Durarara!!SH×2: Chapter 6B (+Interlude)

Durarara!!SH×2

Chapter 6B
The Watcher

Somewhere in Tokyo.


Rewind to half a day ago – late at night after Yahiro and Celty’s meeting.
When the blindfold came off, it was an unfamiliar room that met Shiki’s eyes.
From the pile of cardboard boxes and kerosene cans in the corner, and the spades and other tools leaning against the wall, one could imagine this spacious room was part of a villa, and being used for storage.
There were no windows, so it was likely the room was underground.
With these deductions, he looked towards the person who had taken off his blindfold.
His hands had been bound behind his back with box tape, and his legs were similarly restricted.
For all intents and purposes he was helpless to do anything besides seeing and speaking, but even so Shiki did not cry out, instead assessing calmly.
Assessing the kidnappers who had, in abducting him and bringing him here, proven their audacity.
Dressing up in sunglasses, masks and caps in the middle of the city made them all the more conspicuous.
He wanted to tell them to at least wear balaclavas, but decided to remain silent and observe the situation for now.
Just then, in his place, the man fallen at his feet began to yell.
“What are you after, bastards! Don’t think you’ll get away with this!”
It was Shiki’s bald-headed subordinate, the one who usually chauffeured him.
“Quiet.”
With one word from Shiki a shiver ran through the man’s body, and he turned his eyes towards Shiki.
Like Shiki his limbs were bound, but unlike Shiki, who was sitting, he was lying on the floor.
“A, Aniki! I’m sorry! It’s my fault… It’s my fault even you ended up here!”
“Don’t shout. Call me Manager.”
Shiki dismissed his whimpering subordinate, and reflected on what had happened so far.
 —Things are getting troublesome.
 —Just what is their objective?


About one hour ago.

It was late at night in Tokyo. Shiki, after the meeting, had boarded the car to return to the Awakusu-kai office and report with his chauffeur –
But noticing that the chauffeur had not greeted him as usual, his mind immediately shifted to emergency mode.
Without panicking, he glanced casually at the rearview mirror.
The man in the driver’s seat had the same clean-shaven head, but one look and it was obvious he was not the same person who had chauffeured Shiki to the car park.
For all Shiki was yakuza, he had no reason to be carrying a blade or gun around at the moment, as he was not engaging in any fight.
Violating the arms law would only put his leader at risk now that the laws had tightened.
 —Now, whether this is a grudge against my person or a strike against the Awakusu-kai changes things significantly.
 —Is it Asuki Group, discontent with the current peace, or some other group we’ve had friction with…?
 —Or someone within the Awakusu-kai, even… It’s an unfortunate possibility.
He had checked the doors on both sides to check that he could escape quickly, but was well aware that attempting to run was futile.
Muscled men, their faces concealed by sunglasses and facemasks, were moving towards both sides, and they opened the doors in unison.
“You must be Shiki-san,”
“We’ll have you come with us,”
said the men gravely. At the sight of them, Shiki could not help but frown.
It was because the instant he had seen their bearing, a strong sense of unease had come over him.
This uneasiness stemmed from his years of experience in an underworld organization – but Shiki was unable to ignore it, and asked,
“…Am I your target?”
“We cannot answer.”
“What happened to my chauffeur?”
“If you cooperate neither of you will be harmed.”
The voice was muffled through the mask. Shiki narrowed his eyes, and looked not at the men but around the car.
The ruffians beside him did not seem to be carrying guns. Even if they were, the fact that they did not have them out showed they were confident in their ability to contain him.
However – through the window Shiki could see that there were more than ten similarly masked people on standby. With this revelation he sighed.
 —What a pain. Akabayashi or Aozaki could handle these numbers.
 —But fighting isn’t my strong suite… How troublesome.
“If you cooperate we won’t kill you. Rest assured.”
 —…
 —These guys…?
Shiki, detecting a nuance in the voice, replied coldly,
“Very well. I will hear what you have to say.”

