T/N: Content warning: Chapter 7A features description of child abuse and is somewhat heavy. Discretion advised.
The Successor (Part 1)
Night time. Yahiro’s apartment.
When Mizuchi Yahiro reached home, the landlady’s younger brother Togusa Saburo was, as always, tending to his van.
“Yo, you’re pretty late.”
“There’s no need to apologise. It’s not like we set a curfew for you.”
Togusa smiled, to which Yahiro bowed his head again.
Then, somewhat hesitantly, he asked,
“Saburo-san, do you know about the Headless Rider?”
“Eh? Yeah, well, kinda.”
“What kind of person are they?”
“What kind of person… Uh, I’m not sure if you can say the Headless Rider is human, but anyway.”
Hesitating, Saburo chose his words carefully as he answered,
“Well, the Headless Rider’s a do-gooder, I’d say.”
“They drive without a license or headlights or a number plate like a combination of every traffic violation ever, but as a person they’re twice as kind as most people. If there’s someone in trouble and they see it, they’ll help without a second thought.”
As he polished his van, Saburo continued, somewhat irately,
“I’m a driver too, so I used to think of the Headless Rider as just a troublemaker, but… Well, I still think they cause lots of trouble, but now I know their situation, so…”
“Ah… No, well, some things happened.”
Togusa continued hurriedly, as if to cover up what he had just said.
“Well, there a lot of people in this city who fear the Headless Rider, and a lot of thugs they’ve beaten up. But there are just as many people who were helped by the Headless Rider and are grateful for it.”
“You’ll understand if you meet in person.”
Saburo asserted, to which Yahiro said, promptly,
“Ah, um, I met them yesterday.”
“I got their email, too.”
As he scrubbed the van off with a rag, Saburo looked at Yahiro in surprise.
“Wait, what kind of high school life are you having…? Getting beaten up by Shizuo, making friends with Celty…”
“Ah, you know their name.”
“Yeah, well. If you mention Togusa Saburo they’ll probably remember me too.”
Togusa realised something just then, and proposed to Yahiro,
“Right. If you know each other. Celty’s friends with Shizuo. You can ask Celty to mediate a little.”
“Ah, is that so?”
“Yeah, well, of all the people I know they’re best at talking to Shizuo. If you ask sincerely, Celty won’t mind being the middleman for you.”
“I see… I’ll try to ask. Thank you very much!”
Yahiro bowed his head politely. Togusa continued, dispensing advice as the older party.
“Anyway, the city is full of rumours, but in the end people can only judge with their own eyes. If you fail at that point even then that’s all there is to it.”
“That goes for you too, you know? You should treasure your friends. There will be people who gossip about you and see you through coloured lenses, but there are always people who will see your true face and make their own judgment.”
Perhaps something in those words had struck a chord with Yahiro, for he dwelled on it for some time before bowing his head more deeply than before.
“…Thank you very much.”
Yahiro, smiling slightly, asked Saburo:
“Saburo-san, you must have many great friends, huh?”
“Haha, it’s just that I go around fighting a lot. I don’t have many, exactly.”
With an embarrassed smile, Togusa wiped the van quickly with the rag.
“Well, they’re all very different. There’s an old-fashioned guy who’s like a reliable boss of justice, and then there’s an old guy who sells tickets who’s the epitome of suspiciousness… And then there’s…”
His voice dropped a semitone.
He had just discovered an anime decal casually slapped onto the rear window.
。And, the faces of the duo responsible surfacing in his mind, he ground out darkly,
“Anyway… Treasure your friends. But make sure you choose them well from the start, got it?”
Back in his room, on his bed, Yahiro remembered what Saburo had said earlier.
—Judge with their own eyes, huh.
From the Headless Rider’s perspective, what did he, Himeka and Kuon look like?
Up till middle school, a lot of the people who had heard of him had attacked him.
When they saw him fight back they would fear him as a ‘monster’, and look at him with frightened eyes.
Those who heard rumours of him and decided to bring him down would end up looking up at him in fear after being defeated themselves. But how much difference was there between what the rumours said of him and his actual self?
The Headless Rider was more human than he had imagined from the rumours.
Heiwajima Shizuo was far stronger than he had expected, and also more human than he had imagined.
What had angered Shizuo was that the Headless Rider had been degraded and spoken of as a kidnapper, a creature on exhibit.
To be that genuinely angry to hear a friend being denigrated was to Yahiro something to be admired greatly.
