believe me!”
“Aah…? I don’t care… ‘cause there’s nothing I can do whatever people say about me, that’s how I’ve always lived…”
With the barest grip on his rationality, Shizuo continued on, his voice as though echoing from hell itself.
“But you know… There’s no way I can  keep quiet when my friend’s being treated like a kidnapper… can I?”
“F, friend… Th, then, you’re really, friends with…”
That person, she’s not the type who could kidnap someone and make people cry… Well… she drives around without headlights, so… it can’t be helped that people say bad things about that…”
It looked like despite brimming with anger, he was trying his hardest not to hit Kuon.
”…And on top of that you lie to Akane… That doesn’t make sense, right…? Does it…?”
Upon hearing this exchange, Yahiro understood Shizuo’s anger.
It was simple.
It was not unreasonable to be angry that his friend was being treated like a kidnapper and that that rumour was being spread around to everyone.
And it seemed that Heiwajima Shizuo and Awakusu Akane were indeed acquainted after all.
With the combination of several factors, it was not unreasonable that Heiwajima Shizuo’s anger had exploded.
—What bad timing…!
—And Kuon-kun, saying things like that, it’s like provoking him directly…
—…?
In his chest was a disturbance other than his fear towards Heiwajima Shizuo.
Yahiro was feeling that same uneasiness towards Kuon as before, but he had no time to address that right now.
In the time Yahiro had hesitated, Kuon’s mouth had run off with excuses to save his own life.
“N, no, wait. I wasn’t even the one who said the Headless Rider’s the kidnapper… Geboh…”
“Oi, kid. You might think it’s unreasonable, but you should just apologise for now, okay?”
The man with the dreadlocks said this to the boy Shizuo held aloft, but as if he had heard nothing, Kuon, panicked, dropped a bomb that was completely unfunny.
“Let’s all calm down! Okay?! S, see, if anything happens to me, won’t it cause trouble for your little brother?”
“…”
“I know, I do. Your brother’s really famous, right? If I spread this online it could even get his blog flamed, you know? Yeah?”
At those words that could well have been taken as a threat, Tom’s face instantly blanched.
Because he knew what had come of the debtor who had said the same thing once.
“Y, you fool! Are you trying to kill yourself?!”
“Eh…?”
Practically in tandem with Kuon’s confused utterance —
“Huh…?”
He found his body being thrown in the air.
“Wha, wai… OOOOooh?!”
And Shizuo’s fist came straight towards Kuon’s falling body.
More than the sound of impact, it was the sound of breakage that rang out into the surroundings.
When people turned, there was the body of a green-haired boy flying through the air.
Flying several metres, Kuon’s body tumbled to the asphalt.
“Ahh! K, Kuon-kun! …Uwah?!”
Yahiro, anxious, tried to run over, but his legs tangled and he tripped over himself.
It was then that he realised his legs were shaking violently.
—H, huh…
—What should I do, this… It’s the first time.
Since his childhood, Yahiro had lived under the fear of many things.
But what the boy felt towards the existence before him known as Heiwajima Shizuo was a completely different kind of ‘fear’ unfamiliar to him.
“Good grief… He went and did it…”
Frowning, Tom shook his head slowly.
Considering if he should call an ambulance, he decided to check on the condition of the boy who had been punched first, but as he raised his head he noticed.
“…Shizuo?”
That Shizuo was walking quickly towards the fallen boy.
Had he on reflection decided he had overdone it; was he going to help him?
Such a hopeful perspective passed through his mind, but Tom quickly dispelled the notion.
For as Shizuo walked past his face was still not free from anger.
—Oi oi, no way.
—If he deals a second blow right now that kid will really die!
“Oi, wait, Shizuo!”
Tom usually waited the storm out from afar when Shizuo exploded, but this time he spoke up to stop him.
But as if he had not heard, Shizuo did not stop.
The young man in the bartender uniform moved right in front of the fallen boy, and shifted one leg back.
—Oi?! Is he going to kick him?!
“Shizuo!’
Tom ran forward to protect the boy.
In that instant —
Something rushed past his face with incredible speed.
“?!”
Before the eyes of Tom, still stunned by the sound whipping past his ear, the ‘object’ slammed into the back of Shizuo’s head.
It was completely unexpected.
A dull thump sounded, and after an interval of about a second, the ‘object’ fell to the ground.
The ‘object’, which gave off a metallic sound as it rolled on the ground, was a can of juice.
The can that had zoomed past had impacted the back of Shizuo’s head precisely, and just like that succumbed to gravity and fell to the ground.
In words alone the scene was uncomplicated, but all who witnessed it swallowed in unison, and the premonition of the tragedy to come shook their bodies.
It was a can still filled with its contents, thrown with the force of a baseball.
It was not only a weapon; that direct hit to the back of the head could have even been fatal.
Shizuo, who had been an inch away from kicking Kuon, stopped, and turned, slowly, creakingly, like a clockwork doll.
At the point of his gaze was a boy.
Like the green-haired boy at Shizuo’s feet, he wore a Raira Academy uniform.
His shoulders heaved as he breathed, and his face had broken out in cold sweat.
As he had frozen in a throwing position, it was certain that he had been the one to throw the unopened can at Shizuo.
Even so, Shizuo slowly opened his mouth, glancing at the can at his feet, and asked a question to confirm this.
“Just now… were you the one… who threw this at me…?”
His voice seemed to reverberate from hell itself.
The boy’s forehead was drenched in sweat, and his breathing erratic.
To the surrounding people, it was clear he was so afraid he might soon faint from the fear.
But the boy gulped, and then—with a shaking voice, he spoke.
“…You’re—going too far.”
And then the boy straightened where he stood, and to the ‘monster’ standing those few metres in front of him, clearly declared:
“If it’s a fight you want… I will—be your opponent.”