Afterwards he was made to board a van parked nearby, and was transported, blindfolded, for about an hour.
From what he could tell of the van’s motion, they had gone onto an expressway at some point, and had not made extra turns so as to confuse him.
With this and the travel duration in mind, they were probably in the west side of Tokyo outside the twenty-third district; at the villas between Tokyo and Hachiōji.
 —But it’s not good to assume either.
As he thought this, Shiki spoke up to the group of men in the basement.
“So? What do you want with me?”
“Nothing, apparently.”
“What?”
“To be precise, it seems we’re supposed to keep you here for a while. That’s all.”
 —So these are small fry.
 —Just pawns with no idea of the full game.
 —No, if my guess is right, they’re not even pawns
Just as he was thinking this, there was a scuffle at the doorway.
The door opened, and new men entered the room.
From the gap he was able to see stairs leading upstairs, so it seemed this was, indeed, a basement.
Next Shiki looked at the newcomers.
Of the three men who had just entered, two were masked like the others.
The remaining one was a boy with garishly green hair, his limbs bound in the same way as Shiki.
“Stay here and behave yourself.”
“I hope I get to room with pretty girls…”
Ignoring him, the men shoved him roughly.
The boy, sprawling at Shiki’s feet, began to yell in a voice loud enough to echo in the room.
“They must be here, in this building! Tatsugami Aya-san and Ai-chan!”
One of the men kicked the boy in the stomach.
“Shut up.”
“Ah owowow!” Okay! Okay! I’ll shut up, so stop that!”
After glaring coldly at the boy, the men left without taking off his blindfold.
There was a lookout who stayed behind at the door, but he appeared disinclined to talk, simply leaning against the wall silently.
Shiki, gauging that it should be safe for himself to talk instead, spoke to the boy at his feet.
“Are you all right, boy?”
“Ah, excuse me. Could you take off my blindfold?”
“Sorry, I’m not one of them. I can see, but I’m tied up like you.”
“I see. Thank you anyway.”
Shiki looked the boy over appraisingly, before asking quietly,
“You’re the one who was on the news this morning, right?”
“Eh? You know too, old man?”
“I don’t often visit that site, but I look up the Headless Rider now and then.”
“Aw shucks, can’t believe I’m so famous now.”
The boy smiled awkwardly. Shiki continued, coolly,
“Yeah, but I know you were lying, too.”
“Huh?”
“The Headless Rider doesn’t eat, much less have a favourite food. And they can’t karaoke, right? Since they have no head.”
“Oho, you believe the Headless Rider’s really a headless monster, old man?”
The boy jeered at him in a forced manner, to which Shiki simply stated,
“Whether I believe or not, it remains fact. You should know best having met Celty yourself, shouldn’t you?”
“…Hey, old man. The way you talk, the fact that you know the Headless Rider’s name… it can’t be you’re yakuza?”
The boy said jokingly. Shiki’s subordinate, lying on the floor nearby, began to reprimand him.
“Oi, are you being cheeky to Aniki? Huh?”
Shiki sighed at how his subordinate was trying to threaten the boy when he himself was tied up, and was about to ask the boy a question, but –
“Manager. I know this boy. The guys at the office were making a fuss about it the other day.”

That very subordinate recalled this at the sight of the boy’s hair, and said, anxiously,“This guy was with the boy who fought Heiwajima Shizuo.”

♂♀

Afternoon. Ikebukuro West Gate Park.