This could not be helped, because for Yahiro friendship was something he had only seen in comics and movies.
—What about me?
—If someone mocked Kuon-kun or Tatsugami-san… Would I get that angry?
—We only met a few days ago, so that might be unreasonable.
—But does time really matter?
—If it does… I wonder, from now on, if I can be friends with those two… No, many more people, too…
—Be close friends… like Heiwajima Shizuo-san and the Headless Rider.
Yahiro had yet to see Celty and Shizuo’s friendship in person, but had no reason to doubt its authenticity.
Both he had thought of as true ‘monsters’. No; both were more monstrous than he had imagined, yet seemed far more human than himself.
Perhaps there was truth in the rumours surrounding them. But it was certain those rumours
did not encompass all there was to them.
—Information spreads both in real life and on the internet, huh.
—Information really is scary.
Saburo’s words returned Yahiro to the events earlier that evening.
To what Kotonami Nozomi had spoke of Kuon as a person.
A few hours ago. Kotonami Kuon’s house.
’Do you know of Orihara Izaya?’
Nozomi, still cooped up in the room, brought up one man’s name.
“…No, I don’t know him.”
Yahiro answered with a look at Himeka, who shook her head as well.
’I see. That can’t be helped. Well, he’s famous as an informant in Ikebukuro. Anyway, he’s pretty amazing.”
The sudden mention of an ‘informant’ of all things stumped him, but the name itself sounded familiar as well.
—Why does he sound familiar…
—Ei-san and the Headless Rider might have mentioned him in their conversation yesterday…
Nonetheless, unsure if it had really been ‘Orihara Izaya’ they mentioned, he chose to listen without bringing it up.
Yahiro and Himeka were puzzled as to how this informant was related to Kuon, but right then –
‘I was a slave of this Orihara Izaya.’
The words almost went in one ear and out of the other, but Yahiro started as the words sank in.
‘I say I was his slave, but at the time I was completely willing, so maybe you could say “fanatic”.’
‘Kuon and I, you see… We lost our parents when we were very young~. The family who fostered us treated us really badly. We were pathetic; they wouldn’t let us eat anything other than what we got at school for up to half a year, or they’d use our clothes as cleaning rags and make us wear them afterwards. They’d make both of us go without clothes, for example, and they did a lot of things to us I can’t tell you here. Anyway, it’s not unheard of.’
Nozomi spoke so nonchalantly of the tragedy that it put Yahiro at at a loss of words.
She might not have been able to notice it across the phone, for she continued with no less energy.
‘And I don’t know how he found out about us, but it was Izaya-san who helped us.’
“He helped you?”
‘Yes, he did. He called out to me one day, as I was going home from school.’
It seemed like a vague explanation, but right after she continued, skipping ruthlessly to the conclusion.
‘Izaya-san wrecked our family for us. He made it so that the people who abused us committed suicide, or got arrested, or got abducted and disappeared.’
‘It was Izaya-san who taught we who were left behind how to live. Kuon never met him directly, but I made sure to tell him every single day, just how amazing Izaya-san was, how incredible. I would say, we’re alive all thanks to Izaya-san; I would do anything for Izaya-san! If it was for Izaya-san, even my life is worth giving!”
Nozomi explained almost cheerily, as if there was some comedic element in the situation, and Yahiro and Himeka could only listen, unable to react.
‘Ahaha! You understand now, don’t you! Kuon, who had never met Izaya-san, was so jealous, and so worried about this useless big sister of his! When I got a boyfriend he even started saying extreme things, like that he would kill Izaya-san, you know~?’
“? Boyfriend as in… Izaya-san?”
‘Nonono! There’s no way I could be Izaya-san’s girlfriend!’
Nozomi rejected the idea outright and explained the somewhat complicated circumstances.
‘Mmm, there used to be a color gang around called the Yellow Scarves. About four years ago, I approached the right-hand man of the leader of that gang, got close to him, and eventually became his girlfriend.’
And her next words made both Yahiro and Himeka frown.
‘I did it because Izaya-san told me to.’
‘This girl, Saki-chan, became the girlfriend of the boy leading the gang, and I became the girlfriend of the second-in-command. Well, Izaya-san said to do as I please, so I just dated him for a while and dumped him soon after.’
“You really dated him because this Orihara Izaya told you to?”
Himeka asked, and Nozomi answered, not even stopping to think.
‘Of course~! At that time it was a given I would.’
—She’s using past tense.
Just as he thought this, she laughed again.
