“You want to know about the Headless Rider?”
A male ‘informant’ in a fur-lined coat shrugged as he spoke.
Replying, the informant’s ‘client’ asked how much they should pay.
“Ah, it’s fine to pay the same amount as for other information. What I can say’s more limited here compared to with other things, though. The Headless Rider’s one of my information sources, too.”
The informant on the chair in his own room, and, looking up at the ceiling, began to talk.
“Let’s make this clear before anything else. The Headless Rider is, literally, a headless rider. It’s not a stunt or a costume. She’s a complete ‘monster’. Alien, monster, beast, fairy, demon, mononoke, freak, urban legend, UMA… Well, I’m sure different people have different words for it, and I don’t have the breath to debate the fine differences in the definitions of each term.”
Seeing that his client had neither flared up nor scoffed at his declaring the Headless Rider unhuman, the informant smiled as he continued.
“I see; seems like you’ve encountered the Headless Rider yourself. Certainly, if you witness her in real life, there’s no way to think she could be of this world. If you’ve seen how that motorcycle doesn’t give off sound from an engine, or the shadow she emits from her body, I’d say it’s more amazing for someone to think it’s the work of a human, you know? Ah, but the pace at which human technology evolves is terribly fast, too. Perhaps it’s possible to recreate those things with today’s technology.”
Having spoken thus far, the informant made a slight digression.
“Ah, I find the potential of human beings truly amazing, you know? People say those who dream will surely realise those dreams someday, but with developments in neurological and virtual reality technologies, maybe the difference between our dreams and our future will be gone. The time lag of ‘someday’ will be gone. In the moment you dream of flying, a machine would read your mind and project a real scenery of you flying into your brain… An era like that might come to pass. Humans might reach the height of laziness and stop evolving, but I’ll embrace even a future like that.”
He turned his face from the ceiling to his client, and smiled happily as he continued.
“Because I love humans.”
Then the conversation that had digressed returned without a hitch to its root.
“On the other hand, fundamentally, I have no love for things that aren’t human. I even find them hateful. Just, well, I don’t have any hatred or feelings of hostility towards the Headless Rider right now.”
Grinning, the informant spoke of the ‘Headless Rider’.
“Well, right now… That’s just for now; if she tries to alter human society I think I’ll start to dislike her.”
The informant averted his eyes slightly, and, remembering things about the Headless Rider, he continued.
“The Headless Rider is mingling amongst humans, and has learnt from humans. For some reason she ended up having to live in human society. That monster learnt what’s important to humans, and what’s against the rules. Ironically, because of that, she’s gained a personality more upright than any punk on the street. Honestly, I feel she’s achieved a surprisingly remarkable imitation of what we call human.”
There the informant paused for a moment, and looking into the eyes of his client the corners of his lips twisted further.
“But other humans don’t see the Headless Rider as human. It would be one thing if she were a vampire, if she departed from humans no farther than the gap between double teeth; but in the end she’s missing a head, a part that’s so important to humans.”
The client asked what he meant to say, to which the informant replied.
“The question is, what do humans do when they see something unlike them?”
He rose slowly from his chair, and walked up to a shelf with various books.
“Will they revere it; will they simply shiver in fear; will they make it their gateway to the extraordinary, their tool to escape reality; will they try to take advantage of it; will they try to kill it; will they eliminate it as something they’d hate even the sight of; or will they run from it themselves instead… What about you? Well, any answer you give is fine.”
The informant stroked the spines of the books, and declared once more to his client:
“Because I love humans.”
And—as if he had suddenly thought of it, he mentioned a man.
“Well, there’s even someone I know who gave the completely unthinkable answer of loving the Headless Rider romantically. That, as well, I respect as one of humanity’s choices.”
The informant took out a number of books, and arranged them as he said:
“People exhibit different behaviours when faced with something different. Even if it’s not a monster or some sort of supernatural creature; even with others who are human like themselves. A great man could be a hero in a war, but when peace comes he might immediately become feared like a monster for being preposterously strong. Depending on the people, the era, and the society in question, it’s natural to have a variety of responses.”
Shrugging lightly, the informant spoke ironically.
“In that sense, when a monster is born in society, it’s not the humans that matter. It’s the ‘monster’; that’s what I think.”
“…In other words, out of the humans with their full spectrum of reactions, it’s a matter of whose hand they take.”
Present time. Ikebukuro.
“A high school student… who can fight Heiwajima Shizuo?”
Aoba’s words contained clear doubt, but also honest surprise thinking how impressive it would be if it were true.
It was the Ikebukuro downtown area, at a time approaching midnight.