Besides the outdoor stage in West Gate Park.
The eccentric combination of a man in a bartender suit and a woman in a pitch black rider suit was sitting on the metallic tube-shaped bench.
‘So this Yahiro-kun really fought with you, Shizuo?’
Reading off Celty’s smartphone screen, the man in the bartender suit – Heiwajima Shizuo – answered honestly,
“He was with a green-haired kid, right? Then it’s probably the same guy.”
Reminiscing on what had happened a few days back, Shizuo looked up at the sky, and continued.
“So you’re friends. The world sure is small.”
‘No, I just met him yesterday myself… A lot of things happened, it’s a mess.’
Celty, having heard of Shiki’s disappearance, had been looking for information around the city.
Halfway through Akabayashi had told her to be careful since she was under suspicion herself, but just then Shizuo, who had been on his break, had seen her and called out to her.
Celty, remembering the conversation between Yahiro and Li-pei from the day before, had brought it up doubtfully, only to be shocked when Shizuo confirmed it was true.
‘Unbelievable. Simon is one thing, but a normal high schooler who can face off with you…’
“What do you think I am?”
‘Sorry. It’s just that I’ve never seen you have trouble fighting anyone head-on.’
It brought to Celty’s mind a certain informant he had fought with, though not quite head-on; but she did not mention him seeing as Shizuo seemed irritated.
Yet it was Shizuo who brought him up, oddly enough:
“Do you remember Izaya?”
‘How could I forget? …It’s strange for you to mention him.’
“I don’t want to remember that pest either… But, mm, this is awkward, but since you know him, could you keep an eye on that Mizuchi Yahiro guy?”
‘?’
Celty had tilted her helmet, to which Shizuo, with an awkward expression, continued,
“The guy with the green hair… He’s the same type of person as that bastard Izaya.”
‘Really?’
“It’s just a gut feeling.”
‘I see.’
 —It’s true he was so boisterous it felt unnatural.
Remembering how he had taken photos with her, Celty laughed bitterly in her heart.
She had found out the photo had hit the headlines this morning.
The suzu castella and karaoke was a stretch, but because he had described her as an un-kidnapper-like person, she was more relieved than angry.
‘But why are you worried about Yahiro-kun in particular? If he’s really like Izaya, everyone around him will be getting into trouble.’
To Celty, who had typed this obvious question, Shizuo, with some thought, answered,
“I don’t know how to say it exactly, but when I fought with him, I remembered my old self.”
‘Your old self?’
“If he’s that strong, he’s going to end up in a lot of trouble. Especially since I’ve never seen him around before; he might not be a local.”
Shizuo fell deeper in thought, and, clicking his tongue, spoke up again.
“Hey, Celty.”
‘Yeah?’
“Hypothetically, if we got along… If I could get along with Izaya about as well as Shinra, what do you think would have happened?”
‘That’s an amazing question.’
Celty did not hide her surprise, and probing Shizuo’s intention, asked,
‘Why are you asking?’
“Nothing… It’s just, that building we ruined one and a half years ago was completed in the past few months…”
‘Oh, that building.’
One and a half years ago.
In a series of events, Shizuo had wound up in a death match against his nemesis Orihara Izaya.
Izaya’s survival was unclear since he had vanished from the city, but scars of their incredible fight had been etched onto the city itself.
There had even been a giant explosion in a building under construction, but the crime could not be pinned since Izaya, the one responsible, had disappeared.
The police could have realised Shizuo was related to it, but seeing as he had yet to be remanded for questioning, one could imagine they had let it go, or there was some special arrangement within the department.
The building’s construction had been delayed due to the explosion, and Celty remembered the completion date was during her and Shinra’s vacation.
“I was recalling what happened there… And I don’t want to even imagine it, but I was thinking, if I got along with that flea, maybe it could have saved this city loads of trouble…”
 —That’s not…
true, Celty typed, but her fingers stopped.
Because she realised that indeed, had Shizuo and Izaya been on speaking terms, the victims who had been embroiled in their fights would have had much more peace in their lives.
Of course, this was including Celty herself.
‘Well, that might be true, but it might have been disastrous, too.’
“Really?”
‘Yeah. There’s no way Izaya would have ever become a good guy. If you got along with him he could have used you to start terrible things.’
“Yeah… That’s true.”
Shizuo sighed lightly, and said to his friend, the Headless Rider,
“That Yahiro guy, in the middle of our fight… How to put it? He… He seemed happy. He’s probably only been forced into fights he hated all this time.”
‘Forced to fight?’
“Yeah. When I went all out for the first time in my life, against those people controlled by that sword… I had fun, too. Just a little.”
As if embarrassed that he was saying this, Shizuo switched the conversation to the future instead.
“Maybe he felt the same thing as me back then… If you’re such a strong fighter, it’s going to attract all kinds of people. If the flea was still here, he would have approached him.”
‘I know.’
“That’s why, also because he’s a junior from the same school… I don’t want him to go down the same path as the flea and me. And I won’t let off anyone like the flea who tries to use him… I mean, some things can’t be helped, so I can’t interfere too much. But if anything happens, could you tell him not to become like me, Celty?”
‘Why don’t you say it yourself?’
At Celty’s words, Shizuo creased his brow, and said,
“You or Shinra or Tom-san would be one thing, but if I go and talk to a simple high schooler I might cause him trouble.”
 —Wait… Isn’t it the same if I make friends with Yahiro-kun…? And does that mean you think it’s all right to get me into trouble?
She was tempted to say this, but thinking that he would probably look out for the boys in his own way, she did not retort.
 —But for Shizuo to say something like this – he’s really grown soft.
 —Well, Izaya’s vanished to goodness knows where, so there’s no reason for him to be riled up all the time anymore, I guess.
Celty, gradually accepting this change in her friend, stood from the bench.
‘Sorry for taking up your break. I should be going now.’
“Are you okay? It looks like you’re having a hard time. If there’s anything I can help with tell me, okay?”
‘Yeah, I’m fine.’
It would be bad to involve Shizuo, who had finally toned down.
With this concern about her friend’s future in mind, she was about to return to chasing Shiki’s trail, but –

“Headless Rider-san!”

A voice stopped her.
When Shizuo and Celty turned to look, there stood a girl.
Perhaps she had run to them, for she was out of breath; and after calming down, smiling at Celty, she said with genuine happiness,
“I… I’ve finally found you!”
 —Huh?
 —This girl is…
Before she could remember the name of the familiar girl, Shizuo voiced it.
“Yo, Akane-chan.”
 —Right, that’s her.
 —Akane-chan.
Awakusu Akane.
She was the granddaughter of the Awakusu-kai’s president Awakusu Dogen, whose very name could silence crying babies; and she had a history with Celty and Shizuo.
“Hello, S, Shizuo-san.”
Akane bowed her head to Shizuo hurriedly, and again turned to Celty.
“Thank goodness… You came back!”
‘Yeah, I was on vacation for a while…’
“Vacation?”
‘Yeah, I went to see the fireworks festival in Akita, the Kerama Islands in Okinawa, that kind of thing. It took about half a year to cover north to south.’
She had not interacted much with Akane since that one incident, so why was Akane so heartened by her return?
The question did bug Celty, but she decided to answer first without too much thought.
In response, Akane’s expression became one of utter relief, and with tearful eyes she looked to Celty, saying,
“Thank goodness… You weren’t the culprit after all.”
‘Oh, that?’
“Yes… To be honest, one of my seniors went missing, too… She was a big fan of yours!”
 —Come again?
Celty stiffened internally, while Shizuo, frowning, voiced the same sentiment under his breath.
“A fan of… Celty?”