‘So this went on~, and you understand how Kuon must have been, right? Kuon, who thought of someone like me as his only remaining family, who cherished me so dearly. Kuon, who’d say something so cute as, ‘No matter how hard things get, I’ll definitely protect Nee-chan’!”
Nozomi chuckled, but her voice seemed to be shaking.
‘But I didn’t understand.’
‘I didn’t understand, you know?’
Her voice dropped just slightly. Yahiro asked,
“Are things… different now?”
After a brief silence, Nozomi answered.
‘It was maybe one and a half years ago. Izaya-san disappeared.’
‘Yeah. He vanished from Ikebukuro like smoke. There were rumours that he was killed by Heiwajima Shizuo, or stabbed by a Russian mercenary.’
Heiwajima Shizuo’s name coming up was startling, but Yahiro decided it must have simply been one rumour of many, and did not interrupt.
‘I’ve been a shut-in since then. It’s such a joke; when Izaya-san disappeared I just didn’t know what to do. I no longer knew how to talk to people, not even over the phone like this.’
It was hard to extrapolate from how confidently she was speaking now, but remembering how she had been when they were talking face-to-face, Yahiro could somewhat understand.
‘I get the feeling I spent the whole time in the corner of the room just saying “Izaya-san Izaya-san Izaya-san”.’
As if her memory of that time was vague, her voice had become unsure.
Then, steadying her voice just slightly, she told them:
‘And that was when Kuon said. He said, “I will become Orihara Izaya.”‘
‘Yeah. He said, “I will become Izaya’s replacement, so that Nee-chan can go on living.”‘
Happily, and yet with just a hint of loneliness, Nozomi continued,
‘That’s why, since one and a half years back, my brother has been trying to be like Orihara Izaya. …No. Maybe he’s trying to be something even greater than Izaya-san.’
‘Neither Kuon nor I know whether this is for my sake or his anymore.’
Present. Yahiro’s room.
Looking up at the ceiling, Yahiro sighed softly.
“The world is full of things I don’t know…”
He felt that he had known nothing about the world before
Yahiro, lying face-up, raised his right hand, and curling his fingers into a fist, he gazed at it, remembering how he had been before this year.
‘This is the world.’
With this thought, with neither hope nor despair, somehow he had simply gone on living.
He had thought of himself, he, who however much he struggled could not escape being labelled a monster, as unsightly.
But today, when he learnt about the path Kuon and his sister had walked until now, he could not help but think: Were they not far more pitiful than himself?
—I only ever hurt others.
—Have I just been blaming my environment and throwing tantrums all this time, then?
—Kuon was hurt, and he endured it, but even then he never gave up.
Yahiro, now aware of the dark side to Kuon, who he had only thought of as a frivolous person before, now held true respect for him.
—I don’t think what’s he’s doing is right, but…
—Turns out… he’s an amazing person, huh.
He let his eyes rove around the room as he thought, and they alighted on the wood-framed radio beside his bed.
—And it seems like Tatsugami-san’s family situation is complicated, too.
—She might have been suffering much more than me all this time.
—I was only ever scared; my family was always kind to me…
—Maybe all along I’ve been greedy for something that doesn’t exist.
Yahiro sunk into self-loathing, and looking at the newer scars on his fist, thought:
—But even so.
The excitement, the ecstasy, the enjoyment of the world that he had experienced for the first time, these feelings fighting Heiwajima Shizuo had left him with, were still there and trembling in his fist.
“I think it was good that I came to this city.”
Murmuring this thought under his breath, he then got up, mind set.
And then, with the smartphone he was not yet used to, he searched for information online.
When he searched on the serial disappearances in Ikebukuro, the first result was the news blog site IkeNEW!.
The website with Kuon and Celty’s photo together.
And also – the same site run by Kuon’s sister.
A few hours ago. Kuon’s room.
‘Let’s get back on track. Now Kuon and I run the website I mentioned earlier, “IkeNEW!”. Thanks to that we have our own income, and we can pay the rent for this apartment.’
Yahiro was unable to draw a link between ‘running a website’ and ‘income’ in his mind.
Despite not being able to see him, Nozomi seemed to detect the mood and began to explain about the site.
‘Ah, see, the site has advertisements, right? They make money.’
“Right, there were all kinds of ads…”
‘There’s the type that earn us money when people just click on them, and the type that only pays when people buy the product. Then there’s direct contracts with firms and sponsors.’