Although it was less crowded, there were people such as salarymen at pubs filling the streets with a presence different from that of the afternoon.
After Horada had left, Aoba and his companions had gone out into the city and were wandering randomly.
He had received a message from Mairu going, ‘We’re looking for a girl called Tatsugami Ai. Get the details from Kuon!’. But as Kuon, the one he needed to approach, had not attended the Blue Square gathering, he had yet to do anything about it.
—Maybe I’ll ask Mairu-chan or Kururi-chan directly tomorrow…
He was thinking that as he walked when he happened to hear a rumour on the street.
—’Heiwajima Shizuo was really beat up.’
—’I heard he nearly lost.’
He thought it was ludicrous, but curiosity piqued, he stopped at a nearby corner to check with his smartphone.
And across numerous information sites and social networking services, he found information to that same effect.
“Ah, so it’s IkeNEW.”
Even as he saw the news on an Ikebukuro information site that he knew, Aoba was still only half-believing –
But the moment he saw the video, he went completely silent.
—There’s no way… that it’s special effects, right…?
—Heiwajima Shizuo going easy? No, that’s not it either.
—But anyway… Those movements…
Dodging Shizuo’s fists with inhuman footwork, the ‘boy in the Raira uniform’ was clearly trading blows with Shizuo.
Aoba, shocked that there was someone amongst his schoolmates who could move like that, saw something that caught his attention in a part of the video.
On top of the fact that the video’s quality was poor, it was mostly taken from afar using the zoom function.
The face of the person fighting could not be recognised—but the person slowly getting to his feet in the corner of the video certainly could.
It was a boy in a Raira uniform as well, with green hair.
This ‘boy who fought on par with Shizuo’, and Aoba’s junior, a member of the Blue Square, were in the same video.
As he digested this information, several emotions welled up in Aoba, and he smiled faintly.
“That guy, just who… No, just what did he find?”
Somewhere in the city. An abandoned factory.
“D’you think Heiwajima Shizuo… wasn’t in top form? Influenza or something…”
A voice, tone light, echoed in the factory.
This factory had been used as a meeting point for both the Yellow Scarves and the Blue Square before.
Now that the Yellow Scarves were no longer around, and the Blue Square had shifted their hideout, it had come under the possession of another group entirely.
It was a seasoned bosozoku gang based in the Ikebukuro area, and before colour gangs had turned up it had been called one of the two large powers, feared alongside Jyan Jyaka Jyan.
But bosozoku changed with the currents of time as well, and the Jyan Jyaka Jyan had gone underground, becoming subordinate to the Awakusu-kai; and Dragon Zombie, since its leader Ei Li-pei had left Ikebukuro for certain reasons, had lost its substance and become no more than a name.
The remaining members had worked as lackeys for an informant and done other miscellaneous things to keep the gang going if barely—but with the disappearance of that informant it had been close to disbanding.
But at this point, the gang met another turning point.
The man that led it had returned to the city.
“Shizuo’s a monster, isn’t he… That hasn’t changed after all this time, right?”
A man that looked about 20 had his back to his fellow gang members scattered around in the factory, and was looking upwards as he said this.
This was, of course, the leader—Ei Li-pei—and as he spoke to his gang he was doing something else entirely at the same time.
Moving his hands skilfully, he was throwing multiple objects in the air and receiving them with opposite hands—in other words, juggling—happily.
At that scene it would be easy to think he was not serious about what he was saying, but none of the gang members were smiling.
Because the objects he tossed into the air were ryuyoto; Chinese weapons with wide blades.
The weapons had the image of what many Japanese people called seiryuto, but in actual fact seiryuto were like naginata, with long handles.
In any case, however, the fact that they were deadly weapons remained unchanged, and the multiple knives reflected the lights as they spun quickly over Li-pei’s head with no brake on their speed.
Two young girls were sitting on the oil drums to each side of Li-pei.
Perhaps having faith in his technique, despite their positions being such that any slip would have them fall victim to the knives, their faces were calm, as they answered him.
“We saw it too, by chance.”
“It was really amazing; that kid’s the same as Shizuo.”
Hearing their replies that came one after another, the man, still juggling, smiled happily, happily, as he spoke to his gang members behind him.
“How strange… Looks like it’ll get interesting.”
In the next moment, the motion of his hand changed, and swinging his arm around, he collected the blades in his hand.
When all of his knives were in his hand he turned swiftly on his heel, and spread his arms dramatically.
“I have to go meet him, surely.”
Somewhere in the city. An alley.
“S, someone fought with Shizuo normally?! Seriously?!”