After hearing out the situation, Celty was able to make sense of several things.
 —I see.
 —Yesterday Yahiro-kun said the senior of a middle-schooler he knew disappeared too… But I didn’t imagine that acquaintance could be Akane-chan.
The connection was unexpected, but Celty simply pondered if this was fate, or if perhaps the world was simply smaller than she had thought, and was suitably impressed.
And remembering that that was not the time for that, she patted her own chest, and reassured Akane.
‘Don’t worry. I’ll do my best to find both your senior and Shiki-san.’
But that very moment, doubt clouded Akane’s face.
“Huh?”
‘Huh?’
“What did you mean by… Shiki-san?”
 —Crap!
Apparently Akane had not yet known of Shiki’s disappearance.
Shizuo, despite not knowing the circumstances, seemed to have understood that she had made a terrible mistake, and was piercing her chest with a deadpan gaze that seemed to say, ‘What on earth are you doing?’.
‘S, sorry. I typed wrong just now. I was going to say, I’ll do my best to find your senior with Shiki-san.’
“You’re… lying, right?”
From Celty’s awkward phrasing it looked like Akane had seen through it completely.
‘…Sorry. I thought you would have known.’

After that, Celty soothed Akane who had proposed searching for the kidnapper herself, and learnt what information Akane had had.
What disturbed her most was the following.
“Tatsugami-sempai… spoke of you like you were a god.”
‘A god…’
“I’m not exaggerating… She would say that you changed her world… Or, if she would give her life if she could become like the Headless Rider…”
‘…That’s scary.’
 —Speaking of which, there was a girl who did plastic surgery to have the same face as me, wasn’t there?
Recalling the girl who was now in America, Celty continued to think.
 —Shiki-san did mention people looking for me had vanished, but…
 —Having fans is funny, and it’s one thing, but being treated like a god just makes me feel bad.
 —I’m not even that important…
‘Anyway, leave it to Akabayashi-san and me, and don’t do anything dangerous, Akane-chan.’
Worried that Akane would in the worse case be endangered because of her, and doubly so because that would involve the Awakusu-kai, Celty firmly discouraged her from going after the culprit by herself.
“But that was what Shiki-san said, too…”
‘I said it’s going to be okay! Believe in me, all right? I was gone for half a year, but I’m back now, aren’t I?’
Celty insisted without rhyme or reason, but at least managed to convey her sincerity, and so Akane nodded reluctantly.
‘Don’t worry and just give me some time. I’ll definitely bring both your schoolmate and Shiki-san back.’
Celty typed this in a large font. Shizuo asked her,
“Hey, I’ll help too. Is there anything I can do?”
‘If it gets troublesome enough even I can’t handle it that’s where you come in. Other than that… It would be good if you could ask Tom-san if he has any clue.’
“Right, call anytime. I’ll come even if I have to skip work.”
Seeing Shizuo smile as he said this, Celty left with a sense of encouragement.
 —Well, if I have to call Shizuo I’d have to be up against an organisation of vampires or something on that level…*
(*Reference to Vamp!, another underrated series by Narita.)
If Shizuo were to go all out from the start most criminals would be flattened in a second. But in this case there were kidnapped hostages. If Shizuo rampaged it would be dangerous for those victims, whose safety had to be prioritised.
With that in mind, Celty got onto the black motorcycle she had parked at the park’s entrance.
Praying that the kidnapped victims were still alive to be used as hostages in the first place.

And – in the next moment.
Feeling a sense of foreboding from behind, she turned.
Akane and Shizuo were waving at her, so she turned back, and looked around the park.
 —What’s going on…
 —I feel watched.
 —It doesn’t feel like the usual curious looks…
At that point Celty arrived at the possibility of it being the White Motorbike, and left with a shiver down her spine.

The one watching the Headless Rider continued watching until it left, and then, quietly, said,
“Heiwajima Shizuo is fine, but that girl is not.”
The ‘woman’ inside the vehicle parked beside West Gate Park turned her narrowed gaze to Shizuo and Akane, and continued,
“That girl will disappear too.”
And in a voice filled with a yearning close to adoration:
“She got too deeply involved; that person will take her away.”
With hatred and pity for Awakusu Akane dwelling in her eyes.
A smile spread on her face, soulless, like that of a poorly-made doll.

That is her fate.”

♂♀

Evening. Shinra’s apartment. Underground parking lot.


