Excerpt from Tsukumoya Shinichi’s ‘Closed Blog’.
‘Yo, it’s been a while since the last post.
An informant who was my playmate disappeared from the city, so I haven’t had much to do recently.
Furthermore the Dollars are gone, and the Headless Rider has been missing for the past half year.
I wonder if the visitors to this page are looking for information on the recent rumours about missing persons?
Before we talk about that, let’s talk about the ‘Protagonist’ of this incident.
Yes, the protagonist.
If we were to compare life to a story, in most cases, the ‘self’ living that life would be the protagonist.
But in the case where people have complex entanglements with one another—in the case where one views the situation objectively as an ‘incident’, there comes a time where a protagonist will be chosen amongst various persons.
The serial disappearances in Ikebukuro.
This case is no exception.
Objectively speaking… In other words, the protagonist depends on whether we take the subjective perspective of the culprit or those pursuing them; and it banks heavily on the interests of the observer as well –
But my own feeling is that the ‘Headless Rider’ is the protagonist.
Yes; despite having been missing for half a year, I feel they play the leading role in the incidents this past month.
This might be considered strange… It’d be making them, who was absent in Ikebukuro at the time, the central figure in this case, wouldn’t it?
Even so… it’s said that the lead is always the last to arrive.
Honestly, if we see the Headless Rider as the protagonist of this case, that’s one fool of a protagonist.
After all, they don’t seem to have notice the disaster upon them, even as things have reached a point of no return.’
Late at night. Kawagoe Highway. In front of a convenience store.
It was late at night, past two in the morning.
A ‘Shadow’ stood obstructing the man who exited the convenience store.
It was, literally, unquestionably, a ‘Shadow’.
A black full-body rider suit with no accessories or emblems; this black ensemble was further immersed in deep black ink. The overwhelming black seemed to absorb the light from the convenience store, making it stand out even in the night.
…But the ‘Shadow’ wore a flamboyant Aloha shirt, and a necklace of flowers.
The strangest thing was above its neck. There was a helmet with a strange design. With everything below it dyed pitch-black, the helmet’s shape and appearance lent a sense of artistry.
The face cover was as black as the mirror glass windows of a luxurious car, reflecting light from the convenience store magnificently; the contents of the helmet were completely unseeable.
…But on that helmet were stickers of mascots from regions all across Japan.
The shadow was merely silent, as though lacking life.
When the man came out of the convenience store, seeing the shadow, his face filled with happiness and love.
“Hey! Celty! Did you wait long?”
‘Not at all, it’s only been 3 minutes. More importantly, the milk and eggs?’
“I bought them! I got four in a carton for the eggs for now.”
The man held out the bag from the convenience store, and Celty, the odd woman wearing the Aloha shirt over her black rider suit, replied.
Despite the fact that she was replying, she spoke nothing, and was communicating by typing on the screen of her smartphone.
‘We emptied out the fridge before we left. Is that enough?’
“Eh, I think it’ll be fine to tide ourselves over with souvenir food. Ah, but if you make crab omelettes for me, Celty, I’m fine letting that rot!”
‘That’d be a waste. Apologise to those chefs.’
“Got it, I’ll savour it properly after it rots!”
The man nodded, eyes bright, and Celty’s shoulders heaved up and down.
‘Your priorities are the wrong way around.’
Her gesture was evidently a sigh, but there was no breathing involved.
“Hmm, would it be all right to put the eggs and milk in the sidecar?”
‘Ah, all the space is filled with baggage. It’ll be troublesome if the eggs break.’
Saying this, she opened her helmet’s face cover and—in the empty space—stuffed the bag containing the eggs and milk.
Celty slid the face cover back and typed this, and the man—Kishitani Shinra—smiled warmly as he nodded.
“Yeah, you’ve completely come to terms with not having a head, Celty.”
Celty Sturluson was no human.
Known as a dullahan, she was a type of fae that originated from Scotland and Ireland – a being that called on the homes of those soon to breathe their last to inform them of their imminent deaths.