Dropping the can of beer in his hands, Horada pushed his fellow delinquent for answers..
“Oi, oi, you’re not lying, right?!”
“I, it’s true! I was there too! It was far away so I couldn’t see his face, but that guy was definitely a Raira student!”
Hearing this, Horada clenched his fists unthinkingly.
“Oi, oi… If he’s on Shizuo’s class he’s definitely a monster! If there’s a kid like that around, we have to recruit him no matter what…!”
“That way I can boss those juniors from the Blue Square, and Dragon Zombie’d be nothing! Doesn’t this just mean it’s time for my era in Ikebukuro?!”
In the end, had Horada’s era really arrived?
This thought passed through the minds of his friends, but none of them said it.
Because they too recognised that, if such a pawn were to fall into his hands, his position would change completely.
Ikebukuro. A certain rooftop.
As a draft of wind blew over them, Tom chided Shizuo.
“But really… You went a bit too far today, Shizuo. It doesn’t seem like you to go after a kid who’s already passed out on the ground to kick him.”
And Shizuo frowned as he replied.
“Ah… Sorry. But it was because that green-haired kid… was hardly injured.”
“Huh? Oi, there’s no way he could be fine after getting hit by you…”
“The moment I punched, he blocked with his hands. And then the kid jumped backwards with the force.”
Tom knew very well that Shizuo was not the kind to whip up useless excuses for himself.
And then he noticed.
That an anger was brewing in Shizuo; not on the surface—but deep inside him.
“Maybe… he was planning to frame me.”
“That green kid’s… the same type of person as that flea.”
Takadanobaba. Kuon’s apartment.
‘Hey, I followed the deal, all right? I leaked that rumour to Heiwajima Shizuo at work today… Ah, to be honest, I thought I’d be killed… You really need to pay me back for this…’
Kuon grinned as he replied to the voice of the young man across the receiver.
“No, no, I’d say that’d be too nice. If anything, I could tell Shizuo, you know? You, a new employee, spread a rumour about the Headless Rider and provoked him for some small cash… Just like that.”
‘…That, that’s… All right, all right! I won’t talk about money anymore, happy? Happy?’
After hanging up, Kuon called another person.
He snorted as he walked around the room; there was no visible damage left on his body.
“Yeah… Sorry, sorry. The guy I hired was getting greedy.”
“Yeah… I was surprised too, today. Even I didn’t expect that.”
Kuon spoke casually, as he sat on the sofa and put the smartphone to his ear.
“There I was planning to get beaten up by Heiwajima Shizuo and make sure to send him to jail, too.”
‘————? ——. ——!”
“…Well, even the people in the city are sick of Shizuo’s antics. So I thought I’d give them a break. If he makes scenes again after coming back from jail, there’s some freshness to that, isn’t there?”
With these confounding words, he continued, smiling a smile completely unlike that of a boy, full of a joy derived from looking down at others from above.
“A new star’s on the scene. We have to step up the publicity a little, yes?”
“Someone on Shizuo’s level?!” “That means he has no match besides Shizuo, doesn’t it!”
“Which middle school was he from?!”
“Ah, I’m not sure.” “Isn’t there a video with higher definition?!”
“He’s seriously stronger than Shizuo?” “A local? I’ve never heard of him.”
“Maybe he’s an outsider?” “Find him.” “Find him.” “Find him no matter what!”
In a single night, the news had traversed the whole of Ikebukuro.
He had not defeated Heiwajima Shizuo.
He had only fought on par.
Yet, that alone was unusual.
There was a man who had fought with Shizuo by using knives or having vehicles run him over.
But it was unheard of for a person to deal real damage to Shizuo unarmed. Simon from the sushi restaurant entered the conversation now and then, but although he could control Shizuo when Shizuo went wild, they had never fought head-on, and so things never left the realm of speculation.
Most people were of this opinion, and so this event made a giant impact on the city—and drew great interest from the masses.
It showed that the man Heiwajima Shizuo had become this big a name amongst the young people of Ikebukuro.
That was why just fighting with him on equal grounds could become news.
But the person in question—Mizuchi Yahiro—without knowledge of what things had come to, was soundly asleep.
Deep in his sleep, the boy dreamt.
Of himself, living a normal life with many people.
A dream of a world that most would call ‘ordinary life’.
The dream he had was itself his hope for the future.
The contents of that dream might be forgotten afterwards, but even so, the boy would likely hold onto this same hope.
As he remained unknowing that he had become a spreading urban legend.
As he remained unawares that the newcoming ‘urban legend’ had blown a new wind into Ikebukuro—he merely slept.