“Yo, it’s only been a day.”
After going around the city looking for information, Celty Sturluson had returned to the underground car park.
Upon alighting from her motorcycle she was greeted by the young man she had met just the night before.
 —…?!
 —…Ah, Ei Li-pei.
Celty was sighing in relief having realised it was the acquaintance she had exchanged contacts with just the day before, but abruptly something hit her and, panicking, she showed him her smartphone.
‘How did you know to come here?! I gave you my email, not my address!’
“Oh, that’s… a trade secret. I’m not going to leak it to the police or reporters. You don’t have to worry.”
Li-pei smiled guilelessly. After some thought, it hit Celty:
‘Right… Dragon Zombie teamed up with Izaya at some point. Did you hear from Izaya back then?’
“Well, I’ve never met the informant Orihara Izaya personally. It seems my friends got on well with him while I was hospitalised. Anyway, I can’t thank him if I wanted to now no one knows if he’s even alive, right?”
‘I guess. Anyway, this just proves he’s a load of trouble dead or alive.’
Celty shrugged and replied, to which Li-pei gave a shrug of his own and smiled.
“Heroes and villains are subjective. In the past six months you’ve been gone and no one knew if you were alive, you were made a villain yourself, weren’t you?”
‘Surely you didn’t come here to be snarky with me?’
“Yeah, to the point. Something happened with the Awakusu-kai, right?”
‘What are you saying all of a sudden?’
Celty returned the question, wary that he might be fishing for information.
“Jyan Jyaka Jyan have been making a riot since this morning. It looks like we’re under suspicion too.”
Jyan Jyaka Jyan was the rival gang to Dragon Zombie, and survived under the wing of the Awakusu-kai.
To be so audacious as to abduct an officer of an organisation like the Awakusu-kai, the perpetrator had to be an organisation with substantial power of its own; this was likely their reasoning.
But it was hard to imagine Dragon Zombie to go over the heads of their rival gang and attack their handler, the Awakusu-kai, directly. For this reason Celty had eliminated Li-pei from the suspect list.
“Being suspect is inconvenient for us, too. I was thinking, since we’re helping already, we should go all out.”
’Are you going to tell me there’s a new colour gang around or something?’
If the culprit was a gang, kidnapping Shiki with the knowledge that he was an Awakusu officer would mean they were confident in their ability to take on the Awakusu-kai.
Thinking it was possible some other group was behind it, Celty asked this.
But Li-pei shook his head.
“The reverse, actually. Do you know of any person… any organisation that’s disappeared without a trace?”
After some thought, Celty, surprised, typed,
‘…You can’t be saying Orihara Izaya is orchestrating this from the shadows?’
“Nonono, I don’t mean that. Just, it’s not completely impossible. At least, since he was involved. With both organisations.”
‘…”Both”?’
“Ah, yeah. There are two. You might have heard of them, I suppose?”
After skirting around the point this far, Li-pei leant against the pillar and finally revealed the names.
“…the illegal betting ring Amphisbaena, and the drug cartel Heaven Slave?”
‘Ah… Those people…’
Celty remembered those names.
In the past, the organisations had been crushed by the informant Orihara Izaya.
She only learnt of the details later, but she remembered being a runner for him while he was going about crushing both organisations simultaneously.
‘They didn’t disappear. They were disbanded.’
“But the roots are still around.”
‘Is that so?’
“Yeah. The central character of each organisation survived. Orihara Izaya had them in the palm of his hand, but Izaya is gone now, isn’t he?”
His voice was nonchalant, but there was a tinge of danger in it.
Celty deduced the organisations had made rivals of Dragon Zombie, and continued,
‘So did they disappear recently? Maybe the Awakusu-kai decided to disband them more permanently?’
“If so there would at least be some rumours. It’s hard to imagine they just vanished like smoke. …It would seem they’ve gone even deeper underground.”
‘Are they really involved in this?’
It was certainly eerie, but she could hardly assume they were the ones behind the abductions.
For that matter, while she had worked for Izaya as he was dismantling the groups, Celty had no memory of them having a grudge against her in particular.
 —No, now Izaya’s gone it wouldn’t be strange for them to hate me thinking I was his ally.
 —But that’s a weak basis to say they’re the kidnappers.
‘Do you have anything more concrete?’
“You’re sharp. I can’t hide anything from you.”
Li-pei said this carelessly and shrugged, and, smile fading, he continued with a serious expression,
“About half a year ago, our gang was contacted. Someone was willing to fork out any sum to get us to work for them. It was shady and I didn’t want to rile up the Awakusu-kai unnecessarily, so I rejected, but… Back then that person said something.”
He paused, and looking at Celty’s face, said,
“…He said, ‘How much do you believe in the Headless Rider?’”
‘? What does that mean?’
“Exactly that. What he was asking… was if we believed that you really are a supernatural being beyond human sensibilities. He was strangely stubborn about it. I might even say he was excited.”
‘Who is this “he”?’
Celty pressed for an answer, and in reply, Li-pei brought up a certain name.
“His name was Shijima, written with the kanji ‘four-hundred thousand’… do you know him?”
‘…I’ve never heard of him.’
After typing that, she started as it came to her, and she hurriedly corrected herself.
‘No, wait. Shijima… I know that guy.’
Celty was remembering the young man who had been with the man called Nasujima back during her ‘Observation’ of the city one and a half years ago.
All the young man had done was cower, but because his name was unique she still remembered him.
“He disappeared from the city shortly after we rejected him. Apparently he went around asking about you before that, too.”
Li-pei smiled again, and said, cheerfully,
“Someone started a rumour about it, you know. ‘Maybe the Headless Rider vanished him.'”
‘…You can’t be saying…’
“Exactly; he’s the first missing persons case that had rumours about you being the culprit. Those rumours were just amongst ourselves, though. At any rate, a while after that people looking for the Headless Rider began to disappear. At first it was one person. The first month two people disappeared. By the third month five, and in half a year fifteen… That kind of pace.”
‘I see… It’s worth looking into.’
Celty replied, feeling that the lead had promise, and expressed her gratitude to this unexpected visitor:
‘Thanks. This could be a breakthrough. I’ll tell everyone about it, too.’
“By everyone, do you mean Mizuchi Yahiro-kun?”
‘Yeah… Well, I did promise to pass on any information.’
“It might be better not to involve him, perhaps.”
Li-pei’s voice was uncharacteristically hesitant. Celty continued, typing,
‘That is – I agree it’s not ideal to involve children, but I think it might assure them to know we have a lead. If we don’t say any names, they probably won’t act rashly, right?’
“I see~. Well, I don’t mean that; I’m saying that if you get him involved at this stage, he might get attached to you, I think.”
‘Attached…’
“We Dragon Zombie have our eyes on him too. Since we don’t just accept second-gen Taiwanese, but Japanese people too now.”
The feminine young man smiled easily, and unable to tell how serious he was, Celty, remembering Shizuo’s words, asked,
‘So gangs are eying him after all?’
“That’s for sure. He’s the other hot topic around Ikebukuro these few days, besides you coming back. I’d say not many gangs know his name yet, though.”
‘I can see that he’s strong, but… What’s your own opinion on him?’
To Celty’s question, Li-pei smiled cheerfully, and averting his eyes, answered.
“Monster in the flesh. I haven’t met anything that could give me such a chill in a long time.”
‘Monster, huh.’
Celty rolled her shoulders, her tone cynical.
Aware of what she meant, Li-pei continued.
“Your body may be that of a monster. But your heart is more human than any human. That’s why we can be having such a friendly talk right now. But that child could well be more inhuman than you, you know?”
Perhaps he was reliving the fight from last night; Li-pei broke out in sweat as he forced a smile.
“Fear translating into aggression is a normal reaction, but even so… For him, he has no hesitation to speak of at all. The emotion of fear switches to anger or killing intent and takes over his body. It happens in comics all the time, right? The instant his life is threatened, your strength awakens and you crush all your enemies… that kind of thing.”
‘I suppose I understand.’
“It’s possible that in his case, just a drop of fear is enough for his brain to take off that limiter.”
Then Li-pei, jokingly, said something somewhat threatening:
“Even I wouldn’t think of teaming up if I hadn’t known of you or Heiwajima Shizuo beforehand. I might even have thought… to eliminate him ASAP, you know?”
‘Don’t say that so casually.’
“Sorry, sorry. Well, he might actually have been reassured meeting you and Shizuo, you know? Did you notice? Last night, he might have been on his guard against you, but he seemed pretty happy, did you realise?”