With her own severed head under her arm, riding a two-wheeled carriage drawn by a headless horse – known as the cóiste bodhar – she would visit the homes of those nearing death. If one were to carelessly open their door, they would be drenched with a full basin of blood – similar to the banshee, as a harbinger of misfortune, the dullahan was a subject of European folklore passed down the generations.
But that was in the past.
Now, as a living urban legend, and as a woman, she lived her everyday life loving the man Kishitani Shinra.
This was ‘Ikebukuro’s Headless Rider’—Celty Sturluson.
In the nighttime, a strange motorcycle sped through the city..
It was a pitch-black motorcycle that moved without the sound of an engine, and had neither headlights nor a number plate.
It was Celty’s beloved headless horse—Shooter—that had, adapting to modern society, transformed into a two-wheeled vehicle.
A large sidecar was attached to it, piled with cultural crafts and snacks from various parts of Japan, and even a flag and a wooden sword.
As she could easily control masses of shadow, attaching a black sidecar to her horse was a piece of cake.
However, as there was now insufficient space to fit a person, two of them were now riding the motorcycle together.
—We’d be able to carry more if we used a horse carriage…
—Stop it. If we stand out too much that monster will come.
As the face of a certain traffic police officer appeared in her mind, and she set aside her own problems.
Feeling the pulse of Shinra, who was embracing her tightly from behind, the headless woman smiled in her heart.
—Riding like this isn’t that bad.
Celty and Shinra earned livelihoods as a ‘courier’ and ‘underground doctor’ in Ikebukuro.
However, half a year ago they had bowed their heads to their ‘clients’ and taken long-term leave so as to go vacationing together.
A year after her long search for her ‘Head’ had reached a conclusion—Celty had decided that she wanted to learn more about the country she would be living in permanently from then on, and so the two of them had decided to tour the entire country.
Today, they returned safely to the city of Ikebukuro.
—Anyway, it was really fun.
—Maybe because I was with Shinra.
—No, maybe I could’ve been more relaxed on my own?
—Well, it’s all good.
After thinking that, she recalled what had happened on the trip.
—Hokkaido’s Snow Festival was great, and the Kerama Islands at Okinawa were pretty, too.
—Going to Shimane Prefecture in October was good, too. And the Izumo Grand Shrine was amazing.
—And touring the onsen in the Tohoku region was nice.
If she had a head on her shoulders, she would certainly be making a self-satisfied expression right about now.
Celty embraced the feeling of loneliness at the end of her vacation alongside the sense of security at returning to a familiar scenery, and continued to travel along Kawagoe Highway.
Then Celty detoured into numerous alleys so as not to be seen, and entered an apartment complex along Kawagoe Highway from its back entrance.
To the home sanctuary to her and Shinra’s souls, that had been empty for half a year.
Shinra’s apartment. Underground carpark.
The motorcycle was parked in the underground carpark, Celty and Shinra alighted from it slowly.
“Ahh, we’re finally back. Going places is a happy thing, but in the end it’s your hometown where you really settle down.”
As she spoke, Celty stroked the back of Shooter, which had reverted to horse form. Shinra replied with an energy level that betrayed no weariness from their journey at all.
“So long as I’m with you, Celty, I can settle down happily anywhere! No, sorry, I can’t quite settle down, I can’t possibly settle with Celty right in front ofgababobobobobobo”
‘Don’t smoke your way into getting a hug!’
The pair held this usual conversation—but suddenly, a third party approached them.
“Ah~… Sorry for interrupting your romantic moment.”
Celty and Shinra jumped and turned.
There, standing in the shadows of the underground carpark, was someone they were both acquainted with.
“Shiki-san?! Why are you here?”
He was an officer of the Awakusu-kai, a man who made deals with both the ‘courier’ and ‘underground doctor’.
“Well… I heard from some young people that they saw the Headless Rider at the convenience store. I came to welcome you back.”
‘So that’s how it is. Thank you for making your way down.’
Despite her uncertainty, Celty entered her thanks into her smartphone politely.
“Why, I was sure you were using a PDA before…”
‘Yes, I bought this to try out; it’s easier to use. I can type faster on a touchscreen if I charge my shadows with static.’
After saying this, Shiki eyed Celty’s get-up.
