T/N: Notes below.
B The Eccentric
A city, so long as people reside in it, changes often.
Ikebukuro was no exception, and being a place where many gathered, the atmosphere of the city was subject to minute shifts due o trends and occasionally economic or societal changes.
But the city and its people are, after all, one heart and body.
Just as how people change the city, people are, in turn, changed by the city.
Whether that change is growth or decay, or something entirely different – in the end, the result of that change varies between individuals.
“We’re full-fledged third-years already; Kuru-nee, have you thought of your career?”
Walking on a main road leading from Ikebukuro Station to Sunshine, dubbed ‘60-Storey Street’, a girl spoke to the person walking next to her, who wore a similar face.
With a voice no louder than a mosquito’s, the other girl replied to her younger sister who walked alongside her.
“Wow~. Kuru-nee, you’re so serious~. I was thinking if I should just be a NEET. Kuru-nee, go out and work and feed me~”
They were twins, but aside from their faces there was no resemblance at all
The younger Orihara Mairu had spectacles and long hair in braids, and was dressed like a quiet top student, but had a lively, active personality and was one to put action before words.
And the older Orihara Kururi, despite her boyish looks, had no energy in her eyes or her voice, and hovered with the air of an old doll.
This fashion was neither natural nor acquired.
Since they were children they had, whimsically, decided to have opposite personalities and interests. ‘Twins are a symbol of perfection; each twin can supplement the other’s shortcomings.’ With this in mind, to make up for one another’s faults, they had, at a young age, decided their fates by drawing lots
To decide who would live how.
And deciding that if either were to face trouble, the other would, unquestionably, come to her aid.
It might have been nothing more than a childish fantasy, but it was how they had grown to be.
The few commonalities of interest were that they were both fans of the young male idol Hanehima Yuuhei, and that they loved one another.
The twins’ eccentric presence was to some extent well-known in the city.
They were aimlessly, contentedly savouring the last dregs of their spring break of an Ikebukuro high school, Raira Academy.
“But we’re third-years already, huh~. Time flies~. Just a while ago it felt like we were just first-years, and now we’re already third-years, imagine. It felt like just three months.”
“But the city changed in some ways too, hm~. Karisawa-san and her gang were in uproar when the Animate and Toranoana stores opened or moved, too. Looks like other new stores are coming up everywhere, too.”
Mairu shook her head as she said this, her braids swinging as she looked around the street.
“Ah, but there are things that haven’t changed. Like Cinema Sunshine over there, or the game centre…”
Mairu stopped there. She had spotted the face of an acquaintance at the entrance to the game centre linked to the cinema.
“Oh, look, Kuru-nee, it’s Aocchi. He’s with Yoshikiri-kun and gang, too.” Kururi looked to where Mairu was looking, and saw the figure of their male schoolmate – Kuronuma Aoba. Being a holiday the boy was naturally dressed in casual, and he gave off an air unlike the one in school. “Aocchi’s a third year too, huh~. He was kiddish when we first met, but he’s grown a bit taller since then~.” Mairu, speaking thoughtfully, sidled towards the group of boys. And without hesitation performed a chop on Aoba’s head.
“Ow — ”
“Yahoo! Aocchi, doing fine? You still alive?”
“Oh, Mairu. …what was that greeting for?”
Aoba sighed in resignation, and Mairu grinned as she replied.
“Cause see, Aocchi, we haven’t seen you for so long, so~ it was like you went off to do something dangerous and died.”
“Don’t say that so carelessly…”
Pinching Aoba’s cheek, Mairu continued.
“But you really are doing dangerous things, right? Just a while ago you clashed with Dragon Zombie again, right?”
“…Your ears are sharp, as usual.”
Kuronuma Aoba was a core figure in the delinquent group known as the Blue Square.
They used to don blue bandanas and balaclavas and operate as a colour gang, but had now cut down on the emphasis on colour, and made effort to be inconspicuous on the surface.
To the boy who on first sight did not look delinquent in the slightest, Mairu spoke, innocuously:
“But even like this we’re already out of touch, you know? Since Iza-nii disappeared and Namie-san went to America, it’s only the seniors at Rakuei gym who tell us these things.”
“Either way, it’s nothing related to you Oriharas.”
Aoba shrugged as he said this, but then Kururi leaned her face by his ear.
You can’t go off on your own and die
“…no …on your own…die…”
At the sudden whisper by his ear, Aoba yelped unthinkingly.
Kururi thudded her forehead onto his shoulder, and smiled slightly.
After some gaping, Aoba’s face went red, and:
“Don’t threaten me,” he said, and averted his face.
But before he did so he met the eyes of one of his gang, and startled.
Because the person in question was glaring hatefully at Aoba, cheek twitching.