♂♀

And with that, the present.
—Ahh, that was it.
As he was drenched in the terrible murderous intent directed his way, Yahiro remembered, crystal clear, what had led to this.
—I—picked a fight.
—Me…?
—That can’t be, right?
He, who had had fights picked with him so much it was unfair, who knew that fear better than anyone else: what had he just done?
As this realisation came upon him, Yahiro himself became fearful.
The murderous aura of the man standing before his eyes, and his disbelief towards himself.
Sandwiched between these two sources of fear, Yahiro’s heart felt soon to collapse.
The situation a moment ago, where his classmate Kuon had been assaulted by the monster Heiwajima Shizuo.
What Yahiro had feared most in the world, up till a few seconds ago, was that a human who could laugh while talking to someone like him would disappear from the world.
Had the one collapsed at Shizuo’s feet been Himeka, he would probably have done the same thing.
Although it was unlikely to happen, had it been Awakusu Akane or Orihara Mairu, or even the president of the library committee he had just met today, perhaps Yahiro would still have provoked Heiwajima Shizuo.
That it was a life-risking act he himself understood.
But he feared something even more than that.
What he feared was the act of he, who had run away his entire life, abandoning the first people to have connected with him as an equal human being, and running away by himself.
In other words, he was neither being brave, nor acting in the spirit of self-sacrifice.
It was not logic, but instinct.
He had reflexively chosen the path of instinct, of running from his fears.
The foolhardy act of stopping Heiwajima Shizuo.
“…I’ll ask one more question.”
Turning this way leisurely, Heiwajima Shizuo asked.
“Do you also think… Ce— … Ahhh… The ‘Headless Rider’ is the kidnapper?”
“…”
His answer would determine his fate.
Believing this firmly, Yahiro answered honestly.
“…I don’t know. Because I’ve never met the Headless Rider.”
“Just now… you were saying you came here to sightsee monsters, or some damn thing… Do you think she’s some kind of exhibition…?”
If he had had the ability to tell a suitable lie, probably he would have been able to evade his fears up till now by other means, and never been called a ‘monster’.
Furthermore, here Yahiro’s logic began to work itself.
Kuon was still fallen at Shizuo’s foot.
He had to direct the entirety of Heiwajima Shizuo’s hostility towards himself.
That was the conclusion of Yahiro’s logic.
The boy who, by instinct, picked a fight for the first time in his life—
By logic, delivered a challenge for the first time in his life.
—Remember, remember.
From all of the books he had read, all of the dramas he had watched in his life, he tried his hardest to pull out the words that matched and apply them.
“Yeah, you’re right.”
Glaring intensely at Shizuo, Yahiro clenched his fists tightly.
“I… came all the way to Ikebukuro to sightsee monsters like you and the Headless Rider.”
After ransacking his memories, this was the best challenge he could come up with.
But one could say those words were more than sufficient to direct the attention of the man Heiwajima Shizuo completely towards himself.
“I see… Then it can’t be helped…”
Shizuo stepped, slowly, this way – and when he stood before Yahiro, he slowly clenched his fists.
“If you’re sightseeing and there’s no cage… even if that monster beats you to death… there’s nothing you can say, heaaaaraaaAAaaAAARGH!”
A holler reminiscent of the roar of a beast echoed between the buildings of Ikebukuro.
And Shizuo’s fist, enveloped in pressure like a missile, closed in on Yahiro’s face —
And as a result the boy from Akita tasted a fear greater than he had ever experienced.