Yahiro had been wondering why there were so many advertisements, but this he could make sense of. Just as he was poring over this,
‘Usually it’s something people do for extra cash, so about 10,000 yen in revenue per month is pretty good. But in my case, taking the recent average, it’s, maybe, 2.8 million yen a month?’
‘Our site is special, though. Since I post news about Ikebukuro exclusively. …Ah, of course, that sum includes income from other sites I run, too.’
“Y… You can earn that much money online?!”
‘It’s hit and miss, you know? There are people serious about it that can make multiple times my income, and cases where they go overboard and get blacklisted completely.’
Nozomi said wisely. Yahiro asked further,
“What do you mean overboard?”
Nozomi became a shade more excited.
‘Welp, affiliate blogging is a shady market in itself! There are those that do it honestly, but there are sites that toe the law without a second thought. And mixed in all that you have extortionists and imitators…”
Yahiro blurted, having never thought of the word in an online setting, to which Nozomi elaborated,
‘Yep. At first they target companies, inviting them as sponsors, or luring them in by promising they’ll receive information before anyone else. And if the firm rejects them they publish lots of nasty news about them to pressure them, and say, “See, you’re real famous now, right?” In the end they’ll threaten not to stop until the company hands over money or information, so they get paid either way.’
‘You’re free to write anything so long as you refrain from anything that actually counts as libel. For example, there was a time where this magazine launched a digital edition that was more expensive than the print version, right? At that time, there was a site that wrote an article complaining why it was like that when the digital edition had no printing costs involved.,
If that was the case, indeed it would be strange for the digital version to be more expensive.
As if answering Yahiro’s thoughts, Nozomi revealed the truth of the matter.
‘But the digital edition turned out to be special and had tons of bonus pages the print version didn’t have, so it had almost twice as many pages! In other words, it was completely reasonable that it was more expensive.’
‘Of course, the original siteowner was aware of this, and omitted it when he wrote the article. So that even though it was actually better, the e-magazine was presented as a rip-off. After the article went around people who knew the truth would write angry comments on the site, but the viewership and comments only help to bring in cash~. Since that data alone makes it easier to hook up sponsors.’
Yahiro was shocked that such people existed, but Nozomi simply laughed and continued.
‘If they’re unlucky enough to get reported they just have to say, “Sorry, I didn’t know,” and delete the article. Well, if you get the timing wrong on that you might get into real legal trouble and that’s the end for you, though.”
“Oh… But, Nozomi-san, you don’t do any of that, right?”
‘No way, we’re even worse than them~!’
Yahiro raised an eyebrow. Nozomi nodded from the other side.
‘Yep. Because we act as a source and sell our information to other sites, too~. And you know what’s the best way to get the scoop before anyone else?’
There Himeka realised.
“You… make your own news?”
“That’s too much…”
As he heard Nozomi’s energetic voice – Yahiro suddenly felt uneasy.
–Tatsugami-san is… trembling?
Thus far she seemed to be a girl who was usually calm, so why was she disturbed by the answer she herself had uttered?
Although it bothered him, Nozomi was still talking.
‘Well, we make our own news, but it’s not illegal by any means~. Mostly, that is! Like we’ll scatter mysterious slips of paper all over Ikebukuro, or fly a remote-controlled UFO model, and then video it and put it up on Twittia! The weirder it is the faster it spreads.’
Yahiro and Himeka immediately remembered the article with Kuon’s photo this morning.
“So the article about Kuon this morning was staged, too?”
Himeka asked. Nozomi nodded again from her side.
‘Yeah, it was! About thirty percent of our content are things we stage ourselves. We don’t bother with the celebrities living in Ikebukuro, though. Well, in any case, you can’t take anything we write too seriously! There’s a load of lies in there.’
“Why would you publish lies?”
Yahiro asked, frowning.
He had browsed the site during the lunch break, but the articles about Celty were troubling; just as he would think Celty was being presented as a criminal that theory would be disproved in the blink of an eye. There was nothing tangible about the siteowner’s true opinion or identity.’That’s because it’s our style to focus on scandals and outright lies and rile everyone up!’
“Why would you…”
‘I could say it’s the easiest way to make money, but…’
Nozomi paused, and spoke the name of ‘that man’ once more.
‘If Izaya-san set up a news site, surely it’d be like this.’
‘My handle name, Lila Tailtooth Zaiya… If you translate ‘tail’ and ‘tooth’ into Japanese… it becomes O-Ri-Ha-Ra-I-Za-Ya.’
So what was she trying to say?