“You bastard… acting all lovey-dovey with a cute girl in broad daylight… With! A cute girl!”
The boy more than one head taller held Aoba by the throat.
“I’ll kill you! If I kill you at least some man in the world will get that share of girls surely!”
“Even so it wouldn’t be you Yoshikiri… Ugogogogoh all right! I give! I give!”
Seeing Aoba turning purple, the other boys snickered as well.
Just as the shade of his face began to turn to something definitely not a laughing matter, a boy looked out from a corner of the game centre, and cried in shock:
“Wait, Yoshikiri-san, what’re you doing to Kuronuma-senpai?!”
Prying the boy called Yoshikiri off of Aoba was a boy relatively young compared to the rest of Aoba’s gang.
“Let go Kotonami! If I kill him I’ll get girls too!”
“But there’s no way you’ll get girls Yoshikiri-san!”
There was a crick as Yoshikiri’s temple twitched, and he let go of Aoba’s neck.
This time he reached for the younger boy, and locked all of his joints in a cobra twist.
“Popular guys don’t care for their lives after all, huh? Huh?!”
“Gyaa! I give up! I give up!”
A few minutes later, after Yoshikiri had attracted the attention of the game centre’s staff, the boy was eventually released, and rubbing his whole body, he asked Aoba:
“Kuronuma-senpai, are these pretty twin onee-san your girlfriends?”
Yoshikiri interrupted instantaneously, but ignoring him, Aoba replied.
“No… Not my girlfriends, they’re my friends, just friends.”
He answered bluntly, but in that moment Mairu smirked and interrupted.
“Yep. We’re friends, just friends. Cause both Kuru-nee and I haven’t gone further than kissing with Aocchi yet.”
Aoba hurried to stop Mairu, but Yoshikiri hollered again from behind him.
“Uoooooh… I’ll kill you! You’ve kissed but you say you’re friends! And with two people! Is this luxury – is this what they call the luxury of a winner?! As I thought I must represent all the single men in the world to kill you Aoba, you bastard… Oi, you guys, let go! Let go dammit!”
Probably considering that the game centre could ban them permanently, the surrounding boys were suppressing Yoshikiri and dragging him off to some other part of the city. Aoba, left behind, sighed deeply, as he proceeded to introduce Kururi and Mairu to the younger boy.
“Let’s see, these two are girls from my school. Orihara Kururi and Orihara Mairu. As you see… Well, they give off completely different airs, but as you can tell from their faces, they’re twins.”
Then Aoba continued, introducing the younger boy to Kururi and Mairu.
“This is Kotonami. He’ll be coming to Raira this year; he’s our junior.”
“Hi, I’m Kotonami Kuon.”
“Kuon-kun? It’s kind of a cool name~”
Kuon smiled and shrugged, and Mairu, scrutinising him from head to toe, and continued:
“But speaking of which, your getup’s very funky. Were you really in middle school up till recently?”
Mairu was frank in voicing her opinion, but it was not unusual for her to think this.
For his appearance was not one that could conceivably be linked to someone who had just graduated middle school.
Around his ears his hair was not only shaved close but had tramlines, and the rest of it had been grown out and dyed a shocking green. His ears were pierced with elaborate earrings, and were about as strikingly individualistic as his hair.
His face itself was well-natured, but were anyone to see him their eyes would certainly be drawn to his jewellery first.
The boy’s appearance was one where even in a visual kei band he would probably be the especially eye-catching member.
Mairu’s eyes glowed with interest, but – Aoba grinned as he showed her his phone.
“Him, from before last month.”
“Wait, Kuronuma-senpai! Sto…”
Dodging Kuon’s arm as he tried to steal the phone, Mairu took the phone from Aoba’s hand.
And seeing the photo on the display, of the spectacled boy with a black-haired bob who could only be some serious top scorer, Mairu clutched her stomach and guffawed, while Kururi shook as she desperately contained her laughter.
“Ahahahahahaha! Well done! Is this your high school debut?! Or did you start a visual kei band?”
It’s all right It matches you
At the reaction of the two, Kuon flushed bright red, and began to wave his fists.
“Ahhhhhh! You suck, Kuronuma-senpai! You’re terrorising me! It’s bullying! It’s like the mother-in-law picking on the new wife!”
“Come on, it’s easier to introduce you like this anyway.”
Going along with Aoba’s chuckling, Mairu laughed for a while – but abruptly, without any change of expression, she asked a question.
“But the high school debut’s just on the outside, right?”
“You knew Aocchi before, and you’re still hanging out with him now; that means you were already indecent before, already had something broken somewhere, was already good-for-nothing… right?”
The boy fell silent at what the girl said. Mairu’s way of thinking was not because she was particularly twisted in some way.
Anyone who knew Kuronuma Aoba or the Blue Square well would probably think the same.