As if they had visited the Hawaiian Centre right before coming back, Celty was currently wearing an Aloha shirt and a flower necklace.
The sidecar, which was now detached from the headless horse, was filled with random souvenirs from all over the country, looking very much like the luggage of the a mindless trend-chasing tourist.
“…By the look of it, you aren’t aware of anything.”
Seeing how both Celty and Shinra were confused, Shiki heaved a small sigh.
“Did you check the internet during your trip?”
“No? I finally got to go on a trip with just Celty, so I forgot all those material things and just let loose.”
‘At most I searched for information on tour spots.’
Shiki nodded as he acknowledged their answers..
“Then it’s probably better that you find out about the situation yourselves, instead of me explaining.”
“Once you’ve gone back to your apartment and settled after a meal, try searching up ‘Headless Rider’ on the net. Filter for the recent results.”
Then Shiki shrugged his shoulders, and turned his back on the both of them.
“I suppose we won’t be able to discuss this calmly today, so I’ll come again tomorrow. I’ll call, so please don’t refer me to voicemail then, Kishitani-sensei.”
After delivering the warning to Shinra, who had apparently been rejecting all work-related calls, he left the underground carpark
Watching Shiki’s back as he left, the two of them tilted their head and body respectively in confusion.
And 30 minutes later—
When they returned to their home on the top floor, Celty’s screams upon looking herself up on the internet echoed on her smartphone.
‘Uwaaaaahh, we’re done for~, done for~!’
As Celty typed this over and over,
“Celty calm down! It’s all right, it’ll go fine, it’ll go just fine!”
‘Go fine where to?!’
“If I’m with Celty, I can brave fire and water and even blackholes!”
‘I don’t want to go there!’
Even as she retorted, Celty rolled around, both hands quashed on the sides of her helmet.
Serial disappearances had occurred in Ikebukuro, and the rumour that the Headless Rider was responsible was being spread like it was truth.
News along the lines of, ‘The Headless Rider’s behind the kidnappings?!’ had been written on Ikebukuro news sites, only to be picked up by other news sites beyond Ikebukuro, going national.
—‘Calling out that criminal Headless Rider’
—‘The Headless Rider’s a trash kidnapper’
—’A Headless Rider in this day and age? lol’
With participants both anonymous and using their real names, such threads had sprung up on various message boards and social media sites; and on a well-known Q&A site,
—’My daughter’s interested in the Headless Rider, do I have to kill her before she stops?’
and other similar questions had been submitted, receiving floods of responses.
‘Uaaaa, this is horrible. I’m fine myself, but when I think about how it might cause you trouble since you’re living with me Shinra ahhh’
“Well… I think we should be more worried about how you’ve actually worked for the Awakusu-kai before instead of the rumours, as our address hasn’t even been leaked?”
‘No, there’s no way it’ll end just like that! They’ll surely narrow down my identity and contact the school and I’ll be expelled and the police will come and ask for compensation uuaaah’
“Celty you don’t even go to school, do you?! It’s the first time I’ve seen you so agitated!”
Shinra sighed, but when he spoke he was smiling.
“You’re really a netizen, Celty.”
‘It’s not funny! I’m innocent! I’m completely innocent~!’
“Ah, but the thread in this Ikebukuro community about ‘Calling out the Headless Rider’s traffic offences’ is all truth, so we can’t complain there.”
‘Er… B, but Shooter’s a horse, not a motorcycle…’
Celty averted her gaze from Shinra as she typed.
‘B, but I haven’t kidnapped anyone, really, believe me!’
“It’s all right, Celty, believe in me!”
“Celty, even if you were a kidnapper, no, a serial killer, I’ll still love you!”
As Shinra nodded vigorously Celty extended a stretch of shadow to grab his collar, knocking him onto the floor and shaking him hard.
‘Stop me before you get to love me like that! N, no, I didn’t do it! I didn’t do it! Believe me, Shinra!’
“N, no, it’s not a matter of believing, haven’t we been together all along the past six months?”
Shinra replied calmly even as he was shaken, and Celty started.