“He must have had a difficult time living somewhere without you or Shizuo before.”

♂♀

Somewhere in Ikebukuro. In front of Himeka’s home.

When Himeka tried to open the door to her home, she discovered it could not be opened.
One could say it was normal for the door to be locked, but Himeka did not have a key.
To be accurate, Himeka was not allowed to have a key.
The lights were turned on inside, but when she pressed the doorbell there was no answer.
—It’s happening again.
—It’s getting more frequent as of late.
She thought, expression unchanged.
Her mother was probably in ‘that state’.
It was a condition of her mother’s that had persisted since Himeka was a young child.
Himeka did not know if it was an illness of the mind, an act, or some kind of ritual.
Without any warning, her mother would completely shut down, and she would lean her forehead against the wall and start talking.
As if her world was locked in the shadow of herself on the wall – all of her words would be directed at her own shadow, whether they were to herself, to Himeka’s sisters or father, even to anyone nearby.
In that time, she would not react to anything Himeka said.
Even if she reacted, her answer would still be to her own shadow.
Himeka had before wondered what kind of happy dream she saw in that shadow, but her one-sided ‘conversations’ revealed nothing that seemed remotely happy.
Even with the image of her mother, talking with her head grinding against the wall, Himeka opened her bag without any change in expression.
It would be the second time today she used these tools; specialised metal instruments modified from hairpins.
They were similar to a locksmith’s lock picks, but very different from the actual thing.
She did not have the license to possess the actual thing, for one.
It was not legal for regular people to possess the specialised tools required for lockpicking.
A qualified locksmith selling them to someone would itself constitute a crime.
Because she was definitely not of an age to be a qualified locksmith, one could say she was breaking the law –
Except: other than actual locksmiths, there was an exception for ‘reasonable causes’.
Himeka did not know if being regularly locked out of her own home was a reasonable cause, but it did not matter.
Today, for the first time, she broke into another person’s house.
It was the second time she had used her tools and skills outside of her own door.
The first time was in middle school, to help a bullied classmate who had been locked in a storage room in the school – at that time, Himeka had thought that it being a crime was unimportant.
Today she had picked the lock thinking there might have been a criminal inside, and because she was worried about Kuon, but that was likely no excuse.
Having lied to Kuon’s sister Nozomi without a beat, was she any different from a thief?
Himeka thought that she was no different.
No; the fact that she had felt no guilt at all could mean she was of worse character than even a thief.
As she thought this, while inserting the tools into the keyhole, she remembered what had happened that evening.