♂♀

Somewhere in the city. Yahiro’s lodging.

“Whoa, what happened to your face?”
When Yahiro arrived before his home, the landlord’s younger brother—Saburo—called out to him.
He was a man with a completely different air from Jiro, a free-spirited person who loved his van and an idol known as Hijiribe Ruri dearly.
It seemed he had been waxing his van in the yard of his house next doors, and happened to spot Yahiro.
“Ah… Nothing, I fell down the stairs.”
“No no no, don’t tell such an obvious lie.”
The face Saburo saw was covered in bruises and scratches, and some places had begun to swell.
On a closer look his clothes were tattered as well, and there was no way he could have just fallen from the stairs.
“What happened? Oi, you couldn’t have been bullied? I’m not planning to interfere with every single fight between kids, but if you’re being ganged up on and bullied that’s completely different. I can’t possibly stand by while my precious relative gets beaten up.”
“Ah, no…”
If he lied here things would probably just go downhill.
Thinking this, Yahiro replied honestly.
“I’m not being bullied… I fought with someone, one-on-one. I’m sorry.”
Yahiro bowed his head swiftly, to which Saburo smiled as he replied:
“It’s not something you should say sorry for. When I was your age all I did was fight, myself. Unless you’re bullying the weak and threatening people I have nothing to say. Well, I’ll tell my older brothers and the rest you fell down the stairs.”
“…Thank you very much.”
“But anyway, that looks pretty impressive. Who did you fight with? Is there someone in Raira so quick to get physical? Or was it someone from Kushinada High?”
As he began to wax his van, Saburo continued the casual conversation –
“Um… I don’t know if you know him… It was someone with a bartender uniform, called Heiwajima-san…”
Only for the hand waxing the car to stop abruptly at Yahiro’s answer.
Frowning, Saburo turned this way slowly, and said.
“You… Eh? Seriously? Why?”
“Ah, no… I made him angry… It was my fault.”
“Oi oi, are you okay?! You don’t need to go to the hospital or anything?”
“Yeah, it’s fine… Heiwajima-san… let me off after I fell down and couldn’t move anymore.”
Not knowing what the boy might be thinking, Saburo sighed.
“I see, thank goodness. So it’s true that Heiwajima no danna’s softened as of late…”
“Do you know him?”
“Yeah. Well, kind of. If it were Heiwajima Shizuo in the past, he wouldn’t have let you off with just this, you know. I wouldn’t’ve been surprised if you had to stay in the hospital.”
“I, I see…”
Togusa returned to his waxing once more, and continued over his shoulder.
“Well, if it’s a normal opponent, he’s not the kind to hold a grudge. If you apologise properly for making him angry when you meet again, he won’t bully you anymore.”
“I see… Thank you very much.”
Yahiro nodded quickly, and made his way to his own room.
Togusa, watching him leave, murmured to himself as he applied the wax.
“But huh… For someone who just got beaten up by Shizuo, he’s in high spirits…”

“So long as nothing got messed up when he got beaten up, it’s fine, though, I guess.”

♂♀

Yahiro’s room.

Returning to the room in the apartment complex that he boarded at, Yahiro, after heaving a deep sigh, collapsed onto the floor.
He rolled over to face up, and murmured as he stared at the ceiling.
“…I lost…”
He had lost.
Upon uttering this clearly, various feelings swirled in Yahiro’s chest.
“For the first time in my life… I lost a fight… Me…”
The bones in his body creaked, and pain ran through his flesh.
Not knowing how to deal with the pain and emotions mixed in himself, he continued to gaze at the ceiling blankly.
After about ten seconds, Yahiro murmured.
“I feel angry, happy, what is this…”
Heiwajima Shizuo had truly been strong.
He could not suppress his shock that a person like that could exist.
‘You’re normal,’ echoed the words of that tourist in his head.
“I see… So I’m normal…”
Even in his dreams he had never imagined he would feel bitterness at losing to anyone.
Yet he could not help but feel happy at that emotion welling in himself.
“I wonder if… it’s fine for me to be human.”
Even the pain reverberating in his body seemed to be proof of his humanity and eased his heart.
“Or… maybe both that Heiwajima-san and I are monsters…?”
Whichever way it was, Yahiro felt like he had been saved.
He was—not alone.
The world was not a tiresome cage, or anything of the sort.
And just by knowing that, he felt there was value in living.
—And… thank goodness. It was settled without getting Kuon-kun killed.
Kuon had seemed fine; after Shizuo Heiwajima had left he had helped Yahiro up normally.
The two of them had hardly talked, both dazed, but in any case one could think they were relieved just by the fact one another were alive.
Thinking about what had happened with the first friend he had made in his life, and what Himeka might say about his injury, Yahiro drifted into sleep.
And lastly, as he remembered the faces of the people he had met the past few days—he smiled contentedly, and half-asleep, he murmured.
“I wonder, if it’s in this city… I can do well…”

♂♀

However—
Yahiro had yet to notice.
The mess he had started.