‘R, right! I was with you, Shinra! I have an alibi! If anything, they can get witnesses from the people at the hotels we were at…’
“Well… Even if an alibi could prove your innocence, where would you publish it? That’s the problem.”
“If you put it online, it’d probably make things worse. The Headless Rider’s online appearance? A fake? Self-promotion? Even if they believed it was really you, they’d only attack you further and say, ‘There’s no way I’d believe someone who breaks traffic laws’.”
While Celty was panicking, Shinra pointed this out calmly.
“B, but why am I being treated as a criminal from the start… Do the people on this site have something against me?”
“Listen, Celty. Some aggregate news sites that spread rumours only aim to get more viewership so they can earn money from advertisements. It doesn’t matter to them if the information’s true or false. That’s why they hype up even useless articles with sensational titles.”
‘Oh… Then, will the articles disappear once people know they’re not true?’
“Even if people realise they’re fake and call it out, there’ll be people picking fights saying, ‘It’s true! Lock the thread!’ so even more people will check it out. Business will just get hotter and hotter. When things escalate and the admins post an apology people will go read it too, and the view counts will go up again. It’s not always that way, but… This ‘IkeNEW!’ site here’s been famous for being especially extreme, since more than six months ago.”
Shinra was looking at the notebook computer Celty had open.
Its screen displayed an information site called ‘IkeNEW!’.
‘IkeNEW!’ was a news site specialising in Ikebukuro’s news.
It was famous for spreading false information, but as it hyped things up with dramatic news titles, people who only read the titles and not the actual articles spread them on social media, starting a vicious cycle of lies.
Although it was said that most myths in Ikebukuro originated from this site, occasionally it would expose the truth before mass media, so its standing on the internet was complicated.
‘I, is that so?’
“Yep. There are also rumours that it collaborates with other sites to maximise profits. Well, it’s one of the most criticised Ikebukuro news sites around. But people who believe it believe everything. There are also people who’ve believed sites that said this site’s nothing but lies, and spread that, too.”
‘T, that’s just…’
“…Well, in your case, Celty, it’s true that you’ve broke traffic laws and been chased by the traffic police, so a lot of people seem to believe you would kidnap people.”
‘W, what should I…’
Placing a hand on her shoulder, Shinra proposed a solution.
“Well, if there’s indisputable evidence of your innocence… If the truth was made public in a sensational way, the misunderstanding might clear up.”
‘? What exactly should I do?’
“Simple. Just catch the actual criminal and make it go big on the news.”
‘I, I see.’
Celty seemed to have finally regained her composure. Shinra smiled at her reassuringly, and continued.
“And if they say it’s the Headless Rider who caught the criminal… that would be the most ideal.”
Takadanobaba. An apartment building.
“I see~, so~, the Headless Rider’s back…?”
Kotonami Kuon murmured this, on the roof of the building his apartment was in.
He held a smartphone in his hand, and on its screen was an IkeNEW! article titled, ‘First sighting of the Headless Rider in six months! A development in the missing persons case?!’
After seeing that information, Kuon had gazed into the night for some time –
Only to start snickering, snickering, without restraint.
“Goodness, what timing… It’s going to get wild, it’s really going to get wild.”
The focus of his gaze was the Sunshine Building.
He gazed at the lights of the tower rising into the sky, and murmured.
“But really… with so many interesting situations in place, it’s a wonder how most of these people haven’t noticed a thing.”
His smile vanished suddenly, and gripping his phone even tighter, he continued.
“Tedious, the lot of them. Most of the people in the city don’t produce a response I haven’t predicted. It’ll take just a bit more till they give something unexpected.”
Growing irritated, he narrowed his eyes.
“Let’s hope the Headless Rider… isn’t another tedious one.”
At this point, he looked at his phone again.
In the comments section of the news site people were all exclaiming over the Headless Rider’s return, cheering or arguing over it.
“Honestly, they’re all normal reactions. It’s the same as always.”
Sighing softly, Kuon’s eyes filled with cold repulsion, and he spat out into the night:
“This is why… I hate humans.”
With a cold expression he would never show in school, he added, quietly,
“I can’t believe there would be an informant of all people claiming to love humans.”