Unlike his face, Kuronuma Aoba’s personality was extremely malicious; he was the kind of person to use others as stepping stones for his own enjoyment. He was a boy who had, during his middle school years, formed the colour gang the Blue Square, and without taking responsibility himself, put high schoolers and others even older – even his own brother – up on a pedestal, and, from a safe position, posed as the one pulling the strings.
There was no way someone such a person chose to bring around could be simply a middle schooler excited about delinquency. There was a hidden truth. Anyone who knew of Aoba’s true nature would have arrived at that conclusion.
After some time, with an air different from before and a smile from which coldness could somehow be felt, Kuon murmured. “…Your girlfriend’s an interesting person, isn’t she, Kuronuma-senpai.” “She’s not my girlfriend, I said. Even if I were to get one I’d definitely prefer Kururi…” “Ah, you’ll say something like that?! Aocchi?! Isn’t that a little rude?!” There was Mairu, making a loud fuss, and Kururi, who did not seem particularly moved. Kuon watched his seniors, and raising a hand, began to leave.
“Well, I shouldn’t bother you. I’ll be joining the rest to try calming Yoshikiri-senpai down.”
“Ah, oi. You don’t have to…”
“I wish you happiness, Kuronuma-senpai~”
The boy left, his voice light as ever, and Aoba, seeing this, sighed deeply.
“Hey, don’t say I never warned you – you shouldn’t get too deeply involved with him.”
“Eh~. Aren’t you contradicting yourself? You’re rather involved with him yourself, Aocchi.”
“No… How do I say – he’s a bit of an eccentric, so…”
Aoba mumbled incoherently, but then, as if finally having made up his mind, he spoke to the two again.
“That guy – he looks so showy, but I heard he topped Raira’s entrance exams.”
“Ehhh? Really?! What a genius, a professor!”
“Yeah, he was chosen to represent the freshmen to greet the school, but he looks like that, right? So they rushed to switch and choose someone else.”
Aoba averted his eyes as he said this, while Mairu, pressed on with more questions.
“Why’s a kid like that with your gang, Aocchi?”
“Don’t say it like we’re stupid. …Well, we have a bit of a give-and-take relationship… Put simply, he’s one of our major financers.”
“Ehh?! A sponsor?!”
“Don’t say it like that.”
Aoba smiled bitterly, while Mairu grabbed his collar with both hands and began to shake him.
“Wait! So that kid has a rich family and all of you are extorting him or something?!”
“Wai… no! No! It’s not like that!”
“Then what is it?”
To Mairu, who had for now stopped manhandling him, Aoba, after some coughing, began to explain.
“That guy, he has his own source of income. We help with that and get the leftovers. Well, it’s like we’re working part time at a store he runs… something like that. Though there isn’t actually a store.”
“You can’t be manufacturing drugs… or growing marijuana…”
“No, no, it’s not like that! It’s borderline still legal. …mostly.”
“Ahhh! I got it! I know!”
Interrupting Mairu, who seemed about to say something, Aoba said,
“I’ll say this first: we’re not a hub for refugees from the law or anything like that, okay?”
“Isn’t this where you’re meant to be relieved…?”
Aoba sighed once more, exasperated, and Kururi moved closer to ask:
What kind of work
“It’s hard to put it simply…”
Worn down by Kururi’s persistent gaze, Aoba sighed deeply again, and answered.
“Honestly; you two really throw people off… Well whatever. In a nutshell, we do everything. In different situations we’ve acted as news reporters or faked things like on TV; we’ve started commotions in the city for that too.”
“? How does that become money?”
“He has the connections to turn that into money. And we’re holding on to his biggest source of cash. Though we don’t let him have at it so easily.”
Mairu caught on that this was one of Kuon’s ‘sources of income’; Aoba, bitter humour in his voice, replied. “You two should know as well, Mairu.”
“It’s the Headless Rider.”
At this familiar term suddenly brought up, Kururi and Mairu exchanged glances.
“Kuon’s really eccentric. Cause he isn’t dealing with bounties or anything of the sort; he tries to make money off the existence of the Headless Rider itself.”
“Make money from the Headless Rider?! What’s that even mean?!”
“…No, not just the Headless Rider.”
There Aoba thought of the gaudy face of his junior, and smiled with heartfelt cheer.
“He’s like a terrible snake.”
Mairu puzzled, and Aoba continued:
“He wants to swallow Ikebukuro itself whole, himself included.”
I was wondering why it was Aoba and the twins seemed so intimate, and I realised it was because Aoba doesn’t use honorifics with the twins. I never actively noticed this before.
On another note, Mizuchi’s name, while having different kanji, has the same pronunciation as a kind of serpent-dragon hybrid (the link leads to Wikipedia).