♂♀

Night time. A certain roof.

“Yo. Here you are.”
As he opened the door to the roof and appeared, Tom saw Shizuo’s back and called out to him.
This was their office, and any staff member could access the roof.
It seemed Shizuo had been gazing at the street from the roof all this time, after they had reported in the work they had done today.
“Are you bothered by what happened just now?”
“…Well, something like that.”
“About that black-haired kid?”
“Yeah… Now I think about it, he might not have been such a bad guy…”
Shizuo said this, and Tom shrugged as he voiced his opinion to Shizuo’s back.
“Well, probably because he actually challenged you to help that green-haired guy.”
“Tom-san, you think so too?”
Shizuo, his back still to Tom, murmured to himself as he faced the night scenery.
“I have to apologise the next time we meet…”
“Well, it’s fine not to be that enthusiastic, I’d say? Throwing that juice can at the back of your head—with any normal person it could have been fatal. He might be wanting to apologise to you too, you know?”
“…”
“More importantly, I was really surprised.”
Standing next to Shizuo, Tom gazed at the scenery of the city as well, as he said:
“The world really is big.”
“…Yeah.”
“In the end, you won…”
Tom glanced at the face of Shizuo, who stood beside him.
What he saw there were—bruises and scratches peeking from under the broken sunglasses.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen you get beaten up this bad, or get beaten to the ground by someone bare-handed… Though I did see you get your arm dislocated the year before.”
To be precise, Shizuo’s arm was in a bandage slung around his neck.
After looking at that painful-looking bandage, Tom recalled the face of the boy who had fought on par with Shizuo, and, breaking out in cold sweat, spoke.
“To think there’s a high schooler that strong around…”

***CHAPTER END***


Interlude: Rumours on the Internet ③

Ikebukuro Information Site, IkeNEW! Version I・KEBU・KUR・O

Popular article, ‘Seeking information’: Looks like a high schooler who can match up to Heiwajima Shizuo has appeared!

Hello, it’s the admin.
Today some unbelievable news came in-nari.
That Heiwajima Shizuo fought with a high schooler and almost lost-nari.

(Omitted)

↓ Reference video
(Outgoing Link)

It was taken with a phone from far away, so his face isn’t clear-nari, but apparently that uniform’s Raira Academy’s, no mistake-nari.
You can see they’re really fighting-nari.
There wasn’t news of anyone that strong in Raira Academy before, so it has to be that-nari. It’s a new student-nari.
…No, no, wait-nari. That means a boy about 15 fought with Shizuo-nari?
At any rate, everything is vague-nari.
If anyone has his detailed profile, message the admin using the form-nari.
The future of Ikebukuro lies in your hands-nari.
By the way, there’s been so much yammering about it, but this ‘nari’ ending’s going to stick around for this month-nari.
Okay-nari?

♂♀

Excerpts of tweets from Twittia.

  • Is it true Heiwajima Shizuo lost?
    • He didn’t. He won in the end.
      • Seriously? I was cheated.
        • But it seems he went down a lot of times.
          • Seriously?
  • I heard Heiwajima Shizuo fought with a high schooler, but did he throw any vending machines?
    • He tried to, but just before he could the boy ducked in close and kicked his knee.
      • That’s awful!
        • What is?
          • If you’re raising a vending machine up and someone kicks your knee, normally that knee would buckle and break.
            • Normally no one could be raising a vending machine up in the first place…
  • Raira Academy’s bad news.
    • Isn’t that Kushinada High nearby worse?
      • Kushinada’s hopeless already.
  • Speaking of which, the IkeNEW admin’s clearly quite old already, but they’re going nari-nari like some newbie, what’s with that.
    • You’re calling that out at this stage?
      • In the first place, how old is that admin?
        • No idea~. They’ve never shown their face.
    • I think they should use ‘nyan’.
      • ‘Nyan’ is…

***CHAPTER END***


 ⇒CHAPTER 4A


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