It was on the way home from their talk with Kuon’s sister.
She had assumed Yahiro would distance himself from her and harbour dislike for her after seeing her pick the lock.
She did not mind as she would have deserved that; and thought it could not be helped if he suspected her of being someone who stole things often, or started rumours about her.
However, instead of avoiding her, he started talking to her while they were in the lift.
“I was so shocked when you just unlocked the door like that. Where did you learn how to do that?”
“A senior three years up who lived nearby taught me when I was in elementary school.”
Himeka was slightly surprised by the question, but thinking it was nothing to hide, answered promptly.
“I don’t know why she knew how to do that, but she saw I was often locked out of the house, so she taught me how to let myself in.”
“Locked out?”
“Family situation. My sisters and I don’t have our own keys, and the door isn’t always open.”
“I see, that must be tough.”
Yahiro had said he lived in a hot spring inn operating all year round, so people were always going in and out, and there was always bound to be someone inside, so he was never very conscious of locks. It was possible that he had accepted Himeka’s bizarre family situation thinking it was a normal thing in Tokyo.
Even so Himeka let it pass. After that, Yahiro thanked her:
“Thanks for today.”
“Eh?”
“If not for you, I wouldn’t have been able to meet Kuon’s sister.”
“…”
Himeka thought to let that pass too, but with a slight sigh, she informed Yahiro,
“You’re weird after all, Mizuchi-kun.”
“I am?”
“Normally wouldn’t you think I was a thief, seeing me do something like that?”
To this Yahiro answered promptly,
“Ah, yeah, I was shocked earlier because I thought we were like thieves.”
Yahiro answered confidently, as if asserting that he was normal.
“Then don’t you look down on me?”
“Are you a thief?”
“I’m not.”
“Then there’s no reason for me to dislike you.”
It was the kind of conversation that would have had Kuon complaining by now about how casual they both were if he were here. Yahiro, reminiscing on his past, continued,
“Right, the one time I met a thief he broke the lock with a hammer instead. When I saw and called out to him, he tried to hit me with it. That was way more shocking than just now.”

“Should I have laughed…”
She had not been able to tell if it was a joke or the truth; only that he had been desperately trying to lighten the mood.
Himeka, feeling bad for remaining expressionless despite his effort, checked that she had unlocked the door.
“I’m home…”
When she opened the door there was a silhouette, and thinking it must be her mother, she called out automatically.
But –
“…? …!”
She realised the person on the other side was not her mother.

Then she sensed multiple people behind her, from outside the door –
She was pushed down from behind before she could even cry out.

♂♀

“O… Oi oi oi oi! What, just what’s going on here!”

On the premises of another house.
The group of people who had snuck onto the lawn and was watching Himeka broke out in noise seeing what had just happened.
Suddenly a group of men had barged into Himeka’s doorway, pushed her down, and bundled her onto a van that had stopped by the entrance.