Despite having claimed to have recovered, was she still obsessed with Izaya after all?
It seemed tilting his head was becoming a habit of Yahiro’s since he had come to Ikebukuro.
But Yahiro quickly grew ashamed of these thoughts in the next few seconds.
‘There are many, many girls out there like me.’
‘Apparently Izaya-san created a lot of girls like me… There are plenty of them in despair now he’s gone. There was one who tried to kill herself and wound up in hospital… But these girls, they’re quick to notice our site, and that anagram.’
Realising Nozomi’s true intention, Yahiro grew ashamed of how dense he had been, thinking ‘So what?’ earlier.
‘When they realise, it’s comforting to them, you know? It’s like, “Ah, thank goodness, Izaya-san’s still around.” Or, “He’s still alive somewhere, on the internet.” Just that alone can become a reason to live; humans truly are interesting creatures.’
Nozomi, for the sake of other girls who had been ‘fanatics’ like herself, was pretending to be the ‘sect leader’’ Orihara Izaya.
Himeka, contemplating the significance of her actions, then asked about what one could say was the crux of the issue:
“But, that means… Are you… going to keep lying to those girls? From now on?”
‘Mm~… We’ll probably keep doing it.’
Nozomi said, somewhat sad.
‘But if they could accept that we’re not Izaya-san… If those girls could accept Izaya-san’s disappearance, I think they wouldn’t need him in the first place, you know? …If I think of it that way, I don’t feel as guilty.’
For some reason, Yahiro could picture Nozomi shrugging on the other side of the call.
‘Eh, in the end we’re still fraudsters.’
‘But we’re a site that posts scams all the time, after all! You can only blame the people who fall for it!’
Present. Yahiro’s room.
Browsing the past articles of IkeNEW, he discovered an article on himself.
—I got featured too.
Unsurprisingly, the article was about his fight with Heiwajima Shizuo.
Apparently talk about him being perhaps able to defeat Shizuo was going around.
—They’re speaking too highly of me!
—I couldn’t even lay a finger on him…!
Someone had even taken a video, but due to the poor definition, his face was unclear.
Even so, Kuon must have been fully aware of who he was.
Had he kept it a secret from his sister?
—No, Nozomi-san knew me back there, so she knew after all?
—Damn. She didn’t say a word about it…
Yahiro sighed, torn whether not having his name released to the public was something worth being thankful for. Despite being used as a news topic to generate revenue he was not particularly outraged.
—The video didn’t expose my identity, anyway.
—In the first place, I lost, so people will just think I was a brat who didn’t know better.
Not realising that being able to deal damage to Shizuo was itself extremely unusual, all he felt was that Nozomi’s article had exaggerated too much.
Rather, seeing the video, he was more worried about the owner of the green hair at the corner of the video.
Was he really safe?
Nozomi’s words came back to him.
—’Kuon said… He’s not absolutely sure about the culprit’s objective, but if they’re trying to frame the Headless Rider as a criminal, he probably won’t be let free.’
—’He didn’t expect to be kidnapped just a few hours after uploading the article, though.’
—’But he’ll be fine. He did it with a plan in mind.’
—’Both Kuon and I… We’re willing to gamble with our lives if it means becoming like Izaya-san.
—’You probably have your own opinion about this, but we won’t listen to someone who hasn’t even met Izaya-san.’
—’We’re fully aware that at the rate we’re going it won’t be strange to end up stabbed by someone, though.’
At that time he had been speechless, but now Yahiro felt a little angry.
Angry at how easily they would throw away their own lives.
And then she had said to Yahiro:
—’Don’t be too depressed, Yahiro-kun. That boy only thinks of you as a pawn.’
Yahiro thought that was unimportant.
“I’ll definitely find him and talk to him directly.”
With a faint smile, Yahiro tightened his fist.
And, almost as if it was timed – his phone rang.
When he picked up, it was a familiar voice that came through the receiver.
‘Hey, it’s me. Kuronuma Aoba.’
“Oh… Why are you calling, sempai?”
Remembering that they had exchanged numbers after school, Yahiro listened on.
‘Can you leave your house right now?’
“But it’s the middle of the night? Did anything happen?”
Yahiro answered in surprise. Aoba said, calmly,
‘Your friend, Tatsugami-san? She’s been kidnapped.’
Cold sweat broke out over his back.
Before he could ask if it was a joke, Aoba continued,
‘We might not know who did it, but we do know where she was taken.’
‘What about it? Will you join us to save her?’