“Wh, what do we do, Horada-san?”
“What on earth… Huh~? What the hell?!”
Still unable to absorb the situation, Horada was completely confused.
In order to make the high schooler who had faced off with Shizuo an ally of their own, Horada had gotten his underlings to do their own research on the boy.
The boy’s name was Mizuchi Yahiro, and he was born in Akita. In addition, he had been with the green-haired boy Kotonami Kuon since the first day of school, and got along with a student by the name of Tatsugami Himeka. With this knowledge, Horada’s strategy had been to go after the girl, and so they had been following her.
“Could it be someone had the same plan and got the girl first?”
It was true that Horada, being a thug, had had the thought of using the girlfriend as a hostage to make Yahiro obey him flash through his mind.
But considering it would have to be a long-term relationship, he had decided instead of something so one-off it would be more appropriate to have Yahiro owe them for something and draw him into their gang with that.
After tailing Himeka they had finally acquired her address, and he had just been about to discuss their future plans, only for this sudden turn of events.
“Should we help her, then?”
“N, no, they look pretty tough…”
“Didn’t you say you kidnapped the girlfriend of the Yellow Scarves’ leader before?”
“Kidnapping and helping out is completely different!”
With this embarrassing retort, Horada wracked his confused brain for ideas.
“Damn it, what now? If they’re the Awakusu-kai or something we can’t possibly interfere…”
“What about pretending we just passed by and calling the police?”
“The police, huh… I don’t want to bring them in…”
Just the memory of the face of the traffic officer who had arrested him previously and the blood drained from his face.
“Ahhhh, shit, think, think! Go, me!”
Then, gritting his teeth, he decided to stall for time first.
“You, follow on your motorcycle.”
Remembering that one of his underlings who he had gotten to tail Himeka had come on a motorcycle, he turned to the alley where it was parked.
“Huh?! I, I’ve never tailed a vehicle before!”
“If you can tail a person you can tail a van just fine! Hurry up!”
“O, okay!”
As he watched his junior scramble onto the motorcycle, Horada continued his earlier train of thought.
 —Yeah. If the ones at the end of the trail look weak we’ll beat them up and have him owe me a favour.
 —If they’re the Awakusu-kai or something… Well, we can just pretend we saw nothing.
This he decided. Just then, he saw a silhouette exit Himeka’s house.
“Huh?”
At the sight of this person giving directions to the men on the way to the van, Horada could not help but frown.

“A woman…?”

****CHAPTER END****


Interlude: Rumours on the Internet ⑤
Ikebukuro Information Site, IkeNEW! Version I・KEBU・KUR・O

Latest Article, Tragic News: Green Boy who Befriended Headless Rider Missing!

Content from microblogging site Twittia:

  • I haven’t been able to contact ●●●● since the IkeNEW article featured him this morning.
    • Seriously?
      • Looks like he’s MIA. No one answered when we called his house either.
        • He’s missing?
          • Because he knew the Headless Rider’s secrets?

IkeNEW! Administrator’s Comment
“He went missing-nari.
Apparently the users who tweeted this are Blue Square members-nari.
So the green-hair was a blue guy after all-nari?
[This boy so boldly asked for all this personal information and even took a picture, but he wasn’t kidnapped-nari.
If the boy doesn’t go missing after this, that would mean the rumour about the Headless Rider being a kidnapper is fake after all-nari.]
↑ I said this in the last article, but it’s not yet confirmed that he’s missing-nari.
Comments will be locked-nari.
There are commenters in our previous article saying he’s missing because we put up that article, but that’s not true-nari.
If you have the time to blame others, you should pray for the boy’s safety like a proper Ikebukuroan.”

Administrator Lila Tailtooth Zaiya

♂♀

Excerpts of typical tweets from microblogging site Twittia.

  • Argh. I want to punch the IkeNEW admin in the face.
  • Someone going missing and it’s ‘Tragic News’? Stop screwing around, Mister Lila.
    • It’s useless to scold that site’s admin. The controversy only adds on to the viewership.
      • There’s no point complaining, even if people die that jerk still tags on that nari-nari everywhere.
        • He even puts illegal manga scans as headers, right?
          • Maybe if IkeNEW gets reported it’ll go down once and for all…
  • So the Headless Rider kidnapped him after all?
    • Why would they do that?
      • Because he exposed that they liked suzu castella…?
        • What’s wrong with that? It’s tasty.
    • But what if the Headless Rider really was the one who did it?
      • Then IkeNEW will have been complicit, since it spread the lie that the Headless Rider was safe.
        • So it was a lie that it was a lie.
          • IkeNEW hasn’t apologised yet?
            • Don’t go there to comment, it’ll only up the view count.
  • Speaking of which, I saw the Headless Rider hanging around this afternoon.
    • In Ikebukuro?
      • In West Gate Park, talking to Heiwajima Shizuo.
        • Ah, then that’s the real thing for sure.
    • I saw too. They were with a middle school girl, right?
      • What’s the likelihood of the girl becoming an urban legend too…
  • The Dragon Zombie fellows have been noisy recently.
    • The sickly leader is back now after being hospitalised, apparently.
      • Sickly…
        • No, it’s true he had a weak constitution, but I heard he recovered after surgery.
    • That Horada guy is back too, right?
      • Who’s Horada?
      • Horada got in trouble with Shizuo recently.
        • Heyhey, who’s Horada?
          • The guy who always tagged along with Izumii-san, remember.
            • Oh, Higa-san’s senior! I remember!
              • Who the fuck are you guys? I’ll find your names and beat you up just you wait.
                • Who’s this? You’re being scary so I’ve blocked you.
  • There’ve been a lot of cars going in and out of a mountainside villa near my house.
    • It’s spring, so maybe they’re tourists here to see the flowers?
      • Possibly. There are some scary-looking people, but maybe they came with their families. There are lot of kids that look school-age.
        • Hasn’t the school term started?
          • Oh? You’re right…

****CHAPTER END****


*The senior who taught Himeka to lock-pick is most likely Harima Mika.


 ⇒CHAPTER 7A


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